Well, here we go again, friends! Welcome to INAUDIBLE’s sixth annual end of year list! For this edition my list will be a bit streamlined, but you’ll still be sure to find some choice selections.
Click on the album covers and titles to sample a track. Enjoy!
TOP 12 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
12. Alvvays – Alvvays (Polyvinyl)
Molly Rankin et al came of age this year with the release of Alvvays’ debut self-titled album. A record that harkens back to the lo-fi East Coast rock of the 90’s (Eric’s Trip, Hardship Post, Thrush Hermit) with a touch of Camera Obscura thrown in for good pop measure.
The best thing about this album is that it’s hooky as all hell, every song has something that makes it special – a catchy guitar lick, a subtle synth flourish, or Rankin’s endearing vocals. Check it.
11. Sisyphus – Sisyphus (Asthmatic Kitty)
Sisyphus is the unlikely trio of indie king Sufjan Stevens, rapper Serengeti, and soundsmith Son Lux. They released a handul of singles and an EP last year under the alias S/S/S before fully realizing their aesthetic as Sisyphus. It’s an odd mishmash of each aritst’s talents, and finds Sufjan at his most playful as he sings alongside the irreverent lyricism of Serengeti.
At his best, Serengeti sounds like MF Doom, yet at times I find his non sequitir rhymes seem almost superfluous. The album most effectively showcases Son Lux’s growth as a top-rate producer with an ear for off-kilter melodies and dynamic beats. Sisyphus is not easy to digest, yet after a few spins it reveals itself as an album with a lot to offer its listener.
10. Road Hog – D.W.B. (Lustwerk Music)
Road Hog is the alias of house revivalist and all around cool dude Galcher Lustwerk, who made a name for himself last year with his excellent Blowing Up The Workshop mix, as well as the equally smooth Nu Day EP that came out in early 2014, but it’s with his Road Hog moniker where he seems to really nail it.
The theme of D.W.B. is music to listen to while driving, and Lustwerk subtly crafts a propulsive set of tracks that will remind listeners of late 90’s Detroit heroes Theo Parrish, Carl Craig, Theorem, and more. While his music as Galcher Lustwerk uses vocals to anchor his songs, Road Hog is pure instrumental techno that’ll get your ass moving and your head bobbing. So smooove.
9. Yagya – Sleepygirls (Delsin Records)
My ears first heard Icelandic producer Yagya in 2009 when he released his highly influential Rigning LP. I consider this album a highpoint in ambient dub techno, and so I was pleasantly surprised to find he had put out a new album this year entitled Sleepygirls.
Five years on and Yagya’s M.O. hasn’t changed a bit – we still get the buttery smooth yet subdued bass and 4/4 beats of before, but he has also added female vocals singing God knows what in Icelandic, but sounding amazing doing so. Also, the album flows as one continuous hour-long mix, expertly shifting from Deepchord style dub techno to downtempo moments to ethereal ambience, and further reveals Yagya as a master of the genre.
8. Wild Beasts – Present Tense (Domino Records)
I dismissed Wild Beasts for years, thinking they were too artsy or that the falsetto vocals were too grating, until I finally actually listened to Smother. That record quickly became my favourite album of 2011 that I didn’t get into until 2012, and ever since then Wild Beasts have held a special spot on my list of revered ‘rock’ bands.
With each album they put out they seem to get a bit more subdued and minimal, while becoming better songwriters in the process, and the case is no different here with Present Tense. It is a much different beast than Smother and Two Dancers – it is spare and elegant where their earlier albums could at times be showy, cocky even.
Present Tense is undoubtedly their quietest and most emotional, and with the addition of prominent synth arrangements, it is also the band’s most electronic. Wild Beasts are one of the more interesting and compelling British bands out there, and they continue to outdo themselves. Check it.
7. Real Estate – Atlas (Domino Records)
New Jersey quartet Real Estate returned this year with their third album Atlas, a much tighter and fulfilling record than their 2011 album Days. It’s an album that displays what a difference a few more years on tour can do when it comes to becoming a more dynamic band. The tempo of the album remains pretty much the same throughout, all the songs languidly jive to the same introspective clip, but this creates a tranquil, hypnotic effect one can use to let thoughts drift about the halcyon days of youth.
The tracks on Atlas are no great departure from the band’s earlier sound, but they’ve filled out their melodies even further, and have somehow really managed to tap into a sensation of nostalgia, which is definitely part of the album’s success.
Their live show at Il Motore (RIP) in Montreal in support of this record was much better than their tour for Days, which was mostly due to Matt Mondanile’s showmanship on guitar – at times it seemed his Ducktails “sound” was definitely bleeding into the Real Estate set, but that just made the show more vibrant. Keep it coming, boys.
6. Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)
I’ve loved Andy Stott since Merciless came out in 2006, and still consider that collection of tracks to be some of the best techno out there, even if it was slightly derivative. Yet, when Stott began experimenting with murky dub and jungle I started to tune out a bit. With 2012’s Luxury Problems, I liked the direction he was moving towards and the addition of vocals from Alison Skidmore, but the record failed to truly captivate me … but the wait is over for that, because with Faith in Strangers Stott has captured my complete attention. It is the most fully formed and wholly unique record in his discography, weaving between moments of cavernous beats and spooky ambience, and an uneasy balance of beauty and menace, which is just a lot of dumb words to try to describe something that needs to be heard to be experienced.
“Violence” is arguably the best electronic song of the year. It feels old and new, dark and foreboding, and airy and light all at the same time. Let’s hope Stott continues on this upward trajectory, and for the love of God is he ever going to play MUTEK in Montreal? C’mon, book the guy already!
5. Aphex Twin – SYRO (Warp Records)
Holy shit! New Aphex Twin everybody! The Grand Puba of electronica returned this year with a release under his AFX moniker and has appeased the masses (for now). What else can I really say? There’s some amazing tracks on this album and I am very interested to see what Richard D. James will do next as he seems to be in an uncharacteristic “I wanna share!” mood as of late. Let’s hope it lasts.
My one qualm about the excellent SYRO is that the tracks are old. There’s nothing brand new here, but it’s definitely enough to tide us over until real new Aphex Twin drops in the next year or two. Keep sharing, sir!
4. Leon Vynehall – Music For The Uninvited (3024 Records)
I was drawn to Brighton producer Leon Vynehall’s Music For The Uninvited from the first seconds of the Zelda inspired “Inside the Deku Tree”, with its punctuated string arrangement that threatens to blossom into life but tantalizingly doesn’t. It’s an effort in restraint that pays off big time as the next three tracks kick up to dance floor tempo and beyond, effectively displaying some of the finest house bangers of the year. “Be Brave, Clench Fists” hinges on an even sweeter orchestral loop than “Deku” and builds warm synths and a nice 4/4 beat around it to great success, while later tracks “Christ Air” and “St. Sinclair” close the album on a more introspective note.
Vynehall is definitely a producer to keep your ears on, and Music For The Uninvited is some of the most eclectic and rewarding electronic music you will hear this year.
3. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Piñata (Madlib Invazion)
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib have both been in the hip hop scene for way more than a minute now, and although they seem to come from different sides of the rap game (Madlib operating on the jazz-funk side of things, with Gibbs working the straight-up thug angle) their unlikely collaboration is a fresh set of smooth beats and tight rhymes.
Gibbs’ sharp lyricism and technically precise flow on each track compliment the soulful and extravagant production from Madlib. People were waiting to see how these two would compliment each other, and the result is arguably just as good as the now classic Madvillian.
Gibbs has always sounded great as a featured guest on other rapper’s albums, but here he steps up to the spotlight and is able to maintain and sustain for Piñata’s seventeen tracks. Guests like Danny Brown, Raekwon, Scarface, and Earl Sweatshirt all help make this record one that all fans of hip hop can dig. Ya dig?
2. Caribou – Our Love (Merge Records)
Dan Snaith has never been content to lock down a sound or remain in any one genre for very long. In his decade long career as Manitoba/Caribou/Daphni we’ve seen him shift from pastoral electronica to psychedelic pop to krautrock to house music and the dance floor. In a lot of ways, Snaith’s musical trajectory is very similar to Kieran Hebden’s Four Tet project, as both of these artists have slowly moved from cerebral IDM to more visceral and straight forward dance music that still remains somewhat off-kilter.
The strength of Our Love is how Snaith is able to make us feel the emotions he wants us to feel like love and wonder and nostalgia and even bliss. Sounds cheesy right? But his songwriting is so self-assured and personal here, he makes it easy for his listeners to happily float off on his vibe and occasionally wanna get up and dance too. Great stuff!
1. Killer Mike and El-P – Run The Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal Records)
Run them jewels fast, run them run them jewels fast, fuck the slo-mo!
Building off the hype and momentum of their debut collaboration as Run The Jewels, El-P and Killer Mike returned this year and dropped an even tighter and more enjoyable set of songs with Run The Jewels 2. Their debut was number four on my Best of 2013 list, and just like last year I had this album on repeat while jogging and exercising, trying my damnedest to learn Killer Mike’s tongue-twisting rhymes and bopping along to El-P’s post-apocalyptic production which is even more percussive, abrasive, and dynamic than before.
RTJ2 is straight-up fight music and the best part is El and Mike make it seem completely effortless. The rhymes and beats come second nature to two artists who’ve been in the game for twenty years and are finally both getting the musical cred they deserve with the Run The Jewels project. And as with their debut, it’s clear they havin’ hella fun making this music.
I hate the fact that P-fork also picked this album as their number one, but at least they selected an album that challenges its listeners both sonically and thematically. As seems to be the case quite often for my number one pick, I’ve chosen Run The Jewels 2 as my favourite album of 2014, because it looks way forward to the future but also has its feet firmly planted in the past. It tapped into my mind and my gut and made me FEEL, goddammit. It’s old skoool fuckin’ with new skoool and its done with class, tact, intelligence, style, and vulgar bravado! Way to go Jamie and Mike. Ch-check it!
Yes! We made it to the mafuckin’ end!
There’s always more great music that I just don’t have the time to write about, but please click on the album covers to sample a track of some of my other 2014 faves!
Fave Video of the Year
- R.I.P. Bobby Womack (1944-2014)
VISIT THE ARCHIVES
Big love to all of you for 2015 and beyond!