Archive for the ‘The War on Drugs’ Category

Jack Midalia’s Top 10 Albums of 2014

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

10. YOB — Clearing the Path to Ascend
Clearing the Path to Ascend is not easy going. From just before the five minute mark of album opener ‘In Our Blood’, things really kick in as the Oregon band slow drip doom into our ears. With vocals that swing between the hauntingly beautiful and the brutal, coupled with merciless and punishing instrumentation, Clearing the Path to Ascend is a four-track, hour-long journey into dark territory. The record briefly picks up the pace a bit on the second track, ‘Nothing To Win’, before ‘Unmask The Spectre’ and ‘Marrow’ settle things back down to get the listener ready for more slow-pummelling. YOB throw enough diversity and moments of respite onto the record to keep your attention and stop things getting too monotonous, but Clearing the Path to Ascend is overwhelmingly a loud, brutal and brilliant ride.

9. REAL ESTATE — Atlas
Real Estate’s Atlas is a summer album that’s perfect for winter. There’s enough of everything you know and love from Real Estate to make this record a perfect companion to a sunny day (reverby, cutting lead guitars and playful, pretty instrumentation), but there’s enough of a hint of melancholy, both lyrically and musically, to make Atlas perfect for a winter night with a scotch by the fireplace. While not quite up there with Days, there’s no doubt that Atlas represents a maturation of Real Estate’s sound to something that, despite sounding simple and effortless, is a complex and dense work.

8. SILVER MT. ZION — Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
In case you didn’t know what you were getting into with Silver Mt Zion, the band has helpfully named their latest record to remove any impressions this might have been a quiet folk release or something like that. Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything is a cacophonous and beautiful mess.

The album begins with a recording of Efrim Menuck and Jessica Moss’ child (“We live on the island called Montreal and we make a lot of noise, because we love each other”) that could be an introduction to Fuck Off Get Free… or, equally, a summation of the bands’ worldview. Musically at least, there’s a feeling of celebration and joy, albeit mixed in with heavy doses of the usual Silver Mt Zion protest and anger and depressing song titles. ‘What We Loved Was Not Enough’ forms the centre of the album, telling the story of apocalypse, self-destruction, riot, war and poverty. Nestled in all that mayhem, however, is a little sliver of optimism — the hope that our children will be strong and selfless enough to live like we couldn’t.

7. BILL CALLAHAN — Have Fun with God
I may be bending the rules ever so slightly in putting this record in here, in that Have Fun with God is a dub version of last year’s Dream River. However, as I somehow overlooked Dream River in 2013, I’m partly using this as an opportunity to make up for it.

On Have Fun with God, Callahan’s voice takes less of a front-seat to the instrumentation, augmented with buckets of echo and reverb. It’s an interesting experiment on Callahan’s part, and the songs on Dream River generally work well in this new format. Have Fun with God manages to be both bleak and uplifting at the same time, while maintaining the late-night-listening feel of its predecessor. Somehow sounding unrelentingly sparse, even with additional effects, Have Fun with God is a welcome addition to Callahan’s catalogue.

6. PIXIES — Indie Cindy
Terrible title and a lack of Kim Deal aside, the first Pixies’ record since 1991 is a welcome return. From the opening track, ‘What Goes Boom’, it’s clear that Indie Cindy might occasionally be a little bit Pixies-by-numbers, but after 13 years it’s just nice to have new Pixies material. Tracks like ‘Blue Eyed Hexe’ and ‘Bagboy’ are right up there with the band’s best work; Frank Black’s voice swings between nonchalant cool to piercing scream as well as ever, Dave Lovering remains one of my favourite understated drummers in rock, and Joey Santiago’s guitar still gives me goosebumps. The hooks are still there, the tunes are still there… what’s not to love?

5. THE WAR ON DRUGS — Lost in the Dream
Lost in the Dream is another effortlessly dreamy walk into Americana from The War on Drugs. The Philadelphia outfit stick to what they do best — pounding freight-train drums and conspicuous nods to Springsteen, mixed with liberal doses of reverb and psych meanderings. Tracks like ‘Under The Pressure’, ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ and ‘In Reverse’ continue the tradition of excellent War on Drugs road trip songs, while ‘Suffering’ and the title track give a taste of the band in ballad mode.

It’s heartening to see a band that has been slogging away for a while now start to get the traction that Lost in the Dream appears to have received. It’s certainly well deserved.

4. SWANS — To Be Kind
Michael Gira is a without a doubt the scariest human being on the planet. Swans at their loudest and heaviest are a terrifying beast, but it’s the quiet moments of To Be Kind in which Gira seems to be at his sneering, menacing worst. Boasting more than a hint of the industrialism of Einstürzende Neubauten, this is a record I would regularly put on as background music, only to find I’d that I’d either stopped whatever I was doing and that an hour had passed in the blink of the eye. There are certainly worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

Additional mention of the cover art, which is either the best or the worst album artwork of 2014.

3. SHELLAC — Dude Incredible
Dude Incredible simply gets the job done. Clocking in at just over half an hour, the record is Shellac stripped of anything that might be considered superfluous, leaving less a record and more a precise, surgical airstrike. From the prowling bass of ‘Riding Bikes’ to the snarl of ‘All the Surveyors’, Dude Incredible manages to pack real menace into an austere half hour. Nothing is overused and nothing is overdone (both in terms of songwriting or production), a fact that won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows Shellac and Albini’s form. Key tracks include: ‘Dude Incredible’, ‘All the Surveyors’, and ‘Gary’.

2. PARQUET COURTS — Sunbathing Animal
This record followed me around all year, whether it was the solid month where I basically listened to nothing else, the fact that most people in my life were obsessed by it, or seeing the cover art on a 10-metre-high mural — Sunbathing Animal was inescapable. It seemed to have wormed its way into all corners of my existence, so the high rating of Sunbathing Animal might be due to some kind of musical Stockholm Syndrome as well as the fact that it’s a brilliant record.

All the usual suspects are here in terms of a detached, super-hip influence: Modern Lovers, Pavement, Velvet Underground, etc, but there’s enough originality and personality on this record to make it more than the sum of its parts. The selling point of Parquet Courts is that perfect Malkmus-style “loose but still in total control” balance between technical ability and sloppy noise. Having said that, the quieter moments on Sunbathing Animal (‘Dear Ramona’, ‘Raw Milk’) are certainly worth a listen as well.

Highlights include: “What Color is Blood”, “Bodies Made Of”, “Black and White” and “Instant Disassembly”.

Note: They put out two records this year, but I haven’t spent enough time with Content Nausea to include it here so Sunbathing Animal it is for spot number two.

1. HARMONY — Carpetbombing
I knew this was my number one record of 2014 from the first time it entered my earholes. Combine ragged guitar with soaring crescendos and breathtaking harmonies, nuanced songwriting and stark-but-beautiful production, and you’ve got one hell of an album. It’s a distinctly Australian-sounding record, in the same difficult-to-explain way that The Drones sound Australian beyond merely the accents.

I could throw around adjectives all day, however to put it simply: Carpetbombing nails the balance between the beauty and trauma of being alive and condenses it into 43 minutes of music that demands to be played loud and with total attention.

Check out Life is Noise’s Top 10 Albums of 2014 and check back later this week for more of our writers’ best records of the year.