Cover of album Bitchin Bajas by Bitchin Bajas

Hidden gems of 2014

Click here to listen to the Soundcloud playlist, featuring tracks from each album

Bitchin Bajas
Bitchin Bajas
Drag City

This is the album I wanted Bitchitronics to be. The drones are hypnotic, the strings perfectly calibrated to their purpose, the electronics subtle yet rich. I’ve always been a fan of early drone pioneers like Tony Conrad and John Cale, and this reminds me of them in the best way. It’s not all warm and fuzzy, either – try cranking up “Brush” and see how relentless and oppressively mechanical a major chord can be.

Soft Gamma Repeater
New Kanada

I’ve been salivating over every new Graze release hoping it would be the tech-house masterpiece that melts my face and makes me sink to my knees, praising Adam Marshall to all and sundry in earshot. This is it. Maybe I’m just being a homer but no other four on the floor(ish) LP this year has come within expectorating distance of this collection. Listen to the acid/break symphony that is “Swarz” and tell me there’s been a record like this worth celebrating anywhere.

Next Life

The untimely death of DJ Rashad could have been the end of footwork in the public eye (such as it is), but the title of this comp is well chosen. It’s easily the equal of the two Planet Mu footwork comps, covering a swath from Traxman’s meditative “Sit Ya Self Down” – ok, relatively meditative – to DJ Earl and DJ Taye’s “Wurkinn Da Bass” which is the kind of track you’d like to throw on at the office Christmas party as a dare to all the newly minted post-Miley twerkers. I really hope label heads are checking this out and looking for cats to sign – the first wave of footwork solo LPs was plenty strong, and there’s apparently room for a lot more.

Perfect Pussy
Say Yes To Love
True Panther Sounds

Never mind that they’re melodic enough to make indie radio playlists – or they would be if they could be run through a de-squall-izer – or that singer Meredith Graves’s oddly easily decipherable screeches resemble Yasuko Onuki of Japanoise faves Melt-Banana. This is full on hardcore, as my still-bruised eardrums can attest after their January show at the Silver Dollar. And it kicks ass.

Karl Hector & The Malcouns
Unstraight Ahead
Now Again

I’m hardy the first to point out that Karl Hector et al aren’t pretending to be authentic. There’s too much straight-ahead funk in a tune like the ominous “Girma’s Lament” to draw serious claims of similarity to their sources. But that’s kind of what I like; the group take Mulatu-style breathy sax melodies and Afrobeat-en keys and filter them through a kind of Daptone-like fondness for dusty breaks and come up with something all their own. Ok, mostly their own. A bit. I don’t know, fuck it, it’s a great record ok?

Gil Scott-Heron
Nothing New

I kind of tacitly avoided reissues, DJ mixes, rerecordings etc when compiling this list, but if these rerecordings of old tunes, taken from the “I’m New Here” sessions, don’t send you into fits of weeping you must not be made of flesh and blood. “Pieces of a Man” reduces me to such blubbering ectoplasm I might as well not have a spine at all. Then again, I’ve never laid my soul bare the way GSH does here. Maybe I don’t have one.

Vince Staples
Hell Can Wait
Def Jam

Against anyone’s expectations, Odd Future remain the most interesting acts in hip-hop, at least to a Drake-skeptic geezer like me. Staples’ major label debut is sharp and unforgiving; you’ll never mistake him for a conscious rapper but as “Hands In The Air” proves, he does have something like a conscience. Not that that’s a prerequisite for going in hard, like he does on “65 Hunnid”. Fuck Kendrick Lamar, this is the LA artist to watch. (Don’t sleep on Domo Genesis, Tyler The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt et al, either.)

Tony Allen
Film of Life
Jazz Village

No afrobeat pretenders to the throne can touch Tony Allen, and not just because he did it first. The fact is, nobody drums like he does – it’s not just the groove he lays down, it’s the way he varies it like a jazz drummer without ever losing the thread. The comparisons to Elvin Jones are well deserved. And like Elvin’s solo albums, this might not reinvent its genre, but sometimes you just need to hear the master play.

Telephone Explosion

My bandwidth for spotting hot new local rock acts is super limited these days, so there might be a more exciting Toronto band than Teenanger, but I seriously doubt it. This is the closest they’ve come to perfectly snotty year zero punk rock – which must be hard to pull off, given how few contemporary acts seem to manage it – and I love it just like I loved $ingles Don’t $ell, Frights, Give Me Pink etc. You could ask this of a lot of artists but with these guys I really, really dont know the answer to the eternal question: Why are they not huge?

Sub Pop

A strange album by any measure, even for Swedes. There are influences all over it from the likes of the Malian records Sublime Frequencies put out, but Commune wears those influences on its sleeve even less than Unstraight Ahead. The anonymous female vocalist’s monotonous sound is the perfect foil for the shimmering, throbbing sound the band lays down, and although it threatens to veer into dry, starchy territory, it never does. Oddly compelling.

…I Care Because You Don’t

An album whose title spoofs an album beats the new one made by the artist how made the original? Oh the ironing. (And no I didn’t do that on purpose.) Curated by Clouds from Glasgow, which appears to be in the midst of a serious electronic renaissance (pardon the Belle and Sebastien reference), this comp is noisy and amelodic, which ought to have ruined it for these ears. It’s amazing what great beatsmithing can do.

Aphex Twin

There’s no disputing that Syro would be one of the best and most original records of any year. Mr. Twin has reinvented himself admirably once again , capturing the melancholy of his ambient stuff and pairing it with some of the rhythmic urgency of his drill’n’bass stuff. But at times it feels like the porridge is neither too hot nor too cold, and it would be nice to hear him go in one direction or the other. Then again, tracks like “CIRCLONT6A (Syrobonkus Mix)” are entertainingly brisk enough to make it worth typing out their stupid names, and track for painstakingly-detailed track, Syro can go toe to toe with the most inventive productions out there.

Ty Segall
Drag City

I hate Ty Segall. The little bastard churns out between two and three records a year and there’s hardly a dud in the bunch. Manipulator has great gobs of the fuzzed out Kinks-isms he’s always done (“Susie Thumb”) along with Sabbath-y workouts (“Feel”) and glammy stompers (“The Faker”), all memorable. Bastard.


Seeing that Prins Thomas remixed several Vermont tracks crystallized a thought that had surreptitiously begun to form in my mind. Thomas’ love of crisp synths and silky 70s fusion textures reverberates through Vermont’s extra mellow debut, but with a distinct sensibility that’s altogether different from his. The synths take pride of place, the tracks evolve with a languid quality more rooted in Berlin school ambient than disco, and the boogie is subdued if not downright absent. Which can be nice; I’d compare it to CFCF only more pensive and hypnotic. Actually I’d most compare it to Tangerine Dream’s 80s soundtracks, only this is slightly more urgent. Is that a contradiction? I don’t know, but in the absence of the straight-up Balearic revival I was enjoying up until recently, this fills a beach-ball-shaped hole in my listening diet.

Each Other
Being Elastic

I’m not sure I love this Toronto group but I can’t dismiss their unique blend of sunny ’60s harmonies and jittery Feelies-like energy. I kept going back to it throughout the year, always thinking I had a mental handle on their sound and being surprised at what I heard every single time. There’s something off putting about it too – maybe it’s the tantalyzingly not-abstract lyrics – but ultimately I want to keep putting it on the stereo and puzzle some more.

Cut Hands
Festival of the Dead
Blackest Ever Black

William Bennett’s post-Whitehouse project is easier to take in small doses, which is why the single format worker so well (Afro Noise 1 and 2). Still, there’s no law that says you have to listen to an album all the way through, and brief spurts of punishing drum barrages like “Damballah 58” and the title track will have you convinced, however briefly, that an all-percussion diet is perfectly healthy and appealing. You might not be able to digest it all in one sitting, but an LP side at a time is enough to make you want to put on one of those Eyes Wide Shut robes and cavort murderously in the woods for a few glorious minutes. …Works for me, anyway.






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