Part 1 was fun, but now it’s time for the main events!
This might be my favorite category of this whole survey.
Banco, Sir Michael Rocks
Sal: Foxes, man… foxes. This one left me speechless.
Runners-up: March on Washington, Diamond District & 36 Seasons, Ghostface Killah
The Unconditional Love of Napalmpom, Napalmpom
Dan: A black and white drawing on a matte finish jacket—best album art of the year? It is when the first 200 pre-orders also receive a set of DoodleArt markers and are encouraged to “have at it” with the jacket itself.
Runners-up: Tied To A Star, J Mascis & Beauty & Ruin, Bob Mould
Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts
Kieran: I don’t know, is it the best? There’s just something I really like about it.
Runners-up: LP1, FKA Twigs & St. Vincent, St. Vincent
Good to Be Home, Blu
Rob: Artistically a beautiful cover and a concept that was prescient in it’s irony regarding Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Runners-up: Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs & Syro, Aphex Twin
Syro, Aphex Twin
Evan: Syro comes away as the clear winner for me, and not just for its clean, B&W minimalist design, but also because of its industrial focus on listing out all of the expenses associated with the production of the album, line-by-line (and varying by physical format). It’s an interesting juxtaposition to what’s actually an intensely personal album for creator, and renowned electronic musician, Richard D. James. There’s a beautiful and compelling pointlessness to the list as album art – it’s perfect both visually and conceptually. (As an added bonus, one of the inner sleeves features a fantastic circular visualization detailing all of the different gear, software, and places used in making the album, broken down track-by-track. #nerdalert)
Runners-up: Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless & Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun, Damien Jurado
Ryan: Great illustration and typography that is very reminiscent of Charley Harper’s iconic wildlife artwork.
Runners-up: Lost Loves, Minus the Bear & De Oro, Jason Feathers
Everything Will Be Alright in the End, Weezer
Noel: Have you seen it? It looks like Maurice Sendak and Bob Ross collaborated on their vision of an apocalypse scenario. It is fantastic!
Runners-up: Seeds, TV on the Radio & The Voyager, Jenny Lewis
Had It All, Allah-las
Kyle: Welp, it’s not a full album (just a 7”), but screw it. It’s my favorite.
Runners-up: Kingfisher, Prawn & Run the Jewels 2, Run the Jewels
Sandy: This cover makes you want to check out the music. Let’s face it…it’s sexy. Then when you do, you realize how closely the art resembles the music. Warpaint does and should play up their beauty.
Runners-up: …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, The Roots & Sisyphus, Sisyphus
You’re Dead!, Flying Lotus
Michael: Conceptual album supported by ornate, Hieronymus Bosch-esque artwork by renowned Japanese manga artist, Shintaro Kago. The interior is full of more, including individual illustrations for all 19 tracks.
Runners-up: LP1, FKA Twigs & Singles, Future Islands
Just the tracks.
“First Step,” Diamond District
Sal: Oddisee put his fuggin’ foot in the beat.
- “Like This,” Boaz
- “Holy Holy,” Vic Mensa
- “Angel Duster,” Run the Jewels
- “Holy Ghost Remix,” Young Jeezy feat. Kendrick Lamar
“Little Glass Pill,” Bob Mould
Dan: After a melancholy opening track, the entire album is a driving record, full of energy, vigor, and some overly catchy riffs. Track 2 seems to get stuck on repeat at home and in the car. But then you could almost say that about every other track on this record.
- “Void You Out,” Off!
- “Rumble at the Rainbo,” Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
- “Headbanger,” King Tuff
- “Mod Lang,” The Lemonheads (RSD live issue from WERS 1987)
“Shirim,” Melody‘s Echo Chamber
Kieran: I’m a huge Tame Impala fan (as faithful readers of previous IC Year End Surveys would well remember), and the work of Melody Prochet has a familial sound to Tame Impala (her last album was produced by Kevin Parker of Tame Impala). The two also produced some romance (hubba hubba).
This single, from her forthcoming 2015 album, is in the same vein of her last release, but hints at a progression in her songwriting. The foregrounded bass, psychedelic guitar leads, this song has it all! I’ve listened to it over and over and over.
- “Guess Again,” Thom Yorke
- “Knock Knock Knock,” Spoon
- “Huey Newton,” St Vincent
- “I Retired,” Hamilton Leithauser
“Brill Bruisers,” The New Pornographers
Rob: Not my words, but this pretty much sums it up—“An ecstatic celebration of pure pop, with a hell of an earworm for a chorus and ‘ba-ba-ba‘ backing harmonies that are straight out of Brian Wilson‘s Sixties sandbox.”
- “Afghan Whigs,” Algiers
- “Passing Out Pieces,” Mac DeMarco
- “All is Now Harmed,” Ben Howard
- “Crime,” Real Estate
“Bodies Made Of,” Parquet Courts
Evan: This is a hell of an album opener, and captures all of the elements that make Parquet Courts so spectacular – solid melody, simple yet addictive guitar riffs, and thought-provoking lyrics. I’ve probably listened to it more than any other track in 2014 and it hasn’t lost any of its biting edge. It starts off with a great riff, and continues to build for a breakdown, followed by oscillations between fast and slow paced, loud and soft (ok, slightly less loud). I’m still trying to wrap my head around the cryptic and haunting lyrics – “Sludged all the way thru the mud to orate to some. Bodies made of slugs and guts. Mister’s suit was stained like a sweatshop. I said, ‘It’s my soul, I wanna keep it on the inside.’” – and that’s probably one of the things that keeps me coming back again and again.
- “Do You,” Spoon
- “A Place Called Space,” The Juan Maclean
- “Happy Idiot,” TV on the Radio
- “Passing Out Pieces,” Mac DeMarco
“Young As Fuck,” Jason Feathers
Ryan: This song, as well as the rest of the album, continues to show how many genres Justin Vernon can span and still make great music.
- “Stay Happy There,” La Dispute
- “Glass, Irony,” Prawn
- “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” Run the Jewels
- “Falling in Love Again,” Joyce Manor
“I‘ve Had It Up to Here,” Weezer
Noel: More than any song I heard this year, especially during the first listen, this made me feel nostalgic and hopeful. It’s the heartfelt fight song in the guise of Green Album-era Weezer pop. They haven’t been this on since Maladroit.
- “Get Away,” Chvrches
- “Let Me Be Mine,” Spoon
- “The Writing’s on the Wall,” OK Go
- “Choose You,” Manchester Orchestra
“Under the Pressure,” The War on Drugs
Steve: Before I knew who it was, I’d hear it and wonder which 80’s band this was and why I couldn’t recall it from growing up. The music has quite the 80’s feel, and the vocals sound what Bob Dylan might have sounded like had he gone pop. Maybe it’s just the combination of familiar sounds that makes it appealing to me, that old “I forgot about this song!” feeling.
- “Night Terror,” We Were Promised Jetpacks
- “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” Against Me
“Idiot,” Every Time I Die
Kyle: Every Time I Die is probably in my Top 3 of favorite bands of all time, and this track is just downright brutal. ETID at their best.
- “Archie Marry Me,” Alvvays
- “Hum,” Tigers Jaw
- “Screen Door,” Vince Staples
- “Love Again,” Run the Jewels 2
“Montreal Rock Band Somewhere,” Happyness
Sandy: Jangly, dreamy guitar and bass riffs, breathy and hopeful, yet pretty strange and singable lyrics. It’s a memorable cut from a very young new band.
- “Archie, Marry Me,” Alvvays
- “Morning,” Beck
- “Do You,” Spoon
- “Violent Shiver, ”Benjamin Booker
- “Nuthin,” Lecrae
- “Calm it Down,” Sisyphus
- “Go,” Grimes feat. Blood Diamonds
- “dance yrself clean (live at madison square garden),” LCD Soundsystem
For all the marbles!
Run the Jewels 2, Run the Jewels
Sal: Can’t get enough of these two.
Runners-up: The Familiars, The Antlers & March on Washington, Diamond District
Beauty & Ruin, Bob Mould
Dan: IMHO, Bob Mould is just now hitting his stride in a “second solo career”…after he got lost in all that was electronica, he’s making music that is both relevant and solid, with a stable rhythm section (John Wurster & Jason Narducy) to boot. Husker Du left him bitter, and he spent the next twenty-plus years meandering from introspective acoustic music to danceable electronic dreck (Sugar was the lone bright spot during that time). But 2012’s Silver Age revealed the birth of this new power-trio, and a rebirth of sorts for Bob. He seems happier and more energized than he has in years, and Beauty & Ruin just extends the party that is Silver Age. Songs like “Kid With Crooked Face” and “Nemeses Are Laughing” are nods to both New Day Rising & Warehouse, and make this kid happy. Buy this record. Play it loud. Be happy like me & Bob.
Runners-up: Whoop Dee Doo, The Muffs & Wasted Years, Off!
They Want My Soul, Spoon
Kieran: While I can’t say this year’s #1 album is as “complete” as some of Spoon’s past albums, the majority of it is excellent. A midstream producer switch caused some inconsistencies in the overall sound, although (according to interviews with the band) the best tracks came after the switch.
Runners-up: Everyday Robots, Damon Albarn & Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Angel Olsen
Salad Days, Mac DeMarco
Rob: Earlier this year I heard the track “Passing Out Pieces” on CBC radio (thank you SiriusXM) and was hooked. Surprising even myself, I love Mac DeMarco’s warped, bent-beach-music sound. But every song is great and the out-of-date production (recorded in Brooklyn, of course) is both nostalgic and new. Perhaps most intriguing was a friend’s observation of how similar this album is to Syd Barrett’s solo work – strange connections indeed.
Runners-up: Morning Phase, Beck & I Forget Where We Were, Ben Howard
Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts
Evan: For a bunch of guys that give off a vibe of laziness/stonerism, and attempt to exude the time-honored punk ethos that anyone can do this shizz, their music certainly undercuts all of that. First off, the Parquet Courts are intensely prolific – Sunbathing Animal follows last year’s excellent Light Up Gold as well as an EP, and then for good measure, they released Content Nausea this November under their homophone, Parkay Quarts (with album closer “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” being among their best songs to date). The band is evolving musically as well, with variation and subtlety across the entire album – check “Bodies Made Of”, the album centerpiece “Instant Disassembly”, and “Raw Milk” for a quick sense of that. And Savage’s songwriting is maturing too. Whether you’re a fan of his deadpan delivery or not, the thoughtful lyricism and refined poetic style are impossible to ignore. Even as my top album of the year, I highly doubt Sunbathing Animal will be the zenith for PC, but just another step in their ascent as a great American rock band.
Runners-up: They Want My Soul, Spoon & The Voyager, Jenny Lewis
Ryan: I’ve occasionally listened to previous Prawn albums, but for some reason this one was (and still is) in my constant rotation since it’s release in August. It’s just a solid album from front to back and reminds me of bands I loved growing up.
Runners-up: Never Hungover Again, Joyce Manor & Run the Jewels 2, Run the Jewels
Everything Will Be Alright in the End, Weezer
Noel: I’m not a Weezer apologist. I’ve genuinely never lost interest in them (like many my age have). I’ve found merit in their more poppy and mainstream endeavors in the decade-plus since the one/two punch of Green and Maladroit – so I never felt like they “left.” However, it wasn’t until listening to “Everything Will Be Alright…” that I realized that I have missed Weezer. I love this album, up and down. It’s both new and old in the best possible ways.
Runners-up: Voices, Phantogram & They Want My Soul, Spoon
St. Vincent, St. Vincent
Steve: Made an impact on me basically because of the unique sound. I’m not usually a fan of electronica, but her guitar work and vocals on most of the album are quite interesting. Her uncle is Tuck Andress, which may explain her chops. I’m not a big fan of her live performance shtick but enjoy the music. Kind of a female David Byrne (they actually look like they could be related).
Runners-up: Stellar Motel, Mike Doughty & Most Messed Up, Old 97’s
Rooms of the House, La Dispute
Kyle: After an amazing debut LP back in 2008, La Dispute had released a series of experimental 7″s that lost my attention, and a 2011 follow-up that just never met my expectations set from their debut. Until now. “Rooms of the House” blew me away immediately. The aesthetic of the entire record is just amazing. They’re able to blend chaos and beauty in their music, which fits perfectly to the story-telling behind the vocals, which sway from full on screaming down to poetic speaking parts and whispering. They can be loud and chaotic but still technical, then suddenly play so quietly and sensitive – and it all fits. This one will be a staple with post-rock fans for years.
Runners-up: From Parts Unknown, Every Time I Die & Salad Days, Mac Demarco
Morning Phase, Beck
Sandy: I was in so need of an album like this and then Beck released it in February. I heard it on an NPR’s First Listen while on a short and needed vacation. It was the perfect escape. It’s absolutely zen for me. I have come back to it more than any other album in 2014 and know I will use it as needed, forever. It creates a mood like no other album I have heard in a while.
Runners-up: Seeds, TV on the Radio & They Want My Soul, Spoon
“No,” “Love,” Final Thoughts
Michael: There’s a criticism I’ve heard muttered against a lot of contemporary music—it’s hollow. The lyrics are shallow, themes are absent, instrumentals are uninspired, choruses predictable. It’s easy to get behind this type of critical attack on a genre like Pop—but unfortunately it’s not just Pop. It’s aimed at a lot of “well-respected” hip-hop, indie, rock, electronic, you name the genre. When you listen to that new Aphex Twin, it’s unarguably good but is it really fresh? How about that A Sunny Day in Glasgow? Is it really contemporary? And that new Real Estate. Awesome…or just inching the needle along?
Swans released To Be Kind in May. Seemingly a mate to 2012’s The Seer, it’s another daunting offering like it’s predecessor—clocking in at 2 hours spread across 3 LPs. This fact alone makes it clear; the record is demanding a serious commitment. The marque track, “Bring the Sun / Toussaint L’Ouverture” is over 34 minutes alone. And right from the start with “Screen Shot:”
…it becomes clear you’re in for a seriously emotional listening experience. The journey you go on is intense, heavy, brooding, scary, relentless and highly calculated.
It’s what you listen to alone at night, driving very fast in your car.
“No” and “love” are two words you hear Michael Gira repeat frequently during the two hours of music and in a way, sums up my feelings on this one. I wasn’t into Swans before To Be Kind. I’m not sure I am now either—but this powerful output is my top album of 2014.
To Be Kind, Swans
Runners-up: Anomoly, Lecrae & Our Love, Caribou
And there you have it
11 experts…11 different Albums of the Year!? And just about no consensus on anything else!? How do we manage to get along!? I have no idea but, in any case…see you next year.
Art by Kyle