If you just want to hear selected tracks from the best albums of 2014, there’s a YouTube playlist link at the bottom of this page…
It’s great to be able to look at the last couple of years’ lists and see which albums made a big splash at the time, which still sound as good as when they were released, and of course those that I completely forgot about (justifiably or otherwise).
From 2012’s list for instance, Bonnie “Prince” Billy‘s as prolific as ever, so there’s been at least two good albums since the collaboration with The Trembling Bells. Woods also did another, but didn’t hit quite the same heights. Deerhoof on the other hand squeaked back into the list for 2014.
2013’s list on the other hand seems surprisingly fresh still, with the possible exception of Autre Ne Veut who were a bit of an afterthought at the time. Grouper and The Men are the two that have hit the final list again, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
1. Serengeti – Kenny Dennis III (Joyful Noise Recordings)
What is this? As my mate Pontus put it, “Rap + 60s guitars? Interesting.” That’s a pretty good summary, Serengeti or Kenny Dennis III to use this alter-ego likes to mash things up. The track on the mix is No Beginner which reflects the strange combination of sports references and lifestyles of Polish heritage people in Chicago. Strange. But very good.
2. Tweedy – Sukierae (dBpm Records)
In case the name doesn’t seem familiar this is Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Loose Fur, Uncle Tupelo and Golden Smog, playing with his son. It’s satisfyingly over-thought throughout the album creating interesting beats, dissonant blasts of guitar, abstract lyrics and a general feeling of discomfort pervades the whole album. Well worth a listen, and then several relistens to get your head into the space they’re creating.
3. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Mended With Gold (Saddle Creek)
I discovered the The Rural Alberta Advantage because legendary poster artist Justin Santora did a poster for one of their gigs. I fell in love with The Deathbridge in Lethbridge, and this is their follow up album which is still consistently good (although the critics beg to differ).
To sum them up they’re a trad folk band whose instruments have been swapped out for a rock band’s and they’re loving it. They write really strong hook-laden smart songs. There’s a touch of the arena rock in there as well, but basically, it just works!
4. Shellac – Dude Incredible (Touch and Go)
Todd Stanford Trainer.
What can’t these guys do? Shellac are infuriatingly quixotic, enigmatic and then sometimes straight-ahead rockers. This album feels like a companion piece to the last one, Excellent Italian Greyhound. Overall the style is like a David Cronenburg film (as weird as David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch, but more corporeal). The guitars are always muscular and hypnotically rhythmic, without veering towards noodling or psychedelia. Shellac have been one of my favourite bands for a long time, and this album should not disappoint fans.
5. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal (What’s Your Rapture)
Someone introduced me to these guys as a modern Pavement. I don’t see it. They’re lots of things, but definitely more punk than slacker rock. In fact, they’re probably closer to the post-punk revivalists like The Strokes, and the new garage scenesters like The Black Lips. Anyhoo, I digress.
This is simple traditional garagey goodness.
6. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits (Sacred Bones)
Much like The Black Keys these guys are writing 70s rock albums now, but including all the learning of everything that’s come since. They recklessly throw in giddy pianos and beautiful ‘good times’ guitars throughout.
BUT things are not quite that simple. Over the course of their albums that I’ve heard, from 2011’s Leave Home, 2012’s Open Your Heart and 2013’s New Moon there is always something a bit extra on each track that distinguishes it from having been recorded at any time other than right this goddamn minute. Similarly with the albums, they often veer fantastically between styles and appear to be comfortable writing anything (a la Ween).
7. Wampire – Bazaar (Polyvinyl)
These guys were an unexpected new treat for me in 2014. Hard to define and elaborately ethereal, they also have a flavour of the traditional rock, but twist it and play with it into a hipster-friendly, tongue-in-cheek, melee of sound. I can imagine these tracks coming over the fashionably battered speakers of many a Shoreditch bar, and I’m sure they have been doing just that…
This is a fun album, and this track Wizard Staff is the clear mass appeal single (despite the sax solo!)
8. Mike Adams At His Honest Weight – Best Of Boiler Room Classics (Joyful Noise Recordings)
Part Dinosaur Jr, part Beach Boy, I reviewed this album when it came out, and for good reason. It’s a highly personal record, with lyrics dealing with the difficult period Mike
9. Black Lips – Underneath The Rainbow (Vice)
“So, call the cops…” disaffected, garagey, urban, jangly summery guitars. Black Lips know how to do their thing and they do it repeatedly. They might not be pushing any boundaries with their sound, but it does exactly what it says on the tin, over and over. It’s rock n roll as Lou Reed loved it, and liable to make a lot of post-punkers happy once again. This is a particularly good Black Lips record as well.
10. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom (4AD)
I had mixed feelings about Ariel Pink (well, actually, I just didn’t really like his previous releases). So for me Pom Pom came out of leftfield like a bolt of lightning and surprised the proverbial out of me. It’s bubblegum pop but as written by Frank Zappa and played by a Deerhoof / Fiery Furnaces supergroup. The whole album works, has consistency… and insanity.
11. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks – Enter The Slasher House (Domino)
Animal Collectives’ Avey Tare continues to explore and plunder the musical landscape regardless of the moniker. This is one of the album’s of the year in my opinion, although it struggles a bit to maintain the consistency of some of the others. That could be partly because Little Fang is such an obvious and fantastic stand out track.
12. Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita (Polyvinyl / Joyful Noise)
Another of the Joyful Noise Recordings releases from 2014 to make the list. There’s always so much going on with a Deerhoof record, and every record takes a lurch towards a very different sound.
La Isla Bonita is no exception. All the tracks make sense together as an album and there is a flow of sorts (albeit not as strong as with 2012’s Breakup Songs).
13. Kishi Bashi – Lighght (Joyful Noise)
Kishi Bashi won me over with this incredible performance on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk series. His album this year is beautiful and consistent, a sprinkling of Sufjan Stevens sensibilities mixed with some more pop influences like Bastille. He seems like a smart musician who’ll continue to develop and nuance his sound.
I’d *love* to see him live based on the above Tiny Desk session!
14. Busman’s Holiday – A Long Goodbye (Joyful Noise)
When I reviewed Busman’s Holiday’s new album back in April it seemed like a strong contender for album of the year, and at the end of the year, I’m pretty it is my favourite album (even with Sun Kil Moon’s Benji being released prior to it!)
The music and harmonies are mournful, sincere, uplifting and crushing all in one song. It was written as an album and plays perfectly as a vinyl with the closing of the first half / opening of the second half beautifully thought out.
15. Sun Kil Moon – Benji (Caldo Verde)
I think this made a lot of top spots on lists of 2014, Mark Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon project goes from strength to strength. Personally I think he eclipsed previous project Red House Painters some time ago, and the success of Benji this year reinforces that.
This is one of the most personal albums, not just of the year, but that I’ve ever heard. Some people have a talent for confessional lyrical storytelling, but often don’t have the stories to make it interesting. That is simply not a problem for Kozelek. As is well documented elsewhere a track that got a lot of attention on the album was dedicated to Ben Gibbard, but the stories of his family are more interesting to me.
You have to listen to this if you haven’t already.
16. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues (Drag City)
Will Oldham’s alter ego Bonnie “Prince” Billy marches on with style and heart. The albums keep coming, although he no longer bothers telling anyone if he’s releasing one so you pretty much have to rely on word of mouth and good reviews. His take on it is that, “This kind of promotional thing destroys a lot of the excitement of making records.” Fair enough!
I entirely missed his self-titled, self-released album from 2013, but wasn’t about to let that happen again in 2014. Nine of the eleven tracks on Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues are reworkings of content released on Wolfroy Goes To Town back in 2011, but as is his wont, they are comprehensively revisited and rethought, and well worth a listen.
17. Lily & Madeleine – Fumes (Asthmatic Kitty)
This album may get the lump in the throat award for most poignant release of the year (although it’ll have to duke it out with Sun Kil Moon of course). There is a lot beauty contained in these songs and whole novels conjured up in the lyrics.
Personal favourite track is this obvious single, Can’t Admit It.
18. Beck – Morning Phase (Capitol Records)
Morning Phase is a return to more traditional recording and publishing of music (as in he hasn’t just released the sheet music for what could be an album if someone played, recorded and mixed it!)
Morning Phase harks back to his Sea Change era 12 years prior to this release, but I think exceeds that album in sheer washes of sound and ambience throughout. As with many of the other albums here, this works best played end to end, but this is a pretty good shot at a single from it.
19. Grouper – Ruins (Kranky)
Grouper are so far out and ethereal they make Bowie look like a jock.
This album will render most drugs redundant as simply listening to it will instantaneously transform your mental state. Anyone fool enough to combine the two may well be lost forever. Similar to The Man Who Died In His Boat from 2013’s list, this is late night or journeying music.
All in one easy-to-listen-to YouTube playlist
To save the faff of playing all the above videos separately, here they all are in one convenient and easy to listen to list…
Those I forgot and suggestions from friends!
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)
Adam Granduciel’s The War On Drugs will reach the end of their first decade playing together in 2015. Lost In The Dream can easily be described as a pinnacle of that career as well. Thanks to my friend Paula for recommending relistening to this one as it’s a beautiful album that is parts Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Wilco, Americana, 80 pub rock, etc. Extremely well-produced by Granduciel, the album is all of the above but with a subtlety that belies those influences.
Ex-member Kurt Vile dominated the ‘best of’ lists of 2013 with Wakin On A Pretty Daze, but the band he left have produced a wonderful album without him.