Best Albums of 2014

Several years ago Japanese spammers stole my domain right out from under me, but I’m finally back having won the war and to celebrate I thought I’d kick things off with a post that was always a popular one back in the day – my best albums list of the year. They’re listed in alphabetical order and presented with links to watch or listen and get yours.

1. Basement Jaxx: Junto – It’s the Basement Jaxx record I’ve been waiting for with all the Basement Jaxx trademarks, without such a need to push the envelope so hard. What’s left is put a smile on your face, feel good, booty shakin, let’s dance music. And there’s First Nations powwow singers, power divas, ufos, funky basslines, garage, house, hip-hop, disco, flamenco – even some jungle-seasoned trap (on iTunes). Watch: Never Say Never on YouTube.

2. Bear In Heaven: Time Is Over One Day Old – I’m a big fan of these guys and their fourth album took their dance rock sound and made it even more sonic, atmospheric, experimental, something to really get lost in.  It’s a catchy, well-produced record with beautiful rock soundscapes, glossy synths, soaring vocals. I played this a lot over the year and it still continues to grow on me with every listen (on iTunes). Watch: Time Between on YouTube.

3. Broken Bells: After The Disco – Danger Mouse and James Mercer’s sophomore release together is sleek, world-weary, full of modern spins on 1970’s flavors, and it even has chorale moments and a few Bee Gees harmonies. It came out early in 2014 and I kept reaching for it again and again all year long, making it my first and most obvious choice when I started making this list (on iTunes). Watch: After The Disco on YouTube.

4. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold –  These Swedish folk rock sisters have been making music for years and if you haven’t heard of them, you will. They’re going to be huge. Their third album “Stay Gold” is golden indeed from start to finish. Luscious harmonies, thoughtful lyrics, unbridled emotions, big sing along choruses. There’s something very Simon & Garfunkel or Crosby Stills Nash & Young about it all, but it’s so much more than that too (on iTunes). Watch: My Silver Lining on YouTube.

5. Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains: Piano Ombre – Pianos, slow moving rattles, violins, Francois’s breathless voice, they can grip tightly and instill a deep, unshakeable obsession with the sweetness contained within.  Uninhibited, straight forward, charming, even the synthesizers sound organically-derived somehow. The end result is so well-conceived throughout, making Piano Ombre a profoundly touching and beautiful album in any language (on iTunes). Watch:  La Fille Aux Cheveux de Soie on YouTube.

6. Mr Twin Sister: Mr Twin Sister – Andrea Estella is surrounded by the crisp, luminescent glow of neon, streelamps, fluorescents, and anything but natural sunlight. For 37 minutes, Mr Twin Sister pay tribute to the way night allows people to discover who they are and who they want to be. A first listen might lead you to believe this is much simpler than it really is. Don’t be fooled. There’s a whole lot going on here and there’s an expert hand guiding it all along the way (on iTunes). Watch: Out of the Dark on YouTube.

7. Owen Pallett: In Conflict – In Conflict is a mournfully restrained and excruciatingly personal record that really digs deep into his own internal landscape, making the most inconsequential life events somehow turn into magic along the way. He thrives on processes and structures, angles. His tales of sexual need, spiritual exhaustion, mortality and more were fined tuned by Brian Eno and the end result is heady, weighty, meaty and a delight. (on iTunes). Watch: In Conflict on YouTube.

8. The Preatures:  Blue Planet Eyes – On “Business, Yeah” singer Isabella Manfredi says, “Maybe it was 1987, maybe it was 1979” And listening to Blue Planet Eyes you’re apt to do a lot of that, trying to place the time and place for what you’re hearing. The Preatures evoke a sense of nostalgia without getting lost in it. Is that Prince? Divinyls? Altered Images? Katrina and the Waves, only better? Whatever it is, there’s no band out there that sounds exactly like the Preatures and this Australian ten-song blast is a joy from start to finish (on iTunes). Watch: Is This How You Feel on YouTube.

9. Principe Valiente: Choirs of Blessed Youth – With shades of 80’s goth rock, these tales of heartbreak and unfettered resolve from Sweden’s Post-Punk and Dreampop masters are phenomenal. While there are distinct nods to the likes of Joy Division, early sounds by The Cure and The Chameleons, Choirs of Blessed Youth is imbued with renewed energy, taking us on a epic journey of emotional highs and lows in one fantastic album, one of the best I’ve heard of it’s genre in a very long time (on iTunes). Listen: The Fighting on YouTube.

10. Ralf Gum: In My City – This went straight to number one in South Africa on the day of it’s release for a reason. His latest collection of soulful house deliciousness brings in the likes of Hugh Masekela, Omar, Dele Sosimi, Monique Bingham and many more, serving up tastes of disco, funk, samba, afrobeat. It’s easily the best house music album of the year with some of the finest tracks this planet has to offer (on iTunes). Watch: The Pap on YouTube.

11. Rome: A Passage to Rhodesia – Yes, I’m in love with Jerome Reuter. That aside, the neo-folk Luxembourg artist has always approached accounts of 20th Century conflict as a historian and a storyteller. It’s actually not surprising to see him create an album about the Rhodesian Bush War knowing that eralier release “Flowers to Exile” was a tribute to the Spanish Civil War, and “Nos Chants Perdus” was a tribute to the French Resistance. He loves exploring tragedy, the human cost of war and greed, and does so here with even more intricately constructed combinations of acoustic folk, martial percussion, orchestrations and digital textures. Nobody else could have done this and it’s another triumph of his uniquely musical genius. Listen:The Ballad of the Red Flame Lily on YouTube. 

12. SOHN: Tremors – The first full-length album from hoodie-loving singer-songwriter-producer Sohn, a.k.a. Toph Taylor, is rather timeless, while still being as current as it gets. With shades of post-dubstep production that are probably better than James Blake, Sohn takes us deeper into his spirit, his broken heart and his thoughtful mind. At times brooding and mournful, each song inevitably ends up sounding so smart that we’re all better for it (on iTunes). Watch: Lessons on YouTube.

13. Young Magic: Breathing Statues – Isaac Emmanuel and Melati Malay recorded these songs while on tour in Morocco, France, and Australia, which may explain how distant and exotic it all sounds. Dirty synth bass lines with sitars, Asian-tinged chromatic percussion, a rhythm section that leans toward dubstep. The lyrics are dreamy, dense and intricate, ultimately mysterious. It’s subversive, alluring, drawing in listeners who appreciate complexity and music that can mesmerize (on iTunes). Watch: Holographic on YouTube.