2014 has been an excellent year for music. We have seen some new musical talents gain popular and critical success as well as some comebacks from excellent groups after hiatus. Here are my top album picks for the year, in no particular order.
Lost In The Dream- The War On Drugs
2014 was a year where the dominate trend in indie rock was combining old and new sounds. Lost In The Dream was the best example of this trend. On this album, The War On Drugs was able to synthesize a variety of influences (80’s sleeper hits, motorik, and krautrock) into a cohesive and beautiful whole. Lost In The Dream is an atmospheric and expansive album, filled with fascinating soundscapes and abstract lyrics. With this album, The War On Drugs was able to score a hit album for the early 2010’s and solidify their place as one of the premier indie rock bands.
LP1- FKA Twigs
Triphop is a genre that goes in and out of style periodically. In the 1990’s, bands like Portishead and Massive Attack pioneered the genre, penning dark and moody electronic songs with unmistakable sensual appeal. FKA Twigs is the modern version of those classic bands, mixing together an appealing atmospheric feel with breathy R & B vocals. LP1 is a beautiful album that rewards multiple listens and gave FKA Twigs the best debut album of the year.
Syro- Aphex Twin
It has been 13 years since Aphex Twin released his last LP. In the meantime, bands such as Autechre have kept the IDM genre alive, but nothing can beat the original. After the 13 year hiatus, Aphex Twin dropped Syro, which turned out to be welcome follow-up to his 1990’s music. Syro gave us everything that we have grown to love about Aphex Twin: glitchy beats, abstract atmosphere, and shocking production turns. Hopefully, Syro will introduce a new generation of listeners to the wonderful music of Aphex Twin. If not, the longtime fans still will celebrate having a new album to jam to.
St. Vincent- St. Vincent
I think that we can finally declare St. Vincent the queen of indie pop. Her past albums have been fascinating bursts of indie pop, showcasing Annie Clark’s diverse musical talents. St. Vincent (the album) was a flawless taste of St. Vincent’s brand of indie pop. What works so well about this album is that Annie Clark was able to record a cohesive album even while showing off everything that she could do. Other musicians (such as Alt-J and Sufjan Stevens) may have struggles utilizing all of their diverse talents while still feeling cohesive and logical, but not so with St. Vincent. This album is flawless.
Present Tense- Wild Beasts
Wild Beasts is one of the best kept secrets of the music world. They have consistently flown under the radar while delivering unique and excellent music. Although it does not have the same frantic energy as the band’s early releases, Present Tense is a ridiculously good album. A large part of Wild Beast’s appeal is their fantastic song writing from band members Hayden Thorpe and Tom Flemming. This duo is one of the best song writing pairs currently recording, and their talent is on full display here. Hopefully, this record puts Wild Beasts on the track to breakout success.
You’re Dead- Flying Lotus
Rap music is not generally equated with atmosphere and transcendence, but Flying Lotus provides a great example of how rap can be just as otherworldly as other genres. You’re Dead is Flying Lotus’s most accessible album, but it is also his weirdest. The album is forty minutes of jazz infused electronics that create a dense and unique atmosphere. You’re Dead does not have many standout songs (excluding Kendrick Lamar’s excellent contribution to “Never Catch Me”) but the album is one of the most unusual experiences of the year. Flying Lotus jumps from genre to genre while creating the most otherworldly rap album that I have ever heard. This album can best be described as an experience. You’re Dead is not to be missed.
Singles- Future Islands
When I look back on the summer of 2014, Future Islands will be linked with most of the memories. Future Islands is fronted by Samuel T. Herring, who’s distinct crooning carries the album. His vocal performance is extraordinary, displaying great range as he works around the synthpop music from his bandmates. It was a bold move to call their album Singles, implying that every song on the album could easily be a hit single. That is up for you to decide, but without argument, Future Islands’ songs are insanely catchy. Also, I got to see them in Salt Lake opening for Beck, and Future Islands puts on an awesome live show.
Heal- Strand of Oaks
On first listen, Heal bears a lot of similarities to The War On Drug’s Lost In The Dream. Both albums rely on a synthesis of older sounds with modern indie rock sensibilities. Comparing Strand of Oaks to The War On Drugs is fair, but also can diminish what makes Strand of Oaks unique. Unlike The War On Drugs, Strand of Oaks songs tend to be more stripped down and straightforward. They are also absolutely heartbreaking. Heal is an exposed nerve, allowing the listener to dive right into Timothy Showalter’s problems and guilt. However, even though these songs are filled with anxiety and depression, there is redemption to be had. Heal shows us that even in the middle of the worst of difficulties, we can still persevere, with the help of good music and introspection.
Strange Desire- Bleachers
It is a very rare that an album delivers exactly what I expected out of it. Strange Desire is one of those albums. This is the side project of Jack Antonoff, best known as the guitarist of Fun. On Strange Desire, Antonoff performs 10 pop songs that would have found ample airtime in the 1980’s as well as a place in quite a few John Hughes movies. The songs on Strange Desire are filled with pop hooks and an infectious energy that makes me nostalgic for a time that I did not live in. Strange Desire is not a very innovative album, but it delivers exactly what I expect from an 80’s influenced pop album.
Are We There- Sharon Van Etten
I absolutely love Sharon Van Etten. Her songs have always had a sophistication to them that is missing from a lot of her contemporaries. Van Etten’s songs are heartbreaking, but her gentle crooning delivers her emotionally charged lyrics without ever feeling miserable. It is an interesting balancing act for artists who write such personal songs. They must make their music emotionally charged without becoming miserable to listen to. Are We There is definitely not a happy album, but Sharon Van Etten deserves credit for making a heart-wrenching album that is such a comfort when our relationships come crashing down around us.
Here and Nowhere Else- Cloud Nothings
Modern punk music is usually pretty terrible, with nothing but whiny kids singing over “aggressive” guitar lines. Sometimes, bands come along that are able to encapsulate the energy of punk without seeming forced. Cloud Nothings is one of those bands. Here and Nowhere Else showcases Cloud Nothing’s aggressive noise rock aesthetics with slightly higher production values than Attack On Memory. Although this album got lost in the stream of excellent mid-year releases, Cloud Nothing is a band that will be doing great things in the future.
This is a list of albums that I enjoyed, but did not make it into my top ten list.
This Is All Yours- Alt-J
Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes- Thom Yorke
Sorry Soul- Westward The Tide
Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave- The Twilight Sad
Salad Days- Mac DeMarco
Total Strife Forever- East India Youth