The Best Music of October 2014

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Photo by Jason Bokros

As transitory and impermanent as the headlines of October felt (venue closes, band breaks up, outbreak reduced to a scare), the albums released provided permanence as bodies of work that understand the significance of a solid foundation. We can feel like everything has gone to shit and this is a powerless existence, and then we can feel music curated to inflict sound on the body like Margaret Chardiet’s latest Pharmakon record. We can listen to Caribou, Ex Hex, and Harriet Brown to understand lineage and influence and how to hear a standard anew. We understand that the greatness is not achieved out the gate, but earned over time by honing to consistency when we play Run The Jewels and Roomrunner.

October had nothing to do with the new kids shredding the system and making endearing mistakes into exciting new avenues. October was about second leases, third side projects, and tenth albums.

The Best Album of October 2014:


Grouper, Ruins (Kranky)

Grouper, the creation of Liz Harris’ breathy voice and elegiac piano, suggests something of a divergent pathway toward the question of access and boundaries on her tenth full-length LP, the achingly beautiful, Ruins. Ultimately, like so much inscrutable and mesmerizing art, we both do and don’t ever get her.

Harris has thrown open her windows and her past on Ruins, singing her listener into sleep on “Holding”, the album’s second-longest and best track. The intimacy is undeniable whether we ever get any closer to grasping Ruins or Harris, or merely just appear to foreshorten the distance to ourselves.

The Best Music of October 2014 (in no particular order):

Pharmakon’s new album Bestial Burden never lets you forget the body as the site of music’s function, and of the function of all consciousness. Written while Margaret Chardiet was recovering from a serious illness, the record lingers painfully on the most fragile points of the human machine.

While Separate aims to be bigger than the sound, the songs are appropriately more contemplative, digging through something instead of scratching at the surface. Words like “disappoint” and “nothing” pop up frequently; in this universe, time runs out and minds spill out.

A marked move away from the glitchy, loop-based tracks that first catapulted him to critical acclaim on Swim, Our Love is a dancefloor-ready album that’s smoother, groovier, and filled with a series of hypnotic head-bobbers. A future-looking reinterpretation of your run-of-the-mill Balaeric beat meets disco dance, it adheres to what he says is his “continuation of that trajectory of trying to make my own thing and make it contemporary.”

Co-produced with Rare Times‘ Alex Talan, New Era promises a rich array of sounds that fall into Brown’s self-coined style of “romantic funk.”

The EP’s opener, “Paradisiac”, is a slow burner that starts out as a steady percussive shuffle and picks up a real groove. Wavy synthesizers and bright guitars wash up around Brown’s voice, which is is laid-back and sensual—and the subtle harmonies behind it can’t elude comparison to Prince enough.

On 2012’s Europe, her lyrics circled around similar themes of searching for home in unfamiliar places, making sense of the rootlessness that comes with moving your whole life somewhere completely new, plus being in a touring band. We Come From The Same Place is full of the same relatable wordplay; Morris reflects on touring dusty towns of student bars, being excited to see a particular person out in the crowd at her show, airport phone calls, how another year can go by so fast.

Although certainly a departure from her previous work, the solo album—entitled The Immoralist—is no less artful or deliberate than what we’ve come to expect from Ambrogio. Her smooth, glossy vocals glide over all ilk of minimalist instrumental patterns and cover a whole range of moods, from rapture to total frustration.

Whereas on the first album, each track felt like a vehicle to showcase the technical ability of Mike and El, at RTJ2’s high points it feels as it should, the technical ability is a necessary component of a song with its own motives, a single cog that supports the piece.

Rips is a revelation in tight, punk readings of power-pop influences and endless shining hooks. Joined by bassist/singer Betsy Wright (Childballads, Fire Tapes) and drummer Laura Harris (Aquarium, Benjy Ferree), its masterful sound is evidently the result of many collaborators, but it feels seamless from start to end. It has “fuck you’s” to bullies, revenge anthems aimed at exes, and sneering rips into dudes who just can’t communicate.

After 2013’s Mowgli on Lefse, Mister Lies surprised fans by announcing in May that his next record would be Orchid Tapes, this year’s indie label du jour with universally-lauded releases by Bilinda Butchers, Ricky Eat Acid, and Alex G.

While the Flood You/Medusa digital single aligned Nick Zanca’s sound closer to the heady-IDM-offset-by-club-play guilty pleasures that we’ve come to love from The Range, the first single from Mister Lies’ Orchid Tapes debut, “Deepend”, carries an emotional weight that is reserved for soundtracking moments of existential crisis and loss.

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