It’s that time of year again. Summer festival season is starting to kick into gear, the release of new music slows and every publication and music fan mull over their favourite albums of the year.
Cue uproar. “How did you miss this!?” A barrage of comments floods in, the discussion wheel turns and the debate for who released the best record of the year is sparked with a consensus impossible to reach.
No list is ever definitive, but you can’t deny that they’re an enjoyable reflection on the past eleven or so months in music. Instead of adding another list to get lost amongst the masses we’ve decided to put forward sixteen albums that you might have missed in 2014.
For whatever reason they’ve gone under the radar and missed the attention we think they’ve deserved. Consider it our Christmas gift to you, some more incredible music to get you through until the flurry of new music releases begins again next year.
Iceage – Plowing Into The Field Of Love (Matador)
Having bashed around the clattering sonics of high octane punk on their debut New Brigade and delving deeper into the cataclysmic abyss that was their post-hardcore sophomore release You’re Nothing , Copenhagen’s doom and gloomers Iceage have at last found their sound, lurking somewhere in the bleak shadows of post-punk, country and punk.
The first single to fall from the record ‘The Lord’s Favorite’ was definitely a shock, dividing fans sonically as the track pertained to more ‘Get Rhythm’ typed beat, however, the mysterious frontman Elias Rønnenfelt bought all naysayers back down to the cold earth as he charmingly teased “part of me wants to hurt you/tear you in the hair” before reassuring “I don’t do that now” providing a new found sense of humour, albeit dark, to their otherwise austere aesthetic.
‘Pissing Against The Moon’ features strings and piano accordions, the solemnity sounds matching Rønnenfelt’s tearful vocals, creating a level of reachable emotion with the frontman, whilst ‘Forever’ warrants the band’s frequented tag of Joy Division, Rønnenfelt’s suave baritone far cleaner as he progressively builds to the universal eruption of brass and flurried guitars.
The great Iggy Pop confessed his love of Iceage to Triple J last year stating they are “the only current punk band I can think of that sounds really dangerous”, with an accolade that, we needn’t say another word. (Joe Harris)
Alvvays – Alvvays (Popfrenzy)
“Where the hell did this album come from?” This was the first collective question that fell from our mouths after a mere minute of spinning the first track on this album, the heated ‘Adult Diversion’.
Further research taught us that Alvvays are an indie rock five-piece that hails from Canada, and a full rotation of the wax taught us that their eponymous debut record is unequivocally one of the best pop albums of 2014.
Equipped with an expansive sound of meandering indie-pop riffs, breezy surf-coast high tones and flecks of rumbling low-fi atmospherics, whilst their intelligent and honest lyrics of blind love and anxiety-ridden separation prove that Alvvays are no one-trick pony.
One half of Alvvays will make you want to fall in love, see ‘Archie, Marry Me’ as proof. Loaded with just the right amount of fuzzy euphoric sonics that partner seamlessly with lead vocalists anthematic chorusing, “hey, hey, marry me Archie”, this track is virtually impossible not belt out, leaving you with the goofiest, starry-eyed expression known to man.
However, the other half will conjure the darkest demons of a relationship deteriorating, one only needs to hear the low-fi inspired ‘The Agency Group’ which paints a painful breakup scene, Rankin echoing truths “when you whisper you don’t think of me that way/when I mention you don’t mean that much to me” proving that an indie pop record can have real lyrical depth, not just cheap hooks and catchy one-liners.
Alvvays is definitely a record that flew under the radar this year, but we can assure you that just one listen and you’ll be addicted. (JH)
Roku Music – Collider (Sonic Masala)
It’s a thing of rare beauty when one stumbles upon a record that is so totally engrossing that almost nothing can distract you from listening to it cover to cover, and courtesy of Brisbane outfit Roku Music, 2014 saw a release that does just that.
Collider is the debut release from the Queensland four-piece that features 8-tracks of teleporting reverb and dream-like vocals that are utterly hypnotising, producing without a shade of doubt, the finest Aussie shoegaze record of 2014.
The mystical epitome of the record has to be the mid-way mark, ‘Ended’. We hate to point obvious influences or “sounds likes”, this track sees the band find what so like them have sought to do, locate the middle ground between champions My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. The way in which the gloomy haunting vocal “ooos” weave in out and of the forlorn cosmic wall of layered sonics harkens the ‘90s shoegaze and dream-pop spirit, and leaves every last hair on a listeners body standing tall. (JH)
The Ocean Party – Soft Focus (Spunk)
It’s been a pretty massive year in the resurgence of jangle-pop and chilled-out psychedelic inspired records. One only need look at the impact the likes of Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days or Real Estate’s Atlas has made on 2014.
Ousting the likes of contemporaries such as Twerps and Dick Diver (who, rest assured, are Tone Deaf favourites) to the lead the charge for Australian music within this scene is quintet The Ocean Party with their gorgeously melodic release, Soft Focus.
Lead single ‘Went Out’ is naturally a major triumph and obvious starting point on the record, the track featuring simple jangle-note progressions, building into a full, blissful psych-pop orchestra as subtle brass lifts the jam into a 2014 classic. (JH)
Arca – Xen (Create/Control / Mute)
Given the critical acclaim that has been bestowed upon the Venezuelan producer’s debut album it’s hard to think of Xen as a record that’s been missed in 2014. Add that to Alejandro Ghersi’s work with Kanye West, FKA Twigs and being named as the producer for Björk’s next album and it’s clear that Arca is one of alternative music’s most interesting talents. Despite this Xen’s late 2014 release has meant it has often been overlooked in many end of year listicles.
Make no mistakes though the record is one of the most unique and inventive releases of the year. Everything he’s touched so far has felt like a wildly original piece of electro and on Xen you can almost imagine Björk’s vocals filtering over the top of Arca’s industrial and scattered mechanisms. The record seamlessly integrates visual inducing moments of horror (the title track) and a futurist calm (‘Sad Bitch’). Remember the name, Arca is likely to be written all over the immediate future of music. (Corey Tonkin)
Tiny Ruins – Brightly Painted One (Spunk Records)
Having spent much of 2014 on the road in support of their second release this writer managed to catch the last show of their European Tour at Iceland Airwaves with a handful of other people in a tiny pub in Reykjavik. The song that stood out the most then remains true as the centrepiece of Brightly Painted One. ‘She’ll Be Coming Round’, the almost title track, is an exquisite five minutes of folk music.
On that track Hollie Fullbrook (joined onstage by Cass Basil and Alexander Freer) sings “that old free will might be myth, but I’m gonna try and get me some” and it’s exactly that yearning that transcends the record. That poetic frankness, in line with her upcoming tour mate Sharon Van Etten, is a part of what makes Brightly Painted One one of the best folk records of the year. (CT)
Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste (Caroline Music Australia)
By now everyone knows the Story Of Azealia Banks. Exploding onto the scene with ‘212’ in 2011, the Harlem rapper’s path to destined stardom was blocked by a series of Twitter spats that tarnished her reputation. As the 23-year-old recently told Pitchfork, she became “untouchable” – a promising career wasted and unsalvageable.
And so Banks’ long-awaited debut album Broke With Expensive Taste was the rapper’s final do-or-die moment – a chance at redemption. Miraculously, after three years of delays and broken promises, Banks managed to defy the odds and rise from the ashes.
BWET is a highly experimental record and wildly ambitious in its sheer variety of stylings on offer.
Banks is a true chameleon. From poppy lead single ‘Chasing Time’ to the bone-chilling staunch of house cut ‘Ice Princess’, or the opera-inspired hook on ‘JKF’ and the Spanish-sung breakdown of ‘Gimme A Chance’, she shape-shifts into a multitude of characters, all as convincing as the last. (Save for the surf-rap Ariel Pink collab ‘Nude Beach A Go-Go’, an ironic commentary on Iggy Azalea-era cultural appropriation that sadly doesn’t sound as good as its politics.)
Morphing from sharp-tongued rapper spitting bars one moment to soulful pop singer laying down an ear worm hook the next, Banks runs rings around her contemporaries with her unmatched skill set.
For a while there, the Story Of Azealia Banks looked like it could end too soon. But with her rule-defying debut finally out in the world, Banks comes out on top untouchable for completely different kinds of reasons. (Dylan McCarthy)
Lower Spectrum – Traces EP (Zero Through Nine)
Lower Spectrum (aka Ned Beckley)’s Traces EP is an ambitious six-track offering of deconstructed electronic soundscapes inflected with unique compositions, bass-heavy spacial atmospherics, and tactile sensory textures.
The tracks bend and warp on multiple tangents, showing off the producer’s multi-faceted production skills as they unfold like hyper-coloured electronic kaleidoscopes, ebbing and flowing into new and unexpected terrains.
The warbling single ‘Khlever’ begins as a deep bass boiler accompanied by a smoky guitar but eventually ends in an explosion of bright synths, while ‘Glimmer’ bounces around on a soulful vocal sample and titanic bass before combusting and capsizing into a siren-soaring anthem.
For comparison’s sake, Darkside is an obvious parallel here. Lower Spectrum’s sound is detailed and lush, a spectral kind of electronica that needs to be consumed full blast either somewhere alone or in a packed out club room to be fully appreciated. (DM)
Andras & Oscar – Café Romantica (Chapter Music)
Café Romantica, the debut album from the prolific Melbourne producers Andras Fox and Oscar Key Sung, potentially wins the award for 2014’s most charming LP.
Respected artists in their own right, there’s a kind of warm and fuzzy magic summoned in the air whenever these two beloved producers join forces. With Oscar laying down the syrupy vocals and Andras in prime control of the silky smooth house R&B behind him, the two pals have figured out a winning combination – and you can tell they’re having fun with it.
Lead single ‘Looking Back’ is a pastel-coloured pop track with a tropical flavour that glides along on a leisurely beat with lulling synths, summery marimba chimes, and Oscar’s melting croon.
It’s a laid-back, ultra-cool aesthetic that Andras and Oscar pull off with effortless conviction throughout Café Romantica. (DM)
Fatima Al Qadiri – Asiatisch (Hyperdub)
Fatima Al Qadiri describes Asiatisch as a “virtual road trip through ‘imagined China’”. The album, which you wouldn’t be wrong calling a musical thesis, can be read in a number of ways. Primarily, it’s a critical commentary of the Western world’s demonisation of different cultures. But what does it sound like? One of year’s most high brow concept albums is also one of the most futuristic displays of experimental electronica.
Al Qadiri soundtracks her fictional dystopia with industrial, android-like production. It’s the kind of niché grime-garage dance aesthetic that defined the underground in 2014. Soundscapes are deliberately cold and metallic, void of human feeling and instead mainly maid up of sharp, gritty synths, clanging steel pans, ominous waves of bass and oriental
It’s an exhilarating album no matter how you take it. Ice-cold dance-floor cuts like ‘Szechuan’ can be enjoyed on sensory value alone, but there’s also a lot to be unravelled here, like the messages waiting to be decoded in Al Qadiri’s cover of Prince and Rosie Gaines’ ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ sung in deliberately nonsensical Mandarin. (DM)
Clipping – CLPPING (Inertia)
For their first label release (Sub Pop internationally, Inertia locally) Clipping’s second full length record CLPPNG makes an ambitious statement. From their opening track ‘Intro’ which features the trio’s MC Daveed Diggs spitfire rapping over a beat-less high pitch screech – you know you’re not in for a regular hip hop release.
Death Grips produce hip hop for punk and metal fans, Clipping produce hip hop for fans of Swans, or the later work of Scott Walker. Or according to the trio, Clipping “make party music for the club you wish you hadn’t gone to, the car you don’t remember getting in, and the streets you don’t feel safe on.” Though challenging, there are still a number of accessible tracks on CLPPNG including the minimalist and angular earworm ‘Work Work’ (starring up-and-coming MC Cocc Pistol Cree).
One of the most impressive feats of Clipping’s follow up is the way producers Jonathan Snipes and Willam Hutson blur the lines between noise and music. From what sounds like a chainsaw providing the backing harmonies in ‘Body & Blood’ to alarm clock beat of ‘Get Up’ Clipping challenges listeners to re-consider how a rap record should defined. (Lucy Dayman)
Perc – The Power and the Glory (Perc Trax)
The latest release from UK techno producer PERC (aka Ali Wells) is once of the most uneasy and abrasive but undeniably addictive releases of the year. A follow on from his debut Wicker & Steel, The Power And The Glory is sonically a mixture of techno, industrial and ambient production.
Undeniably violent, The Power And The Glory is a launching attack, both meteorically and aurally. In tracks like ‘Dumpster’ ratty snaggletoothed beats find rhythm and pull you into a groove, only to be suddenly subdued by ambient static.
Though clearly influenced by popular genres (techno, house, drum n bass) due to its construction The Power And The Glory is not a radio friendly record, not a ‘bloggable’ record and definitely not a social record, but it is one that commands attention. (LD)
Ratking – So It Goes (XL Recordings)
After releasing 2012’s slightly disjointed Wiki93 EP to a lukewarm reception, the debut full-length from this New York-based trio saw MCs Wiki and Hak, and producer Sporting Life bouncing back; releasing one of the year’s most promising hip hop releases in the process.
“You just gotta look at the root from where it comes from you know?” quizzes the album’s spoken word intro, “all these rappers right now are from a whole different generation. If your life experiences are different it’s gonna come out differently.” Wise words.
Inexplicably informed by its Big Apple roots, So It Goes was produced by Jay Z collaborator Young Guru, and aware that their reinvention of 90s boom bap style was going to be compared to New York luminaries Biggie and 2Pac, the teenage outfit claim to be more inspired by punk than rap. A mode championed by artists like Danny Brown (one of Ratking’s biggest fans) and like the impish Brown, their chaotic energy is just as important as their lyrical content.
That said, MC Wiki’s use of alliteration gives rhythm to his jumbled, rapid-fire flow while producer Sporting Life’s electro/MIDI-hip hop hybrid beats manage the album’s eccentricities just enough to keep listeners on edge without losing control. (LD)
Raspberry Bulbs – Privacy (Blackest Ever Black)
The term ‘blackened punk’ brings with it certain connotations and Privacy, frontman Marco del Rio’s follow-up to his 2013 first assault Deformed Worship, which was itself the shrapnel that remained inside of del Rio’s psyche following the demise of black metal duo Bone Awl, lives up to every single one of them. Informed by the blast beats and infernal walls of hazy guitar noise that characterise black metal as much as the claustrophobia and abandon of early American hardcore music.
Privacy is the sound of a human being’s mental health stretched to breaking point. The album boils with aggression and unyielding intensity. Acrid-sounding guitars and ragged drums propel short bursts of manic energy as the vocals twist and undulate around screams, howls, wails, yells, and growls. This violent, blood-curdling statement is not only one of the most essential punk and metal releases of the year, it’s also one of the most unforgiving. Privacy will continue to grip you long after running time is over. (Greg Moskovitch)
Nasheim – Solens Vemod (Northern Silence Productions)
The conversation about just what constitutes art (as opposed to, say, pornography or just a bunch of red splattered on a canvas) will continue to rage long after the latest wave of pompous intellectuals have sunk into their graves to make room for the next generation. Regardless of just what art is, it’s undeniable that when it comes to true works of art — like a Picasso painting or a Kubrick film — every element matters, from the smallest brushstroke to the most insignificant prop.
That, in one pseudo-intellectual nutshell, is what makes Solens Vedom, the latest from Swede Erik Grahn’s Nasheim project, such an impressive feat. Everything from the blasts of finely tunes black metal noise, to the stately interludes of beautiful acoustic musicianship has been painstakingly crafted, the result of a genuine creative vision and plotting that must have been nothing short of meticulous. In a genre that’s overflowing with one-man-bands, Solens Vedom is a bonafide tour de force. (GM)
Lotus Thief – Rervm (Svart Records)
Though it’s Pallbearer who’ve been hailed as this year’s saviours of metal (handily securing the title previously held by Deafheaven and frankly countless others) for the cross-genre appeal and undeniable quality of their sophomore effort, Foundations of Burden, the first full-length trudge from San Francisco’s Lotus Thief (Otrebor and Bezaelith of the transcendent Botanist), Rervm, succeeds precisely because it makes little, if any, effort to appeal to anyone besides the pie chart slither that given a choice would opt for Lotus Thief’s space rock riffs, epic dreamscapes, and soaring, saintly vocals, over another Sabbathian rehash.
In a genre that’s always appreciated bands more for their individual sound than their ongoing evolution and exploration of novel musical ideas, Lotus Thief prove an intriguing prospect, with their epic tome standing as one of the most refreshing metal releases of the year. While the extended progressive outros will lean heavily on your patience at times, they provide necessary mental and spiritual respite as you prepare for the next trip of celestial vocals and churning, shadowy guitars. (GM)
RaRa – Pink and Teal (Independent)
Cue up Pink and Teal, the latest EP from Melbourne hip-hop crew Rara. Turn on, tune in, and recline. Eight tracks of slowed and throwed beats that border on hypnotic and a break-neck set of rhymes later, you’ll be the group’s latest convert, we guarantee it. While the slick, purpleised beats might mislead you into thinking these guys are all show and no flow, Ll’vo (Darren Parisella), Lovely Me (Nathanael Dixon), River Deep (real name), and and KL (Cale Foley) rely on deceptively simple rhymes that will put their hooks in you as much as the silky beats, if you let them.
While their subject matter most often revolves around the various perils of inebriation, whether it be love or too many bevs, they spit with such momentum and gravity that you find yourself hanging on each word. Over the course of Pink and Teal‘s eight tracks, RaRa forge a micro-cosmos inside of your mind, play around, and just when the cranial pressure is about to hit bursting point, they wrap it up with the appropriately titled ‘Car Crash’, and dismantle everything bit by bit. (GM)