Friday, January 2, 2015

Top Albums and Songs of 2014

Top Albums:

10. Real Estate - Atlas
9. This Will Destroy You - Another Language
8. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else
7. Grouper - Ruins
6. Explosions in the Sky - Lone Survivor OST
5. White Lung - Deep Fantasy
4. Knuckle Puck - EPs
3. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
2. The Antlers - Familiars 
1. Joyce Manor - Never Hungover Again

Top Songs:

And here's two-and-a-half hours worth of music to hold you over, with some words below:

Joyce Manor - "Catalina Fight Song": Yes, a one-minute song is my favorite of the year. I've been playing "Catalina Fight Song" nonstop -- and often on loop, something I almost never do -- and it still sounds as fresh and compelling as when I first heard it. Recalling Guided by Voices, Joyce Manor craft songs that are catchy, passionate, and, most of all, succinct. Listen to the guitar that sears through the drums midway through "Catalina." A typical band would've let that guitar play out and cut the opening verse neatly in two, but Joyce Manor refuse to waste a second here, so the vocals keep flowing, their rising intensity matching the amplifying noise.  "Catalina" becomes a minute-long crescendo without all the build-up preceding it, though the song really explodes in the last ten seconds and then abruptly concludes. After such a climactic minute, I feel stunned when the music suddenly ceases.  Somehow, though, I muster the strength to click my radio dial to the left...and then the song repeats.

Knuckle Puck - "Gold Rush": When you hear great pop-punk, it sounds so damn easy -- it really is a formulaic genre -- but few bands truly get the music right.  Often the vocals are too whiny, or the guitars are too distorted, or the hooks simply aren't catchy enough.  But when all a song's pieces do come together, you can recognize a classic instantly.  That's how I felt with Knuckle Puck's "Gold Rush," a song that begins with an urgent exclamation: "If I don't start sleeping on the floor again I'll be testing out my patience,"  This intensity is sustained the whole song through, but what's most remarkable about the track is its fluctuating dynamics: it is not three minutes of pleas, which would quickly grow irritating. Instead,  the vocals are always moving at different speeds and volumes that it's surprising how much you can hear in less than three minutes. (They buy into another pop-punk maxim: brevity is key.)  The group foregrounds the emoish vocals during the verses and bridge, where the band maximizes the poignancy of its universally relatable lines like "I swore I wouldn't feel this way anymore." Then there's the noisier chorus with jolting guitars and staggering drums, not to mention an addictive chorus which I always catch myself involuntarily singing around the house.  Nearing the song's end, the band uses a vocal effect so that the singer's voice swells up, making "Gold Rush" feel gigantic, epically important, which is part of the point: pop-punk magnifies our basic emotions (happiness, sadness, jealousy, anger), which to some seems melodramatic but to others feels like the whole damn universe condensed into a song. Knuckle Puck convince me that whatever they're feeling really matters, and for the three minutes I hear "Gold Rush," I'm totally lost in their world of emotions.

Flying Lotus, ft. Kendrick Lamar - "Never Catch Me": Best hip-hop song of the year.  Few rappers could keep up with Flying Lotus's spazzy beats, but Kendrick accelerates his vocals to blazing speeds, faster than anything heard on his impeccable good kid, m.A.A.d city.  Also check out the stunning video, which shows two young children rise from their coffins and dance through their funeral procession.

The Antlers - "Palace": After releasing Hospice, a devastating concept album acclaimed by critics, I feared that The Antlers might've peaked too early.  But the group's followup, Burst Apart, revealed a band eager to experiment sonically and starting to cultivate a distinct sound.  Following an underrated EP (Undersea), these guys have released the most beautiful and unique work to date: Familiars.  The album is ironically named: this music sounds totally dissimilar to other experimental/stoner indie/alternative music.  In fact, it's even a departure from previous Antlers albums.  Yet this is also a distinct Antlers record, one that no other group could have made.  Listen to how that inimitably angelic falsetto is paired with the ethereal soundscapes we heard on Burst Apart, in addition to warm, brassy horns, which simultaneously cut against the lofty sounds (bringing more earthy tones to the spacey keys) and increase the ambiance.  It's easy to get lost in these warm and oozy sounds until the vocals demand your attention midway through the song during the climactic exclamation.  Listen for individual parts, listen for the whole, listen closely or zone out. This song proves incredibly rewarding and durable.  Seems like they didn't peak too soon, after all.

The War on Drugs - "Under the Pressure":  It's so easy to get lost in the lush soundscapes of this gorgeous record.  We get more of the gauzy shoegaze that we've heard on previous War on Drugs albums, but here the melodies are richer and the songs flow more freely.  Take the album's opener, which ebbs and flows for nine minutes of carefully orchestrated guitars, keys, and muted horns.  It feels otherworldly and transcendent, but the Dylan-esque vocals always keep the song grounded enough that it doesn't loft away into ethereal nowhereland--the foreboding vocals shade these dreamy sounds with dreariness.  We witness this mixture of dreaminess and dread when singer Adam Granduciel admits that he's "trying not to crack under the pressure," and then the song briefly ruptures, all of its pent-up tension suddenly released.  As beautiful as this moment is, it's also the song and singer cracking.  Beautiful moments that capture Granduciel's lowest points.

Real Estate - "Had to Hear":  I liked this group's past album, Days, better than its newest, but this opener epitomizes everything people adore about Real Estate: laid-back vocals, catchy (and deceivingly intricate) guitars, and subtle but moving lyrics.  I just love the line "I don't need the horizon to tell me where the sky is/ It's a subtle landscape where I come from."  Gets me every time, even if I can't pinpoint why.  Maybe it's just a North Jersey thing (these guys are from a town about 15 minutes from me).

The Notwist - "Kong": A lot of publications vaunt Future Islands's "Seasons" as the indie pop song of the year.  I like the song (it made the cut), but give me "Kong" every time, a track that plays like a poppier version of Built to Spill, with the instrumental prowess of a Tokyo Police Club.  This one needs high volume -- let it be the (somewhat morose, but hey it's indie!) jam to your future summers.

Cloud Nothings - "I'm Not a Part of Me":  I still think CN's last album was better, but this song--and the performance of the whole album at the Bowery earlier this year--is superb.  It's no "Stay Useless," but it rocks hard and closes the record with a bang.

Explosions in the Sky - "Waking Up":  By now EITS have mastered the whole soundtrack thing.  And the whole making absolutely gorgeous, wordless music that conjures every bittersweet moment of your life, eliciting near-paralytic states of awe and introspection.  Yeah, that too.  This song brings lightness to a dark film (Lone Survivor) and a largely dark soundtrack, and it offers the chimey guitars and loud/soft dynamics one expects of an Explosions song.  What makes this one special is that the "explosive" crescendo is gentler, and dare I say prettier, than most EITS songs.  And the band operates under time constrains that their albums lack, pulling off an emotionally gripping, wordless song in under five minutes.  This track isn't to be missed by any EITS fan.

No comments:

Post a Comment