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Joy Merten (Into the Void) writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2014: Joy Merten

CHIRP Radio Best of 2014

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2014. Our next list is from DJ & Assistant Music Director Joy Merten.

 

Venus Armata by Menace Ruine (Profound Lore)
Menace Ruine Venus ArmataBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

I love how this record sounds like it's a recording of an occult ritual that took place in a room draped in maroon velvet during the Middle Ages. Frontwoman and songwriter Genevieve Beaulieu sings like Grace Slick on opium, and adds unexpected instruments like the sistrum (which has been around since Ancient Egypt) over organ drones and ringing bells. The whole thing feels organic and mysterious, from standout march "Red Sulphur" to the absorbing title track.

Totem by White Suns (The Flenser)
White Suns TotemBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Totem is built of walls of squealing, churning noise punctured with moments of tense, ominous silence. Even more so than on their last record Sinews, White Suns give their moments of aggression and heaviness even more weight by playing with dynamics, like the unpleasant pinch of strings on “Prostrate” before the full-on assault of “Cathexis.” They’ve taken traditional song structure and pounded it to bits, opting instead for vaguely cyclical chaos. That structure is reflected in the album's lyrics, which contain loose themes of cleansing, mystical quests, death and rebirth.

Clearing the Path to Ascend by YOB (Neurot)
YOB Clearing the Path to AscendBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Written by frontman Mike Scheidt during an extremely difficult time in his personal life, this record of psychedelic doom metal is a personal cleansing in the form of music so heavy it’s hard to think. The first half sounds like someone beating their chest, wailing, and raging until acceptance and peace finally sink in on the final two tracks.

Too Bright by Perfume Genius (Matador)
Perfume Genius Too BrightBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

It’s been incredible to see the person behind that strange, sad, messed-up and inward-turning record I found and loved back in 2010, Learning, turn into the Perfume Genius we have now. From his videos where he dances on businessmen's tables and is part of one of the weirdest dinner parties ever to his intimate live performances, he has taken his fears and insecurities and used them to create meaningful, empowering art. From standout “Queen”: “No family is safe when I sashay” might be the line of the year.

Hello We're The Lemons by The Lemons (Burger)
The Lemons Hello We're The LemonsBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

From seeing them for the first time at a CHIRP Whistler night after I had just moved to the city to their last show at Animal Kingdom, the Lemons have been central to my experiences in Chicago this year. After seeing them play and listening to their tape more times than I can count, the little pieces of lo-fi pop on this album are now utterly familiar and always in the back of my head. With the Lemons, everything is sunglasses on stage, double scoops at the ice cream shop, candy, and utter joy.

Ruins by Grouper (kranky)
Grouper RuinsBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Ruins inhabits its own quiet nighttime world. Frogs croak, thunder rumbles, Liz Harris sings and plays piano in a way that sounds like it’s only for her. At the end of “Labyrinth,” a microwave beeps. It serves as a jolting reminder that this album stands in stark, mindful contrast to the fast-paced technological excess of the rest of the world. Simple and unadorned, the meditative quality of the music shines above everything else.

Heathen by Thou (Gilead Media)
Thou HeathenBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

One of multiple releases just this year from the New Orleans DIY sludge/doom band Thou, Heathen is a masterpiece that builds and falls with the enormity of a mountain range. The lyrics deal with philosophical issues like nature vs. civilization and staying present in the moment, and each song is an immersive ride that builds with crushing intensity.

Soused by Scott Walker + Sunn O))) (4AD)
Scott Walker + Sunn O))) SousedBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

When I first heard about this collaboration, I was unspeakably excited. My favorite avant-garde weirdo Scott Walker plus epic drone metal was the best idea I have ever heard of. The interesting thing about this album is that it isn’t Scott Walker singing over Sunn O)))’s normal drones. It sounds more like Walker replaced his typical string instrumentation with Sunn O)))’s guitars, using their ability to create foreboding sounds to his advantage.

VI: Flora by Botanist (The Flenser)
Botanist VI: FloraBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

VI: Flora is another installment in the story of the Botanist, a crazed scientist and plant-lover. In this record, he has just witnessed the destruction of humanity at the hands of his army of plants and is now watching nature retake its rightful place in the world. This album is brighter than his previous projects, more full of hope for the future. Otrebor, the main leader of the project, is both fascinated by black metal, especially in its individualistic devotion to nature, and actively subverting it by playing it on a hammered dulcimer and making it about radical environmentalist causes.

Seraphastra by Matchess (Digitalis)
Matchess SeraphastraBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

This is spooky, alien psych from Chicago’s own Whitney Johnson (also of E+ and Verma) that she plays using homemade tapes, echoing synths, and distorted vocals and guitars. When I saw her perform live, she burned three candles, blowing them out one at a time until the set was over. That’s what this album reminds me of, an invented ritual that brings just enough flickering light to the darkness.

Honorable Mentions:

Fucked Up / Glass Boys / Matador

Wold / Postsocial / Profound Lore

Inter Arma / The Cavern / Relapse

The Antlers / Familiars / Anti-

One Direction / Four / Columbia

Peter Matthew Bauer / Liberation! / Mexican Summer

Behemoth / The Satanist / Nuclear Blast

Warm Soda / Young Reckless Hearts / Castle Face

Hot Bagels / Toasted / self-released

The Men / Tomorrow's Hits / Sacred Bones

Left & Right / Five Year Plan / Infinity Cat

EGO / Don't / Maximum Pelt

Daniel Bachman / Orange Co. Serenade / Bathetic

Jess Williamson / Native State / Brutal Honest

Swans / To Be Kind / Young God

Amen Dunes / Love / Sacred Bones

Wooden Wand / Farmer's Corner / Fire

Oozing Wound / Earth Suck / Thrill Jockey

 

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2014

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