best of 2014: albums

the end of our year-end best-of week is finally upon us, and we’ve saved the best for last: ten full-length albums of 2014 that best represent the musical convictions of dimestore saints.  in many cases, we’ve beaten these albums to death with accolades, so this list will be strictly visual.  as usual, the link embedded in the artist and album title will lead to a stream of said album, while clicking through each photo will lead to a review that accurately conveys our feelings.  by and large, the reviews will come from this site, but a couple will be pulled from other sites and writers that we admire.  cool?  cool.

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alvvays cover

10. alvvays – alvvays

sve are we there cover

9. sharon van etten – are we there

ritual in repeat cover

8. tennis – ritual in repeat

cloud nothings cover

7. cloud nothings – here and nowhere else

too bright cover

6. perfume genius – too bright

familiars cover

5. the antlers – familiars

caribou our love cover

4. caribou – our love

lost in the dream cover

3. the war on drugs – lost in the dream

fka twigs lp1 cover

2. fka twigs – lp1

three love songs cover

1. ricky eat acid – three love songs

best of 2014: honorable mentions

it’s nearly time to unveil our favorite full-length albums of 2014, but for now we’ll tease a handful of albums that didn’t quite make the cut in order to build some unnecessary suspense.  the following five albums aren’t ranked – instead, they’re presented in alphabetical order – and adequately represent the large musical palate made available this year.  as you may have noticed with previous posts, links to stream relevant content are provided in the titles.  dig in.

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american wolf my main sport coveramerican wolf – my main sport 

chicago’s american wolf certainly isn’t immune to the emo resurgence currently underway across the midwest, but the quintet has enveloped that aesthetic safely inside more atmospheric ambitions.  seven of the eight songs on my main sport are sprawling efforts – the shortest one clocking in at four minutes, the longest flirting with the eight-minute mark – wrapped up in intricately-layered guitar melodies that build patiently to each individual apex.  it’s the kind of dreamy pop music that bides its time in the background before fully unleashing its cacophonous potential.  some songs burn slowly, like the early standout “may” and “cave fantasy,” but american wolf is also adept at executing straight-ahead, unabashed alternative rock in the form of “evil eyed.”  sal plant’s counter-tenor is eerily reminiscent of brian aubert’s work in silversun pickups while joe sherman’s meticulous drumming makes my main sport a trip to experience rhythmically, two traits that bookend an impressive melodic and harmonic journey from one of chicago’s preeminent outfits.

virgo indigo coverfog lake – virgo indigo

 with the runaway success orchid tapes experienced during the final half of 2014, it’s understandable that some of the label’s earlier releases may have skirted the public eye.  ricky eat acid’s three love songs is an obvious exception (more on that tomorrow,) but a trio of releases were decidedly low-key.  at the forefront of that pack was aaron powell’s fog lake, a newfoundland-based solo project that exudes the bedroom pop trope so commonly associated with orchid tapes.  virgo indigo contains twelve songs, most of them short works directed by powell’s voice and guitar, although the appropriately-hokey “mad scientist” is based around a playful piano progression.  it’s commendable that powell can evoke such emotion and overall bleakness using a relatively static approach to composition, but this is largely aided by strong forays into ambient territory; virgo indigo is bookended by two such songs, and its centerpiece “transcanada” is the soundscape to a snowstorm, a poignant representation of sheer isolation.

gem club in roses covergem club – in roses

gem club has been composing heart-wrenching ballads for some time now, but the boston trio hit their stride on their second full-length, in roses.  christopher barnes and his piano are still the focal points of the project, but an increased sense of ambiance is injected to make the trio’s plaintive sounds less plain and more complex.  the interplay between barnes and cellist kristen drymala is more prevalent as well, compounding gem club’s somber mood in a different timbre on sprawling tracks like “first weeks” and “polly,” but the trio really benefits from the extra time spent on arrangements and studio overdubs.  the synth ostinato on “hypericum” provides a sense of momentum so often absent from gem club’s material, and it’s easy to hear how doubled and harmonized string lines flesh out the overall orchestration.  regardless of the instruments used, it’s hard to dispute the sheer beauty of in roses.  acoustic timbres collide with barnes’ laments on “speech of foxes,” but the song’s gradual descent into ambient noise is indicative of the fragility gem club has come to represent, in its antecedent state and in its aftermath.

sea oleena shallow coversea oleena – shallow

from the first arpeggiated piano melody on shallow, it’s clear that charlotte loseth has succeeded in capturing a mournful aesthetic similar to that of her predecessor on this list, but one that deviates down a slightly different path.  percussion plays a more prominent role in sea oleena’s music – and on this album more so than any of her other releases – yet the instrument’s true power is felt once it’s taken away; then the contrast of loseth’s ideas become that much more stark.  after a tight execution over the first half of opener “if i’m,” loseth trades in that thought for a rambling, ambient one that sprawls over the next twenty minutes of the album, lowering her voice gently into a pool of thick reverb as she jockeys between a guitar and a piano to provide harmonic support.  when loseth surfaces from the stupor on “everyone with eyes closed” a low-end thump does indeed dictate each downbeat, but she’s now snuck in a wealth of grating strings, one that must be contended with directly on the album’s penultimate epic, “vinton, la.”  shallow is the kind of album one can easily digest on the cusp of sleepiness, yet it’s also one that demands a thorough investigation as to why lethargy is inevitable upon listening.

st. vincent coverst. vincent – st. vincent

yeah, st. vincent’s fourth album may also be titled “st. vincent,” but to simply refer to it as her self-titled album may be shorting her some credit.  st. vincent is a complete immersion in the persona annie clark has so meticulously crafted over the past decade, as evidenced by her visual transformation, adoption of symbols, and the sheer outlandish nature of the songs inside the album.  but outlandish is good, as it allows clark – who has become entirely consumed by st. vincent at this point – to lash out with her guitar, yielding songs like “prince johnny” and “huey newton.”  st. vincent is also her most lyrically ambitious effort yet, as she portrays a dystopian world ruined by technology (“digital witness”) and tries her hand at humor (“birth in reverse”) all while holding up her characteristic tropes of religion and metaphor.  but peel back the accolades and the tremendous musical accomplishment clark has achieved and st. vincent is unabashedly fun, a whirlwind of a record so dizzying that it takes infinite listens to fully absorb and dissect.

best of 2014: eps

the ep is the multi-purpose tool of musical formats; established acts can release them as placeholders before new albums arrive (see tennis, panda bear) or as containers to hold supplemental material from a recording session.  they’re the perfect companion for touring bands wishing to give their audiences extra incentive to purchase merchandise, but above all, the ep is a logical stepping stone for many young artists seeking to release something more cohesive than a single or free mixtape.  all five of 2014’s best eps fall into this final category.  this year saw a bevy of new artists vying for attention, but those on this list seem like they’ll be sticking around for awhile, regardless of whether or not they have major label support.  read our thoughts below.

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 bad habitat cover5. sayth – bad habitat

 it’s not a stretch to assert that eric wells is one of the hardest-working musicians in wisconsin’s diy scene.  while this blog has a soft spot for and a deep connection to the midwest, the fact that sayth’s second ep shows up on this list is not a concession to that relationship; it’s an acknowledgement of the artistic identity wells has crafted.  using alternative hip-hop as his delivery method, wells covers a lot of lyrical ground on bad habitat: being a gay rapper in a heteronormative climate, metaphysical musings attached to a video game, and the untimely death of a close friend.  bad habitat is billed as a solo effort but wells benefits from the help of his frequent collaborators, as north house provides some beats and wealthy relative drops by for “chirp,” a song that recalls the duo’s dream feast joint effort.  sayth may be stylistically indebted to other art rappers like open mike eagle and milo, but his content is always wrapped up in personal narrative.  on “esc,” by and far the ep’s most poignant cut, wells laments not only about the loss of a friend but the insensitivities that surrounded his death, leading him to conclude that “it feels so evil / this is why we name hurricanes after people.”

vsc winter cover4. vancouver sleep clinic – winter

last year’s recipient of our inaugural “best new artist” award followed through with an atmospheric ep that reflects its seasonal namesake while retaining a strong degree of warmth.  tim bettinson is the young architect of vancouver sleep clinic, and the maturity of winter is strikingly uncommon for a seventeen year-old high school student.  the ep is clearly anchored by bettinson’s pair of 2013 singles, “collapse” and “vapour,” but its other four songs are crucial in understanding his artistic vision and ambitions.  lush orchestrations and a fragile falsetto seem to be at the core of vancouver sleep clinic’s aesthetic, yet the surging sigur ros-indebted outro of “rebirth” suggests a very strong secondary interest, one that might be explored further on subsequent efforts.  bettinson should also be commended for his striking lyricism; after peeling away the layers of ethereal falsetto and effortless melodies, one can find a wealth of personal narrative blended with metaphor on cuts like “flaws” and “stakes.”  if vancouver sleep clinic keeps delivering music of this caliber, we’ll probably be talking about them again this time next year.

hell can wait cover3. vince staples – hell can wait

the fact that shyne coldchain vol. 2 is the better of vince staples’ two 2014 releases and that hell can wait ends up so high on this list should paint a clear picture of the sheer amount of talent and work ethic staples possesses.  he trades the short song durations and soulful loops found throughout vol. 2 for fully-formed, intense offerings throughout hell can wait.  staples’ sneering monotone has always been his calling card, and that abrasion is compounded by a punishing low end that prevails on the ep and is especially prevalent on “fire” and “blue suede.”  that sneer is also responsible for delivering some of the most brutally honest lyrics in rap music right now; staples is incredibly intelligent but does not mince words when discussing the polarities of his life, especially his relationship with gang culture and its impact.  the synth tone that dictates “blue suede” is as piercing as the song’s content, which not only details a materialism enticed by drugs and violence but staples’ own admission that a focused music career has kept him out of prison and the grave.  perhaps the most important track on hell can wait is “hands up,” a no-bullshit critique of the rampant police brutality against people of color which carries extra weight in light of the non-indictments in ferguson and new york.  “paying taxes for fucking clowns to ride around” indeed.

yumi zouma cover

2. yumi zouma – yumi zouma

we’ve already heaped praise on yumi zouma here, but some of that praise bears repeating.  the new zealand trio breathed originality and stability into a genre that seems to be in a perpetual state of reinvention with a sharp self-titled ep that many have likened to the golden years of kate bush.  particular comparisons aside, yumi zouma was undoubtedly on point throughout their debut effort.  “a long walk home for parted lovers” is indicative of the trio’s aesthetic: muted, bass-heavy minimal synth-pop delivered with a shrug of apathy.  yumi zouma’s music is a counter to the over-the-top ambitions of so many of their peers, a counter that’s been especially welcome this year.

field division reverie state cover1. field division – reverie state

field division bills themselves as “folkwave,” a portmanteau that accurately describes their sound to those that seek new music exclusively via genre tags.  in actuality, the five songs on reverie state are so much more.  they’re the byproduct of an incredible musical relationship between evelyn taylor and nicholas frampton, two iowa natives who linked up once they moved to nashville.  despite the duo’s relocation, reverie state still embodies the bucolic sounds characteristically associated with the midwest.  the rustic nature of “faultlines” and “modest mountains” is indebted to folk influences both new and old, but the marriage of that influence with more ambitious textures is what makes field division really stand out.  “of lives we’ve never known” is dictated by an absolutely huge bass line while the ep’s finest cut, “to innisfree land,” mixes in flutes and multiple guitar countermelodies to support taylor’s and frampton’s vocal duet.  after such a strong first outing with reverie state, a full-length effort from field division feels all but inevitable, yet the richness of these songs is so potent that there’s no rush for that album to come to immediate fruition.

mixtape sunday – best of 2014

 

on friday we published a list of our ten favorite songs of 2014.  naturally, we’ve compiled those tracks into a concise mixtape for your listening pleasure, which can be experienced above.  our picks run in reverse order and feature offerings from alvvays, caribou, ricky eat acid, fka twigs, and more.  check back tomorrow for continued coverage of our year-end best-of lists.

best of 2014: songs

welcome to day three of our year-end best-of week, an especially interesting day in which we attempt to choose, dissect, and justify our favorite songs of 2014.  obvious pop heavyweights like sia’s “chandelier” and taylor swift’s “shake it off” were removed from consideration in order to recognize some lesser-known artists, the ultimate ethos of dimestore saints.  we’re pretty satisfied with the following ten tracks, but we’d love to hear arguments for any we may have neglected in the comments section below.

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pillar point album cover10. pillar point – “cherry”

scott reitherman’s first solo venture as pillar point touched on nostalgia in all the right ways, with sleepy pop music powered by vintage roland synths and drum machines that still retained an acute sense of originality and inventiveness.  all nine songs on pillar point are earworms in their own right, but the album’s third track, “cherry,” particularly stuck with us throughout the year.  a punchy, fluid bass line pulsates underneath a stuttering vocal sample before finally giving way to the song’s verse, which finds reitherman’s understated approach to lyricism thrust into the spotlight.  an influx of rich, gorgeous textures often distracts from pillar point’s lyrical content, but the hesitant, poignant examination of a blossoming relationship found in “cherry” just can’t be ignored.

jamie xx sleep sound9. jamie xx – “sleep sound”

the xx have been taking their sweet time writing and recording the follow-up to 2012’s coexist, but apparently jamie xx is very skilled at multi-tasking.  the brooding sound architect has yet to release a solo full-length of his own, but the three tracks he did offer up this year were nothing short of monumental.  while “all under one roof raving” drew the most attention, jamie xx’s absolute best work came in the form of “sleep sound,” an aptly-titled nocturnal journey with a punishing subterranean bass line countered by very patient drum programming, which waits nearly four minutes before guiding in the song’s crucial segue to its b-theme material.  if “sleep sound” is any indication, both the xx and its most prolific member are slated to have a very rewarding and important 2015.

8. alvvays – “adult diversion”

molly rankin’s apathetic drawl is one of the most endearing traits of fast-rising toronto upstarts alvvays, but it’s not the band’s most important.  the quintet’s wonderful self-titled debut largely hinges on the stellar guitar interplay between rankin and alec o’hanley, and “adult diversion” sets the tone.  it takes multiple close listens to discern where the song’s main riff splits off into separate countermelodies, and rankin & co. move on to new ideas and arpeggiations before true appreciation can set in.  and then the final component of the alvvays trifecta settles in: rankin’s blunt, polarizing lyrics.  “adult diversion” clearly outlines unrequited love – at best a crush, at worst a full-blown case of stalking – but its delivery is tongue-in-cheek, its trajectory unpredictable, its content slightly morose.  after all, not many college-radio bands can get away with singing about dead girls in closets, even if it’s only a passing reference.

cloud nothings album cover7. cloud nothings – “just see fear”

dylan baldi is dangerously close to becoming an infallible voice in the modern alternative rock climate.  whether or not that voice is discernible is another question entirely.  baldi’s fourth round at the helm of cloud nothings yields an intense but concise result, and “just see fear” is a perfect snapshot of the visceral nature of here and nowhere else.  seemingly over before it even starts, the song finds baldi singing confidently, almost gently at times, though the accompanying onslaught of buzz-saw guitar and drums immediately offsets any potential vulnerability.  the fact that cloud nothings has slimmed down to a power trio doesn’t seem to phase baldi, either; he points to the absence of a second guitarist with the unabashedly thin melody in the first half of the chorus before reminding listeners that a wall of distortion is truly the only indispensable member of cloud nothings.  oh, and his screams never fail to send shivers down spines.

shyne coldchain ii cover

6. vince staples – “nate”

vince staples has come a long way from his earliest role as earl sweatshirt’s especially vulgar side-kick, far enough to coax def jam into releasing his excellent debut ep hell can wait earlier this fall.  despite its warm reception, staples’ pivotal fourth mixtape, shyne coldchain ii, was arguably his most critical effort of 2014.  staples paints blunt, vivid images of less-than-ideal experiences throughout the mixtape’s ten tracks, and it peaks with “nate.”  visceral accounts of an abusive, drug-dealing father resound in his lyrics, but an inner conflict arises inside staples; though he concedes that “all i wanted was a hundred grand,” staples aptly recognizes the consequences of his father’s lifestyle.  the bridge on “nate” is crucial, as james fauntleroy essentially functions as an objective third party, summing up the cyclical hopelessness staples witnesses and examines in his music.

caribou our love cover5. caribou – “our love”

dan snaith spoke of the profound impact stevie wonder had on the creation of our love, his latest effort as caribou.  though their work couldn’t be more different from an aesthetic standpoint, snaith did manage to capture the sheer grandeur that wonder routinely brought to pop music.  our love is an unabashed pop record, and its title track is the surging centerpiece.  hell, the back half of the song is better than 95% of music released this year, but the importance of the front half’s static build elevates “our love” into the ninety-ninth percentile.  the bass line that snaith twists and warps into the song’s prevailing theme is just a measly four notes, but it’s his treatment and intense delivery that make it stick to whatever crosses its path.  ever the master of tension, snaith refuses to resolve the theme at the song’s close and leaves the fourth and final note hanging in the balance, forever tonicizing the figure in everyone’s heads.

lana del rey west coast cover4. lana del rey – “west coast”

lana del rey played us all.  an artist once dismissed as vapid and of middling talent was, conversely, lauded this year, thanks in part to her excellent sophomore effort ultraviolence.  but focus also shifted towards the understanding that lana del rey is a character, interested in exposing gender-based double-standards by fully indulging in them, forever daring us to critique her, to tear her to shreds.  most took the bait.  ultraviolence largely found del rey moving away from the technicolor hip-hop that dotted born to die, instead favoring a more nostalgic monochrome aided by dan auerbach’s production.  amidst ballads and grandiose ambitions lies “west coast,” an understated yet compelling song that is by and far del rey’s best piece of work to date.  she pushes ahead in earnest during the verses, but a little palilalia and a descending guitar lick is all it takes for her to lay back into a gorgeous half-time chorus, laden with reverb that figuratively recalls the hazy, beach-centric imagery conveyed on the single’s cover.

three love songs cover3. ricky eat acid – “god puts us all in the swimming pool”

the entirety of ricky eat acid’s arresting three love songs is emotive, but “god puts us all in the swimming pool” is especially heart-wrenching.  the song is a polarizing contrast to its predecessor, the drake-sampling, house-indebted “in my dreams we’re almost touching,” with its static motion pumping the brakes on any semblance of momentum the album had managed generate up to that point.  this poignancy is crucial, as it allows ricky eat acid’s mastermind sam ray to a moment to breathe before ushering in the erratic final quarter of three love songs.  all functions aside, the manipulation of the vocal loop on “god puts us all in the swimming pool” is one of the most beautiful musical moments of the year.

fka twigs lp1 cover2. fka twigs – “pendulum”

in theory, about half of the ten tracks on fka twigs’ stunning debut lp1 could occupy this slot; only one song really stood in the way of her total conquest of this segment.  tahliah barnett’s artistic persona transcends both her initial career as a backup dancer and the current temptation to lump her in with other singer-songwriters.  her output is largely autonomous, sure, but what sets her apart from those who might be considered her peers is her unabashed dedication to center her music around female sexuality.  and as a wonderful article on no fear of pop pointed out earlier this year, that focus on sex and sexuality is so large that it can’t be confined to twigs’ lyrics; it has to consume the rhythm and tonality of her music and the visual aesthetic and tone of her videos.  “pendulum” winds up in this slot because it directly embodies so much of that mentality.  the even-keeled, predictable beat that pans from one speaker to the other is as repetitive and reliable as a pendulum, while the song’s opening lyric clearly establishes sex as the lyrical catalyst.  but there’s a searing presence of cynicism as twigs ultimately is using “pendulum” as a platform to call a vapid, unresponsive lover on his shit.

a toothpaste suburb cover1. milo – “objectifying rabbits” (ft. open mike eagle)

milo’s career over the past two years has been fairly well-documented here at dimestore saints.  from his pair of eps to his cavalcade mixtape to his side-project scallops hotel, we haven’t missed much.  while milo’s first proper album, a toothpaste suburb, delivered some incredibly satisfying moments, it ultimately felt drawn-out and a bit uneven, perhaps because we’re used to consuming his thoughts in more concise doses.  that being said, the highlights of a toothpaste suburb are some of the finest works found in milo’s catalogue.  “objectifying rabbits” arrives just past the half-way mark of the record, and is the second part of a sequential triptych milo previewed before the album’s release date.  following the positively tender “you are go(o)d to me,” “objectifying rabbits” immediately reintroduces momentum into a toothpaste suburb with swelling synth progressions, setting up milo to deliver the finest opening line of 2014: “echolalia / lisztomania / i played my ukulele on the way to la grange, bruh.”  the non-sequiturs are there, but the lyrics are best-examined as an introduction to the song’s subject matter, which seems to find milo advocating for an appreciation of art and a positive outlook on life above all else.  milo dissents against hedonists and plato in his never-ending quest to convey his philosophical views, and open mike eagle’s closing verse compounds these thoughts in falsetto.  milo is a young artist with very complex thoughts, thoughts undoubtedly watered down to fit within the lyrical confines of a song.  although intensely personal songs radiate across a toothpaste suburb, “objectifying rabbits” is milo’s best effort in proclaiming his philosophical ethos.

 

best of 2014: music videos

as the years tick by, the music video seems to become an increasingly insignificant form of consumption.  though youtube is a powerful streaming source, lyric videos and static images accompanied by audio have largely become the norm.  amidst the changing landscape lies a handful of artists (check the output of honorable mentions fka twigs and perfume genius for further examples of consistently stunning work) and videographers still dedicated to enhanced storytelling through visual representation; we’ve compiled our five favorite offerings of 2014 below.

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5. lorde – “yellow flicker beat”


single-handedly curating the soundtrack to an assured universal blockbuster is no easy task for anyone, let alone a seventeen year-old.  lorde went two steps further, shouldering responsibility for the soundtrack’s monstrous lead single, “yellow flicker beat,” and its accompanying music video.  numerous comparisons were made to the aesthetic of david lynch, but the video particularly excels at showcasing lorde’s ownership of her artistic identity; her singular form of dancing becomes synonymous with the song’s anthemic chorus, further cramming a very natural artistic expression down the throats of detractors who expect something different from female pop stars.

4. pillar point – “dreamin'”


the surreal implications of the song’s title are aptly accentuated in the music video for “dreamin’.”  an early staple of pillar point’s career and the centerpiece of his self-titled debut album, “dreamin'” is forcibly reworked – in its introduction, anyways – to accommodate the contorted dancing style of the video’s protagonist, who seems to be a projection from the mind of the older man who appears at the beginning and end of the sequence.  yet despite the jubilance and dedication conveyed in the dance, “dreamin'” retains an incredible amount of poignancy, as the dancer’s feats go largely unnoticed.

3. caroline smith – “half about being a woman”


caroline smith tried her hand at r&b last year and wound up with half about being a woman, one of our favorite albums of 2013. nearly a year later she delivered a music video for the album’s title track that is at once heart-wrenching and uplifting, as smith’s monochromatic character traverses from utter despair to hardened confidence with a bit of help from her döppelganger.  raw emotions are rarely captured so effectively.

2. st. vincent – “digital witness”


a wes anderson color palate meets annie clark’s frazzled grey mane in st. vincent’s music video for “digital witness.”  clark has to be shortlisted as one of the best artists to emerge in the past decade, and the depth offered by her latest album only strengthens her claim to that exclusive club.  social commentary has often been a covert operation throughout st. vincent’s discography, but her views on the strong grip of modern technology are readily apparent on “digital witness.”  the martial rigidity of the song’s synthetic horn staccatos is mirrored by the nonsensical militaristic marching in the video, and the uniformity and repetitive acts performed by the cast is a metaphor for the enslaving power wielded by digital technology.  even clark, portrayed as a wary outsider, doesn’t seem to be fully free of its grasp.  just like the bulk of st. vincent’s output, both “digital witness” and its music video are beautiful at surface level and absolutely compelling once the outer layers are peeled away.

1. vince staples – “nate”


vince staples will be a key player in the immediate future of hip-hop, largely in part due to his visceral storytelling contained in songs like “nate.”  the video that accompanies the focal point of staples’ fourth mixtape, shyne coldchain vol. 2, is just as jarring: a domestic dispute played out in slow motion seen through the eyes of an unfazed child.  through association, one might assume that the autobiographical material from staples’ childhood directly correlates to the video’s protagonist, but said protagonist encounters staples while en route to a convenience store.  the fact that the video’s plot line may exist outside of staples’ personal narrative is critical, as it showcases a cyclical epidemic of violence and drug abuse in urban southern california.  it’s not a long stretch; staples has already proven he’s one of the most hyper-aware young minds in the rap game.

best of 2014: new artist

we kicked off our year-end awards rather inconspicuously with a mixtape ode to orchid tapes nearly two weeks ago, but the rapid succession of accolades begins today.  the “best new artist” category is a subjective one, with different artists qualifying for different publications depending on the format and length of their output that year.  in 2013, we drew from a pool of bands that had not even existed the year prior, but we’re easing up on our restrictions this time around to focus on bands that released their debut ep – or those that bypassed directly to a full-length – in 2014.  cool?  cool.

a lot of retroactive research was done, and interestingly enough, our winner was one that didn’t even grace the site this year (although some words on them did show up here.)  just goes to show how fallible these small blogs can be.  oh well.  without further ado, here’s our pick for the best new artist of 2014.

– best new artist: yumi zouma –

countless artists tried to claw their way to recognition via soundcloud this year; streaming has become an even more integral component of musical consumption, and sites that compile streaming data to monitor the success of songs have become wildly influential.  amongst the influx, yumi zouma stood out.  for starters, they hit the ground running with an indelible self-titled ep released through cascine in early february, a four-track effort that fit right in with the label’s balmy electronic aesthetic.  “a long walk home for parted lovers” and “the brae” both contain astute songwriting and strong vocal hooks, but yumi zouma isn’t merely propped up by its singles.  “sålka gets her hopes up” accomplishes its task with a sturdy bass line, sensibly augmented with more trebly timbres on the song’s chorus, and “riquelme” is the slightly bleak closer the ep needs, its murkiness jousting its brevity for the title of most important quality.

while a majority of synth-pop steers towards feelings of elation and general positivity, yumi zouma should be commended for their apathetic take on the genre.  kim pflaum’s voice is sultry but her delivery is entirely off the cuff, seeming to shrug her shoulders at the less-than-ideal subject matter on “a long walk home for parted lovers.”  hints of intimacy seem apparent – the mixed-gender vocal layering is somewhat reminiscent of the xx – but yumi zouma seems to thrive on keeping the audience at an arm’s-length away.  no piece of their output is particularly anthemic, but none of it needs to be; the muted, bass-heavy instrumentation that pervades is the perfect antidote to the increasingly bombastic nature of so much electronic pop.

yumi zouma turned the heads of other artists throughout 2014 as well.  the band supported chet faker on a string of sold-out shows in australia before catching the eye of lorde, who brought her fellow kiwis along to her homecoming shows in new zealand this fall.  this meteoric rise in popularity and exposure was accompanied by a new single, “alena,” which compounded the winning formulas of their self-titled ep into something even more promising.  “alena” contains the band’s first big hook, a swirling chorus beefed up by a pulsating, balearic bass line and enhanced with hints of piano.  the song is most likely the by-product of shifting yumi zouma from the bedroom to the stage, but it’s telling that the band can so easily flesh out their sound while remaining true to their ethos.

having played the last of their 2014 shows this past week, yumi zouma is back home in new zealand, although its members are mum on any forthcoming projects.  an album would be the next logical step, but anything the band offers up from this point forward will likely be received with open arms.  in an era when musical carbon copies are incessantly shoved down throats, yumi zouma effortlessly provides a more soothing alternative.

mixtape sunday – orchid tapes

 

consider this the precursor to our year-end best-of lists that will start to show up towards the middle of december.  orchid tapes was absolutely on point for the entirety of 2014, releasing ten fantastic albums and one compilation all while successfully transitioning into vinyl distribution.  to honor this site’s favorite record label of the year, we’ve curated a compilation of our own: one that features our favorite track from each of the ten original releases in chronological order.  click the play button above to get started, and then head over to the orchid tapes archives to catch up on any albums you may have missed.