We're list-makers at Odyshape -- we're not going to deny it. Greatest funk bassists, greatest 19th century Russian novelists, greatest Luis Buñuel movies, you name it: we'll debate the excellence of anything by showing each other our carefully-annotated pop culture inventories. Since this is a music site, we'll spare you the trivia and minutia and dish on our favorite recordings of 2014 thus far.
Give me six months like this anytime. I've got at least another 25 albums from 2014 that I'd willingly listen to anytime, anyplace, anywhere. And that's not including albums like Sunbathing Animal that haven't officially been released yet.
The best so far:
1. Young Thug & Bloody Jay, Black Portland (free download)
2. Withered Hand: New Gods (Slumberland)
3. Wussy- Attica! (Shake It)
4. Lily Allen- Sheezus (Warner Bros)
5. Toni Braxton & Babyface: Love, Marriage, and Divorce (Motown)
6. Old 97s- Most Messed Up (ATO)
7. Bobby Bare Jrs Young Criminal’s Starvation League- Undefeated (Bloodshot)
8. Sisyphus, Sisyphus (Asthmatic Kitty)
9. Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop Recordings)
10. Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Red Distribution)
Perfect Pussy - Say Yes To Love (Captured Tracks)
Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Voce, Complicated Day (Enja / Yellowbird)
Listening to the Watertrain (Blue Navigator 11)
St. Vincent- St. Vincent (Loma Vista)
The “5” Royales- Soul & Swagger: The Complete “5” Royales (Rockbeat)
XTC Skylarking: Corrected Polarity Edition (+180)
Suburban Base Records: The History of Hardcore, Jungle, Drum & Bass 1991-1997 (New State)
Studio One Rocksteady (Soul Jazz)
The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali (Second Edition) (World Music Network)
People claim it’s been a slow year for music, but I say you can take that package right over to the dead letter office, because I refuse to sign for it. Below find thirty records released in the last six months that sustain repeated listening, all of them written up by yours truly either in this space or over at SPIN, with the egregious exception of my two favorite records of the year thus far. All I can say about Withered Hand right now is that my fellow contributors at Odyshape did such a fine job outlining that album’s specific charms I almost don’t feel the need to weigh in myself. As for Miranda Lambert, stay tuned, as they say.
Miranda Lambert, Platinum (RCA Nashville)
Withered Hand, New Gods (Fortuna Pop!/Slumberland)
Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twobadou Sounds, 1960-1978 (Strut)
Old 97’s, Most Messed Up (ATO Records)
Wussy, Attica! (Shake It Records)
Neneh Cherry, Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound)
tUnE-yArDs, Nikki Nack (4AD)
Sisyphus, Sisyphus (Asthmatic Kitty)
Laura Cantrell, No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop)
Allen Lowe, Mulatto Radio: Field Recordings 1-4 (or: A Jew at Large in the Minstrel Diaspora) (Constant Sorrow)
Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal (What’s Your Rupture?)
Max Johnson Trio, The Invisible Trio (Fresh Sounds Records)
Katy B, Little Red (Columbia)
Röyksopp & Robyn, Do It Again (Cherrytree / Interscope)
Cloud Nothings, Here And Nowhere Else (Carpark Records)
Drive-By Truckers, English Oceans (ATO)
Company Freak, Le Disco Social (Opus Label)
The Roots, ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (Def Jam)
Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Voce, Complicated Day (Enja / Yellowbird)
Balani Show Super Hits: Electronic Street Parties from Mali (Sahelsounds)
Moreno and L’Orch First Moja-One, Vol. 2: More Pili (Stern’s)
Isaiah Rashad, Cilvia Demo (Top Dawg)
Young Thug & Bloody Jay, Black Portland (free download)
Billy Hart Quartet, One Is The Other (ECM)
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard, Here Be Monsters (Missing Piece Group)
Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997 (Strut)
Rosanne Cash, The River & The Thread (Blue Note)
Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce (Motown / Virgin EMI)
Tom Rainey, Obliggato (Intakt Records)
Le1F, Hey EP (Terrible / XL)
Echoing Cam and Jason here - reel off any arbitrary six-month stretch in recent memory, and match its albums against those from the first half of 2014. 2014 wins. I'm an academic, which means I pretend to rail against ideologues while resolutely being one - so expect Kanye's impending Shrödinger's Made in Florence to steamroll onto this list, but otherwise the bar's quite high for entry. Oh, and I don't grade much (again: academic; A's for everyone!!!) but am quite comfortable conferring three A+ record scores. Each of the (non-)singles are all about perfect, too.
1. Withered Hand - New Gods (Slumberland)
2. Wussy - Attica! (Shake It)
3. Skrillex - Recess (Asylum, Atlantic)
4. Sisyphus - Sisyphus (Asthmatic Kitty)
5. Old 97's - Most Messed Up (ATO)
6. The Pixies - EP 2 (Artemis)
7. Lily Allen - Sheezus (Warner Bros)
8. Perfect Pussy - Say Yes To Love (Captured Tracks)
9. Lydia Loveless - Somewhere Else (Bloodshot)
10. Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Red Distribution)
(Not Really) Singles
1a. Pussy Riot - "Putin Will Teach You How To Love The Motherland"
1b. The Chainsmokers - "#selfie"
3. Lily Allen - "Close Your Eyes"
4. Katy B - "Crying For No Reason"
5. Withered Hand - "New Gods"
6. Aloe Blacc - "The Man"
7. Schoolboy Q - "Man of the Year"
8. EMA - "Neuromancer"
9. Toni Braxton & Babyface - "Hurt You"
10. Lil Jon & DJ Snake - "Turn Down For What"
I confined my mid-year top 10 to things I've already written about in "A Downloader's Diary." There are no upgrades (yet) to any of the items on this list. I don't expect this list to be even remotely the same in December, let alone in August -- though I'm pretty sure the top two are a lock. If I can draw any observations from my list and those of my cohorts, it's been a lousy six months for the vanguard -- the only young gun on my own list is the admittedly world-historic singer-songwriter Dan Willson, aka Withered Hand. Even Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is on her fourth record (fifth, if you count that lame David Byrne collaboration), while Lily Allen is, despite being on her third album, an old pro. Elsewhere, you have Wussy (their fifth proper release), Shakira, the Old 97's, and the Drive-by Truckers (all on their tenth album), and Babyface/Braxton (fourteen albums between the two, not counting one Christmas album from each). Probably too early to complain about an industry that doesn't cultivate new talent, much of which has to cultivate itself on its own dime in the indie/mixtape world. But though I can't complain with the wealth of great music 2014 has afforded us thus far, I hope we hear some new voices soon.
1. Withered Hand: New Gods (Slumberland)
2. Wussy: Attica! (Shake It)
3. Old 97’s: Most Messed Up (ATO)
4, Lily Allen: Sheezus (Warner Bros.)
5. Drive-by Truckers: English Oceans (ATO)
6. The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali (2nd Edition): (World Music Network)
7. Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978 (Strut)
8. Toni Braxton & Babyface: Love, Marriage & Divorce (Motown)
9. St. Vincent: St. Vincent (Republic)
10. Shakira: Shakira (RCA)
Odyshape Composite Ballot
Just for the hell of it, we assigned strict P&J point values to our ballots. Best record worth 15 points, second best worth 14, third best worth 13, and so on (skipping the 10-point value) until the tenth record, worth 5 points. 15+14+13+12+11+9+8+7+6+5=100. Records required two or mentions to qualify for the composite. These are the results of that needless meticulation:
1. Withered Hand - New Gods (58 points, 4 mentions)
2. Wussy - Attica! (53 points, 4 mentions)
3. Old 97's - Most Messed Up (45 points, 4 mentions)
4. Lily Allen - Sheezus (32 points, 3 mentions)
5. Sisyphus - Sisyphus (26 points, 3 mentions)
6. Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twobadou Sounds, 1960-1978 (21 points, 2 mentions)
7. Toni Braxton & Babyface - Love, Marriage & Divorce (18 points, 2 mentions)
8. Laura Cantrell - No Way There From Here (12 points, 2 mentions)
9. Against Me! - Transgendered Dysphoria Blues (10 points, 2 mentions)
Young Thug & Bloody Jay - Black Portland (15 points, Cam Bell)
Miranda Lambert - Platinum (15 points, Jason Gubbels)
Skrillex - Recess (13 points, Nicky Heisenberg)
Drive-By Truckers - English Oceans (11 points, Michael Tatum)