Now that it's almost February, I assume everyone has already read all the best-of-the-year lists that matter to them. So here's one that won't. These are the best records I heard that came out in 2014.
Ben Frost - A U R O R A
I honestly really didn't know anything about Ben Frost and hadn't heard his earlier stuff, but this is a magical concoction of computerized and percussion-heavy experimental electronics that takes me back to the days of playing shows with fellow laptop jockeys and industrial car-part-smashers. It's a varied, rich, and constantly surprising piece of work, and it has Thor Harris on it too!
I've seen St. Vincent, and I've heard pretty much all of her albums, but this was the first one to really catch my ear. This is the kind of art rock that people like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush used to do — accessible but genuinely attempting to go places. She's also the kind of guitar player who's super talented but intriguing, not shreddy.
Scott Walker and SunnO))) - Soused
As Scott Walker gets increasingly prolific in his old age, it's starting to be apparent that he's actually got a pretty in-tune sense of humor. On paper, Walker with Sunn is the Lou Reed/Metallica album that actually works. In practice, it's basically a Scott Walker album with guitars, and that's just fine.
SWANS - To Be Kind
The Seer was maybe the peak of Gira's output, ever. It was the realization of the promise that Swans are Dead teased us with just before he originally disbanded the group. The only thing wrong with To Be Kind is that it's not The Seer.
Sumerian Fleet - Just Pressure
I basically kind of started following Dark Entries records around the time I got super into the Minimal Wave catalog as well. That led me to their flagship release of 2014. This retro slice of Linn-driven heavy old-school EBM meets sparse synth-wave makes me think of the best of early 242, and it's immaculately produced.
Run the Jewels 2
It topped a lot of the pros' lists, and it's probably obvious why. The first RTJ was a cool side project, but the real potential of an El-P/Killer Mike collaboration opened up on the second one.
BLXPLTN - Black Cop Down
This is one of Austin's most exciting local bands, but they're not going to get the press that the mellower or more rockist indie groups will. They're a hardcore band with a drum pad. What a weird thing, but they're so fierce, catchy, and fist-in-the-air angry it's hard to deny the live show or the record.
Protomartyr - Under Color of Official Right
The first Protomartyr album was kind of out of nowhere, and doing the jagged Fall-inspired post-punk thing in Detroit is unexpected. But the production is better, the songs are tighter and darker, and Joe Casey's incredible lyrics are more audible on the second one. It's a mix of a realistic portrait of alcoholic depression, a lament for Detroit, and what Casey calls "bad dad songs" (one of which, "Bad Advice," is about Kwame). This, from "I Stare At Floors," sums up well:
The day comes
same as before
it goes on again
the television a concave window
lawyers and murderers
the Law's confusing, the Order makes no sense
Scratching the skin
Staring at walls, staring at floors
The plan today is not to die
The cure-all's always over ice
I listened to it every day for like 3 months and still can't get enough.
Fennesz, Aphex Twin, The Bug, FKA Twigs, and of course Shellac all put out solid albums this year that I enjoyed a lot.
Honorable Mention from 2013
Speaking of Minimal Wave, I also discovered Veronica Vasik's sub-label Cititrax and the act Kontravoid. He apparently used to be the live drummer for Crystal Castles but in any case his self-titled dark synthpop LP from 2013 got a lot of play from me as well.