Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The best music 2014 had to offer

By Jackson Maxwell

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2014 was a fascinating year for music. Superstars, up-and-comers and unknowns alike brought fresh sounds to the table, while numerous artists sought to change the very method in which new music is released. U2 placed “Songs of Innocence” in the music library of anyone with an iTunes account, Azelia Banks simultaneously announced and released “Broke With Expensive Taste” and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke decided to release his second solo album, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” through BitTorrent.

Extended hiatuses were broken, as electronic music legend Aphex Twin returned with “Syro,” his first album of new material since 2001, while soul music’s mystery man, D’Angelo, exceeded all expectations with the sudden, Dec. 15 release of “Black Messiah,” his first album in 14 years. New arrivals, like FKA twigs and indie rock favorite Frankie Cosmos also made considerable waves, altering the status quo in their respective genres. All in all, a bevy of unique records saw the light of day in 2014. Here are four of the best.

Mac DeMarco, a Canadian singer-songwriter, first came to the music world’s consciousness in 2012, with the release of his debut album, “2.” “2” established DeMarco’s style- a mix of jangling guitars, laid-back vocals and whimsical lyrics about love, relationships and coming of age. His second album, “Salad Days,” released on Apr. 1, is more or less a continuation of the ground DeMarco covered on “2”. But, on “Salad Days,” DeMarco sounds more self-assured and wizened, ready to make his music a more personal affair.

As such, “Salad Days” is a perfect mix of aloof breeziness and restrained seriousness. DeMarco’s lyrics are grounded in reality, but the not-quite-in-tune guitars, light but catchy melodies and relaxed tempos exist in a more open world. Though one might think that these two elements contradict each other, they work beautifully together. “Salad Days” can be carefree and positive, but also introspective and solemn. It is the rare sort of album that works equally well in both contexts.

Mar. 18 saw the release of The War on Drugs’ magnificent third album, “Lost in the Dream.” Recorded over a tumultuous two-year period, “Lost in the Dream” is an expansive masterpiece, with cavernous, densely layered songs that take numerous listens to fully decipher. Inspired by the depression and anxiety attacks the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Adam Granduciel, suffered during the album’s lengthy recording process, “Lost In the Dream” features a captivating haze of psychedelic guitar leads, glimmering keyboards and metronomic, steady percussion.

Granduciel’s dark, tense mental state defines the album’s lyrics. But, the claustrophobic, foreboding emotions he expresses create ample room for the album’s massive musical scope. The ten songs on “Lost In the Dream” are almost infinite in scale, with impenetrable, but meticulously engineered layers of guitars and keyboards driving each track. The layers are meant to show the overwhelmed mind of the album’s creator, without actually overwhelming the listener themselves. It is an incredibly fine line, but one that “Lost In the Dream” walks with ease.

Though musicians and listeners alike are constantly proclaiming that rock music is dead, one listen to Cloud Nothings’ third album, “Here and Nowhere Else,” is enough to prove that theory wrong. Released on April 1, “Here and Nowhere Else” is a visceral listening experience, culling the best of pop-punk, emo and noise rock. Its eight tracks attack the listener with hurricane force, with lead singer/guitarist Dylan Baldi, bassist TJ Duke and drummer Jason Gerycz creating a breathtaking wall of noise.

But, through the squall, one can easily lose sight of Baldi’s phenomenal songwriting. While the music is strictly in the vein of noise-rock and shoegaze, Baldi’s melodies are entirely distilled from the pop-punk and emo genres. Not only are the eight tracks on “Here and Nowhere Else” breathtakingly intense and enthralling, they are incredibly catchy as well, with choruses that will stick in your head for hours. As both a punk and a rock album, “Here and Nowhere Else” is the full package- experimental, well executed, well played and riveting at every turn.

It can be hard to view Mark Kozelek’s music through an objective lens, after his childish, mean-spirited and mostly one-sided feud with Adam Granduciel this past fall. Though the feud revealed the darker side of Kozelek’s character, and significantly damaged his reputation, it failed to damage the brilliance of “Benji,” the album Kozelek released under the Sun Kil Moon moniker on Feb. 11. Through painfully honest vignettes culled from his own experiences, Kozelek ruminates on death, family, aging and love.

“Benji” plays out more like a stream of consciousness than a set group of stories. Kozelek’s memories branch out from one another, with various characters slipping in and out of the album’s narrative. In that way, it works more like our own memories, with one recollection provoking another without warning. Over his omnipresent, prodigious acoustic guitar playing, Kozelek truly bares his soul, and gives the listener an insight not only into his conscience, but a look at his past and how it came to shape the person he is today. As both a cohesive narrative and an album, “Benji” still stands as a staggering achievement, one without parallel in 2014.

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at [email protected].

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