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PST's 50 Best Albums of 2014

Posted by Billy Gil, December 5, 2014 02:48pm | Post a Comment

This is how it always works: You think, how am I going to find 50 albums I really liked this year? Then by the end of compiling these things, you’re leaving off records you really liked and realizing that this year didn’t suck so badly after all! Here are the 50 albums I honestly felt were the most well-made, original or enjoyable this year. Check out Aaron Detroit’s list, too, for even more good shit from 2014.

 

1. Sun Kil MoonBenji

Amid the wrongheaded War on Drugs bashing and indulgent songwriting/self-mythologizing that came with it, it could be easy to forget the brilliance of Benji. But Mark Kozelek’s later-career renaissance reaches its apex on Benji. Whereas songs in his ’90s project Red House Painters were often autobiographical, if morose and romantic, if, to call Benji “confessional” would be an understatement. Not only is it a classic example oversharing in the social media age, it’s just a new classic period, the best thing he’s done since RHP’s heyday. Two songs directly address Kozelek’s love for his aging parents as he himself hits middle age (“I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “I Love My Dad” are far from ironic, though they cover ground beyond what their titles suggest). “Dogs” covers Kozelek’s history with women in sometimes excruciating detail, from his first kiss at 5 to getting bathed by two women. Part of what makes Benji so masterful is how Kozelek blends rich physical details, with references to Panera Bread and Pink Floyd records, along with impressionistic accounts, such as his atmospheric telling of what caught his attention in a Led Zeppelin film (“I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same”) and what that says about him as a person. It can be a lot to take in at once—“Micheline” at first feels like a diary dump, though it ends on a touching note about his grandmother—but most of the time, the details are funny or poignant or both, coming through clearly with little more than Kozelek’s wavering, creaking voice and reverbed acoustic guitar. “Ben’s My Friend,” which ends the album with its catchiest song (and curiosity value, due to its titular subject being Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie), is a sterling reminder of how many little things add up to the sum of our lives, making a pretty refrain out of “blue crab cakes,” throwing in some horns and flamenco guitar for good measure and tying the album up nicely with a reflective bow. Kozelek may be a cranky old man, but his lifetime of experiences made for enrapturing listening on Benji, which simply has the best songwriting of any music release this year.

 

2. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2

Amid the horrible decision (or lack thereof) in Ferguson and the frustration, demonstrations and rioting that followed, Killer Mike’s impassioned speech at a concert stood as one of the most potent statements aired. The sadness and fear that chokes him up—that he is afraid for his children—was so universal that even the most ardent Wilson supporter couldn’t not feel moved. That same passion is all over the second installment of Run the Jewels, Mike’s collaboration with El-P. Whether they’re sneaking social commentary into rapid-fire raps ostensibly about smoking and fucking (“Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”), teaching master classes in mangling wordplay (“Blockbuster Night Part 1”) or tangling with nasty production from the likes of Boots (the stunning “Lie, Cheat, Steal” and “Early”), Run the Jewels 2 is brutally charged throughout. They pull no punches—the verses in tracks like “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” feel cathartic in a time when people feels powerless to stop the shitstorm. It’s the most exciting album to listen to on this list, and it’s also the most painfully relevant.

 

3. Mac DeMarcoSalad Days

Mac DeMarco’s goofball antics are highly enjoyable, but I worry they keep some people from taking his music seriously. Anyone who writes him off is missing out on one of the best young songwriters and guitarists around. His gleaming “jizz jazz” tones dazzle on tracks like “Brother” and “Let Her Go.” Songs like “Goodbye Weekend,” with its woozy, intoxicating guitar line, and “Passing Out the Pieces,” which uses heavily effected harpsichord and booming synth-bass to create miraculous millennial psychedelia, show just how much DeMarco can pull out of a seemingly minimal palette. And his singing and lyricism is unexpectedly sweet and affecting on songs like “Let My Baby Stay” and “Treat Her Right,” proving that personality goes a long way when crafting gentle indie rock like this. Swoon … I hope he never showers again.

 

4. The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

Really, the whole Mark Kozelek/War on Drugs feud thing is unfortunate. Two of the best acts alive ragging on each other is no fun for the rest of us—can’t we all just hang out and listen to Lost in the Dream, which we can all agree is one of the year’s best rock albums? The band makes it incredibly easy to let your mind go and drift off into the gossamer country-rock heavens. Driving rhythms keep the band’s heavily reverbed guitars chugging along on tracks like “Under the Pressure,” synthesizers caking over everything like dried mud. You drift in an out of consciousness as real-life guitar solos and Adam Granduciel’s vocals cut through and rouse you on songs like “Red Eyes.” Like some lost collaboration between The Highwaymen and The Cure, it’s just like a dream.

 

5. SwansTo Be Kind

This is one of those albums for which you have to set aside time. On the two-hour To Be Kind, released 21 months after the similarly epic The Seer, sounds wriggle, writhe and heave, speaking to one another in some unspoken language. Michael Gira’s chants will grow suddenly violent and rouse you on from the band’s Lynchian atmospherics on songs like “Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett).” “A Little God in my Hands,” Swans’ version of a pop song, can fit thumping, eerie backwoods instrumentation and sudden noise explosions into a song that still somehow still leave you bobbing your head along as Gira repeats evocative adjectives (“forever hateful, forever beautiful, forever needing, forever reaching”). But longer tracks like the 17-minute “She Loves Us” are continuously intriguing, with violent bass riffs, haunting chanted vocals, pounding percussion and strange, whirring sounds all around. You come away To Be Kind feeling riveted, not exhausted, a feat for an album of such mammoth proportions. Once again, Swans create one of the hallmark albums of the year, something that feels like it changes you and, however ugly and demanding it may be, we should feel honored to experience.

 

6. FKA TwigsLP1

Tahliah Barnett, together with a team of some of the best producers working in pop music (Blood Orange’s Devonté Hynes, Clams Casino and Paul Epworth of Adele/Coldplay fame, among others), came up with the most brilliant debut record of 2014. What at first sounds like icy, alien R&B ends up feeling amorous, empathetic and incredibly inviting. Songs like “Lights On” fit in nicely with the adventurous alt-soul stylings of The Weeknd or current Beyonce, but the songs are continuously chewed up and breathed back out into wondrous concoctions that bear little resemblance to anything else out there. Vocally, Barnett calls to mind someone working to effect change within the mainstream like Aaliyah once did as much as she does weirdos like Bjork (especially on the bold “Preface”), her airy voice warping into new dimensions yet latching onto reality on the touching “Two Weeks” and suddenly coming through clear as day as she pleads with sexual abandon through classic soul phrasings for a would-be lover amid analog-sounding robotic textures. As much as FKA Twigs is a product of a time in which introspective artists who allow for empty space to permeate their music are the norm, from The xx to How to Dress Well and James Blake, Barnett’s music feels more fun to listen to and not at all dreary, even if mostly downtempo. She’s most intoxicating on “Pendulum,” an Epworth production that knocks on your door with its stuttering beat and introduces a girl capable of delivering a Prince-level combination of heartache and confidence while keeping sly pop hooks on the backburner right until they’re ready to sizzle. It makes you happy to be listening to pop music in this day and age when something so exciting as this will bubble to the top.

 

7. Real EstateAtlas

I kept hearing Real Estate in strange places this year. American Airlines seems to have made the band their de facto landing music, pumping arriving passengers full of their warm, inviting guitarwork that feels safe, yet can be eerily nostalgic in that way where you meet someone and you swear you must have known them before because there’s such an instant recognition. But what is that sound Real Estate achieves? It’s not easily reached; plenty of bands sound like Real Estate but don’t come up with melodies that leave you bleary-eyed. Atlas is just an impeccably crafted piece of guitar music, with sunny jangle-pop songs abutting minor-key tunes about fuzzy suburban comfort and the decay of youth.

  

8. Todd TerjeIt’s Album Time

Todd Terje was already one of the most well-respected DJs around, having released dancefloor anthems like “Snooze 4 Love” and “Inspector Norse.” But when it came down to “album time,” Terje really nailed it, creating a perfect electro-pop crossover album that amounts to the party album of the year. With his goofy moustache, leisure-suit persona, sly house beats and cool jazz tones, Terje’s aesthetic is perfect, and It’s Album Time is packed with jammers. Whether its Preben character was sleuthing around in an ’80s cop show (“Leisue Suit Preben”), lounging in Mexico (“Preben Goes to Acapulco”) or chilling at the pool (“Strandbar”), we all wanted to be wherever this guy was. It just makes you want to put on your shades, hop in a Delorean and never look back.

 

9. St. VincentSt. Vincent

St. Vincent went further into her particular little world on her self-titled fourth solo album, full of strange guitar noises, percussive squelches and Annie Clark’s perky melodies and witty lyrics. From the frantic “Birth in Reverse” (“Oh what an ordinary day …  take out the garbage, masturbate”) to the cutting “Prince Johnny” (“Remember that time we snorted/That piece of the Berlin Wall you extorted?”), Clark’s ability to paint a detailed picture while remaining somewhat oblique and existential is remarkable. Even her ballads bite—“I prefer your love to Jesus” is a thoroughly loaded line repeated on “I Prefer Your Love,” giving depth and conflict to what’s on the surface a beautiful, Kate Bush-inspired love song. Musically, Clark employs everything from hip-hop synths (“Huey Newton”) to Prince-esque atonal funk (“Digital Witness”), but it’s a cohesive listen, as though each element has been thoroughly considered and sanded down to perfection. As implied by its eponymous title and album cover, on which Clark sits on a pink throne, Clark is her own master on St. Vincent.

 

10. Ariel Pinkpom pom

Ariel Pink had a tough year, publicity-wise, though it seemed to be all self-induced. But his public persona has nothing to do with his music, which has never been more remarkable than it is on pom pom. “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” begins the album by approximating decades of children’s music, family VHS tapes and video game music into a multicolored parade of half-remembered sounds. On tracks like “White Freckles,” Pink taps into similar territory of outdated interstitial music and lyrics and sounds inspired by advertising, pouring his exaggerated lothario presence all over them and ending up with sticky-sweet concoctions that leave you feeling titillated and slightly nauseated. Nothing that could possibly be interesting gets thrown away in Pink’s world—“Lipstick” could be based on an adult contemporary jam you never learned the name of; “Nude Beat A Go-Go” is like a perved-up version of a Frankie & Annette movie theme song. This means there are a few tracks you’ll skip past, but it’s better to have the full Pink treatment, making pom pom feel more crucial than 2012’s somewhat cleaned-up Mature Themes. And the singles are killer. “Put Your Number in My Phone” is a new cheese classic in silk pajamas. “Black Ballerina,” like its precursor, Before Today’s “Round and Round,” is a sick roller rink jam, with a disjointed narrative flowing through. And “Picture Me Gone” takes Pink’s simmering Beach Boys influence into a gossamer synth ballad. So he’s kind of a creep. But pom pom is proof that for all his off-putting proclivities, Ariel Pink still makes some of the most fascinating and entertaining pop music around.

 

11. Future IslandsSingles

I can’t watch Future Islands perform “Seasons (Waiting on You)” without tearing up. Whether it was on TV (their infamous David Letterman performance, in which Samuel Herring’s rubber-walk dancing became a meme) to their set at FYF, I was always so taken with Herring’s passion that it moved me beyond words. You just don’t encounter that very often. Though Singles is often a showcase for Herring’s emotional, throaty tenor, which can warp into a growl in an instant, Future Islands give him the perfect backdrop of soulful, stargazing new-wave rock that can bring just about anyone together. It’s an eminently listenable collection, one you can replay again and again, and they’ll get you every time.

 

 12. A Sunny Day in GlasgowSea When Absent

I’ve loved this band for a while now but knew they were definitely a cult thing, for those of us who worship at the altars of MBV and Cocteau and are willing to take a trip down ASDIG’s fantastical rabbitholes. But Sea When Absent made some concessions toward the corporeal—pushing the vocals to the forefront, dialing back some of the dairy farm’s worth of milky reverb and cutting some of the more atmospheric pieces in favor of straight dream pop—without losing any of their disorienting beauty. Songs like “Byebye, Big Ocean (The End)” and “In Love With the Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing)” see ASDIG mastermind Ben Daniels build towers of seafoam guitars and Annie Fredrickson and Jen Goma’s strung-together vocals, ebbing and flowing and wafting into the background before surrounding and overwhelming you once again. It’s a wonderful experience getting lost in the album’s twists and turns—you come away half-remembering melodies and bits of guitar like some amazing dream you can’t describe.

 

13. Pharmakon Bestial Burden

Lucky No. 13. This album’s a doozy. Margaret Chardiet’s latest starts with heavy breathing, panting and a buzzing synth that sounds more like an electroshock therapy machine. The record builds deliberately, atonal loops gathering strength until Chardiet unleashes bowel-shaking banshee wails on tracks like “Intent or Instinct.” It’s unsettling by nature, but also immensely cathartic. “Body Betrays Itself” feels like it takes over your very being—you feel the shitty things in your own funneling into Chardiet’s harsh sound world. Dismiss Bestial Burden and you might even get a laugh out of its relentless brutality, but give it your full attention, and it’ll swallow you whole. It leaves you changed.

 

14. How to Dress Well What Is This Heart?

How to Dress Well’s latest record peeled back the sheets of lo-fi noise from his debut and dreaminess of its follow-up for an album of bold-faced love songs. What Is This Heart? is still plenty idiosyncratic, but it places Krell’s gorgeous voice front-and-center on songs like “Face Again,” in which he sings romantic lines like “kiss me on my face again and tell me what love’s supposed to be.” Krell’s voice gets cut up and digitally pitch shifted amid nighttime synthesizers, minimalist funk beats and light touches of acoustic guitar, strings and piano, and the resulting songs sound like whispered promises, quiet declarations of love given musical form. Impossibly sexy and staunchly idealistic, What Is This Heart? is love album of the year.

  

15. CaribouOur Love

A total grower of a record, Dan Snaith’s latest album utilizes some of the dancier aspects of his work as Daphni without sacrificing his core indie-electro-pop appeal as Caribou. “Can’t Do Without You” is a sumptuous love song that circulates some of the psychedelic swirl of previous Caribou releases even as it taps into EDM culture’s builds and breaks. “Silver” is a sweet, dazzling digital tapestry that tips its hat to ’80s synth pop while retaining its now cache. Snaith touches on many eras of dance music throughout Our Love, on the freestyle-vibing “All I Ever Need” and the luxuriously banging title track, which ends in a nod to Chicago house classic “Good Life.” Yet Snaith’s work is still his own, as tracks like “Dive” feature wavering keyboards and breathy vocals that make you feel like you’re teetering. Cool and danceable as it is, Our Love is a sweet and sometimes sad record, and that’s why we care about all those fancy beats in the end. It’s yet another bit of perfection from Snaith.

 

16. Flying LotusYou’re Dead

Flying Lotus’ music has always been impressive. Even seeing him live several times, I’m never sure what the fuck he’s doing. But his fifth album moves away from being academically stimulating and just becomes a great, if indefinable piece of pop music. It’s still pretty nuts—“Tesla” shuffles and pings back and forth like its titular Tesla coil, while “Cold Dead’s” dense and mind-bending harmonies excite while lush horns and synths relieve the senses, and “Descent Into Madness” and “The Boys Who Died in Their Sleep” pour the creep factor on hard. But You’re Dead is also a lot of fun. “Never Catch Me” finds a hopped-up Kendrick Lamar spitting rhymes as quickly as they’ll come over FlyLo’ head-spinning twists and turns. Captain Murphy and Snoop Dogg jump in for an 8-bit spin on FlyLo’s sound in “Dead Man’s Tetris.” And on “Coronus, the Terminator,” FlyLo sets the stage with backwards instrumentation and rain while Singer Niki Randa’s breathy voice helps create a futuristic Quiet Storm track. You’re Dead truly takes you on a trip, balancing headier material with futuristic hip hop jams.

 

17. Andy StottFaith in Strangers

Along with Pharmakon’s Bestial Burden, this one’s pretty bleak. But diving headlong into Faith in Strangers offers rewards. Noirish opener “Time Away” evokes deeds unseen in the middle of the night with its long, foggy tones. Alison Skidmore, Stott’s former piano teacher, lends airy, disembodied vocals for Stott to manipulate and mangle amid squirting synth noise on “Violence.” “Science and Industry” calls to mind Joy Division in its merciless isolation and clanging beatwork, while “No Surrender” pushes beautiful synth runs into the red, beats bleeding over into one another. Though Stott has the ability to move and sometimes overwhelm you with sound, it’s the silences and sense of space in songs like the title track that make them stay with you. The album feels alluringly just out of reach, keeping you delving into its dark passages. Just remember to come up for breath. 

 

18. Freddie Gibbs & MadvillainPinata

The latest brilliant collaboration for master of pastiche Madvillain finds the producer teaming with underground rapper Freddie Gibbs, and the resulting Pinata is like Gibbs’ better-late-than-never welcoming party to the big leagues (the talented rapper has been through the label ringer, mostly releasing mixtapes and a couple of independent records to this point). Gibbs’ personable delivery can go rapid-fire on tracks like “Shitsville” and “Real,” but he’s still stonery enough to hang with Danny Brown on the excellent “High” and meld with Madvillain’s shivery sampling on “Deeper.” Tracks like “Thuggin’” find Madvillain and Gibbs settling in perfectly, like these two should be making albums together constantly. “It feels so right,” Gibbs says on “Thuggin,’” and I couldn’t agree more.

 

19. SpoonThey Want My Soul

Spoon albums tend to be … forgettable isn’t the right word. They’re uniformly excellent, but you kind of listen to them a lot and then wait for the next album, rarely returning to the old ones. They Want My Soul pairs the Austin rockers with producer extraordinaire Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney), who helps the band’s admirable chops and catchy melodies land with the power they should dictate. The result is the band’s finest work yet, and an album that will surely last.

 

20. Sharon Van EttenAre We There

Are We There saw Sharon Van Etten take the sound she’d been carefully crafting over four albums and inject it with a dose of drama. Ambition looks good on her—and the songs on Are We There even seem to address this change. Opener “Afraid of Nothing” gives her voice enough room to belt, shedding some of the modesty of her previous work. “Even I’m taking my chances” she sings knowingly over an electronic beat on “Taking Chances,” that foray into electronica carrying over to songs like the delicate, Beach House-ish “Our Love.” But “Your Love Is Killing Me” is the showstopper that should have anyone who’s skipped over Van Etten in the past picking up this record and Van Etten gives it her all, imbuing the chorus with such emotion in her low vibratto, you might have to hold onto something.

 

21. Aphex TwinSyro

YAY! That was the sound music nerds around the Internet made when it was announced that Richard D. James would finally release new music under the Aphex Twin moniker. In a similar feat to My Bloody Valentine’s mbv, Syro picks up right where the pioneering ambient/electronic artist left off. He fuses jungle beats to gorgeous ambient tapestries on the stunning “Minipops 67 [120.2][Source Field Mix],” takes us through dense synth explorations on tracks like the 10-minute “Xmas_Evet10 [120][Thanaton3 Mix]” and vibes off hip-hop and synth funk on “Produk 29 [101].” Vocals appear now and then (from James and his family), offering skewed, incomprehensible chatter that adds to the liveliness of “Produk 29 [101]” and giving “Minipops 67 [120.2][Source Field Mix]” its grabbing human element, pulling you into the rest of the album. Though he used some 138 pieces of equipment and shifted his set up every few minutes while recording Syro, that seems to have had an energizing effect on James, and the result is a sharp, if varied piece of work that hangs together beautifully. We had no right to expect Syro would be this good, much less that it would be released at all, which makes it all the better.

 

22. Warpaint Warpaint

Yet another superb album by female musicians that some male music journalists ignored, even though the rest of us know better. As with The Fool, Warpaint is a slow burner that grows on you with each successive listen. It unfolds at an unhurried pace, relishing in subtleties with songs whose meanings or melodies you might be able to place right away, but whose impressions lasts much longer than instant gratification-style pop songs. They’re sort of the spiritual successor to the band Slowdive, who also encountered as much acclaim as derision during their time, due to their milky, seemingly irresolute music, but who have since been ensconced as one of the most beloved bands of our time. The effect of Warpaint’s music is similar, washing over you in spurts and leaving streaks. With a band like this, it’s generally tough to name singles or easy entry points, but Warpaint has some moments that stick out, namely “Biggy,” a great, trip hoppy pop song along the lines of Radiohead’s Kid A/Amnesiac period, while “Disco // Very” sees Emily Kokal’s vocals getting distorted and nasty over, yes, a disco beat, recalling some of the disco-rock of the ’00’s, only with a dirtier, dubbier tone. There’s a lot to love in Warpaint’s dark, atmospheric corners. It’s altogether a fantastic, well-graceful second album that rewards close listening.

 

23. Ex HexRips

“Rips” is fucking exactly what this album does. Mary Timony of Helium/Wild Flag fame makes pure, pleasurable power-pop of the highest order with her new band. Timony’s nervy delivery lends itself as well to these chunky ’70s riffs as it did to the arty obliqueness of Helium. Full of driving rock riffs and roller rink vibes, Rips is pretty much irresistible.

 

24. Wild BeastsPresent Tense

Though they grew increasingly restrained with successive albums, Wild Beasts dial up the hookiness on Present Tense. They're still plenty weird, partially due to Hayden Thorpe’s swooping falsetto, which careens intensely through these post-rock grooves and synth-rock jams. But Present Tense is Wild Beasts’ most listenable album yet, propulsive and grabbing, yet still operatic and unusual as ever.

 

25. Perfume GeniusToo Bright

Mike Adreas’ third album is his most emotionally naked yet. Songs like the solitary title track ache with burning intensity, while tracks like "Queen" feel like a reclaiming of identity amidst persistent homophobia ("No family is safe/When I sashay" he sings in the indomitable chorus). Musically, Adreas balances things nicely, adding tracks like the Philip Glass-esque "Longpig" and Suicide-ish "Grid" and PJ Harvey-inspired "I'm a Mother" to mellow out his occasionally melodramatic singing and piano playing. But the more operatic stuff can really get to you, especially the emotional climax of "Fool." Some of it makes me cringe because I’m gay and it’s a little embarrassing, but that’s my deal. It’s his best work thus far.

 

26. Amen DunesLove

Love found Amen Dunes man more self-possessed than ever before. His psychedelic folk-rock sound is fully formed on Love, giving the songs themselves a chance to shine through. Songs like “Lonely Richard” have the kind of direct, heartrending melodies that people spend their lifetimes trying to find. McMahon’s voice echoes and cracks with experience, adding intrigue to songs like “Sixteen.” The attention to detail here is striking, on the clattering, off-time strums of “While Child” that carefully threaten to derail an open-hearted folk song, or the polyrhythms on “Splits Are Parted” and soft, atmospheric touches on “Love.” And the band McMahon has culled together knows how to support him perfectly, offering mellow rhythmic drone and spacey guitar effects that help make “Everbody Is Crazy” spellbinding. It’s an effortlessly enjoyable collection of songs.

 

27. Charli XCX Sucker (Out 12/15)

charli xcx sucker lpAn exploding cherry bomb of new wave beats, hip-hop breaks, punky guitars and Charlotte Emma Aitchison’s impossibly sexy vocals, it’s everything you want from radio pop in one album. Aitchison has a preternatural way of making her British-girl-in-L.A. thing work, like she’s blasting Gaga and the Go-Go’s out of a pink convertible cruising from Chateau Marmot to Venice and arriving in the studio to sing some perfect pop song she just thought of. Why doesn’t Taylor Swift sound more like this? Who cares about her anyway when you have songs as catchy as this? I’m pretty sure Charli XCX is a pop hypnotist—just go ahead and try to turn it off.

 

28. Alvvays Alvvays

Somewhere between the sunny melancholia of Best Coast, earnest alt-rock of The Cranberries and the college rock of bands like Talulah Gosh lie Toronto’s Alvvays. Their debut record is a delight of heartfelt naivete spun out in catchy indie-pop nuggets. Molly Rankin's lovably untrained voice pleads irresistibly on the charming "Archie, Marry Me" amid a four-chord, minor-key jangle. "Don't leave ... we can find comfort in debauchery" Rankin sings with the requisite mix of winking irony and legitimate feeling; taken with the songs lovely synth strings and gently rambling nature, it comes off like future nostalgia. I’m such a sucker for this kinda thing.

 

29. Brian Eno / Karl Hyde High Life

High Life brings together two titans of electronic music, Brian Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde, and the results are predictably brilliant. Released just two months after the duo’s Someday World, High Life is even stronger. It feels like an early Eno album, the surging, trebley guitars of “Return” calling to mind Here Come the Warm Jets, for instance. The afrobeat-inspired “DBF” is delightfully reminiscent of Eno’s collaboration with David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, as well as his production work on Talking Heads’ seminal Remain in Light, with some electronic flair added by Hyde. Spectral, warbling female vocals make the otherwise laid-back funk of “Time to Waste It” into a unique experience, one of the album’s strongest tracks. “Lilac” pulls out a skittering beat that serves as a nice counterpoint to the duo’s warm, uplifting vocals. High Life is definitely heady and its tracks are long, but it satisfies the desire for more material from Eno similar to his excellent early work, though just different enough to not feel like a retread. For longtime Eno fans, this prospect alone is divine; that the results are this good is just icing.

 

30. Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animal/Content Nausea

Whereas their debut, Light Up Gold, found New York’s newest wise guys writing wired james about being young and stoned and starving in the city, Sunbathing Animal saw the band a little tour- and world-weary, writing extended, sinewy jams interrupted by the occasional alarm-clock freakout. I liked Content Nausea even better, their second album released this year (their first under the Parkay Quartz moniker), made mostly by band members Andrew Savage and Austin Brown in two weeks on a four-track. The immediacy, hiss and free-form Content Nausea has the anything-goes feel of early Guided By Voices with a tinge of 4 a.m. half-awake dream logic.

 

31. Ty SegallManipulator

Ty Segall has released a lot of albums and side projects over past few years, and remarkably, it’s all been good to great. Manipulator just continues that trend, as it basically kicks ass through and through. Balancing the rockout Ty of Slaughterhouse with the more singer/songwriter material he unveiled on Sleeper, we get both the songsmith Segall and the guy who’ll beat you over the head with a big fat Sabbath riff in doses that add up to a perfect concoction. Maniuplator’s the kind of release you hope a Black Keys or Jack White fan picks up and comes to cherish, devouring the rest of his catalog and his many associates in the blossoming L.A./S.F. garage scenes.

 

32. Azealia Banks Broke With Expensive Taste

azealia banks broke with expensive taste lpBetter late than never! Azealia Banks dropped her long-awaited debut full-length without warning late this year, following all sorts of drama, label-wise and otherwise. So it’s to be expected that Broke feels a little disjointed, its cut-up, house-flavored hip hop tracks oozing into one another, with dark disco tunes new (“Ice Princess”) and old (the still-great “212”) sitting next to horn-fueled party jammers (“Gimme a Chance”) and detours into a surf-R&B Ariel Pink collab (“Nude Beach a Go-Go”). But it’s probably a better and weirder record than it would’ve been were it given the major-label brush up.

 

33. Perfect Pussy Say Yes to Love

An exploding flower of sound. Colors and sound shoot out at every direction like a thunderstorm, with singer Meredith Graves at the eye, unleashing her distorted wail. You don't always understand what she's saying, but you feel her passion, and the band’s tightly coiled noise-punk barely lets you catch your breath. It’s a non-stop aural assault that’s thrillingly full of life.

 

34. Lower Seek Warmer Climes

My favorite 2014 record from the post-hardcore pack. Along with fellow Danes Iceage, Lower take hardcore punk to epic proportions not seen since the heyday of bands like Fugazi or ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. This isn't to say they can't be pithy; on rumbling opener "Another Life," their atonality is fist-pumpingly catchy and Adrian Toubro's wolf-like barks and cries keep you rapt, and "Lost Weight, Perfect Skin" shows us they know their way around a hooky riff. But Lower aren't looking to make friends. On centerpiece "Expanding Horizons (Dar es Salaam)," their dirtied guitars trudge through the wilderness for more than seven minutes as Toubro sings "we travel far, expand our horizon, but in the process I see that no horizon will ever benefit me." However bleak the worldview may seem on Seek Warmer Climes, the album is never a drag. It's a thrilling, lightning bolt of a record that loudly announces the arrival of yet another great band from Copenhagen's underground.

 

35. Mr Twin Sister - Mr Twin Sister

Twin Sister changed their name to add a “Mr” in front, perhaps to signify a more electronic bent to their second album, but the elements that made their first album such a delight are in place—dreamy synth textures and R&B-inspired beats—just paired back a bit and with touches of horns (“Medford”), contemporary jazz reboots (“In the House of Yes”) and Prince-ian funk (the stellar “Out of the Dark”). The whole thing has a kind of inhuman, robotic vibe, it’s like hospital music during an alien abduction, which only adds to its allure.

 

36. Ben Frost Aurora

People sometimes thing all electronic music serves as background noise, but Aurora’s disgustingly beautiful swells of rolling sound are so hypnotic that you may find it difficult to do anything else but sit and listen. Aurora’s tracks are so evocative—“Nolan” makes me thing of electrocuted tidal waves, or giant robots rising out of the ocean—it’s no wonder he also serves as a film scorer. Often unsettling but always intriguing, Aurora has more in common with industrial music in the way it heaves and clangs. It’s not something you’d listen to every day, but also not something you’ll soon forget.

 

37. Future Honest

Georgia rapper and autotune master Future comes back with one of his best albums yet, featuring an embarrassment of great guest appearances (Pharrell, Wiz Khalifa, Kanye West and more), sick samples (the Amadou & Mariam sampling "Look Ahead"), killer beats ("Move That Dope" is downright mesmerizing) and rhymes that can be cut up and disjointed ("Karate Chop") yet still personal (the title track). Future delivered on years of promise with Honest.

 

38. Hundred Waters The Moon Rang Like a Bell

A delicate indie pop record that nonetheless overflows with emotion and adventurousness, barely letting up on the heartstring-tugging splendor over the course of its nearly 50 minutes. With beautiful choral vocals reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins and trip-hop-inspired beats, The Moon Rang Like a Bell crafts an otherwordly wilderness, keeping listeners entranced yet never bored.

 

39. Angel Olsen Burn Your Fire For No Witness

“If you still have some light in you, then go before it’s gone,” Angel Olsen sings on the harrowing “White Fire,” the slow-burning centerpiece of Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Olsen doles out hard-won truths and tragicomic observances in a voice that splits the difference between Emmylou Harris’ sweet coo and Cat Power’s smoky drawl, sometimes coming through just above a whisper, though she can wake the dead when she wishes, reserving her power for choice moments, belting at the core of the Velvetsy “High & Wild.” It’s an emotional trip that leaves its mark.

 

40. Zola Jesus Taiga

Taiga is a pop album, but its creator has made that way intentionally while retaining, and perhaps improving upon, her artistry. Bold pop songs like “Dangerous Days” find Danilova singing clearly over dance-pop beats, but with the same paralyzing strength her voice has always commanded. The album has a certain isolation to it that comes through on tracks like “Ego,” in which Danilova undergoes thorough self-examination while synthesizers and strings quietly battle around her, sounds creaking cavernously in the background. On Taiga, Danilova sounds as though she’s faced her inner demons and come through on top with an album of powerfully moving pop music.



41. Xiu Xiu Angel Guts: Red Classroom

Unfairly ignored, Xiu Xiu’s best work in years returns to the harsh sounds of the band’s early albums, as well as their more personal, often disturbing or uncomfortable lyrical content (“Black Dick,” anyone?), with the more pop-song-oriented feel of Jamie Stewart’s later work. The vintage synths used on Angel Guts and Stewart’s frenzied songwriting make for an unforgettable piece of work.

 

42. Merchandise After the End

With a bit of Pulp’s swagger, The Cure’s emotional yet economical guitarwork and the dramatic grandiosity of Morrissey’s solo work, Merchandise nail every post-rock nuance on After the End.

 

43. GrouperRuins

My mom walked by while I was listening to this during Thanksgiving weekend and said, “What’s that you’re listening to? That’s really nice.” This is Grouper’s nice album, with warm melodies bubbling up among the billowy ambience, and without the lo-fi trickle.

 

44. TV on the Radio Seeds

I’m not sure how TV on the Radio became one of those reliably great bands people take for granted. Seeds doesn’t radically recreate TVOTR’s sound, but it loses some of their earlier experimentation in favor of streamlined hooks that are stronger than ever, on tracks like digitized soul ballad (“Careful You”), driving indie-kraut jam (“Could You”) and pounding punk throwback (“Lazerray”). I, too, found myself dismissing this a bit at first. Then I realized it was becoming all I wanted to listen to for a while.


45. Nude Beach 77

Kind of like Foxygen does with classic rock, Nude Beach reside in a world where Big Star, The Replacements and Teenage Fanclub rule and who needs anything else. 77 is stuffed with great singalong rock ‘n’ roll tunes that never feel ham-fisted or overly simplistic, which in and of itself is a feat. You kind of already know you’re gonna like songs like “I Can’t Keep the Tears From Falling” before you hear them, but that shouldn’t detract from their pure pleasure.

 

 

46. Cloud Nothings Here and Nowhere Else

This is unabashed dude music. Like, dude, you gotta hear this band, they totally rawk bro. So boy music journos lose their shit and get nostalgic for Husker Du. It’s pretty good. There are some cool tunes here.

 

47. Pallbearer Foundations of Burden

Heavy and deliberate, detailed but not showy, Pallbearer nails Black Sabbath-inspired epic metal on Foundations of Burden. Tracks like “Foundations” dig through murky chords and arrive somewhere blissful, while songs like “Watcher in the Dark” excavate through dark, churning riffs with abandon. Along with Electric Wizard’s sludgefest Time to Die and Earth’s Primitive and Deadly, this is my metal pick for the year.

 

48. Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence

Some might put Ariana Grande as their pop pick for the year. However much Grande's My Everything was well-made, I’ll always go with the Skys and Lanas because they’re at least trying to do something interesting. Even when she falls on her face lyrically or makes you laugh with her ridiculous fake New Yawk accent, the sound is always great on Ultraviolence, like Julee Cruise taking her ghost-breath melodies and saturating them to overwhelming scale.

 

49. Thee Oh SeesDrop

Is this the last Thee Oh Sees album? Probably (and I hope) not. Whatever their status is, Drop is a blast, with some of John Dwyer’s catchiest songs yet, his nasal drawl and acid-dripping riffs burrowing into your skull at maximum volume.

 

50. Ashrae Fax Never Really Been Into It

Ashrae Fax made one mini-album in the early 2000s that no one really heard and then faded out into obscurity. But over time, that album, Static Crash, gained cult status to the point that Mexican Summer triumphantly reissued the album in 2013. Now the band has reunited, touring and releasing an album, and gaining the recognition for their rippling dream pop that they never got in their day. Until the Cocteau Twins reunite, Ashrae Fax will do.

 

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