Become a Member

Now Playing

Current DJ: D Rock: Apocalipstick Beatz

Grimes My Name is Dark from Miss Anthropocene (4AD) Add to Collection

Listen Live

Requests? 773-DJ-SONGS or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The CHIRP Blog

Mike Bennett writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2014: Mike Bennett

CHIRP Radio Best of 2014

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2014. Our next list is from DJ Mike Bennett.

I listened to at least 120 albums this year and 2014 was another swell year for music.

#1St. Vincent by St. Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic)
St. Vincent St. VincentBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Anne Clark’s art-pop just got a little bit funkier and a little bit more accessible, and the result is a smart, danceable, fun record. There are plenty of hooks, elusive but intriguing lyrics, layers of cool electronics, Clark’s quirky-but-not-too-quirky vocals and her amazing guitar playing. While I didn’t think her collaboration with David Byrne took off, this album shows that it had an impact, as it plays with rhythms and textures in a Talking Heads-y manner, without ever sounding imitative.

#2Breakfast by Teleman (Moshi Moshi)
Teleman BreakfastBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The core trio of the dissolved British band Pete and the Pirates didn’t change their core sensibility, as these songs are still sly and insinuating British indie pop. The approach shifted, to a spacious, post-punk inspired sound. Remember how everyone compared Spoon’s Kill The Moonlight to Wire’s 154? Teleman is far more successful in achieving that minimalist pop perfection on their impressive debut.

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

The team of El-P and Killer Mike shows no signs of letting up on the their second outing (though this is their third collaboration, as El-P produced the last Killer Mike album). El-P is arguably at the height of his powers as a producer. The backing tracks here are often harsh electronic beats, but El-P can work with a wide variety of textures and sounds. Meanwhile, both Mike and El are in fine form behind the mic. Very few emcees, in my opinion, can keep up with Killer Mike when it comes to the combination of lyrics and flow (which perfectly suit this music), but El-P’s staccato raps are such a great compliment (and these are his tracks, of course). At times the duo take on serious matters, but for the most part, these two guys are having fun.

#4A Long Way to the Beginning by Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 (Knitting Factory)
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 A Long Way to the BeginningBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Seun’s third album finds him perfecting his 21st Century streamlining of his father’s classic afro-pop sound. Jazz keyboardist Robert Glasper is a great co-producer, as the staccato funk grooves mix with fluid rhythms and the incorporation of some rapping that doesn’t feel forced (on a few tracks). Seun isn’t a great singer, but he’s a forceful frontman whose passion and smart lyrics make this music that moves the ass and engages the mind.

#5LP1 by FKA twigs (XL)
FKA twigs LP1BUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

While this doesn’t remotely sound like Frank Ocean’s debut LP, it hits me in a similar way. This is an artist melding some traditional R & B moves and recontextualizing them in a different musical setting. And here, it’s more radical, as Twigs uses icy electronics to contrast her thin but expressive vocals, to support her generally direct lyrics. There is a lot of pain and anger in this record, as the songs show Twigs to be a woman who has been wronged way too many times. The musical settings make dealing with this a whole lot easier.

#6The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint by Ambrose Akinmusire (Blue Note)
Ambrose Akinmusire The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to PaintBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

This Bay Area trumpet player takes a big leap from his terrific Blue Note debut LP. Akinmusire’s music is rooted in free jazz and bebop and other classic forms. It’s not always as explicitly modern as say Jason Moran or Christian Scott can be, but there’s still a contemporary vibe on his spacious compositions, with his wonderful soloing. Akinmusire’s music resonates with emotion as a lot of his songs are inspired by social themes. And using vocalists on three of the tracks shows that he looks at his sound expansively.

#7Black Messiah by D'Angelo & The Vanguard (RCA)
D'Angelo & The Vanguard Black MessiahBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The unexpected gift that was just released led to instant praise and a fair amount of groupthink, as folks whipped out the Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On comparisons (and other vintage sounds). And this time around, I think the hype is right. The hazy production creates layers that must be unpeeled with each listen. And the funky grooves and sneaky hooks encourage play after play to keep finding those layers.

#8Funeral Bonsai Wedding by Steve Dawson (self-released)
Steve Dawson Funeral Bonsai WeddingBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Both in Dolly Varden, and particularly as a solo artist, Steve Dawson has been striving for fresh new ways to present his songs. With his third solo LP, he came up with a great concept – team up with some top flight local jazz musicians. The result is fantastic. Dawson’s tight compositions mesh well with the floating music made by the jazz guys. They don’t overwhelm the well structured songs, instead giving them extra layers of feeling. I hope this isn’t a one off project.

#9Rips by Ex Hex (Merge)
Ex Hex RipsBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Mary Timony’s music has always been a bit off-kilter, although Wild Flag edged her closer to accessibility. Now back fronting her own band, she goes pop-punk in the best sort of way. The songs are as simple as her Autoclave days, but with more pep and hummability, often augmented by surf guitar lines. This is one of the most fun records of the year.

#10v2.0 by Gogo Penguin (Gondwana)
Gogo Penguin v2.0BUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

This cracking good British jazz trio centers around Chris Illingworth’s springy piano. At times, the music is a 21st Century take on cool ‘60s jazz, but the band also embraces a Radiohead-inspired glitchiness on other tracks. Even the longer compositions are economical, and the band never lets its academic precision get in the way of the fun.

Honorable mentions: Eagulls, Mounties, The New Pornographers, A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Sturgill Simpson, Reigning Sound, Chris Hickey, King Tuff, Marianne Faithfull, Lykke Li

Show of the year: Stevie Wonder doing Songs In The Key Of Life at the United Center

Media story of the year: CHIRP getting a broadcast license


comments powered by Disqus

Share December 30, 2014 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2014

Next entry: CHIRP Radio Best of 2014: Anna Ha

Previous entry: CHIRP Radio Best of 2014: Jenna Chapman