The Best 50 Albums of 2014 (#20-11)


After what must have felt like an unending hiatus to her fans, tUnE-yArDs finally released Nikki Nack this year, another euphoric record that adds with great effect non-Western musical traditions and glimmering electronic sounds to Merril’s habitual rapid-fire, rich and melodic wordplay.

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Swans’ comeback after a decade long interruption has been one of the greatest things that happened to music in recent years. Though 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky already showed a band full-steaming their unique and experimental approach to post-rock and ambient-noise-minimalism, nothing prepared the world for 2012’s The Seer, probably one of the most defying and harrowing records released in the new millennium. This year’s To Be Kind had the daunting task of following that record and what Michael Gira & Co decided to do is to offer another sprawling beast of an album that takes no hostages and demands absolute dedication to its listeners. The record of 2014 that you will keep exploring in awe throughout 2015.

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Shabazz Palaces returned this year with Lese Magesty, a long-awaited sophomore record that manages, in a truly vanguard effort, to summon a science fiction theme throughout eighteen track and seven suites that fuse their jazz rap roots with soul musings, prog tendencies and full-steamed intergalactic funk. A genuine West Coast hip-hop classic: difficult but tremendously rewarding.

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Warpaint’s eponymous sophomore effort has to be one of the most underrated records of 2014. Though their sparse, dreamy and often psychedelic art rock (often compared to Cocteau Twins and Siouxsie and the Banshees) might sound gauzy or even tentative to some, the truth is their latest album provides to the more engaged an immersive, sensual and surprisingly malevolent mid-tempo listening experience that is not bound to be delivered by many bands in today’s musical landscape. Truly unique.

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It was shortly after receiving his doctorate in Mathematics from Imperial College London in 2005 (which added another cool layer to his already colorful aura), that DJ Dan Snaith (aka Caribou) started to slowly move from his enthusiastic proposal of recycling early nineties indie rock (mostly shoe gaze) to more psychedelic landscapes with album such as 2005’s The Milk of Human Kindness and 2007’s Polaris Prize Winner Andorra. Therefore it would hardly came as a surprise to realize that Dan Snaith would keep pushing his Caribou moniker to new sonic landscapes and, in did, this year’s Our Love can easily be seen as the subtle culmination of the recent focus shifting from the bedsit to the nightclub initiated with 2010’s dancefloor-orientated Swim: a fascinating and slow-burning collection that mixes house, jazz and ambient music in a way that makes it one of the most playable and rewarding electronic albums of 2014.

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After a long hiatus only punctuated by DJ appearances and obscure releases under the name of The Tuss, 2014 has proven to be a prodigious year for Aphex Twin’s fans. After a successful crowd funding campaign that bought and digitally distributed to its contributors an extremely rare acetate of the 1994’s shelved Caustic Window album, Aphex Twin finally released Syro, which is not only his first original album in over a dozen years, but also one of his most balanced records to date, combining his ambient tendencies with his demonically extroverted programming.

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Here’s an Angel Olsen’s quick biography for the uninitiated: she was raised in Missouri and began in her teenager years to performe in coffee shops and bars in the St. Louis area before starting to sing and play guitar with Emmett Kelly for his The Cairo Gang collective, which that led to a solo EP, some cassette material, and 2012’s Half Way Home, a full-length folky confessional debut that received rave reviews. But not even her most ferverous fans were prepared to the radical musical shift operated by this year’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness: an expansion of her sound in all directions thanks to the inclusion of drummer Josh Jaeger and bassist Stewart Bronaugh. This newfound garage rock sound appeal manages to increase not only the depths and restlessness of her songwriting but the emotional impact of her unique voice. It is also beautifully produced and sequenced, making her sophomore effort one of the sheer revelations of this year.

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Parquet CourtsSunbathing Animals is a record packed with punkish daily observations that immediately brings to mind the energy of seminal bands such as The Modern Lovers, the bouncing rhythms of The Feelies and the sophisticated storytelling wit of Pavement. Though this description is more than enough to make the average indie-rock fan salivate, what really stands out in this fascinating record is how what is perhaps this year’s greatest collection of hooks flows effortlessly throughout an uncanny set of moods, reflections and stories. The record that hipsters couldn’t ruin for you in 2014.

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The work ethos visible on Ty Segall’s prodigious musical output has been paramount for his evolution from the raw (but always hooky) edges of his initial punk lo-fi recordings such as 2009’s Lemons to the psychedelic rock of 2010’s Melted, the mellower folk-rock of 2011’s Goodbye Bread, the sheer hardcore of 2012’s Slaughterhouse and the dreamy acoustic sounds of 2013’s Sleeper, just to name a few of his essential recordings. In fact, at least until this year, each of his records have sounded as a specific piece of something much larger that his oeuvre had yet to fully portrait: his idiosyncratic take of the jauntier leanings of Rock’n’roll, whether it is classic, garage, psychedelic, noise, punk, glam or heavy metal. Manipulator, Ty Segall’s 2014 original full-length offering, is by far, his longest, best-sequenced, ambitious, and labor-intensive record to date, the first one that genuinely aims to be more than a piece of the puzzle of his career, but a kaleidoscopic snapshot of everything he has done before and a panoramic view of the amazing things to come. Newcomers should definitely start by this one monster and the converted can be reassured: the multiple overdubs, vocal harmonies and string quartets left untouched both his sheer energy and organic gusto to experiment.

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In spite of their high reputation among critics and a nomination for the Mercury Prize in 2009, Wild Beasts have remained throughout their fabulous career one of the best-kept secrets in indie rock. But things might have finally changed in 2014 as their popularity seemed to have finally gone beyond their habitual cult following: Present Tense not only kept gathering the habitual bunch of rave reviews, but also manage to be their first UK Top 10 album, which is even more surprising if one considers that this is by far their most dense and adult-sounded record to date, trading guitars for synthesizers and approaching their habitual R&B themes of loss and lust with a focus that is genuinely spellbinding.

João Pedro da Costa

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