It seems I didn’t buy as many “new releases” in 2014 as previous years. So instead of picking my top ten or so 2014 discs, I’m pretty much going to talk about everything I picked up (that I can remember) except for the “super-deluxe edition” reissues and all the cassette or vinyl-only releases I bought this year—most of which are still sitting in stacks waiting to be listened to properly.
Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence. Over a beer my friend James asked me what I was listening to lately. That’s what we do when we grab a beer. Gossip about records. Anyway, I said, “The new Lana Del Rey.” He looked at me with a look. I said, “Fuck the haters.” I stand by that statement but I also feel it’s a little telling (about the state of pop music and myself) that I think Ultravoilence is probably the best all-round album released in 2014, from the standpoint of songwriting, production, performance and sheer theatricality. Haters gonna hate? Fuck ’em.
Cheatahs – Cheatahs. Probably my favourite shoegaze/90’s alt-revival album of the last few years. They’ve recreated the sound down to the finest detail and, more importantly, didn’t forget to write some pretty catchy hooks. It really sounds like it could’ve been released in 1993—mostly because the songs are genuinely that much better than most revival bands tend to write these days.
Nothing – Guilty Of Everything. Much hyped shoegazers. Wouldn’t necessarily say “don’t believe the hype” but take it with a grain of salt. The songs aren’t as good as Cheatahs‘ and they don’t play with as much subtlety as, say, Whirr.
Whirr – Sway. Much hyped shoegazers. Wouldn’t necessarily say “don’t believe the hype” but take it with a grain of salt. The songs aren’t as good as Cheatahs‘ and they don’t play with as much unbridled, brutalist passion as, say, Nothing.
Tennis System – Technicolour Blind. Much under-rated shoegazers, situated stylistically somewhere between Nothing and Whirr with songs approaching the quality of Cheatahs.
We Need Secrets – Melancholy & The Archive. Canadian shoegaze.
Hobbes Fanclub – Up at Lagrange. Not so much shoegaze as, maybe, Spacemen 3-gaze.
Alvvays – Alvvays. I hate their name with a (misplaced) passion, but they won me over when they appeared on Q and mocked a pre-scandal Jian by telling him their moms were all excited they were appearing on the show. It helps they sound like an authentic bona fide Halifax pop explosion band from 1993 as well.
Bleeding Rainbow – Instinct. I liked their previous album a lot. In the same way I like Alvvays and Cheatahs. This one’s more of the same. But less. Didn’t stay on my phone a super long time.
Fear of Men – Loom. Sometimes a song will come on my phone and I’ll think, “Oh, this is good. Is this Alvvays?” But it always turns out to be Fear of Men.
Ashrae Fax – Never Really Been Into It. Very Cocteausian dream-pop. I never really got into it.
A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent. They’ve started getting some contemporary pop peanut butter on their retro Cocteausian dream-pop chocolate. I hate Reese’s peanut butter cups. Take from that what you will.
Snowbird – Moon. Literal Coctaeusian dream-pop from the Cocteau Twins bass player. Perhaps closer in tone and approach to that band’s Harold Budd collaboration, The Moon and the Melodies. Arguably better executed and more engaging than Robin Guthrie‘s recent solo albums, but also not a lot to hold on to. Even when the album comes with two versions of the whole thing. I thought the second, remixed, disc played a little better. File under too easy listening.
Cherry Neneh – Blank Project. I wanted to like this more than I did. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t stomp on her Rip, Rig + Panic legacy, but there’s a few cloying, irritating bits and a few cringingly cheesy lines that make it less satisfying than her album with The Thing.
Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love. Paolo’s previous disc, Sunny Side Up was a fantastic piece of song-writing, soulful vocal performance and earthy, organic production. The cover was abysmal though—a pencil crayon sketch that made the album look like a collection of reggae versions of children’s songs. Terrible. Anyway, the hit Caustic Love somewhat reverses that quality of cover art vs. quality of music formula.
FKA Twigs – LP1. First few spins I thought it was pretty fantastic. Like record of the year fantastic. It hit me like a weirder, more interesting Lorde or forward-thinking R’n’B that’s compelling in the way Banks is really, really boring. LP1 didn’t have a lot of staying power for me though as repeated listens started draining the shallows instead of exposing hidden depths and the beautiful ambient vocal songs began to sound a lot more like schmaltzy Enya Christmas music than otherworldly This Mortal Coil hymns.
Lykke Li – I Never Learn. The title nicely sums up how I’m beginning to feel about buying Lykke Li records.
Coil/NIN – Recoiled. Really only interesting as a lost Coil record that’s unfortunately an album of Downward Spiral remixes. Nice to hear Jhonn and Sleazy messing with NIN tracks posthumously, but too much of Trent Reznor‘s voice is still audible to be truly enjoyable from a Coil fan standpoint.
Cocksure – TVMALSV. The proper follow-up to Revolting Cocks‘ Beers, Steers + Queers. All it took was twenty-four years and not letting Al Jourgensen be involved in any way.
Holly Johnson – Europa. Like all Holly Johnson albums (including the seminal Welcome To The Pleasuredome), Europa is 50% over-the-top brilliant disco and 50% limp-ass crap.
Kylie Minogue – Kiss Me Once. It’s a Kylie album, much like the last few Kylie albums that aren’t quite as good as Fever. All you need to do is ask yourself, “Do I like Kylie albums?”
Lost in the Trees – Past Life. Not quite the powerhouse suite of songs their previous album was, but it’s full of creepy, dreamy atmosphere. Like a Lynchian Sufjan Stevens or something.
COOL – Paint/Best New Music/I Can Handle That 12″. The post-punk funk revivalist band Cool (previously Apollo Ghosts) just kept releasing winners all year. First an album came seemingly out of nowhere followed by an EP and a 12″ of pitch-perfect “A Certain Pig Gang of Tom Tom Bag” thumpers, it seems like a project that couldn’t be sustainable. Even if Adrian and Amanda pack this one in too, at least we’re left with some of the best Canadian pop music ever made.
Jon Porras – Light Divide. The not-Evan Caminiti half of Barn Owl. Like his bandmate’s solo albums, Porras‘ latest is a little more ambient and droney than his main band’s ambient and droney records. It’s good. I mean, this kind of thing isn’t exactly rocket science and for these guys it’s like hitting a dart board with a bazooka. I guess I’m saying I’m not hearing a lot of growth or anything like a sense of exploration on Light Divide. In some ways, it’s just yet another remake of Fripp & Eno‘s 1975 album Evening Star. If you’re going to reinvent a wheel, it’s a good wheel to reinvent. I love that wheel. But let’s be honest about what’s going on in the drone scene these days (decades?)—very pleasant, cozy stagnancy.
Woods – With Light & With Love. Last year I was worried the inevitable polishing of their sound would ruin Woods. Wasn’t the case. They continue to, if not push their songwriting to new heights, at least maintain their hooky, young-Neil Young, status quo.
Magic Touch – Palermo House Gang. House music.
Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems. Best album since Ten New Songs. How’s that for damning with faint praise? He got away with the cheap and cheesy synth production on Various Positions and I’m Your Man because every song (or at least 8 out of 10) was a classic. His 2000’s albums haven’t had that advantage and, let’s just say it, are all kind of terrible schmaltz. I’ve suggested to friends you could probably scrape together a solid single album from Ten New Songs, Dear Heather, Old Ideas and this one (which does contain a little of the dirt and bile found on The Future), but I haven’t created the playlist to confirm nor deny this assertion.
Tanya Tagaq – Animism. Tagaq‘s vocal performances are truly fantastic and definitely worthy of all the praise that’s been heaped on Animism since before the album won the Polaris Prize. But I gotta say, the production is just terrible. The drum sound especially comes off like Trans Siberian Orchestra or something from a mid-90’s Broadway cast-recording. Actually, the whole band sounds like over-schooled hired guns who’ve added a little too much sanitized funk-fusion in a misguided attempt to “spice things up.” Every time Tagaq a builds a magical mood, it’s utterly destroyed by the hamfisted “rock” production.
Raveonettes – Pe’Ahi. I can’t tell you a thing about this album. That’s not quite true. It’s on my phone. The cover is sort of a aqua-teal colour. Songs pop up on shuffle now and then. They must not be terrible because if they were I’d remember them better. I feel like the production or songwriting style is oddly “contemporary pop” for them.
Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation. Another album by a favourite band I can’t tell you anything about. I remember it sounding cool. And the songs aren’t bad, really. Just not as good as other songs in the BJM catalogue and not as memorable. No revelations.
La Hell Gang – Thru Me Again. Really understated stoner rock. Kind of like more recent Psychic Ills, maybe a bit heavier. Really good, completely ignorable mood music. Fantastic for listening to on the subway when you’re reading and don’t want to be distracted.
Verma – Sunrunner. Pretty good stoner space rock. Kind of a like a more motivated-sounding Bardo Pond. Not essential, but solid.
Eraas – Initiation. That first Eraas album was some pretty great Thom Yorke-core that creeped into you with it’s enchanting ambient funk and ritualistic falsetto vocals. They’ve taken a turn away from the Eno and towards the emo here. A little more rock and a lot more boredom.
The Acid – Liminal. Pretty good Yorke-core. Mopey and abstract, vaguely good songs.
The Notwist – Close To The Glass. I don’t know if you can you call The Notwist Yorke-core since they might actually pre-date Radiohead. Mid-nineties contemporaries, at the very least. Also, they do have their own very Notwisty style. If you’re familiar with their fragmented, maudlin indie-pop, Close is more of the same. Maybe not nearly up to their usual standard of infectious earworms (though “Casino” is very much up to snuff), but as nice an album as you’d want from them.
Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. Speaking of Yorke-core, Thom has a new album out. You’ve probably heard about it since he released it through BitTorrent and that meant everyone paid attention to it at a time when maybe people are starting to really not care about Radiohead anymore. Anyway, to my ears, it’s better than Atoms For Peace and King of Limbs, but it’s still not quite as sublime as The Eraser.
Jungle – Jungle. House music.
The Drums – Encyclopedia. Nearly plagiarist in their homages to UK ’80s indie from OMD to Pet Shop Boys to The Smiths, The Drums actually succeed in creating an Encyclopedia of miserablism. I feel like they pretty much recorded this record specifically for me. Thanks guys, you did me a solid.
Dream Police – Hypnotized. I gave up on The Men last year, previously one of my favourite Sacred Bones bands, finally admitting they’d become purveyors of kind of shitty dad rock. Their side-project Dream Police is also dad rock, but dads of a different nature. Sort of cooler, more stoned, slacker dads. Definitely rawer and less polished than the The Men‘s sanitized and utterly tuneless Tomorrow’s Hits, Hypnotized unfortunately comes off not so much as “unpolished gems” but “unfinished demos”. The “kinda shitty” pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.
OOIOO – Gamel. Very listenable Afro-gamelan-fusion. There’s lots of records from the ’70s that sound pretty similar and are just as good or better, but of course this is a lot easier to get your hands on.
Medicine – Home Everywhere. Thankfully fewer Beatles/Beach Boys references than the previous album and maybe a little more of the old noise has been brought back. A good example of a ’90s band retaining their original style/sound but moving it forward in a way that sounds natural. Still, I can’t imagine this being super compelling if you’re not already a fan.
The Budos Band – Burnt Offering. Not as bad-ass as the stoned wizard on the cover suggests. It’s bad-ass, like all Budos albums, just not stoned wizard bad-ass. Which is a pretty high bad-ass bar to set for yourself. Needs more fuzz and wah-wah.
Einsturzende Neubauten – Lament. It pains me to say it, but Neubauten kind of put the “lame” in Lament here. Found myself cringing during about half the album (probably not a coincidence it’s the English language half). It reminded me of Pet Shop Boys’ multi-media tribute to Alan Turing from earlier this year. The soundtrack is somewhat unlistenable without the benefit of being able to witness what’s going on upon the stage. I suspect Lament was similarly a lot more compelling live and the cheesy-as-limburger spoken word narrations about WWI worked better in a visual performance setting. Also, WTF is with the needless and grating autotune on “The Willy-Nicky Telegrams“? Why in the actual fuck did they think that was necessary?
Rhyton – Kykeon. The only Eastern-tinged psychedelic jam band album you’ll ever need. It’s pretty right on, man.