My favorite albums of 2014 so far

It’s roughly halfway through 2014, which means it’s a convenient time to take a look at my favorite musical releases from the past 6 months.

As Steven Hyden pointed out, in his Mid-Year Music Report, there has not been a universally adored blockbuster release this year.  On one hand this means the music released so far this year can seem inconsequential. This years biggest commercial success is the soundtrack to a movie released during the 2013 holiday season. Of course, a year’s critically acclaimed or influential music can be just as important to a year’s perceived legacy as which songs received the most airplay. For example, last year Yeezus seemed ubiquitous despite not actually being one of the 10 best-selling albums of the year. As of June 14, 2014, the vast majority of albums generating critical reverence are reissues. Still, this makes 2014 a year perfectly emblematic of its time. Niche markets, streaming services and the ability to generally listen to any music at any time mean the release of Fucked Up’s Glass Boys can be as momentous as the release of Jack White’s second solo album, Lazaretto, for listeners who seek out hardcore rock while eschewing folk-tinged tunes.

Without critical or commercial behemoths to rank and reckon with, this means everyone’s musical experience in 2014 is going to be different and extremely personal. This is definitely freeing, because it means I can feel better about any omissions or oversights. In no particular order, these are the five albums, which I have enjoyed the most during the first six months of 2014.

 

1. St. Vincent- St. Vincent

Annie Clark is having an awesome year. She got to perform with the surviving members of Nirvana at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. She also put out an incredible, self-titled album chock-full of humor, rocking hooks and interesting arrangements. St. Vincent is one of the most vibrant, self-assured releases of the year even when it deals with the minutiae of Clark’s modern neurosis. This album is a must-listen for fans of everything from straightforward rock to more avant-garde Brian Eno-inspired dream pop.

2.Schoolboy Q- Oxymoron

Without a doubt, Oxymoron, is my favorite rap album of 2014. This album combines hooks and wordplay with heartbreaking voice overs from Schoolboy Q’s daughter and lurid personal details from the Californian rapper’s gang-involved youth. It also contains the monstrous single, “Collard Greens”. When listening to Oxymoron, it becomes clear Kendrick Lamar’s ex-hype man is ready for and deserving of the spotlight.

3.The Men- Tomorrow’s Hits

The Men first captured attention by releasing incredibly earnest rock songs with a healthy dose of garage rock fuzz and punk attitude. Over the course of their discography The Men’s sound has matured. The coyly titled Tomorrow’s Hits is a collection of gorgeous songs, which pay homage to classic rock’s golden age. The songwriting is solid, and the rootsy throwback vibe never seems like a gimmick. This is one of 2014’s most purely enjoyable albums.

4.Cloud Nothings- Here And Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings continue to grow and improve. The hooks and energy of Dylan Baldi and company’s earlier works are approached with the intensity and relative polish on display on 2012’s Attack on Memory. The blending of old and new is fitting, because Here And Nowhere Else is an album full of contradictions. It blends sweet tunes with sick sentiments. The lyrics proudly display Baldi’s insecurities. It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but Cloud Nothings do it incredibly well.

5. The Both- The Both

Ted Leo and Aimee Mann teamed up to make an incredibly pleasant pop-rock record. The Both is not a grand artistic statement, but it is a collection of well-crafted,, mostly good-natured pop songs. With its guy-girl lead vocals and  anthemic chrouses, The Both is the best New Pornohraphers’ record since Twin Cinema. It isn’t ground breaking, but it is ridiculously listenable indie rock.

 

 

Cloudy with a chance of excellence

After the amazing Attack on Memory, expectations for The Cloud Nothings fourth album, Here and Nowhere Else, were stratospheric. The single, “I’m Not Part of Me”, which accompanied the album’s announcement did absolutely nothing to quell excitement.

It turns out the hype was absolutely justified. Here and Nowhere Else is so great it may actually be better than Attack on Memory.

Whereas Attack on Memory refuted the perception of Cloud Nothings’ perception as a one-man bedroom punk act, Here and Nowhere Else finds a compromise between both iterations of the band. The new Cloud Nothings record maintains the aggressive, fuller sound developed on its predecessor and applies it to the type of simple, dirty garage rock melodies abundant on early Cloud Nothings releases.

A perfect example of this duality is the 7-minute aggro-guitar freakout “Pattern Walks” preceding the album-closing lead single “I’m Not Part of me”.

The pairing of song-writing chops and ferocious sounds give this album a timeless quality. This is not to say the influence of ’90s bands such as Jawbreaker and Nirvana is no longer present. When Baldi yelps, “Swallow!” over fuzzed-out guitars and surging bass during “Giving into Seeing” it’s downright Cobain-ian.

However,  throughout Here and Nowhere Else Cloud Nothings display such clear ownership of their sound it’s impossible to imagine any other band in any other time making this album.

On April 1, when Cloud Nothings officially release, Here and Nowhere Else, they will release the best album of their young careers, and what will likely be one of the year’s best releases.