Less Is More - Iron's 2014

This year, I will try to listen to less music more. That is, I won't go out of my way to hear and list every possible album I sort of dig on the first spin, and the ones I do include I aim to know thoroughly. A lot of the albums I include tentatively will probably get deleted, too. Without further preamble, interesting albums in no particular order:

Created by: IronAngel | 26.03.2014

1. Owen Pallett - In Conflict (Art Pop/Chamber Pop. Owen still can't sing, and he's still the most innovative violinist in popular music (as much as I love you, Warren Ellis). Apart from the magic he conjures from the violin, he is also incredible at writing vocal melodies and harmonies. This album takes even further the rich, electronic sound of Heartland, giving greater scope to synths and drums. In The Riverbed, he also wrote his heaviest, almost industrial song. I miss the organic feel of his albums under the Final Fantasy moniker, and I wish he'd get a really skilled vocalist, but this album is magical. 4/5.)
2. Menace Ruine - Venus Armata (Drone Metal/Neofolk. Beautiful, haunting, comforting, melancholy, and occasionally menacing. The concept of blending drone, doomy riffs and neofolk with medieval flavor and a Nicoesque singer is delicious on paper, but Menace Ruine transcend the sum of their parts to be something greater. They are consistently good, and this album is right up there with The Die Is Cast and Alight in Ashes. Possible track of the year: Red Sulphur. 4/5.)
3. Pallbearer - Foundations Of Burden (Epicish Traditional Doom. In line with the high expectations set by the debut. The production is better, lending emotional punch to the guitar leads. That's important, because riffs are what the band really excel at. From the opening riff to the breathtaking The Ghost I Used to Be, this is just good doom songwriting through and through. 3,5/5.)
4. Jenny Hval & Susanna - Meshes of Voice (Art Pop/Experimental. A great blend of creepy/dreamy folk and drone. Susanna's darker and softer voice complements Jenny's sharp wail, and overall the two artists' style is similar enough to produce a coherent album. Not quite as strong as Jenny Hval's solo work, but there are some chilling highlights. 3,5/5.)
5. Tuomas Henrikin Jeesuksen Kristuksen Bändi - Käkkyrällään (Alternative/Art Rock/Punk. The band is at times lyrically ridiculous and musically awkward or plain crazy, and at first time's difficult to take them seriously. But the more I listen to them, the more they grow on me, and I can't help but feel they have captured something profound about music in their naivety. They can go from heartfelt to ironic to angry in an instant. For a great example, see the melancholic and tender Titityy followed by the massive post-rock build-up of Oksat pois. 3,5/5.)
6. Kayo Dot - Coffins On Io (Progressive/Experimental Rock. One of the biggest surprises of the year. Kayo Dot have made their softest, most accessible album to date, and it is one of their most interesting. A spacey smooth sound and vocal melodies that are somehow off, but captivating. I really liked Hubardo, but this one takes the cake at least in terms of consistency. 3,5/5.)
7. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Pika Pika Fantajin (J-Pop. Infectiously catchy and extremely well-produced, the album more or less repeats the formula of her previous albums. Some filler, some smash hits, and something in-between. There aren't quite as many really good songs as on Nanda Collection, and Ring A Bell is truly grating, but overall there's little dip in quality. Key track: Yumeno Hajima Ring Ring. 3,5/5.)
8. Gates - Bloom & Breathe (Post-Rock/Emo. Gorgeous, bombastic post-rock married with big emo melodies. Possibly the most uplifting and one of the most heartfelt albums of the year. 3,5/5.)
9. Birds of Passage - This Kindly Slumber (Ambient (pop). Alicia Merz is the other half of Brother Sun, Sister Moon whose debut I enjoyed in 2012. (She has previous solo albums too, but I haven't heard them yet.) Unlike that album, This Kindly Slumber is gloomy and frail to the point of spooky. Sighing vocals echo over very sparse and minimal backgrounds. There's plenty of such Grouper-like hazy, folky stuff floating about, but rarely does it have the gravitas and simple effectiveness of this haunting album. 3,5/5.)
10. Francis Harris - Minutes of Sleep (Ambient/Microhouse. Ambient soundscapes punctuated by drum tracks and some electronic and jazzy elements. There is a cello line in the first track that reminds me very much of Silent Hill and sets the tone for the album: not the creepy industrial horror but the beautiful melancholy of the soundtracks, of radio broadcasts piercing through white noise, faded photographs on the dresser, fog rolling over empty streets. 3,5/5.)
11. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything (Post-Rock/Artsy Noise Rock. If you still had your doubts, this album demonstrates Silver Mt. Zion isn't a GY!BE spinoff. The instrumentation is the kind of cacophonic post-rock you'd expect from these guys, and the almost-punk vocals add an element of urgency and frustration that makes it distinctive. The album is a very intense listen, and the experience is crowned by the slow and beautiful What We Loved Was Not Enough amid all the noise. 3,5/5.)
12. Have A Nice Life - The Unnatural World (Lo-Fi/Post-Punk/Shoegaze/Drone. Six years after the cult classic Deathconsciousness, the duo is back with a less ambitious, more coherent album of drony, dark post-punk. The intentionally poor production works most of the time, and the best songs (like the opener) are really good, but there is some mediocre material too. 3,5/5.)
13. Nadja - Queller (Shoegaze/Drone Metal. Nadja's discography is spotty, but they keep coming back with major albums that prove they're worth following. Queller is one such album. Sleepy vocals, warm and fuzzy guitar/bass sound, this is perhaps closer to (really slow) shoegaze than drone. The aesthetic has something in common with Desire In Uneasiness, but Queller is much more melodic. 3,5/5.)
14. Mirel Wagner - When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day (Singer-Songwriter/Folk/Blues. Like the debut, these are some seriously dark songs, conjured up solely through acoustic guitar and Mirel's earthy voice. It's mostly slow folk, but sometimes the chord progressions and the raw nakedness of it remind one of blues. As with the excellent debut, songwriting is consistently at least decent, with some really good highlights. With an album as short as this, the lack of diversity doesn't really matter - indeed, a faster song or some bigger instrumentation would have just broken the spell. Highlights: Ellipsis, Taller Than Trees. 3,5/5.)
15. Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Folk Metal/Black Metal. A very predictable album, but a very solid one at that. Sticking to their romantic, testosterone-infused anthems, they push all the right emotional and headbanging buttons without innovation. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! 3,5/5.)
16. Grouper - Ruins (Ambient/Singer-Songwriter. Sonically, this is Liz Harris' least ambient album. Flirting with conventional songwriting is nothing new to her, but this one is 100% piano. The melodies are minimalistic, looping in on themselves, reminiscent of modern composers like Nils Frahm. It is very soothing but somewhat lacking in diversity. The closing track, Made of Air, is the only exception, being a softly droning ambient piece. What the album lacks in texture and ambition it makes up for in beauty and memorable melody. 3,5/5.)
17. Sevendeaths - Concretè Misery (Progressive Electronic/Drone. Really good, spacey and cold music reminiscent of Phaedra/Rubycon-era Tangerine Dream, complemented with some pretty straightforward drone. The first track (Petrograde) is very representative and very good. The album is a bit on the short side. 3,5/5.)
18. Earth - Primitive And Deadly (Psychedelic Rock/Post-Rock. This has been hailed as a return to farm after the Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light albums. Certainly, it's more interesting than the second installation, but there's nothing as good as Old Black on the album. The opening track is very similar in its structure, revolving around and gradually building on a central motif - but the riff isn't as inspired. The heavier sound is a nice change, and the real highlight are Rabia Shaneen Qazi's guest vocals. It just feels the riffs aren't as original and memorable as Earth can do at their sharpest. Good stuff, but they can do better. 3,5/5.)
19. Siinai - Supermarket (Progressive Electronic/Krautrock. This shares the hypnotic beats and rich soundscapes of classic krautrock but lacks the hazy, psychedelic atmosphere. The progressive electronic elements I might compare to Stratosfear-era Tangerine Dream, when they started sounding lusher and employing more melody and richer instrumentation. Really good, sleek, memorable and, most of all, diverse album. 3,5/5.)
20. Darkspace - Dark Space III I (Atmospheric/Ambient Black Metal. There is something soothing and soft about Darkspace's brand of spacey, ambient black metal. Like wrapping yourself in the black velvet blanket of the night sky. The album is a little on the long side, but I could listen to the best riffs all day. 3,5/5.)
21. Mondkopf - Hadès (Electronic/Dark Ambient. A really impressive blend of electronic melodies, some industrial beats and dark ambient. Not only does it sound great, it's also fairly memorable, which is rare in the genre. 3,5/5.)
22. Swans - To Be Kind (Experimental Rock. No doubt the most overrated album of the year, but that's not to say it isn't impressive. There is something disturbing and depraved about its relentless grooves. Despite being heavy as fuck, it's not as monotonous or difficult to listen to as The Seer. It never matches the highlights of Soundtracks for the Blind, for example, but its remarkable consistency (something which SftB can't boast of) makes it one of the better Swans albums. 3,5/5.)
23. Tori Amos - Unrepentant Geraldines (Singer-Songwriter/Adult Contemporary. Sigh. Tori, oh Tori. Undoubtedly the most talented and unique female singer-songwriter along with Kate Bush, but she just can't seem to release a solid album nowadays. The best tracks here show she's absolutely still got it: Weatherman, Oysters and Invisible Boy are nearly as good as anything she ever did. But there are 14 songs on the album, and some of them are entirely average. Nonetheless, this is her best album in a while, possibly since Scarlet's Walk. 3,5/5.)
24. CunninLynguists - Strange Journey Volume Three (Hip Hop. There are a lot of guest appearances on this album, and it feels a bit like a mixed bag. It's not as good as Oneirology or A Piece of Strange, but those are some of the best hip hop albums ever, so... The beats and samples are still wonderful, evoke a dreamy atmosphere. 3,5/5.)
25. Moonface - City Wrecker (Singer-Songwriter/Piano Rock. An EP very much continuing where Julia With Blue Jeans On left off, it is mainly just a piano and Spencer Krug's heart-wrenching, soulful vocals. Gloomy and beautiful, but the songs aren't quite as strong as the highlights of last year's LP. 3,5/5.)
26. Orcas - Yearling (Dream Pop/Ambient. This is a good dream pop album with some ambient tracks. But after the fragile magic of the debut, I expected better. The vocals are much more prominent, as are drums. Though good tracks as such, Infinite Stillness and Half Light are just too in-your-face on an Orcas album. On its own merits, though, a very nice album. Key tracks: Capillaries, Filament. 3,5/5.)
27. Prawn - Kingfisher (Emo. In the same midwest emo style as Gates, but not quite as awesome. Upbeat, energetic, pretty music with some lush, post-rock-inspired arrangements. 3,5/5.)
28. Scandinavian Music Group - Terminal 2 (Art Pop/Rock. A change of style after three albums of warm country/folk, and their best album since the phenomenal Missä olet, Laila? The new sound harkens back to their cold and slightly electronic debut, with nods to 80s synth pop and AOR. Check out Ei paniikkia and Las Vegasin raunioilla. 3,5/5.)
29. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold (Folk Pop. They have become gradually poppier while their arrangements have grown more polished. While I miss the naked simplicity of their debut EP, there's something to be said for the lush soundscapes conjured here. The songwriting isn't on the level of The Lion's Roar, but their vocal harmonies are still like honey. 3,5/5.)
30. Hail Spirit Noir - Oi Magoi (Psychedelic/Progressive (Black) Metal. A more mature effort than the debut, but no less unique for it. I haven't listened to it much because I haven't been in the mood for this kind of stuff, but I can't in good conscience rate in any lower than the debut - it's just as good. 3,5/5.)
31. Einar Stray Orchestra - Politricks (Chamber Pop/Post-Rock. A disappointing sophomore album after the magnificent and fresh Chiaroscuro. Einar Stray sounds something like Sufjan Stevens meets Efterklang, with a dash of Sigur Rós and Dirty Three. Unfortunately, instead of pushing further the subtle and tasteful chamber post-rock of the debut, Politricks opts for cruder arrangements and a few very awkward moments ("the terrorist will hunt me down, the terrorist will kill your man" sung over very minimal instrumentation, doubling the cringe). With more emphasis on Einar's vocal melodies (or maybe it's the mixing), it also becomes apparent that he's not a very good singer. The compositions are still interesting and show real talent, but the presentation feels amateurish. As surprising a letdown as the debut was surprising a success. 3/5.)
32. Pilgrim - II: Void Worship (Traditional Doom. Meat and potatoes doom metal with no experimentation, psychedelia or genre-bending bullshit. Much like Reverend Bizarre, they've taken what they think is the essence of doom and distilled it of all contaminants. They're not as charismatic or memorable as some of their peers, but they are as doom as they come. 3/5.)
33. Sun Kil Moon - Benji (Contemporary Folk. Just another Mark Kozelek album, to be honest. I don't know how this album managed to get such big attention - the unpredictable tides of internet fame, perhaps - but it really isn't anything we haven't heard from Mark before. I personally found his collaborations with Desertshore and Jimmy LaValle last year more interesting than this, though Benji is better than Among The Leaves. Still nowhere near the glory of Ghosts of the Great Highway (even if, inexplicably, this has more votes on RYM than that one!?) or Red House Painters. Just a weary douchebag singing honest folk tunes about his fucked up life. I love him, but he could try harder musically. 3/5.)
34. Rome - Passage to Rhodesia (Neofolk. Pretty much what you've come to expect from Rome: lush and memorable neofolk with a martial industrial edge. Does not hold a candle to Rome's masterpieces, but Reuter's voice is a treat to listen to and the best tracks are really worthwhile (see: The Ballad of Red Flame Lily). 3/5.)
35. Lethe - When Dreams Become Nightmares (Electronic Rock/Trip-Rock. The closest comparison to this weird album would probably be the experimental era of The 3rd and The Mortal (something between Painting on Glass and In This Room) and the electronic era of The Gathering (more like Home in tone, more like Souvenirs in scope). Probably a little more abrasive and out-there than either of them, too. Lethe don't do this nearly as well as the aforementioned giants, but there's very little similar stuff out there and this is more than good enough to scratch that itch. 3/5.)
36. Tara Jane O'Neil - Where Shine New Lights (Dream Pop/Ambient Pop. There's a slowcore aesthetic to the swaying, wispy music of Tara Jane O'Neil, but it isn't really sad or gloomy. It is the musical equivalent of a languid summer afternoon on some meadow, dandelion seeds already sailing through the air. This album is the sunny counterpart to the Birds of Passage and Grouper albums, but not quite as impressive. 3/5.)
37. Black Swan Lane - A Moment of Happiness (Post-Punk/Dream Pop. The genre labels may be a little misleading, because the tone of the singer's voice and something about the mood and vocal melodies of the album remind me of the neofolk/martial industrial band Rome. Fans of later Antimatter would probably also dig this. Really unusual band, extremely polished and mature for how relatively unknown and original they are. 3/5.)
38. Chinawoman - Let's Part In Style (Art Pop/Slowcore. This is a weird one. It is skeletal, groovy and noir, with a firm electronic base but closer to post-punk than IDM. Spiritually and in terms of mood the album has something in common with Timber Timbre. 3/5.)
39. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Lo-Fi Singer-Songwriter/Indie Folk. Americana-influenced, gloomy lo-fi indie rock/folk. She's like a Cat Power or Waxahatchee playing what are, at their core, country songs. Occasionally boring, but the most painful tracks are quite devastating. Highlight: Unfucktheworld. 3/5.)
40. Aphex Twin - Syro (IDM. This feels like an incoherent exercise in nostalgia. If you really like Aphex Twin, you'll no doubt find the album enjoyable if not innovative. 3/5.)
41. Bohren & der Club of Gore - Piano Nights (Ambient Jazz. These guys are always good, and this is very much in line with their previous, sax-led smooth and nocturnal style. Nothing really caught my ear to make me want to play this in favor of Sunset Mission or Black Earth, though. 3/5.)
42. This Will Destroy You - Another Language (Post-Rock/Ambient. I like this better than Tunnel Blanket, their previous album. They've taken some of the ambient textures from that album and slapped on some of their good old-fashioned post-rock riffs on top. The synthesis works, stylistically, but does not make their songwriting really stand out in the genre. 3/5.)
43. Sage Francis - Copper Gone (Hip Hop. Good, witty lyricism - attempting to be a little more high-brown than the average rapper, I suppose. It gets a bit too melodramatic at times, though. It's not as lush as CunninLynguists, but the beats are similarly beautiful and atmospheric. 3/5.)
44. St. Vincent - St. Vincent (Art Pop. Jagged, angular and a little noisy. St. Vincent has taken cues from her recent collaboration with David Byrne, which shows in the beats and electronic elements. Stylistically, this is quite cool - Rattlesnake and Digital Witness [i]sound[/i] good - but much of the songwriting is just mediocre. On the other hand, Prince Johnny is by far the best composition on the album (and one of the best pop songs of the year), and its style is very vanilla. Not her strongest album. 3/5.)
45. Hundreds - Aftermath (Dream Pop/Indie Pop. A very pleasant if unmemorable listen. The singer reminds me of Dido, and the music could be hers if she was into the ambient/downtempo aesthetic. 3/5.)
46. Sharon Van Etten - Are We There (Contemporary Folk/Singer-Songwriter. Maybe it's me being apathetic about a lot of music this year, but this didn't seem as interesting as Tramp. Or maybe I overrated that one? Her voice is wonderful and there are some catchy melodies (Taking Chances) but there's no Give Out here, and the album doesn't really go anywhere. Competent and occasionally beautiful, but also boring. 3/5.)
47. Wijlen Wij - Coronachs Of The Ω (Funeral Doom. Within the parameters of the genre, this is beautiful and almost upbeat. Clean vocals, Skepticismesque organ, some light piano interludes etc. The songs are pretty mundane, but there are highlights (particularly Boreas, the opener) and the sound is nice. Solid funeral doom. 3/5.)
48. Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems (Singer-Songwriter. Solid Cohen, very little else to say about it. Some pleasant and inoffensive tunes, and a few really good ones. Samson in New Orleans, for one, shows that he can still write relevant and heartfelt music. 3/5.)
49. Snowbird - Moon (Dream Pop/Chamber Pop. The bassist of Cocteau Twins teamed up with a singer who sounds something like Elizabeth Fraser to record an album of lush, dreamy and beautifully arranged chamber pop. It could do with some weight or edge; it has none of the darkness of Cocteau Twins or brave determination of Talk Talk. A pleasant listen, though. 3/5.)
50. Mayhem - Esoteric Warfare (Black Metal. I like the suffocating sound, but the songwriting just isn't as good as on Ordo ad chao. It's also too relentlessly fast, with not enough room for atmosphere and juicy, drawn-out riffs. Enjoyable but not great. 3/5.)
51. Warpaint - Warpaint (Dream Pop/Trip Hop. A decent follow-up to the lauded 2010 debut. Their great sound is a recognizable blend of dream pop, trip hop beats and neo-psychedelia (of the Mazzy Star variety), but the songwriting isn't strong enough to carry through the whole album. 3/5.)
52. Keaton Henson - Romantic Works (Chamber Music/Impressionism. Pretty middle-of-the-road, melancholy chamber music revolving around the cello and the piano, with some ambient background textures. Pretty but forgettable. 3/5.)
53. BADBADNOTGOOD - III (Jazz Fusion. Some hip hop beats, nocturnal atmosphere and soulful melodies. The album is engaging and interesting. 3/5.)
54. Jess Williamson - Native State (Folk/Americana. Nice but pretty by-the-book country/bluegrass-tinged folk. She's got a nice voice, although it sounds like a dozen other americana singers. Check out Field, and Blood Song. 3/5.)
55. Kerkko Koskinen Kollektiivi - 2 (Art Pop. What a disappointment. Ironically, this both rocks harder and sounds more middle-aged than the debut. Kerkko Koskinen also sings a lot more, which he really should leave to the three women. Replacing the clear and sharp, crystal-like voice of Paula Vesala with Maija Vilkkumaa's husky and nasal whine did not improve their sound, but alas. The songwriting isn't as memorable, either. In every a step down from the really good debut. Barely a 3/5.)
56. The Wounded Kings - Consolamentum (Traditional Doom)
57. Current 93 - I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell (A Channel) (Neofolk/Avant-Folk)
58. Dirge - Hyperion (Atmospheric Sludge)
59. Thou - Heathen (Sludge/Doom)
60. Timber Timbre - Hot Dreams (Contemporary Folk)
61. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata (Hip Hop)
62. Christina Vantzou - No. 2 (Ambient/Modern Classical)
63. Teebs - E s t a r a (Ambient/Downtempo. Glitchy, pleasant, and BoC-inspired.)
64. Bvdub - I'll Only Break Your Heart (Ambient Techno/Pop)
65. Valentin Stip - Sigh (IDM/Microhouse)
66. Golden Retriever - Seer (Ambient/Progressive Electronic)
67. Krusseldorf - Fractal World (IDM/Downtempo)
68. David Andree & Josh Mason - Call, Response (Ambient)
69. Neneh Cherry - Blank Project (Art Pop/Jazzy R&B/Trip Hop)
70. Kangding Ray - Solens Arc (Minimal Techno)
71. Junius - Days Of The Fallen Sun (Post-Rock/Alt-Rock.)
72. Triptykon - Melana Chasmata (Thrash/Doom)
73. Wovenhand - Refractory Obdurate (Alt-Country/Psychedelic Folk Rock)
74. Joose Keskitalo - Ylösnousemus (Singer-Songwriter/Folk)
75. Blut Aus Nord - Triunity [Split] (With P.H.O.B.O.S. Industrial Black/Doom)
76. Fennesz - Bécs (Ambient/Electroacoustic)
77. Planning For Burial - Desideratum (Drone/Shoegaze)
78. Eyehategod - Eyehategod (Sludge)
79. Sólstafir - Ótta (Progressive Rock/Atmospheric Sludge)
80. A Winged Victory For The Sullen - Atomos (Ambient/Modern Classical)
81. YOB - Clearing The Path To Ascend (Doom/Sludge)
82. Today Is The Day - Animal Mother (Sludge/Noisecore.)
83. Godflesh - A World Lit Only By Fire (Industrial Sludge)
84. Sinoia Caves - Beyond The Black Rainbow OST (Progressive Electronic/Horror Synth)
85. Darren Korb - Transistor OST (Downtempo/Game Music)
86. Anaal Nathrakh - Desideratum (Industrial/Grindy Black Metal)
87. Sea Oleena - Shallow (Ambient Pop/Dream Pop)
88. Arcana Coelestia - Nomas (Blackened Funeral Doom)
89. Hauschka - Abandoned City (Modern Classical)
90. Her Name Is Calla - Navigator (Chamber Folk/Post-Rock)
91. The Meads Of Asphodel - The Middle Ages (Avantgarde Black Metal)
92. Emptiness - Nothing But The Whole (Experimental Death Metal)
93. Kairon; IRSE! - Ujubasajuba (Shoegaze)
94. Kiasmos - Kiasmos (Microhouse/Ambient Techno. Ólafur Arnalds is the other half of this group. Modern classical instrumentation and electronic beats. Chilly, pristine, evocative and even danceable.)

Disclaimer: All top lists are unofficial and do not represent the point of view of the MS Staff.
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Comments: 62   Visited by: 91 users
13.08.2014 - 18:39
Written by Boxcar Willy on 13.08.2014 at 16:05

Glad to see some love for Planning For Burial as well as Wreck & Reference. Two great Bay Area bands.

I thought the new Wreck & Reference was a little bit meh, tbh. I got to know them with the previous album, which was also a bit inconsistent. That seems to be their problem: some great, nasty bits intermingled with some confusing or meandering stuff. Need to give it a few more spins if I get the time, though. I like their style, it's just the songwriting isn't always up to snuff.
13.08.2014 - 19:10
Au Pays Natal
Written by IronAngel on 13.08.2014 at 18:39

I thought the new Wreck & Reference was a little bit meh,

Agreed 100% Their last album was better. I even tried the new 3 or 4 times, just didn't like it. Boring.

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