Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Best Albums of 2014

[This is an article I originally wrote for CHIRP Radio.]

CHIRP Radio Best of 2014
Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2014. Our next list is from DJ and Blog Manager Clarence Ewing.

One of the reasons I like posting these end-of-year lists is it gives me the chance to read the choices of my fellow volunteers and discover a lot of great music I missed over the year. The hard part is finding the time and resources to listen to all this stuff. A nice problem to have, for sure. Now that Apple has decided to stop making iPods (one of the bigger and more symbolic stories in music news this year, IMO), will I soon have to worry about how I will carry around my entire music collection wherever I go, which I've decided is now my right? Walkman, it's time for a comeback!

#1Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything by Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra (Constellation)
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On EverythingBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

An earthy, swirling, sprawling musical riot/celebration from a Montreal ensemble that merges skill, passion, and civic pride into something you can file under the best kind of Post-Rock. This was the record that helped me get through Chiberia I.
#2You're Dead! by Flying Lotus (Warp)
Flying Lotus You're Dead!BUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Flying Lotus takes us on a rapid-fire trip through a galaxy of digital beats heavily influenced by the sounds coming out of Chicago's Drill scene and soulfully mixed with Jazz and Rap. A notable achievement from a gifted musician. I highly recommend the video for the song "Never Catch Me," but I should also warn that you may want to have tissues nearby.
#3ESTOILE NAIANT by pattern (Warp)
pattern ESTOILE NAIANTBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

A kaleidoscope of techno sounds and effects from an enigmatic figure who sounds like he's generating the music from another dimension that's ½ second out of synch with ours. I love the fact that I’m still trying to process most of this record. 200 years from now, when humans and androids spend their evenings in clubs dancing shoulder to shoulder, the music from the DJ booth might sound a lot like this.
#4Escape Velocity by The Phenomenauts (Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club)
The Phenomenauts Escape VelocityBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Combining the muscular, well-honed garage-rock chops of The Fleshtones with the futurist themes of Devo, the lyrical cheekiness of They Might Be Giants, and just the right amount of Glam and Retro-Pop, The Phenomenauts rock harder than a lot of other bands that might chuckle at their premise. Like Mt. Zion, the band’s love is for a specific place, but in that celebration their love becomes universal.
#5Hirn Fein Hacken by Bulbul (Exile On Mainstream)
Bulbul Hirn Fein HackenBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

This is avant-garde Rock that seems to go in every direction at once while never forgetting the "Rock" half of the equation. They sound like what might have happened if The Police had been exiled to East Berlin during the '80s and fed a steady diet of absinthe and Krautrock while only being allowed to record from 1:00 to 4:00am.
#6Black Light Spiral by Untold (Hemlock)
Untold Black Light SpiralBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Untold stitches together and loops decidedly un-musical sounds and textures in true musique concrète tradition. Echoes of the background noise of modern life, along with static, scraping effects and muddy dance-floor rhythms form the palette he uses to create a rough, darkly cinematic atmosphere, using repetition and the full dynamic range of your speakers to sculpt a unique musical experience.
#7Delta Sands by Opal Onyx (Tin Angel)
Opal Onyx Delta SandsBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The debut album from an experimental Electronic duo from Brooklyn that's dark, deep and hazy, with lots of sustained passages of droning synths, strings and effects while melody lines from guitars and bass fade in and out. Lead singer Sarah Nowicki's high register cuts through the distortion and rumbling, sounding isolated in the sea of sound while matching its weight and mystical feel. A setup that risks coming off as formless and meandering is instead intriguing and purposeful - Portishead-esque, if you will.
#8Emmaar by Tinariwen (ANTI-)
Tinariwen EmmaarBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

I have to make sure I'm not driving or operating heavy machinery when I'm listening to this band, because every time I do I go off into a trance. The grooves they weave together are that deep and entrancing.
#9Voorhees by Gel Set + Stacian (Moniker)
Gel Set + Stacian VoorheesBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Chicago's own Gel Set and Stacian combine forces on this 5-track split EP of hazy, dance-oriented electronica. Gel Set's music is of the more straight-ahead Synth-Pop variety, with a scandalous edge to it. Those familiar with '80s bands like Berlin and Soft Cell might get flashbacks. Stacian takes a more abstract approach, bending notes and adding samples to her layered and extended arrangements.
#10Electroshock Death Grip by Black Taxi (No Shame)
Black Taxi Electroshock Death GripBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Some seriously satisfyingly danceable and groovy Indie-Pop. Each member brings a different musical genre background to the table (Jazz, Hip-Hop, '80s Synth-Pop, musical theatre), and bits and pieces of those influences come through on the record, but the main blueprint is a solidly funky rhythm section underneath the electronic melodies and effects and Post-Punkish lyrics. It's not hard to hear why this band has a reputation for the quality of their live shows.

Honorable Mentions:

GOAT – Commune (Sub Pop)
Tobacco - Ultima II Massage (Ghostly International)
Nothing – Guilty of Everything (Relapse)
Cibo Matto – Hotel Valentine (Chimera Music)
EXCEPTER – Familiar (Blast First Petite)

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