best of 2014: albums

the end of our year-end best-of week is finally upon us, and we’ve saved the best for last: ten full-length albums of 2014 that best represent the musical convictions of dimestore saints.  in many cases, we’ve beaten these albums to death with accolades, so this list will be strictly visual.  as usual, the link embedded in the artist and album title will lead to a stream of said album, while clicking through each photo will lead to a review that accurately conveys our feelings.  by and large, the reviews will come from this site, but a couple will be pulled from other sites and writers that we admire.  cool?  cool.

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alvvays cover

10. alvvays – alvvays

sve are we there cover

9. sharon van etten – are we there

ritual in repeat cover

8. tennis – ritual in repeat

cloud nothings cover

7. cloud nothings – here and nowhere else

too bright cover

6. perfume genius – too bright

familiars cover

5. the antlers – familiars

caribou our love cover

4. caribou – our love

lost in the dream cover

3. the war on drugs – lost in the dream

fka twigs lp1 cover

2. fka twigs – lp1

three love songs cover

1. ricky eat acid – three love songs

mixtape sunday – best of 2014

 

on friday we published a list of our ten favorite songs of 2014.  naturally, we’ve compiled those tracks into a concise mixtape for your listening pleasure, which can be experienced above.  our picks run in reverse order and feature offerings from alvvays, caribou, ricky eat acid, fka twigs, and more.  check back tomorrow for continued coverage of our year-end best-of lists.

best of 2014: songs

welcome to day three of our year-end best-of week, an especially interesting day in which we attempt to choose, dissect, and justify our favorite songs of 2014.  obvious pop heavyweights like sia’s “chandelier” and taylor swift’s “shake it off” were removed from consideration in order to recognize some lesser-known artists, the ultimate ethos of dimestore saints.  we’re pretty satisfied with the following ten tracks, but we’d love to hear arguments for any we may have neglected in the comments section below.

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pillar point album cover10. pillar point – “cherry”

scott reitherman’s first solo venture as pillar point touched on nostalgia in all the right ways, with sleepy pop music powered by vintage roland synths and drum machines that still retained an acute sense of originality and inventiveness.  all nine songs on pillar point are earworms in their own right, but the album’s third track, “cherry,” particularly stuck with us throughout the year.  a punchy, fluid bass line pulsates underneath a stuttering vocal sample before finally giving way to the song’s verse, which finds reitherman’s understated approach to lyricism thrust into the spotlight.  an influx of rich, gorgeous textures often distracts from pillar point’s lyrical content, but the hesitant, poignant examination of a blossoming relationship found in “cherry” just can’t be ignored.

jamie xx sleep sound9. jamie xx – “sleep sound”

the xx have been taking their sweet time writing and recording the follow-up to 2012’s coexist, but apparently jamie xx is very skilled at multi-tasking.  the brooding sound architect has yet to release a solo full-length of his own, but the three tracks he did offer up this year were nothing short of monumental.  while “all under one roof raving” drew the most attention, jamie xx’s absolute best work came in the form of “sleep sound,” an aptly-titled nocturnal journey with a punishing subterranean bass line countered by very patient drum programming, which waits nearly four minutes before guiding in the song’s crucial segue to its b-theme material.  if “sleep sound” is any indication, both the xx and its most prolific member are slated to have a very rewarding and important 2015.

8. alvvays – “adult diversion”

molly rankin’s apathetic drawl is one of the most endearing traits of fast-rising toronto upstarts alvvays, but it’s not the band’s most important.  the quintet’s wonderful self-titled debut largely hinges on the stellar guitar interplay between rankin and alec o’hanley, and “adult diversion” sets the tone.  it takes multiple close listens to discern where the song’s main riff splits off into separate countermelodies, and rankin & co. move on to new ideas and arpeggiations before true appreciation can set in.  and then the final component of the alvvays trifecta settles in: rankin’s blunt, polarizing lyrics.  “adult diversion” clearly outlines unrequited love – at best a crush, at worst a full-blown case of stalking – but its delivery is tongue-in-cheek, its trajectory unpredictable, its content slightly morose.  after all, not many college-radio bands can get away with singing about dead girls in closets, even if it’s only a passing reference.

cloud nothings album cover7. cloud nothings – “just see fear”

dylan baldi is dangerously close to becoming an infallible voice in the modern alternative rock climate.  whether or not that voice is discernible is another question entirely.  baldi’s fourth round at the helm of cloud nothings yields an intense but concise result, and “just see fear” is a perfect snapshot of the visceral nature of here and nowhere else.  seemingly over before it even starts, the song finds baldi singing confidently, almost gently at times, though the accompanying onslaught of buzz-saw guitar and drums immediately offsets any potential vulnerability.  the fact that cloud nothings has slimmed down to a power trio doesn’t seem to phase baldi, either; he points to the absence of a second guitarist with the unabashedly thin melody in the first half of the chorus before reminding listeners that a wall of distortion is truly the only indispensable member of cloud nothings.  oh, and his screams never fail to send shivers down spines.

shyne coldchain ii cover

6. vince staples – “nate”

vince staples has come a long way from his earliest role as earl sweatshirt’s especially vulgar side-kick, far enough to coax def jam into releasing his excellent debut ep hell can wait earlier this fall.  despite its warm reception, staples’ pivotal fourth mixtape, shyne coldchain ii, was arguably his most critical effort of 2014.  staples paints blunt, vivid images of less-than-ideal experiences throughout the mixtape’s ten tracks, and it peaks with “nate.”  visceral accounts of an abusive, drug-dealing father resound in his lyrics, but an inner conflict arises inside staples; though he concedes that “all i wanted was a hundred grand,” staples aptly recognizes the consequences of his father’s lifestyle.  the bridge on “nate” is crucial, as james fauntleroy essentially functions as an objective third party, summing up the cyclical hopelessness staples witnesses and examines in his music.

caribou our love cover5. caribou – “our love”

dan snaith spoke of the profound impact stevie wonder had on the creation of our love, his latest effort as caribou.  though their work couldn’t be more different from an aesthetic standpoint, snaith did manage to capture the sheer grandeur that wonder routinely brought to pop music.  our love is an unabashed pop record, and its title track is the surging centerpiece.  hell, the back half of the song is better than 95% of music released this year, but the importance of the front half’s static build elevates “our love” into the ninety-ninth percentile.  the bass line that snaith twists and warps into the song’s prevailing theme is just a measly four notes, but it’s his treatment and intense delivery that make it stick to whatever crosses its path.  ever the master of tension, snaith refuses to resolve the theme at the song’s close and leaves the fourth and final note hanging in the balance, forever tonicizing the figure in everyone’s heads.

lana del rey west coast cover4. lana del rey – “west coast”

lana del rey played us all.  an artist once dismissed as vapid and of middling talent was, conversely, lauded this year, thanks in part to her excellent sophomore effort ultraviolence.  but focus also shifted towards the understanding that lana del rey is a character, interested in exposing gender-based double-standards by fully indulging in them, forever daring us to critique her, to tear her to shreds.  most took the bait.  ultraviolence largely found del rey moving away from the technicolor hip-hop that dotted born to die, instead favoring a more nostalgic monochrome aided by dan auerbach’s production.  amidst ballads and grandiose ambitions lies “west coast,” an understated yet compelling song that is by and far del rey’s best piece of work to date.  she pushes ahead in earnest during the verses, but a little palilalia and a descending guitar lick is all it takes for her to lay back into a gorgeous half-time chorus, laden with reverb that figuratively recalls the hazy, beach-centric imagery conveyed on the single’s cover.

three love songs cover3. ricky eat acid – “god puts us all in the swimming pool”

the entirety of ricky eat acid’s arresting three love songs is emotive, but “god puts us all in the swimming pool” is especially heart-wrenching.  the song is a polarizing contrast to its predecessor, the drake-sampling, house-indebted “in my dreams we’re almost touching,” with its static motion pumping the brakes on any semblance of momentum the album had managed generate up to that point.  this poignancy is crucial, as it allows ricky eat acid’s mastermind sam ray to a moment to breathe before ushering in the erratic final quarter of three love songs.  all functions aside, the manipulation of the vocal loop on “god puts us all in the swimming pool” is one of the most beautiful musical moments of the year.

fka twigs lp1 cover2. fka twigs – “pendulum”

in theory, about half of the ten tracks on fka twigs’ stunning debut lp1 could occupy this slot; only one song really stood in the way of her total conquest of this segment.  tahliah barnett’s artistic persona transcends both her initial career as a backup dancer and the current temptation to lump her in with other singer-songwriters.  her output is largely autonomous, sure, but what sets her apart from those who might be considered her peers is her unabashed dedication to center her music around female sexuality.  and as a wonderful article on no fear of pop pointed out earlier this year, that focus on sex and sexuality is so large that it can’t be confined to twigs’ lyrics; it has to consume the rhythm and tonality of her music and the visual aesthetic and tone of her videos.  “pendulum” winds up in this slot because it directly embodies so much of that mentality.  the even-keeled, predictable beat that pans from one speaker to the other is as repetitive and reliable as a pendulum, while the song’s opening lyric clearly establishes sex as the lyrical catalyst.  but there’s a searing presence of cynicism as twigs ultimately is using “pendulum” as a platform to call a vapid, unresponsive lover on his shit.

a toothpaste suburb cover1. milo – “objectifying rabbits” (ft. open mike eagle)

milo’s career over the past two years has been fairly well-documented here at dimestore saints.  from his pair of eps to his cavalcade mixtape to his side-project scallops hotel, we haven’t missed much.  while milo’s first proper album, a toothpaste suburb, delivered some incredibly satisfying moments, it ultimately felt drawn-out and a bit uneven, perhaps because we’re used to consuming his thoughts in more concise doses.  that being said, the highlights of a toothpaste suburb are some of the finest works found in milo’s catalogue.  “objectifying rabbits” arrives just past the half-way mark of the record, and is the second part of a sequential triptych milo previewed before the album’s release date.  following the positively tender “you are go(o)d to me,” “objectifying rabbits” immediately reintroduces momentum into a toothpaste suburb with swelling synth progressions, setting up milo to deliver the finest opening line of 2014: “echolalia / lisztomania / i played my ukulele on the way to la grange, bruh.”  the non-sequiturs are there, but the lyrics are best-examined as an introduction to the song’s subject matter, which seems to find milo advocating for an appreciation of art and a positive outlook on life above all else.  milo dissents against hedonists and plato in his never-ending quest to convey his philosophical views, and open mike eagle’s closing verse compounds these thoughts in falsetto.  milo is a young artist with very complex thoughts, thoughts undoubtedly watered down to fit within the lyrical confines of a song.  although intensely personal songs radiate across a toothpaste suburb, “objectifying rabbits” is milo’s best effort in proclaiming his philosophical ethos.

 

cloud nothings – here and nowhere else

when i first heard cloud nothings’ tremendous third album, attack on memory, dylan baldi’s screeches of “i thought i would be more than this” resonated incredibly with my nineteen year-old state of mind.  the album soon became the soundtrack to my 2012, its raw dissonance juxtaposed with hook-laden gems like “stay useless” and “our plans.”  still, the overall darkness in mood of attack on memory, coupled with the increased abrasiveness of instrumentation, all but erased the breezy bedroom pop aesthetic baldi had cultivated on cloud nothings’ first two records, leaving the trajectory of their subsequent output open-ended.  on here and nowhere else, baldi arrives somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, resulting in the band’s most polished sound to date.

baldi’s detractors frequently cited his sub-par vocal delivery as the band’s main pitfall throughout attack on memory, and while opinions on the effect of his raw voice are entirely subjective, it’s worth noting that his voice is unquestionably at its best on here and nowhere else.  he’s in tune and more articulate, and songs like “just see fear” have moments of sheer melodic beauty.  at the same time, baldi is even more punishing and menacing than he was on cloud nothings’ last album; guttural screams emit towards the end of “just see fear,” and the repetition of the word “swallow” on “giving into seeing” sounds tortured yet purposeful.  overall, baldi the singer is very much in the foreground of the songs on here and nowhere else, putting emphasis on the last refined element of the band’s sound.

cloud nothings slimmed down to a power trio before heading into the recording studio, but the absence of a second guitarist seems to cause no problems.  jayson gerycz is an unstoppable force of nature behind a drum kit; in the early days of the band, his presence was almost comical at times, but his relentless technique mirrors and personifies the cacophony cloud nothings has perfected.  here and nowhere else doesn’t stop for a breather throughout much of its duration, with gerycz flirting with the front of each beat and bassist t.j. dukes dutifully following his example.  the songs largely return to a more structured pop formula that aided baldi’s ascension from anonymity; “patterned walks” is the only clear outlier, drawing on the expanded structure of “wasted days,” but songs like “now here in” and “psychic trauma” are upbeat and irresistible, with only hints of the post-apocalyptic dissonance that permeated attack on memory.

baldi’s prowess as a songwriter and guitarist has only grown over time; he handles all of the six-string chores on here and nowhere else, creating a thick, distorted tone befitting of the old punk bands he frequently name-checks in various interviews.  the final song on the album, “i’m not part of me,” might just be the band’s best to date, and it’s telling that they saved it for last.  from the outset of the first chord in his progression, baldi reminds everyone of his talent, fitting a subtle melodic line into the harmony.  his voice is comparatively calm for the most part, and his proclamation of “i’m not telling you/all i’m going through” seems to echo the ethos of the entire album: the dark undertones are still there, but they’re more reserved and less prone to explicit despair and self-deprecation.  here and nowhere else doesn’t quite match attack on memory in terms of raw emotion – few records ever will – but its songs continue to sculpt baldi into a fiercely formidable presence still very much capable of writing acutely polarizing and meaningful lyrics.

9.0/10

most anticipated albums of 2014

2013 has provided a wealth of new music and incredibly important albums for a multitude of genres, but as i reflect on the year’s best offerings i can’t help but to peak ahead and see what 2014 potentially has in store.  here’s my short list of bands i’m excited to hear a new album from.

adelyn rose – i guess it’s been less than two years since mezzanine, but it feels like i’ve been waiting on a new adelyn rose record forever.  the eau claire outfit has been holed up at justin vernon’s april base for the latter half of this year, perfecting a new batch of tracks.  i’ve heard a couple at various live shows, but i’m excited to finally hear another finished project from addie and company.

cloud nothings – remember when cloud nothings was on both editions of my “most anticipated” lists this year?  oops.  the good news is that the now-power trio posted a short video of them working on new songs in the studio, hinting that dylan baldi will probably dominate my headphones again in 2014.  bring it, dude.

foxes in fiction – warren hildebrand enlisted owen pallett to write the string parts for his new album, so i have to hope that the end result will be good.  the new york by way of toronto ambient act has had my attention for sometime, and i’m excited to hear a long-overdue full length album from him.  the thing could drop tomorrow or in six months; i like a project that keeps me on my toes.

gem club – the boston chamber pop trio’s sophomore album in roses is due out january 28th on hardly art records.  if you’ve heard the gorgeous lead single “polly,” you’ll know why i’m looking forward to this record.  if you haven’t, head over to their soundcloud and fix that problem.

 

memoryhouse – memoryhouse played some new songs on npr’s world cafe last month and prefaced them with the announcement that their sophomore album will be out sometime in the spring.  i’m always game to see what those two have to offer.

pillar point – i can’t tell you what got me hooked on pillar point, but i can tell you that scott reitherman’s moody synth-pop gave me an entirely new appreciation for the genre.  after a strong showing on his debut 7″ single “diamond mine” b/w “dreamin’,” reitherman stepped out of anonymity and announced the release of his self-titled debut full length album, out february 25th via polyvinyl.  if that wasn’t enough, he offered up another single, “eyeballs,” which might just be his best work yet.

 

tenement – get to know tenement.  i’ve been following them since they used to play dingy basements and coffee houses around central and eastern wisconsin when i was in high school, but now they’ve signed to don giovanni records and are prepping their first release for that label sometime next year.

tennis – the small sound ep may have served as a filler in between tennis’ second and third album, but it also hopefully forecasted the continuation of sharp songwriting and irresistible pop hooks i’ve come to expect from the band.

vancouver sleep clinic – my favorite new artist of 2013 hasn’t even released a full body of work yet.  in fact, seventeen year-old tim bettinson has only announced an ep for vancouver sleep clinic, due out early next year, but that’s enough for me.  both “collapse” and “vapour” highlighted his skill as a songwriter and his ability to evoke entire landscapes through three or four minutes of song.

 

wye oak – a recent feature over at spin revealed that wye oak is working on their fourth album, and that it will be totally different than their previous output.  guitars have been swapped for bass guitars, and the keyboard pads will be replaced with more melodic lines.  no word on a title or release date, but look for it sometime next year via merge records.