Year-End Lists \

The 40 Best 2014 Songs by 1994 Artists

Don't call it nostalgia—these mid-'90s mainstays are still getting it done 20 years on

10. Common feat. Vince Staples, “Kingdom”

Common’s most impassioned album in ages ended up arriving just in time for hip-hop’s biggest flashpoint cause in ages, and Nobody’s Smiling climax “Kingdom” ended up as a default anthem for the civic rage over the Michael Brown shooting at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, providing one of the year’s most indelible musical moments. It’s easy to see why, with the track’s storming, choir-backed production achieving operatic levels of fury, and Vince Staples — rapper behind the year’s other most vital unintentional Ferguson anthem — stopping by for a show-stopping coming-out performance: “Used to take the bullets out so I could play with the revolver / Satan serenading ever since I was a toddler.” A.U.

9. Weezer, “Go Away”

Curious for Weezer’s supposed long-long-awaited comeback album to peak with this past-scorching centerpiece, whose hook line is “Don’t come back here any more!” But co-author and duet partner Bethany Cosentino understands classic Weezer better than Rivers Cuomo does at this point, and eases his labored slide into adulthood with a tune so simple and sweet it could’ve arrived 20 years ago. But it didn’t, and that’s the point: the only way is forward. D.W.

8. Veruca Salt, “Museum of Broken Relationships”

Nina and Louise are better singers now, but this unheralded band mastered well-harmonized noise-pop back when they had contemporaries like the Breeders and that dog. to contend with on alt-radio. Now alt-radio doesn’t care, and neither do they on the original lineup’s first single since 1997, a cheerfully begrudged two-chord blowout. They’re finally rare at what they do, and they’ve always done it well. Jubilation: We left them right there and they made something of not wanting to go. D.W.

7. Mary J. Blige, “Whole Damn Year”

The headline-making tracks on Mary J.’s career-reinvigorating The London Sessions were the collaborations with Sam Smith and Disclosure and the other house-friendly cuts that proved that the Queen of R&B was making the most of her U.K. travel budget. The most stunning listen, however, was easily the Emeli Sandé co-written “Year,” a devastated account of post-relationship trauma with a minimal piano-led beat that sounds as shellshocked as Miss Mary herself. “It’s been a bad five years,” Blige trembles, and though she’s probably not referring to her needlessly hip-hop radio-courting My Life II from earlier in the decade, it’s good to have her back just the same. A.U.

6. Beck, “The Morning”

Beck’s Morning Phase could’ve easily come off as cynical, a second attempt at a mope-rock career reboot a dozen years after his first go-round with Sea Change. Fact is, though, the melancholy of Phase was even more achingly lovely than than that of Change; nowhere moreso than on its partial title track, where the chiming guitars and xylophone pierce through the languid haze of its thick production and codeine-slow shuffle like rays of light illuminating floating dust particles through the venetian blinds. “Can we start it all over again, this morning?” Beck acts, and six years since we last heard from him, the answer is still apparently yes. A.U.

5. Scarface, “No Problem”

What happens when your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper decides he’s sick of the title? Six years after his last official release, Mr. Scarface takes aim at hip-hop’s foot soldiers with a track built to rebut. He spits one big-ass verse – no hook – over a functional production: trap drums and squelchy synthflaps. Dropheads are referenced only to be dismissed; the only artists mentioned are NWA (Scarface approves) and Suicidal Tendencies (nah). To drive shit home – and also to pad the runtime – he appends an interview excerpt (minus the anti-Semitic parts) blasting execs. His resonant growl remains; rap game Upgrayedds take note. B.S.

4. Marilyn Manson, “Third Day of a Seven-Day Binge”

At long last out of doors to knock on, the only shocking Marilyn Manson is doing these days is with how fucking good his new songs are. “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” is the most slinkingly depraved-sounding thing Manson’s done since “The Dope Show,” if not ever; its low bass growl, multi-tracked howling vocals and swampy guitars make it sound like something more off a lost Dr. John alt-rock crossover attempt than anything the Antichrist Superstar himself was doing in the ’90s. “We’ve only reached the third day of a seven-day binge,” the man born Brian Warner promises. The comeback is so on for 2015. A.U.

3. Aphex Twin, “minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]”

SYRO sounds like every Aphex Twin album and none of them, wholly familiar yet not actually like anything he’s done before. It’s jazzier, for one thing, and its leadoff track typifies the switch to funkier breakbeats than anything from Richard James’ ambient phase or his drill ‘n’ bass noisefests. How does he keep the chaos so controlled with the dissonant melody so out of reach? He was always a trickster. And here is the treat. D.W.

2. The Afghan Whigs, “Lost in the Woods”

Rare does a band’s first album in a new century come a decade-and-a-half in and still sound no worse for the time lost, but the Whigs’ Do to the Beast was every bit worthy of the group’s cult-inspiring ’90s output, a tad less primal a scream than frontman Greg Dulli’s blasts in the past, but no less urgent for its world-weariness. “Lost in the Woods” was the album’s centerpiece and album highlight, Dulli playing a demon in redeemer’s clothing, representing at least four or five of the seven deadly sins at once. It’s a well-earned second-person omniscient narration that Dulli delivers over a spiraling swirl of pounding piano and incantatory strings — why settle for playing the alt-nation elder statesmen when you can be the apparition haunting rock music forever? A.U.

1. Toni Braxton & Babyface, “The D Word”

Two multiplatinum juggernauts who have nothing to prove, Toni Braxton and Kenny Edmunds made the other best retro R&B album of the year — Love, Marriage & Divorce, a harrowing (and luxuriously produced) song cycle no one knew they had in them, with such title-says-it-all tracks as “Where Did We Go Wrong” and “I’d Rather Be Broke.” It all comes to a head on closing track “The D Word,” with Braxton’s haunting harmonies wrapped tensely around Edmunds’ liquefied falsetto as he promises “Although we’re apart / You still own my heart” over some of the most unsettling “easy listening” backing in recent memory. When he starts escalating “forever, forever,” pitch increasing like a lit fuse, even their lawyers get choked up. D.W.