The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we unveil our top pick. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20, #8-10, #5-7, and #2-4.
#1: The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
A lot has been written about the MoSS? team’s experience at the War On Drugs concert a few years back (Chris revisited it a bit in his WoD at #5 post). It was so bad that neither Chris nor I chose to write a review of the experience. Things dribbled out here and there in other posts but we decided to try to forget the whole mess. Along with that awful evening, I kind of dismissed The War on Drugs altogether. When I heard there was a new album out it barely piqued my interest.
I don’t really remember how I heard Lost in the Dream for the first time. I must have been bored at work and listened to it on Spotify or something. All I remember is the complete surprise and to be honest more than a little bit of annoyance that the album was so incredibly good. This was not the band we saw drunkenly stagger around the stage and threatening the sound guy was it?
I ended up listening to it several times that day and within a week or so I had bought Lost in the Dream on vinyl. It’s the perfect album to play on a turntable. Many of the songs sound like they are straight from the early ’80s era of album rock. Not to say that it’s a nostalgia filled album because it fits in perfectly to this era of music as well with the frequent use of synthesizers.
[Side note: It’s also a great album to listen to on a turntable because the songs are generally pretty long. Not nearly as much getting up and down to flip to the next side.]
The thing I admire the most about Lost in the Dream is the way one song drifts in to the next. War on Drugs mastermind Adam Granduciel is an incredibly talented guitarist and he could melt all of our faces with ridiculously complicated guitar solos anytime he feels like it. He has the patience slow it down here and plays the guitar god card sparingly. It really helps set the tone for the whole album.
I wasted a lot of time early on listening to Lost in the Dream trying to think of what it sounded like. “This one sounds like Springsteen and this one sound like Rod Stewart and this one sounds like … shit can’t put my finger on it.” It was like trying to remember something that’s just on the tip of your tongue. You know it but the words just won’t come. It’s all totally pointless and frustrating. Lost in the Dream really isn’t “like” anything else. This album stands on its own.
#1: Alcest, Shelter
What did my favorite album of 2014 sound like? Answer: Shoegazey metal (or is it metally shoegaze?) often sung in French, meaning that some of my favorite songs of 2014 are titled “La Nuit Marche Avec Moi” and “L’eveil des Muses.” And the band name draws quizzical looks and responses like, “Wait, your favorite album of the year is by Incest?”
Incest? No. Alcest? Fuck yeah.
I hadn’t heard of this band until Pitchfork reviewed Shelter in January (giving it a run-of-the-mill 6.6 score). Despite the mediocre rating, the review included some words that catch my attention:
- Shoegaze. More specifically, that the band has steadily shifted away from “extreme metal” to “an unbroken dreamscape of cushiony shoegaze.” OK, I’m interested.
- Deafheaven. This was a reference to the band’s former peers. I like Deafheaven well enough.
- Sigur Ros. The album was recorded in Iceland at Sigur Ros’ studio, with Sigur Ros producer Birgir Jón Birgisson. I love Sigur Ros.
So let’s check this out. And what I found, after a short song (“Wings”) that consisted of soaring voices and the occasional low drum sound, was a searing guitar line and an explosive chorus (“Opale”), those aforementioned dreamscape sounds (“La Nuit Marche Avec Moi”; “Away,” featuring a guest vocal by Neil Halstead of Slow-fucking-dive; and the 10-minute penultimate track, “Delivrance”), a song with Explosions in the Sky-style crescendo (“Voix Sereines”), layers of fuzz (“L’eveil des Muses”), nice touches of piano (“Shelter”), and an upbeat closer with female vocals by Billie Lindahl (“Into the Waves”). I often found myself wanting to repeat one song immediately after it finished, but then the next song would start up and I’d find myself unable to take myself out of the current song.
Fans who were familiar with Alcest before this year might not share my opinion (and I must admit, the 2012 album Les Voyages De L’Ame is quite solid in its own right, with noticeably more edge). And others might get hung up on the non-English lyrics. The first point I will concede—I’ve hated when bands I adore change up too much from their roots. But the second point doesn’t hold water with me—as a Sigur Ros fan, I’ve long looked beyond the vocals as words only. And in shoegaze, are the vocals all that intelligible? Again, they often serve as another channel of instrumentation.
I read the P4K review on Jan. 21. There was a time when I thought perhaps the War on Drugs album might rival Shelter, but as it happened, the Alcest record pretty much led my rankings wire-to-wire. And I’m sure I’ll enjoy it for many years to come as I dive further into the back catalog and look forward to what’s next.