I don’t have much to say about music from 2014 yet beyond “Here are some albums I’ve listened to a couple times that are definitely good”. I’ve been short on music-listening time this year: there’s been my mom’s cancer and my revival of my teenage fascination with the TV show Doctor Who, plus various temporary issues. That’s why I’m still far from done with my Best-of-2013 review countdown, even. But in case you’re curious, here are some 2014 albums I’m happy with, along with sketchy, tentative descriptions:
Bastards of Fate, Vampires are Real and Palpable. Loud, woozy, strange, carnivalesque, racing from one idea to another, and prone to explosions — all with crooned melodic vocals.
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard, Here Be Monsters. Americana from the former leader of the Mekons: lyrically smart, politically charged, with arrangement ideas (especially percussion) that are just a little bit off.
Laibach, Spectre. Slightly-poppy industrial dance from Slovenian pranksters who’ve made a long career of toying with fascist imagery (for example, the minor tinkering needed to turn Queen’s “One Vision” into a Nazi rallying call), but finally decided this year to explicitly sing as their leftist selves — which, it turns out, works just fine, and infuses them with new energy.
Muuy Biien, D.Y.I. An abrasive, churning, hostile splatter of echoey 2-minute punk-rock songs, more spoken/yelled than sung, that’s very well-played for what it is and ends up striking me as lots of fun. The surf-rock influence helps.
Neneh Cherry, Blank Project. Sensual, minimalist R & B. The most aggressive songs sound to me like sparer feminine takes on Kanye’s Yeezus, while the rest put almost all the emphasis and power onto her jazz-and-hip-hop-influenced crooning.
Reconaissance Fly, Flower Futures. Arty avant-cabaret with strange melodic progressions and tuning and playfully weird lyrics (reminding me of Slapp Happy, if their songs had gotten longer instead of shorter as they got weirder). Extremely well-sung, although willfully distant.
Sage Francis, Copper Gone. My favorite album of 2014 so far is dense, energetic hip-hop full of leftist politics, personal reflections and recriminations, complicated wordplay, and cultural-allusion mixmastering that often pays off in oddball insight.
Seeming, Madness & Extinction. Or, my favorite album of 2014 so far is a lavishly beautiful, massively layered goth-pop album about, yes, madness and (human) extinction. Not normally my kind of thing; it’s just so well done.
St. Vincent, S/T. Another layered, dark pop album, helmed by the solemn vocals and twisted King Crimson-ish guitar work of Annie Clark. This is St. Vincent’s slickest and most accessible record: “dance music for funerals” is I think how she described its intent.
Stars in Battledress, In Droplet Form. A very English, precisely composed, good-natured keyboard-pop record with influences baroque, Kid A-ish, quirk-poppy, and Stereolabby.
Stephen Malkmus, Wig Out at Jagbag’s. Guitar-heroics indie-pop of a laid-back nature, as if the Allman Brothers had been geeky university Northerners instead of not like that at all.
Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines. At least musically, it would be very easy to believe this was a long-lost predecessor to Little Earthquakes: piano-centric, direct, easy-access. I’ll probably decide it’s great once I give it the attention it deserves; for now I’m annoyed that all the reviews are so ecstatic that this isn’t like the Beekeeper or Abnormally Attracted to Sin, both of which I think are wonderful, wonderful records. But even though right now I find it an unwanted corrective and haven’t listened very well, I can tell it’s no worse than good.
TunaBunny, Kingdom Technology. A very strange amalgam of vocal-harmony-driven rock’n’roll, drone/ambient, and Fall/Wire-ish post-punk.
White Hinterland, Baby. Jazzy, soulful minor-key piano-pop songs with nifty experimental edges.
Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate. Dark, dry, gothy minor-key post-punk guitar-rock that reminds me of early Echo & the Bunnymen, Chairs Missing/ 154-era Wire, and the Chameleons.