5. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
This album feels like a room with a fireplace when it's raining outside. It is fantastically sparse and quiet, but warm and full in its nakedness. The guitar sounds carve a perfect space and the richness of Mark Kozelek's language fills that space with a feeling that doesn't need to be anything other that what it is. Benji is an entirely human experience.
4. Caribou - Our Love
Dan Snaith keeps getting better and better. Without conceding the intellectual instrumentation and shifts in mood that he's developed over the years, this album is simultaneously accessible and interesting. It oscillates between being hooky and haunting without ever loosing the aesthetic that makes it sounds exactly like Caribou, even if it's a wholly new iteration of that moniker.
3. Hundred Waters - Moon Rang Like a Bell
This one snuck up on me. It took a several listens but, without me even noticing, Moon Rang Like a Bell built a substantial momentum inside of me. I think more than any other record this year, Hundred Water's new effort runs a strong cohesion from start to finish. The production is seamless, the vocals are mesmerizing and the content found within both is somehow extremely comforting.
2. Spoon - They Want My Soul
On the other hand, Spoon's 2014 album grabbed me from the first listen. These guys have it down. They are both students and artists and, unlike many other acts, have no trouble separating the study from the creation. In these songs, their rock-and-roll is perfect pop music not because it follows a formula but because it transcends the formula by taking an immense ownership of it–it's so simple, it's so full of depth and... it's soo Spoon.
1. Syvan Esso - Sylvan Esso
Start to finish emotive, beautiful and celebratory. Nick Sanborn's production is ridiculously well rounded, it doesn't try too hard and the sonic palette leaves the perfect scaffolding for Amelia Meath's upfrontness. There is a perfect blend of the obvious and the unexpected here. It is playful but not overly so, it is dark but completely awake. I love everything about how these guys sound.
Honorable Mention - Sage Francis - Copper Gone, Aphex Twin - Syro, Ben Howard - I Forgot Where We Were, Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste, Thom Yorke - Tomorrow's Modern Boxes.
I accidentally read a review of this flick before I saw it and because of its mood, delayed seeing it for several weeks, probably in fear that my love of Matthew McConaughey and Christopher Nolan would be disappointed. But on a rainy Sunday I went with some friends and left completely intoxicated, movie-drunk, one of the best states of mind. I loved this film not for its technical prowess or scientific chops, both of which it flexed with great proficiency, but for the reminder of how completely infinite this world is. It took me one dimension higher, one of the greatest gifts we can get from any piece of art.
Ever since I watched Waking Life five-dozen times many years ago, Richard Linklater has had my unreserved respect as a filmmaker. Like his old animated film from 2001 writhed itself deeply into my brain, this year Boyhood took a strong trajectory to my insides, but this time foregoing the head, it flew directly to my heart. Besides the obviously visionary and game-changing twelve-year production that made it a instant classic, this movie got me because of its realness. Where Waking Life was a long discussion of everything esoteric, Boyhood is a celebration of everything mundane. It struck home and made me feel more at ease in my own struggle to grow up without having to figure it all out.
3. Under The Skin
I'm honestly surprised that this movie didn't get more love this year. Completely absorbing, visually breathtaking and artistically entrancing, I forgot about reality in the theater with Scarlett J. Where she stole the show in Her last year with only a voice, she shined as star in the complete opposite way here. In an almost silent fashion, her work in Under the Skin is transporting. As an extraterrestrial grappling with the nature of humanity, to me her journey in Jonathan Glazer's epic is symbolic of the journey into empathy. But far beyond the challenging story which left nothing neatly organized, this movie was quite simple in its shockingly beautiful visual landscape. A feat that renders it worth seeing more than once.
I think one of the most important roles that stories serve in our lives is that of the mirror. A good tale places an undistorted reflection directly in front of us. Acted with such a shocking fluency, Michael Keaton's character in Birdman is a distillation of the most human desire–to be seen in the world. As we join him on the ride of creative risk and expressive purpose, we glimpse an intimate view of the burning fire inside the world of art. How do we balance our heart's need to create with the fear of how that effort is received? A ancient question that is not simply chewed in Birdman, but swallowed. Not only is Alejandro Iñárritu brilliant here as a writer, but as a director he solidifies himself a modern master. The cinematography is the best of the year, if not the decade.
1. Jodorowsky's Dune
I left this movie with a well of inspiration that is still pumping. Seeing the genius of Alejandro Jodorowsky from behind the scenes as he detailed the journey of his failed efforts to make the epic science fiction novel Dune into a movie, we see the function of creativity standing on its own million legs. Frank Pavich's documentary shows that in fact the prize is always in the process, that if we dedicate ourselves to what we love and what moves us, we will always be loved and moved in return. Jodorowsky's endeavor here is in many ways emblematic of our most primal journey to make something out of nothing and, as we dive deeply into one of many of the microcosms of that process, we see that in fact inspiration is the most important resource we have. We recognize that if we live off each other's passions, when we thrive through the enjoyment of each other's excitement, we are completely and totally ALIVE.
Honorable Mention - We Are The Best!, Finding Vivian Maier, Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, Grand Budapest Hotel, Love is Strange.