[CHRONICLES] Best of 2014 from our writers : David
The following is a list of stuff I enjoyed this year, in no particular order. As I read through other people’s lists I realize that I forgot a bunch of stuff, so shout out to Chon, Stifle, Mock and the Caution Children for doing cool stuff. Also shout out to Orchid Tapes for being one of the most unique and innovative labels right now and putting out a bunch of stellar music this year. Also huge shout out to Tommy Boys for writing my favorite song of the year “Estate Sale” that only comes out officially in January. Had to mention that somewhere. Thanks for reading my dumb list and extra thanks to PM, Karl, Lamb and the rest of Vakarme for letting an english dude write for their awesome website.
Top 20 LPs of 2014 :
Gates – Bloom And Breathe (Pure Noise Records / Friend Of Mine Records)
To call Bloom and Breathe Gates’ best effort yet would be unfair – the songwriting is just as good as their two earlier EPs, but there is something more concise and dynamic about this record. Luckily, singing to the steadfastly pop-punk Pure Noise Records label didn’t tarnish their sound – if anything, this record is more diverse than their older material, from the sparse, drawn-out At Last the Loneliest of Them, to the punchy euphoria of Born Dead, Gates have truly established a fascinatingly unique sound.
From Indian Lakes – Absent Sounds (Triple Crown Records)
Beyond the more obvious touchstones of Joey Vannucchi’s gorgeous voice and the band’s progressive, challenging pop songwriting, this record sets an eerie, otherworldly tone that past releases didn’t even flirt with. The record manages to be kinda dark and very catchy at the same time. I just wish it lasted a bit longer.
Emperor X – The Orlando Sentinel (Self-release)
I told Emperor X that RING 3B: Todos Somos Caribenos, a jittery, drum-heavy, symphonic banger in which he shrieks and sings the same line over and over again in Spanish, was my favourite song on his new record. He was particularly surprised and happy to hear this, because, as he explained, this song (and much of the record) is very different from most of his earlier work. Nevertheless, as excellent and innovative as it and other electronic-heavy tunes like Fierce Resource Allocation are, “classic” Emperor X sounding songs like Swim Laws and Daytrader Stadium are just as good. Hopefully his recent relocation to Berlin will continue inspiring progression and innovation in his sound, and further experiments within electronic music.
People Like You – “This Is What You Learned” (Broken World Media)
This record, and particularly the song Everything Matters, had a huge impact on me this year. Beyond the flawlessly complex drumming, gorgeous trumpet lines and challenging riffs, it is Christopher Lee-Rodriguez’s earnest, introspective and incredibly personal lyrics that truly stand out. This bold, ambitious synthesis of jazz, math-rock and emo may seem daunting and inaccessible at first, but the touching, profound nature of Chris’ words should hopefully resound with listeners regardless.
Totorro – Home Alone (Friend Of Mine Records)
This is just an expertly composed, feel-good math-rock record. Totorro manage to make math-rock catchy and accessible, and uncannily incorporate a subtle punk influence. As far as I’m concerned this is easily one of the most exciting and enjoyable math-rock releases of the past five years. Highly recommended for anyone that has been intimidated or put off by math-rock or instrumental music in the past.
Grouper – Ruins (Kranky)
There has been a lot of talk about how Ruins was recorded live, in one take, in remote Aljezur, Portugal, and about how you can hear crickets chirping, the rain, and a beeping microwave in the background, and while this is all really important, it is the extreme urgency and desperation that seeps through that is truly captivating. Piano and voice is a perfect vehicle for Liz Harris’ art, and the perfect progression for the Grouper sound/aesthetic.
Alex G – DSU (Orchid Tapes)
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes me love Alex G so much. Maybe it’s his effortless ability to inject serious emotion into his carefree, jangly, slacker-rock songs. Maybe it’s unabashed, bold manoeuvres like flirting with cheeky bizarre-funk on tracks like Promise (which stands out distinctly on the record and is easily the most unique song I’ve heard this year), and then following it up with a morose, downer track like Icehead. Either way, DSU is probably the best album I’ve heard this year.
Tawny Peaks – In Silver River (Soft Speak Records)
When this record came out, a member of Tawny Peaks posted it on facebook and said something along the lines of “we’ve abandoned emo, we’re a dad-rock band now!”. While this album does regretfully omit the skittery riff-emo of their fantastic debut, it maintains a light, happy-go-lucky vibe and really well written, fun songs, albeit way more toned down and mid-tempo. It was simultaneously cool and bittersweet to have watched Tawny Peaks progress though, because they unfortunately broke up right after releasing this.
This Will Destroy You – Another Language (Suicide Squeeze)
Beyond the fact that this record consists of really beautiful, heavy hitting, wonderfully composed songs, I am incredibly drawn to the fascinating mood that the album creates. There is a very seamless juxtaposition of warm, inviting nostalgia and eerie, ominous distance. I also admire the band’s initiative to work and experiment far beyond the typical sonic palette of the genre while still vividly recalling influences and peers like Sigur Ros and Lymbyc Systym. This record is sparse, and hollow, and constantly makes me feel like I’m floating.
Kimyan Law – Coeur Calme (Blu Mar Ten Music)
I’ve always been drawn to Autonomic and other outsider forms of Drum and Bass, a taste I credit to an early exposure and love for IDM. Kimyan Law, an 18 year old producer from Vienna, expands on this penchant for complex drum programming and unorthodox composition, recalling the finest moments of producers like Stray, dBridge, Synkro and Frederic Robinson.
Sport – Bon Voyage (Housebreaker Records)
This record makes me think of fun, and happiness, and shouting along to songs you really like with people you really like. It’s also such a mature, more dynamic and complex extension of the sound that Sport crafted on Colours and the demo. But mostly fun.
Xerxes – Collision Blonde (No Sleep Records)
I love this record because it sounds like if the Smiths and Slint joined up to become a raw, powerful emotional hardcore band. I also love this record because it’s really exhilarating to listen to; there is an overwhelming amount of energy and depth and genuine emotion. It is also really gorgeous sounding, due in large part to the shimmering, hollow, chorus-heavy guitars. A super unique, impactful, hard-hitting piece of music.
Saintseneca – Dark Arc (Anti- Records)
Dark Arc is considerably busier and more maximalist than Saintseneca’s debut Last. While some of the more intimate, subdued moments that stood out on Last are less frequent here, the bold range of dynamics on Dark Arc allow the band to explore a multitude of themes that would be inconceivable on Last. This is mostly due to the incorporation of drums and electronic instrumentation, which help foster a sense of vastness and expansiveness on the record, and help the band achieve a fuller, more varied sound. If anything, it is just a more versatile vehicle for Zac Little’s incredible lyricism and songwriting, as the songs remain just as profound and heart-wrenching as the material on Last.
Hightide Hotel – Naturally (Count Your Lucky Stars)
Despite the super heavy lyrical content, Naturally is a really fun, energetic record. I think Hightide Hotel are one of the most original new emo bands; the frenetic vocal delivery and song structure, their seamless ability to sound like a pop-punk band and a math-rock band at the same time – they are one of a few bands going right now that can truly claim their own sound. This album is more straightforward than older Hightide Hotel stuff and I often fantasize about stage diving when I listen to it. Try not to flip out when that guitar solo comes in during Don’t Need.
Foxes In Fiction – Ontario Gothic (Orchid Tapes)
This record is a treasure chest of nuance; extremely detailed and painstakingly placed production and layers of delicate samples make it really enjoyable and exciting to listen to. The title track Ontario Gothic is an incredibly joyous, effervescent song that rewards the listener with glistening, technicolor guitar and encapsulating vocal stabs. It’s no surprise that it took Warren four years to complete this.
Prawn – Kingfisher (Topshelf Records)
I love how direct and powerful Prawn’s songwriting has gotten; older songs like Perfect Equilibrium hinted at it but it is fully achieved on this record. I also love the way this record is arranged; a slow, atmospheric downer track is usually followed up by an upbeat torcher. My personal highlight, however, is Thalassa. That trumpet line destroys me every time.
Fog Lake – Virgo Indigo (Orchid Tapes)
There is a lot of beauty and sombreness all over this record. A lot of the record feels really hazy and removed and distant, but there are also some more upfront moments. Aaron Powell is a vulnerable dude; you can feel it in his lyrics and in the fragility of his music. And he makes me feel really vulnerable when I listen to it.
Owls – Two (Polyvinyl Records)
Classic weirdo riffs from the these legendary weirdo riffers. Easily my favourite Kinsella band and I’m really happy they finally made a new record. Sick riffs and strange lyrics all day. This record rips.
Save Us From The Archon – Thereafter (Self Release)
This is by far the heaviest record I have ever enjoyed in my entire life. I didn’t know I was capable of enjoying something so heavy. This is also the most technically impressive record I’ve heard all year. If you want to hear some of the heaviest riffing ever listen to this record.
Circa Survive – Descensus (Sumerian Records)
Full disclosure: I hated the last two Circa Survive records. This one is phenomenal. For one, they started writing interesting, complex songs again, instead of pandering to whatever modern rock radio station trends were popular in 2010. Furthermore, there are some fantastic experiments throughout the album, like the smooth, languid Phantom, and they heavy-as-fuck title track Descensus, which essentially becomes a 6 minute long breakdown.
Honorable mentions :
- Ought – More Than Any Other Day (Constellation Records)
- Sleep For The Nightlife – Minimalist Cites (Self Release)
- Somos – Temple Of Plenty (Tiny Engines)
- Tide/Edit – Foreign Languages (Friend Of Mine Records)
- Hail The Sun – Wake (Blue Swan Records)
- Aphex Twin – Syro (Warp)
Top 10 EPs of 2014 :
Logfella – Closet Doubts (Self Release)
There is so much cool stuff going on here. Dylan Hanwright is not only a brilliant songwriter, but also an expert producer. If you’re looking for like, a sick 80’s light rock record filtered through modern emo and indie-rock with really really well written songs, check this out. Plus there is a cover of Africa by Toto that features David of TWIABP.
Strange Mangers – Return Eternal (Self Release)
I think this is the most nostalgic release of the year for me. So many good memories attached to this short EP. Really warm and fuzzy feelings. The music is also really warm and fuzzy. Super gorgeous mix of shoegaze and noisy indie-rock. Listen to this band.
Brave Bird – T-Minus Grand Gesture (Count Your Lucky Stars)
The chorus of Rekindle is 100% my favourite emo hook/chorus of 2014. Also Hard Enough straight up sounds like Chuck Berry playing in an pop-punk band. Killer Velocity sounds really murky and compressed in a really good way and is just a total emotional train-wreck. Basically what I’m trying to say is that this EP is all over the place and I think that is really cool. RIP Brave Bird.
Sales – Sales (Self Release)
I have a huge crush on Lauren Morgan’s voice. These songs are so lush and pretty and intricate. Every sound is so well placed and super vivid. I’m also so taken about by how every track evokes such a different mood and feeling. There is so much beauty all over this thing.
Narrow / Arrow – Middle Children (Self Release)
Narrow / Arrow had a tremendous impact and influence on me as a musician this year. If you have a minute, look them up on YouTube. You’ll notice that Cody plays two guitars at once, brilliantly, while singing. Mark and Jonathan fill the band out perfectly. Beyond the fact that everyone in the band completely slays at their instrumentals, this EP is full of some of the most profound songs I’ve heard in a while, dealing mostly with Cody’s disassociation from his devoutly Christian family. Shout out to Narrow / Arrow for taking math-emo to the next level.
Sore Eyelids – For Now (Protagonist Music / Zegema Beach Records)
I feel kinda weird including this because I’ve only had the full record for 4 days, but as soon as I heard Waste I knew I had some major rearranging to do. The way Henning bends every strum is so overwhelming. I love how all over the place this is; it’s riffy and fast but also super depressive and drawn out at times. Getting me stoked on the new Suis La Lune coming out next year.
Toasted Plastic – TP/ST (Self Release)
Toasted Plastic are the kings of jittery weird-emo. This EP gets pretty mathy but is also the first time the band experiment with more conventional, straight-forward songwriting like on Excellence In Motion, which kinda has this slacker Nai Harvest vibe going on. Toasted Plastic really had their own thing going, a way of putting together songs that is totally independent of any other band I’ve heard.
Spencer Radcliffe – Keeper (Self Release)
Spencer Radcliffe makes really fragile, volatile, melancholic songs. He also makes really playful, bizarre songs. I love his music so much that it’s really hard to put into words. I think Child’s Pose is the most brilliant song of 2014. “Isn’t it funny how personification of the human body suggests an exact location of the complex, subjective emotional structures like love?”
Spencer Radcliffe / RL Kelly – Brown Horse (Orchid Tapes)
This was by far the saddest and most heartbreaking shit I heard all year. Like it’s difficult for me to listen to the RL Kelly side especially just because it triggers so many tough feelings. It’s also her strongest work to date as far as I’m concerned, as I had a way harder time getting into her EP and split with Alex G. She also takes an awesome weird left turn with the warped electronic number Teen Porn. Spencer Radcliffe comes through hard on this as well with some equally devastating tracks. Highlights include a ripping recorder solo on Green Things, the killer slacker-rap of My Song, and Tattoo, which is just as sad or maybe even sadder than RL Kelly’s side. Top notch downer material.
Animal Faces – Half Asleep (Self Release)
This reminds me of a more relaxed Sore Eyelids. Zach’s vocals sound amazing. I’ll always miss the older, heavier Animal Faces but this is such a rad, unique direction. I love the way the guitar is thick and heavy but also really warmly effected and enveloping.