Hi. I’m currently staying indoors as nature is most certainly trying to kill me. Cottonwood falling like snow in January, mold spores at an all-time high, the sky raining cats…okay, no cats. But all that other crap is real. Trust me. So instead of boo-hooing about my lack of allergen-fighting chromosomes I thought I’d look back at the first half of 2014 and see what albums have stood out the most to me. I know there’s been some great music released in 2014, but I don’t think it’s been as stellar a year as say last year. Last year at this time I’d already been blown away by My Bloody Valentine’s mbv, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s II, and Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest. Those are hard to top in my book. Still, there’s been some great releases and I’ll tell you all about ’em.
First up is Jakob Skott’s Amor Fati. This album is a tour de force in drumming and atmospherics. When he’s not noodling on analog synths Skott’s main gig is being the titanic drummer for Denmark’s psych masters Causa Sui. They do the whole expansive, psych freak outs very well. But with Skott’s solo stuff he plugs in the analog synths and creates swaths of neo-futuristic sound blasts that would sound right at home scoring some post-apocalyptic film. Imagine Boards of Canada, Tangerine Dream, and Stewart Copeland being blended into a dark, foreboding aural concoction. That’s a bit of what you’re getting into with Amor Fati. Really, it’s a stunning record that you should check out immediately. Check out my review here.
The next great album of 2014 for my money is The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream. Adam Grauduciel really went above and beyond to create an album that elicits such longing and heartache that you truly do get lost in his dream. It’s a dream filled with big, fist-pumping, arena anthems, candid tales of loss, and driving rhythms coated in psychedelic hues. Lost In The Dream is an expansive double LP in the tradition of classic 70s basement bean bag double gatefold spins. You can zone out with the Koss headphones covering half your head as the haze thickens in the air and you slink down deeper into the chair. Slave Ambient was Granduciel finding his voice and his groove. Lost In The Dream is his masterpiece. If it’s the last thing he ever does, he can die happy knowing he made a masterclass record. Check out my review here.
It seems you either love Real Estate or you’re bored by them. Me? I absolutely love their stoned indifference. Their gentle jangle and air tight rhythm section. 2011’s Days was a little gem of an album. They followed it up with this year’s Atlas and despite solo side projects they sound like a solid unit still. Atlas doesn’t deviate too much from the formula Days was conceived with. Instead, it just hones in on that formula and tightens their jangle up a bit. The themes on Atlas seem to reflect the 30-something year olds and their acceptance of nearly middle age. It’s like “Yeah, we’re not stoned college kids hanging out at the beach anymore. And that’s okay.” They seem to have accepted being adults and finding that they even kind of like it. Me being a family guy that turned 40 in December I can really get down with that sort of mind set. Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile, while not guitar shredders, dance around their Fender guitar necks like shy versions of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. They’re never flashy, but like the whole of Atlas they’re always impressive. Give it a listen, and read my review here.
Nothing’s Guilty Of Everything is a mix of dark shoegaze, heady dream pop, and jagged post-punk with a healthy dose of goth thrown in. Dominic Polermo leads Nothing with a whispered voice that somehow still hovers above the heavy, mournful, crushing guitars and massive drums. At times this album sounds like Deafheaven being fronted by Elliot Smith. This is heavy, emotional, and soul-searching music. If Deafheaven, Whirr, and My Bloody Valentine float your boat then you need to locate this album immediately. Check out my review here.
St. Vincent has been a favorite of mine since 2007. She’s a quirky songwriter and a hell of a guitarist. She’s not the typical guitar player, though. She’s more like texture guitarist. More like Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp. I didn’t care for Love This Giant from 2012 with David Byrne like I hoped I would, but I think her working with a master like Byrne helped Annie Clark find a new kind of groove to push her own music forward. St. Vincent is a hell of an album with skronky beats, funky horns, and of course plenty of Miss Clark’s great guitar work. It also shows something that up to this point seems to have been hidden from plain sight in her music: vulnerability. My thoughts on this album in greater detail are right here.
Papir, like Causa Sui, are a psych band from Denmark and are signed to El Paraiso Records…also like Causa Sui. They can get pretty noisy like their Danish buds, but Papir like to take thinks a little slower. They like to slowly float over fields of poppies as opposed to running at full throttle. They take their time getting to the destination, which is cool as Papir’s journey is the best part. Papir IIII is a hell of a journey. If you like instrumental jams and mind-altering soundscapes look no further than this beauty of an album. Check my review out here.
Mogwai are a band that like to evolve their sound. From ear-spitting feedback to quiet interludes they mix it up and always keep us guessing. With Rave Tapes they once again mix up their sound, this time with analog synths and play with a electronic vibe. Some folks have bitched about not liking this current sound. Me? I say more power to ’em. Rave Tapes is still ominous and dark like previous efforts. But instead of crunching guitars they deliver the message with Moogs and synths. It’s really quite stunning. Give it another listen if you didn’t like it first time around. Read my review here.
Alex Calder is a strange fella. You don’t know what to believe and what not to believe when he speaks. But one thing for sure is that he’s a good songwriter. Quirky and at times disconcerting, his music knocks you out of balance. It messes with your equilibrium and makes you feel a little queasy. Seasick even. His newest self-released album Strange Dreams lives up to its title. This is altered states pop. Check my review here.
Mac Demarco is a strange fella. You don’t know what to believe and what not to believe when he speaks. But one thing for sure is that he’s a good songwriter. Quirky and at times disconcerting, his music knocks you out of balance. It messes with your equilibrium and makes you feel a little queasy. Seasick even. His newest album for Captured Tracks called Salad Days continues what he started with 2 and makes it even better. It’s less weird and more pop. This is altered states pop. Check my review here.
Wye Oak aren’t content with the same old same old. Shriek is proof of that. It’s more electronic pop than folksy rock and this new sound fits Jenn Wasner just fine. A great summer record that will fit nicely in fall as well. It may turn off some longtime fans at first, but once you set your preconceived notions to the side and judge the album on the merits of its songs and not the history of the band, you’ll hear a band expanding their horizons and not abandoning some sort of mission statement.
There are other albums I’ve listened to this year. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s Days Of Abandon was a good one. Quilt’s Held In Splendor was quite fun, too. Causa Sui’s Live At Freak Valley is a hell of a live album and one to enjoy with the headphones on. I just received Craft Spells’ Nausea in the mail on Friday and from the three times I’ve listened to it so far I have to say it’s a contender for my top albums of the year. Since I haven’t lived with it very long I couldn’t go into great detail at this time. Look for a glowing review very soon.
Albums I’m looking forward to are Spoon’s They Want My Soul, Jeff Tweedy’s solo album, and Strand Of Oaks’ Heal(if you haven’t heard “Goshen ’97” yet, you need to.) I’m sure there’s a bunch more coming, I’m just not privy to that information yet.
So there you have it. These are the albums I’ve loved so far. I listen to and review what I love, not what I think will be popular. So if your favorite artist isn’t on here, sorry. Why don’t you make up a list and I can see what you’ve loved so far this year. Anways, gotta go. I think more cats are falling from the sky.