We finish our year-end roundup with two final fellas. Previously we had two ambient musicians/writers’ selections. Now we have two bloggers, one of whom runs a fine netlabel as well, We Are All Ghosts. Those are all his favourite albums of the year but he can’t say so.
Let’s get to it:
I always end up feeling like I haven’t listened to enough new music each year. Nevertheless, I listen to however I feel is “enough” to pick some favorites. This was a great year for experimental and ambient releases, but I was apathetic to most of the pop music that came out. With this list I tried to be honest about what I have listened to the most this year as well as what made the strongest impression upon me. I’ll be writing more in a listening log over at Foreign Accents about some other thoughts I’ve had about releases from this year as well as my many honorable mentions, so stay tuned for that, if you’re interested.
10. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom
Anybody who knows me or at least reads my work knows that I love all kinds of music. I like art music and I like pop music. I like good music and I like shitty music. Moreover I love Glad Music by R. Stevie Moore, Lamaze by Geneva Jacuzzi, and Before Today by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Pom Pom is one of the few pop albums from this year that I engaged with and got into. If you’re reluctant to dive into this, you’re missing out. That progression on “Put Your Number in My Phone” is the crux of great pop songs … and the remake of “Dayzed Inn Daydreams” is the perfect coda.
9. Pharmakon – Bestial Burden
Twisted, passionate power electronics that opinions have been oddly divided over for quite some time. People either love this or they snark it to death. It says a lot of about the level of affected cynicism in experimental music circles that all some people can do to engage with Pharmakon is trash it. This release grew on me, simply because it’s one of the most memorable things to come out this year, and it’s better than her debut. Margaret Chardiet will now for certain never be able to avoid being compared to Diamanda Galás, as this album’s tone and grim tribal undercurrent makes it markedly similar to Galás’s The Divine Punishment. Nevertheless, Chardiet’s disciplined take on experimental music is welcome.
8. Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers
I was not expecting to like this anywhere near as much as I did, but it deserved all of the acclaim that it received. It is dark and lovely, and I think bound to be regarded as a minor classic.
7. Swans – To Be Kind
The songs on this grew on me. “Just a little boy (For Chester Burnett)” is another favorite song from this year. I saw them when they came to my town and it was perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen in my life. My full review can be found here.
6. Marc Baron – Hidden Tapes
There were many great experimental releases this year (Oren Ambarchi’s Quixotism comes to mind) but this one was the most arresting of them all. A former saxophonist, Baron constructed this from a personal collection of tapes. I’ll have this on repeat for much of the coming months, trying to figure out its various twists and turns.
5. Ecovillage – One Step Above
This was my favorite submission from the year. It reminded quite a bit of Biosphere, but there was something else a little warmer there. This is very well-crafted release from an up and coming group that have finally found their voice. My full review can be found here.
4. Pjusk – Solstøv
I love Pjusk. This release is the excellence that I’ve come to expect from them—it is so richly textured and hypnotic. This, Kyle Bobby Dunn’s Kyle Bobby Dunn and The Infinite Sadness, and Loscil’s Sea Island are perhaps the most fascinating ambient releases from this year. A wintry electroacoustic masterpiece.
3. Fennesz – Bécs
Melodic, achingly beautiful electronic music from a master. There was sort of a lukewarm reaction to this when it came out in April, but I honestly think I like this more than just about anything else he’s ever done.
2. Golden Retriever – Seer
A beautiful experimental release where everything just seems to fall perfectly into place. “Flight Song” is probably my song of the year. My full review can be found here.
1. Aphex Twin – Syro
Richard D. James put out an interview with Rolling Stone around the time that Syro came out in which he mentioned that his two young sons make music too:
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of an artist called Mark Fell – it’s avant-garde techno, not danceable. Someone said [my son’s music] sounds like a cross between that and Holly Herndon, who’s another experimental electronic artist. That’s really accurate, actually. He was five when he did it.
This smartass potshot disguised as a cute anecdote about his son is funny (much of the interview is like this), but the more I got to thinking about it, I connect this comment in my mind to how I reacted to Syro. I haven’t had nearly enough time to process this release, but listening to it, I couldn’t help thinking about how a fragment here sounded a little like this subgenre of electronic music, another over there sounded like that … Syro is Richard D. James showing off, and he knows it. He is avant-garde techno, he is vaporwave, he is chillwave, he is psybient, he is dub techno, he is IDM, he is all of that shite and then some. An essential album.
Thomas does things his own special way at all times, and we love him for it. Being unable to distill his list to ten, he gave me the following. It is structured in alphabetical order because all the albums on the list touched him in some way …
Top Albums of 2014
Asleep Versions – Jon Hopkins
Awake – Tycho
Distant Satellites – Anathema
Dogma – Gespenst
Falling Sun – Chihei Hatakeyama & Good Weather for an Airstrike
A Forest of Fey – Gandalf’s Fist
Gemini Gemini – Jennie Abrahamson
Ghost Stories – Coldplay
The Ghosts of Pripyat – Steve Rothery
The Healing Seasons – Canopy
Hibernation + Random Forest – Random Forest
I Never Learn – Lykke Li
In Each and Everyone – Polar Bear
Interstellar OST – Hans Zimmer
It’s Nearly Tomorrow – Craig Armstrong
Lost in the Dream – The War on Drugs
Love Lost in a Storm – Panoptique Electrical
My Family Goes on Without Me – Caught In The Wake Forever
No Man’s Land – Tommy Guerrero
Opening – Christopher Willits
Rave Tapes – Mogwai
Seeds – TV on the Radio
Sierra – The Echelon Effect
Spaces – Nils Frahm
Sparks – Imogen Heap
Stereoscope – Max Greening
Starting Over – Summer Effect
Syro – Aphex Twin
This Is All Yours – Alt-J
This Is for Our Sins – Lowercase Noises
Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes – Thom Yorke
Transit – Orbit Over Luna
Twilight Kingdom – Lisa Gerrard
Warpaint – Warpaint
We Never Left – Stray Theories
Your Empire, In Decline – Hessien
Following up with him, I could only get his fave non-We Are All Ghosts album of 2014: Ghost Stories by Coldplay. An album, he said, that works on so many levels and is a favourite of the whole Mathie household. He has it on all formats and really, really loves it.
I was supposed to pretend to be shocked at this selection but I can’t be. I think people in the jungles of Borneo know Thomas loves Coldplay by now.
Ladies and gents, we are a varied bunch and these three posts by five dudes just go to show the vast variety of wonderful music released in a given year — we’ve only scratched the top few atoms of the surface! So what’s this “Aphex Twin” then?
Here’s to more great listening in 2015!