Best Albums Of 2014

By | 19 December, 2014

The hardest thing about any end-of-year list is whittling the list down to just a few. This year has been as tough as ever, with amazing albums by Lucas Santtana, Igapó de Almas, Boom Boom Clan, La Chiva Gantiva, Adrian Juarez, Zulumbi and El Remólon all just missing out on the final running – sorry guys! It’s a list that features just South American artists or artists – such as Quantic, Captain Planet and Helado Negro – whose work contains a strong element of South American music. There are also some albums, such as those by Metá-Metá and Bixiga 70, that were released in 2013 in South America and so featured in last year’s list, and who we don’t feel the need to celebrate for a second year running. Anyway, now that you know the score there’s no point in me waffling on any longer (it’s not like you read this preamble anyway yeah?), here’s the list. Russ Slater

20. Las Hermanas – ep (Colombia)

Chosen by Nick

Las Hermanas is the moniker of Colombian visual artist and producer Diego Cuellar, who has released one of the most surprising records [of the year]. Anyone expecting the verdant rhymes and fusing of styles that adorn much regional hip hop will probably find the same thing. This is an intriguing experimental record, interwoven in an ethereal web of loops and samples that drinks from the same creative trough as US producers like J Dilla and RZA. Nick MacWilliam (Read Full Review)

19. Ases Falsos – Conducción (Chile)

Chosen by Russ

I used to always describe Ases Falsos as “indie-pop”. Well, it looks like we might have to remove the “indie” part now. This is a pure pop outing from the Chilean group, with lofty ambitions. Though comparing “Plácidamente” to Jackson Browne “Somebody’s Baby” and “Mi Ejército” to Wham’s “Last Christmas” might put some people off there is definitely a shared sensibility going on as well as an ability to craft great pop songs. “Tora Bora” is the album highlight, an effervescent groove with “You Can Call Me Al”-style bass-playing and enough detours and ideas to stop it from ever getting annoying. What’s more, they seek to approach pop perfection while still sounding exactly like they have always sounded with Cristóbal Briceño’s distinctive lead vocals and those familiar chord progressions, ensuring this is a band that is able to absorb influences but retain their own identity. Russ Slater

18. Meridian Brothers – Salvadora Robot (Colombia)

Chosen by Russ

Listening to Salvadora Robot, the new album from Colombia’s Meridian Brothers, you get the feeling that Eblis Álvarez was one of those kids at school who willfully avoided fitting in with the crowd, who maintained an aloof detachment from the latest fads, playing Pavement on his walkman when classmates were all moshing to Nirvana. Álvarez is the heart and soul of Meridian Brothers, a musician of rare talent and invention, but one whose style appears tailored towards the unconventional and the downright weird, like a tropical Captain Beefheart, for whom the urge to make people gawp far outweighs the trivial matter of widespread appeal. Nick MacWilliam
(Read Full Review)

17. Cumbia All-Stars – Tigres en Fuga (Peru)

Chosen by Marco

Cumbia All Stars is a project of good old friends with at least 40 years of unparalleled music experience on their shoulders. They started playing together back in the late 60s, in Lima and around the main cities in Peru’s Amazon region. Tigres en Fuga dusts down and waxes their dancing shoes. It shines a light on their unmistakable style, on the percussive and smooth patterns characterised by the emphatic presence of bongos, congas, and timbales. It honours decades-old melodies, which delve deep into Peruvian music tradition with reverberating guitars, West African references and groovy up-tempo beats. Marco Canepari (Read Full Review)

16. Elegante & La Imperial – El Sonido De Las Lobas (Peru)

Chosen by Nick

Showing that it’s not just Dengue Dengue Dengue! making digital cumbia in Perú, comes Elegante & La Imperial. In truth, Elegante was at it first, making fusions of Peruvian music with IDM as far back as the late 90s, though it’s only now with the new moniker of Elegante & La Imperial that he has come to focus on tropical bass, and specifically nu-cumbia, as we know it. With a penchant for deep house, it’s music that Elegante likes to call “deep cumbia” and with heavy bulging rhythms like “Batichela” and “Puro Comer” it’s easy to understand why. With a stronger focus on driving beats than DDD! but still an ability to blend in the flavours of Peruvian cumbia, Elegante & La Imperial have dropped one of 2014’s finest tropical bass albums. Russ Slater

15. Russo Passapusso – Paraíso da Miragem (Brazil)

Chosen by Ryan

Russo Passapusso’s debut solo release, Paraíso da Miragem, marks the arrival of a major talent. The album occasionally recalls the music of the 1970s, but it is very much in line with the exciting sounds that have emerged from São Paulo in the twentieth-first century, as the presence of Curumin as producer and Anelis Assumpção as guest vocalist attest. Like all of these artists — and indeed so many great Brazilian musicians — Russo Passapusso is skilled in crafting music from diverse origins yet succeeds in making a coherent, personal statement, the mix of sounds never clashing or seeming borrowed. Ryan Schumacher (Read Full Review)

14. Diosque – Constante (Argentina)

Chosen by Nick

Diosque’s Constante represents some of the freshest new sounds coming out of Argentina. Everything from the order of the tracks to the diversity within them reflects a carefully thought-out album. The string of dance tracks placed at the beginning contains strong potential singles, while some of the closers are equally as strong, yet in a more relaxed and subdued way. It’s this trajectory, with ups and downs in the middle, that allows the listener to be taken on the road with Diosque through different moods, lyrics and styles. Katy Wassam (Read Full Review)

13. Captain Planet – Esperanto Slang (US/World)

Chosen by Gina

Finally, I need to stop acting all fan girl surprised every time I hear a track off of Captain Planet‘s new album. The guy is talented. The border-crossing collaborations on Esperanto Slang blend a wide range of styles, from NY hip-hop, UK bass and Turkish psychedelic, to Nigerian afrobeat and Amazonian funk. There’s also a collaboration with Argentinian electronic chanteuse, La Yegros, to look out for. Captain Planet is breaking boundaries between genres and bridging continents through rhythm. Gina Vergel

12. Chancha Vía Circuito – Amansara (Argentina)

Chosen by Nick

Amansara is Chancha Vía Circuito’s most intricate, and well-rounded release to date. From the opening track “Hola”, to the closer “De Tu Mano”, the idea of the album as a whole is something Pedro Canale has carefully considered. His ability to capture a specific mood in his work is masterful. Part of this could probably be attributed to his background in electro-acoustic music, where an appreciation of the overall soundscape is pivotal. But there is something less arbitrary, and more profound than that in this work. Even with such a strong rhythmic basis, each track has a certain organic quality to it; stories are told, emotions evoked, and landscapes envisaged. Alexander de Lacey (Read Full Review)

11. Anelis Assumpção – Anelis Assumpção e os Amigos Imaginários (Brazil)

Chosen by Nick and Ryan

On her second album, São Paulo singer Anelis Assumpção changed very little. She kept the same team that produced her debut Sou Suspeita Estou Sujeita Não Sou Santa – though she did give them a name (they are now Os Amigos Imaginários) – and changed little sonically. This is still the same rootsy soulful Jamaican-influenced stew that she scored with before, but there’s a refinement to it, a relaxing into roles perhaps, with Anelis sounding as soulful as ever and the band able to move effortlessly through genres. Whether heading into dub territory (as on “Mau Juízo”), hip-hop (thanks to the Russo Passapusso-collaboration “Devaneios”) or something more experimental (on the expansive “Declaração”, written with Céu and Metá-Metá’s Kiko Dinucci), there is a clarity and ambition to the music, making this one of the best records to come out of Brazil in a year where there has been a hell of a lot of competition. Russ Slater

10. Herencia de Timbiqui – This Is Gozar! (Colombia)

Chosen by Charlotte and Gina

A unique blend of traditional Pacific Coast-inspired rhythms with a rock/pop/funk edge. Unlike their contemporaries, Herencia de Timbiqui are still very loyal to the more traditional elements of Pacific music – think currulaos, bundes and abozaos! In case you’re not familiar with the marimba (a type of wooden xylophone), bombo drums or guasá shaker these are the key instruments in the group’s distinct sound. With the aid of guest producer Will Holland (aka Quantic), their new album This Is Gozar! has a more polished sound, at times with a slight Fruko or Grupo Niche flavour. Charlotte Mackenzie (Read Full Review)

9. Done Onete – Feitiço Caboclo (Brazil)

Chosen by Marco and Russ

To introduce her by saying that Dona Onete is a 73-year-old singer who has just released her début album, doesn’t quite do justice to an artist “entrapped” for decades in the body of a history professor and the Municipal Secretary of Culture of Igaparé-Miri. For that, believe it or not, is the reality. Dona Onete kept her artistry and musicianship a secret, preserving her talents for years until, in 2007, she was finally discovered and bloomed like a well-nurtured seed. “Carimbó Chamegado” represents her trademark and her distinctive musical style, identified by lively harmonies, energetic percussion and shaking rhythmic decoration: an explicit invitation to dance. Feitiço Caboclo runs for more than 40 minutes on a genuine and fervent mood; passion and devotion for tradition go side by side and inspire a flavourful album in which Dona Onete finally exposes her talent. Marco Canepari (Read Full Review)

8. Criolo – Convoque Seu Buda (Brazil)

Chosen by Marco and Ryan

It’s been three years since Criolo broke out with his second album, Nó Na Orelha. Since then he has been busy showing that album to the whole of Brazil (where he is now officially regarded as a “prophet”) as well as the rest of the world. So, it’s great to hear some new music from this São Paulo-rapper. As with his previous, Convoque is an album that is just as much about samba, reggae, funk and afrobeat than it is about hip-hop, though the opening title track is as hard-hitting a piece of rap you’re likely to hear anywhere this year. Referencing his local heroes and his neighbourhood of Grajaú it’s also a declaration from Criolo that success has not changed him. Surprising excursions into rootsy pop music (“Pegue Pra Ela”) and 80s jazz-funk (“Cartão de Visita”) make this a diverse listen and a worthy follow-up to his breakthrough, and one that will no doubt see his international status continue to rise. Russ Slater

7. Helado Negro – Double Youth (US/Ecuador)

Chosen by Nick and Russ

For Robert Carlos Lange, aka Helado Negro, 2014 was possibly the year that shit got real. Having bubbled along nicely under the surface, with three previous records and the odd collaboration, the release of Double Youth saw the Brooklyn-based producer shift seamlessly into a broader spotlight. Double Youth aligned understated, dreamlike vocals with disco-synth hooks and a warmth not found too often on records created primarily on machines. If stoner rock is its own genre, this was stoner electro-pop, delivered through a haze of bass grooves and delicate melodies. Few tunes evoke a sense of lost innocence as keenly as lead single “I Krill You”, while “It’s Our Game” and “Friendly Arguments” reinforced the view that Helado Negro is a musician destined for greater things. Nick MacWilliam

6. Kali Mutsa – Souvenance (Chile)

Chosen by Nick and Gina

She looks like a Hindu goddess on her way to an East London warehouse party. According to her Soundcloud profile, she was born in 1920 in the Valley of Pachacuti. If the music – which interjects tropical bass, Middle Eastern maqam and Andean folklore – wasn’t sufficient to confirm Chile’s Kali Mutsa as one of South America’s most distinctive artists, the flamboyant style ought to do the trick. It’s just that it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly that distinction is. Having seemingly emerged from the Space Time Continuum with 2011’s Ambrolina, Kali released her first album, Souvenance, in 2014, a collection of musical influences from around the world and a stake of club beats driven through the heart. It’s an album that screams “fiesta!”, and in a year full of party records, this was one of the most colourful. Nick MacWilliam

5. Eduardo Herrera & Zelmar Garín – Ahí Vienen! (Argentina)

Chosen by Nick and Russ

The delicate and peaceful guitar arpeggio, which leads the listener into “Oceano Jabali”, is the best possible prelude to the latest opera by Eduardo Herrera & Zelmar Garín. It is, in a small way, a summary of the lyricism and the emotional intensity that impregnates the four-handed project. Ahí Vienen! is indeed a suggestive work, but at the same time so eventful and erratic, which can easily catch you off guard. Herrera and Garín are superb at bringing experimentalism in the everyday life. They express a popular and folkloric attitude, which is nostalgically revealed in “Mexicano Mamurry and Belgica”; but then they mask it, mould it and finally they transpose it: soaking every feeling in emotionally unstable conditions, as happens in “Sinfin” or “Quizas Venus”. Marco Canepari (Read Full Review)

4. Quantic – Magnética (UK/Colombia)

Chosen by Charlotte, Gina and Russ

The great thing about Magnetica is how much extra power the use of electronic beats, synths and sound effects give the music. Lead single “Duvido”, featuring Angolan singer Pongolove as well as the beautiful sound of the marimba marries Colombia’s Pacific Coast with the sound of tropical bass. The beats cut out, re-emerge and build, leading to one of the heaviest crescendos we’ve heard from Quantic in some time. Similar Pacific grooves are made all the better by bass-shaking beats on the two collaborations with Colombian singer Nidia Góngora, of which “Muévelo Negro” is one of the album’s stand-outs. Russ Slater (Read Full Review)

3. Jorge Drexler – Bailar En La Cueva (Uruguay)

Chosen by Nick, Ryan and Russ

Jorge Drexler’s thirteenth album Bailar En La Cueva starts with a strong ear-worm of a track and then eases into a sweet beach record characterized by tonnes and tonnes of movement. Bailar En La Cueva, or “dancing in the cave”, feels exactly like, well, dancing in a cave. It’s guttural, raw and conceptual. Yet the Uruguayan Oscar winner’s latest album is still approachable and rhythmic. Bailar is like a steady heartbeat: strong, recognizable and with a soul. Drexler knows how to toe the line between palatable and conceptual— a rarity amongst artists. Bailar is a great thirteenth record for the veteran musician, and one of the most interesting and delightful albums I have heard this year. Nadia Reiman (Read Full Review)

2. Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo – Siriá (Brazil)

Chosen by Marco, Nick and Russ

If you were to listen to some instrumental tracks from this compilation without reading any reviews about it, including this one, and without any knowledge whatsoever about Mestre Cupijó (bandleader and composer) you might just think this music sounds like some mad brass-driven band from somewhere in the tropics. Could it be upbeat Jamaican music? Could it be Colombian pelayero Bands? Could it be African beat? It’s not until you listen to the singing on some tunes, that you go “Right!! This is Brazilian music!… and it sounds great!… though so different to samba, bossa nova, choro, and so on.” Camilo Martinez (Read Full Review)

1. Ana Tijoux – Vengo (Chile)

Chosen by Marco, Nick, Gina and Ryan

Tijoux has constructed an album which seeks to immerse itself in the contexts of 21st Century Latin America, a global region of Bolivarian governments and popular political involvement. Vengo is a record that doesn’t so much represent Tijoux’s roots as propel them to the forefront of her ethos. This is never truer than on the eponymous opening track, in which a scintillating panpipe melody (yes, really) drops over boombox beats, heralding Tijoux’s ability to merge Andean tradition with contemporary hip hop. Her rhymes establish this as the Tijoux manifesto, a statement of who she is and what her music stands for, and are embellished with references to indigenous folklore, the environment and works of cultural relevance such as Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s seminal opus The Open Veins of Latin America. Nick MacWilliam (Read Full Review)

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