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 – #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.

Top 10 Albums of 2014 – #10: After the Disco by Broken Bells

15 Dec

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There was a time, I figure, in the wee morning hours of a Saturday in the 1970s when the last remaining bell-bottomed disco dancers stumbled onto the street, tired and bedraggled with sweat and the last remnants of a Donna Summers song, when the disco was physically empty but still bulging with the swollen heat of the night. In that small gap before the clean-up crew cleansed the disco in advance of another night of musical debauchery is where I picture Broken Bells’ second LP release, After the Disco, set and recorded. I have this image of band members James Mercer and Brian Burton climbing onto the weary stage and playing a few tracks to a crowd of memories; the music, a delightful mix of spacey modern disco tracks mixed with an alternative rock groove 20-30 years before its time. This thought exhilarates me, so much so that After the Disco is #10 on the list of top albums of 2014.

After the success of its eponymous debut in 2010 and follow-up EP in 2011, Broken Bells, a super-group made up of Shins’ frontman Mercer and revered producer Burton, was urged to release a follow-up, and After the Disco is that, a wildly entertaining, drawn-out, alt/space/rock agglutination of musical influences and decades. The album was recorded with a 4-piece choir and the 17-piece Angel City String Orchestra, which was conducted by Daniele Luppi, Danger Mouse’s partner on the 2011 album Rome. The album met with much praise, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Top Rock Album and Alternative Album chart and #3 on the Top 200 Albums list. It is an 11-track ode to music in the late 70s and early 80s, a depiction of a difficult musical transition that featured fizzling disco and incipient punk.

“Holding on for Life” is the top track on the album. It features the airy voice of Mercer in front of a tamed disco-like beat that shines like a slowed disco ball, almost like a disco track slowed down to a steady but unhurried pace. It is a song that just needs to be listened to, so I will let it do the talking.

You can check out the rest of the album on Broken Bells’ website. Make sure to follow the band on Facebook and Twitter

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