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: May 2014

may 14

Side A : Todd’s‘ Picks

Side B : Chris’ Picks

From the MoSS? Pit: Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire


Last November I had the misfortune of having to work out of town for a few weeks in the frozen tundra of North Dakota. I had a nice 10-hour drive to collect my thoughts and listen to music. One of the albums I was listening to a lot then was Arcade Fire, Reflektor. It was while driving up north that I got the great news that Arcade Fire was going on tour. I pulled over and while freezing my beans off in my car I was able to scavenge enough cell signal to score a pre-sale password and purchase two pretty good seats to the show at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City. It seemed like a million months away but the thought of an outdoor concert at the end of April helped warm me up as the first of many snowstorms to come covered my car. As the concert date got closer, Mrs. MoSSTodd (the owner of ticket #2) and I kept our fingers crossed for decent weather and a good show. Little did we know that we would get everything we wished for and more.

The weather was perfect all day before the show as we shopped for vinyl (stores were pretty picked over due to National Record Store Day the week before but I was able to snag a few treats) in the Volker Neighborhood, KC’s hipster district. The area was really buzzing that day. It seemed like everyone we chatted with was also going to the Arcade Fire show. The neighborhood was lousy with dudes in hillbilly beards and handlebar mustaches escorting their tattooed suicide girl wannabe girlfriends around the local boutiques looking for proper attire to wear to the concert that night. You see, in an attempt to make their concerts more fun and create a party atmosphere, Arcade Fire issued a dress code. The clothing requirements were printed on the tickets, “Please Wear Formal Attire or Costume.” We already had our outfits worked out. Let’s just say there was a lot of sequins and leather involved.

As show time approached, the temp was still a balmy 74 degrees and holding steady. We were set for a perfect night of outdoor entertainment with not a drop of rain in site. After we parked the car and started walking with the crowd to the theatre, it was apparent that this would be no regular old concert. It was as if we were all circus performers walking to the big top. I’d say that the vast majority of concertgoers chose to follow the dress code. While most people went with some version of formal attire, there were plenty of interesting costumes. You name it, we saw it:

Dude dressed like Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes- Check
Alien Hooker- Check
Little Bo Peep- Check
Guy in full size rabbit suit- Check that 9 times

The closer we got to the theatre entrance we could hear music getting louder. I just figured it was the opener, which I thought was going to be Concert TreatsBaltimore musician Dan Deacon. We came a little late because I wasn’t incredibly interested in seeing him live. That’s when I started recognizing one of the songs coming from the stage. It was “Gangsta” by tUnE-yArDs. tUnE-yArDs was opening?!?!?! I grabbed the wife’s hand and we hurried though security (luckily they missed several mini-bottles of vodka and a flask full of rum stashed in my jacket pockets) and made our way down to our seats. My ears were not deceiving me as we confirmed this happy surprise. We caught the tail end of the tUnE-yArDs show and both of us were amazed at how leader Merrill Garbus created drum loops on the spot, and layered these with impromptu hand claps, ukulele, and vocals. This made for a very entertaining and danceable opening act. I just wish we could have seen the whole set.

Arcade Fire SitesAfter tUnE-yArDs left the stage, the road crew started preparing for the Arcade Fire set and DJ Kid Koala spun some records to entertain us from a side stage. I thought this was a pretty original idea. It was a lot better than having to hear Nickelback or Kid Rock over the PA system. You could watch Mr. Koala do his thing live on the jumbo screen and listen at the same time. Dude was pretty amazing as he spun 2-3 records at a time creating some great beats.

Just as the sun went down so did the house lights. I’d done my research before the show and looked at several set lists from previous Arcade Fire shows. The opening song from every one I checked was the title track from their last album,“Reflektor.” That night they shook things up a bit and played “Here Comes the Night Time” first. Based on the setting they couldn’t have started it off any better. The song has a real party feel and further pumped up the already pumped-up crowd as we all sang the opening lyrics.

When the sun goes down,
When the sun goes down you head inside
Because the lights don’t work,
Nothing works but you don’t mind

Here comes the night time

Midway through, giant cannons shot confetti and streamers over the entire venue and lead singer Win Butler urged the crowd to Arcade Fire 2move up and dance in the aisles if they wanted, “Just be friendly to security.” During a lull in the song Win addressed the crowd again saying, “We’re going to give you guys everything we’ve got tonight. You give us everything you have.”  From that point on the crowd including the Mrs. and I didn’t stop dancing until the last song.

They played a nice mix of new and old songs and kept things interesting by throwing in a few surprises. During the song “Afterlife” from the new album, a guy in a reflective costume mysteriously appeared on a stage that just happened to be a few feet away from us. The theatre lights shown down on him and he rotated like a human disco ball. Check out my short video below.

[In typical Todd-written MoSS? Pit form, my videos are less than great. I forgot to clear space on my phone before the show so I was unable to record very lengthy videos. I’ll get it right on one of these MoSS? Pits.]

During the next song Win’s bandmate and wife Regine came out to the same stage and sang “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus).”

Throughout the tour the band has been opening their encores with a cover song. Most times it has some association with the city they are located. In Minneapolis they covered a Prince song. This night they performed a cover of Kansas’ “Dust In The Wind.”  The band played on until Win cut them off: “Guys, that was really beautiful, but that’s a Kansas song and we’re in fuckin’ Missouri. That’s gonna kill when we play Lawrence, though.” Watch below courtesy of Stereogum.

They closed the show with the anthemic “Wake Up” from their first album Funeral. The perfect song to one more time unite the crowd as we sang along with the “Oh,Oh’s’ during the chorus and even more confetti rained down on us.

Arcade Fire Confetti Shower

I doubt anyone walked away from this show thinking they didn’t get their money’s worth because as Win said at the beginning, “They gave us everything they had.” I hope the band felt the same about us.

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: April 2014

april 14

Side A : Chris’ Picks

Side B : Todd’s‘ Picks