From the moment I first watched it, Jamie XX’s “Gosh” video directed by Romain Gavras grabbed me. It successfully depicted a world I never knew existed, but wanted to know everything about when the video came to a close. Watch the video and read my entry for Paste Magazine’s 20 Best Music Videos of 2016 feature from 12/15/16 below.
Romain Gavras never takes the easy way out. The Greek-French music video director, who is most well-known for directing M.I.A.’s provocative “Born Free” and flamboyant “Bad Girls” videos, doesn’t just make music videos as much as he makes musical short films as his signature stamp on the video he conceptualizes and directs. Gavras often creates post-apocalyptic worlds like with “Born Free” and Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “No Church In The Wild” And on Jamie XX’s “Gosh” video, Gavras’s setting is a utopian ghost city, which in fact, isn’t a utopia at all, but rather the Tianducheng development in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, which was built to look like Paris and house 10,000 residents, but is now is sparsely inhabited (The story of Tianducheng itself is one of the internet’s most glorious rabbit holes by the way. Feel free to start here.)
The world of “Gosh” sees Hassan Kone — an albino of African descent — as its focal point, traversing the city amidst hundreds upon hundreds of Chinese boys, whose soldier-like choreography and visual and mechanized uniformity is masterfully portrayed by the Xiaolong Martial Arts School. Kone comes across as the last hope for the decrepit cesspool of Tianducheng, as he races through the film in a Subaru and ends it standing beneath the 300 foot tall Eiffel Tower replica, while the Xiaolong boys circle him in patternized movement. It’s what Busby Berkeley choreography would look like in the year 2100.
All the while, Jamie XX’s opus founded on elements of ragga drum and bass, is hypnotically in sync with the movements of the characters. Mattias Rudh’s drone cinematography pans out to show the sullen buildings of Tianducheng, creating a CGI feel, which adds to the eerie, futuristic vibe of the video.
Gavras tosses out his usual violent themes in favor of a different type of fear. The fear that this utopian city from the future is actually from the present. Kim Chapiron and Iconoclast’s “Behind The Scenes” mini-doc (watch it below) is a welcome companion to Gavras’s “Gosh” video and a look into the method behind the artistic madness of one of the most intriguing music video directors in the business and one of the best videos of the year.
Here it is….Everything Ecstatic’s 9th Annual Best Albums of the Year List. Shouts out to everyone who’s followed along over the years and I’m excited to share the spoils of another year in music witchas. This year, I had to abandon the one album a day for 20-30 days format of the past few years, cause there just weren’t enough hours in the days leading up to this post. But you can still see all of the archives from ’06 to ’13 here and 2014’s entries beginning here.
At any rate, this year’s list is 50 albums in one post, straight up. Each entry is brief, with some scattered notable videos, links and I made a playlist of all the albums at the bottom. Props to Abhi/Dijon, Drake and Bob Moses, who put out quality releases in 2015, but were the last 3 albums cut from the Top 50. Also, you won’t find D’Angelo on this list as Black Messiah was released on December 15th, 2014. I know some outlets are ranking it this year, but release dates are the only definitive indicator of what year an album belongs to. But ultimately, Black Messiah doesn’t need to be placed on an arbitrary list to validate it’s beauty and importance far beyond a musical context. You can read more of my thoughts on the first performance from D’Angelo’s renaissance here, and know that if it was a 2015 album, it’d be sitting at #2 on this list. With that, let us begin the annual ritual. Enjoy!
Welp…Here’s the final Everything Ecstatic post of the year folks. Chronicling our 35 favorite songs of 2014. Look for audio and video below some of the tracks and a spotify playlist (in order) at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!
35. SBTRKT (ft. Sampha)– “Temporary View”
While most of the buzz on Wonder Where We Land was around “New Dorp, New York” featuring Ezra Koenig, “Temporary View” was the most SBTRKT of them all. It sees Sampha and Aaron Jerome doing what they do best: elevating each other and creating soulful soundscapes.
“We have done our job then my friend. Our work is done here.” El-P said when I told him of my desire to knock out my laptop cause I was so jacked when I first heard RTJ2. Wanting to punch my screen in excitement was just one of the many reactions the albumelicited on first listen. There was jumping, there was bouncing, there were battle-rap hand gestures, there was eyes-closed-elbow-dancing…Some straight up groove shit. When an album makes you move & react with such passion and fervor towards it right off the bat, chances are you’re staring the Album of the Year in the face.
And with this, Run The Jewels 2 succeeds on multiple levels. It’s not just the explosive energy of the first half of the album into the deeply reflective and tempered honesty of the second half; it’s the genuine and rare cohesion of El-P, Killer Mike & the album’s multiple collaborators; it’s an album by the people and for the people, that was delivered for FREE MUTHAFUCKAH! FREE! And that’s an industry-tilting idea to consider: The Album of the Year was distributed to anyone who wanted it for free. I talked to Run The Jewels about this model back in October and El-P had this to say about it:
It’s our contribution to a relationship with a fan base that we want to continue for a long time. I feel that if you give someone something thats quality and heartfelt then you have a really good basis for establishing real support for people who appreciate it.
I want to control it. If I’m gonna give it away, if its gonna be out there and play the game of “hey everybody, buy my record when it comes out…wink, wink. you already have the record.” Id rather be like “Here’s this gift to you, here’s my gift and here are the ways that you can support and here are the ways that you can buy it”… and for us it works, its a career model and its working. I don’t know that that works for everybody. because we’re still healthy and young and able to tour and make money in different ways, but not everyone is always gonna be able to do that and not be able to make money on music because you’re older and can’t tour….But to us right now, its very workable. We can have a really good career and at the same time present somebody with something. A lot of people don’t buy music and just because you don’t buy music doesn’t mean you’re not a fan of this shit. Maybe you just wanna come to the show, maybe u wanna buy a t-shirt and thats fine… and if u wanna support, you have a lot of ways to do it and we’ll make you aware. We know from doing it like this last time (on the debut album) that it’s a real way to do it.
Real as fuck from my perspective. And that’s something that sets Run The Jewels apart. They’re El-P and Killer Mike, but they’re not trying to hide behind some hip-hop alias. On the album’s opener, “Jeopardy,” Mike shouts:
So fuck you fuckboys forever
I hope I said it politely
And that’s about the psyche of Jaime and Mikey
Jaime and Mikey are accessible dudes. If you’ve ever tried to tweet at them, chances are they’ve RT’d you, or maybe they read your tweet mid-blunt and you’ll have a back and forth about something random. As a music fan and a hip-hop head, that’s a #rare and refreshing approach that you gotta respect. There’s no enigmatic aura around these two, they come straight out and tell you what’s on their mind; on album, in person and on the internet. And they don’t shy away from the hot-button socio-political issues clouding our nation right now either. Killer Mike has long-since been an out-spoken figure against police brutality in America. In fact, before anything happened in Ferguson or in Cleveland, etc.. Killer Mike and El-P had an eloquent response to shitty politicians, the prison state, and race issues already crafted in the form of RTJ2. Most notably on “Early,” it’s an eerily clairvoyant re-count of the unjust use of force by NY police that led to the death of Eric Garner:
I said “Man, I’m tryin’ to smoke and chill
Please don’t lock me up in front of my kids
And in front of my wife
Man, I ain’t got a gun or a knife
You do this and you ruin my life
They’ve been a front-facing voice of the voiceless when we need it most. On “Lie, Cheat Steal,” Mike blares the repeatable query on who truly is pulling the strings of our society:
Like who really run this?
Like who really run that man that say he run this?
Who who really run that man that say he run this, run run run run this?
On “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” El-P refers to “these FUBAR rulers gettin rich!” When I asked El and Mike about the “FUBAR rulers” or who do they think is the the lowest of the low, El said “To me the lowest of the low is anyone who wants to control another man’s life” and Mike almost immediately chimed in with “Whoever is on the other end of that Donald Sterling call….whoever he’s referring to on that call. That’s the lowest of the low.”
Can’t emphasize enough how genuine, respectful, yet humble RTJ have presented themselves across all mediums. They’ve created a record that’s a conscious hip-hop journey through and through. From the hard-hitting “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” (best beat I’ve heard in years) and “Close Your Eyes And Count To Fuck” with Zack De La Rocha, to the more atmospheric “Crown” with Diane Coffee and album closing “Angel Duster,” RTJ2 is fluent in it’s phases and you feel their emotions on every damn note. Their performance of “Crown” (with Boots) on David Letterman is an emotionally riveting one from the moment Killer Mike opens his flow and El-P starts punctuating:
It’s a chill-inducing performance and it’s exactly what Run The Jewels are in the business of doing: “Making quality and heartfelt music.” This is shit you can feel and they’re having a damn good time doing it. El-P says: “About a year ago, we sat down and were like yo…“Let’s do this shit again. Fuck it!” We did everything we could to make it happen. I’m proud we got it done.” One love.
This is the rare and beautiful moment in music when a great artist becomes one of the greats. On St.Vincent, her self-titled 4th LP, Annie Clark has turned the corner in her career and realized her full potential as an artist. This is her at her most confident and schooled, writing meaningful songs and still wailing on the guitar in ways that at times don’t seem physically possible. This is her Mt.Olympus and it’s really fucking excellent.
On the heels of her Love This Giant collaboration with the great David Byrne, Clark has developed into a different type of artist. One that’s taking creative leaps into uncharted land, that reaches far beyond her music. The visual aesthetic she’s established for herself shows a full commitment to being the artist she wants to be. Extreme example, but this is similar to what Kanye West has accomplished. It’s an act, but it’s not. It’s true artistic expression and Clark believes in every figment of her art. She’s extremely well-read in what it takes to be a pop culture icon (This 2011 interview in which she discusses her fascination with Marilyn Monroe has always struck a chord with me.)
The song-writing on St.Vincent is ambitious, confident and wildly successful. The album’s first single, “Digital Witness,” dissects America’s obsession and reliance on digital media. The extravagant horns peppered in with Clark’s tongue-in-cheek vocals, totally work as a first release. She delves into this theme in more scathing fashion on the incendiary “Huey Newton”:
Fuckless porn sharks
Toothless but got a big bark
Live children blind psychics
Turned online assassins
So Hale-Bopp, Hail Mary, hail Hagia Sophia
Oh it was a lonely, lonely winter
The album’s opening track, “Rattlesnake,” might be the biggest, boldest and most seamlessly explosive opening track of the year. I myself have a moment I’ll never forget with this track: On a bus at 5am, at the base of Machu Picchu, I’m in the very back of a packed bus that takes you up to the entry to one of the world’s greatest wonders. It’s dark, I can’t even really see the faces of anyone else on this bus and I cue up St.Vincent and press play. I was absolutely gripped by the intricacies of “Rattlesnake,” my whole life flashed before my eyes as I began the last leg of a journey that changed me forever…I thought about all of the events that happened in the last year+ to bring me to this very moment in time…in South America, in Peru, 3 days into a solo trek, at the foot of Machu Picchu, over 4000+ meters above sea level. I nearly lost my shit.
My mind swirled with memories…memories of seeing St.Vincent at Terminal 5 in New York before I left in March and her performance of “Regret,” my favorite song on this album and just absolutely shredded away at the most perfect and poppy guitar riff. I thought about her robotic movements in a polemic performance of “Birth in Reverse” on SNL that left Americans scratching their heads.
I thought about the first time I saw St.Vincent at Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara in 2007….How this beautiful and delicate being, produced such amazing sounds through her voice and her guitar…oh that guitar. And you see…this is what the greats do. They can bring back a flurry of emotions and memories of your life and their own, with just a simple three and a half minute song. They can write a song where they sing “I prefer your love to Jesus,” have everyone up in arms about that claim, only to realize that it’s a song about how much she loves her mother, who nearly passed away last year. They can tackle tragic historical figures and loop their story back into life for misunderstood groups in New York.
And Clark does all of this and makes it accessible and beautiful. She manages to make it all pop and that’s when you know an artist has a grasp on what it means to be an artist. This album was at the top of my list for most of the year, is hands down her finest work to date and should go down as one of the finest examples of blurring the line between whatever “indie” is and isn’t.
Wonder Where We Land, the 2nd full-length LP from English producer Aaron Jerome, (stage name SBTRKT) is an album about process. It’s about a calculated vision, a journey around the world to seek out the players for and the creation of an otherworldly land.
The album’s first sessions were recorded on Osea, a tidal island off the Essex coast that floods every 8 hours daily. So picture this, Jerome and company (Sampha, Chairlift’s Carolyn Polacheck, et al..) have a 4-hour window to drive across the ocean on a tidal road from Essex to a remote studio in Osea and then, they’re essentially stuck there when the roads flood as the tide rises. It’s a creative strategy that affects the mind-frame of an artist and surely lends to deep focus and creativity in the cryptic setting. Pigeons & Planes did a killer feature on the album and had a segment on Carolyn Polacheck’s strange journey to get there, it’s worth a read.
In Osea, the insidiously haunting “Look Away” with Polacheck was recorded as well as the brilliant “Temporary View” with Sampha. “Temporary View” was a call-back to a formula devised by Jerome on SBTRKT’s debut LP (our #1 album of 2011), which changed the face of electronic collaborations, as he churned out now classics with Sampha, Jessie Ware and “Wildfire” with Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano (Go ahead and consider “Widlfire” the most important catalyst for the electro-soul collaboration movement.)
But I digress, Jerome chose a handsome slew of collaborators here and it’s clear that he sought to not only highlight his production with some of the most significant players in music today like Ware and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, but also anoint the next class of rising stars in Raury, Koreless and Denai Moore. “The Light” with Moore is one of the album’s most promising moments and he even subtly interpolates Moore’s vocals on other tracks; This was another strategy Jerome employed to build the world of this album around it’s players: While the featured artists are credited on their primary tracks, they appear again on other tracks as voices in the background and it plays into the concept of a mysterious land that builds its existence within the listener’s perception of where they are on the album at any given point in time.
Also not lost, is the visual component of this record and how it contributes to the creation of this world. The interactive “Look Away” video, features a mysterious character who’s eyes follow you as the music plays; The video for “New Dorp, New York,” goes in depth about the mammal on the cover of the record and builds the story of the dark and remote world of Wonder Where We Land:
I could go on about the infinite nuances of Wonder Where We Land…How SBTRKT was able to pry a deeply emotional lament from trap-lord A$AP Ferg on “Voices in My Head,” or how Koreless’ co-production on “Osea” is Jerome calling attention to his most similar contemporary. I was puzzled at the mixed reaction of this record, the follow-up to what I argue is the most influential album of the last 5 years. Jerome’s journey into Osea with his crew and across the Atlantic to corral the album’s final players is an essay in collaborative production. I keep picturing him on a flight with a to-do list (get coffee with Ezra Koenig in New York , call Carolyn Polacheck, fly to Atlanta to meet 18-year old MC Raury, find wherever Ferg is and go there, etc…) From where I’m standing, this was a uniquely digital effort that meticulously plucked significance from a saturated music scene to create something special and a world unto itself. Let me know when you get there.
Caribou captures the essence of the human condition through electronic music. I won’t sit here and dissect this one for too long, because it’s the type of music that allows you to draw your own conclusions and find your own mood. I don’t want to bias the development of that emotion for you, if you haven’t spent time with Our Love yet. But this album makes me comfortable in my own skin and when it’s on, I just am.
I’m a big fan of Dan Snaith’s Caribou project. His last album, Swim, was my #2 Album of 2010 and Our Love makes me feel the same way: It’s what I’ve always wanted out of electronic music. Caribou and Four Tet stand out in my eyes as the most present and conscious musicians to the progression of lo-fi electronica and it’s accompanying spin-offs sounds.
On Our Love, “Can’t Do Without You,” is one of the best songs of the year. In an interview (and must watch performance) on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic with Jason Bentley, Snaith said that he tried to cater to the ears of his fans on this effort, which wasn’t the case in the past. The result isn’t too far of a cry from what we’re used to, besides the delightful collaboration with fellow Canadian electronic musician Jessy Lanza, on “Second Chance.”
I’m leaving this one here. Go listen to it. Chill out, relax, feel, zone in and find yourself within perhaps the most humble and accomplished electronic release of the year. Peace.
There’s times when I wonder if this might in fact be favorite record of the year. Amber Papini’s voice captures a condition that used to be described this way in the mid-90’s; The mundane, yet solitarily-significant happenings of the 20-something woman. This is alternative. It calls to mind the temporal voices of Juliana Hatfield, Hope Sandoval, Tanya Donnelly and Suzanne Vega. But Papini and Hospitality trade the post-grunge angst for a quaint and cute hipster-vibe and Papini’s delicate-cum-powerful articulation that makes you want to hold her hand while walking together through a summer field.
Hospitality’s debut album was filled with simple poppy jams like “Friends of Friends” and “Eighth Avenue” that were easy to adore. But Trouble is more ambitious in it’s production and instrumentation. On the album’s opening track “Nightingale,” Papini’s voice is layered over itself into the fierce hook. Spontaneous moments of excellent guitars are splashed into the track at different moments as we settle into Papini’s self-harmonies. “Going Out” creates a comfortable stillness that freezes time for a moment. You give in to how chilled out the melody and bass line are.
Perhaps the album’s best track, is the preciously galactic “Rockets and Jets.” It’s about a day outside, gazing at the sky with the apple of her eye. Papini sings:
It was a perfect day for planes in the sky
I saw rather stripes and silver
Shining until it blew a star
It’s the beauty in the mundane. The Kodak moments we never capture. All with a sticky bass line and again, the guitar solo which is a signature of sorts on most tracks off of Trouble. This recipe that Brooklyn’s Hospitality lays forward for the songs on this record, is exactly what I want out of an indie rock record. That “indie” label that gets thrown out there all too often, is firmly appropriate here. This isn’t a far cry from the indie I grew up with and loved in the 90’s. And when it’s all said and done, it’s the sound of my favorite pure indie rock record of 2014: Trouble by Hospitality.
Miles Davis would “literally be mad” at what jazz has become. Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus) said in an interview in Salon. In that interview, he goes on to talk about how he operates under the mentality that Miles Davis could come back to life at any moment, so he wants his music to be presentable to Miles and “make him chin stroke a bit” when the time comes.
This is a lofty idea to apply to one’s music and it’s a testament to how carefully Ellison has crafted You’re Dead! It’s a nu-jazz masterpiece, a revivalist record, a free-jazz exploration and a futuristic journey through jazz and hip-hop all-in-one. This is the most ambitious concept album of the year and breaks new ground into a fusion of sounds we’ve never heard before.
To be honest, it’s not even my favorite Flying Lotus record (Until the Quiet Comes doesn’t get the credit it deserves as being far and away Ellison’s best work), but You’re Dead! is the product of yet another creative vision of Ellison’s, a concept he’s thought about since he started making music and he’s pined over crafting this record to come across just right for the last 2 years.
Ellison brought in collaborators from jazz great Herbie Hancock and best buddy Thundercat to Snoop Dogg and even Kendrick Lamar. Working with Lamar was something Ellison has wanted to do since GKMC. He’s even described his disappointment in not being a part of Kendricks album in this fantastic piece in The Fader by Andy Beta. He made sure that when he finally got a chance to work with him on his own album, that he made the most of the opportunity. The result, is perhaps the best track of the year, in “Never Catch Me.” Ellison starts with vibrant keys and a rattling snare, the bass drops in with Kendrick’s flow and the rest is history (or at least will be). A marvel of time signatures, clap-snares, a stand-up bass and guitar all functioning perfectly into a song about tip-toeing around death and the after-life.
As he always does, Flying Lotus introduces a visual element to his music which adds more depth to his song and in this case, ties in the central theme of this magnum opus. Watch the video for “Never Catch Me”:
It’s masterful, and it’s the album’s apex coming early before spiraling into sonic musings on the nature of death, staring it in the face and pondering one’s existence. On “Turtles,” we feel like Ellison is walking through a dark cemetery, with the ominous tribal drums as the cryptic overhead soundtrack. On “Ready err Not,” he’s become a vermin and is weaving through bodies as their lives flash before him. There’s more visual cues on the graphic video and it’s clear that Ellison’s interest is piqued by death. It’s an existential concern for him and it’s sparked his curiosity, his creativity and his art.
This is a dark, dark album from Flying Lotus, but it’s exactly as he wanted it to end up. You’re Dead! is a manifestation of the inner-workings of the most actualizing creator in music today. He’s one of the most incredible modern producers and no one has traversed hip-hop, electronica and now jazz as fluently and with such complexity as he. He is an explorer of sounds, who has innovation in his genes and oughta make multiple generations proud with how he continues to tell the story of a seismic shift in prevalent musical styles.
I’ll admit, I’d never listened to Sun Kil Moon until Benji and my process with this one was as such: Pitchfork gives album high marks >>> I listen once >>>>I ignore it for 4-6 weeks >>> I listen again and read lyrics to “Richard Ramiez Died Today of Natural Causes” >>> Am blown away and dive deeper.
Kozelek ignores all conventional lyric formats and doesn’t feel the need to rhyme anything. It’s just one long strewn story and his excellent layered acoustic guitar plucking builds the tension in the story he’s telling like the score of a movie. The stories on Benji make you move closer to the edge of your seat as it progresses. Here, listen:
It’s a gripping tale of an 80’s-era mass murderer in the Bay area, who died in 2013 while on death row at San Quentin. It calls memories of Sufjan Stevens’ opus, “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” But Kozelek also shines for his guitar work. He’s a savant to say the least. His methods shift from classical to Spanish and beyond, as he weave within chords and tracks as intricately as his lyrics.
He sings about his Mother and Father with such love and adoration. “I Love My Dad” is the type of song that makes you want to call your old man just to see how he’s doing. “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” will warrant an “I love you” midnight text to Mom. She won’t know what hit her. Check these bars from “I Love My Dad”:
When I was a kid my dad brought home a guitar he got from Sears
I took lessons from a neighbor lady but it wasn’t going anywhere
He went and got me a good teacher
And in no time at all I was getting better
I can play just fine
I still practice a lot but not as much as Nels Cline
Love the Nels Cline/Wilco reference here. He’s kinda awkward, but his stories paint such a vivid picture of his breed of Americana; from his time in the Bay and his time on the East coast. It often feels tongue-in-cheek, but its wonderful smart and inventive songwriting.
The album closes with “Ben’s My Friend,” (which according to my Spotify Year in Music, I listened to more than any other track this year) a story about a day in San Francisco that leads to meeting frontman Ben Gibbard at a Postal Service show at the Greek theater in Berkeley. It’s seriously one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Here:
I can’t get over his lyrics like “We ate at Perry’s and we ordered crab cakes……blue crab cakes…..blue crab cakes” It makes me smile and appreciate the little things in life, like fucking crab cakes at a cafe near the Embarcadero. There’s a beautiful saxophone that comes in midway through the track as Kozelek plucks away at the guitar. He waxes on what it feels like to be a forty-something at a concert and layers the vocal track on top of itself and opens the final verse with:
There’s a fine line between a middle-aged guy with a backstage pass
And a guy with a gut hanging around like a jackass
It’s such a witty observation, but it’s so real and the song is packed with words that describe the day and the events in detail. This album makes me smile at life’s mundane moments and it makes me incredibly emotional when thinking about family. But above all, it makes me feel, because Kozelek speaks from the heart.