Yes, the Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Music is being posted in a timely fashion. I know, shocking. Anyway, here it is. These are a bunch of my favorite tunes from the last year. If you just want the playlist of videos, you can go here to my YouTube playlist “2014.” And here’s a Spotify playlist of the Golden Teddy Award winners and various runners-up and honorable mentions not mentioned in this post:
Now for the awards!
Most Excellence in 1991: Madonna, “Living for Love.”
I have a teensy bit of sympathy for Madonna, who claimed “artistic rape” when a few dozen demos from her upcoming album were leaked. She released final versions of six of the songs just before Christmas, and I’m one of the folks who thinks these songs (and the demos) signal possibly her best album in a decade. One of the six is “Living for Love,” which could have been on Erotic: it is 1991 retro sing-song house. It’s a rump shaker, as they say. I’m looking forward to the remixes.
Runner up: Clean Bandit ft. Jess Glynne, “Rather Be.”
This could have been thumping at any East Village club in 1991. It’s awesome.
Most Excellence in Having a Voice that Makes You… OMG THAT VOICE: Sam Smith
He’s, like, 14 years old and sounds like George Michael and Boy George’s perfect pitched love child. He can also write a sad song as well as anyone, except maybe Adele. Also: Gay!
Most Excellence in Being Awesome But Being More Awesome with Dancing: Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting on You).”
This is a great song, but after you see Future Islands rock it on Letterman, the song becomes something epic. Because that dancing. Just. Wow.
Most Excellence in Focus Grouped, Lowest Common Denominator, Cheesy Pop: Taylor Swift, “Blank Space.”
This song is just perfect. I can’t help but succumb to the efforts of the evil geniuses who constructed it from sonic crack and mind control algorithms.
Most Excellence in Smelly Cheesy Pop: Coldplay, “A Sky Full of Stars.”
I refuse to hate Coldplay out of some misplaced hipster snobbery. This is a perfect pop song, mashing up de rigueur dance beats, driving rock, and infectious glee.
Most Excellence in Party Albums: Tie!
La Roux’s second album Trouble in Paradise is not the genius that their first was, but it is a perfect put-it-on-and-be-happy collection of songs. Poppy, dancey, funny, and never dull.
Jungle’s first album sounds like Earth Wind and Fire filtered through Hot Chip and TV on the Radio. Sorta. The album is delight all the way through, with a driving beat perfect for your desk cool-kid cocktail hour.
Most Excellence in Songs that Made Me Cry in the Theater
If there were recordings for “And I’m Painting” from the musical Fortress of Solitude and the last song in the show The Great Immensity, I’d put them here. They’re not recorded yet. Both are written by my friend Michael Friedman, and they’re beautiful and wrenching and made me cry in the Public Theater last year.
Most Excellence in Wrongness: Tove Lo, “Habits.”
I can’t believe this song is on the radio. What Tove Lo describes doing in order to get over her ex is, to say the least, unhealthy. But fun!
Most Excellence in Telling It Like It Is: Adore Delano, “DTF.”
Adore Delano was the runner-up for last season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, and this was her first single, which is filthy, insane, and totally her.
Most Excellence in Singles, Top 5
Hozier, “Take Me to Church.”
No song was more indelible to my ears this year, and not because it’s on heavy rotation on every radio station in the world right now. It’s haunting, gorgeous, and gave us Hozier, who is a really big deal.
Robyn and Röyksopp, “Monument.”
The best song on their EP and arguably as great as anything she’s put out in the last 15 years.
Hercules & Love Affair and John Grant, “I Try to Talk to You.”
Hercules returned to form with The Feast of the Broken Heart and their collaboration with John Grant is the highlight of the album. It’s gorgeous and heartbreaking, like everything Grant does, and impossible not to groove to, like Hercules’s best stuff. That piano.
The War on Drugs, “Under the Pressure.”
It feels like a more robust James song, but a bit more American, rootsy, and Dylany.
There’s no comparison. This song is just singular.
Most Excellence in Albums, Top 5
St. Vincent, St. Vincent.
Hearing this for the first time was like hearing The Lion and the Cobra for the first: What. The Fuck. It doesn’t sound like anything else, except for rock and pop and Liz Phair and Tori Amos and a bunch of other stuff from planets far away.
TV on the Radio, Seeds.
My favorite band dropped their best album in 10 years right before Thanksgiving. It’s distorted and weird and fun and happy and sounds, like all of their stuff does, like no one else.
Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour.
I mentioned him above. This is the best pop album of the year. Beautiful, accessible, sad.
D’Angelo, Black Messiah.
Mostly, this album made me re/discover D’Angelo, who is a genius. It’s beautiful and political and odd and wonderful.
Coldplay, Ghost Stories.
Mentioned above. At first, I thought this album just sucked. And then, after a couple listens, I realized how beautiful and mournful and smart it was. I listened to it a zillion times. So there.