I didn’t do this last year, did I? Well, I meant to,* but instead evidently concluded it was a good idea to let this blog lapse a bit longer instead. Here, though, is what I’ve liked most this year:
Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness
Sometimes records that are very diverse don’t fully cohere for me, but there’s a really nice consistency in Julia Holter’s record that means that torch songs sung late at night in smoky Berlin basement bars (‘How Long?’) sit beside jaunty tunes (‘Everytime Boots’) without any clash. A certain lushness and theatricality of tone ties it all together; ‘Vasquez’, a song about a bandit, and ‘Lucette Stranded on the Island’, about a murder, are the standouts, but what I liked best about this record — and what makes it my album of the year — is that as I’m enjoying listening to each track, I’m also excited to hear the one that follows.
Also, and in no particular order:
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
Björk – Vulnicura
People are always talking about a ‘return to form’ for artists who’ve been around a long time, and I don’t really hold with that, but this is probably the most consistently listenable Björk album in well over a decade.
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
It is great to have Sleater-Kinney back. That is all.
Vet Cong – Viet Cong
Holly Herndon – Platform
Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress
Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
‘Eeh,’ said one of the 6Music DJs after playing ‘No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross’ on the radio one daytime, ‘doesn’t that make you just feel all warm and fuzzy?’ No! This is one of the most sweetly depressing records ever.
Most disappointing release of the year for me was probably Modest Mouse’s Strangers to Ourselves, which manages to be half-baked and rather too long.
Clear standout for me this year is the closing track on Joanna Newsom’s Divers, ‘Time, as a Symptom’, in which her way with words, her unmistakable delivery and the music itself all go together to an effect that is more than just intellectually interesting (my usual response to Newsom’s work) but emotionally affecting too. It’s the first time really that she’s spoken to my heart as well as to my head — I feel like I could listen to this every day and never tire of it.
Honorable mention for Roisin Murphy’s ‘Gone Fishing’. Hairless Toys is a funny old record, and not really a very good one, I don’t think, but both this and ‘Exploitation’ are subtly catchy tracks I found myself seeking out for relistening a lot over the year.
I saw a bunch of really good gigs this year, but Chelsea Wolfe’s hypnotic and pulverising show at Islington Assembly Hall, London in November and an explosive live show by Young Fathers at the Williamsburg Hall of Music, New York were the standouts. Honorable mentions here for the New York Terminal 5 gig I saw on Sleater-Kinney’s comeback tour in February, and a terrific Deerhunter show, also in November, which just about compensated for my having to go to Shepherds Bush Empire, long my least favourite big venue in London.
*I would’ve noted EMA, Fucked Up, Liars, Swans, St Vincent and Hookworms as having made my favourite albums of 2014, and ‘Queen’ by Perfume Genius and ‘Two Weeks’ by FKA Twigs as my favourite songs.