By Robbie Nevel
Year’s end top ten lists are pandering, subjective, self-indulgent, and quickly made irrelevant. This list will be no different except that it is made by me and therefore I designate it the best one. There will be no top 40 albums in this list and if there are it is based solely on whether or not I enjoyed it, not some industry-dictated milestone or swell of popular opinion. This is admittedly the most selfish list readers will ever read.
For that reason, there is a stark absence of local music on this list. It’s not that no good local music came out. On the contrary, local sludge act Holly Hunt released a crushing split with Irish rockers Slomatics, and Miami electronic dance favorites The Hongs released a single featuring their catchiest material yet. But in my eyes and picky taste, there were no full lengths that stood up to offerings available from around the world. What a weak list this would be indeed if I shoe-horned in something subpar just because it is local. Some may cry regarding this fact. I, on the other hand, will eat lunch.
Just being honest but that’s fitting. Honest exploration and innovation was the theme of this year’s best music. That said, honesty in progression, experimentation, and songwriting is hard to recognize since that intention can always be faked or labeled after the fact. Almost every band on every record ever made could say they were “trying to move forward.” Upon repeated listens, however, it seems to be a legitimate trait of every recording here.
#10 Aphex Twin Syro
This album had EDM fans dancing in anticipation, particularly those aware of Richard D. James’s influence on the genre. Mr. James, the creator of classics like Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Come To Daddy (EP) did not disappoint. Syro is James’s first studio album as Aphex Twin since the acclaimed Drukqs in 2001 and his penchant for forward-thinking is intact. Aphex Twin is back with an album full of foot tapping twitchy beats and breaks, along with sonically honed textures that melodically please the ear.
#9 Souls of Mischief There Is Only Now
Inspired by a botched firearm assault on the San Francisco and Hieroglyphics crew-based group, this concept album produced by Adrian Younge looks both to the past and future. Musically it touches on hip hop from the early nineties and classic soul arrangements but the end product showcases a fresh sound and a cohesive album-long story, both absent from much of today’s top-of-the-charts music.
#8 Primus Primus & The Chocolate Factory with The Fungi Ensemble
2014 was progressive even for the already-very-progressive Primus. With their interpretation of 1971 classic film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory they strayed pretty far from the original soundtrack. Primus opted to stay clear of their funkier side and lean heavily on a stomping, creepy atmosphere. The image it provokes is that of a darkly psychedelic chocolate dimension, a notion reinforced by the band’s freaky stage show.
#7 Broken Bells After the Disco
World renown producer and half of Broken Bells, Danger Mouse aka. Brian Burton couldn’t not create new exciting music even in the guise of current trending indie pop, and it sounds great with vocalist James Mercer (also of The Shins). While this release saw some mainstream success, I can not care if it has appeared on other lists. It is simply too good – so good in fact, it is probably the best item on those lists. Each arrangement brings a warm electronic tone to the songs which are consistently of top quality.
#6 Sia 1000 Forms of Fear
On the subject of top-quality, Sia’s latest masterpiece is just that. It too contains a smash single, “Chandelier” (one of the sickest album openers this year) and is a tie alongside Broken Bells as probably the best thing on any mainstream top-ten list. Her career signifies forward progression and self-reinvention, having started as a downbeat trip-hop songwriter, to an upbeat catchy pop singer (2010’s We Are Born), to behind-the-scenes songwriter for mega artists like Britney Spears and Rihanna. Now she arrives at her next destination as a well-deserved critical and mainstream success, and as the full package she has always been: both a masterful songwriter and vocalist.
#5 Little Dragon Nabuma Rubberband
This Swedish quartet’s fourth full-length album is a showcase of exotic arrangements and singer Yukimi Nagano’s signature vocal style. Unique and soulful are the words that spring to mind while hearing her voice over the moody, electronically influenced backdrop. In this case the beats are more lively and straightforward than in their past work, imparting a certain energy to the album. Right down to note choice and drums, Nabuma Rubberband is a perfectly crafted one-of-a-kind work of art.
#4 John Frusciante Enclosure
The latest solo release from former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar genius John Frusciante is the culmination of exploring electronic music and various styles not present in his other material. In his own words it “was the record which represented the achievement of all the musical goals I had been aiming at for the previous 5 years.” The strange, unconventional music and analog flavored sounds are boosted to soaring heights by Frusciante’s masterful songwriting. It is the a perfect example of the marriage between innovation and humbling beauty.
#3 †††Crosses Crosses
Active now for a few years, this electronic rock project – featuring Chino Moreno of the Deftones on vocals – has been putting a new face on dark brooding tunes made with computers and synthesizers. Their previous work hinted at the development of a unique sound, worlds away from the anthemic posturing of later NIN (who pioneered the genre) and instead focusing on subtlety, sonic warmth, and songwriting chops. From beginning to end the album stays sounding evil and pretty at the same time.
#2 Boris Noise
Japanese stoner rock legends Boris are another on this list that embody musical and artistic progression. Every album is many steps away from their last. This one, while entitled Noise is actually not the atonal, arhythmic “noise” record one may expect. Instead it features some of the band’s strongest composition and tightest vocal performances. The title may apply when describing the recording quality which sounds full of tape saturation, but that has long been a trademark of the band’s sound.
The second full-length release from California quartet Warpaint features production from veteran studio wizards Flood (Depeche Mode and Sigur Ros) and Nigel Godrich (Radiohead). Whereas the band’s previous work drew from a wellspring of catchy, California laced song stylings, this one sees them experiment with different songwriting structures and dabble with electronic sounds. As before, the personality in their songs mixes with traditional aspects of the arrangement, and they transcend together. The result is something unheard before. It is familiar in melody yet foreign in atmosphere. The beauty of the music itself drives this album home as one of the greatest albums of this year and possibly of the decade.