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.

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