Best albums of 2014: No. 2-4

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #2-4. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20, #8-10, and #5-7.

Todd

#4: PAWS, Youth Culture Forever

pawsBack in 2012, PAWS released their debut album Cokefloat!. I liked it enough to put it at #7 on my best of list that year. I’m still the only person I know that’s actually listened to it. There’s just something about this band from Glasgow that strikes a chord with me (pun intended.) Like many ’90s influenced bands, they’ve got the distortion filled guitars, the quiet-loud-quiet song structure and vocals that range from apathetic to jubilant. Unlike other ’90s influenced bands, PAWS takes a familiar sound and makes it into something original. Especially in their latest album Youth Culture Forever. (I’m also the only person I know that’s listened this one)

I’ve never heard a delivery like lead singer Philip Taylor’s. Take the song “Owls Talons Clenching My Heart,” (I can’t think of the word talon without hearing Napoleon Dynamite saying, “Do the chickens have large talons?”) at first he sounds like any other mumbling, bored, garage band poser but as the chorus kicks in he takes it up like 18 notches to borderline screeching “I don’t wanna fool around WITH YOUR HEART!!!!” Good god that’s great stuff.

Another thing I like about PAWS albums is the production value or lack there of. In the title track “YCF” the song opens with what sounds like the record button being pressed on a tape recorder. What follows is about as stripped down a song as you’re ever going to hear. A man, a guitar and a struggle to hold onto youth while time keeps on ticking. Welcome to the club Philip.

Side Note: Extra bad-ass points go to PAWS for their feud with perennial pain in the ass Morrissey. Any band that doesn’t bow down to that entitled old man is OK in my book. Read about that here.

#3: Spoon, They Want My Soul

spoonWhen Chris and I first started this blog, we got together and threw around some ideas for posts. Many were done many weren’t. Chris had an idea that we never got around to doing and I wish we had. Basically, it was for us each to make a list of bands where we only like one of their songs. It couldn’t be just some one hit wonder type situation. It needed to be an established artist with some credibility. If we’d made that list Spoon would have been at the top of mine.  I was not a fan other than their song “I Turn My Camera On.” It’s a fun little song that sounds like disco-era Rolling Stones but to tell the truth I even tired of that song.

I made the incredible mistake of putting “I Turn My Camera On” on the MP3 player that I used for exercise. Everyday for a summer I would ride my bike and hit the biggest hill on the trail as Spoon came over my headphones. The song was perfectly timed for the long chug up that damn hill. Every pedal rotation, every grunt, every muscle burn was in sync to “I Turn My Camera On.” By the end of summer there was no way I would ever hear that song again and not be reminded of that fucking miserable hill climb. I’m very careful with my exercise music now. Frequent updates are the key. Can’t have a song in the playlist for more than 2 weeks.

Anyways, what changed my mind about Spoon? Well, music supergroup Divine Fits of course. It’s Spoon frontman Britt Daniels side project and I really enjoyed the songs that featured his vocals. So when I saw the new Spoon album They Want My Soul was out, I had to check it out and see if maybe, just maybe I was wrong about Spoon. I was happy when I found most of the songs had a similar vibe as the Divine Fits songs I enjoyed.  The percussion is just great in songs like “Do You” and “Let Me Be Mine” and Daniels’ gravelly vocals don’t disappoint. Those are just the 2 standout tracks I chose to share. The entire album is an excellent all around listening experience…at least for me. Check it out for yourself.

 

#2: Real Estate, Atlas

Real estateAtlas is Real Estate’s 3rd album now. I didn’t discover them until 2011 after their 2nd record Days was released. Since then I’ve probably listened one of their albums at least twice a week. If we re-made our top 100 albums list, all three Real Estate Albums would most likely be on it somewhere. So basically what I’m saying is I frigging love Real Estate. I admit it, I’m a fanboy. Chris is lucky I didn’t geek out all over The Mill when we saw Real Estate lead guitarist, Matt Monanile’s side project, Ducktails, a couple of years back. I kept it together. I applauded when appropriate and I didn’t rush the stage begging for an autograph.

I’ve always been a sucker for jangly dream-pop and you get that in spades with Real Estate. Their music is suitable for any mood you’re in. If you’re happy it makes you happier. If you’re sad, it doesn’t amplify that feeling, the music just allows you to be sad. No judgement, no coercion. Sounds comforting, right?

While the mood of Atlas may be comforting, you need to listen a bit closer. Many of the songs are about anxiety, the exact opposite feeling of comfort. Take the open lyrics off “Crime” for example:

Toss and turn all night
don’t know how to make it right
crippling anxiety

Sounds like a man in need of some Paxil. The chorus follows with more anxious thoughts:

I don’t wanna die
lonely and uptight
stay with me
all will be revealed

That’s a pretty common feeling in this anxiety ridden society we have now. It’s odd to hear lyrics like that in a song that sounds so upbeat. The song “Primitive” also deals with worry as lead singer Martin Courtney laments about finding his place in the adult world.

Don’t know where I want to be
But I’m glad that you’re with me
And all I know is it’d be easy to leave

My response to that is the same as it was for PAWS struggle through adulthood, welcome to the club.

I wonder what’s next for Real Estate? Whatever it is, I hope they don’t stray too far from their signature sound. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I say.

Chris

#4: Dum Dum GirlsToo True

ddgirlsSomething I’ve paid attention to lately: third albums. The impetus for this: last year’s Sleigh Bells album, which might possibly be the most severe dropoff in my lifetime. (If I were to use the Pitchfork scale, I would say Treats is a 9.3 and Reign of Terror is an 8.8 and whatever that third album is called [Googled it mid-sentence: Bitter Rivals] a 1.4, perhaps.) Bloc Party didn’t plummet that far, but the release of Intimacy was a rough time for this Bloc Party fan. (And they didn’t recover with Four; at least Sleigh Bells has a chance for redemption come album No. 4.)

Dum Dum Girls, however, have rebalanced the scales of the third-album universe with Too True, the band’s latest point in their impressive upward trajectory. While I thought I Will Be was an OK album and was quite taken by Only in Dreams, I did not anticipate being so impressed, start to finish, with the third Dum Dum Girls album.

Great rock ‘n’ roll with the perfect amount of cool/attitude, but not so much that it feels like a crutch. (Although their look, with the sheer black clothing and shades and detachment, it’s hot, as I saw in person at Pitchfork.) “Cult of Love” comes romping out of the gates, insistent drum beat combined with breathy backdrop and sultry vocals. Cue up a kickstart strum session around the 1:08 mark and you have the makings of a great “Track 1.”

Songs like “Evil Blooms” and “Little Minx” add to the rollicking mood of the album, while the ringing guitars of “In the Wake of You” are the perfect complement to Dee Dee’s vocals. “Too True to Be Good” almost takes on a shoegaze vibe at times (without burying the vocals like many bands in that genre). The pace slows down for “Lost Boys and Girls Club” and “Are You Okay?” (my son’s favorite DDG song, if you care); the former using a piercing guitar line, the latter softening things up with some acoustic strumming mixed in.

Love the songs, love the full sound, love the vocals. After making this list, I did find myself pausing to ask, “Should Too True really be ranked ahead of that War on Drugs album?” My confident answer is yes.

#3: White LungDeep Fantasy

white-lungWhile the Dum Dum Girls deliver their message with a touch of detached cool, White Lung’s Mish Way insists that you pay attention to every single thing she’s trying to express. When she writes about things like rape culture or depression, singing “Shut my mouth real tight//There’s no room to fight” and “Don’t make a sound//You don’t make a sound//and die face down” on the song “Face Down” or “You don’t take me//You won’t make me” on “I Believe You” (a song about a friend confiding in another about a sexual assault), the message is as important as any riff or beat or whatever sonic element you want to throw out there.

But here’s the thing: for a band that puts a great deal of emphasis on its lyrical content, the music is absolutely on point. I have to (hate to?) admit that although I listened to (and enjoyed) my fair share of Bikini Kill during the tail end of the Riot Grrrl movement, I sort of viewed the music as nothing more than a prop to allow for the delivery of Kathleen Hanna’s empowerment message and/or nightmarish tales. I really think I could learn their whole catalog in a weekend and still have time to watch Queens Park Rangers earn some points at home or get their asses kicked on the road.

White Lung takes the influence of Bikini Kill and ups the ante for everyone else. The sound is fuller, the guitar work of Kenneth William is absolutely killer, the drumming of Anne-Marie Vassiliou is fast, fierce, and tight. Way’s voice is great, too: she sings with such veracity but it’s not just screaming. Her power as a vocalist is as impressive as her wit (I really enjoyed her interview with Pitchfork earlier this year).

There are great flourishes throughout the album: the notes that transition the listener from “Down It Goes” to “Snake Jaw”; the rumbling bass intro of “Face Down”; the thunderous drumming that follows the opening notes of closing tune “In Your Home.”

The album’s 10 songs run a total of 22 minutes and 1 second, which is shorter than a lot of EPs these days. But that shouldn’t be looked at as a negative. For one, the amount of energy and passion they put into that 22-minute blast is exhausting…and if you’re like me, after 22 minutes and 1 second, you simply start over and listen to the whole thing again…and again.

After hearing Deep Fantasy, I feel no guilt about saying this: Mish, I’m really glad you lost your barista job in 2012. The resulting devotion to your art yielded one of the most satisfying listens of the year.

#2: Death Gripsniggas on the moon

death-gripsQuite the confounding group, these Death Grips. They sign up to do Lolla and then bail on an after-hours pre-show the night before their actual set, causing mass chaos and removal from the main bill (which they never intended to play in the first place, apparently). The next year they join the Pitchfork bill and then break up two weeks before the festival, claiming that they are at their peak so it’s the perfect time to disband.

Funny thing, as pissed as I was about missing them at Pitchfork, I can’t really argue with their statement. This album, the first half of what will eventually be a double album called The Powers That B, ranks right up there with Exmilitary as my favorite work of theirs. Its eight tracks play more like a 33-minute single track to me, yet you can divide them up into individual tracks and they do just fine sans context.

The aggression is there. The repetition that makes their tracks so intense is there. Bjork’s sampled and manipulated vocals are here, used to great effect on some songs (“Black Quarterback” comes to mind…her wail of “Oh yeah!” punctuates every line that MC Ride spits out). Elements of chaos are there…perhaps not as erratic as on previous releases, but the fact that the songs aren’t SOOOOO bizarre yet maintain their power is a testament to Death Grips working within some form of convention.

There’s something about each track that I love: the sheer volume of “Up My Sleeves”; the nearly poppy vibe of “Billy Not Really,” not to mention the sudden shift the song takes about two-thirds of the way through; the aforementioned Bjork vocals on “Black Quarterback”; the slow-fast-slow-fast structure of “Say Hey Kid” (and the way it transitions into the next track); the madcap feel of “Have a Sad Cum” (and that title!); the line in “Fuck Me Out” that goes “I believe you/Every time/No one believes me/But that’s alright/I’ll prove them right”; the sweet drum work on “Voila”; and the disintegration of the final track, “Big Dipper” (along with the line “I’m a bullshitter/I’m a shitty stripper … I’m a bit bewildered/I’m a fucking downer.”

The combination of fierce emcee, talented/angry drummer, and imaginative producer has produced some great songs, and for me, this is the first collection that (a.) nails it front to back and (b.) that I heard during the actual year it was released (I didn’t hear Exmilitary until a year or so after it dropped…another example of missing out a la Andy Stott). You might hate what you consider their rebellious “shtick (this is a band that in 2012 leaked their latest album, against record label wishes, complete with album cover art that featured the album’s title written in Sharpie on the drummer’s cock…that’s quite a sentence, isn’t it?!) or you might recoil against the use of the N-word in this particular title (fair enough), but I implore people to look past the noise and hear the music.

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Best albums of 2014: No. 11-20 (with playlist!)

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we start with our individual picks for #11-20, with playlists sampling each group of 10. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19th.

Todd’s #11-20

20. Alt-J, This Is All Yours

19. Craft Spells, Nausea

18. Bully, Bully EP

17. Future Islands, Singles

16. Pixies, Indie Cindy

15. Dum Dum Girls, Too True

14. St. Vincent, St. Vincent

13. I Break Horses, Chiaroscuro

12. Warpaint, Warpaint

11. Hozier, Hozier

Chris’ #11-20

20. Jessie Ware, Tough Love

19. Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire for No Witness

18. The Raveonettes, Pe’ahi

17. Beck, Morning Phase

16. Phantogram, Voices

15. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun

14. Warpaint, Warpaint

13. Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso

12. Tune Yards, Nikki Nack

11. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal

From the MoSS? Pit: Pitchfork Music Festival

slowdive performing at pitchfork

Slowdive performing on the final day of Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park. It was so fucking great.

At the age of 40, I finally did all three days of a weekend-long music festival…Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park, to be specific. It can be summed up pretty much like this: I purchased and redeemed numerous drink tickets (the last batch handed in for Goose Island’s Sharon Van Etten signature brew); I ate and drank (mostly ate) my way up and down Randolph going to and from the fest; my back was killing me by Day 3; only one artist truly disappointed me; I’m still envious of my friend Denise’s view from her downtown home and appreciative of her hospitality when we (me, Travis, Annie, in this case) come to town; the band I really wanted to see surpassed my expectations to claim the honor of being my favorite act of the weekend.

What were my takeaways from the experience, which saw Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Kendrick Lamar headline the three days?

Despite being markedly shorter than the following two days, Friday was pretty much awesome, even without Death Grips.

sharon van etten

Sharon Van Etten and her band perform on the Red Stage.

I thought for sure Friday would not be nearly as special without Death Grips kicking things off. But it turned out to be the most consistently satisfying day. Factory Floor grooved the Blue Stage (which resembles the shady confines of The Grove at Lollapalooza). Sharon Van Etten performed a great set on one of the two larger stages. She couldn’t hide her glee in between songs, which presented an odd contrast to her vocal stylings, but anyway, she was wonderful, and I can’t wait to see her again in Iowa City come October.

Sun Kil Moon provided a nice soundtrack for kicking up our heels. Giorgio Moroder was an absolute home run, something I didn’t see coming. It was truly fun. (Weirdly, this was the only moment where I saw anything remotely resembling confrontation. I guess disco still pisses off some people.) I think Giorgio was neck-and-neck with Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke in terms of best conductor of the audience.

Had no idea what we’d get from Beck’s headliner set. The new album is good, but not sure it’s festival-mainstage kind of stuff. But we got a nice cross section of his catalog, delivered with great energy. I found videos of set opener “Devil’s Haircut” and megahit “Loser”; I was unable to find any videos of me nailing all the lyrics to “Get Real Paid.” I also didn’t get a usable photo of the 7-foot guy who nudged his way up by us in the crowd, towering over Denise. Oh well.

Service at The Haymarket was shitty after the festival on Friday.

Seriously. It sucked, and the food we eventually got was nothing to write home about (even though I guess that’s kind of what I’m doing right now).

Oh, you crazy kids in Twin Peaks…

They looked even younger than they probably are (the quartet’s collective age I’d estimate at 81). They had crowd surfers (which reminded me of shows from back when I was the same age as the Twin Peakers). One guy rocked out from a wheelchair (ankle injury, I guess). Another guy smashed his guitar and chucked it into the crowd. They were manic, they were fun enough, they were a good band to open the day. Greg Kot speaks highly of them in the video recap below.

Saturday probably had the biggest disappointments of the festival.

Cloud Nothings didn’t impress our party much; they became a running joke in our group because of how much Annie disliked their shit. (I might have the highest opinion of them, in that I enjoyed the first five songs and then found it a bit monotonous.) Denise and I took a big risk in skipping St. Vincent to head to the cozy Blue Stage to catch The Field and FKA Twigs, which, I’m sorry, was a terrible mistake. The Field was fine for chilling in the shade before making our move forward to get a good spot for FKA Twigs. The music is kinda cool, but her live act seems to rely mostly on slinky moves and diva attitude over anything resembling decent vocals. (I realize my opinion is counterbalanced by the shit I overheard in the crowd, such as “She’s so elegant, she’s so perfect, she’s beyond human!”)

We made it back to the other side of the park in time to catch one, maybe two St. Vincent songs from a distance. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Thankfully her entire set is on YouTube, which you (and I) can watch below.

Some people might have been disappointed that Pusha T had to play a truncated set since his DJ didn’t show up or whatever.

Tune-Yards live > Tune-Yards on record.

That’s not meant as a dig at Tune-Yards’ recorded work, although I don’t find myself listening to Tune-Yards for an hour straight very often, if ever. But I could have watched and listened to the live act for three hours. So much life in that performance, and not just limited to Merrill. It was easily my second-favorite set of the weekend, surpassing Sharon VE and Beck.

I haven’t found any YouTube videos that really capture this, so for now, take my word for it.

My Donnelly’s Pub t-shirt was quite popular on Saturday.

Three times I was stopped so that someone could give me props for the shirt. Of course, Travis one-upped me by having four people compliment him on Sunday for his Black Angels shirt; one guy even handed him a strand of drink tickets just to show him proper respect. This happens to him a lot, or so I’ve heard.

Dum Dum Girls were great; the bass player secretly loves me (I’m sure)

We got a late start to Sunday, catching just the tail end of DIIV and missing Speedy Ortiz completely. After sitting through some of Isaiah Rashad’s set at the Blue Stage, we finally got our closest spot for a set, about four rows back for Dum Dum Girls. One of the coolest acts, and certainly very easy to look at. But seriously, the music is great, and it came through in this energetic performance.

Deafheaven’s vocalist (George Clarke) is perhaps the most intriguing character from the whole fest

The dude comes out all buttoned up in black, looking quite straight-edge or something, and absolutely takes over the entire park. Standing at stage’s edge, directing the crowd with rapid hand gestures, placing one boot upon the monitor and going into a tense crouch, and then unleashing THAT scream. It’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch him work. But as I said in my Best of 2013 album list on Facebook, I love Deafheaven’s music but am not a big fan of the vocals. Seeing him live was worth a few songs, but I thought it more important to stake out space for Dum Dum Girls rather than stay for the whole set. Still, cool to see.

Slowdive was the best

They might not be as beloved as My Bloody Valentine in the shoegaze universe, but Slowdive put out three wonderful albums in the ’90s, and the songs translate live better than MBV does, if you ask me. The quintet filled up the outdoor setting with ease, with layer upon layer of guitar washing over a crowd that, truth be told, probably wasn’t all that familiar with the band coming in. (I mentioned to Travis that Slowdive was the main band I wanted to see on the whole bill; a woman in front of me said “If I block your view, just let me know. I’ve never heard of this band before.”) We had a great view and the band met my expectations. I really miss the ’90s, and not just because of grunge heroes like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. The shoegaze bands are marvelous; Todd and I even kicked in some cash to Kickstarter to help fund the making of a documentary on the subject, “Beautiful Noise.” The film is making the festival rounds, and we should have our DVD in the near future. (Screening party!)

Anyway, here’s some Slowdive.

Real Estate was as expected, which is to say very good

They are good at what they do, and at times it sounds spectacular. Sounded good as the sun got low in the sky. Here’s a taste:

What did others think?

Neutral Milk Hotel was to Annie as Slowdive was to me. Denise and Annie loved Grimes. Travis is still loving Sharon Van Etten, and he and Annie loved Deafheaven. Our entire group loved Slowdive. It’s safe to say Denise did not love Neneh Cherry and absolutely loved Giorgio. Dum Dums went over well with everyone. The hard cider option was much appreciated, as were the Big Ass Lemonades and Big Ass Arnold Palmers.

Outside the park: Beer Bistro was the best: food, drink, service. So was the place where Denise and I got nachos for what felt like our ninth meal of the day on Saturday; don’t remember the name of the joint. Kaiser Tiger was a cool place to hang out right across from the park, but unless you’re really hungry or have six people in your party, don’t get the large order of fries. An entire cookie sheet stacked with fries arrived at our table. Beggars Pizza was really good but it was quite an ordeal to get the damn pizza. Meli Cafe and Lou Mitchell’s served top-notch breakfast, each in its own way. You already read my feelings about Haymarket.

I definitely preferred the Pitchfork setting over Lolla. I feel like I was able to get to see almost everything I wanted, thanks to the more compact structure. And even with way fewer artists on the bill, I feel it is a much more impressive lineup than what Lolla is going with this year.

I’d love to return to Union Park in 2015. Who’s with me?

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: March 2014

march 14

Side A : Todd’s‘ Picks

Side B : Chris’ Picks

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: August 2012

Side A : Chris’ Picks

1. Crystal Castles, “Plague”

2. Purity Ring, “Fineshrine”

3. Dum Dum Girls, “Lord Knows”

4. Earlimart, “97 Heart Attack”

5. The xx, “Angels”

Side B : Todd’s Picks

1. Passion Pit, “I’ll Be Alright”

2. Dent May, “Fun”

3. IO Echo, “When the Lillies Die”

4. Teen, “Better”

5. Japandroids, “Continuous Thunder”