20. CLOUD NOTHINGS- HERE AND NOWHERE ELSE
Though I enjoyed “Here And Nowhere Else” on the first few listens no song stood out to me much outside of the great “I’m Not Part Of Me”- one o the group’s best songs yet. Their last album “Attack On Memory” was one of my favorite albums of 2012 and had a handful of songs that were among my favorites of that year, so I was mildly disappointed that I didn’t like “Here And Nowhere Else” a bit more. When revisiting the album this Fall the rest of the songs began to stand out more. In fact, I’d say I now love nearly every song on the album. I’d still place it several rungs below “Attack”, but it’s their second nice album in a row. Lead singer Dylan Baldi still screams as if the whole world is at stake. The band is a driving force, thanks to both Baldi’s ability to write an insane amount of hooks and underrated drummer Jayson Gerycz’s prowess behind the kit. Cloud Nothings are surely a band helping to keep punk rock alive
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Count me as one who was bummed that the great Wild Flag, a supergroup made up of Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony of Helium, was a one off album project. But then fast-forward a few years and Sleater-Kinney is back together and better than ever and Mary Timony forms a new band, Ex Hex and they are probably as good as Wild Flag. You never know what will happen in the world of music. Ex Hex’s “Rips” was one of 2014’s most pleasant surprises. They are a Washington D.C. trio who delivers high energy power-pop punk in the spirit of late 70’s groups like the Buzzcocks, the Undertones and the Rezillos. Every song is hummable, melodic but fast, rockin’ and frenetic. This is not angry punk, but it is certainly throwback having more in common with power pop groups like Big Star or the Raspberries than anything else today. “Rips” is beyond fun. Check your pulse if you don’t like it.
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“What Is This Heart”? is How To Dress Well’s third and best record. After starting the HTDW project at the beginning of the decade as a no budget lo-fi endeavor featuring 80’s R&B samples of big radio hits, Tom Krell has upped the ante big with each record. Krell’s vocals and lyrics are now upfront and the production on the album now sounds big budget. Krell carries pop ambitions but still has an underground, indie mentality. His twee falsetto brings to mind Green Gartside of Scritti Politti and will likely turn off people afraid of their own feelings. “What Is This Heart?” is about love, trust and commitment . He sounds desperate, aching for love, but then doesn’t know what to do with it once he has it. He either spends his time in fear of losing the love he has or pining for something better. This is a brilliant album which gets better with each listen and contains a handful of beautiful tracks including “Words I Don’t Remember”, “Face Again”, “Repeat Pleasure” ad “See You Fall”. Krell set the stage for modern indie driven R&B for not only underground artists like the Weeknd, but also major label artists like Solange and Miguel. Hopefully he will begin to reap the benefits soon as well.
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If you’re a jazz person but lament that jazz has gone the way of classical and doesn’t push boundaries that it used to then you need to hear Flying Lotus. “You’re Dead” is the L.A. native’s fifth album release in a remarkably consistently great catalog. “You’re Dead!” is a concept album about deaths and its mysteries and inevitability. Steven Ellison (the genius behind Flying Lotus) creates a jazz-fusion of hip hop, R&B, techno & funk which is more breath-takingly beautiful and trippy that it is gritty. Ellison has brilliant taste in musicians as well bringing in Herbie Hancock, Ravi Coltrane (son of John C.), rappers Kendrick Lamar & Snoop Dog and frequent collaborator and world class bassist Thundercat. “You’re Dead” is as bugged out as it’s crazy cover art suggests. It moves from frenetically quick to haunting and sinister alternating between the light and the dark- giddy and gorgeous one minute and spooky the next. But it’s never boring or morbid and the album is amazingly cohesive for all of its tempo changes like all of the best progressive rock and jazz albums of yesteryear.
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Aside from one band in my top five, “Seeds” certainly has to be the most underrated album of the year. TV On The Radio, is a much loved Brooklyn and Indie-Rock institution, who have made consistently good to great albums their whole career. And while their previous release “Nine Types Of Light” was not their best effort it was certainly no misfire either. Well “Seeds” betters that record in every way, but it somehow got lost in all of the year end roundups with its late November release. The band’s signature eclectic sound, which mixes soul, heavy indie-rock & funk with elements of techno & hip hop is still in tact. So-lead singers Tunder Adebimpe and Kyp Malone’s moaning other worldly vocals are two of the best in current music. The production on the album is clear and pristine. Tracks like “Careful You”, “Could We”, lead single “Happy Idiot”, the beautiful ballad “Test Pilot” and one of their most ferocious rockers “Lazerray” are some of the group’s best songs ever. Don’t sleep on this album!
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Debut EP from young L.A. rapper Vince Staples, who previously received a guest spot on Earl Sweatshirt’s last album, is 2014’s hip hop debut of the year. These days major label rap releases are few and fat between- most rapper are forced to ply their trade with free mixtape releases. In an earlier time a rapper as promising as Staples would have debuted with far more fanfare. Rap economic climate aside maybe a debut EP is a good thing. Many rap albums of years past have been much too long. “Hell Can Wait” is only 23 minutes and it’s all very good- most of it quite great. “65 Hunnid”, “Screen Door” & “Limos” are all stellar tracks and “Hands Up” and Blue Suede” are two of the best tracks of the year- rap or otherwise. “Hands Up” better than any other song I’ve heard this year captures the zeitgeist in the way of police officer overreach at the hands of the black community. “Blue Suede” manages to be completely bleak and be catchy with as ridiculously memorable chorus- “All I wanted was them Jordans with the blue suede in ‘em. Young grave get the bouquets. Hope I outlive them red roses.” Staples is insightfully keeping it real.
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“Syro” was one of the few event albums of 2014. Though Richard D. James had been making music all along under different aliases “Syro” is his first release since 2001’s poorly received “Drukgs” as Aphex Twin. And Aphex Twin is the originator. The God of all things techno. Luckily, “Syro” doesn’t disappoint. Though I’m sure many of his bigger fans would disagree it’s probably my favorite of his albums overall and though it features no obvious anthems like “Windowlicker” or “Come To Daddy” it’s consistently great from beginning to end, and it can get you both disappearing inside your headphones and grooving out- if not on the dance floor then at least fanatically tapping your feet at your desk. Maybe the best thing about “Syro” is what a pleasurable listening experience it is- every track is very melodic and even the lengthiest tracks seem to speed by. The album never wavers or feels like a slog and at the very end you get his beautiful minimalist piano piece, which also hardly disappoints.
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Norwegian DJ Todd Terje comes off as a cheeky lounge lizard, drawing from many different styles and eras of dance music as well as outside of it to cocktail jazz, Balearic beach music, exotica and surf instrumentals. It’s like a more fun and much more hilarious version of Daft Punk’s last album but without the smash hit and with a heartbreaking ballad- a cover of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary” stuck right in the middle. Terje has been releasing music for the good part of the last decade including key Euro disco tracks like “Strandbar (Disko) and “Inspector Norse”, which are both included here. “It’s Album Time” therefore plays both as a great album, which CAN be rare in dance music, and as an almost greatest hits. While his music can come off as good, kitschy fun the sadness in the middle hints at more depth.
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The War On Drugs are a Philadelphia indie-rock band who made a good if not great album a few years back called “Slave Ambient” and Philly native son Kurt Vile used to be a former member. “Lost In The Dream”, their third album has gotten a shit ton of love this year- it’s the #1 favorite album of the year on Metacritic- an amalgamation of every top ten list of every magazine, newspaper, influential blog etc…It’s also been compared to both Dire Straits and Springsteen. Though I think the album is damn good and I get the 80’s “adult rock” comparisons I think both the critical adulation and the Boss-nods are both a bit overstated. “Lost In The Dream” does deliver some great songs and has the atmospheric touches and production that makes for a great full album listening experience which can be a rarity in this day of steaming and shuffle, but the album still sounds short of a masterpiece to me. Lead single “Red Eyes” is one of my favorite tracks of the year and other slow burners like “The Ocean In Between The Waves” and album opener “Under The Pressure” are two other great ones but their just weren’t enough other highlights for this to be called a true classic. I don’t mean to hate at all because “Lost In The Dream” is still one of the better albums you’ll hear this year and it’s a major step up for a band, which has now leaped to the forefront of indie-rock’s players.
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“Burn Your Fire No Witness” was a slow burner of an album released early last year by a relatively unknown artist, but almost a year later it is receiving plenty of love. It’s Olsen’s 2nd full length album and more than half of its tracks are absolute winners. Olsen alternates between rockers like lead singer “Forgiven/Forgotten”, “Lights Out” and “Hi-Five” and hushed yet still intense acoustic tracks “Enemy”, the terse “Unfucktheworld” and the seven minute Leonard Cohen influenced “White Fire”. Her fire and passion along with her loud vs. soft moments also brings to mind PJ Harvey. After this excellent album Olsen is an unknown no longer.
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