December – snow, playoffs, fireplaces, Christmas… And end of the year lists. This is the first of three that I will be posting. Each will be 10 releases, LPs or EPs, grouped together in a particular way. The first list is my favorite (not best of, I hate that term) releases from Baltimore artists in 2014. In addition, I made a mix that can be heard on Mixcloud, featuring one track from each release:
WIldhoney – Seventeen Forever: First up is the newest EP from shoegazers Wildhoney. Three slabs of walls of sound, mastered by Jake Reid of Screen Vinyl Image fame.
Wye Oak – Shriek: Wye Oak changed it all up. No longer did guitars rule this duo. The old formula was vocals plus guitar plus drummer who is also playing bass parts as he drums. The new formula was singer playing bass with a drummer who is also playing lead parts on synth. This new synthpop sound really works for them, and I spent an excellent evening at the 930 Club this year watching them do their new thing.
Mt Royal – Mt Royal EP: Anything Katrina Ford is on is excellent. Mt Royal’s debut is not any different. I had patiently waited for this for a long time after seeing them perform a few times.
Future Islands – Singles: This could almost be called the year of Future Islands. They went from local darlings to one of the biggest indie bands in the planet. Their Letterman appearance shouldn’t need to be mentioned – their music does the speaking for them. This release followed their trajectory of pushing their envelopes with lyrical composition, vocal styling, soundscapes and other synth goodness, and their ever steady bass anchoring it all together.
Silk Rhodes – Silk Rhodes: This release is pure funk. Disco, funk, soul… It all exists in the same realm for these two Baltimore artists. This is extremely danceable. I have not had the pleasure of catching them live (versus every other artist on this list, at least once, if not several times) but hope to remedy that in 2015.
Wing Dam – Shifter: Wing Dam followed up their last classic with another classic. I had already heard a lot of these songs live, and instantly dug it. I was fortunate to be allowed to sit in the producer booth while they recorded a couple of these, and for that I am eternally grateful. It was quite the experience and it was a lot of fun to hear the finished product, and see some of the recording process first-hand. They are one of the funnest bands to catch live, and some of the nicest people around.
Hive Bent – dyatlov: Two piece that crush. Heavy heavy heavy. I don’t have much more to say other than I love Hive Bent. Go grab their newest EP, you wont regret it.
Multicult – Variable Impulse: Multicult are another great band on record and live. The on one hand look to Shellac for inspiration and on the other surpass them in terms of energy.
Roomrunner – Seperate: Roomrunner’s newest EP is a bit of a departure for them sonically. This time around they recorded with J Robbins, who helped the record catch a slightly different groove than their previous (and excellent) releases. They still look towards the 1990s, but this time you can feel a variety of influences creep in.
Horse Lords – Hidden Cities: One of the most intriguing bands to see live. Their rythum cant be beat. I have been mesmerized in a trance every time I have seen them. This record does a good job of captuing their vibe, but if you haven’t seen them live, do yourself a favor and check them out.
I am going to keep the descriptions short and sweet. These 20 releases made up my other favorites that aren’t from Baltimore, or dark/electronic. A very East Coast heavy list, with Massachusetts having a strong showing. In no particular order, the rest of my favorites (and a mix).
1. ovlov – am: catchy noise rock is what these brothers deal in
2. Exit Calm – The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be: second album of soaring British shoegaze; vocals are up front unlike a lot of their peers
3. The Courtneys – The Courtneys: probably what I sang along to the most this year in traffic was from these Canadian Keanu Reeves enthusiasts
4. BAMBARA – DREAMVIOLENCE: noise powered pedal theatrics from this NYC band; their day time set at Hopscotch this year was easily among my top five favorite for the year
5. The Polyphonic Spree – Yes, It’s True: the only kickstarter project I supported this year; I have drank their Kool Aid for over a decade, and this one didn’t let me down
6. Sebadoh – Defend Yourself: one of my favorite bands of the 90s return to form; I am glad I was able to see them on tour for this
7. Locrian – Return To Annihilation: I was lucky enough to see them on their short tour for this album; their set’s mix of ambient metal synths and guitars let me wanting more
8. Wolf Eyes – No Answer: Lower Floors: I always thought I wouldn’t like them because they would be too harsh; this release is just the right combo of noise and songs (also another killer band I was able to catch this year)
9. Weekend – Jinx: beat driven shoegaze release
10. Veronica Falls – Waiting For Something To Happen: pop from London; another sing along fest
11. The Stargazer Lilies – We Are The Dreamers: ethereal shoegaze release from Soundpool alums
12. Placebo – Loud Like Love: another strong release from a mainstay in my favorite list; I am not sure if this will convert anyone, but is a treat for fans of the band
13. Chelsea Light Moving – Chelsea Light Moving: I like all the post-Sonic Youth bands but only wanted to include one; CLM made the cut since I listened to this the most, and also really enjoyed the tracks when I experienced them live
14. Kal Marks – LIFE IS MURDER: Guitar heavy Boston band featuring a vocalist with one of the most unique voices I have heard in rock music in a long time
15. Paint Branch – I Wanna Live: the only DC based band on this list; which is sad, I spend a lot of time every week in that city; smart, vocal driven pop from ashes of Q and not U
16. Krill – Lucky Leaves: another reason Massachusetts kicks ass with its music scene
17. Palehound – Bent Nail: another release that has a 90s vibe to it; nice mix of acoustic and electric parts and also singing about a range of topics including pet carrots
18. DJ Dog Dick – The Life Stains: NYC based noise artist releases a instant noise pop classic; beats, singing, basslines, and melodies abound
19. PERFECT PUSSY – I have lost all desire for feeling: probably the noisiest of all of these releases, shoegaze ones included; too short at four songs and they leave you wanting more
20. Potty Mouth – Hell Bent: this band of punk rockers put on one of the funnest sets that I attended this year at an all ages event at an alternative worship place; much ass was kicked
the image of Locrian synth player/singer Terence Hannum at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore was taken by me
I love Baltimore’s music scene over all others, so it gets its own top ten list. In no particular order, my ten favorite Charm City releases for 2014. I also made a mixcloud mix with a track from each.
1. Roomrunner – Ideal Cities: I have been a Roomrunner fan since the first EP. Finally they released a full length. This is throwback noise rock, at times reminiscent of the grunge days, but yet still its own sonic beast. My favorite parts tend to be the squeals between the chords, when experienced live is almost a religious experience. I am glad I can call Baltimore Dragged to Hell’s home base, as I was able to see Roomrunner a total of five times in 2013, and each time was great. For some reason I haven’t seen much love for this album on “Best Of” lists, which is just sad. Maybe this is their Bleach, and everyone else catches on later (yes a Nirvana reference, NO I don’t think they sound like them). Bonus points for being released by one of my favorite labels, Fan Death Records. And double bonus points for Jake Reid of Screen Vinyl Image (another one of my favorite bands) for his excellent mastering work.
2. Wing Dam – Thick Phase / No Splash: The first Friends Records release on this list, and far from the last. Wing Dam used to be a solo act. I never caught Austin Tally live back then, and the music was a bit chill (ie not fuzzed out). Fast forward to 2013, and Wing Dam is a threesome (also featuring Sara Autry aka Which Magic on bass and Abram Sanders on drums). Some of the old tracks are in new form. Some are new. All show a sophisticated sense of songwriting, with the tracks featuring interesting riffs and lyrics that never bore; while at the same time retaining a youthful exuberance. This is a summer record. You put it on while skinny dipping. You put it on around the bonfire. Its joy, but under the surface there is also sadness (like in Stars, “Man, you can months without seeing stars… Start to think things are more important than they are”, a lyric that is very personal as I grew up in a place where you do see stars, and have lived in this area for pretty much my whole adult life). Also Austin has one of those unique singing voices that I instantly fell in love with.
3. Weekends – New Humans: Weekends are a two piece. Drums and guitars. Switched between certain songs. Weekends third full length is more of the same of what I love, reverbed out garage rock with that Baltimore sheen on it (not a literally one, this is dirty fuzzy music). I would also put it in the summer jams section. Sadly I haven’t been able to catch them live since this came out, and look forward to remedying that in 2014. Also courtesy of Friends Records.
4. Secret Mountains – Rainer: Just for tracking purposes, this is Friends Records release three from this list. This one makes me the saddest. After this was released, the band semi-dissolved, with some members including their singer, leaving the band. But they soldier on, and said they have new tunes for the next year. I hope so, as this flawless, female vocal driven psychedelic gem is an absolute masterpiece from start to finish.
5. Double Dagger – 333: This was my big score for Record Store Day (along with the A Place to Bury Strangers release), the first I ever participated in. I saw Double Dagger back in 2010, and they lasted a little while longer. They do the post-punk thing with their vocal , bass, and drums attack. This final release shows that they still had plenty of tricks up their sleeve, and the members are all still making music in the Baltimore scene (Roomrunner, Pure Junk, Peals).
6. Raindeer – Tattoo: Friends Records number four for this list. Tattoo is full of synth and guitar based jams. This band was really fun watching live, and I was able to see them a couple of time in 2013.
7. Scott Russell – A Guide to Rational Living Volume One: Noise rock from Friend Collector drummer Scott Russell. This release features riffs for days, and shows Scott as being as comfortable being a frontman as he is behind the skins.
8. ABDU ALI – Push+Slay: I am not sure if this is considered a mixtape, or an album; either way this release slays. Abdu Ali has a very confrontational style of lyricism and the earnestness of his music shines in his vocal performances. The beat selection is impeccable, with fellow Baltimore resident Schwarz (among others) dropping some real bangers.
9. Dungeonesse – Dungeonesse: Jon from the Art Department/White Life and Jenn from Wye Oak/Flock of Dimes team up for this pop/R&B release. Sing along choruses, memorable hooks, Jon’s production sheen, and Jenn’s vocals made this one I was revisiting several time this year.
10. The Snails – Worth The Wait: The final release on this list is also the fifth Friends Records one (man I love that label). This Baltimore super group dons snail outfits and features members of Future Islands and other groups, listed on Bandcamp as “the current cast of snails: Snail Braham, Snailburne, Sammy Snail, Snailliam, and Sandy Snailbelow”. They also made one hell of an EP, one that reminds me of beaches, waves rolling in, while sipping a piña colada.
cover image of Rommrunner taken by me at Hampdenfest 2013
Oftentimes I stick to the theme of this blog, Dark and Noisy, by focusing more on the dark side of things. This release is of the other kind, the noisy kind. This too short EP of four tracks is pure sonic bliss. Everything is distorted, buried, noisy, and loud. My type of rock and roll. Its shoegaze like, punk like, noise rock like; basically just loud, fast, and noisy tunes! They are on tour, and I will be attending the DC show on 12/9, which I look forward to; the rest of the bill includes Jail Solidarity and this will be Fell Types last ever show… $3.50 digital or $7 for a cassette.
I came across this four track gem after a web search of “Mexican witch house.” One of the first results was Maligna, a record label out of Mexico City. I was already familiar with their work, due to two of my favorites, Ritualz and Teehn Bwitches, releasing music on it. I checked out their excellent Bandcamp page, and there it was #SMURPHWAVE. The name alone conjured all kinds of based feelings, and I decided to go with my gut and toss a couple of bucks towards this “pay what you want” release. The music is electronic jams you can groove to, and the singing, while I couldn’t understand her all of the time, was excellent in its Spanish and English mixture.
Aural Sects once again prove why they are the kings of the internet. Aural Sects is a forward-thinking netlabel (and one I dedicated a whole Dragged to Hell mix to) that mainly puts out free releases. This EP is no different (though if there was a pay option, I would gladly do it for this release). It is the creation of Spell Hound, a moniker used by (according to the small info section) McKaylea and Evin. I do not know much about these individuals, save the fact that they make beautiful, dark music. Its a nice mix of witchy beats, and ethereal vocals. Spell Hound could be the next big thing. Or they can remain a hidden gem in a sea of music. Either way, this EP is essential, and if there is a canon of dark electronic music, this would definitely be on that list.
CRIM3S have always been on the heavy, distorted beat end of the witch house spectrum, and this 5 track EP shouldn’t disappoint fans of the duo. This really makes me think of when I first fell in love with witch house, through White Ring – Roses. Its distorted beats and howled vocals were perfectly in line with what I wanted to hear. This is no different.