Vampires and rabid carnivores ransacked the Album Analyzer with their onslaught of 2013 releases.
And listeners should expect nothing less from this year’s top acts.
Spurred by albums from Vampire Weekend and Deerhunter, 2013 stood out as the best year musically since the turn of the century. Now both breakthrough bands and familiar faces have dropped a solid slate of projects just three months into 2014.
The breadth of last year’s albums initially stood out. During a two-week span in May, Daft Punk, Chance the Rapper and Vampire Weekend, all titans in their respective genres, churned out a wide body of work that exemplified 2013’s diverse discography. In hindsight, however, popular music from last year missed something: elongated, minimalist guitar music like The War on Drugs’ latest effort, “Lost in the Dreams.”
“Lost in the Dreams,” 2014’s best album so far, anchors itself around sleekness in the same way Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” emphasizes bombastic tones.
Most of the album’s tracks blare for more than five minutes but hold a great deal of emotional weight for much longer. Track three, “Suffering,” includes few lyrics for such a long song; “An Ocean in Between the Waves” pulls listeners in with stanzas like, “Feel the way that the wild wind blows through the room/Like a nail gun through the heart.”
The album’s heavy themes and instrumentals never go too far despite oftentimes pained and dramatic verses. The difference between a suspenseful horror flick and an overindulgent, gory slasher is comparative to the balance The War on Drugs exhibits with “Lost in the Dreams.” The band compromises utter depression for solace throughout the album, providing an in-depth scope that details how people cope with tragedy.
Chords oozing over manic drums from “Lost in the Dreams” reign like nothing released in 2013. The War on Drugs‘ new project isn’t the only standout album from 2014, though, and these five releases also deserve recognition:
“Burn Your Fire For No Witness” by Angel Olsen
Olsen’s fourth studio album smolders like dry brush on a lake’s bank — slowly. Similar to Foxygen last year, she belts cheeky lyrics (each stanza could represent some lost inside joke) and lets charred instrumentals create clouds of despondency around her short but vivid tracks. Standout Track: “High & Wild”
“Morning Phase” by Beck
Beck expands the lush, glowing acoustic tracks that made 2002’s “Sea Change” a classic with his 12th studio album. “Blue Moon,” the year’s strongest single so far, remodels typical folk rock with layered guitars and slow but resounding verses. Standout Track: “Blackbird Chain”
“Grassed Inn” by Blank Realm
“Falling Down the Stairs,” track two from Blank Realm’s sophomore disc, jangles like Paul Simon’s 1986 classic “I Know What I Know” — but with more frantic turns. The repetitive chorus highlights the best features from “Grassed Inn”: organic hollers and never-ending string loops. Standout Track: “Falling Down the Stairs”
“Oxymoron” by Schoolboy Q
How on-point is Schoolboy Q throughout “Oxymoron?” He holds his own against pal Kendrick Lamar, known to spit show-stopping verses through guest appearances. Hip-hop’s most complete 2014 release includes full-circle storytelling not heard since Lamar’s 2012 project, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.” Standout Track: “Blind Threats”
“Benji” by Sun Kil Moon
Sun Kil Moon lead singer Mark Kozelek could craft a 12-minute, Bob Dylan-esque epic detailing a part-time used car salesman’s lunch break. Kozelek and his attention to detail push the album’s songs to greater and more meaningful levels than even exceptional songwriters can reach. Standout Track: “I Love My Dad”