January 02, 2015

Tapes on the Floor's Favorite Tracks of 2014 (Pt. I)

In a perfect world, the music industry would take the month of January off, give themselves a collective pat on the back and allow me enough to time to reflect on the previous year before beginning 2015's barrage of new singles and albums. Since that's not going to happen, I'm taking my time and methodically listening my way through some of my favorite songs from the past year. Last year I got cocky and came up with 50 tunes, but this year I'm being realistic and gathering up the top 40. As usual, you can see half of my favorite tracks right now and the latter half sometime soon.

“Lonely Press Play” - Damon Albarn
At some point within the past few years, Damon Albarn transitioned from being a curmudgeon who hung out with cartoon characters to a reformed Britpopper with the capacity to bury the hatchet. Frankly, after such a drastic image shift, a serious solo album was inevitable. “Lonely Press Play” is exactly what you’d expect from the mellowed rocker—a sparse, simple tune about the comforting quality of music, augmented by a tasteful string section. It’s a far cry from a new Blur record, but it suits him.

“Last War” - Haley Bonar
Taylor Swift got a bunch of attention for casting off her country roots in favor of pop stardom, but Haley Bonar didn’t seem to cause as much of a fuss with her transition from alt-country to atmospheric rock. It’s a shame because “Last War” sets the stage for the Minneapolis singer’s most ambitious record to date, an unrelenting swirl of shimmering guitars and pristine harmonies. Bonar earns the track’s soaring crescendos with a heartrending delivery that makes you hope the eponymous conflict is truly finished.

“Roehre” - Camera
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that a band from Germany released some of the year’s best Krautrock. The pulsing bass and swelling chords of “Roehre” might as well be derived from the band’s collective genome translated into guitar tablature. The track cruises down the Autobahn like a sleek Eastern European concept car, its engine droning with a motorik hum augmented by a digitized melody. The monotony of the journey is omnipresent, but the scenery is worth the ride.

“Can’t Do Without You” - Caribou
There’s a certain truth in repetition, whether its real, imagined or simply a product of self-persuasion. Throughout the course of “Can’t Do Without You”, Dan Snaith takes a single phrase and spreads its various permutations across a constantly building four-minute arrangement that slowly unlocks the musicality of each syllable. By the song’s end, the four words become a mantra, stripped of emotional context and left to dance to a house beat.

“Unfurla” - Clark
Situated near the beginning of a record that doubles as the soundtrack for a dystopian near-future, “Unfurla” is the jubilant yet sinister calm before the apocalyptic storm. Clark takes all the trapping of a club banger and drowns them in murky atmosphere, trading bass drops for bellowing string samples and layered countermelodies. If humanity adheres to the prophecy set forth in The Matrix Reloaded, let’s hope that the DJ at the giant subterranean rave has this record.

“Blank Screen” - Dead Rider
Gaze into your black mirror and consider Dead Rider’s ode to the unsettling glare of a “Blank Screen”, one of the strangest songs from the Chicago band’s bizarre Chills on Glass LP. Atop an undulating synth line, singer Todd Rittmann lays out his manifesto, finding a semblance of a melody amid the skittering guitar work. The CD-player skips that populate the track’s closing solo are either a jarring reminder of technology’s intrusive tendencies or just another odd stylistic choice on a record that is as unconventional as it is engaging.

“Oh Bummer“ - Deerhoof
As much as I appreciated the energetic, genre-hopping mélange of La Isla Bontia, it wasn’t until I heard the record’s final track that I became truly impressed with Deerhoof’s latest effort. “Oh Bummer” is the left turn that pulls it all together, excising the high-pitched vocals of Satomi Matsuzaki in favor of drummer Greg Saunier’s deadpan delivery, set against a post-punk disco beat. It’s dark, it’s gloomy, it's a total bummer, but the commitment to this shift in mood makes it a total joy.

“Draft Culture” - Dorian Concept
Austrian producer Dorian Concept creates music that truly tessellates, finding intricate patterns within the confines of simple riffs and rhythms. “Draft Culture” exemplifies the approach of his Ninja Tune debut Joined Ends, wrapping shifting electronics around a pulsing beat. It sounds thoroughly modern, but there’s an unmistakable classical sensibility to the track’s intersecting movements, which seems appropriate coming from a guy who chose a Greek mode as his moniker.

“Return” - Eno & Hyde
I may not be fond of every project that Brian Eno has a hand in, but every few years he seems to produce at least one thing that I can’t stop listening to. “Return”, a nine-minute track that opens his second record with guitarist Karl Hyde, is my current Eno obsession. The simple guitar strum which anchors the song quickly becomes hypnotic, a resolute presence in the midst of Eno’s deliberately paced layers of vocals and keyboards. It’s like the Windows 95 start-up theme (another Eno composition) stretched into a concerto.

“Never Catch Me” - Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar
Clocking in as the longest and most straightforward track on a concept album filled with snippets of brilliant genre deconstruction, “Never Catch Me” stands out almost immediately. Though I still prefer to listen to You’re Dead in its entirety, I kept coming back to this song to hear Kendrick Lamar’s incredibly earnest verse, the rapid fire guitar solo and the instantly recognizable beat. With two masters of their craft taking cues from one another, the results sound almost effortless.

“Seasons (Waiting On You)” - Future Islands
When Samuel T. Herring intones the phrase “People change, but you know some people never do,” it’s like receiving a candid piece of wisdom your dad’s best friend. The fact that it’s delivered in a theatrical baritone undercut by swelling synths and a buoyant bass line somehow makes it all the more profound. Offering sound advice with a catchy hook, “Seasons (Waiting On You)” is the song that should be on every Spotify playlist made by a heartbroken teenager.

“Goatchild” - Goat
Like many, I was introduced to Goat through the track “Goatman,” so it’s fitting that I found “Goatchild” to be the standout song on the Swedish collective’s sophomore LP, Commune. It doesn’t veer far from the formula the band has established: Afrobeat-inspired call and response, psych guitars and an underlying sense of spontaneity. “Goatchild” is another exceptional permutation of the raw vigor that make these mysterious Swedes all the more captivating.

“Radio Tokyo” - Hookworms
Awash in the tropes of psych-rock—screaming organs, distorted guitars and resolute rhythms—“Radio Tokyo” presents a crystalized version of the genre’s present state. It’s a track that sounds taut without losing the off-the-cuff energy of Hookworms’ previous output, remaining accessible while still harnessing the creative spark that sets the band apart from its contemporaries. Don’t worry about oil projections, pungent incense or mind altering substances, just give this track your undivided attention.

“In and Out of Sight” - The Horrors
It feels a little strange to be writing about the Horrors in 2014—the buzzy, creatively-coiffed punks seemed like a band dreamed up by NME writers, destined to burn out spectacularly. But, defying my expectations, they’re still around, though the band now traffics in danceable post-punk like “In and Out of Sight”. It reminds me of something that John Hughes might have used to soundtrack a prom, a song with just enough gloom to give a dark edge to a celebratory occasion.

“Silver Timothy” - Damien Jurado
Damien Jurado’s latest slice of electro-folk didn’t capture my imagination the way that Maraquopa did, but I can’t help but admire the mythology that he crafts via song. “Silver Timothy” introduces one of the many disciples that populate his space age biblical allegory, set to the reverberating drums and cascading synthesizers of collaborator Richard Swift. Continuing his transformation from balladeer to studio whiz, Swift sounds more comfortable than ever building sonic worlds around his nimble lyricism.

“Movement I, II & III” - Lapalux
UK Brainfeeder associate Lapalux took much of 2014 off, but he found the time to drop this three-part single about a seemingly endless journey. All of his usual tendencies are on display throughout “Movement I, II & III”, from dusty samples to breathy vocals, but the pacing packs an EP-worth of ideas in a seven-minute runtime. More importantly, it’s a good indication that he has been digging through crates and harddrives in preparation for his next full-length release.

“Gunshot” - Lykke Li
Checkov always insisted that a gunshot must occur after any mention of a gun, but Lykke Li skips the weapon and gets straight to its explosive aftermath. On this single from I Never Learn, Li indulges in her usual melodrama, equating the sudden sting of a gunshot to heartbreak. It’s the deft arrangement that really makes this track sing, harnessing sharp percussion and deep piano chords that bestow cathartic release upon a mournful tale.

“Klapp Klapp” - Little Dragon
It’s kind of strange that “Klapp Klapp” only provided the soundtrack to one major commercial this year—a spot for Samsung’s confusingly-named Milk Music service. The song’s relentless beat, slinking bass line and cool delivery seemed primed to play behind flashy product montages before becoming a sleeper summer hit. It didn’t quite pan out that way, but a tune infectious as this one probably won’t lie dormant for long.

“Already There“ - Taylor McFerrin
Early Riser, the debut LP from Brooklyn producer Taylor McFerrin, is a record that goes in many directions simultaneously, grounded in elements of soul, funk jazz and LA beat scene. “Already There” ditches the guest vocalists that haunt much of the album and homes in on McFerrin’s instrumental chops, layering skittering keyboards and bass lines over a rolling beat. The jazz fusion arrangement and glitchy production betray the influence of Brainfeeder founder Steven Ellison, but McFerrin’s willingness to experiment proves that he is more than capable of setting his own course.

“Remurdered” - Mogwai
There’s a relentless foreboding quality to “Remurdered,” the lead single from the group’s underrated Rave Tapes LP. The methodical strum of a guitar gives way to swells of sinister keyboards before breaking down into a cacophony of binary noise that swirls around a growling sub-bass synth. If you own a retrofitted Scottish castle situated on a foggy moor, this should already be your elevator music.

The adventure continues in Part II of this year-end list, coming soon to a portable screen near you.

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