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Thread: Idioteque Stalker's Top 20 of 2014

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    Idioteque Stalker's Top 20 of 2014

    Derek hasn't posted in months. In his absence, somebody has to step up, take one for the team, and call attention to their music taste at year's end. Might as well be me. Here are my favorite albums of 2014.

    20. Spoon - They Want My Soul
    19. Brian Eno & Karl Hyde - High Life
    18. Perfume Genius - Too Bright
    17. Aphex Twin - Syro
    16. Real Estate - Atlas
    15. Frankie Cosmos - Zentropy
    14. Mac Demarco - Salad Days
    13. Marissa Nadler - July
    12. Flying Lotus - You're Dead!
    11. Alvvays - Alvvays
    10. Death Grips - Niggas On the Moon
    9. Grouper - Ruins
    8. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
    7. Ariel Pink - Pom Pom
    6. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piņata

    Honorable mention:
    Jens Lekman - WWJD



    From my post earlier this year: "This new Jens Lekman mixtape takes me right back to the perfect sublimity that was Night Falls Over Kortedala. The lovely instrumentation and peppiness of the whole thing benefits from that omnipresent feeling of "this too shall pass"--in the end just as pessimistic a sentiment as it is optimistic--so that the heart-wrenching theme from Contempt, stuck right in the middle, feels right at home and takes the whole thing up a notch."

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    20.
    Spoon - They Want My Soul



    How boring is it that Spoon made a good album this year? Even as somewhat of a fan, I almost didn't give it a shot. But "Inside Out"--a synth-pop slow-burner as gorgeous as it is out of character--shocked me into actually giving They Want My Soul a fair shake, and it ended up being my front-to-back favorite Spoon album.

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    19.
    Brian Eno & Karl Hyde - High Life



    Not huge on "Moulded Life," but the rest of this album is solid. Channeling early 80s-era Eno projects like Remain in Light, the live instrumentation makes all the difference between this and Eno/Hyde's prior collaboration. "DBF" grew to be my favorite jam of the year and "Cells & Bells" capitalized on the strange beauty of Justin Bieber 800% Slower. Awesome surprise.

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    What is best in life? D_Davis's Avatar
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    The Hyde and Eno albums this year were great.

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    18.
    Perfume Genius - Too Bright



    After the overwhelming vulnerability of Put Your Back N 2 It (one of my favorite albums in recent years), the tone of Too Bright took me a while to warm up to. It's lumpier, more aggressive, and harbors moments of unprecedented pop experimentation--but Hadreas' songwriting is as eloquent as ever, and the compassion he exhibits time and time again is probably making the world a better place.

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    17.
    Aphex Twin - Syro



    Aphex Twin plays it straight. No crazy album art, no "Milkman," just technically astounding electronic music. "xmas_EVE," "produk" and "PAPAT" appeal to me most, but the whole thing should and will be studied by burgeoning electro-producers for years. It's so impressive that, listening from beginning to end, it gets a little... well... corny. After the fifth ridiculously impressive, yet kind of same-y, cut in a row, one almost begins to wish for some kind of "Logon Rock Witch" or "To Cure a Weakling Child" to inject a little variety. Thankfully he closes the album with one of his most gorgeous compositions, "aisatsana." In a year bereft of impressive electronic releases, Syro stood tall.

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    16.
    Real Estate - Atlas



    Real Estate is an anomaly in my world. They're completely inoffensive and can be enjoyed by anyone--and for once I mean that in a good way. I can't help but look at their albums with eyes askance: "Not sure if you're as good as you seem..." With jangly guitar pop like this, one almost has to assume that the honeymoon phase will eventually fade away, but time has been nothing but kind to their second album, Days (though admittedly not-so-kind to their self-titled debut). In the end, Atlas' decidedly melancholy tone might make it work better than their others for me, but only years of wear and tear will reveal whether or not a pop album this (bitter)sweet can take a beating and still come out standing. For now, at least, it's the most listenable album of the year.

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    What is best in life? D_Davis's Avatar
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    That Real Estate album is excellent.

    Perfect example of deceptively simple.

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    Quote Quoting D_Davis (view post)
    That Real Estate album is excellent.

    Perfect example of deceptively simple.
    Are you historically a fan, or was Atlas the first to really get you? It very well may end up being my favorite.

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    15.
    Frankie Cosmos - Zentropy



    I hate twee. Imagine my surprise, then, when an album with that cover ended up blowing me away. What may appear to be Juno 2 bait is actually one of the most sharply-observed, cutting albums of recent memory. It's like reading the diary of that shy girl who would rather be caught dead than have her diary read: "I think how repulsive to you it must be when I refuse to do things you want me to." Her cuteness belies the almost frightening disparity between what she understands and what the people in her life give her credit for (evidenced most fully in the heartbreaking "My I Love You"). The album art isn't instagram trash--it's a eulogy: "I just want my dog back. Is it so much to ask?" Real life is seeping through the crack under her fuzzy pink door, and she's fucking pissed.

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    14.
    Mac Demarco - Salad Days



    If you like jangly guitar pop, then you like Mac Demarco. His music is straight up jangle porn. As per usual with Demarco's albums, Salad Days is hampered by ill-conceived songs (his album closers are 0-for-3 by my count), but elevated by a few song-of-the-year contenders. The funny thing is Salad Days' two best cuts ("Passing Out Pieces" and "Chamber of Reflection") are all but guitar-less. It makes you wonder: if he could craft an entire album with a wider instrumental palette (and a couple jangle-pop tunes tucked in there for good measure of course) then his burgeoning songwriting talent, instead of his admittedly ear-catching guitar tone, would really get its chance to shine.

    I say all this, but rest assured this was my most listened to album of the summer.

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    13.
    Marissa Nadler - July



    "That's some depressing shit you're playing over there," said my co-worker from the twin bed opposite mine at a hotel 2500 miles from home. "Yep," I chuckled, even though I'd been so entranced for months with July's panoramic beauty that I'd almost forgotten its cavernous, languid tone--produced by black metal artist Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth)--was what most differentiated it from Marissa Nadler's past work. "I don't know, it just seems appropriate music for Seattle." I didn't know at the time that it was recorded there.

    When one travels with a co-worker instead of a lover, there's simply a lot of empathy to be found in a lyric like, "Changed in a rest stop into my dress, made sure not to touch the floor. I've done that kind of thing before." I don't wear dresses, but I've done that kind of thing before too.

    "You fell asleep to that depressing music again last night."

    "Yep."

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    What is best in life? D_Davis's Avatar
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    Quote Quoting Idioteque Stalker (view post)
    Are you historically a fan, or was Atlas the first to really get you? It very well may end up being my favorite.
    Never heard them before the video you posted.

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    Quote Quoting Idioteque Stalker (view post)
    14.
    Mac Demarco - Salad Days

    Great album.

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    12.
    Flying Lotus - You're Dead!



    Until now, it didn't matter if "hip-hop," "jazz," or "electronic" was listed first in a description of Flying Lotus' music, but You're Dead! is a jazz record first and foremost--and an unbelievably sick one at that. As a massive fanboy (I would rank each of his last three albums in my top five of their respective years, and Cosmogramma is easily my favorite album of the decade), I was initially perplexed by what I saw as an awkward, transitional, identity-crisis of a record. I realized, however, that it wasn't the fusion-centric cuts that were giving me pause, but in fact that damn Snoop Dogg track, one of the clear remnants of FlyLo's wonky hip-hop style.

    While the strength and tone of the Kendrick Lamar-featuring "Never Catch Me" helps it fit within the context of You're Dead!, "Dead Man's Tetris" takes what was a rip-roaring side A and slows it to a halt. Dear FlyLo: Just because Snoop Dogg agrees to be on your album doesn't mean you should find any means necessary to find a spot for him. I took "Dead Man's Tetris" out of my iTunes library and it miraculously righted 90% of what was wrong with the album. Anyway, the opening suite, "Never Catch Me," "Turtles," "Coronus, the Terminator," another gorgeous Thundercat-sung track (they're 3-for-3), "Siren Song"... and You're Dead! has the chops to hang in Flying Lotus' pretty-much-flawless discography.

    Plus, Herbie Hancock on the first three seconds of this track (though really the whole thing):

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    11.
    Alvvays - Alvvays



    This album is my dark horse of the year. "Nah, I don't like it that much," I kept telling myself. "It's just some relatively solid, Best Coast-ish, reverb-soaked guitar pop. The kind of thing that was already on its way out like five years ago." Well, all that may be true, but dammit I can't help but love this album. Everybody talks about "Archie, Marry Me," and I admit that was what caught my ear initially, but what impresses me most is how a song like "Atop a Cake"--at first threatening major-chorded, indie-pop cheesiness--sneakily slips into a minor-keyed bridge/chorus and pretty much rides it out to the end, or how "Ones Who Love You" subtly builds through two melodies--both strong enough to be a chorus--before hitting you with the real chorus, in which the vocals reach upward in what simply has to be the sweetest-sounding moment of the year. And while most unassuming albums trail off at the end, Alvvays ends with an exclamation point. "Red Planet," the strongest song here, is a gorgeous, heartbreaking synth-pop tune, not unlike something from one of Beach House's first two albums. What may look like "just another indie rock record" ends up transcending that title with classic, yet uncommon, tunefulness.

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    10.
    Death Grips - Niggas on the Moon



    With this release Death Grips have officially fallen off the deep end. Until now, all of their releases have at least one moment in which they don't seem utterly insane: "Guillotine," "I've Seen Footage," "Black Dice"--hell, even Government Plates landed a spot in an Adidas commercial. There's no such friendliness on Niggas on the Moon. Instead we get original Bjork samples sliced all to hell, lightning-fast syncopation that would make Prefuse 73 look twice, and MC Ride's most impassioned/tortured deliveries to date. These rhythms are so fast that they practically garner the tag "experimental" on their own: songs often sound like a CD being scanned forward, but then a relatively long (say, one second) Bjork sample will shine through and give form to the whole thing.

    The release's divisive reception is far from shocking. It's easy to imagine this music coming across as obnoxious to many people, and gratuitous to even more. As someone who has followed Death Grips through their most user-unfriendly stunts, however, I can't help but squeal with glee when, thirty seconds into "Fuck Me Out," they take off the reigns and let that shit go wild. Hell, the final two-and-a-half minutes of "Big Dipper" should be its own exhibition at the MOMA. And for a band which knows well how to begin an album, it's no small feat that "Up My Sleeves" is their best opener yet. Who knows whether Jenny Death, the second part of this double album, will be as good (based on "Inanimate Sensations" it'll be just as insane), but if it is then that'll be quite a final statement from Death Grips, arguably the most vital act of the decade.

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    I've had Nadler's Songs III album for years. It's the kind of album that's absolutely solid for its genre, but I don't often return to it. Knowing the production history of her new album, though, has made me interested in this newest one for some time. I remember liking the track you posted, as the echoey tone builds upon her strengths. Need to revisit that one.

    The Alvvays album is something I remember Steve Hyden featuring, which led me to more or less your initial reaction. I keep being simlarly afraid that it'll end up being the kind of solid album that I don't replay ever. Looks like I need to listen to more than the first two tracks...
    Ant-Man and the Wasp - 5
    Hereditary - 7
    Won't You Be My Neighbor? - 7.5
    The Tale - 8

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    Quote Quoting dreamdead (view post)
    Knowing the production history of her new album, though, has made me interested in this newest one for some time. I remember liking the track you posted, as the echoey tone builds upon her strengths.
    I think this is precisely why I like July more than the others, even though her self-titled album has some great songs (including "The Sun Always Reminds Me of You," my absolute favorite by her).

    Quote Quoting dreamdead (view post)
    The Alvvays album is something I remember Steve Hyden featuring
    On what? I'm not really familiar with him, but now I'm curious.

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    What is best in life? D_Davis's Avatar
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    If you like that new Flying Lotus, you'll probably love a lot of the nu-jazz stuff coming out of Norway and other Scandinavian countries, with some Germans mixed in for good measure, the last 10 or so years. Just amazing stuff from people like Nils Petter Molvaer, Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang, Moritz Von Oswald, etc. Some of the most creative music I've heard.

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    9.
    Grouper - Ruins



    I don't really have much to say about this album. The way Liz Harris slathers everything she touches (electronic-, guitar-, and now piano-based music, and of course her sublime FACT mix) with such a haunting, emotional tone is one of contemporary music's most wondrous oddities. I describe Ruins in the same way I would describe the perfect partner: humble, patient, candid, loving, and absolutely gorgeous.

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    8.
    Sun Kil Moon - Benji




    It seems weird at the end of 2014 to talk about how powerful Benji is; stuff like "War On Drugs: Suck My Cock" has threatened to erase how dumbfounded we were when we first heard songs like "Jim Wise" or "I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love" in February. In the end, however, it all makes a lot of sense. Like Mark Kozelek's public transparency, Benji is a massive, middle-aged, emotional shart of an album: childhood memories, intimacies, routine detachment, vehement disdain, all mixed together in a messy glob that rarely even shares cadence with the music. "And though I love the sound of the roaring Les Paul, what spoke to me most was 'Rain Song' and 'Bron-Yr-Aur.'" Benji doesn't really care that much if you understand the meaning of this lyric. It's not about you. Kozelek just had to put it on a record. If you get it then you're on his wavelength, and if you don't then you might be a fucking hillbilly.

    (Because I always ask for so many CDs at Christmas, I've gotten in the habit of quickly describing each album on my wish list so my family can more easily pick which one they want to get me. "Sun Kil Moon - Benji. Singer/songwriter. Notorious butthole of a guy releases weirdly compassionate album. Nearly every song is about death." I'm crossing my fingers.)

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  23. #23
    What is best in life? D_Davis's Avatar
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    I do not like Benji at all.

    Bloated, dull, and uninteresting. Kozelek at his absolute worst.

    And this is coming from someone who saw Red House Painters at least a dozen times. I think that, maybe, Kozelek has just gone in a direction that no longer registers with me. Or maybe I've gone in a different direction. That's a possibility, although one that I have trouble with seeing as how I still love RHP and many of the previously released SKM albums.

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    All the attention this one got makes it the first Kozelek album I've heard. Listening to a few songs from Among the Leaves makes it sound more similar than I would expect from your post. A very cursory listen, granted. His voice is a bit more pristine, but the guitar sound, mixing, and especially song titles like "I Know It's Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life" already seem familiar. Meaning I like it.

  25. #25
    What is best in life? D_Davis's Avatar
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    The first two Sun Kil Moon albums - Ghosts of the Great Highway, and April - are amazing.

    Ghosts has my second favorite Kozelek song:



    My first being "Michael," which is also probably a top 5 song of all time for me.


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