Top 10 New Or New To Me Jazz Albums of 2014, The Best Year For Jazz In Recent Memory, and That’s The Gospel Truth, According to Shane
Last year, when brother Ty asked me if I’d like to guest post for CKTK, I declined because, honestly, it would’ve been hard to come up with even a Top 5. This year, there were exactly 10 really memorable jazz albums for me. One thing I’ve noticed about the list this year is that it is more genre-bending than in years past, which I’m not sure whether is a reflection of my tastes or the direction of jazz. This year, I’ve added an “Accessibility” rating to each album, which refers to an album’s approachability to those who maybe don’t always “get” jazz but haven’t given up.
Also, if you’d like to follow along with your ears, and you aren’t morally opposed to basically stealing music from artists (or are but are weak-willed and Hell-bound like me), check out my Spotify playlist, which features one or two tracks from each album on my list, from 10 to 1. (And then go buy their music!)
10) Mark Turner Quartet – Lathe of Heaven
Turner is a very intellectual saxophonist who took awhile for me to appreciate. Like, it took me about ten years to start to like him. But more and more I’m convinced that he has one of the most distinct voices in jazz. His lines are noodly, exploratory, and whimsical, but lack conviction. But damn, they’re interesting! He goes places others don’t. This is a pretty strange project. Very restrained, careful, almost chamber-like music. It does sound a little tired sometimes. I’m not quite sure why I like it. Maybe because I don’t understand it. It’s terribly hard to describe. Listen for yourself; I’m not your monkey.
9) Melissa Aldana – & Crash Trio
One of the people heavily influenced by the aforementioned Mark Turner is Melissa Aldana, a tenor saxophonist from Chile. A lady! From Chile, playing jazz sax! And she’s wonderful! Very articulate, fun lines that stretch my ears, backed by a very energetic and interactive rhythm section. She’s one of my favorite fresh voices in jazz these days.
8) New West Guitar Group – Big City
Okay, full disclosure, I used to play with one of these guys back in high school. But I’m fairly certain this would be on the list regardless. Actually, no, it probably wouldn’t, because I likely wouldn’t have heard of these guys. Which is a tragedy. I’m such a believer in this group and what they have done, namely making their top-notch jazz training accessible and fun. It’s a trio of guitarists playing a combination of originals and covers. I’d recommend this to just about anybody. So excited to see where the project goes next.
7) David Binney – Anacapa
My favorite album yet from a very interesting musician. His songs are full of energy, and his songwriting is quite unique but still very engaging. This is a pretty epic album.
6) Eric Harland – Vipassana
Very cool blending of jazz and R&B. Far better than Robert Glasper’s Black Radio train wreck from a couple years ago.
5) James Farm – City Folk
A pretty wonderful, easy-to-like album with substance. Heavy pop influence, with very singable original melodies, and plenty of mood.
4) Becca Stevens – Weightless
What a discovery! This is an old album, but I’m mentioning it because everyone needs to listen to it. This is the kind of pop/folk music that should be Top 40—it’s something anyone can like, but is actually, objectively good from a musical standpoint.
3) Pat Metheny Unity Group – Kin
A bajillion Grammys and four decades later, Pat is still the deserving rock star of jazz. He’s always pushing himself, always out-doing himself with something new, often more epic or conceptual. For better or worse, he’s inspired a generation or two or three of jazz musicians. You can hear his influence in half the modern jazz stuff you hear. This is one of his best albums (I’m not just saying that), and successfully combines many elements to his career in one—his sweeping cinematic Pat Metheny Group style, his one-man-band Orchestrion, and a more straight-ahead jazz format. Chris Potter is perhaps the greatest living saxophonist. Seeing them in concert last year was one of the pinnacles of music for me. Pure joy for three hours that didn’t let up.
2) Brian Blade Fellowship – Landmarks
Wow. This could be my favorite jazz group in the world now. All these musicians are involved in multiple projects, but every several years, they gather to record and tour with their labor of love, the Fellowship. And it truly is a fellowship. It feels like church in the best possible way: there is reverence, fun, generosity, and ecstasy. But not just any kind of church; a black southern gospel church. (The bandleader, Brian Blade, is a PK of a black southern gospel church, so he knows what’s up.) And speaking of generous, the pianist from the group, Jon Cowherd, released his album, Mercy, about the same time. It serves as a sister album to the Fellowship, with a similar style and most of the same musicians.
1) Mehliana: Taming the Dragon
The hippest, nastiest thing I’ve heard in my life. Brad Mehldau plays shameless synths/samples with a badass rising star drummer Mark Guiliana. I wasn’t expecting to like this at all, but it’s one of my favorite things Brad Mehldau’s ever done. It takes you places. It’s just done so well, I can’t help but embrace the grime. Nothing like it. I’m heartbroken that I missed the tour.
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Well it’s that time of year for the very first time since last year at this time. To be less specific: it’s A time of year… again. Aren’t you excited? I sure amn’t.
What I mean to say is: TOP TEN ALBUM TIME, BITCHES.
While not the most flashy year of music to date, I feel 2014 was much needed. I don’t care what anyone else says, but really and truly, we all could’ve done without the junk from the last couple years. It was almost as if the International Musical Overseer Council gathered in a small, hidden, dimly-lit room, situated somewhere in the Sahara, and collectively hit the “This new crap is getting out of hand and it, well, pretty much sucks. It’s time to start over.” refresh button. This of course is the only explanation for the opening up of the massive, inside-out, time-vortex that has been spewing sounds of classic rock and smoky lounges into the malleable ears of musicians everywhere.
According to several terrible sources, this is a photo of the button that changed the musical world
forever this year.
That’s enough of my blabbing. You didn’t actually show up here to read anything.
In no particular order, besides the exact order of which they are presented to you on this very page, here are my absolute favorite musical albums of 2014 (if you’re looking for “My Favorite Facebook albums of 2014” write up, you’re in the wrong place. You can find that one HERE):
Last things first, Honorable mention: No top-10 list would be complete without a number 11. With that promptly forgotten:
10. Pink Floyd – The Endless River
Um, I’m pretty sure a river, by definition, has an end… but hey, the members of Pink Floyd have spent the last 40+ years in a endless SEA of hallucinogenics, so I’m willing to let it slide…
Remember when Arcade Fire won that Grammy for The Suburbs? And everyone who wasn’t like, “Who the balls is Arcade Fire?” was like, “If this is good enough for a Grammy, then Funeral deserves its own country.”? Well The Endless River is kinda like that. Right place, right time. That said, in my eyes, Pink Floyd has always been the “Album King.” Their self-proclaimed, final studio-release is no exception. Utilizing seamless transitions from one soundscape to the next, The Endless River sticks together like glue, which is an unfortunate rarity in today’s industry. As now band-leader David Gilmore told Mojo Magazine “Unapologetically, this is for the generation that wants to put its headphones on, lie in a beanbag, or whatever, and get off on a piece of music for an extended period of time. You could say it’s not for the iTunes, downloading-individual-tracks generation.” In other words, this is a true album (and get the laser-light show in your basement planetarium queued up ‘cause this ish is the real deal). And by the way, don’t expect the usual, somewhat philosophical lyrics that Floyd is known for- only one of the 21 tracks has actual lead vocals. The original atmospheric, psychedelic, progressive, tripp-errific rock band has delivered one last time. Eat your hearts out, dying swans.
Listen to: Side 2, Pt. 1: Sum
*EDIT* At one random point while listening, I handed my dad (a guy who MOSTLY remembers the 70’s) my headphones. Before I even had a chance to tell him who it was, he shouted, “SOUNDS LIKE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON!” Then proceeded to loudly tell me the story of when he saw Pink Floyd play with Deep Purple in Austin, TX. After several minutes of me desperately trying to pry the headphones off his head so as to quiet him down before being fined by the H.O.A. for, yet, another noise complaint, he realized that it wasn’t in fact Pink Floyd he had seen that night. It was The Moody Blues.
9. Childhood – Lacuna
I know I should’ve patented my “Sneeze as an Album Cover” idea…
OK, so Lacuna sounds a little like Diiv covering M83 songs… well NEWS FLASH: Diiv covering M83 songs would be rad. So get off my hairy back, ya bunch of bananas.
Listen to: As I Am
8. I’ve never really liked the number 8
7. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
When does Leisure Suit Larry come out on Oculus Rift?
It’s funk; it’s lounge; it’s jazz; it’s samba, it’s disco; it’s what’s playing in all of the hippest elevators in town; but most of all, it’s the sound of confidence. I could mention how I think it’s what dance music is supposed be (i.e. there’s no shitty remixes within earshot) but I won’t.
Listen to: Svensk Sås
6. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Does this top make my butt look too bright?
Reader Involvement Time: In a large mixing bowl, combine equal parts Antony & The Johnsons, Ziggy Stardust, Asaf Avidan, James Blake, Tom Petty, The Knife, and Mount Kimbie until smooth. Poor mixture into a large, lightly-greased baking pan and bake at 700ºC for 3 1/2 months (or until golden). Slice into 11 song-sized pieces, serve immediately. 2 days later, poop into a tape deck. Hit play.
Listen to: Queen
5. Temples – Sun Structures
“I have an idea, let’s just stand around outside this little building and not look at each other. It’ll be super fun and make an exciting album cover that will draw in potential listeners.”
-Should’ve said no one
The problem with most new music is that if you’re listening while stuck in traffic, you remain stuck traffic. Nobody likes sitting in a hot, stinky car for an extended period of time, yet many of us don’t take the necessary preventative measures to ensure a smooth, congestion-free ride. As an experiment, the next time you’re at a stand-still on the 101 heading towards downtown LA, listen to Mumford and Sons. Spoiler alert: you’ll be just as bummed (if not more so). What I’m getting at here is, wouldn’t you rather be someplace else? How about on a ride at Disney Land? My thought is: I could be free-falling down the Tower of Terror, or chatting up the single moms in the Enchanted Tiki Room… I don’t care, let’s just freaking GO SOMEWHERE. Enter: Temples- instant flashback to 1974; The world misses The Beatles; Ford Mustangs are ugly as sin; the Happy Days pilot airs; and my dad is stoned at a
Pink Floyd Moody Blues concert. Full disclosure, I have no actual clue as to what life was really like in the 70’s, but partly thanks to Sun Structures, I can make a poorly educated guess. What’s important here is that I am, in fact, inspired to make said guess.
Listen to: Sun Structures
4. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
“No wonder TSA gets freaked every time I step into the body scanner.”
Raw, rugged, real, and rip-roaring are just a few words begining with the letter “R” that happen to describe Booker’s sound. Some other words that are not at all applicable in this situation are: potato, flounder, adhesive, and transmission.
Listen to: Violent Shiver
2 (TIE!!). Robert Ellis – The Lights From The Chemical Plant
John Gorka – Bright Side of Down
No. I didn’t lose count, look it up.
Now call me old fashioned, but music made for the sole sake entertaining the masses should be taken out back and clunked right in the dome. I’m not saying that music shouldn’t be entertaining, because it, in fact, should be… but it has to be more than just that to have any sort of lasting power. When J-Lo’s abomination of a song, “Booty” finally fades to black, and Adam Levine’s face ceases to appear on the boxes of Costco’s worse-than-having-no-guitar-at-all guitars, Robert Ellis will still be standing tall, creating expressive, reflective, relatable, timeless music. Part of what makes Ellis so effective is the balance he obtains between many of the old, story-telling greats (such as Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Steve Earl, James Taylor, Tom Waits) and his own, modern portrayal of the folk music genre. One other name that comes to mind is John Gorka. Gorka, while not very well known in the main stream, is one of those responsible for the New Folk Movement that first took hold in the early 90’s, and to a lesser extent, continues today. Robert Ellis may be just the kick in the pants that the genre needs to regain some lost traction. In fact, Ellis may specifically draw attention to Gorka’s equally fantastic 2014 release “Bright Side of Down.” Both albums really shine when some time can be dedicated to a quality listening sesh. So your homework assignment for this year is to do just that. If all goes well, I guarantee you’ll learn something- and if you don’t, I’ll eat my pants (jokes on you, I’m not wearing any pants).
Bonus Listen: John Gorka – Armed With a Broken Heart This is some O.G. Gorka, but it proves even further that Homeboy’s got the skillz to pay da billz.
1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Oh, there I am- always in the last place I look.
So as you may have noticed, my mind works (or doesn’t) in a, let’s say, “unique” way. For example, my immediate train of thought the very first time I hit play was: Bob Dylan + Paul Simon ≈ Dyson –> Dyson vacuums suck –> “I did not inhale.” –> Clinton –> Monica –> Joey –> Friends –> 90’s TV –> TGIF –> Family Matters –> childhood –> Chicken curry sandwich. That is one serious journey that took place in under a minute and, um, in case you didn’t notice, it almost ended at CHILDHOOD. Kudos to The War on Drugs for making me forget about my jacked up, old-man back; the, at times, overwhelming weight of my unpaid student loans; the rough reality of not knowing what lies ahead whether it be success or struggle. Instead, for a brief, invaluable moment, my biggest concern was what my mom may or may not have packed me for lunch when I was 10.
Bottom line: If my mom’s chicken curry was an album, it would be #1 on everyone’s list, forever.
Listen to: it.
For the full 2014 playlist, give THIS a click.
ALSO: A big thanks to CKTK for letting ruin their blog again this year! Keep checking back for other guest spots, and don’t forget to take a look at the previous few posts by theirs truly (CK and TK) for some serious insight into the 2014 (or as I never refer to it: Twomp-K-4-Deen) music scene.
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Tags: 2014, album, annuals, Benjamin Booker, Best of, childhood, dream, John Gorka, lacuna, perfume genius, pink floyd, robert ellis, sun structures, temples, too bright, war on drugs
Ten records. Four debuts. Three albums that could be soundtracks. One list.
To listen to all ten of these albums, check out this Spotify playlist.
10. Highasakite – Silent Treatment
A late entry into my top ten, I’ve been entranced by this Norwegian band since Tk first recommended them to me. This is decidedly the most beautiful pop album of the year. There’s something so intriguing about Ingrid Helene Håvik’s voice on the record; it’s almost Joanna Newsom-esque (though less squeaky).
MUST HEAR: “Darth Vader,” “Lover, Where Do You Live?,” “Since Last Wednesday”
9. Spoon – They Want My Soul
PHEW! I have to admit, I was worried after 2010’s Transference left a bitter taste in my mouth. Luckily, my trepidation coming into this album turned out to be unfounded. They’re BACK! Once again, they’ve put out a catchy juggernaut that threatens to stick in your headspace for months after even a single spin.
MUST HEAR: “Inside Out,” “Do You,” “Rent I Pay”
8. Twin Forks – LP
Although this is a debut album, it seems like we’ve heard this one before. Maybe it’s the proliferation of indie-folk hybrids made popular by Mumford & Sons, or maybe it’s the triumphant return of Chris Carrabba (the singer-songwriter behind Dashboard Confessional). Either way, the mixture of folk/bluegrass instrumentation and Carrabba’s voice is one not to be missed.
MUST HEAR: “Back to You,” “Cross My Mind,” “Kiss Me Darling”
7. TV On The Radio – Seeds
If you haven’t noticed already, a strong, unique vocalist is perhaps my favorite elements of a band. As a result, I will always be a sucker for Tunde Adebimpe’s voice. This album seems perfectly crafted, with that deep rumble crooning over a meticulously-arranged rock record with a huge heart. To punctuate the punctilious nature of this release, the CD and vinyl versions of this album have perhaps the best packaging of any album this year.
MUST HEAR: “Careful You,” “Lazerray,” “Happy Idiot”
6. The Warren G. Hardings – Get a Life
The Warren G. Hardings are Seattle bluegrass at its finest. After being successfully kickstarted, they’ve put out a debut album that is sure to put a smile on the face of its backers. Heck, this album is a freewheeling, toe-tapping extravaganza, no matter who you are. If you’re in the greater Seattle area (or even if you’re not), make sure to find a way to see them live.
MUST HEAR: “Darling,” “The Devil’s in the Roots,” “Drifting”
5. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream
I love the cadence of Adam Granduciel’s vocal melodies; Tk stole the comparative thunder here, but it reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan. My only complaint with the album is that sometimes the songs take a little too long to develop and as a result, the music seems to fade a bit too far into the background.
MUST HEAR: “Red Eyes,” “An Ocean in between the Waves,” “Burning”
4. Bleachers – Strange Desire
Jack Antonoff decided to make a record that sounded like it could be the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie. Listen to the record through that lens, and it takes on new meaning, seeming all the more nostalgic, wistful, and fun.
MUST HEAR: “Rollercoaster,” “I Wanna Get Better,” “Reckless Love”
3. Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Just like Spoon, it’s so great to be able to say “They’re BACK!” for Weezer. I’m a huge Weezer fan, but their previous album, Hurley, is the only Weezer album that I don’t own. They’d hit rock bottom. Through the years, I defended Weezer when they dropped album after album that failed to recapture the magic of their first two records. It was beginning to seem as if that elusive album might evade Weezer forever. I don’t know what the magic element was this time around (producer Ric Ocasek?), but now, finally, FINALLY, it’s here. Everything Will Be Alright In The End is that record.
MUST HEAR: “Foolish Father,” “Go Away,” “Cleopatra”
2. Antemasque – s/t
This is the best record Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala have been involved in since (and perhaps including) Frances the Mute, back when they were the braintrust behind The Mars Volta. Perhaps the dissolution of that band has freed them up to create something a little more accessible and straightforward. Don’t get me wrong, their trademark intensity shines through as always; It’s just so great to have these two making music together again, and to hear Cedric’s voice on a record you can actually sing along with.
MUST HEAR: “50,000 Kilowatts,” “In The Lurch,” “4AM”
1. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
This album refuses to fade into the background. Instead, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is arresting, demanding the listener pay attention for the duration of the record. Alternating between moments aggressively profane and profoundly heartbreaking, this is punk rock with a purpose. I don’t think Laura Jane Grace set out to become an icon when she wrote this record. I don’t know if that’s what she wants. But if the next generation of punks starts to think about acceptance rather than rebellion, she will have made a difference.
MUST HEAR: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” “True Trans Soul Rebel,” “Black Me Out”
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Tags: against me!, antemasque, bleachers, bob dylan, chris carrabba, dashboard confessional, highasakite, ingrid helene havik, joanna newsom, majestic pegasus, mars volta, ric ocasek, spoon, tunde adebimpe, tv on the radio, twin forks, war on drugs, warren g hardings, weezer
My Top 10 list for 2014 features some emerging artists that I had not heard until this year (#2, 3, 4, 7, and 10) and some established artists that have released their best album to date (#1, 5, 6, 8, and 9). While I feel passionate about my #1 choice (and will still be listening to it when I’m an old man), I don’t feel as passionate about numbers 2 through 10. Someone could have slipped them out from under my feet and replaced them with my Honorable Mention albums, and I wouldn’t bat an eye. 2014 was not a bad year for music but, as I stated before, it was not a particularly exciting year either.
10. Goat – Commune: Goat is a Swedish 70’s-influenced, neo-tribal, quasi-spiritual group who wear masks and costumes during their live performance. It should only be listened to loud and long in a darker setting. In fact, it would probably sound kinda lame short and quiet in a brightly-lit setting.
9. Spoon – They Want My Soul: Spoon is one of those bands that knows exactly what they want musically and consistently accomplish it. Always comfortable in their own skin, their albums remain stylistically similar while drifting appropriately between more raw and more produced output. “They Want My Soul” is beautiful, catchy, and slickly-produced. Turn it on anytime, anywhere.
8. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues: This album is so well-paced that the pesky condition of pop-punk-fatigue will not likely kick in. An impassioned, important release from Laura Jane Grace and her crew in which every song counts.
7. Kevin Morby – Still Life: Kevin Morby is the 26-year-old bassist of Woods who put out his first solo album last year. Still Life is brimming with folk-rock songs that sound so classic and singable that I felt like I’d heard them before. This warm familiarity, though, is a strength rather than a liability.
6. Perfume Genius – Too Bright: Seattle-based artist, Mike Hadreas, performs as Perfume Genius. His precious chamber-pop tracks take many an unexpected turn, sometimes light and playful and other times heavy and brooding.
5. Eno Hyde – High Life: A transcendent, ambient surprise from Brian Eno and Karl Hyde that incorporates just the right amount of African instrumentation, guitars, and electronic bells and whistles to keep things moving.
4. Future Islands – Singles: When you Google “Future Islands,” the first thing that comes up is “Future Islands Letterman.” So, if you haven’t watched their now-famous performance on Letterman, then do so now. Artsy Baltimore synthpop with some David Bowie and 1980s flourishes, Singles is an excellent, peculiar album that deserves multiple spins.
3. Angelique Kidjo – Eve: Ms. Kidjo is remarkably unknown for someone who has won Grammy’s and been listed among the “40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa” by Forbes. She is from the country of Benin and sings in 4 different languages (including English). Her multi-genre music is energetically propelled forward by diverse rhythms and powerful vocals. You should seriously check out her video below.
2. Highasakite – Silent Treatment: Once Highasakite can reign in their vision and produce an album that gels together as a singular piece of art, then they will dominate my Spotify listening time and future lists. As it stands, Silent Treatment is an album of songs; mostly damn fine songs (including my Song of the Year). A touch of Imogen Heap, The Cranberries, even She & Him… but, mind you, I don’t care much for any of these artists. Highasakite wear their influences but come up with something of their own that is unique and charming.
1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream: Wagonwheel Blues was my #1 album in 2008 and here The War on Drugs are, back in my #1 spot. There really was no contest here. A rare album that I: a) listened to the day it came out b) listened to it straight through c) wanted to hear it through again the moment that it ended. It is spacious where it needs to be and dense in other parts. Adam Granduciel puts every word and note where it belongs, a more precise Bob Dylan. His supporting figures are a more subdued E Street Band. Lost in the Dream is an hour-long but never drones on. It starts off big and ends up intimate. I suggest listening to it in order from start to finish. Until then, you can jam to “Eyes to the Wind” (below).
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Tags: adam granduciel, against me!, angelique kidjo, bob dylan, e street band, eno hyde, eyes to the wind, future islands, goat, highasakite, kevin morby, laura jane grace, perfume genius, spoon, war on drugs, woods
SONGS OF THE YEAR
Once again this year, I couldn’t pick just one… so here’s three to chew on:
Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (language warning)
Michael Jackson – Love Never Felt So Good
The War On Drugs – Red Eyes
HONORABLE MENTION ALBUMS
The Airport District – Smash
I love a good mash-up album, and that’s exactly what we’ve got here. It probably isn’t the best idea to define an artist solely by another, but this album fills the void left by the lack of a new Girl Talk record this year. (Girl Talk did release his “Broken Ankles” EP with Philadelphia rapper Freeway this year. It’s a solid EP, but it doesn’t have the staying power of his solo records).
The Antlers – Familiars
After The Antlers’ 2009 record Hospice, it seemed like there might not be much higher for them to go. That record was such a complete, beautiful statement that no one would blame them if they had hung it up then and there. 2011’s Burst Apart is a great record as well, but Familiars brings back more of what you may have expected from a Hospice follow-up. The only drawback for me was “Doppelgänger,” a song that really drags the album down just as it’s launching.
The Family Crest – Beneath the Brine
This might be the biggest record of the year. The title track gets things rolling in a way that caused NPR’s Bob Boilen to sarcastically remark, “gee, I think they may have been holding back a little bit.” They’re throwing crescendos and instruments around on this album like they’re going out of style. The Family Crest’s goal is to have 1,000 people involved in recording and performing on their next album, and they’re well on their way.
Foster the People – Supermodel
The biggest strength and weakness in this album is its similarity to their debut. If you liked 2011’s Torches, you’ll like this one. It’s perhaps the laziest thing you could say about a record, but it fits here. There are great moments here; the first three tracks rival any 1-2-3 punch this year.
Kishi Bashi – Lighght
“Lighght” (the word, not the album) is a one-word poem by minimalist poet Aram Saroyan. While Kishi Bashi’s sophomore record isn’t as simple as that, it holds a similar sense of beauty and playfulness. If “Q&A” doesn’t melt you, I don’t know what will. You may want to make sure that you’re human.
Taking Back Sunday – Happiness Is
When the original Tell All Your Friends-era members rejoined Taking Back Sunday, they breathed new life into the band. This renaissance has led to two albums that at least match the energy and inspiration of their first two albums. My favorite songs from the album are “Stood a Chance” and “Beat Up Car,” but how can you resist this?
Jack White – Lazaretto
In between working as the ambassador for Record Store Day, performing at the Grammy Awards, and enjoying taxidermy, Jack White found time to record a solo album that somehow sounds like the intersection of those three things. The guitar lick on “That Black Bat Licorice” is still reverberating through my mind grapes.
You Blew It! – Keep Doing What You’re Doing
I’m ready for Promise Ring-influenced emo-rock to make a comeback, and You Blew It! is off to a great start. This short album is just enough to whet your tastebuds for a trip down mid-2000s memory lane. If you need more, make sure to check out their You Blue It! EP, their tribute to Weezer’s blue album.
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Tags: airport district, antlers, family crest, foster the people, freeway, girl talk, jack white, kishi bashi, taking back sunday, weezer, you blew it!
2014 was the year that I listened to the most new music in my life (Spotify + lesson planning a lot as a teacher) but have the fewest words to say about it. The music world seemed settled this year–bands content to build upon their successes with straight-forward, solid releases. Not an especially edgy year for music, nor experimental. In fact, the most exciting pop release is also the least exciting pop release. Ariana Grande is attempting nothing new, yet very successful in doing so and being rewarded for her talent (and maybe some other things… though stage presence can’t be counted among them).
So, without a further dude, let’s go.
Song of the Year
Highasakite – Lover, Where Do You Live?
The War on Drugs’ “Red Eyes” was a very close second, but I had to go with the song that I listened to the most times in 2014. Highasakite’s “Lover, Where Do You Live?” is a gorgeous, stirring song sure to send shivers down that spine of yours. Thanks to Brother Shane for pointing out the haunting sonic bliss of 1:50 – 2:20. According to some guy on youtube, the formula for this Norwegian band is “soaring melodies + strange lyrics = skewed pop glory.” I could have said it better myself, but I’m too tired.
10 Honorable Mention Albums
Ariana Grande – My Everything: An Italian-American girl channeling Mariah Carey pop and somehow managing to appeal to Pitchforkers (people who read the popular music blog), New Yorkers, and pitchforkers (people who move hay from Point A to Point B using a pitchfork). She still has some room to improve her stage presence and make her voice more dynamic, but, y’know, she is only 21.
Childhood – Lacuna: A band called ‘Childhood’ that sounds like my childhood (1990’s Buzz Shop radio) on an album in which Track 1 was a candidate for my Song of the Year. In other words, 5 minutes into listening to this English indie rock release, it had already guaranteed its spot on my list.
Robert Ellis – The Lights from the Chemical Plant: 25 year old Robert Ellis moved from Houston to Nashville and is making a name for himself with his nasally, poignant Country-Americana sound. And I might add that he actually pulls off the line, “Oh my god, I love watching my TV.”
Run the Jewels – RTJ 2: I dare you to listen to “Blockbuster Night Part 1″ and not pump your fist (it might be fitting that the very next song on the album features fellow must-pump-fist Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine). Hard-hitting NYC hip hop featuring Killer Mike and El-P.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji: My Honorable Mention often features ‘Woulda been top 10 except…’ albums. This is one of them. Should it matter that Mark Kozelek took the spotlight off of his brilliant 6th studio album by being a relentless bully to fellow artists and fans? Should it matter that he also put out a boring Christmas album with 1 good song? It matters some, because it affects the way I hear Benji. But make no mistake, Benji is a stunning, heartfelt, and raw acoustic album.
Todd Terje – It’s Album Time: Norwegian house/disco/jazz that doesn’t take itself too seriously but has surprising depth and relistenability.
Lydia Ainsworth – Right from Real: Canadian strange-pop with a penchant for the pentatonic. A compelling debut release featuring the stand-out, anthemic track “PSI.”
The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits: Not as impactful as Open Your Heart but packed full of rousing, barn-burning, too-much-fun classic rock designed for the live show. The song “Pearly Gates” reminds listeners of the very reason that rock and roll exists.
Eagulls – Eagulls: Post-punk always has a way of weaseling its way into my Honorable Mention Albums. This is a slightly dingy, sometimes forceful, and thoroughly convincing debut album from Eagulls (not to be confused with ‘Eagles, The’).
Literature – Chorus: A fun album of concise, jangly, Clash-like songs. Rumor has it that Philadelphia is on the rise, and Literature surely will not thwart this momentum.
Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Rhythm: Swedish husband-wife duo that somehow create a gripping 40 minutes of music using primarily (only?) drums and vocals. For people who appreciate the creativity of Tune-Yards but find her music a bit grating…
CK’s Song of the Year and Honorable Mentions are next, followed by our Top 10’s!
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Tags: ariana grande, childhood, clash, eagles, eagulls, highasakite, literature, lydia ainsworth, mariah carey, men, rage against the machine, robert ellis, run the jewels, sun kil moon, todd terje, tune yards, wildbirds & peacedrums
You have been waiting for G-Ferb 2013’s best music picks successfully. You will not be ashamed. I have picked three themes for music this year. They are gold, Cheetos, and Nickelback.
Song #1: Ecstasy of Gold
Gold is the only thing that makes me happy. So does this song. I use this song for everything. Here are some samples.
-Wearing turtle necks
I listen to this song when I look for gold. It reminds me that looking for gold is fun and cool. Then I get ecstasy when I find the gold. Sometimes I pretend that Cheetos are gold only they are different because Cheetos
Song #2: Hot Cheetos and Takis
No song has ever made me feel about Cheetos like this one. When I look down into my soul and I find darkness this song restores that hot spicy feeling that only Cheetos are proud of.
Cheeto almost winners!
Holy crazy cow, a Canadian cooking show? For a special Canadian cheeto delicacy, check out this video at 2:00
These might be my grandchildren. I hope so because I am proud of them
Song #3: How You Remind Me, lullabye edition
Sometimes babies are cool. Sometimes babies are dumb. This years best song makes babies less dumb and more sleeply. I have always wanted to dance without the judgement of awake babies. Now this can be possible.
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LET’S NOT FORGET…
This is my first post on CKTK, so allow me to introduce myself. I’m Dan, and I love Rock & Roll, Country, Blues, Bluegrass, and anything involving roots/americana music. This entry will follow a different format than you may be used to (the most recent album I’m discussing was released in 1975), but I hope that you still find it worth your time to read.
Each of these albums meant a great deal to me in 2013, and I think each carries a great life lesson between the tracks that still applies today. This is my flimsy excuse for contributing to a year end music post with music that is all older than I am. Deal with it.
THE ROLLING STONES-BEGGARS BANQUET (Released in 1968)
A great album has to made up of great songs, but great songs alone don’t make a great album. This friends, is a great album. From the opening percussive ass kicking of Sympathy for the Devil to the final hand crashing down on the piano on Salt of the Earth, the Stones knocked this one out of the proverbial park. As far as the songs go however, I would say Sticky Fingers and Let it Bleed rank higher. If you have the capacity to remember back a few sentences though, you’ll recall a great album needs more than great songs, which is why you need to shut up and let me tell why you need to listen to this album before 2013 is left in the dust.
Turn back a year to 1967. The Beatles had released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Syd Barrett was still at the reigns with Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones decided they needed to really ramp up their weird factor. They released Their Satanic Majesties Request in December of that year (to the best of my knowledge it was not featured in any CKTK publications at the time).
Think back to kindergarten, and Ms Sunshine and Rainbows telling you how important it was to just be yourself. Your middle school guidance teacher probably reiterated the same point, as well as your parents, beloved television characters, and any advertisement for Dove products. These people all had one goal in mind when they told you that. They desperately wanted you to avoid making your own version of TSMR. The Stones were masters of less is more rock & roll. Some of their best material sounds like it takes more time to play than it took to write. When 1967 was finishing up the last round of Auld Lang Syne, the Stones had put out an album that takes work to listen to, and in an uncharacteristic twist, sounded like it took work to write. TSMR combined the out of studios pressures of criminal trials and personal drama, and a desire to do what those around them were doing and resulted in a textbook example of what happens when a great band forgets what made them great.
I’m not suggesting musicians ought not experiment, but that experimentation should stem from something more genuine than wanting to line up with what those around you are doing. That just ain’t rock & roll.
In ’68 they learned their lesson, and released Beggars Banquet, their first great album. They carried that momentum into the ‘70s, added Mick Taylor on guitar and built the most impressive catalogue of any band. Ever. Period. That all started with Beggars Banquet, and the self awareness to recognize when a wrong step was taken.
As you boldly venture into 2014, fully energized by the gritty, upbeat grooves of songs like Street Fighting Man and the swampy, mugginess of Prodigal Son, keep in mind what it is that makes you you. Assuming you’re an adult you should have a pretty good idea what that is by now. Don’t let what others are doing make you think you need to change who you are. And if by some chance, you found yourself on the losing end of a big gamble in 2013, pick yourself up, raise that middle finger to the people who counted you out and drive on.
GRAM PARSONS-GRIEVOUS ANGEL (Released in 1974)
Gram Parsons is the fork in the tangled web of highways, byways, and whythehellisthisconsideredcountryways of American roots music. His simple, sharp songwriting and complete lack of pseudo-masculine bro-country nonsense provide a meaningful listening experience and leaves one without the opportunity to claim any kind of elitist status over anyone who isn’t familiar with his work. Listen to Grievous Angel (especially songs like Brass Buttons and Love Hurts) and you won’t feel like you’re a member of an exclusive club, you’ll just be glad the good Lord gave you a heart that can be broken. Especially with the ghost like voice of Emmylou Harris floating over Gram’s soft spoken timbre.
Gram did time with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers before launching a short, two album solo career. Between his time with the Burrito Bros and his solo debut, he was what could almost be called an auxiliary member of the Rolling Stones. He wrote extensively with Keith Richards, and finished very little (see below for the drug fueled jam session that resulted in Wild Horses, used by both the Stones and the Burrito Bros). After touring with the Stones and ingesting more heroin and cocaine than even the most freewheeling Surgeon General would recommend, Gram teamed up with Emmylou and released his first solo album, GP in 1972. It featured some of the best American songwriting that time has forgotten, perhaps only topped by his last album, Grievous Angel in early 1974.
One of Gram’s jackets, showcasing his enthusiasm for anatomy, botany, and pharmacology.
Grievous Angel was written in 1973 and Gram died before seeing the release. At age 26 he had managed to permanently engrain himself into one of America’s staple cultural exports and influence everyone from the Rolling Stones, to Drive-By Truckers, to Ryan Adams. In fact, if you insist on hearing about a 2013 release go check out Southeastern by DBT alum Jason Isbell after introducing yourself to your Uncle Gram.
Grievous Angel is a powerhouse of fantastic songwriting, and that’s exactly what you should listen to it for. It’s heavy on the slow ballad side, although tunes like I Can’t Dance and Return of the Grievous Angel will require some form of tapping from at least one of your appendages, and Ooh Las Vegas will have you singing along way before you know the words. This album is more at home on a lonesome highway than in a smokey honky-tonk.
When you listen to Grievous Angel, quite possibly for the first time, do so with the knowledge that life is short and you only have so many opportunities that come your way. Make them count. It’s easy to wonder what songs he would have written, and what impact he would have had if he had a longer life. But he didn’t, and still managed to leave a lasting impression on generations of songwriters in dive bars across America.
PINK FLOYD-WISH YOU WERE HERE (Released in 1975)
With the exception of Dark Side of the Moon, every Floyd record from the Roger Waters/David Gilmour era has been my favorite at one time or another. For those of you unfamiliar with Pink Floyd, start at the intersection of Pop and Blues and continue until you reach Rock & Roll. Once you get there turn left on Prog and stop almost immediately. You’ll know you’ve gone too far if you arrive at the Yes house and see Rick Wakeman trying to mow the lawn in roller skates and a cape.
Turn around, you’ve gone too far
WYWH is the follow up album to Dark Side of the Moon, the album that rocketed Floyd into stardom and immense wealth. Roughly three years of touring filled the gap between studio time, and the pressure to live up to DSotM was immense. In some ways it was the other side of the coin the Stones had in 1968. PInk Floyd’s genius was the same as the Stones. Less is more, keep it simple. WYWH is the rare marriage of massive creativity and strict taste. David Gilmour’s solo work from the first Crazy Diamond to the last is the culmination of all of man’s strivings. Every note is deliberate, and no note goes to waste. He’s Ernest Hemingway with a guitar.
Richard Wright laid a solid foundation on his synth for Gilmour to build on, and while music today is far from short on synths, Wright brought an unmatched sense of grace to the table and was a master of not using too much paint on the canvas, all at once demanding the listener’s imagination and allowing it to roam free. The overall atmosphere of the album allows for a handcrafted feel that is lost in most ventures into electronic music. Nothing about WYWH makes you think the band had to complete a degree from ITT Tech before they were able to write it.
Words like “texture” and “atmosphere” get thrown around a lot these days, but there is a substantial difference between what Floyd was able to achieve numerous times in the studio (most notably in WYWH), and what is being released and played on radio today. In order to illustrate this point I have provided you, dear reader, with a pie chart that shows how today’s young musicians budget their time to achieve the texture and atmosphere they seek.
The simple, dark colors of the album allow the themes of loss, mourning, and nostalgia to shine through. Syd Barrett had been long out of the band, and was losing his grip on reality (it’s rumored that he arrived at the studio while they were working on it and they were unable to recognize him for several minutes). It was a painful time for the band, as they were coming to grips with the deterioration of an old friend, worn out from three years on the road, and trying to measure up to the high expectations of a new fan base. Boy did they deliver.
Give ‘er a spin and focus on how big the ideas are, and how well the band controlled them. Thoreau once said something about building castles in clouds, that’s exactly where they should be, you just have to build the foundations under them. WYWH delivers the same moral, but if this is your first time hearing it you should expect to go through an experience so profoundly life altering that cognitive thought is not within your capabilities for some time. Heavy machinery should not be operated with 4 hours of listening.
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Greetings Music Lovers,
It’s that time again, when I get the pleasure of summing up my favorite musical moments of the year. I just wanted to take a moment to thank CKTK for letting me voice my opinions! In this same moment I thought I would take the time to explain where I’m coming from. My name is Christopher Friesen, and I’m a musician and producer from Portland Oregon. You can find out more about me at my website (linked above.)
There are a few resources I thought I would share so that you could find your own favorites from the year. The main source I use to discover music is AllMusic. They release “editor’s choice” listings every month of outstanding records in each genre. With that website alone it’s easy way to stay up to date with new releases. Another great method that is well known is Pandora. All Music and Pandora both rely on a system of ratings. Both will “learn” your tastes, and the more you rate, the better your recommendations will be.
Now, about this list in particular. I didn’t try to stay within any particular genre, but as I listed the albums I wanted to cover, they all ended up as “experimental.” To me, that term is more of an approach than a genre. Just be aware that I’m a bit scatter-brained, and this list covers just as much of the spectrum.
As a side note, I chose not to mention particular tracks, and the reason being that I wanted to feature albums, not songs. These recordings deserve to be listened to as whole pieces, which might be rough for listeners accustomed to the $0.99 era of music.
I’ve gotta say, I super glad the world didn’t end with the Mayan calendar. If it had we wouldn’t have heard AMOK by Atoms for Peace. The super group dropped the record on Feb. 25th. I think the best way to describe the vibe is experimental rock. It’s heavy with grit from synths, and odd percussions. The guitars and vocals tend to glide over the top of all the glitchiness with simpler motifs creating a very smooth ride. Speaking of vocals, Thom’s enunciations are clearer than ever. It features moments of expansive reverb and über wide stereo imaging to create an expansive room for the listener to float in.
As far as songwriting goes, it was very well crafted. Taking a riff, and changing the harmonic rhythm to generate new sections of tunes seems to be a commonly used tool. As a whole the record seems to be centered on textures more than clarity of the form. It can tend to leave you wondering things like, was that a bridge, was that processed, what rhythm was that? At just under forty-five minutes of music, I felt like there was never a weak point in the album. There are enough variations to create a constantly morphing curve throughout the entirety that keep listeners from feeling like they’ve heard that song before. Yet there isn’t so much to disorient the soul of the record.
Just for an idea of how the group came to be, it formed as the band to perform Yorke’s The Eraser, and over time and three days of jam sessions AMOK came into being. Yorke brought Radiohead’s engineer Godrich, Flea from RHCP as a bassist, Waronker to play drums from REM, and Refosco as a percussionist from Forro in the Dark. It really does feel like another Yorke record despite the eclectic line up.
Three singles were unveiled over the span of seven months prior to the official release. The album was very well received, ringing the bell at the top of the billboard charts for Electronic, Independent, Modern Rock, and Rock albums.
“One of the things we were most excited about was ending up with a record where you weren’t quite sure where the human starts and the machine ends.” – Thom Yorke
Trentemøller’s Lost is the second record I’ll be reviewing, which came out September 24th. To be honest I haven’t been a Trentemøller fan for long. It was just this year that I fell in love with his debut The Last Resort, and what a pleasant surprise it was to hear how he had grown over the past seven years. Again, the best way I can describe this record is experimental techno, blending elements of acoustic folk and indie rock with his natural gift of glitched out house soundscapes. Any die-hard fan is definitely going to think they put in a different record when the album starts with its vocal heavy melancholy tune.
Don’t get me wrong, the album gets dark and grimy with tunes like Trails and Morphine, but this record does seem to feature songwriting more than previous releases. It not only features more vocals, but puts them at the center of attention. His use of vocals is very reminisant of the french band AIR. As a listener of modern jazz, I found it interesting that Anders Christensen was the bassist for the album. The K. Rosenwinkle fans out there will probably recognize his name. In that sense it really is a genre-blending treat from the Danish producer. Another interested side note is that Trentemøller is the sole composer of only 5/12 of the album, which implies more group writing than ever.
The album was revieled live while opening for Depeche Mode, which was one of Trentemøller’s favorite groups in his pre-teen years. To be honest, I’m a little concerned how the music would translate live. It can be so ambient at times that some of it might need to be omitted or re-written to keep the audience awake. I’m a huge fan of mood music, and Lost is very moody at times. My best advice with this album is to let go, don’t be afriad of the emptiness presented at times. There has to be tension for a resolution to be effective. If there is one thing Trentemøller is great with, its builds and drops, be patient and let him take you on the journey.
“… but for me, it could be the beautiful thing about being lost in the music, or lost in love you know, cause that is a great thing sometimes is to loose your self control and give in…” – Anders Trentemøller
P.S. Don’t forget to listen to the entire thirteen minutes of Hazed, (there is a hidden track.) At first I thought my computer had slipped over to my Erik Satie collection.
The next record we’ll look at is Kneebody’s The Line. The textures in this album are perfect for the vibe the quintet has been developing. They’ve been writing as a unit for twelve years now, and unveiled their fourth studio record on September 24th. It’s an all-instrumental recording of pop, rock, electronic, and funk genres heavily influenced by the improvised technique so prevalent in jazz music. They operate with a system of musical cues that any member can trigger to change key, meter, or section of the tune. The result is modern avant-garde songs with awe-full high energy soloing. All the members are extremely proficient with their instruments and comfortable with the ambiguous forms leading the listener to settle into dissonance that would typically be off-setting.
The band has really mastered the use of effects. Ring modulation is a tricky one to be musical with, and they’ve tackled it. The types of spaces they create for their music with delay and reverb is very tasteful as well. Great examples of volume swells, distortion and fuzz can be found throughout the album. The utilization of effects is very broad, from subtle to in your face!
With all of the odd meters, rhythms, timbres, and harmonies the listener can constantly be surprised with moments of “ah ha, I never would have thought of that.” As a whole the record is well balanced between intense up-tempo, and ballade-esque relaxed moments. The compositions are strong, that being said, the conversation between the musicians is a main focal point for the record. The horn players are amazing, but the rhythm section steals the show with rhodes, bass, and drums being the core of the ensemble’s sound. Then again, I’m a bassist…
I got the pleasure of seeing them live a few months back at the end of the album release tour. I would highly recommend seeing them live if you get the chance. This album is great, but live is a completely different level of performance.
Go into this one with an open mind, and I’m sure you’ll be inspired.
John Zorn has never been an artist for the faint of heart. Just thought I would put that out there as fair warning. We’re stepping further out with Dreamachines than any of the previous records mentioned. This album is an alchemical concoction of free, avant-garde, conceptually composed aural genius (or madness!) John Zorn’s role is the composer/conductor of this ensemble built upon upright bass, drum set, vibes and piano. There seems to be very little effects used on this acoustic music. A few moments where the vibes felt like they were processed through an LFO, but it’s very subtle.
Now, about the music itself, I find this one in particular difficult to put into words. This might be due to the fact that Zorn’s work is very new to me, and it relies so much upon elaborate conceptual composition. As a result, a lot of this review is going to be stated from the first person, rather than the third.
In comparison to other Zorn records where the music is jolted between genres this is varied, yet maintains the consistent vibe necessary to build a concept album. The shape as a whole has a very nice flow. I wouldn’t dare call myself a connoisseur of free music, but I will step out on the limb and say that I felt the free moments are well executed. It moves in and out of free improvisation with enough “taste” that I don’t loose interest. It never seems like the musicians are stepping all over each other, rather, the space is respected.
The feelings it inspires have moments of release where the chaos dissolves into modalities that resemble the Middle East with instruments associated with the West. One of my favorite techniques in this album is when an arpeggiated line is repeated over shifting harmony. It reminds me of meditation, when one is heavily rooted, yet soars to places unknown.
I think this record stood out for me because it’s a guide into the unknown. I would encourage listeners to give it a chance, more importantly listen to it a few times and see if it can be digested.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of experimental music. To sum all this up, I hope you can take a square and pull on the corners till you have a circle.
Peace & Truth,
Filed under: 2000s, guest spot, music videos, Year In Review | 1 Comment
Tags: 2013, Atoms for Peace, Best of, Experimental, John Zorn, Kneebody, Music, Trentemoller
You’ve heard from Tk, now it’s time for my top ten albums of 2013. Over the past few years, our tastes have diverged in a yellow wood, and that has made all the difference. This year, our lists share a stunning zero albums – and not on purpose! I suppose you’ll have to head to Spotify to listen to all 21 albums and rank them together in one mega-list. If you do, please let us know what you came up with! We’d love to see your opinions (including your own favorites from the year) in the comments.
Before I start my list, a note about one of my all-time favorite bands:
Five Iron Frenzy – Engine of a Million Plots
Whenever I think about reviewing anything, one rule I live by is this: I don’t review nostalgia. There’s no way to pretend to be objective about it. And yes, I suppose the point of a review is to hear someone’s subjective opinion, but I feel as if I’m reviewing it from a different place when it’s something that was especially important to me as a child or adolescent. I was devastated when FIF hung it up ten years ago, elated when they reunited and started recording again in 2011, and bought tickets to their show in Seattle within the hour they went on sale. Five Iron Frenzy occupies a completely different space in my mind than any other band.
I do love this album. In fact, I probably enjoyed it enough to put it in the top five this year. But because Five Iron is such an important band to me personally for a lot of reasons, it doesn’t work in my mind to try to put it alongside the rest of the year’s new releases. So I’ll just say this: Engine of a Million Plots stands strong alongside the rest of their discography. If you haven’t heard Five Iron before, this isn’t a bad place to start. And if you haven’t heard them since 2003, this isn’t a bad place to re-start.
MUST HEAR: “So Far,” “The Zen and Art of Xenophobia,” “I’ve Seen the Sun”
…on to the top 10!
10) Sigur Ros – Kveikur
If 2008’s með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust was their “pop” record, Kveikur is Sigur Ros’ “rock” album. I realize this is a relative term when talking about the Icelandic crew’s output, but Kveikur is aggressive. At the same time, the record doesn’t leave behind the beauty that Sigur Ros is known for – tracks like “Stormur” and “Var” shine. If this is what they’re capable of as a three-piece, then I’m very much looking forward to hearing more from the trio.
MUST HEAR: “Isjaki,” “Brennisteinn,” “Kveikur”
9) Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
With each album, Tegan and Sara just get better and better. They tweak their sound bit by bit, experimenting just enough without making the kind of 180-degree turn that would give their fans whiplash. The twins still weave their vocal harmonies into Heartthrob, one of the best, catchiest records to sing along to this year; it was stuck in my car stereo for at least a good month after its release. This synthpop-infused record is a great little niche-filler; there has to be a place in everyone’s record collection for this one.
MUST HEAR: “I Was a Fool,” “Goodbye, Goodbye,” “Closer”
8) Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll
After a five-year hiatus, Fall Out Boy blasted back in 2013 with the most Fall Out Boy record imaginable. Everything you’ve loved on their previous pop-emo-punk records is back with a vengeance: Patrick Stump’s vocals, catchier-than-hell hooks, semi-discernible lyrics, and their unique, bombastic, fist-pumping hipster-doofus attitude. I’m a sucker for bands finding their niche and knocking it further out of the park than previously thought imaginable, and FOB is the best there is at what they do.
MUST HEAR: “The Phoenix,” “Alone Together,” “Young Volcanoes”
7) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Like it or not, Daft Punk was everywhere this summer. Their promotional blasts for Random Access Memories raised hype to an almost-unattainable level, and “Get Lucky” stood alongside Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” as the songs of the season. When the leaves started turning colors, though, the album as a whole took on new meaning. Daft Punk has a reputation for making robotic dance music with a soul, and this sounds more like Earth Wind and Fire than Kraftwerk. It opens up on repeated listens, which is not something people say about Pitbull’s Global Warming or other brainless dance records (not that I don’t love a good brainless dance record, but you get the point). Some of the less-danceable tracks (“Game of Love,” “Touch”) serve as centerpieces of the album, and they stick in your mindgrapes just as well as Daft Punk’s classics like “Digital Love” or “Robot Rock”.
MUST HEAR: “Get Lucky,” “Doin’ It Right,” “Give Life Back to Music”
6) Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals
If you wanted to ROCK in 2013, there was no better way to do it than jamming out to a band who regularly performs with an entire wall of amps behind them. Besides just being loud, though, Sleigh Bells brought their unique brand of melodic, crunchy guitar rock to a new level this year. They’re steadily improving with each album, and this time, they’re mixing in some acoustics and synths with their punishing brand of volume-based rock and roll. This took the title of “best driving music” for me this year; there’s nothing like blasting Bitter Rivals and yelling along with Alexis Krauss as strangers look on with jealousy at each red light.
MUST HEAR: “Bitter Rivals,” “Young Legends,” “Sing Like a Wire”
5) The National – Trouble Will Find Me
I fell in love with The National when their 2007 record Boxer came into my radio station. High Violet was very good, but it was a totally different record. Did I like what The National was becoming in 2010? I wasn’t sure. Sure, I liked that record, but at times, it seemed too “big” for what I thought The National should be. Imagine my joy, then, when listening to Trouble Will Find Me the first time. Perhaps The National’s most intimate album, many of these songs almost sound like companions to Boxer’s “Green Gloves” or “Start a War”. As usual, Matt Berninger’s voice drives the band (and rightfully so), and he sounds smoother than ever as he croons his way through an album that feels like it’s always been part of the collective unconscious.
MUST HEAR: “Pink Rabbits,” “I Should Live in Salt,” “Don’t Swallow The Cap”
4) Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Through her career thus far, Janelle Monae has weaved a world full of beauty, androids, and Armageddon. From the opening overture through the last seconds of stellar album-closer “What An Experience,” it’s clear that “The Electric Lady” is the most full realization of her vision for what music should be. The music here is great, but I confess that it doesn’t rank higher for one reason: I hate skits, and “The Electric Lady” drags us back out of its sonic bliss with three awful skip tracks that break our suspension of disbelief for no apparent reason except to advance her sci-fi narrative. Between those, though, Monae effortlessly voyages through R&B, rap, and pop, with a little help from her famous friends (Prince, Erykah Badu, Miguel, etc).
MUST HEAR: “Electric Lady,” “Dance Apocalyptic,” “What An Experience”
3) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Back in 2010, I wrote: “An improvement over their self-titled debut in almost every way, Contra is that rare sophomore record that makes you excited for album #3 after just one listen.” Well, now we have album #3, and what an album it is. I’m not sure that it’s better than Contra, but it’s one of those that begs to be heard all the way through when the opening chords of “Obvious Bicycle” kick in. The energy is still there, but it’s more muted than either of their previous records. Part of that might be “maturity” (usually code for “a boring record,” but not here), and part of that might be Ezra Koenig coming into his own as a frontman and singer. Song of the year candidate “Step” is perhaps the purest distillation of Vampire Weekend’s ethos thus far, musically and lyrically, and several other tracks aren’t far behind.
MUST HEAR: “Step,” “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey”
2) Grouplove – Spreading Rumours
I’ve said it before, but it’s still true: Grouplove just seems to be having more fun than almost any other band out there. It shines through on almost every track of their stellar new record, Spreading Rumours. There are a couple spots that drag in the middle of the album (especially the chorus of “Hippy Hill,”) but so many of the songs are so good, I can imagine Grouplove carving their way onto rock and alternative radio through all of 2014. There are at least seven songs here that would be great singles. Indeed, this is the best song-based record of the year.
MUST HEAR: “Ways to Go,” “Shark Attack,” “Borderlines and Aliens”
1) Typhoon – White Lighter
While most of my list is full of known quantities, this year was the first time I had heard Portland’s Typhoon, and I’m glad I did. I’m always excited when I see more than three or four musicians on a stage, and the 11 (!) members of Typhoon do not disappoint. This is definitely the band I’m most excited about heading into 2014. Ultimately, no matter how many great individual songs are out there (and I contribute to the single-based economy as much as anyone), my top album spot usually goes to a record that stands as a full album, and White Lighter fits the bill better than any other this year.
From their literary lyrics to the sheer number of instruments used on the record, Typhoon has made an album worth sinking your teeth into. It stands strong on the first listen, and gets better and better on repeat. At times both anthemic and intimate, the songs on White Lighter ride rollercoaster waves of emotion through questions of the universe, life, love, families, home, and starting over. Turn on this record, and let it carry you away through the new year.
MUST HEAR: “Dreams of Cannibalism,” “Young Fathers,” “Hunger and Thirst”
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Tags: 2013, daft punk, earth wind and fire, erykah badu, ezra koenig, fall out boy, five iron frenzy, grouplove, janelle monae, kraftwerk, matt berninger, miguel, national, patrick stump, pitbull, prince, robin thicke, sigur ros, sleigh bells, tegan and sara, typhoon, vampire weekend