The Music Of 2014 (In List Form)

by Ken DiTomaso

This was probably the toughest best-of list I've made since I started keeping up with new music. Unlike my previous lists, few records immediately jumped out at me as obvious frontrunners for my top spots. But some years are just like that. Nonetheless, I still discovered a lot of great music this year. Here's to 2014!


10. The Flaming Lips – 7 Skies H3

After nearly three years, The Flaming Lips finally succumbed to pressure and edited their infamous 24-hour song “7 Skies H3” down for a standard record release. Unsurprisingly, having 24 hours of material to pull from means that only the best parts are retained and we jump from psychedelic strength to psychedelic strength. The album is divided into separate tracks but it plays best as a whole, bringing to mind famous one-song albums such as Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick (1972) and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (1973). Some of the noisier stretches don't always work for me, and I wish it were a little more song-driven, but as far as their numerous crazy side projects go, this is their greatest to date.


9. White Hinterland – Baby

I don't tend to listen to many soulful female singer-songwriters. But maybe I should start, considering how much I enjoyed this album. Her voice is extremely powerful and passionate, but it is never overly slick or polished. These songs go down unexpected routes and rarely stick to conventional structures.


8. Taylor Swift – 1989

After dragging her feet for far too long, Taylor Swift dropped the country music image she'd been tenuously connected to for so long and embraced pop-superstardom with an album worthy of one. Not every song is a winner, but number of them are among the best mainstream pop has to offer. “Out Of The Woods,” “I Wish You Would,” and “Blank Space” are among the best tracks she's ever done. Occasionally it hits a particularly boneheaded moment (and Swift still can't write a bridge to save her life), but it's hard to be upset with her for very long when it comes to songs as infectious as these.


7. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything

Sounding essentially like a song-driven version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this record heaves and shifts as it progresses with a dedication to thick, heavy, and tension-laden atmospheres. Pairing that with raw punkish vocals gives these tracks a very different vibe than they might have taken in Godspeed, but the music is every bit as good.


6. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

Fittingly for a self-titled record, this is St. Vincent's most confident and self-assured album to date. It's tightly constructed, almost to a fault. Tracks like “Rattlesnake” and “Digital Witness” feel tied down as if they're straining at their ropes to break free, and the fact that they're not quite able to do so is what makes them so compelling. I can't say I didn't prefer her music when she played it more loose and wild on previous records, but the ice queen persona she's taken on is fascinating in its own right.


5. Brian Eno & Karl Hyde – High Life

Eno's sonic explorations are always great to listen to, but more often than not they don't function as much more than aural wallpaper. When he does make a record that breaks that mold, however, it usually results in something really great, and this collaboration with Karl Hyde is no exception. They actually released two albums together this year, but High Life is the one that stuck with me. It's loaded with hypnotic soundscapes you can lose yourself within, both gentle and aggressive. It's diverse, too. Occasionally subtle singing and songwriting drive the tracks, but at other times these songs build to huge cacophonous climaxes.


4. Future Islands – Singles

Future Islands are one of few bands around that could be said to play synth-pop that's genuinely soulful. Frontman Samuel Herring screams passion (sometimes literally), and his charisma helps to elevate this beyond simply a good set of synth-pop tunes to something that feels intimate and personal.


3. Owen Pallett – In Conflict

Pallet knows how to construct a tremendous song, but he never rests on his laurels. These tunes are saturated in strings, subtle electronics, and tender melodies. I don't often sit down and focus exclusively on an album to the exclusion of all else, but In Conflict repeatedly pushes me to do so. These gorgeously orchestrated baroque pop pieces demand rapt attention, and I'm glad to oblige.



2. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom

Ariel Pink's low-fi, quantity-over-quality aesthetic, tends to result in a lot of great music but little in the way of consistently great albums. His 2014 offering bucks that trend with over an hour of bizarre lyrical couplets, weird hooky tunes, and totally bonkers left turns. Pom Pom represents Ariel Pink's best bunch of psychedelic-bubblegum garage-pop tunes to date. It's absolutely crazy, but completely addictive, and a blast to listen to. Ariel Pink has always always reminded me of a twisted sideshow act, but Pom Pom gives him full control of everything under the big-top.




1. Adebisi Shank - This Is The Third Album Of A Band Called Adebisi Shank

Complex, rhythm-driven instrumental tunes, with the occasional processed robot voice and lots of crazy effects put Adebisi Shank squarely in the math-rock camp. But the massive emphasis on an upbeat mood and jolly major key chord progressions are what make this record so fantastic. They play these songs like they're bona-fide anthems. Each track feels like it could soundtrack an Olympic sprint on the happiest day of your life. This record's ecstatic collection of hooky melodies, quick tempos, colorful effects, occasional horn beaks, and oh-so much sped-up guitar makes for an unforgettable listen. The fact that the band announced their breakup recently likely dampened any enthusiasm and buzz that could have potentially been built around this. I don't care, though. This might be this obscure band's final offering, but they went out with a tremendous bang.


As usual, I listened to many more than just 10 records this year, so here are all my runner-ups that I either liked, or had somewhat mixed opinions on and just felt were worth discussing. I don't always rank my runner-ups but I did so this year. Just don't take these rankings quite as seriously as my top 10.


11. Neil Cicierega – Mouth Sounds & Mouth Silence

This riotous pair of mash-up albums provided me with perhaps the most entertaining listening experiences I've had all year. Every twist and turn had me cracking up, as it hopped from one absurd juxtaposition to another. Occasionally the tracks even ventured into surprisingly pointed social commentary. Not every mash-up is well executed; there are a fair number of awkward moments. Like a good comedy film, you give your audience all the material you've got. Some works and some doesn't, and what works for one person might not work for another. But it definitely worked for me. Comedy is tough to do in music, especially without writing comedic lyrics. But Cicierega proves it's possible. There are even running jokes and call-backs that pop up between the two albums. How many comedy musicians manage that? And even if you don't like this, one thing's for sure: You will never hear Smash Mouth the same way again.


12. Clipping – CLPPNG

This record is an incredibly stark and visceral listen, full of crazy sound sources like car alarms, dentist drills, and broken glass. It's tough to get through for me at times since parts of it are almost too intense, but the highlights are absolutely massive. Rap isn't among my favourite genres but “Body And Blood,” “Work Work,” and the insanely skilled rapping on “Taking Off” are exactly what I want to hear from the genre. The more conventional rap tracks like “Tonight” did nothing for me however, and as a result the album wasn't something I found myself wanting to return to in its entirety all that often. But it made a big impression on me all the same.


13. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

It seems like everyone has fallen head-over-heels for Run The Jewels this year, and I can't say I disagree. This pair dominates every beat they rap over, their verses are loaded with fantastic lines, and their energy is infectious.


14. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Pikapika Fantajin

Kyary continues to crank out hyper-pop sugar rushes at full force. The hooks don't land quite as frequently as they did on her last record, and some of the weirder songs (such as her awkwardly cloying English experiment “Ring A Bell”) don't really click. But some of her best songs are here too (“Mottai Night Land” and “Kira Kira Killer” being my favourites). Anyone who was into her previous records would be remiss to skip this one.


15. Death Grips – Niggas On The Moon

Getting even more out-there than usual, Death Grips picked up Björk of all people to contribute her voice as a source from which to create the backing tracks on this album. It makes for a fresh spin on the group's now well established sound. It's an experiment that I'm glad they made since despite having its share of great moments this is the least engaging album in their discography. Sadly, Death Grips announced their breakup this year, which isn't too surprising since they were such a volatile act in the first place. The brightest lights burn out quickest and all. A final album, titled Jenny Death, is due out by the end of the year (as of this writing only one single has been released). So hopefully the band won't have to go out on this ever-so-slightly underwhelming note.


16. Aphex Twin – Syro

Returning to the world of normal album releases after more than a decade, Syro doesn't do much of anything that Aphex hasn't done before. It's more or less the closest thing to a “normal” Aphex Twin album that could exist. So it's tough to really consider it in the same breath as the groundbreaking work he did during the ‘90s. But even if he's no longer innovating, this record still makes for a great listen and it's clear that Richard D. James hasn't lost his touch.


17. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

I'm a big fan of The New Pornographers, but I have to admit they've basically settled into a rhythm at this point. All their albums have the same general mix of styles and roughly the same number of hits and misses. I'll likely always enjoy the band's work, but this doesn't push any buttons that their first few albums didn't push more frequently. The best tracks are really great though. “War On The East Coast,” for instance, is one of my favorite songs the band has ever done.


18. Aaron Freeman – Freeman

Former Ween frontman Aaron Freeman's debut album of original solo material is a reasonably strong collection of tunes. Opening track “Covert Discretion” is a devastating condemnation of the rock star lifestyle and a declaration of sobriety. It stands out particularity for me since, according to Freeman, it was inspired by his infamous breakdown at a Ween concert in Vancouver BC which I was lucky (or perhaps unlucky), enough to have attended and witnessed. Freeman's songwriting skills are still on full display here, but the lack of a creative equal to collaborate with makes for more conventional arrangements and fewer zany surprises than what Ween fans might be used to. Highlights notwithstanding, it's on the whole less engaging than any particular Ween album. But I still enjoyed it plenty.


19. Phantogram – Voices

Phantogram could easily twist their hazy, modern, beat-driven songs into something extremely commercial and pop-oriented, but they tend to consign themselves pretty firmly to the dreamy trip-hop niche they've carved out for themselves. Voices only has a small handful of highlights, but the record as a whole is a pleasant listen. Despite not really loving any of it, I returned to it quite frequently this year.


20. Pink Floyd – The Endless River

A gentle coda to Pink Floyd's career. It's nice and has its merits, but it's not particularly revelatory either. It doesn't overstep its boundaries and try to be something it's not, which I definitely appreciated since “reunion” albums by other bands often tend to be overinflated far beyond their means. This album is humble and adequate. Even though it didn't need to exist, I'm still rather glad that it does.


21. Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks – Enter the Slasher House

As is the case with most of solo work to come out of Animal Collective, this album is interesting on many levels. I enjoy the dingy effects-laden atmosphere, the heavily tweaked vocals, and the experimental songwriting and arrangements. Plus, the band that performs these songs is livelier and loose than Animal Collective tends to be. But it doesn't reach the consistency of quality needed to elevate it to the level of the band's main albums, and on the whole it sounds more or less like a bunch of Centipede Hz rejects.


22. Phish – Fuego

The title track is one of Phish's best studio tunes in recent memory, since it achieves the rare feat of bringing their jam-driven excitement into the studio. But the rest of the album is conventional pop rock, just memorable enough to mildly like, but not bad enough to really have anything against. The only big exception is “Wombat,” which epitomizes all of the band's worst traits in about three minutes. As usual with Phish, the live versions of these tunes will inevitably be far better than what's presented here, but this is sill a decent album all the same.


23. Scott Walker & Sunn O))) – Soused

Oddly enough, this is probably Scott's most accessible album in decades. Having Sunn O)))'s heaving guitar crunch to back him up probably played a big part in that. It's much less of a grand statement than anything he's made in that time, however, and ultimately plays out like more of a minor work in his catalogue. But there's nothing wrong with that, since it means that for the first time in a long time I can spin a Scott Walker album without giving myself nightmares in the process.


24. Antemasque – Antemasque

The Mars Volta's recent breakup disappointed a lot of people, but fans no longer need to worry since Antemasque are essentially the exact same band. I can see why they wanted to start fresh, though, since this record drops the crazy progressive rock maximalism of The Mars Volta for a relatively simplified, stripped-back sound. These songs are among the most straightforward and direct Omar and Cedric have ever produced and it works in their favor.


25. Jack White – Lazaretto

I don't enjoy this anywhere near as much as 2012’s Blunderbuss, but White still turns in a solid set of tunes. Surprisingly I enjoyed his dalliance with country music on this album most of all. It reminded me of the way The Rolling Stones used to approach the genre.

That's a wrap on 2014. Catch you all next year!


All content © The Daily Vault unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any article or any portion thereof without express written consent of The Daily Vault is prohibited. Album covers are the intellectual property of their respective record labels, and are used in the context of reviews and stories for reference purposes only.