2014: Favorite 50 Music Releases of 2014

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series

iLoveMakonnen [EP]


On paper, iLoveMakonnen might not be the kind of guy Tiny Mix Tapes would typically champion. But a hyperspecific weirdo visionary who bent hip-hop to accommodate his off-kilter warble? That’s different. The iLoveMakonnen EP further congealed hip-hop and R&B into its own amorphous creature — that aforementioned warble frequently occupied both spaces of rapping and singing — but also suctioned even more into its orbit. At points, that narcotized universe felt like a Dean Blunt album for the club, one half-full and not-quite-going-up on a Tuesday. Elsewhere, Makonnen dropped proper names (Brianna, Sarah) like a rap-game Destroyer, chunks of past tumbling in and out with nary an explanation. Yet for all its Atlanta space-case trappings, the EP felt grounded and oddly universal, as if the suburban longing of Golden Age emo had been molded into the context and forms of hip-hop. In his low-key way, iLoveMakonnen pushed hip-hop into a new direction, simply by providing something we never knew we wanted.

Andy Stott
Faith in Strangers

[Modern Love]

What’s the difference between a stranger and a friend? Well, for Andy Stott, it’s faith, and in 2014, Faith in Strangers was that faith, painted in enlightened chillout, agoraphobic ambient, and seismic post-dub. Its sweeps of electronic ether were the moments of dim comprehension that were the closest we came to knowing another person, moments we had no choice but to trust. Its spiky beats were the acts of violence we rained upon that person when our pseudo-knowledge failed. And its pulsing undertow was the irrational hope that kept both of us coming back for seconds. Even worse, Alison Skidmore’s voice lingered over all this damage and time away as the barely-remembered dream of union, the siren that roused us after yet another failure and that riveted us as we coasted toward yet another wreckage.


[Leaving Records]

Nothing in 2014 reflected the age of hyperacceleration more effectively than D/P/I’s MN.ROY, whose glitch patchwork also marked it as a candidate for the most boundary-pushing release in Leaving’s catalog. The hyperacceleration was so severe that the music was ripped apart by its sheer speed, becoming a deconstructed stream of bits and pieces, with rapid glitches and glimmering ambience swirling in the background. Sometimes the music slowed down enough to resemble some actual rhythm and melody, like on the ultra-claustrophobic cut-up techno of “012,” or when it attempted to simulate teenage neuroses with self-loathing statements thrown into the ether. But it was all subservient to MN.ROY’s primary modality, which somehow recreated the stimuli overload of the virtual world through dense distortions and breathtaking cascades of digital noise.

Giant Claw

[Orange Milk/Noumenal Loom]

We could explore Giant Claw’s DARK WEB as the latest entry into the canon of classical compositions performed using modern instrumentation, beginning with Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach. Or we could investigate every sample used in DARK WEB’s eight tracks, waxing philosophical on how these plunderphonic symphonies eroded imposed distinctions between “high” and “low” art. But it’s worth eschewing any critical, musicological, or theoretical analyses of KeithGiant ClawRankin’s already exhaustively dissected sound collage and to instead take the artist’s moniker and album title at face value. Here, we can imagine Giant Claw as a big, sharp, bestial (and perhaps robotic) appendage built to capture and kill prey, while a DARK WEB could be its unlit, sticky net in which said prey was ultimately trapped and consumed. These processes, mercilessly mechanical and insanely ingenuitive by their very biology, were what we marveled at when we experienced Giant Claw’s DARK WEB… that and the decapitated heads of auto-tuned pop singers mummified and wired together forever.

Ian William Craig
A Turn of Breath


Before meaning comes, there’ll be A Turn of Breath. Or at least Ian William Craig made us forget the value of meaning till the last of his breath had been transmitted (faultily, heroically) for 44 minutes via outmoded reel-to-reel. That faltering call of an opera singer pulling against tape’s magnetic infidelity channeled Celan’s atemwende (“breathturn”): partially a lonely conversation about the movement of something strange from “already-no-more” to “still-here.” In the persistence of degradation meshed with the presentness of his operatic lungs, Craig’s tesseract of vocal noise pointed to a human creator even as its “pure sound” invited us to forget the origin and to forget the listening-I. Most relaxation scripts don’t call for distortion, but A Turn of Breath’s clicks, hisses, and tape-fucked singing quelled confusion like an analog inoculation. In the album’s most lucid transmission flushes (“Either Or,” “A Slight Grip, a Gentle Hold [Part II]”), Craig gave us paused passage through ourselves toward a forgetting place, where we remembered why we ever hold our breath and why every exhalation has to make a sound, when some of us are not allowed to breathe at all.

Kevin Drumm / Jason Lescalleet
The Abyss


A few months back, when I told C Monster (TMT’s Chocolate Grinder editor) that The Abyss was my favorite album of 2014, he probed (justifiably, yet arrestingly): “Why???” Without mulling it over, I promptly responded that “it made me laugh.” Not because it was necessarily funny, but because that was my first response: a guttural, tooth-clipping, spit-on-computer-screen burst of hysteria. Since then, I have been reflecting on this strange and immediate response, meditating on how my insignificant chortle could possibly illuminate infinity. But what I recalled/discovered during this process was that, evolutionarily speaking, laughter isn’t just an expression of bafflement; it’s a survival mechanism. It helps us form deep connections with otherwise extrinsic forms (in this case, a void, an absence of form through which our arbitrary chatter drifts). Perhaps this is why, five months after its release, The Abyss — unfathomable and immeasurable as it is — hasn’t left my mind. It has become a lens through which I live in its towering reflection. I smile more now, knowing that this security I have been reaching out for through my cracks of nervous laughter isn’t an artifact of non-violence; it’s a state of being that comes from a hearty embrace of that which has always been bubbling away like an imminent guffaw, waiting patiently for a subject ripe for immolation.

Scott Walker + Sunn O)))


The land of the Missouri River basin stretches forever in that way that only nothing stretches; to sense the unsettling combination of perpetuity, loneliness, and deformed majesty that fills those Great Plains is to feel Soused. In just its first moments Soused chased our giddy anticipation with fleeting wonder that gave way to sustained and immersive dread, Scott Walker assuming the role of defrocked high priest, Sunn O))) his thick plumes of incense smoke. Walker’s initial lamentation/incantation “Never enough” may have been a suspenseful encapsulation of the excess and desolation to follow, a reference to the bottomless debts owed by those sorry souls in Walker’s world, a demand for a few more of his favorite things or just a pact with his collaborators (apparently Sunn O))) brought more amplifiers to the recording sessions than could fit in the studio). To be sure, Soused’s gluttonies for cruelty, pain, disgust, and fear (“acne on a leper”) could shock the faint of heart, but the assortment of evils on offer was just too good not to indulge. And yet the experience provided more than guilty pleasures; here were glimpses at those negative spaces where language’s tattered edges begin to dissolve into endless monotone, the spaces between lullabies and sleep, aspiration and drowning, contrition and absolution. In these bottomless zones, we danced and we prayed, awestruck by their celestial beauty and their exultant depravity.

Secret Mix

[PC Music]

GFOTY, a.k.a. Girlfriend of the Year, a.k.a. one of PC Music’s main artillery for their hard-hitting year, delivered one of the label’s most cohesive collections with Secret Mix. Using general “every girl in the club” lyrics and an infantilized demeanor — all of it spastically looped and pitched up — GFOTY took us on a bizarre ride through love, loss, and lust. It felt like a silly game with its bright annoying synths and exaggerated rhythms, but underneath the saccharine veneer was a pain and sorrow that was itself obfuscated by a delivery that felt feigned and overdone. That was the beauty of Secret Mix: it never took itself too seriously while also seeming to comment on pop, female vocals in electronic dance music, and club stereotypes. And yet, even when we were listening to banal earworm pop tropes and teenage vernacular being reduced to an aggressively minimal and subtly experimental palette, GFOTY remained the star. And how could you deny those covers of Céline Dion, Toni Braxton, and Carly Simon?



A microwave beeped at the end of “Labyrinth,” a single interjection just before Harris played the last chord. It may have been the loudest sound in the song. Why was the microwave beep the part of Ruins that I found most memorable, most devastating? Why did a microwave beep move me more than a lyric like “there’s nothing left to hold to?” or more than a song like “Holding,” with its unassuming meditation on love, awkwardness, geology, navigation, belonging? Why did a microwave beep — an unwanted noise — leave a deeper impact than the hushed sounds of the storm outside? Than the loneliness of Harris’s conversation with her piano? The beep was the Real peeking in. The air that made up the once-was, the reincorporated structure after it fell, the unhinged nature stirring and leaking from virtual space all around her that couldn’t be filtered out, quieted down, or even properly captured with a microphone. The beep was a vulgar reminder of Harris’s lack of control. It was why, when Ruins spat me out on the other side, I found it incredibly easy to forget these songs, as if they were objects encountered along the path of a long walk, but I nonetheless found their mark unerasable.

Dean Blunt
Black Metal

[Rough Trade]

Black Metal is a strange album to be vaunted at the top of a music list in 2014. In a year practically begging for catharsis (something TMT writers have never been shy about seeking out), Dean Blunt’s obtuse, lopsided, and subdued album reached none of the heights set by countless previous entries on this list or even those of his own discography. The narrative-concrète transitions that made The Narcissist II and The Redeemer such breathtaking listens were entirely gone, and the heady concepts bubbling in the background prior to release arrived mostly muted. It wasn’t all that clear whether altering a track choice, a vocal delivery, or even a playback speed would have made a significant difference in the sum total of the album’s atmosphere or effect. You could call it Blunt’s anti-climactic sophomore slump, a varied group of style experiments that didn’t quite add up, songs you could either make a case for or toss aside, depending on your mood or whim.

So why did Black Metal end up here at #1? Well for one thing, maybe in 2014 we didn’t really need another slap in the face from art to awaken us to the darkness and anxiety of our times. Maybe we get enough of those reminders already: new real-life horror stories popping up daily; new calls for urgent change and urgent preservation from people we know and respect, with each persuasive viewpoint taking a wider and more balanced consideration of the world than the last; anything the public fitfully deems “important” instantly subject to hyperbolic praise, relentless venom, or total dismissal from one’s optimized newsfeed — the same fate. Maybe what we needed this year was something that just stayed the fuck out of it.

But while it’s true that Dean Blunt is an “arch conceptualist,” gleefully arranging and suggesting and then disappearing, it’s equally true that his process operates in total opposition to what’s going on in, say, a concept album, where the doors are tightly shut. Black Metal mocked our eagerness to suspend disbelief and find pure truth in cutting metaphors, instead presenting any one of its elements (packaging, genre, instrument, sound) in more or less the same way it appeared in “real life” — its materiality self-evident and indivisible but also a thing of endless permutations, open-ended and multifaceted, illuminating to consider and reconsider in different lights and states of consciousness, enriching to follow the rabbit trail of shifting context and watch mountainous connected truths form in tectonic “friction over the nonfiction.” But it would be absurd — an obscenity — to then turn around and seek resolution as a “final step” to understanding, as if halting that motion entirely were ideal. This sudden turning away in the name of “empathy” would surely be just another tool of the narcissist.

Instead, what could be carried lightly through the album (and beyond) was the modest concept that everything is everything, the words in a book calling for human progression as present as the bottle of Moët anonymously smashed over its reader’s head. Here, Black Metal itself became “just another one” in the multitude yet beautiful in its many reflections of other things, ground to a halt with “no other place to go” yet constantly on the move, zipping past cultural tombstones that were once directional signposts. “70s” drum samples and “80s” guitar samples entwined with “90s” guitar strumming and “00s” microphone clarity, not in an attempt to dissolve boundaries, but to find stronger, wider emotional expressions through seemingly incongruent combinations, disparate musics unhurriedly crossing both sides of this racial dyad in lyrical ellipses, our vocabulary to describe these meetings now sounding like jammed weapons or clammy handwringing.

If the work of the artist is, as Yoko Ono said, to “change the value of things,” and the events of this year kept painfully stacking one on top of another, Black Metal inspired by traveling along a separate axis, refusing to aid in its own constriction, working to “keep it going on” in a fuller dimensionality, scraping the price tags off anything being guarded as private property and slapping them back down where instinct led, with “NOISE” not so hard to imagine now as a form of “COUNTRY,” “ARTIST” returned to the “AUDIENCE,” “TRANSPARENCY” achieved through “OPACITY.”

Full list:

50. Lil Herb - Welcome to Fazoland (NLMB)
49. The Body - I Shall Die Here (RVNG Intl.)
48. T C F - 486669f0e9b8990384108f3d54c6a8f… (Self-Released)
47. Ai Aso - Lone (Ideologic Organ)
46. Ninos Du Brasil - Novos Mistérios (Hospital)
45. Lee Gamble - Koch (PAN)
44. Death Grips - niggas on the moon (Third Worlds)
43. The Soft Pink Truth - Why Do the Heathen Rage? (Thrill Jockey)
42. Gem Jones - Admiral Frenchkiss (Goaty Tapes)
41. Burial Hex - The Hierophant (Handmade Birds)
40. Beyoncé - Beyoncé (Columbia)
39. Sun Araw - Belomancie (Sun Ark/Drag City)
38. Objekt - Flatland (PAN)
37. James Ferraro - SUKI GIRLZ (Self-Released)
36. Fear Of Men - Loom (Kanine)
35. Dean Blunt - Skin Fade (Self-Released)
34. White Suns - Totem (The Flenser)
33. FKA Twigs - LP1 (Young Turks)
32. Fennesz - Bécs (Editions Mego)
31. Kane West - Western Beats (PC Music)
30. Swans - To Be Kind (Young God/Mute)
29. Call Super - Suzi Ecto (Houndstooth)
28. Aphex Twin - Syro (Warp)
27. Ariel Pink - Pom Pom (4AD)
26. Magic Eye - Babylon (Not Not Fun)
25. Perfume Genius - Too Bright (Matador)
24. Jenny Hval & Susanna - Meshes Of Voice (SusannaSonata)
23. Actress - Ghettoville (Werkdiscs/Ninja Tune)
22. Pharmakon - Bestial Burden (Sacred Bones)
21. 18+ - Trust (Houndstooth)
20. Arca - Xen (Mute)
19. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata (Madlib Invazion)
18. Valerio Tricoli - Miseri Lares (PAN)
17. Lil B - 05 Fuck Em (Self-Released)
16. Lotic - DAMSEL in DISTRESS (Janus)
15. PC Music - PC Music x DISown Radio (PC Music/DIS Magazine)
14. Sun Kil Moon - Benji (Caldo Verde)
13. E+E - The Light That You Gave Me To See You (Self-Released)
12. copeland - Because I’m Worth It (Self-Released)
11. C L E A N E R S - Real Raga Shit Vol. 1 (Bootleg Tapes)
10. iLoveMakonnen - iLoveMakonnen EP (Self-Released)
09. Andy Stott - Faith In Strangers (Modern Love)
08. D/P/I - MN.ROY (Leaving)
07. Giant Claw - DARK WEB (Orange Milk/Noumenal Loom)
06. Ian William Craig - A Turn Of Breath (Recital)
05. Kevin Drumm / Jason Lescalleet - The Abyss (Erstwhile)
04. Scott Walker + Sunn O))) - Soused (4AD)
03. GFOTY - Secret Mix (PC Music)
02. Grouper - Ruins (Kranky)
01. Dean Blunt - Black Metal (Rough Trade)

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series

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