Young Turks

The 25 Best Albums of 2014
The 25 Best Albums of 2014

15

First Aid Kit, Stay Gold

Given the influence that Swedish musicians have held over American pop of late, it was only a matter of time before a Scandinavian group would step in to redefine contemporary Americana. At 24 and 21 years old, respectively, Johanna and Klara Söderberg are leaving their signature stamp on a style of folk music that their heroes, Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, perfected decades before the sisters’ birth. The driving, heartsick opener “My Silver Lining” establishes the album’s central theme: the pain of chasing ambition at the expense of security, stability, and at least one promising romantic relationship. With full-voiced, intricately braided harmonies reverberating through deep caverns of pedal steel and strings, Stay Gold is a self-assured masterpiece that balances the wisdom gained from careful study of the classics with the wide-eyed wonder of two young women chasing a lofty, and now fully attainable, dream. Annie Galvin

The 25 Best Albums of 2014

14

alt-J, This Is All Yours

alt-J’s intricate, atmospheric art-rock isn’t for everyone. It’s fussy and complicated, simultaneously goofy (check out this sexy analogy: “I’m gonna bed into you like a cat beds into a beanbag”) and over-serious (This Is All Yours features a trilogy of songs about Nara, an ancient Japanese city). alt-J is one of the few bands that actually deserve the anachronistic descriptor “baroque,” especially on “Garden of England,” a ridiculous flute madrigal. They pay no heed to stuffy genre divisions, sampling Miley Cyrus on “Hunger of the Pine” and Conor Oberst and novelist Iris Murdoch on “Warm Foothills.” That’s the kind of agile, usually shallow, pastiche the Internet encourages, but alt-J manages the shifts gracefully and with glimmers of true depth. Caldwell

The 25 Best Albums of 2014

13

Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear

Though she’s well-respected in the industry as a reliable hitmaker for other artists, and has been featured on hits by the likes of David Guetta and Flo Rida, it wasn’t until this year, at the not-so-radio-friendly age of 38, that Sia Furler officially became a household name. Over the last decade, the Aussie singer-songwriter has displayed a singular talent for composing instantly indelible power-pop, and the songs on her sixth album, 1000 Forms of Fear, are no exception, distilling her various forms of fear—of fame, addiction, death, even love—into 12 deceptively easy-to-swallow pop songs. Sia’s secret weapon is that anyone could sing these songs, and yet no one could sing them like she does, her unique, powerful instrument wavering between a steady belt and weary tremolo as the slowly building backing tracks, courtesy of producer Greg Kurstin, respond in kind. Sal Cinquemani

The 25 Best Albums of 2014

12

Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso

Sylvan Esso’s debut achieves a rare and often elusive equilibrium: the confluence of two totally distinct musical styles into a collaboration that feels as though the duo were multiple albums deep into their career. Singer Amelia Meath contributes nuanced vocal inflections that she honed during her stint in the stripped-down folk trio Mountain Man, and her voice, often doubled or tripled in harmonic layers, floats over Nick Sanborn’s synth pulsations and understated percussion. With nimble shifts in tempo, Sylvan Esso pivots from the hip-hop syncopations of “Hey Mami” and “H.S.K.T.” to the fluid, rootsier melodies of “Wolf” and “Play It Right.” It’s deceptively cerebral dance music, inviting you to lose yourself in its buoyant grooves while pausing every now and then to appreciate its intricacies. Galvin

The 25 Best Albums of 2014

11

Aphex Twin, Syro

Few artists could record an album as downright adventurous as Syro. It jumps from eerily funky trip-hop (“produk 29”) to disjointed, robotic acid house (“CIRCLONT6A [141.98]”) and then concludes with a solo piano piece that wouldn’t feel out of place on a recital program alongside Chopin and Satie. But only Aphex Twin could record something this outlandish and appear to be toning down the experimentalism. Syro is a refinement of everything that Aphex Twin has accomplished in his career of genre invention and deconstruction. As a complete work, it’s enveloping, with moments of virtuosic composition (the prog-rock-on-ecstasy of “syro u473t8+e [141.98]”) balanced out by larger, propulsive gestures like rave banger “180db_[130].” While the rest of the electronic music world has been trying to catch up, Aphex Twin is finally taking a breath and, in turn, had released his most accessible—though still profoundly idiosyncratic—album to date. Rainis

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