One thing I would like to know is whether critics in the pre-digital era used to feel the same sense of angst over the pile of unlistened-to albums at the end of the year that I do now. It’s not just that there may be great records lurking in the unheard – that’s inevitable – but more that even the most stringent criteria for narrowing the pack seems to leave a bunch of albums that make the theoretical cut, but that I just didn’t get around to. We’re talking records by legends outside my chosen genre (Neil Young, Leonard Cohen) or on labels I love but by artists I’ve never heard of (the Light In The Attic set of native North American pop and rock). Reissues fell by the way side entirely. A singles list would have been a nice idea.
Well after my year end list was done, guilt drove me not into my usual relief rally of listening to old favourites through to the new year, but trudging back through the unheard to try to do right by the artists whose albums didn’t make my list, or practically anyone else’s. (On the plus side, my instincts about which records not to worry about during year-end crunch time proved largely spot on.) But before we dive back into the race against time and sanity, here’s a quick run through the ones that 2014 forgot.
PMM And Tuff Sherm Gracefully Force Consensus Reckno
And here I thought the cassette revival was only for garage bands who think the upper and lower ends of the audio spectrum are so not punk. Tuff Sherm’s relentlessly anti-melodic assembly line funk and PMM’s self-contained ambient discomfort machines contrast starkly at first, but the lines blur as the tape goes on (PMM’s “Vitality” is a terrific take on Sherm’s clanking four-on-the-floor industrial machinery, while Sherm’s “Nature’s Revenge” is pretty enough to stop time – and, at 1:07, far too short).
Point of No Return
I guess it’s not cool anymore to pay attention to R&B, all the good liberal music critics have moved onto new country or polka or something. In that spirit I will refrain from a deep sociological dive into unpacking what “Rick James” says about black femininity post Eric Garner or something (“slap a bitch like Rick James”), and just point out that it’s a pretty solid jam. Cole’s voice is versatile but still distinctive, pulling off the monotonous, defiant hook with plenty of gravitas then getting all Alicia Keys-mellifluous on the verse. I might get a bit weary of the angst here and there, but guest shots by Future and 2 Chainz provide a foil. Bonus awesome: No better phrase sums up the lousy, exhausted, inevitable feeling at the demise of a relationship than “this party ain’t a party, it ain’t jumpin’ no more,” especially how she sings it, like a long exasperated sigh.
Despite the presence of a steady beat, albeit one that sounds like it was filtered through a mixing board with epically dirty pots, I feel like Lussuria’s latest is fundamentally an ambient mindfuck that is best enjoyed through headphones at high volume. This is the record I thought/hoped I was getting when I gave into the hype and checked out the Actress record. It’s claustrophobic, dry, chalky and just broken enough to seize the imagination, but just conventional (read:tuneful) enough not to get boring. Admittedly I only need to own a couple of records that sound like this – at most – but this is one of them.
Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics
I could not name a Heliocentrics record off the top of my head but my impression is that I’ve tried to like them repeatedly and been disappointed each time. And I’ve never heard of Orlando Julius. And on a cursory listen, Jaiyede Afro leans more toward the slower, less firey Afrobeat jams than my favourite Fela discs. So, back of the pile, until one day doing laundry and it came on, and I slowly but inevitably realized the repeatedly compounded errors of my ways. The grooves hover like mosquitoes in humid air, with more than a hint of Latin influence, sonic descendents of the West Indies slave trade come back to their roots yet nonetheless transformed. And James Brown has never been such an explicit influence on Afrobeat as on “In The Middle,” to predictably thrilling results.
How Sebastien Tellier managed to fall off the English pop press’ radar after the success of 2008’s Sexuality is baffling but maybe not surprising. This one wasn’t produced by half of Daft Punk, but hey, it did have production by Arthur frigging Verocai (and Jean Michel Jarre and Phillipe Zdar) so maybe give it a listen, anglos? It’s not quite impeccable but L’Aventura certainly has its moments, like a holiday that’s in some ways more fun to remember afterwards than to experience at the time. The loping, slightly seedy strings-dtenched lushness of tracks like “Sous Les Rayons du Soleil” might be a little too leisure suit-tacular for some, but scratch the Formica surface of “Ambience Rio” or the subdued bossa of “L’Adulte” and you’ll find tidily composed and arranged songs with elegant chord sequences that Jobim himself might have admired.