Saturday, January 2, 2016

Favorite Songs of 2015: 50-26

Well, here come my favorite songs again.

This year was chock full of tunes that really kicked me in the feel-goods. And lots of Beach House. I can't remember the last time I had such a hard time narrowing down what songs I should include. Which is interesting, because from an album perspective this wasn't the most impressive year to me. But individual songs kicked all sorts of azz.

I mentioned Beach House. You'll notice they've got quite a few tunes here. That's what happens when you put out two FANTASTIC albums in a year. Some of you duders may not like when an artist has multiple entries on a list like this, but...I list what I truly loved. So suck it.

That's about all I have to say about it I suppose.

Each song links to a video of it. Dig in.
(Here's the rest if you want: Top 25)


50\\Scream\\by Grimes ft. Aristophanes


49\\Cool for the Summer\\by Demi Lovato

48\\Moaning Lisa Smile\\by Wolf Alice

47\\Coffee\\by Miguel

46\\Echoes of Rain\\by Enya

45\\Stratosphere\\by Mutemath

44\\Mr. Noah\\by Panda Bear

43\\Third Day of a Seven Day Binge\\by Marilyn Manson

42\\61 Cygni Ave\\by Neon Indian

41\\The Right Stuff\\by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

40\\I Really Like You\\by Carly Rae Jepsen

39\\Cause I'm a Man, Woman\\by Tame Impala

38\\Annie\\by Neon Indian

37\\Going On 16\\by Daniel Johns

36\\The Game\\by Priest

35\\PPP\\by Beach House

34\\One Thing\\by Beach House

33\\Empty Nesters\\by Toro y Moi

32\\Run Away With Me\\by Carly Rae Jepsen

31\\Preach\\by Daniel Johns

30\\Space Song\\by Beach House

29\\Monument\\by Mutemath

28\\Indecision\\by Shura

27\\Tropic of Cancer\\by Panda Bear

26\\Cranekiss\\by Tamaryn

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 25 Songs of 2015




Well, here come my favorite songs again.

This year was chock full of tunes that really kicked me in the feel-goods. And lots of Beach House. I can't remember the last time I had such a hard time narrowing down what songs I should include. Which is interesting, because from an album perspective this wasn't the most impressive year to me. But individual songs kicked all sorts of azz.

I mentioned Beach House. You'll notice they've got quite a few tunes here. That's what happens when you put out two FANTASTIC albums in a year. Some of you duders may not like when an artist has multiple entries on a list like this, but...I list what I truly loved. So suck it.

That's about all I have to say about it I suppose.

Each song links to a video of it. Dig in.
(Here's the rest if you want: 50-26)


25\\Want to Want Me\\by Jason Derulo
I was actually a little mad at how much I liked this song when I first heard it. How dare Jason Derulo make such a sugary sweet throwback nugget! And when he hits them high notes? It's just too much. I give up.
24\\Ewok\\by Kidkanevil ft. Ocean Wisdom
Kidkanevil came out of nowhere to provide some of my favorite music last year after I found his album in the Tokyo Tower Records. I've been following his moves since then, and was blessed with this rambunctious number. I know nothing about Ocean Wisdom, but his raps over this nasty beat managed to impress in a year full of impressive rap. Plus, Star Wars.



23\\Dear Skorpio Magazine\\by Neon Indian
In an album full of Sega Genesis grooves, this one was surely the most funky. Sneaky sly lyrics, and them shimmery synths make for a helluva good time. I think I'll go play me some Sonic the Hedgehog now.




22\\In the Heat of the Moment\\by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Uncle Noel always seems to hit me where it counts. A prime example of the elder Gallagher's melodic prowess and straight forward goodness, this one just rolls right along like it's existed forever. And his voice has rarely sounded better. Another notch on the man's belt, for sure.




21\\Stonemilker\\by Bjork
It's kind of hard to single out one track on the heart-wrenching Vulnicura. But if any of them deserve props it has to be this soul melting opening track. "Moments of clarity are so rare, I better document this" she sings, and as an introduction it perfectly sets up the story she's about to tell throughout the album, thematically and aesthetically. Those strings, that restrained beat, and that legendary VOICE. It's one of the most beautiful things she's done in a career full of beautiful things.




20\\What Do You Mean\\by Justin Bieber
Back in the day, I was known to enjoy a Bieb tune or two (especially when I thought it was Taylor Swift singing. Oh how things have changed!). Innocent pop, I thought. But nothing could have prepared me for how much I really did enjoy this one when it dropped. Suddenly I heard a little Timberlake in there and for a moment I allowed myself to think, "Is this actually good??" Yes. Yes it is. Very good. The album it came from was even decent, even if it didn't quite match the goodness from this single. Also, anyone else think Mario Cart when those flutes come in? No?




19\\Sleep Sound\\by Jamie xx
Oh how I wish the entirety of In Colour was as flawless as the first few tracks. For some reason it just wasn't so for me. But hot damn do those opening bangers bang. What gets me with this one is the bass. It is lovely hearing it go up and down in some nice headphones. Hard to beat that. Also, this was my New York theme song when I visited over the summer. Just seemed to fit the buzz of the city. Good stuff.




18\\Your Loves Whore\\by Wolf Alice
Nothing said "The 90's" quite like Wolf Alice this year. What a lovely, fuzzy alt-ballad this one is. It grooves along rather smoothly for most of the track, but when it lets loose for the finale and that ending line of "I could only love you more" soars through the air, it's one of the most euphoric moments of the 2015. Gives me goosebumps every time.




17\\Somewhere Tonight\\by Beach House
I'm fairly vocal about my love of Victoria's angelic sighs. But I dare say she has never sounded better than she does in this dreamy waltz. This is easily the best closing track they've done as a group, and certainly the best closer of the year in my book. All albums should strive to end with such perfection.




16\\Fourth of July\\by Sufjan Stevens
There is no shortage of heartbreakers on Carrie & Lowell, but this one certainly goes for the gut more directly than the others. Set up as a conversation between Suf and his mother's ghost, the whole thing is soaked in an eerie sadness. Every line ends with a pleading term of endearment (the best of which is "my little Versailles"), and it's certainly hard not to feel the punch of every repeated "We're all gonna die," especially as the final one signals an abrupt and unsettling end to the song.




15\\Small Poppies\\by Courtney Barnett
That first opening strum had me. And though it goes on for just a second under the 7 minute mark, not a single moment is wasted. The bluesy guitars grow in intensity and Courtney lays her hazy words over the top effortlessly. There's a moment her voice cracks early on as she sings "but I'm suuuuuure it's a bore being you." It's a righteous dig and perfectly flawed. Just like the song.




14\\Boys Latin\\by Panda Bear
There's not much to the lyrics. But it doesn't matter, they're just a vehicle for the melody anyway. Noah Lennox is no stranger to a lush construction of sound. His music is consistently some most sonically rewarding in existence. But "Boys Latin" accents just how vital his voice is to what he does as it bounces back and forth, right to left, and all around your head. One of my favorites in an impressive career.




13\\Rough Song\\by Beach House
There's a line in which Victoria sings "Shut the door, she'll have no more, another vodka cocktail party" right with the melody of her organ. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I realized she wasn't actually saying "mother f$#@in' cocktail party." Something about a sharp lyrical jab like that from Victoria just seemed perfect. But, thankfully the rest of the song brings an appropriately sharp emotional brevity that lends itself to the line regardless. One of the darker ("rough?") songs of their catalog. And as a result, the best track on a nearly perfect album.




12\\We Are Golden\\by Daniel Johns
Before this year, I never quite imagined I'd ever hear Daniel singing over such a thumping beat. But hearing it makes total sense. It's also fun and refreshing to hear a more straightforward approach to his lyrics. In other words, the fact that Daniel Johns made such a perfect synth-pop dancehall banger like this is simultaneously surprising and not surprising at all. What else could I have expected from one of my favorite artists of all time?




11\\The Less I Know the Better\\by Tame Impala
(Kind of an EXPLICIT video in the link, be warned).
Perfectly capturing the ache of seeing a former lover with someone else and the delusion that one day they'll see the folly of their ways and come crawling back. Anyone who's ever messed with the game of love can relate to it. So the song already has that going for it. But it certainly helps that it's spread over a tasty bass line.




10\\Lean On\\by Major Lazer & DJ Snake ft. MO
I have to give full credit to my wife for this one. I dislike Diplo as a human usually, so I'm not normally keen on caring about anything Major Lazer related. But, when your wife blasts it on her bluetooth speaker on a near daily basis for awhile, it sneaks up on you. Then all it took was hearing it on some huge speakers at an outside event, and I was hooked. Little by little this earworm grew until it breached my top ten. It's a perfect pop nugget, and my favorite mainstream tune of the year.





9\\Waking the Jetstream\\by The Go! Team
Another flawlessly executed pop gem from The Go! Team. Sometimes I wonder where they dig these out. So simple, so old school yet so contemporary. About as timeless as a pop song can be and full of a nostalgia you didn't know existed. Back in 2011 they put out one of my favorite songs of the decade in "Buy Nothing Day," and "Waking the Jetstream" nearly matches that perfection on every level.





8\\Genocide\\by Dr Dre ft. Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius, Candice Pillay
(Sorry, guys, no link. Dre wants you to subscribe to Apple Music.)
Can't remember the last time a hip-hop track scored so high on my year end lists (might have been "Still D.R.E." actually). But the first time I heard this one wasn't too long after a trip to California where my buddy Greg and I went on an evening drive to LA. Dre captured the feel of that drive in this sliding, nasty groove. Another song that hearkens to the old days while still sounding appropriately modern. And while Dre isn't necessarily known for his rapping as much as his beats, he stands up with best-rapper-in-the-world Kendrick verse for verse. But my favorite part? The soulful acapella break towards the end, just after Kendrick melts our faces with a "f@#$ your ___" screed to make yo' momma cry.




7\\Stillbirth\\by Alice Glass
Fresh off a not so friendly split with Crystal Castles, and Alice Glass sounds PIIIIIISSED. A response to the abuse of that relationship, and abuse in general, it is pure audio vitriol. I was a mild fan of Crystal Castles, but this tune blows away anything I've ever heard from that project. Alice's voice sits on top of the mix just enough to properly emote, and the song is all the better for it. A month or two ago, I sat in a waiting room blasting this song on my headphones and I think I scared the bloomers off an old couple near me. I turned it down to be polite, but I smiled at the accomplishment.




6\\Sparks\\by Beach House
I did not like this song when I first heard it. Which really disappointed me. The off-pitch organs were just too much for me. But when the album dropped and I heard it in context, something clicked. "Just like a spark." Those organs suddenly served to enhance the soaring beauty of the rest of it. Alex Scally does one of the better My Bloody Valentine impressions in awhile, and Victoria gives us a hazy but almost hopeful vision as her lyrics move through the dark and into the light. "Just like a spark."




5\\Should Have Known Better\\by Sufjan Stevens

Few things are as painful as regret. "Should have's" abound in this tune. But there is a a line of hope in this song that gets my eyes misty almost every time. I read in an interview that Sufjan's experiences with his mother led him to think he would never want to have children. He didn't have a lot of faith in the parent/child dynamic, after all. But in the second half of the song, he repeats the line "My brother had a daughter, the beauty that she brings, illumination." That same interview spoke of how seeing his brother with his own child renewed his faith in such things. It's that glimmer of hope that stands out to me on this one.




4\\Surrender\\by Daniel Johns
When Daniel Johns first started sharing his first new music in 8 years, I'm not quite sure what I expected. Something along the lines of St. Vincent's "Birth In Reverse" would've made sense to me after Silverchair. But what we got instead were a few morsels of silky post-R&B goodness like this. "Surrender" was the third track he shared from the Aerial Love EP, a sampling of what to expect on his first full-length, Talk. And though I was pleasantly surprised by the first two offerings, it was this one that truly had me spinning. Soulful and smoove, groovy and chill. It was hard to believe this was the same person. Of course, Talk itself ended up being pretty fantastic. But it was this non-album first dose that stuck with me most throughout the year. Welcome back, Dan.





3\\Let It Happen\\by Tame Impala
I know the word "epic" gets thrown around way too much, but...so it is. One of the most immaculately produced tracks on one of the most immaculately produced albums of the year. The whole thing sounds like blasting through a portal into the unknown. Knowing that Currents is essentially a breakup album, "Let It Happen" comes off as a bit of a mantra, opening the album with a declaration of survival. "I will not vanish and you will not scare me" he sings.  The layers and the grooves build until the only obvious bit of guitar on the whole album shines through like a battle cry, giving us one of the very best musical moments of the year. "Maybe I was ready all along" he repeats to the end. It's grand, it's inspiring, and yes... it's epic.




2\\Eugene\\by Sufjan Stevens
This song is a hymn. A subtle, honest reflection of the soul and small memories of summers in Eugene, Oregon. It's not all sad, mentions of a swim teacher calling Sufjan "Subaru" always makes me chuckle. But every line of "I just want to be near you" breaks my heart. Within its short length, we hear moments of nostalgia, sadness, doubt, fear, loneliness, regret, and praying to what he cannot see. This is a man I've never met, I don't know anything about him other than what I've read online or heard in interviews. And yet, every time I hear "Eugene," I want to cry right along with him. That's rare for me in music, to be so emotionally affected. And it's even more heartbreaking to hear that last line, and know we're not his intended audience: "What's the point of singing songs, if they'll never even hear you?"





1\\Gosh\\by Jamie xx
It starts pretty plainly. "Nothing too fancy about this thing..." I thought. For about two minutes you're wondering if this will go anywhere. And suddenly it does. The bass rumbles in, and a high pitched squeal drops from the sky like a meteor. And what initially seemed pretty plain and eventless slowly morphs into the most eventful thing all year. Suddenly you can see the cosmos. You can feel humanity. You can dance with God. Or is it "Gosh?" Suddenly a word to censor perceived blasphemy takes on a new meaning. "Oh my gosh! Easy, easy!" chants the samples. Apart from the out of body experience, my first thought upon hearing this tune was that I wanted to see it live. It's certainly rare that an electronic song can evoke such a reaction. But "Gosh" comes across as very alive, very organic, and very communal. When I hear it, I want nothing more than to join mankind in unified bliss and dance the night away. If you're gonna sample that link, do me a favor and make sure your headphones and/or speakers are worthy. Forever and ever, amen. May Gosh bless you.

Friday, February 6, 2015

FAVORITE ALBUMS of 2014

Well, here's these finally. Muh fav'rite albums. (Favorite songs here, by the way)

I can't help but compare to 2013, just a little, and this year paled in comparison. But, let's be honest, 2013 was a tough year to follow. At any rate, this passed 365 days were quite eventful for me personally - got a new job, went back to Japan, made some art, even participated in some gallery shows and a Comic Con. Many adventures, and these were my soundtracks. Let's get started, shall we? Click the blues for tasty treats!

First, a few items of miscellaneousness:

Favorite Film Soundtrack/Score:
Interstellar • Hans Zimmer

Runner up:
Under the Skin • Mica Levi

Favorite EP:
X priest X • Samurai EP

Favorite Album From 2013 Not Heard Until 2014:
Still Corners • Strange Pleasures

Runners-Up:
Philip Selway • Weatherhouse
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu • Pika Pika Fantajin
Flying Lotus You're Dead!
Kye Kye • Fantasize
Tennis • Ritual In Repeat


THE TOP 25--------------



25
D'Angelo and the Vanguard

Black Messiah

Still need some time with it, but quite an interesting and eventful listen. Sort of miss that slow, sweet, and sexy, but major points for originality. D’Angelo is still a pimp.
-- Ain't That Easy



24
S. Carey

Range of Light

A perfectly understated effort from the Bon Iver pal. Soundtracked many a reflective moment for me this year. Great on a calm and rainy day.
-- Glass/Film




23
The Smashing Pumpkins

Monuments to an Elegy

I have to admit I was a tad underwhelmed with Monuments. It’s adequately enjoyable, but I prefer my Pumpkins to be a tad more EPIC. I really loved Oceania and this just sort of feels like its b-sides. Still, every album Corgan puts out that isn’t “bad” is a sigh of relief these days. Keep it up!
-- Tiberius



22
Coldplay

Ghost Stories

Hard to pinpoint this one. I felt like every other song was incredible, among the best they’ve made. Stuff like “Midnight”  branched into new territory, while “Oceans” was a blissful and nostalgic return to the Parachutes intimacy of yesterdecade. So, at least half of it was fantastic. Which is enough to merit a #22, I suppose.
-- Ink


21
Hercules and Love Affair

Feast of the Broken Heart

After hinting at it on the previous two, Andy Butler and friends finally offer an album full of 90’s house goodness. Not as euphoric as Disclosure’s romp the year before, but definitely a worthwhile party in the same vein. And just a little more gay.
-- Do You Feel the Same?



20
Nothing

Guilty of Everything

Juiced up shoegaze goodness is always welcome in my house. A superbly fuzzy guitar album, filling some of that geetar void in my life.
-- Dig



19
The War On Drugs

Lost in the Dream

The album meanders a bit more than I’d like, but I’ll be damned if the vibe put off on this record isn’t chill as chill could be. The power of its Springsteenian bliss didn’t quite hit until I put it on while strollin’ Newport Beach in California. Definitely a good setting for its bright melancholia.
-- Under the Pressure

18
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

Days of Abandon

I dig the pop leanings from the band this time around. Especially the female led tracks like the shimmering “Kelly.” I’d take a full album of those! Good jorb, kids.
-- Simple and Sure



17
St. Vincent

St. Vincent

This album grooves and also rocks a little more than I was used to from her, and I totally dug it. Listening to it now, I realize I probably didn’t listen to it as much as I should have. Songs like “Birth In Reverse” remind of what I imagine Daniel Johns would do solo. I’d love to hear those two tackle a song together. Stand back, David Byrne!
-- Digital Witness

16
Warpaint

Warpaint

This band of ladies kind of came out of nowhere. I knew very little about them until they dropped this goodness and my friend suggested I take a gander (ども, Sierra-chan). Very cinematic, very brooding, and often quite funky. I like to walk in slow motion with sunglasses on to these tunes. Makes me wish I was a badass chick instead of some frumpy dude.
-- Hi

15
Tycho

Awake

A spectacularly spacey effort from these chill instrumentalists. It's a rare treat when an album of instrumentals can groove this smoothly all the way through, but they pull it off yet again. Is spacey-surfcore a genre? It should be.
-- See



14
Beck

Morning Phase

Every time Beck releases an album, I wonder how in the world one man can master so many sounds. Road-trip desert folk? Hell yes he did. The harmonies on this sucker are as good as I’ve ever heard from the man. A simply fantastic and happy sequel to Sea Change.
-- Turn Away
13
Arca

Xen

Venezuelan sound magician Alejandro Ghersi is on the rise, kids. Dude knows how to construct some otherworldly soundscapes (like he did with FKA twigs, Kanye, and now Bjork). This album of solo material is less beat driven than it is textural, but the results are nothing short of breathtaking. Make sure your headphones are ready.
-- Thievery

12
Thom Yorke

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

What a happy surprise this was! After dinking around with Radiohead’s PolyFauna app and soaking in the alien melodies within, I was more than happy to find out this solo effort was basically its soundtrack. Something about it seems so effortlessly hypnotizing. And it’s obviously little more than the digital sketches of a mad genius, but who doesn’t love to see the sketchbooks of a true master?
-- Brain In A Bottle

11
Damon Albarn

Everyday Robots

I wrote a review of this album on its release, and still stick by everything I said there. There are so many glorious juxtapositions happening here - beautifully melancholy songs about lamenting society’s technological addiction, made by putting together a very acoustic sounding electronic album. Damon and Thom just keep showing us that them old folks still got game.
-- Lonely Press Play




THE TOP 10--------------




10
Sisyphus • Sisyphus

I’m still pretty disappointed this album didn’t get more praise last year. I was floored by it’s ambition. Immaculately produced, humorous but sensitive, wild but quiet. Somehow Sufjan Stevens, Serengeti, and Son Lux came together seamlessly to fuse an amazing mix of experimental hip-hop and melodic synth pop that any fan of Gorillaz should appreciate. It succeeds most on tracks like the fantastic opener “Calm It Down” and “Rhythm of Devotion,” when fat beats melt away to the soulful yearnings of Suf. Is the thing perfect? No. But when it’s on, it soars. And like Gorillaz, there’s a keen sense of humor at work here. The mistake is to take this album too seriously. It’s just a party album with three unlikely friends. And it’s a helluva good time. Sounds great on vinyl too.
-- Take Me





9
The GOASTT • Midnight Sun

I’ve been waiting for this sucker to drop ever since I developed a school-boy crush on model/instrumentalist/songstress Charlotte Kemp Muhl and realized she was shackin’ up and writing music with rock prince Sean Lennon. Little did I know just how psychedelic and incredible the duo’s debut album would be. Its like a sexier Tame Impala, where the male lead has a better excuse for sounding like old school Beatles than anyone else alive. Sean has proven himself to be capable over the years, but hearing Charlotte coo over the quirky melodies while rolling along with some very analog sounding basslines on songs like “Johannesburg” is very impressive. The two compliment each other phenomenally. A much more melodic, rockin’ and all-around enjoyable album than I even hoped for. I hope they keep it up.
-- Animals (Warning: some psychedelic nudity!)
-- Xanadu





8
Caribou • Our Love

It’s always lovely when otherwise basic club-worthy electronic music can sound so fresh. I realize Dan Snaith has been doing this a lot longer than either, but Our Love almost sounds like the love child of Toro Y Moi’s laid-back grooves and Disclosure’s pleasure center jams. “Silver” melts around my skull like very few songs have in recents years. I even hear a little of Arca’s spacey textures in tracks like “Dive.” Basically, the album is an accurate snapshot of everything good about electronic music today. And that makes me happy. Very happy indeed. Not sure what else to say about it. 
-- All I Ever Need





7
††† • †††

Chino is on a roll the last few years while Deftones takes a break. Last year he teamed with Isis to form spacey shoegaze outfit Palms, and now this. Somehow I didn’t expect Crosses to be as good as it is. “This Is A Trick” starts things off pretty heavily, and while a dark air of gothic gloom hovers above the entire album, for the most part it’s relatively low key (by Chino standards). Never before has his love for 80’s synth groups like Depeche Mode bubbled so closely to the surface. Even still, every track has a decisive bite to it. One thing he’s always been good at is finding beauty in darkness. Make no mistake; these are love songs. “The Epilogue” would be playing on pop radio in some alternate universe where decent stuff like that still played on the radio. “Bermuda Locket” blurs the lines between love and lust just a bit more, and “Frontiers” doesn’t hide anything with lines like “I’m consumed by your danger.” And that’s just tracks 6-8. Occasionally he lets loose with a howling chorus in “Blk Stallion” and, my personal favorite, “Bitches Brew.” Overall, a surprisingly solid collection of melodic digirock…er witchhouse…er dark wave… or whatever the kids are calling it these days. BONUS: it was also my favorite concert of the year. Even met the man himself.




6
Kidkanevil • My Little Ghost

Over the summer, my wife and I took the vacation of a lifetime visiting Tokyo. Naturally, I had to visit the famous six story Tower Records in downtown Shibuya. As I roamed the megastore, I gravitated to the electronic section and randomly played featured album My Little Ghost at the listening station. I listened to the first three tracks (ambient opener “All Is Lost,” the glitchy “Earth to G San,” and lonely-sounding highlight “Inakunaru”). That’s all it took. I had found a souvenir. I assumed the artist was Japanese, given most of the track names were in Japanese. But I came to find out it’s actually the work of Tokyo-obsessed London native Gerard Roberts (it took me forever just to find his name, very little is written about him online). Roberts paints a dreamy landscape of blips and bleeps that can be light, but often venture into technical euphoria pretty quick. He has a keen knack for melody, mirroring greats like Aphex Twin or FlyLo at their most melodically glitchy. Occasionally, a Japanese guest artist provides some ghostly vocals, like on the incredible “Butterfly/Satellite” (feat. Cuushe & Submerse). And sometimes anime samples pop up, like in the spritely “Keroro Dub.”  The whole thing is a brilliant, light hearted journey, and a must-listen for any fan of good electronica, or good music in general. And for me, it’s also a memory attached to one of the best vacations ever.





5
Little Dragon • Nabuma Rubberband

Speaking of vacations, every big trip needs a good album to soundtrack the adventure. When I went to Europe in 2013, it was Phoenix’s Bankrupt!,  which appropriately complemented the constant barrage of Euro-chic everywhere I went. But for Japan this passed summer, Nabuma Rubberband was the album blasting through my psyche – a slick dozen of some of the smoothest jams all year. The band’s effortless cool and techno-soul sounds like Tokyo looks. Of course, singer Yukimi Nagano is of Japanese descent, but that’s not really a factor (or is it?). When my headphones weren’t pumping the synth stomp of “Paris” on a bullet train to Kyoto, my mind was focussed on the breezy pop of “Pretty Girls” under the rainy Shibuya night lights. I even hummed it to myself while at hip night club AIR (Lost In Translation, anyone?), even though there was a house DJ doin’ his thang. Coincidentally, my favorite track from their album previous (Ritual Union’s sassy “Shuffle A Dream”) was heard two separate times in stores whilst roaming the city. It was meant to be, and I was just glad they could tag along. Thanks, Little Dragon.
-- Killing Me





4
Aphex Twin • Syro

The universe has been mighty generous the last few years. 90’s legends have been popping up out of the woodwork all over the place: Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Mazzy Starr, My Bloody Valentine, Beck, Thom Yorke, Damon Albarn…it’s been such a blessed time. I just wish Richard D. James could have joined the party, ya know? I wouldn’t expect anything life-altering, just an album or so of juicy throwback goodness. Like the good ole days. And it would be so cool if he could actually “sing” a little on a track, maybe with some odd sequenced name like “Minipops 67 [120.2][Source Field Mix].” Or what if he did a straight-forward funky jam and called it, I dunno, “Produk 29 [101]?” That would be sweet. And I’d really love some sort of spastic video game freak out. He could call it (and I’m just spitballin’ here…) “Circlon6a [141.98][Syrobonkus Mix].” I suppose it would be wishful thinking to even hope for an achingly beautiful piano track to close the thing, though, right? Yeah… you’re right. I feel so selfish even thinking it. Maybe someday. If we’re good.






3
Charli XCX • Sucker

I don’t know how I’ve ignored this girl the last couple years, but when I finally heard “Boom Clap,” I fell in love. When I finally got my hands on her anticipated sophomore release, I thought it was a fun collection of energetic, campy pop, but nothing too “fancy” (get it??). Still, it was good enough to merit repeated listens, and the more I did, the more I began to realize something: this might actually be the best ROCK album of the year. Seriously. This album eventually brought out the same sort of giddy delight I usually reserve for acts like The Strokes, or maybe Sleigh Bells, or even Phoenix on occasion. The kind of fist pumping melodic guitar jams you can’t help but sing along to at the top of your lungs while driving down the street. Listen to those riffs on “Breaking Up.”  Or how about the Ramones rip “London Queen?” Hell, “Hanging Around” is the best Weezer song in ages. And don’t even get me started on the epic that is “Famous.” That jangly intro, that soaring chorus…you kidding me?!? FUHGETTABOUTIT. Sure, the lyrics are a tad empty. Purposely so, just like many a fantastic rock jam of the past where the goal is simply having a good time. And, sure, it’s a pop album at heart (“Doing It” is a spot-on Madonna by way of Haim tribute). But good, ol' fashioned rock hasn’t had the best showing the last few years. If it takes a chick like Charli to get it goin', I ain't complaining.





2
FKA twigs • LP1

I’m not the smartest man, but two things I know are true in this world: #1.) Some albums simply must be heard on a system with enough bass to shake your bones. #2.) as a regular consumer of music, there is no greater joy than hearing something new that completely takes your breath away on first listen. Listening to LP1 reminded me of these very truths. #2 is no easy feat. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, that’s for sure. But this is easily one of the most fabulously produced albums I think I’ve ever heard. My immediate thought was that of a female James Blake (“Jane Blake?”). Aesthetically, there are many similarities between the two; the spine tingling quiet-but-emotive vocal presentation, the flawless production, a reverence for the space between the noise (and the impact it can have), and an uncanny ability of injecting warmth and soul into an otherwise cold and mechanical sound. Of course, Blake mostly produces his own stuff, while Twigs had some help from a few super-powered collaborators (a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked, cuz those guys made some magic here). But, the most distinct connection between the two is the feeling of hearing pop from the future. Like some big headed space goon beaming sounds into my brain exclaiming, “This is how we do in 3014.” It’s is the kind of album that you can’t come back from. I hear the crap on the radio and it sounds like the poundings of cave men compared to this.
-- Pendulum 
-- Hours
-- Two Weeks





1
Wye Oak • Shriek
Someone I don’t even know once told me “If you like Beach House, you’ll enjoy Wye Oak.” That person was correct. And though it’s practically a funkier Teen Dream, I was still sort of surprised Shriek ended up here. I had pegged LP1 as my sure-fire #1 for much of the year, and was convinced it would take quite a behemoth to topple it. Yet, slow and steady, Wye Oak crept their way up the ladder as 2014 went on. The little album that could! Wasn’t until it came time to crown my favorites that I realized, “Waitaminutte, I think Shriek is actually my favorite album of the year… how ‘bout that!” The only reason it surprised me was because there really isn’t anything significantly mind-blowing about this album. There’s no new sounds that warp my brain, or life-affirming themes that change my world. It’s no Bloom, that’s for sure. But therein lies its true power–it’s simply the most immediately approachable, and endlessly enjoyable album I heard this year. I don’t have to wrap my head around how good this is, I can just hear it. More often than not, when I’d get in the car and pull out my iPod with nothing specific in mind to listen to, I found myself putting on Shriek. And it was always a good choice. The lyrics are understated but poetic (“And in the telling of the story/I lose my way inside a prepositional phrase/I read his lips and I see glory/but what I hear is “be afraid”), the instrumentation is minimal but lush, the grooves are understated but memorable, and Jenn Wasner’s voice is oh so pleasant. I think one of the album’s secret weapons are Wasner’s perfectly placed bass lines. Right away that bass hooks you with opening track “Before,” and then flows right alongside a cloudy piano in the title-track that follows. Of course, the synths are obviously integral as well. They bounce to perfection in “The Tower.” But it’s when “Sick Talk” hits that every element involved seems to click in flawless unison. Definitely the overlooked centerpiece of the record, and an instant classic. 

After all is said and done, the sounds captured here seem as though they were fine-tuned to my very liking. As pleasant as pleasant can be. Many people lamented the change in direction and lack of guitars. I had actually never listened to Civilian before this, but after falling for Shriek, I decided to go back and take a gander. And it’s ok I guess. But there’s too much guitar. And not enough euphoric, blissful, heavenly awesome. Shriek, FTW! Now, if only we can get these guys and Beach House to tour together…hot damn.