By Robert Masiello
By now, we have all heard the Grammy nominations, and we all know they are a joke as usual. So, for Writers Bone readers with more discerning taste than Grammy voters, I have assembled a breakdown of the year’s music.
Best Album: Grouper “Ruins”
This year, the prolific artist Liz Harris (who records as Grouper), released her masterpiece, “Ruins.” These six piano ballads, bookended by two ambient experiments, comprise the most moving album you will hear all year. A painstakingly lovesick work, “Ruins” explores the aftermath of a failed relationship with grace and poignancy. Each track has a certain majestic quality to it, but remains at a distance from the listener, like watching a deer from afar but never getting so close as to scare it away. Sure, there were albums this year that were more slickly produced, but none have the emotional resonance of “Ruins.”
Best Pop Song: Sia “Chandelier”
This one is a no-brainer. In recent years, Sia has transitioned from a quirky indie songstress to a highly sought after pop songwriter. But Sia fooled stars like Rihanna and David Guetta by saving her best track for herself. “Chandelier” is simply a monster single that showcases Sia’s soaring vocals. More than a ditzy party anthem, “Chandelier” chronicles self-destructive tendencies in a way that feels nearly apocalyptic. Sia vows to “live like tomorrow doesn’t exist,” but it’s a devastating sentiment not be confused with the tired YOLO slogan. Paired with a stark, stunning music video and a string of captivating performances on the late night TV circuit, “Chandelier” is the rare pop song that deserves to be remembered long after the year has passed.
Best Breakup Anthem: Lykke Li “Never Gonna Love Again”
Swedish songwriter Lykke Li got her heart broken, and she wants the world to know it. This track off her third album matches the weary intensity of breakup classics like “How Do I Live?” and “I Will Always Love You.” When Li recites the song’s title during the chorus, it’s less a resignation than it is a declaration. Li refuses to slip away quietly; “every time the rain falls, think of me” she tells her lover, promising to haunt him long after she fades from sight. Like all the best breakup songs, “Never Gonna Love Again” is shamelessly indulgent, and embarrassingly relatable.
Most Annoying Song: Taylor Swift “Shake it Off”
Props to T-Swift for being able to poke fun of herself. But even self-deprecation can’t save this relentlessly grating track. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate? Yes, yes we will.
Best Soundtrack to an Outer Space Dance Party: Objekt “Flatland”
This debut full-length from the young producer TJ Hertz sounds beamed in from another galaxy. While Aphex Twin’s return may have amassed the most hype this year, Objekt arguably produced the more cohesive album. These glitchy, rhythmic tracks are as fun as they are spooky. And the meticulous sonic details mean that this one is just as well suited to headphones as it is the dancefloor. Standout track “Second Witness” throbs like a warped 1980s power ballad before evanescing into the stratosphere.
Catchiest Chorus: QT “Hey QT”
At this point, “pop star” QT is still somewhat of a mystery. What we know for sure is that this track was produced by Sophie and A. G. Cook of the PC Music label. As for the singer herself (or himself?), the truth is less clear. Whatever the case may be, QT’s debut track “Hey QT” is ridiculously fun, and even more enjoyable for the disdain it has elicited from certain corners of the electronic music community. Do this track and other output from the PC Music label really herald the future of pop? Or is it all an elaborate hoax? Too soon to say, so just give in and enjoy it.
Album You Expected to Suck but Didn’t: Azealia Banks “Broke With Expensive Taste”
After countless delays and record label quarrels, you’d be forgiven for questioning if Banks would ever actually release her full-length debut. Well, she did, and what a slick product it is. Though some of these tracks have floated around for years, “Broke with Expensive Taste” manages to sound fresh and relevant. Even Banks herself, whose constant beefs with other musicians can grow tiring, had an intensely poignant moment in the wake of Ferguson. While some of us were convinced Banks was destined to remain in the shadows of 2(0)12, her comeback is welcome.
Best Ambient Album: Janek Schaefer “Lay-By Lullaby”
Many listeners might not have the patience for this one, but it’s an album of immense depth and subtle rewards. Using elements of drone, field recordings, and some acoustic instrumentation, Schaefer creates abstract soundscapes that seem to document decay. It begins with the sound of cars passing, a familiar noise that somehow begins to take on a threatening quality as the album progresses. It’s as if Schaefer is critiquing how cold and alienated modern life has become, as well as humans’ passivity. Like all the best ambient albums, “Lay-By Lullaby” is not mere background music, and deserves a listener’s full attention.