Music can be a pretty powerful thing.
We understand the pointlessness of writing this cliche on a music blog, but such is the fact of the matter. Six months of the year Two Thousand and Fourteen have passed in a flurry of work and worry, and the only demarcation in the swiftly speeding days for us – and for others, we suspect – came through the enjoyment of a great, varied mix of albums by artists old and new. So, without further ado, here are our picks for 2014’s Top Five Albums, six months in. Enjoy!
5. Singles by Future Islands
It takes guts to name your album Singles. Not only are you claiming that the entire album is single-ready, but you are also implying that you don’t need a kitschy album name to propel you to fame or to keep you there. But Future Islands are not being ballsy with the title of their latest album. Singles is a nod to the unattached, slight melancholia of single men and women all over the world. In short, they are just being honest-to-God, honest-to-pop-music genuine.
Led by eccentric frontman Samuel Herring, Future Islands have somehow pervaded their entire album with this sense of overwhelming genuineness. The lyrics of their break-out track “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (“Seasons change, But I’ve grown tired of trying to change for you/’Cause I’ve been waiting on you”) would incite the plummet a lesser artist. However, in Herring’s honest, old-school pipes and the band’s unapologetically throw-back synth-pop sentimentality, the song becomes larger than itself. Take, for another example, the sparse beauty of “A Dream of You and Me”, where Herring fuels lovelorn pop sentiments with a crazed realness that makes it sound like one of humankind’s first ever love songs.
All in all, Future Islands’ Singles is a collection of songs about love – lost, gained, but on the whole experienced. Like the figure on their album cover, the band has slightly got their heads in the clouds with this whole ‘love’ thing – but that very quality makes for some genuine, real and wholly enjoyable music.
Best songs: “Seasons (Waiting On You)”, “A Dream of You and Me”, “Fall from Grace”
4. Present Tense by Wild Beasts
On first listen, Wild Beasts sound like a hook-heavy (hook-aware?) version of the National, which is itself not a bad thing to be. Further listens of their stunning debut album Present Tense prove that Wild Beasts are much more, for they seethe, prowl and ravage with the most entertaining of all human inventions: drama.
On the chilling, ominous “Daughters”, Tom Fleming’s deep voice blurs the pronunciation of ‘old men’ as ‘omen’ in an ode to a destructive, fiery daughter in an apocalyptic world. On “Mecca”, the band makes a potentially controversial metaphor between to the real Mecca (“I’m a pilgrim and you’re the shrine”) on a song that’s really a beautiful, graceful sex song. The shivering pulses on “Nature Boy” seethe with self-righteous jealousy against a number of people and things.
Like we said, quite entertaining. In a way, Present Tense is almost an inadvertent homage to drama itself, unfurling, folding and twisting in all its lurid, lusty and forceful grandness.
Best songs: “Mecca”, “Wanderlust”, “A Dog’s Life”
3. Sunbathing Animals by Parquet Courts
Brooklyn-based Parquet Courts are widely regarded by many to be Gotham’s successor to those unbeatable indie rock gods, the Strokes. Sure, it’s an over-statement, but there’s more than a kernel of truth there: the opening riffs of several songs on the album are starkly Strokesian. But the great part about Sunbathing Animals is the fact that Parquet Courts cleverly combine this archetypal NYC indie rock sound with those of several other great bands – Pavement, Joyce Manor and Yuck, to name a few.
But Parquet Courts are not just a pastiche of well-known indie rock bands. They may seem like just a ridiculously dance-able wall of sound at first, but they’ve got a lot more up their sleeves. Frontman Andrew Savage’s non-stop flow of words are somewhat unintelligible, but listen closer and you will find that they are quite well-written. For example, between the frenetic chug of guitar and drums on “Black and White”, Savage acutely articulates the very intensity of their music (“Nothing makes my heart so wild as being in possession of a potent night/Racing down the stairs in a nude descension shedding and discarding my hide”) and tosses it up with some good old-fashioned self-doubt (“Is the solitude I seek a trap where I’ve been blindly led?/ Tell me, where then do I go instead?”).
Nor are they just a wall of sound. The mellower “Dear Ramona” and “Into the Garden” are perfect breathers between crazy-energy pieces like “Ducking and Dodging”, “Always Back in Town” and the afore-described “Black and White”.
At the moment, Parquet Courts could do with a little more self-restraint – the over-the-top rants on the eponymous “Sunbathing Animal” or the painful harmonica solo on “She’s Rollin” are a few examples in this direction. Hopefully, with time, the craziness can be reined in (just a little) to produce some truly terrific indie rock. We’re certainly looking forward to that day.
Best tracks: “Black and White”, “Dear Ramona”, “Ducking and Dodging”
2. Salad Days by Mac DeMarco
As you, the frequent reader, might have noticed, we at Top Five Records are big fans of the perfectly-chosen album cover. The image that graces an album (or, in our times, the webpage from where you’re streaming or downloading the album) is perhaps the first and strongest impression your mind forms about what your ears are about to take in.
Mac DeMarco’s latest album Salad Days features the lanky, easy-going singer half-smiling at us in everyman clothes, bathed in dappled sunlight. Just from that image, you might expect laid-back guitar-based pop that could conceivably be played in someone’s backyard on a lazy Sunday afternoon – and, happily, that’s exactly what you get.
But don’t think that Salad Days is an obviously-named reflection on the passing of one’s salad days, though. On the eponymous first track, DeMarco seems to veer towards the topic (“Missing hippy Jon, salad days are gone/Remembering things just to tell ‘em so long”) before gently chiding himself: “Oh mama, actin’ like my life’s already over/Oh dear, act your age and try another year.” It’s precisely this charming, self-deprecatory manner that makes Salad Days so refreshing.
Besides, DeMarco looks exactly like Wayne from Wayne’s World. Who doesn’t love that?!
Best tracks: “Salad Days”, “Let My Baby Stay”, “Let Her Go”
1. No Mythologies to Follow by MØ
Last year, we frothed at the mouth about “Pilgrim”, a bewitching song by Danish recording artist MØ (real name: Karen Marie Ørsted). It should come as no surprise that MØ’s debut album No Mythologies to Follow is our favourite album from these past six months.
Throughout the album, MØ sways and amazes with her sheer variety of intoxicating beats – and the way her talented vocals mesh with them. Seriously, nearly every song on the album stands out in its own breath-taking way. There’s the lurching pulse on the vengeful “Fire Rides”. The melodic, Haim-like “Maiden”, full of sparkly Scandinavian pop hooks, showcases MØ’s sultry-voiced avatar. “Don’t Wanna Dance”, a dance-pop gem about bad boys that make MØ want to tear her white skin apart, would suit heavy radio rotation perfectly. There’s the drunken, pop-lock confidence of “Waste of Time”. It’s enough to almost overshadow the hypnotic perfection of “Pilgrim”. (Almost.)
No Mythologies to Follow is an heady piece of art that growls, wails and croons in all the right ways and at all the right places. Yes, that sounds like a cliché, but listen to the album and you’ll see what we mean. No Mythologies to Follow is not just the best album of the last six months: it’s the album to beat in 2014.
Best songs: “Pilgrim”, “Maiden”, “Don’t Wanna Dance”