BEST OF 2014: 15. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

If the leap from his debut to 2011’s ‘Slave Ambient’ was fairly staggering, then this third album does little to suggest the ambition has shrivelled. Spacey jangle is still in the foreground and the motorik Springsteen schtick has grown ever grander. Adam Granduciel has a perfect American rock voice and, soaked in reverb, it truly soars on this fine set of songs. Its installation at the top of a number of the monthlies’ lists prompted a tingle of snobbish backlash within me and did cause me to reflect on how much time I’d actually spent with the album since I first listened to it back in February for a review. I’ll confess, it had occupied something of a back seat as I’d taken its charms for granted. When I drew up my initial thirty, it had just missed out and it took those prominent positions elsewhere to make me reconsider. While I clearly still don’t think it’s the album of the year – to be precise, I reckon there are fourteen records that are better – I do now remember what I loved about it back on those glorious late-winter, early-spring days and now do again.

15 TWOD

The album mutates as it progresses, its second half stuffed with slow-burning majesty that comes to overshadow the adrenal rush of early belters ‘Under The Pressure’ and ‘Red Eyes’. Even those more obvious corkers don’t entirely play by the rules, the former descending into several minutes of sonic noodling and electronic washes. ‘Lost In The Dream’ is an album where long songs are the norm, where breezing in and out is not the done thing and yet where nothing outstays its welcome. The afore-mentioned delights of the latter stages of the record are typified by ‘Burning’, which slowly erupts into a cosmic burst of Boss-inspired jangle that seems barely tethered to the ground at times. The song has each layer gradually added to proceedings at its start and symmetrically dismantled at its end. The same method is employed with ‘Eyes To The Wind’ and it’s when listening to that track in particular that you realise what the major appeal of this record happens to be. I am a sucker for live performances where the band lovingly deconstructs their own songs, basking in the beauty of what they know their audience already adores, drawing out the emotive moments that mean so much to the people staring back at them. ‘Lost In The Dream’ manages to achieve a similarly warm relationship with the listener from afar, and for that I’ve realised just how much I love it.

The difficult conception of these songs, during months lain low with depression, is not mirrored in their mood, which is more wistfully sentimental than the backstory or drumbeats might suggest. Granduciel has reached the point where his music is consistently beautiful and I did him some disservice to treat his remarkable craft so casually. Richly melodic and possessing a classicist pop sensibility, this is rock music with soul.

BEST OF 2014: 16. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project

Pulsing, charging and bursting out of the speakers, this album’s title track is a a stunningly bare but utterly captivating four minutes of music. It is, perhaps, the perfect encapsulation of the visceral power of ‘Blank Project’. Produced by Kieran Hebden and built around the sizzling drum sounds of RocketNumberNine, Neneh Cherry‘s fourth solo outing is a gloriously odd listen. It somehow manages to be simultaneously understated and intensely claustrophobic. Initial listens prompted a sense of intrigue rather than delight, but over the ten months since this was first released, I have found myself turning to it time and again, whether on blistering summer afternoons or to soundtrack long, grim journeys. Its sharp edges remain intact and its charms only ever seem to grow.

16 Neneh

The obvious way in is the robotic funk of ‘Out Of The Black’, which features guest vocals from Robyn. It struts about as fluidly as anything on this set, and is the closest thing to an out and out pop song here. The vivid but loose drum sounds coupled with occasional electronic bursts conjure a certain sense of malevolence, like some scarce early Seventies jazz record. The album’s stand out track is ‘Weightless’, its percussive intro managing to feel like a rabid creature tugging at its leash, the release delayed until ninety seconds in when the full drums come piling in. Along with an occasional bit of cowbell. Yes, cowbell. Cherry’s compelling vocal ranges across the rhythm freely, with little assistance in driving the melody of the song.

Indeed, ‘Blank Project’ relies heavily on a fairly remarkable talent being placed in the foreground and given room to breathe. Apparently recorded in a frenzied five-day spurt of creativity, the raw immediacy of the these ten songs is what sets it apart from so much of the delicately crafted music released this year. Closer ‘Everything’, clocking in at over seven minutes, features a free-flowing lyric which fluctuates in intensity, tone and meaning. The grief prompted by the death of Cherry’s mother is present in the more focused lyrics elsewhere, but, arguably, it’s not the words that make this one of 2014’s finest. Musically, it is unsettling, uncompromising and unbelievably good.