Wednesday, July 2, 2014

2014 - Halfway Report

2014, take a seat. We need to talk.

You've been here for a solid six months now, and in all honesty, I'm not bowled over by the contribution you've made.

Now, don't get me wrong - there's been some great music released since you showed up back in January. I really enjoyed those albums by Real Estate, Stephen Malkmus, The Afghan Whigs, Stanley Brinks, Mogwai, The Hidden Cameras...but as good as those CDs are, I can't say that I've formed a real emotional connection with any of them.

But there's still time to turn things around. Heck, the previous guy did most of his best work in the autumn/winter period - of the five albums that we earmarked in 2013's halfway report, only two went on to make the end-of-year list - so we're not overly concerned about your performance just yet. I'm just giving you a slightly crummy assessment now in the hopes that it will spur you to do even better in the months to come.

And, I have to admit, you have given us a few genuine gems while you've been here. We did a 'Top 5' list for your predecessor this time last year, and so we decided it would only be fair to do the same for you...

The Best Albums of 2014...So Far!

Benji by Sun Kil Moon
This album of songs about the past is this year's Last of the Country Gentlemen, i.e. a sparse sounding album with considerable emotional clout. Jim Wise remains my favourite song of the year to date...

Are We There by Sharon Van Etten
...closely followed by Every Time the Sun Comes Up, the closing track from Sharon Van Etten's latest album. Even if the rest of the album had been a write-off, it would have been worth sitting through for that song alone. Fortunately, the other stuff is pretty amazing as well.

American Interior by Gruff Rhys
I wasn't sure about this one at first - notwithstanding 100 Unread Messages, which was an instant classic on its own, the whole enterprise seemed somewhat ho-him. But it's proved to be quite the grower, and now I find it rather moving, particularly The Last Conquistador's portrait of a life wasted ("my whole life's work was just an illusion!") and the dying bars of Walk into the Wilderness.

I think I'll like it even more once I've seen the film, too.

Days of Abandon by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
This one's only been in my life for a few days but I'm already loving it. TPoBPaH are poppier than I remember, but that's no bad thing - Life After Life and Simple and Sure are shoe-ins for my 'Best Songs of 2014' list.

3rd by The Baseball Project
It may not have the best tunes (although there's no denying the brilliance of tracks like From Nails to Thumbtacks and To The Veteran's Committe), but I love 3rd simply for its willingness to stick to one big concept for the length of an entire CD. The big concept, of course, is baseball, but don't worry - as I've previously noted, one needn't be a big fan of America's pastime to appreciate this.

And those aren't even the only awesome albums you've given us, 2014 - I haven't even mentioned Goodbye, Cagoule World yet, and given a few more spins, that new Antlers album certainly seems like it could be a classic.

But you still haven't given me something on the same level as The Silver Gymnasium or MEN (the albums that topped my end-of-year list in 2013). Now, again, both of those came out relatively late in the year, and I've no doubt that you'll pull something similarly mind-blowing out of the bag once your second half gets underway.

I just want you to know what my expectations are.

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