WTJU Rock DJs’ Top Tens of 2014
Dear Listener, please find below the links to individual rock DJs’ fave raves of 2014 – the albums, EPs, singles, mixtapes, reissues, live sets, and “moments” that got us off. Thanks for listening, and even more, thanks for keeping us on our toes.
Dominic, a/k/a Baconfat, “Radio Freedonia,” Friday 2pm
Elisa Ambrogio – The Immoralist (Drag City)
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags (Matador)
Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather (Paradise of Bachelors)
Parquet Courts – Content Nausea (What’s Your Rupture?)
OOIOO – Gamel (Thrill Jockey)
Koen Holtkamp – Motion (Thrill Jockey)
Bitchin Bajas – Bitchin Bajas (Drag City)
Chris Forsyth – Intensity Ghost (No Quarter)
Nagisa Ni Te – A Long Swim (Org)
Tape – Casino (Hapna)
Jack Sheridan, “Nighthawks at the Diner,” Tuesday 1am
10. THEE OH SEES: DROP
For whatever reason, it seems like this album went almost ignored by most of the people I know who usually love Thee Oh Sees. Perhaps it’s because it’s a significant change of tone from 2013’s spectacular Floating Coffin, or maybe because it came in the midst of vast lineup changes for the band, which resulted in this being somewhat of a John Dwyer solo album. Drop opens with perhaps the band’s musically heaviest song to date, and closes with what might be the most emotionally heavy track they’ve ever recorded. Throughout the record, Dwyer and company explore an electric landscape still riddled with the fuzz guitars they’re known for. This album may not be the best record by Thee Oh Sees, but it would certainly be a shame to overlook it.
Key Tracks: “Penetrating Eye”, “Drop”
9. RUN THE JEWELS: RUN THE JEWELS 2
In all honesty, I put this album on my list partially out of fear of what nearly every other music fan might do to me if I didn’t. Run The Jewels has recently become a huge cultural talking point after Killer Mike gave an impassioned speech to a St. Louis crowd following the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson; such political agency via music seems to be rare these days. Besides that, anything that even marginally involves Zack de la Rocha gets my stamp of approval.
“Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” feat. Zack de la Rocha
8. MEATBODIES: S/T
Chad Ubovich, the group’s frontman, had long held a presence in the California garage rock scene before the release of the Meatbodies’ debut album, whether it be playing bass in Fuzz or lead guitar in Mikal Cronin’s touring band. Their debut is clearly a product of their environment, channeling vibes from Sic Alps, Thee Oh Sees, and the Traditional Fools, and transforming them into a sleek yet grimy garage rock banger of a debut album. As if you needed another reason to check it out, the album includes a track entitled “Wahoo”, which is without a doubt an ode to dear old UVA.
Key Tracks: “Wahoo” (duhh), “Disorder”
7. JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD: DIG THE CLASSICS
Following multiple delays of their forthcoming album (now due out in early 2015), these Nashville garage rock stalwarts weren’t content to stay silent for the year. The solution: choose 6 songs that were influential in the creation of their band, and revamp them into typical JEFF style, with crunchy guitar fuzz and tight drums reminiscent of early Weezer. Among the bands covered by brothers Jake and Jamin are Teenage Fanclub, Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, and Beck. While Dig the Classics is partially a precursor to their imminent next full length, the execution is near flawless. The Bogus Bros manage to put a new spin on old favorites, without sounding derivative for even one second. The result is a giddy yet nostalgic trip through the memories of the ’90s at a breakneck pace.
Key Track: “Mad Dog 20/20” (originally by Teenage Fanclub)
6. PARQUET COURTS: SUNBATHING ANIMAL
Sunbathing Animal fits very nicely into the apparent path that Parquet Courts have been on musically. Whereas on 2013’s Light Up Gold the band rarely takes their foot off the gas pedal, Sunbathing Animal shows the band alternately slamming on the brakes and punching the accelerator. Speaking technically, the tone of the music is largely similar: the crunchy yet clean guitars, biting and measured drums, and Savage’s signature half speaking, half singing vocals. However, Sunbathing Animal indicates notable growth in terms of the band’s songwriting prowess, both musically and lyrically. The highlight of the begins with the title track, a four minute freak-out of epic proportions, followed by “Up All Night”, a lush, spacious instrumental that quickly bleeds into “Instant Disassembly”, a rambling ballad that will simultaneously make you smile and ache, without realizing why you’re doing either. Parquet Courts are a complicated band to evaluate: on one hand, they’re one of the saviors of guitar rock, but on the other, their lyrics are so specific and numerous that it seems nearly futile to even try to comprehend exactly what they’re getting at. Regardless, Sunbathing Animal is more than enough proof that Parquet Courts are one of the most exciting bands currently making music, and they demand to be heard.
Key Tracks: “Instant Disassembly”, “Bodies”
5. TY SEGALL: $INGLE$ 2
When I heard that Ty Segall would be releasing a collection of previously unreleased singles, I was obviously stoked to hear them, but not very hopeful that this album would be one of my favorites of the year. After all, how could a collection of songs he had previously deemed unworthy to be on albums be that good? The answer: Segall is good enough that even the songs he thinks aren’t his best are still miles ahead of what many other bands aspire to. $INGLE$ 2 spans the era from 2011’s Goodbye Bread through 2013’s Twins and Sleeper, though a few songs are clearly from scuzzed out Melted era. The track listing is presented in chronological order, which gives valuable insight on the transitions and trajectory that led to the creation of Manipulator, and raises interesting questions about where he will go next.
Key Tracks: “Mother Lemonade”, “Falling Hair”
4. REAL ESTATE: ATLAS
You will be hard pressed to find an album from 2014 that is an easier listen than Atlas. Real Estate has long been known for their ambient beach pop, but their latest work is notably of cleaner recording quality than their previous efforts, further streamlining their sound. However, beneath the surface, Atlas touches on some fairly serious topics. “The Bend” and “Talking Backwards” both hint at miscommunication. “Crime” is a plea for love, while “How Might I Live” does the opposite, asking, “how might I live to say you’re not the one I love?”. Listening to Atlas, and more generally Real Estate, for solely its aesthetic value is wholly satisfying, but ultimately robs the listener of the deep lyrical content contained in the music. Beneath the calm, rolling waves that make up Real Estate’s sound lie intense and pressing undercurrents filled with emotion.
Key Tracks: “The Bend”, “Crime”
3. MAC DEMARCO: SALAD DAYS
For as goofy a person as Mac Demarco is, Salad Days is a fairly heartfelt and emotional album in terms of lyrics. One need only read the song titles on the album to discover the array of topics covered: nostalgia, sadness, relationship troubles, and introspection. However, on Salad Days, Demarco still can’t manage to keep from cracking a smile every once in awhile, something that has become his signature trait. Legend has it that his record label wanted him to write a marketable pop song, so he gave them “Let Her Go”. But after the last chorus of the song, he mutters “or you can keep her, it’s up to you!”, essentially negating the meaning of the song, no doubt with a knowing smirk. Demarco seems to be a musician who is willing to deal with heavy topics, but will never let the weight of these issues kill his goofy spirit. Salad Days is an album perfect for anyone struggling with growing up, made by someone who so valiantly and effectively clings to youth himself.
Key Tracks: “Let Her Go”, “Treat Her Better”
2. TY SEGALL: MANIPULATOR
As far as albums by Ty Segall goes, this one is far and away the hardest to digest. I immediately knew I loved this album, but listening to it requires effort. Part of this is probably due to the fact that it’s nearly twice as long as his typical album, and that it spans such a wide variety of sounds. It’s honestly hard to tell if this album would sound better performed by David Bowie or Black Sabbath; Segall somehow manages to walk this line without sacrificing any coherence. The record is a double LP, and each of the 4 sides has a very distinct flavor to it, beginning with the fuzziest pop you will ever hear, and then transitioning into the very dark, heavy place that Segall loves to take his listeners to. Each previous album by this still very young musician has exposed a facet of his musical abilities, yet Manipulator seems to be both a conglomerate of his previous works and a potential springboard for future albums with infinite sonic possibilities.
Key Tracks: “The Faker”, “The Feels”
1. PARKAY QUARTS: CONTENT NAUSEA
If in January, you had told me Ty Segall would release two albums in 2014 and neither would be my favorite of the year, I would have called you a filthy liar. Yet, here we are. Parquet Courts pretty routinely get this comparison, so let’s get it out of the way: this is the best Pavement album since 1999. In fact, my first listen to Content Nausea was the most floored I’ve instantly been about an album since the first time I heard Slanted and Enchanted when I was 17. This album feels like S+E updated for the modern era, while still adding new elements that differentiate the two. As hinted in the title, frontman Andrew Savage sings about distaste with consumer culture, anxiety of the future, and everything in between, while maintaining the witty tongue-in-cheek nature the band is known for. However, Savage is dead serious as he brings the house down on the album’s closer, “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”. The constant struggle between lightheartedness and anxiety on this album reminds us that modern age distractions can only do so much to hide the existential questions we often try to avoid.
Key Tracks: “Pretty Machines”, “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”
Dave Moore, “Ye Olde Tuesday Afternoon Rocke Show,” Tuesday 2pm
What a year for music…seems like the year that all the serious vets came out of the woodwork with great new albums that prove why they are still in the biz after all this time. Apologies to some of the up-and-comers also doing great work, but man-this was a packed year, musically. Let’s get into it, let’s go!
1. Damien Jurado- Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
Even though this list is technically in no particular order, this may actually be my favorite record of the year. Damien Jurado has been making excellent music for a long time now, and I’ve always had friends trying to turn me on to his work. For whatever reason, this was the year I (thankfully) started listening to them, and consequently, Damien. And damn,son, this record is just GOOD. It’s actually great. Musically, lyrically, production-wise: everything is exactly what you want, and then it still takes you to surprising places. This album is the reason that people make music and (yes, still) whole albums. This is art and life. The overarching religious themes on this record come across as more of basic pan-humanist metaphysical musings than any specific dogma, so don’t be scurred. Give it a listen. “Silver Timothy” is probably my top song of the year, though I am hard-pressed to express exactly why. A certain “I don’t know what”, i suppose. Damien will be in town early in February…let’s all try to be there together.
2. the New Pornographers- Brill Bruisers
How do you even go about writing a new pop song / album and make it sound great and fresh and totally exciting and listenable even though everything in history already exists and you have already written a ton of killer songs (14 years’ worth) already, already? I don’t have any good answers, but you might want to start by asking the New Pornographers, because they don’t seem to have any trouble with it. Of course, it helps that they are just silly with talent; a super-group of sorts in the truest sense. These guys are like the Justice League of Canadian indie rock. Even though the album credits list all songs as written by ‘the New Pornographers’, it’s hard not to hear them divided sonically based on the triple-threat songwriting of A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar (of Destroyer fame) and Neko Case (of Neko Case fame), almost at a 33 1/3 rate of deployment. Yet and still, the album is remarkably cohesive. The Neko-driven “Champions of Red Wine” is a stand-out for repetitious subtlety throughout that builds to a legitimate pay-off. And even if I weren’t a huge Scott Miller fan (from Game Theory and Loud Family, r.i.p.), and I am, I would still love the album-ender, “You Tell Me Where”. The fact that it does, in fact, pay homage to Scott and his career while still sounding totally just like the New Pornographers themselves is, well, the icing and cherry on top of a tight cake of triumphant power-pop.
3. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks- Wigout at Jagbags
O, look out! It’s our favorite WTJU / UVA alumni back with more of his esoteric, wry, bittersweet-yet-shredding, guitar-driven indie pop. While other Jicks albums have had some real high moments for me (so to speak), this is maybe my favorite total album since Stevsie split Pavement. Just stocked with great tunes, humor, nostalgia, hooks-galore (don’t neglect to catch the musical tip of the hat to BIlly Joel on “Chartjunk”)…even a tune called “Lariat” that seems to memorialize his time right here in the ‘ville of C (“we lived on Tennyson and venison and the Grateful Dead”). Which reminds me to say that Steve Malkmus really has a knack for distilling a specific sense of place down to an insightful one-liner…see the track ‘Houston Hades’, where he sums up perfectly the striking Houston downtown skyline versus the payoff of the actual Houston downtown with the line “this town is so impressive from a distance…”. If you haven’t ever been to Houston, I can assure you this is accurate. Go and see sometime. And go ahead, Wigout at Jagbags. This record is also in the running for best album title of the year.
4. Ex Hex- Rips
Who can help but be stoked when a friend suddenly steps quite naturally into rock stardom and blows the eff right up? Longtime WTJU pal Betsy Wright from the really great and sadly defunct C-Ville band the Fire Tapes split for D.C. last year and stepped right into the mighty power trio Ex-Hex, fronted by Helium’s Mary Timony. As you may know, they got signed to Merge records down in North Carolina, and recorded this album with one of my favorite all-time musicians and producers, the most esteemed Mitch Easter (founder of Let’s Active, producer of countless heavy-hitting classics, including early early R.E.M.,plus Pavement, Wilco, etc.). Pretty much it’s against the law to name your album ‘Rips’ if it doesn’t, in fact, rip. Thankfully for everyone, it does. Ex- Hex is headed out on tour with another powerhouse from this year, King Tuff, so look for them on the road, and then in Europe. Go, Bets, Go!
5. Ty Segall- Manipulator
Speaking of powerhouses, just look at Ty go! This dude may be the hardest working man in the rock biz right now, and sometimes that makes you want to tell them to stop, slow down, take a break, give it a rest, etc. But Mr. Segall continues to deliver the infectious goods, rock right on out, and still keep the I.Q. level of garage psych rock in the prodigy zone, all while having his tongue in his cheek just enough to let you know he’s quite aware of what he’s up to. I think the nearly album-ending ‘Who’s Producing You?’ might be my favorite tune, and also one that totally embodies all of this.
6. Temples- Sun Structures
This is just a real good record, no bones about it. I don’t know much about them except I think they are from England, there are boys and girls and some pretty great T Rex hair, and this is a sweet slab of varied psych-pop. The barn-burning title track ‘Sun Structures’ was the first thing I heard, and instantly knew I wanted to hear more, but the whole record wants to be listened to…at this point, I think my favorite tune is late in the album, called ‘the Guesser’, but I guess I will probably change my mind on that, or just listen to the whole thing again. A nice call by Fat Possum records, btw.
7. Spoon- They Want My Soul
Like the Steve Malkmus thing I was just talking about, Spoon’s Britt Daniel has a keen, smart sense of nostalgia and place and time, and manages to translate these things musically. To my ear, his outstanding album They Want My Soul is a love song to time spent in New York City, and the beginning through eventual exorcism of a love affair lost there. It all starts out practically enough, with the cost-of-living-blues stomper ‘Rent I Pay’, but by the time you reach the gorgeous album-ender ‘New York Kiss’, you have been on quite a ride.
I am kind of confounded by the complexity v. simplicity of the lyric “I knew your New York kiss…now it’s just another place to place your memory on”.
Writing a romantic song / album about New York City that involves the loss of New York City as a romantic construct also seems to me some form of wizardry.
8. Doug Gillard- Parade On
A friend and I always joke that if you hear a song that you really like on 70’s soft-pop fm radio and don’t know who it is, it is probably Todd Rundgren. It is possible the same could be said currently (in the best possible way) for Doug Gillard, except you probably won’t ever hear him on the radio, unless you are tuned into the ‘teej, which, thankfully, if you are reading this, you likely are.
A sometimes-Guided By Voices collaborator, Doug’s solo record from this year is a pretty straightforward yet somehow inexplicably inventive array of power-pop. The lead-off track, ‘Ready For Death’ is by turns the sunniest, hook-iest, pop-iest thing you might hear, also featuring some of the darkest lyrics and sentiment you can imagine. And yet, you can’t help it- you are tapping your toes and whistling along to all the joyous desolation. Other standouts include the middle-album anchor ‘Overseas’, a driving krautrock-y number, and the album-ending title track ‘Parade On’, where you wind up not feeling as worried about Doug as you were when the record started.
9. Beck- Morning Phase
Really, we shouldn’t forget that Beck put this gorgeous album out this year… a sort of reprise of the great Sea Change record of 2002, possibly one of the greatest break-up albums of all time, this is another grouping of songs that seem to have accumulated based on a shared melancholy tone. But the intervening years have mellow(gold?)-ed Beck, and he advises us on ‘Don’t Let It Go’: “These are some faults we’ve found / hollowed out from the years / Don’t let them wear you down / don’t let them turn your mind inside out”…he almost seems to be saying “hey, take these heavy songs with a grain of salt, I’m just making music over here”. I will credit my WTJU colleague Matthew Simon for the extremely astute musical assessment that the song ‘Wave’ has “the sonic energy of a superball in slow motion”…listen to it, he is absolutely right. Also, the album-ender ‘Waking Light’ is just great. Capping off the record on an extremely hopeful note while not breaking with the tone, Beck is really flexing his well-seasoned muscles and letting us all know how things are done properly.
10. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard- I’m in Your Mind Fuzz
If Steve Malkmus was in the running for best record title of the year, he got blown out of the water this fall, when these fools came out of nowhere and stole the show, while also flaunting maybe the best and most ridiculous band name ever. Hailing from Down Under (props to dj Wicked Sharkie for pointing me in their direction), these guys are kind of like a goofier response to all the good things that Tame Impala does so well…and just crazy rocking. Dig out your 3-d glasses and check out the totally hilarious video for the tune ‘Celophane’. They’re in your mind fuzz!
Here are a few other things that either came out too late to deal with, or that I haven’t spent enough time with to really write about intelligently, but that are still really worth checking out. 10 is just a random number, after all…there were so many more than just 10 great albums in 2014. For your consideration:
D’Angelo- Black Messiah
Let’s not mince words: this is probably the best and most important record of 2014…it does what few other recordings ever manage, which is to merge genres and cultures into something that is vitally important to everyone who hears it. We are talking about the heavy-hitters like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’, or Funkadelic, or Prince or Public Enemy or Outkast. I think this album was rushed to release for pretty serious and altruistic reasons (see the liner notes), but I still want to put this record with next year. First, because I believe it was meant to be released in the spring, and it feels like a spring/summer jam to me, but also because I sincerely hope the vibe and the message of this album last us all throughout 2015.
T.V. On the Radio- Seeds
I just haven’t spent enough time with this, and it just came out, too, but I love these guys, and the tune ‘Lazerray’ is a serious rocker of the ‘Wolf Like Me’ order…
J. Mascis- Tied to a Star
Real, real solid stuff from J., giving you both the shredding you have come to love and expect, and also some interesting twists on what he can do with songwriting and guitars. Total veteran pro here.
King Tuff- Black Moon Spell
More fun, rocking garage-pop-psych…out on tour with our pals Ex-Hex in the opening slot…check it out!
Outrageous Cherry- the Digital Age
Must always shout out the esteemed Don Harrison of WTJU’s Radio Wowsville show for turning me onto these guys when I first got involved with the station. Another fun rocker from these Detroit-based veterans…out on Burger records, which seems like the perfect fit.
Jeff Tweedy, along with his young-adult son on the drums, put out this pretty awesome album this year. There are some real high points for me, but again, I just didn’t get to spend quite enough time with it. Thankfully, it is not going anywhere…only 2014 is. A very generous offering, with something like 18 or 19 tracks on it.
Hiss Golden Messenger- Lateness of Dancers
This is M.C Taylor’s project after his band the Court and Spark split (they are an all-time fave of mine…please check them out if you haven’t before) …he has relocated to North Carolina and signed with Merge records, and it all seems to be suiting him well. ‘Saturday’s Song’ is pretty incredible, and it is really worth checking out the Youtubes for their performance of ‘Southern Grammar’ a month or so ago on the Letterman show, where they pretty much blew things out of the water, and the band featured Reggie Pace from the No B.S. Brass Band in the horn section and the ladies from Mountain Man as the back up singers. Dave Letterman got more than a little fired up.
Ok- as always, I must shout out this place I love and WTJU and all the great folks involved, behind the scenes and listening, or both. I feel so lucky to be part of things here, and thankful to everyone who tunes in and supports free-form, dj- curated music. Can’t wait to bring more great tunes your way in 2015.
YE OLDE TUESDAY AFTERNOON ROCKE SHOW
Vic, “Toxic Shocks,” Wednesday 11pm
1. New Dreams Ltd. – Initiation Tape: Isle of Avalon Edition (self-released)
2. ASC – Truth Be Told (Silent Season)
3. Actress – Ghettoville (Ninja Tune)
4. Lee Gamble – KOCH (PAN)
5. M. Geddes Gengras – Ishi (Stones Throw)
6. Bing & Ruth – Tomorrow Was The Golden Age (RVNG Intl.)
7. Afrikan Sciences – Circuitous (PAN)
8. Carla Bozulich – Boy (Constellation)
9. Claude Speeed – My Skeleton (LuckyMe)
10. Francis Harris – Minutes of Sleep (Scissor & Thread)
Sam Moore – “Cadmium,” Sunday 1am
10) YG – My Krazy Life
9) Future – Honest
8) Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
7) Chief Keef – Back From the Dead 2
6) Lil Herb – Welcome to Fazoland
5) Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
4) Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
3) Tinashe – Aquarius
2) D’Angelo – Black Messiah
1) Rich Gang – Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt. 1
Andy Dunlap, “The Hip Replacement,” Tuesday 11pm
(10) Dan’l Boone: Dan’l Boone
(9) Kemialliset Ystävät: Alas Rattoisaa Virtaa
(8) Weyes Blood: The Innocent
(7) Ninos Du Brasil: Novos Mistérios
(6) Pharmakom: Bestial Burden
(5) Vashti Bunyan: Heartleap
(4) Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty
(3) Amen Dunes: Love
(2) C L E A N E R S:Real Raga Shit Vol. 1
(1) Ben Frost: A U R O R A
Jeremy – “Cadmium,” Sunday 1am
10 Metal Releases of 2014 I couldn’t stop listening to (in no particular order)
Allegaeon – Elements of the Infinite – Metal Blade Records
At The Gates – At War With Reality – Century Media
Behemoth – The Satanist – Metal Blade
Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry – Debemur Morti Productions
Falls Of Rauros – Believe In No Coming Shore – Bindrune Recordings
The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-li – Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions
Myrkur – Myrkur – Relaspe Records
Salvaticus – Hidden Manna – Lost Apparitions Records
Spectral Lore – III – I, Voidhanger Records
Srogość – W szaleństwie – Independent
Matthew Simon, “Carry the Zero,” Thursday 2pm
Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather – Paradise of Bachelors
Feel the slow burn as it melts your face from it’s skull.
Ty Segall – Manipulator – Drag City
The man just can’t stop making songs that I absolutely dig and the nods to Marc Bolan make my heart swoon.
Swale – The Next Instead – S/R
According to my iTunes library “Everyone Likes To” was my most listened to track of the year. “Popular Crowd” was third.
The Coathanges – Suck My Shirt – Suicide Squeeze
If anyone plays that damn Ex Hex song again I’m going to blast them with this album from Atlanta’s (and the world’s) most incredible all girl trio.
The New Mastersounds – Therapy – P-Vine
I’d like to hire these guys to follow me around as I walk down the street so everyone know just how fly i really am.
Foxygen – …And Star Power – Jagjaguwar
What a follow up to their simple debut album. In the words of David Letterman after they performed on Late Night: “That’s all we’re looking for, for god’s sakes!”
Jungle – Jungle – XL
Potential guilty pleasure add here but DAMN! I can play this album at a party and when the side is finished, cries of “you need to flip the record over” come immediately calling …. but I’m too “Busy Earnin’“.
Eno & Hyde – High Life – Warp
Winner of the “What is This You’re Playing on the Air Right Now?” (in a good way) Award.
Beck – Morning Phase – Capitol
Say what you want about Beck. The track “Wave” doesn’t have any percussion in there and it feels like Lou Ferrigno threw a Superball on the pavement and your floating up and screaming down in an elastic state. WowowoW. I’d like to ride that again please.
Oh. and did you hear his cover of VU’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror?” You’re Welcome.
Medeski, Martin & Wood + Nels Cline – Woodstock Sessions, Vol. 2 – The Woodstock Sessions
Don Harrison, a.k.a DJ Larry Bethesda, a.k.a. Uncle Beatdown, “Radio Wowsville,” Sunday 11pm
In alphabetical order, eight 2014 releases that made me happy:
Bed Rugs – 8th Cloud (Ample Play)
Bio Ritmo – Puerta Del Sur (Vampisoul)
D’Angelo – Black Messiah (RCA)
Bob Dylan and the Band – The Basement Tapes Complete: Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Sony-Columbia)
Lewis – L’Amour (light in the attic)
Real Estate – Atlas (domino)
St. Vincent – St. Vincent – (Loma Vista)
Various Artists – When I Reach That Heavenly Shore: Unearthly black gospel (Tompkins Square)
Wicked Sharkie, “Witches Brew,” Wednesday 2pm
no real order… except those marked… just some good jamzzz
1. Y’all; I’m Here Right Now; Funny/Not Funny (Album)
2. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard; Oddments; Castle Face (Album)
3. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard; I’m In your Mind Fuzz; Flightless (Album)
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats; “Runaway Girls”; Rise Above (Single)
Brutus; Behind the Mountains; Svart (Album)
Horisont; Break the Limit; Rise Above (7″)
Electric Wizard; It’s Time to Die; Spinefarm (Album)
Blood Ceremony; “Let it Come Down”; Rise Above (Single)
Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun; Reprise (Album)
King Tuff; Black Moon Spell; Sub Pop (Album)
Robert Packard, No Soap, Radio! Saturday 11pm
Top 10 Moments of 2014
10. The feeling of falling accidentally off a cliff towards a river below, yet knowing that it’s safe and being able to accept it.
9. A remembrance of moments past that, in an earlier time, would have provoked sadness at the thought of what could have been, but now just brings about happiness for what once was.
8. That time there was finally a book that fit perfectly into the leftover space at the end of the second row on the bookshelf, and even happened to be in alphabetical order, too.
7. The smell of the dust in the air after the first rain in several weeks.
6. That moment of realizing that time is just a set of temporal coordinates to explain one’s position in relation to the inevitable process of entropy that is the hallmark of the cold, uncaring void we call the universe.
5. The sensation of waking up from a deep sleep unsatisfied due to dreaming about a near perfect recreation of the previous day.
4. The realization that human beings are basically just skeletons held together inside suits of meat and powered by electrical signals.
3. That time a 45 rpm record got put on a turntable set to 33 rpm and no one cared because it actually sounded awesome.
2. That moment when a favorite song comes on the radio, but a tunnel is ahead on the road that usually blocks out radio signals, but the atmospheric conditions are perfect and the signal stays pretty strong for most of the way.
1. That moment of realization that putting down that exact moment on a list of moments from a year made that list kind of repeat indefinitely. Only not really. But sort of. You know.
Helvidius, “Radio Freedonia,” Friday 2pm
Y’all – I’m Here Right Now – Funny/Not Funny
This album opens with the confident stride of band that ha coalesced into full form right before it went in the wind. The title is ominous but comforting, and this album sums up a whole host of strands in Charlottesville rock scene last few years. I listened to this album more than any other, hands down no competition (although had D’Angelo been released in October)
D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah – RCA
The only album released in the last two weeks of the year by a major label that has a prayer of making this list. Managed to compact a years worth of listening into two weeks, the whole album tapped into the alpha wave in my brain and then it felt like the What’s Going On of 2014, instant era defining…
Shintaro Sakamoto – Let’s Dance Raw – Other Music
My friend would ask if I could put on that “groovy suntan lotion chipmunk music.” I imagine I and everyone else will be listening to this one on our biotrash flotilla vacation spots in 2038.
Goat – Commune – Sub Pop
Goat fills the Dungen-sized whole in my heart that can only be filled with krautrock percussion and shreddin’ guitars. Every song feels like that amazing mixtape starter from that kid you wished you had kept up with in High School.
Lay Llamas – Ostro – Rocket
Italian duo records in historically haunted Sicilian house in Segesta. The whole thing is an interstellar foray into grooves that are lysergic and as catchy as Beta Band’s “Dry the Rain.” Here is a sampling of their own descriptions: “Suicide and Oneida dancing together around a big campfire” – “Pagan post-punk!” – “a slow march for psychedelic warriors on the unknown planet” – “gospel-dub” – “A bad trip”. And a “trip.”
Sun Kil Moon – Benji – Caldo Verdi
I always resisted Kozelek; I thought I could do without. All these songs are amazing and in a year with less great poetry, this one would stand out for succinct lyrical characterization that makes me want to give everyone a hug.
Grouper – Ruins – Kranky
This is how the end of the world will sound. This album made me feel like the world was ending. This album was my woobie for when the world ends. It will be this quiet and beautiful and haunting and dazzling.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Oddments – Flightless
I listen to a lot of that Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and Curtis Harding who all had super albums this year, again. But this deranged psych pop collection is woozy ballads about stressin’, riffs on vegemite, and some T. Rex caliber of power rocking.
Steve Gunn – Way out Weather/ FRKWYS Vol. 11 – Paradise of Bachelors/ RVNGIntl.
Both of these albums join into one shimmering and beautiful whole. Couldn’t tell you a single song name but could probably hum every riff. hypnotic.
Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers – Modern Love
Although Syro kept me wrapt in attention, this album of textures, drum/bass bangers, and brutal ethereals was the one I came back to again and again seeking transcendence.
Mamman Sani – Taaritt – Sahel Sounds
Folks tunes of Niger reworked for analog synthesizer that is replete with the kind of healing and nurturing vibrations that make you a better person. The inscription on the album is truly inspirational: “When the music is good, it’s a positive vibration. When someone can cry because of a melody, there is something humane in them. If you are stressed, you can take this music like a tablet. It’s music to cool down. It’s not music for dancing, but maybe it can make you dream.”
Native North America Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country, 1966-85 – Light in the Attic Records
When I read Sherman Alexie’s Reservation Blues as a 22-year old, I thought the Indian Rock band was an extended comic riff. This box set lets me know how racist I was and, as for the music, check it:
Their Trip is with power, back bacon
Police they arrest me, materialists
they detest me
Pollution it chokes me, movies
they joke me
Politicians exploit me, city life
it jades me
Hudson Bay fleeces me, hunting laws
Government is bulbing, revolution
to be ruled in impunity, is tradition
I pity the country, I pity the state
Poubelle, “Radio Freedonia,” Friday 2pm
The big two:
Y’ALL – I’m Here Right Now – Funny/Not Funny
Proper Ornaments – Wooden Head – Slumberland
In no particular order:
Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather – Paradise of Bachelors
David Kamm – Saudade – S/R
Faux Ferocious – Striking Distance (EP) – S/R
De La Soul – Smell the D.A.I.S.Y. – S/R
Ex Hex – Rips – Merge
Real Estate – Atlas – Domino
D’Angelo & the Vanguard – Black Messiah – RCA
Sly Stone – I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-1970 – Light in the Attic
DJ Baked Alaska; Formerly of Witches Brew and Radio Freedonia
Top 10 Sets I Saw in 2014:
1) Guerrilla Toss at Hopscotch Music Festival, Raleigh, NC (9/4)
2) Swans at Warsaw, Brooklyn, NY (12/12)
3) Your Friend at The Tea Bazaar, Charlottesville, VA (6/6)
4) Left & Right at Speakertree Records, Lynchburg, VA (3/21)
5) Juan Wauters and GULL at BON, Charlottesville, VA (3/6)
6) Reading Rainbow at Death By Audio, Brooklyn, NY (11/4)
7) Borrowed Beams of Light at The Southern, Charlottesville, VA (8/21)
8) Mitski at Brooklyn Night Bazaar, Brooklyn, NY (10/31)
9) Y’all and Big Air at the Tea Bazaar, Charlottesville, VA (5/9)
10) Big Ups at Macrock, Harrisonburg, VA (4/5)
Antlers Familiars Anti
Augustines Augustines Oxcart / Votiv
Bear In Heaven Time Is Over One Day Old Dead Oceans
Brothertiger Future Splendors Mush
Dum Dum Girls Too True Sub Pop
Elbow The Take Off & Landing of Everything Concord
In the Valley Below The Belt Capitol
Manchester Orchestra Hope Fav. Gentlmn/Lorna Vista
Merchandise After the End 4AD
War On Drugs Lost In the Dream Secretly Canadian
Song of the Year: Jezabels “The Brink” S/T
Cover of the Year: Black Strobe “Folsom Prison Blues” God Foresaken Blues
10. Ariel Pink: pom pom
The notoriously strange pop innovator covers a lot of different ground throughout this double album—oftentimes within the same song. It’s not uncommon for these psychedelic tracks to take jarring shifts in tone and meter without warning. But the album’s two standout tracks are its most straightforward. “Put Your Number In My Phone” is Pink’s catchiest song to date, evoking lovelorn 60s pop without sacrificing his signature cryptic lyricism. And “Picture Me Gone,” a lamentation of the digital age, is perhaps the most emotional song about iCloud ever written. Pom pom is an undoubtedly weird and slapdash album, but it’s also a fascinating spin on traditional pop conventions.
9. Flying Lotus: You’re Dead!
Making an album exclusively about death is hardly a novel idea, but here Flying Lotus showcases a wildly inventive interpretation of the universally mysterious concept. Or rather, many different interpretations. The songs run the gamut from playful hip hop (“Dead Man’s Tetris”) to harmonious psychedelia (“Coronus the Terminator”) to freeform jazz-inspired instrumentals (“Tesla”). Both newcomers and fans of the notoriously trippy producer will find plenty to appreciate in these nineteen short tracks. We might never be able to completely understand death, but if it’s anything like the rich musical universe Flying Lotus creates on this album, we don’t have much to worry about.
8. Mac Miller: Faces
To many hip hop fans, Mac Miller is synonymous with the sort of brainless party rap gobbled up largely by white college kids. Faces puts that notion to rest, and then some. The criminally underlooked mixtape from the beginning of the year takes the stylistic changes on last year’s Watching Movies With the Sound Off to new heights of drugged out weirdness and inventive wordplay. Almost every song references Miller’s problems with hard substance abuse. While this makes for a dark listen, Mac never wallows in despair or takes himself too seriously. On the contrary, he treats his subject matter with light self-deprecation and cleverness. Multiple listens reveal the surprising depth and humor behind some of these lines. And Miller’s production, echoing the left-field sounds of Odd Future, is a far cry from his Blue Slide Park days. “Friends” is a stream of consciousness meditation on everything from his cocaine habit to meeting Kevin Hart. And “Diablo,” the most accessible track, is classic hip hop braggadocio with Miller’s signature stamp. Thought the record’s hour-and-a-half run time and uncharacteristic weirdness make it hard to digest all at once, Faces is a rewarding listen.
7. D’Angelo: Black Messiah
After fifteen years of inactivity since the seminal Voodoo, D’Angelo rushed to release his latest album in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The surprise rollout was a politically savvy move that makes the album all the more powerful. But aside from that, Black Messiah is a musical melting pot, combining jazz, funk, soul, and rock into one organic passage. While a lot of modern R&B contains electronic flourishes, these songs exemplify the power and beautiful imperfection of live playing. Single “Sugah Daddy” is a finger-snapping swirl of sounds anchored by catchy horns. The rest of the album is a rich collection of R&B, more aggressive than Voodoo but with the same slightly improvised feel. This is an important album for our time, but it stands just as strong as a powerful piece of music in its own right.
6. Swans: To Be Kind
Relentless, punishing, and evil are not words usually attributed to good music, but they all describe Swans’ latest towering piece of work. The album clocks in at over two hours and still almost never lets up on its assault of guitars, horns, strings, and countless other disparate sounds that come together as a unified whole. But the real showstopper is frontman Michael Gira’s voice, an incredibly versatile instrument in its own right. On the cathartic “Oxygen,” he howls, bellows, and snarls over eight minutes of guitar riffage and breakneck drumming. “A Little God In My Hands” adds a synthesizer and a touch of funk to a repetitive groove. And the uncharacteristically soft title track closes out the album with a whisper in the wake of the roar. To Be Kind is not an easy listen, but making it through the two hours is an intense experience that no other band but Swans could provide.
5. Mac DeMarco: Salad Days
Salad Days has been billed as Mac DeMarco’s “mature” album. While this is true in that the lyrics deal with more serious, universal concerns than 2012’s 2, here DeMarco doesn’t sacrifice his lighthearted pop sensibilities. The opening title track includes a chorus of “na-na-na’s” that’s hard not to sing along to, and “Let Her Go” is a breezy ode to romantic freedom that would go over well at a summer barbecue. Despite his goofy public persona, Mac DeMarco is more than capable of writing simple and emotionally affecting songs. Salad Days makes that abundantly clear.
4. Parkay Quarts: Content Nausea
If Sunbathing Animal is an expansion of Parquet Courts’ unique brand of guitar rock, then Content Nausea (a side project from two of the group’s four members, hence the new moniker) is an experimental detour. It’s getting harder and harder to find bands doing exciting things with just the guitar, making this album an important and necessary statement from a great new band whose best work is probably still ahead of them. The title track is impressive both for the timeliness of its anti-social media message and the number of words frontman Andrew Savage manages to speak-sing in three minutes. The epic closer “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” is an organ-laced ballad that explodes into a Malkmus-esque wail in the last minute. It’s easily the album’s highlight, and it might be my favorite track of the year. The rest of the album is filled with verbose lyrics and experimental guitar playing that evokes Pavement, Sonic Youth, and the Velvet Underground. But if there was any doubt after Sunbathing Animal, Content Nausea cements it: this band has carved out a style all their own.
3. Isaiah Rashad: Cilvia Demo
In a mediocre year for LA rap foursome Black Hippy, the de facto posterboys of Top Dawg Entertainment, newcomer Isaiah Rashad stepped up in a major way. The recent TDE signee, fresh out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, combines the label’s signature West Coast sounds with the grit of the southern rap that he clearly grew up listening to. He complements the harder tracks with the sort of brutally honest introspection that characterizes most Black Hippy releases. “Webbie Flow (U Like)” is pure Dirty South aggression, while album highlight “Heavenly Father” is a summary in miniature of the young rapper’s worries, hopes, and love of the craft—complete with an insanely catchy hook. And “Soliloquy” showcases Rashad’s sharp wit and versatile flow with a minute and a half of energetic freestyling. Cilvia Demo is a consistently strong and confident debut from one of the best new rappers in the game.
2. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal
The second album from these brainy rockers established them as one of the most talented and versatile guitar rock bands today. They’ve made enormous strides since the punchy, up-tempo punk songs of Light Up Gold. Opener “Bodies Made Of” echoes that album, but it sounds crisper and more sophisticated, ending with a Television-esque guitar exploration. “She’s Rollin” features harmonica and stretches a slow-burning riff to an uncharacteristically expansive seven minutes. The same goes for “Instant Disassembly,” one of the catchiest and most accessible tunes the band has written. And the title track, a breakneck punk onslaught, actually surpasses Light Up Gold’s energy. Sunbathing Animal shows us a band with the creativity to showcase many different styles and the craftsmanship to make them work as an exciting whole.
1. Real Estate: Atlas
No other music this year measures up to the third in a trio of exceptional albums from these New Jersey suburbanites. While Real Estate and Days were steeped in the sun-kissed imagery and nostalgic sounds of small-town summer afternoons, Atlas injects the band’s formula with a newfound lyrical maturity and a touch of melancholy. These ten shimmering, brilliantly sequenced songs are a mirror for anyone with anxieties about plotting the course of their lives and relationships—that is to say, just about everyone. Album highlight “The Bend” finds beauty in somber musings about an uncertain future, while “Talking Backwards” is a moving cry for help in a failing relationship in the guise of a sunny pop single. Despite these new thematic concerns, the record is unmistakably Real Estate. Though many bands today share the same mellow, dreamlike sound, none can match the deceptively simple interplay between the two lead guitars and Martin Courtney’s even croon. Atlas’ increased studio polish and more grown-up lyrics lead to a richer version of this unique recipe. And it’s never sounded better.