7 ene. 2015

MAGNET’s Top 25 Albums Of 2014

 No está nada mal este resuen del año, y hay algunos discos que desconocia y me han gustaso, os la comparto.

MAGNET’s Top 25 Albums Of 2014

25. The Afghan Whigs | Do To The Beast (Sub Pop)
AfghanWhigsReunion albums suck. And reunion albums with only two original members plus hired hands and special guests really suck, right? Not always. Do To The Beast is the first Afghan Whigs album in 16 years, and features just singer Greg Dulli and bassist John Curley from their ’90s lineup. But it’s as vital as Congregation, Gentlemen or anything else from the halcyon days. The bruising guitar riffs of “Parked Outside,” “Matamoros” and “Royal Cream” prove the band’s swagger is seemingly inexhaustible. Beast is also an eclectic work, reflecting Dulli’s love for all things cinematic. “It Kills” and “Lost In The Woods” are darkly dramatic piano ballads. “Algiers” heads into spaghetti-Western territory. Throughout, Dulli finds new angles for his pet themes of obsessive love, Catholic guilt and deadly crimes. (“If my desire for your company/Made this motherfucker point his gun at me” is a pretty typical lyric.) The band subtly blends in its soul and hip-hop influences through the assertive strut of the rhythms and the alpha-male vulnerability in Dulli’s voice. While no period piece, Do To The Beast is lean and funky like a ’70s masterpiece, inspired equally by Bobby Womack and William Friedkin. —Michael Pelusi
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24. Ryan Adams | Ryan Adams (Pax Am)
RyanAdamsAlt-country, alt-pop, punk, rock, metal, blues, transformative covers, soundtrack-ready anthems— you never know what you’re gonna get with Ryan Adams, one of music’s most unpredictable polymaths. On this self-titled project, he settles into his sweet spot, like a power hitter waiting for a waist-high fastball down the middle, and goes yard. The album kicks off with a potent one-two combo: “Gimme Something Good,” with sharp, bluesy riffs and a vintage Tom Petty vibe (bolstered by founding Heartbreakers member Benmont Tench’s soulful organ), followed by the sparse, plaintive “Kim,” with Adams at his heartbroken best. As a singer/songwriter, he’s always put equal emphasis on both sides of the craft, with a knack for fashioning hooks you can’t easily shake off. Note the magic in the simplicity of “Am I Safe,” a melancholy strummer with a dark underbelly (“It’s complicated/I just don’t love you anymore/I just want to sit here and watch it burn”). Adams deserves a place among the best American songsmiths, in the tradition of Dylan and Springsteen. Maybe his genre-hopping makes him tough to pin down, or his mercurial personality leaves him feeling unknowable, hard to define. Of course, it’s the music that matters. Let this album stand as yet more evidence that he’s one of the greats. —Richard Rys
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23. Perfume Genius | Too Bright (Matador)
PerfumeGeniusTo those who waded through the oft-overwhelming melancholy of Perfume Genius’ last LP, 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It, the devastating one-two conclusion of “Floating Spit” into “Sister Song” might’ve sounded an awful lot like a coda to Mike Hadreas’ brief career, the sort of epilogue that it’s nearly impossible to conceive a sequel to. Funny, then, that less than two years later, Hadreas resurfaced with Too Bright. Aided by co-producers Geoff Barrow and John Parrish (whose combined credits include work with Portishead and PJ Harvey), Hadreas expands his sonic palette far beyond the spare, piano-driven style of his previous work, as he channels the best of both of the aforementioned, while elsewhere looking to Kate Bush and Scott Walker for inspiration—most audibly on striking, imagery-laden numbers “My Body” and “Longpig.” What results is truly masterful, challenging the notion that classic American songwriting must berooted in ’60s folk revivalism or ’80s indie jangle with the first truly great art-pop album of the decade. —Möhammad Choudhery
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22. Sloan | Commonwealth (Yep Roc)
Sloan If there were college courses for contemporary power pop, certain artists would inevitably appear on the syllabi. The Posies. Matthew Sweet. Teenage Fanclub. Weezer. Brendan Benson. And, most certainly, Sloan. To date, the Nova Scotians have released 11 albums over two decades with nary a dud in the mix. Quick, can you name one band with that kind of track record? Hell, even the Beatles had one clunker in their catalog. (Looking at you, Yellow Submarine.) Commonwealth maintains Sloan’s straight-A report card, and in a callback to a similar gambit by Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter, each band member claims a side on this double album. Fortunately, Commonwealth yields infinitely better results than the KISS solo albums. Ferguson and Murphy bring their usual guitar-pop goodness, dosing songs sweet as confectioner’s sugar with just the right amount of guitar squall, Pentland cranks the volume and dabbles in crunchy psychedelia, and drummer Scott closes with 18 minutes of sprawling weirdness, unwittingly creating the power-pop equivalent of Beastie Boys’ “B-Boy Bouillabaisse.” Which is to say, other than Scott’s contribution, Commonwealth sounds like a Sloan record. And really, isn’t that all you need to know? —Matt Ryan
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21. Lana Del Rey | Ultraviolence (Interscope)
LanaSubscribing to Lana Del Rey fandom means being down with variations on a particular character theme: the gutsy, 20-something sexual libertine with daddy issues who isn’t afraid to wreck a home or three. If 2012’s Born To Die paid tithes to hip hop’s conquering of popular music, then Ultraviolence dresses Del Rey’s anti-heroic straw women up in noir frocks that borrow liberally from various strains of gospel, country and rock—a rich pastiche of shoegazing, psychedelic guitar sighs, solemn organs, pianos that defer and flatter. Ultraviolence is fantastically and willfully out of step with modern culture and memes, spinning apart from the now—a series of black-and-white movies or short stories where tragedy lurks a few beats or notes beyond where each song ends. So, belly up to the bar for fried bliss-outs about shady, incorrigible beaus (“Shades Of Cool,” “Ultraviolence”), nightmare hippie/hipster girls (troll-bait single “Brooklyn Baby”) and slightly more grown-up iterations of the “li’l starlet” who reigned on Born (“The Other Woman”). Del Rey’s fine, husky voice melts sumptuously into what are essentially warm, organic torch songs; principal production by Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach results in a timeless sound that feels older than creation. Also, pro-tip: Do yourself a solid and forego the deluxe version. —Raymond Cummings
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20. Swans | To Be Kind (Drag City)
SwansBecause at the age of 60, Michael Gira still creates thunderous, hammering, complex music that beats the punk ass off any pack of young Turks in any given year. Because To Be Kind is another in a recent series of increasingly impressive multi-disc releases from the remade Swans that absolutely earns the extended format. Because Swans’ current personnel list is the tightest, most organic iteration of the band since the lineup that made Cop in 1984. Because that intuition and interplay makes the group sound like a single huge set of hands working a single huge instrument. Because Swans’ drummer’s honest-to-god name is “Thor.” But mostly because To Be Kind is the sort of record the mature Swans always had in them, and have been approaching more and more lately: a record that hits as hard as their brutal early work, but with a clear sense of control, and an intricate shapeliness, that makes the album as rewarding second-by-second as it is impressive as a unit. —Eric Waggoner
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19. Parquet Courts | Sunbathing Animal (What’s Your Rupture?/Mom + Pop)
ParquetSunbathing Animal arrived at a crucial time for Parquet Courts. Following the breakout success of Light Up Gold and preceding the new Content Nausea, the album finds the ever-restless quartet expanding into unexpected territories. Searching for a second coming of punk’s saviors? Look no further than the breakneck title track and “Ducking And Dodging,” which warp the Black Flag/Minor Threat headrush into workouts nearly four times the length of those pioneering bands’ outbursts. Early releases hinted at a more expressionist side to the band, and Sunbathing Animal’s true highlights are its unhurried moments. “She’s Rolling” starts with a lumbering beat and devolves into a dissonant coda led by a piercing harmonica. Perhaps the prettiest song the band’s ever written, “Instant Disassembly” uses the repetition of a simple guitar figure to underscore the sound of a life and relationship falling apart in a very mechanical fashion. It all comes together to form one of the year’s most eclectic, yet instantly likeable collections. When I mentioned to guitarist Austin Brown that I’d be writing about Sunbathing Animal for this year-end roundup, he casually replied, “Oh yeah? They think we’re the best?” While I cannot by any means speak on behalf of this publication’s entire writing and editorial staff, I can safely say that yes, Austin, you guys are the best. —Eric Schuman
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18. Aphex Twin | Syro (Warp)
AphexTwinThirteen years is a long time between drinks when it comes to the quickly shifting electronic-music landscape. I mean, jungle? Who calls it that anymore, let alone thinks of that? Yet, Richard D. James and/or his Aphex Twin persona (one of half a dozen) doesn’t seem to care that a decade-plus has passed between projects. At least his sound doesn’t project that (make no mistake: James recorded as Caustic Window and other names during his break from Aphex). First, there are intense (even dramatic), melodic Chuck Close-like squiggles spotted in between Syro’s fluid, energetic bass lines and souped-up synthesizers. There’s even an archly soulful tone to these same synths, a grimily funky, hothouse humanity that goes handsomely with the powerhouse (real?!) drums of “180db_,” and the low, growling whirr of “Produk 29.” If you’re still thinking about Aphex Twin’s time in the electro-music biz, the most impressive fruit of that tenure—in regard to Syro is how the album gloms from the twittering past of his drum ‘n’ bass, test-pattern techno (as well as his most gorgeous piano etudes), and just allows it to be ever slightly more emotional. This isn’t new-and-improved neo-classical Aphex Twin or an epic reinvention: Syro just is. And is great. —A.D. Amorosi
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17. Cloud Nothings | Here And Nowhere Else (Carpark)
CloudNothingsEarlier in 2014, Cloud Nothings mastermind Dylan Baldi insisted to MAGNET that he was in a much better frame of mind for this record, compared to 2012’s acclaimed Attack On Memory. He’s either a liar or self-deluded. Here And Nowhere Else is eight songs of angry catharsis, lyrically and musically, the makings of some of the best indie punk in the two decades since Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart. Baldi’s hoarse, adenoidal yelp is pushed into the red here with bracing results, akin to a teenage tantrum that is, improbably, a joy to behold. There is also the matter of Cloud Nothings’ secret weapon: drummer Jayson Gerycz. A cover boy for all the drum geek magazines if there ever was one, the guy plays with mind-boggling speed and dexterity, threatening to send every song off the rails while propelling them forward at 500 mph. Baldi and Co. have created a record that is deceptively simple (read: loud) upon superficial listen, but reveals an impressive trove of hooks and sonic complexity over the long haul. Teenage angst has paid off well for Cloud Nothings, and on Here And Nowhere Else, old and bored is nowhere in sight. —Matt Ryan
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16. The Hold Steady | Teeth Dreams (Razor & Tie)
HoldSteadyCraig Finn and Co. are joined by the excellent Steve Selvidge (who came along on the support tour for 2010’s introspective Heaven Is Whenever), and twin-attack guitars are suddenly the going thing once again. The Hold Steady continues to grow up in public, but where Heaven was the sound of a group figuring out how to transition from bar-band woodshedding into the complexity of middle age, privately and professionally, Teeth Dreams will likely be seen in hindsight as the point where the band members considered various paths, then said, “Fuck it,” and kicked a new one for themselves, retaining their youthful power while articulating the lessons of age. The group’s sixth album is as rewardingly energetic in places as anything it’s ever recorded (see “Spinners” and the barreling “Big Cig”), but it’s also the most literate and lyrically expressive album in its catalog to date, which is saying a hell of a lot for aband that started and stayed brainy without slipping into precious. The Hold Steady could likely keep making “Hold Steady albums” for as long as it wanted to—the formula works—but the group is still heading new and interesting places. The fact that it’s consistently been one of the smartest American bands of the past decade makes that journey all the more impressive. —Eric Waggoner
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15. tUnE-yArDs | Nikki Nack (4AD)
TuneYardsOf the nine musicians (and two comedians!) to appear on the cover of MAGNET in 2014, Merrill Garbus’ June photo shoot was the most emblematic. Her third LP as tUnE-yArDs is—like Ransom & Mitchell’s hyper-colored spread—by turns biting, goofy, explorative, introspective, far-out, dioramic, larger than life and more than a little freaky. What’s behind those yolky eyes, that “Black Hole Sun” smile? Overjoyed yet unsatisfied, Garbus—whose last album w h o kill became the first by a female artist to top the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll since Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels On A Gravel Road—hits the ground like 747 landing gear on a paved runway. “Find A New Way” issues the charge, and “Water Fountain” and “Real Thing,” two of the hottest tracks of this or any other calendar, answer it: double-Dutch schoolgirl singsong and En Vogue chromosomatic smackdown, respectively, at least on the surface. Then the cutting couplets materialize like Magic Eye, and they hit bone (“Greasy man, come and dig my well/Life without your water is a burning hell”; “I come from a land of slaves/Let’s go Redskins, let’s go Braves”). Objections sustained. Her politics sometimes overwhelm the party; her darted-up musical map flaunts its passport stamps; and please, God, someone pry off her shift keys with a butter knife. But Garbus couldn’t give a rice-stuffed shit what anyone thinks, and that kind of bravery is viral. —Noah Bonaparte Pais
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14. Steve Gunn | Way Out Weather (Paradise Of Bachelors)
SteveGunnSteve Gunn has been appearing on records for nearly a decade, and he made his first solo CD-R in 2007, but this is the year that he truly arrived. He released a pair of fantastic collaborative LPs with Mike Gangloff and Mike Cooper, and spent a big chunk of the year on the road in Europe and the U.S. But it’s Way Out Weather that has put him over the top. Already known as a guitarist with unerring instincts for the right way to illuminate any passage with a minimum of flash, Gunn has established himself as a songwriter with this album. Whether he’s observing the deranged characters that stalk the sidewalks of his Brooklyn neighborhood or mulling over the climate change that has put its streets under water, he articulates the age’s anxieties without dictating what you should think about them. He and his superb posse of accompanists (which includes Pelt’s Nathan Bowles, Tweedy’s Jim Elkington and harpist Mary Lattimore) have also found a way to update the no-frills boogie of early-’70s Grateful Dead and ambitiously hard-nosed folk/rock of similar vintage Michael Chapman with essences of Northwest Africa and Congo Square. —Bill Meyer
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13. Guided By Voices | Cool Planet / Motivational Jumpsuit (Guided By Voices Inc.)
GBVWhen Bob Pollard shuttered Guided By Voices (the first time) at the end of 2004, distressed fanboy wails could be heard far and wide. The songwriting savant had released solo records and other projects all along, but no one knew—except for him, maybe—that we wouldn’t be deprived of his singular genius just because GBV was kaput; the dozens of records he’s released since serve as obvious proof. So, Pollard’s recent kiboshing of the reformed GBV was greeted with an appropriate grateful-to-sad ratio, almost as if the very same fanboys were now aware of their good fortune. Pollard and crew leave us (chronologically) with Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet, both of which feature the scattershot brilliance of the previous four new-GBV efforts. (Whether any of the six are in the same league as the previous incarnation’s product is a perhaps unnecessary debate for another day.) Jumpsuit gets the nod as best of the bunch, thanks in part to featuring “Shine (Tomahawk Breath),” guitarist Tobin Sprout’s greatest song, as a complement to the usual solid-and-then-some Pollard nuggets. On Cool Planet’s hard-charging titular finale, Pollard proclaims, “Heroes do matter” and tosses out, almost as an aside, “It’s a cool planet.” Our hero’s going to keep making music on it, so yeah. —Matt Hickey
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12. Ty Segall | Manipulator (Drag City)
TySegallHow can we miss you, Ty Segall, when you won’t go away? Here’s how: There isn’t one Ty Segall. There is a flock of Segalls, maybe hundreds of them, maybe more, and if you could glimpse more than one at once, they’d be circling overhead, some falling into formation, some splatting into phone booths, still others splitting off to follow their own whims. In collectively naming his trio of 2012 albums the second-best release of that year, this magazine concluded, “When Segall puts it all together into a focused, well-edited package, we could be witness to a rare but long-awaited seismic shift in rock ‘n’ roll.” The focused, well-edited package arrived nine months later—long-awaited in Ty time—but the seismic shifts happened entirely behind his eyelids; the all-acoustic, 10-track Sleeper, while concise and coherent, is more rock garden than mountain mover. Dislodged, perhaps, by the formation of interim power trio Fuzz, double LP Manipulator descends like an avalanche: an hour of Segall’s greatest hits cleaved into four unrelenting sides, the Whitman’s Sampler from an obese decade of psych/rock delicacies. It’s glammy and hammy, scorched and gorgeous, and by the time you read this, he will already have filed it away and followed it (with November’s cheekily cha-chinging sequel, $ingle$ 2). —Noah Bonaparte Pais
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11. TV On The Radio | Seeds (Harvest)
TVOTRPeople die. They change coasts. We move on. No one blinks an eye. Yet, when TV On The Radio lost bassist Gerard Smith three years ago from lung cancer, and the rest of the band left its cherished Brooklyn for the Hollywood Hills, the effects were seismic. And so, the art/skronk/ambient/doo-wop/soul/ jazz proffered on Seeds is more expansive in a mannerly— even sunshiny—psychedelic sense (“Could You” melds elements of the Grateful Dead and early Crazy Horse in a frothy mix), with buzzing, blobby, anthemic soul (the breezy “Careful You,” featuring frontman Tunde Adebimpe singing in French) and clicking, low-key rock to guide their groove. That’s notsaying that Smith held the band back. Nope. Rather, his dramatic bass anchored TVOTR spiritually and sonically through the sounds of a glorious freefall. Without him, they’ve found a different, less deconstructed brand of mooring. “Happy Idiot,” then, is a crisper-than-fresh-sheets example of the open, sensible clatter of TVOTR circa now, with co-vocalist Kyp Malone throwing in his two cents throughout. While new songs, particularly the aptly titled likes of “Winter” and “Lazerray,” maintain producer Dave Sitek’s usual, pre-Seeds muck-and-morass surround-sound vibe, “Happy Idiot” and “Careful You” are focused and fuzzy at the same time. Of this, Smith would be proud. —A.D. Amorosi
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10. St. Vincent | St. Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic)
StVincentAnnie Clark’s self-titled fourth album as St. Vincent doesn’t mark a dramatic shift in approach from 2011’s similarly singular Strange Mercy, nor is it a grand defining statement in any immediately obvious sense. Then again, little about Clark can really be described as “obvious” at this point (save perhaps that, as their recent collaboration demonstrated, she would and did make an ideal mirror/foil/counterpart/inheritor to David Byrne’s nervy-smart art-rock eminence). But St. Vincent earns its eponymity in how fully it embodies its creator’s essential idiosyncrasies. Of course, there is Clark’s merciless, mercurial guitar-wielding, often juxtaposed against some of her most tenderly lyrical vocal melodies. Like her previous work (but even more so), St. Vincent is rooted in the tensions (and slippages) between humanity and artificiality, a fascination that is not (only) esoterically conceptual—informing, amongst other things, her increasingly theatrical visual presentation and stagecraft—but also gleefully visceral, audible in everything from the nervous, kinetic digital sputters of “Rattlesnake” to the deliciously terrifying cyborg death-march of “Bring Me Your Loves” to the almost baroque lushness of “Severed Crossed Fingers.” For all its gestures toward relatability, even mundanity (“Take out the garbage, masturbate … ”), it’s an album that only seems more alien the more familiar it gets. —K. Ross Hoffman
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9. The New Pornographers | Brill Bruisers (Matador)
NewPornographersIt’s all too easy to take the New Pornographers for granted. It’s an unfortunate truism that consistency—even when operating at an exceedingly high level—can be confused with predictability. Not to mention what began as a small-scale supergroup under the guidance of Carl Newman might now look like a side project: The continually rising stars of Neko Case and Dan Bejar’s Destroyer can dim the collective excellence of the Pornographers. But Brill Bruisers deserves and rewards our attention. After two records that dialed back, at least a bit, on the Pornographers’ maximalist power pop, Brill Bruisers is a breathless joyride. It’s not exactly a return to their beginnings—the playful prominence of new-wave keyboards is novel, and Newman continues to find unique ways of crafting gang vocals, unexpected structural twists and densely detailed arrangements—but the band’s sixth record offers a similar experience: It’s a sugar rush, but one with lasting substance. Bejar’s requisite three songs are highlights, as are Case’s lead vocals on “Champions Of Red Wine” and others, but so are Newman’s own leads on songs like the title track. Really, it’s the Pornographers’ collective strength as a powerhouse unit that makes Brill Bruisers undeniable. —Steve Klinge
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8. Future Islands | Singles (4AD)
FutureIslandsBono called “Seasons (Waiting On You)”—this album’s opening track—“a miracle.” That may be overstating it, but perhaps not by much. If you haven’t seen the mesmerizing, incendiary version of the song as this Baltimore three-piece performed it on Letterman, stop reading and go directly to YouTube. Future Islands has been called synth-pop, but that’s a flimsy label. The spine here is ’80s new wave, sure, but the flesh, the heartbeat? Singer Samuel T. Herring’s one-of-a-kind vocal theatrics, raised up from some place deep in both his throat and his gut. Heartache, longing, rage, gentle sentimentality—Herring paints with all these colors, often within a single song. On “Seasons,” he surrenders to the notion that someone (a lover, friend, family) will never change; “A Song For Our Grandfathers” unfolds like an uncommonly well-written journal entry, a meditation on our short time here on Earth. From a sandpaper whisper to a soaring ache on “Light House” and a surprise death-metal howl on “Fall From Grace,” there’s something compelling and unexpected in each song. That may be the real miracle here. —Richard Rys
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7. Lydia Loveless | Somewhere Else (Bloodshot)
LydiaThe line between passion and desperation is perilously thin, and never more so than on Lydia Loveless’s pining odes to the ones who got away. There’s the married ex she drunk-dials (coked-up dials, actually) on “Really Wanna See You,” the guy who’s put a wingman in her way on “Wine Lips,” the banker who’s taken the family farm on “Everything’s Gone.” Though Loveless first wooed listeners by pairing a blunt, thoroughly modern lyrical sensibility with a traditional country sound, on Somewhere Else she crushes genre conventions like a broken heart beneath her boots. She and her tight band mine honky tonk and power pop for relentless riffs that crunch and swoon, the musical equivalent of the fuckin’ and fightin’ that fuels her characters. Whether she’s dredging old diaries for material or imagining other lives, she’s never less than 100 percent committed. It’s not always easy to look at the spurned, spiraling woman, but Loveless demands attention with her gutsy delivery, serious songwriting chops and impeccable sonic references that belie her 1990 birth, and turns every last song into something that’s both as fresh as a bruise and so catchy you could almost swear you’ve heard it a million times. —M.J. Fine
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6. Spoon | They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
SpoonIt’s an impressive track record, to say the least: Spoon hasn’t let us down in at least 16 years. Bandleader Britt Daniel has made a career of immaculate assimilation, fully absorbing frequently noted influences like the Stones, the Pixies, Wire and Television into his ongoing vision of a bold indie-rock future free of cannibalistic A&R reps and unfounded assumptions of profundity. Daniel acknowledges as much on the title track to Spoon’s eighth full-length effort: “Educated folk singers want my soul/Jonathan Fisk still wants my soul/I got nothing I want to say to them.” Perhaps in spite of itself, Spoon—which, like MAGNET, marked its 21st birthday in 2014—remains a great band in the most rigorously cool sense. A more accessible extension of Daniels’ work with Divine Fits, They Want My Soul is as tight as an oil drum, its songwriting a slick compound of groove and melody. In punching up the rhythm section (i.e., founding drummer Jim Eno), the group largely abandons the collage-ish ennui of 2010’s Transference in favor of some of the catchiest tunes (“Do You,” “Let Me Be Mine” and “New York Kiss”) since 2001’s Girls Can Tell. In all, Daniel has come a long way toward perfecting his post-Surfer Rosa take on rhythm and blues. Where to go from here? Good question. —Hobart Rowland
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5. Against Me! | Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble/Xtra Mile)
AgainstMeThe compelling narrative of frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s coming out as transgender—explored in depth via Jonathan Valania’s February MAGNET cover story—gave Transgender Dysphoria Blues a hooky back story, attracting plenty of listeners who’d probably otherwise have little interest in a self-released effort by a 17-year-old Florida punk band. And, of course, that story is undeniably central to the album, most of which speaks in no uncertain terms to the complex (and very punk rock) tangle of emotions—resentment, futility, isolation, confusion, awkwardness, self-loathing and ultimately defiant pride (less in the lyrics per se than in Grace’s searing, triumphant delivery of them)—accompanying her experience, and those of trans people more generally. These songs are not always as direct and legible as you might (or might not) expect, but they are never less than effective—equally potent as consciousness-raisers, psychological portraits and conflicted-yet-rousing empowerment anthems. What kept us listening all year long, however, is simply that this is among 2014’s best and most thrilling rock ‘n’ roll albums: a breathless half-hour of lean, surging riffs and pummeling drums, ready and primed for fistpumping sing-alongs, as much in line with the guitar-rock classicism of Ted Leo or the Hold Steady as with any number of populist punk touchstones. —K. Ross Hoffman
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4. The War On Drugs | Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)
WarOnDrugsAs if we needed further evidence of Rolling Stone’s prolonged decent into dementia, Lost In The Dream garnered a middling three-star review upon release, while Songs Of Innocence, U2’s exceedingly blah, A-list-producer-larded freebie statement received a masterpiece designation. WTF? The War On Drugs’ third studio LP boasts deceptively complex textures and an epic ’80s-AOR ambition steered in all sorts of compelling directions by an unerring sense of melodic drama and tasteful guitar wankery. If that sounds a little like U2 in its Reagan-era prime, any implied parallels are intentional. It says a lot about the album’s staying power that the good vibes have continued some nine months after its release. As with many great LPs, it rewards restraint to give Lost In The Dream a rest for a few months. A fresh listen allows once-buried nuances to surface on tracks like the pulsing “Under The Pressure,” live highlight “Burning,” the Dylan-ish title track and majestic closer “In Reverse.” For an album so admittedly fussed over by its creator, the whole thing flows with an easy, inevitable grace. Mark Kozelek: Suck my cock. Lost In The Dream is the best “beer commercial guitar” album of the year … and more. —Hobart Rowland
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3. The Both | The Both (Superego)
BothWith apologies to the Nobel Prize-winning scientists who developed super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, The Both is this year’s most successful chemistry experiment. The pairing of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo did not result in a violent reaction—if that’s your thing, go creep out in a dark corner with Scott Walker + Sunn O))). Instead, the two musicians complement each other in subtle and restrained ways, with Mann’s placid, noble strum blanketing Leo’s rougher electric-guitar edges. The Both suggests that almost any song in the universe could be improved upon by Mann’s vocal harmonies; she glides effortlessly where Leo has to lift a little harder to carry his end of the tune. The two sometimes sound like an undercaffeinated New Pornographers—they are blatantly enamored with Thin Lizzy, and one song on the album (“You Can’t Help Me Now”) is so sad that you worry about the severity of the situation for all parties involved. Finding a mid-career musical foil—one who not only masks flaws, but plays to strengths— is rare, and to make it all sound so natural on the first attempt is rarer still. —Matthew Fritch
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2. Freeman | FREEMAN (Partisan)
FreemanTo see Aaron Freeman (née Gene Ween) tour behind his first post-Ween solo record of original material was to watch a true American middleweight champ take the ring again, and win by a knockout. Ween didn’t almost kill Freeman—his own deeply addictive personality nearly did that for him. But having decided he had no option but to walk away from one of the most creative and truly original bands in American pop music, Freeman went into the studio and came out with a set of songs that tell the story of his journey from rock-bottom terror, through healing, to creative rebirth. Considered only as a collection of songs, FREEMAN is one of the best you’ll hear this year, sweet and quirky and somber and thoughtful by turns. Considered as a statement of one artist on the perils that accompany the seduction of sensory derangement, it’s one of the most direct and honest pieces of art in recent memory. And as the diary of a regular dude whose passions almost got him dead and who came out the other side glad and grateful, it’s a thing of nonstop beauty. Gener’s dead: Long live the Freeman. —Eric Waggoner
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1. Ex Hex | Rips (Merge)
ExHexIn a year that saw some amazing guitarists—Nels Cline, Steve Gunn, William Tyler—do some amazing things on six strings, nobody shredded harder than Mary Timony. We’re talking about the most literal album title of 2014; from beginning to end, Rips is an exhibition of the former Helium and Wild Flag frontlady’s gnarly fret work. The record is a blast of bubblegum proto-punk and gritty, glammed-up power pop, with more attitude and amplitude than we’ve heard this side of our bootleg Thin Lizzy VHS and Suzi Quatro singles. Rips is the kind of party record that heretofore only existed in fiction and the wild daydreams of Riff Randell and Kate Rambeau. This is a record for anyone who’s ever argued about Humble Pie albums and has deep-rooted feelings about Beserkley Records b-sides. We appreciate forward-thinking, envelope-pushing music, but guitarmonies on top of power chords on top of that Phil Rudd pocket with the woo-oh-ohs will always trump whatever progressive pretensions we may have. Any other year, we’d be griping that they don’t make albums like that anymore, but this year Ex Hex made an album just like that, and we will be ripping it well into 2015. —Sean L. Maloney

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