We are halfway through the year, so now is a perfect time to have an arbitrary “Best Albums of 2014 So Far” list. Which albums made the cut and are considered the official choice cuts approved by me as of the publication of this article?
The first album I would like to mention is the recent release from Rhode Island turned Oregon-based band The Body. The album, titled “I Shall Die Here,” was produced by dark ambient/drone electronic producer The Haxan Cloak, and it is a collaboration that I hope continues. Haxan Cloak’s production adds an intense roar on top of the already thick sludgy sound of the band that will rattle any sound system and darken the atmosphere of any room. Heavy and percussive bass thuds form the groundwork of the album while distant, shouted vocals rip through the haze of dark instrumentation. It delivers strong emotive performances akin to White Suns, who also had a great release this year titled “Totem.”
Another album worth noting, if only for the production, is “Shelter” by Alcest. “Shelter” is an album thatfurther progresses the French band’s evolution from metal music to more shoegazing territory. For those unfamiliar with the term, shoegaze is a genre of music popularized by British bands like Slowdive (whose singer appears on the seventh track of “Shelter”), Ride and My Bloody Valentine that focuses heavily on textures of sound created by guitar effects pedals. Shoegaze generally features subdued vocals and thick, heavily layered instrumental tracks. “Shelter” was produced in Sundlaugin Studios by Birgir Jón Birgisson, known for his involvement with bands such as Sigur Rós, The Album Leaf, and múm. But the album shines in far more than the production. Each track increases in velocity as it trudges along, inevitably delivering moments that feel almost euphoric in just the listening experience alone.
Lastly, and most importantly, is Swans’ instant classic “To Be Kind.” Swans is a band that would notbe described as adhering to either contemporary song structure or brevity, with the longest track on “To Be Kind” reaching a mind-melting thirty-four minutes in length. Known for their intensity and creativity, Swans have released the two-hour-long album as a follow-up to 2012’s “The Seer,” which also featured exceptionally long tracks (almost three reaching a twenty minute mark) and an enormous overall length. Although very unique and innovative in the current day, Swans is a band that has been pushing limits and pushing buttons for decades now. Their first full length album, “Filth,” was released in 1983 and is still considered futuristic and terrifying by some. Still maintaining that sense of terror, “To Be Kind” features aggressive, all-out assaults from all members instrumentally, and also samples everything from unsettling laughter to whistles and to a stampede of horses. “To Be Kind” is an album to set aside and ingest just as you would a movie, as it will take you on an adventure of terror, apathy, nihilism, and beauty, much like Lars von Trier’s 2011 film “Melancholia.”
While I could spend paragraph after paragraph talking about other incredible releases of the year so far like Liars’s experimental electro-rock album “Mess” or more about Swans’ “To Be Kind,” I would much rather just save my long-windedness. If you have any albums that you think I should check out, please email me at the address provided with the article, since there has never been such a thing as too much music to listen to.