It looks like Hozier is going to survive and prosper after having the big hit of the year in 2014. Not everyone who bursts from obscurity to instant fame with a huge hit single gets to live it down. One obvious downside is that many beginning artists who luck out on one song simply don’t have any more material to follow up with. So they end up with a record of hastily written filler, which gets them dismissed by the fickle public. Hozier didn’t have that problem, though. He had a full record – and then some – of outstanding material. It was a joyous surprise when I played his first album that I enjoyed every song, even on the extended edition. He has a God-given voice, of course, and his songwriting is moody and poetic in just such a way that appeals to my Romantic sensibilities. Since then, Hozier has released an EP and a second LP, and though neither spawned a song-of-the-year hit, they were good enough to not need to.
The burning question of 2014 was “who is Hozier and would he ever go away again?” Hozier had the hit of the year that year, and then he did go away, lying low except for the occasional pithy tweet since then. Now the question is, is he a one-hit-wonder? Because even those of us who loved Take Me To Church (I did and still do) got sick of hearing it on hourly rotation, and wondered if this guy had anything else up his sleeve. The good news, for those of us who bothered to check out his album, is that Hozier has a lot more than one lucky tune going for him. He had a full record’s worth of really good tunes, the relatively rare debut where every song is worthwhile and you actually want to listen to it all the way through more than once. So he’s got that much going, at least. But seriously, he’s already shown that he’s an amazing vocalist and a fine songwriter (the stage presence needs work) so there’s no reason not to think that there’s a lot more to be heard from him. So the question is just when.
I planned to do this last year but didn’t, so now I’m expanding my annual best-of. There were a lot of albums I loved, but many of them didn’t make the official list. So here are my favorite non-album hits for the year. In no particular order.
She Moves (Far Away) – Alle Farben feat. Graham Candy
Debut single from German DJ Alle Farben (real name Frans Zimmer.) A big hit in Europe, which is where I first heard it. A catchy song, a cute video, and a lot of memories.
212 – Azealia Banks
I’m bending the rules here, since technically, this song was first released way back in 2011 (although only in the UK.) Like many other edgy people, Banks had to make it big in Europe before getting a break in America. Her first full length album finally came out in the end of 2014, and this single is making the rounds again.
Boys in the Wood – Black Lips
This got a lot of airplay back in the spring, which is also when I caught these ATL punks at SXSW. They put on a fierce show.
Istanbul – Morrissey
World Peace is None of Your Business was a bit of an uneven affair, but this single is beautiful. The video I’ve included, although handheld and shoddy looking, was shot at Austin Music Hall on May 24 2014, a show which I attended and where I first heard this and many other new songs. Morrissey is in great vocal form.
Coming of Age – Foster the People
Foster the People may never live up to, or live down, their breakthrough hit Pumped Up Kicks, but they’ve done a pretty good job trying. I have driven many a commute to this on the radio, and it’s dang catchy.
“And the stars make love to the universe…” Shakira continues to be both awesome and faintly ridiculous. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to make the phrase “And I’m like – woo woo wooooh” the lyrical focal point of your song. But somehow it works, maybe because she really is all like woo woo.
Coffee – Sylvan Esso
Another one of those songs most often experienced while driving. An unorthodox radio hit, to be sure, but gently hypnotic and irresistible. Sylvan Esso’s debut album was a near-miss on the best-of list. Better luck next year?
Water Fountain – tUnE-yArDs
Did somebody say ‘unorthodox’? Tune-Yards easily takes home the award for Weirdest Hit Single of the Year. Likewise their album.
Warm Water – Banks
Also technically not released in 2014, but very predominant on the radio throughout the year. Banks (no relation to Azealia) released her full length debut, including tracks from previous EPs. The record has been justly acclaimed, and just may be the best bedroom album of the year. (That’s totally a category.)
Holding On for Life – Broken Bells
Broken Bells’ was another one of those standout records that didn’t quite make the final cut. A shining example of New Wave, psychedelic and electronic influences all pulled together in a modern way.
Mother & Father – Broods
Also on the Fake New Wave front, Broods are a breakout duo from New Zealand. There are a lot of promising electropop duos storming the world of indie radio right now, and we’ve still to see which ones emerge from the pack as important talents. Broods is definitely one to watch.
Cookie Thumper – Die Antwoord
Die Antwoord have yet to make a consistently satisfying album, but you can count on them to deliver at least a handful of memorable singles. Say what you will about them – they are very much not for everybody – but they are one of the few acts who can boast of a fully formed and truly original artistic vision.
Seasons (Waiting On You) – Future Islands
Future Islands is distinguished from the rest of the Fake New Wave/Electropop field by Samuel Herring’s unique and emotive vocals. Herring has earned comparisons to early-comeback-era Marianne Faithfull, of all people, and I can hear that. I can also hear a lot of Blue Eyed Soul.
Take Me To Church – Hozier
This song went from local hit in Ireland to total worldwide ubiquity in what feels like moments, although it actually took well over a year. The same goes for the artist; a few months ago Hozier was a complete unknown, now he is presumably well on his way to real stardom.
2 On – Tinashe
I happened to catch a Tinashe show at SXSW last year, having absolutely no idea who she was. That show also happened to be the first time Tinashe performed this song. Since then, her star has been rising. Although the commercial-R’n’B market Tinashe is aiming for is not something I normally want any part of, I do find her success gratifying. She has a great voice and I can attest she puts on one hell of a live performance.