This was a stressful year, so I spent much of it practising relaxation exercises and listening to nature sounds on YouTube. Of course, I also heard plenty of new music. Here are my favourites, in alphabetical order…
The word listenable seems like rather halfhearted praise when describing one of the best albums of the year, but it perfectly conveys the addictive quality of Alvvays’s scuzzy pop-rock.
Here and Nowhere Else
The sonic palette is starkly noisy, but nearly every track on Here and Nowhere Else culminates in a gloriously cathartic crescendo. Any lingering tension is released by the towering closing anthem, “I’m Not Part of Me”.
Music for Keyboards Vol. V: “Robby”
Montreal synth composer d’Eon used a phone system as the inspiration for his latest free keyboard mix tape, which places expressionless robo-voices and blippy fibre-optic transmissions atop heavenly ambient tones.
A crate-digger’s delight, this mysterious 1983 album was rescued from obscurity and reissued. Soon after, Lewis’s enigma was tarnished when a couple more albums were unearthed, but the whispered synth folk of L’Amour remains quietly riveting.
Mac De Marco
For a dude who still refers to his musical style as “jizz jazz”, former Vancouverite Mac DeMarco’s wobbly, jangling tunes display a surprising level of maturity. While we’re on the subject, what was with that security guard at the Vogue pushing Mac mid-show?
The New Pornographers
After a couple of lacklustre efforts, the locally spawned power-pop heroes downplayed their folk influences and recaptured the synth-spiked energy of their early work. The result is their best album in almost a decade.
Who Knows Where to Begin?
It’s been five years since Cary Pratt released an album, but time hasn’t dimmed the power of his quirkily heartbroken keyboard pop, nor his deadpan sense of irony. “Bad Storm” is the most beautiful ballad you’ll ever hear about Scattergories.
Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels 2
I had to look up what a “fuckboy” was on Urban Dictionary, but socially conscious rappers El-P and Killer Mike make some very compelling arguments for why they should be considered scum. Here’s their version of a wake-up call: “Top of the morning, my fist to your face is fucking Folgers.”
Beyond the Black Rainbow
I never saw this 2010 sci-fi film, but if it’s anywhere near as intoxicatingly eerie as the synth soundtrack by Black Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt, then I ought to check it out.
The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream
With all due respect to Tom Petty, the year’s best heartland rock record came from Philadelphia songwriter Adam Granduciel, who took the sound of Middle America and doused it in a psychedelic bath of woozy ambiance. The climax starting at the 4:55 mark of “Under the Pressure” is the best eight seconds of 2014.