It seems like with each new year, the “Class of…” project gets stronger. That’s pretty much by design, though when I first introduced the Class of 2014 I wasn’t so confident it was going to work out. The Class of 2013 had set the bar almost impossibly high, what with now household names like Haim, Chvrches, Little Green Cars and Savages all part of that universe. Yet this past year’s group of 10 artists not only managed to hold their own, but one in particular rode the train to stardom and the third biggest selling record of 2014. And to think that when I made the introduction last Januaryu nobody had any idea who this artist was, to the point where a show was booked for a tiny 350 capacity venue and it took awhile to sell out. I’ll tell you all about that, and recap how the other nine artists in the Class of 2014 did after the jump!
Category: class of 2014
This is it! The final post of 2014 also marks the conclusion of Listmas and specifically this Top 50 Albums of 2014 countdown. It’s been a long road with plenty of bumps and delays along the way, but we’ve finally reached the peak of this imaginary mountain. At this point I’d like to give a special thank you to everyone who read something, clicked on something or downloaded something here at Faronheit over 2014. All of the content that’s posted here is for you to discover and enjoy, and I’m grateful for anyone who visits with that intention. It hasn’t been the best year for the site content-wise, but the hope is to generate more and return to form in 2015. Typically I’d tease a bunch of new features and exciting things in development for next year, but honestly most of that stuff either gains no traction or simply falls off never to be heard from again, so let’s just stick to the mantra of more everything and go from there.
So what can I say about these Top 10 Albums of 2014? Well, like the other entries in this list, there’s plenty of variety in terms of genre and style. It goes from weird to fun to noisy to sexy to relaxing to adventurous and back again. If you’ve been following me on Instagram these last few weeks, you’ve been given access to an early preview of the eclectic Top 5, though I can assure you that #6-10 are as equally exciting and wonderful. And hey, while I wasn’t able to write a lot of album and show reviews this year, some of the ones I did write about make an appearance here. Also worth mentioning: a particular pair of artists who are members of my Class of 2014 had an exceptionally great year, helping to continue to support that program. So I’m not going to spend any extra time talking this up. Please join me past the jump for the big reveal of my absolute favorite albums of the year.
This is the big one. Well to be more accurate, this is the START of the big one. The Top 50 Albums countdown is the cornerstone of Listmas every year, and the 2014 version is looking pretty stellar. Before we begin, let me quickly go over the basic ground rules to help explain the rankings and how records qualified for this list. Any full length record released in the United States over the course of the 2014 calendar year was eligible for inclusion. EPs are not eligible (sorry Royksopp & Robyn), nor are soundtracks (sorry Mica Levi and the Under the Skin OST), mixtapes and “Various Artists” song collections. It’s equal parts funny and sad to me that at the start of the 2013 Top 50 Albums countdown, I mentioned that the site had fallen off the wagon in terms of album reviews for that year, but promised that “in 2014, things are going to be different!” They actually were different in that the total number of album reviews declined yet again. There’s a myriad of excuses I can claim contributed to that problem, including some serious bouts with writer’s block and having a lot more general life responsibilities on my plate that snatched away the free time I’d normally spend writing. Ultimately though, I didn’t push myself hard enough to get things written and published in a timely fashion. I’ve actually got a handful of unfinished album reviews from across the year that I kept delaying until they were forgotten about. They’re all way past expiration date now, but maybe I’ll use pieces of those writings in the short capsules for each record on this list. When you really think about it, the Top 50 Albums countdown is pretty much just a mini-review marathon anyway. Almost all of these you’ll be seeing and reading about for the very first time on the site, so enjoy the surprise and suspense of what might be on the way this week. Today I’m happy to kick things off with the very first of five installments. Take a hop, skip and the jump to check out my Top 50 Albums of 2014: #50-41!
Here at Faronheit, nothing is ever truly off limits. Musically, I mean. The primary goal is to help you uncover the absolute best that music has to offer. Sometimes that takes things to a really obscure, underground place, and sometimes it’s the opposite and revels in the mainstream. Listen closely before passing judgment on anything, no matter if it’s a local band you’ve never heard of or a new Katy Perry song. Even an artist you actively dislike might somehow release something that catches your ear and makes you question everything you’ve ever known. For example, a few years back I heard a brand new song on the radio that to my ears sounded halfway decent. Imagine my shock upon being told it was a Hanson song. Not like a 1996 Hanson song, but a 2010 Hanson song. Do I like Hanson more now as a result? Not really, but I suppose I respect them more than I did before. So keep (or start) listening to any and all kinds of music that you can get your hands on, because even the darkest corners may contain some hidden gems. With that, I’m pleased to introduce the final installment of The Top 50 Songs of 2014. The first 40 songs were all fantastic, but what’s below is the cream of the crop. What you see and discover here could very well confound your expectations and disturb you to your very core. Or perhaps after listening to all of these songs you’ll give an understanding nod. There’s a little something for lovers of just about any music genre, but of course feel free to disagree with any or all of the choices as this is totally subjective. In case you missed them, here are links to all the other parts of the countdown:
And so without further ado, please join me past the jump for my Top 10 Songs of 2014.
Electronica. Indie pop. Synth pop. Experimental pop. Punk rock. Psych rock. Indie rock. R&B. You can find all of these genres and more in this next installment of Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs of 2014! Thus far, we’ve journeyed through three previous sets of 10 songs, and should you have missed them, why all you have to do is click these individual links to be taken there instantly: [#50-41] [#40-31] [#30-21]
Of course if you’d like to see all of the Top 50 Songs posts with a single click, simply choose this link. We’ve got two more rounds left, including this one right here, so follow me even further down the rabbit hole as digging continues toward the Top 10 Songs of the year. For the moment, click past the jump for #20-11!
In the formidable challenge that is counting down the Top 50 Songs of 2014, today is the day we reach the halfway point and then keep going. The songs are getting progressively better, more epic, catchier, and more emotional. That’s how lists like this work. I hope you’ve enjoyed what’s already been covered in the previous two installments. Click here to see #50-41 in the countdown. Click here to see #40-31. Is there a theme to the set of 10 songs featured in this particular post? Not that I’ve been able to discern. You’ll find a couple of hip hop tracks, a couple of R&B cuts, a couple of synth pop numbers, and some other things that can sometimes feel like they’re straight out of left field. It’s nice to get a little unpredictable from time to time. So here we go: The Top 50 Songs of 2014 #30-21!
This Top 50 Songs list is not organized in any other way than by perceived order of excellence, so when you have a look at the set of 10 below, you may be surprised at how thematically related almost all of them are to one another. It was a total fluke things worked out like that, and in fact I didn’t even notice myself until writing up this introduction. The overarching theme is love, whether you’re falling into it, out of it, or somewhere in between, which is a subject matter as old as music itself. I just looked it up, and apparently about 60% of all songs written today are about love, so I guess the similarities aren’t all that shocking after all. Anyways, let’s get right into it, shall we? This freight train keeps rolling on with #40-31 of the Top 50 Songs of 2014! Oh, and in case you missed it, here’s #50-41.
After a relatively calm and relaxing start to the weekend on Friday courtesy of artists like Sharon Van Etten and Sun Kil Moon, Saturday at the Pitchfork Music Festival found quite a bit more rhythm and energy and was all the better for it. Not only that, but with plenty of hip hop, R&B, electronica and loud rock bands to go around, it was also the most widely diverse day of the weekend. As with Friday, I attempted to scatter myself around Union Park as much as possible to get a little sample of just about everything. On the whole,the day was rather delightful. Here’s my recap of how it all went down.
I skipped out on the first couple of bands on Saturday so I could finish some writing and post my recap from Friday. That may not have been the best idea as it turns out, because I got word from a few different people that sets from Twin Peaks, Ka and Circulatory System were all incredible and some of the day’s highlights. Of course there were plenty of highlights later in the day too if you knew where to look for them. I arrived on the premises in time to catch most of Wild Beasts‘ performance, which made for a lovely start to Saturday. Their dark and at times intense melodies thankfully translated well to the sunny outdoor festival setting, and much of the crowd danced along accordingly. Singer Hayden Thorpe looked a little toasty wearing a denim suit, and given the highly sexual nature of many of the band’s songs, if he didn’t mind the warmth perhaps leather would have been more appropriate. While a majority of the set list focused on their most recent album Present Tense, they did incorporate a fair amount of older material as well, including a glorious version of “Bed of Nails.”
The last time Cloud Nothings performed at the Pitchfork Music Festival, their set got rained out about halfway through. They were in the final couple of minutes of an extended jam session when the power was cut to avoid a serious safety hazard. The band finished the song anyways, even though you could barely hear them. It was an incredible and memorable moment, one of the best in the history of the festival. Now two years later, the band still seems angry they weren’t allowed to finish their set back then. They come out like a blitzkrieg attack and throw everything they have into a rage-filled performance that doesn’t let up for more than 45 minutes. It drives the crowd into such a frenzy that security is forced to kick all of the press photographers out of the pit within two minutes due to an excess of crowd surfing and moshing. I didn’t visibly see anybody get injured during that set, but wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it happened. Still, it was an incredible display of aggression and release, which I think everyone desperately needed. Mark them down as one of Saturday’s best, no question about it.
Because he’s a member of my Class of 2014, and because his debut EP Worth is….worth your time, I stopped by the Blue Stage for a bit to see how Mas Ysa (Thomas Arsenault) was doing. For the most part, his set was going relatively smoothly. His setup was basically an army of varying different electronic machines on a table, and he spent the majority of time pushing buttons and twisting knobs to get the particular beats and sounds desired. Not the most exciting thing to watch, though Arsenault made things significantly more interesting simply by his behavior and facial expressions. When he’d be playing around with various sounds, more often than not this expression of extreme pain came across his face. Of course he wasn’t in any actual pain, it was just how the music was affecting him on an emotional level. You could hear it in his vocals too, which were also modulated with who knows what sorts of effects that emphasized his upper register while giving off the impression he was singing underwater. Those vocal moments were also when he broke away from his table of electronics to bring a greater physicality to the performance and the points he was trying to get across. My only real issue was that it didn’t always sound like Arsenault was singing on-key the whole time. Maybe it was the modulation effects or maybe it’s his own unique yelping style, but there were moments when I genuinely said to myself, “That doesn’t sound quite right.” All the instrumental stuff was fine and great, it was just the vocals every now and then that threw me off.
Speaking of throwing people off, Pusha T wasn’t exactly doing himself any favors by starting his set 35 minutes late. Apparently his DJ failed to show up on time, and that was the cause of the delay. As a result, he did his best to make the most of the 25 minutes left for his time slot. He raced through track after track, often cutting each one off after a verse or two, just to ensure he touched on the maximum amount of his catalogue. In spite of everything, it was a pretty decent set, almost as if Pusha was working extra hard to knock it out of the park to make up for the earlier issues. It makes me wonder though how much better it might have been had he used those first 35 minutes and actually performed full tracks instead of only giving us a little taste of each. Maybe next time.
tUnE-yArDs remains a formidable live act, as Merrill Garbus and her band continue to grow with each new record. When she performed at Pitchfork a couple of years ago, she was trapped on the smaller Blue Stage in the early afternoon, yet still managed to deliver one of the weekend’s finest and most remarkable performances. Now graduated to a big stage with a late afternoon slot and a gigantic crowd, she sought to make the most of it. Honestly, while I loved just about every second of the show, it also disappointed me a little. She’s touring in support of the new album Nikki Nack, and devoted much of the set list to songs from that record, which quite frankly isn’t her best. It’s not a bad record by any stretch, nor was her performance, but I feel almost like her ferocity has somewhat diminished. Like, before she was an underdog, but now she’s the alpha and is taking a victory lap. As little as a year or two ago, she would build almost every single song using loops, would go beyond what’s on record to have fun in extended jam sessions, and would invigorate the crowd by yelling things like, “Do you wanna live?” There wasn’t much of any of those things this time around, and now I kind of miss them. Her voice is as powerful as ever though, and the songs are still amazing, not to mention there’s all sorts of polyrhythms and crazy percussion. The point is, there’s still tons to love about tUnE-yArDs, just maybe not quite as much as there was before.
Saturday was a big day for my Class of 2014, and I was particularly excited to see how Kelela would fare in a festival environment. She makes some fascinating experimental R&B, which is nice because it breaks away from some of the more standard stuff that gets the bulk of the attention these days. Backed by only a DJ, she worked the stage with total confidence and control, sticking largely to tracks from her Cut 4 Me mixtape. That brought a different sort of energy to her set – one that was equal parts upbeat, sensual and intimate. The ability to conjure something like that up on a sunny, late afternoon outdoor stage is a rare quality, and it attracted more people over time like moths to a flame. That, and her smooth, syrupy vocals just made you feel good all over. I was quite impressed, mostly that she truly lived up to the hype that goes along with being a promising young artist. Whatever she does next, it should be pretty great.
There’s not a whole lot that I want to say about Danny Brown‘s set, mostly because I wasn’t paying close attention throughout most of it. When I did, all evidence suggested that the crowd was having a great time. When I say great, I mean GREAT. Like hands waving, jumping around, smiling and laughing sort of great. Perhaps that’s because Brown was powering through all of his most excessive and salacious material, while completely ignoring the more introspective and sincere tracks in his catalogue. That’s understandable given the summer festival setting, but also a bit shallow on the whole. You can celebrate with “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” and get into a “Kush Coma,” but those are the favorite topics of almost every other rapper out there. Brown could have separated himself from that world for at least part of the set, and it would have made a great difference. Instead, he told the crowd he wanted to hang out and party. Not much wrong with that. Not much right either.
What can be said about St. Vincent‘s performance at Pitchfork? Nothing really. Over the course of the last several years, Annie Clark has become a powerhouse of rock and roll. Put a guitar in her hands and watch her conquer even the most apathetic of music lovers. Following her highly choreographed live show and tour with David Byrne in 2012 and 2013, the 2014 version of St. Vincent has incorporated many of those same ideas into her sets. There are certain routines for most songs, followed very precisely by Clark and her bandmates. It lacks a certain spontaneity, but looks pretty cool. Besides there’s still plenty of room for freestyling, particularly on the guitar solos, which she absolutely ripped through on tracks like “Rattlesnake” and “Marrow.” Then there’s the slow descent into madness that is the show-stopping finale of “Your Lips Are Red,” leaving her thrashing around in the crowd and on the ground, making all sorts of sonic hell with her guitar. Not only is it thrilling to watch, but also thrilling to listen to. I’ve never ever seen a bad St. Vincent show, and sincerely hope that I never will.
My final stop by the Blue Stage on Saturday was to catch part of the set from the third Class of 2014 artist performing that day, FKA twigs. The R&B artist has been strongly building up hype over the last couple of months with the announcement of her debut album due out in mid-August, and preceded the white hot new single “Two Weeks.” Her set presented a great way to preview the new material as well as get further absorbed into the unique world that she has carved out for herself. The end results were decidedly mixed. She was supported on stage by a total of three percussionists with electric drum pads, which were used for both rhythmic purposes as well as to trigger samples and beats. In some ways her songs were even thinner and more skeletal than Kelela’s earlier in the day, which would be fine if you couldn’t hear the sounds of St. Vincent’s roaring guitar out in the distance. twigs, aka Tahliah Barnett, didn’t do a whole lot to help herself early on either, particularly as the vocals for her first song were more whispered than they were sung. Of course there was steady improvement after that, and it seemed like she found her footing as she moved around the stage dancing to the beats and softly cooing as required. Try though she might, Barnett was unable to reach the same level of intimacy nor display the same level of confidence and poise that Kelela had already shown was possible. The two artists aren’t the same and certainly have their own unique styles, just at the moment its clear one is more practiced and better at performing for a large outdoor crowd than the other. twigs managed to pull in a pretty sizable crowd who were rabid fans eager to hear material from EP1, EP2 and the forthcoming LP1, and most I’m sure felt like they got exactly what they wanted. Personally, I’m intrigued to see if a dark, indoor venue would make for a better live delivery system of her gorgeously fragile songs.
Having seen Jeff Mangum perform solo back in 2012, I was pretty sure what to expect when it came to Neutral Milk Hotel‘s headlining set on Saturday night at Pitchfork. Sure, the songs and setlist were just about the same, but it turned out to be a far different beast than anticipated. First all of the songs sounded mightier and more energized with the full band behind them. In particular, “Holland, 1945” and “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2-3” hit with such a great impact that it drove the crowd into a frenzy that included a strong push forward to get closer to the stage, followed by some actual moshing, which is not really something you’d ever expect from a Neutral Milk Hotel show. There were sing-alongs galore, especially for anything on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and the middle part of the set that was decidedly short on that material allowed the earlier insanity to mellow out a bit. The night wrapped up with Mangum taking a largely solo turn on the epic “Oh Comely,” which is exactly as it should be. With a strict no photos/filming policy (even the video screens were shut off), there was a certain comfort in knowing that the crowd wouldn’t be preoccupied with capturing the show on their phones and instead just living in that moment for once, acknowledging others around you and realizing we’re all in this together. That was probably the band’s intention, and I exited Union Park that evening feeling tired but also more connected.
Class of 2014 update! It’s been a short while since I’ve done one of these, so let’s take a look at how some of the 10 artists that are part of this year’s class are doing. Why not start with the biggest success story of them all, Mr. Sam Smith of course. His record In the Lonely Hour came out last week, and while it’s too early to tell what the sales figures are like, early estimates are looking great. His latest single “Stay With Me” is burning a hole through radios around the world, and some are calling him the male version of Adele. Here’s 27 Reasons Sam Smith Is The Angelic Voice The World Needs Right Now. Additionally, there’s been some great interviews with Smith to promote the record, including one that discusses his sexual orientation. Oh yeah, and then there was the time he covered Whitney Houston for a SiriusXM session. Pretty great. As far as FKA twigs goes, since my last report she’s announced her debut full length will be titled LP1 and has set a release date of August 12th. Ellie Goulding premiered a new single called “Two Weeks” on BBC Radio 1 the other day, and you can hear the new track here, just skip to the 30 minute mark. This September, Banks will be releasing her debut album Goddess, which I mentioned in my last Class of 2014 update. What’s new since then is that she’s released another song/video from the record called “Drowning.” So definitely watch that if you haven’t done so already. She’s also announced a fall U.S. tour in support of the album, including a stop in Chicago at Metro on October 7th. Tickets are on sale now. Speaking of tours, SAINT PEPSI is out on one with Painted Palms right now, and will in fact be stopping by the Empty Bottle in Chicago this Friday. Tickets are $10 in advance, so get on that. And while he released the Gin City EP back in February, earlier this month he did a pretty great remix of the TEEN track “Not For Long” that’s worth listening to. So that’s about all the updates I’ve got for you at the moment. In less than a month, it’s going to be like a Class of 2014 convention out at the Pitchfork Music Festival, with sets from FKA twigs, Kelela, Mas Ysa and Perfect Pussy. Needless to say, I’ll be covering that and am tremendously excited about it. Maybe I’ll even get lucky and some interviews will take place. More on all of that as it develops. Meanwhile, here’s today’s edition of Pick Your Poison, hot off the presses for you. Great tracks today come from Anamanaguchi, Brooklynn, The Holy Coast, Moska, and Oh, Be Clever. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream songs from Crater, Gold-Bears, Slow Magic, Snakeships, White Lung and Zola Jesus.
Lo-Fang, aka Matthew Hemerlein, is a very talented guy. His early singles proved as much, showing off a diverse range of styles and instruments, all of which he played himself. Throw in some pretty catchy choruses, and you’ve got all the makings of a superstar. At least that’s what it looks like on paper. He may well rise above the fray and build an audience from the ground up, and having teen wunderkind Lorde in his corner to take him out on tour will undoubtedly help push things in the right direction. What’s unfortunate however is how Hemerlein’s debut album Blue Film turns a promising singer-songwriter and composer into a small disappointment. Turns out when you focus on only one or two aspects of your songs, there are other pieces that suffer.
If Blue Film was an entirely instrumental record, it would have turned out pretty great, what with the very Andrew Bird-like mixture of guitars, violins and synths. That’s the arena where Hemerlein really proves his worth as a musician. The other half of that includes vocals and lyrics, which is where this album really takes a turn for the worse. There are clunky and awkward lines in virtually every single song, and those mouthfuls are akin to someone trying to forcefully connect two puzzle pieces together that do not fit. “I never figured out how to / Unfold your paper cranes / Origami agony,” are kind of strange and ultimately meaningless lines from album opener “Look Away,” though the hook and gorgeous composition do a great job of averting total disaster there. While the nearly seven minutes of “#88” makes it a touch too long to be an official single, it’s one of the few tracks released in advance of the record that does a fantastic job of showing off Hemerlein’s musical diversity and influences. Unforunately it too suffers from a few lines that might as well have been pulled from the book of most commonly used lyrics.
It stands to reason that even the blandest of lyrics can be made better or more colorful by a clear emotional investment from the person singing them. No matter what the subject matter of a song, from reflections on the world around you to the morality of cheating on your significant other to trying to be a better person, it seems like Hemerlein treats everything with a calm and nearly apathetic tone of voice. Even just a hint of genuine passion or the stretching of his vocal range from time to time could have given some extra life to songs that desperately needed it. Then there’s the matter of the two covers on Blue Film, both of which seem like ill-advised choices. The first is “Boris,” from the female duo BOY, which is a very dark song about sexual harassment in the music industry. These women are singing about their experience, but in Hemerlein’s hands the perspective shifts to the creepy guy offering them Codeine. If covering “You’re the One That I Want” from the musical Grease seems like a bad idea for an artist who largely deals with orchestral pop, you’d be correct. Hemerlein slows the tempo down to a delicately composed crawl, which changes the mood from upbeat and fun to downright desperate. It’s fits in perfectly with the rest of the album for that very reason, but it begs the question of why he felt the need to do it in the first place.
Prior to signing with 4AD, Hemerlein was planning to release Blue Film as a mixtape. As most mixtapes are, it probably would have been free. When the label heard what he had put together, they wanted to release it as Hemerlein’s debut album. Hindsight being 20/20, maybe they should have waited for the next batch of songs before trying to provide a proper introduction to Lo-Fang. Surely whatever he does next will be better than this.
Class of 2014 update! If I can do these once a week I absolutely will, though obviously if there’s nothing new to report then I won’t bother. But this is the third week out of the last four that there’s been things going on with class members, so I’m happy to tell you all about it. Let’s start with Saint Pepsi. His new record Gin City came out yesterday, and is available on Bandcamp as a “name your own price” download. Obviously you can get it for free if you want, but I’d encourage you to chip in at least a couple of bucks because it will help. Lo-Fang’s debut album Blue Film was also released yesterday, and you can download it from iTunes or buy a physical copy from 4AD directly. Watch him perform “#88” live on “Letterman”, and catch him on tour with Lorde this spring! Meanwhile, FKA twigs is up to new things, including a collaboration with electronica duo Inc. that’s going to include a 7″ and a zine. Enjoy this video for an untitled song that they worked on together. Last but certainly not least, Perfect Pussy’s album Say Yes to Love will be out on March 18th, but you can hear a gorgeous new song from it called “Interference Fits” over at NPR. If you’re headed to Austin for SXSW in mid-March, don’t miss the band playing all kinds of shows for everyone from Pitchfork to Stereogum to SPIN to NPR. It’s just more evidence this year is going to be a big one for them. This year also might be a big one for some of the artists who are part of today’s Pick Your Poison, one of which also happens to have the word “pussy” in it. Don’t miss tracks today from 100s, Coldair (covering Justin Timberlake), Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., DNKL, Mannequin Pussy, Reptile Youth and Scary People. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream songs from The Faint, Fear of Men, Inventions, The Mary Onettes, MØ, My Morning Jacket (covering Songs: Ohia) and Shamir.
The journey of Thomas Arsenault and his musical pseudonym Mas Ysa is a strange and interesting one. Without going into too much detail (you can find out more via your favorite search engine), he spent his youth in Canada and Brazil, before eventually making his way to the U.S. for college where he befriended some creative types and really began to play around with instruments and sounds. He’s used those connections and skills to become a legitimate recording artist, complete with a record deal and opening slots for bands like Deerhunter and Purity Ring, before 99% of the world had even heard a single note. It’s impressive, really. Is his status as part of the music world today a result of sheer talent, or simply thanks to who he knows? Well, Arsenault’s debut EP Worth provides a pretty definite answer to that question.
“Why” was the first Mas Ysa song uploaded to Soundcloud last fall for consumption by anyone willing to listen, and the nearly 6.5 minute epic drew quite a bit of the right kind of attention. Given its boundary pushing, devil may care mixture of techno, synth pop, folk and other sounds, it was a breath of fresh air and one hell of a first impression. On the EP itself it comes second, following the brief instrumental intro “Vanya.” Which brings up an important point about construction and sequencing. Worth has the nine song track listing of a full length, but clocks in at just under 30 minutes from start to finish. Five of those nine songs are instrumentals that fall between just under a minute to just over two minutes. It’s easy to think of moments like that as filler, however Arsenault does his best to give each one a unique individual identity that quietly draws your towards it, like a moth to a flame. These small sonic experiments also work as perfect segues between the longer vocal tracks, often mentally preparing you for particular tempos and feelings.
Beyond the complex narrative that is “Why,” the other three “main” songs do a fantastic job of painting a full picture of Arsenault’s skill set. “Years” closes out the EP, and is the polar opposite of the frantic energy found at the beginning. It is a sparse and haunting ballad that makes full use of Arsenault’s often quivering and wounded vocals. “Life Way Up From” does something very similar, but twists ever so slightly towards the instrumentally weird, a move made with such confidence and intention that by the time you really notice you’re already too emotionally invested to resist. By contrast, “Shame” has echoes of “Why,” particularly in its forceful vocals and brisk pace, but the overall approach is less about holding on for the ride and more about introspection.
Perhaps the best thing about the Worth EP is how it comes across as fully realized by its creator. That clarity of vision is something that most artists struggle with early on in their careers, so it’s a great sign that Arsenault has a such a steady hold on it from the get-go. Let’s hope he keeps it going for the next release.
Class of 2014 update! Every time I think there won’t be anything to report over the course of a week, suddenly a bunch of stuff happens and there’s plenty to report. So let me start today with Mas Ysa. His debut EP Worth came out a couple weeks ago and is streaming on Spotify. Or buy it from iTunes or Amazon or something. As I also mentioned on Monday, he’ll be performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. So that’s something to get excited about. Next up, SAINT PEPSI. His record Gin City will be released next week, however you can stream a brand new song called “Baby” from it in the Soundcloud section after the jump. Speaking of streaming things and albums out next week, Lo-Fang’s Blue Film is now streaming in full over at Radio.com. Of course I’m going to advise you to check that out. Last but not least, Syracuse punk band Perfect Pussy unleashed their video for the song “I” just the other day. It’s fun and shows off a little of what their crazy live show is like. Not only that, but they also unveiled a limited special edition box set of their forthcoming record Say Yes to Love (out March 18th) that features clear vinyl with singer Meredith Graves’ blood mixed in, among other items. They held it to only 180 units, and it sold out pretty quickly. So you (and I) can’t get a copy unless we find one for sale on eBay or something. It might make for a great collector’s item down the line. Anyways, that’s all I’ve got from the Class of 2014 for now. I’ll have another update for you in a week or two, along with reviews of the new albums on the way from SAINT PEPSI and Lo-Fang. In the meantime, let’s look at today’s Pick Your Poison. Good stuff in this set from Benbrick, Bent Denim, Earl Boykins, Japanther, Low Pros, Owls of the Swamp and PT Walkley. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream tracks from Amen Dunes, Cousins, King Dude & Chelsea Wolfe, Miniature Tigers, Modern Rivals, Odonis Odonis (covering Johnny Cash), and SAINT PEPSI.
The “Class of” project originated at the start of 2012, as I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s attempting to figure out exactly what there was to look forward to in the coming year. Always on the prowl for the next big thing, there was a lot to be excited about. So I decided to choose a manageable 10 artists whose career I would keep close tabs on throughout the next 12 months. When that turned out well, thanks in no small part to now nearly household names such as Frank Ocean and Grimes, the hope was to keep going. 2013 was going to be bigger and better than the previous year, and by all accounts that turned out to be true. Haim, Chvrches and Savages turned out to be the heaviest of the heavy hitters, though in the end nobody really performed poorly. In fact, last year’s class was so successful, I had concerns about 2014. How do you improve on near perfection? The short answer is, you don’t. You close your eyes, keep going, and pray for the best. And truly, I do believe that the Class of 2014 is filled with the best that music has to offer (that I’m aware of). These ten artists are interesting, innovative and actually pretty fun when you get down to it, and I anticipate greater realms of success for each one in the coming year. So join me after the jump, and allow me to introduce you to the Class of 2014!
Seeing Perfect Pussy perform is akin to an incredible workout. You’re running faster and longer than you ever have before, lifting heavier weights and doing more reps, all while your adrenaline pumps furiously to keep you going. You hit the showers feeling drained but invigorated. Then you wake up the next morning and can’t move because your body is so sore. You snap back to reality and think, “What did I do to myself last night?” But before that pain there was pleasure, and once the soreness goes away you’re stronger and healthier as a result.
Simply listening to Perfect Pussy’s debut EP I have lost all desire for feeling forces your ears to do some heavy lifting, but seeing the band live is an even louder experience for which there is no volume control. I’m not entirely sure what decibel level they’re operating at, but it’s one humans were not fully intended to handle. You know how My Bloody Valentine are one of, if not the loudest live band currently in existence? No joke, Perfect Pussy give them a serious run for their money. They may even be louder. Whereas MBV largely operate on a deep, heavy and rocketship-like rumble frequency, PP go for the screeching, high-pitched feedback-laden white noise sort of frequency. It made my earplug-less eardrums freak out and vibrate in ways that I have never experienced before. When I develop tinnitus or eventually go deaf, their show at Schubas on Wednesday night will likely be the moment I point to that started the decline. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The band’s entire headlining set lasted for just under 20 minutes. Granted, they only have an EP out with their debut full length Say Yes to Love set for release on March 18th. But they’re also a punk band, meaning a majority of their songs are under 3 minutes in length and each one feels like a blitz attack of noise. They performed their entire four track EP and a few cuts from the upcoming record, all of which bled into one another like some kind of amorphous monster. In talking with singer Meredith Graves after the show, she offhandedly mentioned that if they had continued playing much longer, she probably would have started violently puking everywhere. She wasn’t sick, but rather her unwavering commitment to the music takes so much physical and mental stamina that her body just wouldn’t be able to take it anymore. The entire band actually performs the same way, giving and leaving everything out on the stage, and I suppose that’s one of the big reasons why Perfect Pussy is so immensely compelling and quickly building in popularity.
The other main reason why is their lyrics. If you listen to any of PP’s songs, you can tell that there are words being sung/spoken/screamed, but can in no way make heads or tails of exactly WHAT is being said. That’s by design, and I can assure you it’s no clearer in a live setting. Yet on their Bandcamp they give you all the lyrics from their EP, which turn out to be intensely personal and beautifully worded. While most of the songs focus on tragic experiences, they also offer great insight and introspection about them, with lessons learned as a result. A teenage fan told Graves after the show that he goes around chanting the lyrics, “I am full of light / I am filled with joy / I am full of peace,” which close out the song “I.” It was obvious those words meant so much to him, as they do to Graves herself, who sings with so much emotion on stage that you completely understand even if you can’t make heads or tails of what words are being said.
The real tragedy is that there will be people who listen to Perfect Pussy, either on record or at a show, and immediately dismiss them as loud noise and nothing more. That’s an impulse inside of us all. But those who reject or simply don’t try to understand this band will be missing out on something incredible. Believe it or not, as abrasive as they sound PP are all about inclusion and not exclusion. They want to connect with you, embrace you and uplift you. They want to show you that good can come from even the worst situations, like that time you had your eardrums assaulted for nearly 20 minutes. And the best part is that they mean it. It wouldn’t be worth putting yourself through the sonic ringer if they didn’t.
Perfect Pussy – Driver