30Hz 25 Best Albums of 2014

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Yes. I’m delinquent. I realized just the other day that I’d never compiled my list of 25 favorite records from 2014. And since we’re now 22 days into 2015, that’s simply inexcusable. As I mentioned in my list of Top 101 Killer Jams, I felt that Oh-14 was a rather lackluster overall year. No record approached CHVRCHES status on the 30Hz totem pole. The upside to this is that a lot of records got a ton of play because I couldn’t focus on just one. I’m not going to pretend I’m doing this for the greater good. I’m not spreading knowledge or leading the tone-deaf masses to the trough of good taste. I’m merely sharing the records that caught my ear, the records that regularly found their way onto my turntable or earbuds. I hope you find something new on this list. I hope you find that new favorite band or record. If not, well, then feel free to berate me for failing to lead you to that promise land. And now…..

30Hz 25 Best Records of 2014

best_songs14

The Almost Rans:

Alana Amram And The Rough Gems – Spring River; The Antlers – Familiars; Aphex Twin – Syro; Benjamin Booker – self-titled; Got a Girl – I Love You But I Must Drive Off a Cliff Now; Haley Bonar – Last War; Interpol – El Pintor; Jezabels – The Brink; Kishi Bashi – Lighght; The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Days of Abandon; Patsy Matheson – Domino Girls; The Rural Alberta Advantage – Mended With Gold; Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty; Sweet Soubrette – Burning City, Zammuto – Good Graces

I will now phone-in 25 26 blurbs for my favorite 25 26 records of 2014.

25. Dawn Landes – Bluebird

Dawn Landes Bluebird

This is the record that nobody talked about but I couldn’t get enough of. Released early in the year, Bluebird got me through those lean early months of the year when I was searching for a record to love. It turned out this was the record I already loved. Dawn Landes, the multi-instrumentalist for Hem, churned out this rootsy, soulful solo record with emotional depth and added value through revisitation and rediscovery.

Favorite track: “Bluebird”

 

24. Cymbals – The Age of Fracture

Cymbals - Age of Fracture

Cymbals burst onto the scene as a post-punk band before settling into their current identity, which is a born again post-punk band that started listening to a lot of Depeche Mode with a side of Aztec Camera. This less angsty version of the band knows a solid groove when it sees one.

Favorite track: “The Natural World”

 

23. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

Is there anything more satisfying that an old standby releasing a record that exceeds expectations, that rekindles a love affair, that refuses to leave the turntable? I’d forgotten why The New Pornographers were my absolute f’ing favorite band in world in 2003 when they released Electric Version. This record is the closest they’ve come to being that amazing. Brill Bruisers is less daring that that record, it’s the sound of a band snuggling up with their own identity and getting cozy.

Favorite track: “Champions of Red Wine”

 

22a. September Girls – Cursing the Sea

The September GIrls - Cursing the Sea

This all-girl Dublin 60’s-worshipping noise-pop outfit hit all the right fuzzy notes on Cursing the Sea. Gloomy, distorted tracks. Miles of reverb. They sound like a bunch of other bands, but a little more ballsy.

Favorite track: “Heartbeats”

 

22b. The Twlight Sad – Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave

The Twilight Sad - Nobody Wants to Be Here But Nobody Wants to Leave

This is the male version of noise-worship. Wall of sound. Shoe gaze. Call it what you want. These guys can do no wrong in my ears. Good luck wrapping your head around the cryptic lyrics… if you can understand them.

Favorite track:”I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want”

 

21. I Break Horses – Chiaroscuro

I Break Horses - Chiaroscuro

Pitchfork said I Break Horses wasn’t doing anything to distinguish them from their peers. I dunno about that. The Swedish electronic duo isn’t innovating here… but aren’t we forgetting the value in just doing the same thing really well? I had five tracks in my final “Hit List” for 2014, tied with Angel Olsen for most from any single record. Maybe they sound like a bunch of other bands, but this is the record that rose above all those others.

Favorite track: “Weigh True Words”

 

20. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Perfume Genius - Too Bright

The sophomore record from Perfume Genius failed to connect with me like the first. But no one can argue with what he’s doing here. Bold, confident songwriting full of self understanding and scars and drama backed by sweeping, innovative orchestrations.

Favorite track: “Queen”

 

19. Ex Hex – Rips

Ex Hex - Rips

Yes. It is as f’ing amazing as it sounds. 90’s rawk perfected.

Favorite track: “Don’t Wanna Lose”

 

18. Elephant – Sky Swimming

Elephant - Sky Swimming

Top to bottom, just a solid record with ample connective tissue and dozens of angles of approach. The London duo Christian Pinchbeck and Amelia Rivas will downright seduce you with their intimate moments laced with catchy hooks. Reminded me immediately of Camera Obscura.

Favorite track: “Skyscraper”

 

17. Protomartyr – Under the Cover of Official Right

Protomartyr - Unde the Cover of Official RIght

Post-rock, motherfuckers. Do you speak it?

Favorite track: “Maidenhead”

 

16. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness

If you want to read about Angel Olsen’s, like, amazeballs record, check out any (and I mean any) top record list from 2014. Many have written about Burn Your Fire For No Witness at great length. And they are by any measure more eloquent and cerebral… because they don’t have a 5-year-old blasting Weird Al’s “The Saga Begins” on her Hello Kitty CD player just ten feet behind. I’m just speaking the truth here.

“Soon I’m gonna be a Jedi…. we were singing… my my this here Anakin Guy… maybe Vader someday later… now he’s just a small fry.”

Favorite track: “Lights Out”

 

15. How to Dress Well – “What Is This Heart?”

How to Dress Well

I’m all out of superlatives for How to Dress Well. Tom Krell is just living in a whole other dimension with his R&B and electronic hybrid. He might just be the most soulful white dude on the planet.

Favorite track: “Repeat Pleasure”

 

14. Death Vessel – Island Intervals

Death Vessel - Island Intervals

I promise I PROMISE that this isn’t a death metal record. The wikipedia page calls them neo-traditional folk. Whatever that means. And whatever it is… it warmed my cockles.

Favorite track: “Ejecta”

 

13. Grouper – Ruins

Grouper - Ruins

This may be my #13 record for 2014, but it’s #2 for bringing the feels. The solo project of Liz Harris specializes is slow, sultry jams with emotional weight and shit. Normally I don’t go in for the sad-sack feels, but Liz Harris wraps it in a bow with lots of sparkles and makes you crave the tears.

Favorite track: “Clearing”

 

12. Future Islands – Singles

Future Islands - Singles

My wife calls Future Islands the “Rod Stewart band.” Let it be widely known that I cannot abide Rod Stewart but I love Future Islands. Example: of their three records, this is my least favorite and it’s still #12 on the countdown.

Favorite track: “Seasons (Waiting On You)”

 

11. Spoon – They Want My Soul

Spoon

Nice to see you again, Spoon. I didn’t really care for your last couple records (no, really, not even with all the critics telling me OMG YOU NEED TO LOVE THIS SHIT), but this one’s dynamite. You also make me think of The Tick, which is awesome because I can’t ever get enough of The Tick.

Favorite track: “Do You”

 

10. Jungle – self-titled

Jungle - Jungle

I’ve been struggling to fill the void left behind by Poolside not putting out any new records. Lucky for me Jungle came along just in time to give me a seriously killer mainline dose of “Daytime Disco.” And now I’m wondering how long until I’m gonna need my next fix.

Favorite track: “Busy Earnin'”

 

9. The Preatures – Blue Planet Eyes

The Preatures - Blue Planet Eyes

Pure. Indie-pop. Bliss. So poppy, in fact, that The Preatures just stare you down with rampant accessibility and dare you to admit, with a straight face, that this isn’t the catchiest shit you’ve heard this side of Taylor Swift’s annoying omnipresence.

Favorite track: “Somebody’s Talking”

 

8. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

Todd Terje - It's Album Time

You’re a kooky Norwegian, DJ Todd Terje, but I can dig it.

Favorite track: “Johnny and Mary” … though if I’m picking a single track to sell the record maybe it’s “Delorean Dynamite.”

 

7. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings

At first I thought Here and Nowhere Else sounded like the B-sides to Cloud Nothing’s debut record. And then I was like “Here and Nowhere Else sounds like the B-sides to Cloud Nothing’s debut record!!! It’s a subtle but fairly important difference.

Favorite track: “I’m Not Part of Me”

 

6. Slow Club – Complete Surrender

Slow Club - Complete Surrender

So, like, just last week I fell in love with this record and had it on repeat for hours on end and my wife and kids thought I’d lost my mind because I rarely if ever put a record on for more that one spin at a time and they were like are you broken? and I was like, nah, this record is just really really good and I’m sorry I’m just now discovering it so I need to make up for lost spins. True story. That really happened.

Favorite track: “Everything Is New”

 

5. Literature – Chorus

Literature - Chorus

On the flipside of that Slow Club situation, I’ve had Literature’s Chorus in my “at-hand” stack of records right next to the turntable since its release. I mean it goes without saying because this is a Top 5 album, but I really really like all the songs on Chorus. This is pitch perfect indie pop that wears influence on its sleeve like boy scout badges. I’m hearing Johnny Marr and the Buzzcocks and the Kinks and dashes of The Cure and… shit… let’s just call it a Frankenstein monster of English pop music. If the familiarity bothers you, back off man, they’re just scientists.

Favorite track: “Court/Date”

 

4. Alvvays – self-titled

Alvvays - Alvvays

Alvvays and Literature have been buddy buddy next to my turntable all year. One goes off. The other goes on. If Literature is the Frankenstein monster of English bands from the 70’s and 80’s then Alvvays is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of 1960’s jangle pop and the 1980’s “Freak Scene.”

Favorite track: “Archie, Marry Me”

 

3. Luluc – Passerby

Luluc - Passerby

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Pitchfork gave this record a 4.9. A 4.9! Comparing it to audio Nicholas Sparks. I’m sorry, I’ve been laughing about that review since I read it. I challenge anyone to listen to this record and not connect with it on some basic level. This is easy listening, sure… but once the album gets into you, it doesn’t let go.

Favorite track: “Small Window”

 

2. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2

The second collaboration between El-P and Killer Mike dropped from the heavens, a momentary defibrillator reviving ballsy, old school hip hop. The album also boasts my favorite rap song of the year – “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Zack De La Rocha. There really wasn’t another rap record that came close to Run the Jewels in 2014.

Favorite track: “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”

 

1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

The War on Drugs

I could have gone ten different ways with this pick. I went with the record that just got the most airplay in my ear sockets. Lost in a Dream revealed itself over many months. At first only “Red Eyes” and “Under The Pressure” stood out, but those tracks brought me back… and back again. Over the months, the rest of the album gradually revealed its greatness. Slightly less accessible than the band’s 2011 Slave Ambient, Lost in a Dream required more from its listener. The War on Drugs continued to tap Born in the U.S.A. Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Spaceman 3 and 1980’s-era adult contemporary for inspiration. Though the obtuse Reagan-era sonic references remain, The War on Drugs more effectively turns these mundane sources into affecting emotional triggers. This is nostalgia-laced songwriting at its finest – recalling an era with broad strokes and creative assimilation rather than idle mimicry.

Favorite track: “Red Eyes”

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