I’m ashamed to admit this was the year when I officially drank the Vancouver bike-lane Kool-Aid, cycling to work from the first buds of spring until the annual fall monsoons. The following records were pretty much in constant heavy iPod rotation during the daily two-wheeled commute between East Van and Kits. On a side note, I feel truly awful about cheating on my car.
Labelled slanted-and-enchanted slackers on its first two releases, Parquet Courts pulls off a ragged reinvention with Sunbathing Animal. Simplicity and repetition—both lyrical and musical—are the buzzwords on a record that crackles and snaps with punky distortion.
Thrash Rock Legacy
Three music-biz veterans hit the studio, agree that rules are meant to be broken, and then produce an outing that’s insanely adventurous. A percussion-bombed killer that pinballs from starburst glam to leopard-print new wave to hash-pipe pop, Thrash Rock Legacy leaves you hoping Hawksley Workman, Steve Bays, and Ryan Dahle have no intention of returning to their day jobs.
Ages and Ages
How strange that a record rooted in loss, darkness, and uncertainty ended up being one of the most uplifting releases of 2014. As bleak and miserable as the world sometimes seems, sing-along chamber-pop wonders like “Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)” chase away the black clouds to let the sun flood in.
The Future’s Void
Looking to make sense of an Internet-obsessed world and the way she’s been positioned within it, Erika M. Anderson explores big themes of artistic commodification, sexual objectification, and technology that’s spiralled out of control. Just as ambitious is the sonic backdrop for all this, with EMA as mesmerizing on white-noise-splattered thumpers (“Satellites”) as she is on alone-at-midnight ballads (“100 Years”).
With the White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather all in the rear-view mirror for now, rock ’n’ roll’s favourite Willy Wonka reinforces the argument he’s at his best when going it alone. Jack White rages from thunder-frazzled blues to organ-splattered rawk to last-call Americana, proving that there’s no musical style he hasn’t mastered.
Burn Your Fire for No Witness
The tinder-dry, sad-country stylings that first got Angel Olsen noticed haven’t been abandoned on Burn Your Fire for No Witness—try to avoid tearing up during the devastating ballad “White Fire”. But what makes the singer’s second full-length so powerful is a more bare-knuckled attack, with grungy powderfinger guitars and lightning-crack drums adding new depth to the drama.
Sharon Van Etten
Are We There
Sharon Van Etten’s message on the dream-hazed Are We There is simple: even when love is beautiful and grand, it can also be an emotional meat grinder. Wounded standouts like “Your Love Is Killing Me” are so gripping you can taste the pain.
Al Spx wouldn’t have disappointed if she’d re-created the doom-folk sound that made her one of 2012’s biggest breakout artists. Instead, Neuroplasticity heads down a different pathway, with scratchy New Orleans jazz and circus-tent gospel hinting that Cold Specks wants to challenge her fans as much as herself.
Based on artistic merit, art-pop stalwart Mirah should be as celebrated as Cat Power and St. Vincent. The saddest thing about Changing Light—a surprisingly hopeful record inspired by a shattering breakup—is that even a work this grand is unlikely to change her fortunes.
Andrew Jackson Jihad
Unapologetically warped, Christmas Island offers up songs inspired by, in no particular order: the heroics of Helen Keller, video installations of Linda Ronstadt, dead Nike aficionados from the Heaven’s Gate cult, and nuclear-bomb test sites in the Indian Ocean. Add a winsome blend of psychedelic folk-punk and chemically altered college rock, and you’ve got something that suggests singer Sean Bonnette has the best bong collection this side of Wayne Coyne.