THIS IS OUR MUSIC: Our Favorite Albums Of 2014

Long Live Rock FINAL


We said it before and we’ll say it again: Quoth the Chairman Of The Board, it was a very good year. So was last year, and the one before that and the one before that and so on. Why? Mostly, we can thank the disruptive, game-eating power of the Internet. The best thing that ever happened to music was the web-abetted collapse of the music industry’s one-size-fit-most paradigm and the death of radio as the prime determinant of what people like. Now people find music everywhere, it literally rains out of everything with an electric pulse, which has triggered a radical re-calibration of the vectors of popularity. These days even the most idiosyncratic sounds find their tribe sooner or later if they’re worth a damn. The Internet is good at keeping many things, but a secret is not one of them and good will out. We will not pretend our list is definitive or even close to it. There was loads of good music that did not make our naughty-or-nice list. You know where to find it. In the mean time, this is our favorite music of 2014. Let all the children boogie.



Fire Of Love

(Superior Viaduct)

On the night of August 16th, 1938, as Robert Johnson lay dying, poisoned by a jar of corn whiskey laced with strychnine by the jealous boyfriend of a pretty girl Johnson was flirting with at a country dance he was playing in Greenwood, MS, he had a brief and flickering vision — of a gaunt white man in a cowboy hat slumped in the backseat of a car motoring through the backwoods of West Virginia on New Year’s Day 1953. It was Hank Williams. Drifting in and out of consciousness as a potent cocktail of morphine, chloral hydrate and alcohol slowed his heart to a stop, Williams also had a brief and flickering vision — of a bloated, sweaty man wearing nothing but Rhinestone sunglasses seated on the toilet, spangled jumpsuit bunched around his ankles, as he gritted his teeth and grunted with Hulk-like intensity. Right before Elvis Presley’s immaculate, drug-scarred heart exploded as he sat on the throne at Graceland in the early hours of August 16th, 1977, The King also had a brief and flickering vision — of a purple album cover emblazoned with a crude, creepy mosaic of zombie voodoo shit his mama would not approve of on the cover. It was Fire Of Love by The Gun Club. All three men died for its sins. — JONATHAN VALANIA





Lana Del Rey has been criticized for many things over the last couple of years, from her deadpan delivery, to her thick lips, odd lyrics,voice, and even her name. But none of that matters to me on Ultraviolence,which is tight and rich and expertly extends the seductive persona that is Del Rey’s finest creation. Most of the songs on Ultraviolence are produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, and he and Del Rey stick to simple, guitar-based arrangements with lots of reverb, languid tempos, and subtle chord changes. The resulting music is sensuous and atmospheric, i.e. the perfect backdrop for Del Rey’s sultry, swooning vocals. As with her previous records, Del Rey’s persona on Ultraviolence is a femme fatale of the Warhol ilk, like Edie or Nico. This creation is moody and melancholy, and each song becomes a haunted, yearning daydream. She’s in love with love, although it’s not healthy romance that Del Rey wallows in. It’s reckless and dangerous. Ultraviolence is the soundtrack for a doomed beauty who always falls for the wrong man. As she sings on the title track, “He hit me and it felt like a kiss… Give me all of that ultraviolence.” Yes, Ultraviolence is overblown and ridiculously melodramatic, but none of that matters. Del Rey’s sexy, eerie persona might be a put-on, but she does it so well, who cares? Del Rey is a siren on Ultraviolence, and we are powerless against her charms. — MIKE WALSH



Lost in the Dream

(Secretly Canadian)

Hometown boosterism notwithstanding, The War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream is undeniable. Unless, of course, you’re Mark Kozelek, who tried to goad the band into a pissing match after calling them “beer-commercial guitar shit” when they got some of their chocolate in his peanut butter at a festival, and then wouldn’t drop it. It’s an album both anxious and patient, pent-up and relaxed, as fond of motoric propulsion as of thoughtful ambience, equal parts Can/Neu! and Dire Straits/Dylan. Those descriptors may sound apt for a late period Wilco dad-rock album, but this is a different kind of guitar shit. Leader Adam Granduciel is a perfectionist—a status given to constant anxiety and endless striving—and Lost in the Dream is full of small details: layers and layers of guitars, subtle effects, lyric phrases that only gradually reveal their mysteries. It’s one of those albums that can wash over you and carry you away or it can assert itself and demand your attention. Either way, few 2014 albums provided such long lasting rewards. The album came out early in the year, but, like its songs, it had momentum, enough to still sound fresh after nearly a year’s worth of listening. — STEVE KLINGE



Black Messiah


Show of hands: How many people have only listened to D’Angelo’s Black Messiah through a set of earbuds? I thought so. Lucky for you, the record’s full brilliance can be approximated even through the most antisocial of electronic gear, because D’Angelo ain’t stupid. The liner notes say Black Messiah was captured on analog tech, but it’s easy to imagine the once-and-future R&B alpha dawg demanding that the music throb ecstatically — sinew and sweat intact — through whatever Jobs-ian crap it might blast from. Still, bump this stuff from bigass speakers if you can: It’s inward-looking and deeply ponderable only when that’s the way you choose to consume it. Played loudly and publicly, Black Messiah is more than just a tonic for our Trayvon-and-Ferguson era. It’s a truly shareable thing: R&B as American birthright, D’Angelo as voodoo king, tape flutter as wormhole to the past, rhythm as lifeboat to the future. — JOE WARMINSKY


Ariel Pink

Pom Pom


“Plastic Raincoats In The Pig Parade,” Pom Pom’s lead-off track, presents the cheesiest rose-tinted view of world. The rhythm is evenly paced and pleasant, combined with the twinkling of the cutest of bells and Ariel Pink’s easygoing vocals filtered through his signature lo-fi microphone sound. But in less than a minute, the perfect picture is shattered, and the warped-reality funhouse feel of Pom Pom takes hold. Ariel Pink sings along pleasantly about not being afraid to take on the world in between the howls of sirens and the rewinding or fast-forwarding of a cassette. Undoubtedly, though, “Plastic Raincoats” ends up being the most genuine song on the album, promoting Ariel Pink’s notorious reputation for doing what he wants, however and whenever he wants to. In this case, it’s a great thing. Pom Pom is filled with songs that feel intensely fictional and separated from each other, which might not work as well for anyone without as much character as Ariel Pink. It’s dramatic and romantic in a way that obviously shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s full of snarky commentary and cheap jokes that most artists wouldn’t dare to throw in an album. But it grabs the ear from the start, maintains a great momentum that inevitably leaves you with a head full of hooks… I mean… hooks for days. A bunch of hooker heads. Um. It’s catchy. — MARY LYNN DOMINGUEZ


Benjamin Booker COVER



It’s been quite a year for Benjamin Booker, hand-picked opener for Jack White’s Lazaretto tour, going electric at Norfolk, going crazy on Letterman — not bad for a 25-year-old community gardener from New Orleans. Booker broke onto the scene earlier this year with his righteous, blooze-hammering self-titled debut, a gale-force one-man riot shot thru with ecstatic trance-blues demolition, garage-shake-bamalama and the most shiver-inducing lupine howl heard since the day Tom Waits gargled broken glass and washed it down with gasoline when he was, like, nine. Sounds like John Lee Hooker in the electric chair. Smells like victory. Feels like home. — JONATHAN VALANIA



Ophelia Slowly

(Everloving Records)

Confession: I’ve never listened to The Entrance Band (or any of its iterations). At least not concertedly. That’s probably why, when I saw Guy Blakeslee open for Warpaint back in October, I was like, “Who the hell is this guy singing ‘Green, Green Rocky Road’ with nothing but a tambourine and why don’t I own all of his albums?” It was, in a word, haunting. Turns out I was hearing music almost exclusively from Ophelia Slowly, an album whose title is a not-so-subtle nod to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and whose auteur, not unlike the famed Prince of Denmark, was probably his own worst enemy for a while. Composed largely while Blakeslee was dealing with addiction, the record tosses you 51 minutes of pure emotional maelstrom with Blakeslee’s quavering, ghostly howl at the vortex’s center (If I may, let me add that storms, rain and water act as a sort of common metaphorical thread throughout the record’s emotional evolution. See: “After the storm, I will dry every tear” [“The Cloud”] and “Dive right down to the bottom of your heart, as deep as the ocean and twice as dark” [“Year Of The Dragon”] among others). The Dylan-esque songwriting doesn’t give his guitar playing much room to shine, but when it (by which I mean Blakeslee’s upside-down right handed strat) does peak out of the clouds, it burns bright. By the time I made it to “Told Myself” on my first listen, tears had been shed. — NOAH SILVESTRY




(Small Stone Records)

Start with 375 meaty riffs, mix in a gigantic, soulful voice, add a touch of menace and 84 more riffs and you’ve got Lo-Pan. This is the fourth album from the Ohio heavy rockers and it doesn’t stray too far from their established sound, probably because you don’t fuck with something that awesome. It’s 10 slabs of fuzzy, stoner-y hard rock. Opener “Regulus” wastes no time setting the template, then the album kicks into high gear with the fourth track, “Marathon Man” (Theory: whenever you hear the sound of a car or motorcycle revving up, the next song always kicks ass). After this comes “N.P.D.”; try playing this nugget twice in a row and then listen as your brain puts it on repeat for the next three days. Side two highlight “Eastern Seas” gives Jeff Martin’s voice room to soar and is the closest Lo-Pan get to slowing it down on Colossus. Finish by reassembling the shattered pieces of your skull. Rinse and repeat. — MIKE WOLVERTON




(Season Of Mist)

Floor deserves a special commendation for winning the down tuning arms race that’s raged for years in heavy music. How much lower than Sabbath subterranean depths can you go? A lot of men tried and, sadly, a lot of men died. The quest to find out has included building guitars with an extra low seventh string for plumbing the depths of brown sound. Some men never came back. But Floor really takes it to the end zone with this album, riding an open low string wrapped so loose it doesn’t even produce a note. A lot of this record is just the thwap thwap thwap of completely slack steel banging on the neck, and I like it. TURGID. But like a nasty cup of diner coffee with a ton of cream and sugar in it, the clean vocals skipping across the underlying aural mud keeps the proceedings surprisingly light and sweet. That’s the irony of this maybe being the heaviest album ever: It’s so damn accessible, pop even, that you don’t even need to like this kind of music to love it. — JEFF DEENEY





With the right combination of bong hits and Ancient Aliens reruns, you too may come to the conclusion that Goat, Sweden’s 300-year-old cult of psych rock, is actually the result of a snafu in the space-time continuum that caused Parliament’s Mothership to come crashing back to Earth in pre-Viking Age Scandinavia. From there, the dauntless P-Funksters and the generations of their descendants that followed continued the vital mission to connect to the citizens of the universe over several millennia through religion, myth and primitive rituals of funk forged with aboriginal rhythms and native instrumentation. What other explanation is there for that primal groove that’s buried beneath the trance-inducing drumming, choruses chanting in hypnotic unison and space-noodling fuzz-wah-drenched guitar on Commune’s nine wondrously head-spinning tracks? — COLLIN KEEFE




(Dead Oceans)

On Christmas Day in 2013 Strand of Oaks frontman Tim Showalter and his wife were driving back to their adopted home in Philly from Indiana, hit an icy patch of road and collided with two trucks, leaving him with a head injury and half of his ribs broken. Showalter shook off the brush with death and dove right back into the studio to finish his band’s appropriately-titled album HEAL. Not surprisingly there is a tangible lust for life and sense of urgency on the album that is evident from the first seconds of the record when Showalter and guest guitarist J Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr.) shred-duel their way through the blistering summer song “Goshen ‘97.” The album is a passionate, blue collar marriage of thrift shop electronica and effervescent guitar-rock, sounding roughly like if Springsteen had conceived the E Street Band with drum machines and synths instead of horns. On the seven minute long “JM,” Showalter and co. subvert the musical blueprint and mood of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer,” to create an emotional tribute to the dearly departed Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia. Showalter delivers two stunning guitar solos during the track, before the second one he lets out a guttural primal scream that makes it incontrovertibly clear that — be it a broken rib, broken head, or broken heart — sometimes music is the only cure. — PETE TROSHAK



Art Official Age

(Warner Brothers)

Far be it for me to proclaim knowledge of what goes on in the head of His Purple Pop Highness but getting back on Warner Brothers where his culture-shaking hits first broke has awakened a mighty mid-life muse. After a decade-plus of releases that only had flashes of his old brilliance, Art Official Age erupts from the speakers as a shockingly fresh and surprising unbroken string of numbers in the classic Prince mold. Lots of stuff sounds like hits here, as he says in “Gold Standard” he’s working in an “upper echelon of groove.” Major label or not Prince couldn’t pry himself back onto the pop charts, where things are lonely for a 57-year-old sworn to the funk. But having a batch of new tunes that will keep the energy high on your next Prince mix is its own blessing. — DAN BUSKIRK





I’ve been a fan of Porter Robinson for years, and I have even experienced his thrilling crowd-moving DJ set live, but nothing prepared me for the excellence of his first full length album, Worlds. The album is a 180 from his previous work, featuring incredibly lush, blissful and intricate full-length tracks instead of your typical four on the floor oontz oontz EDM. Don’t get me wrong, his electro was nothing short of beautiful, but Worlds was truly a game-changer for Porter. He veered away from the jumpy, dance-y tunes and decided to create a far more diverse, blissful album of tracks that ranged in tempo, cultural influences (he’s a huge fanatic of everything Japanese), and composition. Upon hearing “Sea of Voices” for the first time I couldn’t hold back my tears, and “Divinity” simply puts the listener at utter peace with synths and melodies that deliver undeniable bliss. Porter Robinson delivered hands down the best electronic album of 2014. — DYLAN LONG


Childish Gambino

Because The Internet

(Glass Note/Island)

Community jokester Donald Glover finally broke out of his acting stigma with his second studio album and it’s his best work yet, with tracks ranging from bass heavy internet anthems like “Worldstar” to the piano driven song about rainbows and sunshine titled “Pink Toes.” This album is also meant to be enjoyed on multiple platforms. There is a 25-minute film called “Clapping for the Wrong Reasons” that serves as a prelude and will leave you puzzled until you hear the album. Then to accompany the album is a 72-page screenplay that can be found at, turning this musical piece into a movie. Just taking stock of the sheer amount of work that went into this artistic production alone is enough to demand maximum respect. But to actually make all these moving parts flow perfectly together? That’s some next level shit, yo. — CLAYTON RUSSELL


Sleaford Mods
Divide And Exit

(Harbinger Sound)

Jason Williamson won’t win any “best vocalist” awards given that most people still think vocals = singing. But the sounds that come out of his mouth — and the technique that gives them forc — are as fascinating as the prettiest thing on your network teevee. Williamson is the rapper/talker/hollerer for Sleaford Mods, a English duo that ostensibly makes hip-hop but earns the “post-punk” label just as fluidly. His partner, the beatmaker Andrew Fearn, is equally gnarly looking and also slyly talented; he gives off the vibe that he’s a bass/drums minimalist because that’s what the weed dictates. Divide And Exit is hardly their first good record, but it’s the one that really clicked, probably because England is confused about itself right now, and the Sleaford Mods aren’t confusing. When Williamson spits out bon mots like “the Wonderwall fell down on you,” it’s easy to imagine the bile and negation of the ’80s underground cutting across the decades, elbowing everything in the face, Gallagher bros included. Thank you sir, may we please have another. — JOE WARMINSKY


Swans To Be Kind

To Be Kind

(Mute/Young God)

The songs on the Swans’ To Be Kind are the sounds of very bad things happening. Michael Gira’s songs might be better described as abstract aural representations of nightmares. So it’s appropriate the album cover is a picture of a baby crying. The Swans have been in existence since the early ‘80s, and I’m sure they’ve made lots of babies (and a few adults) cry during that time. The pieces on To Be Kind are lengthy – from 7 to 32 minutes. They usually start minimally with a simple bass and drum vamp that loops. The pieces then subtly and inevitably grow in complexity and volume as new instruments and layers of sound are added. The repetition is relentless, and soon what was subtle and minimal has multiple percussionists, guitarists, synths, Michael Gira’s primal vocals, horns, vibes, etc. The tension inevitably evolves into a pummeling, assaultive crescendo. Before you know it, the “song” is a hulking, uncontrollable monster from hell that hammers your psyche with a full-fledged onslaught. And you either want to praise the Swans for their intensity and uncompromising vision or slit your throat. On first listen, this two-hour release came across as comically villainous goth, like a bad horror movie with no sense of humor. But with each listen my opinion evolved until I came to appreciate the beauty and intensity of what Michael Gira and company have created. — MIKE WALSH



The New Pornographers
Brill Bruisers


All hail The New Pornographers, same as the old New Pornographers! By now, we know what we want from the New Pornos: smart power pop, hooks galore, gang vocals arranged in clever ways, multifaceted songs that sound effortless until you notice how crafty they are, powerhouse vocals from Neko Case, inscrutable koans from Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, and, in Carl Newman, a mastermind who makes new patterns from the Rubik’s Cube of movable parts. After a couple albums that seemed to focus on stretching the band by easing back on the adrenaline, Brill Bruisers doubles-down on the New Pornos’ strengths. It’s a thrill ride made all the more pleasurable by seeing Case and Bejar step back in the fold even as their solo careers threaten to outshine the “supergroup” that helped launch them. Brill Bruisers won’t necessarily make new fans of listeners unsusceptible to the pleasures of Mass Romantic or Twin Cinema, but it should be required listening for any old ones. And with keyboardist Blaine Thurier often stepping to the fore, it sounds like a new variation on an old system, energetic and rejuvenated. — STEVE KLINGE


Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Transgender Dysphoria Blues

(Total Treble Music/Xtra Mile Recordings)

Since its inception rock music has offered a safe haven and the possibility of redemption for Western civilization’s untouchables.The most heart-warming story in rock this year involves the phoenix-like rise of one Laura Jane Grace. Grace is the singer of Florida punk band Against Me! previously known as Tom Gabel. In 2012 Gabel announced that after a lifetime struggle with his gender identity that he was going to transition to being a woman. This impossibly brave decision left everyone unsure what would happen with the future of Against Me! and led to the departure of the band’s rhythm section. In 2014 Grace obliterated any lingering questions about her and the band’s future plans. With longtime musical partner/guitarist James Bowman by her side she rebuilt Against Me! and led them on a blazing a trail of galvanizing live shows across the country, got her own reality show and released a career redefining statement with the album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a whiplash-inducing glam punk rock concept album about a transgender prostitute. On the best song of the album, “Fuckymylife666,” Grace declares her mantra — “Don’t wanna live without teeth / Don’t wanna die without bite / I never wanna say that I regret it.” This song, and for that matter the whole album is the sound of Grace freeing herself from the shackles of a lifetime of not feeling free to be who she truly is and in the process delivering the best album of Against Me!’s career, a universal declaration that we all have adversities to overcome, that we all yearn to be accepted for who we are and that all we need is love. All of us. — PETE TROSHAK



The Blank Project

(Smalltown Supersound)

After 2012’s jazz triumph with the stomping Swedish jazz band The Thing, Neneh “Buffalo Stance” Cherry collaborates with Fourtet’s Kieran Hebden on his first pop album in 18 years. With Hebden’s stark electronics coursing beneath her, Cherry delivers a fierce and passionate group of songs that sound adult in a way that is rare in the world of dance-y pop. Madonna would be wise to study the dignified intelligence Cherry brings to this record instead of chasing U2-style market dominance, but then again Madge ain’t the singer that Cherry is, able to bring things down to a naked chill where her direct voice tugs strongest. — DAN BUSKIRK



Worship the Sun

(Innovative Leisure)

Sounds like somewhere between their self-titled debut and this one, Allah-Las took a sip or two of the Kool-Aid. On Worship the Sun, the band’s stoned-on-sunshine and sloshed-on-surf jingle-jangle takes on a little of that glimmer and glow that comes at the start of a psychedelic experience. Most of the album is rooted in the same West Coast electro-folk groove as the debut, but here there’s tinges of Technicolor bubbling beneath on tunes like “Had It All,” “Follow You Down” and the title track. And while all of it at one point or another lifts everything from The Byrds to Love to the Beachwood Sparks, these guys manage to make it sound original and not at all kitschy or campy. — COLLIN KEEFE




(PRhyme Records)

Run The Jewels 2

(Mass Appeal)

In 2013, Atlanta’s Killer Mike was the aging rapper who most benefited from a shrewd pairing with a legendary producer, i.e. El-P, for Run The Jewels. This year Detroit’s Royce da 5’9″ made the savviest move, teaming with longtime pal DJ Premier to make PRhyme, a portrait of a grumpy MC who brims with hard-earned attitude and yet carries a welcome undercurrent of self-reflection. Premier’s beats are darker and more rawly funky than his jazz-inflected baseline sound, befitting a lyricist who eschews political correctness at times and delivers punchlines as if they’re actual body blows. Killer Mike and El-P didn’t fall off, by the way: This year’s Run The Jewels 2 is wilder and weirder than their debut, with a sex rhyme (“Love Again”) that gives the last dirty word to the ladies, and a lot of other rhymes that position hip-hop middle age as a time to let it all hang out. — JOE WARMINSKY


Lydia Loveless

Somewhere Else


Lydia Loveless is 24-year-old pint-sized firecracker whose second album Somewhere Else plays like a beer-soaked spiritual sister to Lucinda Williams’ legendary alt-country genre-spawning debut. Loveless’ music glitters with the spirit of country legends like Hank Williams Sr., but at the same time has a foot firmly planted in a punk mindset. It is the kind of album that could apply defibrillator paddles to the dying corpse of country, earning that genre another chance to get things right. Guitars spark and buck around Loveless, while she delivers 10 songs that litter the landscape with the ashes of love gone bad. It is an album of late night poetry and palpable yearning with equal parts swagger and vulnerability. Loveless sings about getting really great head in a dream (“Head”), drunk dialing (”Really Wanna See You”) and delivers five minutes of steel guitar fueled heartbreaking loneliness during the title track. But the highlight of the album is the best song you probably didn’t hear this year — “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud.” In the song Loveless lays down her expectations for love (and undoubtedly her music) – she expects fire and brimstone, all or nothing, to be the only one you love. With this album she has earned all that. — PETE TROSHAK




(Southern Lord)

With so much outrage spilling into the streets recently it seems like a fine time for a resurgence in system-smashing crust-punk. And believe me, there’s plenty of raging d-beat on this album to get you amped up for a pleasant night out of fist-fighting warrior cops. But this record isn’t just three chords, one drum beat and a lot of yelling. Martyrdod over the years have added added elements of black metal — and melodic, almost-symphonic, black metal at that — to their to their punk-crunk and the result is a surprisingly varied collection of songs. Eldopp sounds mournful at times but never loses its central ferocity; after melodic intervals the bleeding throat vocal screams return to let you know that while it’s okay to be sad, the ultimate goal here is for you to be out in streets fucking breaking something. — JEFF DEENEY



You’re Dead


Almost every time you listen to a Flying Lotus album, you’re brought into this psychedelic/electric/jazz head space that makes all seem right with in the universe. But just one song into You’re Dead, you sense an extraordinary disturbance in the force, that this is like nothing you’ve ever heard before — unless you are from Neptune, then maybe. And then you glance at the production list and ask yourself, ‘Who would think putting all of these artists together would be a good idea?’ And yet it is. A great idea, in fact. There are piano melodies from iconic jazz innovator Herbie Hancock, guitar shredding from Brendan Smith of Metalocalypse fame and verses from West Coast rap vets Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg. If you decide to give this album a chance, I guarantee you will be thanking yourself for the rest of your life. — CLAYTON RUSSELL


Trash Talk

No Peace


Signed to Tyler, The Creator’s OFWGKTA label since 2012 and having toured with groups such as Suicidal Tendencies and Terror, Trash Talk does not fuck around. Having seen these thrashcore ninjas three times myself, I can fully confirm that the punk friggin’ rock in all of these guys is alive and well. No Peace is their latest full length LP, notching a full 15 tracks filled with raw guitar riffs, heavy,slamming drums and frontman Lee Spielman’s signature terrifying screams. Trash Talk’s unhinged hardcore style stayed completely prevalent throughout No Peace, with tracks like “The Hole” and “Leech” delivering punishing fast paced riffs and bassist Spencer’s loud and heavy backup vocals. I couldn’t have asked for anything better from this LA native band I’ve come to know and love. — DYLAN LONG



If You Knew Her

(Brownswood Recordings)

The BBC DJ Gilles Peterson has been major force in resurrecting obscure and soulful sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s under the banner “Spiritual Jazz.” Now with his Brownwood Recordings label he is stoking the fires of jazz with new acts who can channel some of the earthy energy of the classic recordings he so reveres. Patient zero is Zara McFarlane, a Londoner of Jamaican descent with major music school experience behind her, whose songwriting splits the difference between singer-songwriter and jazz tuneage, masterfully connecting straight-forward lyrics (“an open heart is both both a lock and key”) with resonant melodies and cooly surging choruses. McFarlane’s voice is all chops in the service of emotion. The chugging “Angie La La” is a delicious Creole-tinged duet with Leron Thomas that unleashes an oaken and funky acoustic bass riff that’s right out of Coltrane. Her only cover, a version of Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves” couldn’t have arrived with better timing. — DAN BUSKIRK



Salad Days

(Captured Tracks)

While the wry, upbeat freak-pop of Salad Days is consistent with his previous releases, the new album marks a giant step forward in the ongoing transition of Mac DeMarco’s from “wacky indie guitar boy” to “actual person with feelings and shit.” It’s as if DeMarco is sitting down with his slightly younger self and taking stock, recuperating from touring extensively, maintaining his relationship with a girl from his hometown in Canada, and trying to build upwards from his plateauing career. The result is an immediately likeable, album tinged with nostalgia, but leaves plenty of room for growth. Salad Days picks up the pieces that previous releases left behind: There are less gimmicks and more self-reflection, which, all told, is a good thing. Although the material is obviously more serious than cigarette anthems and stoner odes, DeMarco’s delivery is smooth and natural, almost humble — an encouraging sign that, despite the fact that somebody on eBay just paid $21,000 for a pair of his old sneakers, he still puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us down here on planet Earth. — MARY LYNN DOMINGUEZ



Blue Fourteen

(Blue Tapes)

Henry Plotnick really blossoms on his second release. These slow-building, looping, textural electronic pieces merge the 20th-century classical experiments of Philip Glass and Terry Riley with Plotnick’s uniquely youthful exuberance. The compositions, most stretching out past 10 minutes, start as soothing musical mantras before turning profound or politely weird. From time-to-time you might stop and think, “a 13-year-old really did this?” but then you get swept away by an emerging, repeating phase that alters reality in some delightful way. Intoxicating. — DAN BUSKIRK

EDITOR’S NOTE: Next up our ALBUM OF THE YEAR and SONG OF THE YEAR big reveals, look for ’em tomorrow on a Phawker near you!