Best of of 2014 – Albums

Here are my choices for the best albums (and one EP) of 2014, in no particular order. It’s been a crazy year, and these artists have proved their worth with outstanding albums. I hope all of you have a great rest of the holiday season! See you in 2015!

Hundred Waters, The Moon Rang Like A Bell

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Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal

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Alvvays, Alvvays

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Ought, More Than Any Other Day

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How To Dress Well, What Is This Heart?

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Bombay Bicycle Club, So Long, See You Tomorrow

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TOPS, Picture You Staring

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Alt – J, This Is All Yours

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Temples, Sun Structures

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Wild Beasts, Present Tense

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Cloud Castle Lake, Dandelion 

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Glass Animals, Zaba

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Best of 2014: Songs

2014 has been such an amazing year for music. I’ve discovered so many awesome new bands, albums, and songs, and I’ve had so much fun documenting it all with this blog. I’ve planned to treat today and the whole of next week to highlight the best songs and albums of 2014, and share what really shined and stuck with me as the year rolled on. Regular posts will start up again in 2015. Bear in mind that these songs are my personal choices, so I’d love to hear your comments below as to what you felt were the best songs of 2014. Here we go!

10. Parquet Courts – “Instant Disassembly”

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American punk band Parquet Courts impressed with the release of their third album Sunbathing Animal, and this song seemed to go by it’s own rules. The lethargic, tired vocals of Andrew Savage merge well with the repeated guitar melody that seems to similarly lurch forward on it’s own volition. Parquet Courts have always been one of the more introspective, intelligent punk bands I have heard, and this track just solidified my fascination with them.

9. Alvvays – “Party Police”

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The guitar melody that opens this song is so enticingly addictive, and when Molly Rankin comes in to provide a delicate, charming narrative, the result is something beautifully nostalgic and reminiscent of a love lost. It’s whimsical, much like a few other tracks on their self-titled debut album, and it goes hand in hand with their more demonstrative, serious singles “Archie, Marry Me,” and “Adult Diversion.” However, I picked this track mainly because there’s a delicate balance of cutesy and thoughtful, and that constant interaction is what Alvvays is in a nutshell.

8. Pillar Point – “Eyeballs”

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I enjoyed Pillar Point’s self titled debut album quite a lot this year, especially the stand out track “Eyeballs.” The eighties vibe it actively evokes is outstanding, and everything from the jumpy instrumentals to the metallic, buzzing synth beats help to make it a gem among the rest of the already stunning album, and among his other outstanding tracks like “Cherry” and the equally metallic and intergalactic “Dreamin'”. Scott Reitherman’s vocals seem to be heavily textured just like the instrumentals surrounding him, and the vintage feel of it all is nothing short of wonderful.

7. Elephant – “Shapeshifter”

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When this single was first released, I think I went ahead and listened to it on repeat for hours and hours. I was entranced by the hypnotizing, swelling orchestral harmonies that introduce the start of the song, and Amelia Rivas has such a gorgeous voice that it’s so hard to stop listening. There’s a soft, noire feeling to the track as a whole, almost as if you’re imagining everything in black and white. I loved this fragile, delicate composition, almost like it houses a shackled, beaten down adrenaline that could burst out at any given second. Their album Sky Sailing is absolutely breathtaking, and it’s worth a thorough listen.

6. Alt-J – “Bloodflood pt. II”

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This Is All Yours showed that Alt-J has gone in a slightly different direction than their last album, and even though there are some moments that could have been more intuitive, it is still a highly impressive album. “Bloodflood pt. II” was my favorite from the experimental album because it reminded me of the feelings that Alt-J gave me in the past – a sense of warmth and comfort, with an added feeling of familiarity. Joe Newman’s voice is a lovely oddity, and I love deciphering the lyrics just as much as I enjoy the stunning instrumentals that accompany them.

5. Wild Beasts – “A Simple Beautiful Truth”

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Wild Beasts and their album Present Tense have continuously been one of my favorite bands and albums of the year, and this track is proof of their marvelous construction and overall finesse. As if the lucid repeated melody that this song stands on isn’t gorgeous enough, the vocals of guitarist Hayden Thorpe and bassist Tom Fleming intertwine to become an unbreakable force. The simplicity yet unbelievable dynamic feeling of their tracks nowadays is absolutely amazing, and I love the direction that they’ve taken.

4. Temples – “The Golden Throne”

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I love anything to do with the sixties and seventies, so when psychedelic indie band Temples released their album Sun Structures, I was all over it. Some say that the band is trying a little too hard to pin down those iconic groovy feelings, but with an added emphasis on ancient Egyptian symbols and culture, I’d say that Temples is doing just fine remaining loyal to the genre yet still maintaining something fresh and new. “The Golden Throne” was a tough track to pick out of the amazing tracks on the album, but I picked it because of the story it tells and the catchy nature of it’s lyrics.

3. Favela – “Easy Yoke”

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This song will definitely be on most of my personal playlists for years and years to come. Every time I hear the glorious orchestral introduction, it captures me in it’s clutches. The 21 year old musician and singer has really proved his worth with his recently released EP, where other beautiful tracks like “Sunlight” and “Throne” take center stage. There’s a layer of warmth and desire that flows through “Easy Yoke,” however, and that is what makes me come back for more.

2. Glass Animals – “Gooey”

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Glass Animals’ debut album Zaba has been one of my absolute favorites this year, and the exotic, jungle like ideas it embraces has been a crazy, yet highly enjoyable ride. The lyrics are strange, but that’s what makes the band that much more untouchable – they go on to discuss ideas that need time to be understood – and I feel that because of this, they have become so popular. “Gooey” is actually the track that stands out from the rest of the album, because I feel it’s a bit more introspective and highly complex than say it’s counterparts “Black Mambo” or “Pools.” Dave Bayley’s sensual voice is magic with the synthesized piano tones that envelop it, and it’s a track that lets me hear something new every time I listen to it.

1. Cloud Castle Lake – “Sync”

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I had to pick “Sync” as my number one track of 2014 because there is simply nothing else in the world like it. The Dublin trio has impressed me in such a way I never expected, especially in the intricate instrumentals and the unique, beyond falsetto vocals that’s embraced in “Sync” as well as other tracks like “Dandelion.” This song is definitely an acquired taste, and listening to it is like a journey into another world. There’s elements of jazz with a modern twist, and it’s sung with such passion and energy that it’s hard not to enjoy the route it takes you on. With each listen it gets better and better, and you start to notice the little details that, in my opinion, makes this song the absolute best of this past year. I love it with all my heart and I never get tired of listening to it.

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Max Frost – “Let Me Down Easy”

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I was all set to release one of my “best of 2014” post for today, but then I heard this song and I had to share it. “Let Me Down Easy” by Austin native Max Frost houses some slow, yet delightfully upbeat drum beats and sweet, hushed vocals. It has a close resemblance to Alex Clare and Chet Faker, and the composition of it all is perfect for a cold winter’s night.

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Modest Mouse – “Lampshades On Fire”

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Modest Mouse have announced that their new album, Strangers To Ourselves, will be released in March of next year. Along with this exciting news, they have also released their new single “Lampshades On Fire.” Thankfully, the band has not lost their distinct sound, with lead singer Issac Brock’s vocals sounding just as jumpy and upbeat as they ever were. The instrumentals are interesting and catchy, and this single is enough to know that the new album will be highly sought after.

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Album Review: Wild Beasts – Present Tense

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When I compare Present Tense to Wild Beasts’ older albums, it’s hard for me to believe that they’re from the same band, although that is not at all a bad thing. There was a level of intense, carnivorous drama and funk brought by their earlier albums Limbo, Panto and Two Dancers, and it has been turned down considerably and replaced with equal bursts of emotion and passion. The main reason for this stark contrast is the inevitable inclusion of electronic elements such as synthesizers as well as a newer, more subtle mindset, and it has successfully made Wild Beasts’ music become more emotional and dense as a result. There are no longer the primal, aggressive urges that explode with meticulous instrumentals, but instead a more subtle, yet still sensual approach that has proved to be remarkably effective in my book. Hayden Thorpe’s voice has grown more mature and controlled over the years as well, and the intense passion has still remained as a dynamic force to be reckoned with.

It’s clear in the first track “Wanderlust” that this new identity has been embraced, and everything from the deep, dark bass line to the fantastical synth harmonies lets listeners know firsthand. “Nature Boy” brings out the equally gorgeous baritone voice of bassist Tom Fleming and touches on some of the primal urges that were mentioned in all the other albums before, although less in a purely carnal way and more romantically. It’s a nice transition into single “Mecca,” which is honestly one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. The way the synth swells with Thorpe’s trademark falsetto voice is absolutely gorgeous, and the lyrics are so wonderfully poetic. It touches on the journey for love and acceptance, and the desire to know these feelings in a way that is everlasting. With further listen it’s clear that this theme of love and desire is constant in most of Present Tense’s other tracks, such as stunner “Sweet Spot” and ballad “Pregnant Pause.” However, the apex of the album is the track “A Simple Beautiful Truth,” where a repeated synth melody propels the continuation of this common theme. There’s simplicity and realization embedded throughout, and it’s fluidity within the alternating vocals is impeccable. “Past Perfect” and “New Life” are the most vulnerable, and show a side of Thorpe and Fleming’s voices that hadn’t been heard before. They touch on evolution and the embracing of a new way of life, respectively, and do so in a way that allows for concurrent thought. Closer “Palace” is one of Wild Beasts’ finest works, and is the most perfect closing for this album. Thorpe and Fleming combine voices one more time and it’s absolutely breathtaking, and the minimal piano sets the tone as a nostalgic masterpiece. It sounds like a bittersweet goodbye, however, considering Thorpe delicately sings about a tiring effort to fruitlessly strive for that ultimate desire and ending with his realization that “baby, there’s have alls and there are have nots / I’m happy with what I got.”

Wild Beasts have come a long way, and I honestly like their darker, foreboding mindset more than their blatantly direct attitude they started out with. I like simplicity and subtlety in music just as much as I enjoy personal, obvious narratives, and in regards to the development of this band, I would say that they as a whole have gotten better at conveying the feelings they write these glorious songs about.

Present Tense goes on a journey both in the beautifully written lyrics to the fervid, vulnerable instrumentals, and each track is like a look inside what the human mind thinks about on a daily basis – love, desire, fear, the yearning for satisfaction – and what we get at the end is the acceptance for what we already have and cherish, leaving the listener with a contentment that is truly simple and beautiful.

9.4/10

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Title Fight – “Chlorine”

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American punk rock band Title Fight has recently released a new track titled “Chlorine” from their upcoming record Hyperview, and it’s quite an exhilarating experience. There’s a beautiful mixture of aggressive, feedback heavy punk rock and enough shoegaze influence to make it the tiniest bit dreamy. Right from the start, you can hear that it’s expertly driven by these anxious, yet irresistible guitars that seem to duel and race against the pounding drums and grainy vocals that emerge as the track starts to evolve. There’s a story here, and the instrumentals take us on that journey seamlessly and flawlessly, which is no surprise, seeing as though this is now their fourth studio album. It’ll be nice to go on that journey backwards, considering I just have to see where this sound originated.

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Fyfe – “Holding On”

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I’ve really been missing the sounds of chillwave and electronic music lately, which is ironic considering that exact genre is basically all I listen to during the cold winter months. There’s just something about synth and hard, dark beats that envelops you and creates a lovely warmth, and it’s unlike any other feeling. That being said, I’ve found a new artist to add to my never-ending playlist: Fyfe. Composed of musician and vocalist Paul Dixon, Fyfe became his main project after his old persona, David’s Lyre (whom I have written about in the past). “Holding On” mixes together hard, metallic beats and soft spoken vocals that are both heartbreaking as they are beautiful, and the way they are sung keeps you chained until the shattering closing. I’ve noticed that it sounds similar to Dixon’s old tracks, but with a new, more vulnerable edge. Still, it’s wonderfully simple, which is what makes it that much more impressive.

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Album Review: Alt-J – This Is All Yours

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A few months ago, I did a Band Appreciation Friday on English alternative/experimental band Alt-J, where I reviewed their debut album An Awesome Wave. That post was before the release of their sophomore album, This is All Yours, however, which deserves a review all it’s own.

When I heard “Hunger of the Pine” for the first time a month or so ago, I could hear the vast difference in Alt-J’s sound. This was not at all surprising, however, considering that bassist Gwil Sainsbury had left the band a couple months prior. I could tell the band had slowly started to embrace the darker, more evocative sides of their experimental music, and that theory only grew stronger when their single “Every Other Freckle” was released. The instrumentals are heavier and deeper than their last album, or it was as if they borrowed the bass line for “Fitzpleasure” for all of their fast-paced tracks. This wasn’t a problem for me, however, considering I enjoy that sort of change. “Intro” sounds like it could go hand in hand with “Intro” from An Awesome Wave, and it’s similarities brought a smirk of appreciation to my face when I first heard it. However, where the album goes a bit askew is the long, slow tracks that take up the first and last parts of the album. These chronological tracks, including “Arrival in Nara,” “Garden of England” and “Leaving Nara” could be mistaken for instrumentals, considering you only really hear real vocals a portion of the time or not at all. Also, “Left Hand Free,” their most popular single, was no doubt a parody for something. The western swing style of that track was so bizarre and didn’t match anything the band had done before. While it is catchy, I was annoyed when I kept hearing it on the radio, when there were so many other tracks from them to choose from.

Critiques aside, there are moments where I felt the same sort of infatuation that I felt with Alt-J’s debut. Joe Newman has not skimped on his songwriting, something that I was grateful for. I thrived on his words and the odd, yet sensual ways they were placed together, touching on everything from love and lack thereof. Yes, there were some strange lyrics, but that’s what makes the band unique and wonderful. Tracks like “Bloodflood pt. II,” “Nara,” and “Warm Foothills” highlight those familiar vocals and instrumentals, and they are the best on the album, hands down. “Warm Foothills,” especially, was so wonderful in the fact that it introduced something I had never really heard that much of before: spliced vocals. The construction of this was so seamless and absolutely beautiful. I also enjoyed the continuation of their track “Bloodflood” into “Bloodflood pt. II,” where I was pleasantly surprised to hear some of the vocals from “Fitzpleasure.” It was a great treat for all the listeners, for sure.

I loved An Awesome Wave so much more than This Is All Yours, simply because I felt there was more connection with the words being sung and the music behind it. Each track was a journey into another world, but they still managed to have fluidity, where each track would seamlessly merge into the next. Don’t get me wrong though. I still very much enjoyed This Is All Yours and it’s calming, introspective tracks, and appreciate the fact that Alt-J is attempting to broaden their horizons and experiment more with their sound. Because, after all, a band is nothing if they’re not open-minded and willing to change, which is the idea that Alt-J and the infamous triangle symbol their name is based on symbolizes.

Best tracks: “Warm Foothills,” “Bloodflood pt.II”, “Nara”

8/10

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