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10 More Essential Records from 2014

Posted by Billy Gil, December 8, 2014 06:20pm | Post a Comment

Last week, I posted my top 50 albums of the year. Cause 50 just ain’t enough, here are another 10 essential records from 2014:

Fear of Men Loom

Fear of Men imagine a world where The Cranberries stayed good, The Sundays really got their due and Belly didn’t flame out. Led by singer/guitarist Jessica Weiss, the band calls to mind alternative/dream pop bands of yesteryear, and Weiss’ vocals call to mind the ethereality of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser crossed with the heartiness of The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan. The band’s muscular indie-rock can move in graceful lockstep (“Tephra”) or set a pretty, yet never sappy backdrop over which Weiss can breathily intone, as on the lovely “Seer.” On the album’s most thrilling moments, Weiss will stretch her voice into territory that goes beyond the expected, singing into a lo-fi mic on the gorgeous “Descent” or looping into dizzying layers on standout “Waterfall.” One of the most promising debuts of the year.

 

Cult of Youth Final Days

Final Days is Cult of Youth’s self-described “post-industrial Pet Sounds.” It begins with the instrumental “Todestrieb,” its eerie synths and tribal drums set a foreboding tone for the album. “Dragon Rouge’s” acoustic strums and Sean Ragon’s droning vocals give the track the feel of a classic Church song or stripped-down Sisters of Mercy track, while additional touches like cello and orchestral percussion pump up the grandiosity. Elsewhere, the band plugs in and goes full-tilt, with a B-52’s riff and post-punk rhythm on “Empty Faction” and goth-jangle on “Gods Garden.” Ragon’s voice is used terrifically throughout, judiciously given echo to resonate or often without effect to let his throaty post-industrial growl run free without trampling over the gorgeousness of these tracks. He’s at his best screaming through the nocturnal desert scene set by “Down the Moon” or kicking up dust on the rollicking “No Regression.”

 

Vashti Bunyan - Heartleap

It’s only her third album, but Vashti Bunyan’s re-emergence after more than 30 years of disappearing from the music world is another treasure of wistful folk. Who else could weave a majestic yarn that details dreaming about being a “Jellyfish” and have it bring a tear to your eye? The 69-year-old Bunyan says this may be her last album, following her 1970 debut, Just Another Diamond Day, and 2005’s Lookaftering, which featured work from Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, among others. If so, it’s a fitting close to the unlikeliest of musical stories, one that, however sparingly, gave us something lasting and original.

 

Total Control Typical System

I just heard this, and I’m not sure where I was with Total Control before because they’re a great band, the kind that wipes The Killers from your memory and makes twitchy, synthy new wave cool again. Echoes of OMD, Swell Maps, Wire and other post-punk miscreants pop up, and Total Control are true to their name, streamlining their influences into taut, catchy sound grenades of like “Flesh War.” It all works because Total Control are as tuneful as they are hip to cool references. Very fun to listen to.

 

Owen Pallett In Conflict

Since shedding his Final Fantasy moniker, orchestral singer/songwriter Owen Pallett's music has grown increasingly personal and affecting. His 2010 album Heartland used his own name for the first time and nicely balanced Pallett’s emotive tenor with arch instrumentation, something that continues toward the emotional on In Conflict. Pallett's somewhat operatic vocals are tempered by fidgety, atonal violins and a sudden electronic breakdown in "I Am Not Afraid." He indulges in some classy synth-pop on the title track, confirming suspicions that Pallett has always been capable of producing straight-faced pop underneath the artiness. Still, Pallett has loftier goals than merely using his compositional skills in service of hummable pop tunes, and his songs that are able to both capture pop and avant-garde flights of fancy end up being his best, like the remarkable, string-laden "On a Path," or synthy "Song for Five & Six." Though Pallett straddles the line of pretentiousness, like Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel before him, he's able to wrangle his wild compositional ideas into musical fantasy worlds that offer seemingly endless exploration.

 

Dean Blunt Black Metal

This album kind of doesn’t make any sense, but that’s no reason to dismiss it. Dean Blunt’s Black Metal exists in some mystery universe between King Krule, The Weeknd and Galaxie 500. On one hand, the experimental pop artist, who put out the acclaimed sound collage mixtape The Redeemer last year and who was once one-half of the duo Hype Williams, touches on the indie-pop past of his label, Rough Trade, with airy guitar-and-piano soundscapes. But unexpected elements, like an ’80s pulse on “X,” cut-up beats on “Forever” and female counterpart vocals on songs like the jangly, Pastels-sampling “100,” keep things endlessly intriguing, while Blunt’s dry delivery cuts through dreamy tracks like “50 Cent,” giving them an urgency that contrasts sharply with the austere music. On one hand, it can be a little jarring to hear such disparate sounds on one record, as Black Metal’s second half takes electro/hip hop detours that sound pulled from an entirely different album. But when Black Metal works, it really is seamless, and music that sounds messy on paper is nothing short of sublime on record.

 

Lust For Youth International

This is the album where Lust For Youth’s Hannes Norrvide loosens up and goes a little poppier, touching on freestyle and italo disco while continuing to tunnel further into his cool, minimal wave sound. Summery pop songs like "Illume" and "New Boys" are  sandwiched between moodier pieces like instrumental "Ultras" and everybody wins.

 

Marianne Faithfull Give My Love to London

Marianne Faithfull has continually succeeded in sounding hipper and more vital than her ‘60s contemporaries in part because she picks great people to work with who in turn don’t treat Faithfull like some relic. Her work here with Nick Cave, Roger Waters and Anna Calvi, among others, is uniformly excellent and makes for a cohesive listen that manages to be classy while still staying true to Faithfull’s rebel roots, namely on the spectral, Cave-penned “Late Victorian Holocaust” and rousing “Sparrows Will Sing,” with lyrics by Faithfull and music by Waters.

 

Arca Xen

The producer behind some of the coolest FKA Twigs and Kanye tracks debuts his own record of warped electronic textures. Key tracks include “Now You Know,” which feels four-dimensional, like it’s coming at you and falling away at the same time, and the grandiose “Xen,” which feels like watching Interstellar in IMAX. There are parts of it where he loses me, but it’s fascinating and affecting when he’s really on. Definitely excited to hear what he does with Bjork.

 

Shabazz Palaces Lese Majesty

I straight up forgot to put this one on my list. It happens. If I had, this psychedelic rap masterwork would’ve easily been in my top 20.

Relevant Tags

Dean Blunt (4), Owen Pallett (3), Total Control (3), Vashti Bunyan (7), Cult Of Youth (5), Fear Of Men (4), Best Of 2014 (20), Lists (63), Essential Albums (7), Essential Records (35), Lust For Youth (10), Marianne Faithfull (9), Arca (4), Shabazz Palaces (13)