Tuesday, January 27, 2015
We're Baaaack With The POP! Stereo Top 25 (or less) Of 2014
After working on and building up POP! Stereo for six years straight, day in, day out, reviewing, listening, and getting bogged down with more music than I could handle it simply wasn't fun anymore. It had become less of a hobby and more of an unpaid job. And that's not really why I started this thing. It was originally an outlet for punters who came to my POP! DJ night to find all the new stuff I was playing every Thursday but by 2011 had become an mp3 blog with a spin off review blog and a beast that was uncontrollable. So, I stopped.
Funny thing about stopping this is that I began to miss it. I didn't miss coming home from my real job every day and having to handle my hobby for three hours each night but I did miss the thrill, the rush, the addiction of being bombarded by tons of cool music. How could I not? After nearly six years of this you kind of get used to hearing 20 new bands a day. It's hard to walk away from.
So, after nearly 28 months, 56,000 unread emails (seriously), and a stack of music that reaches ceiling to floor it seemed like a good time to come back from my self-imposed hiatus. This time though, I've brought friends. No longer will I be forced into self imposed exile on a Friday night because I have to write a post, write two record reviews, and sort 300 emails...I'll simply pass it on to my cohorts. (Sorry guys!).
What does the future hold? I have no idea. I have about a zillion ideas running around my head including a complete redesign because lets face it...POP! Stereo looks like it was put together in 2006. It's on Blogger for God's sake! We'll probably end up merging the reviews into the MP3 end of things as well so we'll have a complete site as opposed to two micro-sites. Alot has changed since 2012 and I missed it all...I like that. So, here we are a little wiser, a lot more relaxed, tan, rested, and ready to rock once again.
We figured the best way to "relaunch" this thing was with our Top 25's for 2014. Yeah, ok we're three weeks into 2015, but you know, after two years away whats another week or two.
Without further adieu...The new cast and crew of POP! Stereo present our favorite records from last year....
Starting of with yours truly...Paul POP!
25) Dope Body - Lifer
American indie rawk should always sound as if it's about to tear itself to shreds in a fit of depression, anger, chaos or a combination of all three. Lifer is the living embodiment of all of that in overdose quantities. It's a mess. It's brash. It sounds like it was recorded on a Radio Shack tape recorder from 1985 on a broken c-30 cassette in a I-95 rest stop bathroom. That's why it's awesome. My only question is whether or not the band survived the recording of this record?
24) Imandra Lake - Avane
In a post-gazing world, it's nice to know not everyone is obsessed with effects pedals and walls of distortion. Avane is a quiet, contemplative work of beauty.
23) Lia Ices - Ices
I didn't like this record at first. I thought it was some sort of pretentious post-folk/chill wave record that was too lost in itself for it's own good. But, as I spent time with it grew on me and here it is in my Top 25. It's quirky, echoey, and weird in all the best ways and sure, it's still some sort of post-chill wave record but it's adorable.
22) Bio Ritmo - Puerta Del Sur
This is a first in the 20 years I've done Top 25's. I've included a world music record in the countdown. Gasp, shudder, cringe. Don't get your jorts in a bunch. I'm from Miami. I grew up surrounded by Latin music and while I didn't understand it when I was younger, it now it reminds me of home. And even though Bio Ritmo aren't from Miami they make me crave Cuban coffee every time I hear them.
21) Brooklyn Shanti -Bedstuyle
Globally chilled out, occasionally housey brilliance that proves that chilled grooves can be so much more than yuppie fodder. Bedstuyle is a wondrous, diverse, lush record that gave me goosebumps every time I listened to it and still does. It's literally a chill out album...get it.
20) Gene Siewing - Drastic Measures
In a world inundated by Nu-metal kids making EDM, it's nice to know that people remember that house is a feeling and not just a wall of noise with a big drop. Siewing takes it deep, deep, deep undercover here with Drastic Measures and comes up with a slice of tech/deep house goodness that sounds more like it came out arond 1999 than 2014. If Muzik and Ministry magazines were still around this would be the sort of thing they'd be raving about and DJ's would be caning. Alas...mechanized death rules the dancefloor now.
19) White Hex - Gold Nights
Fitting snugly between The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Clove cigarettes, and Curve lie White Hex. Are they goth? Are they witch house? Are they nightmare pop? Who knows and who cares. What matters is that Gold Nights works equally as an album you can pull rope to in a sea of dry ice or get lost in at home. It's a dynamic and spooky record that you probably shouldn't listen to in the dark.
18) The Black Watch - Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy
These guys have been kicking around forever. They've never really gotten the respect they deserve but over the course of their career have been fairly consistent when it comes to producing very good pseudo-noise pop with an 80's British pop feel. Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy is no different and only serves to build upon their mythos. As if to prove the point that they don't get the respect they deserve they don't have one single video on YouTube!
17) Unicycle Loves You - The Dead Age
Unicycle Loves You reminds you of all those records of Creation bands that you have that never got the respect that Ride did. These guys do gazing, do noise, do the cascading waves of distortion but do it with just enough devil may care attitude to keep them out of the spotlight. They're just sloppy enough, just rock and roll enough to be lumped in with the Meadowlark Eleven's of the world. Hmph. That's OK though because 9 times out of 10 records like those are better than the hyped ones. The Dead Age is heaving with life,, electricity, energy and fantastic tunes that will deafen you.
16) Tacocat - NVM
How can you not love a band named Tacocat? I mean really...it's so ridiculous it's brilliant and NVM is like that. This might be one of the few bands on the planet that make Aunt Flow sound like a jolly jangly good ol' time and that's saying something I suppose...being a guy I'm not sure what. NVM is a short burst of sugary sweet indie pop that's raw and rambunctious and the sort of thing that induces random bouts of pogoing.
15) White Reaper - s/t
Yet another record from the raw and rambunctious camp, White Reaper's self titled effort was a surf rock inspired garage rock record with addictive melodies, simple rhythms, and a wall of noise. It's a chaotic little record that was seemingly led by Bobcat Goldthwait's doppleganger. What White Reaper lacked in structure and organization they more than made up for it with energy and the ability to turn a 2:30 pop song into the most important thing in your life.
14) Eureka California - Crunch
Happy Happy Birthday To Me never let you down. They've released so many seminal indie pop and indie rock records it's hard to keep track of. Crunch is yet another one in their catalog. Crunch is classic indie rock in that Merge records kind of way. It's noisy, shambolic and seemingly held together by duct tape but the band create melodies out of all that and make it a fun, white knuckle ride through a set of guitar strings and broken pedals. Not sure if they're named after the earthquake that happened years ago (Google it) but it would kind of make sense if they were...
13) Merchandise - After The End
Let me just first off say...these guys are from TAMPA. Yes, Tampa! The heart of 80's Manchester runs through Dale Mabry and it's amazing. Perhaps no other band better embraced mid to late 80's British pop this year than Merchandise. Sounding like the best compilation Cherry Red, Creation, and 53rd & 3rd, and the Subway Organization never released...After The End is like an updated C86 compilation that you want to play over and over and over. They're jangly, they're clever, they write great tunes and somewhere you imagine Stephen Morrissey going, "These Florida kids get it." Tampa is way more than trashy strip clubs, the hapless Buccaneers, and Busch Gardens because of these guys.
12) Alvvays - s/t
Apparently 2014 was the year surf music broke. Seriously, just about every great indie rock or indie pop record has this west coast surf pop vibe to it and Alvvays is not any different. The difference is that Alvvays is a record to fall in love to. While most of the bands that embrace this aesthetic are noisy and shambolic you get the sense that Alvvays yearns to be in love and then be completely engulfed in it. This is a gorgeous, dreamy, shuffly record that shimmers in the California sunshine.
11) Lights - Little Machines
Pure Pop Goodness that I am unashamed to say that I adore. I think I was originally pulled in by Lights' lopsided haircut...then I heard her songs and being in touch with my inner emo kid, was won over. Little Machines is an emotional roller-coaster of massive pop songs and even more thrilling hooks. It's fun, happy, uplifting stuff that's like such a rush it's like eating 1000 packets of sugar. This might be Radio Disney fodder but I am a Disney geek after all.
10) Ex-Hex - Rips
Mary Timony was back and back in a big way. Rather than just resurrect Helium she started a whole new band. This was a good thing as Rips was better than anything Helium ever did. Rips was the sort of record that feels like it was recorded in 20 minutes with the band firing on all cylinders in Timony's car port. Rips was garagey rock and roll the way it should be played; loose and with a lot of energy.
9) Afghan Whigs - Do The Beast
In case you live under a rock, Greg Dulli is a bit of a legend. The 90's wouldn't have been the 90's without him and while he has been kicking around in other projects over the last decade or so, it's really the Afghan Whigs everyone wanted to hear again. So as if by magic Do The Beast was unleashed upon us and it turned out to be a stunning record. That tension and drama that lurks in every Afghan Whigs record is ratcheted up 10 notches on this record and the results are an amazing, potentially career defining effort. Dulli proved he and his band still have it and Do The Beast was just that, a beast of an indie rock record.
8) The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Days of Abandon
Days of Abandon is like the best record Slumberland never released. It's an amalgamation of post-shoegazing, indie pop, getting lost in fields of heather, tattered issues of Melody Maker, and a worn out copy of NME's c86 compilation. This is a record that jangles, shimmers and shines rays of sunshine into every nook an cranny of itself. It's an over joyous, energetic, fey record of beauty. It's shuffly and twee and ridiculously fun. If you want to know what indie pop sounded like in 2014 this was one of the poster children for it.
7) Yelle - Competement Fou
Is Yelle the French version of Bjork? She's weird enough, she loves house, she loves odd videos, and she writes songs that are ridiculously good. Not that those are definitive qualities but you have to wonder and I like to think she kind of is. Anyway, Competent Fou was a sugar coated blast of French electro pop that embraced 90's piano house with open arms and was so good it could make a dead man dance. If she's not a national treasure in France she should be.
6) La Sera - Hour of the Dawn
Hour of the Dawn is an indie pop record with a lot of swoon. What's that mean? Well, Katy Goodman's voice is so pure, so sweet, and so great that it'll make your heart leap and give you goosebumps. Imagine that happening ten times over and you get why Hour of the Dawn is here. La Sera's brand of indie pop is so emotional, colorful, and striking that it's mesmerizing and I'm a sucker for that sort of stuff. Oh...and she puts her pets in her videos too.
5) Lily Allen - Sheezus
More pure pop goodness from one of the most clever people in pop music. She's a mom, she's a star, she's self deprecating and I suspect she does it all with tongue firmly planted in her cheek. Sheezus was as funny as it was fun and while it wasn't as instant as her first couple of records, once you spent time with it, it soon attached itself to your memory and never let go (just try and forget the chorus of, "Air Balloon").
4) Dum Dum Girls - Too True
Continuing their quest to bring sexy back to indie pop (was it ever there to begin with?) Dum Dum Girls made Too True a seductive experience. Sounding a bit like the first Heartthrobs record brought via TARDIS to 2014, Too True was arty, dramatic, gauzy, hooky and awesome. Dee Dee knows how to play with emotions as well as how to play with guitars and manipulates them both into slices of flirtatious and bewitching pop.
3) Music Go Music - Impressions
No other album had me questioning what year it was more than Impressions. So deeply rooted in the magic of Abba is this band that I'm kind of convinced it is Abba. Seriously, the similarities to the Swedish superstars is downright creepy. Impressions is so Abbaesque you could probably convince people that it's a long lost recording. Needless to say Impressions is campy discotastic fun that's swathed in musk cologne and more polyester than legally allowed. While everyone else was locked in to the 90's revival, Music Go Music headed back to the 70's!
2) The Primitives - Spin O Rama
This was perhaps the biggest surprise of 2014. Having been a fan of this band since 1992 (and collecting every single and album in every format imaginable) it gave me goosebumps when I actually got hold of Spin O Rama. What's truly amazing about this album is that they've somehow managed to sound exactly the way they did from 86 - 92. Tracy Tracy sounds adorable as ever and the band sound as if they haven't left the flowers they wen't through in the mid-80's. Spin O Rama is a masterwork of fizzy indie pop that serves as a reminder that you can teach old dogs new tricks.
1) Chromeo - White Women
My second favorite group of Canadian's returned in 2014 with another brilliant work of 80's lovin' funk. White Women wasn't necessarily a revolutionary album by Chromeo but it was packed to the rafters with enough Hall & Oates kitsch and white boy funk to make your head explode. These guys consistently get it, don't take themselves too seriously, seemingly have the most fun being a band and write humorous anthems that could reanimate the dead. How could something like this not be my favorite album of 2014?