20 albums which filled up concert venues, personal play lists and music news. Or they deserve to. Not a top 20 as it’s unbalanced to weigh against different styles and diverse contexts.
Jack White, Swans, Pink Floyd, Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, Wovenhand, The Cosmic Dead, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Animal As Leaders, Reptile Youth, Godflesh, tētēma, Machine Head, Architects, ’68, It It Anita, ¡Pendejo!, Perverted By Language, Lola Colt, Iordache, Georgio ‘the Dove’ Valentino, Beck
Jack White – Lazaretto
Only 2 months after the release, Lazaretto becomes the biggest-selling vinyl album of the year, with 60 000 copies, competing only with Pearl Jam’s ‘Vitalogy’ released 20 years ago.
What’s a lazaretto? Our dictionary defines it as an isolation hospital for people with infectious diseases, especially leprosy or plague. And indeed, isolation, unrequited love, madness, diseases and obsession are central themes on the record. But still, not a sick sad record, on the contrary, it’s dense, complex, crazy and has the same feeling that everything Jack White touches turns into a state of blues.
Despite the great variety of tracks, there are enough elements to back up the album heaviness and bring its high peaks even higher: powerful piano for increased drama, rural country flavor with violin playing and of course, a vindictive and troubled guitar sound.
Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters – Lullaby аnd … The Ceaseless Roar
Many themes and directions within this album. Infinite blend of styles. And still harmony, uniqueness and a degree of excellence beyond description. Who else could touch the opening lyrics of Thank You so nonchalantly evocative: “and if the sun refused to shine” brings back not only memories from Led Zeppelin era, it brings back an entire bordering universe.
Everything he pours down turns into something new, without being avant-garde. He’s like a guru achieving the ultimate nirvana and laying upon us his experience acquired through his entire artistic journey. Not a happy album, at least not in depth. But it melts wisdom with sadness in such heartbreaking ways. The album is charming, is magical, is full of bitter sweet search for comfort. It’s an album which can dissipate and sooth at the same time.
It’s so beautiful that it hurts.
Pink Floyd – Endless River
A recent video overtook all possible reviews to this album and make my own superflous. It’s an interview with David Gilmour and Nick Mason talking about the album, its concept, Rick Wright’s contribution and more. Just some insight now but you can watch here the noteworthy 9 minutes of the video.
The Endless River is the first album in 20 years, after The Division Bell and it’s the first album since Richard Wright passed away. It contains material composed during the session of The Division Bells which was mostly recorded in 1993. The plan at that time was to make The Division Bell a double album, half of it with songs and half more ambiental, but the purely instrumental passages remained unused.
Until this release.
It It Anita – It It Anita
Now and then, in certain geographical spaces, people come together, start playing in bands with their friends, open concerts for each other, local record labels appear along, a pool of fans is created and the whole thing has no recipe, it just happens. This is the description of a music scene and I believe it is also happening in Liège. IT IT ANITA comes from Liège, Belgium and embraces an interesting style for which they came out with the name of Post-90s. Their self-titled debut EP is a breath of fresh air in an industry full of bands trying too much either to be original or copy others. Deeply rooted in the 90s, yes, but they took all they have inherited from their influences and give forth something creative, energetic and coherent.
Sonic roughness but with in-touch emotional layers, good melody, double vocals, plenty of spontaneous mixture of styles from punk to post-rock, a very good definition of alternative rock music. An album definitely full of ideas to be developed in the future. No wonder they have already caught the attention of an oversea producer for their next release… Looking forward to.
Perverted By Language – Boxers
Perverted by Language is the title of a notorious album released by The Fall in the ‘80s. None of the songs on that record have this title. But, coincidentally or not, Perverted By Language is also the name of a Brussels-based group. And on their first full LP – Boxers – there is a track entitled Perverted by Language. With such huge reference on their shoulders and a musical style extremely close to the post-punk scene, it’s pretty understandable why the band had to state that “We never set out to sound like anything or anyone.” Perfectly reasonable because “perverted by language” is a quite significant stand-alone phrase.
The album is very emotional, dark and touching. The voice of Jeremy Thomas is powerful and rich, the bass line is distinctive, tracks like Amandine make links to different universes, as the one of Mark Lanegan, the guitars can go heavy and overall, the album has a more sonorous message than Joy Division’s. Why? Because it has the necessary anger and cynicism to allow thinking outside the box and fighting demons like boxers.
¡Pendejo! – Atacames
Let’s begin with a simple question.
¡Pendejo! is a rock band from: a) Spain b) Argentina c) Columbia d) The Netherlands
The correct answer is … The Netherlands.
It’s even more difficult to coin their style but it’s definitely not among the doom, gothic, symphonic, black, death metal that abounds in the territories. Coming from Amsterdam, the band was formed in 2006 by two cousins with Latin American heritage and a common passion for music. Atacames is their second album entirely in Spanish and it has been released in April this year.
Traditional rhythms blended with heavy riffs, trumpets with sludge guitars, ethnic drumming with rough vocals. Songs ranging from serenades to sludge. These guys have created their own universe and rock the world by their rules. A courageous album, an audacious band.
Georgio ‘the Dove’ Valentino – Mille Plateaux
A mysterious and étrange artist of Greek-American origins, who was born in Florida, lived in Detroit, moved to Brussels and performs under an Italian alias … His latest album – a double LP – carries the name of a French philosopher’s book. Four chapters of beautiful music which might unconsciously bring back here and there bits of riffs you may think you recognize from your experience as a music aficionado (Secret Chief 3, Mark Lanegan, Mike Patton …). But these prove to be just random neural connections; there is no place for confusion here: with such spatial background and artistic sensitivity, Georgio ‘the Dove’ Valentino is one of a kind. One should not be discouraged by the length of the record – Valentino’s style is pure invitation of diving into a world where the time stops.
There is probably at least one concept hidden beyond each song. Each new audition brings along new understandings, more nuances, richer, deeper and clearer than the previous. If you plan falling in love with a fine piece of art, here it’s your record. All you need to do is finding a Sunday afternoon. The rest has been exquisitely taken care of.
‘68 – In Humor and Sadness
With all the grunge revival around this year, partially erupting from the commemoration of 20 years of Cobain’s death, partially due to Nirvana’s Hall of Fame’s induction and most probably to the awakening other grunge band members, here it is an album which raises above any resemblance to the genre, but still goes as close as it gets to the notorious Nirvana’s Bleach.
Immediately after his former mathcore band The Chariot broke up, Josh Scogin started working on a duo project called ’68, with the drummer Michael McClellan. In Humor and Sadness started off from a couple of songs which did not really fit in The Chariot and became a concept album. The record does not fit in any styles coming out from the music scene nowadays either. The songs are spontaneous, noisy and desperate, garage like, melodic and brutal with plenty of influences from the noise rock scene. The title tracks are numbers from one to ten and all together spell “Regret not.”
Noise fans might like it, hardcore fans might hate it. It does not matter as it’s one of the most interesting releases of this year.
Reptile Youth – Rivers That Run for a Sea That Is Gone
New band in town, but nevertheless not that new. Reptile Youth is a band from Copenhagen, they formed in 2009 and this is their second album.
‘Rivers that run for a sea that is gone’ was preceded and followed by plenty of shows around Europe in more than ten countries.
A duo, Mads Damsgaard Kristiansen (vocals, keyboards) and Esben Valløe (bass), which teams up with other members to perform their songs live.
Heavy ultra-disco sound, the 80s revival with controversial videos and artwork, they smartly blend everything you can think of in terms of disco music to make their own provocative sound. Live, they’re a delight.
Lola Colt – Away from the Water
Dark and seductive, with a name taken from a spaghetti western movie, Lola Colt takes us back in the 60s for a psychedelic trip without being too retro or too ambiental.
It melts together Jefferson Airplane and Patty Smith, fuzzy guitars, tambourine, tons of tension and an outstanding production.
Gun Overbye’s has a great voice which dominates the entire album.
One of London’s most gifted new acts.
Animal As Leaders – The Joy of Motion
The title says it all.
Probably their lightest album so far, but if put in the context after their debut album which was mind-blowing and after Weightless which was brilliant but a bit overdone, The Joy of Motion it’s just the perfect thing. It has definitely kept the original sound, the technicality but brings on a natural feeling of playing, comfortable even with more syncopated riffs. That’s the joy part.
What’s notable is that it’s a fully instrumental which has enough movement, shifts, motives, themes to keep your attention high throughout the tracklist. You simply cannot push the stop button. That’s the motion part.
The above mentioned context makes it also clear that AAL have not yet exhausted of their potential. Not even far.
Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds
Machine Head has been constantly around since 1991, delivering good album after good album, never letting down and offering exactly what it’s expected from them. Plus more.
The album is full of masterpieces which either bring back the strong violent sound of Burn My eyes like Killers and Kings, either come with the specific anger and strength of Machine Head sound, like Eyes of the Dead, Ghosts Will Haunt My Bones or Night of Long Knives. The soft sweet string opening of Now We Die announces some songs which are not necessarily heavy metal like Sail into the Black or Damage Inside, still powerful enough not to break the strongness of the record. The violent social message is not left out on this album either, in the end it’s all about “The true nature of human nature”.
A solid album which allows them to consistently move forward.
Architects – Lost Forever // Lost Together
Metalcore is a genre on which the commercial exploitation of the early 2000s stuck plenty of clichés to the point where the original scenery couldn’t be recognizable anymore in the modern scene elements. And it’s probably the genre with the most obvious battle between having good productions and commercial success.
Despite the title, the latest Brighton four-piece’s album might just confirm that in the year 2014 the battle has not been lost. On the contrary.
Instead of adventuring into uncharted territories in search for another marketable formula, they grabbed everything they had so at hand and have perfected it. An album that stays melodic without loosing its aggressiveness. No compromise, just setting the bar higher.
Lost Forever // Lost Together was recorded in Sweden and benefits from the production of Fredrik Nordström, propelling the British Architects in the genre’s top acts, next to In Flames, Arch Enemy or At the Gates.
Godflesh – World Lit Only by Fire
This October, the Industrial metal legends Godflesh released their first album in 13 years.
It took to Justin Broadrick more than 10 years to get Godflesh reunited. Just as for Michael Gira with Swans. A daring parallel for two groups huge in significance and impact but I make it because now we have two examples which unstick the label of dinosaur reunions from the heavy music scene.
The album title is a reference to William Manchester’s book A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance – Portrait of an Age (1992). The first track is called New Dark Ages. Draw the line and see where this is leading…
It’s not a reunion album issued to comfort fans’ melancholy and empty their pockets for bringing back cheap memories. The music is full of substance, giftedly raw, as mechanically aggressive as ever. It’s not a nostalgic album either. It’s the same band which depolarizes the boundaries between electronic and heavy music, re-branding itself within the new technologies of nowadays.
Swans – To Be Kind
I doubt there were many out there to expect another Swans album just two years after it predecessor, considering that in 2006 a Swans reunion was out of the question. The Seer was a miracle. To Be Kind was a huge wonderful surprise. And a Swans album titled To Be Kind … you need straight away to know what it is about, because undeniably this can’t be taken literally. Gira follows the same musical legacy as on The Seer, with tracks of repetitive rhythms circularly combined as in exorcising ritual, but the repetition is never exactly the same. The lyrics follow the same approach, short phrasing, repetitive, but annihilating any sense established just two words before… an incredible work of finding meaning in nihilism and rupture.
By the end of the album, you still don’t know if it was about love, kindness, childhood, bad things or hope. I guess it was about none of these. I guess it was indeed about being lost and found in sound. Reaching the ecstasy, as Gira so often declares.
Wovenhand – Refractory Obdurate
Anyone once enchanted by the dark magnetism of 16 Horsepower has at least the curiosity to see what’s next in the world of David Eugene Edwards, no matter if he had switched the sound to something heavier in between.
The religious content is a constant but what he offers on Refractory Obdurate is not a sermon. The title juxtaposes two words which both stand for the word obstinate. It is a work full of personal turmoil and relentless search, a state neighboring a continuous fight between truth and doubt, an open list of unanswered questions.
The passion coming out from the record is so strong, dark and agitated that it makes one feels uneasy. Could it be because behind the biblical myths may be hidden metaphors which still cast their terror on the day-to-day life?
The Cosmic Dead – Easterfaust
They are from Glasgow and they call themselves “Scotland’s foremost Hawkwind tribute band. And no less mind.”
They formed in 2010 and have already released since then an impressive amount of recording.
Easterfaust offers an outer-space journey carefully built from an 8-minute opening of pleasant psychedelic riffs to a cosmic blow up. It starts in a seductive slow and weighty floating to expand into a stormy sound wall by adding layer after layer of cosmic texture.
It has reverb vocals, moaning fuzzy guitars, hypnotic bass, breathtaking drumming. Recorded live, each audition it’s a trip in itself. No way to escape the trance.
Iordache – Garden Beast
Garden Beast is concept album inspired by the nearest natural habitat that urban life may have access to: the backyard.
There is a subtle link here, executed with the most candid and valid sense of humor: Mihai Iordache is also a nature lover, taking the civic duty to improve and protect the natural environment very seriously. Therefore, the album summons consideration to most simple natural wonders which surround and brings us joy.
The songs are quite descriptive with melodic solos, keyboard layers and tempered endings. The album title track Garden Beast stands for an excellent choice as opening track, the first expressive sounds of bass are promising an irresistible audition. Captain Rabbit continues at the same note of funky dance grooves. Summer Rain goes deeper into free style with excellent saxophone and guitar solos. My Dog Zorro brings a pleasing bossa-nova feeling while the Pond Reflection is exquisitely evoking an entire brass band.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
At the beginning of this year in January, Efrim Menuck released his seventh album with Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra.
Under a title that expresses at the same time anger (Fuck off, get free) and optimism (we pour light on everything), six tracks to back up a statement given in an earlier interview: ‘Rage is a good source of hope.’ An insightful album on fighting the darkness without even mentioning it, a record full of metaphors and stories about overcome abandons, desperation and dealing with frustration and pain.
An artistic endeavor, nevertheless personal. The album opens with what Efrim’s four-year-old son, Ezra is telling us: ‘We live on the island called Montreal, and we make a lot of noise because we love each other.’ And ends with a testimony on music: ‘Tout ce qu’on peut dire c’est que la musique c’est vraiment une façon de vivre et pas quelque chose qu’on fait pendant le week-end. It’s what you are, it’s how you live, it’s the things that you do.’
tētēma – geocidal
What makes Patton’s recordings so Mike Patton-like? A certain level of high tonality, a sophisticated mixture of noise and harmony, all kind of esoteric, world music and tribal riff combined with heavy metal, plus the madness of the vocal parts. And the teams-up he does with other magnificent musicians.
tētēma – his latest project with the Australian composer and pianist Anthony Pateras – makes no exception. Their debut LP Geocidal was released on December 9 via, of course, Ipecac Recordings.
The story of the record as told by Pateras:
“Geocidal started when I locked myself in a convent in rural France for 10 days to think about rhythm and sound.” “I then went to Paris to record the drums and prepared piano with Will Guthrie…that was the first thing to go down, then all kinds of analogue electronics, followed by orchestrations including strings, winds, brass and orchestral percussion.” The vocals were recorded then in San Francisco with Patton. “We had the craziest 48 hours together, and somewhere in between finishing each other’s thoughts, it became apparent to us that this music was going to be very, very special.”
Beck – Morning Phase
I’m not into melancholic soft music, but the album is outstanding, the live tour was outstanding and … Beck needs a hug!