Monday, December 22, 2014

Best albums of 2014

1) Future Islands - Singles

I'm glad I didn't see their semi-infamous Letterman performance until today, as it may have dampened (doused?) my enthusiasm for this band/album. The record is so tight, so careful in its balance of light and dark, tinny and profound, and that performance is, um, not.

I mean, I'm all for geeky dancing. Gord Downie anyone?

And a crumbling stage persona + failing voice? I'm Dave Wyndorf's eighth biggest fan.

But I don't need that stuff when you're pumping out dancy, croony, soulful, electro-pop. I'll be sticking to the studio versions for my summer playlists, that's for sure.

2) Wild Beasts - Present Tense 

The English Future Islands? I guess there are some similarities between my #1 and #2 this year. Wild Beasts dwell in a higher register and have a better back catalogue (though I only traversed it this year). Smother from 2011 is just as strong as Present Tense ('Loop The Loop' being its standout track). Present Tense is probably the most consistent (consistently good) album of 2014.

3) Cold War Kids - Hold My Home

What is it about some bands that makes expect them to disappear? You know those bands you like, but you're always surprised to hear with a new song on the radio?

I loved 'Hang Me Out To Dry' (from Robbers & Cobbers, 2006), but something about the song / the band felt one-hit-wondery. I was wrong.

If I'd listened to Robbers & Cobbers more closely (heck, I'd know by 45 seconds into its first track, 'We Used To Vacation') I'd have been disabused of this notion. But anyway.

I was surprised last year when Dear Miss Lonelyhearts came out and was great. And was surprised again when Hold My Home came out this year and raised the bar again. This is partly a career achievement award and an endorsement from me to go and listen to Cold War Kids if, heaven forbid, you too have been sleeping on them.

4) War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

Okay, so I know this is on a lot of Year End lists. And part of me wants to drop them down further just to be contrary. But this is a great album for certain moods: Sunday afternoons, summer barbeques, early morning writing sessions. And that's pretty much all my listening slots, so they got me!

And War on Drugs were helped along by Mark Kozelek's vendetta against them. Sun Kil Moon's Benji was a pretty good album, but when I learnt what a douche Kozelek was (however catchy 'War on Drugs Suck My Cock' might be), Benji slipped from my top ten and kept slipping, while Lost in the Dream rose in my estimation.

Note to self: never feed the trolls, even when they're famous trolls.

 5) Lana Del Ray - Ultraviolence
Slow, dirgy pop with swearing, self-awarenees, self-effacement, parody. That's pretty cool. From the "poetry" of "Get a little bit of bourbon in ya / Go a little bit suburban and go craaazy" ('Cruel World') to the rocky-enough-to-play-on-Radio-Hauraki 'West Coast', this is a surprisingly fine album.

6) Fucked Up - Glass Boys

I'm not normally that into scream-singing. But Fucked Up have made me wonder if it's the screaming I don't like, or the music the screaming tends to get paired with. Because Glass Boys is a friggin ride, muscially. An avalanche of guitars and high-tempo drums (although the album is almost as good with the drums half-speed).

And it turns out this is the perfect music to write to in the early morning. I wouldn't have picked that.

7) Total Control - Typical System

There's a definite punky-throwback quality to Total Control. And the angular guitars and tempo breaks are reminiscent of mid-oughts Franz Ferdinand. But Typical System also sounds like it couldn't have been made any earlier than 2014. And that's pretty much what a 31 year old is looking for in music (contemporary feel; familiar grooves).

8) The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

I don't love this album as much as some of TNP's others (yet?). I think because it's so full-on, up-beat, up-tempo. I mean, I love the way Dan Bezar's songs sound like Sigue Sigue Sputnik. And a dig the way A.C. Newman has channelled ELO's 'Livin' Thing' for an entire album. But I miss the slower tempo gut punches like 'Adventures in Solitude' and the builders like 'My Rights vs Yours'.

That said, Spotify tells me this is the album I've listened to the most in 2014. And I'm going to listen to it some more in 2015. So...

9) Real Estate - Atlas

How to describe Real Estate? A sleepier, less Springsteeny version of War on Drugs (it's about now that I start to wonder if  Mark Kozelek would describe my list of top albums as the whitest he ever saw...)? I dunno. But this album is like a good (jangly) friend. Time flies in its company.

10) Avi Buffalo - At Best Cuckold

Another album that softly flirts with sonic beauty. Maybe I was after 'pleasant' a lot this year. But the lyrics are real enough, and dark enough, and smart enough (well smart), to undercut any sense of mushiness.

Other notables

Set for a bump

By the end of March next year, I'll probably regret not putting one or more of these albums in my top ten, as all are coming to Wellington and I tend to become a homer for bands I've seen live.

11a) Perfume Genius - Too Bright

11b) Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal (and maybe, but less likely, their 2nd album of 2015: Content Nausea)

11c) Royal Blood - Royal Blood (the anti-Future Islands, in that they were just another band on the radio that I didn't get into until I saw a clip on YouTube and appreciated all that sound they were making with just a drum and a bass guitar)

Best single

'Class Historian' by BRONCHO


Best comeback album

Sloan - Commonwealth

A double album, with each member taking song writing duties for a side (including a single 18-minute track to close out the record), this is both ambitious and welcoming. So many poppy gems. But a tad too slick and too, um, uncool (?!) to make the top ten.

Blameless unstickability

Last year, I loved Cloud Control's Dream Cave. This year, Cloud Nothings and Total Control made great albums. For some reasons, I just couldn't keep them all straight in my head and Cloud Nothings seemed to be the one I forgot (misplaced) the most. A shame, as Here and Nowhere Else is a good'n.

Anyway, don't take my words for it. Listen to choice tracks from all these albums below:

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