Welcome to Part 1 of the Best Of 2014. Part 2, the very best albums of the year, can be found here: The Best Music of 2014
For my official Best Of 2014 list, I wanted to be concise and honest, brutally direct. I trimmed the full list to just 14 albums that affected me in some grand fashion. This did not leave much room for the most of the amazing music I heard last year, became addicted to, and still listen to today. So, instead of making some sprawling list, I’ve crafted a full breakdown of my “Honorable Mention” albums of 2014. The music here is astounding, through and through. I just happened to love a handful of music even more than this. That list is coming soon.
I’ve included one song from each album, choosing a music video when available, and audio-only tracks for the rest. Click play and listen to these, especially if you’re totally unfamiliar. This is how new favorites are born!
Please let me know in the comments what albums you feel I may have missed, or share how you feel about what is here. I’d love the feedback.
Albums are listed by artist and title, with the record label below.
Mark McGuire – Along The Way
Mark crafts restrained psychedelia in the way you always wished Pink Floyd could have on their gentler tracks. Fluid, empathetic, yearning, and warm. This collection of mostly instrumental guitar and synth explorations exudes a quiet optimism. It feels like breathing deeply and clearly after meditation.
Thug Entrancer – Life After Death
Appearing out of nowhere, this album mixes the shuffling rhythms of Chicago footwork with the spare, eerie atmosphere of early Detroit techno into something altogether noisier and more alienating than either. There’s a woozy sway to the bent timbres and creeping static throughout this continuous slab of dark electronics that may not appeal to everyone, but it’s undeniably unique.
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Years after I was last enthralled by anything resembling indie rock, this album was recommended by a friend who knows I’m not into anything carrying that label. To my surprise, I became mildly addicted to this album. It’s got the aching heart of early Tom Petty but the atmospheric guitar blur is much closer to shoegaze; this could be the pastoral-birthed successor to Slowdive if it wasn’t so indebted to prog-like structures and song lengths. Gorgeous, swirling, lived-in rock that feels natural and free as this doesn’t come by very often anymore.
Fennesz – Bécs
Fennesz finally returned to the melodic, emotive territory he first explored with Endless Summer a decade and a half ago. In the meantime, he’s gathered an arsenal of subtly epic sonic tools that imbue this release with a profoundly mysterious depth. It’s granular synthesis, beautiful synth destruction, and quietly controlled noise in an unassuming package. If you’re unfamiliar with Fennesz, think textural, sweeping ambient classical, shot through with just the right amount of noise to give it a rough edge.
Donato Dozzy – Terzo Giorno EP
Donato Dozzy, of Voices From The Lake renown, appeared this year with a slim but extraordinarily interesting EP that dives deeper and further out than his well known minimal techno classic even hinted at. This is headphone spelunking at its finest.
Paul White – Shaker Notes
[R & S Records]
Paul White created some of the most indelible bangers of the late-00s, as far as my ears were concerned. He lacked only a distinctly original character. Fast forward half a decade and I’m hit with Shaker Notes, a gigantic break from his Brainfeeder-like sounds of the past. Eastern instrumentation, exotically holistic production, and a loose and playful percussion style all inform this new set, the first release of his that feels like a true album. The hazy Beach Boys-style vocal coos are a major addition, too. Feels like a hallucinatory journey around the horizon.
Clark – Clark
With this album, Clark finally moved out of my peripheral listening into something truly intriguing and endearing. With timbres and flourishes that readily remind me of Aphex Twin, but a more swinging-paced structure that recalls the Brainfeeder end of current electronic sounds, the album hits a relative sweet spot between intellectual, disconcerting nuance and crowd-pleasing beat eruptions.
2562 – The New Day
[When In Doubt]
A real surprise, this album. Shifting into industrial-tinged dub techno with this album, producer Dave Huismans has left far behind the vaguely dubstep tones I last heard from him. With lengthy excursions into rubbery deep bass tones and a UFO-riding night glow atmosphere, this would fit perfectly in the world that Deepchord Presents Echospace has ruled. Being familiar with the weird end of Detroit techno will definitely aid enjoyment of The New Day.
Machinedrum – Vapor City Archives
For fans of Machinedrum, especially those familiar with last year’s Vapor City, there is almost nothing truly new here. He (Travis Stuart) uses the same set of tools here as he did with the album it’s named after, and reaches some of the same conclusions with intricate footwork/idm/dubstep productions. However, there’s a looser feeling that seems to have accompanied the lack of pressure on this set; being labeled an album spin-off probably lifted some thematic weight off Stuart’s shoulders and freed him to make a more nimble set of tunes. This would be of the best beat-centric releases in any year.
Note: this is a trailer, previewing all tracks on the album with sublime visuals.
Frank & Tony – You Go Girl
[Scissor and Thread]
Just this year I got back into deep house via DJ Sprinkles’ epochal Midtown 120 Blues album, and for a while nothing else sounded good. Catching up with current releases, I quickly realized that anything touched by Francis Harris was turned to gold. The man is behind two of the best albums of the year, on his own and as half of Frank & Tony. This album collects and re-edits a trio of releases the pair crafted over the past year, coalescing into a hypnotic and stunning, yet subdued epic of spacey house music.
Black To Comm – Black To Comm
“Grab yourself by the anus and turn yourself inside out. Reveal your inner workings! Put that which is most basic out into the light, and put the decorative outer wrappings where they belong.” This snippet of the narration accompanying the opening drone, ends up swallowed by a drum machine and waves of keyboard feedback. It’s said in a tone of philosophical lightness, and probably says a lot about how you’ll respond to this album. Black To Comm destroys notions of Serious Drone Music here with blasts of twisted orchestral grind, broken-radio announcements, and an ending that reminds me of early Nine Inch Nails stripped of its bratty posturing. It’s a sprawling orchestral drone ship, soaring through a black hole for 82 minutes, and feels every bit as mystifying and thrilling as that ridiculous description implies. You’ll emerge on the other side of this album with a freshly bent perspective, in one way or another.
cv313 – Dimensional Space
Utterly dreamlike, free floating dub techno, this release from Stephen Hitchell (Deepchord Presents Echospace) is even further unmoored from our physical realm than its forebears. The bass throbs echo as if having traveled light years to reach your ears, there’s a cloud-like whisper surrounding every moment, and the entire collection is miraculously shot-through with a razor-sharp percussive thrust. I’ve only heard the 3LP version, which appears to be completely reconfigured from its digital counterpart, so results may vary, but this is essential for anyone into the outer galactic edge of techno and house music.
Richard Dawson – Nothing Important
This album appeared in the dark and stabbed me in the gut. A surprise, late-December discovery after seeing friends’ year-end lists, this album conjures a ragged, shamanistic vibe floating somewhere near Sun City Girls. Yet somehow, Dawson manages to drown me in a pit of emotional resonance that maybe no one aside Robbie Basho or even John Fahey have touched. It might not live up to these guys’ best work, but it’s a bold, noisy, deeply felt collection of songs that melts me in an entirely different way than most of the albums here. Just a man and his guitar, unspooling oblivion.
Tujiko Noriko – My Ghost Comes Back
Tujiko Noriko has long been a quiet favorite of mine. Often (half-unfairly) considered a “Japanese Bjork,” she crafts delicately ornate, electronically infused experimental pop songs as well as anyone ever has. However, she does it all on her own glacially-paced terms. Beginning with a sprawling 14-minute ballad filled to the brim with a new-found enthusiasm for obviously live instrumentation, My Ghost Comes Back is one of those albums that never strives for being the new thing; it merely exists as its own exquisite landmark. Perfect for laying back and quietly contemplating life.
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
I was hesitant to give this a listen, for no apparent reason. el-p’s production sounds as on-point as he’s ever been since Cannibal Ox, and Killer Mike twists verses more endearingly vicious than his breakthrough solo album R.A.P. Music, one of my recent favorites. This is a vital, thrilling, and ridiculously fun hip-hop album, despite the often serious subject matter and cultural weight that accompanied its release.
I hope this list provided some inspiration and maybe filled out a few blind spots that occurred in your 2014 listening. As always, my number one hope for this blog is to share the art that has enriched my life. Some music affects me so profoundly that it feels selfish to keep to myself. I want everyone to feel this pleased, destroyed, enlightened. Thanks again for reading!
PS: I really do want to encourage a discussion – so please comment and share your thoughts, recommendations, and anything else you’d like.