This week, I’ve been listing my 41 favorite new release albums of 2014, and we’re nearly to the end of that list.
Today, we’ll count down from 10 to 6, and I’ll complete the countdown tomorrow
10) Weeknight —Post-Everything This is the astonishing debut record by the Brooklyn shoegazey synth-pop duo. Andy Simmons and Holly MacGibbon met a few years ago while they were both doing theatre. He was an actor and she a dancer. They realized that they had a lot in common, and at some point, they decided to form a band. Originally, they were in some massive seven-piece thing that neither of them liked very much, and soon after, they decided that it was much better if it was just the two of them. I don’t know the exact timeline of events, but they also became a couple at some point. That’s not really important, but what is important is that they’ve made a very good synth-laden “dark pop” album with lots of shoegaze flavor. And it’s one of the sexiest records I’ve heard in a while. I mean, it’s oozing with and radiating sexy sex. Imagine some mixture of The XX and one of my favorites from last year, Houses. It’s their coed harmonies, the pulsing rhythm, the perfect mix of light and dark textures. It’s a really special record that ought to be enjoyed from front to back, and then back to the front. The album was released in March via Artificial Records, which is a tiny sublabel of the Toronto-based boutique label Hand Drawn Dracula. Click on the album artwork above to go to the Hand Drawn web store, where you’ll have to scroll down just a bit.
Also, enjoy this video for “Dark Night”
9) Strata Florida —Made of Stars This is, by far, my sentimental favorite album of the year. It seems like every year, my year-end list prominently features an album that was eagerly anticipated for ten or more years. This is sort of that way. I wouldn’t say that I was “anticipating” this album for 20 years, but I’ve been “hoping for” this album, and it sort of fell from the sky. Strata Florida is the new dream-pop/shoegaze project from Louise Trehy, who is now based in Wales. Back in the early 90s, she was half of the fantastic, but short-lived band Swallow. Their only album —Blow— was one of my top five favorite albums of 1992, and I still listen to it a bunch. The band was also a romantic partnership, and when that aspect of it went south, the band dissolved. They were on 4AD right around the time that things started to get weird over there, and that may have also had something to do with the band breaking up. After that, Trehy dropped out of music altogether. Without a trace. I would often wonder what ever happened to her, and I finally got the answer back in March of 2013. I got an unbidden email from Trehy thanking me for the words I wrote about Swallow and to tell me that after a long hiatus, she was making her way back into the business of making music. It was a pleasant surprise, and it got me very excited about the prospect of a new album. I was even more excited when I found out weeks later that she had been signed to Saint Marie Records. They’ve been, for the last two years, my favorite label. If you’re keeping score at home, this is the sixth SMR album in the countdown, and there’s still one more to come later.
Strata Florida, by the way, is an English corruption of the Welsh name of an abbey. It’s called Ystrad Fflur, which translates to “Valley of Flowers”. Fflur is also the name of a river that runs through there. Trehy has been living in Wales for a while after moving from London, and she’s been embracing the Welsh culture.
During the post-hiatus creative process, Trehy had to learn to use gear that she never had to use before, guitar tunings that she never had to deal with before, and most importantly, she had to find the right person to work with. After some trial and error, she found Pete Pavli, who is a classically trained cello player, and a former occasional member of Hawkwind. They worked together nicely, and in March of this year, they finally released the debut Strata Florida album via Saint Marie. Click on the album artwork above to go to the SMR web store. Also, enjoy this song:
8) MONO —The Last Dawn The legendary Tokyo instrumental post-rock icons simultaneously released their “twin” albums (their seventh and eighth studio albums) this autumn. They’re very different from each other. Rays of Darkness is heavy and dark, for the most part. It also features some guest vocals on one of the four tracks. Not regular vocals though. It’s some guy from a black metal band, so he does that black metal “cookie monster” thing. It’s so off-putting to me, that it dropped that album many many spots on my list. This album is what you expect from Mono. It’s lush, sweeping, cinematic stuff. It gets really enormously big in some parts and quiet as a mouse’s wristwatch in other bits. The only thing that’s different about this new Mono album (both of them) is that they didn’t bring in an orchestra of stringed instruments. I thought that I would miss that stuff, but I don’t.
You might remember that their 2012 album For My Parents was my overall favorite album of 2012, thanks in no small part to the fact that they absolutely blew my mind when I saw them live. When the announcement came that Mono would have two new albums this year, I automatically assumed that both would end up in my top ten, but Rays of Darkness was weighed down by that cookie monster stuff. Seriously. If not for that, Rays of Darkness would also be here in my top ten.
Click on the album artwork above to go to the Temporary Residence web store. Also, enjoy this song:
7) Allo Darlin’ —We Come From The Same Place This is the third album from the Aussie/English indie-pop/twee/c-86 revival band, and I think it’s their best work yet. They broke through in 2012 with their sophomore album Europe, which ended up being my eleventh favorite album of that year. I’ve always said that this band makes me think of The Lucksmiths. There’s so much clever writing and crafty insertion of jangly guitars and prudent use of ukulele to make songs about broken hearts sound like happy songs. There’s a lot of great one-liners in these clever lyrics, and there’s as many memorable guitar hooks and back-and-forth coed vocal parts. I significant portion of my collection and a significant portion of this list is heavy, broody stuff, and this definitely isn’t that. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood if you’re listening to this album. And you should listen to it a lot.
For North American listeners, click on the album artwork above to go to the Slumberland Records web shop. Also, enjoy this video of the band playing the title track for KEXP:
6) Jessica Lea Mayfield —Made My Head Sing This is the third album by the folk/indie-rock/country singer from Kent, Ohio. She grew up singing in a family band, was homeschooled, and learned to play guitar from her older brother David When he realized how good she was, he got a demo tape into the hands of Black Keys guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach, who made some things happen for her. After about two years in Auerbach’s studio, she ended up releasing her debut solo record when she was just 19 years old. Her second record –2011’s country-flavoured Tell Me was my twelfth favorite non-Canadian album of 2011, and it probably should have finished higher on that list. Her new record this year, which was released in February via ATO Records, is quite different. It’s much harder to hear any country influence or taste any of that flavor. This is a rock record that’s clearly inspired by 90s grunge rock. In April, I wrote about the song “I Wanna Love You”, and I had this to say about the album:
This new album goes in a completely different and wonderful direction. There are elements of punk, sludge-rock, 1990s-style grunge, and lots more. She didn’t abandon the folk sound altogether; it’s still there, but it’s buried deep in the genetic makeup of this album. This record is broad and bold and has big, sharp teeth. Big, sharp, cuddly teeth. Less jangle, more fuzz.
I’ve spent a ton of time with this album, and it never ceases to amaze me. She’s still only 25 years old and she should have a tremendous career with nothing but blue skies ahead of her.
Click on the album artwork above to go to the web store. Also, enjoy this video for “No Fun”
That’s it for today. We’re down to the final five, which I’ll post some time Saturday afternoon.
Remember to buy all of these records. Buy them in physical format. Support record labels. support local shops.