Dec 19, 2015

2014 Year In Review Part V: The Tracks

I keep wavering each year on whether or not I want to call this portion of the year-end round-up "tracks" or "singles". The former definitely sounds more truthful for 2014, as I fell ever further behind in keeping up with mainstream radio. I could rarely tell you if any given track was a legitimately released "single" or not. Regardless, here are 75 of my favorite songs of the year. You'll notice I've cut this list down. I'm an albums kind of guy and it just got much harder and more arbitrary to round out that final 25.

75. "The Instinct" - Mark McGuire
74. "It's Not Too Late (To Say Goodbye)" - Doug Paisley
73. "No Rest for the Wicked" - Lykke Li
72. "Forerunner Foray" - Shabazz Palaces
71. "Disco/very" - Warpaint
70. "Morning" - Beck
69. "Instant Disassembly" - Parquet Courts
68. "Heavy Seas of Love" - Damon Albarn
67. "Automatic" - Miranda Lambert
66. "Careful You" - TV on the Radio
65. "Fuego" - Phish
64. "Left, Right" - YG
63. "Dark Star Blues" - Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O.
62. "Boom Clap" - Charli XCX
61. "Habits (Stay High)" - Tove Lo
60. "I Wanna Get Better" - Bleachers
59. "Sunbathing Animal" - Parquet Courts
58. "minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]" - Aphex Twin
57. "Forevermore" - Thurston Moore
56. "In Love With Useless" - A Sunny Day in Glasgow
55. "Ain't It Fun" - Paramore
54. "Turtles All the Way Down" - Sturgill Simpson
53. "Platinum" - Miranda Lambert
52. "Whole New Dude" - William Tyler
51. "Milly's Garden" - Steve Gunn
50. "Little Fang" - Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks
49. "Warning" - Cymbals Eat Guitars
48. "Inside Out" - Spoon
47. "She's Not Me" - Jenny Lewis
46. "Kelly" - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
45. "Happy" - Pharrell
44. "Are You Okay?" - Dum Dum Girls
43. "Plateau of the Ages" - Agalloch
42. "Blast Magic" - Comet Control
41. "Put Your Number in My Phone" - Ariel Pink
40. "Fuckers" - Savages
39. "Love Me Harder" - Arianna Grande f. The Weeknd
38. "Gunshot" - Lykke Li
37. "Brando" - Scott Walker & Sunn O)))
36. "Out of the Woods" - Taylor Swift
35. "An Ocean In Between the Waves" - The War On Drugs
34. "O Father O Satan O Sun" - Behemoth
33. "Partition" - Beyonce
32. "Our Love" - Sharon Van Etten
31. "Back to the Shack" - Weezer
30. "Move That Dope" - Future f. Pharrell, Pusha T & Casino
29. "Johnny & Mary" - Todd Terje f. Bryan Ferry
28. "Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes" - Sun Kil Moon
27. "Jackson" - Cymbals Eat Guitars
26. "The Singer" - Ty Segall
25. "Tough Love" - Jessie Ware
24. "Red Eyes" - The War On Drugs
23. "Bury Our Friends" - Sleater-Kinney
22. "Pet Semetary" - DJ Quik
21. "Problem" - Arianna Grande f. Iggy Azalea
20. "Digital Witness" - St. Vincent
19. "Can't Do Without You" - Caribou
18. "Choices (Yup)" - E-40
17. "Silver" - Caribou
16. "Do You" - Spoon
15. "Delorean Dynamite" - Todd Terje
14. "Blockbuster Night Pt. 1" - Run the Jewels
13. "Never Catch Me" - Flying Lotus f. Kendrick Lamar
12. "Seasons (Waiting On You)" - Future Islands
11. "Shake It Off" - Taylor Swift

10. "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" - Against Me!
For an absolutely bracing, cathartic and life-affirming record like Laura Jane Grace brought us with Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the album's lead-off title track is probably the most "all of the above" of the batch. A powerful thunderhead of a "fuck you" meets the shore of "don't give a fuck anymore", resulting in a swirling squall that is equal parts anthem and throwing in the towel. While later tracks on the record took more full advantage of Grace's songwriting chops, this title track set the table for one of the most engaging rock records in recent years.

9. "***Flawless" - Beyonce
Despite it's ultimate position as the fifth single from Beyonce's surprise released self-titled record, "Flawless" was the one that hung with me the most - far more than the bigger hits "Partition" and "Drunk In Love". Ultimately I think it comes down to the red-hot collision of the trap influenced beat and the pro-feminist sample from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TedX talk, a playful bit of message shifting that manages to capture the spirit of Bey in 2014.

8. "Two Weeks" - FKA twigs
I took me a little while to come around to loving the entirety of FKA twigs debut full-length (though come around I very much did), but this track hit me immediately and powerfully. It captures the whisper to a scream dynamic range that twigs skillfully wraps up in a silky smooth R&B package that exudes pure sexual energy for its entire 4:14 run time. The Queen of the Damned inspired video certainly helped, a pitch perfect personification of her power and control.

7. "Blank Space" - Taylor Swift
The second of her three #1 singles from 1989, this one proved to have the longest lasting charm of any of them. While "Shake It Off" was, and still is, great fun, it's tied to a particular moment, but "Blank Space" better reflects the uncanny universality of Swift's best pop songs. The haters will point to the winking, self-deprecating lyrics as a negative, but that she makes even those lines so relatable hints at her real power. 1989 was the triumphant coronation of her mainstream takeover, "Blank Space" will be it's biggest song in rotation 15 years on.

6. "Marrow" - YOB
The nearly 20-minute "Marrow" closed out Clearing the Path to Ascend, the seventh (and, to my ears, greatest) album from San Francisco doom stalwarts, YOB. It's a colossally powerful song that earns every second of its running length, with Mike Scheidt's clear voice calling out in hope through the fog of doom and gloom established during the previous three tracks. It's a powerful moment, to date the band's high watermark, and a testament to the visceral power of metal.

5. "Talking Backwards" - Real Estate
Serving as the lead single for the band's terrific third record, Atlas, "Talking Backwards" also serves as the perfect single song distillation of the band's gorgeously melodic guitar-pop, Matthew Mondanile's chiming guitar lines and Martin Courtney's sweet vocals aren't doing anything particularly different from what they've done in the past, but it all blends together perfectly, enhanced by some of the band's clearest, most pristine production to date. If this one song can't convince a newcomer to Real Estate's greatness, you're likely dealing with a cloth-eared fool.

4. "Goblin" - Opeth
Even I'm still surprised that this song has proven to be so durable throughout the course of 2014 and been so permanently lodged in my brain, a pretty rare feet for a mid-album instrumental palette cleanser. But Opeth's Pale Communion was, if nothing else, an album out of time - an unabashedly progressive rock record stuck in 1972 that proved divisive even amongst the Opeth devotees - so the normal rules need not necessarily apply. "Goblin" is an obvious nod in both title and form to the titular 1970s purveyors of horror movie scores, but it slots in perfectly with Opeth's prog world.

3. "Water Fountain" - tune-yards
It took me a lot of time to warm to Merrill Garbus. Hers was always an approach I admired more than I actually enjoyed in practice, but that all changed with the second track on her third Tune-Yards record, Nikki Nack. It's an impossible song not to fall hopelessly in love with, even on the first listen. Over joyous Afropop inspired polyrhythms, Garbus adds deliciously wry and wickedly memorable schoolyard chants that sneak in subtle layers of cultural and socioeconomic commentary. Though you'd be forgiven for not even catching those last ones while you bounce along.

2. "True Trans Soul Rebel" - Against Me!
It's not often that I've ended up with two tracks from the same artist in my year-end top ten, but Against Me! is a band that's never really bothered by bucking traditions. I've already talked about the album's' title track and how well it set up the theme and mood of the album, but it's this track that best balances integrates the newfound ferocity with the songwriting skill that Laura Jane Grace has always out on display. It's a deceptively simple song, but when Grace hits that chorus... "Does god bless your transexual heart?", the inner turbulence and pain is crystallized. This is the power of pure pop music.

1. "i" - Kendrick Lamar
By September of 2014, when this song was first released, the world was hungry for anything new that Lamar might have to offer after the universally lauded good kid, m.A.A.d. city won over hearts well beyond the usual hip-hop world's boundaries. Though only the briefest tease of what To Pimp A Butterfly was to bring, "i" was a powerful statement on it's own. For a genre that usually expresses self-doubt more than self-pride, the Isley Brothers sampling hook was a brilliantly simple and rabidly infectious assertion of black pride - something he's explore even more fully when the calendar flipped and Butterfly finally dropped. It took me a minute to warm to the album version of "i", it makes total sense in the context of the larger record, but I'll always cherish the beauty of the single version.

Dec 6, 2015

2014 Year In Review Part IV: The Live Albums

And let's keep the momentum going... here are via//chicago's ten favorite live releases of 2014. Some are brand new, some archival, but all are newly gussied up live recordings that are well worth tracking down.

10. Between the Buried and Me - Future Sequence: Live at the Fidelitorium (Metal Blade)
If there is something else I really love, it's ridiculously over the top metal that delves into progressive rock territory. And, for my money, no one has done that as well in recent years as North Carolina's Between the Buried and Me. This live set captures the band recreating, in full, their 2012 full-length, The Parallax II: The Future Sequence. While that's not my favorite album of theirs, it's a pretty massive slab of prog-metal ridiculousness and sometimes I just want to revel in it.

9. Band of Horses - Acoustic at the Ryman (Brown Records)
Here was a band that fell of really, really hard. Like most of the world, I discovered them thanks to their highly hyped debut, 2006's Everything All the Time. Seeing them play later that summer at the Pitchfork Music Festival only confirmed how much I liked them. What followed was a really solid second album, a third (and major label debut) that was mostly fine but showed some diminishing returns, and a fourth that just flat out sucked. I'd all but given up on them, but hearing them stripped down at Nashville's legendary Ryman Auditorium reminded me about what I first loved about these guys. I'm still doubtful that another studio record will turn the ship around, but this is a pretty solid live document.

8. Naam - Live in Berlin (DesertFest)
Really this is more an EP than anything else, but these 24 minutes rock just as hard as anything else on this list. Brooklyn's Naam have been kicking around for awhile now, releasing two full-lengths and a handful of EPs on the always reliable Tee Pee label. Their particular brand of heavy psych is most definitely heavy on the psych, but heavy on the fuzz and riffs as well - think Pink Floyd meets Black Sabbath. This live document captures them firing on all cylinders and will serve as a great doorway to their other work.

7. Gary Clark Jr. - Live (Warner Bros.)
While I've found his studio work to be frustratingly inconsistent, where he tries to wear way too many hats and inevitably falls far short at pulling off most of 'em, it seems that Gary Clark Jr.'s place is on the stage. This 2-disc live document captures performances from the festival circuit that Clark was on during the summer of 2013, which certainly seems like a comfortable setting for his particular blend of blues-rock. It's a genre that gets clowned, usually very much deservedly, but when played well and without ego it can still be really powerful. He's a fantastic guitar player, but I think his greatest strength is knowing when to cut and run, this isn't another Bonnaroo jam session that will bore you silly.

6. The Bad Plus - The Rite of Spring (Sony Masterworks)
This is likely cheating, but it was fine tuned as a live performance so much that this recording really has a live feel to it. Igor Stravinsk's The Rite of Spring is one of those monumental compositions that even those with the most adverse reactions to classical music know and, usually, love. It's a big task for any group to tackle it, let alone a three man jazz band. And, getting it out right now, this never reaches the dramatic swell and power of the full orchestrations you've heard, but that's fine. The Bad Plus make this their own and pull the piece apart to best suit their approach, without sacrificing the emotional impact. It's not as dynamic, but is still a very engaging take.

5. Circle / Pharaoh Overlord - 6000 km/h (Full Contact/Ektro)
I'm cheating a bit here, but it's really hard to separate these two from each other. If you've been paying any attention to via//chicago over the years, you'll be well aware of how big of a fan I am of the Finnish band Circle, and their various off-shoots. These two records catch recent live performances of both Circle and Pharaoh Overlord (an off-shoot that, for this recording, contained three members of Circle) and both are absolutely killer. The Circle record features a couple rare jams and runs the gamut from brief bursts of hardcore noise to drone goodness. Pharaoh Overlord, on theirs, gives us four lengthy tracks that alternate between noisy prog and jazzy noise.

4. Fripp & Eno - Live in Paris 28.05.1975 (DGM)
This is quite a fascinating historical document that captures what is, in retrospect, quite a pivotal moment for both of these two legends. Robert Fripp had just begun the five year hiatus that shelved King Crimson for the back half of the decade, while Brian Eno was deep into his four album run of terrific pop records after having parted ways with Roxy Music. These two had already made quite an impact with 1973's ambient (No Pussyfooting), but this live set is taken from the only, very brief, tour these guys underwent as a duo. Backed by Eno's prerecorded loops (included here as bonus on disc 3), the pair meld together on some fascinating pieces that rely on Eno's brilliant sound manipulation and Fripp's fantastic guitar work. Probably not the best entry point for newcomers, but an essential document for fans.

3. Causa Sui - Live at Freak Valley (El Paraiso)
I've been a fan of this Danish four-piece for a few years, since I first discovered the excellent El Paraiso record label and the 2-disc compilation of Causa Sui's Pewt's Sessions. Since then I've also discovered their three-part Summer Sessions series and their terrific 2013 full-length, Euporie Tide. Live at Freak Valley is a two disc package that captures their full, 90-minute set from the German festival, Freak Valley, that came hot on the heels of Euporie Tide's release. It's the perfect format for a band that has pushed their sound out this far, evolving from a rather straightforward stoner rock sound to something far more psychedelic and hallucinatory. If you haven't checked this band out yet, there are far worse places to start.

2. Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket - In A Dutch Haze (Outer Battery)
Speaking of killer performances from European heavy music festivals... here's another absolutely killer performance, this time a fiery team-up from two fine purveyors of heavy psych-rock from America. Earthless is a Bay Area trio that cranks out lengthy psychedelic instrumental jams that are riff-heavy and heavily influenced by krautrock. Heavy Blanket is one of J Mascis' umpteen bands, a trio that also trades in psychedelic heavy rock, but one that leaves plenty of room for Mascis and his furious fret-work. This records captures the two bands teaming up to absolutely decimate the Roadburn Festival (hence, In A Dutch Haze) with their potent blend of stoner rock. It's a heavy, heady trip well worth taking for any fans of exploratory heavy music.

1. Grateful Dead - Wake Up To Find Out (Rhino)
And, continuing on with the theme, here's some more exploratory rock music, though one that is decidedly less heavy than Earthless and Heavy Blanket and a little more hippie than Causa Sui. Yes, this is another live document from perennial via//chicago favorites, the Grateful Dead. But it marks for a slight departure from the band's recent focus on the '60s and '70s by presenting a complete live set from the band's twilight years - specifically a March night from their well-regarded, if under-appreciated 1990 Spring Tour. What makes this particularly special is that Branford Marsalis sits in for a killer first set "Bird Song" and the entirety of the second set. I'm typically not a Marsalis fan, but he really did pull something special from Jerry and the boys on this tour. If you have't delved into the latter years of the Dead's career, this is a great place to start - a shining gem from a surprisingly solid tour.

Nov 28, 2015

2014 Year In Review Part III: The Reissues / Compilations

Rolling right along with the 2014 wrap-up, here are via//chicago's ten favorite reissues and compilations of the year.

10. Smashing Pumpkins - Adore [Super Deluxe Edition] (Virgin)
The excellent, expansive Smashing Pumpkins reissue campaign rolls on to what many consider the start of the band's decline. I'd argue strongly against that categorization, because Adore is a much, much stronger album than a lot of people want to acknowledge. This mega package includes six audio discs and a DVD that contains a 1998 concert from the Fox Theatre in Georgia. Besides getting the album in both remastered and mono formats, you get three full discs of odds and sods and a disc of random live appearances and sessions. It's a lot, but Pumpkins diehards (as I am) are nothing if not completists. It's enough to have me anxious for the Machina era reissues too.

9. Various Artists - Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles (Numero Group)
If you saw my number 1 reissue from 2013 (the excellent Purple Snow compilation of Minnesota R&B/funk), you'll know I'm already a fan of the deity's work the folks over at Numero Group are doing. This collection features 16 tracks from various proto-metal bands from mid-70s Middle America (plus one from Canada), showing the nascent metal ripples that were rumbling through garages and basements years before even the New Wave of British Heavy Metal helped to break things open wide.

8. David Bowie - Nothing Has Changed (Columbia)
David Bowie is probably one of rock and roll's most repackaged artists. Greatest hits and compilations have flowed out over the years, trying to refocus and reshape the man's chameleonic career or to collect an ever-changing musical vision. Did we need another one? Probably not, but the deluxe 3-disc version comes at a time when it can capture Bowie's resurgence, wrapping in his work on The Next Day comeback album, with even a hint of where things are going with "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)". It's also structured in reverse chronological order, a tactic I typically detest, but it works really well for this man's evolving career. If you haven't gotten on board yet, this isn't a bad place to start.

7. Game Theory - Blaze of Glory (Omnivore Recordings)
To a select group of Scott Miller acolytes, the praises for his criminally underrated bands Game Theory and Loud Family could never be sung enough. A difficult enough task made even more so by the virtual impossibility of actually finding their records. Omnivore Recordings is starting to remedy that, beginning in the obvious place with Game Theory's 1982 debut full-length. It's a bit of a rough and tumble affair, but Miller's songwriting is already to shine through. Toss in another 15 tracks worth of B-sides, demos and live cuts and you've got a fascinating historical document for a songwriter that deserves much wider recognition.

6. Songs: Ohia - Didn't It Rain (Secretly Canadian)
This album isn't that old, but with the depressing loss of Jason Molina back in 2013, any reason to keep his best music in circulation is fine by me. Didn't It Rain was actually my very first encounter with Molina's music and I was stuck immediately by how powerful his songwriting was. This record helped me through some rough times back in 2002 when it was originally released and I don't think it has lost even an ounce of emotional power. Add in another disc of equally haunting demos and this is a must hear.

5. Captain Beefheart - Sun Zoom Spark 1970-1972 (Rhino/Warner Bros.)
I've had Safe As Milk and Trout Mask Replica for years now, but I've never really delved much more deeply into Don Van Vilet's music, so I was really pleased to be able to make a deep dive into the three year period that followed the release of the seminal Trout Mask. This box contains the albums Lick My Decals Off, Baby, The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot, as well as a fourth disc of rarities. It's a wealth of great material that hasn't always been in print, though be prepared to spend some time really digging in - this is stuff that rewards close listening.

4. Various Artists - Country Funk Volume II: 1967-1974 (Light in the Attic)
Light in the Attic is another label doing great reissue work, particularly when they are able to bring life to a genre that I don't typically spend much time with. This is the label's second dip into a newly defined sub-genre that captures a time when country music was stretching out a bit and taking in heavy, if not always cleanly acknowledged, influence from funk. This volume features some of the bigger names - Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Gene Clark, Townes Van Zandt - but is no less fascinating in documenting an unintentional scene.

3. Wilco - Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014 (Nonesuch)
As part of their year-long 20th anniversary celebration, Wilco released this fantastic four-disc compilation that picks up spare tracks from throughout both decades. Starting with A.M. demos and running right up through outtakes from The Whole Love, this is a wide-ranging and interesting document that helps make the case for Wilco being one of the most interesting rock bands of the last twenty years.

2. Miles Davis - Miles at the Fillmore 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 (Legacy)
The excellent bootleg campaign from the Miles Davis estate keeps right on rolling, this time gathering up performances from four nights at the Fillmore East from mid-June 1970. Just a few months earlier, Miles had released the boundary smashing and genre creating classic Bitches Brew and much of that album's line-up can be found here (one notable exception being the loss of John McLaughlin's guitar work). It was a fertile period for Miles and this collection captures some really magical moments, capturing the moment when Miles horizons were breaking wide open before he'd even go further out.

1. Bob Dylan & The Band - The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Legacy)
Speaking of a well received bootleg series, the eleventh entry in Bob Dylan's long running campaign could fairly be considered a holy grail for both Dylan obsessives and students of rock and roll history. Dylan's loose and raw sessions with his former backing band, now known as The Band, recorded in 1967 as Dylan was recuperating from a motorcycle accident. was legendary even before it got a somewhat official release in 1975. Rabid Dylan collectors have been trading bootlegs of various scope and quality that claimed to capture more of those sessions, but Dylan's people managed to one-up all of them by releasing this massive six-disc set that collects, allegedly, every scrap of material recorded during this period. Too much? Maybe. But it's an absolute joy to hear how much fun these guys were having and to hear how wide ranging their influences were. A long awaited treasure indeed.

Nov 27, 2015

2014 Year In Review Part II: The EPs

To continue the via//chicago look back on 2014, here are the top ten EPs of the year.

10. Jess and the Ancient Ones - Castaneda (Svart)
Strictly following the rules would mean that this be classified as a two-track single, but I'm so excited to hear new work from these Finns that I'm willing to stretch a little to shine some light on their only 2014 release. Both of these tracks use the blues as a starting point, particularly on the "As to Be With Him" flipside, though the title track incorporates a nice spaghetti-Western vibe that perfectly compliments Jess' soulful voice. Here's hoping the long awaited second full-length comes sooner rather than later.

9. Astral Sea - My Cosmic Asylum (Self-released)
Though I can't remember how I originally got pointed in their direction, I discovered this French stoner trio's debut EP thanks to their Bandcamp site. Over three tracks and roughly 25-minutes, they craft cosmic, instrumental stoner rock journeys that nicely play off the outer space cover art. Great riffs and thunderous drums combine to take the listener on one hell of a trip. I'll be excited to hear what they pull together over the course of a full-length record.

8. Wild Throne - Blood Maker (Brutal Panda)
Wild Throne, a trio from Bellingham, Washington, started life under the name Dog Shredder. After wisely shedding that ill-advised moniker, theses guys worked up with the often divisive (especially when it comes to his production for metal bands) Ross Robinson to produce this EP. Surprisingly, Robinson's over-exacting touch works really well with the particular strain of psych-infused progressive metal Wild Throne trades in. It's a brief 17-minutes, but Wild Throne manages to pack a hell of a punch in such a brief time.

7. Purson - In the Meantime (Machine Elf)
In the Meantime is Purson's 2014 stop-gap release to follow-up on their well-received 2013 debut, The Circle and The Blue Door. More than anything else, In the Meantime serves as an addendum to that record, rather than branching out and hinting at future directions for full-length number two. Still, the band manages to cover quite a bit of ground over these four tracks - ranging from gentle folk to swirling heavy psych. If you were a fan of The Circle and The Blue Door, you'll find plenty to like in these four songs.

6. Godflesh - Decline and Fall (Avalanche Recordings)
After nearly a full decade of inactivity, during which Justin Broadrick concentrated on his Jesu solo project, Godflesh reunited for some live dates in 2010. No one was sure whether or not this would lead to further studio recordings, but the band dove right back in with both this EP and the full-length, A World Lit Only By Fire, in 2014. And, despite the layoff, the band sounds like they never went away. This might be the most consistently stronger of the two releases, but that's likely because their stuff is much more intense in brief bursts. Godflesh become the latest in the long line of metal bands returning from a long hiatus as strong as ever.

5. The Black Angels - Clear Lake Forest (Blue Horizon)
In case you didn't catch the obvious reference in their name, Austin, Texas's The Black Angels have spent their career trawling the valleys and edges of The Velvet Underground's sonic worlds. While I liked the crispness and clarity of 2013's Indigo Meadow, it seems the band listened to the critics and has swung back towards the muddy lo-fi sound of the first two albums on this nice-sized EP. Thankfully, however, they keep the recent influence of bubble-gum psych in place, giving variety to the proceedings and making for another worthy entry in the band's discography.

4. Carcass - Surgical Remission/Surplus Steel (Nuclear Blast)
Carcass bounced back from a 17-year layoff with 2013's Surgical Steel, crafting not only one of 2013's best death metal records but also chalking up another classic in the band's already jam-packed catalog. This EP is nothing but leftovers from the Surgical Steel sessions, but considering how high the bar was for that entire record, even the scraps sound inspired. If you dug Surgical Steel, you need to add this to your collection immediately.

3. Myrkur - Myrkur (Relapse)
I'll be honest, the furor over this EP only made me want to dig into it further and, in doing so, I really found a lot to like. Listening to the metal purists bitch about how a woman (gasp!) that has done some modeling (the horror!) and used to play indie rock (oh no!) dared play black metal reminded me just how annoyingly insular and closed-minded a supposedly accepting scene like metal can be. And, yes, this is still definitely the sound of an artist finding her feet, but the peaks hint at something potentially great and I'm willing to sing her praises if only to keep pissing off those trying to close the gates on her.

2. William Tyler - Lost Colony (Merge)
Over the course of his first two full-length records, Nashville's William Tyler focused on his expert guitar playing, a sparse, finger-picking style that lumped in with contemporaries like Ryley Walker and Steve Gunn. On this latest EP, however, he's amped up his rock band ambitions and focused on his other influences that don't come from the John Fahey roots. Electric guitars and krautrock do the heavy lifting here, one of the track's is a cover of Michael Rother's "Karussel", though, excitingly, none of Tyler's fascinating guitar work is lost in the shift. I'm really anxious to hear what comes next.

1. Inter Arma - The Cavern (Relapse)
Richmond, Virginia's Inter Arma came up among the latest batch of area metal bands, though they quickly departed from the strain of doom and sludge typically heard and moved towards something more heavily influenced by progressive and classic rock. The elements were all in place for 2013's terrific Sky Burial, but for 2014's stop-gap release the band went even further towards prog rock excess by crafting a single 45-minute release. Biggest surprise, however, is how listenable and well it works, the rare 45-minute epic that earns every second. Between this and Sky Burial, Inter Arma is one of the band's I'm most anxious to hear new music from.

2014 Year In Review Part I: The Introduction

Well, the 2014 recap didn't happen on any kind of tight schedule either. It looks like I've hit a rut of not getting the previous year's summary pulled together until it's pretty much time for the latest round of year-end lists popping up. I'd like to make promises about getting the 2015 version done during a more appropriate timeframe but, well, history doesn't really point to that happening.

2014 didn't throw me a lot of huge surprises on any front, I spent the entire year just pushing the same project forward at work, from design and into construction (where, we still sit as of writing this post, I've been working on this same project more than full-time since March of 2013). Otherwise I spent much of the year enjoying my family and getting to know Evanston even more as I got to spend more time exploring. Musically nothing much changed either, I continued to burrow into the myriad of subgenres that fill in the cracks between metal, progressive rock, stoner rock and all things in between.  Looking back, it looks like a bit of an underwhelming year on paper - no huge and obvious future classics, but still plenty of great stuff that I'll be listening over the next few posts.

But, here's a brief look back at past winners...

Albums of the Year
2003: Outkast - Speakerboxx/The Love Below
2004: Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News
2005: Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
2006: Mastodon - Blood Mountain
2007: Battles - Mirrored
2008: Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
2009: The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
2010: Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
2011: Fucked Up - David Comes To Life
2012: Goat - World Music
2013: Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories)

Singles of the Year
2003: "Hey Ya" - Outkast
2004: "Take Me Out" - Franz Ferdinand
2005: "Since U Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson
2006: "When You Were Young" - The Killers
2007: "Stronger" - Kanye West
2008: "Time To Pretend" - MGMT
2009: "My Girls" - Animal Collective
2010: "Fuck You" - Cee-Lo Green
2011: "Super Bass" - Nicki Minaj
2012: "Bad Religion" - Frank Ocean
2013: "The Wire" - Haim