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Austin B. Harvey presents: The Liquid Diet writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2014: Austin (The Liquid Diet)

CHIRP Radio Best of 2014

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2014. Our next list is from DJ and Assistant Music Director Austin (The Liquid Diet).

 

#1Sea When Absent by A Sunny Day In Glasgow (Lefse)
A Sunny Day In Glasgow Sea When AbsentBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

My favorite record of 2014 was an endless source of joy, starting with the announcement that the Philly/Brooklyn/Sydney band were back after a four-year break between records. The subsequent release was nothing short of a monster. Movements leap from one to another like a child on a hopscotch court, with washes of guitar, vocal, and indeterminate noise flowing over the listener’s ears. ASDIG have always been dreamy, and Sea When Absent took their daydreamy shoegaze and made it into a gorgeous, vivid, summery collage.

#2Black Messiah by D'Angelo & The Vanguard (RCA)
D'Angelo & The Vanguard Black MessiahBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The best part about procrastinating with one’s year-end list is that you have a chance to incorporate the year’s best sneak year-end release. D’Angelo emerges from his 14-year break between records with an album that sounds like he’s never been gone. The opener “Ain’t That Easy” sports the year’s best beat, a swung, slightly-off-kilter head-bobber complete with handclaps and the year’s best snare hit. Thumping basslines, complex-yet-funky beats, classic-Prince-esque swirling guitars and vocals; all these elements work in concert to deliver a work that is at once immediate and infinitely rewarding with multiple listens. Black Messiah is a testament to the value of letting great artists have the time needed to have great works incubate and flourish. A triumph.

#3II by Makthaverskan (Run for Cover)
Makthaverskan IIBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The Swedish quintet’s second album is a wonderful shock to the senses. Ethereal keyboard and echo-drenched guitar accompany an urgent punk rhythm section, whilst Maja Milner’s voice booms confidently, urgently, and emotionally over the cacophony. The lyrical content is lovelorn and Milner’s delivery is immediate. It’s noisy but never overwhelming, there’s space enough on II. It may not be the shape of punk to come, but if it’s the shape of indie-pop to come, Makthaverskan represent a very welcome development to the guitar/bass/drum/vocal/keyboard approach.

#4Attica! by Wussy (Shake It)
Wussy Attica!BUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Cincinnati country-rockers Wussy moved from critical darlings to greater recognition in 2014, and it is wholly deserved. The songwriting-lead-singing duo of Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker paint openly honest portraits of Rust Belt life that are so simple, you could believe you’ve known these songs all your life. Perhaps the year’s best song was “Teenage Wasteland”, Walker’s paean to having your worldview altered by listening to a single song. On Attica! you can see Wussy doing the same for future generations.

#5St. Vincent by St. Vincent (Loma Vista)
St. Vincent St. VincentBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

A non-debut self-titled album always seems to communicate a sort of artistic gravity, a personal statement or reaffirmation. For Annie Clark, whose St. Vincent moniker is now four solo albums old, that statement is, “I’m a rock star, address me as such.” Clark’s choruses pop like 90’s rock arena-fillers (“Birth in Reverse”, “Digital Witness”), while synth-driven ballads allow Clark’s soprano to lilt above the clouds (“Prince Johnny”, “Huey Newton”, “I Prefer Your Love”). But the guitar hero moments of the record’s second half catapult this record’s status to that of magnum opus.

#6Hierarchy by Lightfoils (Saint Marie)
Lightfoils HierarchyBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The Chicago shoegazers cover a lot of ground on their first full-length, and all of it is fantastic. Steel guitar gives opener “Polar Waves” a country vibe not unlike a more lush Mazzy Star. They channel Disappears and Verma on the dark “Last One”, and get a little Madchester-y with “Diastolic”. “Alovetodestroy” isn’t afraid to get a bit more brutal, while the untitled interludes are dreamy soundscapes that effectively cleanse the palate. Lightfoils’ dual vocalists are a revelation with their harmonies and counter-melodies. An extremely convincing debut.

#7Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr (Hardly Art)
Protomartyr Under Color of Official RightBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Joe Casey’s sprechstimme delivery is a perfect compliment to the Detroit band’s post-punk, apocalyptic landscape. The clanging guitar of “Scum, Rise!” gives into the melodic pseudo-hope of “I Stare at Floors”, while “Come & See” features a herky-jerky dub-influenced rhyhtm that wouldn’t be out of place on Sandinista! or a record by The Fall. Tracks like “Tarpeian Rock” sound fun, but don’t be dissuaded, this is a bleak-sounding record that only a healthy dose of gallows humor and impotent rage can fight against.

#8Syro by Aphex Twin (Warp)
Aphex Twin SyroBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

When Richard D James announced the release of a new record in 2014, his first in 13 years, no one really knew what to expect from the British electronic music legend. Perhaps the most unexpected answer would have been the easiest way to describe Syro, a fantastic Aphex Twin album. Combining IDM, drum ’n’ bass, glitchm and jungle elements with James’ own warped pop-leaning sensibilities, Syro is catchy and hummable without being repetitive or predictable. Though the sound of this record is nothing we’ve not heard in Aphex Twin’s oeuvre before, it’s never sounded this fun, or this good.

#9Piñata by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib (Madlib Invazion)
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib PiñataBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Madlib collaborating with an indie-hip-hop hero to transcendent effect – I know, but it isn’t the Madvillainy sequel (yet). Instead, Otis Jackson Jr. hooked up with Gary MC Freddie Gibbs, who’s star is only starting to shine bright after a couple false starts. Soul and blaxploitation samples are all over the place here, the content is violent and debaucherous, but it’s also the best hip-hop record of the year. Gibbs’ laid-back timbre belies a quick cadence that pairs well with both fast-spitting guests (e.g. Danny Brown), and the free-jazz delivery of Earl Sweatshirt. If Gibbs can get huge while MF DOOM is still getting his act together, we’ll take it.

#10To Be Kind by Swans (Young God)
Swans To Be KindBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Michael Gira's second life as the creepiest uncle at your family gatherings only continues to gain steam, with his special brand of intense, almost-goofy post-rock busting the expectations of what rock music can, or should, be. Brutal and calculating, Gira's own special type of movie villain is a psychologically destructive force, hypnotizing and lulling the listener before unleashing forces that cannot be measured with waveforms, guitars, voices, percussion, and whatever other instruments are thrown into the fray. If To Be Kind is the stuff of your fever dreams, Gira is the narrator, judge, jury, and executioner.

Honorable Mentions:

11. Spoon / They Want My Soul / Loma Vista

Seven years removed from what had been their best record, Spoon offer another record that marries the spacious mini-symphonies of 2002’s Kill the Moonlight with the rock splendor of 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The highlight, “Outlier”, perhaps their best-ever song, is a brutal kiss-off track, with sinister handclaps, foreboding organ, and a lyrical tale that makes up for a lack of detail with the simple question, “What happened to you, kid?” Spoon have been one of America’s best and most consistent bands for over decade, and they prove it again here.

12. Connections / Into Sixes / Anyway

The Columbus band returns with another set of slapdash bar-rock anthems. Earworms for those who don't really need to keep a tune.

13. Alvvays / Alvvays / Polyvinyl

From Toronto, Alvvays take cues from cutesy indie bands of the past like The Aislers Set, Camera Obscura, and Belle & Sebastian. However, their ace-in-the-hole is a shoegaze-y mix of vintage keyboard and a raucous Jazzmaster. So, when Molly Rankin belts out “Hey, hey / Marry me, Archie”, you won’t be drowning out the stereo when you sing along.

14. Liars / Mess / Mute

Liars bring the beats, bleeps, and bloops of “Mr. Your On Fire Mr.” to their usual experimental post-punk melange. The first half of Mess is the French house record we’ve been begging for since Daft Punk and Justice have both recently missed the mark significantly, the second half is the weirdest chillout record you’ve ever heard.

15. Todd Terje / It's Album Time / OlsenNorwegian space-disco jester Todd Terje builds an album that incorporates Tropicalia, 80's balladry, and jazz into the mix. The trick achieved here is convincing you it's mindless fun. It's certainly fun, but it's all intentional.

16. Angel Olsen / Burn Your Fire For No Witness / Jagjaguwar

Chicago singer-songwriter burns her torch beautifully for the heartbroken and determined. Indie takes on folk-rock have gotten ridiculously boring over the past few years, and Olsen rages against such indifference with a record that forces one to pay attention, no matter the volume.

17. Klaus Johann Grobe / Im Sinne Der Zeit / Trouble In Mind

Swiss krautrock duo release a great record based around liquid basslines, vintage keyboards, and insistent beats.

18. A Silver Mt. Zion / Hang On To Each Other EP / Constellation

Post-rock legends decide to remix their own track twice, showing us a side of their brooding, intense music that had barely lurked in the background, let alone existed. Giant step forward for the band.

19. Ex Hex / Rips / Merge

Mary Timony leaves Wild Flag in her wake with a good old-fashioned rock record. All fun, no crap.

20. Run The Jewels / Run The Jewels 2 / Mass Appeal

El-P and Killer Mike bring the noise just a year after their breakthrough debut. Major props for bringing Zack de la Rocha back into the public consciousness.

21. Literature / Chorus / Slumberland

Philly foursome get as close to The Smiths as you can without at all sounding maudlin. Echo-y guitars and super-catchy melodies.

22. The Men / Tomorrow’s Hits / Sacred Bones

The Men had been making the move from their hardcore punk roots to a more classic, bar-rock vibe ever since their first album. On Tomorrow’s Hits they go full Sticky Fingers, throwing horns, harmonica, and banging piano into the mix for a hilariously glorious rock-n-roll stew.

23. The Afghan Whigs / Do to the Beast / Sub Pop

The soul-inflected alt-rock band that never got the attention they deserved back in the 90's released another bruising album. Greg Dulli's voice is in all its former glory, sinister and marvelous.

REISSUE OF THE YEAR:The Aislers Set's albums on Slumberland and Suicide Squeeze – Twee pop from San Francisco that's decidedly lo-fi, incredibly melodic, and hugely influential. Best music of this sort to not come from Scotland during the 90's and early 00's.

 

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2014

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