My last entry about 2014 got a little long, so I figured I’d break up the rest of the albums into this section. These are the ones I’ve listened to a little less and in some cases are things that probably will become favorites after a few more spins. On to the action!!
Druckfarben – Second Sound
The Drucks are hopefully about to become big names in the world of prog; despite this only being their second album they do have a pretty serious pedigree. Second Sound is an album I still think I need to listen to plenty more, despite the fact that according to iTunes I’ve played it nine times already. At first I was taken aback by the rather loud mastering (one of the few prog albums that sounds brickwalled) but after that it really does start to shine – it’s complex and high-energy all the way, and the ending suite is brilliant, maybe one of my favorite songs of the year.
Knifeworld – The Unraveling
Two things you need to know about Knifeworld, brainchild of Kavus Torabi – one, if you’re a crestfallen Cardiacs fan (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably are), Knifeworld is the closest you’re going to get to the Cardiacs sound; Kavus worked with Tim Smith for years and it obviously rubbed off on him. Two, Knifeworld have some of the greatest song titles around – “I Can Teach You How to Lose a Fight”, “Dear Lord, No Deal”, “Pissed Up on Brake Fluid”, “Singled Out For Battery”…I mean they clearly kick ass without you even having to listen to them. The Unraveling, just like the Druckfarben album, originally put me off with the production – the drums sometimes feel like they’re underwater and the whole mix seems off. Then I remember that Kavus is a big fan of bands like Gong (he also featured prominently on their latest record, I See You) so most likely this is on purpose. Knifeworld certainly do have their own sound; they’re influenced by Cardiacs (of course) and some of those obscure psychedelic relics of the past, but more than that they’re what the freaky, imaginative bands of 2014 ought to be. Track choice at the moment is “Don’t Land On Me”, their biggest anthem yet. I listen to that riff at 2:30 and think, man, Tim would’ve been proud. Good stuff.
When I heard this album was coming my first thought was, “I think this’ll be pretty good, actually”. My reasoning is that Yes were under no obligation to write new music and I thought Jon Davison was about as good a Jon as you could get. Boy did I eat those words. The best thing you can say about Heaven & Earth is that it’s easygoing – the songs are kind of catchy and not hard to follow, and there’s nothing challenging whatsoever, outside of a bit of jamming in the closer “Subway Walls”. Why, then, are these songs so long? My theory is that it’s because they’re all like 200 years old; you can practically hear the arthritis on Squire’s palms, and Alan White seems to struggle with even the most mellow of tempos. To think I missed what are surely great albums by Glass Hammer, iamthemorning, and Deluge Grander for this? Yes have certainly earned that clout though – who knows if we’d have a Glass Hammer without them? By the way, I do find it hilarious that Yes basically snatched their vocalist, as if Glass Hammer were some sort of Yes farm team. Though GH owe a ton to Yes, they’ve always been better than concurrent Yes at least, and they’ve sustained a prolonged stretch of greatness longer than nearly all of the original prog bands did.
Polysics – Action!!!
Another year, another Polysics album that sounds roughly the same as the other dozen or so albums they’ve done. I liked their last one fine, but really here we have good evidence that any such slump caused by Kayo leaving in 2010 is over, as to my ears this sounds as crazy and hooky as their best albums. This has got to top the entire year in sheer energy, though I guess that’s nearly by default, as nobody plays sharp, catchy guitar riffs whilst screaming their head off as well as Hiro does, and by now the rest of the band is basically a high powered machine.
The Presidents of the United States of America – Kudos to You!
Just think, in 2013 and 2014 we’ve gotten new albums by “Weird Al” Yankovic, The Barenaked Ladies, They Might be Giants, and The Presidents of the United States of America – eat it, grunge!! Suck it, alt-rock!! Anyway, the TMBG album was good. PUSA, for the most part, can be counted on for a few great songs and a few funny lines each time out, and I don’t think you can ask for much more out of them. I mean, they had a much better year than Moxy Fruvous, for what that’s worth. The Presidents still rock and they’re still undeniably likeable, and I’d certainly jump at the chance to see ’em again. Sometimes music is just that simple.
Michael Jackson – Xscape
I wanted to review this one for The Quietus, writing about how this was so much better than MICHAEL, about how maybe the MJ archives were deeper than we assumed, and about how unsettling that is, as MJ post-Bad was so concerned with stuffing his albums full of every idea and whim under the sun that he never would’ve come up with something as economical and concise as Xscape. Then I realized that pretty much every other writer had the same ideas. This year I’m going to write about it for Critter Jams.
One thing that autistic people do well is recognize and reproduce obscure details in otherwise complicated works; stuff like an accidental pattern in a painting or the exact intonation of a character’s stammer in a movie. Though I’ve sometimes described Legion of Rock Stars as a band that covers songs as though it’s their first time hearing them, as they’ve raided the garbage cans for more musical equipment, you will, sometimes, hear them reproduce those barely noticeable bits of a song you’ve heard dozens of times. Whether it’s all the goofy noises in “Solsbury Hill”, the odd, out-of-place synthesizer in “Edmund Fitzgerald”, or every damn thing that happens in “Macarena” (which L.R.S. turn into an atonal, excellent mess), they wind up being more faithful than you know.
Live at the Crystal Palace is a live album so long delayed that it doesn’t contain a single song from their latest album, despite the fact that it came out three years after it. I don’t have much else to say about it and I don’t exactly want to hear it again, as Cake really are not a great live band. At least they cut out the stage banter!
Daler Mehndi – Best of Gurbani
Gurbani refers to traditional Sikh compositions, written by those called the Gurus, and often recorded as something of a tribute. I have several albums of such music recorded by Hari Haran, and I do find it relaxing, if a little repetitive. I plunked down $6.99 on iTunes for this 11-song collection without knowing it was nearly two hours long. I guess I don’t really mind, as Daler’s voice is so awesome that he could read out of the phonebook for all I care.
FKA Twigs – LP1
Every year, I try to grab at least one of those albums that gets talked about a lot on music blogs, just to give my self some sort of illusion that I’m one of those guys that knows what goes on in the world and not just some dude destined to chase around prog bands that maybe ten people have ever heard of. FKA Twigs is the lady who inspired a hundred thinkpieces on what “this kind of music really is” and of course all the inherent sexism and racism that comes with it when you mindlessly put a black woman in the “R&B” box. To be fair, I haven’t read a single review that calls it straight-up R&B, though it does get mentioned, because frankly it does live a bit in that area. FKA Twigs is, of course, another one of those artists where genre labels don’t really tell you much. If anything she reminds me of iamamiwhoami, just in the ethereal, dreamlike way everything is produced. It’s not quite as blown out as that though – it feels clean, almost minimal in spots, but it has that same unsettling vibe, as you don’t really know what’s going to happen within any given space, and she sings about sex in a way that’s, well, not really enticing, but rather more like Prince when he really jumps off the deep end. In other words, I think it is a legit Album of the Year candidate if you’re Pitchfork or whatever, as it’s the sort of album that will likely inspire debate for years to come, and there aren’t any clear analogues. Her videos are really cool, too.
Faust – Just Us
There’s something cool about the way that Faust just seems to keep going – they built out enough clout with those classic 70’s albums that they were remembered when they reformed back in 1992, even though I think Virgin still thinks of them as the granddaddy of failed experiments. That said, it’s hard to really describe post-reformation Faust without thinking of music that is somehow incomplete – outside of 1999’s excellent Ravvivando, every Faust album since has just had a lot of blank space; they don’t exactly groove, and they aren’t really full of songs either. Mostly they’re just full of fuzzy bass and trashcan drumming that drag out until someone cuts the tape; with Just Us they’ve actively encouraged fans to complete the tracks, something which could likely bare interesting results, but doesn’t speak well of the Just Us album itself. I gave it two listens and got the same impression as every other post-Ravvivando album – wish it was faster, wish it was denser, otherwise kinda cool, not sure if I want to listen to it again.
Scooter – T5C
My first impression of the new Scooter album is exactly the same as my impression of the last one – really fucking loud. This album is notable because it’s the first Scooter album in 20 years to not feature Rick J. Jordan, the Chris Lowe to H.P.’s Neil Tennant. I don’t know how much difference it makes; I want to say I like this one better than last year’s disc, but honestly I don’t think I listened to that one more than once. T5C is still full of Scooter doing Scooter things – on “999” it goes THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-YEAH for half a minute, abruptly stops all momentum for the stolen piano ballad part, then “CALL THE POLICE!”. One track has the lyric “Who threw the egg?”. It’s still stuck somewhere between jumpstyle and dubstep, not as much wholesale lifting of 80’s New Wave this time around, though I’m sure it’s still there. New member Phil Speiser is certainly trying his best to impress here, packing every tune with machine-gun beats and blown-out synths. 17 tracks, but they’re only about three-and-a-half minutes apiece, ranging from ridiculous (“Bigroom Blitz”, “Fuck Forever”) to utterly insane (“Can’t Stop the Hardcore” – sample lyric: “middle fingers in the air/you can’t stop the hardcore”). So, Scooter as usual?
Denki Groove – 25
Late one that I only acquired a couple weeks ago, this is an EP to celebrate DG’s 25th year in the biz, and as such several tunes make more sense if you’re aware of the history of Denki Groove. Includes “Baby’s On Fire”, a new single, sadly not a Brian Eno cover, but pretty excellent nonetheless.
Have you beared (bore?) with us this whole time? Well, then here it is, the Critter Jams Top 10 Jams of 2014!
1. Future Islands – “Song for Our Grandfathers”
2. Zammuto – “IO”
3. Neil Cicierega – “Best”
4. Druckfarben – “Second Sound”
5. Aaron Ackerson – “SHC”
6. The Bran Flakes – “Very Very Very Pretty Petticoat”
7. Brian Eno & Karl Hyde – “Lilac”
8. Mike Doughty – “The Brightness”
9. Brian Eno & Karl Hyde – “Who Rings the Bell?”
10. FREEMAN – “El Shaddai”
In all…pretty good year! On to 2015…..and beyond!!!!!