Monday, 10 November 2014

Music in 2014 - Best Of.

I haven't had the chance to listen to too many albums this year but here are the ones that have really stood out for me.

Grouper is the sole project of singer/songwriter Liz Harris. On a personal level, this is the most surprising addition to the list because I was never that keen on her previous material, in particular, the revered Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. Despite the fact that it had been compared to classics from yesteryear that I do love, like the British artist Cocteau Twins, I couldn't get into its unusual style. This album could then be seen as a gateway for me to explore the rest of her extensive back catalog, including revisiting the aforementioned album. Whilst there are some similarities between this album and a couple of previous ones, this feels more personal to me. The combination of the lyrics and melancholic piano, the only instrument to feature on the entire album, are what really appeal to me. Lately I've been exploring a lot of ambient music which relies heavily on keys, so getting into Ruins was a much easier transition. That and I'm always on the look out for material to sleep to, something which I've found this album is great for because it's very gentle and tender. Liz's hushed vocals, which can be a little difficult to hear at times over the piano which has a tendency to drown her out, are generally perfect to sleep to.

Eight years. That is how long it has taken for this album. Jakob's previous album, entitled Solace, is one of my favorites across any genre, let alone within post-rock. Potentially, this album could be every bit as good as Solace but, for now, I'd say Solace is still top dog. This album was actually due to come out earlier than 2014 but one of the bands guitarists sustained a hand injury which prevented them from completing it earlier and also from touring extensively. In fact, I bought a ticket for a gig they were supposed to be having in the UK but, of course, they had to postpone due to said injury. When I had first heard a preview of the title track, I had expected that this album would see a change in style since it's a fully ambient song with none of the usual trademarks of a Jakob song but that isn't the case. Sines is a continuation of Solace. Whilst the bands material has remained much the same throughout their career, which spans sixteen years, Jakob are so adept at what they do, that those crescendos still manage to sound so moving and profound to this day.

Ne Obliviscaris - Citadel

 Citadel is the Australian progressive/melodic death metal bands sophomore LP and it's causing as much of a storm as their debut did. There is talk that the bands album could chart in Australia and it would be the first truly underground metal album to do so in years. If you've heard the debut, entitled Portal of I, then you'll know what to expect from this album. Essentially, it's more of the same but I'm not complaining. If you're new to Australia's next big thing, then there are few outstanding features on the album you ought to be aware of. The album features harsh vocals in the form of screams. Usually they feature separately from the clean vocals but they occasionally double up to create a dynamic and fascinating atmosphere. The clean vocals, provided by Tim Charles, are truly exceptional. As is his use of the violin, a component of the music which features sparingly throughout, which is both beautiful and haunting. The album is complex and diverse. Once again, the perfect production maximises the components of the album and draws them together expertly.

Rome - A Passage to Rhodesia

 Rome are a band who opened the door to both martial industrial and neofolk for me. Masse Mensch Material was the first of their albums I heard and, since then, I've gone on to explore the rest of their discography, finding a lot of joy along the way. Rome are a band with many strengths, none more so than Jérôme Reuter's ability to turn potentially overpowering conceptual ideas into songs you care about. He's a fantastic storyteller and vocalist to boot. Long-time fans of Rome will not be strangers to Rome's fascination with conceptual albums, mostly dealing with conflict and war, but newcomers may be put off by how enveloped the album becomes in telling the story of Rhodesia. Not to fear, the musicianship is such that, even if you find the lyrics a little overbearing, the music itself will more than make up for it.

Sun Kil Moon - Benji

I'm a massive fan of Mark Kozelek. Whether it's a part of Red House Painters, a collaborative work or even his own solo material. I love his voice, his lyrics and his honesty. I considered his earliest works as Red House Painters frontman untouchable until I heard Sun Kil Moon's Ghosts of the Great Highway. This album is vastly different to that in its execution and particularly in relation to its lyrical style. Ghosts of the Great Highway felt like Red House Painters under a different name but not Benji. Mark is still nostalgic, still morbid and still singing about personal tragedies but I find the approach, in general, is a lot less serious. Whilst some of the songs hit key features in his usual repertoire, others highlight the mundane nature of life, the things he has done and seen throughout the course of a typical day. The songwriting is bare bones storytelling style but that's alright by me.

The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

I really enjoyed Slave Ambient when I first heard it but I put it down for months and forgot it existed. I was looking through a list of albums that had recently come out when I noticed The War on Drugs had a new album out, Lost in the Dream. I decided to check it out and memories of the first time I had heard them came flooding back. Since hearing this album for the first time, I've been hooked on them in general. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. Whilst Slave Ambient is indeed a very good album, this effort has taken them onto a new level. I imagine there will be no issues with longevity when it comes to this album. It has since acted as a gateway for me to check out more heartland rock, including Bruce Springsteen who I had managed to ignore for 27 years. The album feels very personal. As I understand it, vocalist Adam Granduciel had some trouble readjusting to life after touring and went through a break-up. "Suffering" is a great example of the power of this album as Adam unburdens his soul to us.

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