music / Columns

The Album Of The Year, Every Week: 2014

September 26, 2015 | Posted by David Hayter
Lana Del Rey

I’ve been writing about music for various websites, newspapers and media outlets since 2009. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun, but I’ve spent so much time looking forward (rushing onto the next hot sound trying to find exciting new artists) that I rarely get to sit back and reflect on my favorite records.

In fact, the pace of change is so fast that I’m actually surprised when a reader or a friend tells me that I love a certain record: “do I?” – “well you had it no.3 in 2011” – “oh, really, I guess I do then, or did”. Eventually, it all blurs into on one great musical smudge or smear where weeks, months and even years run together.

The funny thing about reviewing music for a living is that you have to be open to everything – you have to be able to treat Dr. Dre, Carly Rae Jepsen, Iron Maiden and Foals (my last four reviews) as fairly as one another. So yesterday, when my barber asked: “So what type of music do you like?” I could feel myself cringe as I said: “well a bit of everything”. That just won’t do.

I’ve always believed in living in the moment and representing the sounds of the here and now: sharing what is true to culture I see around me (and interact with everyday), but what happens when the gap between that past and my present become unbridgeable? Have my opinions changed now that circumstances have changed? Hell, have I changed? What are my actual favorite records? I should be able to answer these simple questions.

So, with all this in mind, I’ve decided to embark on a seemingly simple project:

I will be picking my favourite record (album and single) from 2014 all the way back 1960, one week at a time. I’ll be doing this on the fly, off the top off my head. Only 2014 (because I’m about to write the piece) and 2012 (the year my favorite album was released) are locked in. Feel free to play along – I’d love to include some readers alternatives.

A Word Of Warning: I gave up on pretending to make grand prognostications about the history of music and importance long ago. These choices will represent my personal favorites. If I don’t like Bitta Orca by Dirty Projectors (for example), I will not pretend to like it because it is worthy, historical relevant or because other reviewers love it. This is all about passion and the records I keep running back to (even when I’m supposed to be listening to new music).

So let’s get to it! (Don’t worry you want have to sit through this bloated intro again)

Welcome To 2014

Well it would be pretty embarrassing if my opinion had altered beyond recognition in nine short months, so let’s first revisit my top 10 records of 2014 and the overall critic’s list:

My List (Published Dec 2014):

  • Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
  • Vincent – Digital Witness
  • YG – My Krazy Life
  • Taylor Swift – 1989
  • Caribou – Our Love
  • How To Dress Well – What Is This Heart?
  • Jessie Ware – Tough Love
  • Kate Temptest – Everybody Down
  • Popcaan – Where We Come From
  • Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

The Critic’s Choice (via Metacritic):

  1. D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah
  2. Vincent – St. Vincent
  3. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
  4. Swans – To Be Kind
  5. Pallbearer – Foundations Of Burden
  6. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead
  7. Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
  8. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
  9. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
  10. Aphex Twin – Syro

Not to toot my own horn – because I’m sure many readers will argue the critics list is far superior to mine – but my list certainly seems to represent the sonic trends of 2014 pretty truthfully. The artful RnB is there, the big game changing pop stars who have gone on to shape the sound of 2015 are present (YG and Taylor Swift) and, personally, as a fan of melody and intimacy, I’m always likely to lean towards How To Dress Well and Caribou over the likes of Swans when it comes to the arty end of the spectrum.

But more importantly, eight months down the line, what is my absolute favourite record from 2014?

 

Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey’s sophomore album is not revered as a classic, in fact, looking back, it split critics in a thousand different directions. It scored perfect 10s and lowly threes. One positive review labeled the music seductive, but the sentiments abhorrent – and this is precisely why Lana Del Rey is so exciting. She has the power to intoxicate and utterly enrage. Her music is detestable and unashamedly so. Listen to her lyrics and you’ll hear tales of horrible human beings, shallows solipsists and joyless hedonists who for some godforsaken reason expect both unending privilege and our pity.

Ultraviolence from its title downwards in a masterpiece in posture designed to stick in the craw of its audience. Lana Del Rey is a cigarette burn on the flesh and Ultraviolence is like coughing up black curdled blood. It’s utterly essential, but the experience will leave you feeling hollow, stained and sore. Lana seeks out rotting flesh and presents it so sublimely, with her noire allure, that it could pass for ambrosia. She wants to divide the crowd. Ultraviolence is either your album of the year or its utterly unlistenable, indulgent, irredeemable garbage – and, sometimes, that exactly how the best music should be.

 

Here’s what I said at the time and, surprisingly, I stand by every word:

“Lana Del Rey was doomed to disappoint the second “Video Games” hit the Internet. Her fame was so unmistakably assured that she had no choice but to step out from behind her immaculately constructed, ice encrusted edifice. Lana Del Rey was conceptually perfect; realized in grand noir laments and given form in two dimensional photo-shoots that triumphed precisely because they were so artificially posed.

Compared to this crystalline vision of perfection come to singe the fringes of pop culture and cloud the charts in choking smoke; the real, very human, Lana Del Rey was destined to crumble. She could never look that perfect (as much as we may try we cannot transport a Hitchcockian bubble of false reality around with us), she couldn’t sing to the standard her would-be-fans expected (initially at least) and she was confounded by mixed messages: too vulnerable and human (collecting her first Brit Award) and too stonily detached at the same time (her infamous Saturday Night Live debut).

Stranger still, her live shows seemed to fly into the face of the willful consumptive glee and polish of her debut album. Her performances were tortuous, concerted crawls by design. They impassively pulsed and denied the audience easy euphoria, serving up brooding groans where unifying sing-alongs were demanded. At the same time, the astute assumed that something more ambitious was in the works. Lana was too good; exhibiting too much control and a shrewdness that defied the image of her as quaking Bambi in fame’s headlights.

Ultraviolence arrived in 2014 and suddenly it all made sense. The live shows pointed the way all along, Lana Del Rey was preparing to embrace the ache, the churn and the unpleasantness inherent in her sound. Sure she may have injected a previously unseen level of sway into her music, adding a sultry air to compliment her manipulative vulnerability, but Ultraviolence was going to be one long drag on a cancerous cigarette.

 

The warning signs flash, the little voice in the back of your head tells you to run, but the fumes swirl pervasively; they seep inside and there is no choice but to stumble forward into a poisonous embrace. Ultraviolence is a world of lingering sentiment (or, more precisely, aesthetic raised to the level of genuine emotion). Sighs freeze time, choruses offer base level allure, but thrive on the grueling plunge.

Lana Del Rey has always understood the power of inverting expectation and playing against society’s class and cultural assumptions, and, as such, Ultraviolence is an exercise in polluting high culture with low. Lana’s music offends both ends of the spectrum simultaneous. She pulls away high art and cult pretenses by injecting a healthy dose Hollywood and trailer park trash. She stands firmly, defiantly and unashamedly for bad taste and pretension. Not only does she blur the line between high society and low, but she willfully flies in the face of middle class decency; sexual violence, avaricious greed, glorified misogyny, louche apathy and a sordid celebration of the established order abound.

When Lana unleashes what can only be describe as the perfect vocal on “Money Power Glory” she is undeniable seductive in making the case for amoral abhorrence. This is not a feminist ideal, a working class dream or the voice of the great and the good – this is the battle cry of the shameless individualist.

 

Lana’s triumph comes, not in convincing anyone that her message just or true, but in making us want it and will it for her. There is no winning argument, no nuance, just the glory of the image and the strength of the sound.

Lana Del Rey and Ultraviolence are irresistible in the most literal sense. They consume and overwhelm. They hold you in a despicable death grip despite your better judgment. She doesn’t silence skeptical voices, she overwhelms with something more powerful than hedonism or sex: ambition.

If there’s one lesson, one take away from Ultraviolence, it’s this: Lana Del Rey will grind you down. Resistance is futile.”


It’s briefly time to talk tracks, so let’s quickly run through my Top 10 tracks of 2014, they haven’t changed all that much:

  1. “Break Free” by Ariana Grande
  2. “Face Again”/”Repeat Pleasure” by How To Dress Well
  3. “Coffee” by Slyvan Esso
  4. “Digital Witness” by St. Vincent
  5. “Hard”/”Lemonade” by Sophie
  6. “Chorus” by Holly Herndon
  7. “Tuesday” by ilovemakonnen feat. Drake
  8. “Zero to 100/The Catch Up” by Drake
  9. “Money Power Glory” by Lana Del Rey
  10. “Chandelier” by Sia

So before I reveal my number one, which hasn’t changed, it’s worth asking which tracks have really stuck with me and which haven’t. To be perfectly honest, the only tracks I’d consider removing from that list nine months down the line are “Break Free” (which just snuck in) and “Tuesday”.

Today, I’m more likely to stick on “Ghetto (Tired Of Crying)” by Popcaan (my no.16), “An Ocean Between The Waves” by The War On Drugs (no. 22) or “Why Don’t You Believe Me” by Natalie Prass (no. 47).

But all in all, I don’t feel like I’d taken leave of my senses back in December and I stand by my number one.

 

Chandelier by Sia

“It’s time to discuss the track of year and I have very little to say. “Chandelier” is perfect pop.” That’s what I said at the time and it’s true to this day. “Chandelier” is an explosion of pent up (possibly repressed) desire, ambition and energy. Sia managed to create a track that is both a bona fide diva going off the rails moment, but also something smaller and sweeter.

Listening to “Chandelier” it’s hard to avoid remembering your first properly wild night: when you were flying by the seat of your pants and stumbling from bar-to-bar with biggest and broadest smile on your face. Great pop lives unashamedly in the moment and that is what “Chandelier” is explicitly about: soaring like an eagle, vomiting in a back alley and not giving a single fuck.

You’ll have lifetime to dwell on your regrets, tonight you are granted a reprieve, tonight you swing from the Chandelier.


Well past Dave and future Dave are two for two, but I have a feeling things will change, somewhat drastically next week when we visit 2013.

Remember to share your choices before reminding me that I’m an idiot with bad taste.