Best of, Music

Best of 2014: Albums- The Top 10

Part 1 available here. Part 2 available here.

10. How To Dress Well – ‘What Is This Heart?’

how to dress well

When discussing art, we often use the word “sentimental” to describe that which is so simple and overbearing in its approach to emotion that it appears saccharine, self-indulgent, or like pure shit. I often wonder how this usage of the word “sentimental” came to be, as it seems remarkably separate from how we might use the adjective to describe a person. Sentimental people, full of tenderness, longing, and love, are just as mired in emotion as sentimental art, but there’s something more romantic about the human brand. Tom Krell’s latest album under the name How To Dress Well has probably been attached more to negative uses of the word “sentimental” than any other album in recent memory, but I’d advocate we use its positive connotations in discussing ‘What Is This Heart?’. Yes, it wears several hearts’ worth of longing on its sleeve, but there’s something about the album that has embedded itself in my bones. Krell’s emotions are far from simple; they are as layered as the instrumentals he constructs, which pierce straight to the organ the album’s name celebrates. His soft falsetto quivers and shakes on top of beats that radiate and shimmer. The masterful blend of electronic programming and gentle acoustics create a private space that serves as a house for your love. Only a musician as talented as Krell could take the Cisco hold music and turn it into something so transcendent. There’s something undeniably sexy about ‘What Is This Heart?’, but it’s so intimate a record that it might almost feel like a violation of privacy to use it as the soundtrack to sex. This album, more so than any this year, encapsulates love in all its many shades. It contains odes to family and close friends, desperate pleas to save the lives of lovers, and sacred prayers delivered in the dead of night. In some moments, it aches with eroticism, but in others, its spirit soars and transcends the boundaries of the human body. As the title suggests, ‘What Is This Heart?’ might be a record that stemmed from confusion and uncertainty, but it offers a powerful (and deceptively complex) answer in love. – Nathan Smith

9. Badbadnotgood – III

badbadnotgood

III is super dope. Actually, this album is way more than dope; it transcends “dope “in so many ways. It’s beautiful, yet dirty and rotten; it’s uplifting, yet dark and terrifying; it’s hype, yet mellow. The best part is that these three Canadian musicians are very young and will continue to bring us more great music. Get very excited for the evolution and growth of these three guys, because they are actually about to change the game. Also get very excited for the evolution and growth of jazz, because like another album on this list, Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead!, jazz is being pushed back into the mainstream. It’s twisting and morphing into something completely new. Also, may I mention that we’re going to get a full collaborative album with these guys and Ghostface Killah. Are you fucking kidding me? 2015 is going to be such an amazing year for music. – Jake White

8. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again

joyce manor

Joyce Manor, one of my favorite bands and the soundtrack to last summer, hold a special place in my heart. Never Hungover Again, along with their other records, was on repeat for several weeks, scoring the most beautiful time of my life. Though their third album is their simplest, with fairly standard songwriting and much more straightforward lyrics than either of their previous works, Joyce Manor still delivers an incredible record that once again toes the line between pop-punk and straight punk. “Christmas Card” opens the record, catching the listener off guard and between breaths. It then launches into one of the band’s catchiest tracks to date. When comparing Never Hungover Again to the band’s earlier records, one might comment that the content of the album feels less developed. When putting the lyrics to “Heated Swimming Pool” and “Constant Headache” side by side, the former feels much more juvenile, while the latter boasts an emotional depth that isn’t directly found in any track on Never Hungover Again. While on the surface this complaint is valid, it misses the point of the album entirely. Never Hungover Again is Joyce Manor speaking directly to the listener, with its lack of complexity made up for by the album’s sheer sincerity. This record doesn’t display as much technical musicianship or lyrical depth because it doesn’t have to. Oftentimes, less is more, and Joyce Manor displays this perfectly. – John O’Brien

7. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

benji

On Benji, the sixth album from Sun Kil Moon, front-man and primary songwriter Mark Kozelek offers depressing and brutally honest observations about life 25 years into his music career. The multi-instrumentalist, well into his forties, shows how depression and meltdowns have plagued him even midway through his life. Through episodic rants and almost stream-of-consciousness lyrics, he covers many topics, including his father, the Newtown Shootings, his friend Benjamin Gibbard, sex, and the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same. Dominated by Kozelek’s guitar work and his vocals, Benji is limited to only a few musical sounds, but vocal harmonies and upbeat percussion drive this emotional yet relatable hour of music. – Ethan Copeland

6. Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else

Cover

Cleveland indie outfit Cloud Nothings may have lost a member, but all the ferocity and grit of 2012’s Attack on Memory is amplified on this year’s Here And Nowhere Else. Previously, they attempted to find and introduce a sound influenced by early post-hardcore, but on their latest, they have truly grown into a newer style. Dylan Baldi has a knack for writing catchy hooks, but on this record he begins to experiment more with his songwriting, drastically changing the pace of the fantastic “Psychic Trauma” and weaving a reverb-soaked noise section seamlessly into the eight-minute-long “Pattern Walks.” Post-breakup anthem “I’m Not Part of Me” closes out the record in an uplifting manner, which Baldi sings with a frustrated yearning, as he does most tracks on the album. Drummer extraordinaire Jayson Gerycz blasts his way through all eight songs with machine-gun-style snare rolls, and even from the beginning of opening track “Now Hear In,” the signs of his immaculate speed are obvious. Cloud Nothings may have one less member, but their aggression and growl are here to stay. – Alex DePompei

5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

st. vincent

When an album is self-titled, it’s typically the artist’s debut release; in the case of St. Vincent, it’s the fourth record from front-woman Annie Clark. It’s her most bold creation yet, and having a self-titled this far in the game displays the confidence she has in her completely original pieces. It’s a home-coming of sorts, as Annie Clark shows that her musical career is on the exact right path. She’s transformed from a shy brunette songwriter into a rock star performer, with live shows few can rival. Each track on St. Vincent is layered and perfectly executed, from the first to the last. “Digital Witness” is the breakout of the LP, but some favorite tracks include “Bring Me Your Loves,” “Regret,” and “Prince Johnny.” Each of Clark’s record serves as dramatic stepping stones, proving her versatility as a musician and her evolution in the industry. Clark is one of the most talented guitar-shredding queens on the scene today, and St. Vincent more than proves that she’s an artist who won’t be going anywhere soon.Patty Greer

4. FKA Twigs – LP1

fka twigs

2014 was the year of the black girl. On many occasions this year, black women have made bold statements about their womanhood and claimed their feminism, whether that word actually escaped their mouths or not. Many white female artists have been hailed as feminists by magazines, but most have either actively rejected the term or misrepresented what it really means, while black female artists have been a beacon of light in terms of what female empowerment is about, doing so mostly through their actions. One such artist is FKA twigs, and her debut album LP1 encompasses this brilliantly. Themes such as loneliness, sex, identity and self-loathing appear throughout the record, all packaged in an indescribable art-pop sound distinctly her own. Twigs, or Tahliah Barnett, lays everything out in the open, but still manages to be an enigma, someone you’re determined to figure out even if it kills you. My immediate response to Barnett and LP1 was fascination. I was dumbfounded, completely in awe of the fact that something so elusive and challenging could also be so raw, honest, and overwhelmingly beautiful. I was hooked in a matter of minutes, and after reading several of her interviews late one night, I was sure that this newcomer was certain to make waves in more than just electronic music. Barnett has spoken several times about her identity as a black woman, especially since critics are quick to label her music “electronic R&B,” when truthfully, nothing in the world could define this woman. She knows exactly what she wants and just how she will get it. There is such beauty and power in seeing a black woman take over the entirety of a space that no one wanted her to have. FKA Twigs and LP1 are over our heads completely; you think you know what’s going to happen, but you really have no idea. – Lindsay Temple

3. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

You're_Dead!

Don’t get it twisted; Steven Ellison, the artist who records as Flying Lotus, has always been a jazz musician. You’re Dead! is just his jazziest project yet. We like to think of jazz music as big bands, swing dancing, and standards, and although I disagree with the notion that certain genres have “real” forms, on You’re Dead!, Flying Lotus restores the actual meaning of the word jazz: experimental, otherworldly, and awe-inspiring. Opening up his universe to newcomers like Kendrick Lamar and Herbie Hancock, Fly Lo’s record draws very clear connections between jazz, electronic music, and hip-hop. What’s perhaps most fascinating about the record is the supporting cast; it’s clearly Ellison’s vision, but one he couldn’t achieve without the help of folks like Thundercat, Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks, producer Daddy Kev, and former Dirty Projectors member Angel Deradoorian. And, for the first time, Ellison brings together Flying Lotus and his rapping alter-ego Captain Murphy, giving us a glimpse inside both halves of his brain. Although it’s firmly rooted in the physical, pulse-pounding experience of music, You’re Dead! is also deeply personal, embracing the new age themes Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label have become synonymous with, all without alienating listeners who prefer to exist outside the spiritual plane. – Nathan Smith

2. Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy

dark comedy

So often in rap music, artists can’t be taken seriously if they want to pepper their work with jokes. But as proved by Dark Comedy, the latest album from rapper Open Mike Eagle, darkness and humor aren’t mutually exclusive, and the two can often enhance each other. Eagle has long been one of the deftest wits in the rap world, and few other rappers seem to understand the similarities between rap and comedy as well as he does. The album’s two guest spots, from comedian Hannibal Buress and KOOL A.D. (another forceful yet funny rapper), and Mike’s involvement and interest in sketch comedy, stand-up, and podcasting only prove these connections further. His album is filled with poignancy and emotional strength, but it’s not afraid to delve into absurdity, and the album’s most ridiculous scenarios are often the ones that deliver the most resonance. For too long, listeners, critics, and musicians have been quick to draw lines in hip-hop and divide themselves into categories, but Dark Comedy doesn’t have time for such folly. It has more personal (and important) things to say. – Nathan Smith

1. milo – a toothpaste suburb

milo

I’ve been listening to milo, real name Rory Ferreria, so intensely and for so long that it’s strange to remember that his latest release, a toothpaste suburb, is actually his first official “album.” Since the release of his first mixtape, 2011’ s I wish my brother Rob was here, milo has developed a formidable body of work, one that a toothpaste suburb reflects back on. The album encounters many of the same themes as his earlier releases with a similar level of doubt and poignancy, but a toothpaste suburb feels like change. His reference points are numerous and varied, from Office Space to David Foster Wallace’s Signifying Rappers. Although Ferreira has always been one to embrace humor and lightness, there’s a also a great deal of uncertainty to his music, an uncertainty shared by his namesake, the protagonist of the novel The Phantom Tollbooth. a toothpaste suburb, however, seems like an exorcism, as if music, a confused business in itself, has finally allowed milo to move past some of the problems that have consumed him. He’s rejected confinement and embraced art, claiming his place in the lineage of rap music while confronting racial issues more so than ever before. milo may not have achieved peace, and he probably never will, but there’s a sense of solace in this album, something that feels invincible, something that makes me want to yell “HELLFYRE CLUB!” through seventeen muzzles. I can’t pretend to know much about philosophy, but over his career, I’ve seen Ferreira become interested in the ideas of Emmanuel Kant, specifically the notion that the journey has more worth than the outcome, and this album reflects that sentiment. Ferreira echoes it when he and WC Tank recite a line from Don DeLillo’s White Noise, the book which contains the line that supplied the name for this album: “May the days be aimless. Let the seasons drift. Do not advance the action according to a plan.” Aimlessness has become inaction. Uncertainty has become strength. I’m okay, you’re okay. It will be alright. – Nathan Smith

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One thought on “Best of 2014: Albums- The Top 10

  1. Anonymous says:

    looks like i’ve got some listnening to do!
    particularly beautiful write-ups on ‘what is this heart?’ & a toothpaste suburb!

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