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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The Top 100 Songs of 2014, Part Three: 60 – 41

Crossing over to the halfway point. Let’s press on: Heartbreakers, headbangers and happy happy happy awaits you, dear reader! If you missed out, parts one and two are available to catch up on here and here. On with the show…

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60. Death From Above 1979 – Cheap Talk

So, you haven’t been around for ten years. There’s a whole bunch of kids who weren’t paying attention or were simply too young the first time around. You got a lot of people waiting for you to kick down that door. What’s your game plan for returning to the party? Does it involve pummelling drums, enough bass to satisfy Meghan Trainor’s entire family and just enough cowbell to keep Bruce “Cock of the Walk” Dickinson away from a fever? If so, congratulations: You’re Death From Above 1979! Furthermore: Congratulations! You’re responsible for one of the flat-out best opening tracks of 2014.

59. Coldplay – Midnight

For a band so oft-derided for being complacent and predictable, perhaps not even the band’s fiercest detractors could have seen a track like this coming. Chris Martin is barely recognisable as he shrouds his voice in both rarely-touched-upon falsetto and layers of deep-set vocoder. The rest of the band delve into perhaps their most electronic foray to date, keeping the song moving along like clockwork – or, given the circumstances, like Kraftwerk. Although it didn’t blow up radio like “Stars” or “Magic” did, the fact it was never intended to proves that these giants can still see a bigger picture.

58. Sam Smith – Stay with Me

You know how we all wondered how Adele’s ex-boyfriend felt after hearing 21? We pretty much just did the exact same thing for this fellow twenty-something Brit with a broken heart and a chart-smashing album. This served as his “Someone Like You,” a torch ballad with enough fire within it to burn down a nearby village. His desperate pleas that filled out the song provoked some to smear him as a warbling miserablist, but the second Smith takes it to church with that chorus, there’s clearly something greater going on here. A broken heart mends, and a star is born.

57. Georgia Maq – What Do You Mean (The Bank’s Out of Money)

What do Tony Abbott, Heisenberg, Evan Dando and Bart Simpson have in common? Absolutely nothing – and it’s precisely this that makes their collective inclusion in this sensationally-scatterbrained number so entertaining. Maq is, to put it lightly, not a fan of a singular idea guiding one song – she bounds through enough ideas to last most singer-songwriters a double album in the course of just under four minutes, from comedic misunderstandings to deeply-personal family matters. It’s executed with aplomb, of course, and it’s refreshing to come across anyone bandying about an acoustic to have an askew take on songwriting structure.

56. Hockey Dad – Seaweed

Most of Hockey Dad’s songs sound as though they’re intended for a picturesque light blue sky, green grass and the suburban pavement. By means of contrast, the sun has seemingly set on “Seaweed,” which is the band’s most restrained and, for lack of a better term, tender moment. It’s the soundtrack to an endless summer coming to an end, the waves dropping back and the night taking its place. Rather than lower the collective morale, the song is a success on the terms that it showcases the band’s unexpected versatility. Besides, the sun’ll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar.

55. “Weird Al” Yankovic – Lame Claim to Fame

Were you to name all of Weird Al’s biggest hits, you’d simply have to change the titles of other massive pop songs and go from there. How peculiar, then, that the best moment on his chart-topping comeback LP was an original. Taking cues from Southern Culture on the Skids, this cowbell-laden rocker lets Yankovic loose on the A-listers that he’s kinda-sorta interacted with over the years. Rather than get relegated to the deep-cuts, “Lame Claim” is what one should lead with in order to prove the perennial parodist can still get a laugh out of you some thirty-odd years in.

54. Sun Kil Moon – Carissa

Spoiler alert: A lot of people die on Benji, the latest album from Sun Kil Moon. Like, a lot. Carissa is the first of them, a ne’er-do-well teen rebel turned suburban mother who loses her life in a shocking, unexpected way. It’s all detailed by the low drawl of Mark Kozalek, whose uncle was her grandfather. With little more than a classical acoustic guitar, he takes us through his own grieving process; mostly involving the circumstances surrounding her death. It may not have been a pretty sight nor sound, but it made for some of the year’s most compelling listening.

53. Brendan Maclean – Holy Shit

Population, Maclean’s third EP, was essentially a whole lotta Jekyll-and-Hyde action. One minute, he’s the parading electro-pop superstar of “Winner,” the next he’s the uncertain and visibly-struggling end of a frayed relationship on “Holy Shit.” Maclean’s return to the piano allowed him to take off the cape to reveal the mild-mannered reporter beneath, adding in warm harmonies and a tightly-percussive backbone to his rock-and-hard-place confusion. It’s smart, honest and ranks among the finest songs he’s ever written. Yes, he’s the life of the party – but sometimes he’s the girl crying in the “Stupid” video, and that’s okay too.

52. Megan Washington – Limitless

Was there a more right-in-the-feels opening line this year than “There’s a certain kind of lonely where you sleep in your jeans”? In a year full of revealing moments for the Brisbane-born singer-songwriter – a touching Australian Story, reverting to her real name to release music – “Limitless” proved to be one of the most resonant. Perhaps it was the icy synths or the tightly-wound drums guiding its pained lyrics, or perhaps the the echoing detour into the bridge. Whatever the case, Washington managed to find a method within her madness. Us jeans-sleepers are all the more grateful for it.

51. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Kira Kira Killer

It’s growing increasingly difficult for us Westerners to get an idea as to what the hell is going on in the realm of Asian pop music. The only thing that we know is that we want more of it and we want more of it now. At once sounding like the final level of an adventure game and the theme song to the cutest show in the known universe, it’s a task unto itself to properly describe what Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has got going for her. Her amazing technicolour dream-pop needs to be experienced first hand. Happy! Happy! Happy!

50. DZ Deathrays – Gina Works at Hearts

Sometimes, you’ll hear a riff that’s indicative of a band ready to take it to the next level, from “Buy Me a Pony” to “Covered in Chrome.” The opening seconds of “Gina Works at Hearts” locked it in instantly – hell, even if the rest of the song was said riff, they’d have made it. Of course, there’s a lot going on here – as much a sugar-rush of power-pop as it is a rip-snorting rock-radio champion, DZ get the best out of both worlds and stake out their territory intently and defiantly. Shit’s very much about to get real.

49. Conor Oberst – Hundreds of Ways

A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, as well as prick you just as sharply with its thorns. Whether he’s a Monster of Folk, a Desaparecido or wandering through the Mystic Valley, Conor Oberst is still finding avenues in which to deliver his acutely-detailed world-watching. He’s evolved substantially from LiveJournal-worthy angst into the man that stands before you, leading a parade of ironically-triumphant horns, cooing backing vocals and chirpy lead guitar through such damning lyrics as “I hope I am forgotten when I die.” He may ramble on and on, but we’re still in the procession.

48. Interpol – All the Rage Back Home

Perhaps we’ve been looking at Interpol wrong this entire time. While their albums have often been met with indecision, indifference and derision – particularly within the past ten years – there’s something about the band’s singles that have remained entirely agreeable as a sole constant. El Pintor was bound to set people up for disappointment, given the high expectations with which it was anticipated; but its lead off proved to be one of the finest moments the NYC natives have ever put to their names. At once a slow-motion swell and an urgent rush, “Rage” is a straightforward, singular beast.

47. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Hot Wax

It’s pretty safe to say that King Gizzard are the kind of band that are working on no-one’s terms but theirs. Dropping two albums a year on average, the wonderfully-weird septet have kept audiences both simultaneously guessing their next move and standing back in awe of the miniature empire they have created. Then, of course, they’d drop “Hot Wax” and you’d be too busy shaking your hips to care about anything else. That beat! That harmonica howl! That bass! As you read this in the future, where they’ve presumably just released their twelfth album, remember this as a turning point.

46. Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea – Problem

There’s a new diva in town, and the mainstream press has not let anyone go without hearing the news – Grande was the centre of several “investigative” pieces surrounding her behaviour at photo-shoots. Still, the pint-sized popster had bigger fish to fry, and that came in the form of a dynamic kiss-off taking place in a cold war between sax hooks and sub-bass booms. “Problem” was all business from its opening moments and refused to let up. You may well have tried to deny its place at the table, but this was never about you-ou-ouuuuu. Not good. Not great. Grande.

45. Ty Segall – The Singer

For a guy who’s known for his bounding-off-the-walls energy (see his performances on Conan and that Chicago morning talk show), it’s been strange to watch Ty Segall mellow out a little more as he edges closer to 30. Following on from an entirely-acoustic affair in 2013, Segall kept people guessing on his Manipulator LP, where a song presumably included as a breather between rockier numbers ended up being one a true career highlight. “The Singer” tripped the light fantastic and put particular emphasis on the latter. Rarely has “Sing/Sing louder” sounded less like a refrain and more like a mantra.

44. Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good

Sometimes, you gotta go back. Back when the uniform of the nation was blue jeans and a white t-shirt, your hometown was either your best friend or your worst enemy and the perfect Saturday night was out with your best girl. It’s a time that Ryan Adams has ostensibly wound up in, and on paper it may well not make sense for a noted balladeer to draw such substantial influence from this style. Once the organ calls out beneath Adams’ reverb-heavy guitar swagger, however, it’s the equivalent of the puzzle pieces setting themselves into place. Consider that something good given.

43. Jon LaJoie – Please Use This Song

Taco may have wound up with the Sacko (last place) in this year’s season of The League, but in most other respects, his portrayer took out the Shiva. Not only did he have a memorable casting in the guilty-pleasure hit Let’s Be Cops, Sir LaJoie also took his brand of provocative parody work into the realm of what’s commonly being referred to as “corporate indie” (Hi, Sheppard!). Even when taking the complete mickey out of the genre, he’s done such a dead-on impression that he’s inadvertently wound up as the king of it all. This is the right song, indeed.

42. Brody Dalle – Don’t Mess with Me

We may be ten years removed from the demise of The Distillers, but their ghost is rattling around somewhere here. Of course, it helps that their fearless frontwoman is the mastermind behind it, but there’s more to it: The first lady of rock hasn’t sounded this menacing, guttural and flat-out tough since the days of Coral Fang all that time ago. Put it this way: Most bands would get laughed out of the room if they were to try out a refrain like this song’s title. In Dalle’s hands, you’ll need a quick exit and a clean pair of pants.

41. Pinch Hitter – All of a Sudden

There aren’t many worse places to start having a panic-induced existential crisis than on the strict confines of a plane. Still, Pinch Hitter managed to take the lemons given to them and make some of the sweetest lemonade possible. Part math-rock shuffle, part fluttering baroque pop explosion, “All of a Sudden” explored the greater possibilities of this unique double-banjo project and took its listeners along for the ride. A cameo from Jen Buxton and Jai “the new Terminator” Courtney reciting the brilliant refrain of “Everything’s matter/Everything matters” take this song to a higher (pardon the pun) plane of existence. Incredible.

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