The 20 Best Songs of 2014: From Nick Minaj and BANKS to Sam Smith and Sylvan Esso

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Photo of BANKS by Catie Laffoon

2014 was an interesting year for music. Lorde continued to dominate the world (I spent this morning in an elevator with a middle-aged woman frantically trying to get “Royals” to stop playing from her phone). Paris Hilton is now a certified DJ. Beyonce released an album that was basically exactly the same as an album she’d already released, and people still bought it because they’re hardcore Beythiests

With the democratization of music making, made simpler through programs like Ableton and Logic, it only makes sense that there’s been an increase in bands worth listening to. If you’re not a gay male producer who decided to make beats for your female best friend to sing over, followed by naming your band in all caps (something like SEA or GREEKS), then you’re late. 2014 was definitely the year of monosyllabic words in caps.
Anyway, here are my favorite 20 songs from the year. Enjoy!
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20. Folded Like Fabric – I Tried

Based out of the UK, “Folded Like Fabric” has not been receiving the attention the duo deserves. They’re one of the rare groups that doesn’t really have a “bad” song out there—everything is high quality and easy on the ears, including their latest track, “I Tried.”

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19. Jack Garratt – Worry

Based out of London, Jack Garratt has the type of voice fellow singers would kill for. He doesn’t have a ton of music out there yet, but he’s definitely someone we’ll be keeping our eye on in the new year.

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18. Fyfe- For You

Fyfe’s silky-smooth voice seems to float with ease over vigorous, down-tempo beats and a carefully balanced combination of synthetic and organic instruments. He actually has a big repertoire filled with similarly beautiful works, which you can check out here.

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17. Run The Jewels – Oh My Darling Don’t Cry

I’d seen the name “Run The Jewels” probably a hundred times before I realized I’d been listening to their track “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” on repeat. Started by New York-based rapper and music producer El-P and Atlanta-based Killer Mike, Run the Jewels released their second album this year, receiving a cosmic amount of critical acclaim.

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16. ODESZA – Sun Models (feat Madelyn Grant)

ODESZA makes delightfully infectious beats to accompany highly manipulated vocals, which are construed into melodies few humans could actually sing. 2014 saw the duo climb Electronic charts like there was no tomorrow, and we can surely expect more for 2015.

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15. Tove Styrke – Borderline

We spoke to the lovely Tove Styrke shortly before the year’s end and have been fawning over her US debut EP ever since. “Borderline” showcases the artist’s eclectic, wordly sound and unique, ethnic-sounding style of singing.

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14. Seinabo Sey – Hard Time

Swedish singer Seinabo Sey is one of the most exciting artists to come out of 2014. Her hits like “Hard Time” and “Younger” spread quickly throughout Europe, eventually coming to the US where she was warmly welcomed. This track is the new theme song for VH1’s Mob Wives promos, so that’s pretty badass.

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13. HAERTS – Call My Name

Brooklyn-based HAERTS are an Indie-Pop band with a flair for merging sounds of the 80s with modern elements. “Call My Name” is on the group’s eponymous debut album, released in October 2014.

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12. Shamir – On The Regular

Shamir’s falsetto voice and super cute style helped put him on the map as a new Internet darling, with a presence that has grown particularly large in Europe. The Las Vegas native has been releasing some of the year’s most exciting new dance pop, including the addictive “On The Regular.”

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11. Sam Smith – I’m Not The Only One feat. A$AP Rocky

Sam Smith basically conquered the music industry this year, winning the hearts of millions of fans, including a heap of other famous musicians. While it was hard to choose just one song off of his Grammy-nominated album In The Lonely Hour, this collaboration with A$AP Rocky packs a certain punch that makes it stand above the rest.

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10. Black Coast – TRNDSTTR ft. Maggie

This year, producer Stan Rapoport (previously a member of Prinze George) embarked on a solo project called Black Coast. His first release, TRNDSTTR, makes use of trap percussion with dreamy synths and airy female vocals. The electro-pop masterpiece has left us anxiously anticipated what Rapoport has in store for us.

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09. Tinashe – 2 On feat. ScHoolBoy Q

Another major breakthrough artist, Tinashe’s won everyone’s bets for next big thing in Hip Hop. Produced by renowned hit-maker DJ Mustard, “2 On” has a beat so slick it pulls listeners in effortlessly. Despite our calendar’s switching from one year to the next, this song will be getting played for a long time to come.

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08. Yeo – Kobe

Truthfully, there’s not a whole lot out there about Melbourne-based Yeo. That said, the artist came onto the map with his first installment, “Girl,” followed by the wonderful genre-blender “Kobe,” which features a mastery of down-tempo beats and anthem-like melodies.

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07. BROODS – Bridges

New Zealand duo BROODS showed that they meant business with their awesome debut track “Bridges,” which has become foster for an assortment of rad remixes and reworks. With a lot of other similar acts emerging, BROODS made sure to stand out with dazzling songwriting, packed with distinct vocals and a delicate yet impactful drop, sure to give goose bumps to first-time listeners.

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06. Sia – Chandelier

So afraid of “celebrity” as we understand the word today, Sia has made a habit of covering her face and having other’s lip-sync her work for performances, creating a sort of distance between herself and her fans, thus making her connection to audiences purely musical. Originally written for Rihanna (and you can tell), “Chandelier” got endless airplay and the Grammy-nominations to match.

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05. BANKS – Beggin For a Thread

BANKS’ Goddess albums ranks as one of the best of 2014, making it difficult to choose a single song from the newcomer. After becoming Coach’s new face and playing major venues while touring the country, the demure and modelesque chanteuse made an entrance this year in a big way.

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04. Elliphant – “One More” Featuring MØ

2014 was a big year for Elliphant, who released original tracks and numerous remixes on a sporadic basis. “One More,” featuring fellow Scandinavian artist MØ, shows off Elliphant’s flair for music production and effortless coolness.

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03. Chloe Black – 27 Club

One of my favorite new artists by far is Chloe Black, the haunting pop singer who, with a voice sounding as if it’s from a different era, could easily replace Lana Del Rey as queen of the hipsters. Her ode to the famous 27 club is a brilliant introduction for the promising artist.

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02. Nicki Minaj – Lookin Ass N*****

Nicki Minaj just dropped The Pink Print, receiving tons of praise from critics and fans alike. In a way, the album marks Minaj’s return to Hip Hop after being cast as a “pop star.” While “Lookin Ass N*****” didn’t make it on the album, the song foreshadowed Nicki’s return to her old, mixtape style.

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01. Sylvan Esso – Coffee

In only a year, Sylvan Esso has evolved into one of the best indie-electronic groups on the scene. Their music is beautifully orchestrated and distinctly original, with tracks like “Coffee” boasting lyrical brilliance and a strong flair for songwriting. We’ve watched the plays go from a few thousand to millions over the past months, officially making 2014 the year that Sylvan Esso kicked ass.