The Best Music of 2014

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This is a list of seriously amazing music. The best albums released in 2014, no shit. You probably haven’t heard of some of these artists. That’s okay. That’s awesome, in fact. Most of it’s off the beaten path, and it’d be a shame if that’s the only reason you never heard it. My biggest pleasure with this blog is hearing from friends who discovered something that’s become absolutely essential in their lives. I treasure that feeling and only hope to spread it. Enrich your life. Be adventurous, try out some of the music streaming on this page! It’s free right now and you’re definitely not doing anything better!

Okay.

I know this is late in the sense that most people publish their lists before the year is done, but I couldn’t care less about being first in judging an entire year’s worth of beautiful music. I’d always rather be finished than first.

Every piece of music on this list deserves attention. You’ll probably love some and hate others, because that’s how taste works.

See the Best of 2014 Honorable Mention list for the greatest albums that didn’t quite make the final cut!

[Note: excepting the ABSOLUTE FAVORITES section, these albums are listed in the order I heard them.]

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CFCF – You Hear Colours [incredible video]

“This seems really poppy/upbeat for you. Of course I’m always imagining you listening to weird post breakbeat Croatian footwork jazz with Russian metal and Japanese house influences”

The above works were spoken to me by a friend as I shared this fantastic video for an old CFCF track.

While the artist has evolved into something for more weird, specific, and perfect for my tastes (see his last album and Night Bus mixes, which have obviously influenced my own mixtapes) but this is the song that started it all. I was hooked immediately and never looked back.

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I don’t really have anything else to say; Ed said it all. Enjoy!

Don’t Watch The Superbowl

Seriously, you don’t have to.

Instead, check out Billie Holiday pouring her fucking soul into Strange Fruit, a mere five months before her untimely death.

Possibly the saddest rendition ever of the classic song about the lynching of two black men. This won’t make you happy, but it will feed your soul.

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God, she’s amazing. Also, this photo sums up my reaction to everyone watching fucking football today.

Another new Zs track streaming right here: “Corps”

Yesterday I wrote about and shared the 18 minute title track for Zs’ upcoming album, Xe. You can listen here. I later realized that the band’s own Soundcloud page held a second lengthy piece, called Corps. It’s another fantastic slice of weird avant jazz that’s got my anticipation off the charts at this point.

The tune opens with a guitar riff marrying Dick Dale surf licks with Steve Reich minimalism, creating a line for the insistent percussion and tenor sax asteroids to dance over. Think Misirlou fucking with Electric Counterpoint and you’re on the right page. The rhythm loosens up, allowing the drums and saxophone to each billow up and take turns leading the sound. It’s a fantastic, tightly wound jam that ends in an effervescent free-jazz cloud.

Because the band absolutely thrives in a live setting, here’s a brief, energetic take on the song:

Now that I’ve fallen into a youtube hole and saved a load of Zs videos, you’ll likely see a handful more of these posts before the album drops on January 27th.

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Protip: you can order the album directly from Northern Spy Records for $17 on vinyl, right here: XE On Northern Spy.

Noisy jazz mutants Zs release a new album next week; title track streaming here!

Next week, muscular avant jazz champions Zs will release their long awaited album Xe, the first true followup to 2010’s monumental freakout New Slaves. I was already excited about the news. Now that I’ve heard the title track, I’m losing my patience.

Always evolving, never repeating, Zs are set to render us all dumbstruck again:

While I haven’t written much about Zs, they are in fact my favorite jazz project working today. I’ve shared a pair of posts about bandleader Sam Hillmer’s solo project a couple years back, and mentioned the group on my Best Of The Rest Of 2010 post. My words book-ending that list turned prophetic: “…any one of these albums may end up defining the year as much as the ‘true’ list.” In the case of New Slaves, that sentence couldn’t be any truer.

The double LP set is a monster, crossing cavernous metal and noise rock with free jazz of the highest order. The title track is, to my ears, a love letter to John Coltrane’s divisive masterpiece, Ascension. As the months of 2011 wore on, I found myself returning again and again to the album, eventually regarding it with a sense of awe for powerfully (and permanently) shifting my tastes more than than anything I’d mentioned on the official Best Of The Year list.

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Now, we have Xe dropping on January 27th, 2015. Judging by the initial nuanced throb of the title track, this looks to be perhaps less outwardly punishing than the last album. However, when the percussion starts tumbling over itself, and the guitar flares out of its surf metal loop, the tune erupts for the final third, with Hillmer soloing all over the place in a tight frenzy. Instead of a total wildfire, perhaps we’ll get a controlled burn with this new release.

Order the album directly from Northern Spy Records right here: XE On Northern Spy.

Robert Hood’s Dancer, An Ass Shaking Classic

I’ve been a fan of Robert Hood‘s brand of sensually minimal techno since hearing a reissue of his classic Minimal Nation double 12″ in 2009, falling in love with the beyond-lush Motor: Nighttime World 3 a few years later. Somehow I’d never dug through his vast collection of singles until last Friday. I was working at my desk when Dancer queued up, and immediately had to stomp my feet along, slapping the desk with my open palms.

This track is a 4/4 monster, piling grand piano and a hairy sax groove on top of a throbbing beat, with just the slightest hint of guitar sprinkled around. The mixture of pure electronics and live instrumentation works in a way most hybrids could only dream of. It’s the kind of song Daft Punk would kill to make; the sound feels like peeling their recent album Random Access Memories down to its beating heart.

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Only a handful of Detroit masters craft techno with such soul, such a playful jazz sensibility, as Robert Hood. I’m thinking of Carl Craig, Kenny Larkin, and of course Underground Resistance, where Hood began his musical odyssey. While this tune is obviously more of a house thumper, I’m happy to share it as another example of the playful, jazzy core of what makes Detroit techno one of my favorite sounds of all time.

Alice Coltrane – Divine Songs

This is a glowing gem known only to those who have burrowed deep enough into the inimitable catalog of jazz legend Alice Coltrane.

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“Divine music is the sound of true life, wisdom, and bliss.  This music transcends geographical boundaries, language barriers, age factors; and whether educated or uneducated, it reaches deep into the heart and soul, sacred and holy…” – Alice Coltrane

Released in 1987 on cassette only, Divine Songs is the purest expression of the spiritual drone jazz sound that Alice had been perfecting ever since establishing the Shanti Anantam Ashram in the decade prior.

Soaring into ethereal space, leaving only the faintest jazz roots visible, the sound here is birthed in minimalist Indian organ modes. The atmosphere cracks open with harp and strings, shining brightly around her transcendent voice. It might not be for the casual fan, but if you’re tuned in to the celestial vibe Alice developed in the years after her husband, John Coltrane, died, you’ll settle in perfectly here.

A bonus for fans of Flying Lotus, and his album Cosmogramma in particular: keep your ears open for fleeting moments where he sampled his great aunt directly. With such a heavy influence she’s had on his music, the cameos feel especially poignant.