Music. 2014.

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.

Perfume Genius,”Queen.”

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.

The 2009 Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Music

It’s that time of year again! First up, the Golden Teddy Awards for Most Excellence in Music.

Most Excellence in Wrongness

[youtube:]Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart is both genius and terrifying. One friend said that “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” “is a threat” and another said that “O’ Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fidelis)” “sounds likes a demonic incantation.” The album is the soundtrack for the next train to Wrongville. And yet I’ve found it hypnotic and, um, fun. If you think of Bob doing these songs at a drunken — very, very drunken — Irish bar on Christmas night, it sort of makes sense. Like the Pogues, minus a few gallons of whiskey.

Most Excellence in the Use of the Whole Rest

[youtube:]From 3:47 to 3:54 of MGMT’s brilliant dance jam paen to youth, “Kids,” all we hear are the light tapping of a drum set’s cymbals and the playing of children. And then BOOM, the refrain returns, and you’ll drive off the road if you’re dancing in your car. I’ve almost done that, well, too many times. The song is just amazing, and that moment is thrilling. I know it came out last year, but if the Grammys can nominate MGMT for Best New Artist for 2009, then I can give this song an award in 2009. So there.

Most Excellence in Auto-Tune

[youtube:]Any song that mocks how lame many pop-rap songs are and how badly misused auto-tune can be is a winner in my book. (Yes, I have book. Really.) And the Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat” is quite the winner. Let’s hope it wins the Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. (Argh: Simulacra!) Andy Samberg, you’re my hero. And that’s also because…

Most Excellence in the Use of Color Me Bad’s Goodwill Donation

…he and Justin Timberlake made the best sequel since Empire Strikes Back. “Mother Lover,” the follow-up to the Emmy-winning “Dick in a Box,” has the two douches getting out of prison, realizing that they missed Mother’s Day, and come up with a plan to, yes, fuck each other’s mothers. Oddly, the song is sweet. And it has these lyrics (among others):

AS & JT: ’cause every Mother’s Day needs a Mother’s Night
If doing it is wrong, I don’t wanna be right
I’m callin’ on you ’cause I can’t do it myself
to me you’re like a brother, so be my mother lover

AS: I’m layin’ in the cut waitin’ for your mom
clutchin’ on this lube and roses

JT: I got my digital camera, I’m gonna make your momma do a million poses

AS: They will be so surprised

JT: We are so cool and thoughtful

AS: Can’t wait to pork your mom

JT: I’m gonna be the syrup, she can be my waffle

Comedy gold.

Most Excellence in Cheesy Pop

[youtube:]Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” has been ubiquitous for the last eight months or so, and rightfully so. This is a perfect pop song, and makes you want to dance, sweatermonkeys, DANCE. But it’s also about how awesome music is and how music and dancing can make you feel at ease in the world, part of something, and just fine:

So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song
And the butterflys fly away
Noddin’ my head like yeah
Moving my hips like yeah
And I got my hands up
They’re playin my song
I know I’m gonna be ok
Yeah, it’s a party in the USA

And I dig this video in all of it’s aesthetic mash-up of the Dirty South and slumming Silverlake. Also, Miley’s grown up and looks hawt. Suck it, haterz.

Most Excellence in Avant Garde (or “Smelly Cheese”) Pop

[youtube:]Usually when pop singers “repackage” their albums, it’s usually with a few not-so-great add-ons and a vague name change (like Rihanna did with Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded or Eminem is doing with Relapse: Refill), all in order to keep said singer on the charts until the next full release comes out. However, the eight new songs on Lady Gaga’s Fame Monster, a repackaged version of The Fame, could have comprised an album — a very weird and totally amazing dance pop record. The song here, “Telephone,” which features Beyonce, has lyrics so strange they could have been written by Miss Fierce in her “Bootylicious” phase. As Perez Hilton said about the track, Gaga took it to the “next NEXT level!!!” Lady Gaga is a pop genius. (Here’s a guy doing an acoustic medley of her hits, in case you’re wondering if its the production or the songwriting that makes her great. It’s the latter.)

Most Excellence in Over-Produced Bombast

Who knew? Jordan Catalano, er, I mean Jared Leto screamed his way through the first two albums he and his brother and their band 30 Seconds to Mars made, and while I occasionally listened to a whole song if I heard it on the radio, I never thought they’d do something Golden Teddy-worthy. (I’m pretty sure having Flood and Steve Lillywhite as producers helped.) But “Kings and Queens” rocks. It’s so over-done, over-the-top, and opaque, and yet, it makes me feel proud and moved and sentimental; shivers go up my spine when I hear it. This video is amazing, despite the loving close-ups of Jordan’s, I mean Jared’s, face. It never crossed my mind that a bunch of freaky-deaky Critical Massers could elucidate and encapsulate this song. But they did. (Note: The rest of the album is not so good.)

Most Excellence in Old Home Week


[youtube:]I haven’t loved a Pearl Jam album in 10 years, but I ♥ Backspacer, in particular this track, “Just Breathe.” Gorgeous.

[youtube:]Whitney Houston’s I Look to You was never going to put Whitney back on top of the charts, but it’s a damn fine album, with some great songs and some great singing. The best song is “Million Dollar Bill,” written by Alicia Keys.

Most Excellence in Live Performance

[youtube:]Not only is REM’s Live at the Olympia the best sounding live album I’ve ever heard (thank you, technology!), it’s also an awesome collection of songs and patter. Michael Stipe is in a bizarrely good mood. And they rock on these tunes.

Most Excellent Reason Thank American Idol


I’ve written extensively about Adam Lambert, so I won’t add much here. But I just want to add that his performances on American Idol last season were fucking amazing. Here’s one of my favorites.

[youtube:]Kelly Clarkson put out an another awesome pop album this year — and this one is a helluva lot more cheerful than the previous one, which bombed. The title track “All I Ever Wanted” hasn’t been released as a single yet, but it’s my favorite on the album. Here’s her doing it live on British TV.

Most Excellence in Being Siouxsie and the Banshees, But Not Really

[youtube:]When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs got all dance-y It’s Blitz, Karen O’s inner Siouxsie really came through. She even looks like her. But damn, it’s an awesome album. Try not dancing to it. I dare you.

Most Excellence in Twee

Owl City’s “Fireflies” is both annoying and adorable. I turn it up when it comes on the radio. Who knew that someone could steal Death Cab For Cutie’s sound and make a monstrous Top 40 hit with it?

Five Most Excellent Albums

[youtube:]The Very Best’s Warm Heart of Africa is world music fused with alt rock. Magical and addictive. This is the best album I’ve heard this year.

Morrissey’s Years of Refusal. It almost sounds like a Smith’s record. Great songwriting: simple, catchy, funny.

[youtube:]The Gossip’s Music For Men is simply brilliant dance rock. It’s crazy success in the UK is yet another reason why their music scene is to be envied. US radio refuses to get behind anything remotely gay.

[youtube:]The Soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Well, it’s possible for a craptastic movie to have an AMAZING soundtrack. While the screenwriter and director must abide by the book and it’s wretchedly silly aesthetics, the music supervisor doesn’t. Woohoo! “No Sound But the Wind” by Editors and “The Violet Hour” by Sea Wolf are particularly awesome. This Death Cab For Cutie song here is actually one of the weaker tracks.

[youtube:]The Dead Weather’s Horehound is another Jack Black concept album, and arguably it’s the best non-White Stripes thing he’s done. It’s art rock at its artiest and most rockin’.

Five Most Excellent Singles

[youtube:]There was no better single this year than “1901” by Phoenix.

[youtube:]I love Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”. Fuck off, indy rock snobs.

[youtube:]The first time I heard Band of Skulls singing “I Know What I Am,” I said, “Oh. My. God. Now that’s a rock and roll song.”

[youtube:]When I hear Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind,” I want to get up and drive, fly, run, ski, sled, skip, pogo, or walk home to New York.

[youtube:]If Tilda Swinton and Kyle Minogue had a disco-diva love children, s/he would make something like La Roux’s “Bulletproof.”