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Justin Pearson - A writer's best albums of 2014

by Justin Pearson Rating: Release Date:

It's that conflicted yet joyous time of year when we look back upon the releases that made us dance, sing, brood, contemplate, or just plain discuss with anyone willing to listen as we passionately share our thoughts on what constitute the best albums. After painstakingly weeding through a lot of gems from 2014, I've zeroed in on the ones that struck me as the brightest.

Here are my top 10 albums of the year in descending order:

1. Perfume Genius - Too Bright

Throwing caution to the wind in terms of style and lyrical content, Too Bright is a defining masterpiece in the Mike Hadreas catalogue. Equal parts beautiful, exciting, and daring, it's a shining example of what Hadreas is capable of when he's brutally honest and final proof that we can uncross our fingers with regard to his staying power.

Standout tracks: 'Queen', 'No Good' and 'Grid'

2. Caribou - Our Love

My first introduction to Dan Snaith, aka Caribou (one of his three monikers), and what an introduction it is. An album dealing with a fraught relationship as subject matter seems overdone, but Snaith manages to make it wholly original and appealing with its synths, techno beats, and gorgeous layering. He constructs a thoughtful reflection on love the way an architect would a house, and pure feeling is its foundation.

Standout tracks: 'Silver', 'Our Love' and 'Back Home'

3. Clark - Clark

Electronic musician Chris Clark's self-titled eighth album is another first for me. Clark is a thing of fractured beauty, its glacial-like iciness spanning the album's entire length. Each twisted turn of a beat or unexpected sound breaks it open like a crevasse; these are the moments where you fall into it, where the world it contains shines up from below and reveals itself to be cracked and crooked, yet somehow still seamless, with a warm gloss over it all.

Standout tracks: 'Winter Linn', 'Unfurla' and 'The Grit in the Pearl'

4. Grouper - Ruins

Her latest album under the name Grouper, the insular Ruins finds Liz Harris alone in a house with her piano and the natural sounds that surround her, be it a frog, a chorus of crickets, or the lonely beep of a microwave. Ruins is every bit as transfixing as it is cathartic, and it's a rare but welcome insight into her world as her past work is found mostly under a blanket of haze.

Standout tracks: 'Clearing', 'Call Across Rooms' and 'Holding'

5. Adult Jazz - Gist Is

Hailing from Leeds, UK, Adult Jazz have given us a splashing debut in the pool of modern music. It calls upon the experimentation of Dirty Projectors or perhaps even Grizzly Bear, but still maintains an exciting originality in the vein of those reveal-more-with-each-listen albums which are always a delight to discover and sink into with ears fully open.

Standout tracks: 'Am Gone', 'Donne Tongue' and 'Idiot Mantra'

6. Spoon - They Want My Soul

If the title of this album could have been decided by any one of the masses of Spoon fans, it might have been called We Want Their Soul, since it's abundantly clear they've still got one, and it haunts every track. The best of the 'Spoon sound' spills out right from the beginning and soaks all over before wringing it dry with a slight tweak in their musical direction. Besides being a great album, it also speaks to the vitality of this band. 

Standout tracks: 'Inside Out', 'Do You' and 'Outlier'

7. Ariel Pink - pom pom

The weirdo from LA has proven that he can take absurdity and turn it into well-crafted pop songs, especially on his last two albums with his band Haunted Graffiti. With his solo album, pom pom, he does it once more, turning in more bizarre tales of love, murder, a frog princess, and even Jell-O. It's damn catchy, and as loveable as the kid whose goof-off session during art class leads to the creation of an unintended masterpiece.

Standout tracks: 'Lipstick', 'Black Ballerina' and 'Picture Me Gone'

8. Arca - Xen

The debut album from Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi - aka Arca - is an entity that feels both organic and engineered, like a machine giving birth to a bionic progeny. It's a fascinating, futuristic experiment of electronica that exudes a not-of-this-world confusion, and trying to make sense of the chaos defeats the purpose. Just enjoy it.

Standout tracks: 'Now You Know', 'Xen' and 'Promise'

9. Sun Kil Moon - Benji

A landscape of nostalgia that's expansive in its intimacy, Benji sees frontman Mark Kozelek visiting his forlorn past to recount family deaths, first loves, and life lessons learned via his father, family friends and the elementary school playground. Embodying some of the sadcore elements he mastered during his Red House Painters stint in the 90s, Kozelek manages here to project melancholia, but never pure sadness. Benji is akin to watching an old home movie: the light from the projector is refracted by the beauty of the turning reel, and this is its defining sentiment.

Standout tracks: 'Dogs', 'I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same' and 'Ben's My Friend'

10. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Unburdening her woes through plaintive acoustic ballads, a classic rocker or two, and even a tinge of country, Angel Olsen delivers a consistent dose of relationship confessionals on her latest effort. Her vocals are raw and right at home within the world she creates on each track, culminating in a textured, varied tapestry of emotion.

Standout tracks: 'Hi-Five', 'White Fire' and 'Windows'

Comments (3)

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The Ariel Pink album is my fave from this list. Sexual Athletics is mental.

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Indeed. It puts a half smile, half smirk on your face. Definitely an artist to follow. I've been hooked since 2010s 'Before Today.'

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I've never been able to get into him before this, might have to check out his older stuff now.

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