SOUNDSCAPES STAFF BEST OF 2014
These are the 20 favourite new releases, 20 favourite reissues/archival releases, and 25 favourite compilations of 2014 as chosen by the staff of Soundscapes.
Top 20 new releases of 2014
1. DOUG TUTTLE – S/T
New Hampshire's Doug Tuttle has crafted a wonderful debut album of lo-fi psychedelia with hook-ridden tunes lamenting the breakup of a relationship. Tuttle's singing, guitar-playing and songwriting make him a standout amongst today's purveyors of nouveau-psych.
2. KEVIN MORBY – Still Life
"Kevin Morby's songwriting keeps the playfully serious tone set on Harlem River [a 2013 staff fave, making Morby one of many incumbents on this year's list], thriving on collaboration while also seemingly needing the necessary time alone to recharge and rebuild." (originally published on October 17, 2014)
3. WHITE FENCE – For The Recently Found Innocent
Though not quite as prolific as fellow garage/psych revivalist Ty Segall (who, as it happens, produces and plays all over this record), White Fence's Tim Presley has released a hefty number of albums in the last few years that hit many of the same marks as Segall’s work, while still very much managing to occupy a unique space. This most recent record is his most coherent and focused yet, with track after track sounding like the best song you’ve never heard from one of your favourite '60s psych/folk/garage bands, as Presley deftly jumps from snappy Who-esque pop numbers to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd freak-outs without missing a beat, and it all holds together beautifully.
4. TY SEGALL – Manipulator
Playing everything on a record yourself can put a lot of pressure on a guy, but Ty Segall seems to revel in it. After countless releases in a relatively short career, Segall has made the album he was born to make, alone again (naturally).
5. MAC DEMARCO– Salad Days
We've been keen on DeMarco ever since first hearing Rock And Roll Night Club a couple of years back, and while his impishness has mellowed and matured at this point, it's thankfully still heard in Salad Days' offhand observations and admissions (nevermind those Alesis-laden liquidy lead guitar lines).
6. THE NEW MENDICANTS – Into The Lime
"Although the group name might not yet register, The New Mendicants consist of a trio of Toronto transplants (of varying degrees) whose names you'll likely recognize: Joe Pernice, Norman Blake and Mike Belitsky, banding together to play a brand of sprightly-strummed pop which blends the singing and songwriting voices of Blake and Pernice to breezily catchy effect." (originally published on February 3, 2014)
7. FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – Piñata
It had been a few years since word of an entire collaborative Freddie Gibbs/Madlib album was put out there to those of us watching and rewatching the amazing "Thuggin'" & "Shame" videos on YouTube and drooling for more, and this full-length did not disappoint, as Madlib's signature soul- and jazz-laden beats underpinned Freddie Gibbs' distinctive gangster-rap flow. One of the least likely but most rewarding rap collaborations in ages.
9. DYLAN SHEARER – Garagearray
"Garagearray unshowingly and unaffectedly hones in on a particularly early-'70s UK psych/folk slow/sadsack sweet spot, recalling such heavyweights as Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett and Bill Fay while totally holding its own and sounding fresh and unique." (originally published on May 9, 2014)
10. ALVVAYS - S/T
It wasn't just us: the strength of two catchy-as-heck singles ("Archie, Marry Me" and "Adult Diversion") created some real excitement to hear the full-length, and it didn't disappoint.
11. BOHREN & DER CLUB OF GORE – Piano Nights
"The dead of winter was not only the perfect time of year for Piano Nights' release, but also for one to acquaint themselves with Bohren's gloomy, haunting take on jazz in general, a catalogue that now runs (trudges?) a daunting eight albums deep." (originally published on February 5, 2014)
12. BECK – Morning Phase
His best record since 2002's Sea Change, Beck revisits the orchestral folk-pop sound of that classic album. Infused with a melancholic and dreamy feel, this album soundtracked a good number of this writer's weekend mornings this year.
13. DAVID KILGOUR AND THE HEAVY 8'S – End Times Undone
"David Kilgour's unique jangly guitar sound and stream-of-consciousness lyrics speak to me like no other musician ever has [...] Pitchfork's review assigned End Times Undone a numeric score of 6.9, but in my books it's a 10.0." (originally published on August 20, 2014)
14. KING TUFF – Black Moon Spell
King Tuff, a.k.a. Kyle Thomas, has recorded a delightful third album full of glam-rock stomp and garage-rock crunch. The hooks come fast and furious on these tunes, with Tuff's Bolan-like vocals paying humourous yet heartfelt tribute to the thrills of rockin' out.
15. METRONOMY – Love Letters
"Love Letters never sacrifices a catchy pop tune for experimentation's sake, letting these two tendencies unshowingly inform each other and resulting in a formidable follow-up to The English Riviera." (originally published on March 17, 2014)
16. A WINGED VICTORY FOR THE SULLEN – ATOMOS
"Those enamored with Max Richter's recent boxset (which included Infra, a piece also created for Wayne McGregor) will find much to love in A Winged Victory For The Sullen's ambient/classical washes of sound." (originally published on November 16, 2014)
17. TEMPLES – Sun Structures
"Temples join bands like Tame Impala and Toy with their contemporary twist on classic psychedelia, throwing such influences as The Beatles, Byrds, Love and T-Rex into a sonic blender; what comes out is one hook-filled trip-fest." (originally published on March 28, 2014)
18. THE NOTWIST – Close To The Glass
"An affably adventurous electronic pop outing by a group that's long been a standout in an increasingly crowded field." (originally published on February 25, 2014)
19. JENNIFER CASTLE - Pink City
"Grand yet concise, Pink City fittingly sees longtime shop fave Jennifer Castle corralling together many of T.O.'s finest players (including Soundscapes alumnus Mike Smith on bass throughout, as well as providing string arrangements for the record's last two tracks) while leaving plenty of room for her voice and lyrics to take center stage." (originally published on September 5, 2014)
20. COURTNEY BARNETT – The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas
"The Double EP exceeded our buzz-based expectations, with Barnett's easygoing vocals and everyday narratives complemented by poppy melodies and sturdy guitar work." (originally published on April 25, 2014)
Top 20 reissues/archival releases of 2014
1. NED DOHENY – Separate Oceans
"If you're a fan of the likes of Jackson Browne, Boz Skaggs, Hall & Oates and Todd Rundgren but haven't yet heard Ned Doheny, welcome to the world of your new favourite blue-eyed soul songwriter!" (originally published on May 24, 2014)
2. BOB DYLAN - The Basement Tapes Complete/Raw: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11
Finally, the Bootleg Series volume that many Dylan fans (including myself) have been most anticipating. Using Garth Hudson (of The Band)'s original tapes as the master source, this collection plunges in-depth into the legendary Big Pink sessions, revealing yet more evidence of music-making at its most joyous and collaborative. Although the 6CD version may be a bit much for the casual fan, the included alternate takes of familiar songs, attempted and previously unheard originals and covers, as well as snippets of studio banter give us our best look yet at these landmark recordings.
3. RONNIE LANE AND SLIM CHANCE – Ooh La La: An Island Harvest
"A rollicking rock revue, Lane and his post-Faces outfit recorded two albums for Island, both collected on this double-disc set along with alternate takes as well as a BBC concert from 1974." (originally published on March 19, 2014)
4. THE BROTHERS & SISTERS - Dylan's Gospel
"Unavailable for the past 10 years with copies of the out-of-print CD selling for hundreds of dollars, it's a joy to see this finally available again; a perfect companion piece to their previously released revelatory gospel set from Pastor TL Barrett." (originally published on May 11, 2014)
5. NGOZI FAMILY – Day Of Judgement
"The utterly unique combination of metallic/proto-punky fuzzed-out guitar, crudely funky drumming, and charmingly awkward English singing that was '70s Zam-rock has electrified these ears for some time now, in no small part due to the efforts of Now-Again, who have now released what might be the most fun and exciting record of that prime era of Zambian bands that we've yet had the chance to be hipped to!" (originally published on October 10, 2014)
6. HARALD GROSSKOPF – Synthesist
This synth-heavy album from 1980 is right up there with the works of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. The former Ash Ra Temple/Ashra drummer made a drumless record that has no shortage of percussive weight. For fans of Krautrock, things more dance-y and minimal zone coasters.
7. EDDY GILES – Southern Soul Brother: The Murco Recordings 1967-1969
"'Losin' Boy' appeared on Volume 2 of the classic Deep Soul Treasures series compiled by Dave Godin; a full compilation has been much sought after by lovers of Southern soul." (originally published on November 26, 2014)
8. THE BATS – Volume 1
Following on the heels of their amazing Cleaners From Venus retrospectives, the folks at Captured Tracks have undertaken the project of reissuing the catalog of New Zealand jangle-pop legends The Bats. This first volume in the series includes their first two studio albums as well as a collection of early singles filled with little-known pop masterpieces. Hopefully this release signals a continuing effort on the part of CT to reissue other titles from the amazing Flying Nun catalog.
9. THE KINKS – Lola Vs. Powerman And The Moneygoround/Percy
By 1970, The Kinks had been without a hit single for a few years. Kinks leader Ray Davies came up with a great hard-rocking concept album about the trials and tribulations of working within the record industry. This excellent reissue includes their 1971 soundtrack to the film Percy, as well as previously unreleased tracks.
10. GEORGE HARRISON - The Apple Years 1968-75
The classic All Things Must Pass has long been one of this writer's Desert Island Discs, but I was mostly unfamiliar with George's other Apple-era albums, so it's wonderful to finally hear them. Living In The Material World tackles the big questions in life and inspires a sense of wonder all around; his message to live in the present moment is more relevant today than ever in our consumer-driven society filled with distraction. Be here now!
11. LEWIS - L'Amour
"Anyone looking for some whispered new-age L.A. loner synth-folk to file near (but not too near) their Jandek and Arthur Russell records should look no further." (originally published on May 26, 2014)
12. MILES DAVIS - Miles At The Fillmore: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
"Yet more archival riches, this time focusing on the complete recordings of Miles' four-night June 1970 residency at the Fillmore East, along with bonus tracks recorded in April of that same year at San Francisco's Fillmore West." (originally published on March 28, 2014)
13. SID SELVIDGE – The Cold Of The Morning
"A starkly arranged, mostly solo set of country blues and folk interpretations, this reissue is yet another labour of love from the folks at Omnivore Recordings." (originally published on March 17, 2014)
14. SANDRA RHODES - Where's Your Love Been
"A long-overdue reissue of this downhome and laidback funky country classic." (originally published on April 23, 2014)
15. KEITH CROSS & PETER ROSS – Bored Civilians
"This reissue first caught our eye when it received a glowing writeup in MOJO [...] Bored Civilians' Laurel Canyon-esque folk-rock has enough proggy touches to mark this album as a uniquely British take on the California sound." (originally published on July 28, 2014)
16. LAURENCE VANAY – Galaxies
One of two recently reissued (and long sought-after) slices of progressive pop from the wife of a member of French freaks Magma, Galaxies moves at a hazy pace, with an atmosphere of acid-laced mellowness prevailing throughout the whole recording. Good stuff.
17. ERNIE GRAHAM - S/T (LP-only reissue)
To these ears, this lone self-titled LP from Ernie Graham lands somewhere between the Band worshippery of Brinsley Schwarz, the roustabout spirit of Phil Lynott at his balladic best, and the sneered gentility of Michael Chapman or New Morning-era Dylan, all adding up to an overlooked folk-rock classic chock-full of stoic heartbreak.
18. MAX RICHTER - Retrospective
"The success of Max Richter's Recomposition of The Four Seasons, our best-selling recent classical release by a significant margin, has resulted in this repackaging of four of his earlier releases in a stunning box set; a beautiful hybrid of ambient, classical and electronic styles." (originally published on June 19, 2014)
19. CRISPIAN ST. PETERS - The Pied Piper: The Complete Recordings 1965-1974
Crispian St. Peters is best known for his sprightly 1966 British pop hit "The Pied Piper," but this 2CD set from RPM reveals the breadth of his recording and songwriting career, with his forays into folk and country sitting comfortably next to pop sessions. The tracks bring to mind early Charlie Rich as well as Tommy Roe at times, all unified by a warm production style.
20. SHIRLEY NANETTE - Never Coming Back
"Discovered by Friends Of Sound record store owner/music licensor David Haffner while record-shopping in Fort Worth, TX and passed on to Truth & Soul for reissue, Never Coming Back is a private-press soul find well worth the second life it's now been given." (originally published on March 12, 2014)
Top 25 compilations of 2014
1. VA – Country Funk II 1967-1974
"Featuring an undeniable pair of bookending cuts (Billy Swan's "Don't Be Cruel" and Willis Alan Ramsey's "Northeast Texas Women," respectively), a couple of killer mid-comp covers (Jackie DeShannon singing "The Weight," as well as Dillard and Clark doing "Don't Let Me Down") and the appreciated inclusion of J.J. Cale's "Cajun Moon," this second volume satistifies on its own, yet leaves plenty of room for future installments." (originally published on July 28, 2014)
2. VA – Too Slow To Disco
"A mix of laid-back '70s soft-rock/pop/folk/jazz tracks and artists both familiar (including the Brothers Doobie and Alessi, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago, Tony Joe White, Jan Hammer, and the above-charting Ned Doheny, whose signature song 'Get It Up For Love' opens the track listing) and new to us (hey there Browning Bryant, Brian Elliot, Don Brown, David Batteau and Robbie Dupree)." (originally published on June 6, 2014)
3. VA – Eccentric Soul: The Way Out Label
"We received a call from a customer looking to track down a song their toddler was groovin' to in the shop. Well, after some detective work we determined it was the fantastic 'Demanding Man' by The Sensations from this wonderful collection of Cleveland soul. There are many other groovers on here, as well as such deeper soul as "I've Got Everything I Need" by The Soul Notes." (originally published on July 24, 2014)
4. VA - LateNightTales presents Automatic Soul (mixed by Tom Findlay of Groove Armada)
Electro-funk, future boogie, electronic disco (maybe even proto-house depending on the cut)—however you want to retrospectively describe it, the early-to-mid '80s were an exciting time for R&B, and Tom Findlay follows up his love letter to yacht rock with this ode to the era of Mtume, Jam & Lewis, Roger Troutman, and the pleasures of the 12" dance mix.
5. VA – Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles
"Practice your binder-scrawl penmanship, work on that twelve-sided dice roll, and grab a seat at the roundtable, because Numero Group has reanimated sixteen tracks of '70s occult American hard rock one-hitters for heathen ears only." (originally published on March 28, 2014)
6. VA – Brent: Superb '60s Soul Sounds
"The Brent record label released soul from across the States, and some of the best it had to offer is found on this new Ace/Kent collection." (originally published on September 11, 2014)
7. VA – You Talk Too Much: The Ric & Ron Story Volume 1
"While Mississippi's Ace Records was first to record and market New Orleans rock'n'roll and R&B, Joe Ruffino's Ric and Ron imprints soon followed suit, recording early cuts by Professor Longhair, Eddie Bo and Irma Thomas, among many more featured here in this first volume, covering 1958 to 1960." (originally published on March 12, 2014)
8. VA – Inner City Beat! Detective Themes, Spy Music and Imaginary Thrillers
"An exciting Soul Jazz compilation spotlighting British library music composers who provided background instrumentals for suspense-laden, action-packed TV shows and films. There are non-stop thrills to be found here amongst the funky breakbeats and jazzy grooves by David Lindup, Johnny Hawksworth and co." (originally published on March 29, 2014)
9. VA – Poppsaga: Iceland's Pop Scene 1972-1977
Whenever we needed our fix of goofy glam, Eurovision longhair croonery or disco-laced boogie-rock with hints of ESL oddness and bits of proggy riffage to taste, Poppsaga did the trick swimmingly (platform boots optional, but certainly helpful).
10. VA - Girls With Guitars 3: The Rebel Kind
Another terrific volume of Ace's Girl With Guitars series, featuring many more fine female garage-rockers from the '60s. Too many stand-out numbers to single out here, but special mention has to be made for New Zealand's Chicks, lending bad-girl vocals and fearsome fuzz guitar tones to the title track, the Lee Hazlewood composition "The Rebel Kind."
11. VA - C86
Besting the 2006 Bob Stanley-compiled 2-disc collection C86: 48 Tracks From The Birth Of Indiepop on Sanctuary Records with a massive 72 cuts, this 3CD box further expands on the original cassette that defined the UK indie sound and set the standard for the next three decades of independent jangle-pop.
12. VA - The Soul Of Designer Records
"Fans of the Sinner's Crossroads podcast or the stellar I Heard The Angels Singing compilation from last year will find much to like in this 4CD set of soulful, impassioned gospel." (originally published on November 17, 2014)
13. VA – Punk 45 Vol. 3: Sick On You! One Way Spit! After The Love & Before The Revolution - Proto-Punk 1970-77
Indispensable reissue label Soul Jazz has now released three tremendous collections of rare punk rock singles, including this one focusing on blistering proto-punk. Every cut here is a winner, but those by San Francisco's Crime, Hamilton's Simply Saucer, and the 101ers (featuring future Clash lead singer Joe Strummer) particularly leap out.
14. VA - Kollektion 01: Sky Records compiled by Tim Gane
In what appears to be an exciting new series, the folks at Bureau B are inviting music-loving, -collecting and -playing curators to delve into their catalog of experimental early electronic and ambient music, and select their favourite cuts. Kollektion 01 sees Tim Gane of Stereolab selecting from the catalog of Sky Records, and is sure to interest those who are fans of Gane's work as well as those already familiar with the works of Eno and Cluster et al. Kollektion 02 has already been released, with Lloyd Cole picking from the solo works of Roedelius, and has been another staff fave these past few months.
15. VA – Such A Much: R&B Girls of the '50s & '60s
"Here's a crunching collection of R&B girls, with coyness in short supply...All twenty songs here are floor-fillers, waiting to be the centrepiece of a movie soundtrack or, better yet, the soundtrack to your next house party." - Croydon Municipal/Cherry Red
16. VA – New Orleans Soul: The Original Sound Of New Orleans Soul 1966-76
At this point, it's safe to say that Soul Jazz's three volumes of New Orleans Funk (Vols. 2 and 3 of which have already been blurbed about by us) is one of the specialist series on which the label has made its name, so branching out into the slower-burning, balladeering side of N.O. oldies with this inaugural Soul set was more than welcome.
17. VA - South Side Story Vol. 23
Taking both graphic design and sonic sensibility from the East Side Story bootleg series of lowrider-repurposed doowop obscurities, this Record Store Day CD release from Numero Group's self-consciously shady Numbero sub-imprint (with the LP edition having been a RSD item limited enough to have sold out immediately) focused on rare, previously 45-only soul songs from their hometown of Chicago's South Side.
18. VA - Black Fire! New Spirits! Radical and Revolutionary Jazz in the USA 1957-82
Soul Jazz return with another installment in their ongoing documentation of left-field Afrocentric jazz, this time placing less emphasis on indie jazz in the 'spiritual' vein in favour of a wider survey of boundary-pushing musicians both well-known and obscure.
19. VA - Native North America
From the impressive range of styles, regions and eras covered (as well as the hours of research that undoubtedly went into this compilation) to the stunning layout and typesetting, Kevin Howes and co. have put together one awe-inspiring document.
20. VA - Paul Murphy presents The Return Of Jazz Club
"A set from Ace Records' BGP imprint, featuring the sort of latin jazz and hard bop cuts that once filled the dancefloor during Paul Murphy's mid-'80s proto-rare groove/acid jazz DJing heyday in London." (originally published on June 12, 2014)
21. VA – Vamps et Vampire: The Songs Of Serge Gainsbourg
"Much of Gainsbourg's best work was done in the service of the many muses he courted and collaborated with over the years, and Vamps Et Vampire spans the decades to offer up twenty-five of his sassiest, savviest productions." (originally published on February 14, 2014)
22. VA - Come Spy With Us: The Secret Agent Songbook
While many soundtrack comps focus on esoteric incidentals fashioned by French and Italian maestros, this one instead highlights the British and American instrumental and vocal themes that defined the tension, allure and bombast of the spy music genre.
23. VA - Hello Everyone: Popsike Sparks from Denmark Street 1968-70
"We’ve been utterly charmed by this new offering from Cherry Red's psych imprint Grapefruit, a compilation of songs from the short-lived UK label Spark. It’s a psych-pop whirlwind that jumps from early glam to a pair of trippy Donovan covers by the eternally electric actor/singer Eartha Kitt." (originally published on July 11, 2014)
24. VA – Kent's Cellar Of Soul Volume 3
"We present for your delectation 26 mid-to-late '60s classic soul tracks, only six of which are currently on Ace CDs. Many are uptempo, but this CD is designed to capture the spirit of '60s soul rather than its later UK dance-centric revision [...] Most were released in the UK, some on little labels such as Action, Spark, Soul City, Direction, B&C and Pama." - Ace Records
25. VA - Slow Grind Fever Volume 1 & 2
Perfect for late-night listening, this 30-track collection of mean and moody mid-tempo R&B from the '50s and early '60s includes such big names as Nina Simone, Lee Hazlewood and Bobby 'Blue' Bland alongside many more obscure soulful crooners. The aural equivalent of a film noir, rarely has doomed desperation sound like such fun!