Albums of the Year Pt. 4

1. Alex G. - DSU
(June 2014 Orchid Tapes)

Though I do my best as a reviewer to ignore hype, I couldn't help getting excited for the most recent Alex G LP. It's an underdog story that seems nearly too idyllic to be true: the Pennsylvanian songwriter's charming, yet undeniably inventive nuggets of lo-fi pop, (seldom greater than three minutes in length), had garnered the attention and praise of major music outlets like Fader, Spin and even Rolling Stone, coverage unheard of for an artist releasing music exclusively on Bandcamp. It was no surprise to me that Alex G had escaped the boundaries of his cozy lo-fi niche. His music bore a faint, magical quality; it stayed true to the shared lo-fi ethos of his peers and contemporaries, yet it also seemed to go deeper than that, its songwriting exhibiting the punk polish of Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, perhaps even Neil Young. 

DSU did not just live up to my expectations of "the internet's best secret singer-songwriter", it exceeded them, narrowing the broad scope of previous releases down to a more cohesive focus: quirky noise-pop that mirrors the early experimentation of Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. There's a balance between minimal pop gems like "Harvey" (one of Rolling Stones' 50 tracks of the year), noisy cuts like "Axesteel", and lush, jazzy tunes like the album's closer, "Boy". There's nothing too flashy about DSU. It does everything correctly, and consistent, making for a near-perfect listen.


Top 10 Albums of the Year Pt. 3

4. Crying - Get Olde // Second Wind
(November 2014 Run For Cover)

What is arguably the most unique inclusion in my top 10 list is also perhaps the most accessible: ecstatic chiptune melodies frosted like sugary icing atop twee-pop tunes that lie somewhere between the kawaii-punk spirit of Tiger Trap and Belle and Sebastian's cozy melancholia. Crying's debut double-EP, released in two installments over the course of the year, is consistently satisfying and addictively catchy, its breezy instrumentals pairing perfectly with Elaiza Santos' nearly spoken-word vocal delivery. Capturing the upbeat sense of fanfare that might be injected into an anime's opening theme, Get Olde // Second Wind is full of hopeful energy, making for a refreshing and fun listen.

3. seventeen years - runner
(May 2014 Self-Released)

The distortion-laden spawn of My Bloody Valentine and Pinback, runner is a noisy outlier in the discography of Kansas City-based solo act Seventeen Years, but it is also the project's most engrossing release to date, a synthesis of scattered ideas, all sprinkled with chorus effect and laden with reverb. The music on the LP lacks cohesion, but in a way that does not detract from the listening experience; rather, it guides the listener along. Its patchwork construction becomes its aesthetic, in the vein of Guided By Voices' Alien Lanes. Over the course of the album, you'll move from the writhing post-punk slither of "Pool Song" to fibrous guitaristy on "Lyrae", more than a little reminiscent of American Football. "Blue Cross" is a sleek bit of pop, its warped and whispery vocals carried by layers of choral guitar, while "Cassie" basks in its lo-fi glory, its baroque arrangements intensely downcast and riveting.

2. Perfect Pussy - Say Yes To Love
(March 2014 Captured Tracks)

Though missing just a bit of the primal aggression tucked into last year's explosive demo tape, Perfect Pussy's 2014 debut is a brief, volatile and beautiful effort, harnessing shoegazy atmospherics and running them through a gauntlet of punishing percussion, howling feedback and the menacing crunch of Meredith Graves' distorted vocal delivery. The violent surge of "Driver" echoes the streamlined punk ethos of early hardcore acts like Bad Brains and Minor Threat, while tracks like "Interference Fits" bring a more avant-garde twist to the genre. Just barely over 15 minutes in length, Perfect Pussy crams as much ferocity and catchiness as possible into a small digestible portion. 


The Half-Gifts Christmas Mixtape

Boys Age Announce End of the Year Release on Little L Records

Boys Age - Tiger Tiger
(Little L Records 2014)

Bearing lush arrangements and a shimmery coat of cavernous reverb, the latest album by Japanese avant-pop outfit Boys Age wears its Yo La Tengo influence on its sleeve. It's not surprising, as Boys Age frontman Kaznary Mutoh considers himself the drone-pop trio's offspring. Tiger! Tiger! reflects the nervous, bookish energy of early 2000's indie rock while still employing a few more recent trends: lo-fi drum machine on "Love The Clumsy", shoegazy guitaristry throughout "Jaunte" and a bit of Ariel Pink-esque quirkiness sprinkled throughout. It's an engrossing effort that boasts much more depth than your average home-recorded release. The album just dropped today, and you can pick it up on tape via Little L Records.

Half-Gifts: Your newest album is very vibrant and quirky, reminding one of Mac Demarco and Yo La Tengo. What music were you listening to while recording TIGER ! TIGER ! ?

Mutoh: Those days, I was absolutely crazy about Yo La Tengo, Kurt Vile, Gap Dream, Television. and I learned music for this album from Yo La Tengo, Kurt Vile, Lou Leed, The Clean, Television, Nat King Cole, June Carter Cash, Françoise Hardy.

There are some pretty complex instrumental parts on the album, how was it recorded? What sort of equipment did you use and what was the process like?

I always use KORG classic hard disc MTR D3200 at my bedroom. At first I recorded some guitar, bass, and vocals phrases on simple machine beat, (At this time, I'm already thinking some extent arrangement about songs.) and then I recorded some instrumental melodies one by one with cheap synthesizer. It takes a very labor. because I don't use convenient digital ways as copy & paste. I can't love those ways. Finally, I go to the practice studio bring the MTR and recorded drum part. It's hard work to be carrying heavy equipment, because I'm so weak and have a very skinny body.

Which do you like better, CDs, cassettes or vinyl?
In Japan, CD is receiving overwhelming support. But I love analog media. CD isn't interesting. I would rather buy mp3s than buy CDs. mp3 is enough. Vinyl and Cassettes is difficult to say which of the two is better. I both love. Hmm...if now, I choose the cassette. I just bought a new Panasonic tape player.

Do you have anything planned for next year, musically?
We have some plans to release on tapes and 7 inches and compilation. For these, I'm praying to go on well. I'm talking a little with R.Stevie Moore. I think that it is making a lot of album also next year.


Top 10 Albums of 2014 Pt. 2

7. Reighnbeau - Hands
(May 2014 Bridgetown)

Migrating from capacious slowcore to a pummeling brand of fuzzed-out shoegaze, New Mexico's Reighnbeau turned his signature sound inside-out on his most recent full-length effort, Hands. The sound of the album is simultaneously atmospheric and crowded, rushes of airy guitar coursing through primal rhythms like white water rapids. All that attempts to raft atop the swift flow of trebly noise, (breathy vocals and the occasional synth tone), is pulled under. Reighnbeau's approach to songwriting is a study in minimal maximalism: cramming as many textures and as much beauty into what is nearly a unified drone.

RIYL: Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Airiel

6. Death Grips - Niggas On The Moon
(June 2014 Harvest)

A sensory feast for the ears, Death Grips' Niggas on the Moon is the hip-hop trio's most puzzling effort, much less linear than previous outings like the punk rock influenced mixtape Exmilitary or the sinewy industrial assault of No Love Deep Web. Niggas on the Moon finds the trio eschewing the distorted, fat synths that so defined their work for a more brittle sound built up from sliced-up Bjork vocal samples and warbly percussion. Stefan Burnett's lyrics, though delivered with the same ferocity as always, veer from the unhinged violence they conveyed in previous efforts, instead bordering on dadaist absurdity. From the jarring beat drop at the beginning of "Up My Sleeves" to the samply freakout that concludes "Big Dipper", Niggas on the Moon has become my favorite Death Grips album since its release date.

RIYL: Clipping, Wolf Eyes, Swans

5. Barlow - Four Castles
(July 2014 Self-Released)

Four Castles is a brief, but powerful dose of old-school lo-fi pop, borrowing influence from Sebadoh's noisy brand of proto-emo as well as the catchy fuzz-pop peddled by Robert Pollard's Guided By Voices. It's not merely an act of revivalism, though; the Pennsylvanian trio uses the sound of its influencers as a benchmark for building upon, injecting a healthy measure of shoegaziness into their gritty sound and incorporating elements of Captured Tracks surf pop into the mix. Highlights of the album include the sludgy, yet ethereal, opener "Missionary" and the muscly punk assault of "Visor".

RILY: Guided By Voices, Early My Bloody Valentine, Beach Fossils


Top 10 Albums/EPs of 2014 Pt 1 (Albums 10-8)

10. Quarterbacks - Quarterboy

Though not intended to be anything more than a collection of his acoustic demos, Quarterboy just might be the defining installment in Dean Engle's Quarterbacks discography, soon to be 4 albums deep. The Quarterboy demos are stripped of the frenetic punk energy injected into the "official" versions of the songs, laying bare the true emotion that lies beneath their chipper, fast-paced exterior. The spacious, echoey arrangements of the demo for "Sportscenter" bring out melancholy hinted at in its more abrasive counterpart, better setting the tone for the narrator's submission to the unchanging passage of time. The moody one-two punch of "Center" and "Pool" is one of the year's most gut-wrenching musical moments, two honest meditations on young love and the conflicted feelings, awkward exchanges and regret that ultimately come with it. There's an overwhelming sadness in Engle's voice and in the fuzzy, acoustic warblings that seep from his guitar that will consume all who listen to Quarterboy: it's the sonic equivalent of the feelings of embarrassment that hit you while lying a wake at night, remembering every little stupid thing you've said since elementary school.

RIYL: Elliott Smith, Beat Happening, Lois

9. Kool A.D. - Word O.K.
(March 2014 Self-Released)

The self-proclaimed "best rapper in the world", Kool A.D. is Victor Vazquez, the former half of hip-hop duo Das Racist, a visual artist whose work is a psychedelic fusion of Keith Haring and Ub Iwerks, and above all, a post-modern prophet. In our current pop-cultural climate which acknowledges the absurd, self-aware genius of artists like Lil B and Tim & Eric, it's high time for Kool AD's work to garner more recognition. The material on his most recent mixtape, Word O.K. serves up dry wit in spades, but not haughtily so. Vazquez's laid-back flow pairs nicely with his deadpan sense of humor, delivered with the deft conveyance of the class clown: self-referential and intelligent but often charmingly blunt and immature, laughing at his own inside jokes mid-track. It's not just the lyricism that'll keep you coming back for more; the jazzy production that flows lazily through the tape just adds to Kool AD's relaxed aesthetic, especially on the sleek opener "Open Letter". If you listen to any track off Word O.K. though, let it be "Tight". Its sour, slippery beat provided by chillwave maven Toro y Moi establishes a seedy atmosphere to match the acerbic lyricism of Vazquez and his features, Lakutis and Mr. MF'in Exquire.

RIYL: Lil B, Danny Brown, Le1f

8. Sarrasine - EP1
(July 2014 Self-Released)

Weaving strident lead guitar through a buttery weft of fuzzed-out chords and warbly bass, Argentinean shoegaze outfit finds just the right balance between beauty and abrasion. The album compiles just about everything I love about everything I love about 90s music. Evident in their debut release, EP1, is the proto-grunge bombast of Dinosaur Jr's Green Mind and Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, the jangly charm of Sarah Records, the weighty nothingness of Slowdive. It's a must-have download for dream pop diehards that's stunning from start to finish.

RIYL: Sonic Youth, Brighter, MBV


Jon Prokopowitz Interview

Jon Prokopowitz

Your bandcamp page, "Money House Blessings" is home to many releases under different names. Can you tell us a little about your music and your different projects? How did you get started?

So I've been fixated with the ease of home recording and music making since high school. Even though I didn't realize it then, the internet coupled with open source and stock recording software has made it wildly simpler to create and distribute music for free. Now the concept of owning a label doesn't necessarily mean you mail out CDs or tapes, it could be just a collective of artists on a bandcamp page. That's a bit what I was aiming for with MHB, but at first I was thinking of having other people be a part of it. Now it's ended up as a sort of faux record label- bar one of the projects on the "2k14 Mixtape" called N@ Geo (some tracks my dude Carson made), the rest is all of my doing. The reason it does sound like a fake record label is because the sounds vary greatly from project to project. I can put a lot of hours and time into a project like Coral Florist, or I can make long mix tapes of reworkings of bad pop songs like the Dusk .FM series. That option to create something from scratch or to play with something I find is freeing. Plus there's no money involved, so I can make whatever I want.

In addition to the label, you also run a webstore called BADPLANT. Can you tell us about that?

Yes! As well as making music I also make a lot of art and I skateboard. A few years ago I was on blogspot with a site called The Jersey Deli, it was all photos and posts about skateboarding around my area in North Jersey. It had fizzled out a little bit, but soon I got heavy into zines. One of the first ones I made was called Badplant, and it's a skateboarding/diy/art project in an 8 page zine. At this time tumblr became a thing, so I made badplantzine.tumblr.com. Eventually I wanted an online marketplace to put up things me and friends were selling, so I made badplant.storenvy.com. All of it's about having fun and getting stoked.

What other zines are you into?

I wish my collection was bigger, but I do have some favorites. Booger Brie makes amazing drawings and has a bunch of zines out, Later Dudes and all the hamburger eyes stuff, Fun Fun Fun skate zine is rad, Karate Foot, Skate Jawn's a good local skate zine from the tri state area. My friends have made some amazing one-offs- Pizza Party by Brian Cordes, Maris by Carson Cooper, and some fun skate and music related ones by Euan Lynn. And duh Half-Gifts.

You covered an Ariel Pink track for the Half-Gifts Halloween Compilation. Why did you choose that song to cover? What other bands are you into?

Yeah dude, I love Ariel Pink. In that same vein I can get into people like R. Stevie Moore or Martin Newell, there's something about a good pop structured song that isn't recorded in a professional studio, and is self aware that it's a pop song.
As far as other music, it's always tough. I've been doing an online radio show for the past 30 weeks, so I'm constantly sniffing out new stuff. I do have all time favorite groups and people I've really dug into over the years, but it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as the amazing things that floats around out there. So some newer music, TOPS, Punks on Mars Ariel Pink, Chairlift, Yeasayer, Neon Indian, Mac DeMarco, Gang Gang Dance, James Ferraro, Sam Mehran and Outer Limits Recordings, Software Blonde and Adeodat Warfield, Sun Araw, Tallest Man On Earth, Thievery Corporation, Zonotope… Then there's older stuff like Steely Dan and all Donald Fagen's music, DEVO, Cleaners From Venus,  MF Doom, Talking Heads, Spike, Zappa, Pat Methany, Wu, The Rippingtons, Värttinä, and for some reason I really like Fleetwood Mac. Some of those groups I feel like almost every thing they've made is spot on, which is rare.

Awesome, digging that list! What other stuff are you into besides music and skating?

I create a lot of things, like art wise. I like painting and drawing, I screen print on skateboards, sculpting's really fun. I post all that on my main site jonprokopowitz.com. Other things I'm into, I like learning about what other people have gathered about the unseen nature of this place. People could label it paranormal, but the nature and possibilities of dimensions and planes, and what people have found about energy and techniques like meditation or lucid dreaming. Condensing it further, ideas about life, death, and creation. I think it's good to think about these things, what makes sense and what doesn't. I'm not saying the internet has the answer to everything, but it does creates a peer-review system where evidence in favor or against these controversial topics is readily available. I think there's a lot of misconceptions out there, but gradually people are starting to learn and focus on the right things in life. It all starts with questioning and conducting thought experiments. We just gotta get that spark to want to know what's going on and what's actually important.

Your bandcamp makes reference to Pajama Sam and Lego Island. What are some of your favorite old-school PC games?

Yes! We have the funniest connection with that. So I grew up in a time where a home PC was beginning to become a standard thing, so naturally I got games and played them often. Through my grade school and library I was introduced to stuff like the jumpstart educational series, the Magic Schoolbus games, Kidpix, Mavis Beacon Typing games, Math Blaster, etc. I also had fun games like you said, Pajama Sam, Lego Island, Lego Racers 2, so many pinball games, Extremely Goofy Skateboarding, among others… I think one of my favorite I got free with a box of cereal- Dirt Track Racing Sprint Cars. That was my favorite game because the in game physics weren't exactly right, so you could race the track backwards and try to slam a car, but if you did it right your car would launch spinning high into the air. That was really fun to me, I don't know why. It's funny how those crappy weird environments from the games get stuck in your head though. I don't play any video games now, so those fake experiences are still stuck in my memory. Especially with beautifully bizarre games like pajama sam, the feeling of being in the game is what lasts. It's like reading a book, but not really.


Top Five Singles of 2014

5. Captive - "The Fool"
(February 2014 Self-Released)

"The Fool" is a harmonic convergence of all the elements that make the post-punk genre so attractive. Muscly snares, plated in industrial distortion and slicked with reverb usher in the track's driving rhythm section. A repetitious bassline, chugging along somewhere in between a hiss and a growl, sets the drum hits in motion as whirring synths and an acetic lead guitar riff join the fray. Working like clockwork, these elements of gothic pop all fittingly come together to supplement the song's mantra-like reflection on the natural order of the world. "First the Stone / Then the Plant / Animal, and then the Man". Something about the song and its timeless minimalism make it feel simple yet very fashionable, like a well-tailored Oxford.

For fans of: Blank Dogs, The Cure, Joy Division

4. A.G. Cook - "Beautiful"
(June 2014 PC Music)

If minimalism was a virtue that marked "The Fool", then so too is it the defining characteristic of A.G. Cook's "Beautiful", and just about all of the releases shelved alongside it in the PC Music discography. The difference is that while the former's minimalism highlights a feeling of bleak desolation, the PC Music collective uses that ethic to manufacture an aesthetic similar to that of a Wes Anderson film: pastel-toned, orderly and cozy, almost exaggeratedly so. Here, A.G. Cook's dream-poppy take on EDM lives up to its title, yet also feels just a little surreal, as if it were the background music in a Tim and Eric sketch. If anything, the track reaches uncharted territory in the dance music genre by stripping it back to its most basic roots.

FFO: Crystal Castles, SOPHIE

3. Institute - "Salt"
(August 2014 Sacred Bones)

Perhaps no single embodies the noisy, sinister vibe of the Sacred Bones label than "Salt", an amalgamation of hardcore punk and gothic pop in the vein of Misfits or Skeletal Family. The Texan quartet weaves gnarled riffage atop pummeling percussion, a suitable accompaniment for Moses Brown's signature growl, rabid and indecipherable.

FFO: The Men, Drunk Injuns, Black Flag

2. The Snow - "Memory Loss"
(April 2014 Captured Tracks)

It's a collaboration between members of Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing and Holograms - how could "Memory Loss" not make this list? The track, released on vinyl as a special Record Store Day exclusive, combines the best elements of each project involved: Beach Fossils' surf-y bass lines, Wild Nothing's jangling lead guitar and the angsty howl that Andreas Lagerstrom injects into Holograms' high-octane brand of post-punk. Together, they capture the sort of signature melodrama present almost universally throughout 80's music, whether it be on the radio or deep in the underground.

1. peaches davenport - "dog hair sweatpants"
(August 2014 Self-Released)

Taking influence from the shambolic brand of freak-folk popularized in the nineties by members of the Elephant 6 collective, peaches davenport is the brainchild of 15-year-old prodigy Cole Wharton. Nestled in the center of his project's surreal, highly experimental debut album  is "dog hair sweatpants", a breezy pop tune that sways back and forth clumsily on off-kilter rhythms as if it were a long-legged spider waltzing about on its spindly appendages. Acoustic guitar is percussively strummed to match the beat of the drums as they are consumed by brassy arrangements and bombastic keyboard melodies that remind me of the churchbells that can be heard in the distance on the hour while playing Animal Crossing for GameCube. Wharton's warbly vocal delivery reminds me of Kevin Barnes' in his early of Montreal discography. In its unabashed weirdness, the song is majestic, even anthemic. Rarely have I heard music this simultaneously alienating and inviting.