14 Best Albums of ’14

This has been an incredible year for music; it’s been eclectic, energy-soaked, and generally smelled a little fresher than usual. These choices are grounded firmly in my own opinions and personal preferences, and despite my firm belief that my opinions are objectively correct and entirely infallible, please comment and contest and let us all have a fruitful discussion about what I criminally excluded or included.

14. Everything Will Be Alright – Weezer
It’s nearly impossible for a band to win fans back after they’ve betrayed them so completely, as Weezer did in textbook fashion all throughout the early 2000s. This album starts out with a direct apology, which is not nearly as insufferable as it ought to be, and spends the next 12 songs making it up to fans. Everything Will Be Alright is not a return to pre-2000’s Weezer but merges Weezer’s old slacker sensibilities with their more recent pop-influenced sound. Welcome back, Weezer.

13. Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me!
When Against Me!’s lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in Rolling Stone, it was the most punk rock thing she had done in years. If punk is about flying in the face of authority and taking rock back for the people, Grace flew in the face of punk itself and took rock back for herself. Against Me! cut its teeth in the notoriously testosterone-fueled, homophobic Florida punk scene in the early 2000s, but has been cranking out homogenized pop-punk sausage in recent years. Grace put all the punk indignation Against Me!’s music had lost back into this album, marrying self-hatred with self-affirming anger at the narrow punk scene all while cranking out irresistible hooks and toe-tapping anthems.

12. Black Moon Spell - King Tuff
Either Kyle Thomas was directly breast-fed classic rock as a baby or there is no way to explain how on-point this album’s salute to classic rock is coming from a guitarist in his early thirties. King Tuff salutes shiny-faced adolescent enamor with metal and rock while the album itself oozes a pop-rock sensibility that creates an entirely fresh sound with long, free-wheeling guitar riffs that curdle upwards toward the youthful bliss of listening to the records that formed you. It is classic rock gone kitsch, with no hint of irony or derision, leaving only the pure happiness of buying your first ill-fitting leather jacket and carefully adorning your backpack with Black Sabbath buttons.

11. Are We There – Sharon Van Etten
Van Etten may sing about fumbling and muttering her way through her love life, but the music itself is strident and fully articulate. Are We There showcases Van Etten’s rich, absorbing voice to an unprecedented degree. Van Etten’s personal narratives of love and psychological abuse combined with her full-bodied voice breaks you in a way no song, or lover, has any right to.

10. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music Sturgill Simpson
Recent country has not dealt easily in innovation, but Simpson’s psychedelic substance fueled country ballads play with the ease of a well-worn country song until they twist and bite like a bad trip. Not one for fame or fortune, Simpson’s music oscillates between the everyday and the otherworldly, never settling in either realm for long.

9. Zentropy – Frankie Cosmos
Cosmos’ music, so sparse of guitar and lyric, employs a such a light touch that it’s always shocking when her songs make you feel every known emotion by the end of such a short album. She’s plain-spoken and direct, goofy and meandering, and more insightful than any 19-year-old should be. Zentropy barely breathes on you until it hits you like a ton of bricks.

8. Nervous Like Me – Cayetana
Cayetana hails from the Philadelphia punk scene, which in recent years has turned out such gems as Radiator Hospital, Hop Along, and The Menzingers. Cayetana cut their teeth in basement shows, pasting lyrics together from seemingly mundane personal narratives (a lá Pavement). They sing about moving vans, sleeping on your couch and dirty laundry, but it’s these small moments that become saturated in the simultaneous crowd-pleasing punk-pop hooks and slow burn ache that render Cayetana’s music so remarkable.

7. LP1 – FKA Twigs
FKA Twig’s debut album comes out in one long sigh, undulating and resonating deep in the back of Tahliah Barnett’s throat. Her music smolders and pulses, with forever unfufilled desire driving each track. Twigs’ art does not exist without eroticism; this album is steeped in sex, playing from top to bottom like the first two blissful, emotional weeks of an affair before your feet plant back on the ground.

6. DSU – Alex G
Alex G released DSU this summer, but it is hardly a summer album. DSU sounds like a fall release, deprived on sunlight and drawling with malaise. Alex G’s songs are composed of vapors and vespers and half-finished truths swim near each other, connecting at one moment to create a beautiful musical phrase and drifting apart the next. His lyrics are filtered through a mind that can’t quite commit to anything, with his compositions simultaneously fully realized and entirely unsure of where they’re heading.

5. Run the Jewels 2 – Run the Jewels
Killer Mike and El-P are a rap duo hailing from vastly different scenes, and realistically have no right to combine as well as they do; Killer Mike got his start in the Atlanta scene while El-P hails from Brooklyn. And yet, their two distinct styles come together in Run the Jewels to create something infinitely more dynamic than either artist’s solo work. The duo is political, intelligent, and not afraid to exorcize anger through the sheer force of their lyrics.

4. 1989 – Taylor Swift
I like to tell people that I liked Taylor Swift before it was cool, and then long after it was uncool. The fact that anyone underestimates Taylor Swift at this point in her career is truly inconceivable to me. Swift is an artist who understands exactly how she relates to her audience; in our album-phobic age, 1989 was the only album to sell a million copies this year. The last album with those numbers was Swift’s 2012 release Red. While Red attempted to straddle the divide between Swift’s country origins and pop trajectory and ultimately failed to satisfy either genre, 1989 firmly establishes Swift as a pop artist. 1989 is stocked with expertly, intelligently executed pop songs that deliver consistent, well-paced bursts of dopamine. Criticize her, exalt her, vilify her, but do not ignore her.

3. bury me at makeout creek – Mitski
bury me at makeout creek is howling, cathartic, and trenchant; Mitski’s confessional songwriting makes for gorgeous, unapologetic tracks that seep through your skin. Her basement aesthetic complements her husky and wailing voice perfectly. bury me at makeout creek is vulnerable but incredibly resilient and defiant, willing to be swept away but as she sings in “i don’t smoke,” “I’m stronger than you give me credit for.”

2. Hoodwink’d – LVL UP
Hoodwink’d feels inevitable, as if it is the project LVL UP has been waiting to make. The band’s 2011 debut, Space Brothers, played more like a group of collected singles than a record. Hoodwink’d is their first fully realized album, entirely complete in structure and sound. Hoodwink’d is full of catchy, life-soundtrack worthy tracks led by Dave Benton’s too-wonderful, sore and lamenting voice. LVL UP quotes the Silver Jews and early 90s alt-rock both lyrically and musically, deliciously whole but never giving up the aura of quick-witted improvisation. But this album is more than a pastiche of parts, satisfyingly contemporary by means of its attitude. Hoodwink’d trades in a push and pull of energy and depression, confidence and  crippling self-doubt, bursts of productivity and long subway rides to nowhere.

1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Annie Clark took a huge step from her 2009 album Actor to 2011’s Strange Mercy, but her self-titled release this year is an other-worldly leap. Boldly refining and re-defining her sound, St. Vincent gives birth to some strange new aesthetic. This album is creature of sorts that I’ve never seen before, a breathing, autonomous animal that hatches and unfurls its wings more and more with each track. St. Vincent is genre-bending, driven by a fuzzed-out guitar but only rock insofar as David Byrne is a rock musician, and only pop in so far as David Bowie is a pop musician. St. Vincent establishes Annie Clark as one of the great living guitarists, and if she keeps progressing at this rate there might not be another 13 albums to even list alongside her next time she puts out a release.

Honorable Mention: Benji – Sun Kil Moon, Girlpool EP – Girlpool, Torch Song – Radiator Hospital, Salad Days – Mac Demarco, Teenage Retirement – Chumped, Crush Songs –  Karen O

 

 

 

 

Playlist: First Snow

by Carolyn Ten-Eyck ’18

In case you haven’t looked out of a window in the past twelve hours, it snowed last night. And this morning. And this afternoon. Basically there is just a lot of frozen white stuff everywhere. I for one felt conflicted about the snow. Sure, it’s pretty, but it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet! My confusion led me to concoct this playlist: a mishmash of songs about the weather (but not the holidays) and November malaise. Enjoy!

1. November Blue – The Avett Brothers

 

This song pulls at the ol’ heartstrings and is about November. See? November’s still important. December can just wait its sweet time.

2. Hazy Shade of Winter – Simon and Garfunkel

…That being said, it is pretty wintery out there. “Hazy” is definitely the right word to define my perception of the seasons at this point.

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Playlist: Laundry Blues

by Carolyn Ten-Eyck ’18

So you need to do your laundry. And let’s face it: no one likes doing laundry. Maybe it’s the enormous lint balls lingering in the dryers, maybe its the long walk to the nearest working machines, maybe you just hate detergent. But have no fear! Here are some tunes to get you in the laundry washing mood.

1. Dirty Laundry – Kelly Rowland

This sparse track deals with Rowland’s past and her jealousy of Beyonce (and let’s be real, we all have a little Beyonce envy) but is ultimately a song of motivation. If Rowland can get her life together, you can wash your socks.

2. Acid Rain – Chance the Rapper

Just let this song wash over you. Chance raps about self-doubt and social injustice accompanied by a meditative beat, leaving the listener feeling soothed but perturbed. This is the ideal state of mind for laundry-doing. Just watch your clothes spin and think about life.

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At the Movies – Short Term 12

by Meg Sklut ’18

A majority of films, good or bad, use music as a vehicle for the audience to understand meaning. While this is a fine tactic, sometimes the music takes away from the importance of the writing and of the acting. It can also underestimate audiences’ abilities to interpret a movie’s message on their own. Short Term 12, however, relies on little more than the performances of the actors and on the realism of the dialogue to tell a story. The beauty of the movie’s music lies in its simplicity and unobtrusive nature.

Short Term 12 is a story of a young woman, played by Brie Larson, who works at a group home for troubled kids. As the film slowly reveals her own problems, the audience comes to comprehend the importance of aid and understanding. The movie features a multitude of supporting characters who authentically portray the lives of disadvantaged children learning how to grow and evolve.

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They Want My Soul – Spoon

by Tess Dugan-Knight ’18

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 7.44.55 PMAfter eight studio albums, five non-album singles and six collaborations, a band might be running out of new things to create or be hesitant to leave an established niche. This, while true for many bands, is not the case for Spoon. The group’s most recent album, They Want my Soul, was released August 4th of this year and goes all sorts of new places.

This album is proof that Spoon has managed to avoid peaking early. Unlike The Strokes, who are unlikely to create another album with the impact of This Is It, Spoon has followed a slower, more steady build up to excellence. The nostalgic feel to They Want My Soul draws on Spoon’s 20 years in the rock industry. “Do You,” for example, is reminiscent of the band’s earlier years. Additionally, through piano and Britt Daniel’s distinctively expressive vocals, Spoon makes “I Just Don’t Understand,” first covered by the Beatles, its own.

“Inside Out” is one the more electronic, less traditional songs on this album. The generous use of the synth and the exchange of a couple of guitars for keyboards creates a whimsical, beautiful sound. When paired with a strange music video, this song creates a rather trippy experience.

The final song in the album, “New York Kiss,” is arguably the catchiest song on the album and in all of Spoon’s repertoire. This love song is more vulnerable and romantic than Spoon’s past hits, but the band pulls it off without sounding remotely soppy. The song’s use of synthesizers, marimbas and keyboards establish a magical, emotional end to the album.

 

Jim Eno’s drumming and Britt Daniel’s rough, expressive voice make They Want My Soul stand out even more. Eno is not a showy drummer and there are no intense drumming solos but the execution on every single song is remarkable.

They Want My Soul is proof that Spoon has managed to hold on to its integrity and create another beautiful album that could only come from years of experience and a well-established confidence in music that allows members to experiment and explore.

Horn Gallery Spotlight: Cam’ron

by Gavin Mead ’15 and C. F. Collison ’15

Cam

Although we’ve been privy to the fact that Cam’ron will be performing at the Horn Gallery this Saturday for quite some time, it still hasn’t sunk in yet. Whether you know him as Cam, Killa, Flea, or Cameron Giles, when you sit back and really think about it, isn’t Purple Haze your favorite rap album ever? To think that Cam will be performing an intimate show on our own college campus doesn’t even seem real. What have any of us done to deserve this pure gift?

We’ve always admired Cam for his natural disposition towards technically skilled and humor-focused raps, a tradition he’s passed down to recent luminaries of the genre such as Lil Wayne, Das Racist, and Lil B. But it’s not like Cam was the first to make rap funny – it would be a disservice to the history of the craft to make such a claim. What can certainly be said is that Cam was the first to have a style that sounds completely effortless yet ridiculously flamboyant. The seed of both insanely goofy rap and unabashed opulence / self-aggrandizing grew in the fecund soil of Cam’ron’s albums such as Come Home With MePurple Haze, and the Diplomatic Immunity series with his group The Diplomats.

We’ve selected some of our favorite Cam tracks and written about them below. While most folks know the seminal classics like Hey Ma, Oh Boy, and Down And Out, we wanted to highlight some other selections from his work that may have slipped under people’s radars.

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Horn Gallery Spotlight: Jonathan Richman

by Adam Brill ’17

Jonathan Richman is a rock and roll singer-songwriter who grew up in Boston, but, upon becoming obsessed with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, moved to New York City to try and succeed as a musician. After failing in New York, he moved back to Boston and formed a garage band called the Modern Lovers. In 1972, the Modern Lovers recorded a series of demos with John Cale (a former member of the Velvet Underground) that became the basis for their self-titled album, The Modern Lovers. The album includes classics like “Roadrunner” and “Pablo Picasso.” Its sound, honest lyricism, and gritty rock and roll aesthetic are very reminiscent of those of Lou Reed. Much like Reed, Richman loves to sing about everyday things. He finds elegance in the mundane. His songs’ subject matters include romance, frustration with romance, nostalgia, and art. His lyrical style is as blunt as it gets; a cursory listen to “I’m Straight” (or just about any track off the album) will reveal this. Richman’s vocal style also has a sheepish adolescent quality to it. It sounds like a nervous, geeky, teenage boy, but it is very charming.

Richman has continued to tour, although lineup changes occurred within the Modern Lovers throughout the remainder of the 70s and through the early 80s. The group released another album in 1981 titled The Original Modern Lovers, which has a lot of overlap with the band’s self-titled album. In 1986, The Modern Lovers broke up, but Richman continued to release music with his trademark rock and roll style. He has also written more acoustic music as of late. His childish and blunt lyrical style remains throughout all of his albums.

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Playlist: Melancholic Melodies

by Tess Dugan-Knight ’18

Maybe its the lack of sleep, the pressing hangover, weight of last night’s bad decisions, the end of a great weekend, or having to start preparing for the paper due Monday and the test on Tuesday but I find Sundays miserable. All I want to do on Sunday is curl up in my bed and listen to artists that understand my despair. And so it is on Sundays that I put together long and intricate playlists in an attempt to quench my despair and put off writing that paper for at least another few minutes.

Disclaimer: These songs will not improve you mood but simply let you wallow more effectively.

“Casimir Pulaski Day” – Sufjan Stevens

This is not a light song. I ask you to listen closely to the lyrics (yes its acceptable to put away textbooks for another five minutes and 54 seconds) and give yourself over to the beautiful simplicity that makes this song so terribly sad.

“Idioteque” – Radiohead

In this song Thom Yorke seems to be singing about a nuclear holocaust as well as the destruction brought on by the age of technology so it’s really no surprise it further convinces me to stay nestled in the fortification of my covers. I also recommend “Creep” (Pablo Honey), “Fake Plastic Trees” (The Bends), “Nude” (In Rainbows), “Codex” (The King of Limbs) and so many other Radiohead songs and induce similar moods.

“Slipped” – The National

Before I started making playlists for Sundays I’d just listen to The National on repeat. They are the inspiration for this playlist and still make up the backbone of every one.

“No. 1 Party Anthem” – The Arctic Monkeys

You have to be careful when allowing your depressed side to take over so you don’t slip into the type of coma where you skip meals and just eat the leftover Halloween candy that’s hiding in the back of your closet. As a precaution I’ve decided to throw in a slightly less dismal tune.

“Putting the Dog to Sleep” – The Antlers

This album (Burst Apart) has a number of songs that could make this playlist but this is my personal favorite. It’s weird and I’m not convinced I get the message but it definitely isn’t upbeat and that’s the point.

“Forget It” – Rodriguez

Rodriguez has one of the most interesting stories of any musician. He was completely unknown in the States but on some fluke his album blew up in South Africa and became influential in the anti-apartheid movement. Everyone had his single “I Wonder” and he was arguable more famous than Elvis but was completely unaware. I recommend everyone to watch Searching for Sugar Man, the documentary that tells his incredible story.

Playlist: I Wanna Dance

by Maddie Farr ’18

I firmly believe that there is a sort of feeling that is not associated with any external factors but makes one want to dance. This is a playlist dedicated to that feeling.

1. All I Want – Joni Mitchell

I included this song on my last playlist too but it’s only because it’s perfect. I mean, listen to the lyric “Alive, alive, I wanna to get up and jive / wanna wreck my stockings in some juke box dive.” It gives me shivers.

2. Dancing in the Public Eye – Frankie Cosmos

I love that this song can be so quiet and yet so ecstatic. It captures why people even leave their rooms at all.

3. Be A Body – Grimes

I remember first reading about Visions on Rookie Mag, where this song was described as “party-ready, especially if all your friends like Grimes, and then you’re all singing the ‘ooh oohs’ in unison, which sounds like my idea of a really good time.”

4. Dancing on my Own – Robyn

SUCH A POWER SONG. A lot of my teenage-bedroom-dancing-montages were definitely set to Robyn.

5. Dancing in the Dark – Bruce Springsteen

Literally just watch this video for young Courtney Cox, if nothing else.

6. Sugarhigh – Coyote Shivers

This is just the best song. I have no other description. Also, if you haven’t already, go watch Empire Records.

DJ Spotlight: Coral Lee ’17

by Mihika Kohli ’17

Name: Coral Lee ’17

Show: “It’s A Trap” on Sundays from 9 to 10 p.m.

Hometown: Newport Coast, California

Major: English with a History minor

What interests you about trap music, and what can listeners find in your show?

“They can find a mix of things but I’m usually pulled to play trap because I personally think it’s really good study music and it’s not what people usually think of for electronic music. Most people think of Avicii or Deadmau5 but I think there’s a lot of cool things that go along with trap. And there are other genres I look at like future beats and chill dubstep.”

You went to some festivals this summer, right?

“I went to Electric Daisy Carnival and Hard Summer, which are in L.A. Prior to going to them, I kind of knew some electronic music. I wasn’t super into it, but seeing [the music] live and just being with other people that enjoyed that music so much just made me appreciate it so much more. I know there’s the stereotype of rave culture but I think it’s really more than drugs or enjoying that high you feel, you know? It’s mostly that sense of community that you don’t feel elsewhere.”

Apart from having a radio show, what else are you involved with on campus?

“I teach yoga at my NCA. I don’t know if this counts but I teach yoga in Mt. Vernon, and I take piano lessons.”

I know yoga’s a big part of what you do, but what about it made you want to get even more involved?

“Well, I had done some yoga in high school but I kind of saw it as a workout. But, going back to last summer, I realized I really did care about it so I did a teacher training program and, as cheesy as it sounds, I really like to share that with other people.”

From my perspective, it seems kind of ironic to be into trap music and yoga. How would you explain that?

“I actually think they go hand in hand! There’s a festival called Tomorroworld and they have yoga sets so DJs will play their sets and you can do yoga to them. I think yoga is less about relaxation or easy stretching as people think. I think it’s a lot more intensive and demanding of the body so I think the music perfectly pumps you up for that.”

When you put on your show, what do you hope listeners get from it?

“I think anyone who has a radio show can agree that they want a person to willingly sit down for an hour and just listen to the entire thing whether it’s [playing] in the background or whatever … It’s the common experience of us sharing the music for an hour and that’s one of the more beautiful things about having a radio show.”

Do you have a fun fact about yourself?

“I did a culinary program in high school. Because of that, my dream is to have a bakery or a food truck!”