Well it’s that time again, as the sun sets on 2014 our scribes scratch their heads and try to come up with a definitive list of the music that moved them throughout the year. Here at Cyclic Defrost HQ we’re under no illusions that we might be able to tally up the results and come up with any kind of collective top 5. In fact you’ll be lucky to see the same album listed more than once. And that’s if our writers have actually listed albums at all, because lets be honest you’ll find live shows, DJ mixes and albums released decades ago below. You’ll also find an inability to count to five. But I guess that’s part of the charm…Thanks for reading throughout the year. We’ll see you on the other side…
Seb Chan – Founder
Top Five Home Listening
The Soundcarriers – Entropicalia (Ghost Box)
Jane Weaver – The Silver Globe (Finders Keepers)
Bing & Ruth – Tomorrow Was The Golden Age (Rvng)
Oren Ambarchi – Quixotism (eMego)
Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestite (Artemisia)
Top Five Crazy Gigs
Red Bull Music Academy Weekender (Warsaw)
Slowdive (New York)
Evian Christ at Future Everything (Manchester)
Soft Pink Truth (New York)
Caribou (New York)
Chris Downton – Reviews Editor
2 Live Crew – I Can’t Go For That (Luke Skywalker Records)
First off, a confession. I’m a massive Hall & Oates fan. While their later albums went a bit shaky, in their eighties prime they were an incredibly precise, almost airlessly tight machine – almost like some blue-eyed soul version of Kraftwerk. I love 2 Live Crew as well, but not for any socially redeemable reasons I could list. Imagine my delight upon finding out that Luke Skywalker and the boys actually covered Hall & Oates, and then actually got dragging into court for “dragging the original song into disrepute.” If I ever managed to drag someone’s song into disrepute, I’d consider it some kind of indication that I’d made it.
SQURL with Jozef van Wissem – Only Lovers Left Alive: Original Soundtrack (ATP Recordings)
Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ was easily the best movie I saw during 2014, with the score by Jarmusch’s own band Squrl in collaboration with lute player Jozef van Wissem offering up the perfect sonic counterpoint to the nocturnal, almost hypnotic visuals. A lot of this album is primarily based around Squrl’s gloriously textured, post-Velvet Underground drones, with the occasional side-trip into Middle Eastern influences to liven up the most vampiric pulse. Further proof that Jarmusch is one of the coolest guys alive. If you haven’t seen this film, go and watch it. Now.
Swans – To Be Kind (Mute)
Most supposedly ‘dark’ bands deal in cartoon darkness, but Swans are the real shit. A friend of mine who saw them live likened the experience to being initiated into a cult, and I have to admit that it’s a fair comparison. It was hard to believe that Michael Gira and co. could top preceding album ‘The Seer’, but this latest album ‘To Be Kind’ sees them exploding off in new directions, with a masterful grasp of tension and release sustained over tracks that frequently stretch past the 13 minute mark. An incredible sonic document that’s quite possibly Swans’ strongest album yet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfmi0v5vIGo
Eno & Hyde – High Life (Opal / Warp)
Of the two albums that Brian Eno and Karl Hyde released almost back-to-back this year, this was easily my favourite one. While ‘Someday World’ saw the duo working within more concise song structures, ‘High Life’ was its more fluid, expansive and jam-oriented cousin, with a kinship closer to the likes of Fela Kuti than anything else (hence the title). In recent years it’s seemed like Eno has done his strongest work when he’s had a collaborator to bounce off, and I’d rate this as some of his best work in ten years. There are definite echoes of ‘Remain In Light’ and ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ here, and they’re two of my favourite records ever.
Clark – Clark (Warp / Inertia)
Clark’s preceding ‘Feast / Beast’ remix collection was an absolute monster, and pretty much confirmed his current standing as one of the Warp label roster’s most exciting artists. This self-titled album took things even further, offering up what was easily Clark’s most dance-oriented material, whilst maintaining his deft grasp of cinematic atmospherics. Get the DVD of Jonathan Glaser’s ‘Under The Skin’ and play this as the alternate background soundtrack (like I did accidentally one night), and you’ve got one hell of a spooky, vivid journey ahead of you.
Bob Baker Fish – Features Editor
Black Lung – The Great Golden Goal (Ant-Zen)
A dystopian view of corporate muzak that doubles as a wigged out electro synth workout. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tSiHezMwz4
Lawrence English – Wilderness of Mirrors (Room40)
A compelling exploration of the physicality of ambience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoMTSw3evr8
Kasai Allstars – Beware The Fetish (Crammed Discs)
100 minutes of rattles, hums, buzzes and scrapes accompanied by electric guitar and vocals that builds into an intoxicating yet disjointedly funky cacophonic throb. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaWENBBVzpk
Lee Gamble – Koch (Pan)
Gamble pokes at the skeletal remains of house and techno music, yet imbues them with an abstract sense of space, avant garde mischievousness and electronic sound design. https://soundcloud.com/pan_recs/lee-gamble-motor-system-pan-59
Cybotron – Cybotron (Dual Planet)
Reissue of the debut album from iconic 70’s Australian cosmic prog electronics duo Cybotron from a label that can do no wrong. Dual Planet’s Turkey Shoot and Chain Reaction soundtracks could just have easily been here too.
Several highlights of 2014, in an unintentional all Australian countdown (in no particular order, of course).
Naram – March of the Gremlins (Jahrtari)
Kiwi expat Naram Langford steps onto the scene with an outstanding double LP of digital dancehall gems. Produced in a digital reggae style and calling on a wide range of old and new faces to the mic March of the Gremlins puts antipodean reggae well and truly on the map. Look out for some new 7”s coming out real soon.
Barrage – Surplus Behaviour (Endless Melt)
Genius bedroom eclectic electronic mulch generated by Mark Nicholas released by Endless Melt. Repetitive drone keyboard underwater synthpop disorientation and tape hiss. Best consumed always. Essential.
Half High – Calling Nina (Eiderdown Records)
Late night horror drone expertly crafted by Lucy Cliche and Matthew Hopkins. It seems that this duo can do no wrong as everything they touch becomes magical gold. Moody atmosphere for late winter seances. Also buy anything else Lucy or Matthew have touched. True genius.
Nun – Nun (Aarght)
Perfect synth-pop slash industrial noise drone punk from Melbourne. I’m sure you heard this record and you liked it. Play it again, why don’t you? Also keep an eye out for new act Vacuum featuring Nun vocalist/synth wrangler Jenny Branagan along with ASPS’ Andrea Blake. They will be the big thing of 2015. Anyway, This Nun record is fantastic.
Worng – Artefacts (Metal Postcard)
Modular synth party jams from beyond the Saturn. Ex-Emergency human Morgan McWaters creates a stellar outer space deep soundtrack worthy of any chill room or underground dancefloor. Buy it now. That’s an order.
Shellac – Dude Incredible (Touch and Go)
If you’ve seen Shellac live any time in the last couple of years you’ve heard most of these songs already. They sound great here, though you’ll have to imagine Todd Trainer’s blouses. As with each album, an incremental progression upon excellence, though this one sees them hitting the Big Black straps a bit harder than usual. Are they doing it for anyone other than themselves? Probably not, thank fuck. Track: The People’s Microphone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyD08Wop5aU
Conan – Blood Eagle (Napalm Records)
Everything excellent about metal that isn’t hair metal or spandex-soaked wank. Reverby vocals? Yep. Spine-crushing heaviness? Check. Vague viking/barbarian references? Yep. That weird time-signature shift which means half the time you’re headbanging on the offbeat? You got it. Excellent titles? How about ‘Horns for Teeth’ or ‘Altar of Grief’? It’s plodding and a bit stupid, but still lovably eldritch. Good for commutes, frankly. Track: FOEHAMMER (\m/) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-of5C1OHX_8
C.W. Stoneking – Gon’ Boogaloo (King Hokum Records)
Sailor tatts, dapper hair and a sparkly Jazzmaster. This is Stoneking’s third disc of old-timey style stuff, but it’s leaning a bit more heavily on the calypso side of things. Not bad synth-calypso, but 1930s-style, where badasses like The Lion and King Radio ruled. The album sounds like something you’d see in the back of one of those Silly Symphony cartoons from the late ’20s, and while it veers close to cultural tourism, it’s a very loving tribute. Track: Zombie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPmn5vMThbc
Various Artists – Shango, Shouter & Obeah: Supernatural Calypso From Trinidad 1934-1940 (Rounder Records) (2001)
Fuck it, Stoneking put me in mind of this so here it is: one of my all-time favourite albums. Magic/voodoo/voudou (or your own personal spelling variant) tunes. Pretty much every track’s a supernatural classic. Loves lost, charms both effective and useless, tall tales of hardcore houngans – it’s all here, backed with some
(For further brainfuck, look for the Roosevelt in Trinidad album, also on Rounder, which features many of the same artists singing songs about politics and sport. They sound the same – it’s just weird to have cricket standing in for bedevilled rooting.) Track: THE WHOLE DAMN ALBUM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBwQfCf4YI0
Scott Walker – Bish Bosch (4AD) (2012)
Pain is not allowed! Nothing clears a room like removing a brain! I’ve severed my reeking gonads! And so on. Outsider art with a full-cabaret recording budget, this fevered disc is basically Roderick Usher: The Album. This year’s collaboration with Sunn O))), Soused, is much more pared-back, and bound to appear in these lists somewhere. But where I find myself ambivalent on that album, this one is much, much stranger and more darkly appealing. Soused saw Walker concentrate his sound: Bish Bosch is the sound of a complete lack of restraint. Also, it features the excellent line ‘If shit were music [la la la]you’d be a brass band”, so it wins by default. Astonishing. TRACK: SSDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flatpole Sitter)
Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! (Warp)
Warpaint – Warpaint (Rough Trade)
Brian Eno / Karl Hyde – Someday World (Warp)
Belakor – Of Breath and Bone (Kolony Records) – a 2014 find, 2012 release.
Ralph Towner / Wolfgang Muthspiel/Slava Grigoryan – Travel Guide (ECM)
Royksopp and Robyn – Do It Again (Inertia)
Do It Again came out of a period of writer’s block for both acts, and you can hear it – the mini-album combines sonic experimentation with the more traditional sounds one would expect from a collaboration from these two. Perfectly paced and utterly danceable, it’s an album that tries to reconcile repetition and routine with innovation and originality, desires with responsibilities, authority with submission, tackling enduring themes while feeling compelled to pander to the times. Its all backed with some of the best and forward-thinking electro-pop of the year and it felt absolutely essential in 2014.
Grouper – Ruins (Kranky)
As always, Liz Harris aka Grouper’s 2014 release was stunningly intimate, but on Ruins she raises her voice considerably in the mix and adds untreated piano for one of her most immediate albums. Another instant ambient classic from the Portland native, it’s amazing how little press Harris has been able to do as her music reaches wider audiences; keeping the extraneous noise down and letting her music speak for itself fosters a slow, thoughtful and calming space for her audience to embrace and appreciate her endlessly rewarding music.
White Lung – Deep Fantasy (Domino)
It can be easy to underestimate guitar based music in 2014, but there’s nothing average about this blistering 10 track set over 22 minutes. Angry and brash but played with startling precision, it confidently combines harsh, overdriven guitar sounds with traditional song structures. It’s a record by a group that’s angry at the world but buoyed by each other and their audience. Empowering, catchy, aggressive and inclusive – its everything punk and pop music should be.
Andy Stott – Faith In Strangers (Modern Love)
I’ve loved everything Andy Stott has done since 2011, but what made this release so satisfying and exciting was his ability to tinker with his sound while keeping what made his earlier heavy & heady releases so great. Unashamedly bleak and brooding, it’s also the most feminine sounding record of his career. Its sensual, danceable, intoxicating, claustrophobic and captivatingly insular – Stott constantly challenges himself and sounds like nobody else.
HTRK – Psychic 9-5 Club (Mistletone)
For a long time I was searching for slow, chilled out music to listen to out of office hours – music that was aware of and counteracted the stimulating nature of contemporary Australian life, with a fascination with the ordinary. This album, more than any other HTRK release, is that music. Both of this world and otherworldly, it’s dark, subtly haunting R&B-tinged electronica begs for solitary bedroom listening, or with those closest to you (maybe even your workmates).
Five favourite mixes:
Toydrum mixtape for Kai & Sunny
Meezoid’s Random Broadcast 011
Alex Banks on Solid Steel
Arctic Dub W65 Logic mix
Tom Cosm vs Zaftig ’80s mix
Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Fado Legends (World Music Network)
Devastating and mournful street music from Portugal, featuring both historical and contemporary artists. Absolutely heart breaking, and the best cry-into-your-beer music around. https://soundcloud.com/world-music-network/fado-legends
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – I’m In Your Mind Fuzz (Remote Control Records)
Another mind-blowing and lysergic slice of Antipodean psy-rock, their fifth in two years, featuring more hooks than a tackle box. Who said the sixties are dead? http://kinggizzardandthelizardwizard.com/album/im-in-your-mind-fuzz
David Shea – Rituals (Room 40)
Aural paintings, audible landscapes, sound pictures, call them what you will – Shea’s abstractions and atmospheres conjure up worlds both strange and familiar. https://soundcloud.com/room40/sets/david-shea-rituals-1
Various Artists – The New Basement Tapes: Lost on the River (Electromagnetic)
A collective of left-of-centre pop/rock artists put music and melody to a stack of “lost” Bob Dylan lyrics. The results are extraordinary. http://www.thenewbasementtapes.com/music/lost-on-the-river/
Captain Beefheart – Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972 (Rhino)
This 4-CD reissue – Lick My Decals Off, Baby; The Spotlight Kid; Clear Spot; and a collection of outtakes – charts Beefheart’s fascinating progression from freak-out, space-blues guru to freak-out, space-blues pop artist. Essential for both fans and novices alike.
It’s been great to join the Cyclic Defrost crew this year. Of the handful of album reviews I wrote, these were my favorites…plus a couple of gigs that blew my mind. Did I mention I’m not good at counting to five?
Twink – Critter Club (Twink Tones)
Twink (aka Mike Langlie) composes music for toy instruments. I expected this album to be awesome for about five minutes, but the writing and arrangements are so good the whole thing is a corker. It’s funny and smart with a surprising depth. http://youtu.be/5CFGoyvPaC4
Declan Kelly Presents – Diesel ‘n Dub (Diaspora)
Oils tunes dubbed up so well they sound like they were written that way in the first place. Kelly pulls together a killer band and vocal heavyweights to reinvent the material, which hits just as hard as the originals. http://youtu.be/tk5C0Q1Qwwg
Memotone and Soosh – Memoosh (Project: Mooncircle)
A duo collaboration: Memotone + Soosh = Memoosh, of course. After trying to figure out other amalgamations of the two names (‘she’s not me’, ‘moonmoth’, ‘somesome’ et al) I finally listened to the record which is full of glorious, noisy, delicate, sweet stuff. Sublime. http://youtu.be/jSdv2sIXg-E
Sensaround – Isotropes (hellosQuare)
Another great release from the Canberra based label, with its founder Shoeb Ahmed on samplers and effects. Ahmed joins national treasure Alister Spence (Rhodes Piano) and Scotsman Raymond McDonald (Saxophones) for this dense collage of sound. This isn’t your dad’s Rhodes trio album. http://hellosquare.bandcamp.com/album/isotropes
Gig – Captain Kickarse and the Awesomes (with Cull and Palaces) Dec 12th 2014, Factory Floor, Marrickville.
I hadn’t seen the Captain and crew before and was pummelled speechless following their hour long set of intensely intense unpretentious garage meets math prog. Kudos to the crowd who lurched along happily to the multimeter. http://youtu.be/HSy8v3agOXk
Gig – John Encarnacao, Giraffe Solos LP Launch, July 10th 2014, 107 Projects, Redfern.
Armed with nothing more than a Yamaha flattop and a pair of chopsticks, Encarnacao played a beautiful set to launch his Giraffe Solos LP. Billed as ‘an evening of solo guitar experiments’, short sets were also played by Luke Bazzetto, Jon Hunter, Stefan Ianigro and Jo Williams. A fantastic gig celebrating the diversity of contemporary avant garde guitar.
East India Youth – Total Strife Forever (Stolen Recordings)
Aphex Twin – Syro (Warp)
Alvvays – Alvvays (Polyvinyl)
Caribou – Our Love (City Slang)
The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)
Lewis – L’Amour; Lewis Baloue – Romantic Times (Light in the Attic)
Angelo Badalementi, The Caretaker and Julio Iglesius combine to create the the strangest and greatest 1980s new age crooner record, unearthed after 30 years and perfect for our times. www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdRQTtM6ufA
Grouper – Ruins (Kranky)
Liz Harris’s most understated and affecting release, and at just 38 minutes, a beautifully crafted long-playing album. www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxAHQLtN8wc
Dean Blunt – Black Metal (Rough Trade)
His most polished work but no less strange, Black Metal brings profundity to jangly guitar snippets and barren rhythmic loops, with Blunt’s drawled sprechstimme voicing our collective malaise with contemporary cultural and political life. www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQfwPziK-SA
Kassem Mosse – Workshop 19 (Workshop)
Fresh and inventive house- techno, too savage to easily seduce but its kooky warmth gives real joy for the persistent. www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOg-_Jd40xI
Nissenenmondai – N (Bijin Record)
Minimal techno played by rock trio over long durations, intensely focused and inspirational. Made for live performance, we live in hope.
Peter Hollo (who again proves he can’t follow instructions)
Top artist discovery of 2014
Yair Elazar Glotman is an Israeli double bass player now resident in Berlin. I discovered him through his brilliant collaboration with James Ginzburg of Emptyset, Nimbes, which came out near the end of the year and combines high-detail double bass drones and noises with heavy (beatless) electronics. But it turns out Glotman put out a number of releases in this debut year that shine even brighter. Under his own name, there’s a stunning album on Glacial Movements, more ambient than drone, with rhythmic elements and field recordings as well as his double bass, acoustic guitar and some subdued beats. And as KETEV he’s released two cassettes with minimal sunken beats and drones, occasionally recalling Andy Stott (hello other awesome 2014 releases!) or other contemporary house & techno/electro beat-makers, but still very much his own. http://opaltapes.bandcamp.com/album/ketev-ketev
Top “metal” album of 2014
Old Man Gloom are a super-group of the post-metal/sludge/doom/hardcore world, featuring members of legendary bands Isis, Cave In and Converge (and endless off-shoots and other collaborative bands). They’re inveterate tricksters, and their much-anticipated album The Ape of God turned out to be two albums – one with eight shorter, slightly more hardcore tracks, and the other with four long tracks that shift genres even more than on the other album. As with previous releases, they cover enormous ground, from drone to post-rock-influenced “post-metal” to heavy-riffing doom to complex hardcore, and while the vocals mainly stick to the howling post-death-metal growls, there are occasional melodic sections. If you can get past that vocal style, it’s gobsmacking stuff. https://soundcloud.com/profoundlorerecords/old-man-gloom-the-lash
Top junglist revival release of 2014
In the last couple of years, “mainstream” drum’n’bass has rediscovered the energy and joy of old-school jungle’s amen-choppage – and not in an anachronistic way either.
I don’t want to erase the history of artists like Fanu and labels like Subtle Audio who’ve been releasing complex drum’n’bass for years… it just seems to be getting “mainstreamed” a bit more again, and awesomely hybridised. There was a lot of fun around the Jungle Warz dub battle that popped up around September, featuring a lot of dubstep and grime artists as well as more traditional drum’n’bass and breakcore producers (seriously, if you like jungle at all you need to check that shit out, although a few highlights have gone now), and of course there’s been a lot of cross-fertilization between Chicago’s double-speed hip-hop-sampling footwork and East London’s jungle. Last year Machinedrum perfected the footwork/jungle crossover with his Vapor City album, and the spin-offs from that have lasted through much of this year. But the king this year has to be Om Unit, who to be fair started a lot of this off, showing that the dubstep/drum’n’bass hybrid sounds of the “slow-fast” movement link directly back to ’94-style jungle. His new album or double EP or whatever, Inversion, is released on none other than Metalheadz, and its intoxicating breaks and basslines are a fitting tribute to that heritage. https://soundcloud.com/omunit/inversion-metalheadz-nov-17th
Top re-emerged artist of 2014
Previous reviews of mine on this site will attest to just how much of a Hood fan I am. Since their demise we’ve had the pleasure of releases from Hood veterans Richard Adams in The Declining Winter and Memory Drawings, and various previous members like The Remote Viewer’s Craig Tattersall and Andrew Johnson, but lead singer & producer Chris Adams fell silent a year or so after his brilliant debut as Bracken on Anticon in 2008 (give or take a secret dubstep thing…) So, sure, Aphex Twin’s re-appearance on Warp was big news ‘n’all, but nothing for me can trump the return of Chris Adams – with both his solo projects. His first EP as Downpour in 1997 was masterful jungle-noise before breakcore was really breakcore, and amazingly he resurrected that moniker for a Bandcamp EP of pitch-perfect junglisms entitled Do you remember when it was all about the drums? Yes, I do Chris, I do. And then only a month or two later, we were quietly bequeathed a cassette/digital (and briefly vinyl) mini-album from Bracken entitled Exist / Resist, made up of electronic / indie studies. I hear there’s a proper album in the works. There better be.
Five other top things of 2014 (i.e. cheating…)
A woefully inadequate list of other things that don’t quite get a paragraph or two of their own:
clipping.’s CLPPNG (Sub Pop) would probably be my album of the year if not for these weird categories I’ve given myself – two brilliant noise/electronic producers and a genius rapper. And some mind-blowing videos.
The Bug’s Angels and Demons (Ninja Tune) hardly came off the virtual turntable after its release, especially the gorgeous “Void” with Liz Harris of Grouper.
The Bad Plus’s extraordinary “cover album” of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (Sony Masterworks) is a massive achievement of interpretation, even for a jazz piano trio known for covering Aphex Twin and Nirvana…
Carla Bozulich’s Boy (Constellation) is powerful, experimental, personal songwriting of a calibre few can ever reach.
Panoptique Electrical’s Love Lost in a Storm caps off a big year for Jason Sweeney, including finally releasing his Great Panoptique Winter collaboration featuring Richard Adams of the aforementioned Hood – but it’s this album, encompassing Aphex SAW-style ambience, postrock and subdued indie, that floored me.