Friday, December 19, 2014

Top 30 Best Albums of 2014: PART III (#1--10)...

A new year-end winner is crowned...

1.Beyonce Beyonce: Beyoncé pushes boundaries not because it sells sex at every turn, but because it treats a power-balanced marriage as a place where sexuality thrives. At a time when when young people are gripped by an ideological fear of monogamy’s advertised doldrums, Beyoncé boldly proposes the idea that a woman’s prime—personal, professional, and especially sexual—can occur within a stable romantic partnership. Monogamy has never sounded more seductive or less retrograde as when dictated on Beyoncé's terms. What’s more is that the erotic themes don’t feel out-of-step with the album’s more decorous moments, like the stadium-filling XO or Blue, its requisite treatise on motherhood. In Beyoncé’s world, there are illicit doors to be unlocked in the halls of tradition and vice versa. (Pitchfork)

2. Ariel Pink Pom Pom: You can interpret this as another surreal metaphor in his search for enchanted love or chalk it up to a teenaged fixation with the Doors. Maybe a little of both. He can be the frog prince, Shotgun Billy, or ride shotgun in a pink corvette. He can be a rock'n'roller named Ariel from Beverly Hills, complete with his own billboards. And in a place where delusion, self-reinvention, and wish fulfillment have long been the principal cash crop, who are we to tell him otherwise? (Pitchfork)

3. St. Vincent St. Vincent: it’s hard to ask too much more from an album that boasts melodies as lovely as Prince Johnny and Severed Crossed Fingers. That last one is the best closing song on a St. Vincent album yet—a self-deprecating, slow-motion parade of a ballad. It’s a moment of vulnerability and bleak hope rounding out Clark’s hardest, tightest, and most confident record to date—a vaguely ominous promise of better days ahead. "We’ll be heroes on every bar stool," she vows, sounding so sure of herself that you’re liable to follow her to whatever planet she’s headed. (Pitchfork)

4. Schoolboy Q Oxymoron: Oxymoron is a victory in that Q’s sound has made the jump to the majors fully intact in an era where major label debuts often take a chop shop approach to assembly. Interscope’s trust in TDE saves the album from the awkward test tube collaborations that bog down many of its peers, but Oxymoron’s doubling down on a reliable formula makes for a relatively risk-averse listen. Q shines the most when he’s able to reconcile his hustler past with his rap star present rather than mining each separately. (Pitchfork)

5. Tune-Yards Nikki Nack: Garbus is an artist who lives with weird but flirts with normal. Gone is the chipper ukulele of w h o k i l l and BiRd-BrAiNs; Nikki Nack signifies maturity while still allowing room for Garbus to do zany things like scat-sing "One two three o'clock/ Four o'clock, walk and walk and talk and talk and walk and talk and then/ Five, six, seven—seven—seven—heaven—heaven—take me again" for 90 seconds straight on full tilt. In moments when Garbus does calm down, she does it with the grace and certainty of an archer drawing back her bow—less a concession than a show of power. (Pitchfork)

6. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 2: these two test each other’s hip-hop fluency often. It’s almost as if they’re competing to see who can rap faster, better and more articulately. But there’s a darker undertone to this record than the first time around; they’re happy, but they’re also pissed. Run The Jewels borrows from a range of hip-hop techniques, but they always deliver. You can feel the effort with every syllable, that this music is coming from their very core. It’s a comprehensive essay on the style and vernacular of hip hop. (Paste)

7. Ty Segall Manipulator: Manipulator sounds like a 70s record in that every element is always audible; there's no mastering everything louder than everything else. Every instrument has its place, and every instrument does its job: there's nothing sloppy about Manipulator; it's precise. From its title track onwards – a delicious descending organ riff, joined by a perfectly constructed guitar line that doubles up on itself – Manipulator feels like a statement album, as if Segall has had enough of being hailed as a god by three dozen people in tiny clubs with extensive record collections drawn entirely from labels like In the Red and Sympathy for the Record Industry. (The Guardian)

8. Black Milk Glitches In The Break: For a project amassed in a few short months, Glitches In The Break has the workings of an even greater full-length LP had more time, elaborations and work been put in to the album. Regardless of that, this EP stands as another solid piece of work from one of Detroit's finest and tracks like Dirt Bells, Ruffin and Cold Day will have you revisiting this album many times this year and citing those as the best songs off of this one. (Hiphop Speak Easy)

9. The Men Tomorrow’s Hits: Regardless of the slight upgrade in fidelity, Tomorrow’s Hits is much like what preceded it, with “the Men” serving as a fantasy camp construct for the record collectors making this record collector rock. Chiericozzi literally gets out of bed only to chase the songwriting muse (on several other songs, they sleep in or don’t sleep at all). Even if the songs aren’t necessarily about them, the Men like to play up the transformative power of rock'n'roll, as Dark Waltz kicks off Tomorrow’s Hits with a litany of classic archetypes: a drummer with a badass, weed-dealing brother and mom buying your first guitar. (Pitchfork)

10. Kate Tempest Everybody Down: Not everyone who saw this 27-year-old's spoken-word theatre show Brand New Ancients(for which she became the youngest-ever winner of the Ted Hughes prize) will be excited by the poet's venture into hip-hop. Likewise, there are hip-hop fans already dismissing the idea of a former Brit-schooler trying her hand at MCing, no matter that Tempest spent her teenage years on the battle-rap circuit. Forget genre, though, and this unique album has much going for it. Everybody Down tells the story of three characters battling loneliness in the big city, with each song representing a new chapter. Tempest shines, though, through her use of language, which illuminates the subject matter – from boardroom drug deals to vacuous parties where "everybody … has got a hyphenated second name" – to dazzling effect. (The Guardian)

Monday, December 15, 2014

THE BEST 100 SONGS OF 2014: PART V (#1--20)

Here at last is the final section--closing out the year in style:

1.Marshall Law (Kate Tempest): beams you right to the bar of an insufferably fashionable east London club, where a velour-clad video director holds court and “everyone here has a hyphenated second name/Blowing more breeze like the wind at a weathervane”. There, a girl called Becky falls into conversation with Harry, a reluctant drug dealer who’s overindulged at the free bar and splurges everything about his miserable life. The music shifts and mutates in line with Tempest’s unfolding narrative; as strobe lights flash, the synths warp and flicker. Harry falls for Becky, but Becky leaves with her mates, and they laugh about it in the cab: “I know he was one of those save-me types/And I couldn’t be dealing with that, not tonight”. And so, a story creaks into life. Tempest writes complex and believable characters, each one carrying their problems like a lead weight hung inside their heart. (NME)

2. I (Kendrick Lamar): the idea that this was jumping a shark or aimed toward a specific demographic feels dismissive. The charm of I isn’t in its message; it’s in its weirdness — from the video to the obvious Isley Brothers sample. Within that weirdness lies potential. This could be the start of a transformation for hip-hop’s young prince who’s been saying he’s on a mission — a serious one. But within that cloud of mystery lies a now-ness — that screaming a pledge to yourself is the only means to wish away the throes of the world. (Consequence Of Sound)

3. Los Awesome (Schoolboy Q): Hankering for a new Neptunes-produced Clipse track? Los Awesome, produced by Pharrell, is probably the closest one can get for a while, with the virtuosic violence and elastic beat." "Liable to drive-by on a summer day/July 4th will be in June," sneers ScHoolboy on the bridge, a line that's eerily similar to the scope of Pusha T and Malice's Chinese New Year. (Billboard)

4. Drunk In Love (Beyonce feat. Jay Z): though it has put surfboard forever in our minds, Drunk In Love remains firstly an ode to heterosexual love and commitment. Then after you gloss over that fact, check the lyrics for the smutty yet delicious truth—this is love in urban America 21st century style.

5. Infernal Fantasy (Owen Pallett): a bombastic acid-jungle meltdown with these gorgeous little string-bends peeping out at the intro. As the track builds, these tiny gestures become incorporated with the bassline, which in turn takes the motif in numerous different directions. (The Quietus)

6. Little Fang (Avery Tare’s Slasher Flicks): The jangly, sauntering cut still retains some of Portner's trademarks from his work in Animal Collective and by his lonesome—a distinct sense of murkiness, stray sound effects that sound as if they were ripped from a funhouse ride—but the melody is pleasingly straightforward, a glammy earworm reminiscent of fellow Los Angeles denizen and cosmic brethren Ariel Pink. (Pitchfork)

7. Forerunner Foray (Shabazz Palaces): creates a miniature galaxy over the space of four short minutes. You can practically hear the twinkling of the stars echoing in the vacuum of space — and that’s before Palaceer Lazaro jumps in with some oblique lyrics that place racial struggles on a cosmic scale. (Treble)

8. White’s Not My Color This Evening (Cherry Glazerr): very much influenced by grunge, punk and riot grrrl, with plenty of guitars that fizz and hiss their way through, and vocals that sometimes sing beautifully tunefully and then turn coarser and more psychotic. The spooky laugh is a particular highlight. This description may have you thinking of The Cramps, and perhaps that influence is part of the make up of this song as well. It's definitely carrying the torch for the dark and depraved alt-rock bands out there into a new generation. (The Sound Of Confusion)

9. Continental Shelf (Viet Cong): Reborn from the remnants of Women, Viet Cong announced their self-titled debut album with a brutal slab of nihilistic post-punk. "When all is said and done, you'll be around until you're gone," declares Matt Flegel as the song kicks into life, and things don’t get much more cheery from then onwards. Just press play and let those drums crash along your ears canals like tectonic plates ratcheting through the Richter scale. (Treble)

10. Not Enough Violence (Ariel Pink): ever the mysterious eccentric, Pink shifted to all out commentary this year. While it has caused controversy—picking on Grimes to call her “silly”, his music has cut even harder to the bone. Not Enough Violence buries its intent in 80s synths but when he yells, “penetration time tonight”, you know the girl that has been denying him sex will have to put out today or face his lurid wickedness.

11. Red Eyes (The War On Drugs): from the get-go, Red Eyes sounds like a song that echoed from your dad’s radio as he drove you to school as a kid. It’s the song you cranked up to drown out your parents arguing in the next room, the one playing when you first felt a tongue touch yours. The chorus isn’t words; it’s the riffs and the sound your mouth makes as it tries to vocalize them. It’s instantly recognizable, an entry point, an open door into an album that ambles and rollicks, the arena-ready single among so many slow burns and cerebral digressions. (Consequence Of Sound)

12. Driver (Perfect Pussy): Meredith Graves’ voice bunches and strains against the pound of the drums, the whine of electronics, that rough, steely guitar. One second she’s murmuring quick syllables under her breath, and the next she’s exclaiming stuff like “death comes last to the party!” She never lets the rhythms around her box her in. She lands words like uppercuts: “I eat stress, and I shit blood/ Buddy, I’ll tell you, it never gets better.” She has been lied to her whole life and on “Driver”, she finally gets to strike back. (Consequence Of Sound)

13. Deep Sea Diver (Angel Haze): though its massive pop hook gets heads moving, the song itself is a sad tale of a love that has passed—and that’s what so great about Haze; her ability to sculpt hard and soft into one malleable product.

14. Child Support (Blu): a slice of hook-heavy pie, African-American style. Blu chronicles a failed romance and the resulting source of resentment. It’s not just a reason why the love failed to hold him and his woman together, but the daily grind mess behind the scenes.

15. Deadly (Five Steez): The production is done by DJ Crooks, and from the instant you hit play, you will be nodding your head like there's no tomorrow. The beat is insane and it features a Caribbean/Reggae sound. Five's flow is funky, and raw—an up-tempo and energetic instant hit is sure to make everyone's day. (TheUCalbum)

16. Welcome (Five Steez): just a breezy intro to his world but as usual, the production is impeccable and the lyrics bite hard about the system that grinds everything in Kingston...a sorta ode to the capital we call home and all its glory/shenanigans.

17. Tin Foiled (Andrew Bird): that Andrew Bird is a musical prodigy is not in doubt, but who knew he could pick up that guitar and craft something so folksy yet totally human.

18. Heavy Metal And Reflective (Azealia Banks): up to the time of its release, we were starting to get weary of Azealia’s incoming album. It’s as if she sensed it and dropped this gem—a traveler’s passport stamped with various name and pop culture checks but that filthy pop groove and her weird “I’m in every city/ they say hello/ to the head bitch” real talk keeps the love burning.

19. Superpower (Beyonce feat. Frank Ocean): Pharrell and Frank Ocean helped to co-craft Superpower, a pensive, slow-strutting contemplation about, the (super)power of love set against soft strings and a gentle doo-wop melody in the background. It’s all about the experience of understanding your true potential in a relationship. “The laws of the world never stopped us once,” Bey sings, “’cause together we got plenty of superpower.” Given that she’s part of one of the world’s most famous power couples, it’s hard to disagree. (Muumuse)

20. Never Catch Me (Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar): a super charged sprint to the subway, a fight to the top and a launch to the stars above. It is relentless and it never lets up; It’s hard to legitimately keep up with a song name like that. The instrumentals imply a live jazz setting and we are wowed all the same. Then there’s Kendrick Lamar’s umpteenth piece of evidence that he is one of the best rappers of our time, as he tackles both speed and wordplay as if it was as effortless as brushing his teeth. (Live In Limbo)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

THE BEST 30 ALBUMS OF 2014: PART II (#11--20)...

the penultimate section...

11. Owen Pallett In Conflict: On In Conflict, Pallett mostly steps free of his own labyrinth. The album is mournful and restrained in tone, featuring his most pleading and open vocal performances. The lyrics, meanwhile, veer often into excruciatingly personal territory. He's less concerned with dazzling us this time around, and as a result he moves us more. His looped violin is still the DNA of the music, but the giddiness has been carefully siphoned from it: The arrangements are far simpler and cleaner, highlighting his beautiful, long-breathed melody writing. (Pitchfork)

12. Angel Haze Dirty Gold: For all its musical commerciality – the glossy production, the huge, irresistible hooklines of Deep Sea Diver and Sing About Me – Dirty Gold has its dark side. It says something about the emotional tenor of Dirty Gold that a track about a relationship breakup comes as light relief, not least because Haze has a way of telling people she fancies them that could send a potential suitor scarpering for the nearest exit while screaming in terror: "You send messages to the pits of my womb."(Pitchfork)

13. Against Me! Transgender Dysphoria Blues: Transgender Dysphoria Blues is wholly focused on pushing aside so much of what Against Me! has built through the years; even in their shortcomings, they remain who they are. But it's fitting that there are facets of the album that refuse to cohere, that don't quite fit right, that flail about in its too-eager execution. These welts are ultimately part of Grace's journey to the depths of self-discovery, and the journey to Against Me!'s true sound, all while playing to the theme of transformation. Punk has always been about disruption of order, and this new revolution that Laura Jane Grace leads doesn't surrender her identity, it reclaims it. This revolution is no lie at all. (Pitchfork)

14. Azealia Banks Broke With Expensive Taste: Broke With Expensive Taste is a reminder that the corner of Harlem that she claims is walking distance from both Washington Heights and the Bronx, where you’re as likely to hear hip-hop booming out of apartments and passing cars as freestyle, reggaeton, house, or bachata. Broke With Expensive Taste glides through all of these, just like the faithful 1 train sampled on Desperado. Both album and the artist revel in the freedom of a New York City where divisions between these sounds and scenes have ever so slowly ceased to exist. (The Guardian)

15. Five Steez These Kingston Times: Five Steez is about as authentic as you can get in today’s rapidly expanding music industry where nothing is completely original. Indie rappers are a dime a dozen-indie anything seems to be the current trend-but Five Steez manages to stand out without the gimmicks or flamboyance that many come to expect from modern musicians. His success rides solely on his talent - something he has in abundance. Some might argue that talent isn’t enough anymore, and the all too ambiguous and often elusive “x-factor” element may or may not be in his possession; his talent however, is undeniable. (Jamaicans Music)

16. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks Enter The Slasher House: As Portner admitted in a recent Pitchfork interview, the Slasher Flicks concept was born of a desire to mess around with the sort of 60s garage-rock and horror-movie tropes that yielded novelty hits like Monster Mash. On Enter the Slasher House, that influence proves to be mostly implicit. You won’t find any ditties here about ghouls and ghosts hosting graveyard soirees, but the songs craftily split the difference between cheeky and creepy, pitting innocent nursery-rhyme-like melodies against mutating, hallucinogenic backdrops. (Pitchfork)

17. Gem Jones Admiral French Kiss: Recorded in Dexter, Iowa to four-track porta studio. Admiral French kiss is a Midwest bonanza of sweaty post-Prince stylistics. Gem Jones plays full-band jammers, piano key laments, dub-inflected anthems, and damaged rock discharges, buoyed by a nimble funk finesse that belies his bedroom. Gem Jones belts out lyrics like he really means them. His demented guitar solos are like teenboys flailing around basements with raw testoid delirium. Nonetheless, Gem’s delicate zigzag between postures carries a whiff a sly parody–a balladeer peeking out the corner of his eye, gauging the vibe, and shapeshifting accordingly. (Animalpsi)

18. Future Islands Singles: Singles is a great balance of pop and melodrama. It’s built around the sturdy new wave beat, almost always four on the floor, giving Herring a comfortable frame in which to sing. Its themes are also symmetrical, as Herring plays with antithesis like an eager English student: day and night, sun and moon, summer and winter, man and woman. His words are the sort of thing that would tumble out of your mouth if you were told to write a love poem right now in eight seconds. (Pitchfork)

19. FKA Twigs LP 1: Barnett's music is the latest chapter in the ongoing transatlantic vogue for barely-there R&B, and this album joins her two previously released EPs in providing the subgenre with new heights. At its most textbook, R&B is urban body music, but this stuff is filtered through a prism of otherworldliness, not strictly made for the dancefloor, although the option of horizontal dancing is strongly suggested throughout. (The Guardian)

20. White Lung Deep Fantasy: Just about every aspect of White Lung’s music is aggressive and sounds angry and invective, though “I Believe You” stresses the resonance and empathy; while Way’s philosophical and theoretical leanings might not be considered “mainstream,” it’s a compliment to Deep Fantasy to say that none of its calls for dignity, for humanity, for understanding sounds remotely radical—rather, they’re pretty fucking rational. Deep Fantasy is a product of its environment, as well as one hell of a survival guide to live through this. (Pitchfork)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

THE BEST 30 ALBUMS OF 2014: PART I (#21--30)...

An improvement over last year but still felt very much like a hands-off 2014, here are the gems of the year---some known, some long-forgotten...

21. Liam Finn The Nihilist: Written and recorded over 12 months or so from a Green Point, Brooklyn studio, you can hear the nocturnal state Finn pushed himself into; getting manic and mad as he gazed across the metropolis in the wee hours, wondering about all the different stories unfolding down there. You see, The Nihilist is not the album of hopelessness and negativity the title might suggest, but rather an exploration of the idea that there might be more to it all than what we see and believe. (New Zealand Herald)

22. Lake Street Dive Bad Self Portraits: Lake Street Dive, a Brooklyn-based four-piece emerging from the jazzy enclaves of New England College of Music, was originally conceived as a pop side-project. With an unusual lineup including vocalist Rachael Price, upright bassist Bridget Kearney, trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson and drummer Mike Calabrese, the band was named after a street of dive bars in Minneapolis. All four members contribute to the songwriting process, which helps create a unified sound, but Price’s powerhouse singing unites this record. She switches from throaty growls to perfectly-wavering soprano warbles, effortlessly channeling matriarchs like Etta James and even Big Mama Thornton. (Pitchfork)

23. Wovenhand Refractory Obdurate: Throughout his career, David Eugene Edwards has mixed gospel and bluegrass, rocking both punk and gothic on a forever-sliding scale. Refractory Obdurate is Edwards’ “heavy record”, with tumescent electric guitars and unforgiving drums, howled lines and massive codas. The album finally makes good on the post-punk and metal influences that have forever lingered at the edges of Wovenhand’s output. (Pitchfork)

24. Temples Sun Structures: Bagshaw’s tendency to spout arcane guff about the Odyssey, desert rituals, buried crystals and dancing on the stones is pure hippy mimicry. Sonically, though, this is a fresh and energised ’60s homage. Aside from distorting their guitars until they sound like walruses mating in tribute to new psych commanders Tame Impala, they add Arabian grooves to Sand Dance, pastoral Byrdsian tones to Move With The Season and glam tinges to Keep In The Dark, right down to the tiger-footed stomp, glittery handclaps and honking horns. (NME)

25. Mr. Little Jeans Pocketknife: The Norwegian songstress who grew up in the forested seaside town of Grimstad, has come a long way from singing in church choirs, retirement homes, malls and bars. From studying drama in London and waitressing to make ends meet, to being featured on TV and film soundtracks, it’s readily apparent that Mr Little Jeans’ star is in the ascendant. These 12 intoxicating tracks herald the arrival of an artist whose immense talent contains both an indie credibility and an undeniable mainstream potential. (Popmatters)

26. Ed Harcourt Time Of Dust: This six-track mini-album is touched by darkness – it’s distorted, unsettling, untrustworthy almost, like a creepy character lurking in the shadows. But its nooks and crannies reveal weird and wonderful delights at every turn. There’s an air of Richard Hawley in opener Come Into My Dreamland, with its echoing piano, haunting choral and theremin – a siren luring you into something a little sinister, but oh so lovely. You’d willingly go. The title track is just as menacing, with its unsettling Mexican circus interlude, distant snare and Eels-like bridge. Even Ed’s vocals have a demonic quality to them beneath his beautiful breathiness. (Clash Music)

27. Alvvays Alvvays: Rankin possesses the sort of radiant but deceptively deadpan voice that lets her to infuse these lovelorn laments with sly, sometimes sinister wit: when she sings, “I left my love in the river” on the drowned-boyfriend requiem Next of Kin, there’s the simmering implication that she could’ve done a little more to save him. (The chorus to the dreamy slow-motorik ballad Ones Who Love You meanwhile, is home to the most beautifully nonchalant f-bomb.) This sense of irreverence bleeds into the album’s production, whose scabrous guitar lines, synth-blurred vistas, and drum-machine experiments reveal the band are hardly the purists their pedigree might indicate. (Pitchfork)

28. Gerard Way Hesitant Alien: to hear Way gleefully rip through such sunshiny genres as glam rock and Britpop is to realize that he might have been wrongfully cast as emo’s poster boy in the first place. Even as far back as Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, there was always something manically joyful in his voice, as if a part of him simply refused to take all that macabre shit too seriously. Once he settles into his new digs and starts to experiment with his Anglocentric influences more, he might stumble upon something that forces people to pay attention. For now, he’ll have to convince adult-minded lovers of pop that a former emo superstar has more in his toolbox than hair dye and eyeliner. And in that regard, Hesitant Alien is a worthy case in point. (Pitchfork)

29. Shabazz Palaces Lese Majesty: Lese Majesty is an Armageddon-esque suicide mission to crash into rap's consciousness in hopes of tipping it away from a dangerous path. These aren’t condescending “Real Hip-Hop” platitudes: this is a call to arms for hip-hop’s creative fringe to snatch the reins from a power structure more interested in self-preservation than the advancement of the culture. The soul of Shabazz Palaces is pairing next-gen sounds with classic brass-tacks show-and-prove emceeing, and Lese Majesty tugs those extremes as far as they've ever been pulled; that it never shows signs of wear speaks to the strength of the bond. (Pitchfork)

30. Blu Good To Be Home: On those moments where Bombay keeps the beat sparse, Blu's lyrics springs out in his voice, the past tense of his memories' waypoints rattled off with the snarl of someone yet to come down from the adrenaline high and the ensuing rush. Maybe that's the point: Good to Be Home's recollections are only meant to be alluded to, a summer-jam album riddled with familiar nods to shared experiences but still walled off from observers who think they really know Blu. (Pitchfork)