Posts Tagged ‘Best albums of 2014’

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New Orleans newcomer Benjamin Booker’s debut lives and breathes the Deep South, from the Chuck Berry references (most effective on opener ‘Violent Shiver’) to the slower, more hushed tones of ‘I Thought I Heard You Screaming’, 

Benjamin Booker makes music that sounds like someone threw a match into a box of fireworks: bright, furious, explosive garage rock that’s liable to set a house on fire. Fighting out of New Orleans, the 24 year-old has already played Letterman and Conan and been tapped to open for Jack White on his latest string of dates all absent a debut album, which finally was released on August 19th via ATO Records. Roiling with bloozy guitar licks, soaring Hammond organs, and Booker’s moonstruck vocals — dude’s a howler, yet his scuffed up croon is equally compelling on smoky ballad “Slow Coming” — the self-titled release may end up a contender for rock record of the year. Crank “Violent Shiver” at your next house party. It’ll liven the place up, if not burn it down altogether.

News: Benjamin Booker signs to ATO, releases a track, plays Letterman

 

 

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Seattle’s Mike Hadreas spent the best part of his first two full-lengths under the Perfume Genius moniker finding ways to weather and draw strength from humanity’s darker moments. On his third record, Hadreas finally appears to have found a sound palette as provocative, forward-thinking and confrontational as his vehement, brave lyrical style – alongside new ways to step out of the haze and to explore himself, his sexuality and the world around him.

On this his third album Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius, performed something of a career u-turn. Whilst his previous records presented us with a series of heart-achingly beautiful piano ballads, here he gave the listener not just a new sound but a new attitude. Where previously he was a deeply emotional and somewhat miserable soul, here he presented not sadness but anger. Take the albums lead single “Queen”, a bile-fuelled attack on homophobia and gay stereotypes, set not to a plaintive piano but to crashing drums and the swaying lilt of a synthesiser and as he yelps “no family is safe when I sashay” the whole song erupts into a stunning waltzing crescendo, it’s the albums unmissable highlight.

Elsewhere the album goes from the shrieking distorted electronica of My Body, to the frankly bizarre, unique and unnerving “I’m A Mother”, as a collection of tracks it’s never short of challenging and fascinating, and there’s even some time for a few absolutely gorgeous piano ballads, almost as a reminder of what a supreme talent he truly is.

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“Sun Structures” delivers strong melody after strong melody, with not a single parody to be found. The band boast an unusual gift, and that’s the ability to create the essence of the mid-to-late ’60′s psychedelia, without ripping anybody off in the process. No clichés, just strong material. The sound may be familiar, but the tunes are all theirs. The band performed a superb set of songs at Reading Festival during the summer.

these classic qualities are all over just about every song here, particularly “Keep In The Dark”. And so Sun Structures is the perfect album, with reference points aplenty,

 

Here and Nowhere Else

On Here and Nowhere Else, which was produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Erykah Badu, R. Kelly (!?)), Cloud Nothings take the best bits from their previous tutelage under alt-god producer Steve Albini, apply them to lo-fi pop-punk structures and infuse all of it with tightly wound angst. If the first indicator of this fusion was the immediately hooky lead single “I’m Not Part of Me,” then album opener “Now Hear In” is the case in point. An incisive mission statement right down to its title, the song marries fevered riffs with a bass-heavy chorus. It’s upbeat punk, but Dylan Baldi’s lyrics about his vexing past provide a dour counterpoint that sets the tone for the entire album.

This album is full of attacking, confrontational and in your face anthems. Opener “Now Here In” pounds along driven by the drums at a decent pace and Baldi’s maturing vocals. The band are in total control and avoid the mistake of a headlong rush to the finish. Songs like the powerful “Quieter Today” increase the foot on the gas, but Baldi’s pop sensibilities are ever present not least on “Physic Trauma” which does that Pixies quiet loud thing with Baldi’s vocals at one point strained to breaking point. This is taken to its logical conclusion on the post punk thrash “Giving into Seeing” easily the toughest thing on the album, like a speeded up Slint played at the wrong speed. The longest and best track on the album is “Pattern Walks” a veritable mini epic of stirring cacophony and garage rock sensibility. The whole thing is rounded off by the single “I’m not part of me” with its slight Ramones tinge and sing-along chanted chorus.

The Cloud Nothings have produced an album of big songs and even bigger riffs. They do not however descend into the sort of happy clappy emo rock which has spread like a virus through young American Bands over recent years. “Here and Nowhere Else” shows that Cloud Nothings are picking up the mantle of some of their classic predecessors.

Following Thurston Moore’s 2011 solo show at Henry Miller Library, and After the rather sudden dissolution of Sonic Youth’s disbandment which went public. Moore one of  Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list, released some of the best work of his career with the Beck-produced album Demolished Thoughts. The Best Day features more face-melting guitar solos, with the 10-minute-plus “Forevermore” as exhibit A.

There were thoughts of how the various members would channel their creative output. After the founding of new band Chelsea Light Moving, Thurston Moore returned to what has been a small but incredibly rewarding outfit under his own name. The first release The Best Day feels like some of the best of Moore’s later-period Sonic Youth writing filtered through a more independent lens and the result is a record that stands on par with some of the best of his late band’s later work.

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Loom is rife with allusions to water, employing it as a compelling motif for navigating through the complexities and paradoxes of romantic relationships. Throughout the album, frontwoman Jessica Weiss conveys her thoughts in an insular first person conversation with a nebulous “you”; arguably, not since The Smiths have we come across a group so hypersensitive of their own inner workings as Fear of MenBrighton, UK based Fear of Men, first introduced in the US via 2013′s much praised singles compilation “Early Fragments,” then they presented their much anticipated debut album “Loom”

Fear of Men is Jessica Weiss (Guitar & Vocals), Daniel Falvey (Guitar), Michael Miles (Drums, Keys).

Image: The Hum

Leeds five piece Hookworms have now proved for a second time that you can find beauty within the sound of confusion, and you can be psychedelic and danceable at the same time. The Hum is a shattering, all-encompassing experience; there’s climactic rage, broken organs and blank-eyed trance outs. At times it’s like listening to war, but there are also moments of beauty, musical tantrums and periods of bummed out weirdness.

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Leeds-based five piece Hookworms – and their latest release.  The Hum, combines their raging, visceral approach to drone, noise and psych (to pick just three genres) with a sharper approach to leaner, more direct songwriting, with thrilling result. One of the best Albums of last year here is  a full insight into the making of the record from the bass-wielding MB.

The Impasse I think this was the first track we wrote with the album in mind, and it was clear straight away that it would open up the record. We were feeling a bit contrary and wanted this album to start in a very different way to the last one, which was a slow build for the first 3 or 4 minutes, and so this bursts out of the gates, a bit of a line in the sand. Easily the most aggressive thing we’ve ever done, and closest to the punk/hardcore roots that a couple of us have. I think that deep down we knew that this would separate the wheat from the chaff; if this track is too much for you, we’re probably not your band.

On Leaving This followed The Impasse pretty quickly, and it wasn’t long before we’d stitched them together like they are on the record, and they’ve stayed the same ever since. It’s felt very strange any time we’ve had to start playing On Leaving from nothing. The instrumental of this song always felt very minimal and garage-y, I think we were aiming for something along the lines of The Stooges or maybe Eddy Current Suppression Ring with the primitive, two note riff, but once all the vocals and overdubs were laid down it really morphed into a fully-formed pop nugget.

iv We recorded this live during one of our demo sessions at the studio, everyone sat round on the floor like hippies playing with pedals and feedback. It just so happened that it was in the same key as On Leaving and they worked nicely together when we came round to talking about the sequencing of the record. We’re all big fans of drone and loop music, stuff like William Basinski, Grouper, Oneohtrix Point Never etc., and it’s important to us that we keep that element running through all of our music, even the more poppy or garage-y stuff. We realised more than ever that if the general pace of the ‘songs’ this time round was to be more upbeat then there was even more need for the respite of these interludes. A lot of thought goes into the ebb and flow of our records; we want our albums to be listened to as one big piece rather than individual songs, which can occasionally throw up some issues when single tracks go up for streaming or radio play.

Radio Tokyo This song was originally released on 7” for the Too Pure singles club last May. We actually wrote and recorded it before Pearl Mystic had even been released, so this is easily the oldest track on The Hum. We really enjoyed playing it live, and quickly worked out that it’s more fun playing something like this over the slower jams, so it subsequently became a bit of a springboard for writing the rest of the LP. Saying that, we were already quite far along with the album before we decided to re-record Radio Tokyo, but it was obvious that it fit in really well with the aesthetic of what we’d worked on so far.

Beginners This is probably my favourite song at the moment, both on the album and to play live. It was a total ballache to finish though. You always read bands talking about one song on an album that won’t click, and this was definitely it. We worked on the structure for months and months until it finally started to make sense, but definitely almost gave up on it a few times. It began life as an attempt at an ‘on-the-one’ soul stomper with the drums and bass, but ended up being nicknamed “Stereolab” in the practice room because of the MS-20 and SH-101 bubbling underneath the track. On reflection, when I listen back to it now I actually think it has a bit more in common with some of our friends and contemporaries like Vision Fortune, Tense Men, Cold Pumas etc. We wanted it to be really linear, something that builds and builds in layers sonically, like a track off Drum’s Not Dead or Sound of Silver.

We knew that we wanted Beginners to fade out, and Off Screen to fade in, so there was a need to bridge that gap. We had invested in a few synths between this album and the last, and there’s a lot of that going on in these interludes. It’s something that interests me greatly, and hopefully we can expand on it in the future. For me, a lot of the more interesting music in the UK at the moment is being made with synths and electronics.

Off Screen This was originally going to be one of two slow jams on the album. The other was left out right at the very last moment and has ended up going on a bonus 7” that comes with some limited copies of the album. We realised that we didn’t have to stick every single idea we had on the album, and that a bit of restraint was not necessarily a bad thing – a lot of our favourite records barely scrape the 30/40 minute mark, so we had no issues with it being slightly shorter than the last LP. At one point we talked about making The Hum exactly the same length as the last record for a laugh – fucking idiots. The middle section of this song was one of the most fun parts of the album to record, lots of a musique concrète and treated piano. We wanted it to be like something off Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, though I doubt Wilco are the first reference point for everyone when they hear our music…

vi MJ’s love of the band Emeralds and the arpeggiator on his Juno show through on this interlude, well spiritual. We wanted this to be really soothing to juxtapose the start of the next track which opens up with these big Oh Sees-y garage chords.

Retreat Similarly to The Impasse, we wanted the end of this record to be the polar opposite of the last one. The final track on Pearl Mystic had this long drone fade out, coming out of a pretty dreamy, stripped-back lullaby, so we wanted this one to go out with a bang and end dead. It has this ‘race for the finish’ feeling to it, building up to a euphoric finale. I’d say this was probably the poppiest number on the record next to On Leaving, and where our undying love for the first Modern Lovers LP shows through the most. Sam’s guitar sound towards the end of this track is my favourite on the record, so woozy. I remember being really excited watching him record that part. In fact, his playing on this song is great right from the start. It gets kind of hidden by the other instruments, but he’s playing this great Neil Young/Keith Richards lick for the first half of the song. My guitar hero.

The War On DrugsLost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)
To deduce the overarching themes of this Philadelphia band’s third album, just scan the track list, which almost reads like a cry for help, given that War on Drugs mastermind Adam Granduciel is evidently “Under the Pressure” with “Red Eyes,” “Suffering” while crossing “An Ocean in Between the Waves,” “Burning” and on the way to “Disappearing” “In Reverse.”

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All of which is to say that, yeah, “Lost in the Dream” is less than a merry affair. Between the songs’ obsessively recurring lyrical images (pain, darkness, disappearance, broken hearts) and the real-life backstory — Adam Granduciel reportedly split with his girlfriend in the early stages of putting the record together — it’s tempting to take this as a breakup album focused more on the Lost than the Dream.

He’s known as a perfectionist, particularly when he’s making an album, and no doubt this intense attention to detail is an essential building block of his music, but watching his band live, you don’t look at the stage and see a control freak. You see someone channeling the music in a way that few others could ever approach, and the magnitude of it all necessarily makes everything else look minor by comparison. There’s something unchained about it all, as though his talent gives him the freedom to let the music run wild. It’s all perception, but genius has that way of erasing the middle steps between idea and execution, so that while the others are painting by numbers, with someone like Granduciel it seems to flow unchanged from an origin you’d never be able to find by simply re-tracing his steps

If 2011’s Slave Ambient represented a breakthrough, this one is an out-and-out star-maker that should rank among the year’s best albums. Simultaneously spare and just as fully fleshed out as it needs to be, Dream is a perfect distillation of Granduciel’s wide-open claustrophobia. The sound is more expansive than ever, even as its maker’s songs seem more personal and less universal.

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Bashful Creatures is an unabashedly fun guitar pop record that only grows more rich with each listen. Alright, listen. What I’m trying to say is that it’s pretty much perfect.Favorite track: “Suicide Saturday”. 

Four-piece rock band Hippo Campus, made up of ’13 grads from a charter high school in St. Paul, managed to emerge with a debut song and video that are at a higher quality than many of the veteran bands performing around town.

“There’s so much talent in younger bands nowadays,” says Jake Luppen, who leads Hippo Campus along with co-frontman and guitarist Nathan Stocker. “We have a bunch of friends who are doing the high school thing like we were doing last year. They’re all really talented, but it seems like a lot of venues prey on the fact that they’re so young, and make them sell a bunch of tickets. It’s a really big problem. These booking agencies, they don’t compensate for performances. You play shows for free unless you sell a bunch of tickets.” the band feed off of each other’s frenetic, restless energy. The band met up between recording sessions for their almost-finished debut album, The Halocline, which is being produced by the guitarist Dustin Kiel (who most frequently performs with Dessa), and are clearly raring to get back into the studio to knock out the last few takes and start mixing it into the final product. Though they have only been performing together for a year, the four musicians in Hippo Campus have already spent time refining their skills in other bands—Lussen and bassist Zach Sutton played together in Whistle Kid, while Stocker and Allen were in a band called Northern. The four met up at the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and became fast friends, which eventually led to them forming an exciting new project.

On the band’s one and only single, “Little Grace,” Sutton leads the quartet through a buoyant, beachy guitar jam that could easily be mistaken for a Vampire Weekend B-side, if only because his voice closely mirrors Ezra Koenig’s tone and inflection. But just don’t tell the band that they share similarities with that chart-topping indie band.

In reality, the band says the are most influenced by Bombay Bicycle Club, Last Dinosaurs, Little Comets, and the defunct Manchester group WU LYF, who also had an enduring philosophical impact on Hippo Campus.

 

 

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“Pom Pom” isn’t like anything you’ve heard before, but I suppose you could say that about most Ariel Pink releases to date . The singer/songwriter has navigated away from a lovably lo-fi approach – built on vintage synths and percussive beat  into one more representative of a full band with his “Haunted Graffiti” group. While “Before Today” and “Mature Themes” were still great records, I couldn’t help but feel that some tracks were a bit too polished , at least in the sense that shimmering production made Ariel Pink stifle his wonderful audible personality more so than earlier releases. With “Pom Pom”, his first release under just the Ariel Pink name, he goes full Zappa and Todd Rundgren with the double-album approach, resulting in an enjoyably indulgent release that has its share of immediate pop genius alongside large doses of experimental personality, the latter most apparent in the album’s mid-section. The beginnings are quite accessible, though. “Plastic Raincoats” touts an organ-y psych-pop feel reminiscent of The Kinks, while “White Freckles” is a concisely combustible piece of driven power-pop that takes full advantage of Ariel’s various vocal characters. “Four Shadows” is a goth-rock/post-punk homage that utilizes the darkly orchestral Zappa production Ariel Pink is so fond of throughout the album. One of the year’s best tracks, “Not Enough Violence” explores this post-punk territory in even more depth, being a build-up of epic proportions that serves as one of 2014’s greatest tracks. While the album’s middle can sound intimidating and somewhat overbearing, later efforts like the irresistibly infectious “Black Ballerina” and harmonizing-friendly pop gem “Dayzed Inn Daydreams” which is a wonderful title, close this mad genius of an album in stellar form. Pom Pom is the year’s most fascinating listening experience.