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Old 01-02-2015, 07:37 AM   #46
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Hey those who listen to his stuff - what's the best Andy Stott album to start with?
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Old 01-02-2015, 08:59 AM   #47
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Thanks Cobbler, glad you enjoyed reading it.

As far as Stott goes, he is pretty industrial - I'm not sure that's your thing. Luxury Problems from 2012 is probably the most lush; this latest one, Faith in Strangers, the most austere. I'd go with whichever of those sounds more appealing.
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Old 01-02-2015, 12:26 PM   #48
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I'm not sure where SoI would land for me. Probably somewhere between 15 and 25, a ranking that is helped by the relative weakness of this year (to my tastes at least).
If I were going to make a list, probably #6 or #7 for me, but I don't think I'm gonna do it this year.
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Old 01-02-2015, 01:13 PM   #49
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If I were going to make a list, probably #6 or #7 for me, but I don't think I'm gonna do it this year.
same for me... on both counts
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Old 01-02-2015, 05:18 PM   #50
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Now is as good a time as any, I suppose.


1. Wild Beasts: Present Tense (15 points)

2. FKA Twigs: LP1 (13 points)

3. Spoon: They Want My Soul (12 points)

4. Liars: Mess (11 points)

5. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (10 points)

6. D'Angelo & The Vanguard: Black Messiah (8 points)

7. Timber Timbre: Hot Dreams (6 points)

8. Lewis: L'Amour (6 points)

9. Interpol: El Pintor (5 points)

10. Coldplay: Ghost Stories (4 points)

11. Robert Plant: Lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar (3 points)

12. St. Vincent: Self-titled (3 points)

13. Andy Stott: Faith in Strangers (2 points)

14. Perfume Genius: Too Bright (1 point)

15. Caribou: Our Love (1 point)


Comments and such, spoilered for length:


 

1. Wild Beasts: Present Tense

I don't know how many superb albums Wild Beasts have to make before they finally achieve some form of wider recognition. On the heels of the slow-burning, glimmering Smother comes Present Tense: the most finely-balanced and completely-realized album of the year. The precision of the largely synth-driven production belies the tension at the album’s core: the lyrics reflect a reaching for somebody or something always just out of reach, and maybe a sense of shame in wanting that person or thing in the first place. "Confessional" might be the best way to describe it: there is no resolution here, only observations without a clear path for moving forward. The swath of emotion is amplified by the dance of the two lead voices: one an airy falsetto, the other a quivering baritone. And despite the instrumental variation of Wild Beasts' previous albums, on Present Dance they have found a soundscape that fits their idiosyncratic vocals perfectly: mid-tempo, vaguely middle-eastern percussion high in the mix backed with gentle keyboards and the occasional swelling synth line, the latter impeccably placed, as in the aching "Daughters," to keep the mood from becoming too uniform. If the consistency of vision wasn't enough, Present Dance also boasts at least three of the finest songs of the year in "Mecca," "A Simple Beautiful Truth," and "Palace," tracks that work equally well within and outside the context of the album itself. I would hope the praise heaped upon groups with unconventional vocals, like Future Islands, over the course of this year bodes well for the critical reception of this excellent group.

Standout track: Mecca

2. FKA Twigs: LP1

LP1 is a much smarter album than it has been given credit for. A song like "Two Weeks," for example, is as raw an expression of desire as anything you will hear, shot through with primal sexuality. But anchoring it and other songs on LP1 is a fear of the consequences of acting on that desire. The album is the story of a young woman grappling with her own expression, sexual and otherwise: aggressively pursue what you want and think you deserve, or play it safe and make your move from a more reflective angle? As with Present Tense, the instrumentation accentuates this emotional tension beautifully: "Give Up" is a great example, its piercing synths conveying the frantic mental state you might have when trying to reconcile desires. Tahilah also has one of the more distinctive vocal styles out there at the moment – rich and emotive – but again is wise to contrast it with mechanized, almost frigid beats and synths (see especially "Hours" in this regard). Maybe this is reading too much into it, but I see a feminist angle in this album in terms of women struggling to find their agency without appearing overly-aggressive or masculine. And so despite the fragility of the subject matter, there is a confidence and almost muscularity to the songwriting that makes FKA Twigs one of the most compelling artists of the year.

Standout track: Two Weeks

3. Spoon: They Want My Soul

Sometimes a great album is as simple as having a bunch of great songs in one place. They Want My Soul fits that bill. Even for a band with a reputation for delivering concise, immediate rock songs, They Want My Soul raises the stakes, especially on the opening four tracks, which will stick in your head for hours, days, even weeks after having heard them. "Do You" has got to be the most infectious hook of the year, impeccable but also completely effortless in its execution. The pacing of the album is also a strong point, with taut guitar tracks like "Knock Knock Knock" balanced well with synth-tinged songs like "New York Kiss." At a lean 38 minutes as well, They Want My Soul leaves you wanting more without sacrificing the replay value - a rare feat and a marker of a superb album.

Standout track: Do You

4. Liars: Mess

Aphex Twin got a hell of a lot of attention this year from the electronica world, and rightly so. The downside to that attention, though, is that Syro came to overshadow several excellent albums in the genre, including Mess, the left-field gem from persistent shapeshifters Liars. Propulsive from start to finish, Mess is also shot through with the paranoia that has characterized Liars' work since at least Sisterworld: the insistent, warped synths that introduce "Vox Tuned D.E.D." are absolutely apocalyptic, while on the other end of the spectrum, the hypnotic bass line that drives "Left Speaker Blown" is no less foreboding. And though no one would say the beats are on par with something like Madlib's Pinata, their simplicity serves as a consistently firm anchor for the soundscapes Liars drape over them. I have a hard time thinking of a band who has so thoroughly committed itself to a new vision while managing to remain distinctly themselves in the process - an accomplishment in its own right, but one made even more impressive by the quality of the final product on a song-for-song basis.

Standout track: Left Speaker Blown

5. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream

Despite the lofty comparisons to the likes of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, The War on Drugs is shaping up to be a unique act in modern indie. Their particular style of drawn-out, misty Americana has matured beautifully with Lost in the Dream, arguably the most consistent album of the year. What sets this album apart from prior releases is how the songs are allowed to breathe without ever overstaying their welcome, to indulge in a bit of ambient without ever losing shape. "Under the Pressure" indulges in just enough guitar heroics to justify its prolonged fade-out; "Red Eyes" kicks up a gear at just the right time; the title track introduces just enough harmonica to keep the gentle arrangement engaging. The care put into this album is apparent at every turn, which when coupled with the prodigious talent on display from Adam Granduciel makes this album more than worthy of the considerable praise it has received.

Standout track: Red Eyes

6. D'Angelo & The Vanguard: Black Messiah

In an excellent piece in the New York Times about the release of Black Messiah, the author explains that the long-gestating album was finished in a rush after the death of Michael Brown in August, as something of a statement about the position of African Americans in the United States. I mention this because, although the album comes from a place of intense grief and frustration, the pervading feeling is one of optimism and, at times, unbridled joy. The fiery revivalist sermon running through "1000 Deaths" sets the stage for what becomes a meditation on the power of love and, as seen in closer "Another Life," the inevitability of redemption. The songs frequently deliver on these weighty themes - no other album this year was as dynamic or instrumentally varied. "Sugah Daddy" recalls On the Corner-era Miles Davis in its funk horns and polyrhythm percussion; "Really Love" uses flamenco guitar to great effect; "Back to the Future" incorporates a string section; whistling even turns up on "The Door." Then there's "Prayer," a simply awesome fusion of jazz, funk, soul, and R&B that feels like an outright celebration of African American music. It's rare that an album of such massive anticipation manages to exceed expectations, but here you have it, and a timely, relevant message at that.

Standout track: Prayer

7. Timber Timbre: Hot Dreams

Johnny Cash on acid with a vaguely S&M vision of the American West. If this sounds at all intriguing (and I hope it does), Timber Timbre is for you. Easily the most distinctive album I heard in 2014, this equal parts threatening and romantic album never really lets you know what it's on about thematically: "Bring Me Simple Men," for example, could be about anything from an old-fashioned cattle roundup to a homoerotic orgy. The ambiguity of these tracks makes the title of the album particularly appropriate and is accentuated in the lo-fi instrumentation; the insistent bass line on "Curtains!?," the synth/sax battle toward the end of "Grand Canyon," and the soft-lighting background vocals on the title track are highlights on an album with a considerable amount of tricks up its sleeve. The obscurity of this band, which seems intentional to some extent, should not prevent you from taking a look at this unique album.

Standout track: Hot Dreams

8. Lewis: L'Amour

The beguiling story surrounding the release - or maybe re-release - of L'Amour drew a fair amount of press, enough that you had a right to be suspicious about whether the music itself was worth a damn. Fortunately, it is - and then some. Airy to the point of feeling almost hallucinogenic, the atmosphere of L'Amour is encapsulated nicely in the track "Cool Night in Paris": both the title and the song. Gentle acoustic guitars are accentuated only with distant synths and even more distant vocals. Other tracks add piano, but the general approach is consistent: sparse but somehow lush. The whole thing comes across as a fading memory, or maybe an old-school daguerreotype photograph. I don't see myself often coming back to these songs on an individual basis, but as a mood piece, L'Amour is nearly perfect.

Standout track: I Thought the World of You

9. Interpol: El Pintor

Interpol was a classic example of diminishing returns, seemingly aimless after the runaway acclaim of Turn on the Bright Lights. Emphasis here on the "was," as El Pintor finds them revitalized in delivering a stellar set of muscular, brooding tracks. The general sonic approach will be familiar - minor keys, rumbling bass, and barbed guitars - but the attitude is more confident than it perhaps has ever been. "Fuck the ancient ways," for example - and why the hell not? "All the Rage Back Home" has a similar swagger in the vocals that complements the propulsive arrangement wonderfully; "Same Town, New Story" revolves around an off-kilter lead guitar riff of the sort that has been noticeably absent from their past three albums. Critics will call the band stagnant or unimaginative, but with songs this immediate and of such high replay value, I see no reason for complaint.

Standout track: All the Rage Back Home

10. Coldplay: Ghost Stories

Chris Martin: the easiest target in all of popular music. We've heard the endless allegations about his banality, his femininity, his soporific populism, etc etc. But I will say that if you give Ghost Stories a few earnest listens and don't feel any sympathy for the guy, you are being hateful just for the sake of it. The simplicity of the lyrics on Ghost Stories is conspicuous, yes, but they are also direct and effective in conveying his state of mind when making the album. I don't see this earnestness as looking for pity, either - rather just working out a bad situation through music. And that music is frequently beautiful, from the languid guitars on "Always in My Head" to the falsetto that introduces "Another's Arms," from the percolating synths in "Midnight" to the piano lines in "O." Somehow even the instantly-dated crescendos of "Sky Full of Stars" work as a marker of persistent affection in the face of pain. Even if none of these songs stand out amid the arena-reaching singles Coldplay are notorious for, within context this is as solid a group of tracks as they have produced since Parachutes.

Standout track: Midnight

11. Robert Plant: Lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar

The venerable Mr. Plant continues his exploration of Americana in this gentle but vital collection of multi-layered, folk-rooted tracks. Single "Rainbow" is so good that even someone in EYKIW liked it.

Standout track: Rainbow

12. St. Vincent: Self-titled

Less immediate and melodic than Strange Mercy, but laser-focused in its experimentation and wildly compelling through Annie's sheer force of personality. She might be the closest thing to a true rock god(dess) music has right now.

Standout track: Digital Witness

13. Andy Stott: Faith in Strangers

Another collection of austere, industrial dance tracks from Stott. Some stunning contributions from guest vocalist Alison Skidmore temper the darkness in the beats and arrangements.

Standout track: No Surrender

14. Perfume Genius: Too Bright

Make Hadreas' project has always been haunting, and Too Bright is no exception. His latest effort, however, ups the ante with multi-layered instrumentation (Portishead’s Adrian Utley contributes) and bolder pronouncements about the place of the LGBTQ community - and pretty much any other minority, I suppose - in modern America.

Standout track: My Body

15. Caribou: Our Love

Dan Snaith is arguably the most consistent electronic artist out there at the moment. Our Love delivers a batch of sunny yet nuanced dance songs with effective samples and momentum-building arrangements.

Standout track: Can’t Do Without You

Superlatives and such:


Most Overlooked Album: Ice Age, Plowing into the Field of Love
Most Average Album: Beck, Morning Phase
Worst Album: Foster the People, Supermodel
Biggest Disappointment: Jack White, Lazaretto
Best Album Cover: New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers
Worst Album Cover: James Blunt, Moon Landing
Best Reissue: Neil Young, Official Release LPs 5-8
Best Thing from Past Years I Discovered This Year: anything by Tindersticks
Most Overused Music Journalism Term: "glitchy"

Fantastic write-up iYup. Makes me want to listen to the albums on that list I haven't heard yet, namely Hot Dreams, L'Amour and Our Body. I hope I'll be ready soon to make my listen as I'm constantly seeing albums I want to hear before making one.
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Old 01-02-2015, 06:17 PM   #51
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Glad I haven't posted my list yet. Benji just kicked my ass all over again. That one needs to be top 4 and I think I had it somewhere around #7 before.
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Old 01-02-2015, 06:30 PM   #52
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I really should listen to Benji, and Ariel Pink for that matter. I've been put off both of them by their insistence on being titanic assholes, but that's not a good reason, I suppose.
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Old 01-02-2015, 06:44 PM   #53
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Benji is fascinating to listen to after all the bullshit. Especially when he details his inability to escape from melancholy, complains about general admission seating and claims that he "learned to be patient" by his father. He's a loving, hateful, crotchety old bastard. You'll cringe at his directness but cling to every word.

I really don't know what to make of Kozelek himself, but the album moves me deeply. Best listen I had to it was today, wearing sound isolating headphones while doing the dishes. I had nothing else to take my focus away from the lyrics and it was perfect.
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Old 01-02-2015, 07:11 PM   #54
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I think he's just cynical and sarcastic. Not really an asshole. I saw him live a month ago and he was hilarious. Constantly complaining about the tour and him wanting to stop. Highlight was when he asked for two people to sit in the front row as there were two empty seats there and that bummed him out. Two guys who were sitting just in front of me jumped up at the chance to go and sit there. When they were halfway there Kozelek shouted: No, not you guys! and they went back to their seats. He wanted women to sit there you see.
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Old 01-02-2015, 07:28 PM   #55
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The guy has a wicked sense of humor. The War on Drugs: Suck My Cock is proof enough of that. I thought it would be stupid and childish, and it was, but it was legitimately hilarious.
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Old 01-02-2015, 08:54 PM   #56
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Yeah, Benji floors me every time. It's that vs. You're Dead for my AOTY.
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Old 01-03-2015, 05:36 AM   #57
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iYup I would say give this song a listen. It's so vulnerable and it sort of shows that even with all that petty stuff that happened this year, you can still feel sympathy for the bloke.

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Old 01-03-2015, 06:11 AM   #58
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Although not as good a Kin, Blue by iamamiwhoami was a favourite of mine.
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Old 01-03-2015, 08:32 PM   #59
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Alright here's my list. No write-ups this time around though I'm afraid. It was pretty much a dead heat for number one but I'm giving the edge to Flying Lotus as I'd like to see You're Dead do well in the final poll. Also in any other year Interpol would have been pushed much further down. 2014 wasn't a great year in music for me.

Flying Lotus - You're Dead! - 15
Sun Kil Moon - Benji - 14
Spoon - They Want My Soul - 13
Interpol - El Pintor - 9
Todd Terje - It's Album Time - 8
St Vincent - St Vincent - 7
Aphex Twin - Syro - 7
War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream - 6
Run the Jewels - RTJ2 - 5
Thom Yorke - Tomorrow's Modern Boxes - 4
Caribou - Our Love - 4
ScHoolboy Q - Oxymoron - 3
Eno/Hyde - High Life - 2
Beck - Morning Phase - 2
Johnny Foreigner - You Can Do Better - 1
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Old 01-03-2015, 09:06 PM   #60
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No write-up from me either, too much of a backlog at work. Nonetheless, there are some extra categories.

1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (15)
2. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata (14)
3. Sun Kil Moon – Benji (11)
4. D’Angelo & the Vanguards - Black Messiah (11)
5. Beck – Morning Phase (9)
6. St. Vincent - St. Vincent (8)
7. The Antlers - Familiars (7)
8. Timber Timbre - Hot Dreams (6)
9. Wild Beasts – Present Tense (4)
10. Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues (4)
11. Spoon - They Want My Soul (3)
12. Hookworms - The Hum (3)
13. Flying Lotus - You’re Dead! (2)
14. Total Control - Typical System (2)
15. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2 (1)

10 overlooked but essential albums not already mentioned:

The Soundcarriers - Entropicalia (psychedelic rock, krautrock)
Nothing - Guilty of Everything (shoegaze)
Kairon; IRSE! - Ujubasajuba (shoegaze)
Ought - More Than Any Other Day (post-punk)
iamamiwhoami - Blue (dream-pop)
A Winged Victory for the Sullen - Atomos (post-rock, modern classical)
Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (outlaw country)
Fire! Orchestra - Enter (jazz, neo-psychedelia)
Goat - Commune (acid rock, krautrock)
Electric Youth - Innerworld (Drive Soundtrack-core)

Best debut: Isaiah Rashad - Cilvia Demo

Worst album: Walk the Moon - Talking Is Hard

Biggest surprise: Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

Biggest disappointment: Pink Floyd - The Endless River

Song of the year: Phantogram - Fall in Love

Best pre-2014 album I discovered this year: Sweet Trip - Velocity : Design : Comfort (electronic, shoegaze)
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