Song wise, 2014 represented growth and longing. Album wise, we were inundated with mostly noisy albums that blew us away. There wasn’t much in hip hop this year, nor was there much in the world of pop. Structure was questioned in 2014, and so was straightforwardness. There are a few easier-going albums on this list, but you’ll find that the majority of the albums that made it on here are unsettling and downright aggressive. If that doesn’t strike your fancy, I suggest giving these releases a chance anyways. This could be the year that opens your ears to the world of punk, avant garde and hellish anguish. If you really don’t want to venture down that road, there are some sweeter albums here (one that made it up as high as second place) that you can enjoy. Either way, here are my top 25 albums of the year
25. Boris- Noise
What is noise? Can something that is a tribulation for one be a symphony for another? Boris have been wondering this for decades. They have dabbled in so many styles of cacophony that an album, aptly named Noise, was sure to exist at some point. It’s an amalgamation of every loud sound in the book. You’ll have metal bursts and droning crawls, huge layers of static and even a calm song to put contrast on the entire album. It’s an experiment that works as it’s one of their best albums in a while; This means a lot when you look at their expansive discography. Noise is simply just that, but it’s more than just that all in the same.
After Flying Coffin last year, Thee Oh Sees decided to put their prolific span on hold and go on hiatus. Psyche; this psychedelic rock band is still going with John Dwyer and his new line up. Unable to give it a rest, Dwyer injects a greater lack of stability through his still-secure project with the antsy Drop. It is off the walls and through the empty space in our heads. It’s as fun as it is wreckless. I’m not sure if it’s a surprising release at all, as we knew Dwyer would want to work again eventually and we could bank on another good Thee Oh Sees release. This hiatus status didn’t fool anyone, and luckily Drop didn’t either as it is yet another enjoyable album in their lineup.
These Buffalo rapscalians have refused to give in for well over a decade now, and it’s simply bizarre to see a band so fixated on having fun and being so intense being so consistent. They’ve never been about gimmicks, and they have always cared about their final results. Their latest, From Parts Unknown, is their most serious release in a while, but it still laughs in the face of danger. It isnt their usual music that teases, as it is bold enough to be blunt. The bar fight will keep going with punch after punch rolling out. Every song carries it’s buddy on its shoulder (whether from alcoholic sickness or pugnacious injuries). It’s oodles of vicious fun, and this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve wanted to die again with this lot.
Who is this singer that has sprouted from out of nowhere? Over night, FKA Twigs (formerly known as Twigs, born name) has become a youtube sensation and a pop darling. Her videos are a bit uncomfortable to watch, despite not always having a good reason why. Everything about her would suggest that she partook in weirder music, yet LP1 is not the case. It’s full of fragile textures that can break as easily as they can cut. Her music is soothing while being distant enough yo not be easy to examine. There are latge amounts of restrain here, but the glimpses we get are outstanding. FKA Twigs is slowly getting bigger, but let’s hope that her music stays as quaint and delightfully moving as it is now.
White Lung weren’t the only female-led punk band to make it big in 2014 (Perfect Pussy were most definitely an honorable mention on this list), but they pulled this off with the best results. Deep Fantasy is their third album and it follows the critically acclaimed albums It’s The Evil and Sorry. Deep Fantasy could be their best thus far, and it is short and ferocious enough to take in multiple times to make this conclusion. It carries a bit of a Hole snarl with it vocally and the music harks back to some of the more melodic moments in Fucked Up’s past. It kicks major ass and does so merrily. There isn’t much that is deep here, because we know what we’re going to get when we see a creepy collage donned on the cover: Surface-levelled tension. Deep Fantasy is raw in that respect, and you won’t have to do much digging to have fun with this one.
Iceage have plowed their way through the hardcore scene. They had two albums that were acclaimed and known for their fast paces, quick run times and cataclysmic weight. They celebrated their successes with Plowing Into The Field of Love: Their way of diving into the folk scene. This is their tribute to bands like Violent Femmes who incorporate wayside storytelling into their punk tantrums. The album is longer, the songs are more complex but the anger is still the same. They do indeed barge their way through the areas that affect us the most: Their ballads have harsh vocals and the voids are full of noise. Iceage have tried to show their adoration to us and this is the best way they could. We get screamed at, and we’re alright with it.
Usually dream pop is pretty self explanatory. A Sunny Day In Glasgow, which in itself sounds like a paradox, have tried to make shoegaze a bit abnormal and fresh. We get a joyous rush through their findings. Sea When Absent is maybe the album of theirs that experiments with this mission the best. It even feels like a static picture of a setting and not a lush painting. Maybe that’s what we’ve needed after all these years of shoegaze being reexamined again and again within the same confinements. With Stereolab vocal work, sunny song writing and platonically shifting structures, Sea When Absent still works coherently because of A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s ear for what fits together. It may all sound like a blur, but it’s definitely going to spawn highlights for you to cling onto, and it never hurts to revisit this improvised joyride many a time.
Release after release, Ty Segall has made it his duty to be the heaviest high school rocker since being well past the age of high school admitance. He has worked hard to party harder, and Manipulator, being one of his poppiest releases, sells that point. Every song is a hit after hit as if you have a radio station on (perhaps a Sirius XM channel devoted to Ty Segall; Hey, not a bad idea!). It’s also one of his longer albums, and it just means that the party never ends. Live, these songs hit harder and in usual Ty Segall fashion, but on Manipulator– an oddly appropriate album name here–, they’re a bit softer and more enjoyable in a sense that you can dance to this music and not just rock out. Manipulator is sure to garner new fans and appeal to fans of old that wanted to see a little bit more of what Segall has up his sleeves.
The album is named after a term coined in Anthony Burgess’ mind-torture novel A Clockwork Orange, and that story speaks enough about the state of the world on its own when it comes to the way we all think. Lana Del Rey’s album has very little to do with this book, but it does its own soul searching within America’s current mindset. The country is sex crazy, doped up on drugs and mindlessly chasing after the supposed dream. The entire album is clouded by envisions of euphoria that appear in the form of swirling sounds and Del Rey’s most seductive vocal performances yet. Every time she reaches a high point, it feels like both a success and a failed wish. The title track deals with trying to stay in love despite being abused, but the entire album similarly beats itself up to pretend it is happy. When it isn’t caught in a blinding daze, it is cynical about it’s own successes. Ultraviolence is possibly the celebrity tragedy Lana Del Rey has been wanting to create since the start of it all.
“We will live on forever and ever”; We hear this being chanted at the end of Flying Lotus’s latest study. The album transports itself into the heavens above, through the still mind of a cadaver and amongst the many confused souls wondering and wandering about. His conclusion was that anything can surpass it’s own finite being if their legacy is strong enough. Being a jazz-legend descendant and having the praise he’s had these past few years, he’s fully aware of this. He also knows how to invoke humor, evoke madness and challenge those who danced in their seat all at once. With so much going on thematically and stylistically, You’re Dead! Is still a gorgeous reminder, much like the ending to Six Feet Under, that nothing truly has to end once it’s all over.
When we interviewed A.C. Newman of The New Pornographers, he suggested that Brill Bruisers was “pretty close” to being the album he’s always wanted to create. His definition of pretty close was our definite yes when it came to this album being a summer hit. Brill Bruisers is uplifting and joyful with no strings attached. Every second is bubbly and full of harmonious glee. It extended its stay outside of summer’s boundaries as well, as it is still perfectly okay to have on. Brill Bruisers is one of the happiest sounding releases of the year, and we might reach a complete euphoria if Newman achieves his perfect album.
Spoon’s newest album– and I can’t believe that’s a real statement– is pure, classic Spoon. The band is skilled at writing straightforward songs that just somehow feel like they were given an extra amount of effort. Their material sounds easy to make, but that’s where so much of their hard work lies. They Want My Soul is just a great feeling release that doesn’t throw any punches you wouldn’t expect, but you are still won over every time you hear it. The little flourishes hidden in the background garnish their songs enough to add mystique, but you can never get their to-the-point style wrong. Album is a solid release from a consistent band, and it is a very sweet comeback indeed.
“We live on the island called Montreal” is the very first thing we hear. What a statement to begin with. Then again, has anyone ever linked to Efrim Menuck been quiet about their political views? Maybe that’s why we love whatever they have to say. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, also known as a million other band names, have put out an album after Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s large return a few years ago, and they really decided to speak out with the lengthily named Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything. This album name is appropriate as many views get addressed here. The music is as if a punk band was put into Photoshop and smeared with the smudge tool so each stroke was elongated and stretched out, so each point, strum and hit attacks us more irregularly. It’s a vocal release and also a magnetic one. It’ll be the best time you’ve been told to fuck off this year.
What is the dream for the war on drugs? Is it to chase after blue collar mentalities like springsteen himself, or to discover eternal peace? Whatever it is, they’ve achieved stardom this year and for good reason : lost in the dream is of high quality. It drifts into another dimension like The Cure’s Disintegration did twenty five years ago, and with the rise of indie and dream pop, it’s about time we got carried off again. At about an hour long, this album will usually float along with you; It is not afraid to speed up at times, either. It is a very isolating record, and the accompaniment it provides during such lonely times is part of its magic. Lost in the Dream is as imaginative as its name suggests.
While the throwback to older styles schtick has been occurring a lot lately (especially within the indie realm), it’s always nice when a young band realizes why these old sounds worked so well and not just the fact that they were a success. Alvvays already have their Converse sneakers on the throat of the indie scene, but light enough to not hurt too much. With their acute attention to detail, their songs are poppy but not lazily so. You’ll hear the common questions about life, including those suction-cupped to themes like love, identity and what it’s all about. These are questions the members of the band are probably still interested in, yet they work so well with their love of the eras of yesteryear that these songs carry the same kind of innocence many bands fail to achieve. Alvvays’ debut is pleasant, fun and just so damn lovable.
Madlib is one of the great producers; We know this. Freddie Gibbs has a fascinating flow and punch that’s been missing from many hip hop lyricists lately; Yeah, and? The point is that together these two go almost too damn well together. With Madlib’s smooth music underneath Gibbs’ pummeling style, you have word after word coasting through the water like you were watching a water wheel. The music is as calming as watching such a sight, but every song still consists of an alert undertone. You’re a part of it all, but you still have to keep an eye out. You are immersed within the hip hop culture on Piñata, and it’s a lovely look on the genre and not a mockery; Some people still recognize old gangster rap for it’s creation of worlds and not it’s statements. While Piñata is way more grounded than common gangster rap, both Madlib and Gibbs help to bring back the kind of capabilities hip hop once had and still can very well possess. They certainly aren’t the only two bringing the good old days back, but it’s always lovely when it is done right.
What exactly is a salad day? Is that a fun day? Is the Shakespearean term still the same today as it was once then? Is it why there is a lyric on this album that these days are gone? I could be way off, but the only person that knows fully what a salad day is (in this context) is Mac DeMarco himself. He does long for naivity that these days call for. His music is wide eyed and it wanders around, pondering about the ways of life and love. He hasn’t fully matured as a person, but his music has aged with newly found knowledge he has gathered as of late. As a new superstar, he’s gotten so much exposure and experience within his own life and career. Salad Days is a compilation of many moments in DeMarco’s life that are all hitting him at once, and the sadder moments feel more like DeMarco’s aggreement with himself that he needs to move on. Growing up is something DeMarco won’t get used to lately, but we can appreciate his refusal here, with an album that can admit that life goes on but that we can still live in its respective moments.
In a year where hip hop was rather tame for the most part, the dynamic duo of Killer Mike and El-P returned with their followup to last year’s good self titled release. 2 is far from good: It’s downright awesome. It easily became the hip hop album of the year just as soon as the pounding beats and the spraying lyrics melded into one grenade of a release. Both rappers and the guests featured (including the return of Zach de la Rocha) slaughtered nearly all of the competition this year, and while their wordplay and themes are mature, they never took themselves too seriously. The fun combined with skill here is why Run the Jewels continues to be both a trend and a force to be reckoned with. Until the joke album Meow the Jewels sees the light of day, we cannot wait to see more of this gem of a project.
This self titled release, the second album in Mr. Twin Sister’s discography and their first with the new moniker, is like sitting at a jazz club while on ecstasy. The atmosphere is chilled but you still feel the effects kicking in slowly (and surely). Either that, or you’re at a night club and you have given yourself horse tranquilizers. The beat is alive but the world slows down beside you. Either way, you aren’t of this current time when Mr. Twin Sister is on. You may have traveled back to the 80’s or way into the future when this music is of the norm. The vocals, partially androgynous in nature (just like the band and album name), are sultry as they croon the never ending neo-disco rolls. There is a lot of other ambiguities here, lyrically mostly, but you’ll find yourself more eagerly lost within the heat of the night as the jams just keep coming. The jewel case is see through like last year’s Yeezus (perhaps for that very reason), but there’s nothing abrasive about this grooving sensation of an album.
Richard D James is a bit of a snarky guy. His creepy, sarcastic grin has been the label for almost anything he has been a part of since the very start. He dominated and disappeared. He finally returned this year with an album that is as cheeky and wide smiled as he is. He effortlessly came back with this glitch house party, and he ends it off with a piano piece. He laughed in the face of those who declared his days over, and he looked back and winked at the many electronic artists that thought they had kept up with him. He’s still got it, and Syro is complicated enough to have you discovering new sounds until he (eventually and hopefully) releases a new album.
This is mutilation at its finest. It’s damn hard to find an album as sickeningly addictive as something Throbbing Gristle or Coil would have made if either of those bands took more of a liking to noise music than industrial. Pharmakon, nee Margaret Chardiet, is a sick individual, but she is a performer daring enough to see how far she can go into hell. Her latest release Bestial Burden is as immediate as early Swans, as uncomfortable as a Gaspar Noé film and as real as the very moment you feel your stomach sink. This album, arguably heavier than many fully fledged metal albums this year, is a true beating of the senses. It won’t come across as some gimmicky art project of a university undergrad because everything here is authentic and real. Chardiet doesn’t try and shock you with Bestial Burden; It’s just an extreme form of emotional release. With a bonus track cover of Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), Pharmakon ends with clean singing and the fancy comparison of the brutal anxieties depicted in both music’s past and present.
“Am I the only one in the only world?” is asked in the first song Rattlesnake on St. Vincent’s identity-seeking self titled release. That’s a fair question. With the recent burst of success after an already-growing career was well on its way, Annie Clark has released this self-aware and self-charmed album where no one else even matters. With the most confidence she has ever shown the world, she dominates the galaxy with her extra terrestrial tones, bizarre guitar solos and quivering vocals. It is the lyricism that reminds us that Clark is still human, and even that aspect shoots her far ahead into the future. She questions technology, emotions and life itself. St. Vincent may have already been one of this era’s best talents, but it is this galactic-funk party that helped turn her into a mysterious icon.
Ariel Pink’s top song thus far is one that tends to describe a merry go round continuously spinning. Those few lines alone label Pink’s latter parts of his career rather well. He found fame, sparked controversy and came around to do it again. Much was behind Pom Pom’s release and not all of it was good (the Madonna lies, the Westboro comments and, especially, the Grimes retorts). The problem is that he is spectacular as a musician and even better as a songwriter, so it’s hard to sneer at him sometimes. Pom Pom is one of his best releases yet, as it is packed to the brim with Zappa-esque spurts, lo-fi pleads and a large palette of genre knowledge. Every second is catchy, even if many parts within a song have little to do with one another (Exile on Frog Street took some getting used to). Pom Pom is the most fun and drive worthy album of 2014, and its a summer album in the sense that you’ll be inclined to have it on next year’s season (it has that much staying power).
This electronic album of the year is an observation on the variety of feelings one can feel when swooned. Its production is so well put togethet that every single sound is affective, which comes into play immensely on such a personal release. Caribou recognizes that some feelings are mutual to all, so this isn’t about him: it’s about us and our love. Our Love is a ride from start to finish that is sometimes accompanied by narration but not always. It guides you and lets you coast around on your own. It will get you to think and then stop over thinking entirely. There is just so much going on with this release that it almost feels alive. That’s the power of affection, and Caribou’s passion for music gets translated into such adoring sounds; You’ll surely love this album as much as it loves you, the listener.
1. Swans – To Be Kind
What do you know? The most thought provoking release of 2014 won its praises. It’s two hours long, an annihilation of your brain and an agonizing epiphany. Swans have tried to remind us that music is still art and thus can be presented in many ways (and not just solely for entertainment), and while they usually hit their mark dead on, To Be Kind is accessible enough to teach this mentality to a wider audience. And so they should; The album is majestically engaging. The drones repeat again and again until you don’t even exist anymore. A swirling panic that somehow ends up being nirvana? That’s somethint special.
Michael Gira has made Swans his primary project for the majority of his music career. When Swans got back together after a hiatus, we expected something good. The previous release The Seer surpassed our expectations and ended up being one of Swans’ defining albums. To Be Kind didn’t just add onto this streak, but it became an instant landmark album for both Swans and noise music as a whole. It is automatically triumphant, whereas previous releases may have needed some getting used to in order to get past their bite.
To Be Kind sends you through hell and back again. It casts you into heaven and strips you right back down. You get philosophical outlooks on morality and human responses while you discover melody within a whirlwind of sorrow and pain. Swans found happiness within misery, and this discovery is possibly the kindest act within music you’ll receive this year. It was a year of noise but also a year of beauty, and Swans conquered both worlds in 2014 with To Be Kind: The album of the year.