True to tradition I must roundup the year in music, and in my ears 2014 has been much better than last year. In no particular order I present to you the best 15 albums of 2014.
Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Spotify)
Angel Olsen is mostly presented as folk or singer/songwriter. To me neither is actually correct, and I would categorize most of this album as a rock album, and a very good one, at that. Granted her voice has some of the dreamy qualities of female folk singers, but she is not afraid of going in more raw directions which reminds me a bit of PJ Harvey. The first half of the album is admittedly the most progressive for Olsen’s sound. The second half is more contemplative, and probably traditional, but not less good. In a year populated by many very strong female artists Burn Your Fire for No Witness is an achievement with its bare and heartfelt sound.
The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (Spotify)
For a while I struggled a bit with War on Drugs’ sound on Lost in the Dream. I was vaguely irritated and got a strong feeling I had heard this before. It suddenly struck me, War on Drugs sounded suspiciously like Destroyer and as soon as I made that aural connection the album also clicked for me. This is poprock for grown-ups like they used to make it in the 80’s and early 90’s. This is the heritage of pretty unremarkable albums from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen thrown together and shaken, not stirred, with indie sentimentality and lo-fi guitars, and it sounds remarkably arty and even fresh.
Sleaford Mods: Divide and Exit (Spotify)
Sleaford Mods is something of an anomaly. In this day and age a couple of oldish, untrendy and bitter blokes from Nottingham with little prior success rarely frequent best-of-the-year-lists. Maybe it is this rarity and opposition to all that is clean, perfect and glossy that makes this so great? Divide and Exit is like crawling into a smoke-filled and dirty British pub 25 years ago. It is as if Mike Skinner read Irvine Welsh on top of a pumping beat. It totally works.
FKA Twigs: LP1 (Spotify)
Haunting, clean, economical and beautiful are all words that describe this prolific example of how close electronic music and R&B have become in the last decade. FKA Twigs is the work of Tahliah Barnett and a score of different producers, but it still sounds like a finite wholeness. Barnetts voice permeats every wrinkle and pore of the accurately named LP1, and even though it is not filled with hits and catchy tunes it is through and through an extremely sturdy and very audible construction.
Alvvays: Alvvays (Spotify)
From the sugary opener Adult Diversion to the slow closing track Red Planet Alvvays’ self-titled debut is sweet indie pop. It is not as if we haven’t heard this before, but because of this it is extremely difficult to make a whole genre album that still sounds as interesting as Alvvays does. Granted, Alvvays is sugar-coated and my sound a bit tired to experienced ears, but it is also chock-filled with catchy and hummable tracks that should please all but the most stone-hearted listener.
Todd Terje: It’s Album Time (Spotify)
My fellow countryman Todd Terje has done alright for himself this year. It’s album time is his first full length album and to fresh ears this might be a little lengthy experience. Todd Terje does what he always has done, mixing the funk and jazz with the sound of sleaze- and b-movie soundtracks. It is an album to listen to more than to dance to, and it also shows that some of his previously idiosyncratic tendencies have been weeded out. For the most part this is actually a good thing – most of the funny bits have been removed, but not the fun. A restrained album of this kind is actually a rarity and part of what makes It’s Album Time so good.
Real Estate: Atlas (Spotify)
Wilco, and The Byrds before them, all operated within the same sphere of music that Real Estate builds so well upon. It is cozy, it is comfortable, but with just enough psychedelia hidden in the folky and catchy tunes to make it something more than forgettable. At their best Real Estate is so good it hurts, but at their worst they are irritably indulgent. On Atlas they are both, but the too lenient songs are actually few and forgivable. Atlas was the perfect album for lazy Sundays in 2014.
Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (Spotify)
Mac DeMarco might be an acquired taste, but after Salad Days he is also a required taste. The album is playful, and totally unlike anything within the singer/songwriter-genre. The clear and very distinguishable guitar runs like a red thread through the whole record and so does DeMarco’s seemingly inattentive vocals. It all comes together in a strangely joyful and likeable album that I will continue to listen to many years from now.
Aphex Twin: Syro (Spotify)
It’s been thirteen years since Richard D. James released an album under the Aphex Twin alias, and the years seem to have mellowed him somehow. Syro seems very accessible, to the point of being irrelevant and almost regressive, but then again this is only seemingly so. The album makes turns and breaks that is well hidden and if you take a look at the track titles you would know that Syro is anything but easy or accommodating. Syro is highly intelligent and Aphex Twin is still relevant in a genre that sometimes feels like it is overpopulated by howling choruses.
Dum Dum Girls: Too True (Spotify)
The opening track, Cult of Love, on Too True is one of the most catchy tunes of 2014, and the album stays strong with the first five tracks, but loses the grip somewhat after the middle. It still delivers near perfect, and actually quite tough, pop from the previously much more introvert and harsh-sounding lead Girl Dee Dee. It is always nice when something so hyped as Dum Dum Girls lives up to expectations.
St. Vincent: St. Vincent (Spotify)
St. Vincent is Annie Clarkes most pop-oriented album to date. Coincidentally it is also her sharpest and sometimes most tense effort, and it can be hard to enter Annie Erin Clark’s world on her demanding terms. St. Vincent bends and coils like a snake to escape description. The tunes and lyrics are more accessible than ever, but the sounds and production perfectly contradicts this. This is an electrifying album that both stings and leaves you begging for more.
Flying Lotus: You’re Dead! (Spotify)
This is definitely the most experimental album on this list, and even though I hesitate to categorize Steven Ellison’s music I am extremely tempted to call You’re Dead! the most successful attempt at fusing electronic music with free form jazz. The tracks are, typically Flying Lotus, relatively short, and explores a magnitude of different soundscapes. Flying Lotus manages the extraordinary feat of sounding more varied, yet tighter and more focused than previously. As a result You’re Dead! might work equally well for the jazz-enthusiast, the soul-lover or the electronica-aficionado.
Beck: Morning Phase (Spotify)
Beck has let his creativity flow in many directions of late and, seemingly unaffected by his sometimes failing health, he has proved himself worthy of the wunderkid-label of the 90’s. In my ears, Morning Phase is his best album in 12 years, and something of a comeback. The rule-breaking slacker-attitude he preached in the beginning of his career is nowhere to be found here, and Morning Phase is the work of an accomplished, thoughtful and grown man. It is beautiful, extremely listenable and many-layered.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks: Wig Out at Jagbags (Spotify)
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks is not only the Pavement-frontman’s spiritual successor to lo-fi heroes of yonder. It is also Malkmus’ diamond cutter where he perfects the sound that made Pavement so great. On Wig Out at Jagbags he nearly makes the perfect gem, but the beauty of lo-fi rock resides in all the rough edges and imperfections. The production is good enough, the music is focused enough, the lyrics strange enough and the totality crooked enough to make this a very relevant album.
Morbus Chron: Sweven (Spotify)
It was not a given that this list would highlight a Swedish death metal psychedelic album, but Sweven is so good that many more need to know about it. The album consists of ten tracks, of which three is pure instrumentals and the seven others don’t have much vocal on them, meaning Sweven is about 70% instrumentals. A lot of it’s strength therefore comes from the variety, breaks and interesting stuff done with guitars and rhythms. And interesting it is. Sweven sprinkles the death metal with tried formulas like prog and 80’s heavy rock, but there are also traces of jazz and blues here. Binding it all together are some pretty spectacular melodies. Yes, you heard it, death metal with spectacular melodies. Interesting, right?