Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014 Part Four : 20-11

20. Eno/Hyde - Someday World

Both approaching an age where you'd expect them to be mainly occupied by watching daytime TV quiz shows, complaining about immigration and spending a good deal of time in the shed, Brian Eno and Underworld's Karl Hyde managed to lay down not one but TWO corking albums this year. 'Someday World' was my personal fave, the looped rave transmissions of Underworld intersecting nicely with Eno's ambient noodlings to craft something genuinely engaging. The tone is generally laid-back and positive so don't expect anything too out there - in fact you should check out their 'High Life' LP from later in the year if you're after some freeform rabbit hole weirdness - but this is still a masterclass in subdued electronica that dwarfs the output of their modern day novices. Think the quieter moments of Underworld's millennial material coupled with Eno's between the lines contribution to all those A-list production jobs and you're somewhere close. There's life in the old dogs yet.

Check out : 'Daddy's Car', aeons ahead of their 20-something suitors.

19. Johnny Marr - Playtime

Speaking of old dudes putting the youngsters to shame, who expected Johnny Marr to knock out one of the year's best albums? Not me certainly but seeing him live in November set me straight on that one - when you've got access to one of the most lauded back catalogues in music history and still bypass nostalgia to play the new shit you've gotta come out with something strong and 'Playland' has more than enough to hold its own against Johnny's best. Guys his age could be relying on past glories but instead he's tooled up with a bunch of 20-something apprentices and hit the road again to stay lean and mean - the live show was like seeing Ryan Giggs leading a bunch of academy tykes into battle and Johnny's still stylish enough to poach your girlfriend at the after party too. 'Playland' hits the rockier heights of the late Britpop period - think Hurricane N.1, early Travis and even Northern Uproar when they hit the target. All those years keeping his skills sharp in Modest Mouse and The Cribs have clearly paid off - Johnny's still setting the pace thirty years on.

Check out : 'Dynamo' - indie pop gold guaranteed to put a big old smile on your face.

18. Gardens and Villa - Dunes

If you're gonna synth it up these days you've gotta stand out from the crowd. I'm probably not alone in flitting through Spotify like I'm zapping TV channels, making my mind up after 5 seconds in case something better turns up next. Fortunately Michigan's Gardens and Villa hit the perfect frequency from the very first note of 'Dunes' and stay on it over ten tracks of luscious electronica, taking you back to Top of the Pops circa 1983 with modern songwriting chops to bust out this year's move loveable hipster indie LP. This guys cut it up the way I like it, keeping things short and to the point and flooding the mix with hooks and vocal melodies that'll light up your day - it might share characteristics with a zillion other Yank synthster acts right now but when someone bowls a strike like this you've got to give 'em credit where it's due. In fact I can't think of a record I've played more often than 'Dunes' since I bagged it back in February which pretty much says it all - this is just a perfect pop record from start to finish. Dip into it anywhere and you'll be saying the same soon enough.

Check out : 'Bullet Train', another potential radio gem to rival New Romantic at its finest.

17. Alvvays - s/t

If like me you're still buzzed off last year's Bleached LP then Toronto's Alvvays came around bang on time to keep the high going with this go-tell-your-friends-how-cool-it-is debut. In truth their approach is a bit more brainy and incisive than the slacker surf rock doing the rounds right now, getting in amongst them like Throwing Muses in their heyday and fleshing out the mix with some of the most satisfying melodic highs of the year. I think my continued love of this kinda sound stems from my teenage crush on Belly's Tanya Donnelly and this matches her at her flyaway best, their charge steeped in reverb but aimed squarely at the stars. I'm actually halfway inclined to sit down and read the lyrics on this one which is a bit of a rarity these days and we might just have a band on our hands capable of becoming genuine indie icons for the new era. 'Alvvays' gave me a rush of blood to the head I haven't felt since last year's Surfer Blood LP so if they can avoid career torpedoing troubles with the law these folks might just be destined for true greatness.

Check out : 'Archie Marry Me' - indie's best single of the year? Probably.

16. Clark - s/t

Losing LFO’s Mark Bell at the tender age of 43 was one of the year’s biggest bummers so let’s be thankful for those still around to fly Warp’s distinctive flag over years to come. Chris Clark already had half a dozen full lengths under his belt when he unleashed this self-titled stunner in September and might have just outdone himself for an eponymous late career peak a la Blur, Metallica et al. He skates in wide arcs here, veering from contemplative bleep tapestries to out and out bangers all as part of one fluid trajectory, his deft touch and masterful delivery providing a solo spot that almost merits a standing ovation when it’s all over. Comparisons with LFO’s own flawless run may be lazy given the circumstances of its release but ‘Clark’ is speaking a similar language and there’s even a shade of Dave Clark (no relation I’m told) and his much-overlooked 90s classic ‘Archive One’ on here. Techno continued to flourish in 2014 and Clark will start next year at the front of the pack ready for the next round of action.

Check out : 'Unfurla'. This man was clearly born to bleep.

15. Gallon Drunk - The Soul Of The Hour

It's a telling example of how powerful the music media still are when return flights from the likes of Nick Cave and David Bowie become events in their own right yet artists who've been doing the rounds for years can still drop a career best to practically zero fanfare. Gallon Drunk haven't even been away that long but they're the sort of loose living bunch that you'd assume would have died off by now (one of them did the other year as a matter of fact) so the fact that they can still smash out something this great deserves even more celebration. 'The Soul Of The Hour' sounds vibrant, determined and cathartic, a gaggle of shameless lushes staying focussed for long enough to perfectly capture their mindset after two and a half decades of wanton self abuse. There are romantic epics to rival anything The Bad Seeds ever put their name to plus some dirgey blues rock that could sit nicely alongside Jack White's solo stuff if enough people were paying attention. This is a late career peak in the same vein as Mazzy Star's return to the fray last year and is way too good to be a mere footnote to 2014.

Check out : the cinematic full length promo for 'Before The Fire'. Stirring stuff indeed.

14. Meatbodies - s/t

Ty Segall gets everywhere these days. I've started worrying that I'm gonna see his head pop out of the toilet next time I go to take a dump. Meatbodies are yet another offshoot from his stable, mainman Chad Ubovich having served time in Segall's Fuzz project who dropped a self-titled stunner last year and this newbie keeps the buzz going nicely. There's trippy riffs and stoner splurge everywhere you look plus some choppy four chord chunk in the vein of old school L7 and a fizzy enthusiasm in their delivery that recalls FIDLAR's stonking debut from a couple of years back. Plus they have possibly the year's coolest record sleeve, a startling collage that looks like a harrowing session of LSD and Haribo sweets projectile vomited onto the pavement. They're not rewriting the rulebook or anything here but when the material in question rules already there's no need to do so - you know this shit is gonna sound fantastic live and hopefully they'll put together some kind of slopfest Lollapalooza so that these guys, Segall and Thee Oh Sees can bring their joy to the people worldwide.

Check out : 'Rotten', a cocktail of psychedelic slush and brain-melting volume.

13. Museum Of Love - s/t

While we're on the subject of side projects, how about this one for a surprise success? I'm not the biggest fan of James Murphy or DFA records but former LCD drummer Pat Mahoney came straight outta leftfield this year with a solo voyage that connects where a lot of similar material goes in one ear and out the other. 'Museum Of Love' is one part disco pretension weighed out against several parts danceable tuneage and intricate dreamscaping, the loveable side of a musical subsection I'm often driven to loathe. There's a hidden depth to the material here that peels back to reveal different textures on every listen, a vibration built upwards from the beat rather than no substance disco thrills simply dolloped on top of a fragile foundation and you can travel within the tracks here as opposed to just sliding across the surface. The proliferation of vegan hipster electro these days would normally make me avoid this like a puddle of puke in the street but I'll admit that I was proven wrong here - the Museum Of Love is open for business and well worth a visit.

Check out : 'The Who's Who Of Who Cares', an emo song title for an nu electro classic.

12. Run The Jewels - RTJ 2

I probably wasn't alone in reacting with a mixture of pleasure and relief when RTJ's stoopendous second helping landed this year - with the seemingly endless debate about Hip Hop's place in society in today's media I'd almost given up hope on finding an album that made me feel like I did back in the 90s when I first heard Nas, Biggie et al. But let it be known that RTJ are no nostalgia trip, these guys are 2014 all over and somehow emerged as perhaps the band America needed as it slumped into yet another crisis of morality and fractious race conflict. Like the UK's own Sleaford Mods these dudes proved that youth was no pre-requisite for judging public mood with both EL-P and Killer Mike both pushing 40 but still razor sharp to the politics of the day, the latter in particular serving as one of entertainment's most indispensable voices in the wake of Ferguson. But we're almost forgetting the tunes here and the gold they served on this LP is as sharp as Raekwon and Ghostface firing lines off each other in Wu's heyday, a ruthless boot to the crotch that put smiles on faces perhaps more than any other release this year. Exceptionally, DO believe the hype - RTJ are just as good as the press would have you believe.

Check out : The whole thing for free on their website!

11. Behemoth - The Satanist

Think you had a busy 2014? How about coming back from the brink of death and recording the best album of your career? Behemoth's Nergal made us all look like underachievers this year with this stunning return from the void, his recovery from leukemia prior to the album's recording only made more remarkable by the music's fiery sense of purpose and defiant aggression. 'The Satanist' tops their stonking run of noughties releases by following a wholly different path, the skin-flaying Death Metal barrage of 'Demigod' and 'Evangelion' supplanted with a towering homage to their earlier Black Metal days that thrills and terrifies like nothing before. The Nerg sounds genuinely fearless, going as far as mixing his own blood samples with the paint for the album cover  and pouring himself into a staggering hymn to survival against the odds. Seeing him tour this earlier in 2014 was one of the year's highlights for me and the guy is currently peerless at the helm of today's Extreme Metal scene.

Check out : the fruity (and entirely NSFW) promo for 'Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel!'.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Best of 2014 Part Three : 30-21

30. Sleaford Mods - Chubbed Up

Sleaford Mods' rise to fame has been one of British music's more encouraging narratives this year - five years ago this sort of thing would have been lumped in with the borderline parody council estate rap of Devvo and Blackout Crew whereas the dearth of everyman social commentary in the UK music scene of 2014 has left these guys as a refreshing dose of working class vitriol. I'll admit that it took me a couple of listens to warm to this but now I can't stop playing it, kinda like when The Streets first came around - this isn't just kitchen sink realism for the sake of it, they're using the rich palette of everyday British life in the same way Yank rappers have drawn from their own culture for decades and it actually works really fucking well. 'Chubbed Up' is the singles comp that surfaced this year along with new studio LP 'Divide And Exit', they're both great but I marginally prefer this one for variety - one part Sham 69, one part Happy Mondays coupled with the journeyman wisdom of guys actually old enough to have lived through the rave era, they're in a field of their own right now.

Check out : 'Jobseeker', like Bez waking up from a twenty year coma and getting right back on it.

29. Teleman - Breakfast

If I were looking to make a quick buck in today's British music scene I'd probably get a job as a bailiff, what with the number of guitar groups formed in the lucrative indie boom of the mid-noughties who must be struggling to repay their loans now that they're virtually unemployable. Converting to electropop has become pretty much the only means to survive in most cases, although sometimes that actually works out for the best - Teleman are a case in point, reassembled from the bit parts of late noughties nobodies Pete and the Pirates to re-emerge as a savvy art pop outfit in the vein of early Roxy Music/Eno and sounding all the better for it. 'Breakfast' landed to no great fanfare earlier in the year but with hooks like these they're only going to remain undetected for so long. These lads have bypassed the early 80s bargain bin so eagerly plundered by their peers in favour of the quirky pop of the previous decade, drawing from Bowie and Talking Heads without leaving muddy footprints all over the carpet and nailing one of the year's best indie pop LPs in the process.

Check out : 'Skeleton Dance', although dip in anywhere and you'll find a potential hit.

28. Grouper - Ruins

Like Justin Broadrick and the dudes from The Men, Grouper's Liz Harris probably loses a few places on this list on account of the fact that she's in it every year. But that's what you get for maintaining this kind of strike rate - 'Ruins' is every bit as good as anything she's done before but connects on a totally different level, stripping back an already desolate arrangement to barely audible piano and vocals like she's phoning it in from a cold planet at the arse end of the galaxy. I originally chanced upon her shtick a few years back as a more likeable alternative to the media frenzy around Bon Iver and she's weathered the years with grace, exploring the landscape of plaintive melancholy with the intricate touch of a novelist and bringing those currents to life like fragile sculptures suspended in the night air. This is one to devote yourself to completely - pick yourself a slot in the wee small hours or a private moment on headphones and immerse yourself in 'Ruins' to be spellbound by the minimalist magic running through every track here. Her faultless run continues.

Check out : 'Holding' just for the video which complements the music perfectly.

27. Goat - Commune

These psychedelic Swedes finished in my top ten with their 2012 debut but following up a bombastic debut with an equally engrossing second chapter is no mean feat - sophomore platters from fellow alumni Parquet Courts and PAWS landed this year and while pleasant enough still failed to hold my attention up against everything else. So where did these folks get it right? Let's just say the web they weave takes you somewhere you're happy to stay, the combination of wacked out Nordic mysticism and echo-laden stoner rock proving too intoxicating to turn down for a second visit. 'Commune' doesn't go anywhere their stellar debut 'World Music' didn't but staggers its attack for a steadier release, reining in their wig out tendencies to focus on delivering a series of potent acid rock belters that thrill and fascinate without curbing their characteristic eccentricities. They remain an attractive live proposition and seem to have no shortage of ideas for future flights of fancy so we might be in it for the long haul with these folks as they clip clop onwards and upwards.

Check out : the promo for 'Hide From The Sun'. Anyone order a double Jodorowsky?

26. Temples - Sun Structures

We’ve become so goddam cynical towards indie rock these days that every new guitar record built around a string of catchy singles is billed as some kind of cheap shot at fame that belongs in another age. Temples had more than enough quality on this debut to be 2014’s Peace/Vaccines/Drums etc if the industry were looking for such a thing – as it stands there’s just another great indie band straddling the line between cult appeal and genuine celebrity as punters continue to flock to their cause. ‘Sun Structures’ is a record your most straight-laced pal will dig whilst simultaneously bringing out a smile from more hardcore zealots with a soft spot for classic rock tricksmanship – there’s a smidge of Tame Impala’s woozy majesty in here along with a solid dose of early 70s glam and late 60s psychedelic space rock all of which combine to thrilling effect on this all killer no filler debut. The glare of the indie media has dried out many a band issued from promising beginnings so maybe it’s a good thing that these lads have been left to concentrate on the music for now – in any case this was one of the year’s catchiest debuts.

Check out : 'The Golden Throne', although again you can pick anything here as a highlight.

25. Earth - Primitive and Deadly

Heavy stonerisms were in plentiful supply this year with Yob, Electric Wizard and newbies Pallbearer all contributing to the encroaching fuzzcloud threatening to engulf modern Metal. Earth have been speaking this language for some time already but 'Primitive and Deadly' floated into focus for long enough to hypnotise like none of their previous releases, drawing in the listener like the Death Star reeling in its latest victim to crush them with the lumpen weight of a reclining Brontosaurus. The bong rock foundations are first class here but they're not the whole story, guests appearances from the likes of Rabia Shaheen Qazi and Mark Lanegan at the helm driving things forward like the cream of monolithic doom rock and leaving a dirty great footprint once they've finished' 'Primitive and Deadly' tones down to a frequency that has always been there in Metal but only surfaces at select moments so this glimpse into the core of heavy guitar rock was one to be savoured in full over five colossal segments. 

Check out : 'From The Zodiacal Light', a slow cooked gem of volcanic beauty.

24. Mac Demarco - Salad Days

I always seem to miss the promotion party for today’s up and coming stars so I can only hazard a guess at how Mac Demarco managed to go from cult favourite to indie’s new slacker Dylan in the space of twelve short months. My reading of things is that niceness is very much in vogue right now and ‘Salad Days’ is about as amiable as you can get, each track a mellow infusion of positive vibes and chilled out humour that’ll disarm even the angriest of listener – the guy even signs it off with a cheeky farewell as the record closes! Mac may be chillin’ but he’s no hippy, his smoothness never lapses into smugness and he carries each track with an instantly loveable dose of wit, warmth and campfire cool. Picking holes in all this would be downright heartless so it’s just as well there aren’t any, the ensemble standing up to the numerous spins it’s had both at home and in the bars of Paris since it landed back in February. If he can retain his laidback charm in the face of increased media glare and lucrative offers from romantic comedy soundtracks then 2015 is surely his for the taking.

Check out : August's live set on KEXP - even Evan Dando couldn't be this cool about it.

23. Bear In Heaven - Time Is Over One Day Old

Another one from the class of 2012 connecting with a stellar sequel, the Bears toned down the fluo for this one and instead flooded their palette with vibrant nighttime electronica, planting themselves in the bars and bedrooms rather than in the centre of the dancefloor. The results complement their previous gem 'I Love You, It's Cool' perfectly, showcasing their ability to transition smoothly between strobe rush and quiet time like no other electro troupe doing the rounds right now. When we chatted to them after their live show in October they freely admitted to having stopped playing their biggest hit because they were sick of it and it's just that approach that allows them to confidently crowdplease without lapsing into cheap thrills and lazy rave populism. Having surfaced in the midst of the chillwave boom circa 2009/10 they're one of the only bands still worth following and the quality on show here suggests that their future releases promise worthy additions to an impressive canon.

Check out : the promo for 'Time Between', a perfect slight of NYC nightlife. 

22. Function and Vatican Shadow - Games Have Rules

Like it minimal? In such times of austerity one can hardly blame you. If you're partial to understated Techno tinkering then Function and Vatican Shadow might just be the hidden gem 2014 has in store for you - 'Games Have Rules' uncoils slowly over seven studied forays through the quieter register of electronic music but does so without releasing its grip on your brain, shifting its weight only slightly as wave upon wave of sonic stimuli drift across you to leave you numb yet invigorated once it's all over. This sort of thing can easily become a byword for unimaginative studio noodling but done well it's like a really powerful stereo on its lowest setting, technically empowered to fully blast off but holding back its force to focus on the smaller components and bring the detail to life. These guys succeed in amplifying the minutae of their electronic canon like archaeologists scrutinising ancient relics, delicate of touch and steadfastly attentive to finite intricacies. This won't get you on the floor but it might just be the perfect soundtrack for coming back to reality afterwards.

Check out : 'A Year Has Passed', a study in the beauty of transition.

21. Lockah - Yahoo Or The Highway

2014 was another cracking year for electronica, although when has that not been the case over the last decade or so? The post-rave landscape is so inscrutably vast these days that there's bound to be something out there that serves it up the way you want and Aberdeen's Lockah added his name to the list with this stonking debut. Indebted to rave's car stereo aesthetic and laced with the rough-edged clang and snarky humour of his homeland, 'Yahoo Or The Highway' stood out from the crowd with its inventive bleep tapestries and gorgeous moments of euphoric release, managing its tone perfectly yet still knowing instinctively when to knock you on your arse. There's a nod to late period Squarepusher here with shades of the latter's criminally overlooked 'Ufabulum' LP from a couple of years back along with Lone's 'Echolocations' EP and even a hint of rave era mischievists Genaside II and Shut Up And Dance in his delivery, all in all more than enough to warrant paying close attention to his next move. 

Check out : 'If Loving U Is Wrong I Don't Wanna Be Wrong', both track and title summing up what he does best.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Best of 2014 Part Two : 40-31

40. Godflesh - A World Lit Only By Fire

A few years ago Metal seemed mired in nostalgic quicksand, bands getting back together for purely financial reasons to trot out their 'classic album(s)' one more time on tour for the benefit of those who missed out first time or had otherwise refused to move on since then. Sure, it's fun to see 'Master Of Puppets' busted out live from start to finish but the thrill is a fleeting one - imagine if Lars and James could knock out an album today that fit effortlessly in amongst their Cliff Burton-era material and you've got an idea of how satisfying it was to hear Godflesh step back into their glory days. 'A World....' takes them right back to the pummelling industrial bulk of 'Streetcleaner' and 'Slavestate' - jarring drum machine trauma, earthquake basslines and Justin Broadrick's textbook rough-throated bark. Like Carcass' triumphant return with last year's 'Surgical Steel', Godflesh's newie doesn't just remind you how great their old stuff was, it takes you right back into the centre of it and picks up where they left off. Oh and the 'Decline And Fall' EP is pretty fucking great too.

Check out : 'Shut Me Down', the moment you realise that this IS going to be as good as you remembered.

39. Lust For Youth - International

Electropop. There's not exactly a shortage of it these days. We've long since passed the tipping point where the number of decent bands out there justifies the time it takes you to root through them all in search of something good so unearthing a decent electro record always feels like something of a rare pleasure. Lust For Youth are a bunch of androgynous Swedes making exactly the sort of music you'd expect from androgynous Swedes but they've defied the odds and actually knocked out a pretty ace record here - these guys started off as a drone outfit before moving through cavernous darkwave to finally get where they are today, a streamlined synth outfit with the ear for a tune to rival prime era Pet Shop Boys. This is 10 tracks of deftly crafted magic that reminds me of last year's Minks LP 'Tides End' along with Gardens And Villa's equally stellar 'Dunes' from earlier this year, all proof that the genre has the potential to satisfy and stimulate even in such a flooded market.

Check out : 'Illume', starts off like a metro announcement but morphs into something great.

38. The Men - Tomorrow's Hits

Yeah The Men AGAIN, I know. These dudes bust out another classic every year – it’s not that each new LP is necessarily better than the last, it’s more that every release is good in a different way. ‘Tomorrow’s Hits’ pares things back to 70s barroom R’n’R, kinda like Jackson Browne meets The Stooges with a dose of their usual mayhem and mischief. This is their shortest album in terms of the number of songs but each tune is solid enough to stand out in its own right, rollicking garage bluster going up against acid-fried country rock with each band member putting their own unique stamp on things. These guys play more like a unit than ever before which might explain the profileration of side projects poppin up to showcase their more leftfield urges – such as the stonking debut from Dream Police, more of which later – and apparently they’re taking next Spring off to figure out where to head next. With this kind of hit rate you suspect their best years may be ahead of them.

Check out : ‘Pearly Gates’, straight down to business from the word go.

37. Lone - Reality Testing

Lone's stonking 2012 LP 'Galaxy Garden' threw down some modern day fluo flashbombs for the rave-hungry hordes out there but he's gone into this one with a more measured pace, coaxing out a reaction rather than flat out demanding one. 'Reality Testing' tips its hat to Hip Hop and Garage as much as classic era Rave, moving into those nine minute 12" remixes rather than the four minute frontal assaults of yore and the new approach sees him eke out a charm that might have been lost with a more opportunistic angle. This is one to relax and enjoy, losing yourself between the lines as Lone expands on his vast knowledge of beats, breaks and trigger moments to guide you gracefully through a different area of rave hyperspace. I'd love to see his record collection sometime, you just know there's a wealth of treasures there he's drawn from to bring this reality to vibrant, colourful reality and I'm sure there's plenty more in there to inform where he's going to take us next.

Check out : 'Vengeance Video', another early 90s daydream somehow made real.

36. Mastodon - Once Around The Sun

It's easy to take good Metal bands for granted. The noughties was right up there with the 80s in terms of regularity for great metal records with a cluster of extreme bands like Enslaved, Akercocke, Nile and Converge all knocking out strings of records that were so consistently fabulous that you stopped noticing how solid the material really was. Mastodon were in there with the best of 'em, landing perhaps the decade's most universally applauded LP with 2004's 'Leviathan' and they've seen out much of the ensuing decade putting smiles on faces with some stellar follow-ups but with this one they've decided to vary it up a little, polishing up the production and tracking back for some cosmic groove metal and classic 70 reefer rock. What could've been decried as softening up for commercial purposes has actually freshened their sound up nicely - they've replaced the rougher edges with some formidable tug 'n' thrust metallic dynamics and where 'Once Around The Sun' connects it will take your fucking head off just like the old stuff. There's life in the old sea beast yet.

Check out : 'Chimes At Midnight' beamed in from another galaxy and taped live the summer.

35. Wozniak - Pikes Peak EP

Bubbly neatly under the surface but full of early promise, Edinburgh's Wozniak were one of our standout Bandcamp discoveries in 2014 with this 5-song corker that flits between Mogwai's slowly building cloudbursts and the discordant bliss of early Ride, weaving its way across the shoegaze landscape like a lunar pod exploring a new planet. There's no vocals so the music does all the talking, each track constructing a narrative that draws you in like a short story and neatly makes its point without labouring it. This is like the soundtrack to a working week's worth of partially formed dreams, snapshots that leave a powerful emotional aftertaste when you have to abandon them to get up and go to work. If that's the case then letting these folks loose in full album format promises to herald a thoroughly intriguing mindfuck when they get to attack the canvass of that weekend booze-addled powernap where things start to get really interesting. Their future is a bright one.

Check out : 'El Maresme', a perfect sweep across the landscape of their world.

34. Goatwhore - Constricting Rage Of The Merciless

A good metal album is very much like a good curry – there’s always plenty to choose from and the quality can vary but when you get one with the balance just right it hits the spot like nothing else. Goatwhore have been knocking ‘em out for years now but they’ve kept their moves sharp and drafting in extreme metal guru Erik Rutan on production duties gives ‘Constricting’ a lethal finish that will knock your head clean off on first listen. Their reluctance to fully commit to any one of metal’s myriad subgenres allows them to draw on them all to fashion their own heady blend of audio violence which is as distinctive as it is immediately accessible to the passing observer – crank this one up and you’ll soon fall for their Satanic charms and jubilant energy. While acts of their longevity are often prone to complacency Goatwhore have instead closed ranks and fired out a barnstorming career best – may their second wind carry them to even greater heights over years to come.

Check out : 'FBS (Fucked By Satan)' - does exactly what it says on the tin!

33. Eomac - Spectre

Today’s budding Technohead has a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of bleep history at their fingertips, the genre’s ever-evolving musical landscape affording both studied immersion in established sounds or fearless journeying into undiscovered realms. Dublin’s Eomac chooses to stick to the cavernous underworld of electronic music, pitching vibrations that sound like they should be experienced in a nightclub doubling as war bunker, pulses rebounding off imaginary surfaces as they travel through thick cloud of neon-cut industrial fog. ‘Spectre’ stays the right side of heafuck mechanics to remain inviting rather than teeth-chatteringly stark – there’s a depth to these tunes that suggests he favours textural sublevels rather than short term sensual gratification and you’ll find yourself inextricably drawn into the beckoning darkness with each listen. There are plenty of corridors to explore in this underground maze of electronic delights so strap in and start your adventure here.

Check out : 'Shell Of Dark', like you're several floors below the rave wondering what's going on.

32. Swans - To Be Kind

Swans seem to have bagged the sort of universal press acclaim usually reserved for Arcade Fire with this one, not bad work for a band with a collective age of about 8000 but ever more so for a record that basically represents two hours sequestered in a room with only your deepest insecurities and squalid imagination for company. Career revivals can be graceless things at times but Swans actually feel like they've died and come back to haunt the listener, looming in the half light whilst you do your best to ignore them but slowly floating into your field of vision to interrogate and terrify. 'To Be Kind' looks like an unassailable listening experience from the outset but if you lay this one up against 120 minutes playing Candy Crush or arguing on social media it's difficult to argue that you don't have room for it in your life. It WILL turn your brain inside out and force it to do laps of the track until it's at the brink of collapse but sometimes you need a record to do just that. Charli XCX this ain't. 

Check out : 'Oxygen'......then have a nice sit down and a stiff drink.

31. Dream Police - Hypnotized

I'm gonna have to start buying in bulk from Sacred Bones if they can keep up this kind of hit rate! Dream Police is basically two of the dudes from The Men on a creative tangent that runs through the same second hand record stores that fed into their main band's last offering but plumps for post punk and analogue electronics over boozy bar rock. The garage gut punch is still there but it's been augmented with keys, synths and some layered effects that sound straight out of the early 80s tape scene, serving up a sound that you can disappear into like an old movie. In places they trip out like Spacemen 3, in others they throb like early Human League and elsewhere still they craft road-weary ballads tailor-made for late night radio sessions in lonely motel rooms. These guys seem able to just soak up everything around them and channel it into something new and dazzling and 'Hypnotized' only adds to an already impressive canon of sounds from an embarrassingly prolific songwriting stable.

Check out : 'Pouring Rain', the spirit of 1981 back on the road again.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Best of 2014 Part One : 50-41

Hello peeps!

I haven't bashed out anything in writing for a while but if you're interested in hearing my views on the emerging sounds of the day then head on over to the bitchin Indie 500 website and listen to the radio show Matthew and I lay down every week or so and all will be revealed! Still no excuse for being such a lazy bastard I know so to make up for it here are my picks of the year in five easily digestible mouthfuls. Hope you like it and stay tuned for the rest over the course of December. 

xxx John

50. Martyn - The Air Between Words

Since when did Ninja Tune get their mojo back all of a sudden? Between Machinedrum, Faltydl and this smokin' slab from Washington's Martyn the label's on a run of form they've not seen since the mid 90s halycon days of Coldcut, Kid Koala, DJ Food et al. 'The Air Between Words' is a parade of beats and breaks that are as smooth as freshly cut flowers but still more suited to fancy footwork than slurping a dry white at the bar while checking Tinder on your phone. Drop in a well-timed piano chord or two and cameos from the dextrous likes of Four Tet and you've got a tour de force of nimbly crafted magic on your hands. Martyn works in the same space between warm Piano House and clinical Techno tinkering that Robert Hood mastered on last year's stonking Floorplan LP, keeping things in check over six minute slabs rather than going straight for the money and this will provide the ideal soundtrack to getting slowly ready to a night of raging without popping off too soon. 

Check out : 'Like That', a masterclass in capture and release ninja skills.

49. Cannibal Corpse - A Skeletel Domain

Having steadfastly refused to tone it down or pander to trend shifts over 14 solid albums of sense-battering DM madness you're tempted to award Cannibal token plaudits just for longevity and influence but to do so would be to overlook just how infectiously savage their new material is. The band's distinctive brand of audio hyper-violence has inspired countless troupes of younger, sprightlier headbangers but few could hope to match their ruthless delivery nor their well-honed songwriting chops and 'A Skeletal Domain' lays down yet another marker for uncompromising sonic barrage and flair for intricate gory detail. Switching producers again has sharpened their sound for a new run through the usual themes and the goods are delivered once again with their best set of tunes in a decade to singe eyebrows and put listeners off their lunch like they did back when they first emerged all those years ago. These dudes are looking increasingly like the zombies eviscerated in their lyrics so we might not have many more of these LPs to come, all the more reason to revel in the demented aggression served up here whilst the fun's still happening.

Check out : 'Kill Or Become', another stone cold classic. Fire Up The Chainsaawwww!!

48. September Girls - Cursing The Sea

A cursory glance at their name and the merest whiff of Spector-indebted echo in their music is probably enough to condemn Dublin's September Girls to instant pigeonholing under the garage Ronettes bracket that opened up in the late noughties with the Vivs, Dum Dums, Best Coast et al but it's worth remembering that most of the bands in that category changed it up after one record to move into more polished invention over later releases. 'Cursing The Sea' reminds me of the Horrors' cavernous debut, all youthful enthusiasm and simple melodies characteristic of teenage scenesterism but we all know where that led them and these gals have already evolved since this LP landed in January, October's 'Veneer' EP hinting at vaster ambition and pulpier production so their next steps are gonna be well worth following. I realise I'm almost apologising for this record being a straightforward run of catchy-ass garage rock when there's no need for any such excuses - this is a stellar launchpad for another bunch of potential legends and points to a bright future lying ahead.

Check out : the video for 'Green Eyed', which kinda reminds me of Heart's 'These Dreams'.

47. East India Youth - Total Strife Forever

East India Youth’s William Doyle might just be the next James Murphy, although I should clarify before going any further with that analogy that I always thought LCD were overrated hipster twaddle with occasional moments of grace too often buried by a landslide of pretentious noodling and irritating delivery. As with Murphy’s own highly regarded ‘Sound Of Silver’ LP there are only two genuine stonkers on here whilst the rest is too polite to really get me going but there’s still enough to merit your attention and when he hits the target Doyle knocks it out of the park, the central twinset of ‘Hinterland’ and ‘Heaven How Long’ standing out as two of the year’s most vital electronic moments. He’s dreaming big here, don’t let the snarky title fool you. This sort of librarian electronica has ‘next big thing’ written all over it so we should at least be thankful that he’s making a decent go of it rather than just chasing the advert money or smoothing down the edges to slip neatly into a pre-established niche market. ‘Total Strife’ is perhaps not as good as others might lead you to believe but it’s still pretty bloody special and well worth a peep.

Check out : the video version of 'Hinterland' - he takes his time but it's well worth it.

46. Brody Dalle - Diploid Love

Heerrrrrre's Brodyyyyy!! Having shunned the spotlight for the best part of the last decade to concentrate on bustin' out babies with Josh Homme the Brodester finally decided to get back to making records this year and laid down this weird and wonderful solo slab. There's bugger all carried over from her Distillers days in terms of Hellcat punk fury but she's still got that distinctive drawl and enough front and centre attitude to make you sit up and listen. This is one of those 21st Century pop records where everything goes - imagine Trent Reznor blasting Madonna's 'True Blue' and you're probably somewhere close. This kinda reminds me of Courtney Love's cruelly overlooked solo LP 'America's Sweetheart' which once you got past the attention-seeking press appearances was actually pretty stellar - Brody's profile has suffered no such damage since she was last in the spotlight so there's no reason 'Diploid Love' won't trigger a second stage to her career that's just as rewarding as the first.

Check out : 'Dressed In Dreams', perfect for bouncing light beams around a stadium crowd.

45. Triptykon - Melana Chasmata

It's perhaps edging into hyperbole but I reckon Celtic Frost have done enough to define what constitutes Heavy Metal since their inception in the early 80s as Black Sabbath have managed with a decade's headstart. Thomas Gabriel Fischer's flair for monolithic riff weight and avant garde invention has informed Metal's direction over recent years like no other artist and Triptykon's second only strengthens his position as the genre's steadfast monarch. Frost's earth-quaking return with 2006's 'Monotheist' projected their early menace against a universe-sized backdrop before Fischer buried them again and re-emerged with a new outfit to explore ever more cavernous sub-levels of cacophony. 'Melana Chasmata' builds on their 2010 debut to exert planetary tug and thrust, lurching forth like a hungover Balrog slamming down riffs like concrete paving slabs but this isn't just an exercise in momentum, there's a labyrinthine sense of dark theatre playing out across these tracks that feels like it's been fermenting for centuries. Unlike many of his peers Fischer's only improving with age - at this rate he'll be putting out his best work in his eighties, reflecting on a lifetime of woe as the Grim Reaper taps his watch. I can't wait.

Check out : 'Tree Of Suffocating Souls'....experts doing the basics, absolutely stunning.

44. Die Antwoord - Donker Mag

You know you're getting a bit old when popular culture starts to confuse rather than fascinate you and I'll admit that it took me some time to figure out what the fuck was going on here but eventually it all clicked into place. Die Antwoord sound like 2 Unlimited after two decades in a South African meth den but have somehow managed to muscle their way to the core of today's pop culture - basically take one part steroid-fuelled Donk pop, another of Scooter's deafening stadium rave and an online diet of violent video games and hardcore pornography and this is what the recorded result would sound like. It's graceless, tasteless and probably symptomatic of today's sensationalist web climate where shock value and short-attention span thrills triumph over content and substance but why blame the band for soundtracking the chaos that surrounds them? I'll opt for gazing into this creative abyss until I start to enjoy it and 'Donker Mag' channels the same idiotic genius as MTV's 'Jersey Shore', a thrilling nod to modern culture sliding down the back of the toilet that delights the senses with a stomach-churning mix of trashy Techno and brutal provocation.

Check out : 'Ugly Boy', Aphex Twin meets Cappella reimagined by David Lynch.

43. Plaid - Reachy Prints

The reclusive side of 90s electronica has come back into vogue over the last couple of years with revivalist platters from the likes of Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada sending listeners back to bean bag nirvana all over again. Plaid's newie could slot nicely into that category but in truth 'Reachy Prints' is like a more amiable Autechre, all elegant synth spirals and ponderous strolls across the analogue spectrum. No bangers, no clangers, just a tour of Techno's more hospitable climbs over nine tracks that can't fail to leave you in a better mood than the one they found you in. Ultimately it might have suffered from its own gentle nature but this was one electro treasure that kept on yielding new treats every time I slipped in back on the speakers. If you hear this shit in a department store a few months down the line then remember where you heard about it first.

Check out : 'Matin Lunaire', one for all you fluo heads out there.

42. Cheatahs - s/t

These kids might need to up their game now that Swervedriver are back on the road again but this woozy gem of a debut is as good as anything they put out back in the day. There's plenty of muscle behind their dreamy guitar fuzz, the tracks gliding by with streamlined grace as they revive the best elements of Shoegaze's golden era on both sides of the Atlantic and this was a welcome dose of reverb-soaked sunshine when it landed back in January. We dashed out to check out the live show when they came to Paris and whilst they've yet to really hit peak confidence onstage there's no doubting the strength of their material - 'Cheatahs' packs enough sugar-coated crunch and lysergic sway to merit repeat listens at full volume until they come back around with the next installment. 

Check out : 'The Swan', as graceful and imposing as the title suggests.

41. Horrendous - Ecydsis

Pretty much every half decent Death Metal band from back in the day has given in to fan clamour and financial pressure to tool up and get back on the road over recent years so today's tykes need to come out with something pretty special just to get noticed. Fortunately DM debutantes Horrendous have just the right mix of classic technique and modern flair to leap right out from the ranks and poke you right in the eye with this stonking mix of wailing leads and scrofulous aggression. If you're anything like me then 'Ecydsis' will slap a bit fat grin across your face as soon as you hit play, the trio channelling mid-80s Kirk Hammett and the cream of Scott Burns' progeny with a touch of modern day spark and invention to carve out ten absorbing slabs of calculated monstrosity. You could slot this one in between 'Left Hand Path' and 'Alice In Hell' quite comfortably even though its creators were mere bairns when those genre-shaping bombs first dropped and 'Ecydsis' carries that same torch proudly forward.

Check out : opener 'The Stranger' - seven minutes later I'd bought the record.