I took a good chunk of 2014 off from listening to new music and then spent the week prior to filing this list desperately attempting to play catch-up. So if I left off your favourite record, that might explain why. Other possible explanations: 1) I heard it and thought it sucked, or 2) I have terrible taste in music.
This is possibly Blonde Redhead’s most “difficult” release to date, and definitely its most divisive—NME called it “thrilling” and “exciting”, while some asshole at Pitchfork described it as “a cold fish of a record, dead-eyed and clammy”. Barragán draws upon the veteran trio’s polymorphous influences, from noise rock to ambient electronica to musique concrète, finding something beautiful in the whorl of weird sounds.
Even though El Pintor is the haberdashery-haunting New York outfit’s first album since the departure of bassist Carlos Dengler, there’s something comfortingly familiar about the way Interpol charges out of the gate with “All the Rage Back Home”. At this point in its career, Interpol is unlikely to reinvent itself in any significant way, but this fifth full-length is the sound of a well-oiled machine with a freshly charged battery, and that’s close enough for me.
In spite of the title, and the advance word that this was to be Mogwai’s electronic album, Rave Tapes is more great postrock from the undisputed masters of the form. The extra layers of synthesizer only add to the Scottish act’s already impressive dynamic and emotional sweep.
Burn Your Fire for No Witness
It’s not quite as razor-to-the-heart immediate as the almost uncomfortably intimate Half Way Home, but Burn Your Fire for No Witness is still an amazing showcase for one of the most compelling songwriters out there. Two highlights: “Forgiven/Forgotten”, an electrified grunge stomper about the irrationality of romance (“I don’t know anything/But I love you”); and the spare, moving “Windows”, an ethereally moving meditation on letting go of fear and just living (“We live and throw our shadows down/It’s how we get around”).
For their third album, the suburban New Jerseyans of Real Estate crafted their finest material to date. Immersed in a warm bed of chiming and shimmering guitars, Martin Courtney’s unperturbed voice renders these tales of miscommunication and disconnection into something strangely soothing.
Bedrooms of the Nation
This Vancouver act’s m.o. isn’t exactly new—craft classic-sounding, retro-leaning pop tunes and slather them in generous servings of reverb and fuzz—but Shimmering Stars does it well enough to earn it a place on any bill that also features the Jesus and Mary Chain or the Raveonettes.
Strand of Oaks
If you didn’t catch Strand of Oaks’ show at the Biltmore in August, it’s okay. I get it: it was a Wednesday night and who the hell is Strand of Oaks anyway? The few who were there will tell you that you missed something cathartic and beautiful, and a clinic in how to play the living shit out of a Telecaster, to boot. Timothy Showalter is pretty effective on record as well, framing his songs of hurt and healing in everything from synth pop to monumental grunge.
Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek manages the neat trick of writing songs that are matter-of-fact and unsentimental (to a borderline-Aspergian degree) yet somehow profoundly moving. Listening to Benji is like reading the secret diary of someone who has seen some shit and come through it all with the conviction that life is actually pretty okay.
Because T. Rex, the Byrds, and Syd Barrett didn’t have new records out this year, and neither did Tame Impala.
That my favourite rap record of the year is by a mopey 18-year-old white boy from Stockholm is either an indictment of the state of North American hip-hop, or an admission that I have terrible taste in music. I’m leaning toward the latter.