Onomatopoeia's Best Music of 2014

Welcome to Onomatopoeia’s year-end best of 2014, I am a little late but still here so thanks for the patience.  I feel like I'm starting to sound like a broken record but 2014 truly was an abysmal year for music. To be fair it wasn't so much a bad year for music as it was for the album format. To say it was difficult for me to even compose a list of thirteen would be a huge understatement.

My process usually begins around September, I try and get the ball rolling and start making a list with what I've really enjoyed in the months leading up to now. I had something like seven albums listed with only three months to go.  So rather than force a full list I made sure to go back to everything I remember enjoying but not necessarily loving and re-exploring them in greater detail. In the end I did find thirteen releases that I felt happy with along with a solid honorable mentions section.

For those who frequent this space most of the material should be familiar, I don't know if there are too many surprises but as always I hope some of you get something new out of it.

In no particular order...

Best 13 Albums of 2014...

FKA Twigs – LP1

I love it when an artist can make consecutive appearances on my year-end list. It’s happened in the past with Death Grips, the noisy trio showed up three years in a row before their demise which means two things: 1) anyone who makes it in multiple years running is a productive artist, and 2) they are following-up already exceptional work with something that is equally good if not better. FKA Twigs meets those two points and with the addition of LP1 to this year’s list, is now part of that same exclusive club.

It’s easy to fall in love with something once everyone has, your choice has been validated by the masses and there is a certain comfort that comes with that but some people might forget that Tahliah found a home and fan with Onomatopoeia several years before pretty much anyone and everyone else out there on the net, and it’s for good reason.

EP1 made my 2011 list when it was just Twigs. EP2 made the 2012 list with the addition of FKA to her moniker and now LP1 stands towering above all others in the graduating class of 2014. It’s well-deserved.

LP1 is delicate, sparse and otherworldly all at once with it’s against the grain take on R&B music. Barnett, and her cabal of producers (including, but not limited to, Arca, Paul Epworth, Sampha and Dev Hynes) have complemented each other to inspiring perfection. Not one of these musicians in 2014 was as good of a solo artist as they are when teamed together with Twigs, and that's saying a lot considering a handful of them have been favorites of mine for a long while now.

Twigs’ lyrics explore the darker sides of lust and infatuation and the insecurities the lie underneath, making LP1 a hate record disguised to the casual ear as one inspired by love. There is a healthy amount of good old-fashioned animosity for that significant other and it’s apparent from the get-go when she appropriately quotes the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, "I love another, and thus I hate myself.”

Although she omits the following line "I feed me in sorrow and laugh in all my pain," you can already connect to your own love/hate relationship with someone or something else as many of us have played both the tender and scorned lover to someone else’s heart at least once in life. In fact, sometimes to our very own. So what we have here in addition to the animosity mentioned above is some self-hate and by being so open and exposed the listener is ultimately rewarded in spades by a voice possessed by an aching anxiety and swooping calmness all at once.

Again I can point out specific lyrics that speak to this idea with a great example being from “Lights On.”

When I trust you we can do it with the lights on
When I trust you we’ll make love until the morning
Let me tell you all my secrets and I’ll whisper ‘til the day’s done

The words are a metaphor for letting certain people see the different, ugly sides of you that others don’t get to see, an oxymoron when speaking about love as one usually wants to keep that ugly side buried away.

The album’s ten songs are filled with some incredibly well conceived backing music made up of sounds one would find in an abandoned factory or cabin in the woods more so than a professional recording studio. Listening to the instrumentals truly makes one appreciate the thought process behind making the tunes; bringing back to mind a conversation I had with my flatmate months back on how a lesser artist would have wrapped up a track like “Pendulum” (produced by Paul Epworth and Twigs herself) and been like “you want me to put vocals on this piece of artsy noise? Yeah whatever you say, it sounds like an audio equivalent to a doodle.” But Twigs does just that, and she has consistently done it from day one with grace and good taste.

Usually I would point out a track or two I think would serve as a good starting place for those who haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet but like pretty much all the albums on this list, every song is noteworthy and LP1 should be listened to in its entirety.

Arca – Xen

After praising FKA TwigsLP1 it’s only natural that the next record on my list is Arca’s commercial debut, Xen. Venezuelan-born/London-based musician Alejandro Ghersi released the Aphex Twin record I wanted in 2014. That’s not to take anything away from Mr. Richard James, his influence is a long and wide spanning one but Xen, a record I think warrants comparison, mops the floor with Syro in every way. Like the artists previous works, Xen is a collage of perverted sounds and emotions wrapped in anxiety and abrasiveness but unlike the earlier releases this record equally occupies a space in-between beauty and pain. Xen finds Arca moving subtly away from the unsettled breakbeats and vocal samples that grounded his work in hip-hop; and even though there are many vestigial hip-hop elements, Xen feels like new ground for the producer.

Of course you can’t mention hip hop, Xen or Alejandro himself without also name-dropping Kanye West’s Yeezus. Arca contributed to the record, and given its high profile nature and success you can't help but admire him for not even remotely trying to capitalize on the exposure or sound, instead opting to release an instrumental record filled with tonal compositions, string arpeggios, drill and bass rhythms, unnerving baselines, unsteady piano chords, and water-logged synths, that most people today would find annoying or on the side of weird. But it all comes together to form the warped path that is Xen, a record that reaches its proposed goal of discomfort, excitement and unintended consequences when you make opposites rub up against each other.

Xen is probably one of the most alien sounding records I’ve heard in many years. Arca’s catalogue as a whole rings true of the statement but the sentiment is best observed with this story.

When “an early” version of Xen was sent out to industry folks and friends alike, the track titled “Sisters” had a “glitch.” As the track enters it’s mid-tempo beat, the listener is greeted with a wave of static noise. When it breaks away, the sound carries on in only the right side of the stereo field, and in the left is a piercing electronic squeal.

As it turns out it was all a mistake: a glitch in the digital file that was sent out. It wasn’t supposed to sound like that. But here’s the great thing about it all: it went unnoticed among listeners for two months before being detected and fixed. People figured that it was intentionally disorienting and absurdly jarring because that’s part of the world that Arca inhabits.

Liars – Mess

It’s really quite impressive how long the Liars have been doing their own thing and doing it really well. The band changes their inspiration and sound like normal people rotate their clock for daylight savings time. That’s to say it’s often in the context of bands today. Mess, the band’s seventh record, probably has most in common with their previous record, WIXIW, that being said Angus Andrew has gone on record saying that the recording process had been "almost the exact opposite" of creating WIXIW.  Mess was largely recorded at the band's own No Gold Studios in Los Angeles and while both records have been influenced by electronic music, Mess, is a much warmer, dare I say post apocalyptic party record when compared to WIXIW’s pristine, sterile electronics.

Fat, stomping beats, wobbling, oscillating synth lines, and hooks that seemingly generate out of thin air are backed by Angus’ signature ominous groaning, making for a listening experience that is strangely danceable while also so incredibly menacing.

Openers "Mask Maker" and "Vox Tuned D.E.D" mix mid-’80s disco and EBM with sleek, threatening, rhythm to glorious effect, experimenting with syncopation and acting as clear sign of the anti-pop vibe you will experience throughout. Lead single “Mess on a Mission” is as close as the album gets to accessibility in a commercial sense. Synths whizz and warble around tight percussion that collide head-on with one of the most over-the-top and euphoric chorus’ in recent memory. Impenetrable synths and hammered beats on songs like "I'm No Gold" and "Pro Anti Anti" are a nod to industrial music but in that twisted Liars touch. The second half of the record is a total shift – frigid moods and icy settings frame the majority of the flip-side with the pressing, despondent instrumental “Darkslide” leading in to “Boyzone” and it’s sinister and clinical pulses.

Mess retains a dark feel throughout, perhaps their darkest collection of music to date but the group always add a touch of humor to their sound and visuals that remind you not to take it all too seriously.

Run The Jewels  - RTJ2

Last year Run The Jewels started to gain some much deserved praise in the mainstream world. El-P and Killer Mike are both hip hop mainstay’s, El has made multiple appearances on my year end lists throughout the decades and remains a gold standard in both his beat making and lyrics. Mike has always occupied a more straight forward space in hip hop but has made up for the “day to day” narrative with his ferocious cadence and delivery. Both Jamie and Mike also display a great deal of humor in the way the carry themselves and interact with their audience giving RTJ2 the feel of a love letter to the fans.

Continuing on from the old school vocal delivery tag team tactics that marked the first RTJ album, RTJ2 is a gut punch take down, aware that society is seemingly on the brink of failure the record falls in-line with output from each of the members solo works, Killer Mike is the album’s emotional core leaving El-P, and his low key production partner Little Shlimar, free to indulge in his fearless production affinities for Bomb-Squad  influenced bass, sci-fi synths and complex percussion.

Both emcees are versatile, switching up style, tone and speed, playing off each other one minute only to one-up each other in the next.

 “Jeopardy” begins the album with Mike dishing lines like “I’m putting pistols at faces at random places,” and the statement “The passion of ‘Pac, the depth of Nas, circa 93/ Mix the mind of Brad Jordan and Chuck D and find me. "Oh My Darling Don’t Cry El raps “I been a better bad guy than I been better than bad/ been a better bully, talk beatin’ on my chest.” The lyrics often providing word play that hits you on multiple levels once it’s all been deciphered on its fifth listen.

"Blockbuster Night Part 1" calls into question “society’s hero’s” “The fellows on at the top are likely rapists, but you’re like, “mellow out man, just relax, it’s really not that complicated,” It’s rather fitting for right here right now especially when thinking of recent controversy in films like American Sniper and our struggle to separate the heroic from the cowardly.

Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Rocha makes an appearance on "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)" referencing sci-fi writer Philip K Dick, Miles Davis, Batman, Klan leaders, and dead Afghanis in a scathing anti-corporate/capitalist charge. Blink-182‘s Travis Barker provides drums on All Due Respect which sees El-P masterfully make the transition from the warm natural sound to the cold and calculated.

RTJ2 isn't solely political though “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” details the story of a lover who wants “my dick in her mouth all day” over a cautiously slow beat, before Gangsta Boo turns the song, and rap's traditional male –centric point of view on its head, looping: “I put my clit in his mouth all day... his tongue is bomb and he love for me to ride his face.”

With racial tensions at an all-time high in the United States RTJ2 ups the urgency and confrontation of last year's self-titled debut to new levels of paranoia and violence, it’s the perfect sound track for right here, right now and right here right now.

Broken Bells - After The Disco

Broken Bells returned to the scene in 2014 without much warning and while their debut did a good job in setting a mission statement, After The Disco expands, outshines and polishes those ideas and while James Mercer and Brian Burton will never be accused of displaying too much variety in their side project what they do, they do well.

These tunes are more soulful translations with a greater sonic palette and upped BPMs that frame the ever-present melancholia exceptionally well. Album opener "Perfect World" gets the ball rolling with its super catchy pop accessibility, shifting tempos and propulsive beats. Mercer delivers lines with a sort of ambivalence found in reaching peace after turbulent times when he sings “I got nothing left  / It’s kinda wonderful / Cause there’s nothing they can take away.” The chorus declares a divorce from youthful idealism “I thought love would always find a way / I know better now / Got it figured out / It’s a perfect world all the same.” The listener can now accept the next ten songs as a piece of cynical commentary, something we are by no means short of on the internet, or a mature understanding and acceptance of how life can sometimes be, depending on what type of person you are you could fall on either side and get a satisfying listening experience.

Holding on for Life” acts as a blueprint for downer disco with Mercer obviously playing homage to the Bee Gees in the vocal hook when he sings lines like “What a lovely day to be lonely”, a motto that again rings throughout the record and serves as some sort of self-loathing signifier to the voice of the protagonist. The negative space between bass lines draws attention to the void being addressed and alongside the sci-fi synthesizers makes for an excellent recipe for that which is beautifully sad.
Leave It Alone” takes some inspiration from the blues before swelling to include gospel backing vocals that are wrapped in some beautiful guitar, piano and strings, it’s something the duo do well and is re-explored again on the grandoise album closer “”The Remains of Rock & Roll.”

After the Disco finds Broken Bells no longer feeling like a side project. There is a degree of consistency and focus not found on their debut. The tracklist is mostly killer and no filler and could easily find a safe home playing at a bar/cafe as it could in your car or on your headphones while working out.

Perfect Pussy - Say Yes To Love

Another repeat offender on my list in the form of Syracuse New York’s Perfect Pussy. Of course Meredith Graves’ proper follow up project to the awesome Shoppers was going to make my list if the LP continued on from where last years “I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling” EP left off, and thankfully it does.

I even love the notion that such a band exists in 2014; hardcore and punk music have grey hair now and most people look to current trends to provide a youthful energy to their music, I’m looking at you Mr. dancefloor DJ. Everything about Perfect Pussy is abrasive. Singer Meredith Graves screams with distorted menace under a cacophony of aggressive rhythms and wailing guitars handled by Guitarist Ray McAndrew, keyboardist Shaun Sutkus, bassist Greg Ambler, and drummer Garrett Koloski.  It’s not an easy listen for many but it’s without question a rewarding one.

From opening track “Driver” the listener knows Perfect Pussy is back and better than ever, wearing 90’s and early 2000’s influences on their sleeve proudly instead of trying to escape them, there’s even a hint of the riot grrrl movement here, if not in the band’s name it’s most certainly in the lyrics which are always delivered at a throat-debilitating level of sincerity and aggression.

“You can’t just take your own life”; “I’ll tell you, it never gets better”; “A fucking river to some other world…he dragged me, I have a history of surrender,” she cries; but despite the drowned out delivery and vocal mix on the record, Graves always comes off as wholly believable and urgent, if not completely comprehensible.

Sexism, body confidence and relationships are the inspiration here “I never wanted any children,” is belted out on “Interference Fits,” a sentiment more and more woman are getting behind and a key thematic issue throughout the 23 minute run time but without a lyric sheet your only going to make out random lines during the course of the record.

This is The Beyoncé feminist record for people who find their inspiration on beer soaked floors over Champaign drenched booths. It’s really the tone of the record that will be your first introduction to the bands sound and be a guide to if you are going to join them for the full adventure or just take a quick gander through the keyhole. There is a melodic quality here but usually it’s buried deep beneath the mud and grit which is exactly where I like it.

Clark – Clark

Christopher Stephen, aka Clark, signed to Warp Records at the tail end of the late 90s, but you rarely hear his name when the label is mentioned. Perhaps it’s due to some of the many heavyweights the label has been home to over the years? I think it’s partly because Clark has carved out a niche for himself in an inconspicuous fashion. His seven albums to date are all quite good, even great, but I fear that 2014 will be another year where the talented producer is outshined by someone with Twin in his name. It’s a shame too because throughout its 47 minutes, Clark captures an adventurousness and unpredictability that gives it some impressive depth.

His melodies are pleasantly twisted throughout with sharp beats and dramatic synth stabs that bring life to the dark minimal world the album inhabits. “Banjo” is a highlight for me with its non-tonal arpeggio and echoing hard hitting beats that tease glitches now and again for good measure. “Winter Linn’s” wintery-cold like harpsichord sounding melody makes way for a pulsating beat that then brings some warmth via what sounds like the audio equivalent to particle smashing. I get a visual of The Big Bang Theory taking place in fast forward where you are seeing thousands of years of evolution pass by in a moment and leads the way to something greater than any of us.

Snowbird” takes church choir like vocals and manipulates them to the essence of a human xylophone, bells swoop in long side warm synths and again I am taken away to some sort of winter wonder land where I’m happy and Sad all at the same time. Calling to mind the Squarepusher classic "Iambic 5 Poetry."

Clark is album of pure texture; each element is strategically tactile in its abrasiveness, and though it’s adventurous it most certainly doesn’t use the dancefloor as its inspiration. These songs are the opposite of year-end favorite Duck Sauce, these are songs for studio nerds to discuss at great lengths, each listen revealing something you hadn’t noticed before and further revealing part of the strange story. 


White Lung – Deep Fantasy

Vancouver’s White Lung mean business. They are abrasive and ferocious, a blitzkrieg rage but with dashes of melody that allow for breathing when needed. Deep Fantasy, the band's third full-length clocks in, like their two previous efforts, at around 27 minutes, but there really isn’t any need for a longer run-time as Way, William, Vassiliou, and new bassist Hether Fortune, of Wax Idols, capitalize on every available second, with a relentless assault of sound on the albums ten tracks.

Drown with the Monster” goes for gut early on but you soon realize the band has kicked into another song with the anthemic “Down It Goes” before you know could even realize one tune had ended and another had begun.

The metal musicianship-like approach to their brand of punk rock makes for an intense soaring experience. There is a fast and furious pace that White Lung sets on Deep Fantasy that aptly calls to mind bands from yesteryear like L7 on steroids. Mish Way's hoarse snarl leads the way for lyrics about substance abuse, rape culture, body dysmorphia and other modern day culture fucks that weigh on too many of us.

Face Down” is a comparatively slow track, compared to most of the tunes on the record, that contemplates how the loudest often say the least, possibly an admittedly ironic approach, but there is an honesty to the whole thing that is genuine and raw in its emotion so you can’t help but be invested in it. When you hear songs like “I Believe You” you know these cats aren’t just playing loud. The song is about rape and a call for action against a culture that enables and permits it. “Snake Jaw” tackles hypocrisy while the unfairness of power distribution is the theme for “Lucky One.”

On Deep Fantasy, White Lung jump in the ring, make their presence known, deliver a knockout uppercut only to retreat to the locker room to prepare for the next battle instead of dancing ringside in celebration. I’ll be sure to be at the next pummeling too.

Shellac – Dude Incredible

Chicago minimalist mainstays Shellac returned in 2014, seven years since their last offering, with Dude Incredible - their fifth proper LP.  The trio of Steve Albini, Bob Weston and Todd Trainer have been together for more than 22 years, but if you include other musical projects these guys have been at it since their teens. Despite having accumulated a vast knowledge of recording music throughout the decades, Shellac and their individual parts are sadly a dying breed. It’s in this very idea that each Shellac album is a gift of sorts as they are few and far between and time eventually outlasts us all. 

With Shellac you know what you are going to get, the band have never been about reinventing the wheel with each release, instead they have chosen the road of perfection, taking each album as an opportunity to further refine an idea that has been in the making for over two decades. Like some sort of creature that comes out of hibernation when rock music is in a dire state, they put out an LP to remind everyone else that a guitar, bass and drum can still be more precise, tight and earth rumbling than anything a computer can generate.  As Albini would scream, “goddamn, this is real!” It’s dramatic and humorous, but always done with conviction of a warrior.

According to Albini, the title track is a study in societal or community politics demonstrated by monkeys wherein a leader offers the promise of female company and adventure and is ultimately challenged by dissent in the ranks or outside interference.  In other words, Dude Incredible is an operation gone askew, “Oh my brothers and oh, my other comrades” is sung and the listener starts to hear an acknowledgment of camaraderie turn to a despairing prayer for help. 

On “You Came In Me,” a song described by Albini as “about intercourse obviously,” the guitar riff loses control towards the end calling to mind a John Zorn movement before it all comes to a crashing end. You have to wonder; did the title come first or the musical innuendo? On “Gary,” a song about the town in Indiana and a tribute to a common theme for Shellac, labor, the band sing lyrics by T-Bone Slim as Albini detuning the notes on his guitar to new sonic lows the band doesn’t usually venture in.

"Compliant" is a blunt, shrewd account of OCD with a winding rhythm section groove from Trainer's unholy drumming and Weston's precise bass parts highlighted by the trademark buzz saw guitar accents and lyrics that read like a list of things one has to complete to function normally.

In “Surveyor,” Bob Weston’s spoken word delivery lambasts “Western expansion” and all the surveyors who “wanted accurate maps of the country.” The song is supposedly quite literal in it’s meaning in that it’s about surveyors from the past; but you have to wonder if it perhaps is also a commentary on popular music as a whole as it’s become more superficial and duplicitous.

Slow Magic – How To Run Away

Slow Magic’s sophomore release, How To Run Away, is a stripped down, ghostly take on electronic music. The record follows along the same path set on , with catchy riffs and arpeggios, broken down warped vocals, jazzy rhythms and more, but this time around the band has refined the ideas for a more focused record.

Slow Magic has always lived in a space of open, calm harmony. It’s music you listen to at home and this time there are some whimsically delightful numbers on the album that would fit well on a dance floor with elements of Deep House, UK Bass and electro drops.

Random syllables fill the incredibly infectious highlight, "Closer." The track employs use of handcrafted vocal snippets, layered over chiming keys and an organ, to create a mesmerizing and intoxicating slab of music. “Waited 4 U” flexes some polyrhythms mixed with vocals distorted and reworked to the point that they give the impression that’s it’s some sort of actual language that the listener just don’t speak.

Hold Still” is an ethereal, hypnotic, effervescent trip It patiently draws out its peak teasing along the way like an exotic dancer. Midway through the album, “Let U Go” calls to mind the chill side of Slow Magic with it’s haunted piano accompanied by minimal percussion and sparse vocals bringing some real emotion to it all in the process.

When you finish the nine track journey you get a sense that Slow Magic has mastered the balance between indoor and outdoor music, the precise and clinical, and as his name suggest, magic and colors that give it all some color.

Shlohmo & Jeremih  – No More EP

Throughout his career, L.A. native Henry Laufer, a.k.a. Shlohmo has had a clear progression in the course of his catalogue. Early offerings like the Shlohmoshun mini-LP, 2011's Places EP and the Bad Vibes album gave us trip hop inspired, marching head-nodders that came to define Shlohmo's early output. As things have progressed, Laufer started laying out his radiant textures around a more bass-heavy core, as heard on last year's Vacation EP. The release was highlighted with the sounds of reworked R&B vocals, jittery hi-hats and sharp snares. Everything was a little more crisp with a thin layer of sleazy grime on top. The No More EP continues down this new path for some super laid-back and sexy results.

Remixing the Chicago singer's "FuckU All the Time" to syrupy perfection with it’s jittery hi-hats and warm swells of synth, creating a symphonic ecstasy. “Bo Peep (Do U Right)," is a canyon of buzzes, clicks, beeps and moans that engulf Jeremih's slick falsetto like moths on a bright light, while EP opener “No More,” is marked by a hypnotizing robotic riff that sounds like some sort of electronic frog croaking within a thick, murky swamp. The track really has the feel of The Weeknd’s early mixtape output, as does much of the EP, but with less doom & gloom lyrically.

The record ends with a deliciously droopy windpipe-tinged number that also features Chance The Rapper delivering some rhymes deep into the cut on a dramatic tempo drop, it’s a good way to end off the six song affair and leaves me excited to see what will come of the producers forthcoming LP, Dark Red, out in April. 

Duck Sauce – Quack

Fool’s Gold label head A-Trak and filterhouse long-stay ArmandVan Helden are Duck Sauce and with a name like that you know this isn’t a serious affair, though don’t be fooled as these are some seriously fun tunes that make up their debut LP, Quack. This isn’t anything ground breaking but the repurposed themes remain inspired and call to mind dance-floor hitmakers from the past like Fatboy Slim. Several of the songs have been available for up to four years now including "aNYway" – a flip of Final Edition's 1979 "I Can Do It (Any Way You Want)," the delectable Boney M. sampling "Barbra Streisand" and the barbershop feel good sound’s of “It’s You.” New standout tunes include the anthemic “Radio Stereo” which sounds like a sure fire gay nightclub party mainstay to my ears with its instantly recognizable sample of The Members hit “Radio.” Then there is the heave ho throbbing rhythms of “NRG,” the Dazz Band meets Tron-era Daft Punk opener "Chariots of the Gods" and  “Spandex,” which should come packaged with treadmills if you want to burn some calories because you can’t not help but move to any of these tunes.

Skits are aplenty on the record but kind of add to the charm of everything instead of coming off as filler. There’s even a revamp of Wu-Tangs classic “Feedin you” skit that heads are sure to smirk at on first listen. Features include  A-Trak’s brother, Dave Malkovich, of Chromeo frame as Teddy Toothpick on the filter-funky “Everyone.”

Duck Sauce knows what it wants to be, these are two very well established producers who have absolutely nothing to prove and what they want is for the listener to have a good time, it’s music you can play at a wedding where you don’t have to roll your eyes yet it humble in it’s nature to the point that it would never claim as much, for weddings are no place for irony or cynicism.

Caribou – Our Love

Dan Snaith’s latest record under the Caribou moniker continues his move from the bedroom to the nightclub, drawing on areas of musical history like 90’s house and UK garage to help along the way. But while other modern artists who have found commercial success by finding inspiration in the past such as Disclosure’s 90’s feel good R&B vibe, Snaith seems interested in finding a safe place for those who prefer their ass shanking to take queue from dance floors who’s DJ’s dig at Rough Trade over iTunes.  For one who seemingly has a grasp of the kind of dynamic shifts that cause hubbub on the dance floor, Dan isn’t afraid to drown out an otherwise perfect slab of dance music with some fizzing and frying noise and static. The first three songs on the album really do set things up nicely for the full listening experience. “All I Ever Need” has a rolling arpeggio that gets trapped in your head from the second it hits; and don’t think your going to escape the melody anytime soon as it’s reintroduced later in the LP, making the listening experience feel like a thought-out cohesive complete work over a collection of songs like so many albums do today. “Back Home” follows and is unquestionably my favorite song on the record, yes even better than the fantastic lead single “Can’t Do Without You.” With its falsetto vocal delivery layered on top of the whooshing synths and the juxtaposed live drumming/programming, Dan cleverly uses dynamic range to his advantage bringing a sense of drama to a world often categorized by a lack of emotion. The shifting relationship between the mainstream and underground, organic and synthetic and hope vs. loss is ever-present on the record and further realized via the lyrics.

Like an actual long-term romantic relationship, there are highs and lows, moments of joy and moments of defeat and it’s in Snaith’s personal vision of these emotions that we are treated to the full spectrum over the album’s ten tracks, each theme being given the same attention to detail as the previous, rich with knowledge, joy and experience, but also covered in the baggage that one inevitably obtains on life’s journey.

Our love is a confident record and lead single “Can’t Do Without You” is probably the best example of this confidence. Intended to be a euphoric song about his daughter’s dependence on him as a father, the chorus of “I can’t do without you” opens itself to alternative meanings further exploring this idea of love as a whole and not just the obvious. There is something enduring about the song’s lyrics and title when speaking about a child but in the same fashion it could be a tale of an obsessive relationship turned dysfunctional when the subject grows to be an adult.

Our Love finds some help via high profile collaborators Owen Pallett and Jessy Lanza who acted as an editor, emailing cuts and suggestions for songs that gave him an outsider’s perspective, Pallett’s work should be obvious whenever string arrangements come up; and it’s alongside these strings, funk guitar licks, hushed vocals  and bass drops that Dan and his collaborators find their story, one that’s both familiar and new at the same time.

Honorable Mentions
Afghan Whigs- Do The Beast
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - IX
Baauer - B EP
Cashmere Cat - Wedding Bells EP
Cloud Nothings - Here And Nowhere Else
Lil Dicky - So Hard
Neil Cicierega - Mouth Silence
SOHN - Tremors
St. Vincent - St. Vincent
Swet Shop Boys - Swet Shop EP
The Icarus Line - Avowed Slavery EP
Young Widows - Easy Pain

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