Time is just, like, arbitrary man. Some months have thirty-one days and some don’t. What is that? Plus leap years and leap days and holy cow! What’s even going on with time? At the very least, we all buy into this concept and view our lives accordingly. Since we are all on this one system, for the most part, one result is a joint recognition that something is starting or something is ending.
And so, this year ends.
And with the year ending, we look back on twelve months for their weight and worth. There was news and celebration and despair and entertainment and death and laughter and et cetera, et cetera.
Partly, we have rebelled against this yearly notion. There was much hemming and hawing over the song of the summer for example (it was “Fancy” obviously) because the song underwhelmed their sensibilities. Some things aren’t for you, but there are always other things for you.
Some music was disappointing, some was enlightening, some was thrilling, some was soothing, some was painful, some was difficult, some was beautiful, some was ugly and etcetera, et cetera. No list is definitive. Our memories suffer from time passing, hype passing, lives changing, contexts shifting, and ignorance of everything going on in music. I mean, D’Angelo has a new album out. We drop balls and celebrate and assume that propels us to a new year. Things sort of just start and end. It is not good, it is not bad. It is how it is! TO THE LIST
30. Mitski – Bury Me At Make Out Creek
Receiving the award for album of the year most affected by my late recognition of it is Mitski’s Bury Me At Make Out Creek. I was checking other year-end lists as part of my quest to be hip, and this record kept popping up. I listened and fell for the album hard. I don’t mean to relegate Mitski to a rabbit hole of RIYLs, but there are little bits that remind me of Rilo Kiley butting right next to bits that remind me of Microphones/ Mount Eerie. It’s a record inviting in melodies and emotions, but dirty in presentation. There are edges and there is fuzz.
The album title is line from The Simpsons. Milhouse, thinking he possesses perfect vision after being healed in Bart’s revival tent, is hit by a truck. As he is in the street, his words to Bart are “Bury me at Make Out Creek.” I don’t want to ascribe all of Milhouse’s quirks and foibles to Mitski’s music, but they both deal in the everyday uncomfortable. On “First Love-Late Spring” Mitski sings “And I was so young when I behaved twenty-five/ Yet now I find I’ve grown into a tall child.” Like Milhouse staring at a speeding truck thinking it’s a dog, Mitski sings about thinking you have a clue when you really have no idea.
29. Ariana Grande – My Everything
The percentage of celebrity rumors that turn out to be true must be tiny, but goshdarnit, I want every Ariana Grande rumor to be true. Ariana Grande hopes all her fans fucking die. Ariana Grande’s face only has one side. Ariana Grande is part of the most compelling celebrity feud of the year. Ariana Grande demands to be carried like a baby/ might be an actual baby. The rumored life of Ariana Grande is wonderfully strange and I want to exist in the same world as it.
For all the rumors, Grande’s music is pleasantly separate. She throws a lot of things at the wall on My Everything and most things stick. A credit list like this – Iggy Azalea, Zedd, Big Sean, Cashmere Cat, Childish Gambino, The Weeknd, A$AP Ferg – screams you are trying to impress everyone, but Grande is able to use her guests to show she can occupy the worlds of pop, hip-hop, and R&B as we inch closer and closer to the monogenre. Sometimes Grande ad libs too much, and these vocal runs along with the grammatically-challenged stylings of Max Martin yield funny results. My Everything isn’t here to make friends. The album is here to make some big pop bangers, hatefully sign some autographs, and be carried off like a baby into the sunset.
28. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Annie Clark saved the weirdest St. Vincent record for a major label. It’s not like St. Vincent had been a bastion of convention and musical safety. Her previous three albums were out-there, fuzzy, and exploratory. There was always an element of ethereality to those albums, with their dreamy harmonies, their movie-score strings and horns. The albums could transport you only because they were based on the world around. It’s only floating if there is something below.
St. Vincent cares not for this homebase. The sci-fi visuals of the album cover and videos are backed with the expanded use of synthesized sound. Keys, strings, drums, and horns are all manipulated to fit Clark’s vision. Even in live performances, Clark and her band moved from standard rock band shredding to a carefully constructed routine. Case in point
Instead of doubling-down on expectations, St. Vincent goes for it, using the resources to fully realize a vision. The album uses futurism to criticize how we act with technological advancement. It all still rocks, too. St. Vincent still has riffs for days. Popular music in the age of the internet is littered with the corpses of bands who jumped to major labels when they were not ready and then didn’t go for the kill like St. Vincent does. The internet is dead. Long live St. Vincent.
27. Future Islands – Singles
2014: The Year Future Islands Broke (Our Hearts)
There are two bands on Future Island’s earlier albums. On In Evening Air, they are a punk band sans guitars, all gusto and energy and head slamming and moshing. They are singing about heartache, but they are doing it with abandon and bravado. Their next effort, On The Water, is slower and more considered. The heartache is there and the emotion is there, but they ruminate on it. On it, Sam Herring belts more than shouts.
Singles doesn’t exactly combine these two bands. However, its results make it easier to connect earlier efforts. The energy of In Evening Air has been transformed and purified. There’s a sheen to the songwriting while the band manages to keep their muscular synth sound. There is the crooning and emotion of On The Water. Never is this more apparent than on the monster single “Seasons (Waiting on You).” Future Islands slink through the rest of the album, filtering pop’s canon through their lens; taking without Herring’s gruff voice over bleeps and bumps, lyrics like “Oooh/ baby don’t hurt no more/ Oooh baby/ keep from crying” could be the chorus for Billboard smashes from 1960 to now. This was the year that everyone fell for Future Islands. To paraphrase the band though, seasons change and they have grown tired trying to change for you.
26. Caribou – Our Love
Caribou’s residence on Merge Records is one of the odder pairings in pop music. As many labels diversify, Merge has been a stalwart, in reputation at least, of rock. It is the label of Superchunk, Mikal Cronin, Ex Hex, and Arcade Fire. Going deeper, Merge comes across as a label respectful of its artists, the home of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Mountain Goats, a label where artists can take chances while still having solid structure behind them.
It’s not like Dan Snaith is doing outlandish and bizarre things on Our Love. The considerate album values songcraft over bravado. In a time when electronic audiences and artists alike expect weird and outfield samples before songwriting, the exceptional artists are the ones who can proceed with their own ideas without succumbing to surrounding pressures. Our Love opens strongly with the gorgeous “Can’t Do Without You” and continues swirling from there. It is brighter than Caribou’s previous Swim and Snaith’s other projects, like Daphni’s Jiaolong. That is not to say that Caribou sanitizes things on the album. There’s personal regret and woe nostalgia, but the bubbling around these is more visceral than swampy. The percussion snaps and shakes. Snaith maintains the motifs and signatures of other Caribou releases while still opening his sound.
25. YG – My Krazy Life
My fear after good kid, m.A.A.d city was that major labels would try to push a ton of young rappers to make their debuts self-serious Bildungsromans in order to capitalize off Lamar’s success. Luckily, there was never really a glut of these. If you are stretching, YG’s My Krazy Life could be twisted to look like an imitator, but more fairly and aptly, the album harkens to days when a debut was an introduction. Here is YG filling an album with experiences and observations. Situations seem similar to Lamar since they are both young men from California, but the execution is much different. The skits on My Krazy Life aren’t a unified chorus. YG’s persona seems less serious and more prone to big humor than Kendrick’s. Also, the album is tight as fuck. Re-listening, I forgot how well the tracks flow together. It’s expert production for a debut. DJ Mustard’s beats on the early stretch from “BPT” to “Bicken Back Being Bool” are more seamless than so many overblown prog suites. In a year lacking a major event rap album, YG put out a wonderful album with maybe the closest thing to a monster single (*TO BE FAIR, though, that single did first drop in September of 2013*).
24. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
The first time I saw Sharon Van Etten was when she opened for the Antlers. I had heard her voice on the Antlers’ Hospice but I did not realize that while watching Van Etten. Her songs were great but spare. Her debut Because I Was In Love uses only guitar and her voice. Her next two records, Epic and Tramp, incorporated more players and a full band sound, but on Are We There, Van Etten goes for the humongous. Van Etten belts and layers her vocals. “Your Love Is Killing Me” backs its title with big guitars and drums, but nothing is more powerful on the track than Van Etten’s voice.
Throughout Are We There, the songwriter never loses touch of her ability to go for quiet and small moments. The big tracks succeed because of the way Van Etten controls dynamics. On lower-key tracks like “Our Love” she is able to access a more intimate and inside voice. In relation to her other work though, Are We There booms majestically. Heck, in reference to everything else that came out this year, it booms.
23. United Nations – The Next Four Years
United Nations started as a sort-of anonymous group of emo and punk musicians (and maybe some other entertainers, who really knows) from more well-known bands. They gained early notoriety for running afoul of the United Nations political body and the Beatles – the former for using their name, the latter for using Abbey Road in the collage cover of their first album. Daryl from Glassjaw might have been involved. Geoff Rickly of Thursday definitely was.
Six years after their self-titled album, things became more clear for United Nations. Daryl Palumbo was no longer around, Rickly was doing interviews alongside musician/ writer Jonah Bayer who was found to have been in the band since its inception, some folks from Pianos Become the Teeth were touring, and a new album was coming out. For all the controversy and heaviness surrounding the band, the release of The Next Four Years revealed an affable punk humor. The first release of the record was excessively packaged – two 7″s, a 10″ with a trick groove, a cassette wrapped in a cease-and-desist letter from the United Nations. Bayer’s Saturday Night Live starring sister Vanessa was resuming her previous tour roasting duties for some of the band’s shows.
Through all the attention and hooks, The Next Four Years reveals itself as a heavy and powerful release. Sure, the band says through its existence, this endeavor is not as serious as it seems, but there are serious things going around. The music is risky in its scope and realization.
22. ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron
ScHoolboy Q, rap’s foremost proponent of bucket hats, was victim of album dates moving in 2014 like A$AP Rocky had been last year. Oxymoron was expected for a long time, but a bunch of issues pushed it back to February of this year. The assumption for the delay was that there was an issue with Oxymoron itself. If it comes out so late it must not be good, right?
Q said that Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city left him with “no choice but to make a classic record” a year and a half before his major label debut came out. It could have been tweaking and it could have been sample clearance, but this delay came through as cause for alarm while heightening expectations. It was like bated breath of disappointment. ScHoolboy Q didn’t disappoint. “Collard Greens” dropped in mid-2013 to tide people over and reign over radio. Things get weird on Oxymoron, but many tracks made their way into the pop consciousness. When I first heard the album, “Studio” seemed like a nice deeper jam, but it bubbled to become a hit. Q doesn’t have the expectations and weight of his TDE compatriot behind him, which lets him put together a looser narrative of an album. Such looseness allows for “Studio” and “Collard Greens” to coexist with a mid-album rumination on addiction. Dissimilar beats like “Los Awesome” and “Hell of a Night” can stand together without any second thoughts. Q’s relaxed release might not be a classic, but it does stand as one of the year’s most enjoyable rap titles.
21. Real Estate – Atlas
Real Estate is a band I recommend much of the time when I talk about music. They are accessible, especially their last two release, but it’s not the accessibility that causes my recommendation. I think it’s that I find the music very soothing. As the band has continued, they have drifted from their lo-fi beginnings to something polished while maintaining those dreamy sepia tones.
In more unwelcome music conversations, I have come across the term “dad rock” as a perjorative slung at straightforward indie bands of renown and certain age. Mostly, this burn is tossed at Wilco, but I’ve also been part of discussions where it is tossed at the National and the Walkmen and a variety of more long-standing bands. Atlas, for lack of a better descriptor, seems like a new father dad rock album (this might have struck me when I saw the singer from Real Estate walking with his family, enjoying some late-summer weather, pushing a stroller joyfully). The guitars get caught in nerdy noodling and riffs every once in a while, but never too long to annoy or confuse Real Estate for a Phish tribute band. Looking back has always been a staple of Real Estate’s lyrics, but on “Crime” and “Talking Backwards” it is coupled with the weight of how uncertain the future is. Atlas is in line with the Real Estate songbook that has come before, but we’re all getting older, man.
NEXT TIME – Onions. . . Instagram complaints . . . That sick beat