So, we are literally just half way through the year of 2014, and I am succumbing to the temptation to release a list of 15 must hear releases of 2014 (so far). This list is based on the (approximately) seventy reviews I have done so far this year. That might seem like a lot of reviews, however I am certain that it’s actually a bit more than seventy as I based it on three reviews a week, and recently I’ve actually upped the number of reviews to 5 per week.
So, here, in no particular order, are the releases that I really feel should be heard from the first half of this year.
15 Must Hear Releases of 2014 (So Far)
My first choice for this year is the second release of the three-part series from Talk Less, Say More. I was a little concerned when I first found out that this was going to be a second part release, which I didn’t know when I reviewed England Without Rain. I was concerned that this release couldn’t live up to the previous one, the way many book and movie sequels don’t live up to the original. But this release doesn’t just live up to the original, in many respects it exceeds the first release. An amazing feat.
Now I can’t wait to hear the third (and final) release in this series. If it comes close to the first two, it is going to be a mind-blowing release.
Technically this was released in 2013, however just barely. I highly doubt that many people found this release on New Year’s Eve and downloaded it then, so I am going to count this as a 2014 release. 🙂 This was the first release I found on the MNMN Records netlabel, and what an amazing find it is. Downbeat / Chillout music with exceptionally high production value, and excellently composed and arranged pieces. This is a label that has stayed with me ever since I found this release, along with another Russian netlabel that we’ll get to a little later in this list. I can’t recommend this release highly enough, it’s one of those finds that should find its way into a permanent collection, and can be listened to as a seasonal release (which is a great way to replace traditional holiday music).
With Tape Productions, Colin Sweeney turned the production ideas of Lo-Fi music on it’s ear. On Mono Box, Colin has gone a completely different direction. This time, instead of using a production technique to enhance and modify the sound of the music he has keyed the work around a monophonic synthesizer. And, instead of using highly processed and sequenced sounds he recorded a lot of the instruments (drums and guitars) live, layering track on track. This was a surprise release for me, the second of the year (the first being Talk Less, Say More’s release above). Sometimes a change in direction doesn’t work. But in this case it totally does work. Collin is the type of artist that totally throws himself into a project and doesn’t release his work until it is complete and really brings something new and different to the table.
Foof Records is a new label on the scene, producing magnificent soul, R&B, and rock music. It may seem a bit strange that after only six months of formally releasing recordings they have decided to release a compilation. However, this decision was a really good one as it really is a showcase for what they have managed to accomplish in a very short period of time. There is something on this release for everyone: soul, R&B, rock, IDM, post-rock, and numerous other styles make for excellent listening. Here’s to hearing more from this label throughout 2014 and beyond. They definitely will be finding more space here on the CerebralRift.
This was (and still is) possibly the strangest release to try to explain because The Aaahhchestra doesn’t really exist. The Aaahhchestra is the name given to a group of musicians that gathered at the Braahlitz Festival in 2013. The musicians recorded the songs on this release during the festival, and it was released to commemorate the weekend of the festival. The even was such as success that they are planning to do it again this year, and even try to improve on the fun that they had at the festival last year. If you get a chance, check out the video for ‘Miss You’ on the Aaahh Records website, it will make you wish that you were there last year, and if you can find yourself in the area this year, maybe you can be in attendance.
The concept of granular synthesis dates all the way back to the 1950’s with artists like Ianis Xenakis. With the advent of digital sound processing the concept and methods have flourished. This release was originally produced by Fingerprint for his Master’s Thesis as a single, continuous work. This is, plain and simply, a set of gorgeous tracks. To the average listener (which your humble reviewer feels he is) these tracks sound incredibly detailed, and structured. I would dare say Fingerprint has excelled past being a master and ascended to another plane with this work.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith is actually the incredibly talented Hollis Smith. Alone with her guitar she has written and recorded music for years. She started releasing her music as far back as 2009. She has over 40 releases on her Bandcamp page, and has been featured on two previous netBlocs from blocSonic. he manages to blend country, folk, honky-tonk, blues, torch songs, and even some touches of noir in her music. The range of her vocal styles is every bit as impressive from old country crooners, to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Hollis Smith is an incredibly strong musician, vocalist, writer, and artist. Definitely an artist that must be heard.
This was the third release that I didn’t expect this year. And, as I originally stated, I get worried when I start seeing releases from artists that I don’t expect to see. I get worried that the quality of the release isn’t going to be up to expectations, I get worried that the artist is trying to capitalize on the popularity of a release by rushing a new release out. Fortunately this was a release that I needn’t have worried about. The detail in each track, the freshness of everything, the arrangements and mixing, everything is really quite well done. And, lots of credit should be given to the collaborators on this release. It’s obvious they put in their time working to make this recording as excellent as did Spiedkiks themselves.
This was my first (or second) introduction to Tunguska Electronic Music Society as a listener. I downloaded four releases from this label and popped them into my player and started listening. I didn’t even keep track of which release was first in the player, I just started listening. This release has something for everyone, quite literally. With twenty-five tracks, over two hours of music spread across two compact discs this collection really does offer something that every one can appreciated on one level or another. It’s a great way to be introduced to what this Russian netlabel (the second new label that I’ve found this year) has to offer.
This is Weldroid really extending himself in many directions. He’s always had a wide range of influence, but this release seems to have taken things to a new level. Production and engineering is impeccable. The choice of material, styles, structures is really wonderful to listen to. And Weldroid can keep you guessing with each track, keep challenging the listeners expectations, without ever going too far out is perfect. Weldroid was one of the first artists I encountered on the Khavi Collective several years back. It’s good hear new work from him, and I can’t wait to hear more.
Personally, I hope many of the readers that make their way to my site are already fans of Cousin Silas. If you aren’t, you should be. Cousin Silas is possibly one of the most prolific artists out there in natlabel-land, and is one of the inspirations for Thomas Mathie starting the We Are All Ghosts netlabel. This is yet another excellent release from Cousin Silas. I won’t say that I like all the tracks on this release. I probably only like twenty-four or twenty-five of them. I still think the duo of Silas & Hillgraves was possibly the most surprising and entertaining on this release. While I listed a few other tracks that really caught my attention, the overwhelming majority of this release is really excellent. Come, go exploring Silas and friends soundscapes…
What can I say about Dr. Mindflip? Here is an artist that has a clear vision. He draws on the style of artists that are fitting to his style music: Wilco, Nick Cave, Ben Folds. His lyrical style is direct and slightly mind-bending at times – one of the best qualities of Tori Amos. He isn’t Justin Beiber or Drake, and that’s a good thing. We need more artists that have a future, that aren’t a flash in the pan. The stronger the artist, the more likely they are to have a long career in music in my opinion. Dr. Mindflip is one of my choices for artists with a bright, long career ahead of him.
When I reviewed the Blame! release from Rotten Lily I compared them to a supergroup. Each of the musicians in Rotten Lily is exceptionally talented, and each brings a different set of influences into the group. When combined, the results are far greater than the sum of the individuals. If you don’t believe me, just consider ‘Lullaby for shallot’ and ‘Bell and mandolin’ compared to the rest of this release – this is where their individual influences come out. I love the idea of Japanese influenced rock that comes out in this release. It is a bit of a different direction for Rotten Lily, but still it’s worked within the style of their previous works in a way that shows flexibility and an even more expressive range.
Jenn Kelly has a direct, stripped down, in-your-face style that demands the listener’s attention. Her lyrics are well-crafted and often evocative. She is the kind of singer / songwriter that is likely to bring comparisons with Ani DiFranco, but make no mistake Jenn is her own artist and musician. This is Jenn’s sixth solo release, and her first release under a Creative Commons license. And it’s a joy to have her releasing this high quality, honest music under a CC license. Hopefully her future releases will continue to be under a CC license.
Just wow. I am exceptionally happy that I found Archaic Horizon netlabel through traveling with Michael Bijker. It’s the kind of experience that I don’t expect to have everyday when I am checking out new releases. But, what makes it even better was that Ways To Travel doesn’t seem to be an anomaly for this label. In checking out several other releases, I found they were of similar quality. As for Ways To Travel itself, I can only give it an extremely high recommendation. Higher than my normal recommendation. It’s an electronic release that transcends the electronic genre. It is an internal and external journey, and Michael Bijker is an exceptional guide for this journey.
15 Must Hear Releases of 2014! And there were some releases that could have been included on this list, but weren’t just because I felt they were a little weaker than the fifteen I had already chosen.
I don’t know how well this list will hold up for the second half of the year. I suspect there are some releases that will show up on my end of year list, but others that might not make it that far. However, given that the competition has been pretty steep already this year, maybe they can go all the way.
In a way, I am starting to think that the music review business, or at least the making of a must-hear list like this, is close to choosing brackets for the World Cup. I wonder if there would be any interest in having a similar type of competition for Creative Commons music releases? Let me know below.