I got a bit bored doing the usual list of albums because it seems like such an old man thing to do and I hate being reminded that I’m an old man. So I’m mixing it up a bit with singles, bands, and other things. The envelopes please…
SAD GIRLS FINISH FIRST
Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey
Lana is still singing melancholy songs about bad boys and the sad girls who love them, but on her second album she dumped the pop beats and annoying baby-girl voice that marred her first record and instead wrapped them in a gauzy haze of strings, Spaghetti-Western guitars, and narcotic tempos. The result was a stunning album of ethereal torch songs that surprised even fans like me with how good it all was. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and all the hater shit thrown at her seems to have given Lana the fuck-you creative strength to tear a telephone book in half — or at least make my favorite album of the year.
It’s appropriate that Annie Clark looked like some futuristic alien deity on the cover of her fourth album because that was the one where I crossed over from merely liking her to devoted worship. Streamlining her sound even more into sleek, diamond-hard art-rock, she sounded like the result of a lab experiment that spliced together the DNA of Laurie Anderson and Prince. Annie is probably the most outrageously talented being in the galaxy right now — of any gender or species.
UNLIKELY POP HERO
Seasons (Waiting On You) – Future Islands
The best single of the year was a synthpop tune sung by a gruff-voiced little bloke who looked like the love child of Marlon Brando and Bob Hoskins and danced as if he had faulty springs in his knees. Isn’t pop music great?
If St. Vincent is an alien then Angel Olsen is like some old-timey spirit conjured up in a seance instead of a recording studio that haunts your home through a crackly old radio. The intensity of her performances does suggest that she is possessed by something, and on her emotionally stirring Burn Your Fire For No Witness album this would be the ghosts of Roy Orbison, Link Wray, PJ Harvey, and that girl behind the counter in the record shop you’re too scared to talk to.
NICE SLEEVE, BUT…
LP1 — FKA Twigs
This stunning image was my favorite record sleeve of the year and I would love to have bought it in all it’s 12″ vinyl-sized glory but I’m afraid I have failed to be moved by hot-new-talent FKA Twigs. She’s striking for sure, and her records are full of pretty electronic textures, but it sounds to me like she forgot to write any actual tunes to go along with them so they just float by without leaving a mark. Am I right, or just an old fart not hip to the new thing?
FUCK ART, LET’S DANCE
PlectrumElectrum – Prince & 3rdEyeGirl
The always over-achieving Prince put out two albums this year and his solo effort got the best reviews because it was the most musically adventurous of the two, but I enjoyed the shit out of his 3rdEyeGirl collaboration way more. Prince playing freaky funk-rock with a group of girls recalled his glory days with The Revolution and the effortless way it jumped between genres — guitar jams, pop, R&B ballads — reminded the world that he still has more talent in a pimple on his bum than most entire groups have in their whole bodies — including their horn sections and roadies.
It’s been a long time since I’ve really liked a straight guitar band like Wolf Alice, but the London four-piece have a winning knack for melody and rock-song dynamics that hits a headbanging sweet spot I still have. They’ve honed and refined those skills on the singles and EPs they’ve released over the past two years, getting noticeably louder and more confident on the “Creature Songs” EP this year. They haven’t made an album yet but they’ve set a high bar for themselves. Don’t blow it, kids.
Sucker – Charli XCX
Charli’s ridiculously entertaining second album was originally due out in October but was put back to mid-December (and not until 2015 in the UK) which meant it got left off a lot of best-of-year lists where it deserved to be placed near the top. A very different record from her debut, full of brash and shouty pop-punk anthems that in the old days would have got parents banging a broom on the ceiling to get their teens to turn that rubbish down. In classic pop music tradition there’s even a song about masturbation.