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Matt Garman writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2014: Matt Garman

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 and Merchandise Manager Matt Garman.

As much as we want to think we're looking for the newest trend, I've come to accept that for the most part I respond to nostalgia on a regular basis: I like new music that sounds a little bit like old music I love. Indeed, I'm working to fully embrace this fact. In spite of the fact that my favorite albums of 2014 (and 2013, 2012, etc) include new albums by artists I have loved for years, I still tried harder this time around to listen to as much new music as possible than perhaps ever before... I literally made a spreadsheet, attempted (and failed) to create a formula for my personal like-value per album, scanned music criticism sites, dug through all my playlists from 2014, and simply paid attention when anyone anywhere near me was talking about new music. As a result, I considered approximately 100 albums in order to come up with this list of stuff that sounds like stuff I love. Forgive/indulge me.

PLUS, as if he intentionally wanted to muck up my entire system (if he were aware I exist), D'Angelo goes and releases a fantastic new album on Dec. 15, after I thought I had this whole thing buttoned up. Upon realizing how incredibly good it is, I had to revise the entire list.

Now then:

#1They Want My Soul by Spoon (Loma Vista)
Spoon They Want My SoulBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Spoon is my favorite, the best active working band out there, and they have been since I first heard Girls Can Tell in 2001. Every time they release an album it's my favorite of the year. They epitomize particular qualities that I am a flat-out sucker for: musically tight with catchy, economic songwriting; an emphasis on percussion, embodied by the unfuckwithable Jim Eno; topped by an enviable rasp, in this case that of frontman Britt Daniel.

Spoon have always sounded like a magnetic blend of their heroes: John Lennon, Can, Elvis Costello, Daryl Hall, et al. Working with outside producers for the first time on their eighth studio album, Spoon enlisted the straightforward Joe Chiccarelli to track half the songs; these recordings were then mixed with the spacier Dave Fridmann, who took over co-producing the remainder of the record. Perhaps most importantly, the band also added a fifth member, Alex Fischel (from Divine Fits, Daniel's 2012 side project); Fischel and Fridmann inject a blazing dose of chaos into Spoon's controlled environment, and the result is exhilarating. That is, it's all solid Spoon, pulsing and thumping perfectly, but it's the new Spoon 3.0, which is totally fantastic.

Favorite tracks:
"Inside Out"
"Knock Knock Knock"
"Do You"

#2Black Messiah by D'Angelo (RCA)
D'Angelo Black MessiahBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Less sexy, yet more sonically aggressive and politically-charged than Voodoo, D'Angelo's return sounds to me like the same crew, just 15 years on. He's seen some shit, you know, both personally and in the community, and that richness of experience is apparent. More funky, more rocking, more jazzy, more popped-out, it's... more D'Angelo, right? Besides the man hisself, there's shades of Parliament-Funkadelic, Prince, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone in this piece too. (Frank Ocean? The Beatles? Maybe even.) Not sure exactly who all is in "The Vanguard", but we know for a fact he's got The Roots' ?uestlove on drums (and production, perhaps), A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip is apparently involved (always a good idea), musicians Pino Palladino and Kendra Foster, plus engineer/mixer Russell Elevado.

Another incredibly meaningful aspect of this album is the fact that its sudden, unexpected release feels like everyone is listening to it at once, right now, yesterday, today, soaking it in, sharing it, loving it together. Talk about a unifying force.

Favorite tracks:
"Sugah Daddy"
"Ain't That Easy"
"Really Love"

#3Run the Jewels 2 by Run the Jewels (Mass Appeal)
Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2BUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The 3rd album from Killer Mike and El-P is their 2nd as RTJ; El-P produced Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music before they officially became a duo. Killer Mike is from Atlanta, known in part as a featured artist on OutKast cuts, while El-P is a Brooklyn rapper and producer who has remained primarily in the non-mainstream, indie hip-hop universe. Together they deliver an unrelenting attack of aggressive MCing, with chaotic beats + noize that evokes the influence of Public Enemy's best material. There's no vapid R&B singers emoting a chorus on constant repeat, no pitched-down vocal gimmickry, no posing as wealthy drug-dealing gangsta murderers, no bloated predictability. These dudes are relatable because they wear their middle-class status without shame, and blow my mind repeatedly by simply being really, really good at rhyming over fascinating production, and then move on to the next cut. Believe the hype.

Favorite tracks:
"Blockbuster Night Pt. 1"
"Oh My Darling (Don't Cry)"

#4Lese Majesty by Shabazz Palaces (Sub Pop)
Shabazz Palaces Lese MajestyBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The sophomore full-length from this forward-thinking hip-hop group out of Seattle expands on the compelling, spaced-out rap they are known for, pushing the boundaries of the genre further than their 2011 debut, Black Up. The sounds are heavily influenced by 70's prog, electronic, and spacefunk, featuring deliciously esoteric synth noises, with elegant acoustic percussion and thick bass tones giving it body. Ishmael Butler (formerly Butterfly of Digable Planets, now Palaceer Lazaro) and Tendai Maraire meticulously assembled this futuristic collection into 7 "suites" that flow together and sound terrific as a whole. The album title means "to offend royalty," and Butler has stated in interviews that they are indeed stuntin' on today's mainstream rap acts. As such, this album presents a worthy challenge.

Favorite track:
"Motion Sickness"

#5Morning Phase by Beck (Capitol)
Beck Morning PhaseBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Who ever expected Beck to become the eclectic, widely-regarded songwriter he's become? I remember when he was just, you know, weird. I suppose he's still plenty weird (particularly with his having been raised and still being a Scientologist), but he's also created some of the most accessible, relatable, occasionally funky / occasionally moving music today. People compare Morning Phase to Sea Change and Mutations, which is fair, but if you look at his whole discography, it's in keeping with a general pattern: folky album, funky album, folky album, etc. The emotional and literal centerpiece of Morning Phase is the movingly revelatory "Wave," a slow, orchestral piece (arranged by Beck's father) that rises and falls over the course of 3 and a half minutes; Beck apparently tried to find other artists to record the song, but having failed, ultimately claimed it for his own and wrote all the other material on the record to relate to it in some way. The result is a somber, dark collection of strummy numbers that satisfy my sadsack tendencies.

Favorite track:

#6Cool Choices by S (Hardly Art)
S Cool ChoicesBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Jenn Ghetto's 4th album under the moniker S is a lovely collection of indie-pop breakup songs, as is her wont. However, Cool Choices is far brighter and fuller than her previous 4-track bedroom recordings, the result of forming a band around the material in rehearsal, and probably producer Chris Walla's presence as well. Ghetto first emerged over a decade ago as a member of Carissa's Wierd, a regionally-beloved (but seriously overrated) Seattle mope-folk outfit which, after dissolving, yielded the frontmen for both Band of Horses and Grand Archives. S sounds nothing like those groups; no bombast, no reverb, not even harmonies really. I much prefer the delicate, mournful S -- a true treasure, and I hope desperately they play live in Chicago soon.

Favorite track:

#7Smell the DA.I.S.Y. by De La Soul (self-released)
De La Soul Smell the DA.I.S.Y.BUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

This wonderful mixtape is built on 100% J Dilla beats, topped with classic, updated, repurposed De La lyrics from past songs. J Dilla (aka Jay Dee, aka James Yancey) is a genre-shaping producer / arranger / beatmaker / cratedigger with a cult following of hip-hop heads who know him for his work with MF Doom, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, De La... The music -- this whole album -- is funky, smooth, and irresistibly catchy. Yancey passed away far too young, at the age of 32 in 2006, from cardiac arrest; he had been living with blood disease for several years. This collection, and the instrumental version that followed, are a tribute to a friend and collaborator. Also, "DA.I.S.Y." stands for "Da Inner Soul of Yancey."

Favorite track:
"Dilla Plugged In"

#8Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! (Total Treble)
Against Me! Transgender Dysphoria BluesBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Truth be told, I've never liked Against Me! very much - their anthemic shoutalong punk always felt about 2-inches deep to me, and lacking grit. But on this latest album, something has changed. Lead singer/songwriter Laura Jane Grace's decision to self-produce (and self-release) the album may be the reason, and/or it could be her bravery in coming out as trans in 2012. I suspect it's a combination of all these elements: writing openly about such a difficult personal experience for the first time, with complete honesty, has imbued the material with a powerful, undeniable three-dimensional heft. The songs are catchy, occasionally poppy, and heavy in multiple ways. Their best album to date.

Favorite track:
"Black Me Out"

#9Liminal by The Acid (Mute)
The Acid LiminalBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The Acid are an international trio: a British DJ, an American composer/producer, and an Australian singer/songwriter. They make beautiful, gentle, electronic pop music. Indeed, The Acid sounds like what many people expected/hoped Thom Yorke's solo material would resemble: Radiohead without the guitars and drums -- all smooth blips and gorgeous falsetto vocals, a languid pace, and safe comfort. (No knock on Yorke, who basically decided to make legitimately forward-thinking, esoteric, inscrutable electronic music.) Sure, this stuff isn't terribly challenging, but it's also the best not-Radiohead I've heard thus far; Coldplay's first album, or, what? Muse? Yeesh. No. Drop The Acid and forget about all that.

Favorite track:

#10Commonwealth by Sloan (Yep Roc)
Sloan CommonwealthBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

For their 11th studio full-length, these Canadian veterans of the rock scene deliver a clever double album, each side written by a different band member, all of whom are wonderful, distinct songwriters. Literally one of my favorite working bands, Sloan's catalog is nearly unparalleled in depth and consistency, influenced by the Beatles and ELO and the Ramones and KISS and Dylan and yet fully their own men, with a quarter century of toil in the game. It almost bums out that they're not more famous in the U.S., because they certainly deserve it. On the upside, I can get right up close when they play Chicago. They are modest, bookish, mother, fucking, rock stars.

Favorite track:

Honorable mentions (aka 11-20):
Royal Blood - Royal Blood (Warner Bros.)
Common - Nobody's Smiling (Def Jam)
Jack White - Lazaretto (Third Man)
OK Go - Hungry Ghosts (Paracadute)
The Rentals - Lost in Alphaville (Polyvinyl)
Kelis - Food (Ninja Tune)
Future Islands - Singles (4AD)
St. Vincent - St. Vincent (Loma Vista)
Banks - Goddess (Harvest)
Mirah - Changing Light (Absolute Magnitude/K)


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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2014

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