Seth 02.06.15: Favorite Music of 2014

The only proper way to began an endorsement about my favorite music of 2014 (I know, I’m late) would be to single out a few releases that I have a particularly personal relationship with in part because they are associated with some of the best live music going experiences of my life

As you know, we had the privilege of touring last year with our dear friends Steve Nelson and Jingo, both of whom released incredible albums in 2014. Jingo’s The Art of Loving is angular and muscular rock that seeps into your bones with unexpected swells of sweetness. The production on this record is incredible! Jingo had a a number of live moments that I won’t soon forget on this tour, night after night playing these tunes with such passion and fluidity -- one throbbing sound organism that could blow open the doors of any bar or expand to the size of a stadium -- but the one that stands out to me would be Jack and Katie’s passionate duet closing out their set in Kalamazoo. Honestly, couples on stage are sometimes strange to watch, but when Jack and Katie sing together to each other my heart melts and I feel all naked and vulnerable at a Rock and Roll show. It’s amazing!

Steve’s record is called 1903 and I want to listen to it in nature all the time. I’d be happy retiring from my senior position at my lucrative law firm, going all Whitman in Prospect Park with only a notebook and 1903 for a few months until I get scared and need to make sure the internet is still a thing. These are songs of honesty, pain, love, and anger all unraveling with the effortlessness of intrinsic poetry. It’s in Steve’s bones. As for live, I will never forget how Steve, fresh off his pre-show meditation, stepped up to the mic in a dark little room with no stage in Baltimore and allowed a current of righteous political rage to course through him, catching the entire tiny space on fire in a spirit of catharsis and the “feeling together”, if ya know what I mean.

 

The third record to come out this year associated with a personally unforgettable live experience is the 2014 s/t record by Impressionist out of Philly. This was the last stop on our tour. We played in the attic of this great art space called Chill Collins. Let’s be honest, we were tired. We were heading home that night to sleep on our own beds for the first time in many days. Impressionist played after us, and it was our plan to load up, catch a tune or two to support, and get on home for a good night’s sleep. Let me tell you, I couldn’t leave my spot once these guys started playing. These songs were powerful waves, punishingly loud, then suddenly breaking open into luscious refrains or soft meditative ripples. All of this is anchored by Kyle Press, a frontman who had his keyboard set on top of two bar stools and transitioned effortlessly from screaming madness to throat singing that shot straight through your forehead to gorgeous crooning. And the brass! That rhythm. The feeling that I was being taken for a ride, that whatever improvisatory spasms that might suddenly erupt were being expressed from a emotional core that had something quite important to communicate. I’ll say this: as someone who considers Brian Wilson his most trusted musical spiritual advisor, Impressionist by Impressionist is the only thing that I heard in 2014 that deeply reminded me of Wilson, the Beach Boys, and even the quirky composition of Van Dyke Parks. I can totally picture Impressionist in the recording studio in fire helmets blazing trash can fires in order to tune into the feels of FIRE. Magic works.

 

Next, I think I want to single out a few albums from 2014 that could live under the header ‘{{Singularity Musics}}’. This is the birth of machine consciousness, the melding of human and machine, the downloading-of-consciousness-to-the-motherboard Ray Kurzweil’s iPodDreamElectrode Music. Port in and experience:

Aphex Twin - Syro // There are interpenetrating dimensions of differing density and the life forms in each are capable of ascending and descending, according to awareness, As Above so below. How are boundaries not violated? What does agreement to an equitable contract sound like? Where is the itemized expenditure list for all aspects of Syro creation? What holds this together and moves my body in ways I can only observe as they occur? Is my Aphex Twin on Anti-terra able to tune me into the radio station that they listen to ‘over there’? Can I listen to the skittering, de-tuned permutations of change anywhere? So far, so yes. 

Giant Claw - DARK WEB // MIDI-nano particles bumping into one another, clumping in spontaneous super structures of pop, R&B, skittles, an apple pie, a brain. Yes, they are alive and making decisions on their own now, possessing of additive identity. The bigger the structure the greater the clarity of mind, the more bodies are made to move following  compelling suggestion. Behold, an environment of free choice and free collaboration! Pay attention, because things change quickly around here...

 Fennez - Becs // See my previous endorsement for some thoughts on these amazing sounds, copied from the past but transmitted backwards through linear time to 2014. 

 Arca - Xen // Meet Xen, the divine androgyne of the dance floor: She is self-replicating, creative, and may be submitted as proof that digital organisms can be interacted with in such a way that gives them space to surprise us -- such as when the digital organisms agreed to collaborate with Kanye, or in 2015 to help Bjork through an earth shattering separation with her lover. Stop regarding Xen with fear, They are here to help us...at least if our goal is to twerk our human asses to the material floor! 

18+ - Trust // 18+ are no longer anonymous. It is true: as much as we mentally compartmentalize, we have to live with our multiple online identities. We have to live with the fact that one late night drunk, digital contract sloppily thumb-scrolled through and box checked, the InterLace body suit you purchased with paypal told Chanel69 that ‘we want to F*** with handcuffs’, and that when all is said and done, the next day, said Interlace body suit is actually associated with offline Ident profiles and like flesh and earthly needs, not to mention SS# and physical address. Fluid social identity and voluntary ANON settings mixed with sex and entertainment is scary, exciting, and so dangerous it might kill us all with streaming pleasure chemical cascades. 18+ isn’t afraid to let us hear what’s on their mind, even when it is laid bare in contradictory, troubling, or complicated ways.  

Infinity Frequencies - Computer Decay // I endorsed this a little earlier in the year, so I won’t rehash it here. This is my most cherished straightVAPORWAVE release of 2014. Know this: waterproof robots discovered a ring of statues depicting meditating monks in solidarity at the bottom of Earth’s ocean. Many of the statues had been covered with debris from dissembled and trashed signs from fast food joints and  office supplies air-shipped-and-dumped direct from silicone valley after their planned obsolescence dates. One monk prays under golden arches while another wears a seaweed coated blackberry on his baldpate. This music is the conclusion the waterproof robots drew from the scene. 

C L E A N E R S - Real Raga Shit vol.1 // On Anti-terra, the Singularity is called the Omega Point and it is considered an evolutionary transformation of consciousness structures to a point of maximum internal coherence and complexity and minimum of materiality - a density shift of perception as drastic as the one separating flatland from 3D space. The Omega Point covers the entire globe of Anti-terra in an envelope or film. Needs are met through the pooling of resources and Working Harder Together. Actual Entities are understood as distinct and free to choose, but there is no Free Lunch. The music of the Omega Point on Anti-terra is the human voice in exhalation with percussion like a river pouring into a deep abyss. There is no need for distinction between digital and spiritual. The fool walks off a cliff while dancing - an adventure!

Or maybe Ray Kurzweil creeps you out, and Hip Hop, R&B, Rap or Jazz are more your bag? I totally get why people flipped over Run the Jewels II, but for me the following albums were right in my zone:

1. Flying Lotus - You’re Dead! // This is probably the best Flying Lotus release yet. It is super confident in itself, like this strange visionary jazzy Kendrick Lamar grenade dropping, poly rhythmically Dirty Projector hypnotizing meditation on death is, you know, just how music sounds. What better to do than dance, kid, when the Grim Reaper gets us all

 

2. Freddie Gibbs + Madlib - Pinata // and THIS is the best thing Madlib has done since Madvillany! His production is both so soulful and so goofy oddball, and Freddie Gibbs flows over these beats like the most laidback and cocky sarcastic MC anywhere, who’s lived some dark times and survived to happily crack jokes about it. How do these two sound so perfect for one another?  


3. Open Mike Eagle - Dark Comedy // This album lives right up to the title. The most darkly hilarious and clever rhymes all year by far. Open Mike Eagle is sharp as tacks, and his friends are superheros. None of em have very much money, tho.

4. ilovemakonnen - ilovemakonnen EP // I think that ilovemakonnen is the most unique and “new” sound in this category. Downer delivery, nonchalant thug in a club. Minimally squeezed beets. Don’t ask the dude about his Molly supply, bro, unless you want an earful...

Finally (as if this weren’t long enough!), I’ll endorse the 14 musical albums in any style or genre that most deeply challenged my body and brain, and generally settled way down into the groove of my life in 2014. I represent them in hopes that you might find something worth discovering, and also to flag these cherished ones as musics that I plan to interact with for years and years to come. I wholly expect to keep learning new things from these albums as I change.

In reverse order, for the reasons:

Susanna and Jenny Hval - Meshes of Voices

Number: 23

Color: Grey, Ice Blue

Anatomy: Throat

 

>>This music feels like it is coming from an enchanted forest. There is so much beauty in the wood, innocence even, but there also be dark magic here. Beware! Jenny and Susanna amplify, manipulate, and distort the forces that mingle to make their unique voices and use the resulting sounds to cut through non-throat sounds like a Sky-Saw...or sometimes as gently as the fibers of a black feather. What are the limits of the human voice?

 

Robyn and Royksopp - Do it Again

Number: 17

Color: Gold, Chrome

Anatomy: Crown

 

>>There is a club, surprisingly small, for ‘Straight Men Who Love Robyn’. Not only am I a card carrying member, but I’m a proselytizer for the cause. How is it that most of the straight dudes I talk to still don’t even know who Robyn is? She should be considered one of the most powerful queens of pop, world and gender wide! She’s also relatively slow to release new material, so the gift of ‘Do It Again’, despite it being EP length and technically not a proper Robyn release (sorry Royksopp!), was incredibly exciting.

I think that Royksopp, at worst, contributes some of the more stale techno/house sounds on this record. But, these are rare moments, and at best Royksopp really serves Robyn’s already established style, and bolsters her presence. 


I love all of the tracks on this record. I bask in the strange and silly robo-voice sub-dom play of ‘Sayit’, and the masterful build and exuberance of ‘Do It Again’. But it is the sheer brilliance of ‘Monument’ that makes this record unforgettable. It feels like a definitive statement from Robyn. It’s sexy, it’s spiritual, it’s oozing with the type of confidence that make up key moments in a musician’s trajectory. I mean, the first line of the whole  7 minute towering edifice of pop perfection is “make a space for my body”. You simply must comply...

 

Ian William Craig - A Turn of Breath

Number: 16

Color: Crimson, Yellow, Pink

Anatomy: Lungs

 

>> Ian William Craig has built a giant machine made of tons of reel-to-reel audio recording devices. I don’t know how it works. Ian William Craig is also an opera singer. His powerful voice goes into the machine, loops around and around, is pulled and stretched through various phases, and eventually breaks down into hisses and pops. A Turn of Breath is a simply gorgeous (and haunting) study in the ebb and flow of breath and the impermanence of sound. Decay and transformation. What does it mean? We don’t know yet, but shapes seems to emerge as if from a mist. Perhaps we speak the same language?

 

St. Vincent - St. Vincent

Number: 13

Color: Platinum

Anatomy: Feet and claws

 

>>This album is one of those moments when an artist, at the hight of self-awareness, reaches back and consolidates all the disparate elements that have thus far composed their sound/artistic vision and works them into a single concentrated bud on an evolutionary chute. For St. Vincent, this exploration of faith and personal identity in a digital age feels like something she’s been working toward for a long time. What is next? Either she transcends herself again using these tools, or she molts this coat and shows us a completely different path. Regardless, this s/t release finds St. Vincent at a sublime moment. 

 

Grouper - Ruins

Number: 11

Color: Black + White

Anatomy: Ear canal

 

Simple songs of sorrow, loss, and longing set in an interactive environment. Grouper has allowed the country sounds of the nature right outside her window seep into these recordings. The result is that we are not only with her emotionally, but we are transported and truly with her in concrete space. The sound of insects swell along to Harris’ voice...oblivious but ubiquitous. Most shockingly, a microwave ‘ding’ breaks the spell of a deep feel to let us know that our previously frozen meal is ready.

Our feelings are never isolated from our environment, and Ruins first allows us to experience this truth as it occurred to Liz Harris, then meditate further on it as the ambient sounds captured in the recording mix with the ambient sounds in our own spaces. Slowly, through repetition, we pick up what treasures can be found exploring Ruins. It is truly breathtaking that such deeply emotional content can emerge from such simple elements: a quiet circular piano progression, a vocal melody that matches it almost exactly, and a lonely drum to call us in and send us off again into the wilderness.

 

Ariel Pink - pom pom

Number: 10

Color: Pink, Fuchsia, Powder Blue

Anatomy: id

 

>>This is my favorite Ariel Pink record since The Haunted Graffiti put us all through the Doldrums in 2004. Back then, Pink was defining a sound that would influence scores of lo-fi popsters. It hasn’t been until now, in the context of this insane and sprawling concept record (??), that it becomes clear the scope of Pink’s vision re:pop music. This is an extremely confident record seemingly created entirely by this dude’s id. It is gross, it is funny, it is schizophrenic and moody, it’s blissed out romantic. Songs start out with extreme ear worms that slowly melt into LSD mindworms. You wanna be walking down the street singing “FERTILIZER! FERTILIZER! NOT ENOUGH VIOLENCE!”? How bout explaining a song that starts out with “I’m a sex king on a sex swing” brags and ends with “all I wanted was a girlfriend all my life...”?

I don’t care too much to try and explain the creative process of Ariel Pink, nor any message he might be trying to convey, but I do think he is bravely exploring some psychology that is a bit too twisted for most to tackle honestly. But, aren’t these sounds and voices creepily familiar? 

 

Future Islands - Singles

Number: 9

Color: Royal Purple

Anatomy: Heart

 

>> Yeah, it probably started with the now very famous David Letterman performance last year. But, Singles is probably the most straightforwardly heartfelt and honest pop record to come out in 2014...and I think that is what has kept me coming back and back again. It is the sound of someone opening up their heart, who cares if I end up sounding square or cheesy? Now, is it sad that such an act sounded so revolutionary in this day and age? 

 

Ty Segall - Manipulator

Number: 8

Color: Maroon, Green, Tang Orange

Anatomy: Genitals

 

>>Ty Segall is a madman! This is the most impressive collection of gloriously messy glamrock stompers I’ve heard in so long. It seems like these sounds pretty much just pour out of Ty Segall (hopefully a mic is present) and he just moves the hell on. If he re-records a vocal take or doubles a guitar part, he leaves the imperfect take right in there with the other take. Together, they’re right! Just do it! It’s over old friend!

 

Scott Walker + Sunn))) - Soused

Number: 6

Color: Blackest Black with one Red Line

Anatomy: Bowels, Lower Intestine

 

>> This is a perfect partnership. Scott Walker’s terrifying music theater croon mixed with the slow crawl ear bleed sound walls of Sunn))) simply should be. I love Scott Walker so much. I feel like he is one of the only musicians working today that deeply explores the phenomenon of totalitarianism in an honest and complex way. Here, he places the child murdering rage of the Biblical Harod in the context of current day geo-politics. He explores a (perhaps tongue and cheek) theory that Marlon Brando had it written into his contract that he be beaten up in every movie he appears in. A BEATING WOULD DO ME A WORLD OF GOOD! Sunn))) are happy to oblige. 

Perfume Genius - Too Bright

Number: 5

Color: Lipstick Red

Anatomy: Abdominals

 

>>Don’t you know your Queen? We do now! Perfume Genius took his lo-fi R&B to a whole new level this year and the result is Too Bright! The production elements here are used so masterfully. I’ll never forget the distorted stabs of ‘My Body’ or the subtle shift about a minute into ‘Don’t Let Them In’. Listen to these words:

“In an alternate ribbon of time, my dances were sacred. My lisp was evidence I spoke for both spirits...”

 

An invocation to an Ancient Queen. Must listen!

 

Ought - Today More Than Any Other Day

Number: 4

Color: Orange, 

Anatomy: Chest, Tongue, Cheek

 

>> I already endorsed this one, so I’ll keep it simple. Ought is keeping the post-punk spirit alive! It really is too bad that Post-Punk isn’t so much en vogue right now, but I don’t care so long as I have Ought. They are talented, socially engaged, and work from the heart with just the right amount of acerbic wit. Can’t wait to hear where they go next. 

 

Owen Pallett - In Conflict

Number: 3

Color: Blue, Indigo

Anatomy: Parasympathetic System, Vagus Nerve

 

>>This is Owen Pallet after Oscar and Grammy recognition. He started out with a violin, a loop pedal, and a very quiet thin voice with much reverb. Now he is one of the most formidable composers around, easily dipping his toes on to red carpets, carnagie halls, and home studios. His themes here (webs of violence, various stages of personal identity conflict, childlessness, mental illness) are very rich. These themes are often addressed with an autobiographical simplicity not found in Pallett’s previous work, which tended to explore universal themes in a fantasy context. I am floored again and again by the result!

 

Swans - To Be Kind

Number: 2

Color: Brown, Tan, Forest Green

Anatomy: Pituitary Gland, Pineal Gland

 

>>Swans, post late career rebirth, is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite music projects ever. This is deeply experiential music that is both brutal and transcendent. What I love about To Be Kind is that, whereas in Swans’ past they may have mainly been able to “break through” in the context of live performance (full disclosure: I don’t particularly get much out of their earlier recordings), now the songs are, well, songs...with grooves that build toward hysteria with perfect lyrical and vocal delivery from Gira...and it is captured in the recording in a way that is accessible again and again. This is a record AND a movement. 

Ariel Pink may have released an ‘id’ album this year, but when the ‘id’ makes an appearance in To Be Kind, it is mind-blowingly perfect. Best id cameo of all time! What a creepy character, placed perfectly in the song: “I’m Just a Little Boy! I’m-I’m...Just a Little Boooy!”

To Be Kind may be a punishing journey through darkness, but the voice that pulls you through is one of love. So, Breath. Now. Be Here Now.  

 

Adult Jazz - Gist Is

Number: 1

Color: Salmon, Turquoise

Anatomy: Brain, Eyes, Teeth

 

>> The verdict is in. Not Blood Paint LOVES Adult Jazz. This record was totally under appreciated this year, too lazily being lumped in with the likes of Alt-J and Wild Beasts (both bands I love, don’t get me wrong). This music is far more compositionally weird than either of those bands. If a comparison must be made, I’d go toward Dirty Projectors before any of those other UK acts. The liquid bass lines, the off-kilter vocal melodies, the guitar stabs, the very counterintuitive beats. These guys are all multi-instrumentalists who self-released this year. Not only that, but they patiently incubated these songs for years before all 4 had decided the time had come to release them to the world. Well, gents, I heard loud and clear and I truly love Gist Is! This one will stay in the  ‘lifetime’ music collection.

 

 

Love, 

Seth

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Posted on February 9, 2015 .