Published Dec 16, 2014
Decline & Fall
How does a prolific workhorse like Justin K. Broadrick return to something as sacred as Godflesh after a 13-year hiatus? By dropping an EP that was just as punishing and perfect as the album that followed three months later. A World Lit Only By Fire may have been the higher profile release of the two, but it was Decline & Fall that first demonstrated in 2014 that Godflesh is as potent as ever.
Written on a custom-made, eight-string guitar made "with the capability to achieve more complex dissonant chords and riffs," Broadrick and G.C. Green show no signs of age here. All those years lightening up for Jesu didn't affect Broadrick's industrialized soul, and had they not released a full-length, Decline & Fall would have been more than enough to satiate the fans. (Cam Lindsay)
4. Yumi Zouma
Few people would argue that Yumi Zouma are leading the way for New Zealand's new wave of synth-pop — that crown would obviously go to the Grammy-winning Lorde. But Yumi Zouma are just getting started. The trio cohabited a house that was lost in Christchurch's 2011 earthquake, but judging by their self-titled EP, the disaster brought out a blithe temperament in the music.
Assembled by file-sharing via email, their disco-pop is simple yet sublime, swathed in a soft-focus haze that comes alive with Kim Pflaum's cucumber-cool vocals. Hints of the late chillwave trend reverberate throughout the four songs, never more than on "The Brae," one of the most striking songs of the year. Dropbox couldn't ask for better publicity than this EP. (Cam Lindsay)
3. Jacques Greene
Though Montreal producer Jacques Greene has been making this kind of Burial-influenced, emotional house for years now, Phantom Vibrate is hardly a repeat of past work. Rather, it's a refinement — not to mention his best work yet. Throughout its three-song duration, Phantom Vibrate distils Greene's trademark soulful vocal samples to form a haunting, perfect solution that's as ready for headphones as the dance floor.
"No Excuse" starts tentatively, but by its end, broken-glass synth twinkles and the mantra-like vocals, which repeat, "There's really no excuse," have turned the song into a decisive banger. "Time Again (Feel What)" turns group vocals into a swirling haze over crackling dubstep rhythm and a pinging synth line, while "Night Tracking" provides the stripped-down denouement. More cohesive that your average EP, Phantom Vibrate haunts like a warm memory: at turns hazy and crisp, and easy to get lost in. (Stephen Carlick)
2. Ryan Adams
The biggest problem for any one of Ryan Adams' limited releases on his PAX-AM imprint is that few of them will get the attention they deserve. He seems okay with that, but his 1984 seven-inch really warranted far more love than it received. The timing was all off, however, as 1984 preceded the release of his first proper full-length in three years by just a couple of weeks.
While Ryan Adams was arguably his best singer-songwriter album since Easy Tiger, 1984 was a complete left turn. Encapsulating the fury and speed of Hüsker Dü with the ramshackle fun of the Replacements, Adams channelled the punk bands he always praised, and in doing so, made his best record in ages. (Cam Lindsay)
1. Röyksopp & Robyn
Do It Again
(Arts & Crafts)
For fans of both Röyksopp and Robyn, Do It Again killed two birds with one stone. Neither artist had released a full-length in nearly four years, and their previous collaboration, 2009's exceptional "The Girl and the Robot," was plenty of reason to be excited.
That song proved to be little indication of just how vanguard these songs would be. As stellar as the banger of a title track was, the trio demonstrated remarkable synergy through less obvious tracks, like the sprawling trance of "Monument" and the undulating slow jam "Every Little Thing." The disparity the tracks may not have been what some fans expected, but the cumulative effect of each of these opuses made it hard to argue against the adrenalizing power of this Nordic collaboration. (Cam Lindsay)
To see more of the best music of this year, head over to our Best of 2014 section.