Last year my goal was to shorten the reviews in my annual top albums post, but I failed miserably. This year, however, time was more limited – in a good way luckily (maybe because I interviewed two of my favorite bands, Lush, and Slowdive!) – and I’ve finally reached my goal. That’s even with 20 albums reviewed, up four from last year. I think I’ll keep this introductory shorter as well. As you can see, to the left is a playlist of a song from each of the albums that I think represents what makes each album great. Oh, and it’s Spotify, so you may need to have an account or something, not entirely sure how that works. Figure it out, or check out the song titles to find them somewhere else. Lastly, note these are in no particular order. They’re all great in their own individual ways, and thus albums at the bottom are JUST as important as those at the top. Enjoy, and feel free to comment if you want – and thanks for reading! Or not.
THE HORRORS LUMINOUS
Brilliant, beautiful, British phantasmagoria. The grooves, the beats, the vocals. This one just reaches for the stars and the heavens and gets there effortlessly. Luminous could not be a better way to describe or name this, the fourth album from a band that started as what seemed a gimmick and is now currently the UK’s finest. When they started off years ago they had this sort of garage, punk, gothic thing going on and the press wrote them off as a fraud. I liked a few of their early songs but I wasn’t so into it. Then they did a video with the fantastic director Chris Cunningham, and that little thing made me think there was more to them than just the image they were portraying. Then their second album was a big change, then their third, Skying, was brilliant, and now this solidifies they really do have the goods, and are one of the best bands in British rock. It’s perfect. Get it. Now.
When I first heard this album I didn’t think it was all that original, but an album by imitators. They recreate perfectly the sounds of so many influential 90’s bands. If you remember Swervedriver you swear with the vocals in the song ‘Geographic’ that it’s something off their album ‘Ejector Seat Reservation’. Listen to ‘Northern Exposure’ and it’s like listening to a hybrid of Teenage Fanclub and Dinosaur Jr. ‘Mission Creep’ – I don’t even know how to describe that one – it’s just too beautiful and interstellar to pinpoint. ‘IV’ is straight out of My Bloody Valentine’s playbook in all it’s beautiful, sludgy mess. Ride makes an appearance on ‘Cut the Grass’. What’s important is none of this would work if the songs weren’t there. It’s refreshing to see a band wear it’s influences so strongly but having the goods to back it up, and showing pop grunge can be loud and beautiful.
THE WAR ON DRUGS LOST IN THE DREAM
This album is really hard to describe, but also easy to. At first it sounds like a mix of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, with a vibe of Arcade Fire sprinkled here and there and some definite Kurt Vile influence still lingering. But then it’s also really hard to describe how it’s an album with its own sounds, its own vibe, its own groove. Perfect production with incredibly memorable songs. A grand rock album in an era where “rock” albums are few and far between.
MAMMÚT KOMDU TIL MÍN SVARTA SYSTIR
I saw and heard this band for the first time at this years ATP Festival in their home country of Iceland and they completely blew me away. This second album came out last year, but is so good it can’t be overlooked. Sung in the native tongue the lead vocals are captivating, raw, powerful and acrobatic, capturing her live sound perfectly. The songs feel to me like the band Warpaint if they had any muscle in their sound. It’s mystical, a bit goth in tone, dark; a unique rock band that would be a phenomena in a just world. A stunner.
COURTNEY BARNETT THE DOUBLE EP: A SEA OF SPLIT PEAS
This Australian lady is a gosh-darned genius, and it would be a shame if you didn’t give her a chance. The songs are kinda like laid-back, low-key folk songs with a heavy emphasis on groove thanks to a fantastic bass player. Her guitar is so darn GROOVY and then there’s her lyrics which are so unique. Each song is a long story with witty and humorous lines about even the most mundane yet beautiful things, like gardening. Like a mix of The Dandy Warhols, Lucinda Williams and The Velvet Underground with incredible lyrics, this is one of the best of the year, and it’s not even her debut album! Come on , if lyrics like “the paramedic thinks I’m clever cause I play guitar, i think she’s clever cause she stops people dying” – if they don’t get you, well, then you’re hopeless.
FURTHER REDUCTIONS WOODWORK
This would be a mini-LP I guess? 30 minutes, six songs? Right, yeah? Sure. Length doesn’t matter – leave ’em wanting more. The first rule for a perfect album is that you hit repeat without second thought because you can’t get enough. That’s this album, on the off-shoot imprint of Brooklyn’s 80’s electronic archival label, Minimal Wave. Music that combines darkness with a bright optimism in its feel always clicks with me, and this is one of the best examples of it. Just listen to lead track ‘High End Basics’. It’s a dark tone, but with a tribal, sort of Blue Man Group thing going on. It’s goth, but somehow so happy and you just wanna dance your way back in time to the set of Blade Runner. HA! This LP is otherworldly magical, intense and downright excellent.
FLYYING COLOURS FLYYING COLOURS EP
There’s nothing terribly unique about this first EP from Australia’s Flyying Colours, much like the aforementioned debut from Cheatahs, but what it offers is strong songwriting and terrific, varied grooves from track to track that recall the absolute best of 90’s noise-pop, shoegaze outfits like Ride, The Dandy Warhols, and so many others. It’s one of those releases you can easily say in theory you’ve heard it all before in terms of their sound, and even the vibe of the songs, but they master it perfectly here and do a great job of attempting to claim the sound as all their own. Re-capturing instead of imitation is the key to success in these situations, and they’ve started with a very promising debut.
Of course Beyonce’s self-titled fifth album came out, out of nowhere, at the very end of 2013, so it didn’t have time to make my tops of the year post, but it’s so good, it must be mentioned now. Never been a Beyoncé fan myself, as I’ve never connected with what she’s up to – her songs always felt jumpy, erratic and un-focused. Not my thing. But I saw this minimalistic album cover and it felt like a statement of simplicity, that she was pulling this back, so I was intrigued, and wow was I not disappointed. Her voice is more relaxed and stronger than ever. Her confidence just oozes right out of the speakers. The beats are dark, stark, & beautiful. Like a friend said, despite its simplicity, it’s dense. Perfection.
I must admit I really don’t know what it is about this album that I like so much. Maybe it’s the total package with the artwork which I’m quite a sucker for. Because really the music is a bit trendy in many ways – and sort of follows some simple and current musical trends of late. But something about it works here. Maybe it was those live 4AD Sessions videos, or his music videos for songs like ‘Artifice’ and ‘Bloodflows’ with their equally minimal look matching the simple, emotive electronic ditties he’s thrown behind his Thom Yorke-esque vocals. Whatever it is I admit it’s not groundbreaking and and likely not for everyone, but I find it lovely to an extent I don’t even understand, which makes it special in a special way, eh?
TEMPLES SUN STRUCTURES
Sometimes bands arrive that are influenced by times past, and if they are amateurs they look like a joke trying to imitate sounds and styles of another era. If they do it right, they get a pass, but still kind of look like wankers. Once in a while though one comes along that can convince you they’re not imitators but have somehow time-traveled from the era of their influence. This band is one. Check out their live performances and videos, to see there’s something about them that feels they’re not from here. Then there’s their debut album. It’s 60’s stoner psych-pop but somehow filtered with a modern pop groove and sensibility with brilliant, colorful tracks like ‘Mesmerise’ and ‘Colours to Life’. Don’t miss this album – its lush, pop perfection.
THE RAVEONETTES PE’AHI
The unstoppable Raveonettes seem to release about six albums a year, but really it’s just one every few years. Maybe because their sound really hasn’t altered that much over the years. And thank goodness for that. Their tone and mood have definitely changed, but their basic Jesus & Mary Chain fuzz mixed with shoegaze sound has served them well from one release to the next, and this, with inspiration from time spent in Hawai’i, somehow keeps it all going. You’d think they would be more relaxed from time spent there, but the beats are heavier, the guitars louder than ever (‘Sisters’), and the subject matter dark as ever (‘Killer in the Streets’). If you like your guitars sounding like a tidal wave of cotton candy coming down on you, then this will continue to fulfill all your needs, with The Raveonettes coming through yet again. May these Danes live long & prosper.
INTERPOL EL PINTOR
Good lord, they’re still around?, you might be asking. After their last self-titled album, it’s a valid question. I’ve always really liked Interpol but never thought they’ve put out a perfect, complete album, including their adored, drooled over debut from 12 years ago. Many bands get accused of staying with one sound and not venturing out into new sonic territories, but Interpol never succumbed to the criticism, and show with this LP it’s not necessarily a band’s sound, but their songwriting that matters. After all these years they have, for me, shown they have the writing chops with album, which is a stunner from beginning to end. The songs are slower than in the past, but instead of going for the post-punk pop jugular that was wearing thin, they demonstrate taking things more naturally may be all you need. With songs like ‘Tidal Wave’ and ‘Everything is Wrong’, well, everything is RIGHT.
MAC DEMARCO SALAD DAYS
Mr DeMarco. He’s released other albums. I’ve never listened to them. I probably should. Especially considering I didn’t listen to them because his name – even though it’s real – I don’t know, it just irked me for a reason I don’t understand myself. But this is one I where I full on listened to because the critics told me too. Usually that doesn’t go so well. But it did here. I still don’t like his name, and the album title drives me mental, but wow is the music great. I’m sure “real” fans don’t like this much and say his earlier stuff is “so much better”, and fair enough. But I’m jumping in late to the game. It’s a great, elegant, catchy, stoner summertime beach album with a vibe so lazy but so beautiful, and warped, and demented, and just so gorgeously chill. He’s an eccentric weirdo it seems and wow is this some super rewarding music to listen to. Well done.
GHOST BEACH BLONDE
When I first heard their song ‘Moon Over Japan’ I was completely smitten. Just perfect 80’s pop songs that, as the old cliche goes, really fits on any of John Hughes’ movie soundtracks. Then this album came out and it really threw me for a loop. The vocals were hard to take. Not sure who they sounded like exactly but it was quite unpleasant. Kind of like these older emo bands where dudes sing with high pitch screams and just sounds like they’re trying to pull the heart-strings of teenage girls everywhere. And the tunes were a bit generic – maybe too polished. But the tunes were there and I kept listening, and the layers began to reveal themselves. Sure it’s aiming really high – sorta corporate sounding, but beneath it all they had the songs, and they’re incredibly catchy. I can see some hating this, which I totally get, but I beg them to give it time as it’s quite an excellent pop album.
They’re back! Again! Even I will admit as big of doubtful on first or second listen, but something keeps pulling me back and slowly but surely it turns near irresistible to listen to and you can’t believe you didn’t hear it from the very start. The debut album from the UK’s Childhood is a perfect example. First singles I heard I guess a year ago were excellent and I had this hunch a debut from them would be really special. On first listened I didn’t hear it, but here it is now, in my tops of the year. And it’s so good I don’t know how to describe it. Things come to mind, as there’s a bit of psych-rock here. There’s some shoegaze elements. There’s definitely a influence from Ariel Pink going on. Not that he’s all that original in sound, but I mean regarding the vocals. Anyway – very catchy tunes bathed in summertime reverb and just full of hooks, it’s a really lovely record and you should really give it the chance it deserves – damn it all!
They’re back! Again! Even I will admit as big of a fan of their 4AD debut ‘Polydistortion’ that I was when it came out in 1997, I never thought they would last beyond a few albums. But here we are coming up on 20 years of existence and their 9th album overall. The secret of their long success (they are quite big in Europe) has been shifting personalities here and there, which brings a fresh perspective every time they have a go at it, and funny enough they keep getting better and better on each album in terms of quality. Their brand is kind of an electro-soul if you will. A lot of this has to do with one of their many singers, Daniel Agust, which has one of the best voices in music today – a crooner with a gorgeously smooth sound that rides over the music perfectly. And the tunes. They’ve perfected how to take electronicdance music and turn it into top 40 radio without having to sacrifice quality. Europe’s figured this out. Too bad it hasn’t happened here yet. Perfect.
DUTCH REBELLE REBELLE DIARIES
Have you heard the track, which is called either ‘Boston Shit’, or ‘Boston-ish’? I’m not sure what the actual title is, but it really doesn’t matter, it’s a great track. It’s a bit cheesy at times, and a bit sweet with this strange naivety to it, but it has a fantastic sound to it, and frankly it was refreshing to see a rapper – a FEMALE rapper – from BOSTON – showing some pride for where she is from, and over a killer beat. I was a total sucker for it. Sadly that song is not on this, the second album from Dutch ReBelle. It’s an old song now, but since I am so new to her, I wish it was on here. But anyway THIS album. Again, it’s a bit cheesy, but this feels like the next step towards what I feel will be a brilliant album on her next go around. But for now, this is great, and fun, diverse, catchy, and really from one track to the next is a potential hit, and the passion in her voice shows the important mix of sounding really confident and wanting the success bad, and to have the ultimate tune. But she comes across relaxed as she’s doing it, which is why I think her next will be big. In the meantime, this is a great into to an up and coming rapper. And from Boston no less!
EX HEX RIPS
The new project from Mary Timony, who fronted Boston’s brilliant Helium in the mid 90’s, then recently played guitar in the Wild Flag project with Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and of late the ‘Portlandia’ TV show, is really, really, REALLY good. How’s that for an articulate review? The first single released in the summer, ‘Hot & Cold’, really had me intrigued as somehow it was better than Wild Flag, and I thought the end of that band’s brief outing would’ve soured thoughts of new music. However it’s an energy that feels like her former band was the beginning of a sort of emotional release for Ms. Timony. There was a beautiful, ethereal, sludgy anger in Helium, and her solo albums were pretty downbeat, sad affairs, as she has even said is the case. But this, THIS is the sound of a very, happy rejuvenated woman, and it’s evident throughout every one of this albums short and perfect 35 minutes. It sounds like the late 70s in all its sultry summer horny adolescence, with obvious nods to bands like The Runaways, a bit of The Ramones, some interesting dashes of Rhode island’s legendary Throwing Muses (see ‘You Fell Apart’), and as a friend noticed, some of the guitar riffs in ‘Hot & Cold’ are right out of The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’! This album is PERFECT.
ARIEL PINK POM POM
Mr Ariel Pink, whose hipster-ness tops every hipster you’ve ever encountered, is back with what’s being called his first solo album, but based on it’s sound and press release, is his most collaborative to date. Before signing to legendary UK indie label 4AD, Pink released a number of home-recorded albums and gained a large cult following, despite, but probably due to the rough DIY aesthetic sound of the releases. I’ve only heard one of those albums, and the quality is not for me, even though I can hear inklings of songs that I would potentially enjoy. Now he’s released his third for 4AD, and it’s a big surprise what a near-masterpiece this is. Don’t get me wrong, Pink continues to annoy the crap out of me on songs like “Jell-o” and even the album’s opener, “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade”. But then you hear utter gems like “Lipstick”, “Black Ballerina”, “Dayzed Inn Daydreams”, “Not Enough Violence” and “Goth Bomb”, and they are so good it makes you want to investigate these “annoying” songs more. On further listen, the contrast between songs as the incredibly beautiful “Picture Me Gone” and the hilariously insane “Exile on Frog Street”, is what keeps me listening. One moment I can’t believe my ears how a song so beautiful can come from such an oddball of a person, the next I can’t believe that same person created a song that’s so annoying but so perfectly executed I still have to admire it. This album is beautiful, frustrating, fascinating, exhilarating, odd, mysterious, and like any great album leaves you guessing at every moment. It doesn’t get weirder yet more perfect than this. Succumb to its madness.
GL GL EP
This EP is total perfection and the biggest tease I’ve heard this year. Like when I heard those first few tracks from Chvrches a few years ago and no one knew who they were, if the tracks were a one-off, and if we would never hear from them again. The excitement from those early tracks is the joy I feel listening to this debut EP from Melbourne, Australia-based duo GL. The first time I heard the track ‘Take Me Back’ there was something about the pace of the track – especially in the vocals – that threw me a bit. I thought the song was nearly perfect, but something was off-kilter about it. But I was drawn to it and re-listened a few days late on a proper pair of headphones, and then it came together. It sounds like a pairing of Madonna’s 1983 self-titled debut album, and the breakdance sound of that same era from Ollie & Jerry and their work on the soundtracks for ‘Breakin’ and ‘Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo’. I think though the description on the band’s Soundcloud page says it quite well: “Cruising in glowing synths, gritty drum machines and stratospheric vocals, GL’s music is a cosmic dream-sequence not unlike a lost reel from the mid-80s. Experienceth e sound of cruise control, dive bars, strobe lights and tape decks with GL.” OK maybe mine is better by using a bit less hyperbole! But they both get to the point. Beautifully gritty, with killer vocals and a beat and sound that transports you right back to the gorgeously awful 1980s, this EP is perfect and will get in your head better more than all the other pop songs released this year. Very highly recommended.
VERY VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS
Aphex Twin Syro | Azealia Banks Broke with Expensive Taste | Ben Frost A U R O R A
The Birthday Massacre Superstition | Cherry Glazerr Haxel Princess | Coldplay Ghost Stories
Courtney Love You Know My Name | Coves Soft Friday | D.D Dumbo Tropical Oceans EP
Elephant Sky Swimming | Foo Fighters Sonic Highways | Haunted House Haunted House EP
Jimi Goodwin Odludek | The Juan Maclean In A Dream | Kid Wave Gloom EP | La Luz It’s Alive
Merchandise Begging for Your Life/In the City Light EP | Night Sins Down to Drown EP
Pixies Indie Cindy | Prince Art Official Age | Ringo Deathstarr Colour Trip | Samaris Silkidrangar
Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd White Bird In A Blizzard | Thom Yorke Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Stevie Knicks 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault | Tricky Adrian Thaws
TV on the Radio Seeds | Warpaint Warpaint