A cheese-platter sampling of our favourite albums that were released in 2014
It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone. Where does the time go? Thankfully we had a good soundtrack to get older to.
Mogwai – Rave Tapes
It took several months and umpteen listens before I finally landed on my top record of 2014. Mogwai is one of those bands I’ve always loved, feared and admired. But the quality and sheer intensity of this record finally broke me. It’s everything I love about music: washy guitar riffs, a bass tone that could break bones and album artwork that you could lose yourself into forever.
Also, a weird side-note clincher: We got a glimpse into the studio that this album was recorded in – an old converted bank in Glasgow. No idea why, but that experience cemented in the magic of this recording for me.
Alvvays – self-titled
Bittersweet with a hint of lament, Toronto indie-pop quintet Alvvays has crafted a debut album that captures the jubilant spark of youth just before it begins to flicker. Pop strains waft through fuzzy retro sounds alongside singer Molly Rankin’s vocals, which dip between feigned detachment and earnest longing.
“It wasn’t intentional, but there seems to be a theme of rejection and melancholy, which is prevalent when you’re in your mid-20s and reflecting on past times,” said Rankin in an interview with Planet S Magazine. “I never wanted the songs to be super serious. It’s kind of funny, because the instrumentation is kind of sunny and beachy, which makes me happy because it would be a really bleak record otherwise.”
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”.
Tanya Tagaq – Animism
Foreboding and formidable, Tanya Tagaq’s Polaris Prize-winning Animism is the album that made Canada take a good long look at its collective taste in music. Combining the intensity of soaring vocals, along with grunts and groans, with some dizzyingly complex instrumentation, Animism shatters the notion of mainstream boundaries while pushing some distinctly Canadian culture to the foreground.
Also, as a juror, I can safely say that is the best collective decision that has ever been made by the Polaris Prize committee.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Wet Secrets – Free Candy
Naming a record Free Candy may have seemed like a good idea, but it’s baffling that Edmonton’s The Wet Secrets didn’t actually include candy with their third record. Talk about a missed opportunity…
Even so, the five-piece has captured a sound that’s a combination of shtick, sweet and sexy that will not disappoint fans of dance-rock. No guitar? No problem. Trombones and trumpets are the perfect accessories for the hyperactive garage-rock grit and retro-pop doo-wop harmonies. Vocalist Lyle Bell, of dance-rock super-group Shout Out Out Out Out and trashy duo Whitey Houston, sounds almost unhinged while delivering bass lines straight out of a sleazy basement disco party. Creeper single “Nightlife” is proof enough of that.
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.