I’ve finally had the time to obsess over and throw together some writing on my favorite albums of 2014. Because I’m a completist anal fissure, this was way more of an undertaking than it needed to be. I relistened to everything I had already heard, whether or not I was certain I liked it or pretty certain I hated it. Then I decided to play catch up on a bunch of stuff I never got around to, which was a Russian Nesting doll in itself. I probably listened to a 300-400 albums this year, my initial long-list for my year’s best had over 100. And there were still records that didn’t get a proper shake because I ran out of time or kind of just moved them to the back of the pile too frequently(J. Cole, Have a Nice Life, Pinkcourtesyphone) and eventually just moved on.
But this is probably about as comprehensive as I could have gotten while still getting something posted before the new year. Hopefully this turns someone on to some good stuff. Honorable mentions will be next, followed by my Top 42 Albums of 2014. Maybe I’ll throw some songs from albums that didn’t make the cut on here as well, but no promises on that. I can promise you that you will not read about Angel Olsen at all here. Fuck. I mean, wait. Starting now.
So many things were going against this album for year-end consideration. There’s the frequently middling arrangements which, save for a handful of compelling moments, can’t seem to make up their mind as to whether they want to be bargain-basement baroque pop or gaudy bedroom pop. There’s the “You needn’t have bothered!” guest spots which are featured on every song and are frequently so behind in the mix that their contribution MAYBE adds some texture, if you’re lucky. And yet, Max Bemis brings probably his most compelling front-to-back vocal performance(Yes, including ...Is a Real Boy). He carries this thing like fucking Atlas, shouting, screaming, snarling about his increasingly idiosyncratic lyrical concerns(how awesome his wife is, religion, Jewish folklore, etc) with his standard caustic sincerity. The album is littered with satisfying vocal payoffs, like the ending to “Six Six Six”, which consists of Bemis screaming “I want to dethrone God, so I can be crucified” with these rousing string blasts behind him.
Neil Cicierega – Mouth Sounds/Mouth Silence
Compared to Girl Talk’s All Day(the apex of the mashup, as an album-driven statement, as far as I’m concerned), Neil Cicierega’s Mouth Sounds/Mouth Silence is kind of a mess. The closest thing to a rock-solid motif that I can discern here is the abundance of Smash Mouth samples throughout the project. And he certainly doesn’t seem afraid of weirding out the dance floor(putting an old Folder’s jingle in front of some bouncy synths and a loop of David Grohl screaming “The best!” ad nauseum). But any attempt to intellectualize this stuff is going to sap it of its fun. Rather than using a toolbox of top 40 pop and hip-hop(with the occasional classic rock staple), Cicierega is predominantly concerned with 80’s and 90’s nostalgia. Commercial jingles, sitcom themes, Simpsons-soundboards, lots and lots of cheesy pop music. This project doesn’t hit the emotional heights of Girl Talk’s best stuff, but it’s probably the closest analogue to dumping out the part of your brain hiding songs you wish you’d forget and then breathing life into them in either hilarious or legitimately infectious ways.
Death Grips – niggas on the moon
The songs on display here would have had a good shot at cracking the top 20(or better), but alas, this is only the first half of the now-defunct(?) band’s(?) final(?) LP The Powers That B(part 2, titled Jenny Death is apparently coming in 2015). Death Grips are still off the wall insane here, veering sonically between simmering and erratic with Ride still primal screaming crazy shit like “QUENCH MY HEARSE” and “I DON’T WANNA FUCK YOU BACK”. A nice touch to their sonic palette is the incorporation of Bjork samples(usually in really short loop bursts), which generally serve as a nice flourish to their batshit sound.
There was one, maybe two releases that I listened to more than this in 2014. Girl Talk, mashup extraordinaire, makes his foray into legitimate, original hip-hop production and the results are glorious. Every song here plays with a different sound. Escalating horn blasts on “Tolerated”(replete with a killer Waka Flocka Flame verse) which give way to a simmering bass drone. “Tell Me Yeah” feels like a prime 2000’s Kanye cut from Freeway’s Rocafella days. Freeway, despite being as reliable as Roger Murtaugh’s revolver in his solo releases, has not sounded this vital in years. Ditto for Jadakiss, who appears on the Biggie sampling “I Can Hear Sweat”. The only reason it’s not firmly inside of my top 10 is because I plan to focus on full-lengths.