Nina Corcoran’s ‘Best of 2014’ in Music

Nina Corcoran Best of 2014

If there’s anything to be certain of when it comes to music, it’s that you can’t control when it strikes you. In a year filled with violence, racism, disease, and political stumblings, our brains were in overdrive trying to do the right thing. For most, music serves as an escape. It articulates emotions and brings events to life, painting the world in colors we simply don’t have physical copies of, transforming the way we experience life. That level of control keeps us from finding out how music is meant to best illustrate our lives. We have to give songs another try, albums another listen, and, most of all, be patient.

The following artists have created their own works of art. They sought out their own style at a time when the world was crashing and we were all looking at the mess in our hands, uncertain of how things got this bad. They understood that it’s okay to walk outside of the line to test the limits. Usually it’s the big dogs who run the yard. We were lucky enough to see bands return to the forefront that have been away for quite some time like Aphex Twin and Damien Rice. Others, like St. Vincent or The War on Drugs, constantly fought for attention, working their material to death in an effort to let us know why it was important. Though come the end of the year, the following musicians were the ones who soundtracked 2014 in a way too personal to narrate but just open enough to share. They further our fury, introduce cultures, and ramble on with their words. They’re artists who exist to emote — and they’re sharing their work in hopes that we will learn to do the same, no matter what the circumstances are. All we can do is make sure to share it, too.


Top Ten Albums

 

10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day
Ought’s full-length debut found an unshakable foothold wordy rock and roll. Sonically, it’s nothing new, but what Ought manage to do so well is jettison punk roots forward into a noisy wall of dissonant strings and electric piano. It’s the kind of semi-preachy, free yourself, repetitive build-up that lead singer Tim Beeler guides with anxious vocals. His trips and stutters become vocal illustrations, narrating a year of rising artists by one of their own, before closing with the perfect summary of their sound: “I retain the right to be disgusted by life/ I retain the right to be in love with everything in sight.”
Best tracks:Habit,” “The Weather Song,” “Clarity!

 

9. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else 
When you make a flawless record, you have to accept that it will be nearly impossible to top yourself, especially when you’re down one member. That was the case this time around for Cloud Nothings, but instead of getting disappointed in trying to top Attack on Memory, they came back with unrelenting fervor. Every song on Here and Nowhere Else sees Jason Gerycz drumming like he’s working to save his life, practically snapping his drum kit, to give a phenomenal performance that places him beside The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick on “The Rat.” Even with their other guitarist out, they manage to slip melodic riffs in to tracks like “No Thoughts,” once again making more noise than it seems six hands can make.
Best tracks:Pattern Walks,” “Psychic Trauma,” “I’m Not Part of Me

 

8. Mitski – Bury Me at Makeout Creek 
When surrounded by the other musicians who get overlook, Mitski sits off in the corner, toiling her fingers but taking great care not to disturb. she’s an observe at her heart, and with that comes great detail. Bury Me at Make Out Creek sounds like someone who’s been observing the events of life’s neverending party. Her hands are covered in ink from taking so many notes on her palms, and by the time she goes to sing them, the letters have bled together. What’s left to do other than scream? Mitski’s got a hold on melody and pacing. What she creates from the two is a raw storytelling that comes straight from a healing soul.
Best tracks:First Love/Late Spring,” “Drunk Walk Home,” “Townie

 

7. Charli XCX – Sucker 
Charli XCX doesn’t use her undeniable personality as a theme to override her music. Instead, Sucker is the sound of her stepping away from the pop star title and starting high-powered dance riots. She makes herself another option for women old and young to look up to this year, because if there’s anything we’ve learned in 2014, it’s that for some reason, feminism is viewed as a “trend,” and unapologetic self-confidence in one’s abilities should not be as uncommon as it unfortunately is. Sucker is an “I told you so” middle finger that won’t budge, marking itself as proof that punk deserves its place in pop, that call-and-response lyrics aren’t always cheap, and that there’s nothing shocking about a young, female artist emerging with another condensed, polished album.
Best tracks:Break the Rules,” “Need Ur Luv,” “Breaking Up

 

Hundred Waters Moon Bell 6. Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell 
As rich as Hundred Waters’ sound is, it’s just gentle enough to create a quiet stirring inside of you, if that. Their sophomore release, The Moon Rang Like a Bell, sees folk acoustics intertwine its fingers with fluffy synths, creating the kind of sound that vibrates while it hums, repeating over and over until it wraps itself around you, resting snuggly, while Nicol Miglis calls out to you like a bird perched on the tree outside your window, reminding you of how simple–and refreshing–nature can be.

Best tracks:Murmurs,” “Cavity,” “Seven White Horses

 

5. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste 
It’s been three years since Azealia Banks dropped “212” and she’s been busy waging wars ever since then, publicly and privately. Instead of letting the burnt out hype tint her edge, though, Banks kept fighting for the rights to her music, to break free from her label, and to reclaim her heritage. She spoke about youth, about feminism, about passion and appropriation and Australian igloos. Now it’s time we listen. Her debut studio album sees her take control. Calling it anything else, be it because of her Twitter drama or the departure of the hype train, is blindly foolish.
Best tracks:Desperado,” “Chasing Time,” “Ice Princess

 

4. Adult Jazz – Gist Is 
If every substitute teacher acted as Harry Burgess, the world would be much more willing to redefine pop. Fresh out of university, the Adult Jazz frontman approaches music with the perplexed curiosity and playful spirit of someone who hasn’t been shaped by the confines of Western definitions. As a result, his band’s debut album, Gist Is, sees monstrous talent wandering with its eyes closed, trusting in itself to discover the unseen with long-form orchestral songs, pitch-shifting vocals, and rhythm-heavy freak folk. It revives the unified aesthetic its musical parents penned in the early- to mid-2000s, namely Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, Joanna Newsom’s Ys, and Björk’s Vespertine, with a steady, calm breath.
Best tracks: “Donne Tongue,” “Idiot Mantra,” “Spook

 

3. Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers 
Andy Stott found his place in the weird black hole that is techno. Even with such a prevalent pulse, Faith in Strangers is more than an album that comes to life. It details life from the inside out, focusing on each movement’s innards rather than its outer coat via industrial, brooding electronica. His songs take form as a rolling, gentle anchor that goes beyond his use of analog equipment, proving that techno doesn’t need a pounding beat for the dance floor. Stott has given time its own soundtrack after meticulously toying with its gears.
Best tracks: “Violence,” “Faith in Strangers,” “How It Was

 

2. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 
El-P and Killer Mike have more pent-up anger and well-phrased political retorts than they, or any of us, were ready for. They made sure their checklist touched on everything: Malcolm X, Travis Barker, Scarface, Nas, and, most importantly, fuckboys. Despite being rappers, though, the two manage to curve their sound into a punk realm when it coems to retaliation, unrelenting speed, and activism. There’s no time here for pointless bs. There’s an urgency to their songs, from the homemade beats to Killer Mike’s careful enunciation, that every edge sharp — so much so that they put it out for free.
Best tracks:Blockbuster Night Part 1,” “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” “Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)

 

Angel Olsen Burn Your Fire1. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness 
Out of all the world’s inevitabilities, loneliness and fear are the two we know at birth. Perhaps that’s because they require the most of our heart. Angel Olsen taps into both and widens their chest, peering inside only to fall over the edge. Burn Your Fire is a reflection from the darkness. She’s is the same emotionally nomadic girl perched by the window as she’s always been, but this time she’s stripping torment until there’s nothing but veins, forcing us to supply the heart and lungs. With deadpan eyes and teeth that barely move, she teaches us what we already know, and the album’s so close to the edge with vivid truths that reality stops concealing itself as the breeze we paint it to be.
Best tracks:Windows,” “Forgiven/Forgotten,” “Iota


Top Five EPs

5. Guerilla Toss – 367 Equalizer
Hectic noise rock that puts a little more groove in their feet than usual while still tearing down the room.

4. Kilo Kish – Across
Experimental R&B singer-songwriter who wears ’90s West Coast hip hop, ’60s surf yawns, and shadowed jazz equally well.

3. Krill – Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts Into Tears
Dissonant garage/prog rock that whittles metaphors out of modern anxieties.

2. Willow – 3
Will Smith’s lil girl grew up and made sure we took note with three smooth, sensual trip hop numbers.

1. Lowell – I Killed Sara V.
Canadian singer-songwriter reminiscent of Marnie Stern, AlunaGeorge, and Santigold whose pop rock fixes creativity deficits.

 

For more album ramblings, concert photos, and reviews of music in 140 characters, you can follow Nina on Twitter.

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