2014 has very easily been the best year for music, at least since The White Stripes were still active. Spoon, Ryan Adams, TV On The Radio, Aphex Twin and Interpol all returned with strong releases after a few quiet years. Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Pink Floyd all added to their legendary discographies. But, more than anything it was a phenomenal year for women making music.
R&B’s hypnotism launched further into space with the work from FKA Twigs, SZA, Jhene Aiko and Azealia Banks. Warpaint, Dum Dum Girls, Marissa Nadler and St. Vincent all made stunningly next-level records, while White Lung, Priests and Perfect Pussy chimed in with quick-burning records fronted by spit-fire, acid-tongued leading ladies. Everyone experimented and stepped just to the left of their sound. It was a year of wild transcendence for many musicians. Music was rich in 2014. Here now is Independent Music Promotion’s annual list of the Top Releases of 2014.
Cellar Door: Terminus Et Exordium by The Underachievers
Dead Prez were revolutionary but gangsta. The Underachievers are revolutionary but spiritual. And not in some “Have you heard the good news?” type way either. The fascinating part about these guys, for me, is that they sound as hard as any trap or gangster rap out there today, but flip the weapons and bling talk for third eye power and mind revolution and you’re starting to get just how much these guys DO NOT fit in, by any means, anywhere in hip hop. And that’s what’s makes them so courageous and amazing. The album is shockingly good, and you’ll find lyrics making you spontaneously scream “YES!!!!”
El Pintor by Interpol
The black-clad doom-groovers of New York City returned with their fifth album, El Pintor, this year. Interpol parted ways with bassist Carlos Dengler at the finalization of their 2010 self-titled album. Paul Banks and company rebounded without bothering to fill in Dengler’s place. Banks took over duties on bass for the recording and the group soldiered on to create an album as good as their debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, released over a decade ago. “Breaker 1,” “Anywhere” and “Everything Is Wrong” charge ahead with the rhythm section’s angry brood. Banks’ voice coils around the looping guitar crescendos with anguish and disappointment. “All The Rage Back Home,” “My Blue Supreme,” and “Same Town New Story” are three of Interpol’s greatest songs, each built with tunneling song structures where, at any turn, the fragments of one’s heart might scrape off and disappear. El Pintor is the soundtrack of every empty skyscraper in New York City tonight.
Syro by Aphex Twin
Even as an Aphex Twin fan who wouldn’t consider himself fanatical, I was very excited about “Syro”, admittedly because the current musical climate has been so scummy. That being said, it far surpassed any expectations and provided an album chock full of ear candy, worthy of repeated listens. Overall, it’s not my favorite Aphex Twin album because of it’s consistency. An extremely welcome addition to the year’s musical climate.
Ryan Adams by Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams’ fourteenth, self-titled solo album is an album of stark, minimalist, pure-hearted rock’n’roll. The guitars are lean, stripped bare and fall in line with the rhythm section. The melodies are catchy and each song follows a basic verse-chorus-verse structure. Adams wades into territory just slightly left of his usual countrified sound. Gone is the country twang from his work with the Cardinals. His voice is more subdued, mushier. On “Kim” Adams deals with the sight of an old flame moving on with somebody else. The guitars latch onto the constant pounding of a snare and each line is bittersweet. Other times he sounds dejected and spiteful. “I don’t love you anymore,” he sings on “Am I Safe, “I just want to sit here and watch you burn.” “My Wrecking Ball” is the quiet folk tune Adams perfected on Heartbreaker and Gold over a decade ago. Ryan Adams is Adams’ best since 2005’s 29.
The Joy Of Motion by Animals As Leaders
Metal music needs intelligent advocates, and with Animals As Leaders leader Tosin Abasi, they have one. Not one who yaps about demons, scorched earth, damnation, anti-christian sentiment or any of those other tired topics, but someone who plays with the heart of Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix and actually strives to expand the genre. The work of Animals of Leaders is not for everyone, but it’s extremely dynamic and colorful; music to dream to, and there’s no doubt that it’s forging a new sub-genre all on it’s own led by possibly the best guitarist active today.
Deep Fantasy by White Lung
Deep Fantasy, by punk-Canadians White Lung, starts with a blaring ring like the oncoming warning of a missile as it enters enemy airspace. Vocalist Mish Way’s shrieks bleat against the punk crush and wailing sonic blast on opener “Drown With The Monster.” Way is powered by the onslaught from Kenneth William’s guitar, Anne-Marie Vassiliou’s drums and Hether Fortune’s bass as they go on to pulverize ten songs for 22 minutes. Deep Fantasy is the band’s third album. The carnage of White Lung is real. When they play live the band’s sound explodes from shitty amplifiers and Way releases the tension of the record with the ecstatic gymnastics of a front woman in charge of her aspirations. Press play then find cover.
Run The Jewels 2 by Run The Jewels
With the majority of hip hop still drawling about “smoking good weed, stealing your bitch, sipping on that purple” and being basically untouchable, it’s refreshing, and damn near shocking that innovative and hard hitting hip hop like this still exists in 2014. It’s practically a revelation, and El-P and Killer Mike and just the duo to pull it off. With production that deserves an award in itself and rhymes as fat as can be, there are virtually no improvements that can be made. I challenge anyone to come up with fatter beats than El-P. You pretty much have to listen to yourself to determine that, compared to everything else happening in hip hop right now (with the exception of the Underachievers), these guys have taken the game to outer space.
Z by SZA
Z is technically an EP–SZA’s third–but it stretches out over ten songs and for forty minutes your mind is given all the fuel it needs to power each song for days after. The stoned songbird yawns, meditates then levitates in her colorful R&B prism, singing about headless Barbie dolls, Street Fighter and bumpin’ that Jadakiss. She’s concocted a sugary sweet sound with the all trappings of neo-soul and hip-hop, but with the foggiest of guidelines. SZA has kept her musical palette open, safeguarding her from ever being pigeonholed. Chance The Rapper slithers in a melancholic verse on the watery “Child’s Play,” while Kendrick Lamar punctures holes through “Babylon.” For the hypnotically lush “Sweet November” SZA twists Marvin Gaye’s “Mandota.” Her proper, debut album, A, is due for a release in 2015. If SZA’s first three EP’s were merely creative flicks of the wrist, I can’t wait to hear a whole hip thrust.
To Be Kind by Swans
I’ve always appreciated the work of American experimental rock/noise group Swans, particularly their more recent output. Although I found myself at moments cringing at the belligerence of aspects of their live show, where their alarm bells overwhelm their actual, visceral grooves. On “To Be Kind”, the listener is treated to everything Swans have to offer – and it’s by no means watered down. It’s a perfect follow up to The Seer, and quite possibly tops it. The grooves are consistent and nothing short of completely menacing at all times….but you can GROOVE to the menace. That’s the fun part. Vocalist Michael Gira goes deep into his psyche and it pays off for all of us daring enough to take the journey with him. Hats off to Swans for creating actual, uncompromising art in 2014.
St. Vincent by St. Vincent
There is no album that more succinctly wraps up the emotions of our digital existence than St. Vincent’s fourth, self-titled album. Annie Clark, the brains behind the music, vows to never settle for going straight. One of the greatest guitarists currently making music, she has progressed her sound by leaps and bounds since 2011’s Strange Mercy. Clark loves to throw a song into total disarray only to pick it back up like she does with “Bring Me Your Loves.” She can also write a straight-forward ballad straight from her pumping heart as evidenced by “I Prefer Your Love.” Nearly everything on the album is enveloped in the light fuzz of distortion and it pinches the back of the neck until the drool flows.
Clark is joyfully weird on St. Vincent. Her confidence allows her voice to breach levels of ecstasy and devilment. Her penchant for experimenting with metallic textures and psychotic song structures gives her music an urgency, like it’s trying to constantly fake you out. She pushes the limits of what’s expected in a song and for that her name deserves to roll off the same tongue as Bjork, PJ Harvey, Erykah Badu, Laurie Anderson–the beautifully supernatural women of rock. The earth should be so lucky.