Review of 2014 pt.3 - Albums


This year was a funny one for me. A few years ago I would have been on top of every new release, with an opinion on anything remotely buzz-worthy. This year my listening habits have been much more indiscriminate; I have spent a lot of time playing catch-up, without a care for release date or newness. I had mild obsessions with Neu! and Judee Sill, binged on Sean Nicholas Savage, studied to Woo and swooned over Haruomi Hosono. There were a few 2014 releases that really stood out, so here they are:

Ariel Pink - pom pom
From the very beginning, one of the biggest inspirations behind Dig That Treasure! has been Ariel Pink. His DIY ethic has fuelled my passion for independent scenes, his outsider touch has informed my interest in naivety in pop, and his ludicrously good music taste has pointed me in the direction of many, many, many tracks. pom pom, released in November, feels a bit like Pink's lap of honour. It's a fairly self-indulgent run-through of his clearly extensive knowledge of pop (and its dark corners), making stops at the Middle East ('Dinosaur Carebears'), the '60s ('Dayzed Inn Daydreams'), and whatever the hell 'Jell-O' is. The record was totally divisive among critics but I believe this is one of his best works. It is an album that oozes with confidence: it is funny, sad, loud, quiet and really really catchy.

Woo - When The Past Arrives
This record was a real grower - not in the sense that disliked it to begin with, but rather that it is an album of such subtlety and delicacy that at first it can drift by you without much effect yet, with each further listen it gets bolder and bolder. Each deft and understated melody has slowly ingrained itself into my consciousness. Songs like 'Satya' and 'Teddy Bears' are particularly gorgeous but it's '1001 Decisions' which really blows me away. This track is evokes such warmth and comfort; it is poignant but yet so uplifting. A stunning return from Woo.

tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack
I feel like this record has a lot in common with pom pom. It is witty and affecting in equal parts, restless and constantly surprising. I can't really put into words why I like it so much, but Nikki Nack just feels like a coming together of years and years of critical listening. Merrill Garbus really knows what she is doing... she has a clear vision of what she wants and a strong (yet sensitive) understanding of all things pop. She transcends 'genre', forming a sound that is intercontinental and truly unique. 'Real Thing' has got to be the stand out track here, but really the whole record stands up as a solid piece of work.

Stephen Steinbrink - Arranged Waves
I have been following Steinbrink since my buddy Christian from the legendary (but now defunct) label Holy Page got me into him back in 2012. (Side note: Holy Page is a real trove, exhibiting the best of America's underground. It was through Holy Page that I was introduced to Hleger and Ed Askew among many others). Anyway, I was really excited to see Stephen Steinbrink get the credit he's been due for years - he is coming over to Europe in the New Year and has recently signed to Melodic. His latest record, Arranged Waves, was a triumph for everything that he represents; it was everything it needed to be and more. The key track here is 'Sand Mandalas', but it is really worth investing your time in the whole thing.

Avi Buffalo - At Best Cuckold
I got into Avi Buffalo way back in 2010 when he put out his self-titled debut. He disappeared for a few years and then returned with At Best Cuckold, a really mature record and a clear progression, if only at the expense of some of the charm that coloured his debut. 'So What' is appropriately angsty and 'Overwhelmed With Pride' is absolutely gorgeous, although my favourite track has got to be 'Think It's Gonna Happen Again'. The record is a real testament to Avi's two best assets: his sensational guitar playing and his distinctive falsetto.

Ava Luna - Electric Balloon
I came across these guys while looking for things to do in Copenhagen - it turned out they were playing there on my second night in the city. I remember the first time I heard 'Ice Level', the song that turned me onto the group. I was so struck by its sound; how nuanced, dynamic it was. I then got my hands on Electric Balloon, a record very unashamedly proud of its influences (no-wave, post-punk, r&b, Stax records) yet simultaneously so distinctive in its own sound. 'Plain Speech' is my favourite on the record but it's more an album of moments than songs: the Byrne-esque vocals on 'Daydream', the Dirty Projectors chirps on 'Crown' and those "uh-ohs" at the beginning of 'Genesee'.

No comments:

Post a Comment