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2014 In Music - The Columnist's View #1

My 10 Favourite Albums of 2014:

I love lists, I really do. If only because it is just so easy to miss an album or artist with so much excellent music being created. Then, reading all these lists of people’s favorite albums, maybe it points you to an artist you missed at first, or which you discarded a bit too hastily after you listened to it once on the day that your cat died. Sometimes it can also be awesome to just see that people agree with you on their love for an album, or maybe it tells you why some people do like a certain album that you just didn’t fancy at all. So hopefully this list will do one of these things (or has some other use or purpose), as these are my ten favourite albums of what I thought to be a pretty splendid year in music.

1. In A Dream - The Juan MacLean

I love The Juan MacLean because they bring house into the realm of the alienated city dweller. And I love both of those vibes. I love the house vibe because it epitomizes losing control, love, broken hearts, sex, and all other lustings and things we so desperately need in life. I love that Robert Longo Men in the Cities vibe as well, because it shows how we are captured in conventions and life itself. The two are seemingly opposite sides of the coin, as in the dancing (or falling) we are free from the latter. To incorporate both sides simultaniously, now that’s a feat in itself, and Whang and MacLean pull it off. It starts space disco, it ends with this slow burner of a track, and about everything in between hits the spot just exactly right. The duality is perhaps perfectly encapsulated in their catchiest track ‘A Simple Design’, where Whang sings that What you’re hoping to find/ it is not a simple design / but a headache / and everything you’ve built comes falling down. But then again, if you open your mind and heart for the slips in the design, then Everything you need falls to you. Can’t wait for them to start doing the live shows again over here in Europe.


2. Power - Fryars

I loved Fryars the first go around, and I’m definitely still doing that on his return. The man has made this year’s walking-the-city-at-midnight album for me, and that is a vibe I’m always looking for. It’s dark, it’s smart, and it hits both the need for contact (all I want is an IRL) or lust, the alienation (I like to think that I’m the solitary type / with less conviction when the loneliness bites), and all the sordid affairs that come with both of them, even if it is just in our minds (though the mixtape probably has the cuts that were too dark to put on a selling record). I also love the creativity, not only in the songs and lyrics, but also in the whole concept, with the short film, the mixtape, the spoken word bits, and everything. Having worked with Mika and Lily Allen this guy knows how to make something that’s “pop”, but thankfully on his own work he mixes that with the quirks and smarts needed to give it this depth and this lovely slant that makes this album stand out. No, I can’t stop loving this, indeed.


3. Moodymann - Moodymann

Moodymann can create house music, that we already know. And soulful house music at that. What he adds on this album though is a great concept, loads of variety, and plenty of heart. And it all culminates to an ode of the rise and fall of Detroit, with plenty to dance to, but also with loads of things that perfectly work to glue this thing together into a cohesive unit, instead of this being “just”  a dance album. It’s almost a pastiche, with the pastiche being the mixing of different elements of the city’s history that we both recognize as being of a time prior to our current one, but which still works as the thing it references to. So you get some almost old school swing soul, you get some spoken word (including some Richard Pryor), and you get some cheeky lyrics in the songs which seem to be taken straight out of those B-flicks about guys and their girls doing their drugs. But whilst that all is going on, the house music also just works as house music, and that maybe is the most imrportant thing.


4. Singles - Future Islands

If anyone is wondering whether or not “doing a tv show” is still effective in this day and age, one might want to have a word with the lads from Future Islands. Their Letterman appearance went viral, which admittedly had a lot to do with the all-out performance of the band’s frontman. That is nothing (no, no, no nothing) if the song isn’t up to scratch, and ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ is that as well. The whole package that the band has to offer was put on full display there, with catchy synths, emotional lyrics,  mixed with laddish raw power but also more “effeminate” dancing and theatrics. Almost all the songs on this album stick out one way or another, and the band gets away with some lyrics that border on the corny. And if you’re able to write those trite truisms and make them not sound like that, then you know you’re on the winning team.


5. They Want My Soul - Spoon

Here’s an admission that will probably make people throw stones at me, but often times I have trouble liking an entire Spoon album. On every album I have my favorites that I love to listen to, but usually I don’t listen to their albums as a whole. Enter They Want My Soul, which I not only listen to, but I listen to it all, and I listen to it all the time. I love the snarling vocals, but I also love the fact that they seemingly go from guitar led indie rock to bass led songs with a groove. From the ballad ‘Inside Out’ to the more rock-ish ‘Rent I Pay’ to the catchy ‘New York Kiss’; this album has it all. And then there’s my favorite, ‘Outlier’, with those dagger lines “Ahh I remember you walked out of Garden State / You had taste, you had taste, you had no time to waste. / Awww, what happened to you kid?”. That cuts right through to the heart, that.


6. The Feast Of The Broken Hearted - Hercules And Love Affair

I’ve got a soft spot for the boys and girls of Hercules and Love Affair, I’m not going to lie. This album is their most straight up house album that they’ve ever done, having plenty of that catchy stuff to dance to for sure. And everything either with an emotional story, with attitude and pizzazz, or with some other quirk that makes it stand apart from the generic. How about John Grant’s moving tale of HIV Aids in ‘I Try To Talk To You’, singing “Is this what you deserve? You are a man, you’re a human being”. But there’s also the attitude laden track ‘My Offence’, where they take and redefine the word “cunt” and run away with it. “My essence is my offence”, they sing, as apparently who they are is what causes the offence. But, who cares, just let yourself be as cunt as you can get. This album just has the heart of house, and the music to make all the boys and girls in the club work it.


7. Nikki Nack - Tune-Yards

Probably this is the album in her oeuvre that’s easiest to get into, with plenty of catchy songs and percussion bits. For me personally, some of her earlier output, though always intriguing and interesting, wasn’t always easy to listen to on repeat but this album takes that obstacle away for me. Which leaves an intriguing, interesting album that musically is put together with excellent vision and all kinds of sounds that show where she gets her inspiration from. Her voice sounds so powerful as she screams, sings, or speaks lines that are funny, but that also put the finger on the sore spot. “I come from the land of slaves / Let’s go Redskins! Let’s go Braves!” is one, though I always have to chuckle at the lovely aside in “he gave me a dollar, a blood-soaked dollar / but that’s okay it still works at the store”. The little short story in there is funny, biting, and with a nice bit of punch to it as well, and the live show is strong, self-assured, and as hilarious as it has ever been.

8. Hylas - Thomas Azier

Dutch fella Thomas Azier went to Berlin to work on his album, and years later he can finally present the fruits of his labour. The album has a lot of Berlin in it too, with stories about alienation in the big city, through which Azier powers with loads of synths and drumpads. He definitely isn’t afraid to pull out the big guns and shoot for the sky, as was evident when he appeared on Dutch television with a church choir to help him out during his performance. There’s plenty of variety in pace, though, with some “power” ballads, some “pop” songs, but the last song (one of my personal favority) really is the ideal end to his live set. ‘Sirens of the Citylight’ has got almost a dance element to it, and Azier certainly puts a pack of emotion in there. Have seen this guy live two times this year, and each time he gave his all, and that is actually also a characteristic you can hear back in his recorded output as well. Gotta show a bit of love for the “locals” here.


9. The Way - Macy Gray

There’s something about this woman that I just really like and that only she can get away with. The inimitable Macy Gray hasn’t really been at the top of her game for a while (at least, it’s been quite some time since I’ve really paid attention to and enjoyed that what she was putting out), but this takes her right back to the land of quality again. With her heart on her sleeve she runs through admissions like the fact that she doesn’t care about her relationship having ended, but boy does she miss the sex. She goes from a fragile narrative about her really experiencing true love on ‘First Time’, to the elaborately orchestrated tale of her being the “Queen of the Big Hurt” with a fabulously strong chorus, and she does all this in her characteristically raspy voice. Though probably that is what puts it apart from the herd, all the songs are also put together as you would expect a proper soul album to be put together, as all those boys and girls in the orchestra really have her back. I’ve always fancied Gray since ‘I Try’, and finally she’s got me excited again with this one.

10. Seeds - TV On The Radio

There’s something about TV On The Radio that makes me just love them. It’s the fuzzy production with the guitars, the double vocals, the catchy-yet-still-decidedly-rock feel; it’s just the complete package really. I loved Dear Science, and after that I haven’t really been feeling what they’ve been putting out. Luckily, Seeds is something which I’ve been listening to ad nauseam again. ‘Happy Idiot’ has definitely grown on me to the point I’m really anticipating its turn in the batting order, and they freely go from slow ballads to fast-paced rockers to wall-o-sound fuzzness, though the latter maybe less than on earlier work (though you could argue there’s nothing quite as pop as ‘Golden Age’ on here either). Maybe the lyrics aren’t as overtly political or critiquing anymore as on some of their earlier output, with the band putting up more general lines in there that everyone can interpret however, but they are just one of those bands that will always have me intrigued about what they come up with next, and I’m happy that, after their last album, they’ve brought me back on board again with this one.

This list is Stef Siepel’s, writer of, amongst others, The Weekly Froth! column that goes live every Friday. It does in no way reflect the collective Musos' Guide opinion.


The Weekly Froth - August #1

  • Published in Columns

The Weekly Froth! A weekly take on six tracks, most of which have recently popped up somewhere in the blogosphere. Bit of a mixed bag with a slight leaning towards house, disco, and remixes, but generally just anything that for some reason tickled the writer’s fancy.

Track of the week: ‘The Way That You Do It’ by Caserta

There’s no mistaking its dancefloor intent with the harsh, sharp beat at the start. Never a big fan of those, but slowly it starts veering away from that, and at about the three quarter minute mark you get into the disco groove with all those characteristic sounds, especially that guitar that is thrown in there. So suddenly we’ve got ourselves a funky little number here, especially when those vocals come in, which assure us that It is not what you do, but it’s just the way that you do it. I love the moment at about 2:45 when the kind of multiple vocal chorus comes in, that’s just so old school right there, and then he slides the track into this all out funk phase before he starts the vocals up again. If, at this point, you’re not dancing yet, you’re probably not in a funky kind of mood. Though, with that beat in the back to hold onto, you don’t necessarily have to be in order to be staying on the dancefloor. But Caserta has got the mood down pat, making this a pleasurable one for some dancing, especially if, like me, you don’t mind a bit of old school popping up every now and again (at about 4:45 that chorus comes in again, and again it’s just bliss). That piano at about 5:45 is another fine example of that.


‘Private Practice’ by Nick Monaco

The start certainly is an attention grabber, with two ways of vocals coming your way (one heavily distorted and seemingly munching). After that you get the drums, and then yet another vocal layer, which I just love. I love vocals, and this certainly has got it in abundance. And it does still have some rhythm, also with the drums. Still needs to be made into a track though, and you get a deep synth sound that for a minute glues the layers together before, at about 1:40, the munchy vocals run away with the track, and its runaway bride is a deep bass sound that gives it some nasty. At 2:20 the nastiness is replaced by higher pitched vocals and a smithering of piano, and about half a minute later these parts get reunited with the drums and the munchy vocal line. At 3:25 though the deep bass returns. So it is a track of layers and of switch-ups, giving it this experimental feel that definitely puts it left field of what you’ll normally be hearing. Not to mention that it ends with a bit of classic house percussion, so it’s all good.


‘Aller Vers Le Soleil’ by Sebastien Tellier (Hercules And Love Affair remix)

Last week the Hercules and Love Affair gang had the track of the week slot, and here they come with another remix (also, they came with a new, conceptual clip for the brilliant ‘My Offence’ of off their latest album, so check that out as well). In last week’s write-up I already mentioned that in many of their remixes they tend to veer to the colder beats, and here too that’s certainly how it starts until that bass sound comes in. It’s quite a mid-to-slow paced affair this, and at 1:44 you get some lovely synths in there working against a simple kick drum. Soon the bass makes its entry again, and at this point the track has this kind of lush vibe, to which the vocals of Sebastien Tellier (singing in French) only add to. I love the airy synths that are put behind the vocals, they give it a nice atmosphere. After the four minute mark it goes a bit deeper with that bass sound, which they nicely contrast with a tu-de-du-doo vocal line of Tellier, along with some piano. At the end Andy Butler throws in some tech-y sounds that, personally, I could have done without, but overall a nice, lush, lower paced remix by the talented house performers.


‘Enter the Dragon’ by Ooft!

Just love those deep sounds at the start, if that doesn’t tell you that you have arrived at a party where you just need to put your head down and dance I don’t know what does. Also enjoy all the percussion elements they throw in there, and they excellently change that main sound up through the first minute to build some momentum. In the mean time, to keep the variety up, they keep changing and adding to that percussion layer to make sure the track keeps going somewhere. Something which they also achieve by playing around with that synth sound. It’s got a nice immediacy to it I feel, definitely one for the late night crowd this. At about 2:40 it goes a bit arena on you, maybe expanding the sound a bit too much (at least for my personal liking), but especially with the drop they sure cater to the crowd who want to party heartily.


‘Return Of The Mac’ by Jesse Rudoy

I just love the title for some reason, it just tells you something I find. Now, if you like dancing, the Let’s Play House label is where it’s at, so no wonder this cheeky little number is released on there. It’s about a fun night out, no question. So you’ve got all those house instrumentals that make you want to dance, and in the mean time you are just thinking No, honey, they wouldn’t, as the Mac in the title is certainly not Mack the Knife or something. In the mean time Jesse Rudoy just keeps on plugging along with all those traditional house elements that keep people dancing and on the dancefloor. All transitions are so smooth, as are all references to the “original”, they are mixed in there surprisingly well, as if they actually belong in a house track. Certainly, by doing this, he shows more guts than I would ever have, and I like to work with some corny stuff, let me tell ya. And, you know, it works, and try repressing a smile during this one (or to not dance as well, by the way).


‘Two For One’ by Will Saul & Komon

Last month Will Saul released a DJ KICKS mix, and as is customary for these things the “curator” himself adds one or two originals from his own back catalogue. Will Saul decided to add one where he worked together with Komon, providing a deep, spacey cut that relies more on atmospherics than pace. There’s a huge dial down followed by a prolonged build-up around the middle of the track, which furthermore reiterates that the focus is on the deep space vibes to groove to (even more so than dance to I’d say). Though at about 2:48 there’s the big bass sound that, when played in a set, will give the crowd enough to be moving to. At first a bit more introverted, but to those deep drums that at one point come in I’m sure some beautiful people can strike some immaculate poses (really like those drums, by the way, gives it some attitude after the atmospherics of the first part).


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