The Best 50 Albums of 2014 (#40-31)


As one of the most idiosyncratic and iconic singers, songwriters, multi-instrumentalists and bandleaders of the alternative era, Thom Yorke has already his name guaranteed in the history of rock’n’roll. It was mostly his vision that transformed Radiohead from a potential one-hit wonder in the early nineties into one of the most experimental, successful and pervasive acts of the new millennium, with a signature sound that took their progressive roots and pop sensibilities to unexplored electronic landscapes. Though he had always sporadically worked outside his band with cameos on songs from bands such as Drugstore, Unkle, PJ Harvey or Bjork, it was only in 2006 that he released the first of a series of low-key electronic solo albums that seemed focused in articulating a soft stream of intricately layered sounds that includes mostly machine beats and synthetic textures, making his words act more as another element rather than as the focal point of his songs. After 2006’s The Eraser and last year’s Atoms for Peace (as Amok), Thom Yorke returned this year with Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, another somber and moody collection that is not only absolutely coherent with his extracurricular discography, but also includes some of his most eerie and alluring songs.

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2014 was a great year for Owen Pallett. As one of the most singular and prolific indie music collaborators of the last decade, he started the year with a nomination for Best Original Score at the 86th Academy Awards for the soundtrack he co-wrote with William Butler for Spike Jonze’s Her. Then, in May, he finally released with universal critical acclaim his long-awaited and successively postponed fourth solo album. In Conflict is simultaneously the sheer culmination and a departure from Owen’s previous work: though it is, as always, beautifully written and arranged and sumptuously produced, the album has also a mournful and confessional tone that allows him to showcase an unseen facet of his songwriting abilities.

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Though Damien Jurado had previously flirted with field recording techniques and experimented with tape loops (2000’s Postcards and Audio Letters), it was only when he started to work with his Secretly Canadian label-mate and producer Richard Swift that he started to release his most adventurous, colorful and focused records. After 2010’s Saint Bartlett and 2012’s Maraqopa, Damien Jurado closed his harrowing trilogy with this year’s Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun, a record that, thanks to its impressionistic use of dub vintage techniques, is easily his most surprising and rewarding record to date.

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After being responsible for the renaissance of punk blues as the frontman of The White Stripes and widen his musical landscapes with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, Jack White finally released in first solo album, Blunderbuss, in 2012, a dark and bilious affair that debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. This year’s Lazeretto is a busier collection of blues and rock’n’roll songs than his last record, packed with the usual dose of great musical ideas and virtuosity plus a gothic feel that may sound as a novelty to some.

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Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings is an soul and funk American outfit and popular backing band that was formed in 2000 from the ashes of The Soul Providers and The Mighty Imperials. The band and their own label Daptone Records have been at the forefront of a revivalist movement that aims to recapture the feeling of soul and funk music at his golden age (mid-sixties to mid-seventies). They relentlessly refuse to use modern digital instruments and recording gear and use exclusively traditional analog recording equipment. The band’s profile expanded considerably in the mid-00s, when they started to feature as a backing band in some of the projects led by producer Mark Ronson, the most notable of which was, obviously, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. This year’s Give People What They Want is another poignant proof that Jones and her band are one of the best acts in devoting character, nuance and fun into their music.

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7 Days of Funk is the California-based funk duo formed by Snoopzilla (aka Snoop Dogg, the gangsta rap megastar) and the musician, producer, songwriter and DJ Dâm-Funk. Both met at the SXSW festival in 2011 and immediately planned a project that would be a slick combination of hip-hop and vintage funk from the 70s and 80s. Their eponymous record features guest appearances from Tha Dogg Pound members Daz Dillinger and Kurupt, along with former Slave iconic funk frontman Steve Arrington. After Snoop Dog (sorry, Snoop Lion) unnerving and flat incursion to rasta music and lifestyle, 7 Days of Funk is almost a miracle: believe it or not, these eight tight and nasty songs would have perfectly pleased Prince or George Clinton back in the day.

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As a band that has never stopped to release some of the most divisive, fascinating and experimental records of the new millennium, Liars kept delivering the goods with this year’s Mess. Their seventh album is a ferocious, warped and fierce dance-music excursion that takes no casual listeners for hostage and trades the subtle electronic textures explored in 2012’s WIXIW for dense synths and hammered beats.

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After releasing four albums with Los Hermanos (1999-2005) and a couple of ones with Orquestra Imperial (2006) and Little Joy (2008), talented Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante finally released his first solo record, Cavalo, in late 2013. This enthralling album showcases an exotic mixture of Latin and indie-flavored tunes that fluctuates with ease between different idioms (English, French and Portuguese) and features some great guests such as Devendra Banhart, Fabrizio Moretti (The Strokes) and Hollywood-star and comedian Kristen Wiig.

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The Roots are quite an unique American band: a rap outfit with several instrumentalists, prone to collaborations as well as to create a vast and innovative catalogue of platinum and gold records that keeps challenging listeners while gaining a worldwide audience through their partnership with late-night television host Jimmy Fallon. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that they have cemented their reputation as one of the most innovative, progressive, and influential acts in the history of hip-hop with a recent strike of concept-heavy records such as this year’s …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, an album that fiercely gravitates around a meticulous satire of some of the stereotypes perpetuated mostly by the hip-hop community. Though the mood may feel a little bit too sour or bleak for some, this is The Roots’ best sounding record to date and probably Black Thought finest hour as a rapper.

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Of the many musical delights of 2014, one of the most pungent was definitely the creative burst created by a singer-songwriter (Laura Jane Grace) embracing the person she’s been hiding from childhood. Though Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ title and cover might be pretty much self-explanatory in its overall theme, one has to unconditionally dive into the 29 gritty minutes of Against Me! latest offering to fully appreciate the transcendence and honesty emanated by its unstoppable angular songs.

João Pedro da Costa

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