Welcome to Pitchfork's list of The 50 Best Albums of 2014.
In our oversaturated digital present Grouper's 10th studio album, Ruins, stands out like a close-up whisper in a packed elevator. Recorded in 2011 on a four-track, during an artist residency in the small coastal Portuguese town of Aljezur (population 6,000), these eight songs—four with vocals, two instrumentals, two distended ambient pieces—feature Liz Harris singing along to minimal piano. Her voice is joined by crickets, frogs, rain, a pulsing heartbeat of a drum, and a microwave powering up after she'd lost electricity. It feels like a field recording of someone digging deeper into themselves, someone who keeps playing even after the lights go out. —Brandon Stosuy
The genre he's bending and perfecting this time is the amorphous one that he instinctively spent his career creating: a bubble-and-spazz hybrid of acid squelches, spongecake melodies, and scattershot rhythms. He's advanced this form to almost incomprehensibly complex levels, too. Apart from the mecha-Satie digestif "aisatsana ", each second of the record is so intricate, so delicately packed with moving parts that it makes just about all of his contemporaries look like amateurs by comparison. But that technical proficiency is a bit of a red herring as well. The real reason Syro works is because the natural joy that defined James' earliest and best works is still very palpable. His voice is his voice. —Andrew Nosnitsky