Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Albums of the Year, 2014.

The Others

can we just talk about...

Pvris – White Noise I heard about this record almost by accident through a user on instagram. something simple, like a picture of the album cover and “I can’t stop listening to this album.” you know, you think, “let me see what their biggest song is and see if I can vibe with it.” I’m always trying to see what people like, constantly trying to devour and understand what people are digging. and once I threw this album, I kind of had that same experience.  I ended up listening to the entire record all the way through, loving at least one part of ever y track. it has a bunch of stuff going on in it that I have liked before, but I think the way singer Lyndsey Gunnulfsen belts out some of those notes with the rough and powerful punctuation, it makes the catchy and poppy parts that much better. it helps you to believe it. great record, man. glad it was introduced to me. I would have completely missed it.


Taylor Mcferrin – Early Riser yo this is bobby mcferrin’s son. and it’s true, the best way to set this up is exactly how it was set up for me. it’s simple, but important. “it isn’t what you’d expect.” I mean, just based on where he’s probably come from, I assumed his influences would be somewhere in R&B? soul? singer/songwriter jazz scat? naw man. this is some really low frequency, bed of static, easy easy lo-fi. it’s well put together, and very very smart. I’m not sure if the quality of it sits ENTIRELY on the fact that I was surprised it was what came from Bobby’s son. I really think that might have a lot to do with it. but this is definitely a record I’m VERY glad I didn’t miss. a great background record. early morning commute, late night nod off.


Lydia Ainsworth – Right From Real it might be the voice. that might have been what initially pulled me in. but then on the full record, hearing the swelling and shattering songs and the way that things were being pulled in so many different directions really won me over. disco ball reflecting strobes on acid in slow motion. there are some really surprisingly bassy tones used on the record that set up a bunch of truly incredible beds for this record to play it’s upper range stuff on. and I think at times, that juxtaposition gives you a pretty proper feeling. like skating for the first time or something. there’s something about this album that has a Brit Marling feel for me, if that makes any sense. a completely involved work, hands on everything, making sure everything is completed to perfection. some really cool moments that focus on music as going beyond song. 

i think i get it but i need help
Run the Jewels – 2 this is dope. I’m into it. I need… like… NEED a hip hop rejuvenation in my life. I want something new. the problem for me with the genre is that I’m not “good” at listening to lyrics. I can’t remember them, I can’t understand them sometimes. not “understand” in terms of unable to decipher what they were referring to. but more like I just hear a blend of words and sounds that sound like OTHER words and sounds. but this record has such cool production. so unique, so completely different than anything else out there right now. it’s so real and modern. is that how we talk about a rap album today? I DON’T KNOW. I can’t find myself coming back to this often. it feels uncomfortable for me at times, but in an okay way. I remember listening to this a few times and being like, “oh… oh wow.” undeniable impact on me. but I want to hear or read someone else talk to me about it. tell me about the things that make this important and quality. because I know there’s not JUST  a surface here. it’s been showing up on a bunch of top 10 and top 50 lists all at the end of this year. it’s so good. plus the de la rocha track? so sick to hear him come back.

how is this only two tracks??

Lifted Bells – Lights Out oh, cool. bob nanna is putting something out into the world? these guitars, my god. any project he’s involved in, I feel like there’s something about the guitars that remind me of the way lights look on a highway through a rain covered windshield. they’re so all over the place. somehow one note slides into another completely different one. maybe that, maybe it’s just so fast. but this ep is two dope tracks and by the time it’s over I’m already missing it. 5:46 isn’t long enough.

i meeeean…
Death Grips – Niggas On the Moon i don’t know what to say about this record. ALSO. extremely unique and weird. it’s almost hard to listen to if you’re paying too much attention to. like trying to wonder why you have cotton mouth when you smoke or trying to figure out if that girl was actually just looking at you when you’ve been drinking. you have to sort of let it go. you’ll find yourself in this album a lot. you’ll find this album in you a lot. it sounds like found footage. it’s really good and without a doubt, completely interesting. has that CAN’T LOOK AWAY vibe.


Swans – To Be Kind I promise I like this album! getting into it took some time. but I heard some really incredible moments and some of the weirdest, soul opening sounds that I couldn’t have found anywhere else. felt like cold soil under rocks and shadows in freezing caves that are found in sweltering deserts. but the vocals seem to completely remove me from the experience. like people talking in a movie theater. or the friend who a friend brought along who is trying to butt into the big boy film conversation. actually, that friend is probably usually me. but I just want to know more and I’m sorry. but I have had this album on a few times and have been pulled deeper into it than I’d originally expected, but I’m still getting used to the vocals kind of like a new last minute emergency roommate.

The Top Ten (the playlist)

yo. I have no defense. I would love to discuss any and all of these. I hope you all listened to stuff out there that you enjoyed to the point of needing to text any and everyone who might understand about certain clumps of seconds within songs. these are what got me there. would love to hear what got you anywhere.

10. Angus & Julia Stone – Angus & Julia Stone
I heard a song from these two as my introduction to them via spotify radio that had been playing for about an hour or two, cultivating from thumbs ups and thumbs downs that I can’t even remember to what. But when I heard the track, I really took note of it. I think I wrote it down in the same moleskine I’ve been trying to fill for the last two years. just a quick note. I think it was just the song title. I remember pointing out a track via the wrankmusic facebook.. maybe? and Brian pointed out that they’d done some other great stuff individually. really the first time I’d ever heard of these guys and it makes a lot of sense. the songs on this record show a lot of years of knowing how to play off of each other in imperfect melodies and harmonies. it reminds me a lot of a more constructed version of the EP from Armistice that came out a few years ago. simple folk songs with romantic lyrics. and this isn’t really the type of music I’m into either. but the record sits in a special place and really captured a lot of what 2014 became for me. the second half of this year was really marked by falling in love in a whole new and liberating way. and this record always seemed to represent the soundtrack to that. I think the one thing I can say that the album “suffers” from is that it goes on for what seems like forever. which I’ll tie right back into the “falling in love” thing. a lot of times, it’s great when you’re going through it but for anyone else to have to hear about it time and time again can be a bit much. but still. this record has a timeless quality to it. not the kind of thing I’m used to being into all the time.

Important Tracks: Heart Beats Slow, Wherever You Are, Other Things

9. Code Orange – I Am King
I’m really happy about this record. it’s just punishing. and sludgy and heavy and hard. I don’t know if the band always wants this pointed out, but the singer is a girl and that makes it feel THAT much heavier and frantic to me. but yeah. just heavy notes ringing out and dragging themselves across the speakers. so good. the record has some of those parts that are just so deep and miserable you can’t help but laugh. a lot of face palms. it feels good to see a band develop into this, even dropping the “code orange kids” moniker and just going for it. I haven’t been looking in a lot of the right places, really, but it’s really good to see a band doing stuff like this again. it feels fresh, although it’s more or less doing stuff that I was getting hype about eight to ten years ago. this sound just makes me happy. they’re doing it right. this record makes me want to watch videos of people fucking with the lions when they think the cages are locked. Some really cool moments where you can really hear the guitar being recorded in a studio, in the room. And I’m not sure if that’s ever something you want to come across in any other genre but this. even down to the track “Bind You” it reminds me of just how unfinished and… not great a band can sound while still conveying how great they WANT it to sound. is that a fair assessment? Just an album that makes me feel good. hell yes.

Important Tracks: Dreams In Inertia, I Am King, Starve

8. Taylor Swift – 1989
These are some of the best pop songs written this year. Catchy as hell. Danceable. The lyrics are VACANT for the most part. completely empty and next to impossible to care. But despite all of that, listening to this album I can’t believe how many tracks in a row I actually enjoy all the way through. I almost don’t know who I am while I’m listening to this record. I feel like I’m trying to find a key in my jewelry box to open my diary to write with a gel pen while laying on my stomach and looking at all of the pictures I have hanging around my stupid vanity mirror. I feel like I’m drawing hearts around boys’ names. it’s such a distinctly FEMALE record. I can’t imagine Steve Cuocci walking up to me and being like, “YO. 1989 IS SECKKKKKK.” I think they could probably do a really heavy drop, trap or dub version of Bad Blood. I just think it’s set up for it. And I think the track Wildest Dreams might be a better Lana Del Rey track than Lana did on her own record. I dono. This record is great, dude. Get over it. I think I wanna see Tay live now. SHRUG. NBD.

Important Tracks: Style, All You Had to Do Was Stay, I Wish You Would, I Know Places

7. My Iron Lung – Relief
this record gets its strengths from the moments that can be found in the thick. and just how smart and well placed those moments are. silences and single lines that show up in the middle of a throng of the shouting. records like this seem to speak in a specific voice. and it’s all very obviously influenced and inspired by each other. the guitar tone, the chords, the pattern of the vocals. but what sets these bands and records and songs apart are the knowledge of when to stop and when to start, when to let the notes do the work. to let momentum carry you forward instead of raw force. and those things are what separate this genre from more aggressive ones. where some other records on this list are enjoyable like a road trip or a film, this one is more of a roller coaster or an episode of television. there’s more nuance than phase. the distinction of this record is the things that it makes me feel.

Important Tracks: Commonwealth, In Defense of Drowning

6. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
one day, I’m walking back from a break at work and flipping through the last few pages of my RSS feed and see thom yorke’s name pop up. and I see that he’s releasing a record TODAY via bit torrent and has dropped a track. I peek in the window of the store and there’s a line, but I don’t care. I stream the new track while leaning up against the wall outside and NEED the rest of the album right away. it’s a strange thing that Thom does with his music. it never goes beyond a really solid and strong hum. it’s sits in the pocket and just delivers at top notch quality FOREVER. it always speaks to you a bit more clearly on headphones, and it’s not to say that most music doesn’t, but it’s almost the difference between watching someone on TV and then meeting them in person. you see a little bit more marks and the height and weight are different and more correct. I think this record definitely brings to light the fact that he dabbles in the DJ scene. and most radiohead songs are built upon the spinal columns of drum loops that tend to run the same from beginning to end. and these songs work similarly, in that there’s a bed of samples that persist throughout the individual tracks. the loops become hypnotic. there’s even moments on the record that are constantly and gradually building into a climax that you didn’t know was a climax until it passes. purposely destroyed piano chords. it’s just really a mastery of timing and restraint. sometimes I even wonder where he comes up with the pattern at which he’s going to sing, almost the same way we decide how we’re going to ask someone to get down off of a ledge. and of all of the lines in this record, the ones that could potentially have incredible impact on you, I can’t ignore the one that feels the most powerful: “oh my god; oh my god.” as I mentioned earlier in my description of ‘run the jewels’, I don’t often hear words in lyrics, but sounds and human voice. and this record almost embraces that concept perfectly. thank you.

Important Tracks:  A Brain In a Bottle, Guess Again!, Truth Ray, Pink Section

5. Fairweather – Fairweather
longterm ongoing theme: yours truly being terrified of his favorite bands releasing records. fact. this was possibly one of the biggest ones. favorite band dropping a new record for the first time in a decade? I mean, there are so many different ways it can go. they can try to keep up with the times and lose their identity. they can be too mired down in their old style to really grow. it can be missing identity altogether. NOPE. this record came through as something just as special as everything they’d done before it. it was the next logical musical step for the band, based on their previous timeline. even without putting years on the records that came out, you can watch how they got to this very place. you can see these songs fitting perfectly into a live performance of their old material. it all works. it speaks directly to me. it affirms why this band is the band that I answer who my favorite band is almost immediately. I don’t know, man. this record feels like a celebration. it doesn’t feel like a reunion or a release after a hiatus. it feels right. the guitar tone still has that really full control, that really warm vintage sound. I understand how this description might feel a little pale. I’ll explain the best I can in this way. if a friend takes a photo, or writes a book or makes a film and you watch it and you’re genuinely impressed or moved or just completely engulfed by it… it might not even be something that would be considered for an award outside of that shallow little circle, but for your world, you just cannot believe that something like THIS rested inside someone you knew.

Important Tracks: Carte Blanche, Clear Skies Full Sails, Last Words

4. The War On Drugs – Lost In the Dream
This record spreads itself so widely and beautifully across any landscape. It’s so broad and serene and calm. I used to listen to it in the early to mid part of the year when it was still pretty cold (for here) and would commute some really early mornings. The consistent, rolling vibe of this record made it smooth over seamlessly. It’s what I picture and envision while I listen to this record. It recreates that exact feeling of travel and the calming value that it can have on you. Even the down time on this record fills itself with hashmarks to pay attention to. This seems like a work that Granduciel continued to come back to and filled any empty corners, smoothed down any wrinkles or even made any cracks deeper or any blemishes dirtier. While a lot of the themes seem to be pretty forlorn and from a negative space, the pace of it all and the consistency of it seems to have a positive vibe to it. Every song, while most of them pretty lengthy, seem to have a need to be heard all the way through. There’s a post rock vibe to all of it. Really big and majestic. Lots of the little notes meaning grand things. This is definitely another great headphones record. it’s a really big endeavor and it feels like 70s novel covers in outer space. there’s a lot to like about it.

Important Tracks: Under the Pressure, Red Eyes, Eyes to the Wind, The Haunting Idle

3. Phantogram – Voices
Such a dope band. Their sound is already really cool, very fresh. Boldly modern. These are all weird magazine quotes, though. It’s true, they have a lot of the sound that you would want to advertise in your crispy media. But the sound is so on point. There’s the crunchy electro beats. The way Sarah’s vocals sound like the mouthpiece to a future where the robots are beautiful and the way the synths are round and direct and deliberate. It’s such a forceful record. When the record first dropped, I bought it based on their capability and skill. I knew I liked them. But what this record did was really take them to a whole new level. This is the kind of music I want to be listening to deep into my adult years. It’s so grounded and foolproof but also has a lot of that new crunch and that future sound to it that keeps me fresh UNTIL death. I feel like this record could be performed with such diverse yet similar reactions and emotions in both a massive venue or a small intimate showing. really layered and textured sounds here. I think the production is really king on here. and Fall In Love is probably one of my five favorite songs to be born all year. A lot of dance in this record, too. And what initially gets you interested, all of the elements that made this album a flashy and outwardly attractive listen in the first place starts to speak in its own language down the home stretch with songs that take themselves more seriously but use a lot of the same repurposed tools for more mature and sober and forlorn tracks. feels violently sad and uncomfortable, made even more prickly by the minimal lyrical content. This is just a great listen all the way through. Universal but not vague.

Important Tracks: Black Out Days, Fall In Love, My Only Friend

2. Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown
the first words on this record are “Blow your fucking brains out.” Thank god. Pulling absolutely no punches, wanting everyone and everything, including yourself obliterated. Listening to Every Time I Die used to bring me back to listening to “Gutter Phenomenon” for 8 straight months, but now will always bring violent visions of their show in Brooklyn where Jeff Roche broke his nose. forever. and any time I hear a song, I will try to think if their song will make sense in that battlefield. and every moment of this record makes sense as a prisoner in this vision. These songs are warriors. “Love is the only way out.” Fuck. Sometimes there are moments in songs, especially for people like me who can’t understand what in the name of God anyone is saying, where lyrics stand out and freeze you in your tracks. And this record might hold the record for just those moments. And while “Decayin’ With the Boys” has no distinct lyrical content, the misery and joy that it brings me is almost too much. It just feels too good. Too much like a record that only this band can pull off. It’s almost funny, but brutal and with hooks, but catchy and deadly. And I say funny not in a way that they’re telling jokes or being overly sarcastic or tongue in cheek. Because they are at times. But there are moments in this record that I can’t believe they went as heavy as they went, or as funky as they went. Some bands wouldn’t be able to handle some of the tight turns that these guys pull, but they do it flawlessly. It makes more and more sense the deeper their library goes. So many of their songs sound like sand running terrified through an hourglass. And what can be said about Moor that hasn’t already been said? I feel like I could write several pages of comparison and visions I get from it. I’ll start with THIS visual, though: the last time I listened to it on my own in an empty room, the best way I could explain the way that I was dancing to it was to conjure memories of Jonathon Davis a la Korn. It sounds like a house that despite its endless company will always seem abandoned. It sounds like standing in a circle of feeding vultures. How dark can a song like this get? Even the piano sounds broken. “All I want is is head and this horrible world will be wonderful again. There’s so much beauty and love and when I eat his beating heart I can bring it back to us.” FOR FUCK’S SAKE. It like the Bill the Butcher of songs. It serves as a glorious centerpiece for the rest of these tracks that are some of the darkest the band has thrown into the world. This record seems fully deliberate and faster than a lot of their more recent work and it feels like a massive personal release for them. Not that they’ve ever come across as holding anything back, but there’s something immediate about all of it. There’s a weird personality to this band that comes out in so many of their songs. It might be the guitar tones, it might be the sardonic lyrical content, or it might be the fact that you just KNEW there would be a full piano slide in a song as punishing as El Dorado. I hate pointing this out, but this is the band you want to be out partying with just to push yourself to the limit. Still talking about El Dorado, they use a riff that represents that Harley Davidson as a spirit animal without coming across as ironic, and then without building into it, goes into YET ANOTHER completely different type of “I think I’ve heard this progression before but DO NOT GIVE A FUCK” stomp out. This record just feels fun. And I can’t tell if I’m starting to sound like a Radiohead fan, but with this band, you start to understand the language they’re speaking with every new record and every new move they make. There’s a history being built here. And it’s where I want to live.

Important Tracks: Decayin’ With the Boys, Moor, El Dorado, Idiot

1. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
I literally LAUGHED (and still laugh) at this band’s last record. Something was so silly about all of it. Its spoken word parts felt so clunky and like those moments where friends would invite you to see their bands at these cheap little bands and you’d stare wide eyed with some other guest you’d brought. But this record helped me understand what everyone else was seeing. The honesty and the narrative of the lyrics and the way that the writing style was capturing a specific age and transformative period. A lot of this record, ironically, is lyrics and descriptions of hesitant moments. And for the most part, as you’ve read, NAWDAWG, it ain’t me. One strange thing about listening to this record is that I started to really become acquainted with it the way you become close with favorite books or magazine voices or your favorite films. And I found that two of the songs on this record felt like some of the most strongly written, dare I say, PERFECT songs that I’ve heard in a long time. One of them being the third track, Woman (In Mirror). And I certainly can’t be sure what it is about this track that makes me feel an unbelievable wave and flush of nostalgia. But also, there’s something restrained and completely bared on this track. There’s not all that much happening in it and so much of it is a sound on repetition. But it strikes a chord in me, all of it ringing out in harmony. Nothing in this track wants your attention, but instead in its humility, it demands it. And what this track and the next really sticks is that the guitar tones never have to be tweaked and turned all the way up to remind you that it’s a song. So much of this record feels comfortable and feels like books that have been on your shelf forever. Oddly, for the number one record of the year, there’s nothing that so much of it takes over the landscape around you and has songs that you want to REALLY show people 30 seconds of and wow them. With this one, it’s the one you mail to a best friend and really hope they find the message that’s been tied to it. And yeah, there are parts of this record that are flawed and still feel like songs you’d walk away and order a drink during. Like the song where Jordan Dreyer says he’d “rather be the mayor of splitsville than suffer your jokes again”… or the ENTIRETY of the track “Extraordinary Dinner Party”. The latter of which is one that is an ongoing joke between the girlfriend and I where an artist embarrassingly details their visit to a gas station or takes a poop or plays basketball with friends, thinking that the revelation into a personal life just brings you close enough to TRULY believe the artist, but instead sounds like the journal of a 14 year old. I was driving home lost from a town over an hour away with no data available on my cell phone and was exploring this record the entire time, and the track “35” is the first one that REALLY jumped out at me as something to truly pay attention to. It wasn’t lyrics the way we often think of them, but instead what felt like a piece of micro fiction about a bridge collapsing and the parties involved. Just really caught me off guard with what I was hearing. There’s something about this record that makes me want more, that makes me want to continue turning this channel on. I don’t even know if these are songs I want performed live. I think it might only exist in these moments, in solitary car rides or with the headphones on while sitting drinking coffee and writing letters. Spiraling conversations where there is time to kill and we might never see each other again. And songs like “Stay Happy There” are perfect examples of that. It goes by being in one voice and in one pace without really knowing the song is even happening. And “The Child We Lost in 1963” has something enormously heavy about it, like forcing a friend to talk about something they’ve always mentioned they’d never explain or share. There’s a space between the trajectory of the song where you feel you get a look into the writer’s intention, where you get a look into the narrator’s thesis that really take my breath away. And the instruments drop away thoughtfully and just kind of “get it”. And the track is followed appropriately by “Woman (Reading)” another one of those songs that somehow I’ve found to be one of those perfect songs, like the way snow can capture someone’s distinct footprint, someone’s distinct voice, and your entire year if stepped and forgotten in just a precise way. Even writing this, I know there are ways that other listeners won’t hear anything even remotely close to this, but I know I’m in that constant hum that people can find in their favorite songs, or with their favorite people that they can relate to in a specific way. The way that things in your brain and your heart and your soul align perfectly to frame the moments that you’ll never forget. Whether it’s songs that you love or paintings you’ve found or letters you’ve received or nights that you’ll always remember. It’s the decimal that fell appropriately and despite the chaos. Yeah. That’s the kinds of moments that this record brings for me. Somehow, I feel like it gets me. And the final track, “Objects In Space.” It just feels like every moment that friends have spoken about, even that I’ve spoken about, when we dissect a weekend, a week, a year with another person. And we just say, “fuck.” All of us. Just “fuck.” How did we survive that. How did you tell that? How did I just hear that and be okay with that? “Fuck.” The realest, most boring, least exaggerated, brutally honest… the real essence of hope being extracted from history. Just being sad. Living in full, blooming trajectory and then suddenly having to redefine ALL of it. Hearing about how questions became fights became breakups became revelations. “Fuck.” Things we’ve said, places we’ve visited, things we’ve found. “Fuck.”

Important Tracks: Woman (In Mirror), The Child We Lost in 1963, Woman (Reading), Objects In Space

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