Slow Thrills albums of 2014

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Well, albums of the year lists are a bit of a thing this year, aren't they? I'm sure most people have reached list fatigue by this point, but it is almost compulsory for a music blog to make a AOTY list and besides I still enjoy it.
Cast your mind back twelve months to the end of 2013, which I decided was a vintage year for albums, and I celebrated by compiling my top NINETY albums in order. Although I heard even more releases in 2014 - I think it was 220 this year versus 187 the previous year if anyone is interested! - I vowed not to go overboard with the AOTY chart this time. One reason was that when I was compiling the radio shows in the earlier part of 2014 I heard lots of great tracks, but not always great albums - that's one of the reasons why I put a lot of effort into making two "tracks of 2014" mixes. There are plenty of tracks in there that don't come from any of these 20 albums.

As regular readers know, this blog publishes a monthly round-up of (usually ten) new releases and that list is not in any specific order, although for the AOTY I did submit to peer pressure and I've put the choices in order. Obviously I cannot hear everything within the confines of a calendar month, so I am quite surprised in how many of those choices made up the final list. It turned out that most of the albums I missed from those round-ups were, to my ears at least, non-essential. At time of posting I have heard nearly everything I set out to hear with the dramatic exceptions of Einsturzende Neubaten's 'Lament' and Andy Stott's 'Faith in Strangers', both of which I suspect may have made this list.

2014 saw a different variety of psychedelia emerge, evolving away from the garage bands towards a post-Stereolab vibe. The records that came out of nowhere to surprise me sound more like Broadcast than Syd Barrett or the Seeds. That was the defining sound of the year for me, but I'm also a sucker for songcraft and both 'Benji' and 'Colfax' were great examples that that art is still alive and well.

As each year passes I often think about what to do next with the blog and I think in 2015 things are set to change here. I didn't utilise the blog as much as I would have liked in 2014 (though it was better than 2008 when I didn't post for the entire year!) and I would like to try a different approach to things now that the new year is here. In the meantime, thanks for your support over the last 12 months, and I hope that you find plenty to explore and maybe something to love in this list.

20. Skull Defekts 'Dances in Dreams of the Known Unkown' (Thrill Jockey)

"a thrill from start to finish and is perhaps surprisingly accessible...There is great tension between the riffs and the melodies... the guitars are just seconds away from dipping into something truly edgy and discordant. The Skull Defekts understand the power of repetition when used correctly - think of the Fall, Can, Sonic Youth - and (Daniel) Higgis's presence completes the band and makes it possible to deliver an album as trippy, yet somehow coherent, as this one" -my review (the 405)

19. Grumbling Fur 'Preternaturals' (The Quietus Phonographic Corporation)

Grumbling Fur are evolving with each release, and this third album is a fascinating blend of influences. There is a particularly "British-folk" base behind it, and they build on this with elements from synth pop, hauntology and industrial music to create something well worth exploring.
(great review here)

18. TV On The Radio 'Seeds' (Harvest)

The fifth full-length studio release for the indie rock band is its first since the death of bassist Gerald Smith, and sees the band emerge from that tragedy to create an album full of life. It is much more an indie-pop-rock album and fans of their early doom-gaze material may struggle with it, but it still has an edge to it, and the pop touches are both triumphant and surprising, particularly as some people were expecting a heavy dose of melancholy.

17. Flying Lotus 'You're Dead!' (Warp)

The psychedelic touches are there of course and that teasing way that he flips away from one idea before it is really finished with is still in evidence as well. The title does hint at a fairly morbid effort, and it does get darker than he has before, but ultimately it is well worth hearing for the adventurous and ambitious turns that the music takes.
"As each song merges into the next, as one style succeeds another, the sensation is that of being in a dream." (the Guardian)

16. Wrekmeister Harmonies 'Then It All Came Down' (Thrill Jockey)

"This was premiered in the National Bohemian Cemetery in Chicago, under a full moon. When you hear it, that all makes sense. The natural yet eerie setting, surrounded by reminders of mortality, and the potential interest in the occult. This is a superbly assembled piece, with a great grasp of dynamics and an understanding that its subtle moments can be just powerful as those times when it becomes a complete aural assault. Then It All Came Down is a noisy beast, but it is a beautiful one too." - my review (the 405)

15. Sharon Van Etten 'Are We There'(Jagjaguwar)

In my opinion, not quite as great as her near masterpiece 'Tramp', but still a sign of a superb talent.
"Are We There offers an artist in full command of her voice and her instrument, a woman who knows exactly what she wants to offer listeners and who isn’t afraid to accompany the barest streaks of sunlight with thousands of clouds." (A.V. Club)

14. The Soundcarriers 'Entropicalia' (Ghost Box)

I think this is the only one here which wasn't in our monthly round-ups as it only came to my knowledge late in the year, and a quick search shows that it has been generally under-reviewed. What you need to know - it's on Ghost Box, it features guests include some of Midlake and a cameo voice over by Elijah Wood. The title is accurate in that there is a large Brazil/ tropicalia influence, but there are also large dollops of baroque psychedelia, funk and motorik vibes. Space age bachelor pad music I reckon.

13. Virginia Wing 'Measures of Joy' (Fire)

one of the debuts of the year... The vocals of Alice Merida Richards are central to it all, and her delivery plus the accompanying drifting psychedelia of the other musicians create something not unlike the more experimental moments of Broadcast and Electrelane. It is so much more than a carbon copy of those acts and each listen reveals new layers and twists and turns.
"‘Measures of Joy’ is a piece of noir-pop majesty that constantly pushes its own boundaries and frequently shatters the listeners’ sense of expectation." (Loud & Quiet)

12. Wild Beasts 'Present Tense' (Domino)

Initially the fact that this was the first WB album to be written on computer unsettled me, but I grew to love the songs.
"Their most complete record by a serious stretch, it's a work that laughs, cries, detests, adores and above anything else inspires." (DIY)

11. Thee Silver Mt Zion 'Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything' (Constellation)

“We live on the island called Montreal, and we make a lot of noise… because we love each other!” says one of SMZ's children on this excellent 7th album by the band that began as a post-GY!BE porject. This album strikes a lot of chords, as it takes on raising the next generation in a repressive world of austerity. Closing track 'What We Loved Was Not Enough' was the anthem of the year for me.
(Pitchfork review with lots of background here)

10. Thurston Moore 'The Best Day' (Matador)

The most Sonic Youth of any of the post-Sonic Youth releases, and in fact it hits on exactly what made SY so appealing and intriguing - the mix of subtle melody and extremely disorienting noise. TM's band are a bit of a supergroup, with Steve Shelley back on the drums and Deb Googe from MBV on bass duties, and it's joy to hear how well they gel here.
"Both comforting and discomfiting, The Best Day recalls prime Youth, when their tense experimental attitude dovetailed with often sour but instantly accessible pop melodies." (the Observer)

9. Lorelle Meets the Obsolete 'Chambers' (Sonic Cathedral)

Another grower which I paid more attention to after I had seen them live. My fave psych-rock release of '14 and almost certainly the first Mexican act to make my albums of the year.
"Chambers is an album that reveals more of itself and ever more nuances and clever touches with every listen. Final track Thoughts About Night Now, featuring Gonzalez on vocals, is a rather lovely pop tune, showing that they can try their hand to pure melody for good measure. There’s much to savour here from a band that are just hitting their stride and attracting new audiences all the time."(musicOMH)

8. Gulp 'Season Sun' (Sonic Cathedral)

This one came out in the summer and crept up on me over the last few months.
"This album will certainly tick a lot of boxes for Super Furry acolytes, but for those who couldn't take to the SFA brand of avant-pop, Gulp should provide you with a nerdgasm or ten. Library electronics, jangly loftiness and enough in the way of melodies and choruses to soundtrack your summer." (the Quietus)

7. Dean Blunt 'Black Metal' (Rough Trade)

An album that dominated my listening in the latter part of this year. This has nothing to do with black metal by the way, let's establish that straight away. I wasn't completely convinced by Dean Blunt's previous solo album, but 'Black Metal' is a beaut. Somewhere between noise-rock bliss-out, dub reggae and melancholic rock, he has a knack for putting together delightfully unhinged tunes, with suitably laconic vocals that sit somewhere between Bill Callahan and Rudy from AR Kane. The female counterpart on 'Molly and Aquafina' and the superb '50 Cent' gives the sound an extra dimension.

6. The Delines 'Colfax' (El Cortez)

If you like Willy Vlautin's work with Richmond Fontaine, or even his novels, then imagine that kind of writing combined with a perfectly pitched female vocal that brings every bit of emotion out of it and you have the Delines. 'Colfax' is their debut album (maybe their only one?) and it is superb.
"One can find precedents for this album in classic Americana songwriting by those who know how to encapsulate how frayed our national experience can sometimes become for everyday people by setting their narratives in specific places or out on the road."(American Songwriter)

5. Angel Olsen 'Burn Your Fire for No Witness' (Jagjaguwar)

Her previous effort Half Way Home was good, but on this follow-up she raised her game even more. Those Roy Orbison comparisons remain valid, whilst she remains a performer equally at home with country or indie-rock.

"Burn Your Fire for No Witness conjures the past without ever imitating it, swirling its influences into something intimate, impressionistic and new."(Pitchfork)


4. Grouper 'Ruins' (Kranky)

Grouper aka Liz Harris nearly always works alone, but this time she has dispensed with any artificial studio work and recorded four long sad songs with just voice and piano in a seemingly untreated room. There are many incidental sounds that are picked up - thunder and rain, crickets and the ping of a microwave - it is quite a revealing listen on headphones. The songs themselves are sad and beautiful, and overall Ruins is pretty wonderful.

3. Jane Weaver 'The Silver Globe' (Finders Keepers)

Puzzlingly passed over by most blogs and mainstream press, Jane Weaver's sixth album is a wonderful thing. The move from her folk background is more of an evolutionary one rather than a change of direction. The constant factor in all of her output is her voice, and it is the unifying factor in this varied album, always bringing a melody regardless on top of any sonic experimentation.

2. The Bug 'Angels and Devils' (Ninja Tune)

A long awaited follow-up that at least equals predecessor London Zoo. 'Angels and Devils' is very much an album of contrasts, as it mixes fascinating ambient noise and aggressive MC-led pieces.

"one of the most stunning documents of 21st century music being made in Britain." Clash


1. Sun Kil Moon 'Benji' (Caldo Verde)

Such an awkwardly beautiful album. "In nearly every song on Benji, someone dies. Family members, friends, celebrities, people in the news; they all pass away. This album packs a huge emotional punch as it tells its stories, often solely through Mark Kozelek's baritone vocal and his skilful yet gentle guitar playing. It moves, entices and, in some places, even amuses the listener....Most people who have heard Kozelek's previous work will know to expect beauty, sadness and emotional baggage. Benji is no different in that respect, but it encourages you to empathise with the subjects of the songs, and therefore adds some light to the melancholy.
my review (the 405)


Don't forget those "tracks of the year" mixes!

Slowthrills 2014 end of year mix #1 by Slowthrills on Mixcloud

Slowthrills 2014 end of year mix #2 by Slowthrills on Mixcloud

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