Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bunny Gamer's Top Albums of 2014. Part Five: 10-1.

I know it's been a long time coming, but my top ten of the year is finally here. Please enjoy it after the break, leave any thoughts and comments, and I'll see you all again next year!

10. Swans - 'To Be Kind'
Genre: Avant-Garde Gothic Noise Rock/Experimental Post-Punk
Country of Origin: USA
Talking about Swans is one of the most intimidating things possible, honestly. After a giant hiatus following their landmark 1997 double-album Soundtracks for the Blind (which you should really all listen to this second if you haven't already), Michael Gira and co. came back with a newly focused purpose in 2010. Now we're three albums later, with the follow-up to their groundbreaking 2012 double-record The Seer with another monster of equal proportions. The two exhausting hours that To Be Kind plays out over are vicious, brutal, uncompromisingly negative and powerfully abstract. Gira's frightening baritone howls out over wire-thin guitars and immense percussion, and while the album is a bit less drone-oriented and more built around some form of rock music than The Seer, the whole thing still swirls with the gigantic, unbelievably dark energy that Swans have always been known for. To Be Kind is the band's most focused work in decades, but still retains the trademark repetition and deeply abstract experimentation that the band has always been known for, from Michael Gira's violent shouting to the half-hour songs full of horse samples and instrumental noise. This is Swans doing what they've always done best--making uncompromising and extreme music like no one else can, and To Be Kind just might be their most accomplished album since 1997, which is saying an awful lot given the two masterpieces they've already released this decade.
Top tracks: Oxygen; Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture

9. Baths - 'Ocean Death'
Genre: Electronic/Chillwave
Country of Origin: USA
Following up the surprisingly moody Obsidian is a tough order, but the beautifully melancholy Ocean Death succeeds in every way. Baths has put together five pieces of swooning, gorgeous downtempo electronic music with his lilting voice sitting atop twanging guitars, simple beats, and bassy synths. The EP is refreshingly laid back, sorrowful and relaxing, and manages to cover an impressive range of moods across its brief runtime. By now it's clear that Baths can do no wrong, and the sublime electronic wonder of Ocean Death is further proof of this: whether it's being cathartic or soothing, every moment of the EP is simply excellent and yet another entry into an already incredible discography.
Top tracks: Ocean Death; Yawn

8. Indian - 'From All Purity'
Genre: Sludge/Doom Metal
Country of Origin: USA
From All Purity is the scariest album of the year, period. Every second is crashing drums, thick guitars, shrieking vocals, and a frightening layer of harsh noise over the top. Indian's latest record is dark, unbelievably heavy, and absolutely gut-wrenching. The music on display here is hands down the best doom metal to come out this decade, slow and thundering in every way, and From All Purity is ferocious and punishing from the first second through to the very end. There isn't a wasted moment on this album, and it's one of the most satisfying, exhausting, and terrifying listens of the year. There isn't a more important record this year for fans of extreme music, plain and simple.
Top tracks: The Impetus Bleeds; Directional

7. HAVE A NICE LIFE - 'The Unnatural World'
Genre: Lo-Fi Gothic Shoegaze
Country of Origin: USA
After the black metal-tinged collaboration Nahvalr, as well as phenomenal solo projects like the spectral folk of Giles Corey and the abstract sound collages of The Flowers of St. Francis, having a new album from Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga together again as HAVE A NICE LIFE after six whole years is almost unimaginable. While not quite as ambitious as their homemade double-album debut Deathconsciousness, HAVE A NICE LIFE's sophomore full-length is a breath of fresh air and without a doubt one of the most exciting comebacks of the year. The Unnatural World is a record of thick, gauzy guitars, distorted singing, lo-fi production and gallons of reverb. The simple drum machine beats and echoey instrumentals melt into a wall of sound with Dan and Tim's vocals to make a powerful record that could really only come from these two, and it's at once more immediate and focused than their debut ever was. The Unnatural World builds on itself perfectly, from the intensely heavy guitar drones of 'Music Will Untune The Sky' to the desperate shouts of 'Burial Society,' every dripping moment is perfectly built and incredibly emotive. Simply having a new record from HAVE A NICE LIFE in the first place is a huge deal, but having one this good, this unique, and this stirring is something truly special.
Top tracks: Emptiness Will Eat the Witch; Burial Society

6. Code Orange - 'I Am King'
Genre: Hardcore/Metalcore
Country of Origin: USA
There's a lot to be made of the name change that Code Orange Kids underwent this year, but it does make sense. As raw and impressive as Love is Love//Return to Dust was, Code Orange's second full-length is decidedly more mature, trading in two-minute fast-paced tracks of hardcore for more deliberate, heavy, and atmospheric pieces. The best moments of I Am King are impenetrably dark, full of ominous melodies or monstrous, time-signature flipping guitar riffs. The dual male-female screams delivered by drummer Jami Morgan and guitarist Reba Meyers (along with the occasional growl from guitarist Eric Balderose) are absolutely ferocious, and when Code Orange want to get heavy they know how to do so better than anyone in the genre. Moments like the intro to 'My World' or the breakdown in the title-track are some of the best pit-ready brutality to come out in years, and the album manages to perfectly balance that destructive intensity with an occult eeriness to ensure that it never feels to simple or samey. I Am King is a dense and predatory record that firmly cements Code Orange as the best modern hardcore band out there, and the kind of album that's nearly impossible to put down.
Top tracks: My World; Starve

5. Casualties of Cool - 'Casualties of Cool'
Genre: Progressive Folk Rock/Ambient Country
Country of Origin: Canada
The idea of Devin Townsend teaming up with Ché Aimee Dorval to make what is effectively an ambient country album is something almost impossible to even imagine, but the fact that it's genuinely incredible is even more impressive. Casualties of Cool is miles away from the pop-metal of this year's Sky Blue and Dark Matters, sounding more like--as Townsend himself described it--"haunted Johnny Cash songs." The record flows beautifully, built on tight bass grooves and Ché's gorgeous voice moving over Devin's atmospheric soundscapes, and the music that Casualties of Cool make is one of those rare times that traditional instrumentation can be used to make something that genuinely is unlike anything else out there. The record floats effortlessly above time and genre, suspended in its own minimal world where everything just fits together and evolves into exactly what is needed at any given moment. Casualties of Cool is a deeply experiential album, hard to describe and harder to grasp, and in all its ethereal beauty it just might be Devin Townsend's best work yet.
Top tracks: Flight; Moon

Genre: Experimental Doom Metal/Sludgy Post-Shoegaze
Country of Origin: Japan
BORIS have covered so many genres over the last couple of decades that it's almost ridiculous. Between their drone doom, post-rock, and stoner metal beginnings to their more J-rock, indie pop, grindcore, and art metal output in recent years, the band have covered just about every slightly experimental genre out there, and NOISE is their most all-encompassing work yet. The record has everything from pop tracks to the nineteen-minute post-rock centerpiece to crushing slabs of doom, all unified by the trio's unique style centered on phenomenally atmospheric heavy guitars, spot-on melodic sensibilities, and an intensely single-minded focus on artistic integrity regardless of genre. NOISE may be varied, but it's far from scattered, as the songs come together perfectly to make one of the most memorable, accessible, and powerful records BORIS have ever made.
Top tracks: 雨 (Heavy Rain); Angel

3. Taylor Swift - '1989'
Genre: Pop
Country of Origin: USA
I can't really imagine what I can say about Taylor Swift that hasn't been said already, let alone anything that would convert anyone who isn't already a fan. There's been a lot of buzz lately about Swift's evolution from her country-tinged starts to her current straight-up pop music, but it doesn't really matter--this is still the same wonderful, exciting, and unbelievably catchy Taylor we've always had, just with much better production. 1989 is full of gigantic hooks, smooth instrumentals, and fantastic one-liners, but the real star of the show is Taylor Swift's newly confident voice and perfectly honed sense of groove and melody. The record jumps from Lorde-esque minimal pop tunes to huge exciting upbeat anthems to '80s inspired synthpop, but it still manages to feel cohesive and remarkably emotive. Not a second is wasted and every song fills a purpose, which is rare in and of itself given the genre, but more than that, this is the sound of one of the best pop artists of our time at the absolute top of her game. The fact is, 1989 is the best album Taylor Swift has ever made, and an absolute masterpiece of perfect, genuine, and most of all, memorable music to the highest degree.
Top tracks: Shake it Off; Style

2. Ben Frost - 'A U R O R A'
Genre: Noisy Ambient/Post-Electronic
Country of Origin: Australia/Iceland
Ben Frost's latest album is destructive in an almost incomprehensible way. The slow build of the first two tracks leading into the record's first melodic climax is the first of dozens of jaw-dropping moments scattered throughout A U R O R A, all noise and power, built out of booming beats and hyperdistorted synths. Ben Frost effortlessly walks the line between industrial noise, clipping ambient beauty, and electronic bliss, forming a record that's simply mesmerizing in its wordless intensity. The album builds and breaks across its nine tracks, functioning in terms of crashing synth melodies coming out of thunderous electronic bits, and is easily one of the harshest and most unbelievably cathartic albums of the year. It's a slow burn, but there's nothing else like it. With A U R O R A, Ben Frost has blown away every single one of his contemporaries and made what might honestly be the best instrumental record of the decade so far.
Top tracks: Nolan; Secant

1. FKA twigs - 'LP1'
Genre: Minimalist Futurepop/Ambient R&B
Country of Origin: England
After two ridiculously good EPs, FKA twigs absolutely stormed the music world with her debut full-length. LP1 is an outright tour de force of gorgeous, minimal beats built on simple basslines and throbbing, scattered drum programming, warped atmospherics, and the beautifully fragile vocals of twigs. Tahliah Barnett's voice moves over her shifting instrumentals with a simultaneous confidence and vulnerability unlike anyone else, and her eerily sexualized songs of violence and loneliness are as stunning as they are unnerving. Every emotion twigs tackles, she manages to do so with the utmost grace and power, and LP1 manages to be both intensely personal and worringly detached, but when the album drops into its best moments--the powerful harmonizing vocals during the final chorus of 'Pendulum,' the vaporwave synths in the break during 'Lights On,' the frightening bass and tempo changes of 'Video Girl'--it's almost impossible to look away. The music FKA twigs is making is vital on such a deep level, so moving, so instantly relateable but still somehow confusing and spectacular, that there's simply no denying her total mastery of her craft. LP1 is a hugely powerful, unique, and disorienting album on the deepest level, and between its unconventional production, dense subject matter, and jaw-dropping vocal performance, it's hard to believe that anyone could debut with something this strong. FKA twigs has released an unequivocal triumph of a record, and simply put, LP1 is far and away the best album of the year, if not the decade so far.
Top tracks: Pendulum; Two Weeks
Preview. Preview more.

Song of the Year:
Neon Bunny - 'It's You'
Genre: Futurepop/Indie Synthpop
Country of Origin: South Korea
I've never done a song of the year before, but 'It's You' deserved it. One of Neon Bunny's only releases in 2014, this single is one of the most beautiful tracks to come out in a long time. Full of aching neo-'80s synths, Im Yu Jin's soft, sleepy singing, and a genuinely perfect chorus, this is the kind of song that everyone should hear. The track ebbs and flows perfectly, building on itself into the kind of flawless bedroom pop piece that you never want to end and will listen to over and over just to keep that feeling around. Neon Bunny has only put out one album and one EP before 'It's You,' but if this new track is any indication, she's looking to become one of the most promising new artists around, and anyone reading this simply needs to listen to this criminally underrated song.


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