I haven’t relapsed into Top 5 lists or controversy-laden ranking debates. At least not yet. But I still can’t help compiling anything that falls under a Favorite Anything category. So whether or not our mixtape exchanges and Soundcloud recommendations steamroll into anything remotely similar to the old Idle Time year-end best-ofs, I wanted to gather up ten of my favorite albums from 2014’s first half. Listed alphabetically, for now.
A decade-plus since east coast bands like Radio 4 and Q And Not U punked up disco, Brooklyn’s Ava Luna are doing the same with jazz and soul. I heard three different tracks off this album via three separate outlets, and was later surprised that they were not only by the same band, but also on the same record. Just the right amount of multiple personality disorder to make up an individual party disc.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Alec Ounsworth and the return of whatever sounds right at the time. It’s no secret that I consider CYHSY’s 2005 s/t debut album one of the finest rock records ever made, and an exultant herald of DIY tenacity in an otherwise terrifying 21st century of fractured psyches and fractured mp3s (and I love reminding MI that it placed 53rd on our Decades list, one spot ahead of Rumours). But it also seems fairly obvious that I’ve seemingly given Ounsworth a do-no-wrong pass, both with every CYHSY release and every Flashy Python/solo experiment. I can’t help it, and this new record, featuring Ounsworth and one original CYHSY member, is my favorite since ’05.
Built On Glass
Downtown / Future Classic
Fitting that one of the best songs on Chet Faker’s debut full-length is “1998,” as the album sits squarely between the early-nineties origins of trip-hop and the 21st century soul revival. There’s also something to be said about about Australia becoming the Sweden of the new decade, and they’re riding an electronic wave around this dude’s lush beard and even lusher vocals.
WH sent me a text in late May, after streaming this album in an early preview. “No surprise, but Black Hours is great.” No surprise, because Leithauser is the heart of one of the best bands of the last decade and my pick for best live band during that same stretch. Leithauser’s classic crooner mystique, previously an integral part of the Walkmen wanderlust, is showcased under smoky lounge spotlights, rattling ice cubes in whiskey glasses. Less wandering; more lusting. I was pissed when he canceled his show at The Chapel back in May in favor of touring as support for Ray LaMontagne. But after hearing the album (and securing tickets to his return trip in August), all is forgiven.
I Never Learn
Forget what I said about Australia. Sweden is still my Sweden, and I’ll Never Learn is not only the best thing, thus far, to issue from that Nordic wonderland in 2014, but also the best Lykke Li album yet. Lagom est bast may be the prevailing sentiment for much of the country, but the Queen of Swedish Pop (sorry, Robyn) has never been one to rest on her laurels. Each successive album has been more intense and more beautiful than the last. Maybe this one hits home more than the prior two, as well. Starting over is good for the soul, so long as it is devoid of apathy or confusion, resentment and anger. There’s a certain comfort to knowing that “never learning” is universal, and the desire to feel and experience never really fades.
I saw these local boys on the rooftop of a South of Market tech company in February, not long after I started looping their new album on constant repeat. The Hollies-esque harmonies filtered through SF-psych pop seemed perfectly placed among the newly shining concrete canyons of old San Francisco. There’s room for fresh echoes in this town, and just like 174-square foot apartments and pour-over coffee bars extending horizontally in all directions, redundancies and reverberations abound.
Stars & Letters
The nod here goes to the single-disc edition: an incredible package of electrodrone grooves from New Zealand’s Nick Harte. The full version of this album is a sprawling, 35-track affair and, let’s face it, not even The Clash could successfully pull off a triple album. But the eleven tracks on the vinyl (two of which aren’t even available in the 35-track digital version) are the best of the bunch. The songs were crafted as “self-therapy” during Harte’s efforts at dealing with the aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, but the result is beautifully therapeutic for anyone listening, and anyone gazing up from one’s shoes out towards the horizon.
This precious EP from Brooklyn’s Henry Crawford is one of the most personal and emotional records I’ve heard in a while. It reminds of the Conor Oberst forays into electronic music following Lifted. In a digital age, it has become increasingly more important to be as human as possible, and Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash still resonates with me more than ten years later. More than set expectations on the longevity of this Small Wonder EP, I look forward to a full-length in the near future.
My favorite album of 2014 so far. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn are the slickest electropop duo since Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello. Every track on this debut LP can move a dancefloor or kickoff a singalong. And, yes, RF, the self-referential namedrops exist and they are awesome.
Apparently a “French exit” is an abrupt, unannounced departure. Didn’t know that. I do know that of all the French exits in my life — both the ones I’ve given and those I’ve received — haven’t been nearly as much fun as this dreamy sample-riddled pop gem from LA’s TV Girl.