Cheers, all! My name is Andrew Blank and I am a community DJ right here at UIC Radio. In my past life, I actually worked at WIUX during my undergraduate years at Indiana University, volunteering as both a DJ and a blogger. I had this online series known as the Infinite Improbability Drive where I conjured up lists and rankings (best of, worst of, etc) in addition to the scribbling down of an occasional music review or the defense of a perspective on a given topic. In effect, I’ve decided to resurrect this Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy referencing blog with a year-end annotated rundown of my 25 favorite albums of 2014 since what could be more infinite and improbable than the possibilities offered from any given annual “best of the year” compilation put out there. Here’s where you come in, though. I want to hear what your favorite albums of the year are. Let’s make the Infinite Improbability Drive, well, infinite.
25. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation
They’re back at it and thank god. The Brian Jonestown massacre, for whatever reason, I feel just never get enough credit. Especially for a collective that’s been around since the early 90s, it’s too easy for the legendary mythology of Anton Newcombe’s errant megalomania, the on-stage brawling and meltdowns, a rotating army of band members, and the negative portrayal in a one-time petty rivalry with the Dandy Warhols (see “Dig”), unfairly cloud the conversation of the BJM narrative. Let’s get one thing straight: Newcombe has known how to make a cohesive album for a long damn time now. So, for the 13th time, another incarnation of the Brian Jonestown Massacre return for what is a sharp collection of tunes, rifling through what is a fitting, respectable addition to an under-appreciated discography.
24. Gold Bears – Dalliance
One of many things that bugs me about the Arcade Fire is that they’re unwitting accomplices to this insufferable trend where happy-clappy indie bands “ooh” and “whoa” their way through their songs in sing-along fashion (see ‘Wake Up’). Gold Bears admittedly play with fire throughout Dalliance as they perpetuate this flavor of the month phenomenon. There is, however, enough raw, unfiltered aggression and urgency that actually transforms the unity of the chorus into something cathartic and that genuinely captures the DIY spirit a la Nana Grizol and (early) Against Me! time and again. Over-sized guitar jangle pop, drum crashes, and organ smears match the frenetic cries of Jeremy Underwood and company, creating enough potent energy to sustain these outbursts and to more than separate Gold Bears from the sterilized campfire hoard unnervingly saturating the music scene.
23. Geoffrey O’Connor – Fan Fiction
Channeling the persona of 80s new wave heroes like Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys) and Marian Gold (Alphaville), O’Connor plays the cool operator on Fan Fiction, snaking his way with unguarded confidence through the sparkling haze of synthetically rendered atmospheres and drum machines. The elegant retro texturings and pensive attempts at seduction coalesce into a woozy fireworks display, elevating Fan Fiction above the mere thrill of nostalgia to it’s own stand alone entity.
22. Strand of Oaks – Heal
21. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
20. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
19. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent
18. Alvvays – Alvvays
Using the word derivative to describe music typically implies that the target of your assessment boils down to existing as a carbon copy of a copy; that nothing original was outputted or could be taken way during your experience with said target. Applying this descriptor as a negative is easy to do, but it’s an assessment that can feel a little hollow. Take car chases in movies, for example. Every single car chase in every film you’ve ever seen in recent memory ultimately stems from the same source material. Some of them may go the wrong direction down a highway (To Live And Die In L.A.). Some of them may decimate mall kiosk after mall kiosk or result in a million cop car pile-up (The Blues Brothers) (Yes, these are dated references, but the point still stands). They’re still entertaining when well done even if you’ve seen the likes of Bullitt hundreds of times. I suppose that this long winded analogy dismissing the use of the word derivative is to illustrate the point that just because a piece of work isn’t original doesn’t mean that there isn’t any inherent value in that work. Alvvays’ debut is pure sugar, rooted in summery, rock & roll jangle pop. While these Canadians produced a recipe that has been perfected for decades now, their self-titled work isn’t a mere reheating.
17. 100s – IVRY
16. Saintseneca – Dark Arc
Admittedly, I wasn’t impressed with Dark Arc on my first listen, thinking that it was contributing to an alarming growth of dime-a-dozen indie folk incessantly wearing on my nerves, which was particularly disappointing given my appreciation for Saintseneca ever since my WIUX days. However, for those moments where I thought Dark Arc would veer head-on into cringe-worthy honest-to-goodness, overly earnest harmonies and clap-alongs, the album consistently managed to avert those dizzying tailspins and, instead, would weave spirited, genuine tapestries of unadulterated energy that ultimately grounded any unfounded doubts I had.
15. Braid – No Coast
15 year old me’s album of the year. Braid’s No Coast is a f***ing deliriously awesome return after 16 years of relative dormancy, accomplishing with its first breath exactly what Weezer never could since Pinkerton…
14. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lose
What 15 year old me would hypothetically look forward to 10 years later. Elegant in composition but frayed and fuzzy around the edges enough to ooze and spill over with reckless, angsty abandon. I wish I were a teenager again (not really).
13. Mike Adams at his Honest Weight – Best of Boiler Room Classics
On the shortlist of America’s underrated gems.
12. The Juan Maclean – In A Dream
11. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
The product of a six year absence that saw Lewis suffer through an avalanche of personal struggles and the frustrations of creative exhaustion, The Voyager is the exact reaffirming statement the former Rilo Kiley front-woman needed to deliver, establishing that, beneath those signature moments of wry levity or introspective uncertainty, she has never once lost the honesty of her craft.
10. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
Pop stardom, by its nature, is an image driven affair to the extent that the individual behind the extravagant, outlandishly sculpted persona is a mere vessel for the world to consume and digest before any lingering flavor is lost. Originality just isn’t the point when entertainment is on the line. Enter Lizzy Grant, the living, breathing embodiment of the fatalistic chanteuse known as Lana Del Rey. The concept of the morose starlet existing within a world of old money malaise and empty bottles of bourbon idling by the pool brought to you by the wonders of technicolor was present for Born To Die, but, you had to cut through so much distracting, extraneous crap to catch the hint. However, Ultraviolence is the unadulterated front row seat to Grant’s completed metamorphosis into the tragic legend her alter ego aspires to assume. The conventions of Top 40 song structures and pop formulas are present, but aren’t treated as dogmatic prescriptions that blindly cater to popular music sensibilities, which allows Grant/Del Rey to commit to the persona with somber, resolute determination. This version of Del Rey is unequivocally one-dimensional, but, rather than becoming stale over the course of 60 or so minutes, we see the results of a pop vision becoming fully realized.
9. Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo
8. Spoon – They Want My Soul
7. Run The Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Still catching my breath on this one, but Killer Mike and EL-P are once again outspoken and well spoken, proving that they are the most important voices on the scene today.
6. Fennec – Let your Heart Break
The best thing you may not heard this year will turn into one of the best things you know you’ve heard this year.
5. Burial – Rival Dealer
I’m sorta breaking two rules here. One: Rival Dealer is not a 2014 record (its release was in December of 2013). Two: it’s an EP. But, but, but, given that my best of 2013 list had already been published (via Facebook) by the time Rival Dealer hit the streets, I just lumped in into the class of 2014. As for its nature as as an EP., well, to hell with that. Rival dealer plays like a full length record that includes two dazzling, adrenaline guzzling ~10-13 minute cuts. the blast radius of it’s 28 minute existence sears through vast seedy, urban underbellies and pierces right through to a deep, limitless void for but mere moments, leaving nerves shattered and senses blurred, blunted, and disoriented.
4. Swans – To Be Kind
Not an easy listen. But, if you can challenge yourself to commit to it from start to finish, preferably alone, in the dark, with a hi-fi sound system, and with the attention and respect this two disc recording commands, the experience will be one of the most rewarding you’ll encounter.
I don’t think I can write anything for these next three albums that won’t sound trivial, banal, or not to the complex depths that these records deserve. So, I’m just leaving links to the full albums instead.
3. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
2. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Pinata
1. Sun Kil Moon – Benji