Top Ten of 2014 – Tyler

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Some may argue that 2014 was a weak year for music, or that the year was front-loaded with all the best releases coming in the first few months. I disagree: If anything, genres seemed to take turns letting loose the best talent their ranks had to offer. I enjoyed a lot of rock albums early in the year, hip-hop in the spring and summer, and this fall has produced some already-classic electronic records. Over the next few days, everyone here at Nahhhhh will be putting out their personal lists of the year’s best albums. My tastes are a little different – I typically stick to more behind-the-scenes stuff at this publication – but that doesn’t mean I don’t love me some good tunes. I’ve put them in descending order for added drama.

10. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata

A collaboration three years in the making, Piñata affords each of its artists a platform to showcase their considerable talent. The juxtaposition of Gibbs’ classic gangsta flow against the soul-sampling beats of the one and only Madlib creates a narrative legitimacy that few other hip-hop releases have achieved in a decade.

9. Future Islands – Singles

The rise to prominence for these Baltimore-based synth rock weirdos has been a long and tiring one. While I will always cherish the classic pop sensibilities of their 2010 effort In The Fall, this new record manages to push the smart bass lines, catchy vocal hooks, and (best of all) eccentric synth tones to the forefront for huge impact. I’m looking forward to seeing these festival-ready jams on huge stages next summer.

8. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Songs about loneliness and heartbreak are so commonplace in modern country, but with an updated take on the genre’s musicality and a more personal approach relying on the experience of a recent breakup, Sharon Van Etten crafted a truly relatable story. Worth particular attention are the vocal harmonies on this record, although the true magic lies in more subtle techniques: slow builds, quiet vocal inflections, and a backing band so tight it seems to breathe in unison.

7. Caribou – Our Love

I am pretty confident that there are only two words necessary to understanding the brilliance of this record: live instrumentation. Just listen to the drop (if you can call it that) on lead single “Can’t Do Without You,” as the snare-and-tom-roll bleeds into the intensifying, lifting synth line, it’s truly an ethereal experience. If this dude wasn’t tripping when he wrote this record, I would be very curious how it’d turn out if he had been.

6. Mick Jenkins – The Water[s]

“Drink more water” is, with good reason, the de facto mantra of Chicago up-and-comer Mick Jenkins. The political and social commentary offered on this mixtape are partnered with slick beats reminiscent of Drake and J. Cole, making for a listen that is both informing and exciting.

5. SBTRKT – Wonder Where We Land

The follow-up to an excellent debut required something extra to take a near-perfect formula to the next level: SBTRKT found this something extra with features. There are appearances by old favorites Sampha and Jessie Ware, but this time around we also get to hear contributions from A$AP Ferg, Warpaint, Raury, and in arguably the record’s only misstep, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. Save that one song, though, Wonder Where We Land is a complete collection of songs to party, think, live, and die to.

4. Real Estate – Atlas

Compared to Days, Atlas was more thematically cohesive, more technically skilled, and also much better produced. Like Mac Demarco’s Salad Days, we see Real Estate “maturing” as songwriters, if you will, but they have also become better musicians. The addition of a full-time drummer and a keyboardist allowed them to compose sprawling textures, not to mention that they’ve finally incorporated interesting drum fills. The fact Matt Mondanile still hasn’t exhausted his creative energy writing catchy riffs is a feat by itself. They’re finally messing around with a lot of the phaser and delay pedals that characterize Ducktails’ sound so, although it’s subtle, their guitar tone has changed – for the better, in my opinion. The whole thing was recorded at the Wilco Loft, too (awesome, even if you don’t love Wilco), so it’s got this nice, warm tone.

3. Les Sins – Michael

Although he can’t escape the dude-from-Toro-Y-Moi-makes-house-now narrative popular around most music journalism outlets, I’m not sure the dude from Toro Y Moi would want to; the two projects are intricately linked. The natural touch for rhythm and melody carries over from the main project to the side one, and the pop sensibility of Les Sins helps inform our understanding of Toro Y Moi’s poppier moments. The record teeters between political commentary and party music, but it is consistently melodic and interesting.

2. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

There’s a line on “Hi-Five” where Angel Olsen offers the following consolation: “are you lonely, too? / high-five / so am I.” It’s consoling in diction, perhaps, but its tone reveals a sarcasm that tweaks the meaning of the line into something more complex. Throughout the record, Olsen rejects kinship and commiseration as the consolation prize to lost love. But she isn’t content to make a simple “I will survive” statement, either. It’s somewhere in between. Burn Your Fire expresses its melancholy but seeks no sympathy, explores the lightheartedness of flirtation and dating but demands to be taken seriously, and – in a move equal parts dynamic and challenging – trades off classic, Leonard-Cohen-inspired bits of quiet solace with loud, powerful, drums-driven rock bits. The more aggressive instrumentation is brand new to Olsen’s sound thanks to the addition of a full band and, although the message has stayed the same, it’s bolstered by this wall of sound. Burn Your Fire may, in fact, be more cohesive than Half Way Home, Olsen’s debut. But the evolution into a full-band project hasn’t obscured her voice at all. It’s still there, inside tracks like “Forgiven / Forgotten” or “High & Wild,” now it’s just louder. When she closes out album opener “Unfucktheworld” by repeating the line, “I am the only one now/you may not be around,” she may as well be addressing her own bandmates. Whether it’s one person with a guitar or four people with guitars, a bass, and a full set of drums, it’s all one voice: and it’s all Angel Olsen.

1. Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo

In the half a dozen months since this record dropped, I have had six or seven different favorite songs. That has to be a testament to the XXL-freshman’s versatile grasp of classic Southern bounce. He is entirely comfortable with his own vulnerability, a trait his oft-compared Top Dawg brother Kendrick could stand to learn. Whether he plays the role of father, son, friend, or hustler, it is an honest and believable voice coming through the speakers. Spottie is bold.



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