2014 Music Reviews
Actress, Ghettoville (2014) C
Mr. Cunningham, too often than not, gets a smidge too carried away with letting his loops run on past the point in which they cease being compelling. He can be gimmicky, like the bad CD-R rip "Grey Over Blue," he can be playful (is that the Twin Peaks theme tweaked for "Forgiven?") and then he can show his true gifts off ... but only sparingly (on the standout rap-meets-glitch "Rule").
The Afghan Whigs, Do to the Beast (2014) B-
Dulli's been occupying himself with the Twilight Singers project, so this long-awaited comeback (16 years) from the Whigs - okay, just two of them - is really not as startling as the My Bloody Valentine reunion turned out to be. While not their best work (I could do without "Algiers" and the last half of the album meanders), that seeping lust and agony is still in his voice. It's always good to hear.
Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots (2014) C-
So the front man behind not only Blur (woo hoo!) but a band that made heavy use of cartoon characters really, really wanted to release a solo album lamenting the rapid development of technology and its impact on basic human functioning? Oh Damon, you're so maudlin and transparent. (You used to be magnificent.)
Andrew Jackson Jihad, Christmas Island (2014) C
PG-13 novelty record with sporadically clever but mostly self-satisfied declarations, bad puns, non-jokes and movie references (Herzog!) - at least "Weird Al" had the decency of being upbeat when making silly versions of popular songs. Here, the bizarre word play becomes exhausting after a while.
The Antlers, Familiars (2014) B
Clever move, Antlers ... last year's "Undersea" EP made everyone think they were going to continue with this luscious underwater-ish world of feedback and distortion, and now about a year later they release this, which took me four listens to process. It's a subdued, late-night blues-club inspired jaunt through similar themes they've explored in the past (human distance, suffering, etc.) but with less of the intense theatricality Silberman's been known for: they even break out the brass instruments at several points ... because what the freakin' Antlers needed were more trumpets, I'm guessing.
Aphex Twin, Syro (2014) B-
First major release by RDJ - using his main moniker in over a decade - is good but not great James: oh, the beats are scatterbrained and frantic and the there's no doubting the distinctiveness of his production skills, but when compared to other work he's crafted over decades (and it's a sizeable catalogue), this is captivating without being revolutionary. It lacks masterful singles like "Windowlicker," "Girl/Boy Song" or "Analogue Bubblebath," and on several of the tracks it seems like he's less focused than he has been in the past. But even his half-assed fooling around with switches is more relevant artistically than what 90% of current electronic musicians are capable of creating with total focus.
Avey Tare and Panda Bear, Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished (2000) B-
First 'official' release by the Collective, with Avey and Panda Bear working on some of the concepts that would become more developed as they got a bit older and more experienced (I think their work between 2004's "Sung Tongs" and 2009's "Merriweather Post Pavilion" was their creative peak). Still, it's an inventive early record from an innovative and groundbreaking outfit - though their tendency to let the shrill interfere with the harmonious is evident.
Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, Enter the Slasher House (2014) C-
Not as downright terrible as "Centipede Hz," but Tare, even stepping away from the rest of Animal Collective, brings with him a lot of the ideas and recycles them to limited effect (garbled vocals, echo chamber effects). "Blind Babe" sounds like it was designed to be used as a weapon against suspected terrorists at Gitmo.
Beck, Morning Phase (2014) D+
He's done this 'Golly Gee Ain't Life an Alt-Folk Pisser' routine before both semi-successfully ("Mutations") and not so successfully (the overwrought "Sea Change") - this has a skilled musician with all technique (listen to that banjo sneak in!) but without an appreciable level of heart/passion ("Don't Let It Go," "Blackbird Chain" and "Turn Away," to me, are insufferable). If that amounts to calling Beck mechanical then so be it - if you ask me, his real interest was turning out funk rock earlier in his career: I prefer the younger version of this guy to this 'wiser' one.
The Black Keys, Turn Blue (2014) C
Auerbach and Carney mine the blues archives for the best to swipe from, churn out half-assed hooks and lyrics. I guess with Jack and Meg White temporarily split, this is what people consider the pinnacle of garage rock. Somebody sober Jack up and bribe Meg with red purses or something, because this isn't going to cut it.
Andrew Bird, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of... (2014) C+
Perfectly fine collection of country covers by Mr. Bird - sometimes the lyrics get a bit too cute, but they aren't offensive. The question, then, is why someone of Bird's pedigree would bother with content so clearly beneath his ability - it would be like Shostakovich playing Schoolhouse Rock.
Julian Casablancas and the Voidz, Tyranny (2014) C
Murky and muddy (the cover is so appropriate), this neo-industrial release by Casablancas and company makes it seem like the Strokes singer wants to sound like KMFDM (or, on "Business Dog," Tom Araya). Whereas the Strokes' forte has been short, sweet and slightly raw garage rock jingles, this goes in the opposite direction: mid-thirties crisis, perhaps?
Caribou, Our Love (2014) B-
Dr. Snaith knows how to start his album out right - "Can't Do Without You" is an intoxicating opening number (just like "Odessa" was on "Swim") - but it takes a slight dip after that: it's methodically built and a bit unsurprising, but what do you expect from a Ph.D. in maths?
Michael Cera, True That (2014) D+
So apparently actor Cera, unsatisfied with just being one of the preeminent Indie Movie Stars, just had to put this album out of him plonking on a piano and showing he listened to "Trout Mask Replica" more than once. The Blaze Foley cover is the sole redeeming moment.
Clipping, CLPPNG (2014) F
Utter gibberish gets spouted rapidly over alienating background ringing/buzzing - whoever thought of playing the alarm clock sound on "Get Up" was trying too hard to be special.
Cloud Nothings, Here and Nowhere Else (2014) C+
Loud, fast and derivative, it's a triumph of energy over all else, including originality. But I do like the cannonball aesthetic: firing all cannons at once. I suppose that will do for now.
Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems (2014) B
Between Cohen and Dylan, I'm not sure why neither won the Nobel - certainly some young pup can't write a song (and, most importantly, deliver it) with the insight or intensity of Cohen (minor gripe on this otherwise impressive release: the background singing, which is a smidge intrusive). He's 80 and he's still passing his intellectual woe onto us: may he continue into his 90's. Gratitude to a master is always in order ... and maybe a "Hallelujah" for good measure.
Coldplay, Ghost Stories (2014) D
Martin plays the milquetoast, going so far as to beg someone to lie to him even though she doesn't love him. As a band, they've had moments of awe-inspiring power, but this album is immediately negligible pop fodder with weak singles ... and it's as spooky as a hangnail (unless the toe itself is infected, and then that becomes a more desperate situation).
Death from Above 1979, The Physical World (2014) C
It's been ten years since the release of their debut LP and while this is certainly passable rock, it doesn't have the catchiness or memorability of their first release, and even the lead single "Trainwreck 1979" can't compare to the highlights from their other LP. Times change, music changes, a decade is a long time to be inactive....
Death Grips, No Love Deep Web (2012) B
Fed up with their label (or however that story goes), they self-released this and put an erect phallus on the cover - normally I'd laugh at such an act as a cheap shock tactic, but the cover is actually less confrontational than Ride's in-your-face presentation and Flatlander's production. "Ex-Military" and "The Money Store" had better individual moments, but this is, to me, their most unified work to date.
Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence (2014) B+
Is she serious? Is this all a joke? Does she really wish she was dead? (Probably not.) I'm willing to overlook possible explanations for Del Rey's truly baffling interviews because when it comes down to it, ambiguous persona aside, it's the songs that count, and with some help she's managed to string together (rarely enough) a sophomore album that's more intoxicating and mysterious than her debut. Sometimes it's so "self-pitying" (quotation marks necessary) you have to figure something is up: cry for help? Tongue-in-cheek mockery of diva behavior ("I want money! Power! Glory!")? Actual diva-like behavior? Abstract tales of the abusive and the abused?
Mac DeMarco, Salad Days (2014) B
Not much of a departure from "2" - some of these songs could have easily been B-sides from that release. It's nice and calming of course - Mr. DeMarco sounds like he can find the bright side to any situation and his "advice" seems genuine (he's packed a lot of living in just 23 years). As an artist, I'm guessing he can coast a while on his buoyant personality - doing a search for his interviews is recommended, since he's in no short supply of witty banter.
Dirty Beaches, Stateless (2014) B-
This is the 'movie soundtrack' side to Mr. Hungtai's musical persona - creaking, moody, abandoned. He announced that the Dirty Beaches project was over and that he was moving on - I hope he never gives up releasing these instrumental records ... and I hope someone gets to use them in a film one day (paging Wong Kar-Wai).
DNA, A Taste of DNA (1981) B
Ten minute "album" by a trio of no-wave pioneers: there are "songs" (that last anywhere between a minute and three minutes), Arto "plays" guitar and "sings" the "lyrics." Point made, point taken.
Fennesz, Bécs (2014) C
Austrian Fennesz runs his guitar through a bunch of amplifiers/distorters/thingamabobs, the result is more tiresome than frightening (though the title track does build up to a memorable level of fuzziness). He does his best work when combining his talents with others - his work with Ryuichi Sakamoto is fantastic.
FKA Twigs, LP1 (2014) C-
The only consistent track on this is the obvious lead single "Two Weeks," the rest is Ms. Twigs breathing (or breaking words down to their syllables) over discordant beats. Puddles have better flow than this.
The Flaming Lips, Zaireeka (1997) C
Back in '97, the likelihood of someone having four CD players - to play all four CDs simultaneously - would have been difficult but now, thanks to the Internet (and specifically, YouTube), some tech-savvy folks have ripped all four discs and layered them together so you don't need all that equipment to listen to this. As an experiment in music (and surround sound), it's a landmark release (on a technical level) - but once the four discs are assembled together and synced as a whole it comes across as, well, nothing out of the ordinary as far as the Lips are concerned (Coyne's bizarro lyrics, ringing noises, screeching ... tedium when not purposely off-putting). I'm almost hesitant to review this because I didn't experience it the way the band intended, but I still don't have four CD players handy.
Flying Lotus, You're Dead! (2014) D+
FlyLo, who's been turning out some great albums the last few years, alters his approach about and tries making electronic music closer to free jazz. Is it a success? Sadly, no: it's an album in which half of its tracks run less than two minutes and, taken as a whole, sounds like a jumble of ideas and clips. I hate to knock artistic experimentation, so I'll say nice effort but work on the execution.
Foxygen, ...And Star Power (2014) D
"We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors..." was such an impeccable and catchy debut they just had to find a way to screw it up, and so they did with this rougher-than-rough double LP of them recording what I'm imagining are their first takes of playing around with whatever instruments were thrown over the garage floor (right next to the half-eaten hot dogs and empty bags of Doritos). It's mostly grating wankery from guys who should know better: put the damn bong down and re-work the early drafts, for the love of God.
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata (2014) B-
Madlib's production is so sharp it threatens to make Gibbs and their umpteen collaborators sound like a bunch of cranky old men. Still, I appreciate the perspective: Gibbs and company are commenting on the current state of gangsta rap ... and shaking their heads. Times change, and not always for the better.
Grouper, Ruins (2014) C
The already basic music drowns out Liz Harris' voice where I can't make out a word she's saying - I understand the attempt at ambience and isolation, but her approach comes across as being a bit too affected. Something in me wishes the whole record was along the lines of the closing 11-minute "Made of Air," which sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a late night walk through a graveyard while experiencing a nervous breakdown.
Have a Nice Life, The Unnatural World (2014) B-
Solid if somewhat monotonous release (namely the last two tracks) by Dan Barrett's project with Tim Macuga - the shoegazers are the inspiration but as with all of Barrett's projects he is capable of putting his own unique take on the genre. On his Twitter account he says he makes "bedroom music" - if all bedrooms were filled with feedback and distortion they'd be cozier places.
The Hold Steady, Teeth Dreams (2014) C-
As much as I hate to say it, I'm getting the impression with these guys that if you listen to one song you have a good idea of what they're going for the rest of the time. I've gotten used to Craig Finn's voice over the past few records, but changing the format a bit might shake off the prevailing sense of staleness.
How to Dress Well, "What Is This Heart?" (2014) C+
Mr. Krell is back with his own earnest/self-absorbed style - "What You Wanted" and "Very Best Friend" are outstanding tracks, but he has a tendency to kill his own mood with some cheesy cinematic synths ("Words I Don't Remember," "Pour Cyril") and redundant tendencies. He's an art-house R. Kelly ... without the graphic sexual references.
Iceage, Plowing Into the Field of Love (2014) C+
Rønnenfelt's growling/breathy/whining delivery is very polarizing, like a (good? bad?) imitation of Joe Strummer at his most expressive - here's the thing, though: without him, the music - at select times - borders on the generic.
I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, Dust (2014) D+
They showed promise with this sort of gothic sound about eight years ago, but times do change and the band's inherent mediocrity finally shined through (the darkness).
Interpol, El Pintor (2014) C
The two standout tracks - "My Desire" and "Same Town, New Story" (that hook!) - simply can't elevate the melodically-mediocre eight other songs. They started with a flat-out masterpiece and have been slowly bleeding out their talent since then, with every album, with each passing year. At least Banks has Helena's rear to pat at the end of the day....
La Roux, Trouble in Paradise (2014) B+
Ben Langmaid may have left the duo, but Elly is strong enough of an artist to forge on - doesn't hurt that she plunders the archives of the disco era and can make something fresh out of that dead zone of music. Oddly, the one track on here that seems to be praised by critics, "Let Me Down Gently," is the one number I could do without while the panned "The Feeling," to me, provides a fitting conclusion. The sexual ambiguity only helps Ms. Jackson out: the smoke screen is a part of the show.
Liars, Mess (2014) D+
I guess Liars deserve some consideration for never, ever repeating themselves, but after having a few listens through this, I was only left begging for some degree of consistency (and consistency of quality). Sections crawl all over the place: Angus Andrew first does his Iggy Pop imitation, then they emulate Skinny Puppy, then they fiddle around with audio editing software a lot and on "Can't Hear Well" it's as if he's trying to tell a scary story by cupping his hands around his mouth.
Lykke Li, I Never Learn (2014) C-
Incessantly downbeat, with Ms. Li attempting to work out some personal issues with her nasally, droning delivery ... but at least she keeps it around 30 minutes. Making the same mistake more than once is something to be avoided, you know?
The Microphones, The Glow, Pt. 2 (2001) C-
The first four tracks are so commanding that when the album unravels into random ambient noises, quick song clips and, on "Samurai Sword," abrasive drum and bass I just figured Elverum had an idea where he wanted to go ... but got so hopelessly lost and distracted along the way he threw in the towel at some point. It's an ambitious mess.
Morrissey, World Peace Is None of Your Business (2014) B-
Some of his harmonies sound a smidge dated, but there's the same old Moz, older and still grouchy, complaining eloquently about this, that and the other thing. Being a crank doesn't work for many, but the self-effacing nature of his delivery (and lyrics) provides an adequate balance. Listen to this while enjoying a hamburger.
Nothing, Guilty of Everything (2014) D
Bastard offspring of the shoegaze movement think they can out-Slowdive Slowdive ... except they seemed to have missed the part about music conveying emotional power.
Owls, Two (2014) C-
So I guess I'm the only one who doesn't miss Sunny Day Real Estate? Just checking.
Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal (2014) C-
Sanitized 'punk' that sounds like it was made by four guys who get together, brew some coffee (Fair Trade, of course!) and jam after their day shifts working customer service. As long as they're having a good time, that's all that matters, right?
Perfect Pussy, Say Yes to Love (2014) D-
Fourteen minutes of a hollering Ms. Graves trying to compete with her bandmates' (intentionally off-kilter) cacophony, followed by 9 minutes of random noises - they're so punk they don't even have to make a good album, they just have to pose for pictures. At some point she says she wants to screw and then eat herself: I will prepare the utensils.
Perfume Genius, Too Bright (2014) B-
The commanding lead single, "Queen," is a bit of a throw off - in that track Mr. Hadreas is confrontational and powerfully sarcastic about fears of social 'contamination' by homosexuality (it's not a choice, people ... settle down), while the rest of the record sounds like someone in the throes of chronic depression. It's a more than a bit embellished at points (nearly reaching Antony and the Johnsons-level) but still solidly constructed. Stay away from the pills and alcohol, man ... but that S&M collar you wore on Letterman was ballsy-as-hell.
Ariel Pink, Pom Pom (2014) C
It's only fitting Pink would release an album this erratic considering his on-and-off stage antics: it starts with two tracks that sound like bad Zappa before Pink goes back to his put-on psychedelic routine for what are essentially B-side versions of tracks on previous recordings ... before getting back to the corniness ("Goth Bomb," "Exile on Frog Street" and a song about everyone's favorite gelatin-based dessert). "Sexual Athletics" hits the right balance of being both schizo and empathetic.
Real Estate, Atlas (2014) C
A recorded Abercrombie & Fitch Summer catalog: glistening, pretty and dumb as rocks (reading the lyrics sheet is ill-advised as it could make one writhe in agony). Y'all act like you never heard beach music before.
S, Cool Choices (2014) C
Soft-spoken and demure ... though Ms. Ghetto's imposing and distracting sense of self-loathing doesn't work in its favor (I knock male musicians for the same mundane approach). Cheer up kiddo ... and shake it up a bit.
SBTRKT, Wonder Where We Land (2014) B
Critically trashed, this new LP by the British DJ with a taste for African masks is far better than its reputation might lead one to believe - yes, the various collaborations do kind of lend it an off-kilter feel (the Koreless track, for example, is out of place), but it's also a consistently inventive and ambient listen. Wasting little to no time, SBTRKT moves from the title track to the album's masterpiece ("Temporary View") and on to the underrated Ezra Koenig collaboration and eventually concluding the album with A$AP Ferg declaring his love of drugs (so that's where you land). When it comes down to it, it's all about the production.
Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron (2014) C
Candor is something you don't have to worry about with Q, with this being one of the most creative hip-hop releases of the year production-wise: several of the samples on here come from Portishead, Gary Numan and the freakin' Chromatics (helping out even more: Pharrell and Clams Casino). The lyrics can't compete, however, and unfortunately you're left with Q and his collaborators telling women to sell themselves and bragging about how amazing they are which, frankly, gets old fast.
Ty Segall, Manipulator (2014) D
I've heard all the T. Rex albums already, I don't need to listen to someone who copies them and pads the results. I'm not one to tell anyone how to do their job, but I can't help but wonder if Mr. Segall is releasing too much material (several albums and collaborations per year) and not worrying enough about the quality or uniqueness of each release.
Sevendeaths, Concreté Misery (2014) D
There's a difference between using feedback to generate sensations in the listener ... and just using feedback to use feedback. Twiddling knobs just becomes knobs being twiddled.
Shabazz Palaces, Lese Majesty (2014) C-
Begins well enough with the moody "Dawn in Luxor" and "Forerunner Foray" (is that Dave Franco doing guest vocal work?) before the album turns into this half-formed collection of fragments (8 of the pieces run under two minutes) and the lyrics become a perplexing jumble of randomness (at least those that aren't intentionally distorted), with Butler and Maraire working on their amateur-hour free association ("I'm coming up like Donald Duck," "I'm having my cake and I'm eating cake"). These guys know they don't have to release a first draft ... right?
Sisyphus, Sisyphus (2014) B
Who knew Sufjan really wanted to do ... experimental hip-hop? Took me a couple of listens to figure out whether this was a joke or not, because there is this inherent bipolarity in the setup: this is a collaboration between Stevens, Son Lux and Serengeti, with Son Lux's trademark sparse production work holding together the opposites that are Sufjan and Serengeti. One minute Sufjan is singing romantically ("fill my lunar eclipse") to either Jesus Christ or the ghost of a dead painter (it's tough to tell with him) - the next, Serengeti wants to make a booty call. "Rhythm of Devotion" is a Kanye track that got away.
Sleep, Dopesmoker (2003) B-
63-minute odyssey in one track (about a caravan transporting marijuana) - part of me wants to celebrate the endurance of the band and the structure of the piece while another part of me wants to dismiss it as a tiresome jam-session. I'll settle for a slightly positive middle ground - as far as "cult albums" are concerned, I can understand the trance-like appeal of this one.
Slowdive, Souvlaki (1993) B+
Not nearly as timeless and unforgettable as My Bloody Valentine's earliest work, but running a close second to that classic band is not so bad. Spacey and willfully lethargic, it sounds like they're moving and singing and playing at half-speed.
Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997) B+
One of those acclaimed albums that I've heard pieces of in the past (damn you, mp3 culture) but never in its entirety. It slides gracefully from luscious drifting waves of sound (the string section on "Broken Heart" is a powerful moment) to total discord; it's like a breakup album in which the narrator loses connection with a human being and becomes more cosmically intertwined ... maybe because of the drugs or religion (either is fine, depending on the individual).
Spoon, They Want My Soul (2014) C-
I thought they were back in the right direction with "Transference" four years ago, now they seem to have a shortage of energy; it's all too cleaned up and refined to hit as hard as their best material can: it's a jab when you expect an uppercut.
St. Vincent, St. Vincent (2014) B+
Very good fourth LP - not counting "Love This Giant" - from Waif Queen Ms. Clark, who released this early enough in 2014 to make so many albums by so many other people later this year seem like amateur hour in comparison (only one song on here, the wonky-funky "Bring Me Your Loves," could have been safely edited out). Having heard some of her covers of punk songs (Big Black's "Kerosene") still makes me think she's holding back when she really wants to rock the hell out, guitars-a-blazing ... so maybe that's a level of abrasion she'll work up to in time. Recent reports of her being rude to waiters, being sarcastic in interviews and difficult with fans are just a step in the next direction - coming soon are reports of her trashing hotel rooms and physically attacking the press, of breaking equipment after a set and having a meltdown in front of sold out crowds (after breaking up with Carrie, of course).
Sun Kil Moon, Benji (2014) C
Kozelek reviews his past experiences (whether real or imagined) over simple (but cozy) guitar chords - it may be 'brave' in its intimate nature, but he too often lets his deadpan 'songwriting' to come across as rambling, forcing the 'songs' to turn into laborious chores to endure. Consistently mentioning tragic events and/or personal defeats isn't necessarily the way to 'personal truth': here it just seems like he's trying to come across as purposely downtrodden. Life is mixed with moments of humor, too, man: don't forget about those.
Sunn O))) & Ulver, Terrestrials (2014) C-
Collaborations between artists in similar genres can be productive, but in this case Ulver and Sunn O))) fail to bring out the best in each other: it's more creaking and throbbing that rattles the speakers but not the mind (those violins on "Eternal Return" don't add a whole lot to the yawning abyss).
Swans, To Be Kind (2014) C+
Grouchy Gira and his bandmates chant over continuously-amplified guitar throbbing: they want it to seem like some dark tribal ritual, but they've done this act before and with much more guttural effectiveness ("Soundtracks for the Blind").
Taylor Swift, 1989 (2014) C
Felt obligated to listen to this after so many people told me it was their favorite "pure pop" record of the year - sure, Swift has a nice delivery but it's so engineered and mechanical her supposedly "truthful" songwriting (which is passable if nothing particularly dynamic) doesn't do much to compensate (let's be fair: Lorde is arguably a better writer). The three track stretch that goes from "Shake It Off" to "I Wish You Would" then to "Bad Blood" is a fun section. The rest: you do you, T.S.
Temples, Sun Structures (2014) C
Begins with the best moment on the entire album, the fun "Shelter Song," then becomes a slog of 70's rock without a unique slant on the genre - if you don't put your own spin on a well-established style, you risk sounding like a cover band.
Todd Terje, It's Album Time (2014) D-
No surprise the sole tolerable moment on this is when Terje enlists Bryan Ferry to distract the listener from the cornball synths. Who knew a country like Norway - that produced so many deplorable and fascinating black metal acts - could turn out a DJ who makes elevator music sound respectable?
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (2014) B-
Doesn't have the same soul-shattering end-of-the-world feel as the best of Godspeed's work - and it peaks a little too soon - though their ambition and ability to sustain momentum is seldom paralleled by other post-rock artists.
Timber Timbre, Hot Dreams (2014) B
The ghoulish mood accompanied by dark/darkly sarcastic lyrics (or is he serious?) make for an unsettling experience - it took at least three listens for me to start to 'get' this (since it's the first album by this band that I ever listened to). I'm taking it the 'narrator' is some kind of obsessive stalker ("I want to be a champion in your eyes") in hot pursuit of an object of his affection: whoever the 'target' is better call the cops as soon as possible. Black humor, everybody!
Toyko Police Club, Forcefield (2014) D
For an outfit that hasn't been relevant in some time, starting with an overblown eight-minute track with a reference to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is probably not advisable (lyrical sample: "If I was a lighthouse / I'd look all over the place"). They had the right idea with their hook-heavy early releases ("A Lesson in Crime" was a nifty little EP); now they're resorting to cooing on lead single "Hot Tonight."
Trust, Joyland (2014) C+
Has a number of fantastic moments ("Capitol" being the album highlight and one of the best tracks of the year, hands down) and Mr. Alfons' deep drunken garble adds to the nocturnal, late-night aura, but trails off in quality for the second half when it morphs into generic dance dreck ("Rescue, Mister," "Lost Souls/Eelings").
Tune-Yards, Nikki Nack (2014) B+
Spunky album by Ms. Garbus that is actually better (and more fluid) than the widely-acclaimed "Whokill" ... so good I can forgive a silly spoken-word interlude ("Why Do We Dine on the Tots?") and a few scattered indulgent moments.
TV on the Radio, Seeds (2014) C
One of the best bands in the world starts this on a riveting note with "Quartz," then proceeds to devolve into Tunde speaking French ("Careful You") and some of the most unoriginal/uncreative lyrics ("Happy Idiot") and melodies the band has ever manufactured (even treading close to Ramones territory with "Lazerray"). Recovers from the doldrums/writer's block ever-so-briefly with the uplifting title track that concludes the record ("Lay down your lantern, coat of arms, broken drums / and dance with me").
U2, Songs of Innocence (2014) C
I'll admit I got a laugh out of this when so many people I know with Apple devices found this downloaded without their permission - it wasn't that great an affront, people, and as far as free albums are concerned, one could listen to a lot worse. U2, for many years, genuinely was "the best band in the world," although one could make the argument that their creativity took a massive dip following the release of "Pop" in 1997 ... but on this one the unforgettable fire seems have dimmed for a single match lit. If the Ramones are an influence on this release why is there not one droplet of punk in a second of this? Or is the 'punk influence' forcing people to listen to it in the first place?
Sharon Van Etten, Are We There (2014) B-
Blues-y and charming album from Ms. Van Etten - she has a soothing delivery even if her content is a tad routine: it's all heart and no head (which isn't always a bad thing).
Venetian Snares, Songs About My Cats (2001) B
Aphex Twin-inspired breakcore from the prolific Mr. Funk, who likes to mess around with time signatures and take pictures of felines (I am not allergic to unorthodox time signatures). Sometimes it can seem like a scattered listen - and certainly not for everyone - but I enjoy eccentric albums made with (very apparent) skill. Wait for the meowing on "Cleaning Each Other!"
Scott Walker and Sunn O))), Soused (2014) C
Three eccentrics team up for a bizarre collaboration - someone, somewhere, said it sounds like Count Chocula with a Ph.D. in Classics chanting over a broken refrigerator. Walker's pronouncements are often ludicrous/bad poetry but it's such a strange record it may have a perverse/cheesy appeal for some.
The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream (2014) D+
I can tell somebody's been to the Bob Dylan School of Vocals, and the band's collective abilities can't successfully pull off this many six-plus minute songs. Fittingly, the title track - and best piece on here - sounds half-finished.
Warpaint, Warpaint (2014) C-
A quartet of ladies make flat, translucent jazz numbers with the to-be-expected banal lyrics (junior high sure was a rough time, right?). It might want to rock you to sleep, but the only ones yawning are the band.
Weezer, Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014) D
Place your bets on it won't. At this point in Cuomo's career I can officially declare I'm finished with his chipper voice (and arena rock backing instruments) delivering his dull self-loathing rants: this is canned pop hackwork ("The British Are Coming," to name one track, is one of many low points). It's been this way since Pinkerton, hasn't it?
Jack White, Lazaretto (2014) B
In the time that passed since "Blunderbuss," Mr. White has sobered up (slightly ... he's still drinking gasoline but you get used to that taste eventually) to assemble this rag-tag but still fun and energetic collection of tracks. He runs through several genres, mixes garage rock, blues and country ... and he's so distinctive an artist he can pull it off.
White Lung, Deep Fantasy (2014) D
Too refined to be unpredictable and as spastic as it could be, plus Ms. Way's vocals don't come across as angry so much as someone who's trying to convince you she's angry.
Pharrell Williams, GIRL (2014) D+
So pandering and dumbed-down it makes you feel less intelligent just listening to it, but Pharrell certainly knows his way around a console. Has one standout moment, the infectious single "Happy," which is shameless and proud of it.
Chelsea Wolfe, Apokalypsis (2011) B-
Ms. Wolfe is the female equivalent to Glenn Danzig. An intriguing listen from someone I'm hoping will become rock's real Dark Princess, embracing the ominous and ethereal.
Xiu Xiu, Angel Guts: Red Classroom (2014) C-
I'll grant almost anyone a little leeway when it comes to self-indulgence, but with Mr. Stewart it's virtually all self-indulgence. It's okay to be weird, but more often than not I'm given the impression the desire to make strange noises and scream absurd phrases takes this away from being music and more to (infantile) performance art.
"Weird Al" Yankovic, Mandatory Fun (2014) B-
It's hard to come down hard on anything by "Weird Al" since I was a huge fan when I was a little kid ("Dare to Be Stupid," "Polka Party!," "Even Worse") and here remains, decades later, the same guy (now in his fifties) still doing cute parodies and polka medleys, all with the same PG-rated/kid-friendly tone, a tacky jokester in an age of profanity. Two favorites: "Word Crimes," which turns Robin Thicke's grotesque single "Blurred Lines" into a grammar lesson and the "Royals"-inspired "Foil," about both sandwiches and conspiracy theorists.
YG, My Krazy Life (2014) D+
There's a conscience in there that some are keying in on, but the celebration of hedonism (getting into fights and shootouts, doing drugs, treating women like toys) and thug-culture still dominate the record. YG's debut can't sit at the grown-up dinner occupied by "The Chronic" and especially "Straight Outta Compton" - the production is adequate, but most of the lyrics warrant an F from the teacher in me ("My Nigga" is the trio of YG, Young Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan saying the title over and over and over).
Thom Yorke, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes (2014) B
Yorke treats this release like it's just this throwaway experimental project he recorded late at night when the girlfriend was brushing her teeth and he was taking a break from scribbling crude, distorted bodies on notebook paper. Scary thing is he's so damn talented this is one of the better releases of the year from anyone: the opener "A Brain in a Bottle" showcases his penchant for entrancing melodies wrapped around his enigmatic songwriting. Let the master say his piece (he has a right to interfere).
Singles of the Year: Actress: "Rule," The Afghan Whigs: "Lost in the Woods," Caribou: "Can't Do Without You," Death Grips: "Have a Sad Cum," Lana Del Rey: "Shades of Cool," Mac DeMarco: "Let My Baby Stay," Fennesz: "Bécs," FKA Twigs: "Two Weeks," Have a Nice Life: "Guggenheim Wax Museum," How to Dress Well: "Very Best Friend," Interpol: "Same Town, New Story," Perfume Genius: "Fool," Ariel Pink: "Sexual Athletics," La Roux: "Paradise Is You," SBTRKT (Featuring Sampha): "Temporary View," Sisyphus: "Take Me," Son Lux (Featuring Lorde): "Easy (Switch Screens)," St. Vincent: "I Prefer Your Love," Temples: "Shelter Song," Trust: "Capitol," Tune-Yards: "Water Fountain," TV on the Radio: "Quartz," Sharon Van Etten: "Your Love Is Killing Me," Thom Yorke: "A Brain in a Bottle"