I’ve personally hijacked Epitonic’s best of list this year due to how busy everyone at Epitonic has been. Over the past year we launched a music and comedy festival to celebrate our 15-year anniversary and in addition to our editorial have been busy with a label and management company… no wonder we (gasp) failed to finish our extensive and comprehensive staff best of last year and publish it. This list is pretty fitting for Epitonic, as it focuses mostly on artists who have been around for a while… like us!
Interpol – ‘El Pintor’
Some are quick to move on from Interpol these days, perhaps blowback from the band’s quick rise to success and iconic sound which seemed to be borrowed by every other new band of the era of their debut album. Their albums did seem to digress into a “where do we go from here” syndrome, until now. ‘El Pintor’ did what every band with an identity crisis should do, write a rock record. Bandleader and guitarist Daniel Kessler clearly made a point to create something special by composing guitar lines that are as melodic as they are complex. Drummer Sam Fogarino, does what he is best at as well, creating tension threaded throughout powerful dance beats. Paul Banks provides some of their catchiest work, but in a subtler manor. It’s worth noting Banks does a solid job playing bass on the record as well. Don’t overlook this album, it easily one of the best of the year.
Blonde Redhead – ‘Barragan’
Similar to Interpol, many have likely given up on Blonde Redhead due to their longevity and their inconsistency over the past few years. Don’t get it wrong, they’ve made good records, like their second to last, 2007’s crushing ’23.’ But the albums before and after that were forgetful. Their last album, 2010’s ‘Penny Sparkle’ was a particularly bland attempt at making an electronic pop album. ‘Barragan’ is their best since their heyday Touch and Go era catalog (Editorial Disclosure: I represented these albums at Touch and Go for several years), it takes the experimentation of ‘In an Expression of the Inexpressible,’ removes the noise, and creates a delicate yet adventurous success. The danger with being as experimental as Blonde Redhead, is that experiments sometime fail. What succeeds with ‘Barragan’ is the space and patience as exhibited by the opening title track, which is seemingly recorded outdoors with a flute and an acoustic guitar. The album slowly crescendos from there, making it as engaging as it is beautiful.
Shellac – ‘Dude Incredible’
Another band that seems to have gained clarity for a record this year, Shellac has outdone themselves with no gimmicks, and no difficult art pieces. This Shellac record rocks and still provides the tension and curve balls that we have come to expect from Albini, Weston, and Trainer, but this time they stick with their strengths and keep it simpler. This is also the first non-reissue / archival new music Touch and Go Records has put out in several years. Enough said, crucial record (Editorial Disclosure: again I represented Touch and Go for several years).
Survival Knife – ‘Loose Power’
Unwound is one of my favorite bands of all time, and all of the members have been quite for several years. Then Unwound reissues surfaced, as did each member with new projects. When Unwound singer and guitarist Justin Trosper introduced this band, and with original Unwound drummer Brandt Sardeno on second guitar in Survival Knife, I tracked down information and recordings immediately. This album held up to my expectations and furthermore, their live show is even better. Similar to what I witnessed by watching and playing on several Unwound tours, it’s a pretty typical example of a band writing a great record, then playing it more and it getting better. I would describe this album as Unwound meets Black Flag meets Bloodiest, so how can you go wrong?
Aphex Twin – ‘Syro’
I will make this short because everyone has written about this album in their top ten this year… everyone was dying to hear this album, as well they should have been. This man creates five to ten classic beats or sequences in each song. ‘Syro’ speaks to what electronic musicians need to think about in this age of convenience and ubiquitous streams, musicians need to have vision, have patience, and basically take their time. Aphex Twin may have taken time but it was worth it. One final thought is the appeal of almost a retro / classic Warp sound. When you are the most iconic Warp artist of all time, how do you top yourself? With so many of my favorites of the year, Richard James just stepped back and rocked it with a surgical flair. But his sound stepped back and paid tribute to his label-mates Squarepusher and even Luke Vibert.
Flying Lotus – ‘You’re Dead!’
This is another album written about in everyone’s top ten so no need to go into gratuitous detail. Basically if Flylo makes an album I will obsess over it. He is one of today’s great artistic visionaries. Unlike many of my other favorites of the year, he did not keep this album simple, just the opposite; this album is a sensory overload head-trip from bar one. If you are fan of his aunt, Alice Coltrane, you can bask in the fact that he pays quite a bit of tribute to her on this album with time signature overload and sonically entrancing pieces. The Kendrick Lamar feature on the single is top of mind for most, but the inclusion of Snoop Dogg’s verse on the title track is surprisingly perfect.
Clark – ‘Clark’
A third Warp Records selection, they had an amazing year… I own and love every Clark album, but this one is unique. The sound, and again, like others I’ve selected, the patience from a mature and self-realized artist is so refreshing. Perhaps that is why the album is self-titled, due to a simplistic self-reflection. Unlike his last album, he sticks to pulsing hissing electronics as opposed to commendable but less groundbreaking pop sensibility from recent recordings. Similar to the new Aphex Twin, there seems to be a classic Warp aesthetic surfacing from their elders.
Cloud Nothings – ‘Here and Nowhere Else’
I prefer the complexity of their previous album ‘Attack on Memory,” but ‘Here and Nowhere Else’ is still easily on this list. It is hard to put into words what makes Cloud Nothings so special, because it’s relatively simple, but they are the perfect conduit for infectious fast noisy post pop punk.
Thurston Moore – ‘The Best Day’
Sonic Youth is another favorite of mine. In fact, the first ever SY tracks ever given away for free on the Internet were selected by myself and posted on Epitonic thanks to the permission and collaboration with Interscope when they re-released their back catalog. I even interviewed Lee Ranaldo who called me out for only selecting Thurston’s songs as my favorites… oops!
With all of personal surrounding the breakup of Sonic Youth, let’s simply focus on Thurston being one of the most unique and influential musicians ever. After losing count of his output in SY and solo over the past several years, this reset and change in direction has been a refreshing new perspective. His last Beck-produced solo album was gloomy and seemed to dodge his legendary strengths. Then comes Chelsea Light Moving, which was a ragged overlooked gem and glimpse into his revived spirit. ‘The Best Day’ is amazing and is what I hoped for to move forward after SY… it’s got the thoughtful guitar lines and lyrics with that lazy swagger that you come to expect and hope for from indie rock’s godfather.
Thee Oh Sees – ‘Drop’
A couple of years ago I really became obsessed with this band, and then they claimed that they were going on hiatus. So 2014’s Drop was a really a thrilling surprise. Their spastic pop approach is as sharp as ever, but they’ve slowed it down into a fuzzed out psychedelic backbeat. They’ve definitely had their Syd Barrett and early Pink Floyd records on the record player for inspiration, and it completely works.