Category Archives: Features

The Best Albums of 2014

20.  The Bombay Royale | The Island of Dr. Electrico
Plays like the lost soundtrack to a psychedelic Bollywood spy movie from the 70’s. Really good stuff.

19.  Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross | Gone Girl Soundtrack
Some of the best instrumental work they’ve ever done, and another example in the argument that Trent is way better these days behind the production booth than he is behind the mic.

18.  Little Dragon | Nubberband
Alluring, sinuous, and their most accomplished release to date.

17.  Aphex Twin | Syro
Syro doesn’t redefine the “Aphex Twin” sound, but continues to refine it. After a 13 year hiatus, it would have been nice if Richard D. James tried something new, but seeing a legend school others in the genre he helped define is still a spectacle to behold.

16.  Kevin Drew | Darlings
“Mexican Aftershow Party” aside (which totally sucks), Darlings is an album of great jams from Mr. Broken Social Scene.

15.  Oozing Wound | Earth Suck
More excellent thrash (but not thrash?) metal from a band with hilariously awesome song titles like “Going Through the Motions Til I Die” and “Bury Me With My Money.”

14.  Tony Allen | Film of Life
An underrated release from one of the greats.

13.  Deerhoof | La Isla Bonita
Their best album since 2007’s Friend Opportunity.

12.  Todd Terje | It’s Album Time
Electro-Disco jams for those feel-good days.

11. Gruff Rhys | American Interior
Americana explored without cynicism by Welsh frontiersmen, Gruff Rhys, and drenched in lush melodies.

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10.  D’ANGELO  | Black Messiah

D’Angelo waited 14 years to make Black Messiah and then hilariously rushed its release in the final minutes of 2014. Black Messiah is tightly written and intricately composed, but it sounds so deceptively free and relaxed. The rushed release of this at the worst time of the year might have butchered the hype this record was building, but when a record sounds so timeless with the past, present, and future of funk, r&b, and soul living and breathing together as one – it will live on indefinitely.

(Note: If I had more time to grow with this album, I probably would have put it higher on this list. I suspect most people who didn’t include it on their 2014 lists are going to round this up to a 2015 release when the “best of” lists swarm in this December.)


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9.  POLIÇA | Shulamith

Shulamith is emotionally raw and aggressive, and each track carries with it an undercurrent of tension that threatens to dismantle everything at any moment. Named after Shulamith Firestone, a radical feminist who penned the influential novel The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution in 1970 and influenced singer Channy Leaneagh during the album’s recording, Shulamith explores the war zones of a failing relationship. While it’s more hook driven and straight forward with cleaner beats and stronger grooves than their first album, Give You the Ghost – Shulamith is still an unflinchingly bleak affair. It’s an intense listen, but it feels like a cathartic release.

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8.  REAL ESTATE | Atlas

Atlas is a continuation of Real Estate’s meditation on the existential loneliness of suburbia. These tracks are melancholy, but they always feel comforting – the bright chords playing against lyrics that muse on loneliness, mortality, and the passing of time. Listening to Atlas feels like being lost in a  dream of an old memory – hazy, familiar, and always changing.

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7.  RUN THE JEWELS | Run the Jewels 2

A lot has been said about Run the Jewels 2 already, and it still stands – this is one of the best rap albums to gain mainstream attention in a really long time.  It’s hard-hitting, it’s politically aware, it bumps like a mofo, and it brought back the idea that rap can be socially conscious while being punk rock as hell to many who had written off the genre years ago.

Not bad for two long-time veterans of the game.

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6.   MR TWIN SISTER | Mr Twin Sister

I’m afraid to know what Mr Twin Sister look like.  It’s a stupid insecurity I have based on shallow assumptions, but still –  there’s no way the image I have of them in my head can match what they’re like in real life. I mean, ok – I’ve seen some group pictures of them and I have a fuzzy idea, but I actively avoid seeing them perform.  My reason is this: I really love this group and I really love this album, but I don’t want to know if the soulful grooves they play way better than any other band out there today is just a style they’ve co-opted because it’s the cool thing to do like every other “hipster” band out there does or if they have a genuine love for the music.

Like I said, it’s a stupid insecurity and it’s one that turns me into just another music nerd on the internet with a god complex.

“Stop being an asshole, Jeff, and just go see them live. If they were fake about their intentions, they wouldn’t be this good. They’d be another hack job. Look, I know you got burned by Vampire Weekend that one time, but just…let go of your misconceptions about image.  After all, it’s all about the music, bra’h.”

You’re right…thanks for helping me achieve this insight, Best Albums of 2014 list.

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5.   DAMON ALBARN | Everyday Robots

Everyday Robots is a subtle, career spanning affair of introspective ballads anchored by Richard Russell’s excellent production.  There’s a lot of heart in these songs, and Damon’s wide pool of multicultural influences are at constant play. Everyday Robots is Damon at his most low-key, and it’s also the safest thing he’s ever done. Regardless, there’s a lot of a beauty and life here.

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4.  SHABAZZ PALACES | Lese Majesty

Lese Majesty is a radio transmission of soulful poetry from space colonials in the future who definitely have shit figured out. What that “shit” is, though…isn’t so clear. Les Majesty is bizarre and experimental, and on first listen it sounds formless and rambling. Regardless, this is an album that reveals itself more and more with each listen, and it’s totally captivating.

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3.  FREDDIE GIBBS, MADLIB | Piñata

Freddie Gibbs has to be the most normal dude Madlib has ever worked with, and that’s a good thing.  Madlib’s beats have a lot of personality, while Freddie Gibb’s raps do not. This is not a knock against Freddie who has one of the most technically precise flows in the game and raps by the books with a lot of charm, but without a solid beat behind him he doesn’t have enough personality to carry a track. In comparison, though, when Madlib works with true weirdo rappers, the results are often over-indulgent and sloppy.

This is why Piñata is so great – Freddie Gibbs is the perfect straight man for Madlib, and Madlib is the perfect eccentric for Freddie Gibbs.

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2.  FLYING LOTUS | You’re Dead!

You’re Dead! is a psychedelic opus into the psychological and spiritual journey of death. It’s the Enter the Void of hip hop/electro/jazz/fusion/avant garde records. Ok, that’s probably not the best comparison to reference (please watch Enter the Void so there are more people I can talk to about it…I’m so lonely), but still – You’re Dead! is the most cohesive thing Flying Lotus has ever done, and it’s also the best thing he’s ever made. A continuous suite that has to be taken in as a whole, You’re Dead! floats from the overwhelming to the playful to the somber to the dark to the uplifting. This is emotionally exhilarating art.

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1.  FKA TWIGS | LP1

For her first album, Tahliah Barnett aka FKA Twigs takes straight forward hooks and distorts them under a darkness of sparse production, abstract sounds, and glitchy beats. LP1 is seductive, and Tahliah’s breathy vocals make each track feel vulnerable and soaring. It’s amazing that an album this inventive, fully realized, reserved, clever, and confident is only her first.

In a market oversaturated with brooding R&B artists singing over half-ambient/half-dubstep jamz about like…bad sex and emotions about bad sex and trying to get over bad sex to have more bad sex n’stuff, FKA Twigs is a unique pillar of light.

OTHER STUFF

The Award For the Most Unbearably Goofy Release of 2014

Ariel Pink | Pom Pom

The Award For the Most Bearably Goofy Release of 2014

“Weird Al” | Mandatory Fun

The Award For the Most Frustrating Band to be a Fan of

Death Grips

The Award For the Most Depressing Band to be a Fan of

The Flaming Lips

The Award For the Most Disappointing Release of 2014

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ST. VINCENT | St. Vincent

Let me start this off by saying that St. Vincent isn’t a bad album, but it’s not great and it might be the start of something far worse.

St. Vincent was a moniker Annie Clark adapted for her first three albums which were largely personal affairs, but for her fourth and self-titled album St. Vincent is an image she has crafted to elevate herself as an artistic persona. From her distinct and manicured appearance to her (now) choreographed shows – St. Vincent is no longer an outlet for Annie Clark’s personal expression, she’s a performance spectacle to behold.

Annie Clark was someone who could freak you out without trying, but St. Vincent is someone who is trying too hard to freak you out. Every song on St. Vincent can be organized by a forced lyrical quirk – the snake one, the masturbation one, the one about snorting the Berlin Wall, the Jesus one, etc.  These are songs that feel detached and cold, and they make statements that sound better in a sound bite than they do over rigorous contemplation.

All that said, carefully controlling your image is a strategy that has apparently worked and St. Vincent is Annie Clark’s most successful album to date. Despite this, St. Vincent lacks what made her first three albums so great – emotional honesty.

The Award For the Best Afterschool Program

DOOM and Bishop Nehru | NehruvianDOOM

The Award For the Best Band I Heard Shopping at Kohl’s

Phantogram

The Award For the Best Album I Totally Forgot Came Out in 2014 and Is Included on This List After the Fact

Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks | Enter The Slasher House

The Award For the Best Album I Will Probably Never Listen To

Pink Floyd | The Endless River

The Award for the Best Album I’ve Tried Listening to All the Way Through Like (fo’real, y’all) Five Times Now

The War on Drugs | Lost in the Dream

Books for Music Nerds

Perfecting Sound Forever

by Greg Milner

A book for audiophiles, “Perfecting Sound Forever” details the history of sound recording from the earliest days of Thomas Edison to the loudness wars today. This might be as nerdy as books about music go, but this is a must-read for anyone curious about the recording process. No book you read will be more illuminating on it. And hey, even Jack White thinks it’s cool.

Amazon Link.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ripped:

How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music

by Greg Kot

“Ripped” chronicles the technological revolution of the last ten years and the changing effects it had on the distribution and consumption of music. A lot of the information in this book is stuff I already knew (’cause like, I totally lived it bro) and might be known to anyone else who went through it as well, but having it laid out so clearly really puts things in perspective.

Amazon Link.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Your Brain on Music

by Daniel J. Levitin

This one is for anyone curious about the neurological process that happens in your brain when you listen to music. It’s an interesting read, but I’m not a science-minded person so nothing from it was particularly enlightening. If you’re a right-sided thinker, though, you’ll love this book.

Amazon Link.