Best of, Music

Best of 2014: Albums You Might Have Missed

There are always albums we loved that don’t make it onto our year-end lists, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less good. Here are a few of our favorite albums from 2014 that didn’t make it onto the big list.

Frontier Ruckus – Sitcom Afterlife

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Alt-folk, folk-rock, alt-country or whatever-hyphenated-subgenre you call it isn’t exactly blowing up charts right now. Now that we’re a few years into the Age of Mumford, most of us have forlornly buried our banjos and singing saws in the backyard. Sure, I’m jaded, but hell, at this point I’d even settle for a year of Nissan commercials without choruses of “Hey!” and “Ho!”. No one is blaming you for putting away your Avett Brothers t-shirt in 2015, but if you could indulge me for a second, please go listen to Frontier Ruckus’ Sitcom Afterlife.

Frontier Ruckus has been subversively releasing classic album after classic album for half a decade now with striking talent and unbridled ambition (not always the first compliments when you think of folk music in 2015). They’ve thrown their crosshairs at so many genres that even calling it folk seems an injustice. Sitcom Afterlife explores 90’s rock and pop with the hazy nostalgia that master lyricist Matt Milia is finally getting due credit for. The banjos, synths, horns, saws and harmonies all ring as brilliantly as they did on Deadmalls and Nightfalls, now sharper and more refined. Frontier Ruckus has been one of the least-definable bands in a genre that may have gone stale for many. If you need your faith restored, might I recommend Sitcom Afterlife? - Nick Kivi

Porter Robinson – Worlds

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It’s 2010 – picture a blonde, naïve high school freshman slightly bobbing his head at 140bpm to Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. That was me discovering modern EDM. However, dubstep (yes, you remember it) was only the very beginning to a still-ongoing journey in my musical development. Being a young whipper-snapper with way too much energy, I craved the catchy intros, the long build-ups, and the huge drops – everyone did. Following this musical formula, Porter Robinson released his first single, “Say My Name,” at the tender age of 19. It was a bangin’, four-on-the-floor dance song that combined elements of trance with aspects of the newfound “bass drop” culture. The song immediately went number one on the popular EDM website Beatport, attracting the eyes of Skrillex and his label OWSLA. After signing a deal, Robinson released the eleven-song EP Spitfire in 2011, which went number one on the iTunes Dance chart and Beatport’s overall chart (crashing Beatport’s servers upon release). It was a wub-wub, unce-unce EP that showcased Robinson’s versatility as an extremely young bedroom producer. To me, Porter’s sounds have always been unique, even if they still fall into the same formulas as other producers. He made (and still makes) a point to create completely original tracks, regardless if club-goers enjoy them or not.

After Spitfire came a huge turning point in Robinson’s career. The mission: create something beautiful. The product: “Language.” This melodic masterpiece still held onto the formula, but it was the first sign that Robinson yearned for something deeper. Finally, the transition completed itself with his latest album, Worlds. Forget the drops; this is an album heard from the heart, not the ears. A far cry from his previous work, Worlds takes influence from Japanese anime, video games, and fiction, hitting home hard for anyone who grew up around a Nintendo 64. “Sad Machine,” for instance, takes me on a nostalgic journey harking back to the days of leading Mario around Princess Peach’s Castle courtyard. In the song, Robinson himself sings along with a Vocaloid (a computerized human voice), symbolizing the human connection to machines and the fictional “worlds” that we unintentionally create when immersing ourselves in fictional media. That’s the point of the whole album. As listeners, we can place characters that we know into the template that Worlds gives us.

Being a producer myself, the production of Worlds excites me the most. Robinson went for a more analogue feel that still baffles listeners. The sound is raw and harsh, yet it maintains perfect execution. My favorite track, “Flicker,” utilizes near-deafening percussion to contain monstrous synthesizers. Not to mention the song structures come in all shapes and sizes. “Flicker” is progressive while “Lionhearted” sounds like a pumping radio hit that could be included in an episode of Miami Vice. Even in the more pop tunes one may still hear sprinklings of Japanese anime or video-game-influenced sounds. Robinson occasionally uses MIDI harps and pan flutes, sounds that scream Zelda.

Many critics claim that Worlds is simply a melting pot of already established electro-pop sounds from the likes of Passion Pit and M83, and they’re not completely wrong. It’s undoubtedly true that Robinson took influence from these artists; however, he holds a totally different fan base. Because of his past work, Robinson is effectively bridging the gap for EDM fans to dive into a new sound-scape that they may be unfamiliar with. After Worlds, listeners may be inclined check out more alternative electronic acts. Watching Porter mature alongside his music has been an incredible adventure and Worlds is the perfect icing on the cake. I truly cannot wait for whatever he does next. – Parker Dodson

Roly Porter – Life Cycle of a Massive Star

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This is the music of creation. It swells. It pulses. It burns. It grows to unbelievable intensity and then explodes in a wale of static and tones. It is the sound of destruction beginning life anew. This is Life Cycle of a Massive Star. Artist Roly Porter, formerly of dubstep duo Vex’d, has somehow released an album that accurately represents the abstract and unknowable subject of its title. How do I know that? It scares the living shit out of me. I’ve never listened to music that is as simultaneously intense and beautiful as Life Cycle of a Massive Star. This is ambient music at its finest, truly delivering sounds that overpower the senses and fill you with life. Porter uses harsh, pulsing bass and static to suggest the chaos of creation, and he uses hints of orchestra to give the whole thing a sense of majesty. He tackles human concerns of mortality and insignificance perfectly. No words, just the inarticulate tones of fear. – Kai Perrignon

SB the Moor - Opus 3- A Man Atop the Tower

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2014 was a fantastic year for, in the words of Open Mike Eagle’s first album, unapologetic art rap. With Hellfyre Club and the work of Sub Pop signees like Shabazz Palaces and Clipping., rap artists seem increasingly unafraid to make work that is distinctly artistic in its intent. Although entering into the world with less attention than the examples I offered previously, SB the Moor’s latest release, Opus 3- A Man Atop the Tower, makes a strong case for his own placement among those collectives and groups. In some ways, SB the Moor’s most recent album could be described as chamber rap, both for its distinctly operatic nature and the breadth and scope of sounds he employs. From twirling organs and piano chords to chip-tune choirs to pop melodies, no musical strand is too obscure, out-of-reach, or unexpected for SB the Moor. His lyrics are delivered with a quick poignancy, and the way they shift from sing-song choruses to marathons-of-the-mouth reflects the ever-changing pace of the instrumentation. There might be rappers doing work similar to SB the Moor, but the tower he sits atop is wholly original and all his own.

Xerxes – Collision Blonde

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The first time I heard Xerxes was in June when they played a house show in Knoxville with a stacked lineup that also included Chicago alt-rock outfit Kittyhawk and Nashville emo-revivalists Free Throw. All three of those bands released excellent records this year, but Collision Blonde, the second album by the Louisville-based four-piece, may well have been my favorite of the three. It’s a collection of songs that are short and punchy but textural, with front-man Calvin Philley weaving narratives of turbulent romances, stark violence, and substance dependency between the ringing guitars, ultimately coming off as a sort of meeting of Joy Division and La Dispute. For whatever reason, their unique sound didn’t generate much critical buzz, nor did their spot on major punk label No Sleep or co-signs from NPR. That’s a shame, for one because Xerxes is one of the best live bands around, and for another because Collision Blonde gets better and better with every listen. It’s the kind of album that doesn’t sound like anything else happening now but still feels very at home in 2014. In that way, and in their affinity for loud noises, Xerxes seem like contemporaries of bands like Deafheaven and Perfect Pussy, albeit ones that traffic in different specifics of aggressive music than either of those bands. Collision Blonde doesn’t reach the level of the best output from those acts, but it could be a significant step in making Xerxes one of the premier bands in modern hardcore. – Jack Evans

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Best of, Music

Best of 2014: Albums- The Top 10

Part 1 available here. Part 2 available here.

10. How To Dress Well – ‘What Is This Heart?’

how to dress well

When discussing art, we often use the word “sentimental” to describe that which is so simple and overbearing in its approach to emotion that it appears saccharine, self-indulgent, or like pure shit. I often wonder how this usage of the word “sentimental” came to be, as it seems remarkably separate from how we might use the adjective to describe a person. Sentimental people, full of tenderness, longing, and love, are just as mired in emotion as sentimental art, but there’s something more romantic about the human brand. Tom Krell’s latest album under the name How To Dress Well has probably been attached more to negative uses of the word “sentimental” than any other album in recent memory, but I’d advocate we use its positive connotations in discussing ‘What Is This Heart?’. Yes, it wears several hearts’ worth of longing on its sleeve, but there’s something about the album that has embedded itself in my bones. Krell’s emotions are far from simple; they are as layered as the instrumentals he constructs, which pierce straight to the organ the album’s name celebrates. His soft falsetto quivers and shakes on top of beats that radiate and shimmer. The masterful blend of electronic programming and gentle acoustics create a private space that serves as a house for your love. Only a musician as talented as Krell could take the Cisco hold music and turn it into something so transcendent. There’s something undeniably sexy about ‘What Is This Heart?’, but it’s so intimate a record that it might almost feel like a violation of privacy to use it as the soundtrack to sex. This album, more so than any this year, encapsulates love in all its many shades. It contains odes to family and close friends, desperate pleas to save the lives of lovers, and sacred prayers delivered in the dead of night. In some moments, it aches with eroticism, but in others, its spirit soars and transcends the boundaries of the human body. As the title suggests, ‘What Is This Heart?’ might be a record that stemmed from confusion and uncertainty, but it offers a powerful (and deceptively complex) answer in love. – Nathan Smith

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Best of, Music

Best of 2014: Albums, #30-#11

Part 1 available here.

30. YG – My Krazy Life

“I woke up this morning… I had a boner.”

In many ways, YG’s debut studio album functions like a companion piece to Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Both tell the story of young men growing up in Compton over beats that alternate between serious, glass-smashing, and sexy, with skits scattered in between to tie the tracks together. But where Kendrick’s album was a movie, YG’s album is an opera. It’s over-the-top, but still grounded in reality. Each song communicates a specific emotional experience with little room to breathe in-between. In fact, I think what impresses me most about this album is the way it transitions from track-to-track; the six-song sequence that begins with “BPT” and ends with “My Hitta” is one of the most phenomenal and hard-hitting inner-album arcs I can think of. The majority of the production on My Krazy Life is handled by DJ Mustard, who did more to shape the sound of rap music in 2014 than almost any other single individual. YG supplied Mustard with the now-infamous “Muzzard-on-the-beat-ho,” a calling card that cuts deeper than Moon Knight’s, and Mustard returns the favor with G-funk beats better than Grey Poupon. Although his discography is formidable, My Krazy Life might contain Mustard’s best work yet; of particular note is “Left, Right,” which combines something close to the Law and Order chung-chung with fiddles and flute that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on The Thistle & Shamrock. Like ye olde Irish public radio programme, the combination is wild, but comfortable. With the exception of Madgibbs, there might not be a better rapper/producer duo this year. Don’t let how hard My Krazy Life goes mislead you; there’s a lot of pain, loss, and love in this record. The way it deftly dangles in-between styles and tones is indicative both of the kraziness of YG’s life and his skill as an artist. YG obviously owes a lot to older styles that came before him, as well as musicians who are coming up with him, but he’s taken control of his sound. YG might wake up with a boner just like everyone else, but on My Krazy Life, he creates a story distinctly his own. – Nathan Smith

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Best of, Music

Best of 2014: Albums, #50-31

Rankings are a little bit arbitrary, and plenty of good albums came out this year that will sadly not end up on this list, but we hope that, like all good year-end lists do, this one will encourage you to check out things you might have missed, skipped over, or generally slept on. Or maybe it will make you reconsider something you didn’t like at first listen. Regardless, we hope it will make for an interesting conversation, and would love to hear what albums you dug the most this year.

50. Nouns – still

nouns- still

Still, the second album by Arkansas outfit Nouns, is hard to listen to. That’s not because of its lo-fi production or penchant for switching between disparate genre references, from post-rock to emo to post-punk to metal. Those elements are integral to the singular experience the album offers, but they’re not nearly as challenging as the lyrical content. The album starts with the lyric “I was raped at fourteen” and ends with an adaptation of the note band mastermind Hunter Clifton Mann wrote before a suicide attempt in February; the songs in between delve into the immense darkness of mental illness with only a few stray rays of positivity as guidance, all written from the perspective of four of Mann’s alternate personalities. That makes Still all the more rewarding, though, as it’s rare to see an album so painfully soul-baring. Dark as it is, Still is also a joy to listen to, smartly written with hooks delivered in an Isaac Brock-like fervor. Even in the midst of the emo revival, it seems unlikely that Nouns will draw a huge following; look instead for Still to be a cult classic in 25 years. – Jack Evans

49. Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right

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My prediction is that someday, people will be asking you to name five Protomartyr songs so that you are allowed to wear that shirt you bought. Year after year, the post-punk map laid out by Joy Division has never failed us: droning vocals, walking-marathon basslines, and a drummer that has inhuman stamina. Protomartyr checking off everything on this list without tedious. Hailing from Detroit, the band holds a grip on the grim and gothic style that reigns in the city’s music scene, combining that with a hopeful and anarchic spirit.- Collin Dall

48. Ratking – So It Goes

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Ratking are truly unlike anything else. From the drop of their breakthrough EP in 2012, this has been the case. To understand Ratking is to understand the “Brooklyn Renaissance” and present-day New York. So It Goes is nothing if not an argument, a dismissal of the current values hip-hop seems to hold, replacing it completely with a new and vibrant form. So It Goes flows viciously and aggressively, as frontman Wiki never ceases to demonstrate his fluency with a relentless, sometimes indecipherable style of rapping. This is all delivered over instrumentals that can barely be called beats: walls of chaotic sound, layers upon layers of unidentifiable samples coupled with grooves that force you to bob your head at some points and mosh in others. Hak is to Wiki as El-P is to Killer Mike, as he always enters slowly and relies on punchlines and the sultry nature of his voice. It’s a recipe that, on paper, may seem like it doesn’t work, but Ratking are nothing if not complimentary. They have a shared vision, and though they approach it in different ways, it all comes together to make something beautiful. So It Goes is absolutely covered with different elements, much like a wall covered in graffiti. Killer features, enticing hooks, stories of an alternate mode of education, commentary on underground social life, Vonnegut references, and sound collages come together to create this portrait. And that’s truly what the album is, a portrait of New York life. But it’s likely that this portrait is closer to de Kooning than Rembrandt. It is about youth. It is about the streets. It is about rebirth. Ratking have completely rejected all prior conceptions of New York hip-hop, and yet this is the most New York album to come out in years. Ratking have a message, a call to action. Forget what you know about art and reflect on what you’ve experienced instead. That’s where the art is. “Don’t wear your honor like armour / that shit’ll wear you down / Don’t let what life taught you taunt you / embrace it now / Whether it’s drawing, recording, whatever makes you proud / Let’s not play around / amazing how you made it out.” – Elijah Fosl

47. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There

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The Hotelier give us a much-needed break from the self-indulgence of most modern emo acts by focusing on complex and effective songwriting. Home, Like Noplace Is There features stunning dual vocals from members Christian Holden and Chris Hoffman, which the rest of the band perfectly compliments. This record shows almost unbelievable growth from their previous album, It Never Goes Out. The aforementioned album was a decent pop-punk record in its own right, but it pales in comparison to what the band can now create. Lyrically, this album is not just bearable (a surprising contrast from the awful lyrical standard that emo has set itself), but incredibly well-written and moving. “Housebroken” in particular has some of the best lyrics I’ve heard in a very long time, regardless of genre. Overall, The Hotelier have put out an extremely potent and powerful record that contains immaculate songwriting and incredible vocal work. If there were any future-classic emo releases this year, Home, Like Noplace Is There would rank among them. – John O’Brien

46. Ariana Grande –  My Everything

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What a leap it was to go from being a Nickelodeon star to being featured on a song with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj. Not to mention pairing up with The Weeknd, who is practically incapable of making a song that isn’t sex. Honestly, it’s the definition of “glo’d up.” Ariana Grande hardly looks old enough for the level of success she’s reached, and I haven’t the slightest clue how her petite frame can house such enormous pipes, but with My Everything, she proves that she’s already singing laps around stars who have been recording pop songs for years. Grande’s songs are infectious, sweet but with a street sensibility, making it challenging to deem her R&B or pop. It doesn’t matter anyway, because no matter what category she’s put in, she’s won. – Lindsay Temple

45. Olive Drab – The Big Sleep

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During this period of emo revival, wherever it may stand when you read this, bands have always seemed to lose hold of what they worship. Sacrificing emotion for energy, post-2010 emo songs only tend to focus on how loudly and out-of-tune the lead singer can wail and how hard the drummer can hit his kit. The emotion encapsulated in this year’s Olive Drab record is exactly what’s expressed in the band’s name: drab, depressing, bleak and sad. It’s a sad-sounding record all together. Every song reads from it’s own diary entry without feeling preachy or whiny. After lyrics like “I can’t do anything right” or “I’ll show you where I became this fucking awful human being I am,” you’ll laugh to yourself. It’s a record served to you on a rusty platter with a guilty smile and a shrug. I feel like this guy needs to apologize to himself after each short-lived, powerless song is over. – Collin Dall

44. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

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In the winter of 1996 I achieved clairvoyance. For a brief moment, my path appeared out in front of me, colorful and brilliant like runway lights. I slid down my grandparents’ basement stairs one at a time and waddled around, peering at the mass of blue wood and metal sitting in the corner. I struggled to chew real food back then, yet somehow I scaled up onto my grandfather’s throne of drums and started curiously whacking everything I could reach. Little gears were set in motion that day. Hours were spent in that frosty, unheated basement on the banks of the Shiawassee, trying to comprehend rhythm as the circulation in my extremities slowly retreated. My grandfather, a tough-like-iron lumberjack’s son, used to play classic rock cassette tapes and watch me slowly work out the cyclical relationship between hi-hat, kick and snare. There’s nothing but beautiful, fond memories from that cinderblock bunker. My memories look like grainy home movies now, windows frosted and translucent from the sub-zero Decembers. I only have the vaguest notion of what songs I played to, but I remember the searing guitar leads, the driving bass with vocals pristine and analog. But when I think about it these days, I can only picture that innocent blonde-haired toddler listening to The War on Drugs’ Lost In The Dream. Lots of things have changed in the almost two decades since. The clairvoyance has long since gone, leaving doubt and uncertainty in its place. My hair has turned dark and curly, almost pubic in the southern humidity. Next week, I’m going back to that basement for the first time in many years. I’m going to go smile at my own ghost. I’ll show that starry-eyed kid the music of the future that so perfectly encapsulated the days he spent behind those drums. It’ll be the arbiter that bridges the gap between us. It’ll be the War on Drugs. – Nick Kivi

43. Aphex Twin – Syro

FINAL MASTER SYRO DIGIPAK.indd

Announced via blimps, graffiti, and cryptic deep web links, Aphex Twin’s Syro, the UK electronic pioneer’s first album in 13 years, marks a long-awaited comeback for Richard D. James. The album’s complex, bubbling techno proved without a doubt that James’ eclectic musical mind and knack for constructing unique and emotive electronic compositions has never been in better shape. From the warped vocal harmonies and simmering percussive sounds of single “minipops 67 [120.2]” to the quiet piano reflections of “aisatsana,” Syro subjects listeners to less of the characteristic harsh sonic territory of Aphex Twin past, showcasing a more varied and accessible sound, all without losing any of James’ trademark distorted quirks. – Will Coe

42. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste

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“My attitude is bitchy, but you already knew that,” is both the best line in “Chasing Time” and the thesis of Azealia Bank’s album Broke With Expensive Taste. In the three years since the release of her infectious single “212,” Azealia Banks has become far more famous for her online antics than for her body of musical work. However, Banks refuses to be ashamed of her infamous reputation; rather, she embraces it. BWET builds on Banks’ wild persona to create elaborate tracks, the backstories of which Banks elaborated on via Twitter. The standout track is “Ice Princess,” which Banks describes as “the story of how I met your man in the summer, stole him by September, and moved into the mansion in December.” BWET shines due to Banks’ creativity, as she explores several different genres all through the lens of 90s-inspired house. Whether she’s singing in Spanish about controlling her own fate on (“Gimme a Chance”) or detailing her plan to fuck your girlfriend on (“212″ and “BBD”), Azealia Banks has shifted from bitchy to bad bitch.Erica Gibson

41. Black Milk – If There’s A Hell Below

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Black Milk, the stage name of Detroit hip-hop producer and MC Curtis Cross, apparently likes to keep himself busy; in the span of just over a year, he has released two full-length albums and an EP. This year’s If There’s A Hell Below occupied the same rank on my personal year-end list as his release last year, No Poison, No Paradise, did, but each of Cross’ releases seem to get better. In the past, it was clear he was a better producer than rapper, but If There’s A Hell Below shows that he finally might have found the perfect balance. If the beat is simple, his rapping is complicated; if the beat is complicated, he keeps the rapping to a minimum. Common themes across all of Cross’ albums include general life in Detroit and the struggle of growing up in a low-income family. The title of the album, which comes from Curtis Mayfield’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go,” provides a thesis for it. Cross, like Mayfield, wants to show how we treat each other prompts the moral degradation of society.Ethan Copeland

40. Wye Oak- Shriek

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I can see into the future. I’m 29, ten years older than I am now. I live in Chicago. I decided not to move to New York City, as that’s too cliche. My apartment has exposed brick walls and enormous windows, and the light bill is usually low since my roommates and I never turn our lamps from Ikea until after the sun sets. Plus, we live such fun, exciting lives that we’re rarely home to begin with. In fact, just last night I was at a Wye Oak show. One of my roommates’ best friends had tickets, but she had to fly out to London with Kelela on short notice. She’s her personal assistant. Cool, right? I listened to Wye Oak when I was younger, but I’d almost completely forgotten about their existence, especially their 2014 release Shriek. Damn, that was ten years ago. It was as fun as I remembered, maybe even more so. Jenn Wasner’s voice somehow sounded even warmer live. Afterwards, I scooted my way backstage so I could arrange an interview with Andy Stack (he’s soon releasing his second album from his shoegaze solo project) for my music publication. I couldn’t talk for long though, since a friend a couple blocks down needed my help photographing models for her lookbook. I grabbed a few snacks from the convenience store and speed-walked to the studio, bag of candy in one hand, busted-up iPhone in the other. I arrived late, and my friend was a wreck. I put my things down, shoveled a couple handfuls of M&M’s into my mouth, plugged my phone into the stereo in the hopes that Wye Oak’s “Glory” would put my stressed friend at ease, and got to work. Within what seemed like seconds, her spirits lifted, the models were cooperating, and the photos seemed to take themselves. We floated around the room, humming, reflecting, and smiling. By the end of the night, my friend was glowing, and we walked home hand-in-hand discussing the small party I was having for my 30th birthday in a few weeks. “Hey, do you think I can put a little playlist together for that?” she said sleepily. “I was thinking I would put Shriek on it. What a perfect record.” – Lindsay Temple

39. Marissa Nadler – July

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In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, there’s a stretch of road on M-28 called the Seney Stretch. There are no turns, no hills, and no towns. It’s a 25 mile vector through the Great Manistique Swamp. It’s barren and beautiful, the equivalent to automotive meditation. Marissa Nadler’s July plays out as such; it moves slowly with no desired destination. But don’t mistake July for a stagnant album. It most definitely moves, twisting and turning like a shadow. For a haunting 46 minutes, Nadler’s voice settles like a fog on listeners’ minds. In “1923,” Nadler sings “I call to you from another century / To see you, the world had been kind and sweet.” With that timeless voice, I’m not sure if she’s in 2014 or 1814. July at heart is a road album, just not one for highways. There is too much purpose in highways. This album beckons those strange, surreal state roads you can lose yourself in. – Nick Kivi

38. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden

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If their name or the title of their debut album, Sorrow & Extinction, didn’t make it clear enough, Pallbearer is a band preoccupied with death. If their early output didn’t solidify their musical prowess, then Foundations of Burden, their latest release, does. It’s an album that sounds like death, where the figures trudge cloaked in darkness and heavy-footed, where the guitar riffs alternate between dropping like monolithic stone slabs and soaring like they’re transcending the earthly realm. It’s no dreary affair, though, nor is it a total dirge. Unlike a lot of bands that deal with such morbid subject matter, Pallbearer view it from all sides; there’s some of the classically funereal approach, but there’s also a respect for the void, and even, at times, a slight smile toward it, as any mention of the physical world is usually one of crumbling structures and bounties of blood. Also unlike a lot of other bands, the musical reflection isn’t one of immense sorrow or unrelenting aggression – even when it crushes, Foundations of Burden is often elegant and even catchy. It’s a stare into the abyss that produces a beautiful sound. – Jack Evans

37. Baths – Ocean Death EP

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Will Wiesenfeld’s plunge into darkness continues with his newest EP, coming off the heels of the similarly bleak Obsidian. The title track is the aural equivalent of finding an ancient relic in the deep sea, with heavily-affected vocals that give the song an eerie, unsettling feel making up most of its instrumentation. Following this macabre introduction, Baths steps back into territory similar to that of Obsidian, which is to say that the next four tracks are some of the most emotional and well-produced electronic songs made all year. Wiesenfeld is an open book, airing out his sorrowful grievances for all to hear. Baths has publicly said that his next record will be much happier, making Ocean Death just as much of an artistic statement as an EP. “Like an oak may come and go, in an eon the world will yawn. Yawn and move on.” – John O’Brien

36. Ariel Pink – pom pom

ariel pink

In his review of pom pom, Jeff Weiss said it best: “If you hate Ariel Pink, nothing in this review can possibly alter your opinion.” I still cannot for the life of me figure out how to feel about Pink. I’ve flip-flopped more on the issue than a Romney campaign (fewer political jokes, duly noted). 2014 has been an important year for the “art vs. artist” debate and undoubtedly, Ariel Pink has given firepower for both sides. What’s much harder to argue is that pom pom isn’t the clearest distillation of Pink’s oddball 70’s fringe-pop, a style he’s honed over the past 20 years. Songs like “Black Ballerina” and “White Freckles” are earworms to the point of surgical removal. Who else could make a demented midsong strip club sketch and a hook of “elevators, manufacturers” into one of the catchiest songs of 2014? Ariel Pink dug himself into an almost inescapable hole leading up to pom pom. Lucky for him, it’s good enough to keep people listening. – Nick Kivi

35. Ryan Hemsworth – Alone For The First Time

ryan hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth is probably one of the new defining faces of electronic music. Building on an immense catalog of remixes, from the likes of Mr. MFN eXquire, Beyonce, Lorde, and everyone in-between, Alone For The First Time is only Hemsworth’s second studio album. The album lacks much lyrical content, but Hemsworth is concise with words. The guest vocalists talk about the process and aftermath of breaking off relationships, hence the title of the album. Hemsworth really finds more importance in the music, as he himself does not sing. The album spans a brief half-hour, but Hemsworth manages to pacs in many different sounds to show his complete control over the music-making process.Ethan Copeland

34. SisyphusSisyphus

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If Kanye West’s 2013 album Yeezus was a chorus of computers crashing, than Sisyphus is the sound of a MacBook starting up. In many ways, the two albums are reflections of each other, both diving deep into the many ways that technology and substances affect our personal relationships. The Sisyphus album, unlike Yeezus, tackles the subject in a considerably lighter manner. The latest collaboration between Sufjan Stevens, producer Son Lux, and rapper Serengeti, who previously worked together under the name s / s / s, Sisyphus takes place in an altered and ever-changing world of internet porn, booty calls, and alcohol. But it doesn’t mourn the digital turn our physical world has taken; it recognizes that there are both negative and positives to the changes our society is currently undergoing. The group blends perfectly together, as Sufjan’s sensitive vocals and Serengeti’s rapping, informed by a sense of longing, passion, and regret, provide a powerful foil to Son Lux’s production, an inhuman soundtrack constructed out of ticks, pops, and computer error messages. It’s the bridging of the digital and the physical, just with a distinctly human heart. – Nathan Smith

33. Iceage – Plowing Into the Field of Love

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The teeth of Nick Cave and Wire have sunk themselves into Danish punk band Iceage on their latest release, Plowing Into the Field of Love. Every track here makes you want to stomp around in a field of dust, with country punk riffs running rampant. Iceage hasn’t lost their dissonant style, and frontman Elias Rønnenfelt still slurs and spits his way through the record, but the band’s new style is a welcome surprise. Shades of old Iceage come through on “Cimmerean Shade” and “Forever,” but the addition of horns and additional percussion give these songs new life. The closing two songs have shades of post-punk legends Wire, an obvious influence for the band. Iceage is still a young band, but they appear to mature with each release. – Alex DePompei

32. Kishi Bashi – Lighght

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Sometimes I think the only reason Kishi Bashi hasn’t exploded on a universal scale is because he’s too goddamn nice. There is no reason hidden in string theory or quantum physics that can properly explain this anomaly. Kishi Bashi might just be the anti-Ariel Pink. Lighght is pure pop perfection, a cascade of musical fireworks that went far too under the music press’ radar this year. “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” and “Once Upon a Lucid Dream (In Afrikaans)” have enough embedded hooks and melodies for a grad school class. In a great year for pop music, the most disappointing thing about Kishi Bashi was that we didn’t hear his name more often. When people look back on 2014, hopefully hindsight will correct this error and Lighght will get what it deserved. – Nick Kivi

31. Busdriver – Perfect Hair

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The world’s most slept-on rapper delivers the year’s most slept-on rap album. Largely self-produced, Busdriver’s 8th solo album is one of his biggest yet, which is quite the feat for any established musician. Perfect Hair proves that Driver has more up his sleeve than the tongue-tied lighting-fast rapping of “Imaginary Places,” his claim to fame. It’s been 12 years since the release of that track, and Busdriver has spent that time refining his ability as an artist. Unlike many rappers who came out during the era he did, Busdriver did not pigeonhole himself into a dead-end niche, but instead kept himself open and active in the rap community, gladly collaborating with more recent rappers like Open Mike Eagle and the even newer Milo. This type of activity, paired with Driver’s general open-mindedness, leads to output that is consistently of high quality, and Perfect Hair is absolutely top-tier. This record has some of the weirdest and wonkiest production on any rap album from this year, and Busdriver ducks and weaves through the abstract beats like he was born to do it. With Perfect Hair, Driver again proves himself to be one of the most adept rappers out right now. – John O’Brien

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Film, Reviews

Review: Whiplash

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By Nathan Smith

Although it presents itself as the story of Andrew Nieman, a young college student driven to the edge both musically and psychologically by an intense instructor, Whiplash isn’t really about college, education, or music at all. It’s about torture, and as such, it seems particularly relevant in light of the CIA’s recent reports on their experiments in the subject. I mention the CIA reports not just because of their timeliness but also because if anything, they prove that torture doesn’t extract answers, just like Whiplash unintentionally proves that punishment doesn’t make better artists.

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Editorials, Film

Batman, Birdman, and the Dangers of “High Culture”

By Nathan Smith

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There are many filmmakers that I can’t say I’m a fan of, but there’s perhaps no current director that I have as contentious a relationship with as Christopher Nolan. Many adore his work, and part of me understands why. He often tackles fascinating and engaging concepts, the likes of which are rarely seen in the budget range he’s in. But unfortunately, I’ve never been able to enjoy one of his films. In a never-fully realized series on this site, I attempted to argue that Nolan is a filmmaker of “ideas,” one more interested in narrative clockwork than characters or the actual images on the screen. In addition to his boring visuals, he seems to have no real understanding of basic cinematic geography, meaning that where he places the camera often creates an inappropriate sense of disorientation in the viewer. To me, his movies come off as cold, self-serious, and overlong, too full of unnecessary plot intricacies and explanation. His disinterest in human emotions, coupled with his screenwriting brother Jonathan’s over-interest in both sentiment and lack of subtlety, makes for an odd and unsettling combination, to the detriment of a film like this year’s Interstellar. It seems that his most-beloved films are his takes on the Batman franchise, but I just don’t get it. Batman is a phenomenal character, with years of material to draw from, but I’ve always found Burton and Schumacher’s zany versions more to my taste.

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Best of, Music

Best of 2014: Seventeen Slept-On Singles

By Nathan Smith

My original intention with this list was to simply name the best songs of the year, but that grew quickly out of hand, and besides, a lot of the tracks on it were ones you’d probably heard before or seen on someone else’s list. So I decided to comb through the list and pick some of the most slept-on, underrated, and overlooked, in an attempt to get you to do otherwise. We often forget that “Best of” season is, in essence, a way to point out music that the reader might have missed or looked over, so that became my intention more than anything else. No rankings, just songs. Seventeen might seem like an odd number, but every listicle needs a little variation from the last, and I think “Seventeen Slept-On Singles” sounds kind-of nice. When I die, they’ll remember that no matter what the cost, I did it for the alliteration.

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Film

In Defense Of Sony: We Can’t See The Interview Yet, And Why That’s Alright

By Nathan Smith

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Yesterday, Sony Pictures Entertainment announced the cancellation of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s upcoming film The Interview, set to be released on December 25, 2014. The news comes after earlier announcements that the top five theaters chains in North America were pulling the film and that Sony had cancelled the film’s official premiere. This debacle follows weeks of leaks, supposedly from North Korean hackers angered by the film’s plot, which deals with an attempt by two characters (played by Rogen and James Franco) to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. These hacks began with the upload of Sony screeners to the Pirate Bay (which effectively brought down the internet’s most-famed torrent site), but quickly escalated to the release of information like salary figures and emails between executives and other high-profile employees, which insult everyone from Adam Driver to Angelina Jolie to Adam Sandler; dreadful (and possibly-faked) company powerpoints; and even the screenplay to the latest James Bond film. I can’t help but imagine that almost every Sony production has halted in the past few weeks, with the entire company forced onto damage control as its reputation continues to diminish.

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Best of, Music

Best of 2014: Music Videos

By Nathan Smith

Well, it’s that time of year. The calendar is drawing to a close, so the critical forces that be dictate that we must list out the best for all to see. Let’s get things started with an easy one: music videos. This is a new list for us, so we’ll keep it simple. No rankings, no explanations as to why they’re the best, just the videos speaking for themselves. Three from Busdriver, two from Nicki Minaj, and one for that song your favorite football team played too much. If it matters, hopefully it’s here.

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Music

Smash Cut Presents: The Pitchdork 100, Part 3

We finally did it. Part 1 available here. Part 2 here.

20. Bon Iver- Bon Iver, Bon Iver

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19. Death Grips – Exmilitary

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What better a way to start off the sonic legacy of a band whose career was as tumultuous as Death Grips than with a quote from the infamous serial killer Charles Manson? While setting the mood for the band’s eventual stardom and cult following, it also displays a brash sort of message, where the band proclaims that they are the new kings of underground, experimental rap.  With the unique use of sampling from producer Flatlander mixed with the dark, visceral attack and flow of MC Ride, this tape set the stage for one of the brightest flashes in the pan we’ve yet to see. – Bob West

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