Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast: A perfectly respectable – well, maybe not respectable, since respectability’s never really been frontman Greg Dulli’s thang – but a perfectly worthy addition to the Whigs’ discography. Plenty of dark groove and grit and sex to be found here. They also put on an enjoyable show, unfortunately marred by the venue’s bad sound.
Afghan Whigs – Matamoros
J Mascis – Tied to a Star: not totally acoustic (electric guitar and full band arrangements show up at key points) but another very lovely solo record by the Dino Jr. main man, who’s seemingly been on a creative resurgence for a few years now, both with the band and on his own – if you liked J’s terrific 2011 Several Shades of Why, this one is every bit as good. His singing remains an acquired taste, but to my ear, he seems to be enunciating more clearly and putting more effort into his vocals than ever before, and the guitar playing here is predictably excellent – all the more apparent, since it’s not amplified beyond all sanity and reason.
J Mascis and Chan Marshall (Cat Power) – Wide Awake
Ex Hex – Rips: Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag, herself) is an excellent guitarist in her own right and here she forgoes any baroque flourishes and goes straight for the jugular in this record that recalls the tough females in Sleater-Kinney, the Pretenders and, er, the Go-Go’s. Unapologetically hooky as all get out, track after track after track.
Ex Hex – Waterfall
Objekt – Flatland: What can I say? I’m a sucker for sleek, impenetrable, oblique teutonic techno music:
Objekt – Strays
Jessy Lanza‘s Pull My Hair Back did icy minimalist R&B with some help from Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan:
Jessy Lanza – Keep Moving
The Bug – Angels and Devils: Dystopian dub derivations that singlehandedly justify Ninja Tune’s continued existence and counter any complaints about the label’s output mostly comprising inoffensive cocktail party music. The back half of the record (the “Devils” portion, as opposed to the first half’s uneasily-beautiful “Angels”), in fact, might be TOO offensive, as singer after singer goes for f-bomb variants on the hook; still, it’s an alternately ethereal and grimy ride through future London that shouldn’t be missed.
The Bug – Function/Void
Aphex Twin – Syro: The master returns and instead of redefining the parameters, merely makes an incredibly-accomplished, varied and detailed record that almost plays like a greatest-hits comp of various shades he’s shown us in the past. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, receiving a highlight reel from one of electronic music’s most influential figures is nothing to sneeze at.
Aphex Twin – v473t8+o Piezoluminescence mix
Ekoplekz – Unfidelity – to some degree, this mines the sound of “classic” Aphex/Warp Records, but it’s still an engrossing record in its own right:
Ekoplekz – Trace Elements
***II. Recommended, With Reservations:***
Interpol‘s El Pintor was pretty good, but kind of slipped off my radar quickly.
Interpol – All the Rage Back Home
The Juan MacLean‘s new one (In a Dream) never really grabbed me, though I keep trying. I was really looking forward to it. I just don’t know WHAT is going on with these Miami Vice guitars here:
The Juan MacLean – A Place Called Space
Burial – Rival Dealer EP – Burial tends to muck up year-end lists by releasing EPs in December. Since his 2012 Truant/Rough Sleeper made my 2013 wrapup, so too does his 2013 Rival Dealer make my 2014 one. It’s not my favorite Burial, but it shows him continuing to stretch his horizons and ambitiously strive for an emotional directness not often heard in electronic music.
Heard in the right mindframe (ideally, dozing in and out, late at night) its final track “Come Down To Us” keeps veering unpredictably back and forth over the line between mournful beauty and epic dreampop. The usual manipulated vocal sample snippets are layered to form a bed of positive verbal affirmations to the listener. The whole composition skirts uncomfortably close, at times, to a self-help manual set to a Vangelis soundtrack; but it mostly stays just on the right side of cheeseball (for me, modern auto-tuned overdone R&B vocal stylings have been nailed forever by Tom Haverford and Jean-Ralphio) by virtue of its obvious big-heartedness:
Burial – Come Down To Us
***III. Recommended, With Reservations (80’s Veterans Edition):***
U2‘s latest album got more notice seemingly for its marketing/free-distribution debacle than its (abysmally-titled) songs, which really…weren’t that bad, when I finally got around to listening to them last week.
U2 with Lykke Li – The Troubles
Johnny Marr‘s Playland has a chorus that recalls Wire (“The Trap”) here; an opening riff that recalls the Church (“Candidate”) there; one bit that is probably shooting for Joy Division but instead hits She Wants Revenge (“25 Hours”); a track that recalls Gary Numan (“Speak Out Reach Out”); and a track called “Easy Money” that as far as I can tell is totally original but unfortunately has a dumb chorus hook that’s super-irritating.
Derivativeness of eighties alt-rock hits aside, it’s all well-put-together and undeniably catchy (even, maybe especially, the infernal “Money”). Marr’s merely-serviceable voice is nothing to write home about, but his vocal melodies sometimes remind me a bit of his former Electronic partner in crime, Bernard Sumner; that’s always a good thing. The guitars sound great, as you’d expect. A pleasant surprise.
(This is actually off his prior solo album, but I refuse to subject y’all to “Easy Money”. You’re welcome):
Johnny Marr – New Town Velocity
***IV. Best Show I Saw This Year:***
Hands down, no contest, not even close.
Never having really listened to them, I went mostly out of curiosity to see the long-running and influential Washington band that somehow manages to find a complicated middle ground between Blacks Flag and Sabbath, and came away an instant fan. Augmenting the core duo of singer/guitarist Buzz “King Buzzo” Osbourne and monster drummer Dale Crover with bassist JD Pinkus from Butthole Surfers, these guys were heavier than ununseptium, twistier and tighter and more powerful than a steroid-pumped python, and funny as hell.
By the second song I had permagrin plastered across my face, it was apparent they were so good and the crowd was so into it (and this was all long BEFORE the band busted out their pretty righteous cover of the Wipers’ 1981 punk-psychedelic epic “Youth of America”). At one point Crover broke his kickdrum head, no easy feat even for such a forceful drummer, and quipped that hadn’t happened since 1994 in Boise, Idaho as openers for their friends and fans Nirvana.
Melvins – Night Goat (Live)
During the break to replace it, Osbourne regaled the crowd with hilarious tales of the band’s disastrous 1986(!) maiden visit to our town, having been invited to play on a bill with other bands that were, unbeknownst to Melvins at the time of the invitation, skinheads (“Let me tell you, they didn’t have much patience for our longhair hippie bullshit“); staying in a skinhead’s house with, literally, a burnt cross in the front yard; and staying up all night (afraid to go to sleep, lest their hosts – or their hosts’ enemies – visit violence upon them) watching these yokels give each other homemade, misspelled tattoos. And this was near the beginning of the tour, which he recounted as a wide-ranging series of successive catastrophes, until they aborted the whole thing and drove home, vowing to never leave their home state ever again.
Luckily for us (but not my poor eardrums – dudes were LOUD), they changed their minds.
Honorable mention: I talked a friend into taking a day off work and driving 3 1/2 hours to see Wussy play in a tiny dive bar to about twenty-five people. We chatted with the band a little (nice folks), drank too much good beer, ate delicious tacos, and barely got our hungover asses out of the hotel by extended checkout time the next day. Something everyone needs to do every once in a while.
Wussy – Bug
Musician Mark Bell passed away in October at age 43. Anyone with an interest in electronic music from the 1990’s to the early aughts probably heard some of his work, either with his own pioneering UK techno act LFO, or his collaborations with Björk, or production/remixes for the likes of Depeche Mode and others.
LFO – L.F.O.
Björk (with Mark Bell) – Hunter
Björk (with Mark Bell) – Jóga
Journalist and musician Nick Talbot, who performed as Gravenhurst, passed away at 37. He made overcast folk-inflected rock music of a particularly British strain, with echoes of Nick Drake, shoegazers like MBV/Slowdive/Flying Saucer Attack, and postpunk miserablists like Joy Division and Smiths.
Gravenhurst – Bluebeard
Gravenhurst – Trust
Gravenhurst – I Turn My Face To The Forest Floor
What’d y’all like this year, on record or live?
(Also, Chris already listed a lot of his picks for the year here; go check those out, since they are as usual more diverse and interesting than are mine.)
Chris here! First, not only are my favorites from this year not more interesting than Glyph’s, but there’s also significant overlap. I enjoyed Spoon, Objekt, The Juan MacLean, Ex Hex (whom I was listening to just now, in fact), and Aphex Twin. So I’ll just add a few of my other favorites. In particular, these are artists whose songs/albums I listened to the most this year (correcting for release date, of course):
Talib Kweli technically released Gravitas last December, but I spent much of the early part of the year listening to it. The single “State of Grace” is my second favorite thing he did this year, after his interview with Don Lemon:
I have no idea what other people think of Hundred Waters, but I don’t care. I’m so in love with Miglis’ voice that I’d listen to her sing her grocery list. As a result, I’ve had The Moon Rang Like a Bell on repeat for days at a time more than once this year, and may have listened to “Murmurs” more than any other song:
If I’ve listened to any non-Hundred Waters song as much as “Murmurs” this year, it’s probably “Today More Than Any Other Day,” because I needed it:
In fact, Ought’s More Than Any Other Day may be my winner for “Album Most Likely to Hit the Spot” this year. “Well everything is gonna be OK!”
Hip hop had another great year, and I mean great as in seriously, hip hop is killing it right now. There was Schoolboy Q, whose music I simply cannot bring myself to post on this site, and Kendrick has new songs, but it was two rather culturally and politically timely albums that kicked the most ass for me. Fist, Vince Staples’ Hell Can Wait:
(NSFW! With n-words.)
And Pitchfork’s #1 album of the year, Killer Mike and El-P’s Run the Jewels 2:
(Even Less Safe For Work! With n-words.)
Changing directions entirely, and speaking of voices I’m addicted to, Zoe Randell of Luluc on Passerby:
Spinning off in another direction again, my guilty pleasure this year has been Music Go Music’s Impressions, which is disco and Abba and fun and dancing. It may be super-extra-produced (The Guardian’s review said, “The second album by LA’s Music Go Music is so perfect it’s unnerving”), but I don’t care; I can’t listen to it on the bus or walking down the street for fear of looking like a dancing fool.
I’ll just do one more, since this post must have more videos than MTV has played in the last decade by now. But if I were going to post more, there’d be Mac Demarco, tUnE-yArDs, Mr Twin Sister, Flying Lotus, Fear of Men, Tina Dico, Youth Code, Icage, The Antlers, TOPS, Loscii, Swans, Perfume Genius, Viet Cong, Kiasmos, Andrew Bird, Caribou, Kate Tempest, Woods, The Soft Moon, and more. Anyway, I’ll leave you with Lee Fields, who is a genius, from Emma Jean:
Hope you had a good year, and have an even better one in ’15.
Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right).
Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.