Top 10 Albums of 2014 – #5: Tremors by SOHN

19 Dec

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A poppier iteration of James Blake, SOHN stole my attention throughout the whole month of April when Tremors dropped. It endured all year, and now here it is, the fifth best album of the year. Because love lost is more than just painful, it’s poetry.

This album does not overwhelm. It remains steady and engaging, but somehow managed to take hold of all my senses as I listened to it. The vocals are soft and endearing, and the lyrics are polite and honest. For all the reasons that it shouldn’t be an album to bother listening to, it becomes an album not to miss.

The opening track, “Tempest,” displays his favorite mixing technique of layering cut melodies over one another to create a rhythm for the song to follow. He adds in gentle lyrics and a bass line, and even some drums make the song danceable. And then he strips it down again, just to enjoy the echoes in the background with the original rhythm. And the rest of the album follows. “The Wheel” makes it very clear that, although his lyrics can seem simple and cliché at times, they work with all the emotional levels of music behind it. “Bloodflows,”my favorite track on the record, gives the appeal of focusing on SOHN’s heartbreak with an average, even banal melody behind the vocals, then breaks my own heart with the riff halfway through the song.

Tremors is not an unexpected album but it pulls no punches. Like your favorite Radiohead album, you are unable to focus on anything but SOHN as the tracks wear on. A beautiful snapshot of the status quo, Tremors is one of 2014’s best albums.

Tremors is out now. For more information on SOHN, visit his website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Soundcloud.

Top 10 Albums of 2014 – #6: Hozier by Hozier

19 Dec

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Andrew Hozier-Byrne has always had a great voice; the son of a musician and former vocalist for Irish choral group Anúna, Hozier, as he is known mononymously, features a soulful, canonical croon that creates a saturnine environment that is as deep and dark as it is oddly inviting and pious. Hozier is a vocal contradiction – a paradoxical combination of ardor and mournfulness. His music follows along with the formula, bluesy and lugubrious mixed with Stax records southern soul and upbeat Black Keys’ like rhymes. It is inviting and mesmerizing; one is immediately attracted to Hozier’s voice and rhythm; plus, the lyrics feature an eclectic gospel religiousness that only the credulous would believe is reverent.

Hozier released his eponymous first album back in September, and the album features staples like “From Eden” and “Take Me to Church.” It received predominately positive criticism when it was released and is looked at favorably in the top 10 album lists, including the Music Court’s list. While many cite the two songs above as those that spark the album’s daedalus and popularity, I have been drawn to a different song: “Angel of Small Death & The Codeine Scene.

The song begins with segmented guitar that bounces with the rhythm like a downcast Christmas song. This drives into a percussion-riff, harmonized chorus that uses Fleet Foxes-like harmony and a Black Keys-like solo to wrap it us; in this chorus, Hozier reveals his vocal range, which is quite impressive.

The 13-track release is a passionate debut by a rising Indie/rock superstar. It is well worth a close listen straight through. You’ll be surprised with Hozier’s exciting diversity. He is a musical chameleon; he can change into mostly anything. Listen and enjoy.

Enjoy this cover of “We are Young” by Hozier (just for kicks).

Top 10 Albums of 2014 – #7: Photay by Photay

17 Dec

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What a year for Aphex Twin. Syro in its own right is an instant classic, making it onto many of these top ten lists that are going around. He also released a set of tracks that could easily have made up another double-album on his Soundcloud. I’m sure it took a load off, finally releasing material he had written and been working on since the 90s. Coincidentally (or serendipitously?), it was also a good year for longtime fan, Evan Shornstein. As well as probably celebrating new Aphex Twin, Shornstein, under the moniker Photay, celebrated his own (mini) album release.

The eponymous record begins with a detox. I found this ironic, because, rather than have signs of painful withdrawal, the track builds up and foreshadows what is ahead. Then I realized I wasn’t cleansing myself of the toxins of the music, I was using the music to cleanse myself. I let Seafloor lift me up during “Deconstruct”; the sassless horns were my scripture. The brass on the entire album is stunning, complementing the smart basslines and beats. I shuddered at the static tickling my eardrums. “Illusion of Seclusion” is the vinyl finale, promising a wondrous infinite unknown. But the digital bonus tracks won’t just leave it there.

The final three tracks are their own act, all part of the epilogue. It is the evening in a dusty town, where you can hear fun being had without you. You let your nostalgia warm you. (But the seclusion is an illusion.) You are invited inside to dance, and suddenly there are people around you, so many people. You had no idea this many people could even be near you, how many people are there? How small are we in comparison?

Photay (the mini album) is out now via Astro Nautico. (Photay is also a full length release available on his Bandcamp.) For more information on Photay, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud.

Top Albums of 2014 – #8: “This is All Yours” by alt-J

17 Dec

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English Indie band alt-J (actually a Latin delta – alt-J on a keyboard gives you a delta) is actually very much like the symbol that gives the band its name. alt-J, like a delta, is perfectly harmonious and synchronized, a equal splash of 3 lines all meeting together to form a perfect triangle. alt-J, similarly, is an array of colorful sounds, a palette of droning Indie pop/rock that sticks to you like a hot summer day and, like that day, blazes a warm sun on you and invites you to get soaked by the tunes.

This is All Yours, the band’s second studio album, is a 13-track testament to how to create a successful album. The album swoons to a mystical rhythm that creates a wonderful array of music – like the colors on the album – that is just delightful. It has met with tremendous success since its release in September of this year. Perhaps the best track on the album is the one that has received the most play of late, “Left Hand Free.”

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The song’s initial riff is gruff like gravel and the vocals match it – it’s almost like a calculated move by an older drunk individual who is able to control his alcohol; I mean that as a dear compliment. There is also something quite malicious and mischievous about the music; I feel like something bad is happening, but I don’t know what it is. It’s strange. It doesn’t sound like anything around today, and because of this unidentifiable swagger – fit with synth horns and 60s keyboard – the song and album finds a way onto the Music Court track.

Top 10 Albums of 2014 – #9: Xen by Arca

15 Dec

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Not all music is easy to listen to. Sometimes the most inaccessible music is made with the most talent and emotion behind it. I have been hanging onto Xen by Arca for some time, mulling it over and even considering it for a best track of 2014 spot with “Theivery.” Ultimately, I decided that to honor one track from this 15 song epic would be unfair; the entire album deserves recognition, and has thusly been named one of our top ten albums at the Music Court.

WARNING: This video is mildly NSFW.

This album is brief, but for once I’m not complaining. Before you are even fully aware of the electro-noise, the song is over, and you are whisked off to the next sound, playing catch-up after each track. “Failed” is the intermission, a sad, slow melody that gives us a moment to reflect. We are lead back into the cacophony with the very next track, “Family Violence,” which is eerily similar to the score of Psycho. Though the sharp electronic beats are not consistent, I consider them the lyrics of the tracks, giving each one personality amid all the other musical elements. The perk of hearing a short album is the desire it leaves with you to replay it, which is something I highly recommend for any first timers. You won’t be able to comprehend the stories told on this album unless you give it a few more spins.

Xen is out now. Find more information on Arca on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud. For further reading on Xen, I highly recommend this review.

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