Okay, we’ve made it to Day 2 of this countdown. In case you missed the first set of 10 albums, aka #50-41, you can click here to bring yourself up to speed. The collection of records you’ll find below has a little something for everybody, I’d say. Well okay, maybe not EVERYBODY. But there’s some great synth pop, some punk rock, some electronica, some hip hop, and a little bit of experimental whatnot in there for good measure. If there’s a theme to be pulled from this portion of the countdown, it’s that change is inevitable, and can often turn out for the best. Anyways, let’s just get right into it. Here’s the Top 50 Albums of 2014: #40-31!
40. Eagulls – Eagulls
Leeds punk band Eagulls sound like a 1977 mash-up between The Clash, Joy Division, Wire, The Cure and Public Image Ltd. Their self-titled debut borrows from these influences liberally, but also excels at tweaking it just enough to make it sound vital and modern. They’re snotty, brash malcontents hellbent on getting in your face to yell about what’s wrong with the world, but they’re also smart enough to know there are multiple gears to their sound so it doesn’t need to be that way all the time. The guitars overtake George Mitchell’s howls on songs like “Tough Luck” and “Opaque,” and just before they reach the level of a stadium-sized anthem, suddenly a new chord progression will enter the fray and turn the entire thing on it’s head. Such disorienting moves are part of what makes Eagulls such a special and impressive band. Well, that and highly visceral, yet memorable singles such as “Possessed” and “Nerve Endings.”
39. Mr Twin Sister – Mr Twin Sister
After leaving Domino Records and enduring a horiffic van accident, everybody in Twin Sister decided it was for the best if they closed that chapter of their lives and started over fresh. They changed their sound dramatically, along with their name, becoming Mr Twin Sister. Their self-titled album of rebirth can be classified as a highly refined version of disco pop, with flourishes of new wave, house, electro and even a little R&B. Most of the songs seem pretty sedate and built for lounging around at some decadent club, but that’s only because the BPM isn’t quite up to speed with more modern club music. But this is definitely a record you can dance to, whether you’ve got a mirror ball hanging over your head or not. When you coast through the whole thing, it manages to feel like an auditory lucid dream of sorts, where everything is going well until suddenly and inexplicably it’s not. You know you should be concerned and do something about it, but you’re having too good of a time to truly care.
38. tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack
With each new record, it feels like Merrill Garbus’ tUnE-yArDs project evolves. Considering her debut was recorded entirely on her own using a laptop microphone, the follow-up with a full band and recording studio felt like the fullest realization of her talents. Now with her third full length Nikki Nack, she adds new elements to her already complex melodies, always keeping us guessing as to what will come next. It’s often exceptionally energetic and fun, and thanks to some time spent in Haiti to study drumming, it’s also more percussive than ever before. Amid the playground sing-alongs and joyous melodies this time are also some slower songs that really show off R&B influences. Nikki Nack may not be as memorable or offhandedly goofy as a near perfect record like w h o k i l l was, but so long as she has that incredibly powerful voice and a unique sense of wonder about the world, Garbus will be worth paying attention to.
37. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent
It’s always interesting to hear fans of A Sunny Day in Glasgow try to describe their music, primarily because the band has proven exceptionally difficult to pin down into one particular sound or genre. Most often cited have been their shoegaze and dream pop leanings, which while technically accurate, also defies the general logic of those styles by radiating energy, positivity and pop structures. It yields such breathless and delightful numbers like “In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing),” which turns out to be one of 2014’s best singles. Sea When Absent marks a significant change in the way the collective writes, records and mixes their songs, and the more democratic approach does them a whole lot of favors. The vocals are pushed much higher in the mix to weave in more harmonies and modulations, while melodies often turn on a dime so you’re never quite sure where it’s going to head next. Repeat listens only reveal more layers to explore, and thankfully this record is gorgeous and lovely enough that you genuinely want to keep digging.
36. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
Shabazz Palaces are on a quest to elevate hip hop to another plane of existence. The duo of former Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler and producer Tendai Maraire arrived in 2011 with the incredible and unique Black Up, and now are looking to change the game once again. Lese Majesty is a concept record that’s 18 tracks divided into seven suites on the topics of futurism, science fiction and interstellar travel. If that description makes it seem like the album might just fly over your head with ideas you don’t fully understand, just buckle up and take the ride. While Ish is the voice of the project, this turns out to be much more of a producer’s record than a hip hop one, as the beats and instrumental work is extremely intense and complex, just as liable to completely zig when you were expecting it to zag. There are a few fun and funky moments amid the scholarly discourse, which helps make it an easier listen. Meanwhile Ish’s wordplay explores the topics on hand while also playing around with how best to vocalize them. Much of the time he isn’t so much rapping as he is reciting poetry. All of it makes for one of the most dramatically strange yet brilliant records of 2014. I just wish it wasn’t so impenetrable at times.
35. Iceage – Plowing Into the Field of Love
When the world was first exposed to Iceage back in 2011 with their debut New Brigade, all the members of the Danish punk band were still teenagers. Three years and two albums later, they’re older and wiser, and the songs on Plowing Into the Field of Love reflect that. Most of their melodies and lyrics no longer intend to manifest in the form of a sonic punch to the face. Life has first beaten, then calmed them down, so we get some piano ballads here and some brushes of alt-country there. The lyrics tell tales of misery and tragedy, while singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt growls his way through as if every word is a punishment. This is how it feels when Iceage matures. They almost (emphasis on almost) sound like they’re in control the whole time, which for a band that has made its name by being reckless and on the razor’s edge, can seem like a scary prospect. It actually turns into their greatest asset, striking just the right balance to make even the worst attitudes and actions seem attractive from time to time.
34. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste
It took three years and a split with her label Interscope to make it happen, but Azealia Banks finally birthed her debut album Broke With Expensive Taste into the world this past November. Was the long wait worth it? Even I’ll admit that my excitement from naming her to the Class of 2012 had waned significantly due to all of the delays. Yet as soon as I listened to it, I was instantly reminded why she earned such recognition and acclaim in the first place. When she’s rapping, she often spits fire and is a master of wordplay. But on more than a few tracks she sings a chorus or a bridge and sounds as sweet as honey. She’s got an excess of talent at her disposal. Even more impressive are the tracks that she’s managed to put together, which run the gamut of styles and genres. This isn’t just some basic hip hop record with rhymes over club beats (though there are a few tracks like that), but a vast sampling of Banks’ own random tastes. So you’ll get a Caribbean or salsa rhythm one minute, an icy synth pop melody the next, some 90’s house beats a little later, and a sample from Ariel Pink’s 50’s beach party throwback ditty “Nude Beach a Go-Go” after that. It’s all wildly disparate, and makes sense that Interscope didn’t know what to make of it. But through her chameleon-like ability to adapt to her surroundings, Banks makes all of it work. That’s to her advantage now, and as she moves forward in the music industry.
33. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
Cymbals Eat Guitars have become notoriously difficult to pin down. They are an indie rock band, and that sort of label covers a broad spectrum of sounds and styles for a reason. At any given moment on LOSE, they may be playing punk rock, Springsteen-esque heartland rock, post rock, alternative rock, or even a dose of alt-country rock. While the variations differ, the overall approach does not, resulting in cohesion across an epic set of would-be anthems. While their diversity and energy is admirable, it’s frontman Joseph D’Agostino’s lyrics that ultimately steal away focus from just about anything else on the record. He’s always been a strong writer, but truly outdoes himself this time around. He’s able to take highly specific situations from his own life and turn them into things broad audiences can understand and relate to. His words are smart and often poetic, but never annoyingly so. Most of all though, the lyrics and album as a whole makes you feel darkness, depression and self-doubt, then shows you how to push through to a better, more stable human being.
32. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
Pretty much every Flying Lotus album manages to impress, largely because Steven Ellison refuses to allow himself to be boxed in by any specific sound, genre or concept. It’s essentially a free-for-all, and he does such an effortless job of stringing the many disparate elements together that the only thing you truly can anticipate is that it’ll be great. On You’re Dead!, Ellison lays out 19 tracks over 38 minutes, incorporating elements of jazz, hip hop, R&B, folk, psychedelia, electronica and so much more, all thematically tied to the album title. The exclamation point in said title is important, because it gives you a better idea of the lighthearted mood established by most of the tracks, suggesting that even though death can be a very sad thing, it can also be a celebration both of a life lived and what might be on the other side. Considering his age and background, Ellison is undoubtedly no stranger to death, and his uniquely beautiful take on it carries a far greater maturity than that of his peers.
31. Future Islands – Singles
Just so we’re perfectly clear from the start, I’ve got a problem with Future Islands. To be more accurate, I’ve got a problem with Samuel T. Herring’s voice. So apparently do others, as I recently heard Herring say at a show that he visited a singing coach who said to him, “You actually sing in a band with that voice?” Everything else about Future Islands is good with me though, right down to Herring’s shirt always being tucked in and his wild dance moves. They’re unapologetic about who they are and the music they make, even though it’s pretty damn uncool when you give a close examination of the whole package. Yet they’re also celebratory and uplifting with their songs, encouraging listeners to live, love, take risks and make the most of every experience we have on this mortal coil. They do this using new wave and synth-pop as their base, so not only does it feel like a distinctive 80’s throwback, but you can dance to most of the record as well. Singles was the perfect album for Future Islands to go bigger and more anthemic than ever before, and the move wound up working for them like gangbusters.
Check out all Listmas 2014 posts by clicking here.