2014 was an excellent year in music and I couldn’t just write about all my favorite albums this year or I would end up talking forever. Instead, I broke this post down into five expositions on my favorite albums and short blurbs about some other ones. Finally, I couldn’t just sit back and not mention some of the great albums I’ve been digging on this year just because they didn’t come out in the last 12 months, so I threw a final couple of sentences at the page hoping they’d stick.
5) Mehliana – Taming the Dragon
I first heard this album in a used record store in Burlington, Vermont when I last visited my brother over spring break. The shopkeeper told me it was a duo made of Brad Mehldau, a jazz pianist, and Mark Guiliana, a visionary in modern jazz drumming (or at least according to the label’s album release page). This is more than just jazz though- the piano sizzles with ridiculously complex synthesizer lines and the drumming flies along with it, sometimes at breakneck speeds and sometimes just floating along in the background. What really speaks to me is the shear artistic creativity of this album. From the trippy vocal sample on the titular track that describes one hell of a dream starring Joe Walsh crossed with Dennis Hopper and a VW spaceship and closes with the most psychedelic synthesizer line I’ve heard in years, to the supremely chilled out sounds of “Sassyassed Sassafrass”, this an album that definitely makes its hour plus running time worth the investment.
4) Simian Mobile Disco – Whorl
Simian Mobile Disco are a band that I know about, but have honestly only heard one of their albums and a handful of singles. With Whorl, the band did a live tour of the album so I got a rare opportunity to experience new music. Because the album was recorded in real time “under the desert sky”, going to various gigs with their custom built, modular analog synth setup and playing the entire album in its entirety offered not only a unique concert experience, but an eye into how the album was constructed. The album oozes into being slowly, with a more atmospheric sound and nary a kick drum to be heard. The party finally starts “Sun Dogs”, with a beat that sounds like it was brought straight from outer space. “Dervish” and “Calyx” both light the dancefloor on fire, while tracks such as “Z Space” and “Iron Henge” give you the chance to catch your breath. On Whorl, Simian Mobile Disco have shown not just the power that analog synthesizers can still hold, but created a sixty five minute experience for the listener.
3) Caribou – Our Love
I actually heard Our Love way before it came out, when a buddy of mine was playing the leaked version in his car. It was at that point, months before it officially was released, I knew this was one the best albums I’d heard all year. “Can’t Do Without You” barely has any lyrics beyond the title of the song, yet the constant repetition of them over the escalating and swirling sounds of the rest of the song makes the not-even-four minute running time seem like an age. The title track is unsurprisingly amazing (why name an entire album after one song if that song doesn’t rule), but it’s the depth and variety of the song that amazes me the most. “Our Love” goes from downtempo house with string samples to certified dancefloor banger in less time than it takes most DJs to warm up the floor. Closing off the album, “Your Love Will Set You Free” slows it all down once again, with a callback to the same bouncing synth line from “All I Ever Need”, as well as the classic Caribou touch on the rest of the synthesizers. The album begins with a tentative sound, as if asking the audience if he is allowed to open up to us, but closes with grand sweeping sounds as if to prove that we need Caribou just as much as he needs us.
2) Chet Faker – Built on Glass
To me, this album came out of nowhere. I had only heard Chet Faker on a track in 2012 from Flume and the Lockjaw EP he and Flume collaborated on last year. So I was mostly used to hearing sultry voice blocked out by Flume’s (somewhat overproduced) beats. This first time listening to Built on Glass, I was shocked at just how smooth and relaxing Chet Faker could be on his own. “Release Your Problems” opens the album on a quiet note, with Chet Faker nearly mumbling the lyrics over the rest of the song. “Talk Is Cheap” allows him to open his vocal range far wider, as he pours his heart out over his Rhodes piano and drum machine. The album takes an interesting turn about halfway through, at which point the sound of a record plays and a voice announces “That was the other side of the record. Now relax still more and drift a little deeper as you listen.” From this point on, he channels James Blake (the powerful bass in “Blush”), takes the opportunity to luxuriantly stretch out in his composition (the seven minute “Cigarettes and Loneliness”), and explore the realm of instrumentals (“A Lesson in Patience”). From start to finish, Chet Faker shows he can be so much more than just a sexy voice (and beard, GODDAMN) that once covered a Blackstreet song.
1) Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
Okay, I admit it: I only listened to this album at first because Pitchfork told me to. However, when you consider their abject hatred of all things not indie rock and boring, if they were giving an electronic album (which includes their #36 ranked song of 2012) an 8.7 and a best new music tag, maybe they had finally taken their heads out of their asses long enough to listen to something besides sad white boys talking about their feelings and guitars. The main takeaway from all of this is that when I heard It’s Album Time, I was immediately transplanted to an alternate dimension where disco never died but instead morphed into a strange beast that ate all other genres and was now spewing out funk, house, and just weird fucking stuff overall (I’m looking at you, “Svensk Sås”). The album grooves, slinks, shakes, rattles, rolls, and whatever other verbs describe non-stop dancing. Trying to pick a favorite would be like when a mother tells her kids they’re all her favorite children, only this time I wouldn’t be lying to their faces. There isn’t a single bad track on here, and with the exception of “Johnny and Mary” that slows things down a bit halfway, the entire album is a non-stop party. Throw this on next time you’re strapped for music to play at your next listening party and everyone will be too enraptured by its uniqueness to ask to play whatever they brought along. Just sit back, relax, and let Todd Terje take you into the future.
Fallgrapp – Rieka
This album comes from the Slovokian label Gergaz, who I should really listen to if the rest of their stuff sounds this good. It’s electronic jazz for the most part, although some tracks like “Kormorány” sound like a more talented version of Goldfrapp. No matter what genre you call it, this is a really unique album, groovy and chill at the same time.
Kodomo – Patterns and Lights
The only reason this isn’t on the above list is because I’ve only heard it like twice. It’s one of my favorite kind of downtempo music though, where everyone sounds so electronic and inorganic. “Infinity Divided” has a terrifying kind of intensity and sounds like the universe is about ready to collapse. Hmm, maybe it’s time for another listen of this album after all…
Tobacco – Ultima II Massage
Thomas Fec, frontman of Black Moth Super Rainbow, releases far more aggressive work on his own as Tobacco. On his latest album, he gets downright heavy, with drippy, melty synthesizers that sound like they’re tripping on ketamine and PCP. It’s so raw it’s toxic, with a sickenly yellow and pink album cover to match, even garnering a parental advisory warning. Check this one out for sure, but be prepared to be auditorily pummeled when listening.
ENO ・HYDE – High Life
Even though so much of the music I listen to is inspired by Brian Eno, I have only rarely heard any his personal work. But earlier this year, he teamed up with Karl Hyde (no idea who that is) that was a joyous mix between ambient and pop music. Center track “Lilac” swirls between the lyrics and the repetitive drums, piano, and guitar that sounds like what would happen if Steve Reich decided to write pop music.
Plaid – Reachy Prints
Honestly, this is just an album with a bunch of really cool sounds on it. Danceable, but also totally chill at times and there’s not a single song that sounds like another.
Top albums of 2014 NOT from 2014 (full album streams in titles, just for you!)
Starcadian – Sunset Blood
I actually heard this album only a few months after it came out, and it was still last year. The reason it didn’t make my (unpublished) list last year was because I simply hadn’t listened to it enough. The one day a few months ago I simply could not stop listening to it. It sounds like the album that everyone wanted Daft Punk to make, only better. It literally boggles my mind that more people haven’t heard it, so make sure to check this one out.
Air – Moon Safari
Every so often, I’ll get really into this album, and it’s never a bad thing. That kept happening throughout this year, and it’s not all that hard to see why. This album has amazing summer grooves like “Kelly Watch the Stars”, but also has amazing fat, drippy, synthesizers, which for me conjures winter thoughts in my head. No matter the season, it’s a great listen.
Solar Fields – Movements
This album is great simply because I imagine the craziest imagery when listening to it. It’s super downtempo, but with such heavy synthesizers I’m surprised I can even lift my iPod to pump up the volume. Despite that, it’s one of the happiest and most cathartic albums I know, that never fails to put me in a good mood.
DJ Koze – Amygdala
A friend of mine just told me to listen to this album, his number one reason being that “Caribou and Matthew Dear are on it and they’re dope.” As I said earlier, it was only this year I started listening to Caribou, and only got into Matthew Dear’s other projects this summer. The whole thing is A+ through and through, excellently chill but also makes me want to dance at times.
DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist – Brainfreeze
This is actually a live mixtape from Shadow and Chemist’s 1999 tour in which they only spun 45s that ranged from unmade kung-fu movies to old school funk and included jaw dropping displays of their scratching talent.
That sums it up, folks! Stay tuned here for more year-end lists from our other DJs. Even though the Love X-Perience is still on hiatus until further notice, be sure to follow @DoctorPlotkin for updates on that or your chance to discuss your favorite albums of the year with a certified Radio Doctor.