The Best 50 Albums of 2014 (#50-41)

This week, Musikki will be presenting what we considered to be the best 50 albums of 2014 (well, actually, 51, but more about that later). We’ll publish everyday a post with ten strong contenders of our countdown until next Friday when we’ll finally disclose Musikki’s favorite album of the year. Hope you’ll enjoy the ride. Round #1 coming up right now!
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Though Danger Mouse’s profile has seen better days (he has been thoroughly accused of flattening the sound of some of the indie bands he’s been working with in recent years), it’s hard to argue that Brian Burton might have finally found in James Mercer (The Shins) his most apt collaborator since his endeavor with Cee-Lo on Gnarls Barkley. With this year’s After the Disco, the duo have not only deepened the trademark panoramic melancholy of Broken Bell’s debut, but also added some boldness and experimentation that finally make two of the most distinct pop artists of the last decade shine out of their comfort zone.

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With Only Run, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah managed to recapture the sheer energy and originality of their first two albums via the departure of three fifths of the band’s formative line-up, leaving just the core of leader singer-songwriter Alec Ounsworth and drummer Sean Greenhalgh. We confess it was pretty hard for us to find another electronically infused rock album as thrilling as this one in 2014.

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Here’s an Idiot’s Guide of how to promote a music band in 2014. First, you release some mysterious music videos featuring mostly dancers and no bandmembers doing their moves to the sound of some hypnotic dance grooves. Then you use stills from these videos to illustrate ambiguous press releases and you use social media to spread the word that the music is centered on the collaborative effort of a duo of producers enigmatically named “J” and “T”. Finally, and most importantly, you do your best to feed today’s musical retromania with some atmospheric and languid vintage sounds of funky neo-soul. Jungle have done all that and, quite frankly, no one has done in better in 2014. In spite of their successful approach to today’s emerging digital landscape, the fact is that Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson’s eponymous debut record is also a fabulous and impeccably produced collection of shiny pop anthems, a genuine midtempo assault to the dancefloor that sounds designed to please anyone who likes a little sunshine, sophistication and C-vitamin with their music.

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After being championed by Frightened Rabbit on MySpace and opening for their fellow Scottish mentors, We Were Promised Jetpacks released their debut These Four Walls in 2009, which granted them not only an extensive tour in the US, but also an impressive series of tracks on several TV series and movies. The much more dynamic and emotionally packed In the Pit of the Stomach followed in 2011, but in spite of some rave reviews the band failed to fully capitalize the impressive success and media-attention of their debut. It was therefore with some kind of relief that most of their fans saw this year’s Unravelling grow out to be the band’s best and sprawling effort yet: a cohesive and diverse collection of songs that showcases not only the prowess of a band that has been for the last decade hitting hard on the road, but also the sheer sophistication of their songwriting.

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If 2014 didn’t see the release of a underground metal album that massively appealed to non-genre fans such as last year’s Sunbather by Deafheaven, Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden might have accomplished something arguably even harder: to find an audience that congregates both crossover and orthodox listeners. In spite of its lengthy tunes, the Arkansas doom metal band’s sophomore effort emanates a vintage quality bound to thrill any fan of heavy music. Powerful stuff.

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After releasing last year three singles that pretty much sounded like murky tunes from some obscure Quentin Tarantino home-movie, The Wytches quickly cut ten more tracks for Annabel Dream Reader, this year’s infectious debut album. The record aims for a deliberately primitive sound that combines both reverbed guitar trash and intricate surf licks with a simple but deeply effective rhythm section, while Bell’s vocals alternate between fragile and full-on blast with the ease an hipster changes his shirts. It’s a perfect mix of post-grunge ammunition with 50s sheer paraphernalia: loud, catchy and fun.

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As one of the most enigmatic and unorthodox figures of rock history, Scott Walker’s career has been one odd curve ball spanning more than half of a century. He started as a pop teen idol in the late 50s; obtained massive success in the following decade (as the main songwriter and singer of the epic sounding Walker Brothers and as the auteur of four highly-influential eponymous crooning solo records); went fully reclusive and almost unnoticed in the 70s; and finally embraced avant-garde music releasing only one breathtaking record for each following decade. Though Scott Walker is no stranger to collaborations (he was the leader of a highly successful band, contributed to soundtracks, directed a massive musical theater work and produced records for first rate pop bands), fans and critics were deeply shocked when he announced this year that 4AD would be releasing in October a collaborative album with metal drone experimentalists Sunn 0))). Soused turned out to be a surprising melodic affair that combines Sunn 0)))’s rich and menacing music with Scott Walker’s distinctive baritone and is, definitely, bound to enthrall any listener bound to abrasive sonic assaults.

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If his previous Eps were promising efforts that immediately prompted comparisons with James Blake and How To Dress Well, Chet Faker’s first full album, Built On Glass, proves that he has gone a long way to successfully find his own voice amidst different hybrid genres such as soulful electronica, krautrocked R&B, chilled-out crooning and plain trip-hop nostalgia.

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Though they have been releasing powerful and groovy distillations of 60’s psychic garage for more than a decade, Black Lips definitely raised their profile this year thanks to Underneath the Rainbow, which represented a definitive step towards a punchier and more accessible sound. Though some might argue that a big chunk of the band’s chaotic charisma seems to have been left outside the studio, the truth is that their wild songs never sounded sharper thanks to the work of producers Patrick Carney (The Black Keys) and Dap-King’s Tommy Brenneck.

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After last year’s intimate and low-key brilliance of their score for the French TV Series Les Revenants, Mogwai returned this year with Rave Tapes, a much more economic and cerebral affair that brings to mind the minimalist approach of previous efforts such as 1999’s Come Die Young or 2006’s Mr. Beast. It’s their most cinematic and expansive record to date and, arguably, one of their finest.

João Pedro da Costa

João Pedro da Costa is a web studies scholar and a music fan.