Mid Year Report: 2014's Music
With the end of June also came the halfway point of 2014 (yeah, just think about that for a moment!). The first half of the year has been absolutely stellar for music, with some truly brilliant albums being released. Here are some of the best in our not so humble opinion.
Have we missed any?
Have a Nice Life – The Unnatural World
Genre: Shoegaze, Post-Punk
Release: 4th February
I reviewed this album in full when it dropped early in the year but it’s so good I felt it just had to be included on this list. Following up from the duo’s 2008 opus “Deathconsciousness”, the newest album is a similar blend of shoegaze, post-punk and drone. It perhaps doesn’t quite meet the lofty heights of its predecessor but it does have enough absolutely quality tracks to make it an extremely atmospheric and memorable listen. Check it out if you haven’t already.
Best Track: “Burial Society”
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Genre: Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
Release: 11th February
“Benji” is the newest album from former “Red House Painters” frontman Mike Kozelek under his “Sun Kil Moon” moniker. Kozelek again consolidates his place as one of the great story tellers in music; so much so that his singing often borders on spoken word on “Benji”. His lyrics are so extraordinarily specific and colourful that you could swear he is sitting next to you telling you the stories over a beer. The music on the album nicely frame his vocals too. The finger-picking guitar is very pretty on a number of tracks, if a little uninspiring in some cases. Still, the lyrics and the way that Kozelek delivers them is the real draw of the album. Go get lost in it.
Best Track: “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes”
The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace is There
Genre: Emo, Pop Punk
Release: 18th February
Undoubtedly this year’s best emo/pop punk release so far is The Hotelier’s “Home, Like Noplace is There”. The emo genre has received a boost in the last couple of years thanks to some excellent releases by bands such as “The World is a Beautiful and I am no Longer Afraid to Die” and “Crash of Rhinos”. The Hotelier are able to add themselves to that list with “Home, Like Noplace is There”. The album is lyrically and musically accomplished, with their style nicely straddling hardcore, pop punk and midwest emo. It you’re into pop punk or emo, definitely check this out. You will struggle to find a better album of this type all year.
Best Track: “The Scope of All This Rebuilding”
The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Genre: Indie Folk, Indie Rock
Release: 18th March
One of my favourite records from last year was Kurt Vile’s gorgeous “Wakin on a Pretty Daze”. This year, his former band “The War On Drugs” may also have a place on my end of year list. “Lost in the Dream” is musically very similar to “Wakin on a Pretty Daze”. It’s essentially just wave upon wave of lovely guitar-based melodies gently caressing your ear drums. The band do incorporate some nice electronic flourishes as well, which give the songs some extra variation, however you may still find that the album will struggle to hold you attention all the way through, especially with some of the slower songs. Still, it’s definitely a very pleasant listen.
Best Track: “Red Eyes”
La Dispute – Rooms of the House
Release: 18th March
Hardcore’s most artistic and ambitious outfit, La Dispute, returned with another stellar record in March. Rooms of the House continues their happy habit of producing sprawling concept albums. Their 2011 effort Wildlife was an incredibly dark listen, both in terms of its sound and its lyrical content; dealing almost exclusively with the notion of life and death. Rooms of the House contains a similar lyrical thread, however this time frontman Jordan Dreyer delves deeply into the notion of love and (collapsing) relationships. Dreyer again displays his pedigree as one of the finest, most creative lyricists in any genre of music today. Certainly he is absolutely peerless in hardcore and punk music. For their part, the rest of the band are again on top form. The softer instrumentation on the songs “Woman (Mirror)”, “Woman (Reading)” and “Objects in Space” recalls the work from the band’s Here, Hear EP series and further demonstrates their willingness to experiment, evolve and progress stylistically with each project they undertake. The question for La Dispute is where they go from here? One thing is for sure, this once in a generation band will continue to blow away listeners with everything they produce.
Best Track: “SCENES FROM HIGHWAYS 1981-2009”
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
Genre: Gangsta Rap
Release: 18th March
Madlib is rightful cited as one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time. His body of work, especially with MF Doom as part of Madvillain, has earned him huge critical praise. His newest full-length, “Piñata”, sees him team up with MC Freddie Gibbs, a relatively unknown entity to the casual hip hop listener. The pair have been working together for a number of years however; releasing the first of three EPs together in 2011. Those EPs saw some casual praise but this full-length record is something completely different. It is the closest that Madlib has come to a producing a proper successor to Madvillainy since 2004. His beats and production are typically experimental but it is Gibbs who really surprises. His rapping goes toe-to-toe with MF Doom on Madvillainy and to be honest stands up to anything any MC has released in recent memory. Is it possible that this album will be revered in the same way that “Madvillainy” is, in 10 years’ time? I’d put some serious money on it.
Best Track: “Shitsville”
Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Genre: Indie Rock, Post-Hardcore
Release: 1st April
“Here and Nowhere Else” is the follow-up to Cloud Nothings’ excellent 2012 record “Attack on Memory” (one of my favourite albums from that year). One of the most appealing things about that album was its terrific variety; blending moody post-hardcore, with hook-laden indie rock, all delivered with infectious energy and more than competent musicianship. “Here and Nowhere Else” follows a similar path to its predecessor, however the variation on “Attack on Memory” is largely missing. What we’re left with however is a short, sweet and unbelievably catchy slab of indie rock. If that sounds like it would rumble your jungle, then definitely check it out.
Best Track: “I’m Not Part of Me”
Chevelle – La Gárgola
Genre: Alternative Metal, Alternative Rock
Release: 1st April
Generally considered a radio friendly metal outfit, Illinois’ Chevelle have come up with one of the best surprises of the year so far by dropping a crunchy thrill ride of an album. “La Gárgola” is clearly their best effort to date, even though it takes more than a few musical ideas from metal heavyweights “Tool”, especially Pete Loeffler’s Maynard-esque vocal delivery. Still, it’s definitely good for a few listens, especially if you like your metal polished and punchy.
Best Track: “Take Out the Gunman”
Manchester Orchestra – Cope
Genre: Indie Rock, Alternative Rock
Release: 1st April
In a time where alternative rock music is sounding more like indie rock should and indie rock is sounded a little too much like indie pop, it is extremely refreshing to hear an indie rock band head in the other direction; to abandon all nuisances and just rock the fuck out. That’s exactly what Manchester Orchestra do on their newest release “Cope”. It may not display the same grandiose song structures as 2011’s “Simple Math” but it infinitely more hook-laden, more cohesive as a record and altogether their most enjoyable record to date.
Best Track: “Cope”
The Afghan Whigs – Do to the Beast
Genre: Alternative Rock
Release: 15th April
I know what you’re thinking “Ahh shit. Another dreadful comeback record set to destroy a band’s reputation”. Well in the case of the new album from classic 90’s alternative rock outfit The Afghan Whigs, you couldn’t be more wrong. “Do to the Beast” is the first album from Greg Dulli and co. in 16 years (not counting his work with various side projects). It is remarkable then, that the band not only lives up to expectation but arguably surpasses quite a few of their previous releases with this gem. The album spans QOTSA-like guitar rumbles, soulful ballads and even incorporates some electronic elements very tastefully, all whilst making the album sound incredibly cohesive. Well done guys. This is a comeback album done right.
Best Track: “Parked Outside”
DZ Deathrays – Black Rat
Genre: Electronic punk and roll
Released: 2nd May
DZ Deathrays burst onto the scene with a few tight EPs before releasing Bloodstreams a few years ago, which expanded their sound and experimentation with it's scapes whilst also featuring some unrivaled electro-punk tunes. Black Rat, whose first releases were 'Northern Lights' and 'Gina Works at Hearts' was at first listen looking to show a more emotive and progressive sound, however the eponymous opening track showcased all of what they have achieved in the past. 'Less Out Of Sync' rocks. These guys are an exciting band, and Black Rat is definitely a step i the right direction in becoming a more diverse band.
Best Track: "Less Out Of Sync"
BADBADNOTGOOD – III
Genre: Jazz Fusion, Jazz, Instrumental Hip Hop
Release: 6th May
On their third full length “BADBADNOTGOOD” stray away from covers to produce an album comprised completely of original compositions. The fact that this is easily their most fully realised release to date, not only speaks volumes for the band’s compositional skills but also their growing maturity. Like their first two releases, “III” showcases the trio’s sensational musical interplay. This is especially evident in some of the less dynamic passages; they are able to build atmosphere so brilliantly in many of the tracks. This isn’t to say that some of the heavier grooves the band hit aren’t truly infectious. They have a knack of playing jazz music that feels so gangsta you could almost imagine Biggie Smalls laying down some lines over it. It’s rambunctious stuff.
Best Track: “Kaleidoscope”
Swans – To be Kind
Genre: Experimental Rock, Post-Rock, Noise Rock
Release: 13th May
Uber-experimental rock outfit Swans returned with a follow up to 2012’s “The Seer” in May. On “To Be Kind” the band again pushes the boundaries of conventional music by constructed an extremely challenging and dense album, though one which is also incredibly layered and strangely rewarding. For those unfamiliar with the band’s work, picture a mix between the post-rock of “Godspeed You! Black Emperor” and the really weird tracks of any “Tool” album and you might get somewhere near to the often nightmarish compositions that “Swans” churn out. I imagine this is what a bad acid trip would sound like. Clearly this is not the most openly enjoyable album to listen to this year, however it is easily the most impressive album when it comes to its concept, scope and execution. You could listen to it for years and never fully understand it. Take my word for it; this album is an instant classic, the likes of which alternative music hasn’t seen in this decade.
Best Track: “Screen Shot”
Trash Talk – No Peace
Released: 30th May
Trash Talk released Eyes and Nines 4 years ago, and since then we’ve had countless EPs and another great LP in 119. But this year’s No Peace has been somewhat of a disappointment. The Odd Future signed hardcore band has taken DIY ethos to the extreme, but in doing so have managed to underwhelm in places. ‘Jigsaw’ would have been amazing, if not for the vocals being lost somewhere behind punchy riffage and anthemic drums. Hit and miss, ‘Cloudkicker’ and ‘Body Stuffer’ do smash it home where the vocals push through and Trash Talk’s manic aggression is captured. Another highlight is the King Krule and Wiki fronted bonus track, ‘Stackin Skins’; a fair indication of a mediocre album. An album which was expected to be one of the best hardcore releases of the year.
Best Track: "Cloudkicker"
Fucked Up – Glass Boys
Genre: Hardcore, Post-Hardcore, Indie Rock
Release: 2nd June
Fucked Up are a hardcore band who have secured gigs so far like, warming up for Metallica and the Foo Fighters. File them under ‘stadium hardcore’ because they seamlessly blend indie rock’s textured, warm instrumentals, punk rocks incessant drums and hardcore’s growl and heart. After throwing about sentences like “I might not be Fucked Up’s singer on the next album” front man Pink Eyes has done a 180 and put in one of his most passionate and violently aggressive performances he has commited to an LP. Glass Boys is Fucked Up not going too crazy on the thematic and recurring ideas, lyrically or sonically, and is Fucked Up reacting to Fucked Up’s success. The album is another near perfect statement, listen to ‘Echo Boomer’ and ‘Sun Glass’ and “feel the sun, vermillon. Avert your gaze, be afraid”.
Anathema – Distant Satellites
Genre: Art Rock, Progressive Rock
Release: 9th June
Liverpool’s Anathema return with another beautiful art rock release. The band’s music has been characterised in recent years by ethereal vocals and lush instrumentation featuring soaring guitars and sweeping orchestral sections. “Distant Satellites” continues in this direction wholeheartedly. Some of the tracks, especially in the first half of the album, are amongst the most serine Anathema have ever released. “The Lost Song (Part 1-3)” and “Anathema” are particularly stunning. However, the lack of standout tracks in the second half does take some of the sheen off what is an otherwise gorgeous release.
Best Track: “Anathema”
Cerebral Ballzy – Jaded and Faded
Genre: Punk, Hardcore Punk
Released: 16th June
“Save your safety, for another day, save your maybes for another day”. NY punk dudes Cerebral Ballzy toured here at last year’s Soundwave and blew us away. At that time, they had one LP and a few 7”s out, and so when Jaded and Faded was announced I was excited. Being signed to Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records has not one bit decreased the urgency with which these songs are delivered, and although more care has obviously gone into some of the production, taken care of by Dave Sitek, this is not necessarily a bad thing. ‘City’s Girl’ and ‘Speed Wobbles’ hark back to Cerebral Ballzy’s earlier stuff, whereas ‘Another Day’ shows a little more structure and variation. This album is full of great NY punk; Honor Titus’ vocals have learnt to portray mood, and the band members can play a little better too.
Best Track: "City's Girl"
Mt Mountain – EP
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Rock
Released: 21st June
Mt Mountain create cathartic neo-psychedelia well beyond their years, and their debut EP will surely give the local 5 piece some well-deserved attention. Slow and grandiose, their 5 tracker was recorded “in a bike factory somewhere in Bayswater” yet sounds impeccably produced, and is best listened to with your eyes closed and mind vacant. Seriously check out ‘Tomorrow’ and do yourself a favour.
Best Track: "Tomorrow"
Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
Genre: Progressive Metal, Stoner Metal
Release: 24th June
Mastodon’s 2011 album “The Hunter” saw them head in a much more accessible direction when compared to the rest of the sludgy back-catalogue, so much so that the band lost some of the intensity that made them so great in the first place. On their brand new album “Once More ‘Round the Sun” the band have somewhat rectified this by finding a great compromise between accessibly and heaviness. There are still enough songs for first time listeners to grab onto (“The Motherload”, “High Road” and “Ember City”) but prog metal fans can delve into deeper cuts such as “Asleep in the Deep”, “Chimes At Midnight” and “Diamond in the Witch House”. The result is an album that is incredibly varied, thrilling and completely essential. Welcome back Mastodon.
Best Track: “Ember City”