Photograph by Connor Olthuis

Photograph by Connor Olthuis

It’s no secret that Ca Va Cool has been relaxing a bit this year, but we’re still listening to the albums and going to the shows; we’ll probably be doing that for life. As the end of year approaches, we realized we couldn’t just sit back and keep our favourite albums and verbose explanations to ourselves. So today, we’ve got a blogger reunion of sorts, 8 CVC writers pick their favourite albums of 2014. Before we get to the heavy hitters later this week in our top 10, today we have the bottom half of the list, which is as eclectic a mix as ever.

Photograph by Nathanael Turner

Photograph by Nathanael Turner

20. Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait

Vince Staples is not a concealed weapon. His menace to society attitude has always been present in his music and on Hell Can Wait he raps with his guns drawn, referring to himself as “gangsta god”. Hell Can Wait constantly reminds us that simply living day to day is a feat in an environment deeply influenced by gang culture. The future is bleak, jobs are scarce, but there are ways to earn and provide. Staples refuses to talk about diamonds in his ear or rims on his car. He raps about cheating death and avoiding the LAPD at all costs. Let it be known, Staples is no godsend. But after a slew of hit or miss mixtapes, he has finally found his groove with a team of good producers that have created the next chapter in true West Coast gangsta rap. A special nod goes to Toronto producer Hagler, the beat behind “Screen Door”, “Limos”, and the hypnotic single “Blue Suede”. Hell Can Wait is not pretty, it’s a beautifully ugly EP from a rapper who is deathly serious about his music. — Alec Ross

Vince Staples – “Blue Suede”

Photograph by Jeff Bierk

Photograph by Jeff Bierk

19. Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams

The sombre mindset of the blues and the acoustic authenticity of vintage rock & roll has always been a clear inspiration for Timber Timbre’s creepy soundscapes; however, on Hot Dreams the group also indulges in the symphonic grandness and slow reverb-laden twang of classic country. Taylor Kirk takes command of each track with his warm, melancholic baritone vocals, which on this album express a certain romantic sadness reserved for down-and-out Texan bar singers. On the title track, Kirk’s pensive bass line sets the pace and leaves a generous amount of space for the guitar and saxophone to explore eerie moods. The grand production techniques of ‘60s Glen Campbell tracks are imitated with majestic effect on “Grand Canyon”, where Kirk croons over the enormity of a hollow body guitar and an obligatory string section. Those strings are at points replaced by a Mellotron, which accentuates the album’s slight Pet Sounds psychedelic vibe, especially when performed live. A sad, moving, but utterly ambitious record, Hot Dreams sits at the peak of Timber Timbre’s chilling oeuvre thus far. — Daniel Hernandez

Timber Timbre – “Hot Dreams”

Photograph by Connor Olthuis

Photograph by Connor Olthuis

18. BADBADNOTGOOD – III

You may find it bewildering that a trio of Humber College jazz program dropouts could create something as ambitious as III, when not long ago they were banging out Odd Future covers and releasing lo-fi live recordings of Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in da Paint”. And yet it makes perfect sense that III exists. Matt Tavares, Chester Hansen, and Alex Sowinski have a gift that other bands would kill to have. They’ve been able to evolve their sound and their fans have, for the most part, eagerly followed. III, in particular, comes straight out of left field. Gone are the hip hop covers and pitch-shifted segues, and out come ten original compositions. BADBADNOTGOOD run through every song with the confidence and dynamic playing of a well-oiled jazz juggernaut. “Can’t Leave the Night” bangs, while “CS60” mesmerizes. “Hedron” is written for those long, moody, introspective walks, while “Kaleidoscope” notches a bass solo in between explosive brass band choruses. It’s this musical diversity, combined with the trio’s raw, youthful energy, that keeps listeners salivating for more. So let’s face it: BADBADNOTGOOD made it cool to like jazz in the 21st century. — Sahil Parikh

BADBADNOTGOOD – “Hedron”

Photograph by Perou

Photograph by Perou

17. Eno & Hyde – High Life

Brian Eno released two album-length collaborations with Karl Hyde of British electronic group Underworld this year. The admittedly hit-and-miss Someday World was followed a month later by High Life, the superior offering, and the point when the duo become greater than the sum of their talents. Eno bellows his way through the vocal tracks for the first time in almost twenty years, reminding us that he is indeed the same singer who snarled “Baby’s on Fire” on his 1973 solo debut Here Come the Warm Jets. There is an immediacy to Hyde & Eno’s High Life that is entirely missing from most electronic and loop-based music this year. The standout track, “Return” repeats a layered guitar riff as a melodic vocals carry the longing tune through its entire nine-minute running time, a feat in and of itself. It appears that Brian Eno, with the right partnership, can still bring about the beauty and energy of his earlier masterpieces. — Anthony Boire

Eno & Hyde – “Lilac”

Photograph by Marcus Haney

Photograph by Marcus Haney

16. alt-J – This Is All Yours

Losing a band member is tough, especially when that band member is Gwil Sainsbury. I always thought of him as the anchor, the guy that held the other three in place. Because if Joe’s the singer and Gus plays keys and Thom’s on percussion, then Gwil… well, Gwil ties it all together. Or tied, I should say. But it’s especially tough when you’re a band with a Mercury Prize-winning debut album under your belt and expectations are high. This Is All Yours could’ve easily flopped, but alt-J managed to bypass the sophomore slump and create something equally beautiful and challenging. This album requires a lot of patience. It’s way too stubborn to divulge all of its secrets at once. But if you’re persistent, it’ll slowly blossom to reveal an array of textures and moods. And certain sounds will begin to pop out. Maybe the saxophone croons on “Hunger of the Pine” will catch your ear. Or the backing vocals/strings/brass band triple threat epic climax combo that closes “Bloodflood Part II”. Regardless of which part captivates you, like all great albums, This Is All Yours gets better and better with each listen. — Sahil Parikh

alt-J – “Hunger of the Pine”

Photograph by Shervin Lainez

Photograph by Shervin Lainez

15. Wye Oak – Shriek

Wye Oak’s announcement that their new album would feature no guitars was initially met with confusion. After all, the foundation of their previous albums was Jenn Wasner’s guitar work backed by Andy Stack on drums and keyboards. However, a year of gruelling touring promoting 2011’s Civilian led to burnout. Since then, Wasner explored other sounds in her solo work and last year’s underrated Dungeonesse project, and some of those electronic influences have worked their way into Wye Oak’s new album. Despite ditching guitars for bass and synthesizers, Shriek remains a distinctly Wye Oak album. Wasner’s voice is as strong as ever, and the change in sonic palette rejuvenates the band. Without the riffs to fall back on, Shriek moves the rhythm section to the forefront. While “Before” eases the audience into the new Wye Oak with lush keys, the pulsing beat of “Glory” stands out as the album’s highlight and centrepiece. Tracks like “The Tower” and “Schools of Eyes” prove the band capable of the idiosyncratic and the melodic. Not content to churn out the same album over and over, Wye Oak’s Shriek proves that bands are capable of experimentation while remaining true to their sound. — Kevin Kania

Wye Oak – “The Tower”

Photograph by Jess Baumung

Photograph by Jess Baumung

14. Alvvays

In a musical landscape where reverb and quirky typography abound, Toronto quintet Alvvays could have been easily lost in the wall of sound. The band described what sets apart their eponymous debut in mysterious dichotomies: “Wintery lyrics; summery jangles. The pop song as a subversive cloak.” Indeed, the album opens with “Adult Diversion”, in which the song’s power pop bounce disguises the desperate narrative of a stalker. And lead singer Molly Rankin’s musical pedigree shines brightest during “Archie, Marry Me”, an ode to mid-20s coupling ennui. It’s not that the world of twee or dream rock and dark themes are distantly removed (see: The Wedding Present, Cocteau Twins, et al.), it’s just that indie pop bands of late have drifted into a trend of mostly upbeat and literal-minded lyrics (see: Best Coast, Cults, et al.). Alvvays’ cryptic references to toxicology reports and life on Mars bump the album from a fun collection of catchy hipster tunes into a genuinely captivating album. — Sabrina Diemert

Alvvays – “Marry Me”

Lykke Li

13. Lykke Li – I Never Learn

“All those wander, are not lost,” Lykke Li said in an interview with The Fader earlier this year. She’s paraphrasing a quote she acknowledges is cheesy by J.R.R Tolkien. She sits uncomfortably, and speaks just louder than a whisper, dressed head-to-toe in black. A far cry from the blond girl who at last check, circa 2011’s Wounded Rhymes, regularly rapped Tribe and Rick Ross lyrics on-demand and carried with her a notably lusty confidence. This evolution is present all over Li’s latest album, I Never Learn, a wrenching, 30-minute series of acoustic ballads. Gone are the synths, hand-claps and crisp melodies that defined Youth Novels and the booming drums of Wounded Rhymes. I Never Learn is an exercise in restraint and reduction. It is decidedly not a pop album, instead channeling Joni Mitchell, Wendy Rene, and the arrangements and harmonies of a Graham Nash record at every turn. Li is at her most vulnerable and direct as her vocals and lyrics ache of heartbreak and loss. For Li though, making happy songs is uninteresting. “I’d rather bake a pie than make a happy song,” she says to The Fader, with a rare smile, and for just a second, the old Lykke surfaces. — Sal Patel

Lykke Li – “Never Gonna Love Again”

Sun Kil Moon

12. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

The first time I listened to Benji, I was captivated. I had never heard songwriting like this before, it was an autobiography pouring out of my headphones and I just couldn’t put the book down. The characters in Mark Kozelek’s story are brought to life, but only someone who has lived through these events and lived long enough to look back on them, has the capacity to reveal them the way he has. Deaths of relatives, the love of family, serial killers and their victims, and the handicapped girl who lived down the street all become beautiful songs with no detail hidden. What’s remarkable is how effortless it all feels. It’s as if the record button was pushed, and he just let anything on his mind pour out, with no filter, no second thoughts about what people may think. This style of expression is a human connection sought after by many people: absolute freedom to say what is on your mind. Benji is a document of the heaviness of having a human connection with everything around you, and will bring you tears of joy and sadness along the way. — Kyle Sikorski

Sun Kil Moon – “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes”

Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

11. Real Estate – Atlas

Real Estate have made a career of crafting unassuming songs that manage to become irresistible earworms. Their third full-length, Atlas, continues this tradition. Like previous albums, the eponymous real estate might as well be beachfront property, with hazy guitars soundtracking a lazy summer day. Unlike previous albums, the Budweiser or Sprite being enjoyed is a mournful one. Tracks like “The Bend” lament the feelings of being trapped on a set path, while “Crime” makes crippling anxiety sound like an inevitable matter-of-fact. The sunny guitars of “Primitive” belie the existential problems frontman Martin Courtney is espousing, wondering where exactly he’s meant to be. What could be just another album of beach music is instead a melancholy dream, and Real Estate is stronger for it. — Kevin Kania

Real Estate – “Primitive”

Continue Reading ‘Best Albums of 2014’ Feature List »

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— , December 23, 2014    1 Comment
Comments:

Love your articles, especially the yearly wrap-up (the best top albums list!) –> let’s see that Part 2!

— Brian, December 31, 2014
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