Friday, January 5, 2001

McQ's Best Of 2014 Volume 1 - Best Of The Best

1. Palace - The Antlers
2. Goshen '97 - Strand Of Oaks
3. A Little God In My Hands - Swans
4. Jim Wise - Sun Kil Moon
5. Weight Of Love - The Black Keys
6. Blank Project - Neneh Cherry
7. History Eraser - Courtney Barnett
8. Today, More Than Any Other Day - Ought
9. Primitive - Real Estate
10. I Prefer Your Love - St. Vincent
11. Feel - Ty Segall
12. Do You - Spoon
13. New York Morning - Elbow
14. Chartjunk - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
15. An Ocean In Between The Waves - The War On Drugs
16. 3Jane - EMA
17. Palace - Wild Beasts

Track List / Printable Mix & Year End Summary / Spotify /
McQ's Best Albums Of 2014

Best Of The Best 2013
Best Of The Best 2012
Best Of The Best 2011

About The Albums/Songs On This Mix:

Sun Kil Moon’s Benji (Spotify / Amazon / iTunes) is one of the two or three most impactful singer-songwriter albums I have ever heard. A classic of over sharing, it gives proof to the notion that the more personal an artist’s work is, the more universal it becomes. A deep meditation on childhood, family, sex, societal violence, and especially mortality, sole band member Mark Kozalek uses a horrifying family tragedy, the death of a distant second cousin due to an accidental aerosol can explosion (ironically, the same accident that killed her grandfather years earlier), to initiate his most thematically cohesive album to date. A raw, lyrically dominated work that sucks you in and is impossible to shake, it is my favorite record of 2014. The tragic Jim Wise represents here, and three other cuts, Dogs, Pray For Newtown, and the album's by comparison upbeat closer Ben's My Friend can be found on Volume 8 - Layin' It Bare.

Easily 2014’s best from a pure composition/production standpoint is Swans’ To Be Kind (Spotify / Amazon / iTunes). Picking up right where the band’s 2012 masterpiece The Seer left off, To Be Kind is another two-hour plus orchestral post-rock battering ram of an album, a little more rock this time out, but basically the same dark, punishing, bat-shit crazy stuff. For those like me with a taste for music completely outside the norm, there was no more exciting album in 2014. The way the band peppers their colossal, repetitive builds with all manner of deranged flourishes is extraordinary.  A Little God In My Hands is, as its Pitchfork review wryly noted, To Be Kind’s closest thing to a mainstream single, hence its inclusion here. I love the way the brass explosion in this song gets so comically sinister that, as The Needledrops Anthony Fantano suggested, you can almost envision a silent movie villain twirling his handlebar mustache. Two other tracks, the Tool-like opener Screen Shot and the colossal Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture, appear on Volume 6 - Post Rock Plus.

The War On Drugs Lost In The Dream (Spotify / Amazon / iTunes), by stated design, is a road album for the ages.  The aggregate critical consensus winner of 2014 album of the year, its sweeping, deeply layered, dreamy reimagining of the work of classic Dad Rock acts like Springsteen, Petty, Dylan, and Dire Straits is endlessly repeatable, and an unreal headphones listen. Pop in those ear buds, and like pond water under a microscope, thousands of previously unperceived details spring to life. An Ocean Between The Waves, with it's brilliant, never-want-it-to-end, closing jam, represents here.  Three other tracks from the record can be found throughout the rest of this mix collection.

St. Vincent’s  (Spotify / Amazon / iTunesaptly self-titled fourth effort is the best of my strong recommends, the record where all of singer-guitarist Annie Clark’s disparate, at-odds influences…her love for old time Disney songs, her love for Bowie, her love for gnarly punk guitar…finally cohere into a one magical, exciting…and very freaky…whole. No one song stands out as much as the peak songs on her first three albums, but taken collectively, this is without question her finest work. I Prefer Your Love, her potent reworking of Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares 2 U as a declaration of admiration for her mother, represents here. Two more tracks can be found on Volume 9 - Just Another Damn Indie Mix.

Courtney Barnett’s The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas (Spotify / Amazon / iTunesis a winning gathering of the lyrically talented Melbourne garage rocker’s early work. We profiled her hysterical single Avant Gardner from this album last year, but since I didn’t hear this compendium until 2014, I’ve included two more songs in this year's collection, History Eraser here, and David on Volume 4 - Coachella Starters.

Heal  (Spotify / Amazon / iTunesby Strand Of Oaks was 2014’s out-of-nowhere surprise, a charming, eclectic alt-country rocker from  one-time Indiana acoustic folkie Timothy Showalter. It’s got a few cheesy production touches, but by-and-large, its heartfelt take on music’s ability to help us through hard times has resulted in one of the 2014’s most endearing offerings. Its inspirational opener Goshen '97 appears here, and three other tracks, Shut In, JM, and Plymouth, make their way onto other mixes in this collection.

From uplift to despair, EMA’s The Future’s Void  (Spotify / Amazon / iTunesis a dark, soul-crushing dive into the bottomless pit that is today’s social media, and as the parent of a teenage daughter in the iPhone age, I find 3Jane - the album's first person account of a young woman losing all sense of self and self-esteem as she’s anonamously demonized on the internet - to be the year’s most horrifying song. Varied and at times explosive in a PJ Harvey way, it’s one of 2014’s most challenging and underrated albums.

Wild Beasts’ Present Tense  (Spotify / Amazon / iTunesis probably my least favorite of their last three releases, but the band is so good with their jazz-inflected 80s synth textures, and the vocal interplay between the operatic Hayden Thorpe and the gravitas-drenched Tom Fleming so compelling, that it’s still one of 2014’s best albums Their uplifting celebration of physical intimacy, Palace, closes this mix, and two more excellent tracks can be found on Volume 5 - Just Another Damn Electro-Pop Mix.

Spoon’s They Want My Soul (Spotify / Amazon / iTunes), on the other hand, is one my favorite releases in their discography…not as singles dominated as previous works, but a great front-to-back listen and funkier that most of their previous efforts save for maybe career best Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Hit single Do You stands in here, and two of the album's groovier tracks, Outlier and Rainy Taxi, can be found on Volume 9 - Just Another Damn Indie Mix.

Neneh Cherry’s collaboration with electronic producer Four Tet, Blank Project (Spotify / Amazon / iTunes), is my favorite of 2014’s many electro-soul offerings – pounding and insistent, it’s got an unusual, bare bones sound that is just so cool in its best moments. The quintessential title track represents here, and another great song from the album, the intriguingly chill Robyn collaboration Out Of The Black appears on Volume 5 - Just Another Damn Indie Mix.

The Antler’s Familiars (Spotify / Amazon / iTunes), adds a new wrinkle to the band's typically downbeat, Radiohead-ish music, drowning the band’s latest offering in pools of mournful old-world brass, to breathtaking affect. The gorgeous Palace, one of my three favorite tracks of the year, opens this year's collection, and another track, Revisisted, can be found on Volume 3 - Just Let It Flow.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks’ Wig Out At Jagbags (Spotify / Amazon / iTunesis far from the former Pavement front man’s strongest effort, but it does contain two super tracks, the wonderfully chill J Smoov, featured on Volume 3 – Just Let It Flow, and Chartjunk, a Blood, Sweat, and Tears-style throwaway I felt compelled to include here because basketball is such a huge part of my family’s life right now.

Though decent, I didn’t love The Black Keys’ Turn Blue (Amazon / iTunes), feeling this more psychedelic turn from the band to be a significant step down from previous two releases Brothers and El Camino, but its opening track, the Spaghetti Western/Dark Side Of The Moon mash-up Weight Of Love, is phenomenal. Another track, the classic rocker Gotta Get Away, appears on Volume 3 - Just Let It Flow.

I had strong thoughts of opening this mix with the title track from Montreal indie-outfit Ought’s laugh-out-loud-funny major label debut Today, More Than Any Other Day (Spotify / Amazon / iTunesbefore the idea of bookending this mix with songs of the same title finally won out, but anyone into spiky, paranoid indie who prefers their Talking Heads Fear Of Music-style is well-advised to check out this band. Another track, Habit, can be found on Volume 9 - Just Another Damn Indie Mix.

From paranoid to the utmost in pleasant, I found beachy dream-pop act Real Estate’s third release Atlas (Spotify / Amazon / iTunesto be, by a slight margin, their best.  Two tracks from the album are featured on Volume 3 – Just Let It Flow, and my favorite, the sweetly flowing Primitive, is featured here.

Feel come to us courtesy of San Francisco psych-rocker’s Ty Segall’s sprawling Manipulator (Amazon / iTunes), which finds the scorching guitarist finally cleaning up his production sound to widely varied results…but the album’s best moments…Feel here, It’s Over profiled on Volume 4 – Coachella Starters…offer truly incendiary jams.

Finally, always one of my favorite acts when it comes to combining experimentation with heart, Elbow decided to focus on just heart this time out, rendering latest release The Take Off And Landing Of Everything (Spotify / Amazon / iTunes) their most straightforward and, unfortunately, their least interesting work in some time.  But after twenty years together without a lineup change, the band is so accomplished that extraordinary moments can still be found, none more so than their touching love letter to New York City’s vibrant hustle and bustle, New York Morning. Real Life (Angel), one of the album's best ballads, appears on Volume 3 - Just Let It Flow.

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