The 25 Best Singles of 2014


St. Vincent, “Digital Witness”

There’s something about “Digital Witness” that hearkens back to a song by one of Annie Clark’s most obvious influences: David Bowie’s “TVC15” Both songs use herky-jerky vocal hooks to deliver sly existential horror about the prevalence of technology in the modern age, and almost 40 years after Bowie sang about a television swallowing Iggy Pop’s girlfriend, Clark sounds even more distressed: “Digital witnesses, what’s the point of even sleeping?/If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me/What’s the point of doing anything?” But the funky, chopped-up horn bleats that form the backbone of “Digital Witness” manage to place the tune squarely in the 21st century. Winograd


Jenny Lewis, “Just One of the Guys”

There are several very good songs with almost uncomfortably personal lyrics and poppy earworm hooks on erstwhile Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis’s third solo album, The Voyager, but “Just One of the Guys” is one of the few that had the benefit of not being produced by Ryan Adams, with his ’80s AOR-rock fetish. Instead, the Beck-produced single possesses more of a late-’70s singer-songwriter feel that suits Lewis’s voice and personality better. But it’s not the arrangement, or even the incredibly catchy see-sawing chorus that stands out the most; it’s Lewis’s daringly close-to-the-bone bridge: “There’s only one difference between you and me/When I look at myself all I can see/I’m just another lady without a baby” Winograd


Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting on You)”

Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring has one of those odd voices—poised at some anomalous juncture between lethal earnestness and ironic affectation—that can easily leave an uninitiated listener feeling puzzled about his intent. This proves to be an asset on “Seasons (Waiting on You),” which sidesteps straightforward New Romantics homage through the bewildering effect of the singer’s voice, and only grows stronger as he confirms his seriousness, deftly swooping between growled lows and dramatic crooned highs. The music bounces along mournfully behind him, its whistled synth trill and 4/4 beat acting as the steady baseline beneath this tumultuous tale of longing. Cataldo


Sam Smith, “Stay with Me”

From its plaintive piano chords to Sam Smith’s wavering inflections, “Stay with Me” bleeds vulnerability while proudly affirming the all-too-human need for intimacy, no matter how fleeting the attraction may be. The song builds on an initially spare arrangement of piano, drums, and voice, adding a full choir and Smith’s spiraling grace notes with each chorus. A gospel tune sung by a jazz singer, “Stay with Me” dwells beautifully in its throwback simplicity, refusing to indulge the current appetite for synthesized distractions and showy production. Its massive commercial success attests to the fact that classic American genres can live alongside more contemporary ones, especially in the hands of an artist with Smith’s technical mastery. Galvin


FKA twigs, “Two Weeks”

The best sex songs are often not about sex at all, but dreaming about it. What with its nearly indecipherable pitched-down vocals and singer FKA twigs’s breathy, staccato delivery, it’s easy to dismiss “Two Weeks” as just another tribute to fucking. At the song’s climax, twigs (a.k.a. English singer-songwriter Tahliah Barnett) eagerly pants the best pop lyric of the year: “Hi, motherfucker, get your mouth open, you know you’re mine” But upon further inspection, “Two Weeks” reveals itself to be a wanton fantasy, and one inspired and perpetuated by a little green: “Smoke on your skin to get those pretty eyes rollin’/My thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in” Love is the drug and it’s pussy she’s dealing. Cinquemani