BuzzChips Best of 2014
BuzzChips writers share their favorite albums, tracks, and live shows of 2014.
ALBUM: St. Vincent - St. Vincent
St. Vincent has always found a way to push boundaries while maintaining a unique sonic aesthetic. Her arrangements are quirky and her songwriting unforgettable. On St. Vincent, she really has outdone herself. Each song is rich with imaginative lyrical content (“Prince Johnny” for example: “Remember that time we went and snorted / That piece of the Berlin Wall that you’d extorted / And we had such a laugh of it / Prostrate on my carpet”), and gorgeous production/mixing (the chorus expanding into outer space on “Digital Witness”). The whole album is an accomplishment not only for St. Vincent, but for modern pop music. Seriously.
TRACK: "Just One Of the Guys" - Jenny Lewis
From those first three guitar hits at the beginning of the Beck produced “Just One Of the Guys” I was completely hooked. This song is emblematic of a lot of women’s experiences in the age of ever-expanding gender roles, and I think Lewis hits the nail on the head. The star-studded music video for the track is also awesome.
LIVE SHOW: Fmlybnd @ SXSW
One of the great pleasures of SXSW is stumbling upon a band that you didn’t plan to see, and probably wouldn’t have seen if it weren’t for some serendipitous turn of events. That night, we were trying to see White Arrows, who had ended up canceling their SXSW shows, and instead we walked into a Fmlyband set. I was really impressed by their epic stage presence at this small Austin bar, and their songs were killer. Such a great find, and I look forward to watching them explode.
ALBUM: Distraction - Bear Hands
I listened to Distraction a lot this year. According to Spotify, it’s my second most listened to album behind Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut, but I feel like I remember listening to this album more. I can’t explain why or how because Bear Hands isn’t a band I would count as a favorite—I’ve never seen them live, I don’t know what they look like, I don’t know what city they’re from, and I’m not even sure if I particularly like their music—but I love this album. Sometimes you hear something and it sticks with you and you can’t stop—every time you go to play music for your commute, you think you’ll pick something different but you pick the same thing again, and it feels right. It becomes the soundtrack to your life, a soundtrack to this moment in time, a habit you won’t kick. I truly don’t know what I found so special about this album all year but I do know that one day I will hear “Bone Digger” on an old playlist and I will remember 2014. I will remember walking through Brooklyn in the rain and dancing in my room with the windows open and I will feel it all again. This album defined my year, and I’ll get back to you on what that means.
TRACK: “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” - Kishi Bashi
We all fell in love with Kishi Bashi’s debut album two years ago and his long awaited release of Lighght did not disappoint. He continues to be a one-man-symphony and his endless looping violin creates a dreamy addictive atmosphere for a new world you want to call home. The album’s first single “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” is so wonderful and weird—first of all, the fact that it’s an upbeat dance song feels strange for an artist who mostly creates music to sway and swoon to. Second of all, there’s not a hidden meaning to the title, this is really a song about a steak. Kishi Bashi told American Songwriter earlier this year, “It’s about a dancing cut of tenderloin. Although he wants to ultimately be eaten, his other joy in his short life is to dance.” The song is simultaneously serious and very silly, while maintaining genuine heart that makes me want to be friends with this steak and “booty booty shaky shake” with him until I get sick of it, which doesn’t seem to be anytime in the near future.
LIVE SHOW: Islands @ Primavera Sound
This is always my hardest decision. PAPA, Christopher Owens, Bleachers, and Miley Cyrus are just a small handful of the many incredible artists I had the opportunity to see live in 2014 but overall, I have to pick Islands at Primavera Sound as my favorite show of the year. After spending an unforgettable day exploring Barcelona, I picked my way to the front of a sweaty, Ray-Ban-branded box filled with people who didn’t speak my language. The energy in the room was pure magic—the accidental magic that doesn’t try too hard but just is—because lead singer Nick Thorburn is the best kind of mad man. His live performance is intoxicating and at times frightening—it seems he plays every show like it may be his last moment on the planet. I danced maniacally with a wide grin on my face and when their brief set ended, I remember walking into the night feeling giddy and ready to take on hours of more live music because Islands had reminded me why I love it so much.
ALBUM: Phantom - Madi Diaz
2014 was an emotional roller coaster for me. Chock full of ups and downs, emotional triumphs and breakthroughs, renegotiating or ending terms for years long relationships. This album just gets me. Overall, the tone is celebratory, legitimate feels presented in a manner that is neither depressing or hopeless, but rather determined and triumphant. Yeah, it sounds like Madi also went through some shit. But good for her! It churned out Phantom, proof that everything happens for a reason.
TRACK: "James Dean" - Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr
I've more or less had this track on repeat since it dropped in late September. Once again, Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott have managed to verbally capture vulnerability in a manner that is so relatable in its honesty, and back it with a sultry beat so irresistible it's sometimes difficult to listen to at work because my entire office doesn't need to see me desk-dancing. (Or do they?)
LIVE SHOW: Kishi Bashi @ Bowery Ballroom
The Kishi Bashi live experience is a tough one to beat, especially one where he's riding high a few weeks after releasing his first full length album in 2 years. When else would you ever have a chance to see a dapper Japanese-American gentleman (K. Ishibashi) crowd surfing while eating a banana? Or beat boxing with his violin while the silhouette of a live beta fish swims across the ceiling of a grand ballroom? Let's not forget tour companion Mike Savino (Tall Tall Trees) and his infamous Banjotron illuminating vividly like a spaceship during a special appearance by 59 year old contortionist Amazing Amy, and her interpretive dance to "Wonder Woman, Wonder Me."
A Kishi Bashi performance is truly a unique encounter. One must come prepared to feel feelings and dance like a maniac. This particular show made the top of my list for sentimental reasons: this was the last show I attended that I could properly dance at before a chance encounter in a dog park left me spending my summer in a knee brace. Learn from my mistakes people, dance like an idiot every chance you get. You never know when you'll be run over by a stampede of wild dogs.
ALBUM: MADE IN HEIGHTS - MADE IN HEIGHTS
Although MADE IN HEIGHTS dropped last year, it's still been my favorite album of 2014. They've come out with a few singles this year (including "Ghosts," Death" and "Pirouette"), which all seem to be expanding on elements of their debut album. Bouncing from R&B notes in "Ghosts" to a more vocally-focused "Pirouette," it's much of the same, except deeper. I'm excited to see what their next album has in store.
TRACK: "Lost" - Walking Shapes (ft. Seasick Mama) - Frank Ocean Cover
Maybe I'm biased, because I love every cover of this song. But Walking Shapes and Seasick Mama were able to kick it up a few notches with a smokey-jazz version that is pure seduction. Alternating between a gyrating, harmonized chorus and big-band attitude in the wings, you'll want to throw on your furs, whip out the cigarettes, and get your red lipstick smeared.
LIVE SHOW: Misterwives
Mandy Lee has a stage presence about four times her size. She is a rip-roaring ball of energy, bursting from her petite frame. Bounding from one side of the stage to the other, all the while smiling, it's obvious she has the recipe to be unstoppable. She was just having SO MUCH FUN, and it was impossible not to also while witnessing this.
ALBUM: 3 Seashells - Lakutis
Without question, the best album of 2014 is Lakutis’s 3 Seashells, often stylized in repeating emojis. At 25 minutes long, it’s structurally similar to a punk record, poking fun via skits between torrents of intensity. Lakutis hits the dark fringe of the self-effacing yet highfalutin New York scene around Greedhead. He embraces an antagonistic creep pose playfully, spits emphatic free association raps reminiscent of Ginsberg but decorated it graffiti, and collected some of the most diverse, forward-looking beats to underlay the unparalleled technical range he can deliver. I cannot stress enough how dynamic this record is. It dwells in no single style, but alludes to many, demonstrates proficiency not through replication, but quick homage. You have lyrical references to Biggie, but skittering 808 effects eliciting the best parts of Lorde. 3 Seashells is not only literate, it’s fun, challenging, and will hold your attention as Lakutis switches from emotional, boasting love-songs (“Body Scream”) to pained, assertive, angry abstract cultural collage (“Dope as Fuck”). There is not a single song on this album that sounds the same as the one before it. It fits easily into no genre. The production is incredible, the lyrical dexterity exacting, the pose more sculptured than human because the technical achievements outshine any mistakes. There is not a single second of this sparse-yet-sprawling album that doesn’t feel perfectly executed. This album will make you think, dance, question, and bounce your head on the subway without shame or reservation. Because anyone else hearing it would understand. You can pay what you want for 3 Seashells here.
TRACK: "Don't Wait Up" - Tweens
The best song of 2014 is Tweens’ “Don’t Wait Up.” Why? Because being a teenger is better than being an adult, and Tweens capture the fragmented emotional pastiche we seem to forget underlying that most basic fact. It’s a song with lofi expressivity that washes over technique, a youthful irreverence and abandon that is hard to square with paying bills. In their first EP, released this year, Tweens did an excellent job of reminding listeners why they fell in love with punk/lofi/garage to begin with: it takes center stage, relates, and replaces cerebral banality with emotional peaks that are lacking in day-to-day life. “Don’t Wait Up” reminds you of the raw adolescent buzz that made staying awake until 4am worthwhile in it’s own right: before booze, obligations, sex, or drugs, there was a frenetic buzz from just breaking teenage protocol. And between the lyrics, song structure, and resonant, escalating wall of lofi fuzz in this track, it helps you feel 17 all over again. That a song can be that direct, have such an effect, encapsulate the moment so succinctly, is a compositional feat, not an accident.
LIVE SHOW: Punch @ Death By Audio
Strange category, and strange question, since concerts depend more on the listener and audience than the band or performance. Because it’s impossible to see it all, and even if you stand front-and-center while a hot-new-act strums its heart out, it is meaningless if you’re fall down drunk or newly broken up with. Concerts are hard to judge because they are experiential, irreplicable. With that in mind: my favorite concert this year was Punch’s show at Death By Audio. This is shaded by the sad news that DBA has been erased from the shrinking Williamsburg tapestry of Venues-That-Do-Not-Suck by Vice’s acquisition of the space. There is, now, a romantic tinge to knowing it’s the last show I saw there, same as how I feel about Iceage at 285 Kent. But SF-hxc band Punch were amazing. In tour for their album “They Don’t Have to Believe” they gave an explosive performance that led a New York crowd to mosh (no small feat in and of itself) without the bro-y violent bend that discolors so many hardcore shows (in the absence of flying fists, I pushed my college roommate, a newcomer, into the pit, and she emerged jubilant and unmarred). I do not mean to say Punch played the best concert of the year, but of all the shows I went to this was the most fun, sweaty, and emotive of all 2014.