That's right: this year is already half empty. Or half full. Something like that? Metaphors aside, we at SPB have distilled the best music of the year so far into a delicious glass that you can sniff at delicately, taste a sip and pontificate over whether Faith No More's comeback was amazing, and then finally quaff in excitement as you realize we still have another six months of great music to go. Drink up!
Nathan G. O'Brien's list
Starvin B - The Foreigner (Sickside)
The latest from this largely unknown New York emcee, this is '90s East Coast boom-bap worship up and down. Which might come as a surprise, as all the production was done by a Swedish guy and it was just released this last March. Rugged and raw rap music; it's the hard-hitting beats, record scratching, and skilled lyricism like this that will always trump other variants of hip-hop for me. When I'm riding my bike home from work on a sunny afternoon and this is in the earbuds I always wish that I was heading to a barbecue to get turnt up on forties and blunts. But then I remember that I'm not 20 years-old and that malt liquor tastes shitty and that I can't say things like "turnt up" without sounding like an idiot and then I get kind of bummed out.
Gay Kiss - Preservation Measures (Sorry State)
A refreshingly new breed of hardcore. Their originality is the result of borrowed bits and pieces of stuff we've all heard a million times but it still sounds pretty sweet and makes you go "arrrghh" and "ooogahh" and "fuuuuuuck" and slam a beer and throw the bottle in the air and take off running down the street. Or like, do more deadlifts and burpees if that's your thing. Both of those scenarios are my thing actually; although lately I've been doing more of the first and less of second, which means my lovehandles are out of control right now. Punk, metal, noise, and smidgens of mosh, driven first and foremost by grading vocals. Of the handful of new of new punk and hardcore records I've gotten my hands on this year, this remains atop the pile.
Barcelona - Extremo Nihilismo en Barcelona (La Vida Es Un Mus Discos Punk)
Made up of members of Spain's GLAM and fronted by former Firmenza 10 vocalist, this is the true voice of the angry and alienated. Infectious and unsettling hardcore that swallows you in one fell swoop, chews you up with its razor-sharp teeth, and shits you out of its fiery anus into a million little pieces that flop around on the hot pavement like chickens out of water or fish with their heads cut off. Yeah, you read that right; I mixed those up on purpose, so don't be a dick and try to correct me.
DJ EFN - Another Time (Crazy Hood)
These days I find myself gravitating more and more towards mixtape style--as in mixed tape--and producer or deejay-based projects that feature numerous emcees, as opposed to full-length solo rapper albums. As my age goes up, my attention span goes down, and mixes seem to keep me more engaged. Plus, I came of age during the time when sample flip beats, turntablism, and vocally and lyrically dexterous rappers ruled the land, and cassette tapes of rap radio shows were traded among heads all over the world. Miami mixtape maestro DJ EFN's latest is a throwback to those days, featuring hand-picked production from nine different producers and over 60 rappers. It' on some cypher outside the corner store, beats blasting from a Jeep nearby, rockin' baggy sweats and cigarillos-type shit.
Red Death - Permanent Exile (Grave Mistake)
The debut album from a quartet of dudes who swim in the same incestuous D.C. pond scum as Coke Bust, Mob Mentality and a million others. Pop quiz: Did you like Sick Of It All when they weren't a caricature of themselves? Did you like Corrosion of Conformity before they went all Southern-fried metal on your ass? Do you have a worn out copy of AC/DC's '74 Jailbreak somewhere on the floor of your car under all the empty bags of Chili Cheese Fritos and Slim Jim wrappers? Do you sometimes wear long underwear under a pair of shorts? If you answered yes to any of these questions you'll love this LP. It's killer crossover hardcore served up alongside a slop bucket of Angus Young-inspired licks.
Bell Witch - Four Phantoms (Profound Lore Records)
Funeral doom has never sounded so beautifully heartbreaking and Bell Witch will move you to tears within the opening few minutes. Four Phantoms is devastating and Bell Witch are the masters of simple, yet sublime doom.
Bosse-De-Nage - All Fours (Profound Lore Records.)
Explicit and disonnant is the way of Bosse-De-Nage and their fourth full length follows the curious narratives they've become known for, while also transcending black metal genre boundaries to create sounds that are horrific and beautiful, often within the same breath.
Paradise Lost - The Plague Within (Century Media Records)
Anyone thinking that Paradise Lost and, um, lost it, needs to think again. The Plague Within is bombastic, gorgeous, heavy and instantly memorable.
Purity Ring - Another Eternity (4AD)
This was a record that made my personal "most anticipated" of the year a few months ago, and blimey, it did not disappoint. Languid beats and seraphic vocals create a landscape of sounds that provoke euphoria and pure joy.
VNV Nation - Resonance: Music For Orchestra Vol. 1 (Anachron Sounds)
During 2012 VNV Nation played a special set alongside a full symphony orchestra which was recorded for release. This is not that performance, due to a technical fault which rendered the audio completely unusable. Thankfully, it set in motion a plan to record an album proper, and here VNV Nation's most entrancing compositions are enhanced by The Film Orchestra Babelsberg. The result is a record that allows the lyrics to shine through and VNV's manifesto to be heard.
Johnny Truant's list
Lashings of post-punk and blues, emotional songwriting, and powerhouse vocals. "Cry Cry Cry" and "Hola Chola" are the kind of songs that can haunt you to your grave.
Slutever - Almost Famous
The queens of brat punk came into their own this year-- and began to earn a little more attention-- with the appropriately titled "Almost Famous." Snotty lyrics and beguiling melodies wrapped in layers of gauzy feedback, with a side of 90's nostalgia and grunge attitude. So basically I'm saying it's perfect.
Heavy Pet - Spoil the Fun
Debut EP from a folky Oakland queercore band. Catchy and affecting tunes about love and relationship dysfunction are belted out by each band member in turn as everyone dutifully takes charge of mic, guitar and drums (except for the bass player, who just holds down the groove and exudes 'posi vibes'). Includes a cover of "Believe" by Cher which, unlike the original, is actually awesome.
Malportado Kids - Total Cultura
Smart and passionately political tropical dance punk. The soundtrack for a summer block party that turns into a riot. Includes a Bruce Springsteen cover even weirder than the Cher cover mentioned above.
Bearfoot Beware - World Owes You Nowt
Intelligent, kinetic mathpunk in time signatures that will force your brain to work just a little harder. Shades of a brighter, bouncier Fugazi. There is nothing not to like here.
Broken Hearts, Broken Sounds
An outstanding compilation release from the always excellent Silber Records label that highlights various groups that hail from the Carolinas. There's a lot to like here as the album offers a mixture of everything, from shoegaze to folk, noise to old-time pop, and even throws in a fun sound sample from the movie Ghostbusters for good measure. My favorite: the hilariously profane "Sweat Meat" from Hyphen Burnhole.
Arguably the noise duo's latest, most accessible album is also one of their best. I admit it: I wasn't sure after a six year hiatus that the two Brians still had it in them to make a classic. Consider me convinced.
Indie pop bands seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but here's a band that mixes elements of shoegaze, Britpop, alternative rock, and even noise, with sometimes fuzzed-out, sometimes crystal clear vocals. Though there is some filler, the album hits more than misses and has some genuinely catchy tunes.
Although it's far from the most refined album of the year, this frequently devastating chronicle of a wasted life stuck with me long after I'd heard it. Amazingly, as downbeat as many of the tracks here are,the album is chock full of pitch black humor that makes everything go down easier.
After discovering this Italian group's 2014 Immigrants EP, they quickly became one of my favorite electronic artists of the past few years. Their latest effort is a sprawling, atmospheric album that ranges from grimy witchhouse to scratchy industrial and most everything in between, with smoky vocals that almost recall The Deftones' Chino Moreno.
Before Ever After is an album fifteen years in the making, by a band that we last heard from back in 1992, with the release of Cyclotron. Before Ever After does not act just as a reminder of what Blind Idiot God used to be, but ir rather brings out the very best of them.
Another long waited return, but the experimental black metal asylum does not disappoint. A Umbra Omega finds Dodheimsgard at a strange trajectory between their bitter, extravagant self and a more melancholic aura. The combination is lethal.
A ninety minute opus through the bleakness of dark ambient and the extreme edges of noise. Frozen Niagara Falls can sound crushing and unforgiving, while somehow retaining a core that is strongly romantic. The contrast that it creates is sickening and at the same time magnificent.
The kaleidoscopic vision of Pyramids has grown out of control with their second full-length, A Northern Meadow. The manner in which black metal, dark ambient, noise and drone themes merge and travel through their experimental mindset makes for an intriguing listen.
The sheer weight of Sumac is their most valuable weapon. Through their debut album, The Deal, they do not cut down on that aspect of their sound for a second, resulting in a punishing offering filled with heavy riffs and insane playing.
A combination that seems too odd to start that it actually makes perfect sense. The Blind Shake minus the punchy brevity and plus John Reis brilliance. Hot damn.
Yeah, I’m biased. Here’s my plug for this record: it sounds just like URTC always does—and that’s a great thing. This one has more killer singles on top of the usual short oddities thrown throughout the record.
So I listen to a lot of records of a certain type of “Fest sound.” Gruff, poppy, and 30-something in tone. Well, here’s another one. I’d heard a split they did earlier, but Inconsolable is a game changer that catches my attention much more than the earlier offering. Oh, and we streamed it here too.
Rock’n’roll as it’s meant to be. Raw, sweaty, and drenched in a power too complicated for words but too simple to ignore.
Reunion records can be a terrifying thing, but this unexpected record wasn’t those albums where some guys pushing 50 take a vacation from their new office jobs. FNM’s musicianship was always the heart and the players were all still active in the scene. That investment shows.
BJ Rochinich's list (Ancient Shores, SPB guest columnist)
Weedeater - Goliathan
Heavy riffs and gruesome tones. Weedeater has been good from the beginning.
Torche - Restarter
Whatever they put out I like. They continue to write songs with good structures and deliberate swagger.
Rosetta - Quintissential Ephemera
All the pieces are at work throughout every Rosetta song. Their songs are huge and rich with all the elements. A remarkable band.
Ufomammut - Ecate
Was fortunate to see them in June of this year. Seeing them live confirms how imposing their musical intentions. Maybe the most crushing band ever.
Lightning Bolt -Fantasy Empire
Raw and nonstop. Relentless. These are good qualities that bands too often misidentify within their own work.
Titus Andronicus - "Dimed Out"
When I posted Titus Andronicus’ follow-up to Local Business as one of my most-anticipated albums of 2015, I wasn’t even sure if Titus Andronicus was a band anymore. Then they released the single “Dimed Out” for The Most Lamentable Tragedy, a five-act rock opera about manic depression. If you can’t relate to mania, “Dimed Out” will at least let you know what it feels like. The album is due out July 28; I’d grab a ticket to one of their legendary shows before they sell out.
One of the first call-to-action bands I’ve heard in a long time, Algiers delivers an irresistible mix of industrial, post-punk, and gospel music. The blood-soaked and chain-locked lyrics will make you shiver, but hopefully the pounding guitar work and Franklin James Fisher’s soulful voice will comfort you a bit.
Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
I think the album title alone lets you know how blunt Australian guitarist Courtney Barnett can be on her debut album. The deadpan vocal delivery and straight-to-the-point garage rock riffs is extremely refreshing, and I can’t wait to see what else Barnett can dish out.
Rising from the ashes of Canadian art rock band Women, Viet Cong sounds like Joy Division went through a time machine just to punch you in the face. Every song demands multiple listens, but the 11-minute epic “Death” is enough to get Viet Cong on this list.
Bad Bad Not Good and Ghostface Killah - Sour Soul
It’s been a while since a member of the Wu has gotten an incredible production behind him. Pairing jazz/hip-hop instrumental band BBNG with legendary Ghostface Killah was a brilliant idea, and I’m not sure anyone saw it coming (probably not even Ghostface, who freestyles on most of the album). Features from Danny Brown and MF DOOM make me hope there will be more BBNG collaborations soon.
I welcome new Murder by Death with open arms, and this was no exception. There were a few paths the band could have gone in following Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. They decided to retread the more atmospheric route. However, the album still retains some of that classic folk-rock sound Murder by Death have come to adopt over the last few records.
It seems Strung Out have been working on one of the best records of the year all this time they've been away. They knocked it out of the park. The last couple Strung Out records were lacking but they're back with some of the best riffs this band has ever come up with. It's the record that should have followed Exile in Oblivion.
Yup, it happened. It only took a good 18 years but Faith No More are back, and they pick up right where they left off. Occasionally, it's outrageous and bizarre, and then other times it's heavy or melodic. What else could you ask for from a Faith No More record?
Leon Bridges - Coming Home
This one might seem out of place with everything else on my list, but I happen to love old soul music. Here we have Leon Bridges bringing back the old croons of Sam Cooke almost as if he's an anachronism. Sometimes it sounds right out of the late-50s and sometimes you can hear a modern spin on that old soul sound. It's the perfect album night time drive record.
Screaming Females - Rose Mountain
Screaming Females have yet to release a sub-par record. Rose Mountain is probably the best production job that Screaming Females have released yet. It maintains that signature distorted sound, but it's the cleanest we've heard yet. Sorry if that sounds contradictory. You'll just have to check it out for yourself. It's less garage-y and more catchy melodies.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
She’s the real deal. A very strong release after her much hyped and talked about EPs. It wouldn’t surprise me if she is soon called the voice of my generation, and strangely enough, I’m perfectly comfortable with that idea. She captures the angst of being in your late twenties better than anyone else.
Jamie XX – In Colour
Electronic music is considered to lack much soul these days. It’s impressive that Jamie XX has gone on a mission to bring back that heart and soul. Prepare for an album that will make you melt on summer nights.
Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance
While it’s definitely not If You’re Feeling Sinister, there is something comforting about a new album from Belle and Sebastian. This time there’s a twist – europop or more like Eurovision – yes the song contest that is ever so amusing. Never thought I’d find myself dancing to Belle and Sebastian, but hey, there’s a first for everything.
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
Ladies, it’s nice to have you back in action! Not only are they one of the best indie punk bands of all time, but they still kickass and take names.
Blur – The Magic Whip
A most delightful surprise. It’s refreshing that one of my favorite bands just suddenly decided this spring to drop their best album since 1999’s 13. This is how modern Britpop should look and feel.
Guilty pleasures of the year so far
Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
I’m not even going to front - this soulful, jazzy album is what got me through the dreadful winter we had here on the East Coast. Sure Bruno Mars does his best Morris Day impression, but it’s really fun that pop music can sound like this again. As for the rest of the album, Ronson gets major props for having interesting guest spots from Kevin Parker, lead singer of Tame Impala, to Stevie Wonder.
Twin Shadow – Eclipse
A huge departure from his previous two albums (no wonder he left 4AD), this album should be a pop gem, but isn’t quite that status. There’s a few duds on here, but don’t let that scare you away. George Lewis Jr. has something sexy and dreamy going on here, and I’m excited to see what he can do to the mainstream eventually.
Albums We Missed in 2014
by Nathan G. O'Brien
Even though we're a passionate bunch of music lovers here at SPB, it's impossible to ingest everything we want to in a year's time. In addition to listening to all the new stuff, a good chunk of the first half of the year is spent catching up on what we missed in the previous 12 months. Continuing our annual mid-year tradition, here's a look at some of the music we slept on last year...
Ghostface Killah - 36 Seasons (Salvation / Tommy Boy, 2014)
Working alongside the instrumentation of funk and soul band The Revelations, and with fellow emcees AZ, Kool G Rap, and Pharoahe Monch in tow, Ghostface turned another one of his signature Tony Stark criminology tales.
Good Throb - Fuck Off (Sabermetric / Super-Fi / White Denim, 2014)
Post-punk really came into vogue last year, and as with any sub-genre popularity spike there’s some nonsense to weed through to get to the good stuff like this. Edgy and danceable (ala Gang of Four) meets clever and venomous (ala Crass) with a healthy farmer’s blow of Johnny Rotten’s snot all over it.
Kurraka - Self-Titled (Trabuc, 2014)
Energetic, thrashing, and rhythmic dark punk out of Austin, TX. All the grace and allure of La Fraction matched by the rawness of Tozibabe. The lyrics are sung in Spanish with an echo-y vocal effect that’s really captivating.
Ras G - Down to Earth, Vol. 2: That Standard Bap Edition (Leaving Records, 2014)
This prolific L.A.-based producer crafts rap beats the old-fashioned way: with an MPC, SP-404, Technics 1200, and endless supply of Phillies blunts. Spacey, Afrocentric boom-bap with a low end so heavy it’ll give you a baby heart attack.
Shaved Women - Just Death (Ektro, 2014)
A couple years since their last release, these St. Louis, MO slime balls returned with a new 12” of noisy hardcore punk. Chainsaw guitars, hammering drums, dirty basslines, and creeper vocals drive home the anger and disgust that comes with being an inhabitant of this shit world.
Stoic Violence - Chained (Video Disease, 2014)
The swan song for this short-lived Long Beach, CA crew. Hateful, abusive, and vile; this is nihilistic hardcore to the bone. It claws at your cerebral like mechanical walking harvester clear-cutting a forest of sequoias.
The Underachievers - Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium (RPM MSC, 2014)
Beast Coast members AK and Issa Gold followed up two excellent mixtapes (as well as each one’s solo mixtape) with their official debut album. Eschewing conventional trappings, the record includes production by a number of relatively unknowns (aside from a lone contribution from Statik Selektah,) which adds to an overall tone of experimentation and cerebral elevation.
Ugly Frank - Bobby Hill (mixtape, 2014)
There’s something murky and weird, and a little bit scary going on Tacoma, WA. They’re called ILLFIGHTYOU and they don’t give a fuck about your pre-conceived notions of Northwestern rap music. Sporting malt liquor-soaked rhymes and G-funkified trap beats, emcee Ugly Frank stepped out with this banging solo EP.
Vallenfyre - Splinters (Century Media, 2014)
The sophomore release by this UK knuckle-dragger doom-death metal supergroup is steeped suffering and despair. The production value is superb, Gregor Mackintosh’s vocals continue to impress, and that guitar tone; my fucking god, it's incredible.
Maximum Rocknroll presents: Sound the Alarms!! (Maximum Rocknroll, 2014)
This is a double LP compilation that features the best present day punk and hardcore from around the world. 32 bands from 14 different countries, including Synthetic ID, No Statik, Vivisektio, Question, Kuudes Silma, Kvoteringen, Culo, Obediencia and a whole bunch more. If you want a snapshot of what’s going in punk/HC around the globe today, look no further.