That’s Right, You’re Already Dead!
1. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
I couldn’t comfortably dictate a list of top albums until well after the entirety of 2014, but this release was surely the winner despite a constantly shifting list of runners-up. FlyLo (a member of the famous Coltrane family, for those unfamiliar) hones his style masterfully on this release; at times he weaves instruments so seamlessly that you might think you’re listening to some enigmatic result of jazz-fusion records that melted together with a progressive rock LP in some hot archival basement during the early 1970’s, but while taking advantages of all the abstract possibilities that electronic music has to offer the album carries a distinctively untouchable modern flair. Indubitably a work best served in one continuous run-through, You’re Dead! sees this musical trip progress from schizophrenic jazzy freak-outs to equally unique hip-hop segments featuring his mystical alter ego Captain Murphy and recognizable names like Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar. But guests are few and far between and those moments arrive within the first ten minutes of the album; the real treasure lies in the belly of the beast, and the glory belongs to the Lotus. His signature style of short yet powerful numbers that center around electronic foundations that resemble the clicking, morphing, and shifting of the doors of perception in the unconscious mind is all too present, and sweeping orchestral accompaniment and soaring, often wordless female vocals are still here as well. Try as I might, my words can’t provide aural synesthesia so its time to just tell you to listen. I’ll leave you with this: the man behind the album has elaborated on its concept in multiple interviews, and if you’re going to just sample a track or two, you can’t go wrong with “The Protest” or “Coronus, The Terminator.” But don’t pretend you don’t have 40 minutes, either.
2. Teebs – E S T A R A
A member of Flying Lotus’ record label Brainfeeder, fellow L.A. native Teebs creates dreamy instrumental electronic music similar enough to FlyLo’s to draw a referential comparison but more than unique enough to firmly stand on its own two feet. “Atmospheric” is a frustratingly abstract term to apply to music, but in certain cases it’s the only logical solution. This is one such case; E S T A R A is an album that provides the perfect blank canvas for pure mood, whatever that mood be. Perhaps a crisp, warm May sunrise that bursts purple and orange over the lush green trees and calm but detectable breeze before ascending into the sky to observe humanity’s daily bustle is the scene that echoes the feeling the album elicits through its mechanically interlocking yet alluringly organic electronic soundscapes, or maybe the contemplative gaze outside a window spattered with the perpetually falling and exploding bursts of fallen raindrops on a brisk, cloudy, and grey day from inside the conditioned sanctuary of a vehicle moving over pavement at the speed of the Earth’s rotation while windshield wiper blades periodically slash across your field of vision only to reset the situation is more of your association. Whatever your setting, this album is one that lends itself nicely to quietly kicking back in contemplation, and once again, is properly served whole. If you must, “Wavxxes,” “Grattitude,” “Shouss Lullaby,” and “NY, Pt. 2” are prime cuts, but you’re selling yourself far too short by missing out on the entire meal.
Check out his debut Ardour, too.
3. Run The Jewels – Run the Jewels II
The opening track “Jeopardy” says it all – Run the Jewels is the answer, your question is “What’s poppin’?”But in case you’re late to the party, Run the Jewels is the initially unlikely collaborative project between legendary NYC underground hip-hop rapper and producer El-P whose solo albums typically depict futuristic dystopian concepts laden with highly complex and meticulous production and southern-fried Atlanta MC Killer Mike. Both artists create quality hip-hop in their own right, but during the summer of 2013 they teamed up after El-P produced Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music (an exceptional album whose title track offers quite possibly the best appraisal of what true rap music is) to release Run the Jewels, a hard hitting free album that combined both individual styles to create something truly unique. Last year, they came back to cement their position as the rawest rap duo in the game, and achieved success in their chosen endeavor. El-P’s production is on point, providing a pulsing energy that keeps your head bobbing, legs bouncing, or fingers tapping throughout the album’s 40 minute duration and always maintaining a freshness that holds an undivided interest. Throw in the maniacal tag-team ferocity of El’s and Killer Mike’s raps, and you’ve got all the makings for a top-tier hip-hop album. Spin this one, and 40 minutes will pass in the span of what feels like 15; many tracks move at the speed of blitzkrieg but a couple slower, plodding numbers are present to make things interesting. Even though the lyrics are often raucous, utilizing the classic hip-hop metaphor of violence to illustrate their lyrical superiority, the verses go much deeper than that. Features are few and far between (the focus is on El-P and Killer Mike, after all) but popular names of rock music that peaked in popularity approximately a decade ago surface here, namely Zach de La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine and Travis Barker of Blink-182 fame. There’s no weak link here, and a vast majority of the songs on this album are in strong contention for the best, but must-listens for you flaky folks are “Jeopardy,” “All Due Respect feat. Travis Barker,” “Crown,” “Early,” and “Angel Duster,” perhaps the most lyrically intriguing song on the album.