T for Tom

2014 Year in Music

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on November 23, 2014

We’re 14 years on into this new millennium and things are starting to settle – the age of hip-hop has come and gone, and yet nothing has risen to take the throne. Those hoping for the return of rock’n’roll saw Coldplay write sonnets, Arctic Monkeys go rockabilly, and Lenny Kravitz revive disco (again). These are all noble in a time when alternative music is leading the current path to success – subtle, sultry house-based rhythms to drive post-punk anthems. It’s a wonderful mixture of things, but it hasn’t yet given us a singular purpose or artist to rally around. Here, though, are the ones doing the rest of it best.

Albums –

  1. Bad Suns – “Language & Perspective”

This record is almost nostalgic in the only way that a debuting artist can be – revival of the straight indie-alternative. Not strange in the way Grizzly Bear confounds us, nor futuristic in the way M83 consumes us, but driven, just driven punk-alternative anthems. It’s great to hear a band can still exist in this club-motivated world and get back to the basics of just making us want to dance.

  1. SOHN – “Tremors”

Of all the records on this list, this record has the most singular theme – sheer, dark crumbling. I say crumbling because often SOHN sets up a simple bass line with a single string, or a single drum track, and upon its crescendo dissembles his vocals into shattering sounds, themselves becoming the backbone of the reassembled melody. It’s intricate work, but over 11 tracks can only hold one emotion – doom. We’re better for the sentiment, but don’t go into this record looking for anything less than heartbreak and destruction.

  1. Alt-J – “This Is All Yours”

Having not been a fan of 2012’s Mercury Prize winning “An Awesome Wave” I was skeptical at first, but Alt-J did me the favor of alienating all their truest fans with “This Is All Yours.” I wonder at times if the title is meant to aggrieve their fans, sensing that the new direction – slower, more artistic, fully-developed instrumentations sprinkled with power-grunge anthems – would make more enemies the second time around, saying “you wanted us back, but here’s this instead.” But a nearly all-vocal introduction leads into the serene album that reads like a book, peaking with Miley Cyrus samples and Bill Withers covers. Haters gonna hate, but this should be on your shelf.

  1. TV On The Radio – “Seeds”

The longtime TVOTR fan will notice immediately that Seeds is their most synced, pop-friendly album (even more than 2008’s Dear Science). But what’s important here, and better for our purposes, is how experimental the band remain, this time within a superb context of sound and vision. Opening with a familiar shout of sonic noise on “Quartz” we’re hearing friendly sounds, but not before Adebimpe drifts in doo-wop vocals, a mixture unheard but surely welcomed. And where before TVOTR placed their emotional refrain within symphonic works equal to entire album sides, their delicate moments here are brought down and simplified into something unique, momentous, but without excess. I couldn’t be more pleased with this record.

  1. Copeland – “Ixora”

Mostly a nostalgic pick, but something I can’t get over. After six years on hiatus, members of Copeland got back together to fund and record their own record in their own home, and still they are 1) like nothing else in the post-emo alternative world, finding a way to make beautiful, romantic soul in the world of pop-alternative, and 2) one of the most gifted bands at layering sound. Their most replete record is also their most audacious, venturing into canyons of narrowness and refined scopes of sheer romance. Find a way to purchase this record, because it won’t be available for long.

  1. Ryan Adams – “Ryan Adams”

He does it again. In an attempt to redefine a career that spans nearly every genre, Ryan Adams has crafted a masterpiece of heartland rock in the vein of Bruce Springsteen, Eagles, Firefall, Mellencamp, etc. But his depth is unmatched, his wisdom sincere, and his elegance his own. If you’re reading this you already know Ryan Adams by heart and I won’t go on further.

  1. Spoon – “They Want My Soul”

After a somewhat experimental turn in 2009’s “Transference” and a side project by Britt Daniel (one of 2012’s greatest, btw), Spoon returns with a violence of pop not seen since the British Invasion. “They Want My Soul” is their brightest, tightest collection of work since “Kill The Moonlight,” but also their most adventurous – in the sense that for the first time in an always impressive career, Spoon sounds hopeful. A band known for haunting chains and dark alternative hooks is figuring out how to make us feel good, and everyone should be jealous of how good these guys are getting, 15 years on.

  1. Ty Segall – “Manipulator”

The rocker of the year, this record won’t leave you wanting. Raw, in your face garage rock never sounded so good, spread out over a double-LP 16 tracks worth of California flavored metal with alternative inspirations. For a man who’s put out some 13 records in the last four years, I regret that this is the first I’ve heard of him. Starting with something of a soft-opening to draw you in, the curtains unfold to let the hair down and the metal fly.

  1. The War on Drugs – “Lost In a Dream”

This could easily be listed as record 1B, but it slots in at number 2 based only on its only weakness – between the synth transitions, the sounds of clouds slowly sweeping by, and the near perfectly transcendent sound of life getting better, there are at times a bit too much dead space. The effect creates a novel of song, a record that can and should only be consumed as an entire piece, like watching your life pass just before falling to eternal sleep and saying “life was in total a beautiful thing.”

  1. Elbow – “The Takeoff and Landing of Everything”

Just five years removed from their own Mercury Prize winning album, Elbow have done it again – inspired by singer Guy Harvey’s break up from a four-year relationship, this album is everything you could hope for and need – introspection and soul-shaking beauty written serenely over the most slowly growing, gut-wrenching rhythms that take you places of sheer joy and brilliance. With “The Takeoff…” Elbow have finally mastered their own sound of slow, repetitive rhythms set to synchronic drum loops, a la their first record Asleep At The Wheel. With it, Harvey provides us his best lyrics to date, peaking at the end with the title track, soaring over high-crested synths, singing “in a prayer to the takeoff and landing of everything that leaves your lips and we took to the sky.” It’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Other fantastic records – “Chorus” by Literature, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” by Thom Yorke, “Present Tense” by Wild Beasts, “Hold My Home” by Cold War Kids, “Morning Phase” by Beck, “Single Mothers” by Justin Townes Earle.

Songs –

20. “Nose Grows Some” – Thom Yorke

19. “This Is Not About Us” – Kindness

18. “Main Street” – Angus & Julia Stone

17. “Careful You” – TV On The Radio

16. “Fuck ‘Em, Only We Know” – Banks

15. “Calm It Down” – Sisyphus

14. “Fantasy” – Mystery Skulls

13. “Dancing on Quicksand” – Bad Suns

12. “Shadows” – Ryan Adams

11. “Daughters” – Wild Beasts

  1. “Hunger of the Pine” – Alt-J

Alt-J + Miley Cyrus = 🙂

  1. “I’ll Be Back” – Kindness

A friend and co-collaborator of my favorite Blood Orange, Kindness released his second LP this year. Not the best overall work, but featuring some of the best tracks, of which this is one. A soft, pillowy poem of eagerness.

  1. “Artifice” –Sohn

This is the one upbeat, fast-paced rocker on a record of slow sadness, and it’s the most powerful, though it’s sentiment echoes the rest – “somebody better let me know my name before I give myself away.”

  1. “Morning” – Beck

Really, this is just excellent, excellent song craft. I never knew Beck could be so smooth, intelligent, and wise. This is an elegy for life.

  1. “An Ocean In Between The Waves” – The War on Drugs

I’m going to link here to an acoustic performance of this track to show you it’s delicate layers, but the important thing to notice is just how fantastic of a musician and lyricist he is.

  1. “Like A Lie” – Copeland

I’m a sucker for this, but listen closely – listen to all the small, fragile things going on, and then feel how it hits you to hear with such frail words that “it feels just like a lie when I hold you.”   The marriage of word and song here is at its best.

[Unfortunately not available anywhere GO FIND IT]

  1. “Feel” – Ty Segall

Fuck it, sometimes I just need to bang. How long has it been since you’ve heard a proper drum solo?

  1. “They Want My Soul” – Spoon

Spoon here have written the best, by the book. A pop tune crafted of driving guitars with simple distortion, a forward pulse, and an electrifying solo that George Harrison would be proud of.

  1. “New York Morning” – Elbow

There hasn’t been many a song like this before, and won’t be for some time. Starting with a soft vocal track, and pausing for just a moment, we are crushed like waves from the introduction of the booming, heavy drum-track, never relenting along the way as we build to Harvey’s denouement, asking finally, “Oh my god, New York, you talk, but where in all that talk is the answer?”

  1. “Under Pressure” – The War On Drugs

This goes down as one of the greatest opening tracks ever. A scattered mix of clicking and ticking opens up to one of the smoothest, brightest melodies, driven by universally sonic keys and four-on-the-floor drums. I’m not very good at talking about music, but sometimes I just know what’s good. Listen.



A list of everything I bought this year –

Ryan Adams – “Ryan Adams”

Alt-J – “This Is All Yours”

Anberlin – “Lowborn”

Angus & Julia Stone – “Angus & Julia Stone” – produced by Rick Rubin, this is their best and tightest work yet.

Bad Suns – “Language & Perspective”

Banks – “Goddess” – if you like Weeknd, you’ll love Banks.

Beck – “Morning Phase”

The Black Keys – “Turn Blue” – their worst record.

Bombay Bicycle Club – “So Long, See You Tomorrow” – a small step in the same direction, but good nonetheless.

Broken Bells – “After The Disco” – a better effort than their debut, and one of the more dancey records this year.

Cold War Kids – “Hold My Home” – fucking kicking out the jams still.

Coldplay – “Ghost Stories”

Copeland – “Ixora”

Counting Crows – “Somewhere Under Wonderland”

Mac DeMarco – “Salad Days”

Justin Townes Earle – “Single Mothers” – Americana and blues at its finest.

Elbow – “The Takeoff and Landing of Everything”

William Fitzsimmons – “Lions”

FKA Twigs – “LP”

First Aid Kit – “Stay Gold” – meh.

Foster The People – “Supermodel” – trash.

French Style Furs – “…Is Exotic Bait” – side project of Cold War Kids lead singer, pretty electrifying at times, a vintage rocker.

Future Islands – “Singles”

The Gaslight Anthem – “Get Hurt” – homeland rock, good stuff.

Ben Harper & Ellen Harper – “Childhood Home”

Ben Howard – “I Forget Where We Were” – I really loved this record, until Damien Rice came out a month later and I realized that Ben Howard was a cheap imitation.

I Can Make A Mess – “Growing In”

Interpol – “El Pintor” – Interpol are back.

The Jezabels – “The Brink”

Kindness – “Otherness”

Lenny Kravitz – “Strut”

Lights – “Little Machines” – I was intrigued, I’m not intrigued anymore.

Literature – “Chorus” – DEFINITELY.

Mystery Skulls – “Forever” – electro-pop never sounded so good.

Nickel Creek – “A Dotted Line” – At first I was all “THANK GOD they’re back together,” but as the months have gone on, I haven’t listened to this since. They had a time and place, but maybe that time and place has come and gone.

Damien Rice – “My Favorite Faded Fantasy” – it feels so damn good to have Damien Rice back, produced by Rick Rubin, with Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch of all people making appearances.

The Roots – “…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” – art-rock-hip-hop, yes yes yes.

Royal Blood – “Royal Blood” – overhyped.

Ty Segall – “Manipulator”

Sia – “1000 Forms of Fear” – disappointing. She should go back to jazz.

Sisyphus – “Sisyphus” – check out the inspiration for Sufjan’s collaboration with Son Lux and Serengeti, then get mystified at how strangely rewarding this odd piece of work is.

SOHN – “Tremors”

Spoon – “They Want My Soul”

Sylvan Esso – “Sylvan Esso”

TV On The Radio – “Seeds”

U2 – “Songs of Innocence” – you know what? I fucking like this record. I said it.

The War on Drugs – “Lost In A Dream”

Jack White – “Lazaretto” – Blunderbuss pt. II.

Wild Beasts – “Present Tense”

Wye Oak – “Shriek”

Thom Yorke – “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” – this is what King of Limbs should have been.

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