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I didn’t listen to everything this year. Neither did you. I have no objective way of knowing that these are (or are not) the 20 best albums released this year. Neither do you. But these are the ones I most loved and most want to spend more time with next year, and who knows, maybe you’ll find something special here too, something you missed but can connect with and find riches in, something off your usual menu that you might come to be thankful for. If that happens even once, the list will be worthwhile. And as always, if any of the musicians drop by, thank you for the work, care, commitment, and creativity represented below.

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Another year has come and gone.  2014 saw another new batch of bands arrive, some depart, and lot of great music get made.  As far as I’m concerned, 2014 in the Twin Cities will be defined by the teenagers who burst onto the scene.  Regardless of genre, it seems like a crazy amount of the best music was made by people who usually can’t get into the clubs they’re planning when they aren’t on stage.  That said there is still room on this list for a man pushing 70 and room at the top for a guy who suddenly finds himself a part of the old guard despite only having been on the scene since about 2006.

As usual, these are just my personal top 15 of the year.  I can guarantee I missed something despite my best efforts to avoid it.  In fact, City Pages just published a list of the best local punk albums of the year and I don’t recognize a couple of them.  So once I publish this list, I’ll be heading over there to explore.  For now, though, here are my favorite Twin Cities albums for 2014.

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The Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments to an ElegyThe Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments to an Elegy

A Smashing Pumpkins album with Tommy Lee on drums and a running time of a mere 32 minutes?  I’m intrigued.  Oddly, even with the incredibly short (for Billy Corgan) running time, this is one of the more varied Pumpkins albums in terms of sound.  It has the heavy rockers you expect (“One and All”), but also has quieter moments (“Being Beige”), electronic based dance tunes (“Run2me”), and is that a flute on “Drum + Fife”?  Based on the title I guess that makes sense.  Surprisingly, on first listen at least, the album holds together despite these variations, and provides a very enjoyable listen.  It is way too early to know if Monuments to an Elegy will have the stickiness of its excellent predecessor Oceania, but it has that potential.

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3

Dec

2014

Review: Sea Island by loscil

By David Smith. Posted in Ambient, Drone, Electronic, Reviews | 2 Comments »

Sea Island

Several years ago, during a visit to Vancouver, I seized the chance to make a musical pilgrimage. Loscil’s First Narrows has long been a favorite of mine, especially the title track. Languorous underlying drones create a dreamy atmosphere, meticulously placed skittering touches keep the surface complex, the bass layer is unobtrusive yet interesting once you focus there, and mid-range acoustic instruments keep a hypnotic almost-melody going to carry the whole thing forward. It’s a remarkable union of stasis and forward motion that relaxes and fascinates equally.

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Trash Kit - ConfidenceTrash Kit – Confidence

Trash Kit is a post punk trio out of England.  Being a female band leads to lots of comparisons to The Slits and Raincoats and Trash Kit certainly has the hooks those bands did, but Confidence reminds me (and this is splitting hairs a bit) more of New York No Wave acts.  It’s not quite as shambling as a Lizzy Mercier Descloux or James Chance, but there is still a sense the music could fall apart at any moment.  The songs all hang together, though, (primarily due to their throbbing tribal beats) and they present a thoroughly enjoyable whole that explores some truly wonderful melodies and sounds.

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Savages & Bo Ningen - Words to the Blind

Savages & Bo Ningen – Words to the Blind

British post punk band Savages and Japanese psych rock band Bo Ningen came together for the collaborative album Words to the Blind.  Both bands have an experimental bent to their individual work and Words to the Blind seems to have increased those individual tendencies exponentially.  The single track album starts with about four and a half minutes of Savages’ frontwoman Jehnny Beth speaking in French and Bo Ningen’s Taigen Kawabe  speaking in Japanese with only the occasional instrumental note.  It’s unclear if the two are in conversation or even if the words are related.  Thereafter, harsh drones and baselines kick in for about five minutes followed by two minutes of eeriness. 

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Arca - XenArca – Xen

Arca is a very of the moment producer (some of Yeezus and one of my favorite albums of the year FKA twigs’ LP1), and Xen is very of the moment experimental electronics.  The album is hard hitting, glitchy, full of space, and in many ways harsh.  It’s also safe to say it is where a lot of experimental electronic music will be going in the next year or two.  This is an album to listen to on headphones when you don’t have anything else going on and can wallow in the oddness.

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SOLSTØV

Walking alone this evening in an isolated spot in Texan hill country, dusk falling, a deer flashes across my path and halts a few yards away, quivering. I stop and we trade stares for a while, my stillness not quite assuaging her agitation. A bat passes erratically. A sudden movement behind me catches the corner of my eye, and I turn just as a fawn, perhaps a foot and a half high, almost stumbles into my legs. It looks up at me for a long, fragile moment, and bolts away. The moon grows brighter in a vast sky as the last light fades, the gathering night filled with air and glow and darting life and tensile peace. As I walk on I’m listening to Solstøv by Pjusk, an album not from Texas but from Norway, yet evocatively descriptive of such a night as this, a night of peace and vastness and life and surprise and glory. This walk and this music will now live together in my memory.

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Pjusk - Drowning in the Sky

Pjusk – Drowning in the Sky

I visited Ulsteinvik recently, and found time for an all-too-brief hiking excursion up along the cliffs under the guidance of a local school principal. As we clambered up steep slopes in the gathering dusk, buffeted by a stiff wind, keeping an eye out for patches of ice amid the heather, talking about fishing boats and hidden reefs, I realized that Pjusk were playing in my head. Listening to music in its country of origin is one of the perks of traveling, and I had been punctuating my trip around Norway with Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, and Biosphere, among others. But now that I was out on the bare hillside, surf threshing below, all human habitation out of sight, and the iPod safely back at the hotel, it became evident again that somewhere in my brain Pjusk’s music has become what the Norwegian landscape sounds like.

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Porya Hatami - Shallow

Porya Hatami – Shallow

 

I’ve been listening a lot to Porya Hatami recently, and it has been a delightful experience. It all started with a bandcamp sale by the Flaming Pines label to celebrate their third anniversary – a different album was offered for free download every two days. That drew my attention to their wonderful Birds of a Feather 3″ CD series, and to the first in that series, The Black Woodpecker by Porya Hatami, and that led me to his impressive new CD on Tench, which I will review below. But first a few words about The Black Woodpecker, since that was the piece that tuned my ear to Hatami’s sounds.

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