Station Manager – Top Albums 2014

Written by AndyD. Posted in Lists, Music

 

1.  Ty Segall – Manipulator
tysegall
2. The War on Drugs – Lost in A Dream
3. Chad Van Gaalen – Shrink Dust
4. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
5. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
6. Real Estate – Atlas
7. Swans – To Be Kind
8. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
9. Strand of Oaks – Heal
10. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker

 

With such a strong year I  have decided to expand on my list:

11.The Antlers – Familiars 12.Liars – Mess 13.Typhoon – White Lighter 14.First Aid Kit – Stay Gold  15.Sun Kil Moon – Benji 16.Perfect P – Say Yes to Love 17.KithkinRituals, Trances & Ecstasies for Humans in Face of The Collapse  18.King Tuff – Black Moon Spell 19.Future Islands – Singles 20.Kishi Bashi – Lighght

Benji

Written by Hallie Nowak. Posted in Music, Reviews

benji sun kill moon

For the longest time, I evaded listening to Sun Kil Moon, so it was to my enormous surprise that Benji would not only become my favorite album of 2014, but one of my favorite albums of all time. Sun Kil Moon, otherwise known as Mark Kozelek, appeared somewhere in the midst of 2002 after the cessation of The Red House Painters. Kozelek began the group with two bandmates, but as Sun Kil Moon reached critical acclaim, the act became a one man show; and this contributes to the importance that Benji embodies. Benji is a collection of personal reflections as Kozelek’s life stretches into the iffy, uncomfortable, middle-aged years that can either enhance or destroy an artist’s musical direction; in Kozelek’s case, Benji, written as Kozelek turned 46, is augmented with beautiful acoustics, guileless lamentations, and offbeat confessionals that make Sun Kil Moon’s album personal with a vague sense of interconnection between singer and audience.

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Benji. The name in itself holds an obscured central meaning for Sun Kil Moon’s Kozelek. Mentioned in “Micheline”, a memoir for prominent figures in Kozelek’s 46 years of life, Benji seems to have an implicit meaning for the face behind Sun Kil Moon. Benji is an abstraction of Kozelek’s youth, one of those details that many of us can relate to; a small event, such as seeing a movie called Benji that seems insignificant at the time. But for some reason, this minute event remains as one of the keystones of a person’s youth. This can be said for many of Sun Kil Moon’s songs from Benji, one of the most prominent being “I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same”, which is Kozelek’s stream-of-consciousness narration of his childhood. Sun Kil Moon’s early 2014 album is scattered with puzzle pieces of nostalgia. It feels as though Kozelek doesn’t care if the words of his lyrics sound pretty or poetic, and that he simply yearns to get them off of his chest and out into the open. That being said, Benji can be considered a meditative album for Kozelek, a method of coming to terms with the imminence of growing old.

Several tracks exemplify the personal aspect of Benji, such as the first track “Carissa”, in which Kozelek deals with the tragic loss of an extended family member through the usage of memorialization. The blunt urgency of Kozelek’s lyrics combined with the soft and resonant acoustic guitar chords create an unusual yet compelling composition. In fact, little to no one can relate directly to the nearly unbelievable tragedies that have occurred in Kozelek’s life: Mark Kozelek’s friend who had an aneurysm, two separate incidents of Kozelek’s family members perishing in the flames of an aerosol can explosion and a friend of Kozelek’s father who waits on death row for taking the life of a wife on hospice; the list of specific life experiences goes on and on. It seems as though trials and tribulations are unending in the life of Mark Kozelek. But they do not go unnoticed, for the graceful arrangement of Benji brings these instances to life. After listening to Benji, the listener feels as though they know Sun Kil Moon personally.

Benji is a pleasant surprise to say the least. The confessional album thrusts itself to the ears of the public and sits there waiting as an honest, meandering story of growing up. The beauty of Benji is striking and only improves upon further listening. Kozelek utilizes elements of Nick Drake’s instrumentation and Bob Dylan’s lyrical style with a touch of Elliot Smith’s melancholy moodiness to create a wonderfully folksy album. Sun Kil Moon’s Benji is an earnest tap on the shoulder by a stranger at a coffee shop who turns out to be an endlessly interesting. Sun Kil Moon’s album is an earful from start to finish, and serves as a thought-provoking piece that causes you to look back on your own life and measure the happenings that have helped to create your character. And if nothing else, you should listen to this album and appreciate the courage Kozelek summons to tell his story. Sun Kil Moon is a natural storyteller, and Benji is a modern and subtle small-scale masterpiece.

With a Little Help From My Fwends

Written by Hallie Nowak. Posted in Music, Reviews

 

flaming lips fwends

Upon looking at the back of With a Little Help from My Fwends, I found myself both enthused and nearly overwhelmed by the quantity of “Fwends” guesting on the Flaming Lips’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band “tribute” album. And upon listening to the album uninterrupted for the first time, I found myself just overwhelmed, all feelings of excitement erased.

Seriously? I think to myself; and these thoughts still persist as I listen to it again and again, hoping to find some redeeming qualities hidden somewhere within the chaotic duration of this album. I expected to be impressed, but instead I am left with nothing but sheer disappointment. Mind you, I am a Beatles fanatic, so I may be a bit biased, but Fwends is all over the place, a mess disguised as a modern psychedelic imitation of arguably one of the best classic psych-rock albums of all time.

Of course, tribute/cover albums are supposed to allow some of the covering artist’s sound to leak through to create an interpretation of a work they respect. But it’s one thing to cover something and quite another thing to take another’s art and alter it utterly and completely; this is the result that The Flaming Lips achieve when they take an album like Sgt Pepper’s and garble it to the extent of being unrecognizable.
Foxygen, My Morning Jacket, J. Mascis, Grace Potter, Dr. Dog, Tegan and Sara, Moby, and Electric Wṻrms are quite notable, recent, and relevant alternative and indie voices, and they all appear on Fwends as well as The Flaming Lips, of course. James Maynard Keenan and Miley Cyrus also appear surprisingly and unfittingly as well; this cluster of varying sounds contributes to the chaotic and disorganized album. Many sound as though they’ve never even heard the album before, that Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne tossed a copy of the lyrics from each song at each artist last minute and halfheartedly said, “Hey. Look these over for a bit and figure something out. Oh, and by the way, this is going on an album tomorrow.”

It is apparent even after the first two tracks that With a Little Help From My Fwends needs more help than just the “fwends” that appear on the tracklisting. Half of the artists, even if they are noteworthy, are indistinguishable behind the messily layered synth that blankets nearly every single track. Autotune and other voice effects distract the listener from the masterpiece that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club is and has been since its release in 1967 by The Beatles. Understandably, Sgt. Pepper’s may be daunting to approach covering, as its legacy is legendary, still affecting those who lived to hear the album debut and young listeners alike. But this “modern” take is nearly disrespectful to both listeners and Beatle members alike; it feels as though no one tried to maintain its sound in the slightest. Dr. Dog wavers off key in “Getting Better”, Leamen’s lack of effort painfully obvious, his ambition nearing nonexistence. Cyrus butchers lyrics in “A Day in The Life”, alluding to the fact that this may be her first time even listening to The Beatles at all.

Most tracks from this album follow suit with the exception of Wonderwṻrm’s atmospheric, woozy cover of “Fixing a Hole”. Of course, there are a few more shimmering moments of clarity on With a Little Help From My Fwends, but the key word here is “few”. The arrangements are largely distracting in this album, and tend to circulate without a sense of meaning instead of pushing forwards with ultramodern insight. The Flaming Lips utilize their resources to the extent of overbearingness; they are trying too hard to create a fluid, cohesive album that it instead is forgettable and unfortunate. While a respectable tribute album of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is desirable and coveted by many including myself, it is quite clear that this is not the version we have been waiting for. With a Little Help From My Fwends is naive and premature, and is a feeble and obnoxious effort at achieving the psychedelic status that The Beatles achieved; and Sgt. Pepper’s was achieved half a century ago with half of the equipment and 10 times the effort.

Pink Palms

Written by Hallie Nowak. Posted in Music, Reviews

pink palms

Releasing their debut album Pink Palms within a period in which music can be, at times, deficient in standout creativity, The Bots seem to have a bit of an idea of what they are doing. The Los Angeles duo The Bots is composed of brothers Mikaiah Lei (lead vocals, guitar, bass) and Anaiah Lei (drums, percussion). Having self-released three albums prior to Pink Palms, the spunky L.A. boys have been creating music since they were 15 and 12 years old. While still on the brink of adolescence at 21 and 17 years old, the Lei boys have a mature grasp on what does and does not make good music; decidedly, The Bots focus on what does create an enjoyable listening experience, as Pink Palms is a surprisingly strong debut endeavor for the Los Angeles teens.

According to The Bots’ website, the Lei boys are strongly influenced by Arcade Fire, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, and Bad Brains, “to name a few”; this is highly significant, as it marks an era in which up and coming bands are being influenced by the still touring and album producing alternative music staples that are still fresh themselves. The Bots not only borrow guitar riffs, vocals, and lyrical styles from these artists, but also slyly sneak in audial references to other prevalent modern day alternative artists such as The Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, Beach House, and even the likes of Sonic Youth and Jimi Hendrix.

Big names, right?

Right. But, mind you, The Bots borrow resourcefully like the emergent artists they are. Sneaking in some bluesy vocals here, turning up the punky, fuzzed distortion of guitar riffs there, and even sprinkling tidbits of Bloom-esque electronic beats from track to track, The Bots create a cohesive soundscape mindful of their favorite genres of music. The standout track from Pink Palms is “All I Really Want”, with the near-frantic spoken words resonant of Daydream Nation, alongside the jarring guitar complimenting Mikaiah’s gutsy vocals.  “Blinded” reminds one of a more juvenile version of “R U Mine?” off of The Arctic Monkeys’ publically acclaimed 2013 album A.M.; once again, not a bad artist to be compared to—especially as a first effort.

When a person normally thinks of a palm tree, he pictures a tall, leafy tree gently waving somewhere near a beach where the sun has begun to set, which casts rays of pastel orange and pink across the horizon and into the ocean’s lapping waves. But when listening to Pink Palms, I picture a small, dingy music club surrounded by cigarette smoking adolescents, a neon pink palm sputtering and buzzing vibrantly above their heads as the club’s emblem. The Bots are an upcoming band of importance for the rising generation of angst-ridden teens growing tired of putting their Clash albums on repeat. While still a minor indie voice in the world of music, The Bots are a glimpse into the near future of what music will become. The Bots have very large shoes to fill for their upcoming years, especially with the title “most likely to succeed”, acknowledged by Rolling Stone Magazine; I, too, am looking forward to what The Bots will bring to the table.

 

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