Like any good lover of music, our tastes at Nextbop are wide. Some overlap, some shape others in regard to genre, but there’s a lot of music released this year that we love and are taking the chance to point out to you that are great even if they don’t necessarily swing or even fit out in the fringe of jazz. Here’s our favorite releases of everything else from 2014.
10. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time! (Olsen Records)
What a delicious fondue pot of a record this is: lounge disco, 80s TV themes, funky marimba, Bryan Ferry ballads, and more all slathered in a thick layer of cheese so guilty it must be good. Here’s hoping the Swedish producer doesn’t take another 6 years to serve up another.
9. Teebs – E S T A R A (Brainfeeder)
Mtendere Mandowa doesn’t just have a signature sound, or a signature trope in his visual art — most recently with his numerous paintings over album covers, Ante Vos, which he debuted around the same time as this album’s release — Teebs has a signature essence. The colorful swirls so frequent in his paints seem to find their way into his music. E S T A R A, his sophomore album if we’re not counting 2011’s Collections 01, takes this superchill blended musical hibiscus into an electronic album that gels so smoothly.
7 tie. Merchandise – After the End (4AD)
As far as musical bait-and-switch maneuvers, Merchandise’s flip form post-punk upstarts to new-wave revivalists may be among the most novel. Maybe the band had a revelation over a couple Echo & the Bunnymen records. Or perhaps lead singer realized he pulled off a much more convincing Morrissey than Keith Morris. Either way, as bait-and-switches go: After the End is the equivalent of buying a Nissan Altima and getting a Bentley (or maybe a Delorean in this case). Song-for-song, it’s the best pop record of the year, and may have even been the most popular if the year were 1985.
7 tie. Real Estate – Atlas (Domino)
The word “pleasant” has an uneasy sheen to it, the ultimate of coin flips between the interesting and the banal. Pleasant can be so unassuming that it’s ultimately forgettable. Yet sometimes, pleasant can mean so darn nice, breezy, and catchy that you want to revisit it over and over again because they’re just so pleasant you can’t deny them. Ridgewood, New Jersey’s Real Estate strongly encapsulate either sides of this notion for most people, and in their latest album, they’ve only proved this notion even stronger than before.
5 tie. Spoon – They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
Spoon didn’t need to call it a comeback, but They Want My Soul sounds like it’s out to prove something. Maybe they were looking to flush out the stagnation some sensed on 2010’s Transference. It’s returns the band to it’s unstoppable run of mid-2000s classics. 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga might be the best reference point, both in its lean and mean 10-track construction and in how every track could conceivably work as a single. Then there’s the cherry bomb on top, “Inside Out”, a synthy, hip-hop inflected jam whose new direction signals promising signs that stagnation is a long ways off for these guys.
5 tie. Mndsgn – Yawn Zen (Stones Throw)
It’s hard not to hear some song off Yawn Zen and not want to dive even deeper into the album. In his latest release, Ringgo Ancheta has made what is essentially an electronic R&B album. the beats are charming and hypnotic, and Ancheta’s vocals are a smooth baritone that lilt throughout his songs exactly where needed. It’s not hard to love Mndsgn, and with Yawn Zen, that was kind of the point.
3 tie. Killer Mike & El-P – Run the Jewels II (Mass Appeal Records)
We should have seen this coming. Killer Mike and El-P haven’t collaborated now 3 times before, delivering knockouts each time. But Run the Jewels 2 funnels all the best parts from those projects–the fuck-all aggression of Run the JewelsR.A.P. Music‘s back half, the proggy, left-turn beats of Cancer 4 Cure–distilling them into something much more potent. From the bulldozer opening run from “Jeopardy” through “Close Your Eyes”, to the poignant commentary of “Early”, the pair never let up. Hip-hop needed a definitive statement this year: El and Mike delivered.
3 tie. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! (Warp)
Did you ever wish Flying Lotus would have taken the last song of Cosmogramma, “Galaxy in Janaki”, and expanded that vibe into a whole album? This may be as close to such a work as we’re going to get, but mixing a mostly jazz fusion album with a bevy of legit jazz musicians, most prominently Herbie Hancock and the constant collaborator Thundercat on bass, with his rap alter ego Captain Murphy, ambient vibes, and numerous other influences in what is ultimately Steve Ellison’s contemplations about the moment and transition into death makes for a jam-packed almost 40 minutes that, as typical for a FlyLo album, is stronger as the the sum of its parts but works as individual songs in lush, mindbending ways that are as introspective as they are head nodding.
2. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal/Parkay Quarts – Content Nausea (What’s Your Rupture)
Something about this band feels anachronistic. They’re stealing from older rock conventions but doing so better than anyone else right now. They’re expressive in their instruments like jazz when they want, or short and sweet like punk. Even their one-offs are gems worth considering in the same breath. Parquet Courts, through being so adept at not just how rock music works but simply at how music works, have released the most interesting, satisfying, ensnaring, enjoyable music this year.
1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)
In a good number of interviews leading up to the release of Lost in the Dream, band mastermind Adam Granduciel not so subtly hinted that he almost went crazy making Lost in the Dream. And careful listening of the record’s 10 tracks do reveal Brian Wilson-worthy levels of obsession with details. But however much the recording evoked Pet Sounds, the resulting album hews closer to the freewheeling Americana of Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes. Like that record, the best moments come in the little flourishes: the way the sax emerges from the lush backdrop of “Eyes to the Wind”, how the harmony vocal Granduciel adds to “Can you release me from this heart again?” elevates the track to Sprinsteenian heights. Lost in the Dream is an epic in every obsessive sense of the term, and we’re all the better off for Granduciel’s madness in making it.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.