Hot Tea Cold has a way of making the difficult sound easy, employing methodical craft without ever coming off as fussy, somehow air-tight and loosely free-flowing. The Portland-based three piece explores a surfeit of different sounds, Jazz, Blues, Funk, and Classic Rock among them, without ever losing the deep, instinctual groove that powers their every move. No amount of soloing is ever enough for these guys, and I'm not just talking about Glen Hoover's stellar guitar licks; the bass and drums are never far from the top of their mix, while Drew Baird's saxophone is prone to bursting through at unthinkably ideal moments. No one song does justice to the whole of Hot Tea Cold; my best advice is to just press play, and sink right into the thing.
19. The Moon Rang Like a Bell---Hundred Waters
'Bedroom pop' has been a mainstay of indie music over the last several years, but Hundred Waters' take on the styling still feels fresh to the ears. One of the most patient bands working today, no track on Moon feels even slightly in a rush to 'get to the point,' each sensual sound stretched out like taffy, Nicole Miglis' ghostly voice raising only at the perfect moments. Equal parts haunting and lovely, Moon is jam-packed with hushed secrets that require multiple listens to unearth.
Let's just go ahead, and get this out of the way; THE essential new voice of 2014 belongs to Andrew Hozier-Byrne. His self-titled debut might boast of some expert songwriting and enticingly full-bodied production, but make no mistake, it's the crooner's brawny, emotive voice that makes this one of the year's best. Take Me to Church represents the type of runaway sensation that most artists never get to experience, but when the label-heads finally set out to put a follow-up on the airwaves, they won't be at a loss for songs to choose between. Should they select the sunny sing-a-long Someone New, Jackie and Wilson's faux-marital bliss, Sedated's billowing storm, or something else entirely? So long as Hozier-Byrne's voice is leading the charge, I can't help but think it hardly matters.
17. Too Bright---Perfume Genius
Mike Hadreas has been releasing music under his Perfume Genius moniker since 2010, and yet Too Bright feels like our first proper introduction. Where 2012's Put Your Back N 2 It (and Learning before it) was a lovely, graceful, and shy offering, the Hadreas of TB is a decidedly more extroverted soul, tabling much of the relentless misery of his first pair of LPs in favor of open-hearted balladry that sees nothing wrong with letting its freak flag fly from time to time, as heard on the throbbing, menacing My Body, as well as Grid's 2:39 of electronic oddity. Hadreas' cherubic voice steers the ship all the while, exploring a plethora of different thoughts and sonic worlds, all reigned in under his specific, newly outspoken worldview.
What you see above is quite possibly 2014's most befitting album cover, as both the image, and the disc it belongs to, find a way to marry technicolor beauty with an almost overwhelming sense of strangeness. Over the course of a mere eight-song half hour, Eric Berglund throws every glittering synth, sparkling sound, and effervescently odd sample he can get his hands on into a blender, turns the thing on full blast, and watches the tornado of jubilant madness as it twists and spins about. It's as easy to get wrapped up in as it is difficult to make sense of, a zany odyssey through one blessedly warped mind.
15. Our Love---Caribou
With each new Caribou release, Dan Snaith moves further and further out onto the dance floor. While 2010's spectacular Swim proved far more kinetic and physical that 2007's Andorra, Our Love is really where the guy goes for broke, favoring repetition, minimal lyrics, and a drop or two that would fit a warehouse rave like a glove. The difference between this and most EDM is a far greater sense of patience, and an aversion towards aggressive sounds, each track slowly building a magnanimous swirl of beauteous sounds, as likely to inspire toe-tapping as they are star-gazing.
14. Nikki Nack---tUnE-yArDs
During the writing of this list, I've used words like 'singular,' 'unique,' and 'unmistakable' a handful of times; maybe I should have just saved them all for tUnE-yArDs. While many musicians have managed to craft art that stands apart from the rest of the pack, the work of Merrill Garbus over the last handful of years is, to my ears anyway, completely incomparable to anything else out there. Nearly everything on Nikki Nack is over-flowing with looping instrumentals, schizophrenic changes in cadence, and Garbus' otherworldly voice, equally capable of purring like a kitten, howling like a wolf, and roaring like a lion. This album will undoubtably sound like madcap nonsense to some ears, but all those adventurous enough to follow Garbus down her own personal rabbit hole will not be disappointed with what they find down there.
13. Sadnecessary---Milky Chance
Truth be told, Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch aren't really dying to win your attention. Much of Milky Chance's charm is in just how contented the duo always sound, as though they're playing all of these soft-spoken, mid-tempo winners for themselves alone in the woods somewhere. This description should ring home to anyone who's slowly nodded along to their smash summer single, Stolen Dance, but even the slight uptick in urgency heard on that song's chorus is a bit out of character on Sadnecessary. Rehbein allows the gravel in his voice to rattle around freely, while producer/DJ Dausch ties it up in ribbons made of molasses-denched drum machines, ruminating guitars, and other digital wizardry that sounds far more organic than your average laptop creation. These Germans don't have to jump up and down and wave their hands in order to have you lend an ear; they trust in their songwriting, and you will too.
If rap truly is a young man's game, someone obviously forgot to tell Killer Mike and El-P. This is the sequel to last year's Run The Jewels, and it's difficult to remember a recent second offering in any artistic medium that so severely bettered its predecessor. The MC's both arrive in ridiculously fine form, especially Mike, who can vacillate between raw aggression, mournful poetry, and hyper-speed wordplay in the blink of an eye. The most impressively produced 2014 hip hop record twice over, RTJ2 only gained more power as the year went on, its deep-seeded distrust in the American justice system perfectly scoring some of last year's darkest moments.
Some artists turn the process of making music into a kind of torture, slaving away in post-production booths, agonizing over a certain lyric, or trying to get all of the tuning just right. Ty Segall simply doesn't have the time for all of that, Manipulator representing his seventh solo album in as many years, contributing to no fewer than 25 other LPs over that same span (wait... can that really be true? [double-checks] Yes, yes it can). The frequency of his output has yielded some mixed results, the tireless songwriter occasionally trying on new sounds just to see how they fit, but Manipulator doesn't mess around with all that. This is 100% proof garage, grunge, punk rock, 17 tracks bursting at the seams with razor-sharp ax solos, cascading percussion, and one massive hook after another. For a dude who's never short on ideas or inspiration, Segall is at his rip-roaring best when he's at his most elemental, charging through one 3 minute chunk of rock 'n' roll deliciousness after another.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2014:
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2014: