Aan, "I Don't Need Love"
For the first single from its long-delayed "official" debut, subgenre-neutral rockers Aan tossed needling guitars, looped drums and singer Bud Wilson's nasal howl into a cement mixer and churned out a wildly tangled ball of desperation, announcing the arrival of one of 2014's idiosyncratic highlights…finally. MATTHEW SINGER.
Ages and Ages, âDivisionary (Do the Right Thing)â
This was a rough year, but singer-songwriter Tim Perry and company delivered one hell of a pep talk to get us through: Four minutes of pure optimism that crescendos into a full-on group sing-along, assuring us that whatever "the right thing" happens to be, we'll do it all the time. SHANNON GORMLEY.
Elton Cray, âNosetalgiaâ
Though his aesthetic is old-school, MC Elton Cray has no interest in reliving the past, which for him includes memories of a crack-addicted mother and being bullied in school. When he ends with the repeated refrain, "Fuck being humble," it's the rare instance of rap braggadocio that's clearly been earned. (SG)
The haunting sparsity of Liz Harris is impossible to shake. On "Clearing," she whispers heartbreak over nothing more than gentle swaths of sustained piano, with her voice gradually becoming indecipherable, and the muddled beauty lingers well after the last notes fade. BRANDON WIDDER.
Hustle and Drone, "Evaporated"
I couldn't have asked for a better song to take up residence in my head for months. It got stuck in there partially from the combination of shakers and low, fuzzed-out synth, but the main draw is the tense moments between the beats that build to the staggering, funky, falsetto chorus. KAITIE TODD.
There's no shortage of politically engaged MCs in the world, but on "Woodstock," Illmaculate displays an impressive purview, referencing Howard Zinn, Fred Hampton and Edward Snowden against production pilfered from Sky Saxon and the Seeds' gritty, 1965 garage-rock nugget "Pushin' Too Hard." DAVE CANTOR.
Mimicking Birds, âMemorabiliaâ
Singer-guitarist Nate Lacy pairs jaw harp and rippling, electric guitar with such delicate finesse that you might overlook his cascading references to formaldehyde and diphtheria—lyrics as ethereal as the song's gleaming instrumentation. (BW)
Liv Warfield, "Why Do You Lie?"
The R&B powerhouse and Prince protégée shook The Tonight Show set off its moorings when she made her national television debut in January, flanked by a fleet of horn players from the New Power Generation. While the studio version, from sophomore album The Unexpected, doesn't hit quite as hard, Warfield's insinuations are blunt enough to induce sympathy pains for whatever poor sap did her wrong. (MS)
Liz Vice, "Empty Me Out"
In a year saturated with synth-pop anthems, Vice's retro gospel soul came off as both a throwback and a breath of fresh air. Under a laid-back groove, Vice layers her low, powerful vocals over simple keyboard melodies, singing of finding hope in Jesus but never proselytizing. (KT)
The Resistance, "Mount Olympus"
This is the year Portland hip-hop broke through—onstage, in the streets, in official city documents—and St. Johns' the Resistance helped put several cracks in the glass ceiling. It did so with tracks like this, a fire-breathing cipher cut from member Rasheed Jamal's upcoming solo album, Sankofa, with Jamal, Mic Capes and Glenn Waco spraying lyrics like machine-gun fire over a beat that's "epic" in the Grecian sense of the term. (MS)
Sallie Ford, "Coulda Been" (pictured above)
As the lead single from the debut of Ford's new all-girl band, this poppy garage number delivers a welcome heap of crunchy guitar and bongos as the former Sound Outside leader ruminates on a sour relationship, and the spastic, electronic meltdown at the end only reinforces the sentiment. (BW)
Shy Girls, "Sittin' Up in My Room"
Dan Vidmar, with an assist from DJ Portia, shows off his interpretive powers by bringing out the sad, lovestruck delirium underlying Brandy's 1995 pop-R&B hit with production that's hazy and minimal but not afraid to throw a few shotgun blasts into the mix as well. (MS)
Sleater-Kinney, âBury Our Friendsâ
2015 is set to be the Year of Sleater-Kinney, but let's not forget that day in October when Corin, Janet and Carrie released their first song together in 10 years, and it was just perfect—a loose firecracker of a song, ferocious and tender, heralding the return of the best band in the world. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
White Glove, "Division Street"
An anthem for our times, White Glove's ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek anti-gentrification screed "Division Street" chooses its targets carefully. The sing-along dirge, which Colin Meloy dubbed on Twitter the "best and truest song ever written about Portland," certainly feels like a heartfelt elegy. However, if you take the lyrics literally—"places to eat" replacing meth cooks and adult theaters—you shouldn't be surprised if you find the tune shamelessly pumping from the new residents' SUVs. JAY HORTON.