Best of 2016: Kelly's Personal Picks (now with more cat)!

Posted by Kells, December 31, 2016 02:18pm | Post a Comment
Looking back at 2016, it was a good year for music, if for nothing else. If you're reading this—hey!—you survived the ride. How did you do it? Was it the music? Without a doubt, music has saved my life, or at least my mood, as often as once a day (very probably) over this past year and for that I am thankful (most definitely). Here follows a little list of personal favorites that really came through for me in 2016. My cat may be in some of these pictures...

Tony Molina
- Confront the Truth

I never know what to expect from Tony Molina, aside from hella Bay Area bombast and great short songs, and Confront the Truth further confused matters for me (save for the short songs tip) in the best way possible. This lovely 45 is brimming with just the sort of comfortably spun, little-bit-country/little bit folk 'n roll melodies I like. It can also be said that it's brimming with conspicuous influences, namely bits n' bobs reminiscent of The Beatles, Elliott Smith, and perhaps even a little early Skynyrd (think "The Seasons"). Nevertheless, it's easy to appreciate the truth of Molina's heartfelt songwriting and superb ability to navigate a softer power as he coaxes and bends his strums and twangs 'til the bitter end on this ten-ish minutes long, eight song confrontation. Or 'til the bittersweet end, as the cherry on top is a loving cover of Thin Lizzy's wistful instrumental "Banshee" rounding out the record like a would-be bonus track. Altogether a perfect example of how beautifully moving even the most fleeting music can be.

Egyptian Lover - 1983-1988
(Stones Throw)

This 4 LP box set, along with the 1984 LP Egyptian Lover released last year, has been the most important music for me during 2016, no contest. I'm no noob to Egyptian Lover's 808 kingdom, but something clicked in me over the last 12 months that made fiend for his beats more than ever and, as such, I pretty much forced it on everyone around me (not that anyone complained). Though I have already expressed my many thanks and affection for Greg Broussard's electro alter ego and his freadky deaky machine in a previous post, I'd be remiss if I didn't include Egyptian Lover in this year end best-of post.  To quote the man himself: "What is a D.J. if he can't scratch? What is a MC if he can't rap? What is a beat without a live clap? Well, I can do it all, baby, just like that."

Dick Stusso - Nashville Dreams/Sings The Blues
(Vacant Stare)

Somewhere out there a guy is chasing his dirty rock 'n roll dreams tonight, do or die. Oakland's Nic Russo is the that guy bringing Dick Stusso's hellbent fantasies to life, maybe real life, or something like it. He may look okay, but Dicky sounds like a demented drunk branded to fail upwards
towards his hardtack escapist visions of fortune and freedom via middle America's back-country highways, one infectious, nightmare-edged ditty at a time. Part T. Rex boogie, part Gram Parsons twang, all grain alcohol down the hatch and back again, these country fried, mud-soaked porch aspirations hang loose together like plucked notes on a low string being tuned ever downwards. Featuring additional vocals by Grace Cooper (The Sandwitches/ Grace Sings Sludge), this record is pretty limited so don't sleep on it. Get some Dick asap!

Tele Novella
- House of Souls

(Yellow Year)

I got my first taste of Natalie Ribbon's penchant for dark n' lovely bygones and whip-smart singer-songwriter prowess years ago the first time I saw her perform as a part of Agent Ribbons, and I've been hooked ever since. She brings that same sinister energy and torch-bearing realness to Tele Novella, the "macabre-pop" band she joined after moving to Austin, Texas a few years ago. Her mark on their debut LP, House of Souls, is as recognizable as her distinctly smokey yet capable-of-cracking-a-marvelous-squeal vocal range. The album showcases a curio cabinet of yummy trick-or-treat compositions wreathed in dreamy harmonies and spooky jingle-jangle know-how. Another limited press best snatched asap.

Little Wings - Light Green Leaves
(Gnome Life)

Technically this is a re-issue, but it also kind of isn't. When Little Wings' Light Green Leaves was first released via K Records in 2002, the main man behind the magic, Kyle Field, recorded three versions of the record and each version was released via three formats (CD, LP, and cassette tape). The CD version was my gateway to Little Wings' trippy, lo-fi landscape, with songs like "Look At What The Light Did Now" quietly pushing that whole "Freak folk" movement towards it's zenith. Thanks to the good folks at Gnome Life, this year was the first time that the CD version of Light Green Leaves saw the needle on my turntable (yes!!). What's more, this pressing comes with added rainbows thanks to the thrilling effect of the holographic foil-stamped cover sleeve. Also, I've had the pleasure of chatting with Kyle a few times, here and here are two of those times.

Violent Change - VC3

VC3 is the third full-length effort from San Francisco's Violent Change, a dank basement rock band that always sounds like they're broadcasting live from some subterranean rusty-yellow iron lung via janky infernal radio channels that just won't tune in, and therein lies the appeal. This record is a bit mellower than their 2014 release, A Celebration of Taste, and brandishes a less Sex Pistol-y energy while putting the damage on some decidedly Shoes-y sounding riffs, with "Unit A" being a standout example of bandmaster Matt Bleye's ability to  cut crystal visionary pop melodies through all that fuzzy distortion. VC3 is "the lowest form of high art" indeed.

The She's/The Dry Spells split 7"
(Empty Cellar)

This cool little spit 45, housed in some fun, lens-bending 3D cover art, contains atmospheric and sonic harmonies exemplary of a very "San Francisco" sound duality, each side presented in perfect reflection by two different San Francisco bands. Side A sees The She's ripping through “Cherry Red"—a golden nugget of a California beach-ready lipstick bop reminiscent of The Breeders and Shonen Knife. Then the fog rolls in languid and thick on side B as The Dry Spells' moody, spellbound psych-folk tendrils slowly wend all over "Heliotrope," the first new music from the band since their 2009 LP Too Soon For Flowers, thus making this split effort one of the more satisfying 7-inch fixes this year.

Solange - A Seat At The Table


Sisters,'s been a good year for the
Knowles sisters. Both Beyoncé and Solange released absolutely fab, extremely successful pop albums that simultaneously reinforce and redefine what a fab, successful pop album is and how it's made. It can even be argued that both albums are "important" in their own way. That said, the two records differ greatly enough that discussions on the topic can spur folks to declare one's preference for one over the other, which isn't important at all. Still, while Beyoncé's Lemonade is an audiovisual tour de force and cause for much commotion, Solange's subtle yet powerfully meditative A Seat At The Table (and the accompanying body-positive music videos) have inspired comparisons to theatrical surrealism and the nickname "the thinking man's Knowles" within my social circles, which I find amusing. Whatever, they're both splendid works and you've probably already decided you like both, no matter how you rank them. Don't hurt yourself!

Blonde Redhead - Masculin Féminin [box set]; Peel Sessions [RSD 7"]
(Numero Group)

Any year that sees a release from Blonde Redhead is a good year for me. In addition to the powered-by-various artists Freedom Of Expression On Barragán remix album, Numero launched two trips into the Blonde Redhead vaults with the Record Store Day special Peel Sessions 45 and a the gag-worthy 4 LP Masculin Féminin box set comprising the band's first two albums, singles, and demos from their early era—stuff that has been out-of-print, hard to find, or otherwise unheard until now! Even if you already have the albums and the singles, this box set is simply a must for the rarities et cetera contained within, including a heap of old photographs and two telling essays by Arto Lindsay (DNA) and Erin Osmon, altogether exploring to the source of the Blonde Redhead sauce. Did you know Blonde Redhead recorded a country song?!

Incidentally, Numero Group has, as always, been killing it with some great new releases this year. If I were made of money, I'd be all up on everything they have to offer, but aside from the Blonde Redhead stuff, two compilations in particular (pushed via their Numbero imprint) have continued to delighted and surprise my senses: the mysterious Shanghai'd Soul Episode 4 collection of bygone deep funk/soul gems mined for the adornment of modern hip-hop cuts (hence the titular tip-of-the-hat to Wu-Tang's Shaolin stylings), and the Record Store Day compilation Los Alamos Grind—a "post-apocalyptic-bachelor-pad" gyrating jukebox homage to those tattered yet titillating Las Vegas Grind comps that still filter in through the used new arrivals vinyl bin from time to time. Get into it!

Well, that about does it for my picks, save for this year's killer stack of Exotica and Exotica-adjacent releases pictured way up top (I wrote about those here) and my Burt Reynolds odyssey (saving that for another post). Happy New Year everybody! Dumpster fire or no, it's time to get a move on. 

Numero Reissues First Two Blonde Redhead LPs as 'Masculin Feminin'

Posted by Amoebite, September 26, 2016 01:45pm | Post a Comment

Blonde Redhead Masculin Feminin

Over the course of their more than twenty years as a band, Blonde Redhead has evolved from raucous noise rockers to purveyors of shoegaze, dream pop, and alternative rock. Now the fine folks over at Numero Group have compiled the NYC trio's earliest works into a box set called Masculin Féminin, available soon as both a four-LP vinyl and two-CD release.

This new release features the band's first two albums, Blonde Redhead and La Mia Vita Violenta, originally released on CD via Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley's Smells Like label. But it also includes some of Blonde Redhead's early radio performances, demos, and singles, plus a book of essays and previously unpublished photos.

The box set hits our stores September 30th, but you can pre-order them now online at (and they'll ship FREE to U.S. addresses).

Pre-order Masculin Féminin 4-LP and Masculin Féminin 2-CD.

New "What's in My Bag?" Episode with Blonde Redhead

Posted by Amoebite, April 18, 2016 06:56pm | Post a Comment

Blonde Redhead Amoeba Music What's In My Bag?

Do you love Ennio Morricone? Well, so do the members of Blonde Redhead! On their last west coast tour, the New York trio stopped in at Amoeba San Francisco and picked up a couple of the legendary composer's film soundtracks. One, L'Istruttoria E Chiusa Dimentichi, they had never heard before, while all three now own a copy of the other, The Sicilian Clan. Of course, Morricone wasn't the only artist they found at Amoeba, and as you could expect from a band as eclectic as they are, their picks were pretty interesting.

Blonde Redhead BarraganFormed in 1993 after Italian undergraduate jazz students Amedeo and Simone Pace met Japanese art student Kazu Makino at an Italian restaurant in New York, Blonde Redhead fused noise-rock and shoegaze to create their own style of dream pop and rock. Their self-titled first record was produced by Steve Shelly and released in 1995, which has been followed by a steady stream of releases since. In 2004 Blonde Redhead released Misery Is a Butterfly, their first for the 4AD record label. 2014 saw the release of Barragan, their ninth, and most recent, studio album. The band will be on the road again this spring with a stop at San Francisco's The Independent on May 24 and two shows in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, May 26-27.

Continue reading...

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...

50 Essential Albums Released in 2014

Posted by Aaron Detroit, December 5, 2014 09:20am | Post a Comment

Aaron Detroit, Buyer at Amoeba Hollywood. I've worked in Hollywood for ten years, but started my time with Amoeba - way back in 1998 -  at the San Francisco store. Here is my extensive list of new essential listening, released in 2014. There is a wide range of genres and artists represented here because musical passion should not be static.

1. Swans - To Be Kind (Young God)
To Be Kind, Swans’ 3rd LP since their 2010 reformation (and 13th overall,) is an unlikely triumph after 2012’s seemingly unmatchable masterpiece, The Seer. Any trepidation one might have about the sprawling triple-LP’s intimidating track lengths should evaporate under it’s hypnotizing ebb-and-flow of mental blues, super-honed grooves, manic clatter and hushed passages; all of which are eventually crushed by monolithic waves of majesty. Nothing short of classic.

 2. Carla Bozulich - Boy (Constellation)
Boy is Carla Bozulich’s (of Ethyl Meatplow, Geraldine Fibbers and Evangelista-renown) 3rd solo affair, but in a lot of ways it feels like her first. Bozulich pours her famed, devastating whiskey-voice into a cocktail of funeral country, death blues and industrial noise that sticks to your guts. Carla herself refers to this LP as her “pop record,” and if that's a true description, we could sure use a whole lot more “pop” albums like Boy. Don’t overlook this one.

3. Scott Walker + Sunn O))) - Soused (4AD)
If you’re looking for the classic Sunn O))) sound, you should look elsewhere. Soused is to its bones a Scott Walker album -- wild, weird and wonderful. Walker’s baritone swan dives into cascading riffs that eventually ebb into low hums and sudden fits of industrial noise; a perfect fit for the album’s lyrical narratives of violence and oppression. Despite all this, it is bizarrely accessible --so far as modern day Walker LPs go.

4. Andy Stott - Faith In Strangers (Modern Love)
Composer/producer Andy Stott once again collaborates with vocalist Alison Skidmore. Strangers takes us on a late-night drive through varying auditory terrains: Minimal, long, tone pieces make their way through field recordings and cut-up ethereal vocals before a beat even drops halfway into the second track. By the second half of the nearly hour-long LP, Stott eventual begins to work up a sweat. Lively and dissonant yet beautiful and otherworldly, the album rides a line between chopped-and-screwed 4AD and bonkers analogue jams but remains skillfully cohesive.

5. Mica Levi - Under The Skin (OST) (Milan)
Typically, one would not include a film score on a year-end albums list, but Mica Levi’s score for Under The Skin is quite the exception. The score does just what the title suggests: it gets under your skin. Ligeti-inspired string orchestrations center around the same three notes throughout. Sometimes they appear as a comfort after long passages of dark pulses and dry wind, but more often the notes unsettle as they sweep back in out of darkness; the herald of “something-wicked-this-way-comes.” Even without the stellar film visuals (also one of the best of the year,) the score works all on it’s own as a spellbinding piece.

6. Wild Beasts - Present Tense (Domino)
 Wild Beasts are all grown up. It sounds sort of cliché, but Present Tense makes no qualms about that point. Gone is the horny hooting and howling of Two Dancers and Smother and in its place is an emotional and existential folk that sugars it’s eccentricities with sleek pop production --the sort that Kate Bush mined on Hounds of Love.

 7. Fatima Al Qadiri Asiatisch (Hyperdub)
Fatima Al Qadiri builds a dark, grand, video game-like world on Asiatisch. The artist herself calls this sonic landscape an ‘imagined China.’ One cobbled together from modern western media perspectives of the East, commenting on its racism, villainization and exoticism. Pan flutes and gongs meet crisp digital grime production and lyrics mocking Disney. It’s an album that challenges your own enjoyment of it.

8. Perfume Genius - Too Bright (Matador)
On Too Bright, producer Adrian Utley (of Portishead-fame) helps Mike Hadreas puts some pretty sick f—me pumps on the feet of Perfume Genius’ once delicate balladry. Sometimes he dons Alan Vega’s shades or PJ Harvey’s gold lamé (Harvey collaborator John Parish appears on nearly every track.) Too Bright is a surprising, successful progression from one of the most honest and compelling young songwriters around.

9. Mirel Wagner - When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day (Sub Pop)
When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day is the sound of the Finland-based singer/songwriter Mirel Wagner mastering the style of death balladry she introduced on her striking and stark 2011 self-titled debut. Wagner embellishes her guitar/voice arrangements very little here, adding only a bit of cello & piano (courtesy of Craig Armstrong) to just two of the album’s ten darkly gorgeous, mortality-obsessed tracks.

10. Vessel - Punish, Honey (Tri Angle)
It’s not really fair to call Punish, Honey an “electronic” album -- it’s creator, Seb Gainsborough, built his own instruments and beat the holy hell out of sheet metal and guitars he crafted from old bicycle parts-- but it does owe a debt to industrial innovators like Fad Gadget, Coil and Einstürzende Neubauten. Despite its primitive instrumentation and 30 year-old influences, Gainsborough’s instinctive production and dubby flare make it thoroughly modern.

11. Gazelle Twin - Unflesh (Last Gang)
The music Brighton-based electronic producer Elizabeth Bernholz (aka Gazelle Twin) has crafted for her second LP, Unflesh, is a Cronenbergian dystopia -- one that she sees as an actual reflection, not a projection. Bernholz uses pitch-shifted vocals, industrial rhythms, and supermarket field-recordings to accompany her lyrical narratives concerning bodily unease in the face of corporate rule and global riots.

12. Pharmakon - Bestial Burden (Sacred Bones)
Margaret Chardiet's follow-up to her intense, confrontational and instantly classic power electronics/industrial debut. Burden builds on the layered electronics and primal energy of it’s predecessor and adds some accessibility à la the digital bonus track “Bang Bang,” a version of the oft-covered Sonny Bono track that features Chardiet‘s singing in lieu of her usual distorted screams (with an arrangement that sounds strikingly similar to the one done by industrial godfathers Coil.)

13. Weyes Blood - The Innocents (Mexican Summer)
Weyes Blood moves away from the lo-fi faux-vintage of her previous effort, (2011’s The Outside Room,) and into a classic lush folk that recalls greats like Buffy Sainte-Marie (“Requiem For Forgiveness”) or Bridget St. John (“Bad Magic”).

14. Lust For Youth - International (Sacred Bones)
 2014 delivered the unfortunate news of the break-up of the excellent Danish “super-group” VÃ¥r. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt went back to his duties in Iceage and Loke Rahbek returned to his work with Hannes Norrvide in Lust For Youth who then released the superb International. The album sounds like it could have been the sophomore VÃ¥r album, straying far from LFY’s previous lo-fi fare. The album keeps a punkish charm (mostly thanks to the vocal delivery) while still delivering well-produced synth-pop anthems and ballads alike (Rønnenfelt even makes a vocal cameo.)

15. The Body - I Shall Die Here (Rvng Intl.)
The unholy union of The Body and The Haxan Cloak’s production is fittingly titled I Shall Die Here. Both artists are masters at creating bleak sonic worlds, so it’s not surprising the collaboration returns in spades. Doom riffs, industrial noir soundscapes, distorted bass, insane shrieking and super-creep-factor spoken samples make up the best LP by The Body to-date.

16. The Soft Pink Truth - Why Do the Heathen Rage? (Thrill Jockey)
 A deconstruction, homage, and also a giant “fuck you.” Drew Daniel perverts black metal classics by the likes of Darkthrone, Scarfago and Venom into vogue-ball burners, sultry house jams, and gothic floorfillers.

17. Dan Bodan - Soft (DFA)
Berlin-based Canadian singer/songwriter Dan Bodan makes off-kilter electro-soul. His pillow-talk R&B delivery is impossibly sincere for lyrics that deal in such unapologetic, romantic mush but Soft’s production features so many unsettling and jarring elements, it evokes a sort of paradoxical unease not unlike first love stomach-butterflies.

 18. HTRK - Psychic 9-5 Club (Ghostly International)
 On Psychic 9-5 Club, Australian trio HTRK (pronounced Hate Rock) wrap their warm dubby atmospheres around the laconic yet sultry vocal delivery of singer Jonnine Standish. It’s resulting sound is a sort of “Sade goes witch house,” which is actually pretty infectious and thrilling.

19. Jane Weaver - The Silver Globe
(Finders Keepers)

Brit singer/songwriter Jane Weaver pulls from a basket of tricks left behind by Silver Apples and Hawkwind on her new cosmic folk-pop album, The Silver Globe. The album takes it’s name and is inspired by Polish director Andrzej Żuławski's film On The Silver Globe, which should give one an idea of the sort-of 1970’s krautrock/soundtrack-vibe contained within. Weaver’s pretty and air-light voice floats above the fuzzy synths and rumbling bass, producing some wonderful earworms.

20. Ben Frost - A U R O R A  (Bedroom Community / Mute)
Composer Ben Frost’s new LP is the darkest of his career thus far. Thor Harris (Swans) and Greg Fox (ex-Liturgy) collaborate on this monstrous slab of searing synths and heavy percussion, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that eventually gives way to beautiful, somber and ethereal textures underneath all the buzz, whir and din.

21. Grouper - Ruins (Kranky)
Recorded solely with a portable 4-track, stereo mic and an upright piano, Liz Harris’ 10th album as Grouper sheds the layers of reverb of previous work for something more intimate. Ruins is the perfect rainy-day album (of which Los Angelenos can now also accurately enjoy since it’s FINALLY raining here!)

Mykki Blanco - Gay Dog Food (UNO NYC)
Mykki Blanco is one of the most important figures in modern hip-hop. His lyrical sting, leftfield genre-bending, fluid gender presentation, and bold taste in production partners are all unmatched. Blanco’s rather experimental Gay Dog Food (currently only available as a digital download, but a physical release is imminent) displays seemingly unlikely collaborators Kathleen Hanna and No Bra weaved perfectly into executive producer Gobby’s aggressive electronic patchwork.

23. Sleaford Mods - Divide and Exit / Chubbed Up+ (Harbinger Sound / Ipecac Recordings)
Divide and Exit spins like the incensed rants of the bitter drunk at the end of the bar set over rollicking bass and chintzy-but-nod-worthy beats. Just about every other line is punctuated with “Fuck Off!” It’s endlessly clever and fun. The fortified singles collection, Chubbed Up+ (also released this year,) is an even better collection than the quite stellar LP itself.

Ex Hex - Rips (Merge)
 Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag) returns with her best album in over a decade and easily her most accessible. Ex Hex is Timony’s smoldering trio and they play gum-snapping power pop and new wave. Rips does more than its title promises, it totally shreds.

25. Iceage - Plowing Into the Field of Love (Matador)
Iceage switch out their slash-and-burn style punk for a drunken, swaggering post-punk reminiscent of early Bad Seeds. It’s a surprising and much welcomed shift.

26. Harassor - Into Unknown Depths (Dais)
LA Local crew Harassor spew punky and raw black metal all over your stupid face; the kind that could only be conjured on the American Hellmouth known as Los Angeles. “Winter’s Triumph” is an adventurous highlight driven by a catchy Killing Joke-esque riff.

27. Black Rain - Dark Pool
(Blackest Ever Black)
No Wave/Industrial pioneer Stuart Argabright (Ike Yard, Dominatrix) had the luck of having a 1995 shelved industrial film score he composed under the moniker Black Rain finally see the light of day in 2012, due to the unearthing skills of UK imprint Blackest Ever Black. Argabright now picks up where he left off in ‘95 with aptly titled Dark Pool. Retro-future soundscapes and Bladerunner atmospheres are helped along by the spectral vocals of Zoe Zanias of Linea Aspera.

28. Myrkur - Myrkur (Relapse)
 One-woman ethereal black metal band, Myrkur (aka Amalie Bruun,), does not pioneer new ground for her debut, but she does a most excellent job playing with the template of second-wave Scandinavian black metal and imbuing it with a powerful femininity.

29. DonChristian - Renzo Piano (Camp & Street)
NYC- based singer/mc DonChristian gets extra amorous on his abstract R&B-flavored Renzo Piano. Taking cues from actual architecture in the construction of the songs, Don layers wordless but evocative vocalizations over his smooth come-ons. There’s also hot, hot production from Boody and The-Dream, plus the obligatory guest spot from Le1f.

30. Lucy - Churches, Schools and Guns
(Stroboscopic Artefacts)
Berlin-based producer Luca Mortellaro avoids anyone’s ideas about a sophomore slump wholly with his provocatively titled Churches, Schools, and Guns LP. Look no further than the 4/4 of “The Illusion of Choice” and its modular leads. The blanket descriptor for a whole lot of techno these days is “dystopian” and Churches mines that concept and mood quite well; it also pulls from deeper emotional wells on tracks like “Falling” with its repetitive airy vocals and “The Best Selling Show” with its
broken, eerie organ chords.

31. Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste

(Prospect Park)
Major labels seem bent on keeping their most adventurous pop acts from public view and remain clueless as to what even makes them special. Last year, Capitol records finally wised up and let Sky Ferreira release her fuzzy tunes, but this year’s withheld gem had to be dropped back into the arms of its creator before the public FINALLY got to hear it. Azealia Banks’ Broke with Expensive Taste has a long and storied road dating back to 2012, which is surprising considering it’s quality and uncompromising, eclectic vision. It’s the kitchen sink of Hip Hop albums featuring everything from feisty ballroom tracks to indie surf-rock. Azealia Banks rides each track flawlessly, transitioning from her playful-but-always-fierce rhyming right into confidently singing her own damn hooks.

32. FKA Twigs - LP1 (Young Turks)
 There is miles of ink about Ms. Twigs already, and for good reason – her debut album, LP1, flawlessly melds a bonkers electronic experimentalism with mainstream R&B and pop with spellbinding results.

33. The Hidden Cameras - Age
Joel Gibbs ends The Hidden Cameras long absence by adding dub and synth-pop to the projects' patented brand of “Gay Church Folk.”

34. Xiu Xiu - Angel Guts: Red Classroom (Polyvinyl)
 It is really no surprise that the darkest of all albums Jamie Stewart has produced under his Xiu Xiu moniker was conceived and realized in Los Angeles. Don’t dance away the bad thoughts, dance to them. Xiu Xiu is Dead, Long Live Xiu Xiu!

35. Aphex Twin - Syro  (Warp)
A matured but none-the-less utterly thrilling comeback LP. As a friend of mine noted, every song in the world should have a “Syrobonkus Mix.”

 36. Meshell Ndegeocello - Comet, Come To Me (Naive)
Meshell Ndegecello has had a impeccable string of albums for two decades but she really hit a glorious stride with her first post-major label release, 2007’s The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams. That stride has continued right up to this year’s excellent Comet, Come to Me. Meshell leads her band with longtime collaborator and guitarist Chris Bruce through a killer cover of Whodini’s “Friends” into tracks that recall another one of her adolescent heroes -- Prince. There’s also chunks of trippy dub, and reggae, plus homages to jazz-era Joni Mitchell.

37. Morrissey- World Peace Is None of Your Business (Harvest)
Morrissey’s comeback LP of sorts, the fantastically-titled World Peace Is None of Your Business, had a stumbling roll-out that eventually led to the ever-surly crooner leaving the label that released it. This led to its subsequent withdrawal from the market --all within in a couple months of its release. Despite the drama, it’s a fantastic set of relevant and timely songs that embellish Moz’s classic-era sound (the subtle synths are back) with occasional Flamenco guitar and mariachi horns.

38. Blonde Redhead - Barragán (Asawa Kuru LLC)
A quiet gem like Barragán can get lost or easily discarded with the instant gratification of large MP3 libraries and streaming now the norm. It’s the sort of LP that takes its time to reveal its many treasures; repeated spins of the album’s electro-pop, shoegaze riffing and chamber-folk unveil its massively rich rewards.

39. Marianne Faithfull - Give My Love To London (Easy Sound)
This is Faithfull’s best album since 2004’s PJ Harvey-produced Before The Poison and a late career peak. The sarcastically-titled Give My Love to London features gorgeous collaborations with Nick Cave, Roger Waters and Anna Calvi that perfectly suit the beautifully ravaged and ever-wise voice of Marianne.

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