Photograph by Dustin Condren

Photograph by Dustin Condren

You’ve read the first half of our best albums of the year, but in the final hours of 2014, we’ll be listening to the music that really gets us going. This past year that meant Scandinavians of both the funky and bleak variety, an existential stoner from Montreal, and an aging punk with dance moves made for broadcast television. There were modern classic albums of sumptuous techno minimalism and the Philadelphia power chords that soundtracked the year. But it was a Canadian indie stalwart who after a decade of fine releases has finally, truly come in to his own – getting points from every one of our writers and solidly becoming Ca Va Cool’s best album of 2014.

Photograph by Victoria Davis

Photograph by Victoria Davis

10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day

For a short while, Montreal’s Ought have burnt brightly, if a little coldly. On their previous EP New Calm, they sounded like a strained David Byrne backed by Joy Division. Now, shouting life-affirming mantras like, “Today more than any other day I am excited to go grocery shopping!” seems be a staple of Ought’s music. With their uplifting LP debut More Than Any Other Day, Ought firmly cement themselves as a positively unmissable act. Throughout both of their latest Toronto shows, Tim Beeler, who commits his talent to guitar and vocals, flailed and shimmied his way through their rhythmic and hypnotic set. Ought affirms that they are, as they put it, a “Habit”, and their frantic energy is palpable in each note and groove they bring on More Than Any Other Day. — Anthony Boire

Ought – “Habit”

Photograph by Luke Gilford

Photograph by Luke Gilford

9. Perfume GeniusToo Bright

When Mike Hadreas began writing his third album as Perfume Genius, people told him to “tone it down” and make his music “more universal”. On Too Bright, Hadreas does just the opposite. The gentle and restrained piano ballads that defined his earlier albums, while still present, are juxtaposed with songs driven by synths, thick bass, heavy distortion, industrial noise and primal screams. This sonic divergence is deliberate and when read alongside Too Bright’s ocassionally inaudible lyrics, paints a vivid picture of struggle. Hadreas’ songs have always reflected on queer identity. But on Too Bright, the quiet pondering, creeps towards panic, as moments of weakness (“I wear my body like a rotten peach”) and flamboyance (“No family is safe when I sashay”) continually collide. The result is the year’s most unfettered and ambitious album, and a landmark in queer art. — Sal Patel

Perfume Genius – “Queen”

Photograph by Isabel Asha Penzlien

Photograph by Isabel Asha Penzlien

8. Iceage – Plowing the Fields of Love

On their third album in four years, the great Danes Iceage have lost none of the fire synonymous with youth that made New Brigade and You’re Nothing must-listen punk albums. Plowing in the Fields of Love is another round of breakneck disdain and nihilism and, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with love. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is still the least naturally talented vocalist around, but the seriousness with which he says every goddam word and his howl-at-the-moon style is singular in rock music of the moment. There is some evolution in sound, as with the bouncy Rickenbacker jangle of first single “The Lord’s Favourite”. But for the most part the group succeeds when they allow their signature desperation to wallow, as on “Forever”, which begins with a slow angular guitar and Rønnenfelt’s terrible sentiment: “I always had the sense that I was split in two.” Iceage have things to say and they want to say them now, I’m curious how long they can keep it up. — Daniel Hernandez

Iceage – “Forever”

Photograph by Christian Belgaux

Photograph by Christian Belgaux

7. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

It’s Album Time is a 60-minute soundtrack to a ’80s throwback dance party. Men and women are dressed in parachute pants and miniskirts. Kitschy jewellery hangs unashamedly from necks, ears, and arms. Someone somewhere is rocking the Jheri curl and the guy next to him, a mullet. Todd Terje is that dorky DJ who is play everything from disco, to house, to soft rock. The party kicks off with the very awkward “Leisure Suit Preben” as partygoers are hesitant to break the ice. But things start to “Strandbar”. Todd then slows it down with “Johnny and Mary” featuring a very appropriate Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music on vocals, as couples converge and sway under the rotating disco ball and laser lights. “Alfonso Muskedunder” revives the dance floor with its hectic mix of jazz and head bobbing electronics. The party ends on a high note with “Oh Joy”, a 7-minute mammoth of a dance track. And just when you thought it was over, Todd returns for the encore and plays “Inspector Norse”, the 2012 single smash that started it all. So dig out your tracksuits and acid wash jeans, because Todd Terje’s DJ-ing this party and you’re invited. — Sahil Parikh

Todd Terje – “Inspector Norse”

Photograph by Brad Alterman

Photograph by Brad Alterman

6. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days

Through a few short years of live performance, Mac DeMarco has cultivated a raucous sleazeball persona: shows are replete with fratboy-fueled mosh pits, sonic assaults of sing-along rock medleys (complete with faux-metal covers of Limp Bizkit songs), and inexplicably naked men. This caricature is mostly discordant with DeMarco’s recorded style, which combines a familial earnestness with his breezily cool flavour of slacker rock. On Salad Days, the 24-year-old Canadian has cast himself as wistfully and jarringly mature: a world-weary older brother, cigarette hanging from a jaded smile, doling out abruptly sincere advice about how one behaves in a romantic relationship, the virtues of honesty among lovers, and encouraging a fresh start. His sonic lessons are backed by minimal guitar which slides from simple blues to bright and jangly, and occasionally punctuated by fuzzy keyboard (“Passing Out Pieces”) or melancholy glockenspiel (“Let My Baby Stay”). Don’t go telling this boy how he should be leading his own life, though. Despite a self-awareness that allows Mac to identify himself as tired, emotionally depleted, and an addict, DeMarco simply sticks another cigarette in the gap between his teeth and continues passing out pieces of himself. — Sabrina Diemert

Mac DeMarco – “Passing Out Pieces”

Photograph by Tim Saccenti

Photograph by Tim Saccenti

5. Future Islands – Singles

Future Islands have been performing their weird and wonderful synthpop for years, but 2014 was the year they finally broke through. Winning over noted curmudgeon David Letterman with a performance of “Seasons (Waiting on You)” ahead of the release of Singles, the world at large was exposed to frontman Samuel T. Herring’s unique persona: somewhere between crooner and punk rocker. That raw emotion defines Singles: ten songs of remembrance and heartbreak striking a balance between Herring’s growls and a wall of synthesizers. “Seasons” is, of course, the standout track and album opener, but that momentum is carried through on high-energy songs like “Sun in the Morning” and “Doves” while tracks like “A Song for Our Grandfathers” and “Fall from Grace” show a quieter, more introspective side. By the time “A Dream of You and Me” rolls around, it seems the band has finished too soon. No one else really does what Future Islands can do, and as Letterman said at the end of that memorable performance, “I’ll take all of that you’ve got.” — Kevin Kania

Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (Live on Letterman)

Photograph by Thomas Neukum

Photograph by Thomas Neukum

4. Caribou – Our Love

Dan Snaith has earned his reputation as an inspiring polymath. A mathematics PhD who contemplated life as a jazz pianist, he instead chose a career in techno, and approaches it with the same seriousness that his alternatives would have required. In a few articles he published this year about Our Love – his seventh album under his various noms de plume (Caribou, Daphni, and Manitoba) – he paints himself as a constant seeker and explorer; a guy who digs deep into record crates for obscure spiritual jazz, but just as likely to find inspiration in the deep emotion of best-selling Stevie Wonder albums. Our Love exists in the now, seemingly using only elements that can be heard in contemporary dance and pop music rather than the metallic found-sounds of his 2010 album Swim. But the absurdly emotional levels that his modern classics “Can’t Do Without You” and “Silver” reach without sounding cliché or fleeting is evidence of his innovation, attention to detail, and sincerity. If history is fair, I think that one day, the conscious evolution of Dan Snaith’s discography – from electronic minimalism into psychedelic, dreamy, and tender territory and back again – will be remembered not just as one of the great indie or electronic acts, but great artists of our time. Oh yeah, and it’s great to dance to. — Daniel Hernandez

Caribou – “Our Love”

Spoon

3. Spoon – They Want My Soul

Let’s set the record straight, this is no “comeback album”. Though Transference was not as strongly received, I still consider it to be the most “Spoon” Spoon record to date. They Want My Soul is Spoon doing what they always do, making a great record. What this record excels at, where maybe Transference lacked, was sounding modern. The album bursts open with a classic Spoon guitar rocker (“Rent I Pay”), but shifts towards a spacey synth groove by the second cut (“Inside Out”). Choosing Joe Chiccarelli and Dave Fridmann as producers could not be more fitting for this band. One is known for producing some of the biggest pop albums in the world, the other for producing some of the weirdest records in the world. Spoon find the perfect balance of being a pop band and a weird rock band. They Want My Soul cements Spoon as one of the few bands from the early aughts still together, and more importantly, still relevent. If there is one thing that newer bands can learn from Spoon, it’s that you gotta have soul. — Kyle Sikorski

Spoon – “Inside Out”

Photograph by Dusdin Condren

Photograph by Dusdin Condren

2. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

Upon returning from a worldwide tour and overwhelming acclaim for his second album Slave Ambient, Adam Granduciel felt adrift, confused, and numb. The War on Drugs frontman had fame and renown in rock music, but his community had disappeared, his relationships were broken, and his mental health was crumbling. The breakdown and subsequent rebuilding of his life lead to the creation of the band’s aptly-titled Lost in a Dream. Despite heavy lyrical content centering around themes of loss, the anthemic strength of the band’s 1970s rock pulls the album up from forlorn lows to soaring heights. The songs are propelled forward with triumphant intro builds, such as on the album’s first track (“Under the Pressure”) with its tattered percussion melding into a driving drumbeat. This grandness widens into soundscapes which feel open and expansive due to masterful layering, muddied saxophone, energetic guitar work and Granduciel’s strong rock-ready voice. The sprawl continues as the songs morph into softer, faraway sequences and course back into power peaks, in the vein of neo-psychedelic ’80s groups like Spacemen 3 and the Flaming Lips. The record closes in ambiguous optimism with “In Reverse”: drifting light in darkness, searching and discovery after disappearances. The melody fades away, like the minutiae of a dream upon waking; no longer lost, but not quite yet found. — Sabrina Diemert

The War on Drugs – “Under the Pressure”

Photograph by Peter Juhi

Photograph by Peter Juhi

1. Owen Pallett – In Conflict

Owen Pallett has had his hand in many pots. He released the essential albums Has a Good Home and He Poos Clouds as part of his neo-classical project Final Fantasy. He built the strings that have been so recognizable as part of Arcade Fire’s sound. Knowing how strict Pallett chooses his sonic arrangements, this year’s In Conflict comes as a complete surprise. There are strings to be found here, of course, but there is an electronic element with such aggressive power, demanding full attention. “Infernal Fantasy” is one of Owen Pallett’s most incredibly complete and epic compositions, his vocals soaring and diving over and underneath the breakneck melodies his synthesizers weave. The record speaks, namely, of conflict, of war and death in personal and global ways. This record is unlike anything heard by Pallett and yet could not have come from any other artist. The restraint on “Soldier’s Rock” recalls his earlier work, with a melodic vocal confidence unseen in most of his contemporaries (Andrew Bird, James Blake, etc.). His talent has been obvious throughout several indie rock albums of the past decade but is now finally recognizable as the entirely unique entity of Owen Pallett. — Anthony Boire

Owen Pallett – “In Conflict”

Owen Pallett - In Conflict

Ca Va Cool’s Best Albums of 2014

20. Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait
19. Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
18. BADBADNOTGOOD – III
17. Eno & Hyde – High Life
16. alt-J – This Is All Yours
15. Wye Oak – Shriek
14. Alvvays
13. Lykke Li – I Never Learn
12. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
11. Real Estate – Atlas
10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day
09. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
08. Iceage – Plowing the Fields of Love
07. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
06. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
05. Future Islands – Singles
04. Caribou – Our Love
03. Spoon – They Want My Soul
02. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
01. Owen Pallett – In Conflict

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