Top Music of 2014

Shortlist

  • Sun Kil Moon – Micheline
  • Majical Cloudz – This Is Magic
  • Asgeir – Was There Nothing?
  • Mumford & Sons – Where Are You Now
  • Monsieur Perine – La Playa
  • Mutual Benefit – Golden Wake
  • The Antlers – Palace
  • Beck – Heart Is a Drum
  • Slow Club – Wanderer Wandering
  • Metronomy – I’m Aquarius
  • St. Vincent – Digital Witness
  • Real Estate – Talking Backwards
  • Ray LaMontagne – Ojai
  • Adult Jazz – Spook
  • Tennis – Never Work for Free
  • Sylvan Esso – Coffee
  • Sisyphus – Rhythm of Devotion
  • Blood Orange – It Is What It Is
  • Young the Giant – Firelight
  • Lambchop – The Daily Growl
  • Grimes – Genesis
  • Kings of Convenience – Homesick
  • Bastille – Flaws
  • Flume – Insane
  • Conor Oberst – Common Knowledge
  • Bombay Bicycle Club – Home By Now
  • How to Dress Well – Repeat Pleasure
  • Lykke Li – Just Like a Dream
  • London Grammar – Strong
  • Foxygen – San Francisco
  • John Mayer – Dear Marie
  • Jake Bugg – Simple As This
  • The 1975 – Girls
  • Wye Oak – Logic of Color
  • Gregory Alan Isakov – Living Proof
  • Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
  • Crystal Fighters – At Home
  • Vancouver Sleep Clinic – Stakes
  • First Aid Kit – Shattered & Hollow
  • Yo La Tengo – The Point of It
  • The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
  • Ariel Pink – Put Your Number in My Phone
  • Rogue Valley – Bay of Pigs
  • Belle & Sebastian – Nobody’s Empire
  • Luluc – Winter is Passing

 

Top 10 Albums

  1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
  2. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
  3. Asgeir – In the Silence
  4. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
  5. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
  6. Beck – Morning Phase
  7. Real Estate – Atlas
  8. First Ait Kit – Stay Gold
  9. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
  10. Wye Oak – Shriek

 

Top 10 Tracks

  1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
  2. Conor Oberst – Common Knowledge
  3. Yo La Tengo – The Point of It
  4. Asgeir – Was There Nothing?
  5. Beck – Heart is a Drum
  6. Sun Kil Moon – Micheline
  7. The 1975 – Girls
  8. Blood Orange – It Is What It Is
  9. Real Estate – Talking Backwards
  10. First Aid Kit – Shattered & Hollow
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Best of 2014

As I spent most of 2014 traveling abroad, I was able to experience music as a form of memory, a canvas for my other senses. More than any other year in my life I was immersed in the feeling described by this poem I wrote many years ago:

We rewrite our lives in our favorite music.
We let moving lyrics resonate in our hearts
And then we replace them with our own words,
So that in time, these songs become the pages
Filled with our memories and experiences

And so, by way of narrative list, I offer my favorite music of 2014, much of which made its way into my Eurotrip film (still a work in progress).

1. Ásgeir – In the Silence

I got Ásgeir’s In the Silence at the same time as the next album in Berlin, while hanging out at the Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek in Kreuzberg. Still to this day if I hear any song from the album I can feel the winter cold, the snow on my fingers, the rumble of the S-bahn as it crosses a frozen river. In a way Berlin became our Iceland, and although Sigur Ros is still the more masterful artist, Ásgeir has had a greater emotional impact, and Dylan and I listened to this album on repeat for the remainder of our trip. I ended up using one of my favorites from the album, “On This Day,” for a section of our film about the Berlin-Grunewald Gleis 17 memorial.

2. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

I first started listening to Sun Kil Moon in 2013 and fell in love with one song in particular, “Glenn Tipton,” which had an oddly powerful mix of soothing acoustics and the mournful thoughts of a serial killer. It’s this tragic irony which I love about Benji, where nearly every song is about the death of real people in Mark Kozelek’s life. It’s really depressing stuff to listen to, but it formed a backdrop for a lot of reflection during our trip. Especially after a friend of mine passed away in May. Later on, when I was in Malmo, Sweden, I returned to his album devotedly to immerse myself in my favorite song from the album, also the most tragic:

And I got on my train in Malmo
And looked out at the snow feeling somewhere between happy and sad

In October I got to see Mark Kozelek play at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and when he did this song I was nearly brought to tears. Sure, he’s an asshole, but when you’ve listened to this album as many times as I have, it’s both understandable and forgivable.

3. Beck – Morning Phase

I started listening to this album in March, by which point we had left Germany and were on our way to the Balkans. It’s a beautiful region which has none of the danger or grit that I had expected from word of mouth. The landscapes are gorgeous, especially along the Croatian coastline, and I spent much of it fading in and out of sleep on the 6-8 hour long bus rides with Morning Phase playing on repeat. Perhaps that is why Beck brings back the Balkans the way Ásgeir brings back Berlin. I remember that moment of blur as I woke to a sunrise over Dubrovnik, hearing Beck’s songs of morning. Returning back through all the discography I had missed since his first hit single, “Loser,” I discovered that Sea Change and this album are the only two that I think really show Beck at his best, his acoustic orchestration and rough baritone front and center. Listen to “Heart is a Drum” over footage of Dubrovnik in my film (7:54).

4. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

February really was the best month of music this year. While St. Vincent is not something I listen to everyday, nor do I like every song on her eponymous St. Vincent, the songs that do work for me work like masterpieces. It’s really a sound unlike any other, and proves to me that Annie Clark is one of the best musicians out there today. Besides “Digital Witness,” I absolutely love “Prince Johnny,” (used in my film at 10:31) “I Prefer Your Love,” and “Severed Crossed Fingers.”

5. Real Estate – Atlas

In March I also found a nearly perfect driving album, Real Estate’s Atlas. Their previous Days was pretty good, but this album is essentially flawless. I used one of my favorites, “Talking Backwards,” as the background for the Alps skiing part of my film (6:15). But my favorite song from the album changes almost once a month — at first it was “Primitive,” then later it was “How Might I Live,” and right now it might be “On the Bend.” I often leave the vinyl running, and while it doesn’t remind me of any specific point in my travels it brings back the feeling of moving, and of watching trees and power lines go by.

6. Wye Oak – Shriek

Wye Oak’s sophomore effort Shriek was quite a surprise and was our soundtrack through a specific leg of the Balkan trip, specifically from Tirana, Albania, to Prizren, Kosovo. It’s great to hear such good musicians take on a completely different sound from one album to another, and this is certainly a direction I love. Hear “Logic of Color” over Zagreb at 15:30.

7. Sylvan Esso

Another duo working in much the same vein, was by far the grooviest breakout artist of the year. Sylvan Esso’s eponymous debut is quite simply the coolest beats of 2014, especially “Hey Mami” (used for Sarajevo at 4:15) and “Coffee.”

8. Connor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

Just when I needed something to move me through the dreary month in London, Connor Oberst reentered my life with his solo album Upside Down Mountain. Oberst remains one of the best songwriters of the indie music scene, and I really think this album is his best work to date. The lines in songs like “Time Forgot” and “Common Knowledge” are to die for. I got to see him play at Hardly Strictly and it was a nice treat to the end of the year.

9. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

Another album I listened to like crazy in London was First Aid Kit’s second album, Stay Gold. It’s just slightly better than the first but that’s saying a lot. “Shattered & Hollow” is an incredible song, and it’s so easy to listen to the whole album over and over again.

10. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

The best album of 2014. Thanks to Adam Pearson for showing this to me. Been listening to it obsessively since August in Austria. Not much to say besides it’s like Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles reborn for our time.

Best of 2012 Mix

Hope everybody is enjoying the new year with friends and family. I am thankful for so many things in 2012, especially the music that got me through the year. Here are ten of the best songs that made me laugh, cry, dance, and dream. Enjoy.

  1. Wild Nothing – Bored Games
  2. Loney, Dear – Violent
  3. The Head and the Heart – Winter Song
  4. fun. – Some Nights
  5. The National – Runaway
  6. John Mayer – Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967
  7. The Tallest Man on Earth – 1904
  8. The Lumineers – Ho Hey
  9. Passion Pit – It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy
  10. fun. – Stars

December 2012 Mix

  1. Kishi Bashi – Manchester
  2. Jessie Ware – Wildest Moments
  3. Deimos Phobos – Jovian
  4. Frank Ocean – Lost
  5. Purity Ring – Belispeak
  6. Kendrick Lamar – M.A.A.D City (ft. MC Eiht)
  7. Jessie Ware – 110%
  8. Frank Ocean – Bad Religion
  9. Dirty Projectors – Impregnable Question
  10. Kishi Bashi – Bright Whites

1. fun. – Some Nights

Name: Some Nights
Artist: fun.
Release date:
February 14, 2012
Genre: Indie pop
How to describe it: Theatrical, anthemic, existential
Best song: Stars
Honorable Mentions: Some Nights, Carry On, Why Am I The One

Some nights I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights I call it a draw
Some nights I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights I wish they’d just fall off

I discovered fun. one night in Seattle. I had been listening to the album pretty nonchalantly all day, touring the Seattle sights, liking the way they mixed choral harmonies and rock ballads with hip-hop and indie sounds. We got to Kerry Park around sunset and I took some photos of the Seattle skyline. But my friends had left without me, unwilling to wait for the night. And so I was faced with a decision of how to get back to our hostel in Chinatown, all the way on the other side of downtown.

Some nights I always win, I always win…

I reached into my pocket, grabbed my iPod, and put “Some Nights” on repeat. I walked the three miles from Kerry Park to Chinatown, letting the music fill my body. At each intersection, I took the crosswalk direction that was green, zigzagging through Seattle, figuring that the night would take me home at some point. By the end I was running and jumping through the streets, to the tune of 2012’s anthem.

We are shining stars
We are invincible
We are who we are
On our darkest day
When we’re miles away
Sun will come
We will find our way home

Nate Ruess is unafraid of making a big statement. His style in Aim & Ignite was already unique, a blend of Mika and Queen. With their signing to Fueled by Ramen, Nate was inspired to reinvent fun., citing hip-hop as a major influence. What they have created is an incredible technical and musical achievement that I am positive will be winning many Grammies this year. Everything in this album is graced by intelligent design, despite its strongest themes being quite agnostic in nature. Ruess successfully creates a cohesive world in Some Nights with structural narrative, recurring riffs, cross-referential lyrics, and thematic growth. It’s the story of a generation that has lost its way in the night, has grown out of touch with a higher power up above — but therein lies grace, the realization that the ones we love are all we have, and that we are in charge of our own destiny. It’s the inspiring message that got me through 2012, and I can only hope that millions more have received the same salvation through music. Some Nights makes every single correct musical decision, and every song is in itself a masterpiece of composition and style, despite being so incredibly diverse.

But what I’m most excited about in this album, and for the music industry in 2013, is what Ruess is doing with AutoTune. It makes a very significant appearance in “Some Nights”, “It Gets Better”, and “Stars”. The question arises — why the hell does Ruess even need AutoTune? His voice is incredible and he has a grasp of intonation and style that the Biebers and Rihannas of the world could only dream about. But he takes their medication and turns it into a recreational drug, a key to a reinvented self. It becomes an echo, the voice of a distant traveler, a hallucination or a trip — AutoTune, under Ruess’s meticulous direction, is fantastically limitless. “Stars” is the greatest record of 2012. Bringing all the musical themes of the album to a satisfying conclusion, Ruess then suddenly launches us off into space with an abrupt change in the track, as if he has donned a spacesuit and is now serenading us among the stars. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and if it’s any indication of what we should be expecting from the indie pop scene in 2013 — well then, maybe there is hope in the night sky.

You’re always holding on to stars
You’re always holding on to stars
You’re always holding on to stars

Honorable Mentions

Wild Nothing – Nocturne: A fantastic sophomore effort from the dream pop troupe, continuing to refine a very unique and groovy sound.
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How to Dress Well – Total Loss: Tom Krell is an incredible force of emotion in this sophomore effort that builds on his unique PBR&B sound.
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The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now: Kristian Mattson is one of the best singer-songwriters out there, and his third album doesn’t disappoint at all.
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First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar: This Swedish folk duo will surprise you with their American accents and beautiful lyrics.
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Tennis – Young & Old: One of the coolest rising indie pop duos, on their sophomore effort, have made a rebellious and delightful sound all their own.
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Mika – The Origin of Love: Third album by the eccentric British singer-songwriter nails it with a mix of endearing ballads and knock-out dance tunes.
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Purity Ring – Shrines: I’m just starting to get into them but this Canadian electronic music duo is creating some awesome tracks with a carnal taste.
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2. Passion Pit – Gossamer

Name: Gossamer
Artist: Passion Pit
Release date:
July 20, 2012
Genre: Indie pop, electropop
How to describe it: Passionate, infinite
Best song: It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy
Honorable Mentions: Constant Conversations, On My Way, Hideaway

Passion Pit exploded onto my life like the explosion of light that graces their album cover art, one of the year’s best. The two lovers hold their hands up to the sky, as all of us did when Passion Pit lit up the stage at Outside Lands. Maybe their love, our lives, are gossamer — but everything else about this knock-out second album is infinite.

Michael Angelakos and his band of Berklee College friends are modern music geniuses. They understand how to create the perfect mix of falsetto vocals, poppy synth, and cinematic effect. It’s the perfect sound of youth — it’s a passion pit. “Constant Conversations” is almost sultry in its R&B bend, a showcase of Angelakos’ gifted high range (unfortunately, as I discovered in Outside Lands, this is augmented by very high production qualities and lots of AutoTune). “On My Way” and “Hideaway” have incredibly catchy melodies that feel like the tunes kids should be listening to these days — not that Justin Bieber shit. And “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy” is one of the happiest, most triumphant anthems of the year.

There’s a very bright future ahead for this band that puts musicality at the forefront of all their work, however experimental the sound may be. They also seem to have captured the spirit of a generation of festival-goers, of college students struggling with adolescence, with people who just are just looking for a place to belong, for a connection to be made (“All I’ve ever wanted was to be happy and make you proud“). Listen and dance.