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Entertainment December 19, 2014

Straat Picks: Top 10 Albums of 2014

2014 has been an incredible year in music, producing watershed releases across every scene. Here are our top 10 picks. 

By Hidzir Junaini

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Sales may be on the decline (unless, of course, you’re Taylor Swift), but those disappointing industry figures in no way correlate to the quality of the music out there right now. In fact, 2014 has been incredible year in music, producing watershed releases across every scene.

Narrowing 12 months of content into a breezy year-end list is arduous work, but we’ve sorted through the rest just so you can get to the best. Here are the top 10 albums of 2014.

But first, some honorable mentions

20) Lone – Reality Testing
19) Max Graef – Rivers of the Red Planet
18) Perfume Genius – Too Bright
17) Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire
16) Theo Parrish – American Intelligence
15) Aphex Twin – Syro
14) St. Vincent – St. Vincent
13) FaltyDL – In The Wild
12) Hiatus Kaiyote – By Fire
11) FKA Twigs – LP1

#10 – Caribou – Our Love

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Dan Snaith has evolved a lot since his indie-leaning beginnings, and much of that can probably be attributed to his 4 year hiatus from Caribou to pursue a career as a house DJ/producer under the alias Daphni. 2012’s JIAOLONG was a 4×4 stormer that also serves as the missing link between Swim and Our Love. Dance is at the forefront of Snaith’s production here, but at the same time, he never truly forgets his psychedelic roots. The result is an indelible electronic LP that’s fluorescent, serpentine and immensely replayable.

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#9 – Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

The Bug - Angels & Devils

Solo-written and self-produced, Are We There is as deeply personal as a record can get. The ache in Sharon Van Etten’s fourth full-length is palpable, as she genuinely gives us her all. The vulnerability displayed here counterintuitively spotlights just how confident Van Etten has become as singer and songwriter. Her compositions are supple, and her vivid words and frank sentiment commands. Complex and turbulent emotions transform into something simple and beautiful here, achieving catharsis that is hard-won. 

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#8 – Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

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Rather than be hamstrung by his own rep, FlyLo simply continues to astound with a body of work that’s both prolific and consistent. So where does You’re Dead! fit within an enviable oeuvre that only ranges between greatness and genius? Right at the peak. Steven Ellison’s latest is breathtaking in its imagination, melding savant-like sequencing with virtuosic vision. Yet despite its bewildering horizons, You’re Dead!’s experimental, leftfield electronica somehow still manages to be accessible. FlyLo belongs in the league of Sun-Ra and his uncle John Coltrane, the man truly has no modern contemporary.

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#7 – White Lung – Deep Fantasy

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Urgent and utterly thrilling, Deep Fantasy is easily one of the best punk rock records this year. Previous releases have already earned White Lung a cult following in the Vancouver scene, but this one forces the world to sit up. This all-girl group isn’t out to be Sleater-Kinney wannabes, Deep Fantasy provides them with their own compelling identity and proves that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Clocking in at under 30 minutes, this is a lean, blistering album that sprints till the finish.

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#6 – Objekt – Flatland

Swans - To Be Kind

TJ Hertz’s debut techno LP has been highly-anticipated for a while now, and thankfully, the finished full-length is indeed as wonderful as we all had hoped for. Flatland is bold and assured, anchored by stellar craftsmanship and impeccable production. Objekt’s rich, chugging tunes don’t reinvent the wheel, but his twists inject freshness into a genre that’s sometimes trapped within its own rigidity. Purists may claim that Flatland isn’t straight techno, but even they can’t say that it wasn’t flawless in its execution.

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#5 – Run The Jewels – RTJ2

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As far as underground rap goes, you won’t find a better effort in 2014 than RTJ2. Perhaps Ratking’s So It Goes and Bishop Nehru & MF Doom’s NehruvianDOOM come close, but it’s no cigar. In terms of flow and lyricism, Killer Mike and El-P absolutely murder it on this one, and they’re practically untouchable on that front. The chemistry between this pair of wordsmiths comes through in the most joyous ways, heightened by RTJ2’s intentionally abrasive beats. Featuring varied verses, neck-breaking intensity and razor-sharp opinions, Run The Jewels’ sophomore is a hip-hop triumph.

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#4 – The Bug – Angels & Devils

Run The Jewels - RTJ2

2008’s London Zoo was seminal, and six years later, The Bug has finally delivered an equally pivotal follow-up that’s just as substantial. Once again released under the Ninja Tune banner, Angels & Devils continues the evolution of Kevin Martin’s subcultural soundclash – blending dancehall, reggae, industrial noise, grime and dub – into an album that simultaneously feels old and new. The first half is light and downbeat, but it all builds to the LP’s aggressive, militant, almost demonic second half. That duality is spelt out in the album’s title and its vocal guests (Copeland, Death Grips, Flowdan, Warrior Queen, etc) do amazingly well adapting to Kevin Martin’s dichotomy.

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#3 – Young Fathers – Dead

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Young Fathers released a pair of incredible EPs last year (Tape One and Tape Two) to muted reception. Even in the Internet age, there simply aren’t any eyes on the tiny Scottish hip-hop scene. But after Dead recently won the Mercury Prize (eclipsing heavy favourite FKA Twigs no less), you can bet people are paying attention. Despite all that, the LP is still underrated because its a genuine masterpiece, brimming with dense production, surreal vocals and heady social commentary. If you’re sleeping on this – wake up.

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#2 – Swans – To Be Kind

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With a running time that’s over two hours, Swans’ latest experimental noise-rock opus isn’t what anyone would call “fun”. Then again, when has a Swans album ever been? That’s not the point. To Be Kind is unsettling, abstract, nuanced and deranged. This is an odyssey not be taken lightly, with tracks so expansive that they can feel exhausting, but the musical riches you encounter make it all worth it. These guys are absolute masters, hiding method amidst madness, and crafting odes to darkness that reveal purity of their vision. This record is essential.

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#1 – Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here

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Go back a couple of years and our #1 album for 2012 and 2013 would both belong to Snarky Puppy for groundUP and Family Dinner respectively. Amazingly enough, they’ve done it again! And its not like they’re hanging onto the same tropes either, We Like It Here is a bonafide creative leap, this time eschewing guest vocalists to focus on eight jaw-dropping, dynamic instrumental tracks. Recorded in a live studio setting, the energy of the performance is what really gets you, and trust us, there’ll be moments where you instinctively stand up to applaud. Modern jazz (going from Nu to New Orleans seamlessly) never sounded more vital. 

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