Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Three: 30 – 21

Crossing over the halfway point! Livin’ on some sort of prayer. Parts one and two are to be read/caught up on here and here.

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30. sleepmakeswaves – Love of Cartography
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The sooner that Australia wakes up and smells the vibrancy of its extensive post-rock community at hand, the bloody better. Sydney’s sleepmakeswaves have become the vanguard act of it in short time, less pushing the envelope and more reading the letter it contained from atop a mountain. With the airtight production guidance of rock expert Nick DiDia, Cartography became a full realisation of everything that the band could be; exploring new depths as well as searing highs – often within the same song. This is the sound of actions speaking far, far louder than words ever could. Consider the game changed.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Great Northern, Something Like Avalanches, Perfect Detonator.

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29. Fucked Up – Glass Boys
Spotify || Rdio

They may be the least hardcore and the least punk band in hardcore punk, but by some bizarre law of double negatives it’s made Toronto sextet Fucked Up far more hardcore and far more punk than a significant amount of their peers. Each of their albums feels momentous, grand in both scope and execution. Glass Boys proves to be no exception, in spite of a leaner runtime – in fact, it allows you to focus further in on the remarkable crafting that goes into each track. An alternate version of the LP with half-speed drums proves to be strangely-alluring additional listening.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Led by Hand, Glass Boys, Sun Glass.

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28. Manchester Orchestra – Cope
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

Manchester Orchestra have the heart of a lion and their collective eyes on a grander universal bigger picture. It’s now taken them through four albums of life, death, acceptance, honesty, sin and confession; and though one’s take on which is the superior of them may vary from listener to listener, it’s nigh-on impossible to leave a Manchester Orchestra record empty-handed. Although often shrouded in deep-cut metaphor and surrealist lyrical imagery, Cope has its own means of cutting directly to an emotional core at its most crucial points. It’s yet another excellent release from a band that works in mysterious ways.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Girl Harbor, Top Notch, Cope.

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27. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Spotify || Rdio || Download

We’re not in side-project territory anymore, Toto. The once-unlikely pairing of Killer Mike and El-P, now onto their third release together, has begun to make more sense in the greater spectrum of hip-hop perhaps more than practically anything else this decade. Such a bold statement can be backed by noting the remarkable impact of their second album. Swarming, visceral beats, simultaneous lyrical assaults and a completely-unexpected cameo from a fiery Zach de la Rocha all assisted in allowing Run the Jewels to forcefully smash through the underground and lead riots through the city streets. All hell can’t stop them now.


THREE TOP TRACKS: Early, Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).

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26. Future Islands – Singles
Spotify || Rdio

Some longer-term fans of dramatically-flaired electro-pop explorers Future Islands may feel somewhat disgruntled that it’s taken until their fourth studio album for a wider audience to be paying them the attention that they so rightly deserve. Think of it, instead, as a blessing in disguise: With the world now watching, we see the trio at the very best of their collective abilities; presenting a refined and distinctive take on their genre that revels in its kitsch and unfashionability so much that it comes full circle, leading to the arguably being the coolest damn record of the year. Who’d have thought?

THREE TOP TRACKS: Doves, Seasons (Waiting on You), Sun in the Morning.

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25. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

For a timid Irish lad, James Vincent McMorrow certainly proved to have balls of steel when he made his launch forth into the great unknown at the start of the year. His second album was described by many as a 180 of sorts, doing away entirely with the folksy instrumentation of its predecessor. Perhaps a more fitting angle, however, would have been a 270. Post Tropical incorporated hindsight in regards to McMorrow’s raw-nerve emotional songwriting and his delicately-placed falsetto, but it also gave view to a brave new world. Who knows who he may yet become? It’s all blissfully uncertain.

THREE TOP TRACKS: All Points, Outside, Digging, Cavalier.

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24. Luca Brasi – By a Thread
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Two-fifths of Luca Brasi left the fold not a year before the release of their second studio album, a blow which may well have spelled the end for a lesser band. The Tasmanian natives were quick to mend, however – it wasn’t long before their triple-guitar interplay was woven into a tighter twin assault; while replacing the towering Saxon Hall on drums with the impeccably-bicepped Danny Flood was like switching out an unstoppable force for an immovable object. The craftsmanship of the songs, too, proved to be their greatest collective achievement to date. They – and we – live to fight another day.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Western Junction, Borders and Statelines, Here’s Looking at You, Kid Rock.

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23. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Kaoru Ishibashi finds himself in the realm of indie-pop with the violin as his weapon of choice over keyboards or guitar. This left-of-centre take on the genre allows for KB’s amazing technicolour dream-music to roam as freely as it pleases. On Ishibashi’s second LP under the moniker, he layers both his instrument and his voice to the point of assembling a chamber orchestra and a choir respectively. By means of beautifully striking contrast, there are also moments of quiet that reel in focus to the man behind it all. Much like its cover, Lighght is a stunning work of art.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Q & A, Philosophize in It! Chemicalize with It!, Carry On Phenomenon.

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22. Ted Danson with Wolves – WWTDWWD?
Bandcamp

From their culture-jamming band name to their sax-wielding take on DIY math rock, there’s nary a band runnin’ ‘round these parts that’s quite like Sydney’s Ted Danson with Wolves. It may well not have been their intentions when they initially formed out in humble old Tamworth several moons ago, but it’s where they’ve ended up on their outstanding debut effort. Its hyper-literate lyrics delve into the seriously strange and the strangely serious on a tandem basis, shrieked above a mesmerising cacophony of bass rumble, drum splatter and guitar squiggle. The outsiders found a way in, at long last. WWTDWWD? This.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Tim Has a Really Good Idea (Again!), Bohemian (I Don’t) Like You, In the Throes of Golf Woes: “It Was a Coarse Course, of Course.”

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21. The Smith Street Band – Throw Me in the River
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Wil Wagner has said several times that there have been moments where he’s considered quitting music entirely. Throw Me in the River makes one ever so grateful he made the right call and kept his band alive. Were it to be summed up in three words? Let’s try “location, location, location.” Its songs take place all over the globe, from late nights in Calgary to a boiling day at Meredith Music Festival; not to mention its recording taking place in the small town of Forrest. No matter where you’re from, River shows that it’s where you’re at that’s most important.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Calgary Girls, Surrender, Throw Me in the River.

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Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part One: 50 – 41

It’s the most magical time of year — list season! A couple of days ago, I kicked into my top 100 songs of the year, which you can catch up on over here. Over the next month, I’ll be sharing that as well as my top 50 albums of the year. While there was a lot of controversy over the fact that no album went platinum this year, I feel it’s more a sign of the times than an indication of the quality of the music released in 2014. Across the 300-plus albums I experienced throughout the year, I completely ran the entire spectrum; from the uplifting and inspiring to the menacing and terrifying and back again. Let’s take a look now at the records that defined the year for me and see what you think. Love them? Hate them? Haven’t heard them? Let me know!

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HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Hilltop Hoods, Lanie Lane, Indian, Colossvs, Panopticon, Fishing, Swans, Xerxes, Sturgill Simpson, Collarbones, Mary Lambert, Cynic, OFF!, Shellac, Mastodon, The Roots, Woods of Desolation, The Magic Numbers, Spoon and Pharrell Williams…

50. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise
Spotify || Rdio

Did you honestly ever expect to see or hear from Elly Jackson again? After her universe of hype imploded in her early twenties, she’s made sure that if La Roux was to ever return, it was going to be precisely calculated and on her own terms. The hooks are just as sharp, the production just as crystallised and pristine – but it’s delivered with a smarter and more restrained look at broken hearts and ambiguous relationships. Think of Trouble in Paradise as less of a sequel to the project’s exceptional 2009 debut and more of a reboot of the franchise.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Silent Partner, Kiss and Not Tell, Tropical Chancer.

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49. IDYLLS – Prayer for Terrene
Bandcamp

From the depths of Brisbane, a firebrand of heavy Australian music re-emerged with a new lineup and a new approach to their tactical, cacophonous grindcore. The introduction of squealing, churning saxophone mixed in a touch of the avant-garde, while the album’s longer songs allowed the band to explore their own musical surroundings with arresting, impressive results. Prayer for Terrene was more than just some sort of post-apocalyptic soundtrack – it was the sound of a band realising its full potential and making the most out of it. An essential step forward from a band leading the pack in their field.

THREE TOP TRACKS: PCP Crazy, Crashing Boar, Lied To.

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48. Behemoth – The Satanist
Spotify || Rdio

Everything about The Satanist is defiant. A band venturing into its tenth album should have none of the vitality and maintained-rage that is omnipotent and omnipresent within the tracklisting here. Furthermore, The Satanist is defiant in respects to to Behemoth itself still being here – frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski was struggling with leukaemia for a couple of years, a devastating blow in any context. Perhaps it’s this that has given the band the rush of adrenalin it needs – a scream to the heavens, a clear and open statement of unfinished business. The devil rides on.

THREE TOP TRACKS: The Satanist, O Father O Satan O Sun!, Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel.

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47. Loudon Wainwright III – Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet)
Spotify || Rdio

At 68 years young, the senior Wainwright has a lot of grief with you people. His dog’s misbehaving, there’s nowhere to get a beer, the news is always awful and – to top it all off – he might have depression. Maybe. If he doesn’t, he will soon. At least, so we think. It doesn’t matter what subject he tackles – it’s always given a unique spin and approached with Wainwright’s distinct kind of wry, often black, humour. With The Blues, the Third remains one of the more underrated songwriters around. He just hasn’t had his respect paid – yet.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Harlan County, Harmless, Man & Dog.

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46. Chumped – Teenage Retirement
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The cover art of Teenage Retirement is a photo of a dude on his lonesome, chilling out in his pool and watching the world go by. It’s reflective of perhaps the best way to enjoy the debut album from this exceptional Brookyln outfit who, in a way, are picking up where albums like the Speedy Ortiz and Waxahatchee records from 2013 left off. It all ties into forward-thinking alternative rock with an all-important and oft-ignored central female voice – and as far as that realm was concerned, few dominated with such aplomb the way Chumped did. We’ll all float on.

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THREE TOP TRACKS: Hot 97 Summer Jam, Old and Tired, December is the Longest Month.

45. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

Country’s crazy ex-girlfriend next door doesn’t do things by thirds. Her albums are always packed to the brim, with an A-team of producers, co-writers and instrumentalists filling each song. It’s this that has allowed her to rise to the top of the food-chain on her own terms – while her bro-down peers want any random girl up in their truck, she’s telling the same dudes that they “can’t ride in her little red wagon.” She may as well be saying that they couldn’t lace up her boots – and she has the songs to back it up. Giddy up.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Priscilla, Platinum, Old Shit.

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44. Vales – Wilt & Rise
Bandcamp

Sometimes, what you need is a record of furious, unforgiving post-hardcore. Not that fringe-flicking shit with the superfluous keyboardist and the neck tatts – we’re talking about the purest definition of the term, insofar as that it’s a progression from the standards and moulds set. Wilt & Rise goes beyond your average tough-guy shit and is completely devastating on its own terms, delivered with pure conviction and a seething, unshakable rage. The band are not only the most important new voice being heard above the drone in their native UK, they’re threatening to do the same on a global scale.

THREE TOP TRACKS: White Horse, Dead Wood, Wildfire.

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43. Copeland – Ixora
Spotify || Rdio

Immediately, there was a sense that Aaron Marsh and co. were headed far beyond any cash-in reunion territory when they announced their reformation – there was a new album on the way, six years removed from their finest hour, You Are My Sunshine. If Ixora did anything as an album, it validated their return to the fold. Copeland remains Aaron Marsh’s most important vehicle, with each new song delivering on stirring indie rock and heartstring-plucked balladry that stand up with any of their prior works. Ixora blossoms and blooms, reminding listeners to never take bands such as these for granted.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Ordinary, Erase, I Can Make You Feel Young Again.

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42. Neil Cicierega – Mouth Silence
Soundcloud

User:neilcic has been responsible for more internet sensations than you’d ever begin to think. Put it this way: If the phrase “Snape, Snape, Severus Snape” means anything to you, then there’s plenty more where that came from. Here, Cicierega delivers a sequel to his Smash Mouth-obssessed debut, and no-one is safe. He continues to terrorise the world of pop culture and 90s nostalgia with some truly nightmarish pairings – Soundgarden and The Carpenters, System of a Down and Elton John, Oasis and Oasis. It’s jarring, it’s bizarre and it’s hypnotising in its brilliance. Keep the internet weird, son. BEST!

THREE TOP TRACKS: What Is It, Wndrwll, Crocodile Chop.

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41. Mariachi El Bronx – Mariachi El Bronx
Spotify || Rdio

Barely a year after yet another exceptional record from The Bronx, their alter-egos have emerged in a fanfare of trumpets, percussion and enough sing-alongs to last until The Bronx V. Despite an all-too-simple game plan and a very specific stylistic palette to draw from, MEB have substantially matured their sound across three albums; adding in a much-needed personal touch to the traditional folk music. There’s a lot of introspection going on in regards to the album’s lyricism, which serves as a beautiful contrast to the outward and extroverted music. Their greatest achievement yet – it’s high-time you joined the procession.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Everything Twice, Sticks and Stones, Right Between the Eyes.

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INTERVIEW: Ladyhawke (NZ/UK), June 2012

I think I became a bigger Ladyhawke fan after I found out we were on the same team. This is the only time I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing another Aspie, and it felt pretty fantastic to be able to discuss the creative process with her knowing that she’d probably had a lot of the same issues as me. It really lifted the mood and brought a lot of honesty to the interview, as well. She still had a lot of issues with her live show when I saw her the following month, but I understood them a lot more this time around. Anyway, Pip’s great. No idea what she’s up to these days. I hope she’s still being creative and embracing her Asperger’s.

– DJY, October 2014

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It’s hard to pin down Pip Brown – not just because she is constantly on the road, but also in a musical and mental sense as well. The Wellington-via-Sydney-via-London musician best known as Ladyhawke has gone nearly four years between albums, touring incessantly and plotting a follow-up to her eponymous debut. The results have been, at times, drastically different to what has become expected of Brown – and the album Anxiety benefits significantly because of it.

“It’s almost like an inevitable curse that’s placed on every musician,” says Brown, in a London hotel following the conclusion of her U.K. tour. “When success comes with the first record, people will always tell them that they’re going to have trouble with the second one. Even if the album is awesome, some people will find it shit just because it’s a second album. The whole time I was making Anxiety, I was worried about that.” She recalls a particular encounter with a fan that enforced her fears more than she had expected it to. “I had someone come up to me in a shopping mall in New Zealand,” she says, “and they were just gushing – ‘Oh, Ladyhawke! When’s your new album coming out? Is it going to be electro?’ I was wondering why they’d think that; because it isn’t, y’know. That made me think that maybe people wanted me to make an electro record – but I didn’t want to do that. It’s hard to put all that mental stuff aside and just get my own creativity going.”

While Anxiety maintains a “more hooks than a bait shop” approach, its demeanour is suitably darker and occasionally more aggressive than its predecessor. Its inspiration lies in Brown’s desire to wipe the slate clean. There was no point in making Ladyhawke again – that album already exists. “It was just a time in my life when I had toured the first record for two years,” says Pip, “and when I finished, I realised that there was no part of me that wanted to make that album again. I knew that I didn’t want to make ‘Ladyhawke Mark II’ or whatever. I wanted to do something new that would inspire me and interest me in making songs again. I had this idea of trying out some really rocky, grungy sort of tracks. They were still poppy, but the tracks ended up making for a rockier album. Anxiety really just reflects my mindset at the time. I wanted to experiment with sounds that I hadn’t tried on the first album. You’ve got to keep it interesting for yourself.”

Discussion of songwriting continues, with Pip revealing a somewhat stubborn eccentricity in her constant rejection of song ideas – no matter how much potential they show, if she doesn’t have that certain feeling about them from the very start of the songwriting process they will be cut. “You tend to know when you start the song,” she affirms. “It’s all about the gut feeling. If I don’t have that feeling about the song, I have to trash it. It has to be gone. That’s one of the ways that I work.” Of course, this is a mindset that discomforts some of the people she has worked with, particularly her co-producer on Anxiety, Pascal Gabriel. “Some producers I’ve worked with are more practical and want to push through on those kind of songs,” she says, “but I feel like if I don’t have that feeling from the start then there is no point pursuing it. Even if I did push through and take the song to a finishing point, I would still feel like it was mediocre. I’d rather trash it and work on something that gives me a buzz. If I’m getting butterflies in my stomach from a bassline, then I’ll stop working on something mediocre on guitar and go towards that.”

“It’s so important that you’re excited about what you’re doing,” she continues emphatically. “You can’t be complacent. You really have to be excited about your own music. Otherwise, what’s the point?” A few listens through Anxiety will suggest that there is plenty to be excited about – from the sour honky-tonk piano of Sunday Drive to the booming bassline of Girl Like Me, it’s a confident and engaging record that explores the wider spectrum of pop music, as heavy on synthesizer as it is on guitar. Perhaps most notable of all is that every last note that you hear is entirely Brown’s vision. “All the instruments recorded on this album was me” she says. “My live band are still just that, they’re all session musicians who come on the road with me. I prefer it that way – that’s part of my process. It’s about picking up an instrument and playing, working a song out. It doesn’t make any sense in my brain to hand that over to someone else when I could do it myself.”

This peculiar drive and heavy investment into the sound of the record, sacrificing interaction with other musicians in order to get the album exactly right, might seem out of the ordinary for a lot of musicians. What’s worth considering, however, is that Brown’s very specific interests and aforementioned need to get rid of unsatisfying songs can be traced back to her Asperger’s. A form of Autism, Brown first spoke publicly about it in an interview with The Guardian in 2008. Although not something widely discussed in relation to Ladyhawke it’s something that Brown speaks passionately about in regards to how it affects her life – as well as how it can completely disorientate a live performance.

“It’s completely unpredictable,” says Brown, explaining what being an Aspergian can mean for a touring musician. “I can be really calm on stage sometimes, but there are others where I feel like I want to vomit. Those times I’ll look down at the setlist and realise that I’m only three songs into the set. It feels like ten years. There’ll be other times when you think you’re on a roll, having a great time, too. So I really can’t predict what’s going to happen, and it’s really annoying. It hasn’t changed, either. People often assume that with all the touring I do, it would just get better over time. It’s still exactly the same.”

It’s these assumptions that continue to frustrate Brown, 33 next month, who was only diagnosed with the syndrome in 2006. “Other people say to me that it just comes with what you do,” she says as our discussion on Asperger’s continues. “’Just deal with it,’ that kind of thing. I think that’s really not fair. As a young person loving music, you simply just sit in your room and you play. All you want to do is play music and play with your friends. You actually don’t even realise what that’s going to be like. You don’t sign up to become a musician for a lot of the things that go with it. You do it because you love music; because you love playing music. All of a sudden, you have to think about doing interviews, which can be quite hard; you have to meet loads of people that you really have no idea what to say to. We’re not actors, we’re musicians. People often lump the two into the same basket. Some of us are still really scared of the limelight, and just want to play music.”

She speaks intently and with an overwhelming vindication on the subject. Outside of discussing the creation of her music, it’s a topic that brings out the most fascinating responses in Pip. “It’s kind of hard to justify myself sometimes, just because I feel like I have to with some people,” she concludes. “I love playing music. I just can’t see myself doing anything else.”