2014, you sure were a punch in the gut. During your 365 days, we saw a veritable deluge of strife, excitement and pain. I myself briefly lost my mind. Luckily, artists responded to the tumult with tales of psychic pain, gay and queer tribulations, unexpected death and promiscuity. They allowed us to cope with what we were unsatisfied with. While it’ll be easy to say good riddance to the days, the music that came from it will outlast a not too great, all too kind of terrible year’s memory.
Of course, not everything was dreary and despicable. The sun still shone on many and for them, 2014 also carried the ample soundtrack to their wanderlust, first loves and way cheesy feelings. We here at SSG are cut from a variety of cloth, so here we include all of the music that made us feel something the most, be it sun drenched abandon or torrential malaise. Hopefully you’ll find an appropriate record for your next emotional milestone.
Colette Pomerleau – Editor
My list consists of albums that I not only played over and over again an unhealthy amount, but played during a significant moment.
10. Hundred Waters – Heart Rang Like A Bell
You know why you need this album as much as I knew why I needed it. Add to any romantic playlist.
9. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Make My Head Sing
Make My Head Sing was perfect for extended road trips with close friends or belting it out on your own in a cavernous environment and somewhere in between.
8. White Fence – For The Recently Found Innocent
The transition from very lo-fi garage rock to polished-but-still-exciting garage rock made its mark on my memory forever.
7. Ty Segall – Manipulator
I’ll be honest. I freak out about anything Ty Segall does.
6. Wray – Wray
I helped host the biggest event I’ve ever hosted before. It ended. There were strange people laying around in my personal area and I needed to get away. This band provided the escape.
5. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
This album made me cry in front of a record number of strangers.
4. Temples – Sun Structures
The day I heard Sun Structures for the first time, I realized I have things in common with people overseas.
3. Quilt – Held In Splendor
Streaming this album during my day job work day actually made it appealing. Quilt helped me make it through the faxes, the childish emails, the traditional upper management and stark office environment.
2. Wand – Ganglion Reef
My house has a rooftop patio. Really, it’s a roof with a little bit of leverage. I’d blast this while sipping summer cocktails on that dangerous hang out area.
1. Allah Las – Worship The Sun
That time when I decided I would die one day and knew what I would prefer to play during my conclusion.
Aaron Sharpsteen – Editor
Aaron’s vast musical knowledge cannot be contained by a mere compilation piece. You can read about Aaron’s ten favorite releases of the year in its own self-contained (yet still canonical) piece.
Aaron Sharpsteen’s Ten Favorite Albums
Androo Meyers – Editor
10. Grouper – Ruins
The true sad boys know that embodied sadness existed eons before bucket hats and codeine syrup. I respond to somber and intimate music and Ruins is a desolate and cold meadow before me to rest my sullen head in. Completely stripped down to just her voice, a piano and the ambient environment, Liz Harris has crafted an album that is painfully simple yet deeply intimate. Each composition feels like a thought still being formed, bleeding from one to the next as if it was one single moment surrounded by the elements. Its allure is meditative, retaining an enveloping ambiance that Grouper does best, but channeled through a new form.
9. Taylor McFerrrin – Early Riser
I’m sure no one expected the son of Bobby “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” McFerrin to put out the most seductive record on Brainfeeder this year, but Taylor McFerrin‘s Early Riser is a perfect melange of downtempo, future jazz and glitched out soul. While labelmate Flying Lotus delves deeper into jazz scale workouts, McFerrin’s is complex without compromising its intoxicating groove. One of the bigger surprises of 2014.
8. From Indian Lakes – Absent Sounds
From Indian Lakes have steadily polished their style of theatrical emo to a fine sheen. Intricate guitar work and perfectly packaged, living songs make it probably one of the prettiest albums about the meditation of death I’ve heard in awhile. I’m abashedly infatuated with everything this band does which is only appropriate for a band that propels itself by wearing their hearts on their sleeves. I’ll forever be a sucker for them.
7. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Pinata
Freddie Gibbs slick west coast style of corner banging swagger is married with Madlib’s most solid production work since his collaboration with MF Doom and the result is an album that oozes style and bravado. Freddie can go hard, but with Madlib’s reconstructed soul behind him, it makes him more captivating than intimidating.
6. Valentin Stip – Sigh
A massive sprawling epic of ambient electronic music. Valentin Stip, being a classically trained pianist, understands the value of the space in between the notes. After minutes of damp reverberations, a solid groove will emerge from the ether, hold and build, and then dissolve once again. Sigh functions piece as one full musical experience and, when listened to in that manner, is absolutely hypnotizing.
5. Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust
Since 2005’s Infiniheart, Chad VanGaalen has shaken every preconceived notion of what defines him as a songwriter without compromising his one true constant: the beauty of morbid fucking tragedy. The brunt of that relies on VanGaalen’s voice. It takes many forms; it howls and burns. But when left at its most vulnerable, it quivers like a soul forever waking up from a cold sweat. Like the albums that came before, Shrink Dust defies classification. It is a self-professed country album AND conceptual soundtrack to an unreleased sci-fi epic, peppered with moments of shattering vulnerability amidst frenetic bombast creating a pastiche that is absolutely enveloping. Pervasive sin, past regret, frozen landscapes, and cosmic catastrophe coexist all within 40 minutes in a way that only VanGaalen accomplish. At times I confided in Chad’s music when I felt absolutely worthless, and yet other times when I felt overwhelmingly positive. It’s a fucking feat for an artist to catalog both poles of the emotional spectrum and Shrink Dust is only another example of an artist who understands the emotional weight in both.
4. D’angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah
Despite what many will claim, D’angelo’s much awaited return didn’t drop at the tail end of the year simply to throw a wrench into every Top 10 list and give journalists a conniption fit. Rather, like many of the most important social conscious pieces of music, it was culled into existence. After countless temptations and a fucking mountain of tribulations that left us without a follow up to 1999’s Voodoo, everybody was pretty much content to let D’angelo take as long as he needed to release his third record. Alas, it was D’angelo that could wait no longer and his biggest motivation resided in one of the most tumultuous and utterly shitty years in recent American memory.
Black Messiah isn’t just soulful album and it isn’t merely a response to the injustice of black lives. It’s a final chance for black voices to be heard in a year that was terribly white washed. In entertainment, Miley tried hard to take black sexuality while Iggy rose up with the aid of commandeered Atlanta swagger Coupled with the veritable suffocation of black voices in politics and media, 2014 seemed hopeless for black America. Black Messiah exists in its sexuality and its frustration to reclaim the voice. Its lushness and social consciousness go hand in hand and the product is a album that is gorgeously soulful and at times intricately daunting. Somewhat like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, it’ll live on to be an album inextricable from its time.
3. FKA Twigs – LP1
This year saw pop music drift into some weird sexual hyperbole. Yet, with countless egregious attempts to “bring the booty back,” female sexuality found itself largely commodified rather than empowering and seductive, which is the bad taste that pop leaves in the mouths of most people who talk it down. FKA Twigs proved to be the antidote for the sex-as-asset, twerk-appropriated wasteland of 2014 pop. The seduction and sexuality on LP 1 are first and foremost self-serving. That internal obsession with sexual pleasure is measured with a darkened blanket of LA Beat and a glitched out R&B swagger that feels like it’s still in the process of reanimating itself. What makes LP1 captivating is that exists entirely with in Twigs’ head: the seductive coos and longing for warmth seem like thoughts still forming; a talking point for her ID. Twigs isn’t trying to be a sexual entity to be consumed and LP1 isn’t meant to seduce you. It exists solely for her and we just have the honor of enjoying it too.
2. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
Cymbals Eat Guitars were starting to develop a pretty good rapport as the perpetual underdogs. Their debut Why There Are Mountains showed them as band with big doe eyes, if only through the voice of many bands before them. Two years later, they returned with the auditory high wire act Lenses Alien, whose ambulatory instrumentation and patchwork stream of consciousness lyrics made it a album you respected the shit out of but really only pored over with headphones on; submerged in a blanket of pot smoke or a full mouth of psilocybin. But LOSE cuts the shit, shedding the veil of identity crisis and forced ambiguity for an album that is huge, honest, and utterly youthful.
LOSE is testament to a band finding its best work with its own confrontation. Lyrically, it’s conceptual obsession with troubled adolescence and particularly the loss of a dear friend are first person accounts rather than allegory and the torn pages of a Thomas Pynchon novel. It would be safe to assume that LOSE was a sad record considering the content, but the memories and music are huge and celebratory. Opener “Jackson” is at base a car ride to Six Flags which would feel normally feel like a negligible memory. But the music is the absolute hindsight, soaring and ever rising to the point were it fully expresses the anticipation that kids hold waiting in the backseat. The album holds that ebullient sincerity throughout and even when songs creep past the 6 minute work they feel immediate and over too soon.
1. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
2014 marked a year where quite a few artists managed a beautiful tableau of rich honesty and pointed songwriting. A lot of these artists were working toward that effective dichotomy with previous releases but it was Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra that proved to be the most surprising. Anyone familiar with the band and its spiritual cousin Godspeed You! Black Emperor knows that expecting music at once immediate and absent of indulgence is a lost cause. But after countless name changes and a constantly shifting tapestry of long, expansive compositions, Thee Silver Mt. Zion collective began to steadily shift; paring down and focusing more on songwriter Efrim Menuck’s cinder and brimstone lyrics. The culminating result is an album that focuses more on a sun continuing to rise than the death and destruction of human corruption that it shines upon day after day.
Fuck Off Get Free… is evidence of a band that is angry with the growing realization that there is still much to cherish. Many of the members have recently become parents which has bred within them a renewed sense of purpose. With six monolithic tracks clocking in at 50 minutes, both the music and its lyrical content struggle with the torrid shit we see in society amidst the things we love that keep us fighting through it all. The album reaches anthemic heights and dives down to the lowest dirges, often being delicately, orchestrally beautiful and relentlessly brutal within the same song. When the band collectively chants “Lord, let my son live long enough to see that mountain torn down.” on the climax of the 15 minute goliath “Austerity Blue”s you feel the struggle in the pit of your stomach. When Menuck croons of all the destruction to be wrought in the beautifully bleak What We Loved Was Not Enough, it feels like a passionate, preemptive eulogy. Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything champions the sentiment that there is so much in the world that is painfully ugly. Yet, to not make love and find purpose in the ashes is to be a quiet proponent of the cataclysm. The album’s juxtaposition of beauty and ruin is thrilling from start to finish.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – “What We Loved Was Not Enough”
A tragic tale of apocalyptic destruction the runs the gambit of tender ode to flag carrying anthem to campfire sing along all in the span of 11 minutes. Its march and build will put cinderblocks in your stomach and its notable purely for being A Silver Mt. Zion song that contains actual earnest guitar solos.
Viet Cong – “Bunker Buster”
Viet Cong rises from ashes of the much revered Calgary based Women and “Bunker Buster” might as well read as the new band’s mission statement. It’s cold, seething and propulsive with sawtooth guitar work and vocals that sound like forgotten radio transmissions of a terrible nuclear event. The song carries an energy I haven’t felt in too long and honestly, their forthcoming full length is already on my Marty McFly Shortlist for 2015.
Timber Timbre – “Hot Dreams”
Taylor Kirk has a way of crafting stories of horrifying beauty. While his albums rarely reach past the heights of a few choice cuts, the title track of Timber Timbre’s 2014 release is a wonderfully soiled quilt of what makes his music so hauntingly majestic. “Hot Dreams” is the anthem of the only two on the dance floor within a dampened dive bar. Like their love, the woozy romance of it all washes over the impending damage they’ll do to each other when they wake up intertwined the morning after.
Colin Hudson – Writer
10. Noura Mint Seymali – Tezinni
I did not put this one in my list to sound cool. This is top notc psychedelic rock from Northern Africa. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to this band when they played a phenomenal set at Beloved Festival this summer. The songs are all blues based rhythms with Hendrix-esque guitar solos but driven by the commanding vocal leads by Noura’s Middle Eastern accent. Her voice will linger with you in hopes that this band makes it back to the Pacific Northwest soon.
9. Kishi Bashi – Lghlght
I’m surprised myself that this album made it in my top 5, but it’s so damn cheerful that I kept coming back to it week after week. As soon as I start to question its authenticity, I wonder why I was all of the sudden overtaken with overwhelming happiness. This albums gives a perfect balance of violin, synthesizers, and beautiful high pitched singing to lift the spirit on a dark winter morning. You can also listen to it in the summer too.
8. The Quick & Easy Boys – Follow Us Overboard
With a well-deserved local representation to the list, the fourth album by Portland’s bluesy trio is some of their best yet. It was recorded at Modest Mouse’s studio and shows a more delicate production to their raw sound. The result was solid rock and roll. They kept their rootsy grooves but the songs dive deeper into a world of modern psychedelica that wraps right back into the powerful rock that started it all.
7. Pink Floyd – Endless River
It’s not their best or their catalogue, but no one really expected it to be that, and that’s not why it was made. Choosing a best Pink Floyd album is just arbitrary given their level of excellence, and their last album serves as a perfect conclusion to everything they’ve done. And not including this conclusion in a list of mine would be like saying that nothing they did was important, and I’m definitely not saying something like that.
6. Moon Hooch – This Is Cave Music
It’s really tough to describe why this one is great without being overtly obvious. Such an original and timeless sound in the information age is a hard thing to do. Moon Hooch’s modern take on danceable jazz music crosses into the world of electronica by what seems to be a beautiful accident. The dueling saxophones and swift rhythms don’t place too many limits on where a song can go, and on this album they go just about everywhere.
5. Tobacco – Ultima II Massage
On this album Tobacco stepped up the intense weirdness that has made his sound so distinct. The intensity levels vary from a hectic panic to passionate euphoria. Tobacco’s unique execution of Analog recording mixed together as a DJ set will drive your emotions to places they may or may not want to go. Ultima II Massage is a classic stoner rock album through and through.
4. Tycho – Awake
As much as I appreciate a minimalist I can also dig the grunting task to produce the perfect tone. This instrumental album comprised heavily of electronic synthesizers gave its listener a form of magnificence that you just don’t get in the real world. Awake brought a glimpse of what the future would sound like in this measly year of 2014. The West Coast chill-wave movement is making big splashes all over the country, and Tycho is a large part of that. Because whenever you want to go somewhere that you can’t even see, you need music to take you to that place.
3. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
The goal for a great album is to take on influences of good ideas, expand on them, and bust into your own brand of originality. Angel Olsen’s album could pass for a classic rock album that you never heard. A voice as good as hers that works so wonderfully with passionate song writing doesn’t need any fancy productions to make her case. The album is consistent with campfire songs that are sang with beautiful intensity. A good folk album is stripped down to simplicity to allow you to see right into the artist’s words. Angel Olsen did this better than anyone I can think of.
2. Chromeo – White Women
Obviously, this album ranks #1 in album names, but that’s not why it’s on my list. It ranks this high because of the degree of unfeigned funk it provides. There were radio hits that included collaborations with Toro Y Moi, but more importantly there was funk fluidity through the album. The smooth electronics by P Thugg and bright guitar work by Dave 1 are a constant phenomenon the entire time. It’s the fourth album in a collection of masterpieces. There’s something to be said about experience and the value it holds.
1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
After a lengthy deliberation, I don’t see how this one couldn’t be my top album of 2014. At some points I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be, but a good album should make you question it. It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint what makes an album of this caliber superb, but there was no doubt in my mind this was one of those albums. The cutting guitar riffs are so raw they’re fierce and her voice can somehow piece its way to the front of the music. The under laying rhythms and electronic keyboards on each track really pinpoint a defining sound for a marvelous record. St. Vincent has built the most modern form of rock and that’s why she landed at the very top of my and many other lists.
Shaina King – Writer/Fashion Consultant
Despite completely adoring music, I’m so guilty of listening to the same things over and over. When I find something that I love, I keep it on repeat. I heard some great new albums this year, and I’d love to show off my highly curated and vast musical taste for all the internet to see. Instead, here’s an honest list of songs I played about a thousand times this year, for your enjoyment.
“Ten Songs I Played Obsessively”
St. Vincent – “Huey Newton”
If we’re being completely real here, most of my year was spent listening to this album. Choosing just one song from this masterpiece was painful for me. To get a more accurate picture of my undying devotion to Annie Clark, read my review from her show at Crystal Ballroom this last March.
Ty Segall – “The Singer”
This year, one of my favorite musicians started wearing glitter lipstick with weird eyeliner and put out a sprawling glam rock-tinged album. I was so happy about it.
Sharon Van Etten – “Your Love Is Killing Me”
Six minutes of Sharon Van Etten doing what she does best: very beautifully wrenching hearts in pieces.
Alex Perkins – Writer/Oddity Trivia Expert
10. King Tuff – Black Moon Spell
Black Moon Spell is glittering glam rock via Kyle Thomas‘ sharp instrumentation and grisly garage rock vocals, an ode to days past and rock stars of old. Thomas is extremely adept at developing a hook, a lost art amongst the garage rock pantheon, something that smooths the rough edges of his sometimes too-obvious lyrics and the jagged edge to his guitars. Black Moon Spell is a rare animal – it’s tuff (I’m sorry), it’s charming, and it’s undeniably catchy.
9. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah
D’Angelo dropped this album and promptly fucked over pretty much every other publication’s year end lists, and so I’m slotting him into mine, sliding into the new year with ears open wide and both middle fingers firmly extended in the direction of Pitchfork and Spin et al. This album is truly impeccable – at last listen, not a single clunker. It’s a testament to the old-fashioned ideal of letting an artist work at their own pace. You as the listener should take your time, too. Let Black Messiah‘s hybridized r&b-cum-rock-n-roll soul flow through you. Aside: One has to wonder if D’Angelo and his team actually intended to release this at the precise moment when everything had gone to shit (politically, socially, probably your love life too – 2k14 was utter garbage, let’s be real), to paint D’Angelo as an actual black messiah, a shining beacon of aural hope.
8. One Direction – Four
No, I’m absolutely serious. Four is a delight. It veers madly between Rick Springfield-esque buttrock, slow jams by way of Fleetwood Mac, and pop-punk served straight up. The occasional ballad detracts from the overall milieu, and songs can occasionally read soulless, but the intensely late-80s vibe is charming more so than cloying. Highlights include: sun drenched earworm “Fireproof”, pop anthem “Stockholm Syndrome”, and the undeniably dirty head-banger “No Control”. Four is like having a gentle slap fight with Jon Bon Jovi, like whispering fuck you in Justin Bieber’s ear, like dancing your ass off in a room full of teenage girls. And loving it.
7. Thou – Heathen
Thou’s latest release is atmospheric sludge – a cloying, slow-creep wall of sound always just on the cusp of overwhelming. It’s bizarrely gentle, for all of it’s noise and instrumentation, compositions more akin to classical etudes by way of Sleep than, say, some other sludge metal band, that I don’t know the name of because those are the only two sludge metal bands I have ever listened to. I hope that’s a compliment, but I’m sure there’s some majorly pissed long-hair reading this, shaking his head. Women! What can you do? Anyway, Heathen is fantastic. You should listen to it regardless of genre, precisely because it is so fantastic – brilliantly composed, effectively played, a standalone record.
6. Fresh & Onlys – House of Spirits
With House of Spirits, the Fresh & Onlys have moved beyond themselves. The lyrics are still profoundly sad, the vocals still appropriately droning, but the music reveals a brighter (though not happier) side. In fact, I would say this record is only tangentially related to actual garage music in that it shares many of the same characteristics. The Fresh & Onlys have catapulted themselves beyond the sphere of lo-fi San Fran rock and into the realm of self-conscious fuzz pop. It could be a jarring departure for long-time fans of the band, but let’s be real, innovation is far preferable to standing still.
5. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Jenny Lewis has a knack for taking uncomfortable truths and shaping them into easily-digested earworms. She’s lyrically merciless, self-deprecating, an understated humorist. Here the California guitars and sweet-girl vocals hide a subterranean darkness, a string of bold tracks dominated by Lewis’ uncanny ability to confront the worst in herself and in others. The Voyager is a personal manifesto of extreme emotion – jealousy, sexual longing, shame, confused depression. “I never thought I would ever be here,” she sings, “Looking out on my life as if there was no one there.” As a woman, these things are difficult to say, and sometimes even harder to articulate. Lewis says it all, and what a relief to recognize yourself so easily in another woman’s words. To be able to say, I feel that. She feels that. We’re both okay.
4. The Horrors – Luminous
The Horrors are one of those groups that are so consistently great it’s easy to dismiss them as boring. Yet they innovate with each new recording, plucking noise straight from their no-doubt exhaustive record collections and twisting it, making the old sound new again. If their first album was Screaming Lord Sutch meets 21st century brutality, Luminous is New Order by way of modern drug-pop. It’s sweeping atmospheric soundscapes punctuated by Faris Badwan’s hoarse vocals and dizzily euphoric fuzz. Luminous could very well something the Horrors dug up at a record fair: vintage electronica so finely-honed and derivative-of-all-things-good that it sounds like a half-forgotten memory.
3. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Gorgeous instrumentation backs Mike Hadreas’ bleakly provocative lyrics. Minimalist chamber pop and soaring, sorrowful vocals dominate the soundscape, while Hadreas does what he does best: cracking himself open, spilling his insecurities and regrets to the floor. Fully realized, Too Bright is Hadreas’ ode to the social personas we try on and ultimately discard. Who do you want to be? Who did you ever want to be? Who are you now? Do you like yourself? Does anyone?
2. Future Islands – Singles
“He looks like he can fuck himself with his own kneecap,” said my friend, linking me to Future Islands’ much-lauded (and much-derided) Letterman performance. Samuel Herring live is uncomfortable to watch in the same ways that catching a glimpse through a stranger’s window at night can be: it’s too intimate, too bizarrely personal. Herring growls and moans, the music swirls and crescendos. Love and pain and wretchedness coalesce into something grim yet beautiful, and that is the inherent brilliance of Singles. It’s an uninhibited tour-de-force, a record strung between blatant millennial emotionalism and unironic ‘80s ephemera. This is all to say that this is the best album Future Islands has released in years: all bold melodrama and unnerving sweetness, and not a single kneecap fucking.
1. Taylor Swift – 1989
What is there to say about Taylor Swift that hasn’t already been said? 1989 was my jam this year. Taylor Swift has climbed a bubblegum mountain and come down the other side wiser, older and quite frankly just more fun to be around. With the exception of two negligible tracks, 1989 is perfectly produced, amazingly catchy, and just plain a joy to listen to. I always tell people this when I’m drunk, but no one ever listens. I’m like the pop nerd equivalent of that guy who downs Jaeger shots and then asks everyone to punch him in the face. Just do it, bro. Just ask me about Taylor Swift. I dare you.
Jenny Lewis – “Just One Of The Guys”
Lewis’ signature bluntness wrapped around fakeout feel-good guitars and the most personally gut-wrenching musical moment I’ve experienced all year: “There’s only one difference between you and me. When I look at myself, all I can see: I’m just another lady without a baby.”
Father John Misty – “Bored In The USA”
I’m fine. It’s cool. We’re all fine here.
Timber Timbre – “Hot Dreams”
Taylor Kirk’s velvety vocals meld perfectly with Timber Timbre’s dreamy orchestration, in one of the most exquisitely crafted love songs of the year.
Meggyn Pomerleau – Writer/Illustrator/Photographer
10. Metronomy – Love Letters
Metronomy is growing faster than my love for elevated dance music. The diversity and change in moods in this album are phenomenal.
9. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
My new go to for background music of any nature- cooking and otherwise personal activities.
8. Corners- Maxed Out On Distractors
A throwback to my past where I listened to nothing but The Cure. Best served loud.
7. Meatbodies – Meatbodies
The obvious choice for a night of wild endeavors.
6. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
In an attempt to explain a love too great for words: my new muse.
5. Real Estate – Atlas
An essentially natural addition to my top list. Real Estate will always have a place in my heart, no matter how repetitive their sound gets. Though there was some audible growth in Atlas, they retained their calming sound and the last three tracks, “Primitive”, “Horizon”, and “Navigator” are perfection.
4. SBTRKT – Wonder Where We Land
SBTRKT rarely disappoints, and this album was no different than his last. Admittedly, most of the lust formed is from Sampha’s voice.
3. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
Because after years of longing for an artist regurgitated from a proper Lily Allen but could be related to Bird & The Bee, I finally discovered Sylvan Esso. She is the epitome of a Anthropologie rave.
2. Karen O – Crush Songs
Another Karen O release that urges me to hop into a traveling vessel and drive far, far away into a wondrous dreamland.
1. D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah
Inarguably the best comeback that could have happened in any form. Every single song was perfectly orchestrated into the ultimate boner album.
Chromeo – “Somethinggood”
Ty Segall – “It’s Over”
Vector Graphics – “Tropical”
Naomi Punk – “Television Man”
Gardens & Villa – “Echosassy”
Mac Demarco – “Chamber of Reflection”
Evil Needle & Sivey – “Down There”
Francisco The Man – “Big Ideas”
Home Clouds – “Daydream”
Wyatt Schaffner – Writer/Sad Boy
10. Lil B – Hoop Life
Its a Lil B mixtape about making it to the NBA! Another KD diss track! What more could you want!?
9. Magic Fades – Push Thru
Local Replicant-and R&B duo Magic Fades released their second proper length with incredible fanfare, both in PDX and through the Net, which has traditionally been their comfort zone. Today their tounge in cheek hits earned them the respect of tastemaking illuminati and high school kids alike, by providing a levity in their lyrics and songwriting which transcends the heart on your sleeve earnestness of Top 40 hits. Another 1080p cassette release, Push Thru is a pop gem, but remains deliberately avant-guarde in the two’s expressions and musical sensibility.
8. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
The second album from esteemed Seattle avant-hip hop crew, featuring Ishmael Butler from Digable Planets, finds the duo standing tall on a pedestal above their contemporaries and the current state of commercial hip hop. Less a concept album than a journey into Palaces’ alternate universe, ambient synths and lo end bass prove an imposing soundtrack to Butler’s unique delivery, and says more with less as a conceit to their status as afro-futuristic innovators.
7. US Hard – EP
The debut cassette from US Hard, a formerly local techno musician, finds the artist hard at work by composing and sequencing entirely via an Electribe drum machine, while playing with the conventions of genre and the multifaceted realm of club music. Released on PDX/NYC label Blankstairs, the limited run of 50 cassettes were the perfect genesis for this multifaceted artist and musician.
6. Opaline – Projector Mapping
The second album released this year by up—and—coming Portland zone purveyor and former co-head of local label Purr Tapes, Projector Mapping finds the artist expanding his terrain into a Myst-like labyrinth and quest for new textures and inter-dimensionality.
5. Andy Stott- Faith In Stranger
I was late to this album, perhaps because I was convinced there was no way that the music could match the incredible album art. Perhaps this is the post-dubstep album to kill all notions of that ever being a genre, with blown out bass notes and clear hardware production setting the tone for a dark albeit mystical album that hangs its hat on lo fi sound quality. It sounds timeless, and with his former piano teacher now 60-year old woman providing the vocals and coming across like a possessed Liz Harris or the late Trish Keenan of Broadcast, Faith in Strangers transcends dance music in general by standing as a testament to the arcane and sublime with glistening synths and translucent beats.
4. Angel1 – Allegra Bin
A relatively new producer on the 1080p cassette label, Angel1 explores spaces in between a dystopian present and harmonious disconnect with reality in general. At times an homage to the iconic Blade Runner soundtrack, Allegra Bin translates a clear levity towards music making with preset key sounds and horn stabs sounding like outtakes from an Art of Noise album. Synthesizers roam free only to be reigned in by a very light beat structure which only occasionally informs itself within the current post-trap paradigm of bed room production with syncopated hi hats. Other times, Angel1 songs are club friendly deconstructed vestiges, much in the same way that Oneohtrix Point Never has made a killing off of sequenced ephemera.
3. E+E – The Light They Gave To Me To See You
E+E is the non-de-plume of one Elysia Crampton, a de-gendered composer who creates sublime ambient soundscapes out of current and forgotten Top 40 jams. Crampton assumes the role by creating devotional collages which linger to lo fidelity moments of clarity amid unbridled emotion. Far more than a mash up artist, their videos show a dedicated craft towards creating narratives of a cyborgian humanity combined with the dual-consciousness of Crampton’s origin story in Latin America and currently rural Virginia, appropriating signifiers of pumped up masculinity as technological advances that transcend their societal function, which function as armor or costume to protect from the elements of a heartless and indifferent world with passion and compassion for the Other.
2. Aphex Twin – Syro
Ignore the hype and obscene promotion behind this album (which is cheekily detailed in the art work itself) and absorb what Richard D. James gifted us out of the blue. Namely, an electronic pop album of the highest degree, with every song sounding like a pedigree of the infinitesimal genres Aphex Twin left in his wake with his absence from the world at large. At once acid house, drum and bass, glitch-hop and whatever else music critics have tagged his imitators, Syro is complex in nature, but exists as a constantly evolving masterpiece of ambience and rhythm, revealing a creator finally complacent with his status in the world but always itching to push the boundaries of the electronic frontier.
1. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
It has to be said that this album quenched the thirst of Madlib fans for the long awaited follow up to Madvillan, his storied collaboration with MF Doom eons ago. Gibbs steps to the mike sounding uncannily like a 2014 Tupac to tell vivid stories of pride and folly. Both within himself and the characters he creates an alternate GTA-like ecosystem of crime and justice soundtracked by the iconic soul stylings and abstract beat production of the Loop Digga himself. Within this epic album, we see Madlib cementing his status as a premiere producer, showing us why the rap game needs him more than ever.
Kane Stanley – Writer Abroad
10. Thee Oh Sees – Drop
Early in the year John Dwyer announced that Thee Oh Sees were taking a long hiatus. This was devastating news as Thee Oh Sees have consistently churned out solid records to accompany their seemingly never-ending tour. It turned out to be a load of bollocks. The hiatus lasted a mere five months and was ended by the announcement of Drop. The big reunion album after the hiatus proved to be another piece of magic. The artwork was freaky as always and the psyche noise-rock continued. Vocals have become a bit clearer in recent times, but the repetitive chord progressions mixed with random guitar solos are ever present.
9. Real Estate – Atlas
Since their 2009 debut, Real Estate have stayed true to their hazy, sunny sound and have released three superb albums. Atlas is the most recent, which comes as the band’s popularity has grown to a point where they are almost a household name and deservedly so. The beachy melodies can be heard throughout, which is what we’ve come to expect over the last five years. This time Atlas feels more put together and cleaned up than previous albums and there’s beauty in that. It’s easy to sit back and admire the delicacy that clearly went into writing all of the song. Atlas is more of the same from Real Estate, and when more of the same is this good there can be no complaints. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
8. Solids – Blame Confusion
Blame Confusion is the latest record from the lo-fi duo that could be forgotten about being one of the earlier releases of the year. However, heavy 90’s influences and plenty of energy pulled it onto the top ten. Guitarist Xavier Germain-Poitras and drummer Louis Guillemette show that they aren’t just a couple of guys with difficult to pronounce names. Each song sticks with the same formula of a consistent distorted guitar, fast paced drums and muffled vocals that link together perfectly. While it could be argued that the songs can blend into one another, the album is almost a nostalgic feeling of 90’s alt-rock that we just don’t get enough of anymore.
7. Alvvays- Alvvays
The debut album by Canadian indie pop quintet Alvvays was arguably the summer album of 2014. Impressively produced by Chad VanGaalen, each song has sing-a-long qualities that make you want to drive a convertible down a coastal road. Alvvays appear to be the Tennis of 2014, coming out of absolutely nowhere only to go on tours with the likes of Real Estate. “Archie, Marry Me” is the pick of the bunch, but there isn’t much filler on the album. We’ll definitely hear more from them in 2015.
6. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags
It’s difficult to say anything about Stephen Malkmus that hasn’t already been said. He pretty much owned the 90’s with Pavement before seeking pastures new as a solo artist. Since he teamed up with The Jicks that spark from the old days has returned. Wig Out at Jagbags sounds like a record of a man that has come to terms with his age, but he’s completely cool with it. “Come slam-dancing with some ancient dudes” he sings on “Rumble at the Rainbo,” showing a familiar sense of humor that we’ve always enjoyed with Malkmus. The album doesn’t really give the listener anything new, but thrives off the formula that has made Malkmus’ music so great for over two decades.
5. Wand – Ganglion Reef
Another debut record, Wand’s Ganglion Reef seemed to come out of nowhere when it was released in August. While Wand weren’t exactly a household name, frontman Cory Thomas Hanson has been touring with the likes of Ty Segall; patiently waiting to fully make his mark. This was the record that did it. The record is full of catchy tunes like “Flying Golem,” which starts with a fuzzy bang before a softened voice emerges amidst the chaos. The song structures are nothing to be sniffed at either. This is immensely evident in “Fire On The Mountain” where the experience begins in a drone before a subtle acoustic guitar almost starts a brand new song with a fantastic head sizzler of a solo.
4. Ty Segall – Manipulator
It was 14 months between Sleeper, Ty Segall’s last album and Manipulator. That doesn’t seem like a very long time relatively speaking, but for Ty Segall it’s pretty much an eternity. The wait was worth it. For the first time Segall recorded an album in a proper recording studio as opposed to a mate’s living room and the quality shows from the start. Manipulator is chocka block full of 17 songs of which most of them are absolute belters. Beginning with “Feel” a four minute face melter, Manipulator happily trades off between heavy and soft with plenty of acoustic guitars to be heard throughout. It’s clear that more time has been spent on the songwriting as well making it arguably one of his best albums to date. That said, I’m sure 2015 will give us another 5,000 records that he’s involved with in some way or another. I’m not one to complain about that.
Hookworms – The Hum
In a time where most bands take themselves so seriously, Hookworms are just a few guys from Leeds that are enjoying making fantastic psyche rock. From beginning to end, The Hum is full to the brim with speed and energy. It’s a true wonder how MJ (each member of the band go purely by their initials) still has a voice to use after each show – a feature that sparked their popularity in the first place. It is admittedly borderline impossible to make out what MJ is singing about due to his heavily distorted vocals, but it’s a fitting style that is never bothersome as the record speeds along. Besides, you can hear the odd depressing sentence in between screams, which puts the point across that he’s not just yelling nonsense into the microphone. With a first U.S. tour planned for 2015, we can expect to hear more from the Yorkshire band soon.
2. Damon Albarn – Everday Robots
Damon Albarn has always been a busy boy with Blur and Gorillaz over the years, but when he announced a solo record off the back of a successful reunion tour with Blur, I was buzzing to say the least. Though many were left feeling rather underwhelmed by Everyday Robots, it has been an album that I have consistently listened to throughout the year. The 12 ambient songs showed a completely different side to Albarn that had only peeked through in certain songs with Blur and Gorillaz. It’s a record that oozes loneliness and regret in songs like “The History Of A Cheating Heart” where Albarn depressingly whines “I carry this upon my back, always” whilst a somber acoustic guitar gently picks in the background. It’s a lovely album that deserves its place in the list.
1. Moonface – City Wrecker
City Wrecker, an E.P. from Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown frontman Spencer Krug, was released as a few songs that didn’t quite fit on Julia With Blue Jeans On, his last full length as Moonface. It still only consists of Krug and a piano with an occasional synth thrown in for good measure. At a half hour in length, you’re left wanting to let Krug know that everything is going to be alright. The highlight of the E.P. is definitely the 10 minute long “Daughter of a Dove,” which starts off slow and sad before building up to Krug repeating “Breakwater to the see, that’s as spiritual as I need to be.” The more you listen to the track, the more goosebumps appear on your body. It may not be as good as Julia With Blue Jeans On, but it’s modern day classical music that truly shows Krug’s sad and ponderous side.
Marii Takahashi – Writer/Photographer/Positive Life Force
10. Warpaint – Warpaint
This is what would be playing at the after-after party. Only those welcome to slumber remain. The haunting melodic sounds of late 90’s lost angels is the perfect way to come down from the high.
9. Zara McFarlane – If You Knew Her
McFarlane’s voice seduced me out of my comfort zone to visit jazz. She has one of the best voices at the moment. In my realm, her name is as synonymous with Ella Fitzgerald.
8. YOB – Clearing The Path To Ascend
This band happened to land on my radar thanks to one of our editors Aaron Sharpsteen’s love for metal. Metal shy people, take a listen…it is unearthly.
7. Mystic Braves – Desert Island
There are parts of this album that sound like a spaghetti western that tickles my brain. Listening to this while planning a scavenger hunt surely inspired me with silly activities.
6. Ty Segall – Manipulator
Ty Segall has been busy creating ridiculous amounts of exceptional albums the last couple of years. So, a little reluctance to listen to this album, despite high praises, is understandable; because you don’t want to be disappointed. Segall is unstoppable and sharing so much with the world.
5. Steve Gunn – Way Out Wearher
Hearing Steve Gunn at Pickathon 2014 got me hooked. His sound is a picturesque American folk that flows effortlessly with gritty details.
4. Holy Wave – Relax
When Austin Psych Fest was unattainable this kept my spirits up.
3. Maston – Opal Collection
Frank Maston’s early works is officially available! This takes me to a dystopian outer space where young adults are attempting to live as if they were on Earth.
GOAT – Commune
When a life crisis demands dropping acid but you have never done any recreational drugs. No worries, this is an alternate solution. It’s a bit upbeat for acid but how would you know, Squeaky Clean?
1. Temples – Sun Structures
My love for the 60‘s instantly revitalized when this album splashed vivid colors on my monochrome life. This makes me want to time travel to a weekend experience of a 60’s groupie.
Ty Segall – “Tall Man Skinny Lady”
Sonzeira – “The Plum Blossom”
Bryce Woodcock – Writer
8. U2 – Songs of Innocence
This album is shit but it gets an honorable mention because U2 managed to con 800 million people into getting it. I can respect a band who has the gall to presume that every iTunes user worldwide would welcome the addition of their album to their library. To end my abbreviated list, I raise this finger to you, U2.
7. Thurston Moore – The Best Day
Thurston Moore goes electric again. I’m no avid follower of Thurston’s, but this album stuck with me after the first listen. It has a discerning Goo-era “catchiness” to it, not to mention great, silvery guitar tone a la Track Star or Swirlies.
6. Electric Wizard – Time To Die
Electric Wizard is one of those bands that I turn to when I have a thirst for mayhem. Their classic doom stylings have never failed to put me in a weird, agitated, aimlessly aggressive mood. And while their new album is a considerable departure from their classic album Dopethrone’s graspable riffs and production elements, it still perfectly captures that deplorable mire of wretchedness we all listen to Electric Wizard to experience.
5. Naomi Punk – Television Man
I knew it’d be difficult for Naomi Punk to follow up their last album, but TVM continues in that same jagged, irregular sound they trademarked in The Feeling. These guys are reshaping the punk genre in a way that evades understanding, similar to Talbot Tagora’s sound if you dropped it off a cliff and reassembled it using scotch tape and tar.
4. FF – Lord
After a couple years of teasing followers with a scanty output of recordings, FF’s LP is finally here and it fucking rips, folks. FF is a shoegazy, grungy, post-punk band that produces dark, driving, fuzzed-out tunes; shit that would be perfect for moshing if only everyone who came to see them wasn’t too cool and aloof to mosh.
3. Floor – Oblation
I just discovered Floor this year. They actually have albums that date back to the early ’90s, which were what I originally cut my teeth on. But fortuitously enough, the band had just reconvened and put out a new album which continued in the same vein as the original incarnation. Oblation is the same brand of heavy-sludge, stoner-metal-pop they put out on their 2002 LP. Great for headphones and blasting the low-end out of speakers.
2. Spirit Of The Beehive – Spirit Of The Beehive
This is the band, I think, most illustrative of that Philly sound that makes me want to move to Philly. Heavy shoegaze influences, but dragged through the dirt and dipped in grunge. Ever wonder what goes on musically in a place like Philadelphia? SOTBH is a great place to start–and check out their label mates.
1. Solids – Blame Confusion
Just by being a functional two-piece band, you get mad props. By being a two-piece band that packs as much power and intensity as Solids, you’re in a league of your own. So to start my list, I raise a toast to the Montreal duo whose unrelenting energy, unique chord formations, and tactful approach to emo make them easily one of the best new bands on the scene.