The Null Device

Records of 2014

Once again, the year is almost over, so it's time to look back on the music of the past year; and so, here are the records of 2014 (in alphabetical order): Honourable mentions include: Aphex Twin - Syro (his long-awaited return from the wilderness, with a collection of twelve tracks—apparently the more approachable material he has been working on, with several discs of other things waiting in the wings—makes this 2014's m b v; the tracks, with their layers of analogue synthesizers, sequencers, beats and the odd processed sample bridge the gap to James' earlier works; they tend towards the busier end of his oeuvre, rather than the more ambient), The Drink - Company (BandCamp) (Dan and David from promising post-rock combo Fighting Kites hook up with vocalist Dearbhla Minogue (apparently from the Irish branch of the family). The result is a combination of angular post-punk guitar/bass, between Life Without Buildings and Future Of The Left with touches of Congolese groove here and there); the thing that stands out is the vocals, which eschew the untutored, melodically constrained shoutiness that has been a marque of authenticity since punk rock, in favour of a melodious soprano more reminiscent of traditional folk balladry; perhaps this is a hitherto unexplored side of the collapse of the equation of lo-fi with authenticity? In any case, the effect works), FourPlay String Quartet - This Machine (BandCamp) (their first album entirely of original compositions, without the covers they started their career doing; their compositions have always been good, and here they grow even more sophisticated, whilst still keeping their sense of humour; higlights include the Romany knees-up of Moon Over The Moldau, the vaguely Middle Eastern Anti-Occident (remember, this is a band whose first album was titled Catgut Ya Tongue?) and the driving Space Party Awesomeness), Future Islands - Singles (new-wave angularity with “soulful” vocals vaguely reminiscent of Gnarls Barkley's cracked bluesman persona), Goat - Commune (freaky cosmic psychedelia, vaguely reminiscent of a more polished Amon Düül II), Hookworms - The Hum (psych-rock meets krautrock, done well; not too far from Wolf And Cub or The Assassinations), Momusmcclymont - Momusmcclymont II (Momus and David McClymont's second collaboration, combining funky grooves and sardonic wit, not to mention their anthem to the birth of the independent Nordic-socialist Scotland that was not to be, Yes), Mr. Twin Sister, s/t (having prepended the "Mr." to their name, the band formerly known as Twin Sister ramp the smooth maximalism up, going between deep house and late-1980s R&B; highlights include opener Sensitive, which goes from dreamlike arpeggios to a slow-jam like something Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis could have produced around 1989, and the Underworld-esque propulsive techno of Twelve Angels), My Favorite - Second Empire/Dance With A Stranger (only a 2-track single, and not strictly the original My Favorite—Andrea's still nowhere to be heard, which may be a dealbreaker for some fans—but a promising comeback; very much in a synthpop vein, with Michael Grace Jr. wearing his world-weariness with panache), My Sad Captains - Best Of Times (the Captains' latest record sees them perfecting their mix of pastoral laconicism and motorik repetition, and even getting funky at one point), Geoffrey O'Connor - Fan Fiction (the themes of glamour and desire are similar to Vanity Is Forever, but the yacht-rock trappings are replaced with Pet Shop Boys-esque synthpop stylings, and O'Connor comes across as less of a seducer and more of an observer who, were he not so discreet, would have explosive stories to tell), Samaris - Silkidrangar (the Icelandic trio's second album, combining sparse, chilled electronics with lyrics from Icelandic poetry, and building on their self-titled début last year), Spearmint- News From Nowhere (the veteran indie band's return sees their songwriting take on more mature themes, with wistful reflections on what could have romantically been replaced by pieces on vegetarianism, environmental degradation and the failures of past idealisms), Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong - Savage Imagination (1990s Shibuya-kei star Minekawa is best known for kawaii pop songs like indiekid mixtape favourite Fantastic Cat; her return, made in collaboration with Dustin Wong (formerly of Ponytail and Ecstatic Sunshine) is a glorious katamari of joyous melody, with track titles like Pale Tone Wifi and Dioramasaurus), Woman's Hour - Conversations (possibly the smoothest indie record released this year; late-80s digital synths and a Berlin-meets-Sadé vibe). And, as far as rereleases go, the standout title would be St. Christopher's omnibus retrospective, Forevermore Starts Here.

The album of the year is, of course, Taylor Swift's 1989, but were it not, it'd be Jane Weaver's The Silver Globe.

As far as the gigs of the year go, the highlight would be a tie between the Slowdive gigs I saw; they were all great, but I'd say either the very first one at Hoxton Bar (for the “I'm watching Slowdive play live!!” factor), the one at Primavera, for its epic scale and energy, or the very last one at the Forum (by when they had had half a year of live gigs under their belt and some appropriately psychedelic visual projections to boot); they were all magnificent. I'll just say that watching them play what their cover of Syd Barrett's Golden Hair has grown into—a sonic cathedral of coruscating majesty—is the musical equivalent of watching the most breathtaking sunset one has ever seen, until its very last rays disappear below the horizon into the velvet night.

This, of course, is a very hard act to follow, but the very strong runner-up was seeing Loney Dear play with the 22-piece Norrbotten chamber orchestra in the north of Sweden (I caught the first two dates of their tour, in Luleå and Haparanda). They played a raft of new songs and a few familiar ones (though Loney Dear's songs tend to evolve as he plays with them; Harsh Words, for example, has since grown an intro of analogue white-noise percussion). The orchestral arrangements worked really well as well; they were good, without being too pretty. Honourable mentions would probably be the Icelandic post-rock band For A Minor Reflection, seen at ATP Iceland, the FourPlay String Quartet soundtracking Neil Gaiman's The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountain at the Barbican, and Ben Frost, seen at St. John's Church in Hackney.

For your listening pleasure and/or curiosity, there is a streamable mix taken from the records mentioned above here.

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