Introduction

To be perfectly honest, I had thought the musical releases of 2014 to be a little weak. At least that was my perception as I began to put together the top releases for the year. In 2014, I purchased 38 releases (listed at the bottom of the post) mostly in physical format. The five releases you see in this post are those I found myself continuing to go back to again and again during the course of the year. As my list narrowed down to Number Four and Number Five, the selection got more difficult but I made the hard choices and a few honorable mentions in my conclusion.

If you’re looking to spend your Christmas money or iTunes card on something, then you can’t go wrong with any of these releases.

Number Five

This Will Destroy You

This band is new to me and I came across Another Language late in the year. After just a few listens I had a strong liking to the work this band is producing. The 9-track Another Language is the third studio album by American post-rock band This Will Destroy You. It was released on September 12, 2014, by Suicide Squeeze Records. The music is instrumental, dark, heavy and yet melodic. TWDY carry on in the tradition of punk, prog rock (though missing the lyrics!), and ambient soundscapes. Quiet moments along with loud crecendos. Some musical influences may be Brian Eno, Mogwai and Sigur Rós. Look forward to more interesting things from this band.

The release Syro by Aphex Twin is a close tie with the Number Five spot.

Number Four

Eno-Hyde

I’m a big Brian Eno fan and this year he released two records with Karl Hyde. The 6-track High Life is the second collaboration between Brian Eno and Karl Hyde, of British electronic group Underworld. The album follows Someday World and was released on July 1, 2014 on Warp Records. The release includes a mixture of instrumental and singing by Brian Eno (not something we’ve gotten a great deal of over the past 30-years). My favorite track is “Cells & Bells” with perfectly tracked Enoesque sounds and subdued voice. The intense groove instrumental created on “DBF” is not to be missed.

Number Three

GoGo Penguin

The 10-track V2.0 is the second album by jazz piano trio GoGo Penguin and was released on March 17, 2014 on Gondwana Records. It was nominated for the Mercury Prize earlier this year. Though not a rock album, it carries much of the same qualities found on the previous two releases. Intense combination of piano, bass, and drums. For example, on the first track “Murmuration” we start soft and gentle but then build into an intense crescendo. On many levels, it is a straight forward normal jazz release but with a new freshness. Though led by piano, the other two musicians should not be underestimated. According to the Wikipedia entry, this band is known for their skittering break-beats, infectious piano melodies, powerful and propulsive basslines, and anthemic riffs. If you like jazz or electronica, you’ll want to check out this band. I suspect these players will be around for a while and continue to make waves in the music business.

Number Two

St. Vincent

St. Vincent is the name of the 11-track fourth studio album by American musician St. Vincent. It was released on February 25, 2014 through Loma Vista and Republic Records. Annie Clark and her music have certainly grown on me over the years. I own two of her releases and this latest is certainly my favorite. She is an artist, both in music and performance, that will endure the test of time and I expect we’ll hear much of her in the years to come. Quirky, professional, rockin’ with lyrics that just make you smile. Track highlights include “Birth in Reverse,” “I Prefer Your Love,” and “Psychopathy.” Watching her live, you can see the heavy David Byrne influence (thanked in the linear notes and co-collaborator on Love This Giant release and tour). Produced and mixed by John Congleton, who is the engineer on Number One below.

Number One

Swans

The 15-track To Be Kind is the thirteenth studio album by American experimental band Swans, released on May 12, 2014 on Young God Records. Two solid hours of beauty and noise written, performed and produced by Michael Gira. Of courses Swans is a band with several musicians along with many musical guests (St. Vincent sings background vocals on four tracks). I’m not sure how much can be said about Swans but it is amazingly intense; a barrage on the senses. Hypnotic and powerful. It’s great that a band created in 1982 is still making fantastic music. I’d like to call out the opening track “Screen Shot” that reads like a Buddhist text.

… Feed, breathe, touch, come… No pain, no death, no fear, no hate / No time, no now, no suffering / No touch, no loss, no hand, no sense / No wound, no waste, no lust, no fear / No mind, no greed, no suffering / No thought, no hurt, no hands to reach …

The track concludes with Love! Now! Breathe, now! Here, now! Here, now! Here, now!

Conclusion

My personal preference seems to lean toward some dissonance, darkness, and intensity. Instrumental seems to be a theme this year as well. I hope you find some time to explore this music.

There were some close runner ups to the five releases above. In particular, the new Aphex Twin, Mogwai, Thom Yorke, and Kiasmos are all worth a listen. And though I’m typically an “album” buyer, I do periodically buy a single and the two highlights are “Words I Don’t Remember” by How To Dress Well and “Sleep Sound” by Jamie XX. If you have country or folk music inclinations, check out Aldous Harding or Michaela Anne.

The 38 releases I bought this year are (in alphabetical order): Aldous Harding, Aphex Twin, Beck, Brad Mehldau, Bruce Springsteen, Chvrches, Coldplay, Daniel Lanois, Deafheaven, Elbow, Eno-Hyde (Someday World), Eno-Hyde (High Life), FKA Twigs, GoGo Penguin, How to Dress Well, Jamie XX, Joe Henry, Kenny Barron and Dave Holland, Kiasmos, Kins, Last Ex, Michaela Anne, Mogwai, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Rustie, St. Vincent, Sun Kil Moon, Swans, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Sylvan Esso, This Will Destroy You, Thom Yorke, Tricky, U2, Wayne Shorter, Wild Beasts, Young Fathers.

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