As summer in Chicago (finally) starts to fully kick in, the Vans House Parties are just getting warmed up. The last couple of months have seen shows curated by everyone from Vince Staples to The Breeders to Julien Baker, with more on the way from Taking Back Sunday, Anderson .Paak, The Rapture, and Converge. Yeah, it’s a pretty stacked lineup. It all happens at the House of Vans Chicago location in the West Loop, and every show is 100% FREE based on capacity and advance RSVP.
Thursday night’s House of Vans show was headlined and curated by alt-R&B artist BANKS, who also happened to be celebrating the release of her new album |||. It marked her first proper show in close to two years, and she used that gap to recharge, write/record new songs, and compose a book of poetry with illustrations (that’s titled Generations of Women from the Moon and will be out soon). Some of her poetry and artwork was on display as part of a special installation at the venue, which was a nice addition (and complement) to the music itself.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!