Top 15 Albums of 2014

15. Ariel Pink – pom pom

Creatively wild, sexy, and no loss in quality. Mature Themes’ creativity was sometimes boring, but Ariel Pink turns his weirdness into something super cool here.

14. Tennis – Ritual in Repeat

As good as their Small Sound EP, and adding a little more. I’m Callin’ is a slick ’80s callback. It’s surprisingly consistent for a band I didn’t care for before.

13. Weezer – Every Will Be Alright in the End

Weezer rules, and I’ll never recant that.

Everything was alright in the end. No surprise there.

12. Caribou – Our Love

Caribou is currently my favorite go-to electronic music musician. The Milk of Human Kindness is his most diverse album, but his last album Swim makes such a huge impression starting with the weirdness of Odessa which is one of the best songs ever.

Our Love feels like it could be a step down, because it’s slower and less diverse, but it’s not any less gorgeous. I love the sounds that he creates, and I feel like out of the electronic musicians I listen to, Caribou is the best at using this typically unconventional medium (in my opinion) to create more conventional songs, and I think that’s what draws me so much to him.

His voice is smooth and pleasing, and Our Love easily takes you in like a blanket. Can’t Do Without You will go down as a classic Caribou track, although it’s not the only great song here. The album reminds me a lot of Hot Chip’s last album, all smooth and lovey like this. I like the positivity. The album is slightly front loaded with the two best songs being Can’t Do Without You and Silver, in my opinion, but it doesn’t go downhill in the slightest.

Plus, every song’s a banger.
11. Sisyphus – Sisyphus

Severely underrated.

I don’t know Serengeti or Son Lux, but Sufjan’s fingerprints are all over this. There isn’t a weak track, and the three different styles come together really really well. I like Serengeti’s flow and voice a lot. He’s especially good on Rhythm of Devotion, Booty Call, Lion’s Share, and Alcohol.

Sufjan’s strongest when he’s calming it down, like on Rhythm of Devotion, Hardly Hanging On, Calm It Down, or Take Me which easily lands in my favorite songs of all time.

The beats are great, and this is as good as anything Sufjan has put out alone.

10. Ty Segall – Manipulator
Ty Segall’s my main man.

I think overall I prefer Ty Segall to Thee Oh Sees, and Ty Segall has hit an incredible stretch of albums lately. He’s been on a roll since Melted (or even earlier than that), and it’s easy to argue that every album is better than the last. He was releasing 2-3 albums a year, which is insane given the high quality of his tunes. Fittingly, before and after Sleeper, he seemed to slow down quite a bit, but instead of releasing two albums in a year he just released one that’s the length of two albums.

Manipulator is a bit of a mix in sound of Sleeper and Twins. It has the powerful jams of Twins grounded by the grooves and human-ness of Sleeper, and that’s what makes this arguably his best album yet for me (tough to say though, of course). It’s kind of the ultimate Ty Segall album in a way.

There are the jams to back up his reputation. I mean, Feel is insane and easily the first standout of the album. He also shows that there’s more to him than just JAMS (nothing wrong with just JAMS though) in easily my favorite song in Stick Around. I love the sentiment, and for some reason the song just takes my breath away with the strings and the melody and Ty’s delivery of “you know, we wanna stick around”.

There’s no question that this is one of the best albums of the year.

9. Taylor Swift – 1989

I just got off of a Taylor Swift listen-thru (Speak Now, Red, 1989) and although it doesn’t top Red for me, it’s crazy how great and even more, how seamlessly she was able to pull off the 360 switch to straight pop. I’m glad she’s getting as much love and credit as she is, because it’s 100% deserved. Love you, Tay ❤

8. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Someone should have told me to listen to this when it came out a few months ago. I really liked his last album, and Too Bright pushes what was great about Put Your Back N 2 It even further. It’s the same in that it’s moody and piano-y, but it feels even denser and the song have even more shape than before, there’s something so much more “pop” about it too. It’s not just “piano guy goes pop” though, because it’s incredibly moody and unnerving, especially Grid which has this high-pitched wailing going on throughout.

7. S – Cool Choices

There are some albums that you know you need to recommend to everybody, but I don’t think this is one of them. I love S to death, but I wouldn’t recommend this one casually to anyone I didn’t know was into this kind of thing. It’s bleak, but Jenn Ghetto knows how to bring the hooks to her romantic depression. Production from Chris Walla is on point.

6. The Antlers – Familiars

The very first thing I noticed when listening to Palace was how crystal clear and perfect Silberman’s vocals were. He’s always been a great singer, someone who could belt it out, jump to a beautiful falsetto, and fill an emotional void with ease, but it’s been a raw thing before now. On this album, it’s beautifully refined.

The next thing everyone will be talking about are the trumpets. Violins are cool and all, but what really does it for me is horns. Most of the time, they are there to add accent, but what really grabs me is when they themselves form the body of the melody, like they often do in Beirut’s music, and like they did on Antler’s Undersea EP. They certainly take the stage here too, working alongside the guitar and piano to form something special. As far as the music goes, this is the Antlers’ most beautiful work. It lacks the distinct, catchy melodies of Burst Apart, but it forms a solid 50 minutes of beautiful escape. There are certainly stand-outs though, like the lead single and opener Palace and the closer.

It will take some time to dig into the lyrics on Familiars, but knowing the band, they’re probably great, and already Silberman sells them with his delivery like he always does.

5. Beck – Morning Phase

It should be well-known by now that Sea Change isn’t just my favorite Beck album but my favorite album, period – so I had high hopes and and worries for this. It turns out I didn’t need to worry at all. It isn’t a poor man’s Sea Change or a retread at all, not even an expansion, but it has the spirit of Sea Change in it.

It’s both warm and a little melancholic, and I’m finding that it fits a lot of my moods. I listened to it at first a lot at night, then a lot in the morning; whether I’m feeling up or down, it works. It’s just really easy to listen to. One of the nights during the weak it leaked I listened to it three times in a row and every time it felt just as fresh. I appreciate that it’s not so boring that it’s forgettable but that it’s not so dominating that you can listen to it all the time.

Mellow but also engaging. I listened to it on a bus ride, and it was chill, but today I listened to it on my way to work, and I was surprised at how steady the beat was. Other than Unforgiven and Wave, really, which slow the record down a lot, but it makes a nice denoument before it starts picking back up on its way to the end. It also makes it easy to listen to only half the album if I don’t have enough time, because I can do Morning to Blue Moon or Don’t Let It Go to to Waking Light.

I don’t see people talk much about Beck’s vocals outside of Midnite Vultures, but they are really strong and relaxing. They match up with the country twang really well, which also I think is part of what makes the album sparkle so much, because country music tends to have a melancholic but warm vibe going on in general. I’m not surprised he recorded it in Nashville.

I’m interested in seeing how others will find it in comparison to the rest of his work, but for me at least this is a style that I love, so it fits right up at the top alongside Sea Change and Midnite Vultures. I’m excited to see what he is going for with the other album he’s been working on, but I can’t imagine it topping Morning Phase which is perfect and keeps getting more perfect every time I listen to it (which is a lot).

4. Owen Pallett – In Conflict

Four albums in, and Owen Pallett finally let his guard in (although I would argue that he never truly blocked out his heart completely, even if it is less unguarded than here). Even someone like me who listens more to the melody than the lyrics can hear the change in Owen’s lyrics, writing more from the heart (instead of letting his cock do all the work). He was always a great lyricist, and that is part of what makes Heartland so magical, but In Conflict is coming from a different place, and I like it. I hope he never loses the magic that was part of his previous work (it’s also obvious on this album that he hasn’t), but I like this confessional songwriting. Looking at the titles alone, you can build a story, and the lyrics are clever and emotional, both qualities that I appreciate.

It’s the melodies though that win me over. They’re as rich as ever, built on layers of violins, synths, and everything Owen has at his disposal. The production leaves it feeling more spacious in my opinion, which Owen takes advantage of with some less organic sounds like echoey rattles that are like machinery taking over (Song for Five & Six is a good example of what I’m thinking of) and ’80s-y synth flourishes (which is cool and totally in vogue). That doesn’t mean it’s all cold though, because there is warmth in some of those synth flourishes to give some heat to Owen’s calculating and intelligent style.

I’m glad Owen went with a full band again, although I don’t think Owen would have been happy to step back when he had the chance to build. There’s definitely a progression going on here, and I’m excited to hear the EP that’s sure to follow this.

3. 2NE1 – CRUSH

Apt album title, because they CRUSH all competition. I’m talking about the Japanese tracklist that includes the singles, because the singles from 2012/2013 were some of their best songs ever.

Crush follows the sound they started cultivating in 2012 with their post-EP singles. Their EP was brash, the natural peak of their career being the assertive I Am the Best. They’ve cooled off a whole lot since this EP with singles like I Love You, Falling in Love, Do You Love Me? and Missing You.

I Love You was maybe my favorite song from 2012, and the other three were great as well. I am very fond of the reggae style that’s come into their music since Falling in Love whose influence is easy to hear in this album’s big single Come Back Home.

Actually, the album has a wealth of things going on. The title track and opener Crush still has the “I Am the Best” feel to it, even in the melody which is a stone’s throw different. Come Back Home is still the big highlight for me though, opened by an awesome drum fill and a cool reggae beat that builds into a big, plaintive  “baby, come back home” moment that immediately drops into a sexy and dirtier little “come back hoooome” bit. Gotta Be You is one of their best song of all time though.

2NE1 are still the queens of k-pop as far as I’m concerned. They’re pushing the boundaries and putting out new music that incorporates different styles, and it’s really good with tons of personality.

2. Kishi Bashi – Lighght


Anytime a musician comes out with an amazing debut album, it’s hard to top that without retreading the same water or making a complete mess in trying something new. Given how great his Philosophize In It!/Song for the Sold single was, it would have been easy for him to make 151b. Kishi chose the best and safest path, building on the same foundation. Lighght is decidedly “Kishi Bashi”, there’s no arguing that, but it takes one foot out of the safe zone – instead of just pulling from psychedelic pop masters, taking more cues from prog and advancing further into the late ’70s territory that ELO created. After listening to this album, it’s really no surprise now that Kishi chose the opener from ELO’s Time (one of my favorite albums) for his covers collection.

The change isn’t all that significant though, because there were already elements of that in 151a, a much sleeker album that made sense coming off of the smoothness of of Montreal’s Paralytic Stalks (I’m thinking of Dour Percentage particularly). But Lighght trades the smoothness for sharper edges, mostly in the production. You can hear this change so easily by listening to the Philosophize In It! single and comparing it to the album version. I bet that you could take any of the songs on Lighght and turn them into songs that sound more like 151a. Although I was iffy on the production on first listen, I’ve gotten really into it over the past few days, and I see that it was a very clever choice on Kishi’s part. Outside of the production, the songs are just way more proggy anyway. It’s like he took Beat the Bright Out of Me and turned it up to 11. The Hahaha two-parter is the best example of that songwriting change. I’m also getting the impression that this album is closer to his live sound, with more high-pitched instruments like what he does in concert. It’s cool to hear that on the album, and that was an aspect definitely absent from his first album.

Even if he dives even further into the prog territory in the future, I don’t think he’ll ever be able to betray his pop sensibility though. He can add all the effects he wants, but he’ll always have that Paul McCartney feeling to his music. Just look at Q&A, the unquestionable stand-out for me, and tell me that doesn’t sound like something Paul McCartney could have written! I think this is why Kishi Bashi is so Fiznab-core, he’s experimental but never too far away from the happy little pop tunes that are so good and so simple.

I’m not ready yet to say that this has bested 151a, but it’s definitely a wonderful and welcome addition to my favorite albums. I can’t wait to hear the bonus songs that will be coming with the vinyl.

1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

Did anyone except anything else? Annie Clark BITES (love u annie)

From the very first second of Rattlesnake, you understand “party music you can play at a funeral”. Throughout the album Annie lays down strong synth lines and beats, weaving the rest of the elements around that base. It keeps her tethered to the ground when she could go flying way off with her ferocious guitar solos. That’s one of the things that impressed me the most on this album, something that I was disappointed with on Strange Mercy: the percussion is so good. I loved the drums on Actor, particularly Save Me From What I Want, for example, but they were great all over that album; on Strange Mercy, I think they were played down a bit, but she really went hard in the percussion department here. Even when they’re just playing simple beats, they’re interesting because of the tone and how it interacts with the melody, like on Prince Johnny where I don’t think the drumbeat is spectacular, but what’s around it really makes it stand out, and I get the “party album” feel along with that.

It goes without saying (but I’m obviously going to say it anyway) that St. Vincent evolves with every album. Marry Me was almost saccharine in its instrumentation, and although the lyrics weren’t dainty, they were very self-aware, which continued in Actor which I think is even more cerebral than Marry Me. Strange Mercy abandoned the brain a bit and started going toward the heart, and I don’t think Annie is always writing from the heart, because I get the impression that she is very intelligent and meticulous, maybe a perfectionist – because even when she’s thrashing on the guitar (live and on record), she’s graceful and its so very precise. Pitchfork’s article was well-titled, I think, “reckless precision”. Strange Mercy was coming from the heart, but St. Vincent feels even more visceral, way more biting than anything on Strange Mercy.

Which, by the way, I am really digging the style. This high-energy, electric and easy-to-devour (and maybe trying to devour you too) songwriting and guitarwork. “Visceral” is the best word to describe it. This is the easiest-to-listen-to of her albums, really catchy and lodges into the part of the brain that wants you to put it on repeat forever. Outside of one or two songs, it doesn’t feel very “BIG” – like, there’s a lot going on, but like Birth In Reverse for example, there’s just one guitar doing a simple up-and-down thing while she’s hitting the super catchy riff. You’re not bathed in a wall of sound other than the massive amounts of feedback. I like that, and more musicians should be doing that. Too much going on is one of my pet peeves when it comes to really good music, because there’s something interesting in minimalism (not to say that this is minimalist).

I Prefer Your Love was one of the growers for me though, but it has emerged as one of my favorites. I love lyrics, they really touch me. “Mother, won’t you open your arms and forgive me for all these bad thoughts”, “Wipe the blush smudge off my cheek and wonder what will become of your little one”, and of course the chorus “I prefer your love to Jesus” because Annie definitely writes from a cerebral place, but it hits your heart in a way that nothing on Actor could hope to. Especially the phrasing of the chorus, which could have been “I love you” but “I prefer your love to Jesus” makes you feel differently, and I’m still wondering what it’s supposed to mean. Lyric-wise though, Severed Crossed Fingers takes the cake. It’s the song that’s grown the most since first listen. The imagery is intense, but the message is simple.

Regret jumped out as my favorite from the start – although it’s not my favorite right now – because of its catchy opening guitar, the call-and-response chorus, and the Actor-callback instrumentation. It actually makes me want to listen to Paralytic Stalks, because of the cross between the guitar and the woodwinds, where parts of that of Montreal album really seemed St. Vincent-esque (mostly  Ye, Renew the Plaintiff).

This is her catchiest album without a doubt, but I’ve been listening to it nonstop for over a week, so I think my love for it’s going to hold. I’ve repeated myself so many times saying that no song stands out as a lesser one, and I still stand by that. It’s punchy, catchy, electric, and it attacks both my heart and my brain (and my body!), a first for a St. Vincent album. This is my favorite album by her because of that. If I ever stop listening to and loving St. Vincent, this will be the last album I’ll hold onto, but I don’t see that happening at any time. Annie Clark has a future so bright she has to squint, that’s for sure.