As 2014 heaved its feeble limbs out of the water, back in January, we set out to make the most of it critique-wise. That implied listening to a gigantic amount of music, which eventually proved to become more difficult in escalating fashion — by September, we had mostly stopped. Still, we managed to cover some ground and think it’s acceptable to do a list thingy to commemorate our efforts. The albums are in no particular order.
Wild Beasts have always been a group that could aptly imbue very real and intense emotions to their music, but never have they been so direct and aggressive in sending those things across. That’s not to say that they have removed their softness, but quite the contrary — Present Tense is their most minimal album yet. Its aggressiveness lies in cleverly giving room for the listener to creep closer and then flooding it with a menacing, drilling synth. Most of the songs work that way, escalating into quiet chaos or bursting suddenly, except for maybe Past Perfect and closer Palace, which provide a disorienting counterpoint that only strengthens the other side. Also, the album cover is a fantastic piece of design.
Heart-wrenching at every corner, Ontario Gothic is, as described by Warren Hildebrand himself, “an album comprised of seven songs dealing with individual instances of loss, grief and the process of healing over the five years following my younger brother’s death in 2008 and how I navigated life in the wake of that tragedy.” The result is half an hour of one of the most beautiful examples of lo-fi dreampop, filled with fantastic textures and a sense of togetherness that is very very hard to achieve. Weighing in even more is the fact that their live performance is as impeccable as it is human.
Borrowed from geological sciences professor Clive R. Neil, the phrase that entitles Hundred Waters’ second album was used to describe the sound emissions coming from the Moon, which were similar to those of a bell and, therefore, led him to believe that both possessed similar constitutions — hollow. The Moon Rang Like a Bell can’t exactly be describe as hollow, but it’s certainly languid and spacious, as evidenced by spellbinding centrepieces Broken Blue and Chambers. Furthermore, when the band breaks spaces into machinated works (Out Alee) or goes aggressive ([Animal] and the tail end of Seven White Horses) they never shy away from the entrancing quality of their other pieces. Intoxicating, that’s the word for it.
Since the release of 2007’s A Praia, ruído/mm has been comfortably sitting in the pantheon of post-rock (though the members themselves do not consider their music to follow such trend), amongst the greatest of the genre. And, as if their position had ever been questioned, 2014 saw the release of Rasura, their best work to date. It is dramatic, wild and earthly, bearing such a connection with the listener that it borders the unnatural. If by the end of Transibéria you are not holding your guts together, you’re a hopeless case.
Dot Hacker // How’s Your Process?
Josh Klinghoffer might as well be John Frusciante’s son — both worked together and apart in mind-boggling fusions of alt-rock and electronic music, and both occupied the lead guitarist position for Red Hot Chilli Peppers at some point. Dot Hacker is the only thing Klinghoffer does without Frusciante, and, though the latter’s influence still looms like a shadow, it’s where Josh really shows how prolific he can be. How’s Your Process was released as two different EPs (Work and Play), but it’s as a full-length that things turn interesting. Every song is a challenge, as strange dynamics and chord progressions that go to unexpected places carry Klinghoffer’s unusually high-pitched voice — everything amounts to an alien-like experience. But, as repeated listens usually do, the thing proves to be undeniably catchy and especially beautiful.
The Antlers // Familiars
Familiars feels like a book of short stories — the sort of book you’d find lying around in a second hand store, pick up because of the quaint grey-tonal paperback cover and savour slowly, maybe each passage a day. Ultimately, you are not able to discover much about the characters in each chapter because their are reaving distant, but can’t help the fall towards their apparently simple but monstrous tales. You’ll probably have a hard time picking a single track out of Familiars for your past-time playlist, because their that so much more powerful when together, but nonetheless all of them are stand-out songs.
Interpol // El Pintor
Interpol, amongst their peers (or copycats, rather, such as Editors), have always been a cleverer band. Their debut is an absolute gem of music and everything since has been consistent, even if the material sometimes stretches the band’s limits a bit too far, as in 2010’s Interpol, or tries to be overly accessible, 2007’s Our Love to Admire. This year’s El Pintor is a joy to the ear — heavy, crunchy and soaring, provided you are listening in faithful audio sources, preferably directly from vinyl. Glistening, urgent guitars punctuate Paul Banks’ lazy yet pick-precise bass lines (he assumed bass for recording, though he still plays guitar live) while Sam Fogarino’s beats are as creative as ever while still being precisely clockwork. It’s not innovative, but it’s easily up there with the best fun we’ve had all year.
Warpaint // Warpaint
Four years separate Warpaint from The Fool, and many things have changed for Warpaint, as it seems. Theresa’s now a mother and things like that have surely a more profound effect in a woman’s personality than I as a man can even begin to fathom, but not only she seems affected by it. The album as a whole feels maternal, as if all the members have embraced that sentiment and handled composing and recording with uttermost care, something rather different than what was captured in their debut EP and their previous full-length. The combination of their musical playfulness with said care for details made Warpaint into a hard-edged work of elongated dissolution, one that slowly turns you over but does it tremendously well.
St. Vincent // St. Vincent
Annie Clark seemed robotic when Actor came out in 2009, sporting chunky riffs and truncated structures to her ever unaccessible yet catchy tunes. St Vincent throws everything she did back then and along the rest of her career to unfathomable ranges — it’s easily her craziest project, both aesthetically and musically. Somehow though, her songwriting managed to step up to the challenge when the themes became weirder, and the full-lenght came out as her most accomplished, if not her best, to date. Though it takes time to get a grip onto, it’s undeniably infectious, each listen an adventure.
Grouper // Ruins
Writing ambient music is difficult — it is too easy to fall into repetitiveness and be uninspired, and Grouper never fell onto that. Her previous albums were fantastic melodic journeys based around the guitar and several effect pedals which provided the landing for her soft, airy vocals. Ruins saw her move away from that, every song being built solely around the piano, all completely clean, without any reverb or delay whatsoever. And that’s where its strength lies — the simple flooring shows that Liz Harris’ melodies are not only beautiful, but extremely powerful and real.
And there you have it, our favourite albums of 2014.
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and a Happy New Year, everyone!