Cigars are often reviewed in thirds, and the final third of the cigar is “when the smoke is at its strongest.” 2014 has been a pungent, full-bodied Churchill and each drag has been stimulating and rewarding. In anticipation of the next four months’ coming releases, including the hotly anticipated Aphex Twin comeback and the Shady Records anthology Shady XV, I’d like to take a look back at some of the best music I’ve heard this year.
Recently, much of my writing for this blog has centered on hip-hop. This has been a fun topic on which to learn and write, but this blog is meant to encompass much more than that single genre. We’re not even limited to writing about music, but that’s how it’s been. In breaking with tradition, I’ve decided to exclude hip-hop releases from this list; however, there will be plenty more coverage of that genre in the future. For the time being, please enjoy the following summary of albums, EPs and singles which have seen extensive play on my sound system.
Deepchord – Luxury 1 & 2
The dub techno genre owes much to Rod Modell, the Detroit electronic musician who has single-handedly led a revolution in the style over the years with solo works and collaborations in his name and credited to Deepchord, cv313, Echospace and other monikers. In February he released the Luxury single, a pair of ten-minute plus songs that slowly progress and develop as the beat steadily bumps along. This is versatile music that can inspire happy memories of beaches and road trips or somber nostalgic reflections on times and places long forgotten. “Luxury 2” has become of my favorite songs of the year and this single has serious staying power.
Rebekka Karijord – Music for Film and Theatre
Rebekka Karijord is a multi-talented Norwegian musician who has worked extensively in the fields of, huh, film and theater. This album is a selection of compositions of hers which showcase her abilities and present pieces that are evocative and beautiful. She draws influence from modern classical, jazz and avant-garde music with the end result sounding intricately planned and perfectly executed. Music for Film and Theatre is a vivid listening experience and introduced me to a person I am looking forward to hearing more from.
Marshburn – Dreamseller
Mathcore might have had a heyday. Then again, maybe it didn’t; the noisy subgenre of hardcore and extreme metal that broke the mainstream (in relative terms) through bands like Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Botch is tough to pin down, with most bands associated with it also aligning closely with other styles of music (the term “noisecore” is sometimes used to refer to mathcore bands, particularly groups like Daughters and The Locust, although I prefer to use that term to describe the style of music played by bands like Deche-Charge and Gorgonized Dorks). Many of the “second-wave mathcore” bands, if you will, that gained attention in the 2000s (The Number Twelve Looks Like You, Heavy Heavy Low Low, Some Girls) have broken up now, and the veterans of the scene are no longer strongly associated with it.
The past few years, however, have seen something of a Renaissance in the style, with groups like Catchers in the Rye, Fake Asian Rolex, Pollution People and Dionaea carrying on the proud legacy of mathcore and pushing it forward. One of these new bands is Marshburn, who released the album Dreamseller this year. I’ll cut things short and just say that it’s good. The band know how to play together and their songwriting ability is immense. This is a promising album and signals that mathcore isn’t dead.
The Flashbulb – Nothing Is Real
Benn Jordan is the man. His last several albums, released under the pseudonym The Flashbulb, have all hit home, from the jazz stylings of Soundtrack to a Vacant Life to the Chicago IDM of Hardscrabble, with the immaculate trio of Arboreal, Love As a Dark Hallway and Opus at the End of Everything in between. He has earned every piece of positive feedback that’s come his way, as his albums showcase a wide range of emotions to and with which a person can fall in love. On Nothing Is Real, Jordan’s winning streak continues. However, it’s a victory for all of us, as this music is a triumph that we can all celebrate.
Nadja – Tangled EP
A Canadian sludge/drone band making grindcore? It’s more likely than you think. Nadja’s foray into fast-paced music is an indulgent recording session of songs which answer a “what if?” question that no one was asking. It’s a good release from a band that has put out dozens of albums, EPs, splits and collaborations since their inception, including other terrific 2014 releases (the solo full-length Queller and the collaborations Cystema Solari and /ɪmpəˈfɛkʃ(ə)n/). Nadja are content to march to the beat of their own programmed drum and I applaud them for doing so.
Cosmin TRG – FIZIC01
Like most people, I’ve often found myself wondering over the years why Romanian electronic music producer Cosmin TRG doesn’t have his own record label. Now he does, and the first release on it, FIZIC01, is awesome. The two songs on this single, “Repetitiv” and “Vernacular,” are fun techno tunes with hints of industrial, deep house and UK garage peeking out at various points. It’s a robust release that shows the artist formerly known merely as TRG flexing his abilties and ensuring that his legacy lasts a long time.
Lilacs & Champagne – Midnight Features Vol. 1: Shower Scene
I’ve been a fan of Grails side-project Lilacs & Champagne since their self-titled debut came out in 2012, and they’ve kept me happy by releasing a second album and now an EP in the time since. Midnight Features Vol. 1: Shower Scene is a six-song showing that runs the group’s gamut of influences including bizarre progressive rock, eighties synthtronica and trip-hop. The song “Sensations (Corpse on the Beach Version)” has fast become another one of my favorite songs from this year, an upbeat instrumental rock song replete with guitar tapping, flourishes and chord changes. This EP is good on its own merits and seems to signal great things to come.
Castle – Under Siege
Trad-doom revivalists Castle garnered much praise for their sophomore success Blacklands, and their follow-up Under Siege is just as good if not better. This female-fronted heavy metal band have a dense, atmospheric sound which works well with their brand of stoner-friendly riffs and songwriting. It’s a fun record to play during your tabletop gaming sessions, whether Hero Quest, Munchkin or good ol’ D&D. Put this in your pipe and smoke it.
Fire! Orchestra – Second Exit
Fire! has become a huge name is free jazz and I’m certainly not the first person to sing their praises. Last year, under a lineup performing as Fire! Orchestra, they released the top-notch Exit!, followed this year by Enter and then Second Exit. Each of these albums is great and you should listen to them, but I note Second Exit in particular for the level of experimentation and musicianship present on this recording. These are all talented individuals and they’ve come together to create a sonic force to be reckoned with. I reckons wit’ it.
Barrier of Dark Leaves – Spite
Are we as a society done talking about harsh noise? I as a listener am not, and fortunately the community of musicians creating this glorious product are resilient and have kept it coming. Spite is a wall of God damn pain that gets better the louder you turn it up. “It’s just static” you whine, and that criticism suggests that you are fucking weak. It’s pathetic, but hey, to each their own. I’m certainly not going to inflict my values violently upon you and it’s your call if you get up and leave right now. Just know that there’s a Barrier of Dark Leaves through which your pitiful ears cannot pass and that’s fine; no one has to be tougher than a sound recording (and you certainly are not).
That’s a varied sampling of 2014 releases which should offer something new or interesting to just about everyone. I hope you found something you liked and do feel free to let me know what have been your favorites of this year and also those to which you most look forward.