It has been nearly a month since 2014 drew its final breath, so I am nearly ready to write about my favorite albums and most intense live music experiences. But yet, I am writing about it, already. There are some albums I haven't totally digested yet, because of the great blessing and curse of Year End Lists (ultimately, it's a good thing, but it sure does slow down my year end list presentation).
Instead of rating albums, I'm sticking with the simple short review format. Since it has been nearly a year since the last post here, I will keep this the same style of short but fun review and forego the ratings, while also letting you know which ones are my absolute favorites of the year (I think there's about five of them). A nearly identical version of this also appears over at the excellent Art Rock Tendencies blog... but this one has a couple extras and is expanded in a few reviews, with Godflesh photos at the bottom for my most memorable live show of the year.
Aphex Twin - 'Syro' the long awaited return from one of the most talented creators of electronic music was just as good as most everyone had hoped, showcasing his intricate yet very human sounding beat programming and his advanced sense of melody. I instantaneously likened it to a combination of the style of Richard D. James album and the medium of the Analord series by AFX, and I think that lazy comparison is pretty apt still.
Cheatahs - 's/t' this one was my summer soundtrack, bright sounding but rocking noise pop with overt psychedelic shoegaze trappings. Almost like My Bloody Valentine's EPs meet Dinosaur Jr, but not... it reminds me of something familiar though.
Crisis Arm - 'Rend' in my opinion, the only band to come close to sounding as out there and emotionally charged as 'Loveless', including the big shoegaze return album 'MBV' (which was quite excellent in its own right). No other band sounds more like actuated shoegaze revivaling as Crisis Arm. One of the best albums of the year.
Earth - 'Primitive and Deadly' an Earth album with vocals was not something one would expect, but that they fit in perfectly on perhaps their heaviest work to date while avoiding stereotypes was a rather badass move by Dylan Carlson and company. Especially when considering Mark Lanegan is one of the said vocalists, who instantly conjures a whole other subgenre of sonic mentality.
Eyehategod - 's/t' the NOLA stalwarts of sludge and bluesy noise rock return and did not disappoint, churning out one of their best albums yet and continuing to evolve while staying true to their roots throughout. RIP Joey Lacaze, one of my favorite drummers.
Floor - 'Oblation' this album in its thunderous complex density is somehow still super catchy and memorable... like an advanced version of Torche.
Funereus - 'Return of the Old Goat' old school black metal, which really is just straight up raw rock 'n roll with dark energy. The over the top album cover and simple album title drew me in, then the music locked it down.
Giant Squid - 'Minoans' yup, a well executed, sweepingly epic art metal concept album about the Minoans.
Godflesh - 'A World Lit Only By Fire' I will probably remember 2014 as the year of the big comeback album. Godflesh teased us with a new EP, then upped the ante with this LP, which was quite good. Stripped down to its bare essence on both, Justin K. Broadrick and BC Greene bring ten tons of gnarled, mangled wreckage sculpted into a terminating goliath. Broadrick reminds us again that he is another lord of the riff and where he comes from.
Gong - 'I See You' this is just a really fun album and a lot better than expected. Not that I expected bad as Gong is a great band, but it was a pleasant surprise. Very jazzy yet still prog rock, it's a must have for prog and kraut rock fans. Three albums on my list gave a straight up musical nod to King Crimson in the form of a riff or a cover song, and this is one of those three, lifting a riff straight off of KC's debut.
Grumbling Fur - 'Preturnaturals' for the second year in a row, Grumbling Fur released one of the more interesting albums, combinations of the avant garde meet up with varying levels of new wave music that recalls Depeche Mode, but with weirder lyrics. Even if this sounds terrible, at least check out the track "Feet of Clay", which is one of the best songs over the past few years.
John Zorn - 'Psychomagia' Zorn threw us a curveball of a fusion styled prog rock album with a whole new lineup of musicians. The ever prolific composer showed his versatility while letting the musicians' own energies shine through. Listened to this for months on end after I got it. Somehow even better than my other favorite Zorn release of 2014, 'Valentine's Day'... which also needs to be heard as another new direction for John Zorn: sinewy Shellac-like avant rock but with better musicians and no annoying vocals.
Lawrence English - 'Wilderness of Mirrors' I waded my way through various drones and other weirdness, but this was the main one to emerge as very very interesting. Also enjoyed Saaad's 'Deep/Float' and Sublamp's 'Lianas' quite a bit, but English stole the show.
Plebeian Grandstand - 'Lowgazers' this wasn't quite as good as many of these other albums I'm writing about, but I'm including it if for no other reasons than that band name and that damn drummer. Wow.
Mark Lanegan Band - 'Phantom Radio' the thing about Mark Lanegan is that he does what he wants to do, and people like that. This album is all over the map and showcases his varied experiences as a person and a musician. "I Am The Wolf" is one of the best singer/songwriter styled songs I've ever heard, stripped down and compelling. Then there's that disco track on there! WTF!? Awesome.
Medicine - 'Home Everywhere' I almost wrote this album off as nonsense, that's how bizarre it is in its creation. Instead, it is highly original, envelope-pushing shoegaze/noise pop. I still haven't really wrapped my brain around this one, but trust me, it is interesting to say the least. Futuristic and captivating and like nothing else I've heard before, which doesn't happen very often anymore.
Merkabah - 'Moloch' There were a ton of great albums this year, but this one from these Polish avant jazz musicians might damn well be my favorite. They opened the book on King Crimson and studied it well, boiling it down to its elements and interpreting it with noisy drumming, taut guitars that drone when they need to, and a rather intensely evil saxophone.
Mouse On Mars - '21 Again' my favorite collaboration album of last year, Mouse On Mars worked with many different other sound artists and produced a varied and interesting work that both sounds like them and others; there may be some filler here over 2 discs, but its still well worth checking out if you like MoM.
Mr. Oizo - 'The Church' goofy ass dance music from France, each album is weirder and more booty shaking, however. Sarcastic, weird party music.
Murmur - 's/t' I honestly haven't really put this album through its paces yet, but I heard it on a friend's year end list and liked the track he picked quite a bit. Then I found out it has a cover of King Crimson's "Larks Tongues In Aspic" on it, and I was sold. Can you tell I'm a little biased?
Noxagt - 'Brutage' one of the most abstractly heavy albums of the year, Noxagt keeps sounding like nobody else out there while not repeating themselves. This time around it's 3 long form noise rock masterpieces that will blow your mind and everyone else's. Sure there's filler in the form of 2 atmospheric tracks that didn't really do much for me at least, but the 3 intense avant rock tracks were all it took as they are some of the most heavy things you'll hear in music.
OOIOO - 'Gamel' not sure what to say about this, it's like really really good world music, man. Not the cheesy kind of world music, the good stuff. It's just a fun album I guess? Definitely weird, if you like the Boredoms check it out.
Oren Ambarchi, Stephen O'Malley, Randall Dunn - 'Shade Themes from Kairos' I go back and forth about this one and the Merkabah album, it's pretty much a tie for album of the year; both albums came out of nowhere for me, found them on the Quietus list I think. Thought this one sounded so well produced that I bought it on vinyl to hear it in all its glory. And it sounds outstanding and astounding, like good film music should. I was not even a fan of any of these artists works before this, but as a team here, they shined (albeit, darkly).
Pallbearer - 'Foundations of Burden' these guys stick to the style of their excellent previous album but make it a little more gothy and perhaps even more DOOM. Super dense and heavy, it is offset by more lively singing.
Philm - 'Fire From The Evening Sun' say it with me: Dave. Lombardo's. Drumming. Dave. Lombardo's. Drumming. OK, got it? Dave Lombardo drums here. And it's awesome. Great variety of songs and excellent guitar work too. It doesn't sound like Slayer, but there's already plenty of good Slayer out there. Very original, high energy punk art metal, or something like that.
Primus - 'The Chocolate Factory With The Fungi Ensemble' it took Primus wanting to showcase their love for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and them wanting to erase the memory of the Tim Burton version of the movie from the collective unconsciousness with the superb return of Tim Alexander on drums. The whole album is fantastically produced and an adventure in sound. Sure, we'd all like to hear them do Frizzle Fry again, but this is probably more befitting of their maturity at this point.
Secret Chiefs 3 (Ishraqiyun incarnation) - 'Perichoresis' another contender for album of the year, this one came from out of the blue, as I expected Book of Souls Folio B to be their next release. Instead, we got something far better than last year's Folio A, an Ishraqiyun album! Some of the most complex yet natural sounding music you can find.
Swans - 'To Be Kind' I almost didn't include this because it is to me a not quite as good version of 'The Seer', but I still got a lot from this album. To be able to put out back to back quality double albums is definitely a feat. And Swans were quite capable of pulling it off at this point in their career.
The Bad Plus - 'Rite of Spring' avant classical music, or jazz? It's really good, whatever it is. The Bad Plus bring it on this one, interpreting what else but The Rite of Spring. Bring it!
The Nels Cline Singers - 'Macroscope' Nels Cline is one of my favorite guitarists, but the 'Singers albums have been a little lackluster lately... until this one. I really liked it, and oddly enough my favorite song from Macroscope is a smooth jazz track. Go figure!
Thou - 'Heathen' and 'Ceremonies of Humiliation' one of the best bands in the past decade when it comes to heavy music, Thou climb the mountain one more time and look down upon the deepest valleys, plunging ever deeper into desolation and the reality of our rapidly changing world through drawn out sludge epics. They remain ever prolific, but to me the Heathen LP and Ceremonies EP were the crushingest.
Today Is The Day - 'Animal Mother' much better than the previous Today Is The Day release but retaining the excellent production, Animal Mother hearkens back to the peak TITD albums from the late 90s and early aughts. The drumming is super tight, the guitars sound as gnarly as ever, and the rhythm section is hugely encumbered, like a runaway freight train on a collapsing landscape. The variety heard hear is what sets it apart from other death metal and grindcore/sludge bands, as well as the levels of brilliantly absorbed prog rock tendencies.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - 'Hypnotic Eye' another album from out of the blue this year, the surprisingly great sounding toneful and tuneful Hypnotic Eye is my favorite Tom Petty album. I didn't realize how much I liked his music until now, somehow. Another soundtrack to the summer gone by.
Vladislav Delay - 'Visa' this guy who lives amongst the European countryside in his own custom studio full of hardware effects continues to push his own envelope into a territory that can only be described as Vladislav Delay. Perhaps as singular a vision as Muslimgauze even, he has developed his own sound and niche and specific methodologies, and continues to make it evolve and breathe.
Whirr - 'Sway' yet another great shoegaze album from 2014, one of my favorites. The heaviest but most catchy, hollow sounding but layered shoegazer album of the year. You won't be able to get these fuckers out of your brain.
Those were my most listened to albums. Best reissue to me was Soundgarden's, since I got to hear a ton of unreleased material from their heyday and excellent b-sides I had forgotten about. But I don't really include reissues usually.
Moving on to my favorite live performance, which was seeing Godflesh live. Their sound translated perfectly to the Metro's PA system here in Chicago, and the venue also provided the perfect backdrop for some amazing projections of various darkly psychedelic, futuristic industrial danceable mayhem. The soundtrack to the end of the world party.