Thursday, January 1, 2015

Dr. Spin's Top 10 for 2014

A good part of my holiday break this year was spent in Hawaii.  We were on Kaua'i, which is also known as "The Garden Isle."  I walked off the plane with no small amount of cynicism, but I quickly learned that all of the picturesque scenery that accompanies the literature on Kaua'i is in no way exaggerated.  It is breathtakingly beautiful.  The wildflowers there would sell for high dollars in a florist shop here in Texas. A simple drive down the highway cuts through breathtaking views of verdant mountains pushed right up against crystal clear water.  I was blessed to find myself with my wife and kid on Hanalei Beach on Christmas Eve, staring out into the open sea watching those waves crash.

From an environmental perspective, it was life-changing, and an introspective way to spend a very busy, somewhat hectic year.  Also a very good year in music.  If you look at this list alongside last month's post, there was a distinct move back towards progressive rock in comparison to last year, but it still contains a satisfying diversity of styles.

10. Deafheaven – Sunbather: Any criticisms that might be leveled against this album are easily and convincingly countered by its surprising emotional range. Sunbather’s marriage of indistinct, shoegazey vocals with head-bobbing metal conjures a particularly distinct flavor of repressed, seething rage.

9. Secret Chiefs 3 – Book M:  Mr. Bungle does ethnomusicological fieldwork in Persia with stunning results. This album found its way into the library a couple of years ago, but became particularly meaningful over the course of this year.

8. Syd Arthur – Sound Mirror: After a solid debut, Syd Arthur makes an impossible step forward on their sophomore release. Impossible, because they change virtually nothing in their approach but still manage to refine and expand on what they have already accomplished.

7. Rage Against the Machine – The Battle of Los Angeles: Although I was a big fan of Rage Against the Machine’s first album way back when, I stopped following them by the time this album was released. Some distance from that mind-shattering debut allows this album to shine brightly on its own merit.

6. Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope: Although I don’t think it holds a candle to the stupendous Whirlwind, Kaliedoscope is one of Transatlantic’s most consistent and cohesive works. It is a glorious example of the expressive capacities of 90’s symphonic prog.

5. Django Django – This self-titled debut took quite a while to grow on me. In the end, however, I became convinced by Django Django's infectious, quirky songwriting approach.

4. Yes – Heaven and Earth: Although three years ago, the immediately gratifying Fly from Here just barely made it in the top twenty by year’s end, this year’s Heaven and Earth has slowly grown into a favorite since its summer release. It implies a sustainable vision for Yes’ future that I find exciting.

3. Hans Zimmer – Man of Steel OST:  Due to his facile ear, adventurous spirit, and incredible creativity, Zimmer’s approach to scoring seems to continually evolve. With Man of Steel, his unique instrumental choices resulted in an album of unbelievable depth and power.

2. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe: While Chvrches’ adopted genre is clearly electro-pop, the strength of this album lies in its songwriting. Any of these tracks could be played in nearly any style and be effective, but deft production hand elevates them to a consistent level of near-perfection.

1. Dawes – Stories Don’t End: One of the most dreadful topics that a songwriter can address is the difficulty in writing a song. That Dawes can turn this usually embarrassing theme into an introspective social commentary of the highest order is only the smallest indicator of the genius found all over Stories Don't End.

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