The 25 Best Songs of 2014 So Far

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Last week we brought you the top 25 albums of 2014 so far, but we couldn’t let the midyear pass without taking a look at the best songs up until this point. This being a singles list, it’s heavy on your Iggys and your Charlis and your Sias, but you’ll also find choice album cuts from some of the year’s best rock LPs, like EMA, The War on Drugs, Against Me!, and more. And finally, we tossed in a few you may not have heard yet, hopefully inspiring you to check out the underrated tunes that haven’t been critical faves or Hot 100 contenders.

Here are the 25 best songs of 2014 so far — plus some extra tracks that didn’t make the final cut — in a Spotify playlist. Perfect for blasting at your holiday functions this Fourth. (We’ll update this list throughout the year as well!)

Click through to read more about the top 25.

EMA — “So Blonde”

Erika M. Anderson gets her third EMA album going with the perfect jawbreaker of noise-pop candy. Atop acoustic grunge, Anderson mixes deadpan vocals and effortless death growls about metropolitan loneliness and beautiful groupies. — Jillian Mapes

Bleachers — “I Wanna Get Better”

Jack Antonoff (fun., Steel Train) made his solo debut as Bleachers this winter with this downright dance-y first single — about mental illness. The topic is a refreshing change from pop-rock love songs, but then again, so is Antonoff’s mix of ’80s drum beats, a choir-led chorus, and stuntin’ on the fretboard for a proper solo. — Jillian Mapes

Strand of Oaks — “Shut In”

Timothy Showalter, aka Philadelphia’s Strand of Oaks, writes a Spingsteen-meets-Dylan anthem for the days when everything feels awful — losing faith in people, being born after all the great art had been made, generally figuring life out — that somehow comes across as oddly hopeful in the end. It’s an emotional juxtaposition Showalter emulates time and time again on his confessional (and excellent) fourth album, HEAL.  — Jillian Mapes

Sia – “Chandelier”

“Chandelier” plays a crucial role in Sia’s progression from under-the-radar singer to top pop songwriter to bona fide star. She may be the anti-pop star you want to root for, but the first single from her forthcoming album, 1000 Forms of Fear, proved that Sia saved a few universally relatable, wildly catchy hits for herself while racking ‘em up for Rihanna and Britney. This is uplifting drama that begs to be belted from a mountaintop, wind whipping your hair. — Jillian Mapes

Todd Terje — “Inspector Norse”

Norwegian producer/DJ Todd Terje’s debut, Album Time, was worth the 15-year wait, and boy does he know how to end it. After a wide variety of disco, house, techno, funk, and tropical music, Terje finishes off his instant classic LP off with “Inspector Norse,” a light-as-air seven-minute jam that sounds like Studio 54 in 2054. — Jillian Mapes

Shamir — “I Know It’s a Good Thing”

The Vegas-bred 19-year-old’s voice bridges the gap between the ways we perceive masculine and feminine longing in pop music. The song starts with some trepidation — just as, within it, Shamir questions a love that only makes him blue. But as he resolves not to “stay away,” the moody disco-house track becomes a rapturous march, with the singer crying, “Oh I know it’s a good thing!” — Moze Halperin

Charli XCX — “Boom Clap”

Hard at work on her second LP, Charli XCX offered up “Boom Clap” to The Fault In Our Stars soundtrack, lending an infectious frivolity to the cry-fest that was the John Green adaptation. First love has been compared to a lot of things in pop songs, but describing one’s fluttering heartbeat as “boom clap,” atop drum machines that do exactly that, is downright genius. — Jillian Mapes

Against Me! — “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace sheds light on her gender transition by juxtaposing melodic punk with bold vulnerabilities like, “You’ve got no cunt in your strut.” It’s weird to want to thrash around merrily to the truth-bombs Grace throws about the discrimination she’s faced, but I suppose that’s the beauty of “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.” — Jillian Mapes

Jennifer Lopez ft. French Montana — “I Luh Ya Papi”

J. Lo offers up a summer hip-hop banger about real-ass love that not only fits into her “Jenny from the Block” brand, but also sounds shockingly current — and not just because she name-checks Molly and quotes Drake. French Montana’s assist is flawless, proving he’s an even better rap foil than Ja Rule back in the day. — Jillian Mapes

Eric Church — “Give Me Back My Hometown”

Eric Church may be the one country dude all the rock guys like, but even when he releases a conventional country radio single, there’s something sort of special lurking in the shadows (like an earnest reference to Pizza Hut and an urgent guitar crescendo). On “Give Me Back My Hometown,” Church pedals something similar to the brand of nostalgia found on his breakthrough hit, “Springsteen”: the good old days aren’t worth looking back on unless you’ve got the girl who made ‘em worthwhile by your side. — Jillian Mapes

Sun Kil Moon — Carissa 

Sun Kil Moon’s Benji is the finest sad-bastard album you’ll hear all year, and “Carissa” is its most heartbreaking scene. Mark Kozelek details his second cousin Carissa’s death at the hands of a freak trash-burning accident back in his native Ohio. He will make you sob with merely his true story and his acoustic guitar, a feat lesser men have attempted and failed many times over. — Jillian Mapes

St. Vincent — “Birth in Reverse”

“Birth in Reverse” stood out from the rest of St. Vincent’s self-titled LP, an album about the inverse proportionality of technology and human activity. While songs like “Prince Johnny,” “I Prefer Your Love,” and “Severed Crossed Fingers” lulled us with meandering vocals and cozy glitches, “Birth in Reverse” was at least a physical call to action. Its genius is that, while we dance, the song lyrically takes us through a “birth in reverse in America,” a regression back to a fetal, immobile state. We can keep dancing, but Annie Clark wonders if – politically, existentially, whateverly – we’re dancing backward. — Moze Halperin

Coldplay — “Magic”

Say what you will about Coldplay, but they still write some of mainstream pop’s best love songs. Atop a low end that nods to Radiohead and wistful piano flourishes, Chris Martin — having consciously uncoupled from Gwyneth — shows the masses that he still believes in love via an extended magic metaphor. It’s kind of cheesy, sure, but the subtle switch-up he makes at the end borders on brilliant: “And if you were to ask me after all that we’ve been through: still believe in magic? Oh yes I do, oh yes I do, yes I do, oh yes I do — of course I do.” — Jillian Mapes

Future Islands — “Seasons (Waiting on You)”

Baltimore indie rockers Future Islands danced like no one was watching right into the mainstream with “Seasons (Waiting on You)” — and for good reason. Singer Samuel Herring’s frustrated romantic pleas find equally hefty foils in a bassline that chugs forward like a Mack Truck and a sweet-yet-sour synth line. — Jillian Mapes

Kylie Minogue — “Into the Blue”

Kylie Minogue’s “Into the Blue” is dance-pop in Technicolor: sophisticated strings, a ballad bridge, vocal gymnastics, a flurry of hard-hitting beats and ambient electronic effects, and a piano line grounding the entire thing. Minogue’s message — surrender to the unknown when life doesn’t go your way — is surprisingly mature and oddly uplifting, befitting her legend status. — Jillian Mapes

Beverly — “Honey Do”

Fuzz and feedback melding with ‘60s pop hooks and feminine harmonies: not the most uncommon combination in indie rock these days. But rarely has this sound reached the heights that it hits on Beverly’s “Honey Do,” 2014’s alternative summer anthem. — Jillian Mapes

Mac DeMarco — “Passing Out Pieces”

“Passing Out Pieces” captures one of Mac DeMarco’s best qualities (besides his ability to sound like Marc Bolan; this song is especially reminiscent of “Monolith”): his music’s occasionally wizened outlook coupled with his lewd, adolescent antics. Like someone looking back on a long life (and not that of a 24-year-old known for sticking drumsticks up his ass onstage while singing U2’s “Beautiful Day”), DeMarco speaks of his life “passing before [his] eyes” and how he’s carelessly passed out pieces of himself. In the accompanying video, he bathes in cabbage and smokes a cigarette drenched in bleach; DeMarco is clearly caught somewhere between precocious child and Bad Grandpa. It turns out that, musically, this is an interesting place to be. — Moze Halperin

Sharon Van Etten — “Your Love Is Killing Me”

A chorus listing a series of broken or severed body parts as a metaphor for destructive love — couched in a song called “Your Love Is Killing Me” — could be truly dreadful. But not on Sharon Van Etten’s watch. Van Etten has arisen as one of the most eloquent and straightforward writers of odious love, and this song exemplifies her skill at using cliché as a vehicle for frightening forthrightness. — Moze Halperin

Angel Olsen — “Forgiven/Forgotten”

“Forgiven/Forgotten” was the first song off Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness that showed she was branching out from the intimate lo-fi folk of her debut, Half Way Home. The song is brief — a mere two minutes, but these two minutes contain multitudes. Despite the song’s placated title, it teems with feelings of utter resentment. After a three-second intro, the remainder of the song is a cascade of wailing guitars and vocals; it’s wonderfully disorienting. — Moze Halperin

Ex Hex — “Hot and Cold”

Mary Timony, formerly of Helium, Autoclave, and Wild Flag, debuted her new band Ex Hex with a bold single this year, titled “Hot and Cold.” Thin Lizzy riffs and minor-key shredding overtake the angular track, but it’s got an awful lot of swag for such a guitar hero anthem. — Jillian Mapes

Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake — “Love Never Felt So Good”

Paul Anka helped Michael Jackson write “Love Never Felt So Good” back in 1983, but the song never made the cut. Now, five years after the King of Pop’s death, the tossed-off piano demo should not work as well as it does. Justin Timberlake inserts his swag into Timbaland and J-Roc’s new take, which includes “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”-style percussion. Luckily, JT manages not to muss it up too much, allowing MJ’s signature vocals to remain the star of the show. — Jillian Mapes

Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX — “Fancy”

Say what you will about the Iggy Azalea’s hot-button hip-hop drag, “Fancy” is wonderful. Announcing her presence in a voice that sounds like Kesha dipped in swamp, her exaggerated “Southern hip-hop voice” is here paired with Charli XCX’s similarly exaggerated British-ness, taking us on a wild adventure through the most exciting dialect training tape you’ve ever heard. Whenever I hear this song blaring from a passing car, I can’t help myself: I feel fancy, and in the best, trashiest way. — Moze Halperin

Kelis — “Jerk Ribs”

Kelis made a soul food-themed album without it being a gimmick, and the tastiest course is “Jerk Ribs.” The subject matter lends itself nicely to metaphor when discussing men, but the standout ingredient here has to be the blazing horns á la classic soul bands. — Jillian Mapes

The War on Drugs — “Red Eyes”

The War on Drugs do Springsteen with synths and woodwinds, which should not work as well as it does. “Red Eyes,” off their third album, Lost in the Dream, is a stunning song in which the narrator seems to be running away from some rough shit as fast he can, moving drums first toward salvation. — Jillian Mapes

Lykke Li — “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone”

No one does heartbreak quite like Lykke Li. While much the Swedish singer’s third album (and discography, actually) deals with the subject, few songs are as thoroughly devastating as the sparse acoustic track “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone.” An echo multiples Li’s vocals, giving even more power to her pleas. — Jillian Mapes