Records Of The Year 2014

Records of the year 2014
It’s almost the end of the year again, time to share with you some of the records I’ve enjoyed in 2014. I’ve tried to keep it short and sweet, only including those records that I still have on regular rotation; I could also have included albums I enjoyed reviewing – Dikembe’s Mediumship, Hoax Hunters’ Comfort and Safety and numerous others, but I’d be here all next year putting that list together, so I give you my top 13 with a few bonus EPs and singles to check out – enjoy.

RainGoodtime Boys – Rain
The first full length from this UK hardcore band realised the potential of their previous EPs and singles and expanded their sound, refining the raw heady hardcore into something melodic, well rounded but still with plenty of bite. The album manages to be instant and easy to listen to but doesn’t scrimp on the meaty riffage. Easily makes my best of the year list.

 

acid fast cover imageAcid Fast – Rabid Moon
Released early in 2014 this was an immediate addition to my best of the year list and didn’t get forgotten in the shuffle. The lasting appeal of the album comes from a core of excellent melodies and a backing of solidly hooky bass lines and sing along vocals rounding things out. There is a strong 90s influence, which is reminiscent of bands like Jawbreaker, Superchunk and, to a certain extent, The Breeders, making the album sound like it was released an age ago and has just been discovered in a dusty attic somewhere; never a bad thing in my opinion.

 

Late Bloomer Cover ImageLate Bloomer –  Things Change
Knowing nothing about this band and having no expectations, apart from liking the great cover art, I put this record on, and was instantly drawn in.  North Carolina trio Late Bloomer make me reminisce – bringing back memories of albums I loved in the 90s by Dinosaur Jr. and Galaxie 500 amongst others.  Things Change successfully melds the fuzz and distortion of a classic indie/shoegaze outfit with the melodies, riffs and vocals you’d expect to find in catchy indie-rock.  However, it must be said, that the joy of the record comes not from the nostalgic feelings created, but the way the band have brought these sounds bang up to date, by mixing in many other things; from warm gruff punkish vocals, to new wave emo and hardcore, there is nothing they’re not afraid to blend in but it’s all constructed in a sympathetic way making many of the tunes here instantly likeable.

 

Cayetana coverCayetana – Nervous Like Me
I’ve made no secret on this blog that all girl Philly trio Cayetana became one of my new favourite bands as soon as I heard their Demo back in January 2013, so it’s probably no surprise that their debut full length album features high in this list.  In the simplest terms, Cayetana write songs that make me feel glad to be alive and I’ve come back to this album over and over again since its release  and it never fails to lift my sprits with its raw edged but instantly likeable melodies.

Pariso Svalbard splitPariso Svalbard Split LP
It’s not a huge surprise to see these two great bands coming together to make a split album – they’ve toured together many times  and musically its clear they are on a similar wavelength, but even for a split record, Pariso and Svalbard have produced a truly collaborative effort here – going one step futher than most and writing and performing two of the tracks as one band; like a gnarly supergroup of sorts.  All three vocalists from the two bands play a part and there is a healthy amount of the heavy duty power you’d expect from these two, with meaty riffage a feature of course, but there are also some nice lighter touches throughout balancing the sound well.

Hag Face, Rag Face Cover ImageHag Face – Rag Face
All girl Canadian punk band Hag Face released this great record in April – it’s only $2 on Bandcamp so no excuses. I’ve been totally won over by their raw edged charm – melodies hide under blown out riffs, feedback squeals and screams.  I love the angsty energy, fantastic vocals and rock and roll rhythms – it all hooks you in so easily, making this a totally addictive record.

 

Bleeding Rainbow Interrupt Album Cover
Bleeding Rainbow – Interrupt
Classy shoegaze from this Philadelphia mob; hooky, melodic and memorable tunes pepper an album with no filler. This band has been around for ages (previously under the Reading Rainbow moniker) but only just made it on to my radar, for shame.

 

The Good Wife Cover Image
The Good Wife –  Love Songs

This is available for free via Bandcamp in an unmastered format as unfortunately The Good Wife is no more.  Apparently the band split up shortly after recording this album but even in its unfinished form it holds some monstrous tracks and serves as a reminder of how great this Brit noise-rock band were.

 

Svin album coverSvin – S/T
Another great record from the Danish avant-garde instrumentalists. This one feels more robust due to some meaty riffage and heavier duty drumming than I’ve heard from them recently.  Less of an emphasis on melody gives the record a more hypnotic, psychadelic feel, with a hint of the industrial in the drum patterns.  They haven’t lost their delicate touch however, the minimal track Alt is heartbreakingly beautiful.

 

Brain F#
Brain F# – Empty Set
Fast, bratty punk from Carolina with great vocals; this is fun and catchy stuff you can dance to. Not entirely sure it has the staying power of a classic album but it’s been a blast to listen to this year – sometimes all you want to do is rock out.

 

 Generacion Suicida Todo Termina
Generacion Suicida – Todo Termina
Hardcore punk from Los Angeles with Spanish lyrics. This is an addictive record, the tunes are super catchy and the riffs get you moving. It reminds me of that fantasic Neon Piss album from a couple of years ago – punchy, snappy tunes with heart and melody. So good.

 
Up River - UndertowUp River – Undertow
The first thing you notice about this new record from Brighton post-hardcore four piece Up River is the excellent production, it brings out every nuance, making for a crunchy and raw sound but it also makes the record sound huge rather than minimal – it’s spot on.  Honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cover art, but as soon as you put the album on you are hit with the rich guitars pumping out hooky riffage and emotive yet controlled vocal screams – this is hardcore done very well and it makes you remember what you love about it.

 
Iceage album coverIceage – Plowing Into the Field of Love
This new third album from Iceage sees a change of style for the band – the scuzzy punk seems to have taken a back seat to more indie experimentalism, with a darker, inward looking mood taking over.  While it feels like a band throwing open the doors musically to new avenues and stepping outside their comfort zone to bend those ideas into something different, there has been a backlash of bile from existing fans, accusing the new album of being being a Nick Cave clone.  I’m not in agreement with this pointless name calling and would recommend the record.  It is a change of direction, yes, but the melodies are very much Iceage, the vocal delivery and lyrics are not much altered and above all this is a collection of great tunes that deserve to be heard.

EPs and Singles
Broncho – It’s On 7″
Hysterics – Can’t I Live EP
Everyone Goes To Space – Demo
Gag – Locker Room 7″
Primetime – S/T EP
Rakta – S/T 7″

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Roundup: Fanzines

Fanzines – a roundup of recent releases

Degenerate mag cover issue 15
Degenerate/Etrenegade Mag #15

Degenerate has gone through a rethink brand-wise and is now officially a mag according to it’s creator Sam Lefebvre, so perhaps this means I’m doing it a disservice covering it here under the heading fanzines?  However, apart from the new mag status this issue still feels and looks like Degenerate; a mix of reviews and interviews, a lovely layout including some colour and pages stapled in here and there all bring texture and make it look like a work of art.  Of course the writing is still top class; part stream of consciousness, part critical essay, dreamlike yet coherent and focused, giving you an insight into the emotional impact of the music which is something that’s often missing from critical writing.  This issue features an excellent interview with Pig DNA too.

 

Asfar issue 38A Short Fanzine About Rocking #38 (final print issue)
What a shame, this always enthusiastic print fanzine has come to an end, now to be online only it seems.  This issue contains the usual ASFAR columns, interviews and reviews and is surprisingly missing any gushy end of the road pieces – Nick’s editorial piece is to the point and doesn’t get sentimental. Coverage ranges from metal to punk and emo and it’s a collaborative affair – a number of writers and photographers contribute with a healthy focus on the UK scene.
Nick promises to continue the fanzine via Tumblr, but as yet no new content has been posted – lets hope its not the end.

 

Punk  In My Soup Zine Cover
Punk In My Soup – #1
This pocket-sized fanzine is reviews only which suits me just fine as the reviews section is always where I head first when reading a mag. As the title suggests the focus is punk,  quite a few of the releases I’ve seen reviewed elsewhere but the style here is what keeps you reading; chatty but descriptive and with some solid observations. Points are well made and there is an obvious feeling of enthusiasm that shines through. The layout is pretty basic, blue print on yellow paper but be warned, the  ink unfortunately rubs off all over your hands. An enjoyable read which will hopefully lead to more issues.

 

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Iceage – Plowing Into The Field Of Love Review

Iceage – Plowing Into The Field Of Love Album Review

Iceage album coverThis new third album from Iceage sees a change of style for the band – the scuzzy punk seems to have taken a back seat to more indie experimentalism, with a darker, inward looking mood taking over.  While it feels like a band throwing open the doors musically to new avenues and stepping outside their comfort zone to bend those ideas into something different, there has been a backlash of bile from existing fans, accusing the new album of being being a Nick Cave clone.  I’m not in agreement with this pointless name calling and would recommend the record.  It is a change of direction, yes, but the melodies are very much Iceage, the vocal delivery and lyrics are not much altered and above all this is a collection of great tunes that deserve to be heard.

To my mind this is the sound of a band still experimenting, here they have reigned in their reckless side and used that exhuberant experimentalism to create something chaotically ordered, teetering on the edge but firmly rooted enough to never fall over. Complex structures and discordant riffs sit comfortably alongside perfect country slide guitar and gently sexy brass or keys.

Each track is different – they haven’t done away with the punk completely but it is now just a layer in the sound on this record, in fact at times this album reminds me very much of their Escho label mates Lower and their recently released record Seek Warmer Climes.  Iceage have a greater aptitude for melody and hooks however; instillng each track with a vibrant glow – thrilling the listener with a range of feelings – the instant nature of the melodies roots them in your musical memory but the fleeting, dreamlike quality is nicely at odds with the catchy tunes, like smoke, transient yet leaving its mark.

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Hoax Hunters Album Review

Hoax Hunters – Comfort & Safety Album Review

Hoax Hunters Cover ImageThe Richmond trio’s debut album is a rousing treat; fast-paced guitars, vocal lines you want to sing along to and its all wrapped in a warm and comfortable blanket of scuzz and great melodies.

The vibe is very much late 80s punky indie rock  – think Minutemen, Dag Nasty and Husker Dü, so erring on the (old school) punk side although with a certain amount of restraint and finesse injected –  the album’s opening track Hoax Hunters is dynamic, upbeat and punchy, sounding like some long lost classic.  Breathe is another brilliant tune – an organic sounding melody flies over a tightly penned riff, bliss.  Perception of Choice remnds me of Dinosaur Jr. but this may just be the Feel The Pain-ish riff, as when the track takes off its all moody melodic punk again.

Other features of the record are the great bass lines and hypnotic drums – the bass is pushed high in the mix and often drenched in distortion giving tunes like Glitterbomb a richer texture while the drums are relentlessly insistent but with plenty of playful touches – often they lend the tracks a dreamy, hypnotic quality and in tunes like Riskless Business they are pushed to the front and are the clarity amongst the fuzz.

There’s plenty of genre mashing going on throughout the record, the little touches of this and that feeding easily into eachother and creating a lovely warmth –  the beautifully scuzzed out sound of 90s indie meets DC hardcore punk is addictive and balanced perfectly by the production (showcased brilliantly in the powerhouse track Erase at the end of the record if you still need any pointers). The album is available on Bandcamp and comes recommended by me.

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Cayetana – Nervous Like Me Album Review

Cayetana – Nervous Like Me Album Review

Cayetana coverI’ve made no secret on this blog that all girl Philly trio Cayetana became one of my new favourite bands as soon as I heard their Demo back in January 2013, so it’s probably no surprise that their debut full length album has been highly anticipated round at mine.  In the simplest terms, Cayetana write songs that make me feel glad to be alive and I’d love to be able to write a review that makes each of you reading this want to go out and pick up the record, but I fear I’m not eloquent enough for that – all I can hope to do is make you curious enough to at least take a listen as its shaping up to be one of my albums of the year.

The album’s opening tune is Serious Things Are Stupid, and it’s a strong track; a super catchy melody, sing along vocal lines and slightly scuzzy production make you want to turn it up loud.  Even just from this opening tune it’s clear that the trio have grown as a band.   Their sound has developed into something warmer and more textured than their early tunes, and this becomes even more obvious on the reworked tracks; Mountain Kids and South Philly, both originally featured on that demo, now sound quite different.   On both these tracks the guitar and bass have a fuller, richer sound and the drums are crisp and punchy, but its not just the production; South Philly for instance has more assured vocal delivery and reworked, more complex bass lines pushed higher into the mix – both tunes sound fantastic here and realise the potential of those more minimal versions from the demo.

It’s great to hear that scuzzy punk feel hasn’t left them on tracks like Black Hills which has a nice layer of fuzz on the guitar and a danceable rock and roll rhythm and Animal which punches in all the right places.  There is a slight change of tone for the sweet and poppy Dirty Laundry which is great to sing along with and has the juiciest bass line and Scott Get The Van, I’m Moving, combines their rougher edges with another perfect pop melody and spot on vocal delivery – it gets into your head and won’t leave, even when you sing it back at full volume.

This is that rare gem, a debut album from a band with masses of potential which delivers 11 great tracks and lets you hear their continuing development together as a unit; it leaves you both satisfied and excited for what they’ll do next.

 

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Monument – Bros Canoeing Album Review

Monument – Bros Canoeing! Album Review

Monument Bros CanoeingI was sad to hear Monument were splitting, but pleased that they left us with this posthumous  sophomore album.  I reviewed their debut full length Goes Canoeing back in Summer 2011 for Roomthirteen.com and it’s an album I still have on regular rotation, so was eager to hear this new record.  Goes Canoeing I described as “raw, emotive and oh so melodic […] backed by jagged guitars, odd time signatures and complex progressions […] a distorted, fuzz-laden sing along world of goosebumps and screamed-raw throats and punched fists.”  I wont argue with my past self, it was (still is) a great album and this latest offering is, pleasingly, no less emotive, and like its predecessor, promises to be an album I’ll be listening to many times.

The “I’ll find a way” chant at the start of opener 3 Musketeers, backed by fiddly guitars and energetic drums, pulls me back in to their world like I’ve never been away.   This is a great way to begin the album: a gloriously uplifting sing along tune with a hint of melancholy, which for me sums up the feel for the rest of the record.  The hint of sadness permeates throughout; with little string touches here and there to give you goosebumps and quiet interludes, like the lovely Reggaenomics, it does lack some of the carefree spirit of its predecessor, but this is well balanced by an upbeat core of melody keeping everything grounded.

Bros Canoeing! does have a less frenetic sound than their debut and tones down the raw vocals for slightly softer edges and a more refined feel, but in no way is the record over produced. The band thankfully retains their edge with vocals on the edge of cracking, riffs that are complex but played with assured confidence and odd timings and impressive flourishes from the drums.

It’s hard to know whether finding out the band had split prior to hearing the album has coloured my judgment when listening, but it seems obvious that emotions were running high during the recording process; there’s a kind of ‘fuck it lets go out in style’ attitude which oozes out of every note and makes each tune crackle with energy.  This album is a great way to start if you don’t know Monument and is also a must have for fans.  Get it.
Buy the album on Bandcamp all proceeds go to Charity.

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Dikembe – Mediumship Album Review

Dikembe – Mediumship Album Review

Dikembe cover imageBack at the beginning of 2013, I reviewed Gainesville four piece Dikembe’s last album, Broad Shoulders, for Roomthirteen.com; describing it as having “a rough around the edges feel (in a good way), giving the sound an exposed and vulnerable edge – all raw scuzzy guitars and the occasional blast of distortion, but this is all laid over with a sweetness from the great melodies and emotion-filled vocal delivery.” With the release of their latest album Mediumship the band has in some respects kept hold of their essence – solid and often memorable melody is still at the core of each track but their sound has also evolved.

Comparitively, this new album feels like the late night version of Dikembe – where Broad Shoulders felt youthful and had an angsty, scuzzy edge this record feels like it was written in twilight. An introspective mood has taken over; the vocals sound more considered, with a softer tone and the tracks have room to breathe, to grow, and feel expansive, more organic.

The album is just as engaging as their debut, they may have smoothed down those rough edges to some extent but they show they have plenty left in their arsenal, and in fact, this album is more of an instant winner.  Meduimship focuses on the tunes rather than the angst and many of the tracks are instantly memorable thanks to their strong melodies; opener Even Bother, which builds to a glorious sing along melody, sticks with you long afterward and the excellent Donuts in a Six Speed mixes dynamics with a lovely dreamy open sound and strong vocal lines.

I think this is a stronger more focussed record than their debut; the expansive sound has leant the tracks an almost epic feel, but they are still very accessible thanks to that melodic core and the excellent vocals.  A solid second full length release.

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Late Bloomer – Things Change Album Review

Album Review: Late Bloomer – Things Change

Late Bloomer Cover ImageKnowing nothing about the band and having no expectations, apart from liking the great cover art, I put this record on, and was instantly drawn in.  North Carolina trio Late Bloomer make me reminisce – bringing back memories of albums I loved in the 90s by Dinosaur Jr. and Galaxie 500 amongst others.  Things Change successfully melds the fuzz and distortion of a classic indie/shoegaze outfit with the melodies, riffs and vocals you’d expect to find in catchy indie-rock.  However, it must be said, that the joy of the record comes not from the nostalgic feelings created, but the way the band have brought these sounds bang up to date, by mixing in many other things; from warm gruff punkish vocals, to new wave emo and hardcore, there is nothing they’re not afraid to blend in but it’s all constructed in a sympathetic way making many of the tunes here instantly likeable.

One of the clever things the trio does is take a flexible approach to vocals, each band member taking the helm when it suits the track – they each have quite different tones so this enables them to shift the style of each track and try out new things.  Listen to Dr. Abernathy and you get the full late 80s/early 90s indie treatment – minimal instrumentation with washes of fuzz, moody vocals and the guitars ringing out with echoes. Mirror opts for more complex beats and discordant, meaty riffage and has a fantastic sing along quality.  Title track Things Change goes all gruff on us, punky vocals and a catchy chorus backed by rock guitars, whilst No Mistakes is a poppy number with a surf-rock edge and lighter vocals.

The stable core of fuzzy and melodic indie/rock which holds together the record makes it very cohesive and listenable, but its the variety which gives the band their disctinctive sound and gives the listener something fresh in every bite. Recommended.

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Little Big League/Ovlov Split Review

Little Big League/Ovlov Split 7″ Review

little big league ovlov cover imageThis is sweet 7″ collaboration from two great bands, both following up their debut 2013 full lengths.  Little Big League have two tracks, the first, Year of the Sunhouse, really delivers on melody – Michelle Zauner’s distinctive vocals trip brightly over sweet guitars; it’s so Summery and catchy you’ll want to hit repeat over and over.  Pure Bliss Choices is heavier on the guitars –  slightly distorted riffs wail over the vocals (in a good way) – it’s just as catchy but with a moodier feel.  Both tracks are worth picking up the record for.

Ovlov’s track The Great Crocodile is the longest on the 7″ and it showcases their 90s inspired indie sound brilliantly – fans of Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. should feel right at home. The tune combines dreamy out of step vocals with crunchy guitars and lots of fuzz. it opens with an extended instrumental section of hypnotic beats and guitars, creating a dark mood, before it breaks into J. Mascis-esque vocals and a janglier indie feel takes over.  Later on, the track combines both sounds to create a dense but warm wash of noise, topped with cracking drums and an extended guitar solo to finish.

The 7″ is released through Tiny Engines on 15th July. Find it here.

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