Best of 2015: Songs!

Now that it’s halfway into January, I finally have time to do my personal best-of lists. As a critic, I’m obliged to do a “Best Of” list, but that can be viewed over here. Here is my “best of,” list, less capitalized, less formal. Posted right below is a Spotify playlist of 75 songs that I loved from 2015. It’s not in order of love, but ordered to make a nice playlist. I was originally going to make a 50-song one but there were too many songs I was leaving out (quick shoutout – I finalized this playlist and realized I forgot Selena Gomez’s “Good For You,” I love that song, so 76 songs). Under the playlist you’ll find a spelling out of my top 25 with a short description. Listen at your leisure.

 

spotify:user:amcnal2:playlist:5dzcokWcJN6TpKyqvOq2Vu

Top 25 Songs of 2015! (Relative. Take with a grain of salt.)

#25. “I’m a Ruin” – Marina and the Diamonds – This is an utterly tragic, introspective look into personal failures. As Marina sings about the inevitability of ruining someone in a relationship, we feel it. With a big chorus and a guitar rhythm that masquerades as catchy, this song doesn’t shy away from emotion.

#24. “Thunder & Lightning” – Motorhead – Lemmy’s last album on planet earth gave us this parting gift, an angry, raging song against…ambition? It doesn’t matter. This is premium Motorhead, and an unexpected final track from an ambivalent legend. Wherever you are, Lemmy, rock on.

#23. “Dreams” – Beck – Beck’s follow-up to the Grammy-smashing “Morning Phase” is proving to be funkier, with this single. Although lengthy, “Dreams” is an energetic jam like 90’s Beck. Unlike 90’s Beck, it’s focused and polished, ready for the radio.

#22. “Switchblade” – Holy White Hounds – I know nothing about this band/artist, and I only came across this song on western Massachusetts rock radio (in between Seether and Disturbed, probably). What I do know is that it’s a cool, innovative rock song that uses the provided instruments very well. I don’t know where this person or these people are right now, but I bet they’re wearing leather jackets.

#21. “In the Clouds” – Diamond Youth – The band responsible for my favorite song of the emo revival (“Cannonball”) put out another solid song in this pop-punk track. While their debut album was middling, this song from the album’s mid-point is a strong vocal track, layered over gaze-y guitar.

#20. “In the Night” – The Weeknd – One of 2015’s biggest breakout artists put out an album full of bangers. This was my personal favorite, as The Weeknd channels his inner Michael Jackson in a song about pain. Even a song as dark as this did well on radio – because the Weeknd is that good.

#19. “Truffle Butter” – Nicki Minaj (feat. Drake, Lil’ Wayne) – One of my favorite albums of the last year ever is Nicki Minaj’s “The Pinkprint.” This track was only on the expanded version but served as the fifth single. It’s one of the least subtle songs on the whole album, especially when Lil’ Wayne raps about a woman snorting cocaine off his penis. That probably didn’t happen, but who cares, it’s a fun song.

#18. “Price Tag” – Sleater-Kinney – The opening track to Sleater-Kinney’s comeback album is about, well, the economy. Sl-K always had a political message, and in the 10 years since their original departure, it’s welcome to see they’re still angry. It’s a raging pseudo-punk song with a brutal chorus. If they weren’t angry, what would Sleater-Kinney even be?

#17. “Feel Right” – Mark Ronson (feat. Mystikal) – Throughout his career, Mark Ronson has made an effort to bring other musicians into the mix, especially ones that might be out of their comfort zone. But “Feel Right” digs deep, bringing long-lost Mystikal back into the fold. On one level, the song is creepy, knowing Mystikal served time for sexual battery, but on the other hand, it’s a groovy song that shows an underappreciated rapper at his prime. Your call.

#16. “Sometimes” – Heems – “Sometimes” served as a mission statement for Heems’ first proper solo album, “Eat Pray Thug.” Unlike other rappers, Heems serves to point out differences and paradoxes in his own life. The album – which will be in my top list – serves as two parallels. Heems loves New York, he was a student when he watched the towers fall on 9/11. New York doesn’t love Heems, an Indian man. The whole album sets up a political parallel, but in “Sometimes,” Heems examines what it’s like to be human. Very sad and very funny, which are congruent, and exactly the point. Catch the topical ‘Mad About You’ reference.

#15. “WTF (Where They From)” – Missy Elliott feat. Pharell – If this is a song of what’s to come on Missy Elliott’s first album in 11 years, then rejoice. The song is a rapid-fire attack on Miley Cyrus young girls who appropriate black culture, with Pharrell in his truest form. Make way, Missy is back.

#14. “Sucker” – Charli XCX – This song stands as my favorite opening track of 2015, a surprisingly tough competition. No one can open an album like Charli XCX – “If you wanna bang, well fuck you, sucker.” Its just a great, energetic pop banger through and through.

#13. “The Metal East” – Lightning Bolt – The band Lightning Bolt has been going strong almost as long as I’ve been alive, and their 2015 album “Fantasy Empire” showed no signs of stopping. “The Metal East” is a ripping noise-rock song designed to make you sweat and let me say, I’ve seen it done live, and it is loud and magnificent in every single way.

#12. “Run Away With Me” – Carly Rae Jepsen – One of the best pop songs of the year wasn’t released as a single, and it kills me that I don’t know why. Although her sophomore album sold well in England and her native Canada, it didn’t in America, and we missed out on a real masterpiece. Please, buy E*MO*TION.

#11. “Motel” – Meg Myers – Rarely is indie-pop this affectionate. Actually, that’s not the right word to use, because this song is downright existential. Over relatively simple music, Meg Myers is able to transform a simple tale about someone holed up in a motel room into a sad tale. Throw in an audio sample of a 23 year old Townes Van Zandt interview, and you’ve got yourself the saddest pop song of the year. Myers’ voice in the background of the song is going to rip through your spinal chord.

#10. “Acetate” – METZ – Although their second album doesn’t stand up to their first, Canadian noise-rockers METZ put out their best song with “Acetate,” an extremely metrical and sweaty song with just a hint of a groove to it. Unlike some of their non-stop songs, this one has a lengthy breakdown section that leaves the ending pummeling you even harder. Coincidentally, I just saw this band last month, with opening act…

#9. “Trash” – Bully – …Bully! This might be from a debut album, but the folks over in Bully sound weathered. Namely, they sound like they ate nothing but Dinosaur, Jr. and Pavement records for breakfast. Their debut album alternates between alternative and more noise elements, but “Trash” is the most abrasive of the album. Alicia Bognanno’s screamed vocals propel the song into very angry territory.

#8. “Lampshades on Fire” – Modest Mouse – The first album from Modest Mouse in nearly a decade was subpar, but the leadoff single ranks among my favorites of their career. An environmentally-friendly single rocks with a steady beat and a vocal rhythm that could only belong to Isaac Brock. Modest Mouse at its best.

#7. “Don’t Wanna Fight” – Alabama Shakes – The most emotionally charged rock song of the year came from ‘Bama, with Brittany Howard’s vocals howling above the rest of the song. An ode to a troubled relationship, the band draws emotion from volume and intensity, escalating a quiet beat into a wholly consuming tune.

#6. “Figure It Out” – Royal Blood – I think this song technically came out in 2014, but I first heard it in the latter half of 2015. Inspired by bands long gone, Royal Blood have crafted a near-perfect ode to garage rock, but with better production. “Figure It Out” is like the best part of Foo Fighters mixed with the best part of Count Five. Bring it on.

#5. “Death” – Viet Cong – The longest song in this playlist, this 11+minute odyssey is post-punk at it’s finest. The band, lambasted for their offensive name, still put out an impressive debut, culminating in this noisy epic. It is an aural assault, with repeated guitar rhythms being driven into the brains of the listener. The closing song of the year, listen to as much as you can.

#4. “Let It Happen” – Tame Impala – One of the most sonically engaging songs of the year, Tame Impala’s intro to “Currents” is like this generation’s “Blue Monday.” This song builds even as the vocals disappear, into a sonic abyss, carrying a ship throughout. I cannot overrecommend listening to this song with headphones – it’s a journey. Without full engagement, it’s background music.

#3. “Pedestrian At Best” – Courtney Barnett – Courtney Barnett had a career year in 2015, releasing an acclaimed debut and a flurry of great singles. This is her at her best, no strings attached. Poetic lyrics that alter between apathetic and angry mix over Malkmus guitar rhythms, resulting in a song thats far more fun than it should be. Like the 90’s? Listen to this.

#2. “Flesh Without Blood” – Grimes – Grimes went for gold in 2015, finally releasing her follow up to “Visions,” after scrapping a whole other album. Although the album was inconsistent, certain songs struck out, namely the first single. At first, I was somewhat cold to it. But it got stuck in my head almost immediately and still hasn’t left. With a pop-punk bassline and ambivalent vocal line, it’s a song to pay attention to. The nod between “Remember when we used to say……./………I love you almost every day” is utterly devastating in its dual meaning.

#1. “King Kunta” Kendrick Lamar – Look, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is one of the greatest hip-hop albums, ever. No ifs, ands or buts. The album’s mission statement was also my favorite and most played track of 2015. It’s funky as hell, which drives the song through the political and introspective lyrics. The album has a bunch of different messages, and they all come into play on this song. It’s a whirlwind of political, social, and personal remarks to America, with looks at Compton, Kendrick as a kid, Kendrick as an adult suffering from depression and a premonition of the Drake/Meek Mill beef. There’s simply no one like Kendrick working today. In any genre.

(Also a quick post-posting shout to “Magnets” by Disclosure/Lorde and “<” by Waxahatchee, which originally sat at #25 and #24 before I realized I had forgotten “Trash” and “Acetate”)

If you don’t want to sparse through my 75 song playlist to hear these, then listen here:

spotify:user:amcnal2:playlist:6jNIpYyDWO4q38UhCiA5Bk

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Grimes – “Art Angels”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Flesh Without Blood,” “Kill V. Maim”

Grimes has never been known by one genre. She’s sometimes included in witch house, but she defies one of the basic principles of the genre. Her stage name – Claire Boucher, offstage – is short and easy to remember. “Grimes.” Template witch house artists do the opposite, names that can’t be found on Google. Like M△S▴C△RA, or ///▲▲▲\\\ (pronounced ‘Horse MacGyver’), or oOoOO. Her new album, her fourth, is predictable only that we’ve come to expect anything we haven’t heard from Grimes before. “Art Angels” is, more than anything, a pop album.

“Art Angels” is a very mixed album. As always, Grimes blends many influences and ideas to create a wholly original, bastardized sound not unlike the baby on the cover. It isn’t as consistent, this time around, although the high points are just as high as ever. The album takes a much more conventional format, overall. This might be due to Grimes famously scrapping the album she was working on last year because she felt it was “too depressing,” keeping only “REALiTi,” an altered version of which shows up here. Something about the album feels familiar, in the song structures, as if Grimes was leading us by hand into a dark forest but keeping us from being afraid.

Generally, the album’s better songs are the ones that have density and energy. “Flesh Without Blood” is one of the catchiest songs of the year, regardless of lyrical content. There are catchy tunes throughout. “Easily” is a dancy (if not somewhat lacking) song. “REALiTi” and “World Princess, Pt. II,” although similar, are both exceptional and engrossing late-album bangers. “SCREAM,” which heavily features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, is also an excellent track.

“Belly of the Beat” might be the album’s lowpoint, a largely acoustic track that might sound better if there was a different artist’s name attached to it. Some of the ‘lighter’ songs are disappointing. “California” borders on being too poppy, especially as it’s placement as the first real song, after the intro “laughing and not being normal” (which is a great track, while we’re on it). It centers itself as a lyrical ode, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

Still, you have to pride Grimes on trying new things. She’s included just about everything she can into her music, and she’s even made conventionality work for her. “Art Angels” tells us that, yes, Grimes can occasionally do wrong. But even when she does, she’ll right it on the next song and she’ll still sound great when she does. Her vocal screams – you know the thing she does – permeate the album, breaking up the songs from being too radio-friendly (“California” lacks them, and suffers because of it). It’s also impossible to ignore the power she holds. Grimes learned how to play multiple instruments after recording her last album, the near-perfect “Oblivion.” She does everything herself now. After realizing that only men were being allowed to use the production equipment for her music, she’s begun producing herself. Now she writes, performs all music, produces, choreographs shows and designs the album art and videos. And the video for “Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” is really something. And although she defies all genres, she’s generally lumped in with electronica music, which is chronically male-heavy. Grimes can release albums that aren’t perfect, and it doesn’t really matter, because she can tell young girls listening that they can do this, too. It’s why the collaboration with Janelle Monae makes sense – they’re two drastically different artists, but they’re both energetic, genre-bashing feminist singers.

Sorry. Went on a little tangent there. But Grimes is an incredibly important musician, and even if this album is frustratingly inconsistent, it could stand as her bid for greatness. “Flesh Without Blood” probably isn’t going to pick up any radio play, but it’ll gain more new listeners than “Genesis” or “Go” did. I’m worried about her next projects, that Grimes scrapped an entire album and ended up with an album like “Art Angels,” which flirts with greatness but rarely gets to it. But, she remains one of the most interesting artists in music today, and the album works well enough for the listener to forgive the sagging moments. “Art Angels” works because Grimes makes damn sure of it.

-By Andrew McNally

Best, Worst and Everything Else of 2014

2014

2014 was surely a year. I heard a lot of great albums, I missed a lot more. Really, I missed a ton of albums this year, guys, really didn’t do my one job right. Over on the Filtered Lens I compiled two “official” reviewer’s Top 10 Songs and Albums lists, but here I’m going stretch out, take off my tie and be totally personal. Here’s the crap I liked:

Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year:

10. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Christmas Island” (Review)
9. Tinashe – “Aquarius” (Review)
8. Future – “Honest” (Review)
7. Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels 2”
6. Pharmakon – “Bestial Burden” (Review)
5. Modern Baseball – “You’re Gonna Miss It All” (Review)
4. Interpol – “El Pintor” (Review)
3. the Menzingers – “Rented World” (Review)
2. White Lung – “Deep Fantasy” (Review)
1. St. Vincent – “St. Vincent” (Review)

(Honorable mentions: Lana Del Ray’s “Ultraviolence,” Parquet Courts’ “Sunbathing Animal,” Perfect Pussy’s “Say Yes to Love,” Lakutis’ “Three Seashells” and The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s “Broken Bodies,” which originally sat at #7 until I decided an EP in a list of LP’s didn’t fit)

And now for tonight’s main event, my totally subjective, completely personal 30 Best Songs of the Year, regardless if they were singles or not:

30. FKA twigs – “Video Girl”
29. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Temple Grandin”
28. Run the Jewels – “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck) [feat. Zack de la Rocha]”
27. Parquet Courts – “Sunbathing Animal” (Album Review)
26. Prince – “FUNKNROLL” (Album Review)
25. Foxygen – “How Can You Really” (Album Review)
24. Courtney Barnett – “Avant Gardener”
23. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Children of God”
22. Lakutis – “Too Ill For the Law” (Album Review)
21. Jeremih, YG – “Don’t Tell ‘Em”
20. The Creeping Ivies – “The Creeps” (Album Review)
19. White Lung – “I Believe You”
18. MisterWives – “Reflections” (EP Review)
17. Jessie J/Ariana Grande/Nicki Minaj – “Bang Bang”
16. Pharmakon – “Bestial Burden”
15. Beck – “Wave” (Album Review)
14. the Menzingers – “In Remission”
13. Phantogram – “Fall in Love”
12. Tinashe – “2 On (feat. ScHoolboy Q)”
11. Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”
10. Sia – “Chandelier”
9. the Menzingers – “Rodent”
8. Interpol – “All the Rage Back Home”
7. St. Vincent – “Rattlesnake”
6. Bruce Springsteen – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
5. White Lung – “Drown With the Monster”
4. Phantogram – “Black Out Days”
3. Grimes – “Go (feat. Blood Diamonds)”
2. Future – “Move That Dope (feat. Pusha T, Pharrell, Casino)”
1. St. Vincent – “Birth in Reverse”

Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist of 29 of these songs (the Lakutis album “Three Seashells,” which has song #22, is not on Spotify)

And here’s thirty more songs I loved (but not enough to rank), in alphabetical order, by artist:

Aphex Twin – “180db_[130]”
Iggy Azalea – “Black Widow” (god, I’m sorry)
Beyonce/Jay-Z – “Drunk in Love”
Big Data – “Dangerous”
Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better”
Cardinal Cardinal – “When I’m Not Alone”
Clean Bandit/Jess Glynne – “Rather Be”
DJ Snake/Lil’ Jon – “Turn Down For What”
Drake – “0 to 100/The Catch Up”
Foxygen – “Can’t Contextualize My Mind”
Ariana Grande/Iggy Azalea – “Problem”
Maroon 5 – “Maps”
the Menzingers – “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore”
Milky Chance – “Stolen Dance”
Modern Baseball – “Fine, Great”
Bob Mould – “I Don’t Know You Anymore”
the Orwells – “Who Needs You”
Parquet Courts – “Ducking & Dodging”
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “American Dream Plan B”
Shakira/Rihanna – “Can’t Remember to Forget You”
Sleeper Agent – “Waves”
St. Vincent – “Bring Me Your Loves”
Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”
Tove Lo – “Habits (Stay High)”
the World is a Beautiful Place and so on and so on – “If and When I Die”
You Blew It! – “Surf Wax America” (Weezer cover)

Superlatives:

Best guest spot: 1) YG on Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em”
2) ScHoolboy Q on Tinashe’s “2 On”
3) Pusha T, Pharrell and Casino on Future’s “Move That Dope”

Worst guest spot: Eat the cake, anime

Best cover song: “Surf Wax America” – You Blew It!

Best two bands that are great but I still have a little trouble telling apart – You Blew It! and Modern Baseball

Most Irritating Song of the Year: 1) “Lazaretto” – Jack White
2) “Rude” – Magic! (sorry, I know that’s a big blow to the Canadian reggae scene)
3) “Animals” – Maroon 5

Best Person to Wish He Were Born in a Different Generation and For Us to All Agree: Jack White!

Best Jack White Album: The Black Keys – Turn Blue! Fight me.

Best Free U2 album: an illegally downloaded copy of “The Joshua Tree”

Best Classic Rock Album Overshadowed by U2: Tom Petty & the Heatbreaker’s “Hypnotic Eye.” Sorry, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and Bruce.

Best Prince: “Art Official Age”

Worst Prince: “Plectrumelectrum”

Best Death Grips Album: “Run the Jewels 2”

Worst Death Grips Album: “N****s on the Moon”

Best Unplugged Performance: Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Super Bowl

Worst Unplugged Performance: Probably any other Red Hot Chili Peppers performance

Best “Chinese Democracy”: Pink Floyd’s “The Endless River”

Best Adjective Mike: Killer Mike

Worst Adjective Mike: Fat Mike

Best Album That Made Most Reviewer’s Top 10 Lists That I Didn’t Listen to Because Ariel Pink is a Shithead: “pom pom” – Ariel Pink

Most Intentionally Terrifying Song: “Bestial Burden” – Pharmakon

Most Unintenionally Terrifying Song: “Lock the Door” – Robin Thicke

Best/Worst Song Titles: Aphex Twin

Best Band Name: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

Worst Band Name: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

A song that I would like to let you know exists: “Got Me Runnin’ Round,” a collaboration between Nickelback and Flo Rida. Seriously.

Potential albums to look forward to in 2015: Sleater-Kinney – “No Cities to Love” (1/20)
Two Gallants – “We Are Undone” (2/3)
Father John Misty – “I Love You, Honeybear” (2/10)
Hot Sugar – “God’s Hand” (2/24)
Heems – “Eat Pray Thug” (3/3) (solo debut from the Das Racist frontman – keep an eye out for this one)
Modest Mouse – “Strangers to Ourselves” (3/3)
Madonna – “Rebel Heart” (3/10)
Wale – “The Album About Nothing” (3/31) (Yes, the collaborative album with Jerry Seinfeld)
Chance the Rapper – “Surf”
Death Grips – “the powers that b”
Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels 3” and “Meow the Jewels,” the cat version of “Run the Jewels 2”
2015 also might hold new albums from Kendrick Lamar, Sky Ferreira, Beyonce, Adele, Drake, Metz, Radiohead, Rihanna, Kanye, Deafheaven, Frank Ocean, Waxahatchee, and Giorgio Moroder’s first album since 1992, if we’re lucky.

See you with even more cynicisms next year!

-Andrew McNally

(PS – this is, by sheer coincidence, this blog’s 200th post!)

Sorry Guys, Women Won Music (Again) in 2014

Man, us men really spent the year treading water. As 2014 comes to a (well-deserved) close, and we discuss the best and worst in music, one thing in evident – women really lead the way. Women released better songs, better albums and had more progressive things to say than men did. So although men can boast, dick around and talk big, it was women that paved every path this year. Aloe Blacc was the man? Well Beyonce was Flawless. From Laura Jane Grace to Ariel Pink, Wiz Khalifa to Mish Way, both men and women helped women become the beacons of music in 2014.

2013 was an exceptional year for women in music, too. I almost wrote this article last year, but I was then too devoted to keeping this blog strictly reviews. It’s amazing to think it was only last year that unknown teenager Lorde nearly overtook Robin Thicke for biggest song of the year. But where 2013 was all about new acts establishing themselves in new niches of music (like one Crutchfield sister in Swearin’ and the other in Waxahatchee, both redefining punk), 2014 was all about the big names taking sides and taking stances.

2014 began on December 13th of last year, when “Beyonce” dropped unexpectedly. Not even the album’s guest stars knew there was an album coming out. Only Beyonce could have a release that huge, that unannounced and that coherent. It would go on to champion a year full of feminism and sexuality where women dominated, with only minimal exceptions.

Women Dominated Albums

“Beyonce” may have been the year’s best album (if you count it), but it was one of just many great albums from women. Charli XCX and Nicki Minaj followed in Beyonce’s path and released December albums – a month usually reserved for contractual-obligation Christmas albums. Tinashe and FKA twigs released two of the year’s best debuts, two R&B albums that establish each singer’s other-worldly confidence. And speaking of other-worldly confidence, the year’s best album unabashedly went to St. Vincent. Annie Clark’s guitar-drenched songs of surveillance and snakes were nothing else we heard all year, in both scope and confidence.

Taylor Swift did something usually disastrous for musicians and switched genres (Remember “Forever“?). But she went passive, attacking armchair critics on “Shake it Off,” not coincidentally one of the year’s best/biggest songs. “1989” was a big mess of a pop album that convinced many people (myself) that there really is more there than angry break-up songs.

Another one of the year’s best albums came from Lana Del Ray, who listened to criticisms and improved her music in every way. “Ultraviolence” was dark, brooding and seductive – a 60’s minimalist pop work that’s ready to defend itself from Youtube comments. With songs like “Fucked My Way to the Top,” Lana owned her identity, to the chagrin of many. In comparison, Sam Smith provided one of the year’s best songs – “Stay With Me” – but struggled to find his own musical identity, with a lackluster debut and less of a personality than his minimalist pop peers.

And this brings us back to last year’s minimalist dear, Lorde. Lorde didn’t release any music in 2014 save one song, “Yellow Flicker Beat.” But the song came from the soundtrack to the recent Hunger Games movie, a soundtrack she was assigned to curate. That, itself, is a huge deal for anyone – especially someone still in their teenage years. And, she chose people of a like mind – CHVRCHES, Tove Lo, Tinashe, HAIM, Bat For Lashes, Charli XCX and Grace Jones (!!!) all make appearances.

Women Dominated Songs

“I got one more problem with you, girl”

“I go on too many dates / at least that’s what people say”

“Fuck the skinny bitches in the motherfucking club”

Women seemed to rule the radio this year, too. The year’s best songs and most provocative lyrics belonged to women. Let’s look at these three examples – Ariana Grande dominated the charts this year, with no bigger song than “Problem,” with Iggy Azalea. It was a horn-blasting, bombastic pop song influenced by DJ Mustard’s production but without any unnecessary DJ attachment. Taylor Swift tossed critics askew in a side of her we’ve never seen before, and Nicki Minaj rallied against pro-look pro-anti-feminists. “Anaconda” was one of the year’s best songs – she took a comedically remembered hit from ’92 about the male gaze and repurposed it into a song about female body positivity. What’s better than that?

Elsewhere, there was the female talent showcase of Jessie J/Grande/Minaj on the excellent “Bang Bang,” a song that’s just about bangin,’ and it’s great. It’s just a fun, upbeat pop song that shows off some talent. Grimes’ only contribution to 2014 was “Go,” a crazy, pseudo-steampunk song that reflects your every mood when you listen to it. Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” might not be one of the year’s most revered songs, but it tied Janet Jackson for most weeks at #1, and it’s just another notch in her book.

Women Owned Feminism & Sexuality

So let’s talk about the most important woman of the year, alright? Laura Jane Grace, of Against Me! In 2012, after Against Me!’s miserably regressive “White Crosses” album, Tom Gabel announced that he was going to start living as a woman, Laura Jane Grace. Grace joined Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, among others, in a year where the transgender movement finally came to a public eye. So Against Me!’s 2014 album, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” opened a wide audience to a previously closed movement. And while the album had some weak points, tracks like “True Trans Soul Rebel,” “Unconditional Love” and “Drinking With the Jocks” illustrate Grace’s struggles with gender identity in the way of some of Against Me!’s most abrasive lyrics yet.

And while we’re on punk, two of the year’s best feminists were Mish Way and Meredith Graves. Mish Way’s band, White Lung, released one of the year’s best albums in “Deep Fantasy.” The album is heavy and real from start to finish, but it’s centered around its second best song, “I Believe You,” a song that’s written from the POV of a surprisingly understanding friend of someone who’s admitting they’ve been sexually assaulted. The song is both musically and lyrically the heaviest thing they’ve done, and it’s one of the year’s most important minute and 42 seconds.

Meredith Graves, of Perfect Pussy, had a busy year. Perfect Pussy’s debut, “Say Yes to Love,” was secretly modeled off the line, “Why do we say yes to love?” The album has a feminist tone throughout, with Graves frequently taking on the established male punk precedent (if you can hear the vocals). Punk music needs a reason to be energetic; Graves and co. don’t hold back about that reason.

Outside of the band, Graves published essays on being a woman in the music industry, comparing Andrew W.K. to Lana Del Ray, and on male pattern violence after Mark Kozelek made an unnecessary, public feud with the War on Drugs.

On the sexuality side, it’s easy to say that sexuality in music as all about confidence – whether it’s outward, like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love,”  Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” – or sultry and subversive – FKA twigs “Video Girl,” Tinashe’s “2 On,” this year was full of strong, confident women, and it’s been a joy of a ride. Keep it up, 2015.

There Are Always Exceptions

Of course there’s exceptions. With Azealea Banks finally getting to release her excellent debut, “Broke With Expensive Taste,” came some harassing, homophobic Twitter rants that diminished credibility. (I won’t link to them – know that they’re out there).

She also started an ongoing feud with 2014’s most problematic female, Iggy Azalea. For those of you reading this, by now you’re surely at least familiar with the name – she had a number of huge hits in the summer – “Problem,” with Ariana Grande, “No Mediocre,” with T.I., and her own songs “Fancy” with Charli XCX and “Black Widow” with Rita Ora. I have to admit, from a music standpoint, I think they’re all great songs. But I wish I didn’t know anything about her when I listen to them. Azalea is Australian by birth, British by upbringing, and whiter than a jar of Hellmann’s. But she raps in a fake, black Southern accent (see: Atlanta) to mimic those who “influence” her. She’s trying way too damn hard and yes, it’s really racist. And yes, she has dropped the N-word.

Lana Del Ray also sparked some controversy by saying she would rather talk about space travel than feminism. The degree to which it’s just to fit in with her old-money, Gatsby-befriending persona is debatable, but it’s something that was said and can’t be forgotten.

Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus also made trouble with some serious, continuous cultural appropriation, done for their own “artistic benefits.” Both artists have remained silent when asked by fans to stand up for actual black issues like Ferguson.

But Here’s What Men Did This Year

Men accomplished little this year, in terms of music (and most other things). As always – exceptions. Pharrell’s “G I R L” album was a great, feminist work (and acted as an unintentional apology for “Blurred Lines”). Perfume Genius’ song “Queen” was one of the most honest, heartbreakingly rattling songs of the year. Patrick Carney, of the Black Keys, had a year spent on the offensive where he called out people like Jack White for their actions. And, artists like John Legend and J. Cole led the movement to recognize the need to acknowledge Ferguson, with ?uestlove adding that we need more Bob Dylans and Rage Against the Machines – artists with political motivations. But for every Run the Jewels, there’s at least one Eminem, so let’s look at men being men:

Eminem. Eminem released a song where he threatens to punch Lana Del Ray. Why? To what purpose? Eminem is 42 years old, and his fight for relevance includes threatening the most passive, pacifistic singer you can think of? That’s not intimidating. If Eminem wanted to stay popular, he’d retire and let his record speak for itself. Or, he could actually focus on the quality of his music, since he hasn’t had a good song since “Lose Yourself” (arms spaghetti) and his 2014 contribution was a Shady greatest hits compilation no one asked for.

Mark Kozelek. Sun Kil Moon’s 2014 album “Benji” was remarkable, but the 47 year old singer is also fighting a losing battle with aging, as he started a one-sided, unnecessary feud with the War on Drugs, a band that has looked up to him, and has taken no part in this imaginary feud. It all culminated with the admittedly silly and meta but still homophobic single, “The War on Drugs Can Suck My Cock.” The fact that these attacks are unresponded to amounts to nothing more than Kozelek trying to prove his manliness and yelling at a crowd that isn’t listening.

Ariel Pink. Human clickbait Ariel Pink’s 2014 album, “pom pom” made a lot of year-end lists. I didn’t listen to it. Ariel Pink called out Grimes, for some reason, calling her “stupid and retarded,” insults I never realized people used after the age of 12. Pink said he was contacted by Madonna to record for her new album only to say she’s been on a big downward spiral. Madonna’s publicist said he was lying, that she had never heard of him. Downward spiral? Meet Ariel Pink.

Robin Thicke. Thicke! Thicke was quiet in 2014, but he wasn’t trying to be. Black metal bands be damned, the creepiest album of 2014 went to “Paula,” Thicke’s in-depth, hyper-specific public apology to his ex-wife. First week sales counts: USA – 24,000. UK – 530. Australia – 158. 158 copies in Australia didn’t crack the Top 200.

Phil Rudd. For a band that sings constantly about manly stuff like rocking and violence, AC/DC’s first controversy didn’t come until this year, when drummer Phil Rudd was arrested for trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife. The band was as shocked as it’s fans, where was this rock and roll stuff in 1977?

Future killed the good fortune he’d set up with one of the best albums of the year, “Honest,” by admitting he cheated on Ciara and by guesting on the atrocious “Pussy Overrated” with Wiz Khalifa. Jack White did interviews where he groomed his image by verbally attacking respected artists like Adele, the Black Keys, and even Meg. Chris Brown got arrested a few more times, and had the gall to release a song about disloyal girlfriends. I could keep going on about men in music, but these are the biggest examples. Most of the best music of the year was done by women, and women made the bigger stories. They’ve had to, because to be anything less than extraordinary is going to get them shelved under male musicians. Let’s keep this going. 2015 should be the return of Adele, and Beyonce might even give us another album. We’re starting on the right foot.

-By Andrew McNally. Inevitable responses can be directed to amcnal817@gmail.com. Article can be reprinted or referenced, with citation. Feel free to remove links if ya do.