Published on December 26th, 2014 | by Dave Scaddan0
The Feedback Society’s Top 20 Albums of 2014
And now, we cordially invite you to partake in yet another list: The Feedback Society’s Top 20 Albums of 2014 as chosen by Dave Scaddan.
My annual Top Albums List began as a series of shopping lists of sorts, about ten years ago, when vinyl availability (my preferred format) started to enjoy a surge that hasn’t slacked off since. I would use online sources to listen to bands I’d heard about until there just wasn’t enough time in a week to properly indulge in all the music I wanted to hear. Quality was abandoned in the name of quantity and I wasn’t buying as much music as I used to. I was an unprofessional appreciator of music, consuming it in too much of a frenzy to be satisfied, not buying many CDs, but still nursing a tremendous appetite for my next favourite band. I had to be stopped.
So I started making ‘Best of the Year’ album lists each summer, moving, adding, and removing items throughout the winter until I arrived at about 20 by mid-December. At that point, I’d say, “if this is one of my 20 favourite albums of the year, I should own it in my favourite physical format,” like some spoiled rotten hipster handing down my patronage. Then I’d buy a lot of records, all at once, and over time, I’d place them all on the turntable lovingly, and appreciate them more, for reasons that can be explained sonically or otherwise. I almost never regretted any of these purchases, because I’d loved these albums so much before buying them, and a few of each year’s 20 would be inevitably hard to find, adding a challenge to my obsessive shopping list completionism.
I started sharing the lists with friends and asking them for theirs. When I did so, I’d write a casual little blurb under each title so as to pique interest and guide choices (I was never so vain as to expect that anyone would ever exhaustively investigate all 20) and over the years the blurbs got bigger as I struggled to contain my excitement about sharing musical tips and suggestions. Now the list is like a critic/writer’s self-dared challenge, and seems fit for public consumption except for how pompous it is — who am I to tell you what albums to listen to, or to assume you care about what calendar year they fit into according to release date? Why would I assume that anyone would want to see my shopping list?
The answer is that good music is a gift and our tastes are all that stop us from giving and receiving it. It’s pretty likely that you’ll see some music on this list that you’ve loved also, and if you do, and if you also see some stuff here you’ve never heard of, (and my wordy blurb piques your interest) then some of those unknowns are probably worth checking out, because we likely share some of the same appetites. Post replies with your own lists if you please, and the giving needn’t ever end, at least until next year’s lists become actualized. I hope that here you’ll find some stuff you like enough to spin in your own space.
It’s time again to look back at all the records that stood above the rest in the past year. There were a few great debuts, a recognizable youth movement and lots of dynamic duos, but one sophomore effort from a pair of great artists was clearly above them all.
Robyn & Royksopp – Do It Again EP
Norway’s most slickly produced electronic duo, Royksopp, called it quits this year with their (apparently) final album, ‘The Inevitable End.’ I’ve been harbouring a love for this group’s symphonic smoothness ever since 2001’s ‘Melody A.M.’ record, but I found that like many gifted producers, they bogged down their swan song with too many guest vocalists, leaving ‘The Inevitable End’ sounding less like an album and more like a collection of half-decent singles.
Strange then, that their collaboration with icy-cool Swedish pop star Robyn should ring so true with an old fan of this group. This trio — now touring together in what should be a live show capable of reaching Daft Punk status — knocks out five great tracks on this EP, four of which are as hooky and dancy as hell. Imagine The Chemical Brothers getting Madonna on the mic and you’re pretty close to the experience.
Space Witch – Space Witch
Doom Metal from the UK! This record has only two songs. Each is over a half-hour long. Hearing their drop-D meltdowns with spacey synths washing underneath tells me they’ve been listening to Shooting Guns over there.
Wand – Ganglion Reef
Equal parts Smashing Pumpkins and Grateful Dead, this band feels like the point where psych met shoegaze. Festooning fuzz cannot overwhelm the strong penchant for melody and harmonics. Wand can extend into full freak also, but there’s some truly talented musicianship and originality that’s always at the core, making this much more than just style-tribute.
Madlib – Rock Konducta
This record would probably be way higher on this list if it didn’t have the sound of a phone ringing in it, like, quite a bit. I always hate that. Still, it’s fun to hear the Konducta doing his thing with Top 40 guitar/bass/drums in all the samples. For those who aren’t aware, Madlib has spent most of his career entrenched in instrumental hip-hop, using soul, funk, jazz, and reggae records to loop the sounds that you’ve probably heard used on other, better known people’s records if not on his. This time it’s just a little different. The rock (and rock radio) source material still gels with Madlib’s one-of-a-kind ear, but it makes the end result more like Negativland’s plunderphonic experimentation than what we’re used to hearing from him.
Louis La Roche – Dusty Cassette EP
Call it what you want: nu disco, French house or vaporwave, this EP establishes a groove and confidently sticks with it through six all-too-brief tracks full of jacked-up stagger-step beats and 80s RnB samples. Whether he’s ramping it up or chilling it out, La Roche sets a mood like he’s very sure of himself, and for good reason.
Joker – Reimagined
After a years-long string of impressive singles and an eventual LP release that really didn’t live up to previous standards, this record feels like an effective readjustment. Using a style that melds early dubstep, grime and synth-funk into something that Joker calls simply, “purple,” here he hands over remix duties of his singles to a bevy of capable producers, closing the record with his own reworking of ‘Purple City’ that exceeds the ample groove of the original to become one of the best tracks of the year.
Electric Wurms – Musik, Die Schwer Zu Twerk
Flaming Lips fans who’ve been off the wagon for a few albums should dip back in with this EP. Steven Drozd is the new George Harrison.
Ty Segall – Manipulator
No matter what Segall is doing, rocking it off, fuzzing it up, psyching it down, or smoothing it out — as he is on Manipulator — at the core there’s always that same tuneful, shambling charm. The title track leads off the record in heraldry a lot like ‘Debaser’ does on Doolittle, announcing the presence of the entire record with its sixties garage and girl-group stylings. There’s just no question about it – the kid has got something.
Aaron Freeman – Freeman
This is a feel-good record from a guy that not too long ago, looked like he’d never be able to make us feel good again. Ween seems to be over for good, but Gener is not, and hopefully he’ll be able to keep his recovery going and give us more of his sweet singing and strange songwriting very soon.
Haunted Hearts – Initiation
Into either Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls, or both? This is the literal and figurative marriage of those two bands. The coupling works without any surprises, sounding just like you’d think it would: the early eighties guy/girl goth pop duo we never had.
Mac Demarco – Salad Days
When I look at Mac, it’s hard for me to see what’s made him such a media darling and put him in touch with all the right connections to get a music career going these days. When I listen to Mac, it all makes sense. Maybe the drunk-ass goofball persona actually creates the perfect contrast with his smooth-as-hell songwriting and delicate crooning. Maybe the fact that in 2014, he can still come up with guitar sounds and styles I’ve never heard before is all that’s needed to make him worthy.
Tobacco – Ultima II Massage
Like a great many of the other acts on this list, Tobacco makes songs that can’t easily be classified in a musical genre or be compared accurately to other acts. Maybe that’s just what it takes to stand out in 2014. Maybe the price of limitless access to the history of recorded music is that our tastes become numbed to the new, yet familiar.
Why listen to Oasis when you can listen to The Beatles? Why listen to Green Day when you can listen to The Clash? We used to pay attention to these exciting new incarnations of these great old bands because they were on the radio and TV all the time and there were bins full of their albums on CD at the mall. When you saw a copy of ‘Dookie’ for $8.99 you thought, ‘that’s really cheap, I should buy one before they run out — if it was $18.99, I’d just get my buddy to burn me one on his dad’s computer, but what the hell?’ This thinking seems ridiculous now. Why did we buy the disc out of a giant pile like we were scooping pistachios out of a bulk bin when we couldn’t go anywhere without hearing ‘Longview’ anyway?
Now that practically everything we listen to is by our own immediate choice, why listen to some new band that sounds a hell of a lot like a band we already know and love? An act like Tobacco doesn’t need nostalgia or the repetition of force-feed media to catch ears; it does so by sounding so completely original and un-ignorable that one listen is enough to make it stick, making for a perfect match with the ways we currently get to our sounds. Sure, ‘Ultima II Massage’ might call to mind the thudding, programmed beats of hip-hop, but the familiarity and association with genre ends there. Tobacco’s sandpapery, pitch-shifting melodies are always distorted just to the point where any more would make them atonal and overly abrasive, so what we hear is a tune that’s just clinging to its musicality, though its true sound is something more like a siren or a power tool.
Mehliana – Taming the Dragon
Piano virtuoso Brad Mehldau teams with the technically acute percussion skills of Mark Guiliana on this electronically geared set of twelve songs. Both write and play the kinds of music that would classify them as ‘composers’ and not ‘songwriters,’ mostly because of who their music appeals to, but here they use equipment that isn’t usually center-stage in your stodgier soundscapes. With electric synths, effects, hard-hitting drums and a Fender Rhodes, Mehliana roll out a debut that puts a lot of others using these same tools to shame, simply because of the incredible array of skills on display.
White Reaper – White Reaper
It only takes a six-song EP from this tight-rocking, melodic combo to make them better than all but six of the full-length releases in 2014. White Reaper transmit the same hit hard, hit fast, repeat, repeat formula that worked for The Ramones (plus an organ), and hearing it at full volume, there’s no reason for this sound to ever go away.
Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
Shabazz Palaces present an immaculately produced, slow-tempo sound that is certainly rooted in hip-hop, but is not always recognizable as hip-hop. Ishmael Butler is ‘rapping,’ beats ‘bang,’ but this three-sided opus (presented in suites) goes way beyond your standard rap record sound. The groove is unflinchingly cool, smooth, hypnotic and infectious.
Aphex Twin – Syro
It’s a testament to how hard it is these days to create true buzz in the world of music that Richard James could release this long-awaited triple LP with no shortage of marketing gimmickry and be practically forgotten a few months later. It’s especially surprising that a record so inviting could make so few waves — Syro is probably the least abrasive and funkiest, grooviest thing Aphex Twin has ever done, so maybe he just waited too long to put it out, making news of a new release more noteworthy than the music itself. For twelve tracks, we get hypnotic beats, shining synths, and more attuned musicality than usual, all without James losing his quirks. Hopefully over time, the accessibility of this vast record will lead to more people discovering one of the most influential and important electronic sound innovators ever.
Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
So good to get this sound back.
Amerigo Gazaway – The Big Payback Vol.3: JB and the Soul Mates
This mashup specialist first caught my ear with his Mos Def / Marvin Gaye project, then with his Tribe Called Quest / Pharcyde project. Both of these ventures combine the music of two artists who never worked together, beat matching and style matching them until it sounds like they could have. The mixtape / mashup realm is rather saturated with pretenders, but Amerigo Gazaway is the real deal. The novelty of his pastiches last far beyond the first listen, and also transcend the idea of sampling into something like production / necromancy. On one of this year’s projects, the music of James Brown (and his incredible backing band, the JBs) is melded with the likes of Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Notorious B.I.G., and Fela Kuti. People have been hitting paydirt with JB’s drum loops and bass and guitar hooks for over thirty years now, but this feels less like a beat-jacking and more like a tribute, once again enhancing the notion that James Brown has his fingerprints all over the sound of modern music.
Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader
I suffered through a conflicted honeymoon with this record after discovering this band, (who should not, by the way, be judged on their extremely poor taste in cover art) fighting a kind of Silverchair syndrome. They really do sound enough like The White Stripes to get dangerously close to rip-off status sometimes, but once you’re past that as a listener, there’s plenty more to be excited about from this very young, Brighton-based band. Bluesy hooks and shredded vocal cords abound, eventually making The Wytches a thing of their own, and not just stolen energy – this would seem to be a band with a promising future.
Run The Jewels – RTJ2
Killer Mike and El-P make music that reminds me of what I believe was rap’s pinnacle as an expressive form of street art. I am talking about a time in 1990 when Ice Cube, having left NWA after making only $15,000 for his ample contributions to that group’s success, went solo and started to affiliate himself with Public Enemy. When ‘Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’ hit shelves, featuring Bomb Squad production and guest spots from Chuck D and Flavor Flav, (on different tracks, long before guest spots became a staple of rap records) the whole evolution of the form to that point was being compressed into a single record. It was LA meets NY, it was street-smart meets book-smart, it was don’t-give-a-fuck meets use-your-head, it was pent up, violent anger meeting focused, well-contemplated, empowering anger, and it was one of the most exciting things I’d ever heard. That Cube would say things then that he would never, ever say now (probably for good reason) only added to the rawness and energy of an empowered young man rapping with no reluctance. That feeling is back. Run the Jewels are the children of this collision, presenting pissed-off poetics swimming in swarms of swaggered, swirling production, reminding everyone how glorious this medium can be when used to its full potential.
But, if I can beg the forgiveness of O’Shea Jackson and Hank Shocklee for writing this, Run The Jewels are even better to listen to than Ice Cube with Bomb Squad production. RTJ2 > AKKKMW. That’s right, I wrote it. It’s not that Michael Render and Jaime Meline don’t owe a debt of sorts to those who’ve burned before, it’s just that Killer Mike and El-P burn even brighter.