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December 11, 2014

best of 2014

Welcome to the annual Best Of edition of our Update, where we feature Other Music's favorite releases of the past year. This time we've divided the lists up, today spotlighting the 30 new albums that we feel represent the best and most forward-thinking music of 2014, and then tomorrow we'll focus on the year's essential archival releases. Once again we're forgoing any sort of ranking of the titles -- given the diverse and passionate tastes of the Other Music staff and customers, we could never agree on the single best record! It truly was a great year for music and in the end the staff consensus is that the albums below represent the best of the best, the most exciting and interesting music that we heard at Other Music in 2014.

announcements

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DOGFISH HEAD CRAFT BREWERY ANALOG-A-GO-GO NYC 2014

THIS SUNDAY, DECEMBER 14

Eataly: 200 5th Avenue, New York, NY
Analog-A-Go-Go NYC 2014 Event Page
 

We're always excited to get together with our friends from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery for some great music and beer, and after trekking to their Delaware brewery for the last few years for the always awesome Analog-A-Go-Go vinyl market, beer and craft festival, we convinced them to take it on the road and set up shop in New York! This Sunday, December 14, we are hosting a very special party with Dogfish Head and Eataly, featuring rare beers, great food, some amazing handpicked craft vendors, and records! Other Music will be curating a selection of our favorite LPs of the year, as well as a ton of other vinyl goodies. We'll also be DJing some of the best music of 2014, and we invited Steve Gunn to perform too! All the details are listed here and tickets are limited and on sale now. (The 2 to 5 p.m. session is now sold out but there are still a handful of tickets available for the second session from 6 to 9 p.m.) We hope you will join us for this premiere edition of Analog-A-Go-Go NYC!

best new albums of 2014

AMEN DUNES
Love
(Sacred Bones)

Amen Dunes' newest record was the first with a full band, but it somehow plays like the most personal statement in Damon McMahon's short yet already prolific career. An album full of recurring themes, lyrical motifs and melodies, Love not only feels like McMahon's definitive work, but it is also one of the most devastatingly beautiful records that we heard this year. It's a sonically dense suite of songs with lots of acoustic instrumentation, smooth jazzy bass, piano on many tracks, and soft percussion rattling in the distance. Love has all the makings of an indie classic and could be compared to influences as seemingly disparate as Syd Barrett, Cass McCombs' Wit's End, Father John Misty, Wilco, the La's, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spoon, Jim James, Rufus Wainwright's Poses, the Gris Gris, Velvets and beyond.

$13.99 CD
$15.99 LP


JOEY ANDERSON
After Forever
(Dekmantel)

This New Jersey DJ-turned-producer cut his teeth during the '90s frequenting famed clubs like the Sound Factory. It wasn't until 2011, however, that Joey Anderson began releasing his own productions with his debut full-length coming out earlier this year on the Amsterdam-based Dekmantel label. After Forever is a tasty collection of synth-led melodic house that comes across like a blend of Theo Parrish's original productions with DJ Sprinkle's delicate sense of detail and layers. A mixture of beat-less cuts positioned between floor-fillers and arpeggiated keyboard jams, After Forever plays like a proper album with Anderson delivering exactly what a house-head wants: deep bass lines, engaging rhythms, textured melodies, touches of acid, nontraditional accents, and grooves that are impossible to resist.

$18.99 CD


WILLIS EARL BEAL
Experiments in Time
(No Label)

Having struggled to find his place on XL Recordings spin-off label Hot Charity, Willis Earl Beal retreated from the limelight in 2014, and with Experiments in Time returned to his original position as an outsider artist. As the title may suggest, the Army vet's third full-length is a journey in atmosphere -- music constructed to pass the day away. Mainly built around a synth and his voice, Beal creates an intimate, emotive landscape that's all at once subtle yet heartfelt. Lyrically pieced together from text he had written during his ascent to the big time, his words are raw yet inspired and feel like they're pouring from the mouth of an impassioned street performer. Among the many thank-yous in the album's liner notes, Beal reveals some of the inspiration that led to his newly stripped-down approach: King Krule, Leonard Cohen, Jandek, Cat Power, Philip Glass. This is a surprisingly beautiful album, with a hypnotic atmosphere and a strong emotional center.

$16.99 CD


BUDOS BAND
Burnt Offering
(Daptone)

Budos Band is one of several Daptone-family groups spearheaded by producer/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Tom Brenneck, who also has made waves with Menahan Street Band, and has been instrumental in Charles Bradley's career. Brenneck's angle on vintage soul is a bit darker than that of the Dap-Kings, however, and this smoky burner of a record may be his most coherent and original production to date. Last year Charles Bradley and the Budos Band cut a great version of Black Sabbath's "Changes," which sort of telegraphed the group's new direction; as per the windblown wizard on the album's cover art, Burnt Offering has a heavy psychedelic sound that pays tribute to Sabbath and Pentagram while not abandoning Budos' knack for thrilling horn charts or deep Afro-funk grooves. Both soulful and headbanging, the production and arrangements are meticulously analog and vintage, yet totally original and new.

$14.99 CD
$18.99 LP


HOLLIE COOK
Twice
(Mr Bongo)

The daughter of Sex Pistols' Paul Cook, who first gained some attention in her own right as a member of the Slits during their mid-2000s reformation, Hollie Cook's dub-heavy self-titled 2011 album was a standout, and Cook returned in 2014 with another great record of tropical pop produced by Prince Fatty. Joined by the likes of Dennis Bovell, Omar, Winston Francis, and George Dekker, Twice proved to be a bit deeper than her enjoyable debut, with heavier bass and lots of percussion, but also swelling strings and even a touch of Italo disco. It's U.K. pop-reggae in the best sense, in love with the history but honest about its own origin story, including a great tribute to Cook's former Slits bandmate, Ari Up.

$11.99 CD
$19.99 LP


MAC DEMARCO
Salad Days
(Captured Tracks)

The Mac DeMarco that you hear on Salad Days is two years older, a million miles of touring wiser, and several thousand Marlboros smokier than the impish hell-raiser we met on his debut. His basic sound -- like a monster mash of Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti and a fuzzy Steely Dan song that you accidentally tune into during an all-night drive -- hasn't so much evolved as bloomed, revealing a smart, lyrical storyteller and a keen arranger. But on Salad Days, what you'll hear between those silky lines is the earnest and thoughtful reckoning of a road-worn soul, like Spicoli emerging from the forest as a wizened yogi. You could draw plenty of lines from Mac to other guitar-centric songwriters, including Martin Newell and Jonathan Richman, or even to contemporary Brooklyn bands and fellow Deadheads like Real Estate, but the blue-eyed moods that he strikes across the album share far more in common with soul singers and crooners of the past.

$14.99 CD
$21.99 LP


FKA TWIGS
LP1
(Young Turks)

Following a pair of highly praised EPs, the debut full-length by British newcomer FKA Twigs was one of the most anticipated releases of the summer. Her seductive album continued Tahliah Barnett's development of a sparse and open variation of the new electronic soul formula, quickly positioning herself as the princess of the new wave of electronic-infused R&B. Bridging the gaps between sub-genres by accenting her songs with sonics usually associated with dubstep, grime, hip-hop, and topped with a shiny, crisp pop overcoat, the end result is a unique fusion of current UK underground sounds and glitchy pop with the sonic body hollowed out. The reductive aspects of the production bring the listener into a bass-filled womb leaving Barnett's airy, seductive vocals as a center point while giving the surrounding sound more weight. FKA Twigs quietly declared herself one of the weirdest, most impassioned, cosmopolitan and organically multifaceted talents to come around since the early days of Bjork's solo career, and with LP1, many became hypnotized by her siren's call.

$13.99 CD
$17.99 LP


ROMAN FLUGEL
Happiness Is Happening
(Dial)

Roman Flugel has been churning out hugely popular house and techno tracks for close to twenty years now under numerous aliases, without ever conforming to a particular genre or sound. Perhaps that's why he's never been much of a household name, but this year's excellent Happiness Is Happening sought to change that, melding kosmische, house, braindance-style IDM and even ambient into the mix, without a hint of cliché. The album sounds incredible on a great hi-fi and many of these tracks would fit perfectly in a DJ's opening set, but its real beauty comes out when you throw on a pair of headphones and get a chance to catch all the hidden sonics swirling beneath the surface. This isn't just another good record from Roman Flugel, but rather a true artistic statement that should firmly cement his name in the dance music canon.

$17.99 CD


FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB
Pinata
(Madlib Invazion)

This great pairing of Midwest rapper Freddie Gibbs and California producer Madlib made for one of the best hip-hop albums we heard in 2014. Indeed, Piñata is a fitting title, for when you break open this record you'll find 17 bite-sized treats, with Madlib's blaxploitation sonics getting a dose of realness from Gibbs' inner-city, good-time blues. Overall, the distinct sound comes off like a mix of Madlib's Jaylib collaboration with Dilla, his Nittyville long-player with Guilty Simpson, and RZA during his more deep and vibrant Wu-Tang productions. Gibbs certainly holds his own over the odd time signatures and loopy abstractions, lending Piñata plenty of grit, street and personality.

$17.99 CD
$26.99 2LP


GROUPER
Ruins
(Kranky)

Ruins found Liz Harris offering her sparsest Grouper album to date, the shroud of hiss and reverb that often envelops her tracks almost completely lifted for most of the record and revealing not much more instrumentation than the gorgeous melodic lull of an upright piano and her voice. Mostly recorded in 2011 on a four-track during an artist retreat on the unspoiled coast of Portugal, the decay of objects, relationships and life itself seems to be the prevalent theme, and the heavy sense of resignation throughout defies the weightlessness of the actual music. When she sings, "I have a present to give you, when we figure it out," during "Call Across Rooms," Harris sounds genuinely exhausted, her breathy voice almost cracking with her knowing that she'll be holding onto that present forever.

$14.99 CD
$15.99 LP


STEVE GUNN
Way Out Weather
(Paradise of Bachelors)

Steve Gunn has made a bunch of great records over the past decade, as a sideman (with Kurt Vile and others), a collaborator, and a bandleader. His solo output, however, has come into sharp focus of late, and following 2013's stellar Time Off, his latest is yet another career high. Even more expansive and compulsive than the last one, Way Out Weather is also more immediate than its predecessor in many ways, as it effortlessly conjures this rollicking yet supremely laid-back vibe that brilliantly foregrounds Gunn's growth as a singer and songwriter. With a lazy Stones-y vibe throughout, the instrumental interplay is also more complex and intertwined, constantly reaching for greater heights with a larger cast of players (contributing shades of dobro, harp, pedal steel, banjo, and electronics) who each seem to perfectly know where to fit amidst this ever-growing cosmos.

$13.99 CD
$18.99 LP


ANDY HAAS
Taballah
(Self Release)

Over the course of Andy Haas' long yet quietly modest career, this NYC-based saxophonist has recorded with the likes of Keiji Haino, John Zorn, and Martha & the Muffins, yet some of his most satisfying and deep work have been his solo explorations. This approach reached a creative zenith with Taballah, in which Haas crafts a dark, serrated, propulsive world made from just solo horns and reed instruments, a number of live effects, and a taal tarang (an Indian tabla drum machine). Recorded as a tribute to producer Muslimgauze, these pieces throb and burn like a fever dream, with the machine drums squelching like a bad trip in a desert rave, while his reeds bend and wobble in the heat that his live processing creates. The man can shred, and Taballah proved to be a rousing triumph highly recommended to fans of the recent strains of shadowed, mutated electronics and dark ambient led by labels like Blackest Ever Black, Modern Love, et al. This was one of our favorite experimental albums of 2014, and it's a wonderful introduction to one of NYC's most valuable yet under-regarded musicians.

$9.99 CD


MATTHEW HALSALL & THE GONDWANA ORCHESTRA
When the World Was One
(Gondwana)

British trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Matthew Halsall has shown himself to be one of contemporary jazz's strongest talents in recent years, and while we've loved his past efforts, he really blew us away with When the World Was One, the first album by his eight-piece Gondwana Orchestra. With an expanded lineup of piano, bass, drums, saxophone, flute, harp, and koto joining him, Halsall took his love of both Alice and John Coltrane (and their respective pool of highly influential collaborators) and created a masterpiece that signaled both a new direction and a refinement of his roots. Each piece swings hard with a deep groove, a meditative calm, and a mildly exotic texture that nods to modal stylings, a bit of soul, and the traditional court musics of Japan. Combining a serious and spiritual calm with joyous and accessible melodic structure, When the World Was One proved to be one of the modern era's most breathtaking and pure spiritual jazz albums. (Back in stock on Tuesday, 12/16.)

$18.99 CD
$32.99 2LP


MOIRÉ
Shelter
(Werkdiscs / Ninja Tune)

Moire has described his sound as "the moments before the take off," and indeed that's a proper reflection of the steady and elevating sonic productions that he created on Shelter. Finding a nice home between Actress' loopy, broken dancefloor house and the psych-funk techno of Kyle Hall and Theo Parrish, here the London-based producer layers analogue sounds into patterns that swirl, hover and dart through the atmosphere. It all adds up to a cohesive 45-minutes and is a joy to listen from start to finish when synths and beats are on the menu, with just enough balance between openness, drive, soul, and groove. Shelter effortlessly mirrors those hedonistic moments of a primetime dancefloor while also soundtracking those moments when you're out in the city as the sun is rising and the drugs are still rolling, but the party's reached its end.

$14.99 CD
$29.99 2LP


NINOS DU BRASIL
Novos Misterios
(Hospital)

Armed with piles of South American percussion, stacks of analogue electronics, and some fiery chanting vocals, Italian duo Ninos Du Brasil crafted a hypnotic spell fusing the propulsive, festive hypnotism of Brazilian carnival, an intoxicating, relentless Vodou throb, and a strong dose of punk snarl into truly modern music reminiscent of the "urban gamelan" of UK post-punks 23 Skidoo. Replacing the b-boy funk and proto-rap grooves with contemporary techno dancefloor sounds and jungle drums, Ninos Du Brasil revealed and explored the simultaneous primitivism and modernity of each, in the process creating one of the year's most unique and distinctive albums, sure to appeal to anyone with a passion for drums, for dirty, aggressive rhythms, and for the darker strains of the techno/industrial spectrum. Its urban exotica made for one of the most welcome leftfield curveballs to come out in a long while.

$15.99 CD


ANGEL OLSEN
Burn Your Fire for No Witness
(Jagjaguwar)

We have been blessed with a wealth of fantastic young female singer-songwriters of late, but amidst all the great music, 2014 was the year when Angel Olsen really made herself heard. Olsen's earlier recordings tended towards a fairly faithful early-country/Americana vibe, and her voice is most easily compared to the sound that a singing saw makes: mournful and elastic, at once undeniably American in origin but utterly cosmic in application. She's downright spooky at times, like a Leonard Cohen song emanating from Karen Dalton's mouth, yet regardless of the references, on Burn Your Fire for No Witness Olsen crafted something as fresh as it is classic, with a varied sound that adds rockabilly, as well as more modern touchstones, to the mix. There's a good amount of twanging lilt to her voice, but she never sounds like she's dressing up her songs in flannels and cowboy boots, and the record is not afraid to really rock; producer John Congleton ensures that Olsen comes across as what she is: a continuation and evolution of past singers as diverse as Vashti Bunyan, Moe Tucker, and Nancy Sinatra, but never an imitation of any of them.

$13.99 CD
$15.99 LP


PARQUET COURTS
Sunbathing Animal
(What's Your Rupture)

There's no denying that this awesome Brooklyn-based group are heavily indebted to '90s-era indie rock, but unlike so many other bands mining the same inspirations, Parquet Courts always make it sound fresh. While you could still hear the influences of Pavement, Archers of Loaf, and the Fall on Sunbathing Animal, we saw the group getting a little more focused, balancing ferocity with restraint and trading some of their shambolic charm for something perhaps a little more, well, serious. It all made for an incredible follow-up to their 2013 breakthrough, Light Up Gold, and if that weren't enough, PQ principles Andrew Savage and Austin Brown just dropped another album to close out the year. The ramshackle Content Nausea features a modified version of the band and is more informed by the UK DIY of a bygone era, and it's right up there with Sunbathing Animal!

$13.99 CD
$17.99 LP


PHARMAKON
Bestial Burden
(Sacred Bones)

As Pharmakon, Margaret Chardiet's deeply personal brand of noisy psycho angst music mines the harsh industrial territory of heavyweights like Einstürzende Neubauten, approximates the Afro-futurist rhythmic punch of Cut Hands, and explores a darkened black metal sensibility inhabited by cult heroes Darkthrone or even Mayhem. This year's Bestial Burden was born out of a near death experience which left Chardiet bedridden for three weeks recovering from a major medical surgery and, as she is quoted in the press sheet, "hyperaware of the complex network of systems just beneath the skin, any of which were liable to fail or falter at any time." Voices are layered throughout this record, and whether screaming, gasping for air, or breathing heavily, the sense of ultimate bodily malfunction is felt. In fact, much of Bestial Burden sounds like her lungs are collapsing both literally and figuratively, with submerged beats and deep-end gurgling synth creating a sort of oozing, rhythmic creep. Not for the faint of heart, it's Pharmakon's most violently personal album to date, and also one of the best heavy, noisy, and extreme outcries from the underground in 2014.

$11.99 CD ON SALE
$16.99 LP


MICHAEL PISARO
Continuum Unbound
(Gravity Wave)

American composer Michael Pisaro is perhaps best known to enthusiasts of contemporary composition as a member of the Wandelweiser collective, an international group of composers who share the common bond of exploring and integrating the sounds of silence into their works. Their music is of a different sort of minimalism than the more rhythmic styles commonly associated with that term, and Pisaro's latest offering -- a three-CD box set entitled Continuum Unbound -- is a breathtaking document attempting to capture, dissect, and then organize and score minute moments of sound in its most "natural" state. Each disc in the set is comprised of a single 72-minute piece of sound architecture, with each successive work a simultaneous deconstruction and evolution on the elements of the previous. The combined elements of Continuum Unbound serves as a beautiful ensemble reinterpretation and deconstruction of the sort of subtle compositional acousmatic works pioneered by composer Luc Ferrari, in which a naturally occurring environmental event is theatrically recreated in the sound world via a combination of documentary recordings, instrumental performances, and studio processing. Pisaro managed to create one of the most truly moving and beautiful pieces of modern sonics that we'd heard in ages, paying tribute to past craftsmen of acousmatic composition while simultaneously pushing his own vision forward. Continuum Unbound is one of 2014's most ambitious, satisfying, and noteworthy experimental releases, simply leaving us blown away.

$54.99 3CD BOX


RUN THE JEWELS
2
(Mass Appeal)

Heavy, dark and menacing while still deeply melodic and musical, hard-as-fuck without being thuggish or boneheaded, the second full-length from El-P and Killer Mike's Run the Jewels project is full of the best sort of contradictions. None, however, are more amazing than the fact that these left-of-center, thoroughly original rap game veterans delivered a genuine hit record in 2014, with it being one of the best new hip-hop albums we've heard in some time. Run the Jewels feels like the perfect outlet for both of these strong personalities, one southern and black, one northern and white, both highly acclaimed as solo artists, yet undoubtedly better together. Hip-hop is pop music these days, and as such, we all take it for granted that we will be force-fed the blandest, lowest-common-denominator bullshit, but this record proves once again that talent and perseverance can break through.

$12.99 CD
$31.99 2LP


SHABAZZ PALACES
Lese Majesty
(Sub Pop)

Sub Pop's first ever hip-hop signees, Shabazz Palaces, returned in 2014 with Lese Majesty, and it's a psychedelic cloud rap masterpiece. Since their 2011 debut, the duo of Ishmael Butler a/k/a Palaceer Lazaro (f/k/a Butterfly from Digable Planets) and Tendai 'Baba' Maraire have tightened their focus on spreading their myth-making music to the masses. Where previously the duo was blending the African and the urban into a singular future-funk fusion, Lese Majesty takes that spaceship truly out into the cosmos. Also gone is the tight and overtly pro-black/soapbox mythology, replaced here by a looser and headier stream of sub-conscious, multilayered sharpness. Think of the outsider yet futuristically urban hip-hop of past decades from Antipop Consortium, Outkast or Cannibal Ox, to Divine Styler, Jungle Brothers or Afrika Bambaataa -- this is a continuation of that lineage, but it's also the next step forward and to the left. Shabazz Palaces has all that, and we've been going back to this record again and again all year. Heady and vibey, subtly funky, oddly smart, equal parts weird and wonderful, if you like your hip-hop to sneak up on you and activate your brain, then here ya go.

$13.99
$25.99 2LP+MP3


SLEAFORD MODS
Divide and Exit
(Harbinger Sound)

Following a slew of CD-Rs and last year's Austerity Dogs full-length that put this Nottingham post-punk rap duo in some manner of spotlight amidst those who knew, came 2014's Divide and Exit. Overworked, overdriven, this is the sound of the daily grind and never getting ahead, of exploitation, degradation, vulgarity and destruction of the social contract -- the sound of collapse from inside the structure. Upbeat drum patterns and bass lines roll behind Jason Williamson's onslaught of words, and nothing is safe -- even him. Even if you hated this record (and you might have), it still was hard to deny Sleaford Mods' importance in the moment.

$17.99 CD
$24.99 LP


SOUNDCARRIERS
Entropicalia
(Ghost Box)

Of all the Ghost Box label's great releases in 2014, our personal favorite was a stunning and perhaps surprising album by this Nottingham-based group, the Soundcarriers. Over the course of their third album, Entropicalia, they've crafted breathtaking vistas of lush, complex psychedelia that pulls from myriad influences -- the grand, epic soul orchestrations of David Axelrod and Charles Stepney, the DIY bedsit sci-fi of Joe Meek and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, light sprinkles of post-war exotica and bachelor-pad jazz, and the sun-soaked astral whimsy of 1960s California harmony vocal pop -- and then fused it all into something that rings of familiarity, yet retains a wholly unique visage and sound. It's all filtered through the same sort of through-the-looking-glass sonic surrealism as bands like Broadcast, Tame Impala, Death and Vanilla, or the Sufis -- these are groups who have updated classic tropes of psychedelia for the omnivorous iPod set, showing that nothing is off-limits, while draping the proceedings in styles both comfortable and beguiling. With Entropicalia, the Soundcarriers rightfully stepped forward as a group not to be ignored; this was perhaps the most confident, nuanced, and vivid album the band has yet produced, sounding delightfully chimerical.

$17.99 CD


ANDY STOTT
Faith in Strangers
(Modern Love)

British producer Andy Stott has become one of electronic music's most highly regarded and feverishly followed creative figures in recent years, and his album Faith in Strangers was another remarkable surprise in that it ably managed to elevate and beef up his deft balance of brute force and sensual texture, each a key facet of his cosmopolitan dystopia. Tempos jitter, twitch, and crawl schizophrenically, employing flutters of IDM abstraction whilst remaining anchored to Alison Skidmore's beautiful vocals; the album is HEAVY, but also deeply kinetic, almost erotic at times, infused with a primality of both the savage and mathematical senses. The producer seems to be searching for beauty in urbanity's ugliest crevices, with each arrangement spurting oil and sparks, creaking under its own body weight, with Skidmore cooing and whispering like a scrapyard siren beckoning lost souls into blackened depths with neon flickers. While perhaps not to everyone's tastes, Faith in Strangers stood out as perhaps the strongest dispatch yet by a truly unique and singular presence that has become oft imitated yet never duplicated.

$17.99 CD ON SALE
$25.99 2LP


SWANS
To Be Kind
(Young God)

Swans' return to the center of the experimental rock world after many long years away was unexpected and unprecedented, yet with To Be Kind Michael Gira proved they are here to stay, with an exponentially increased extension of the unrelenting brutality that has always been the one key constant in their epic discography. What's most shocking about this LP is its swagger and groove. Yes, that's right, there are moments on To Be Kind that swing, bump, and swivel unlike anything else they've ever recorded. The album on the whole combines the orchestral noise of their recent recordings with a mutated interpretation of New Orleans rhythm, creating an opus that occasionally proves more inviting to the casual listener, while also leading toward some of their darkest, most dystopian soundscapes ever. It plays at times like an entirely fucked-up mutation built upon strands of DNA extracted from Dr. John's Gris-Gris, Tom Waits' Bone Machine, and Scott Walker's Tilt -- all albums with a dark, jagged tone, yet anchored by a lopsided funk that's as grotesque and hypnotically repulsive as it is kinetic. To Be Kind proves to be what is perhaps Swans' most nuanced and accomplished work, while sacrificing none of the intensity upon which they built their reputation.

$16.99 2CD
$22.99 2CD+DVD
$29.99 3LP+MP3


TOTAL CONTROL
Typical System
(Iron Lung)

Total Control's Typical System was one of the most anticipated records of 2014 to come out of the thriving punk underground. An absolute beast of a follow-up to 2011's jaw-dropping Henge Beat, this Australian sextet grabs you from the first synth gurgle of Depeche Mode-ian opener "Glass," and on through tracks like "Black Spring," which has a fierce anarcho energy with fast down-strumming a la fellow Aussies Eddy Current Suppression Ring or even Parquet Courts by way of Crass. A project that drips from the mind of multi-instrumentalist and lead vocalist Dan Stewart, whenever these guys get together and write a new record it pretty much redefines the terms in which you'd use to describe the very music they perform. In Total Control's world, 'post-punk' as a genre is rendered obsolete and the band exists on its own plane, playing by its own post-everything rules.

$15.99 LP


MORENO VELOSO
Coisa Boa
(Luaka Bop)

While many know him as the son of one of the most legendary and beloved songwriters and musicians of Brazil, singer, composer and producer Moreno Veloso has long shown himself to be an immensely talented and innovative creative figure in his own right. It was with Coisa Boa, though, that Moreno (son of famed singer/songwriter Caetano Veloso) truly stepped up with a near-perfect platter of gentle avant-bossa, fractured cubist samba, and hypnotic beachfront lullabies. The album knits a breathtaking patchwork filled with gentle, woozy melodies, softly clattering percussion, subtle electronic textures, intertwining guitar lines, and just enough oddity to keep the music surprising without sacrificing the masterful song craft anchoring the proceedings. It's rare that the offspring of such a highly canonized performer is able to step up and produce comparable work to their predecessors; Moreno managed with considerable aplomb while seeming coolly casual and nonchalant about doing so, leading to one of this year's most quietly mesmerizing albums.

$15.99 CD
$19.99 LP


THE WAR ON DRUGS
Lost in the Dream
(Secretly Canadian)

Though the War on Drugs have been around for a decade, the band really hit its stride this year, and Lost in a Dream is not just a favorite at Other Music, it is one of the most universally praised indie releases of 2014, an ecstatic rock album, filled with songs that roll like thunder until they explode into color. Production-wise, the record shares DNA strains with that gloriously clean 1970s style of rock and roll production, the kind that seemed to emanate like magic from the fingers of Jeff Lynne and Lindsey Buckingham. "Dreaming" is the most Springsteen-esque, with some well-placed howls, lyrics about rivers flowing and being dead to rights, and glittering keyboards that recall "Dancing in the Dark." "Suffering" is a bruising breakup lament woven into a drunkard's alleyway shuffle and some seriously heavy grand piano. This joint is meant to be played at full volume with chugging rockers like "An Ocean in Between the Waves" sounding just as good during morning subway commutes as they do while accompanying long stretches of wide-open highway. It's only recently become cool for indie artists to pay their respects to vintage classic rock, and Adam Granduciel does it better than just about anyone of his generation.

$13.99 CD
$19.99 2LP


PAUL WHITE
Shaker Notes
(R&S)

Paul White's Shaker Notes saw the UK producer shifting away slightly from his roots in the world of hip-hop and stepping out for a more pronounced solo turn. Recorded for noted techno and electronic label R&S, it's a dense array of modern-day psychedelic soul centered around White's own singing and playing. Layering thickets of North African and Middle Eastern percussion, fuzzed-out guitars and organ, neon-hued synth work, and thumping, snapping beats that nod to his past as a rap producer, White vaporizes clouds of his blurry, murmured vocals overtop these dizzying productions, creating a stunning, hypnotic record that somehow simultaneously nods to Madlib, early James Blake, and Jean-Claude Vannier. Whether it proves to be a one-off experiment or a daring new career shift still remains to be seen, but White's bold steps into the spotlight on Shaker Notes led to some of the most surprising, hypnotic, and engaging soul music (not to mention one of the most lovely, densely layered headphone records) we heard in 2014.

$14.99 CD


GIRMA YIFRASHEWA
Love & Peace
(Unseen Worlds)

Released in the summer on Unseen Worlds, Love & Peace is a breathtaking collection of solo piano pieces by composer Girma Yifrashewa, born in Addis Ababa and the first Ethiopian classical pianist to widely perform across the African continent. His haunting melodic works here recall Erik Satie, Keith Jarrett and Claude Debussy, but filtered through the Ethiopian pentatonic scale. Tipping its hat towards the worlds of both jazz and classical music simultaneously, Yifrashewa's study of the krar (a six-stringed Ethiopian lyre) really comes to the fore, coaxing subtle yet intricate melodies and harmonic contrasts from the piano, juxtaposed with a strong polyrhythmic delivery. Easily one of the year's most engrossing classical/ambient works, Love & Peace is also one of the rare classical/instrumental albums that ably satiates both the casual listener and the hard-nosed academic, being both melodically rich and structurally complex.

$13.99 CD

other music recording co. round-up

INVISIBLE FAMILIARS
Clever Devil
(Other Music Recording Co.)

In an effort to avoid any accusations of ballot stuffing, we exclude all Other Music Recording Co. releases from our annual year-end highlights, but we've already seen a number of critics including our artists on their own lists, and we're not shy about reminding you of all the great music we've released this year.

First up was the "Clever Devil" 7" single from Brooklyn's Invisible Familiars, whose debut album drops at the end of January. The A-side is one of the heavier songs off the forthcoming Disturbing Wildlife LP, a sneaky bit of buzzing T. Rex-inspired psychedelic pop, backed with the fuzzed-out swagger of "Digger's Invitation," a non-album track.

$5.99 7"


MUTUAL BENEFIT
The Cowboy's Prayer EP
(Other Music Recording Co.)

Next we have our reissue of Mutual Benefit's The Cowboy's Prayer EP. We released Mutual Benefit's breakthrough LP Love's Crushing Diamond at the very end of 2013, and this earlier mini-album, originally available only as a Bandcamp download, makes for the perfect companion to that record. It finds Jordan Lee developing the distinctive blend of intimate songwriting, subtle orchestration, and loopy found-sound explorations that brought his band worldwide attention. The EP includes a number of staples of the live set, and the remastered release comes beautifully packaged with all new art, including a beautiful vinyl etching on the LP.

$7.99 CD ON SALE
$13.99 LP


WYATT CENAC
Brooklyn
(Other Music Recording Co.)

Our next release was a limited vinyl-only LP of standup comedy from Wyatt Cenac, but that one is out of print, so we're gonna send you to Netflix to catch the companion special, Brooklyn. It's not as cool as an LP, but it's just as funny!

OUT OF PRINT

SHINTARO SAKAMOTO
Let's Dance Raw
(Other Music Recording Co.)

Which brings us to Shintaro Sakamoto's second solo album, Let's Dance Raw. Sakamoto is a singular artist; coming from the world of heavy Japanese psych, his solo work is no less hallucinogenic than his output with Yura Yura Teikoku, but it's far more refined, blending the vintage sounds of AM radio pop, lite funk and easy-listening with a pervasive melancholy and thoughtful intensity. Let's Dance Raw added steel guitar and banjo to the mix, as well as a few deep disco grooves, as Sakamoto explored themes of personal autonomy and human emotion within a dystopian nightmare of a post-apocalyptic Japan. Truly a stunner.

$11.99 CD ON SALE
$15.99 LP+MP3


XYLOURIS WHITE
Goats
(Other Music Recording Co.)

We closed out 2014 with the debut album from a pair of living legends, George Xylouris, a Cretan lute player who comes from a long line of important Greek folk artists, and Jim White, whose tenure with Dirty Three, as well as regular guest slots with artists like Cat Power, Bill Callahan, PJ Harvey and too many others to list, has made him one of the best-loved drummers of today. The music of Xylouris White defies categorization -- many of their songs are built on traditional Cretan melodies, yet Xylouris' unconventional use of the lute as a lead instrument brings new context, and with White's spiraling and deeply melodic drumming as a counterpoint, these songs combine elements of world music, free jazz, post-punk and traditional folk into something completely new and unexpected. Produced by Fugazi's Guy Picciotto, Goats is a stunning debut and a great way for OMRC to close out 2014.

$11.99 CD ON SALE
$13.99 LP+MP3

the big picture

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