It has taken me some time working up to the task of summarizing my music listening in 2014. I find myself publishing these lists fashionably late, but that suits me fine. To be frank, while I enjoy making personal lists I find the list making time of year to be a particularly fishy smelling anniversary across the internet. So much homogeny among all the various critics and sites, you’d think only 60 or so albums had been released in any given year. Is everyone's taste really so similar?
A couple notes on the lists...
I feel lucky to live in a city where interesting music happens, and am glad my lists often reflect some of that geography in an earnest sense. No Toronto championing for me, the local (word used literally, and un-pejoritivally) sounds found on these lists are things I think are great and are deserving of your attention.
Lastly, I am disturbed to find not a single trace of Rap music in this posting. Normally a staple of my contemporary music listening diet, this was the first year since I’ve done these kinds of lists that I was unable to find anything to truly love - and yes I did hear Piñata & RTJ2… Is Hip Hop dead? My ears remain open in any case.
And now, presented as a package post for sake of convenience (and in no particular order) - my favourite albums & 10 notable songs of 2014.
11 MOST FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2014
Jack Name - Light Show
As far as burn mileage, I got more out of Light Show than any other album this year. On the turntable, in the van, walking down the avenue. Criminally underrated by list and taste makers (most of the good, weird stuff is). An album of true substance from a lyrical and sonic perspective. Lived in vibes of an entirely inventive and hooky melodic character. Varied sound sketches come to life. A thoughtful rocker, with sexiness and intelligence to spare. It would be silly to describe via some trite formulation of band X + band Y, as the damn thing won’t be still long enough to get under a microscope. Sure they might call it ‘glammy’, but if they do they ain’t listening. Absolutely nothing glamorous about it. Yes sir, I’ll take another helping…
Mica Levi - Under The Skin OST
If I were anointing a certain cultural item as best of the year above all others (as I did last year with George Saunders excellent 10th of December) I would be tempted to nominate Under The Skin - in large part due to it’s beguiling score. Hard not to be in awe of the soundworld created by Mica Levi. I'm hard pressed to find a more vivid combination of eeriness and sexuality than the music found in this film. If Timbaland had been a minimalist avant garde composer instead of a hit maker you get into a galaxy close to this alien creation. Completely ambiguous, yet seductive. Riveting stuff composed simply out of dull pops, thwacks and vibrating strings. For me, the most imaginative music of the year.
Blue Phantom - Distortions
Consider me hooked on 70’s Italian library music and it’s ilk. Between this Blue Phantom reissue, Teisco’s ’Tuscan Castle & Country Seat' & Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza’s ‘The Feed-back’ (also reissued this year) I’ve had my pipe figuratively stuffed by these heady textures all year long. Blue Phantom is certainly the most approachable of those 3 records listed, being a full out rocker in parts. Honestly at times this thing goes in harder than the Stooges or B Sabb, with it's absolutely savage riffage... Next thing you know you’re ear deep into some unreleased Nino Rota horror score, jazzy with a creep to it. Without hyperbole, I personally find this to be an essential 70’s recording and am thankful the thing was pressed up again this year allowing me to get my grubby fingers on it at a reasonable cost.
D’Angelo & The Vanguard - Black Messiah
Another good thing about not publishing your best of list on the 1st of December is that the whole year is actually considered… Surprise releases and all. This record is being marketed as something of an indictment on several political issues, but an unmentioned one may be the state of 'major label' music in general. I find it immeasurably depressing to consider how much of a rarity it is to come across an album of substance, so lavishly produced and perfectly performed. It simply doesn’t happen any more. Where in the golden age of the record industry each label had a veritable stable of musicians seen as legitimate cultural heavy weights (admittedly, perhaps retroactively) we now have D’Angelo and… let me get back to you on that one. Maybe I take these things too seriously, but my heart sinks every time I see someone who claims to take music seriously positing that Taylor Swift had one of the best albums of the year. BUT WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH D’ANGELO?? If you can find something not to like about Sugah Daddy, you probably have no use for music or joy or sex in your life.
Julian Casablancas & The Voidz - Tyranny
The weirdness of this album is an achievement unto itself. It’s reception this year is Exhibit A in my indictment of the conservatism rampant in music journalism today. Just a completely bizarrely produced record. At times the lead guitar lines are entirely shredding, at others they sound as if Lil Wayne stopped by the studio for a visit (in a good way). In a roundabout way, the turn to the oddball certifies the early Strokes records as the stone classics I’ve long suspected them to be… No flash in the pan, JC is a totally individual and idiosyncratic songwriter in pursuit of a singular and shifting vision (which is hard to say about almost any other rocker of the early 2000’s era). A secret truth to 2014 is that this album is probably weirder, and is actually more accomplished than Pom Pom (another good album).
Carl Didur - Nothing Is The Secret To Anything
The wizard of Toronto, undisputed king of Canadian instrumental music strikes again. More lovely melodies, and lived in productions. I’ve spilled more words over Didur’s godlike Zacht Automaat band than any other music stuff, so suffice it to say - GOOD STUFF entirely worthy of your attention.
Laurence Vanay - Evening Colours
Another 70’s album reissued this year, absolutely lovely stuff. Totally composed progressive vibes. Not entirely dissimilar from the Carl Didur album in that this is the work of a songwriter who’s compositions don’t really see much need for lyrical vocalizations. For anyone who might be attracted to the proggier spectrum of Euro 70’s tuneage but turned off by the absolute sausage fest that represents, this lady has the goods. Mellow mood pieces to live with.
Fleshtone Aura - Soliloquy For Lieven
A contemplative vibeworld and inquisition into the depths of New Age sound. Put away your melody meter, and submerge yourself into a watery murk. You could probably do yoga to this, but you’d be better off maybe on a drunken nature walk… Or perhaps I have it the other way around, maybe these sounds ARE the remixed verite recordings of a drunken nature walk. You can never tell with this character.
Ariel Pink - Pom Pom
Bolder Damn - Mourning
Hoo boy, running out of steam here. This might be one of the rawkinest albums ever. Proto doom manna at points, MC5 attitude at others. If you have a rock n’ roll themed tattoo somewhere on your body, you’ll absolutely dig this. Hot Damn.
Purling Hiss - Dizzy Polizzy
Kind of a new American songbook type thing. Glazed over it at first, until I kept having some of these things stuck in my head and was riffling through my classic rock records to find where these vibes were coming from…
AND NOW IN BRIEF, 10 SONGS OF INTEREST FROM 2014.
Matthew Dunn - Earth House
Monster jazz riffage from Toronto great, Matt 'Doc' Dunn.
Delia Derbyshire - Moogies Bloogies
Classic Delia reissued as a 7". Bloody brilliant.
Timber Timbre - The Three Sisters
The guy does well for himself, but if the Timber Timbre record had had a sticker that said 'Produced by Geoff Barrow' on it, it would've been MASSIVE. Funny how that works. One of the best soundvibes of the year, you can almost taste it.
Wrath - Warlord
The hi light of a pretty great, if somewhat flawed Numero Group comp. Best rock tune of the year (even if it is a reissue)...
Actual Water - Gorgeous George & the Pilaprats
Great track off the best Toronto power pop LP. Casablancas eat your heart out.
Heitkotter - I Don't Mind
Gloriously demented creation, from a very strange album reissued this year on the great Now Again.
Ariel Pink - Picture Me Gone
A song for our time. Can be heard as completely sincere, or entirely shit eating - whatever you're feeling like.
Darlene Shrugg - Freedom Comes In A Plastic Card
Rock n' Roll is about nothing if not self promotion. Have a listen...