Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Best Albums of 2014

A little later than originally planned (I kept changing my mind), here is a list of the albums I most enjoyed this year, with a few special mentions to start with...

Special Mentions

Real Estate - Atlas
Alvvays - Alvvays
Caribou - Our Love
Sharon Van Etten - Are We There
How To Dress Well - "What Is This Heart?"
Fear Of Men - Loom
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Days Of Abandon
Honeyblood - Honeyblood
Grouper - Ruins
My Brightest Diamond - This Is My Hand
Actress - Ghettoville

15. Lykke Li - I Never Learn

Despite this album's flaws (I.E: the lack of bangers), I do admire Li's boldness; not only is this album raw and powerful in sound, but she really does bear her soul in the lyrics. In all the sorrow she still manages to maintain her sharp ear for melody and killer choruses (see 'Gunshot' and 'Heart Of Steel'). As much I would of loved another 'I Follow Rivers' and God knows how happy another 'Get Some' would have made me, Lykke Li has stayed true to herself and for that I respect her. As this is 'the last in a sonic trilogy', I have no idea what's next for Li, but whatever happens she can be proud that she has created some of the most honest and powerful pop albums of the last decade.

14. GOAT - Commune

Picking up were their incredible debut World Music left off; Commune is a trippy exploration of musical styles from around the globe, from Western surf-rock, African tribal drums to psychedelic guitar twangs with Eastern flavours. With such a melting pot of cultural sounds, it would be easy to cheapen and trivialize their significance, but GOAT do them justice throughout, in the most celebratory way possible. Though I must admit that I preferred it's predecessor, Commune definitely feature some of their best material to date.

13. Aphex Twin - Syro

Though (as many reviews have already stated) this is hardly anything particularly ground breaking for the genius that is Richard D James, it is certainly one of his most accessible records to date (song titles aside). From sparse ambient moments like 'aisatsana [102]' to the more dense acid-techno bangers like '180db_[130]' and the healthy in between in the form of lead single 'minipops'. With more music allegedly on the way, these are exciting times to be an Aphex fan. I'd also recommend Selected Ambient Works for anyone looking to get into his music.

12. La Roux - Trouble In Paradise

If you journey back to January, I wrote a post about the albums I hoped would surface at some point in 2014, one of those being a new album from La Roux. So you can imagine my delight (and surprise) when La Roux returned earlier this year (as a solo artist) and released this masterpiece. Ok, maybe it's not a ~masterpiece~, but it's still pretty darn good. After 5 years, the pop scene is almost unrecognizable, so for her to come out with a bold tropical-pop record of this calibre is pretty impressive. 

11. Neneh Cherry - Blank Project

With the help of cutting-edge producer Four Tet, one of my all-time favourite producers, early 90's hip-hop/pop siren Neneh Cherry returned back in February with one of the most audacious comeback records in years. From the trip-hop recalling 'Weightless', the souring pop of 'Out of the Black' (featuring fellow Swede heavyweight Robyn) to the immaculately sharp 'Blank Project', this album is bold, masterful and effortlessly cool. If you, like me, particularly dug the production I recommend checking out Four Tet's discography.

10. Mac Demarco - Salad Days

It's been 2 years since the Canadian crooner released his critically acclaimed album and he has not disappointed in the slightest. Like Mac's previous material, Salad Days is light and uplifting, yet the added psychedelia injects some extra darkness into the mix (see 'Chamber of Reflection'). This is easily Mac's most textured and impressive output to date. On a side-note he recently put his disheveled red Vans on Ebay for charity and bidding reached about $10,000 within a few days, just thought I'd mention that.

9. Pharmakon - Bestial Burden

Bestial Burden, though intense and uncompromising, is also visceral and has moments of true beauty. It certainly feels more like an ‘album’ than it's predecessor ever did, with each song contributing a different idea and insight into the concept of the record. Though there is immense contrast between the sparser, otherworldly tracks (“Vacuum” and “Bestial Burden”) and the face-melting, bone crushing ones (“Autoimmune”), the album feels cohesive and fluid in its tone, every track serves its purpose. Most importantly, Bestial Burden is a piece of art, and the artwork itself is just the beginning, the arrangements and sounds hit hard and leave a lasting impression. This is most certainly not everyone’s thing, but like all great art, it provokes thought and debate, achieving much more than just a disposable file on your computer.

8. Perfume Genius - Too Bright

What makes Too Bright special is its ability to shift between these aforementioned off-kilter avante-pop tracks and more stripped back balladry, meaning that the content shows heaps of progression without alienating his prior fanbase. Despite the immense levels of confidence he exhumes on the more instrumentally dense tracks, we still see moments of emotional vulnerability and self-loathing on the piano ballads, a familiar territory for Hadreas. Album standout 'Too Bright' uses subtle synth flourishes to enrich the melody and give the track an almost spiritual and medicinal feel, despite the cryptic and sparse lyrics this is one of the most powerful tracks on the entire album. Suffice to say, seeing Perfume Genius' music grow both sonically and visually has been an absolute delight. 

7. Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

Over the last decade LA producer Steven Ellison (A.K.A Flying Lotus) has dropped some of the most interesting and ambitious electronic/hip-hop records [arguably] of all time (Los AngelesCosmogramma), though his last record Until The Quiet Comes was a lot tamer he has certainly upped the ante with his latest release. The entire record screams boldness and liveliness, from the explosive cover art to the excessive use of retro video game samples as well as off-kilter synths and drum patterns - Fly-Lo's specialty. This record isn't all style however, the substance is pretty damn good also; You're Dead! contains some of his finest tracks to date with the likes of 'Coronus, the Terminator', 'Siren Song' and his massive Kendrick Lamar collaboration 'Never Catch Me', which sounds even better in the context of the album. An essential jazz-fusion record which feels like a worthy successor J-Dilla's iconic Donuts.  

6. EMA - The Future's Void
Following-up a boundary-pushing debut like the Past Life Martyred Saints was never going to be easy; for Erica M Anderson there was only one way to do it and that was bigger, much bigger. Though you may not realize it now, The Future's Void was one of the most important releases of this year; in an age where our lives are pretty much dictated by the internet, TFV provides 43 minutes and 31 seconds of reflection and contemplation on what the world has become as well as what could potentially lay ahead. This is sometimes surreal ('Satellites'), sometimes sobering ('3jane') and often startlingly accurate ('Dead Celebrity'). This may all sound very heavy but EMA also does an excellent job of adding satire ('So Blonde') and straight up attitude ('Neuromancer') in order to create an eclectic and thought-provoking modern masterpiece which demands to be heard. 

5. FKA Twigs - LP1
So as you may have gathered by now, I am (still) pretty much infatuated with this record, but don't take my word for it; the world of FKA Twigs is ready and waiting to be delved into. But what I can offer you is the following advice: If new to Twigs, give it time (perhaps less than two weeks, ha) and you will reap the rewards. If already accustomed to her artistry, you'll agree it's a masterpiece and want to marry it. And if none of the above don't apply, I simply do not know. I've listened to this record relentlessly and can assure you that there are no weak spots, each track is special and will become your favourite at one time or another, that's the beauty of it. 

4. Lone - Reality Testing
There is an immense confidence felt throughout this record, a self-assurance in Matt Cutler's flawless production which makes Reality Testing feel more entrancing and engaging than your average electronic record. Not since Jon Hopkin's astonishing Mercury-nominated Immunity have I felt such warmth and depth from an electronic record. With Reality Testing there is a real sense of balance between paying tribute to older scenes such as Detroit techno and Chicago House and innovating new sounds. As a result I feel this record will stand the test of time, to the extent where it already feels somewhat of a classic, to me anyway. Hopefully between this and the popularity of acts such as Disclosure and Julio Bashmore, mainstream dance will regain its credibility once again. 

3. St Vincent - St Vincent
With a discography as strong as Annie Clark's, there was never any doubt in my mind that St Vincent would be yet another solid offering from the reigning queen of art rock. Despite technically being ~her major label debut~, St Vincent is her most experimental solo record to date lyrically, melodically and not to mention imagery-wise. This album is every bit as cohesive and fluid as its predecessor, yet each track is unique and presents its own set of ideas; from the ridged indie rock of ‘Birth In Reverse’, the off-kilter pop of ‘Bring Me Your Loves’ and the sheer euphoria of ‘Psychopath’, every second is something to be taken in and savored. Best of all however is its pop sensibility; If you cut past the muffled (and sometimes blazing) guitar riffs you'll see the gooey pop center and like every accomplished pop record St Vincent goes out in a blaze of glory in the form of the deceptively sweet ‘Severed Crossed Fingers’, a career highlight. 

2. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Shock? Well not really, my number 1 choice changed like the British weather over the course of the year and is likely to continue changing...in fact I'm not so sure this is such a good ideas...but anyhow this record in particular had a fair share of time at the top. Both cohesive and wonderfully diverse; there is so much to be taken from this record, from the the glorious highs ('Hi-Five') to the devastating lows ('White Fire'); Burn Your Fire...'s genius is in it's ability to strike the perfect balance between the two. Whilst her debut was crippling at times ('Safe In The Womb' in particular); Burn Your Fire... turns despair into triumph as it sticks up her middle finger to loneliness and sorrow before leaving them behind on the wonderfully uplifting 'Windows'. 

1. Warpaint - Warpaint
Just over a year ago you may recall me banging on about my excitement following the announcement of a new Warpaint album (which just-so happens to be my most-read post yet). With such excitement over a record it is often the case that the record itself feels rather underwhelming in comparison to the hype which preceded it. Fortunately, 12 months on I still cannot get enough of this bloody thing; Hypnotic, rich and often intoxicating this record is a class effort form the Cali quartet, everything about it feels so unique compared to anything else released this year. From the stunning imagery to the execution of the music itself; they simply aren't bothered about being in-tune all the time because the atmosphere takes precedence and I for one support this completely. From the pulsating lead-single 'Love Is To Die' to the badass growl of 'Disco//Very' this album is full of witchy goodness.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Best Songs of 2014

Happy list week folks! I haven't posted for a while but I have two mega-posts to compensate (with my best albums of 2014 coming shortly). What a year it has been, this was an incredibly difficult list to write and there were a lot of last minute shuffles (hence the mess that this the spotify playlist). But I've finally got my s#!t (and incidentally, my list) together, so without further ado I present my favourite songs of the last year...

OK so like I said I am insanely indecisive so I felt it necessary to create a sub-list with a few special mentions (in no particular order), I am aware that 15 is a weird number and there is very little justification for it besides the fact that I had ran out of trendy adjectives by number 15. 


Special Mentions

  • Taylor Swift (see what I did there) - New Romantics (seriously though what a chorus)
  • Holly Herndon - Chorus
  • Lady Lamb The Beekeeper - Billions Of Eyes (as this only dropped a couple of days ago it would have been a bit unfair to put it in my main list)
  • St Vincent - Huey Newton (tough call but there can only be one track per artist in my elusive top 15 *hint*)
  • Daughter – Winter (Warpaint Remix) (same as before)
  • EMA - When She Comes (albums list makes up for it)
  • Jessica Pratt - Back, Baby (same as Lady Lamb)
  • Rosie Lowe - Water Came Down (again, a little too fresh)
  • AlunaGeorge - Supernatural 
  • My Brightest Diamond - Lover/Killer
  • Panda Bear - Mr Noah
  • Lykke Li - Gunshot
  • SOPHIE - Hard
  • Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks - Little Fang
  • Lyla Foy - Feather Tongue
  • How To Dress Well - Repeat Pleasure
  • White Hinterland - David (such a beauty)
  • Kyla La Grange - The Knife
  • Little Dragon - Klapp Klapp
  • The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - Until The Sun Explodes
  • Fatima Al Qadiri - Szechuan (Bloody love this one)
  • Shunkan - Dust In Your Eyes
  • Lily & Madeleine - The Wolf Is Free

15. Mac DeMarco - Passing Out Pieces
What a man...and what a track; Mac DeMarco was always somewhat of an unlikely hero but his ascension from Canadian goofball to a cult hero is remarkable and well deserved. Don't get me wrong, he is still very much a complete clown but his audience has certainly grown much larger than your bog-standard kids party, so to speak. This track, with it's hazy melody and driving horns/synths made 'Passing out Pieces' a premature summer jam. 

14. Caribou - Our Love
The first of many obscure choices on my list; Although it would have made a lot more sense to have featured the certified IDM monster that was 'Can't Do Without You', I can't help but prefer this track, which I feel was unfairly eclipsed by the lead single. The groove feels a bit off, but that only adds to the charm of this track. 

13. Screaming Females - Wishing Well
A late entry to my list; Screaming Females have certainly pulled it out of the bag with this track, which is easily their most straight-forward and accessible to date. Though it must be noted that any of the pre-released tracks from Rose Mountain could have made it onto my list, this one is still my favorite by far. 

12. Hockeysmith - But Blood
One of my favourite iplugtoyou 'Ones To Watch' alumni; Cornish sisterly duo Hockeysmith have undergone a serious level of artistic progression since they first came on the scene. 'But Blood' feels miles away from their ambient alt-pop routes but equally entrancing, and these riffs could've easily belonged to Slowdive or MBV in their prime. 

11. Perfume Genius - Too Bright
It would've been all too easy for me to feature the massive 'Queen', but I for one much prefer the more ethereal title track from Perfume Genius' breakthrough record Too Bright. The simple yet completely glorious melody, flourished with masterful synth-work exemplify Mike Hadreas' ~journey~ from his low-key 2009 debut to a cult hero in 2014. 

Ironically, this song isn't available anywhere except spotify so 'Queen' it is then:

10. Robyn & Foyksopp - Do It Again
Ok time for a banger, well, a conventional banger. Robyn is hands-down the best pop star on the planet and to hear her ~slaying the airwaves~ with this tune was a complete joy. This is the perfect summer anthem, it's punchy, fun and relentlessly dance-able. It would probably be a little higher if it wasn't winter and I wasn't in the midst of a horrible cold, but there you go.

9. Warpaint - Son
I bloody love Warpaint, me. 'Love Is To Die' is still on heavy rotation and is quickly becoming one of my favorite tracks of all time, but as it was technically released in 2013, it cannot be featured (according to the tragic set of rules I set for myself before I wrote this list, sad but true). Anyways, this track is pretty damn great too and makes perfect driving music. 

8. FKA Twigs - Kicks
iplugtoyou - doing things differently since 2013; when all other lists glorify the (admittedly amazing) lead single 'Two Weeks', it was the closing track which really caught my attention back in August. I mean, what a breakdown (Portishead realness) and a not-so-subtle lyrical theme of masturbation is always welcome. 

7. Angel Olsen - Windows
I'm sure this comes as no surprise to any of my regular readers (I know you're out there somewhere), Angel Olsen is 2014 for me (*Spoiler alert*). 'Hi-Five' might be great but as an ~original fan~ I will always have an infirmity for her ethereal folk stuff. Yes, it's all a bit melancholic and sad but then again so am I, hence my love for her discography. This track acts as a perfect bookend for a rather bleak and reflective record, you can truly feel her ~letting go~ as the song progresses.   

6. The War On Drugs - Red Eyes
Now it wouldn't be a best of 2014 list without The War On Drugs making their obligatory appearance now would it? I honestly tried avoiding them this year (this song in particular) but back in July I caved in and consequently fell in love (with this track anyway). The shimmering melody and mostly incomprehensible make it the musical equivalent of late-summer afternoons, which are now distant memories for us Brits. 

5. St Vincent - Psychopath
I originally wasn't going to feature album tracks from record which rank highly on my best albums list but I couldn't resist this one; often overshadowed by 'Digital Witness' or 'Prince Johnny' (which, yes, are still very wonderful), this track really ought to get a lot more recognition for how lovely it is in every possible way. The chorus in particular is orgasmic, seriously, well done Annie.   

4. Alvvays - Archie, Marry Me
The concept of 'a perfect pop song' is wholly subjective, for some it's a huge EDM banger in the way of Ariana Grande and Zedd's admittedly huge 'Break Free', while for others it's the jingle-jangle pop of The Smiths' classic 'This Charming Man'. For me pop perfection is personified by Toronto outfit Alvvays, with this track in particular being an absolute clanger. It's almost 3 minutes and 20 seconds of pure hook, from the bird-chirping intro to the perfectly arranged and delivered "Hey, Hey"s in the chorus, this song is pretty-much immaculate.

3. Lone - 2 is 8
Following his seminal album Galaxy Garden, Nottingham producer Lone would have a mammoth task in releasing a follow-up to equal the standard he had set so early on in his discography, but fortunately he came through with the euphoric Reality Testing. The uppity '2 is 8' is a definite highlight, along with 'Jaded' this acts as a key access point for the stream of conscious that is this record with production which not only lends to the golden age of the Manchester dance scene but looks towards the future in equal measure.

2. Real Estate - Talking Backwards
If you trace your minds back to late February you may recall me badgering on about this track; half-way in between a late autumnal jam and a premature summer anthem 'Talking Backwards' was an important track in 2014 by an equally important band (having produced some of my favourite records of all time). This is jingle-jangle pop at it's very finest - with a hint of melancholy in the chord progression for good measure.

1. Arca - Thievery
As you are probably aware, I have listened to a hell of a lot of songs this year, but not one of them has even come close to this one; the beat, the guttering synths, the schizophrenic pace and of course, that video. Even though Xen as a whole was kind of underwhelming the fact that this track is on it is enough to make it one of the best releases of the year. I now wonder if there will ever be a moment where this track will not be ingrained in my head (nor the weird big-arsed creature, for that matter).