Friday, July 11, 2014

Totally Unauthorized 2014 Mid Year Recap: Top 25 First Half Albums

The 2014 musical year started off slowly, but has gradually been shaping up into what may be another excellent year. It hasn't been as good as the past two years, although 2013 was a banner year and may not be topped by decade's end. That said, 2014 has still seen some great releases. Here are my favorites from the first half:

25. Mogwai - Rave Tapes

24. Beck - Morning Phase

23. Little Dragon - Nabuma Rubberband

22. Anathema - Distant Satellites

21. Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots

20. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Pinata

19. Mastodon - Once More Round the Sun

18. Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

17. Animals as Leaders - The Joy of Motion

16. Future Islands - Singles

15. Real Estate - Atlas

14. Lykke Li - I Never Learn

13. War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

12. The Roots - ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

11. Badbadnotgood - III

10. Jack White - Lazaretto

At this point, Jack White is who he is. You know what to expect from one of his records. The best thing about Lazaretto is that it doesn't waste the audience's time; it gets right down to business by focusing on his greatest strength - rocking hard. White tosses in flourishes of folk and country to supplement his infectious brand of blues rock, weaves in interpersonal lyrics, and mixes it with some of his best guitar playing to date.

9. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything

This is a fantastic album to crawl inside of and get lost within. Efrim Menuck of Godspeed You! Black Emperor brews up post-rock in the vein of his flagship band, but this mix boasts more of a hard edged, punk rock vibe that is sometimes whimsical and sometimes ominous. Add a sense of child-like wonder and a theme loosely based on the band's home of Montreal, and you have one of the year's most unique and inspiring albums.

8. Tune Yards - Nikki Nack

This is the biggest and boldest sound Merrill Garbus has had yet. Her patchwork pastiche of world music and electronic influences, coupled with her dizzying drum work merge together to create a mix both intoxicating and impossible to ignore. After two fantastic albums I was hoping she'd knock it out of the park here. It ultimately doesn't live up to its predecessor, w h o k i l l, but for your buck, you won't find an album with a louder sense of style than this.

7. Sun Kil Moon - Benji

This may be the most unique entry on the list in the sense that this is more like reading a short story as opposed to a musical experience. Benji takes a look into who Mark Kozalek is, recounted over various ruminations about his family, losing loved ones, and youthful loves. There are also more specific events including discussing the Newtown shootings in an exchange of letters with a fan, or feeling out of touch while seeing his friend Ben Gibbard of The Postal Service in concert. The level of detail Kozalek recalls is stunning, and he complements it with gorgeous finger picking.

6. Kishi Bashi - Lighght

This is simply a splendid, joyous record. The product of Japanese violinist K. Ishi Bashi, known for his work in Athens psychedelic indie rock band of Montreal. He has long stood out with his signature style of guitar playing, and whimsical, feel good songwriting approach, but now he's expanded his sound by giving keyboards a much more prominent place in the mix. With Lighght, he puts forth an album that is like Wonderland in musical form, and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

5. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

Easily the girls' best effort yet. The harmonies are wondrous enough alone to merit this a spot on the list, but there's also an alluring vintage feel to much of this album. Sometimes they sound pensive, at others they sound like they were born to play the Ryman, but mostly their music moves along with a determined grit and heads held high. Their last effort, The Lion's Roar, suffered from consistency issues, but this time there's not a weak track to be found.

4. Swans - To Be Kind

Swans are tough as nails and impenetrable, but they make no apologies about who they are. That said, there is still some great dark art rock here, alongside some of the year's most sweat soaked riffing. Michael Gira's haunting cadence rings out from the shadows. It's oppressive yet fascinating simultaneously. At times there are more straight ahead numbers at and at times it's really esoteric, but it's equally difficult not to find yourself sucked in by swans' sinister vortex.

3. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else

If you're looking for a torrent of pure adrenaline, this album's for you. The Ohio indie rockers barrel full speed ahead with a harder hitting sound than ever before, tempered with catchy, effective song writing and strong hooks. And every now and then they show off their ability to launch into an extended post punk rage. For his part, frontman Dylan Baldi alternates between jagged edged screams and passionate clean singing in what is surely one of the most explosive albums of the year.

2. St. Vincent - s/t

This is the album that's been on everyone's list this year, and for good reason. Her rose tinted art pop might color her as a little weird and off kilter, but Annie Clark's fourth album is perhaps her boldest yet. She's wistful and provocative with an intoxicating sense of confidence, and at the end of the day she's irresistible because she's a knockout songsmith crafting a dizzying collection of fragrant rock and roll.

1. Rodrigo y Gabriela - 9 Dead Alive

This has been my go to jam this year. I was initially drawn into the band thanks to their white hot single "Hanuman," which led to me exploring their previous album, 11:11. This one is much more relaxed and low key, but no less breathtaking in terms of aesthetic or technicality. I like this record whenever I'm upset, or agitated or anxious about something; it helps mellow me out. But I also love it for the sheer splendid beauty of its arrangements. I am surprised that no one is paying attention to this one after the success that their previous two albums had. It must not be the type of sound media outlets are looking for, which is a shame. Because to me, it sounds better than any record released this year.

No comments: