My 10 Favourite Albums of 2014:
I love lists, I really do. If only because it is just so easy to miss an album or artist with so much excellent music being created. Then, reading all these lists of people’s favorite albums, maybe it points you to an artist you missed at first, or which you discarded a bit too hastily after you listened to it once on the day that your cat died. Sometimes it can also be awesome to just see that people agree with you on their love for an album, or maybe it tells you why some people do like a certain album that you just didn’t fancy at all. So hopefully this list will do one of these things (or has some other use or purpose), as these are my ten favourite albums of what I thought to be a pretty splendid year in music.
1. In A Dream - The Juan MacLean
I love The Juan MacLean because they bring house into the realm of the alienated city dweller. And I love both of those vibes. I love the house vibe because it epitomizes losing control, love, broken hearts, sex, and all other lustings and things we so desperately need in life. I love that Robert Longo Men in the Cities vibe as well, because it shows how we are captured in conventions and life itself. The two are seemingly opposite sides of the coin, as in the dancing (or falling) we are free from the latter. To incorporate both sides simultaniously, now that’s a feat in itself, and Whang and MacLean pull it off. It starts space disco, it ends with this slow burner of a track, and about everything in between hits the spot just exactly right. The duality is perhaps perfectly encapsulated in their catchiest track ‘A Simple Design’, where Whang sings that What you’re hoping to find/ it is not a simple design / but a headache / and everything you’ve built comes falling down. But then again, if you open your mind and heart for the slips in the design, then Everything you need falls to you. Can’t wait for them to start doing the live shows again over here in Europe.
2. Power - Fryars
I loved Fryars the first go around, and I’m definitely still doing that on his return. The man has made this year’s walking-the-city-at-midnight album for me, and that is a vibe I’m always looking for. It’s dark, it’s smart, and it hits both the need for contact (all I want is an IRL) or lust, the alienation (I like to think that I’m the solitary type / with less conviction when the loneliness bites), and all the sordid affairs that come with both of them, even if it is just in our minds (though the mixtape probably has the cuts that were too dark to put on a selling record). I also love the creativity, not only in the songs and lyrics, but also in the whole concept, with the short film, the mixtape, the spoken word bits, and everything. Having worked with Mika and Lily Allen this guy knows how to make something that’s “pop”, but thankfully on his own work he mixes that with the quirks and smarts needed to give it this depth and this lovely slant that makes this album stand out. No, I can’t stop loving this, indeed.
3. Moodymann - Moodymann
Moodymann can create house music, that we already know. And soulful house music at that. What he adds on this album though is a great concept, loads of variety, and plenty of heart. And it all culminates to an ode of the rise and fall of Detroit, with plenty to dance to, but also with loads of things that perfectly work to glue this thing together into a cohesive unit, instead of this being “just” a dance album. It’s almost a pastiche, with the pastiche being the mixing of different elements of the city’s history that we both recognize as being of a time prior to our current one, but which still works as the thing it references to. So you get some almost old school swing soul, you get some spoken word (including some Richard Pryor), and you get some cheeky lyrics in the songs which seem to be taken straight out of those B-flicks about guys and their girls doing their drugs. But whilst that all is going on, the house music also just works as house music, and that maybe is the most imrportant thing.
4. Singles - Future Islands
If anyone is wondering whether or not “doing a tv show” is still effective in this day and age, one might want to have a word with the lads from Future Islands. Their Letterman appearance went viral, which admittedly had a lot to do with the all-out performance of the band’s frontman. That is nothing (no, no, no nothing) if the song isn’t up to scratch, and ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ is that as well. The whole package that the band has to offer was put on full display there, with catchy synths, emotional lyrics, mixed with laddish raw power but also more “effeminate” dancing and theatrics. Almost all the songs on this album stick out one way or another, and the band gets away with some lyrics that border on the corny. And if you’re able to write those trite truisms and make them not sound like that, then you know you’re on the winning team.
5. They Want My Soul - Spoon
Here’s an admission that will probably make people throw stones at me, but often times I have trouble liking an entire Spoon album. On every album I have my favorites that I love to listen to, but usually I don’t listen to their albums as a whole. Enter They Want My Soul, which I not only listen to, but I listen to it all, and I listen to it all the time. I love the snarling vocals, but I also love the fact that they seemingly go from guitar led indie rock to bass led songs with a groove. From the ballad ‘Inside Out’ to the more rock-ish ‘Rent I Pay’ to the catchy ‘New York Kiss’; this album has it all. And then there’s my favorite, ‘Outlier’, with those dagger lines “Ahh I remember you walked out of Garden State / You had taste, you had taste, you had no time to waste. / Awww, what happened to you kid?”. That cuts right through to the heart, that.
6. The Feast Of The Broken Hearted - Hercules And Love Affair
I’ve got a soft spot for the boys and girls of Hercules and Love Affair, I’m not going to lie. This album is their most straight up house album that they’ve ever done, having plenty of that catchy stuff to dance to for sure. And everything either with an emotional story, with attitude and pizzazz, or with some other quirk that makes it stand apart from the generic. How about John Grant’s moving tale of HIV Aids in ‘I Try To Talk To You’, singing “Is this what you deserve? You are a man, you’re a human being”. But there’s also the attitude laden track ‘My Offence’, where they take and redefine the word “cunt” and run away with it. “My essence is my offence”, they sing, as apparently who they are is what causes the offence. But, who cares, just let yourself be as cunt as you can get. This album just has the heart of house, and the music to make all the boys and girls in the club work it.
7. Nikki Nack - Tune-Yards
Probably this is the album in her oeuvre that’s easiest to get into, with plenty of catchy songs and percussion bits. For me personally, some of her earlier output, though always intriguing and interesting, wasn’t always easy to listen to on repeat but this album takes that obstacle away for me. Which leaves an intriguing, interesting album that musically is put together with excellent vision and all kinds of sounds that show where she gets her inspiration from. Her voice sounds so powerful as she screams, sings, or speaks lines that are funny, but that also put the finger on the sore spot. “I come from the land of slaves / Let’s go Redskins! Let’s go Braves!” is one, though I always have to chuckle at the lovely aside in “he gave me a dollar, a blood-soaked dollar / but that’s okay it still works at the store”. The little short story in there is funny, biting, and with a nice bit of punch to it as well, and the live show is strong, self-assured, and as hilarious as it has ever been.
8. Hylas - Thomas Azier
Dutch fella Thomas Azier went to Berlin to work on his album, and years later he can finally present the fruits of his labour. The album has a lot of Berlin in it too, with stories about alienation in the big city, through which Azier powers with loads of synths and drumpads. He definitely isn’t afraid to pull out the big guns and shoot for the sky, as was evident when he appeared on Dutch television with a church choir to help him out during his performance. There’s plenty of variety in pace, though, with some “power” ballads, some “pop” songs, but the last song (one of my personal favority) really is the ideal end to his live set. ‘Sirens of the Citylight’ has got almost a dance element to it, and Azier certainly puts a pack of emotion in there. Have seen this guy live two times this year, and each time he gave his all, and that is actually also a characteristic you can hear back in his recorded output as well. Gotta show a bit of love for the “locals” here.
9. The Way - Macy Gray
There’s something about this woman that I just really like and that only she can get away with. The inimitable Macy Gray hasn’t really been at the top of her game for a while (at least, it’s been quite some time since I’ve really paid attention to and enjoyed that what she was putting out), but this takes her right back to the land of quality again. With her heart on her sleeve she runs through admissions like the fact that she doesn’t care about her relationship having ended, but boy does she miss the sex. She goes from a fragile narrative about her really experiencing true love on ‘First Time’, to the elaborately orchestrated tale of her being the “Queen of the Big Hurt” with a fabulously strong chorus, and she does all this in her characteristically raspy voice. Though probably that is what puts it apart from the herd, all the songs are also put together as you would expect a proper soul album to be put together, as all those boys and girls in the orchestra really have her back. I’ve always fancied Gray since ‘I Try’, and finally she’s got me excited again with this one.
10. Seeds - TV On The Radio
There’s something about TV On The Radio that makes me just love them. It’s the fuzzy production with the guitars, the double vocals, the catchy-yet-still-decidedly-rock feel; it’s just the complete package really. I loved Dear Science, and after that I haven’t really been feeling what they’ve been putting out. Luckily, Seeds is something which I’ve been listening to ad nauseam again. ‘Happy Idiot’ has definitely grown on me to the point I’m really anticipating its turn in the batting order, and they freely go from slow ballads to fast-paced rockers to wall-o-sound fuzzness, though the latter maybe less than on earlier work (though you could argue there’s nothing quite as pop as ‘Golden Age’ on here either). Maybe the lyrics aren’t as overtly political or critiquing anymore as on some of their earlier output, with the band putting up more general lines in there that everyone can interpret however, but they are just one of those bands that will always have me intrigued about what they come up with next, and I’m happy that, after their last album, they’ve brought me back on board again with this one.
This list is Stef Siepel’s, writer of, amongst others, The Weekly Froth! column that goes live every Friday. It does in no way reflect the collective Musos' Guide opinion.