Kelly's Choice Albums (and So Fourth) of 2014

Posted by Kells, December 30, 2014 03:15pm | Post a Comment
This is it, we made it to the last Tuesday of 2014. With nothing but a new year's worth of new release days ahead, here's to looking back over the past three-hundred sixty odd days filled with sonic revelations and reverberations. With that in mind, I've complied my very own short stack of yummy black plastic pancake picks -- my favorite records released this year. Mmm, pancakes....

1. Once & Future Band - Brain EP

Listening to this sprawling progressive precipice of a rock record for the first time was like slipping backwards over a ledge built by everyday mundanities and falling. Falling but never bracing for impact, maybe never touching Earth again. Just like "looking ahead with no backwards glancing," as vocalist/keymaster Joel Robinow puts it in the nearly nine minute eponymous opening track, I was besotted and entirely overcome with feels. I mean, as much as it urks my nerve when folks misuse and overstate things as "literally" being or doing this or that, I can state without hesitation that this record literally blew me away. Well, in a figurative sense. Add to that the fact that this sweet baby is obviously a passionate labor of love, deftly crafted by a couple of local backyard Bay Area wizards, and GAH! my esteem for this band couldn't be any more swollen. These guys are pretty much the best band around right now.

2. Cold Beat - Over Me

Existing somewhere between cold Summer in San Francisco and the dark side of planet Pop, this band is more than just another notch in SF local visionary (and Grass Widow bassist) Hannah Lew's ever-prolific timeline of creative projects. Described by NPR as representing "the best of new wave — in title, metaphor and roster of influences alike", Cold Beat has made an utterly sincere record in Over Me, and it kills the competition with controlled aggression in the form of pretty vocal harmonies, tense rhythms (courtesy of Erase Errata's Bianca Sparta), and fetching melodies. Choosing a standout track among an albums-worth of two-ish minute long choice cuts is difficult, but I tend to gravitate towards the songs that bear the influential mark of Lew's affection for Science Fiction, like "Rumors", "Year 5772", and "UV" (see the dark n' strobe-y music vid for "UV" below). This band rules so hard.

3. Various Artists - Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles

Some folks might balk at counting compilations in their year end tally of besties, but this little elemental gem of ineffable heaviness shalln't remain untold nor uncounted here. Like a wizard's spellbook drafted by NWOBHM acolytes in the smokey, basement recesses of a nearly forgotten realm (late seventies/early eighties middle America), this compilation of little known underground rockers, made by chaotic neutral antiheroes, fueled by their love of the halfling's leaf, and achieving the sort of arrested development forever associated with Dungeons & Dragons, is perhaps one of Numero Group's greatest collections to date. With stand out tracks aplenty, this record dominates its dusty niche of a bygone genre with delightfully half-baked riffs and lyrical oubliettes, some of the best of which can be found in "Warlord" by Wrath, as featured in the promo vid below. Don't sleep on this one, it's a knife in the dark.

Perhaps the prettiest of all the records I've had the pleasure of spanning time with this year, Barragán continues to lend me life in loosely measured increments and sparse, atmospheric beauty. I can't begin to understand why this record received so many tepid, if not just plain bad reviews. Such bitchy, dismissive responses to the trio's ninth studio album could've been generated by a lack of understanding, but at this point in the Blonde Redhead timeline what kind of fan would have calculated expectations? And anyway, I believe the gorgeously detailed album artwork and packaging (stickers!) are dripping with enough symbolism that any clueless hipster with an actual attention span that takes the time to sit down with it and give it a spin might run the risk of actually "getting" it. That said, this record is made possible by familiar palette of post-Melody Blonde Redhead sounds (both guitars and keys this time), and incorporates generous splashes of everyday found sounds, field recordings, experimental improvisations, and a structurally stretched out approach to composition that seems to say, "no one told us we need to worry about how these songs end so we're not gonna," hence the horse fetus. In short, this may be a slow-grower, or whatever, but it's worth the wait for its infinite listenability.

The video for "The One I Love" presents a pleasant visual companion to the quiet pleasure-of-everyday-things vibe that I found so enthralling about listening to this record repeatedly. Sometimes it's the simple, fleeting moments that makes a lazy day feel like time well spent. Check it out below:

Bonkers, off-his-rocker, Willy Wonka cruising through the psychedelic fudge tunnel, commercial breaking at Sir Saves-A-Lot and stoking grey poop-on levels of top 40 kitty litter is how I envision Ariel Pink shaking off his Haunted Graffiti short shorts and covering his bum one jegging at a time for his umteenth record thing, pom pom. Pink's pop-savant savoir-faire oozes like Tiger Beat nectar from this Pepto slab of AWATS-era Rundgren-esque romp of a party record. He can be so horrible sometimes, but his ability to consistently sow kitchen sink genre kitsch, glamorized street trash, and a can of your own ass into a bumper crop of enjoyable tunes, in this case a whole album's worth (I rank it right up there with The Doldrums and Before Today), makes loving his music in spite of the man okay for another day. My favorite track at the moment is "Dinosaur Carebears" because the insane juxtaposition of duck-quackin' barnyard samples sandwiched beneath Gregorian chanty bits ragging on the City of Industry or some such plus its randomly heavy "oriental" intro riffs and final steppin' out with a "you're no good" reggae vibration finish makes me laugh like Santa Claus on Jello jigglers. Drugs are a hell of a drug. Here's a so-crazy-it's-very-un-crazy video for the perhaps the most dangerous song of all the rides in the pom pom theme park, "Put Your Number in My Phone":

6. OOIOO - Gamel

OOIOO has achieved in Gamel two great tastes that taste great together. Specifically, the patent flavor-spectrum and singular scale that Yoshimi P-We and company have brought to each and every one of their recordings plus the equally-singular and similarly flavorful spectrum and scale of one of the world's most magical music-making devices ever, well, devised: the gamelan -- a wondrous ensemble/orchestra of Indonesian percussive instruments. An album seemingly dedicated to this musical match-up doesn't completely come as a surprise given that the ladies have performed with gamelan more than a few times since 2012, often giving beloved favorites like "Moss Trumpeter" and "Be Sure to Loop" an awesomely live gamel-ing, but digesting this new chapter in OOIOO's creative congression only makes me hungry for a second helping.

7. Grace Sings Sludge - Red Light Museum

There's a lot I could say about this little album, but I feel I've said too much already. No really, you can read my lengthy review of Red Light Museum here. But, for the benefit of anyone driving by this here Best-of post, Red Light Museum is a hauntingly haunted collection of recent solo works and private recordings made by Grace Cooper, local ghost hunter and member of beloved SF trio The Sandwitches. Like any great singer-songwriter, pinioned by an aversion to modern methods and the lusty limitations of one's mortal baggage, she can be something of an elusive creature 'round these parts. That said, you can sometimes find her swaying behind a stack of go-backs on the main floor of Amoeba Music's SF salesfloor, singing almost soundlessly to herself in witchy warbles as she shuffles about her business between the aisles. Here's hoping we see more of her, even if she's difficult to luv.

I fell for this in an instant, as soon as "Preface" rushed in with a chant to grind. In some ways, this record makes me cringe at the teenaged feelings that still live on inside me, deep down in a dark place that shines and pulses not unlike the electric sex-vibe that permeates pretty much every song on LP1. It's a sensuous, teasing sort of odd-beat laden electronica that sounds a lot like any Tujiko Noriko album, but plays more like a blanket Prince nod or a series of Betty Davis shout outs punctuating a forty minute masturbation session, in a good way. Though I find "Lights On" to be a tad disturbing, like a modern anti-incarnation of Janet Jackson's "Let's Wait A While", the record as a whole has me hyped for future audiovisual kicks from this tiny dancer formerly known as Tahliah Debrett Barnett. The vid below for "Video Girl" includes "Preface" from LP1 as well as a whole lotta Ms. twigs' sick body motion. 

Speaking of Tujiko Noiko, the very aptly named My Ghost Comes Back (or, 帰って来たゴースト) marks the return of Ms. Tujiko after quite the lengthy hiatus. Here she seems to remain grounded by her usual unusual approach to weaving sonic tapestry (what with the jagged, staggered rhythms, shimmering electric flickers and ethereal vocal whisps long beloved by vigilant fans) while stretching out to incorporate pleasing acoustic elements like guitar, mandolin, viola, koto, and musical saw, among others. This makes for a perfectly fitting gathering of apparatuses because has there ever been a more suitable instrument for expressing ghosts or the spiritual beyond in song than the musical saw? Immediate standouts include the oddly titled "Minty You" and the delightfully melancholic and world-weary banger "Under the White Sheets".

Tujiko Noriko - "Under the White Sheets"

11. Violent Change - A Celebration of Taste

In a world where music-based product continues to routinely receive golden rewards for achieving universal appeal and pop cultural "relevance", it remains a comfort to dig into a low-flying record made by some real-ass small-time punkers that key the car of commercial viability ever so lovingly. One listen to a track like "Malleable Love" or "Faster" from their 2014 Celebration of Taste is all it takes to understand Violent Change has never truly given a fuck about making, breaking, or even faking it when it comes to any kind of bottom line. For them it's clearly all about fucking your couch and submitting to loudness, which is to say it's all about the Sex Pistols, and the Bee-Gees, and a total disregard for any criticism whatever, be it pointed at their wonderfully maligned celebration of taste, or the bored, gored, and grinded appropriation of the commercial sludge their rock 'n roll forebears begrudge them.

12. Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong - Savage Imagination

Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong must be on a roll or really into each other or both because it had be take a special someone or something that coaxed an artist like Minekawa out of a thirteen-year hiatus to make an album, Toropical Circle, only to follow that up with another album, Savage Imagination, less than a year later. If anything, these albums are indicative of their compatibility and their collaborative imagination must be savage indeed to have produced two albums back to back like that. The latter of the two is similar to the first with it's playful electropop experiments, but Savage Imagination offers an ever more vibrant picture of their sonic marriage in that the duo have achieved a higher level of seamless stitchery in combining vocal threads, samples of Minekawa's incomparable keyboard magic and Wong's inventive guitar loops.

13. The Geneva Convention - Hundred Nights

I've only just lately gotten my ears around this fiendish piece of experimental summoning. The genesis of this record is rooted in a soundboard grab of an entire performance of recent rock-musical Hundred Days (as given to the guitarist for the production, Josh Pollack). The entirety of said recording, however, includes naught but the isolated drum mics, specifically the drumming of one Geneva Harrison, as well as some of Pollack's own lead/textural guitar and precious little else (ghostly vocals, etc.). Using this seasoned canvas, Pollack proceeded to recorded a wholly other, synth-shadowed album over it. The end result is a series of neon-lit nighttime vignettes fit for a soundtrack, or two (think Michael Mann's Manhunter or John Carpenter's They Live). I liiive!

Reissues and Compilations that ruled my world in 2014:

Ned Doheny - Separate Oceans
Malibu singer-songwriter Ned Doheny's Separate Oceans is beyond essential for any Yacht Rocker or AOR nerds and, speaking of nerds, Numero Group never fails to kill it in the pressing, packaging and presentation department when it comes to any gem in their ever-growing catalog of treasures. The 2LP collection of songs, exploring ten years of Doheny's easy, breezy SoCal marina-rock compositions, features demos, photos, and details aplenty (what with the 8,000 word essay) which is cool and all, but it's the additional limited edition Record Store Day release of Ned Doheny's “Get It Up For Love” (b/w a demo of “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me” recorded with AWB) that really does it for me. Done up as a pretty little 45 rpm nugget housed in a  black, white, and blue Japanized sleeve, it makes for an aesthetically pleasing yet unassuming outfit for one of the hottest, slow-burnin' late night summer jams ever.

Ned Doheny - What Cha' Gonna Do For Me (demo with AWB)

Feelin' hot, hot, hot, hot...
Ahhh, comps. I love comps. Comps can make a cold day seem like it's ninety degrees in the shade and make a lonely night indoors feel like a grade-A pool party safari. All my life I've been romanced by themes and a desire, nay, a need for escape and compilations sometimes supply where books and films can fall short of the sort of sensory diversion I require. These four collections in particular have given me the fever of the flavor of a world I wish I could remove to at will. A world without overwrought American Idols and overpriced boxed sets. Just a quick flip on the turntable and I'm swaying in the arms of Carlos Molina's "Karabali" or shaking my daquiri to "Cup-E-Co" by The Journeymen.

Thus I raise my glass to toast Soul Jazz Records' first volume (of what is sure to indicate many more installments to come) of New Orleans Soul: The Original Sound of New Orleans Soul 1960-76. Here's a sampler platter mix thing:

And cheers are also due to Jazzman Record's second volume of Jukebox Mambo: Afro Latin Accents In Rhythm & Blues 1947-61. Lastly, but certainly not in the very least-ly, my sweatiest of thank yous to the fine fine folks at University of Vice for both Voodoo Party Vol. 2 and Poco Loco in the Coco Vol. 3 -- may your well never run dry.

Featured on Poco Loco in the Coco Vol. 3, here's "Cup-E-Co" by The Journeymen

Good golly, there are so many others to cover it almost feels like this could go on indefinitely. As I am starting to recount my summer-long rekindling with two of the Luaka Bop reissues that dropped back on Record Store Day, namely Los Amigos Invisibles' Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey Into Space as well as their West African collection extraordinaire World Psychedelic Classics, Vol. 3: Love's a Real Thing, I also recall Numero Group's most excellent and extremely limited one-off riff on those low-rider comps, South Side Story Vol. 23 and, from there, my mind begins to slowly clog with number twos.

No, not poop, but good shit like Sheila B.'s "dream list" revisited/second helping of her wondrous Nippon Girls compilation, Nippon Girls 2: Japanese Pop, Beat & Rock 'N' Roll 1966-70, and Light in the Attic's double-down on their Country Funk thing, the aptly titled Country Funk 2 -- it's all too much! And then there's that raw n' rowdy San Francisco is Doomed cassette comp that Hannah Lew shepherded via her new Crime on the Moon label (pretty much in tandem with the stellar Cold Beat rec mentioned above), a real pisser of a number-one collective response to the great SF Tech Invasion from Bay Area bands that continually struggle to stay rooted in a town where hoards of newly minted "brogrammers" are effectively evicting the local art/music scene. Which is just a good a note as any to end this post on: 2014 - the year the music didn't die.

Bonus slice of 2014 year-end, best-of, you-made-it-to-the-bottom-of-this-list celebratory ridiculousness: this year marked the return of DJ Hennessy Youngman's CVS Bangers series Kicking down the doors of Valhalla...

Relevant Tags

Grace Sings Sludge (5), Violent Change (3), Dustin Wong (3), Ned Doheny (1), Geneva Convention (1), Nippon Girls (1), Takako Minekawa (4), Luaka Bop (2), Fka Twigs (10), Ariel Pink (33), Best Of 2014 (20), Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles (1), Cold Beat (12), Tujiko Noriko (2), Once & Future Band (2), Blonde Redhead (19), Ooioo (5)