ACL 2014: Top Ten Rock, Post-Rock, Folk and Jazz

Standard WalletPost-rock returns with a vengeance on this year’s chart, as more than half of the entries hearken back to the golden years of not too long ago.  The consummate playing of scene stalwarts is a comfort to those who wonder if the best music is behind us; these albums prove the endurance of an art form that many have declared dead.  Watching the continued growth of ArcTanGent, one sees much hope for the genre.

New sounds are represented here as well, as artists continue to experiment with guitar and feedback, improvisation and drone.  A few of the albums below could only have been recorded now; their sounds are too new to lump into existing categories, which is why they huddle under this big umbrella.

And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Rock, Post-Rock, Folk and Jazz albums of 2014.

Alexander Turnquist ~ Flying Fantasy (Western Vinyl)
The work of Alexander Turnquist has always been ambitious in scope, but with Flying Fantasy this scope has come to be best realized. It’s an impressively tight and well-crafted album, one in which virtuosity is no longer the primary referent, shifting focus to an emotional expanse that integrates technique with a deep longing for expression. Flying Fantasy is perhaps Tunrquist’s best to date, an album full of joy and sadness as well as moments that leave us in awe of his skill. (David Murrieta)

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Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche ~ Zubberdust! (Constellation)
The first of two Constellation albums on this list, Zubberdust! suggests the word exuberant, and backs it up with long, freeform jams, stadium chanting and the best David Byrne imitation we’ve ever heard.  This is groovy, upbeat music, born from the ashes of Fly Pan Am.  Post-rock never dies, it simply mutates, and on this album it’s become something catchy and new.  (Richard Allen)

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Mono ~ The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness (Temporary Residence)
This fall, post-rock supergroup Mono released two albums concurrently, pleasing all of their fans at once.  The Last Dawn is modern Mono, in line with the band’s recent works; Rays of Darkness is classic Mono with two curve balls (one vocal and one drone) at the end.  Both albums made our year-end list, but proving the point, only one of our staffers voted for both.  One thing’s for sure: the band can have its cake and eat it too.  (Richard Allen)

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Richard Pinhas & Yoshida Tatsuya ~ Welcome in the Void (Cuneiform)
Bringing together two amazing players does not necessarily mean greatness, but did anyone really think that the combination of these two avant-garde instrumentalists would not produce something significant? While new, it’s a strangely nostalgic proposition: both of them grew within progressive rock, and both understood that not primarily as a construction of utopia but as a negation of the current state of affairs instead. Welcome… in the Void holds nothing back, its demolishing intent bringing forth a dialogue that is always breaking something down, something that is always related to common-sense ways of thinking. Careful where you put this album – it might leave some cracks in its wake. (David Murrieta)

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Rumour Cubes ~ Appearances of Collections (Self-Released)
A massive step forward for this London-based band, Appearances of Collections is the fulfillment of years of promise, an explosion of sound and color that moves and grooves in equal measure.  The twin threat of violin and viola is responsible for bouts of thoughtful melancholy, while the drum and guitar attack is responsible for the ensuing catharsis.  Rumour Cubes lives what it plays, and inhabits these tracks as if possessed by a spirit of frenzied hope.  Their enthusiasm is contagious.  (Richard Allen)

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Sleepless Mountain ~ The Beginning (Self-Released)
Sweeping and elegant, the debut release from the Swedish septet transports us far from cold and dark Nordic winters to somewhere warm and comforting, somehow simultaneously foreign yet familiar. The addition of trumpet, violin, double bass and percussion to the standard post-rock line up elevates these two lengthy tracks to another plane, particular when the two lead instruments sing in unison. Gloss over the occasional echoes of the genre’s finest (Esmerine and Mono in particular) and focus on music journeys that hypnotise with their stately pace and volume; it may only be their beginning, but Sleepless Mountain are already masters of restraint. (Chris Redfearn)

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Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra ~ Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything (Constellation)
A Silver Mt. Zion have always raged against the dying of the light, whether that light be the lengthy and intimidating shadow of parent band Godspeed, global strife, or a greater sense of vast cosmic ennui. On this, their newest and arguably best album, that ferocity is channeled inward, venting its angst in the form of treatises on the difficulty of being a working musician in the 2010s. What results is more than a soapbox-fueled cacophonous clamor, but the most glorious of noises, indeed.  (Zachary Corsa)

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This Will Destroy You ~ Another Language (Holodeck/Secretly Canadian/Suicide Squeeze)
2014 reunited us with This Will Destroy You. Pretty sounds are aplenty, but the Texan band retain their heavy side, too. Take “Dustism” for instance, where beautiful, shimmery chords rock against the steady crash of a cymbal, interspersed by quiet, melodic retreats and sparse instrumentation. The unfathomable depths hide sizable pools of sound that sink rather than suffocate. It’s an instrumental avalanche. The slow pace is their trademark, and it only makes it heavier. Another Language was a long time coming, but it was worth the wait.  (James Catchpole)

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Wrekmeister Harmonies ~ Then It All Came Down (Thrill Jockey)
Then It All Came Down is, in many ways, like a great short story: it will not bore you down with details, it will get straight to the point, but what you feel as you make your way through it will be something that cannot be comprehended in a single sitting. It will linger, make you ponder, make your skin crawl with an unresolved tension born of horror. It takes the best from post-rock’s narrative qualities, and melds it together with the best from metal’s capacity to represent something evil, something demonic that stirs deeply within. What results is one of the most evocative albums of the year, a work admirable in its realization as an expression of feelings we cannot often understand or deal with. (David Murrieta)

Audio samples

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