Here are our favourite albums that were released in the first half of 2014
It’s hard to believe that it’s already July. Half of 2014 is already gone, grains of minute sand that have washed away into the ether drain.
Oh well. At least a lot of really good music has been released this year.
Bry Webb – Free Will
“I’m not inclined to make a folk record in the purest tradition at all.”
When Bry Webb struck out on his own following the hiatus of the Constantines, his solo work was a noticeable departure from the heavy rhythms and intertwined guitar lines he was previously known for. And on his second solo LP Free Will, his songwriting is still stark and subtle, but no less tense or haunting than his past work. Free Will is full of light, atmospheric drones and countrified lap steel flourishes. His rough-hewn, blue-collared vocals are dialed back, opting for melody over indie-rock mayhem. But it’s not all nods to dad-rock: Free Will contains a couple of delicious bursts of noise and pedal-play, a brief glimmer of sonic boom that Webb says was the result of a collaboration with fellow Constantine Will Kidman.
Earlier this year I interviewed Webb for Planet S Magazine – he is a total gentleman.
“I’m trying to do something that’s more distinct and has its own voice,” said Webb. “And I really like guitar feedback: I prefer it over a guitar solo, and adding that to the song seemed to take it in an interesting place.”
Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
After roughly 17 years of making music, Against Me! released their most important album to date. At the beginning of 2014, the Florida-based punk band dropped Transgender Dysphoria Blues, their sixth full-length LP. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a concept album that addresses misogyny, bigotry and homophobia. Musically, it’s about the most triumphant thing the band has ever done — which is saying a lot, considering that Against Me! has built their career upon hoary audience sing-alongs and roaring guitar hooks. Lyrically, the album is a raw portrait of Grace’s exceptional life, both on and off the stage. “There’s a brave new world that’s raging inside of me,” sings Grace on “FuckMyLife666”.
Swans – To Be Kind
Michael Gira is one of rock’s most inventive and compelling composers. He’s also the genius behind of one of the year’s most sprawling and gnarliest albums. To Be Kind is actually a daunting listen – at times Gira sounds absolutely unhinged as he spews what may very well be stream of consciousness lyrics while throbbing guitars bristle and bray at his side.
Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Dylan Baldi, front man and songwriter for Cloud Nothings, seems to excel at one thing: crafting lo-fi, adrenaline-fueled indie guitar rock anthems that both brood and jump out of their skin. And on his fourth full-length album, Here and Nowhere Else, Baldi has created an LP that sounds urgent and jubilant while embracing a healthy dose of self-doubt.
White Lung – Deep Fantasy
While their last appearance in Saskatoon was borderline cold and disengaged, on their latest album Vancouver’s White Lung sound rejuvenated, passionate and angry. Musically the album is driving punk rock that stretches into pummeling abrasiveness, while singer Mish Way delivers searing vocals. But there are layers of pop that are not so subtly buried beneath the surface of hardcore.
Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust
VanGaalen has always been known for his combustible pop sensibilities combined with junkyard sound scraps. And on Shrink Dust he has somehow managed to hone in even closer on his own formula. Ditching the plucky banjo folk vibes, VanGaalen instead mucks about in weirdo percussion breakdowns, sound collages, skronky loops along with his distinctive yowls and yelps.
Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
Less than a month ago, a friend clued us into Parquet Courts’ Sunbathing Animal, an album that bounces with lo-fi energy and brims with taut rhythms and tense paranoia. A week later we saw about 50 dudes with beards wearing Parquet Courts t-shirts. So it seems like someone out there sure likes them a lot.
Fucked Up – Glass Boys
Just because an album isn’t as good as the one before it doesn’t mean that it’s not a complete and total rager. Such is the case with Toronto punks Fucked Up and their latest album Glass Boys. For whatever reason it doesn’t quite hit the same heights as their previous offering David Comes To Life. But it’s close. In that strange grey area where punk riffs meet psychedelic meanderings, the band continues on their creative rampage, creating an album that barrels with hardcore energy without sounding like any of its contemporaries.
St. Vincent – s/t
On her latest self-titled album, St. Vincent’s Anne Clark shreds and sings through some viciously catchy robot dance rock. In fact, Clark’s “Birth in Reverse” might be the jam of the summer, especially if you were one of those lucky Saskatonians who witnessed St. Vincent’s magnetic performance at the 2014 Sask Jazz Festival.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
Simmering with creative energy while burdened with cantankerous reality, Montreal’s Silver Mt. Zion is one of those rare groups that seems to transcend the average rock band experience. That said, their album Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything is an operatic listen that needs to be consumed in one sitting and digested amidst some deeper thinking. Also, that live show, like, wow.
Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love
Through layers of noise and dissonance, Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes to Love is about as abrasive as it gets. It’s a lot of anger backed by some seriously heavy riffs, and a guy whose sole job seems to be creating background feedback and eruption soundscapes. And, after 23-minutes, it’s all over. Unless, that is, you listen to it again.
Mac Demarco – Salad Days
Another album that doesn’t quite hold up to the one previous, Mac Demarco’s Salad Days is nevertheless an introverted lesson in sleaze riffs, slacker drawl and total rock loaf life. But, despite the wayward chillness, you can still dance if you want to.
Speedy Ortiz – Real Hair
“They just sound like the ‘90s,” said a friend when I told him I was going to watch Speedy Ortiz for a second time in less than 48 hours.
“Yeah, but the ‘90s were awesome.”
Greys – If Anything
If you’ve ever seen Toronto’s Greys live you already know that the four-piece hardcore band pack a mean wallop. Visceral guitars clash amidst cluttered rhythms and hollered vocals. And on If Anything, the group finally has found a way to channel that noise in the studio. The album seethes with moody riffs and sardonic delivery.