Here it is. Our obligatory year-end review. The following is an unranked list of albums that caught, and kept, our attention in 2014. Have at it. — AD
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground Super Deluxe: Mono mixes, closet mixes, 2014 mixes, whatever mixes. What makes the hefty price tag on this reissue of the VU’s masterful third LP is the inclusion of two disc’s worth of the legendary Matrix Tapes: 2+ hours of beautiful, high quality late-1969 multitrack recordings of the band onstage in full flight. Take a sip from the holy velvet grail. (buy)
Native North America: Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985: It’s telling that in 2014, the music and messages of the Native Americans featured on Native North America still feel present and vital. Compiled by musicologist Kevin “Sipreano” Howes, the rules here are loose musically, encompassing garage rock, country, psych, and folk. But while the music and approaches are varied, at their best these songs serve as powerful protest songs, like Métis singer-songwriter Willie Dunn’s “I Pity the Country,” and Willy Mitchell and Desert River Band’s “Kill’n Your Mind.” These are songs that address an uneven political landscape and the damages of colonialism, but also celebrate culture, life, and nature. It’s a complicated set of songs from a group of people whose voices have too often gone unheard. (buy)
John Coltrane, Offering: Live at Temple University: Coltrane came home in 1966, to Temple University in Philadelphia, and he brought with him all the beauty, wrath, power and glory he was capable of. With his wife Alice on piano, Pharaoh Sanders on tenor saxophone & piccolo, Rashied Ali on drums, and Sonny Johnson on bass, Offering is the sound of Coltrane cutting off ties with the ground, leaving behind the blues and pushing his sound into a new, more free reality. His horn ripples and he beats his chest. Coltrane would be be gone within nine months of the performance, but he imbues each note with everything he has. The effect is as lasting as it is shocking. (buy)
Amen Dunes – Love: Lighter and less solitary (probably more accessible) than Damon McMahon’s previous work, Amen Dunes strips some lo-fi to profess Love, in the realist sense of the emotion. It isn’t all dew-dripped and sun-drenched, but it also isn’t anxious and confused. It’s a bit of both dawn and dusk. McMahon’s voice, pitched and moaning, is more an instrument for sound than words here. Though there are infinite expressions of love, McMahon’s is singular and distinct. (buy)
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness: Angel Olsen’s 2012 lp Half Way Home was a quiet, plaintive affair — a low-key country waltz with minimal, yet affecting instrumentation. Conversely, Burn Your Fire found her plugging in and turning up the faders. An album of closeness and distance, heartache and heartbreak. Olsen navigates these ups and downs with her voice as captain. It’s a mesmerizing instrument, sweet, tranquil then suddenly intense in an ascendant vibrato. (buy)
Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather: Hot on the heels of last year’s fantastic Time Off, Way Out Weather is a tour de force filled with a seemingly endless array of awesome guitar tones, fantastic interplay and powerful songwriting. It’s Gunn’s most lushly produced effort to date, and this approach works out perfectly – it’s a record you’ll get lost in, whether you’re playing it at home or taking it for a spin on the open road (we highly recommend the latter). (buy)
Jennifer Castle – Pink City: Jennifer Castle crafted one of the more beautiful records of the year. Hailing from Toronto, her voice recalls the energy of Laurel Canyon like some 40-year-old folk record might. But Pink City is much more than a yesteryear retread. Gentle rolling guitar, Owen Pallett’s lush string arrangements and Castle’s voice – an indefinable thing that is at once fragile, delicate and rugged – are just some of the elements that make up this collection of gorgeous, pastoral folk songs. (buy)
Daniel Bachman – Orange Co. Serenade: This American Primitive guitar upstart has been churning out LPs like his life depended on it for the past few years. But the dude just keeps getting better somehow. Orange Co. Serenade is his best yet – a wonderful, assured recording that splits the difference between Bachman’s love of timeworn, old-timey melodies and dronier, more “out” sounds. (buy)
Tinariwen – Emmaar: Tinariwen are the present masters of the Tuareg “desert blues.” Besides being at the peak of their craft, Emmaar stands out in the band’s discography as the first album in the group’s 30+ year history to be truly made in exile. Recent political violence in Northern Mali forced the band to relocate from the Sahara to the Mojave to record Emmaar. The result is heavy, electric, and urgent–a piercing lament for the “tenere,” their desert home. (buy)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers: Under the Hiss Golden Messenger banner, songwriter M.C. Taylor has committed to tape one of the most affecting and emotionally resonant catalogs of the 2010s. Lateness of Dancers, named for a Eudora Welty story, might be his most generous LP yet, tender, open, and deeply funky. There are strains of the Band, J.J. Cale, and Van Morrison in the grooves of songs like “Lucia,” “I’m a Raven (Shake Children)” and “Black Dog Wind,” but Taylor and company (fine company, it should be noted, including members of Megafaun, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Mountain Man, guitarist William Tyler, and Scott Hirsch) do more than emulate; they synthesize funk, reggae, American blues and folk, creating a sumptuous vehicle for Taylor’s humanistic musings, his reflections on duty, on family, and digging deep for any salvation that can be scrounged up. (buy)
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music: Sturgill Simpson doesn’t want to “save country music,” and he doesn’t want to burn the Music Row establishment to the ground. He doesn’t want to drop acid with you, man, and he doesn’t want to lecture you about sobriety. Sturgill Simpson just wants to sing about love. Love is the theme of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, the Kentucky-born songwriter sings about quiet love and also cosmic spiraling love, about finding transcendence in family and raising hell. It’s a twangy honky tonk record that occasionally sets off for outer space, and every sentiment reads like Simpson carved it into old, sturdy wood. (buy)
Joan Shelley – Electric Ursa: There’s very little flash to Joan Shelley’s Electric Ursa, but you don’t need flash when you’ve got songs this good. The Kentucky singer-songwriter is armed with a plaintive voice, quietly powerful lyrics and a group of backing musicians who know how to add sensitive and restrained color to the proceedings. An understated gem that sounds better and better with each spin. (buy)
Ryley Walker – All Kinds of You: You could probably convince someone that Ryley Walker’s debut long player is the work of some long-lost UK singer-songwriter from the 1970s – think John Martyn or Bert Jansch. But Walker is actually a 20-something fella from Chicago. Lucky us. The album is a beauty. Far from being a mere pastiche artist, Walker really inhabits these songs and the sound that accompanies them. (buy)
Songs: Ohia – Didn’t It Rain (Reissue): In 1996, Chris and Ben Swanson’s upstart label Secretly Canadian issued the One Pronunciation of Glory 7” and made Jason Molina a recording artist. Six years later, the brothers released Didn’t It Rain, a masterpiece tour of darkness and despair lit only by the light of Molina’s lantern and that ever-present Blue Chicago Moon. This month’s reissue would be essential in any context, but with the gray having already claimed its space over Molina’s midwest, it almost sounds like Didn’t It Rain was pulled straight from the sky. (buy)
Strand of Oaks – HEAL: Tim Showalter seems to have learned something that most of us don’t spend enough time thinking about: Back when we were growing up, that struggle with our sense of self against reliance on others — fighting to work through it alone while still needing so much — that thing never goes away. It’s 16 years old and 35 years old and 50. So smartly communicated through his own past, in “Goshen ‘97,” and in “JM” – a story about Jason Molina. This is big, bold rock music, even when it’s quiet. (buy)
Bessie Jones with the Georgia Sea Island Singers – Get In Union: In a word: stunning. These performances, captured by Alan Lomax between 1959 and 1966, are primarily a capella, but they are easily among the most powerful and moving recordings I’ve ever heard. Compiled by Lomax scholar/guitarist Nathan Salsburg, this gospel-folk gem might just restore your faith in humanity. It’s that good. (buy)
When I Reach that Heavenly Shore: Unearthly Black Gospel 1926-1936: Assembled lovingly by collector Christopher King and culled him from his collection of 78s, When I Reach That Heavenly Shore is another essential collection of gospel music from the crew at Tompkins Square. Concerned chiefly with eternal salvation, the artists here take wonderfully odd paths on the way there. Along with standard shouts of praise like the McCollum’s Sanctified Singers singing “Glory! Glory! Hallelujah,” there are stranger messages: Rev. J.M. Gates preaches of a “Dead Cat On The Line”; Rev. A.W. Nix warns of “Going To Hell & Who Cares.” All aim to glorify God, praising heavenly grace and speaking in intimate, corporal language. Mother McCollum sings “I Want to See Him” and it’s easy to believe that now she does. (buy)
Alexis Zoumbas – A Lament for Epirus, 1926 -1928: Haunting violin music that riffs on the ancient folk styles of Northwestern Greece. Alexis Zoumbas immigrated to NYC in 1910 and recorded his virtuosic, quasi-improvised tunes as a foreigner, accompanied by only a droning, bowed double bass. These ultra obscure recordings were compiled by 78-rpm obsessive Christopher King, who dug deep to demystify Zoumbas’ apocryphal bio. Plus, the LP’s cover portrait was penned by R. Crumb! (buy)
New Bums – Voices in a Rented Room: An equal partnership between Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny and Skygreen Leopards’ Donovan Quinn, New Bums’ debut full-length is an instant psych-folk classic, filled with woozy balladry, wicked humor and skeletal melodies. Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth would be proud. (buy)
Bonnie Prince Billy – Singers Grave a Sea of Tongues: Will Oldham’s output is prolific, his identity fluid. The material on Singer’s Grave is mostly culled from his 2011 LP Wolfroy Goes to Town. That record’s mercurial spirit is wrangled: the songs are shorter, melodies more focused, the arrangements are both full-bodied and crisp. Recorded with producer Mark Nevers in Nashville, Oldham dresses songs like “We Are Unhappy” and “It’s Time to Be Clear” with fine adornment, tapping a well into Nashville’s deep-flowing foundation of country and western, gospel, and stately popular music. It is an unassuming but remarkable record — a document as much concerned with warmth as inscrutability. (buy)
Ned Doheny – Separate Oceans: Utterly smooth. This collection of Ned Doheny recordings — demos, alternate takes, and songs from his in-and-out of print LPs — is pop music for the unconcerned. Luxurious and melodic at every turn, Doheny navigates funk turns, mellow jazz textures, cheeky R&B and folk rock with a cast of stars including Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Cropper of the MGs, members of the Eagles, Tower of Power, and Average White Band, but they never steal the spotlight from Doheny, who maintains an impeccable grace even on the collection’s rawest tracks. (buy)
Eno – Hyde – High Life: High Life is the second record Brian Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde put out together in 2014, and like the blurred favelas and (sic)-spaced Ghanaian title, it both appropriates and reshapes cultures that are very much not its creators’ own. Standout “DBF” shuffles over a heavily chopped West African guitar, while opener “Return” drones its two chords through heady delay and heavy reverb before swiftly transitioning into a breezy shuffle exactly halfway through its nine minutes. Even the chilly monotones of closer “Cells and Bells” manage to scrape up some dust from a dank chapel floor, making High Life one of the most well-textured records of the year. (buy)
Jordan De La Sierra – Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose: Context can help enjoy the spacemusic of Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose, which was recorded by Jordan De La Sierra, a student of Terry Riley, and released by a small Bay Area label in truncated form in 1977, but the extra information is not required to experience the album’s sensory-enveloping stillness. This version of the record is as expansive as De La Sierra intended, released by Numero Group under the guidance of Stephen Hill of long running New Age radio program Hearts in Space, and it requires only a little patience and a quiet room to work its magic. Waves of reverberating piano echo, blurring the lines between classical, ambient, and avant-garde. These are pure sounds. (buy)
Noura Mint Seymali – Tzenni: Descended from a long line of Moorish griots, Noura Mint Seymali’s music interprets traditional sounds with heavy, rock-band grooves. Noura’s vocal prowess and range is breathtaking and she is a master of the ardine–a 9 stringed harp-like instrument. Psyched-out counterpoint is provided by her husband Jeiche Ould Chighaly who approximates the tidinit on wah-wah guitar. Tzenni is her first record to be released outside of Mauritania and it is a tour de force. (buy)
Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal: All it took was a single chord and four minutes of articulate ennui. Even if it had consisted only of its title track, the followup to 2012’s Light Up Gold would have been an instant classic. But the Brooklyn quartet have quietly expanded their palette of sound to include slow-burning love songs, minimalist honk, Delta-driven diatribes, and a Schoenberg-referencing song about being annoyed with the effects of their own success. These dudes paint the blues with a Xerox machine and a dog-eared copy of Maximumrocknroll. (buy)
Parkay Quartz – Content Nausea: The concept of “content nausea” should resonate with anyone who’s felt shackled to the PC, screen burning out the retinas. Andrew Savage articulates punk rock into a dry vernacular that sounds present, complex… for real. The band’s sound is angular, incisive, and immediate. Content Nausea contains two masterpieces that truly elevate the record: the lamenting, insurgent title track feels vital, while “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” is a grisly, timeless murder ballad with a very contemporary gravity. (buy)
Quilt – Held in Splendor: Maybe when Quilt named the album, they were describing its sound. More mature — and significantly better — that their self-titled debut, Held in Splendor is more ornate, more psych, more 1967 than 1966. Though the psych-folk tossback trend of the last few years leaves mixed results (and source material that’s hard to outshine), Quilt has more firmly established their sound within the genre. Identity is everything when leaning so heavily on influence, and Quilt has found theirs. (buy)
Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son: Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son sounds a bit like a cult. The cover looks a bit like the home of one, too. Even song names sound like cult members: Silver Timothy, Silver Donna, Silver Malcolm, Silver Katherine and Silver Joy. And maybe that’s a start for describing this, Damien Jurado’s third effort with Richard Swift. It’s lightly tethered to reality, while searching for new opportunities just beyond reality’s realm. Eternal Son feels like last year’s Maraqopa dialed back a bit. Less assertive instrumentation, for a more tripped out, ethereal folk. Standout is the lounge-y cult leader “Silver Timothy.” (buy)
Robert Lester Folsom – Music And Dreams / Ode To A Rainy Day: Archives 1972-1975: Anthology Records dug up the recordings of this Georgia-native outsider artist and, while originally from the 70’s, this stuff is right on time in 2014. Music and Dreams was Folsom’s 1976 private press psychedelic folk record. Spacey synths, an art-pop sensibility and Folsom’s soft rock vocals combine for a fascinating listen. Ode to A Rainy Day contains earlier, more-stripped down recordings, but moments like the flute solo on “Lovels” and the shaggy Americana charm of “See You Later, I’m Gone” make this record an equally interesting listen. Like an entire record made up of Neil Young’s “Will to Love” vibe. (buy)
Mike Cooper – Places I Know/The Machine Gun/Trout Steel: NC based label Paradise of Bachelors brings adventurous multi-instrumentalist Mike Cooper into a much-deserved spotlight with this series of reissues from the early 1970s. Ranging from Dylan-esque excursions to wild free jazz/rock fusions, Cooper’s music climbs from peak to peak. (buy)
Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right: A partial list of those who should be thrown from the Tarpeian Rock, per Protomartyr’s Joe Casey: Greedy bastards, rank amateur professionals, alt-weekly types, internet risottos, smug urban settlers, adults dressed as children, credit-card users, most bands ever. Not included: Mark E. Smith, Gang of Four, Steve Yzerman. On the fence, per album standout “Ain’t So Simple”: Protomartyr’s Greg Ahee, Alex Leonard, and Scott Davidson. Seems about right. (buy)
The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream: Getting lost in the throwback and dad-rock references does a disservice to the anxiety and self-consumed emotion of Lost in the Dream, a product so clearly wrapped in the mood today. All unrelenting drums, poured-over keys, unfettered guitar folded within The War On Drugs’ synthesized haze and shimmery fog, it’s the songwriting — and astute editing — that makes this their most palpable emotional presence to date. Lost in the Dream is all sky above and road ahead and no direction to go but everywhere. (buy)
Elisa Ambrogio – The Immoralist: Just because you’re in a no-wave band doesn’t mean you can’t break hearts. The Magik Markers frontwoman slayed all softies on her solo debut, with the opening one-two of “Superstitious” and “Reservoir” staring into sincerity and refusing to blink. Then she tamed her own wild guitars and put them in service of stark character portraits and frozen-moment vignettes that make friends of Kim Gordon and Neko Case. (buy)
Kevin Morby – Still Life: Former Woods bassist and songwriter/guitarist of The Babies, Kevin Morby surprised everyone last year with a stunning solo debut, Harlem River. Capitalizing on that momentum, Morby wasted no time releasing its follow-up, Still Life, a coastal gem of ragged folk-rock. Morby showed a brilliant capacity for songwriting with Harlem River’s title track and has matched that greatness with this year’s “Parade,” a moment of pure pop perfection. (buy)
Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting: The latest in qualifiers of the statement that The Velvet Underground were the best and most influential band of all time, Ultimate Painting meets James Hoare of Veronica Falls and Jack Cooper of Mazes for a syrupy dose of late 70’s New York-inspired post punk. These dudes have quickly joined the ranks of Courtney Barnett and Parquet Courts in this current and potent wave of brainy but sauntering rock ‘n roll. What sets Ultimate Painting apart is their penchant for more grooving, baroque-leaning psych (see: “Riverside”) and droning, dreamy pop which makes them more akin to VU than the two aforementioned acts (see: “She’s A Bomb”). (buy)
Viet Cong – Cassette: A Calgary quartet made up of former Women band mates Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace, as well as guitarists Monty Munro and Danny Christiansen, Viet Cong exude shadows of their former incarnation — a certain spooky, claustrophobic, gloominess — but the band has also expanded into new sonic territories. Cassette kicks off in full-force, with the confident and wiry “Throw It Away.” (Echoes of Television’s self-assured debut). Waves of lo-fi psychedelic pop permeate throughout this record, but “Structureless Design” locks into in industrial groove and a propulsive drum-led séance. Shapeless, yes, but this band is not without direction or focus. Look out for their Jagjaguwar debut next year. (buy)
Ty Segall – Manipulator: Psych, glam, garage and beyond, Ty Segall continues to carve out his own twisted niche. Manipulator, a double lp, only furthers this. At 17 tracks the album spans the width and breadth of Segall’s expanding oeuvre, rounding out the best of his many guises. Unlike some of his contemporaries, maturation suits him. (buy)
Woods – With Light & With Love: Again, we’re still not entirely convinced these guys aren’t actually from up the coast here in California, but their bio continues to read Brooklyn, NY. No matter. Album after album Woods continue to draft subtle Big Sur jams and sing-alongs. And we all say thank ya. (buy)
Swans – To Be Kind: To Be Kind is an unrelenting, muscular mega-album, a maximalist’s mass for the viscera. Clocking in at just over 2 hours, it delivers a monolithic presence that rivals Swans’ first post-reunion achievement, 2012’s The Seer. Michael Gira’s vocals recall rites, mantras invoked for some darkly transcendent, elevated purpose. The band’s throbbing can be as heavy as the heavens falling from the sky, heralded by a cultish, wailing chorus and an incessantly clanging dulcimer. There is no band like Swans and there most likely never will be. (buy)
Peter Walker – Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important: Peter Walker was at the forefront of the counter culture, sound tracking Timothy Leary’s “Acid Tests,” but unlike many of his generation, Walker recognized the need to connect to “old ways” as well as the new, drawing on traditional music to create beautiful ragas on his sophomore album, 1968’s second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important. Reissued by Vanguard and Light in the Attic, this edition features an incredible interview with Walker by guitarist Glenn Jones, illuminating the ways Poem to Karmela bridges the East and the West, and how this sweltering symphony of deep spiritual grooves came into existence. (buy)
Bob Dylan & The Band – The Basement Tapes Complete: Endless ink has been spilled over these legendary recordings. Bootlegged for ages, and released piecemeal over the decades, the tangled tale of the Basement Tapes is finally complete after almost 50 years. The 30+ heretofore un-booted tracks — including several downright classics — are the icing on the Big Pink cake. (buy)
Jim Woehrle & Michael Yonkers – Borders of My Mind: A casual, off-the-cuff, home recording session from 1973, Borders of My Mind lingers in a way that Woehrle and Yonkers likely neither intended nor anticipated. Bridge the art-pop weirdness of post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys and the more homemade folk recordings of Neil Young and you’re halfway there. Real American folk art, this is — bizarre, rough-hewn and beautiful. (buy)
William Tyler – Lost Colony: A full-band effort that ties together strands of classic country rock and classic rock, the wide-open, panoramic sonic vistas on the three tracks here seem tailor made for epic, exploratory road trips. The centerpiece is “Whole New Dude,” a sun-kissed 13-minute ride that easily places Tyler in the upper echelon of the recent crop of guitar anti-heroes. (buy)
The Brothers and Sisters – Dylan’s Gospel: This 1969 gospel-soul collection of Dylan covers gives Odetta Sings Dylan a run for its money. Produced by Lou Adler, this choir of Los Angeles session singers (Merry Clayton amongst others) deliver some of the most stirring and unlikely Dylan covers to date. Big-hearted and electrifying, this record comes leaping out of the stereo like a voice from beyond. (buy)
Tashi Dorji – S/T: The first release on Ben Chasny’s Hermit Hut label is a mind-altering outing from Asheville-by-way-of-Bhutan guitarist Tashi Dorji. You could draw comparisons to such six-string mavericks as Derek Bailey and Bill Orcutt, but the improvised solo pieces here really exist in a universe all their own. Beautiful, otherworldly stuff. (buy)
Ought – More Than Any Other Day: We needed this record this year, this band, this thing. Like an amalgamation of The Feelies, Talking Heads, and the Fall. Fidgety post-punk. Night club night sweats. See them live. (buy)
Thurston Moore – The Best Day: After the rather sudden dissolution of Sonic Youth, there were thoughts of how the various members would channel their creative output. After the founding of new band Chelsea Light Moving, Thurston Moore returned to what has been a small but incredibly rewarding outfit – his own. The Best Day feels like some of the best of Moore’s later-period Sonic Youth writing filtered through a more independent lens and the result is a record that stands on par with some of the best of his late band’s later work. (buy)
Real Estate – Atlas: Don’t let anyone tell you the sound of jangly, late-80s, college rock is dead. On Atlas, Real Estate’s third LP, the NJ group prove it’s alive…and quite well. (buy)
Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Intensity Ghost: Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band’s studio debut and it crackles with energy, finding the fertile middle ground between the razor sharp dynamics of Television with the cosmic leanings of the Dead. It’s pure, unadulterated guitar heaven — classic rock remade. (buy)
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There: Album after album has seen Sharon Van Etten improving and expanding her craft. Are We There is her finest album to date, taking her songs into places that pull even more elements into her music. “Our Love” sounds almost like Sade and “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” picks at the quotidian elements of a life to conjure something quietly larger. Van Etten’s work improves with every outing and she seems destined for something gigantic still. (buy)
St. Vincent – St. Vincent: With Annie Clark’s self-titled fourth album as St. Vincent, the songwriter steps forward as one of the most incisive of her generation. On record, Clark ties together her sharp turns of phrase, about endless content, Black Panthers, and routines over lurching funk and jagged guitar, and when she performed “Digital Witness” and “Birth in Reverse” on Saturday Night Live it served as an announcement that she’s arrived to provoke and confront, a David Byrne-styled gesture that ranks with Elvis Costello and Sinead O’Connor as one of the show’s most powerful musical performances. (buy)
Sylvie Simmons – Sylvie: After forty years of music writing, Sylvie Simmons has put her money where her mouth is, and released her own record of 12 original songs. Produced by Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb, Sylvie is a swooning and bewitching experience — a late night lonesome motel, spooky and stirring country-folk. Her voice is weathered and pained, yet possesses a haunting, childlike kind of innocence, an air only thickened by the sparse instrumentation of ukulele, guitar and electric piano. Sylvie’s lyrics are simple and direct, but also imagistic and weary in a way that suggests a deeper, more cryptic truth behind it all. (buy)
Don Muro – Souffrances Et Extases Du Jeune Amour: Recorded between 1969 and 1974, these selections from the unreleased archives of songwriter and synthesizer expert Don Muro are the work of an artist creating gleefully. There’s AM ballads, crunch garage rock, sepia-toned folk rock, and heady AOR progressive rock. Muro wasn’t concerned with genre, and Souffrances Et Extases Du Jeune Amour plays like an imagined transmission from a nonexistent freeform radio station, the DJ playing what pleases him, listeners tuned in to take the ride. (buy)
Mike & Cara Gangloff – Black Ribbon of Death, Silver Thread of Life: Splitting the difference between their acoustic drone outfit Pelt and the more traditional Appalachian string music of their combo The Black Twig Pickers, Mike and Cara Gangloff’s Black Ribbon of Death, Silver Thread of Life does the hard work of redemption in the darkest of modes. Traditional hymns and old shape-note songs are performed a capella, while a wandering banjo line teams up with the loose knot of the Gangloffs’ vocals and tugs against a five-minute hurdy-gurdy drone in “Cherry River Line.” This is gospel music in the theological sense, an attempt to not only pluck bodies from the soil but harmony from dissonance, familiar melody from random noise. (buy)
K. Leimer – A Period of Review: A double LP’s worth of cosmic DIY synth adventures from the late 70s and early 80s, A Period of Review is a revelatory collection form RVNG Records (who also put out amazing recordings from Ariel Kalma and Craig Leon this year). Decidedly Eno-esque, Leimer’s spare and lovely compositions are calming, absorbing breaths of fresh air. (buy)
Springtime Carnivore – S/T: It’s easy to focus on the kaleidoscopic textures and Technicolor adornment, but beyond those psychedelic touches are Greta Morgan’s (Springtime Carnivore) songs: concisely written, boldly sung, and delivered like classics. Songs like “Western Pink” and “Name on a Matchbook” are expertly rendered, and beautiful production by Morgan and co-producer Richard Swift serve to boost the beauty already there, throwing open the windows to let sun stream in. (buy)
Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!: You can take You’re Dead! for what it is: a free-jazz free-for-all inspired by FlyLo (né Steven Ellison)’s thoughts on the afterlife, characterized brilliantly by that exclamation point. Or you can take You’re Dead! for what it feels like: an ever-shifting, restless scroll through fifty years of music culture compressed in an unlockable .ZIP file. There’s something for everyone here, and even if your particular jam only lasts for a few fractions of a second, chances are Ellison’s relentlessly flowing stream will carry you to something new. (buy)
John Lurie National Orchestra – The Invention of Animals: A pastiche of early ’90s recordings which feature Lurie’s soprano and alto saxophone playing, in tandem with Calvin Weston on drums and Billy Martin on percussion. The trio combine into what sounds like some aural organism, going about it’s business in nature. Skeletal, dripping, propulsive, meandering–Lurie’s performance is utterly dynamic and mesmerizing. Four of the tracks originated from soundtrack sessions for Fishing With John–fans of the show rejoice. (buy)
Eternal Summers – The Drop Beneath: Virginia hasn’t always been the most highly productive of states in rock ‘n roll, but Roanoke’s Eternal Summers hit a sweet spot on their third LP of something that channels the classic Slumberland sound with something a bit more aggressive. Doug Gillard’s production doesn’t hurt and the end result is an album that sounds simultaneously classic and invigorating. (buy)
Bitchin Bajas – S/T: The Chicago collective’s self-titled double LP is a masterpiece of minimalist moves. Drawing from such beloved avant garde composers as LaMonte Young, Henry Flynt, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and others, Bitchin Bajas’ four sides are positively transcendent, weaving a rich tapestry of warm and enveloping drones that hum with cosmic, spiritual vibrations. Turn on, tune in, bliss out. (buy)
Alice Gerrard – Follow The Music: In addition to crafting one of this year’s finest records, Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor also produced the gorgeous Follow the Music, from 80-year-old folk/bluegrass legend Alice Gerrard. The album is a deep and intense, yet soothing listen. A rich, old-world meditation, Gerrard is backed by Taylor and Megafaun’s Phil and Brad Cook, and her voice is a force all on its own — a strong, unwavering thing that exudes an Appalachian mist. (buy)
Sha Boom Bang: Sha-Boom Bang: Vintage Arizona Doo-Wop, R&B, Soul & Funk 1956-71: It’s okay if you don’t think of Arizona as an epicenter of soul, doo-wop, soul and funk. But Arizona was home to one of the Southewest’s most vibrant R&B scene in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, hidden just out of sight, like a gnarly scorpion hiding under a rock. Collecting sides from the Ramco, Liberty Bell, and Rev labels, Sha-Boom Bang assembles a vibrant portrait of Arizona’s soul sounds, sharing wild groovers from Butch McGhee, hard driving funk by Chuck Womack and the Sweet Souls, and Chicano soul from Lon Rogers and the Soul Blenders. (buy)
Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems: 80 years old and thirteen albums deep, Leonard Cohen has aged like a fine scotch — deep, complex and peaty. On Popular Problems, he continues to mine the sordid affairs of romance, spirituality and country. And he does it with swagger and without flash, accompanied by lovely arrangements of organ, strings and angelic backup singers. “Did I Ever Love You” blossoms from a late-night, city street ballad into a georgic country shuffle. Pure bliss. (buy)
Ex Hex – Rips: Wild Flag may have called it quits, but Mary Timony’s band Ex Hex picked up the mantle of the kind of raucous guitar rock that her previous outfit handled so well in their brief existence. For those who have followed Timony from Helium through her solo work and up until now, Rips will feel like one of the most lean and slight – in the best way possible – albums of her career. It’s the kind of rock ‘n roll that leaves you feeling far too pumped at the end of every listen, eager to dive in again. (buy)
Fat White Family – Champagne Holocaust: That title is nauseating, and since these lurid Londoners have spent the year cultivating all sorts of barf-in-your-mouth, onstage spectacle and generally making their audience feel endangered, folks question if the music’s got teeth. It’s a shambolic, inflammatory, faux-anti-establishment album that sounds like it was made with piss and beer but is also a lot of fun. (buy)
David Kilgour & The Heavy 8s – End Times Undone: The Clean co-founder’s latest with his longtime band, The Heavy 8’s, is all chiming electric 12-strings, tuneful feedback and jangling grooves. Possessor of a pretty much perfect tone, Kilgour is a guitar hero who actually doesn’t go in for heroics all that much. He’s more interested in riding the wave of the music, effortlessly tossing out shimmering lines with a casual grace, always finding pleasantly unexpected places to take his solos. (buy)
Doug Paisley – Strong Feelings: Doug Paisley’s third full-length, Strong Feelings, finds regular collaborator Garth Hudson returning on the piano, along with Emmett Kelly, Robbie Grunwald and Mary Margaret O’Hara. Living up to its title, the album is a poignant collection of warm, subtle country-folk, though it finds Paisley exploring new sonic territories and reaching across genres. His honey-throated tenor is all golds, greens, yellows and reds and Hudson’s jazzy, improvisational, piano line on “What’s Up Is Down” is one of the finest musical moments of the year. (buy)
Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else: Country has seen its songwriting prowess revitalized in the last few years in artists both mainstream and underground. Loveless’ third LP is a record that turns archetypes inside out to examine the flawed human mentality behind the songs. “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” is just one of those moments – a song where the narrator’s passion fills to violent overflowing, but she’s able to see it. The record is full of moments like this – thoughtful and powerful looks at life’s most essential interactions. (buy)
Blake Mills – Heigh Ho: Blake Mills is, in essence, an experimental country-folk artist. But his sonic and compositional explorations are unrivaled – pairing soaring strings with roaring, dissonant guitar feedback, recording slow-paced acoustic guitar meditations, and channeling songs through nostalgic, radio days filters. But, at heart, Mills’ songwriting is warm and generous, his voice possessing a Randy Newman cast of bittersweet, California drawl and biting humor. “The young one finds the doorman quite good looking/He considers me a fag because he’s the judge of ‘all that’/He and maybe a dozen bros that have been unloved by their dads.” Shit, man. (buy)
Modern Vices – S/T: Modern Vices describe their sound as “dirty doo-wop,” but don’t get too confused. Sonically indebted to the tangled rock of Television and the sharp pop of the Smiths, the Chicago band’s debut is a blur of guitars and drums, fronted by vocalist Alex Rebek. Like Hamilton Leithauser before him, the young frontman ditches the detached persona that plagued indie rock through much of the ‘Aughts, instead going all in, crooning with crazed passion and force – like Sinatra or Bobby Darin fronting a punk band. (buy)
Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams: Timber Timbre’s music consistently lends itself to visual, cinematic description, Hot Dreams more so than ever. The band’s LA album explodes its spooky, minimal blues into soundtrack-worthy spaghetti Western fantasies for a nightmare frontier. Tensions builds to a head then settles in the band’s trademark brooding grooves. However Taylor Kirk’s arresting croon floats any licentious undertones to the surface with lines like “I wanna follow through on all my promises and threats to you, babe.” (buy)
Death Vessel – Island Intervals: Marked by Joel Thibodeau’s velvety falsetto, Island Intervals is a thing of delicate beauty, rococo intricacy. That voice can reach an aching break that pierces into an otherworldly, celestial space where his muse resides. It’s Death Vessel’s first album in 6 years, crafted in Reykjavik and aided by the Sigur Ros set. Thibodeau’s pastoral guitar work and intimate, fabulistic lyricism come swathed in a shimmery, spell-binding vapor which certainly evokes that island nation. (buy)
FKA Twigs – LP1: Slowly and surely, R&B has become one of the most forward thinking musical styles in modern music. And in the U.K. – where Trip-Hop, Grime music and Bjork are major cultural touchstones of the last 20 years – that was perfectly on display in FKA Twigs’ debut LP. Among the minimalist and fractured beats and melodies, Twigs’ voice is the siren solidity keeping the music grounded, even as it shimmers in and out of existence. We’re not far enough away from the album to call it the 2010s answer to Maxinquaye, but the comparisons aren’t far off the mark.(buy)
Ariel Pink – Pom Pom: There was a point in time where I despised Ariel Pink’s music, maybe his stage presence even more. Not because he doesn’t have an interesting sound but just the overall lack of interest he seemed to take in his audiencel. Since his last record, Mature Themes, I am completely in love with this dude’s songwriting and whatever inside joke he’s playing on us. I don’t even care. His songs are fun, catchy…magical in a way, and obviously nostalgic. He’s the musical equivalent of Sid and Marty Krofft and that speaks volumes. (buy)
Sinkane – Mean Love: Turns out William Onyeabor was hiding in the body of Ahmed Gallab, the Sudanese-born session musician who’s played with the likes of Caribou, of Montreal, and Yeasayer. Mean Love, Gallab’s fifth solo record, combines intertwining beats, pedal steel guitars, and a shoutout to “Cissy Strut” in a polymathematical dance. The big-tent feel – the horn stabs, Gallab’s clear-eyed vocal melodies – make it a little surprising that this thing didn’t break real, real wide. (buy)
Ashrae Fax – Never Really Been Into It: This album was written ten years ago and yet it sounds completely modern and fresh. Not “modern” in the sense that so many bands have also incorporated the Cocteau Twins discography (vocal style, guitar effects, padded electronic drums, etc.) into their set over the past few years, but “modern” in that they are the best and closest musical thing since Cocteau Twins were an active band, and that’s a massive achievement. (buy)
Foxygen – …And Star Power: Returning to a tack they’d previously embraced before achieving a measure of critical success, … And Star Power reorients Foxygen’s trajectory, without any regard for making a “follow-up.” And in doing so keeps us listening. (buy)
Todd Terje – It’s Album Time: Druggy disco music for 30-40 somethings. There’s absolutely nothing difficult or intriguing about Terje’s music but it certainly feels amazing at every turn, similar to Daft Punk’s entire career. Don’t like disco? Me neither, but I love this record. (buy)
Martyn – The Air Between Words: Martyn is cool as fuck. In the same subdued and aloof way that John Tejada can impose his smooth charisma on the dance floor Martyn creates a world equally sensual and mysterious. No gimmicks or obvious attempts to distract you from the underlying effect that house music should make you want to move. They both make electronic music easy for the average human to get into – and that is a good thing. But Martyn’s trump card is moodier, even darker house music (see “Empty Mind” and “Forgiveness Step 2”), and more critics need to recognize this. (buy)
Caribou – Our Love: It seems like every new Caribou full-length is heralded as the next best thing in Dan Snaith’s career. But remember way back when you first heard “The Milk of Human Kindness”? Our Love is just another big step forward, an incredible progression, and it’s all part of the evolution of Caribou, which is the most concrete aspect of his music. What is the Caribou “sound” anyway? It’s the sound of his latest album. (buy)
Clark – Clark: Part of me thinks Chris Clark’s self-titled album is the artist simply living in the moment, touching upon a lot of what’s so engaging and immersive about tech-house and bass, but he’s also spent many years rearranging and folding electronic music into so many angles it’s hard to tell where he’s taking us. This is his best album/experience since “Body Riddle”, I actually like it better. And I think that’s reason enough to get excited about what he’s got coming next. (buy)
Previously: 2011 Year In Review / 2012 Year In Review / 2013 Year In Review
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42 thoughts on “Aquarium Drunkard :: 2014 Year In Review”
the list we have all been waiting for… look forward to getting into the ones I havent heard
Awesome post. Thank you! Also really like the photos of artfully un-arranged old stereo gear used here and in this week’s sirius post… where did those come from?
Amazing List. Surprised to see no love for the Iceage album though.
Thanks for all that AD does all year. Sincerely.
Steve Gunn. Steve Gunn.
wooden wand-farmer’s corner?!
Alright then. So much to catch up on.
First the nit-picking-No Castanets? No Wooden Wand?
Can’t wait to dig in . . . Thanks, AD for doing the heavy lifting and bringing us the gravy . . .
Best blog ever,favorite post every year!
yall left off Jolie Holland Wine Dark Sea
great great stuff, can’t wait to check out some of the new-to-me things. although, ditto with the castanets, wooden wand(X2) omissions…i’d probably throw chad vangaalen-shrink dust up there too.
can’t believe Wooden Wand isn’t on this list. Yall done him a disservice.
In Spotify playlist form: http://open.spotify.com/user/rainvt/playlist/4mpDLFMGMzAsVP8dSy1yKh
Thanks for putting this together. Last year’s list was the source of the music I listened to the most over the last year. Can’t wait to dig into this year’s.
So who’s gonna make the Spotify playlist?
The only Album List Of The Year that Matters!
Great site, great list, great discoverings… what about jessica pratt ?
Thanks AD for the whole year of posts and findings.
Wonderful selection of artists across the spectrum
Awesome list. Lots of overlap with my list ( http://listentodelion.tumblr.com/post/105284034006/best-of-2014 ) and I can’t wait to check out the others.
Seriously, this blog is the fucking best.
Superfine list, yalls
Awesome list. Always filled with a lot of things I already love and just as many brand new suggestions. Thanks!
The only list that matters. A bunch of my favorites were on here and even more than I have yet to check out. I’ve really been meaning to hear that Elisa Ambrogio record, not to mention several others. Thanks for all the recommendations.
My best of :
Thee Oh Sees – Drop
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – I’m In Your Mind Fuzz
Caribou — Our Love
Ultime painting – Ultime painting
Ty Segall – Manipulator
Express Rising – Express Rising II
Mammal Hands – Animalia
Allah-Las – Worship The Sun
Donovan Blanc – Donovan Blanc
Monogrenade – Composite
Living Too Late – EP Thee Oh Sees – Drop
My compilations and reissues :
Robert Lester Folsom – Music and dreams
Wheedle’s Groove – Seattle Funk, Modern Soul & Boogie : Volume II 1972-1987
Cleaners from Venus – Vol 1, 2 et 3
Shaolin Soul 3 – compilation
Inner city beat! Detective Themes, Spy Music and Imaginary Thrillers
I always look forward to this YE list the most. Thanks AD.
Finally a roundup worth reading.
Happy New Year, AD!
Fantastic, so much more interesting and thoughtful than most other end of year lists.
Not as awesome a year as 2013… hard to follow.
Spotify premium for $0.99/month + this list = a very happy man. Thanks as always AD! You’re the best.
Great selection. In a perfect world Richard Dawson and Sun Kil Moon would be on there but I will move on.
Wait, this list on Spotify? Am I missing something? I don’t see it…
Thanks for the great end of the year report, I discovered some bands that are awesome/never heard of.
No, love for Tweedy??? HE played with his son for his sick wife. Whoa!
Thanks again- keep up the good work
I always enjoy perusing your list, and have found many gems over the years. Please check out my list at Eclectic Grooves featuring an eclectic blend of psych, folk, hip-hop, garage and international.
I think this is my favorite list and I’m especially glad to see Amen Dunes, Damien Juarado and Woods included because I felt that these albums were largely overlooked.
I’m still surprised though at the absence of The Antlers release (Familiars), not specifically from this list but from everyone’s. I loved that album and I seem to be largely alone on that one.
Thank you for another varied and supremely interesting year review! Your music curation pays homage to the artists and broadens collective music appreciation. AD is one of my favourite websites of the Internet!
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