2014 came in with a bang, and now, after drinking all of our beer and leaving a questionable stain on our couch, it's sneaking out before we wake up. But that’s okay, because it left an iPod! Did you know that over 1 million indie records were released in 2014? It's hard to believe that number is even possible. In fact, we know it's not possible, but it would take until 2020 just to disprove it. By then, it won't even matter, as humankind will certainly have engineered a more efficient way to deliver endorphins directly to the brain - skipping the middle men that we currently rely upon so heavily for such deliveries - fresh habanero to the pallet, fresh Colbert to the funny bone, and fresh tunes to the dome...our robotic grandchildren will certainly look back at 2014 and laugh at the lengths we go to to make ourselves smile...
Nevertheless, the year is 2014 and in this post-Interstellar world, we still need those key endorphin deliveries to keep life interesting. Most of us have neither the time nor inclination to sort through the vast sea of new music that gets churned out these days – so we stuck the only man who possesses the strength, willpower, grizzled facial features, and free time to take on the insurmountable task of listening attentively to as many of these new albums as possible over the year- RF’s Chief Sound Trafficker, Tucker "Two Ears" Rinehart. What follows here is his take on an entire year of music(sans December), reduced over low-heat to the purest form of concentrated musical substance attainable...
Although Tucker hasn't been seen in over seven years, and his current whereabouts unknown, he released the following statement, traced to an IP address originating somewhere on Katy Perry's tour bus:
"Here at the Righteous Felon Center of Musical Research & Analysis, we've been working around the clock to compile the most comprehensive and objective "Best Of 2014" music list that's ever been stitched together - anytime, anywhere, ever, of all time, or at least since our list from last year. After culling a list of finalists chosen by a squadron of music specialists and an advanced robotic algorithm known as C.H.O.R.D., we measured each album candidate for magnetism, corrosiveness, breaking strength, durability, and of course, it's calculated weight on Mars. We'll be rolling out our favorite records of 2014, from the worst of the best on the 1st to the bestest of best on the 31st."
While we're not entirely sure what that means, we definitely like how it sounds. Check in with us each morning for a daily dose of the dirtiest and rarest strands of music the year had to offer.
'Tis the latest renaissance of the saxophone ladies and gents. From the bestial blasts of M83 to the titter tat of whatever Bon Iver is doing, the time has come: the sax’s reprieve. These two devils, working with a click track and a sword to sharpen are the living automatons of this promise. Now go funk yourselves and be easy on the songs containing lyrics.
The irony of ‘bedroom rocker’ fully recedes after a proper dose of this headstrong, narcissistic record about a man who views his past through rose-colored glasses so thick he figured he should write a record about it. As pumping as it is frustrating, Heal ends up being a recollection of how brilliant a dismal life can seem when you cue it to music.
Every sewing project has its pricks. Imagine that those pricks have been documented and looped, then formed into senile hills. Bestial Burden will turn you into a profane invalid in simply trying to describe its visceral aura, an operatic Grand Guignol performance about the history of straightjackets.
Maybe the most underappreciated lyricist of our time, Spencer Krug (gilding lilies since 1977) grinds on under his latest moniker, Moonface. With mythological characters, Krug continues to plumb fableist worlds, which end up seeming curiously like our own. The figurative and literal can never quite be parsed in Krug’s universe, a dodgy place where an unreliable narrator owns the thrown. Prerequisite: ‘tie the blindfold quite so tight this time’ before entry.
At first I thought, “wow this sounds a lot like Kishi Bashi.” Then I remembered the first time I heard Kishi Bashi I thought “geez this guy wants to be Noah Lennox, bad.” Panda Bear layers so many… layers? of sound that it’s like, well who really gives a fuck, this must be amazing, right? Guess what, it is. Vocal harmonies weaved over John Carpenter’s tricked out moog, etc (etcetera expressing probably billion of sounds) and we have lift off.
It’s like, how isn’t this artist the biggest thing ever of all time? We’ve all asked ourselves this, referring to whomever, but with YACHT, it sticks. In an absolute sucker punch from one of the most underappreciated duos in music, prepare to be dazzled by a hit and subsequent, well, why call them b-sides? Featuring vocals from the most charismatic performer in indie Jona Bechtolt.
As if to placate the hungering zombies of 90s yesteryear, Alvvays appears and meets their demands. Prepare for nestled little darling songs assisted by Dunlop guitar picks on an anti-oscillating downward stroke. Maybe the most accessible thing on this list, Alvvays breaths reanimated air into a mummified genre. Probably Ian Parton’s album of the year.
Hear ye the impeccable din prophesying ovation over Will Butler’s announced solo record. Then remember Arcade Fire’s other members’ projects (thinking Sarah Neufeld’s Hero Brother) and locate Richard Reed Parry. Music For Heart And Breath echoes the best works of Terry Riley and Arvo Pärt, a labyrinthine orchestration that makes harmony in dead ends and a listener wonder what it means for music to ascend.
Though it’s conjecturally impossible to top 2010’s lo-fi breakthrough assemblage In Evening Air, Future Islands’ 2014 release Singles was their witting gambit to get recognize, reach a larger audience, and use kaleidoscopic production to land them spots on late night television. Well, it worked. Singles utilizes the classic Islands pallet but escalates it into a glittery, polished, banger bringer that took them from kitchenette sized DIY venues like Brooklyn’s Silent Barn to stages in Paris performing for thousands of fans.
Commune begins with the strike of a meditation gong, an interesting serenity in contrast to the rest of the album which has me pleading: “is there a respectable synonym for ‘fucking awesome?’” Goat is the thesis statement to David Byrne’s 1999 essay ‘I Hate World Music,’ a furious hodgepodge of transcontinental influences that merge into a magnificent confluence. Commune is brash and punk, an integrated romp of the senses.
What Dan Snaith does is the embodiment of cute, and while critics will thresh through their cognitive dresser drawers for another term there is none. Fortunately he does cute well, outstandingly well, commanding all his bounciest synths and knobbiest fidelities to detail. While his instrumental gauntlet may be the primary entity touching listeners’ throats let us not forget his slightly incurved oval voice, fiddling atop.
For those of us who love Chris Clark, we are extending our smiles. After what some might consider a gallop in the puddle, Clark kills it, obliterating our expectations with a record inspired by long walks through remote English moors. Recorded in a farmhouse, Clark uses his laptop less like a quantifying composition tool and more like a blunt instrument, building a riotous sound system for an eerie and gradual apocalypse.
So aside from being a filmmaker’s filmmaker and redefining the artist paragon, Jim Jarmusch is also in a band! In this case scoring his own film and being accompanied by virtuoso lute player Jozef van Wissem. What could possibly go wrong? In this case nothing went wrong. Absolutely nothing went wrong.
I want chords. And not the normal kind you learn while taking guitar lessons with the Arizona iced-tea drinking beardy guy down on Dreamisgone Ave. Hospitality seems to pride themselves on their commitment to diminished and negative minor sevenths. Yet the songwriting is groovy as ever. They bring into question: when does composition become so good you’ll struggle to headline?
Unsuspecting as per usual, Dr. Ricardo Donoso (note: our research team could not verify if Dr. D is in fact a licensed doctor and that is sole speculation based on name classiness) begins his latest quest with an ocean drifting in (or out, your old half glass conundrum) then eventually labored breathing. High minded and on the nose, sure, but Donoso submerges his compendium into a digital peril of tact and restraint. After all, it’s inspired by a personal oceanic near-death occurrence. You’ll thank your lucky stars you’re at an agreeable altitude.
We all wanted a song of the year that made us look cool to have a song of the year and we got it. Operators’ ‘True’ swooped in like Angel Nephi and gave us the plates and location to find the book of boombox. But don’t discount what comes after. This EP is great, harboring a disgruntled, sonic creature that may give us all a run for our $.
Where have you gone oh darling young Julian? Caught in a time warp, Casablancas taps the pulse of sloshy, discordant recreation and gives us a quilt of hullabaloo that should have been The Strokes’ fourth album. The combination of mass producing and Casablancas’ ‘jesus, I’m the shit, can’t you pay attention to me please’ locution work almost too magnificently completing a brick and mortar wall of sound that only Berlin could grasp the gravity of.
I just don’t see this record reaching my ears a decade ago. It would have ended up in the cistern, backlogged in the pseudo-classical archives by a mustachioed gentleman in a pith hat. But instead: all hail the age of niche! Woodfall is beautiful; it’s the most objective example of nice music, like when someone asks “how was your vacation to Hawaii?” Well, I was on vacation. In Hawaii. Woodfall is gloriously technical like a commissioned composition that also shimmers with fast-and-loose grassroots luster. Make love to this record’s windswept tones and enharmonics.
During the bands leading up to Ben Frost at a major music festival I was asleep. Curled up like a little capybara in dreamland. The moment he took the stage I bolted awake, driven by his music to jettison my festival-mates, rush the stage and rip. This dense, choc-fulla-chaos and quietness work is a love letter to that moment and Frost’s burgeoning legacy.
Dad rock. Beer commercial music. These labels courtesy of Mark Kozelek, whos name has become synonymous with ‘the internet.’ Before that: there were jams. I particularly like these. Jerry Garcia would have approved.
Behold, the sludge. Pallbearer’s sophomore ode to the heavier than ununseptium downtempo road that Black Sabbath paved brings more raucous than their first, as if that were possible. Suspiciously great after dab of the dispensary’s finest hasish oil, this joyous barrel-roll through gloaming smog is 2014’s keystone doom release.
The most pivotal driving prog-rock of our generation comes from… the Swedes. This latest unidentifiable blurred line between what is earnest and groundbreaking and what is guitars, time signatures, and trying vocals comes from Scraps Of Tape, a band that couldn’t stop playing while I was wandering videogame territory or washing the dishes. The perfect companion when there isn’t a love interest for a million miles and you want to rock.
Suddenly listening to these dudes on a Saturday night (given up all hope on the singles bar scene, am I right ladies???) and loving every second. Then learn it’s Dustin O’ Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, champions of everything I hold dear in music—how did I miss this? OK. Discover it scores interpretive dance choreography by Wayne McGregor. Jesus. Stick a fork, fellas. Sensual strings and exploratory spaces to the nth.
NPR got their stranglehold on this little gem like a 40-foot python finding a baby calf with an asthma attack in the wilderness. Although I’ve been following this project since seeing Mountain Man at Newport in 2011 (personal zing!) they are not wrong. Opening for t-U-n-E-y-A-r-D-s in south Denver I saw Sylvan steal the show. Huzzah.
The countless toilers of outer-sound have approached my doorstep. ‘This is the album of the year!’ they cry. They are undoubtedly correct. This is the seventh best album of the year. Actually I have everything to say about this perfectly executed magnum opus, I’d rather you listen to it.
Ms. van Etten has been putting out records for a while. She is arguably the most important singer/songwriter working today, sculpting steady instrumentation and words into self-criticizing, love-sick landscapes. If telling it like it is were a currency, Shan would be a thrillionaire. There’s a reason even the ballsiest lothario steers clear of Etten’s Grendel, a monster with a parable for every way love can steer sour.
Ten years ago if someone would have told me in vague terms “there’s some kind of mash-up between Eluvium and Explosions In The Sky” I would have crapped my pants. Update: my pre-Inventions nickname “schieße hosen” has reached relevant magnitude. This is the most daunting, paralyzing post-rock-ambient record in years. A reason to own vinyl and a turntable.
Well spank my ass and call me Whitey. RTJ have done it again. Killer Mike and El-P present their sequel, a blistering amalgam of beat and lyric. Simultaneously ‘music to just listen to’ and music that takes unpacking and deconstruction, RTJ2 is the last man standing in the rap battle between who stays and who goes. You are intended to stay.
Google Mike Hadreas and there you have it. A dystopian soul trapped in a beautiful body. That image is the schema of Too Bright, a subtle and punishing record. Hadreas’ pipes are the protagonists of this stunning litany of songs. Pray you’re going through a breakup and/or identity crisis.
As if we didn’t have enough instrumental records on this list. Terje’s masterwork of tight synths and discocentric beats makes any trip to the grocery store an acquisition of 10 lb. bags of cocaine… and they sell them in the ramen aisle! So slip on those headphones and become a badasss, whether you’re driving along a pacific roadway or drafting blueprints to rob Las Vegas’ most prominent casino.
Deathfolk. When was the last time that was a viable genre? Today folks, today. No band has synthesized the open-eyed willingness of folk and the stultifying hellscape of nightmares as Timber Timbre has on their fifth effort. A combination of Lynchian dreams, sweaty Americana, and a condor’s baritone, this perfect, deceptively slow meandering on a psychopath’s choice radio station is the best album of the year. Haven’t listened to it? Slip on your favorite pair of fingerless gloves and get stalking, it’s hunting season.