Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Five: 10 – 1

Hey y’all! Well, how about this, huh? Here be the ten best rekkids of the year done gone past. Huge thanks for seeing through list season with me. Catch y’all next time around!

50 – 41
40 – 31
30 – 21
20 – 11

10. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
Spotify || Rdio

Life isn’t all blue jeans and white t-shirts. The Gaslight Anthem have finally escaped the small town that almost killed them and have wound up strangers in a strange land on their fifth album. Get Hurt is an exploration through unchartered waters and foreign territory, a much-needed break from the comfort zone that, regardless of the quality of outcome, could well have killed this band had they remained within its confines.

Certainly, it wasn’t as if there was some drastic detour into acid jazz or anything of the sort – after all, as Brian Fallon himself sings at one juncture, “I still love rock & roll/I still call somebody ‘baby.’” There is a stretching of boundaries here, however, that is indicative of a prosperous future beyond nights with the radio and Maryanne. Get Hurt is the sound of Gaslight beginning again.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Stay Vicious, Get Hurt, Break Your Heart.

WATCH:

9. Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear
Spotify || Rdio

Sia Furler, for a time, was the ghost of pop charts past. Her writing credits and, if listening closely, her unmistakable voice, infiltrated dozen of singles from some of the biggest names in the industry. It’s a life that could well have made a sustainable living for the rest of her days. The call of work under her own name, however – on hold for several years at this point – eventually grew too strong.

There were stipulations: No touring, no media campaign, no public appearances. It was a fair compromise, however, when in return we received her greatest LP since 2004’s spotless Colour the Small One. Marrying her intrinsic, introspective songwriting with the sensibilities gained from her double-life in mainstream pop, Fear allowed us to see behind the blonde bob wig. We may not have seen her face all year, but this allowed for something greater – we saw her heart.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Elastic Heart, Big Girls Cry, Chandelier.

WATCH:

8. Die! Die! Die! – S W I M
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

An exercise in irony: The definitive album from a veteran band has its title based on an online acronym for “someone who isn’t me.” Truth be told, this is an album could not have come from any other band – after over a decade sharpening and refining their throttled, scorched-earth take on noise-heavy post-punk, all roads that Die! Die! Die! have travelled have ultimately lead to S W I M’s creation.

It snarls, scratches and seethes through envy, paranoia and disconnect – in other words, it’s a decidedly ugly, ruthlessly aggressive listen. It’s not user-friendly or accessible, of course. Die! Die! Die! have never been as such before. The difference is that they have never sounded so vital and purposeful in the execution of their ideas as they do here and now.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Angel, Get Hit, Out of Mind.

LISTEN:

7. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

A house is not a home. That doesn’t mean that it never has been, of course. Finding the house that was once a home – your home – can trigger so many memories, stories, truths and once-faded thoughts. This is conceptually explored – with considerable depth, it must be added – on La Dispute’s third studio album.

The hyper-literacy and Jordan Dreyer’s foreboding poetry that weaved its way through previous releases not only recurs on the album, but arguably latches onto its strongest subject matter to date. Each room sparks something different, allowing the protagonist to reflect on how much has changed since the transition from home to house. It’s often not for the better, but it’s perhaps this that keeps one hanging on every single word. Rooms of the House is a creative work in every sense.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Woman (In Mirror), For Mayor in Splitsville, Stay Happy There.

LISTEN:

6. Pinch Hitter – When Friends Die in Accidents
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

A chance encounter. A dead-end job. A fear of flying. An untimely demise. A sudden realisation. A friend in need. These things, while separate entities from a contextual standpoint, are tangled together in the half-hour-and-change that comprises the debut album from this unexpected team-up.

While many came to know the project from Nick van Breda and Dave Drayton from their live shows – simply two men, two voices and, yes, two banjos – Accidents allows the two to flourish in a wider spectrum. Their musings and noodlings are guided by xylophone (“Nine-to-Fine”), flutes (“All of a Sudden”) and even typewriters (“They Said This Would Stop” – no shit). It’s all tied up with the four-part title track that weaves in and out of the tracklisting – and its final blow is still as devastating long after the first time you hear it.

A folk album without guitar? It’s possible. Anything’s possible. Everything’s matter. Everything matters.

THREE TOP TRACKS: All of a Sudden, Part IV, Nine-to-Fine.

LISTEN:

5. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
Spotify || Rdio

Back in a time when the American president was public enemy number one, Kanye West was a debut-album rookie and dance-punk was as legitimate as any rock subgenre, one guitar-less duo ruled over their six-stringed contemporaries with a half-hour of power known as You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. It was cemented by ear-splitting live shows, instant cult status and an unforgettable performance on Conan with none other than Max Weinberg sitting in.

It would take two short years for everything to fall apart for Death From Above 1979, and that – so we thought – was that. Several contributing factors lead to the band’s eventual reunion, but the most prevalent ended up being unfinished business. Despite becoming quote-unquote “adults” in the time they were apart, there was still an agenda to make loud, visceral and ripsnorting rock & roll.

That’s where The Physcial World comes in – a rarity insofar as being a sequel that not only matches up to its predecessor, but threatens to rival it so often it may well swallow the thing whole. Long live Death.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Right On, Frankenstein!, White is Red, Cheap Talk.

WATCH:

4. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Spotify || Rdio

Were you told about Benji on paper, one would rightly distance themselves from it as soon as humanly possible. Just think – a late-forties dude mumbling about his parents, his dead uncle, various sexual encounters, James Gandolfini and his home state of Ohio. What could possibly be appealing about that?

It could well be argued that Benji, as an album, succeeds on account of these traits and not in spite of them. Mark Kozelek has been known in the past to allow his simple, sombre style of songwriting and storytelling to uplift ordinary things, places and people into the extraordinary. Jim Wise sounds like an odd, weird dude. On “Jim Wise,” however, he somehow turns into an endlessly-fascinating character. The same can be said of Kozelek’s second cousin, his drummer and even his dear mother (“My mother is 75/She’s the closest friend I have ever had.”) They are – or were, in some cases – just regular people until Sun Kil Moon reels them into his world.

Whether you find him driving to a Postal Service show or tripping out on Led Zeppelin in his younger days, Mark Kozelek somehow makes the cold all the more inviting. Benji is a journey – a long, exhausting and depressing one; but one any self-respecting music fan should take at some point in their lives.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes, I Love My Dad, Carissa.

LISTEN:

3. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
Spotify || Rdio

“Has the world gone mad?” opines Ben Howard mere minutes into the first track on his second album, before adding a further line of questioning: “Or is it me?” By the end of I Forget Where We Were, you won’t have an answer. Hell, you won’t even have one after a dozen spins. As it progresses, the album poses far more questions than it provides answers or traces of resolve.

Perhaps it’s this that makes it such an intriguing prospect – from a songwriting perspective, it allows Howard to less scratch below the surface and more dig down as far as humanly possible. Besides bearing his name, precious little else lies on the common ground between Forget and its predecessor – here, we work through varying degrees of light and shade; love and loss; truth and lies. It takes you to points where you fear you may never return – points you feel, as a listener, you may well not be entirely prepared to go.

Herein lies the rich reward of I Forget where We Were. Ben Howard has evolved from being a mere singer-songwriter – here, he has become a journeyman.

THREE TOP TRACKS: End of the Affair, I Forget Where We Were, Conrad.

WATCH:

2. Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Ray Charles, an r&b star, once made a country album. Kanye West, a rap phenomenon, once made an album where he sang for its entirety. Radiohead, at one point the most promising prospect in guitar music, once made an album where they barely touched the things. More than once, now you mention it. What is this all leading to? It’s simple, really: The notion that risks should not only be taken, but actively encouraged. Who knows what awaits on the other side? Perhaps true greatness.That’s what happened on Keep You.

Pianos Become the Teeth – an emo band in the true sense, bypassing the mall to arrive at Orchid’s discography – made an album where their harsh screams and dissonant guitars were traded in for what are known in hardcore circles as “clean” vocals and a collective dip into the waters of the indie and post-rock spectrums. It was an all-or-nothing movie – make or break, sink or swim. The Baltimore natives risked everything and won it back tenfold.

Not only is it the finest of their three long-players, it also serves as a shining beacon from their immediate scene – a message to the outer reaches detailing the adventurous versatility at work within it. For an album whose final line is a cry of “Let’s say nothing some more,” Keep You says more in its actions than words ever could.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Repine, April, Old Jaw.

LISTEN:

1. Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Around ten years ago, in an interview with NME, Carl Barât was asked his favourite album of the year as part of a generic series of questions asked of several musicians. Barât chose A Grand Don’t Come for Free by The Streets, reasoning that the album was a reflection of England that many may not necessarily want to see or hear about.

This is being brought up a decade on for two core reasons. The first of which is to sound the trumpets to signal the arrival of a new outfit less holding up a mirror to contemporary British society and more smashing said mirror and holding up a jagged shard, just to feel the pain that the pricks of blood bring. The second is admittedly a little more petulant – it’s because the reference and the people and publication which it contains would be immediately be despised by James Williamson, the spoken-word half of Sleaford Mods who barks, grunts, prophesises and spits through every last thing that displeases him.

It’s a cruel, frustrating world in which he lives; one that constantly brands him a fool and a ne’er-do-well when it should be acknowledging him as the smartest guy in the room. “I can’t believe the rich still exist,” he laments within the album’s opening minutes. “Let alone run the fucking country.” It’s said through fuzz and distortion, and yet it lands with all the clarity of being yelled directly into your ear. He may soapbox his way through several tracks (“Liveable Shit,” “Tweet Tweet Tweet”), but certain things slash through a raw nerve. He may seethe at an upper-class acquaintance he’s attempting to manipulate (“I’m a connoisseur!/I’ve conned you, sir!/I just wanked in your toilet!”) but his envy is quick to undo him entirely (“I want a house like this, how do I get it?/It’s beautiful! It’s fucking ridiculous!”).

There are layers of complications, deep-running waters of disarray and the throbbing pain of a hangover following another bottomless night in the sewerage of another disgusting city. Divide and Exit was the sound of the everyman’s demise, the death of the common people and the experiment starting over. Sleaford Mods might not want to change the world, nor is it looking specifically for a new England – and, yet, both are achieved and found, respectively, on Divide and Exit. A voice raised to its heights for years on end has finally shifted to the forefront and being paid the attention it deserves.

THREE TOP TRACKS: You’re Brave, Tied Up in Nottz, Liveable Shit.

LISTEN:

Advertisements

The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Four: 40 – 21

We’re so close! Parts one, two and three… missed ’em? Not to worry? You can revisit them here, here and here. Let’s get down to some top 40 pop hits. Starting now.

***

40. Fucked Up feat. J Mascis – Led By Hand

Here’s a strange proposition: The best Dinosaur Jr. song of the year did have J Mascis in it, but it wasn’t by Dinosaur Jr. In a standout moment from their exceptional Glass Boys LP, Pink Eyes and co. paid homage to proto-grunge wigouts while still maintaining their hardcore punk roots. There was perhaps no greater yin-and-yang in the year than when Mascis mumbled the song’s chorus as Pink Eyes let out a Roger Daltrey-worthy “YEAH!” atop of it. An unlikely pairing on paper, “Led by Hand” had everything making a whole lotta sense quite quickly. Follow it around.

39. St. Vincent – Digital Witness

What did Annie Clark learn from her time making music with David Byrne? Two major things. The first: Horns. They’re a weapon. Use them wisely. The second: Is something categorically weird in your song? Make it weirder. Taking this on board, “Digital Witness” is one of her finest tracks to date. Whether it was the spiralling pre-chorus melody, the stinging guitar wail or that all-encompassing hook, it was nigh-on impossible to deny the resonance of this rebirth. During one of the song’s many earworms, Clark boldly states “I want all of your mind.” You got it. Anything else?

38. The Kite String Tangle – Words

We’re still learning a lot about Danny Harley, the prodigious figurehead behind Brisbane bedroom phenomena The Kite String Tangle. Tracks like “Words” allowed us as listeners to edge slightly closer in this regard, and it was something to be extremely thankful for. A restrained exploration of post-dubstep balladry, Harley shrouds himself in light-and-shade contrasts, gently coaxing out confessional lyrics as distant lights flicker and glow on the outskirts. It shouldn’t add up that such depth and maturity has been achieved at such an early stage, but one would suppose The Kite String Tangle has always been against the odds.

37. Jane Tyrrell – The Rush

Lovers can fall hard and fast for one another, but where does one find oneself when fire turns to ice? It’s a complicated subject, and one that Tyrrell details with an outsider’s eye and an insider’s mind. She may have set up two characters in the song, but it’s safe to say that she sees more than just herself within them. Driven masterfully by the unmistakable drumming of PVT’s Laurence Pike, there are soaring highs and crushing lows that weave through the song’s relatively-short runtime. Tyrrell sees us through to the bitter end. It’s not like it’s her first time.

36. Ken Stringfellow – Kids Don’t Follow

If any song is stretching the friendship for its inclusion in a 2014 list, it’s surely this: A cover of a Replacements song from the 80s that was recorded in 2004 for a tribute album to the aforementioned college-rock legends that ultimately never came to be. This hazy barroom take on the anti-authoritative punk number came from acclaimed Posies and R.E.M. alum Ken Stringfellow; and collected dust until the release of a rarities compilation at the beginning of 2014. So, here we are. You best believe this sucker was worth uncovering. A smart, somewhat-sombre reworking from a truly underrated craftsman.

35. Babaganouj – Too Late for Love

Go Violets didn’t fade away, they burnt out. Their embers remain flickering within Brisbane’s still-thriving indie-pop village, as two of its members have resumed full-time positions in this little jangly garage outfit that could. “Too Late for Love” may have been born in the sunshine state, but it’s more European in flavour – there’s a strong dose of Camera Obscura, a hint of The Wannadies and sprinklings of Belle and Sebastian’s early work. None of this is said to deride the song, of course. It’s a reflection on how it immediately feels like home. May this band burn longer and brighter.

34. Kelis – Breakfast

Her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, but what happens when one of those boys sticks around? Now in her thirties, Kelis is exploring the concept of finding love in wake of divorce. It’s quite an adult prospect, recurring on perhaps her most mature LP to date, Food. Many went with a helping of “Jerk Ribs” when asked to name the album’s standout, but it would be foolhardy to dismiss this triumphantly horn-laden take on neo-soul, complete with stunning chorus and adorable children’s backing vocals. Much like in life, “Breakfast” is the most important meal of the day.

33. Ben Howard – Conrad

A lot of pitch-black darkness took up Ben Howard’s second album – hell, it even took up most of the cover art. Positioned towards its latter half, “Conrad” allowed the LP to let a glimmer of light into the spectrum. It continues to look at where a past love went awry; and yet the song plays to the pop sensibilities that rewarded Howard such attention to begin with. Its shipmates are his exceptional guitar work, layered to the point of being a battalion front; as well as a hummed refrain that would even garner due respect from the Crash Test Dummies.

32. Luca Brasi – Borders and Statelines

Luca Brasi’s dues have been paid in full and with interest; and many within Australia’s punk community have spent the last few years in particular wondering as to when it would be their time. It was answered not with words, but an extremely loud action. The forceful, crashing drums, the stellar twin-guitar attack and the rousing, spirited chorus they always had in them… “Borders and Statelines,” contrary to its lyrics, will come to define this band in the very best way imaginable. There is a wolf in the throne room, and its name is Luca Brasi. There will be blood.

31. Swans – Oxygen

2014 saw Michael Gira turn 60 years old. He continues to haunt the realm of alternative/avant-garde music after thirty-plus years in the game with unfinished business. Amid an exhausting two-hour-plus release – the double-LP To Be Kind – came this truly terrifying beast. “Oxygen,” already a live favourite, can now officially stand as one of the biggest, boldest compositions to ever come out under the Swans moniker upon its long-awaited recording. Its opening moments are spent picking out one of the year’s most distinctive basslines; its dying moments forcefully hurls everything it has built up into the inferno. The in-between is unforgettable.

30. Death From Above 1979 – Right On, Frankenstein!

Yes, the most hyped new rock band of the year may well have been a bass-and-drums duo; but a vengeful return from the very band that made it cool in the first place made sure we all knew whose yard we were stepping into. “Frankenstein” fires off on all cylinders from its opening seconds, pounding through a barnstorming, breakneck dose of rock & roll that exists purely on Keeler and Grainger’s terms. Plus, it’s gotta be the best false ending to a song from this year: The dust settles, the bass rings out… then, POW! Right in the kisser!

29. Bertie Blackman – Run for Your Life

Another new Bertie Blackman album means another new Bertie Blackman. From the days of her favourite jeans to her flirtations with electronica on later releases, the chameleonic Blackman has rarely allowed herself to get too comfortable within a particular style in her decade-and-change of songwriting. “Run for Your Life” is no exception to this, although it would be wise to suggest she spend a little more time in this specific corner. She sounds right at home with the gated snare, thickly-layered synthesizers and the whoah-oh’d call and response. She may well have just stumbled across her own pop paradise.

28. Kiesza – Hideaway

Fred Armisen may have sung that the dream of the 90s was alive in Portland, but his radar was a little off. The dream of the 90s, friends, is alive in Kiesza, a twenty-something Canadian up-and-comer who dominated dancefloors throughout the entire year with this certified banger in her arsenal. From a crafting perspective, “Hideaway” is retro in the sense that it can appreciate that there was a “What is Love” and a “Rhythm of the Night” for every “Teen Spirit” and “Black Hole Sun.” Its spirit is alive and shuffling once again. Mash it.

27. Coldplay – Magic

In the year that the phrase “consciously uncoupling” entered the cultural lexicon, you could well have been forgiven for forgetting that Chris Martin actually made music this year. Sure, some people would like to forget it altogether, but that’s another story for another time. We’re here to talk about “Magic,” a single that allowed Martin and co. to recall the pop simplicity of their early days while connecting it to the fresh pain of a then-recent separation. If “Magic” proves anything, it’s that we can begin again. That, and Chris Martin can still write a bloody tune.

26. Tkay Maidza – U-Huh

Don’t let Tkay Maidza’s age fool you, nor the simplicity of her big-business single. MCs twice her age would kill for a flow so tightly syncopated, hooks this high in both quality and quantity and a beat as bright and boisterous as the one that fills the spaces of “U-Huh.” There are constant surprises around every corner in the current Australian musical climate; and Maidza is the latest to make a substantial impact. One hopes the fire spat here leads to a phenomenal debut LP next year. After all, as she puts it, “We don’t tolerate broke behaviour.”

25. Yoke – Jabiluka

A phrase as simple as “I never told her” is what centres itself thematically at the core of “Jabiluka,” so named after a mine in the Northern Territory of Australia. Each time it is uttered, there are further layers peeled back to reveal the pain, the regret and the loss that comes with delivering such a line. It’s conveyed emphatically, almost taking on new meaning with every repetition. Similarly, the song itself may externally feel like a Dev Hynes-flavoured slice of downtempo indie-pop, but further listening will see those very same layers revealing. A smart yet complicated song.

24. DZ Deathrays – Reflective Skull

Who gives a fuck about how many notes you can play? If you can play the right ones, in the right succession, you needn’t worry about a single thing more. The riff that “Reflective Skull” lives and dies by was not designed for any greater intellectual pursuit. It’s a primitive headbanger, locked into an undeniable stomping groove and launched forth with reckless abandon. Ironically enough, with its less-than-more approach, this could be one of the biggest sounding tracks that the Deathrays duo have ever put their collective name to. Altogether, now: DUN, DUN-DUN, DUN DUN DUN-DUN, DEWWWW DEWWWW DEWWWW.

23. Sia – Chandelier

Ten years removed from her previous signature song, the inimitable “Breath Me,” Sia Furler has penned herself a new standard; an anthem which will forever define her as one of not only Australia’s greatest singer-songwriter exports, but as a true mastermind behind pop music in the 21st century. Hyperbole? For Christ’s sake, go listen to that chorus again. Seriously. It feels like that Maxell ad campaign where the guy is being blown away by the sound in his chair. Maddie Ziegler may have given the song a second life, but it was all a part of Sia’s grander plan.

22. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

Don’t call it a comeback. Don’t even call it a reinvention. What we are seeing here is Brian Fallon and co. going out on a proverbial limb, gazing forlornly at what lies beyond. In leaving their comfort zone and exploring the possibilities of slower, more refined songwriting, Gaslight have undertaken a greater journey all with a single step. The title track from their latest record also served as one of their most striking, honest songs ever put to wax. It’s murmurs and whispers from a band defined by their shouts and screams, and it makes for a remarkable listening experience.

21. Tiny Ruins – Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens

The single greatest ode to love in 2014 came from the humble, warm abode of Auckland; where you’ll find the quaint, gorgeously understated sounds of one Hollie Fullbrook on the wind. The story is simply told, beautifully painted and pristinely arranged, as we follow the scent of young love through two uniquely different workplaces that somehow not only complement on another, but serve as a reflection on the resolute power that can come through finding love. Its greatest achievement, however, is its ability to accomplish all of this majesty in a decidedly slim 155 seconds. It just comes and goes.

***

20 – 1