Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Best of 2014 List (Part 1) : Top 14 Music Albums of 2014 (Locals Excluded)

So this year i've actually managed to not be a lazy fuck and listen to enough number of albums coming out in 2014 to actually compile a proper list. While there wasn't any album that stood out far and beyond from the rest of the pack, these albums showcased the artists' growth, some degree of experimentation and the willingness to break out of their comfort zones or simply because they sound good to my ears heh.

My 14 favorite albums of 2014 (excluding locals; not in order)

1. Creative Adult - Psychic Mess (Run For Cover)

Ex-members of Life Long Tragedy teamed up with Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Efrim Menuck to produce one of the most captivating records I've heard this year. It's basically hardcore channeled through garage/post-punk sound. The songwriting is quite good and there are some nice breaks and unexpected change in tempos throughout the album, accompanied by swirling chorus-y/flangered guitar sound.The production plays a big part on this record as it manages to showcase the tight rhythm section, highlighting the pounding bass drum or those commanding bass lines when necessary. Permeated with reverb and echo without being overbearing, this album simply sounds thick,dense and awesome.

2. Kayo Dot - Coffins On Io (The Flenser)
Known for their experimental/avant-garde rock/metal tendencies, Kayo Dot has never been one to get too comfortable with one particular sound. One of the things that makes them incredible is their aspiration to always approach a new territory on every record. On Coffins On Io, they go for clean, atmospheric 80's progressive rock. The guitar has taken a bit of back seat, mostly providing clean plucking, letting the other instruments to come forward. The synths are pretty prominent, giving the record that darkwave feel at times. Toby Driver's vocals are also quite substantial here, commanding the melodies throughout the album without any trace of the harsh screams.

3. St. Vincent - St.Vincent (Loma Vista)
I don't care for St. Vincent's new stage persona, or the occasional weird choreography she did with her band when performing now, but Annie Clark (or St. Vincent)'s talent in writing and composing off-kilter pop songs is undeniable. She is also a very talented guitarist, equally as good in finger picking as she is with strumming dissonant distorted chords. St. Vincent is an amalgamation of infectious, eccentric pop songs with electro beats and pitch-shiftered-fuzzed-out guitar solos. 'Birth in Reverse' is one of the best pop songs i've heard in a while.   

4. The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace Is There (Tiny Engines)

There's a clear nod to 90's emo here, as well as pop-punk from the same era. For a genre that has been beaten to death and the unfortunate fact that so many bands sound uninspiringly similar to each other, it is pretty surprising that something this good can still come out of it. While not breaking any new ground here, Hotelier's songwriting chops are pretty strong and the songs are well enough executed to prevent them to sound like their contemporaries. The vocals are quite strong and the band utilizes this strength of theirs in the best way possible (listen to "An Introduction..." or chorus of "Your Deep Rest"). I was sold on this album 30 seconds into the first track. 

5.Blank Realm - Grassed Inn (Fire Records)

This Brisbane noisy-psych-garage rock band has been playing music for sometime now. Grassed In sees these guys and gal attempting to marry pop songwriting with their usual lengthy,jammy instrumental sessions. "Bulldozer Love" is a good example of this; offering plenty of hooks and melodies before slowly ascending to buzzing synth and amazing fuzzy guitar solos that pushes the song to a new height. The lo-fi production and 'imperfection' of their playing (few awkward notes, flat vocals) does nothing but adds more charm to their sound.

6. Killeur Calculateur - Book Of Flags (Tandang Records/Framecode Records)

These guys sure know how to make a comeback. Book Of Flags is a testament of their growth as a band. It's very interesting trying to dissect all the different influences happening on this record. There's a definite My Disco/Off Minor  influence, especially the with the post-punky, start-stop syncopated rhythm section and yelled vocals. Also found here are math-rock, post hardcore, and noise-rock bits; all blends into one, creating a captivating sound. My favorite thing about this record is how catchy and surprisingly groovy it is,while maintaining the punk intensity. This is simply class. South East Asia represents! 

7. Nothing - Guilty Of Everything (Relapse)

There has been a resurgence of shoegaze/dream-pop from the States lately, interestingly enough, made up by dudes who used to be in punk/hardcore bands. This might have something to do with the way Nothing retains their 'heaviness' on this record. The drum is always solidly audible, and the guitar distortion is more on the warm side, with plenty of low-end, making them sound like Smashing Pumpkins' heavier moments. Sometimes I think of this record more as 'dreamy spacey rock' ala Hum/Hopesfall with softer vocals. While this record doesn't really offer anything new, the execution of the music is spot on and it lulls you in with the huge, familiar walls of sound.

8. White Lung - Deep Fantasy (Domino)

Deep Fantasy is While Lung's 3rd album, and just like the last two, this is a blazing, in-your-face, feminist punk record with surprisingly compact musicianship and catchy melodies. The music is as straight forward as it gets; the drum pounds away, constantly carrying the songs with such velocity while the guitars alternate between meaty power chords and those shrilling, knife-like riffs that they're well known for. There are songs where While Lung lets the melodies and hooks to shine through more, and at times one can hear some similarities with the now defunct Pretty Girl Make Graves. Clocking at 22 minutes, Deep Fantasy is short and sweet, never outstaying it's welcome.

9. The Ocean Party - Soft Focus (Spunk)

This album is my introduction to The Ocean Party. Rather shy and perhaps conventional, it takes time to fully get absorbed by the warmth and gentle sound of these guys. There's an obvious influence of 80's jangly pop such as The Smiths and The Go-Betweens as well as similarities with the more current act, Real Estate, but The Ocean Party is way more introverted, and they like to hide behind the gorgeous layers of their instruments, resulting in a bigger and fuller listening experience. Instead of relying on guitars like most bands playing this style, The Ocean Party utilizes a wide array of instruments (horns, saxophone, trumpet,clarinet, harmonica, synths) and carefully arrange their placement for cohesiveness.

10. GIVE - Electric Flower Circus (Moonflower)

Being a big fan of the classic Washington D.C's Revolution Summer sound, i've been following Give and Lion of Judah (both share members) as the frontrunners playing this style, without simply being a tribute-cover band as they inject their own twists to the sound. After a strings of EPs, finally Give put out their first album. Here, Give has demonstrated their ability to touch on new grounds and evolve without sacrificing the essence of their sound. The songs are mostly mid-tempo (think of Hot Water Music) without ever reaching the aggression of the songs on their previous EPs, but the melodies and grooves are still present, and the songs are more diverse than before. Taking a big risk with this half Fugazi-bred hardcore, half rock and roll, Give continues to carry the Revolution Summer torch. 

11. Shellac - Dude Incredible (Touch and Go)

Seven years of gap between their last record and this one, and oh it's worth the wait alright. This record is unmistakably Shellac. The unpredictable drums, the thick and punchy bass, and of course Albini's Travis Bean signature sharp, jagged aluminium guitar tone are all present. It seems like Shellac pulled apart their sound, reconfigured it, and present it in a way that it allows itself to sound fresh. There are quieter parts scattered throughout the records, allowing the band to build up on it before finally explodes in their interlocking rhythm groove. This record sounds like an intensely practiced jam if that makes any sense. The production sounds amazing as always, but i need to specifically highlight the bass. It's HUGE. Math-rock, post-hardcore, minimalist noise rock, whatever it is, this record rules.

12.Ritual Mess - Vile Art (Clean Plate)

As good as this record is, if you can't stand screamy, chaotic hardcore punk, then stay away! Let's get the Orchid comparison out of the way first, as this band consists of 3 ex-Orchid members with Ampere's drummer. Do they sound like Orchid? in some parts, yes. When they decide to turn on the aggressiveness, they definitely do, although never quite reaching the level of dizziness that Orchid used to be able to hit. Instead, there are more variation in the songwriting, moments where they hold back, keeping the intensity under check, before unleashing them. The noisy, droney first half of "The Last Shout" is my favorite off the album,  where guitar harmonics would fill in the space for 2 minutes, before the break into their usual hardcore part. There's a definite 90's Gravity/31G Records sounds here as well (Drive Like Jehu, Swing Kids, Antioch Arrow) and it's heaven to my ears.

13. Total Control - Typical System (Iron Lung)

Okay so a band whose members are in a bunch of hardcore/punk bands : Straight Jacket Nation, The UV Race, Eddy Current Suppression Ring release their music via a label owned by power-violence, grindy punk Iron Lung, what do you get? a synth-punk-pop record, that's what. Typical System has this formula : one new-wave dancey snyth pop song, followed by a more aggressive garage-punk, then back to the pop. The smooth opener 'Glass' has that krautrock vibe to it, while the repetitive, motorik-beat fueled, psychedelic jam 'Black Spring' brings Roxy Music to mind. Upon more listens, one would find all these different influences adopted by these guys. This is an excellent record.

14. BabyMetal - BabyMetal (Toy's Factory)
Am I aware of how gimmicky this band is? Yes. Am i aware that this band was put together a big soulless, evil corporate? Yes. Did I know that the girls didn't even know what metal was prior to this project? Yes. J-pop meets metal. Am i aware that this combination shouldn't work? Yes. Should I listen to Baby Metal? Probably not. Do I listen to it? Yes. Is it awesome? yes. Now, being their first album, you can tell there's quite a bit of trial and error here, and the tendency to put as many different genres to the mix as possible to get the widest audience.There's djent-metal (Megitsune, Akunu...), nu-metal (Onedari Daisakusen) to power metal (Ijime, Dame, Zettai) all combined with cutesy girl-vocals and occasionally random metal growls. If this doesn't sound weird enough, there are random hip-hop, EDM, even dubstep parts scattered throughout the album. I personally think some of these don't work. But one fact remains, as confusing as all these amalgamation is, the music is unique and strangely enough, it just works.

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