Dec 18, 2014, 08:39AM

The 2014 Splice Today Music Poll

Grouper wins again.

3727099381 2376245a1c.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Deeper and deeper we descend into the era of low-to-no-consensus, the Long Tail lengthening and growing ever coarser, all the “this post-monoculture shit sucks” op-eds piling up willy-nilly, nobody able to agree on anything. It’s gotten to the point where talking about music with strangers isn’t even vaguely fun anymore: they haven’t heard what you’re flipping out over, you haven’t heard what they’re flipping out over, and neither of you have enough free time to engage in the requisite opposition research necessary to make meaningful connections. When a “what’s your all-time hip-hop top five” discussion on Facebook can’t get five or six responses deep without two or three sub-underground outliers drifting into the fray, is there hope for any of us? Things have reached the point where I’ve been honestly stunned this year whenever anyone has heard of anything I’ve written about or repped on social media. Dividers may drive artistic innovation, but at this moment in time, what we’re in dire need of is more uniters—and I sure don’t mean the sort of unification U2 wrought this year with a record nobody really wanted for free.

In Splice Today’s 2013 music poll, we had six (!) voters, and two intersecting points of consensus. This year, we’re down to three voters, and the only platter at least two of us could agree on was Grouper’s bleakly entrancing Ruins, a repeat of our love affair with 2013’s The Man Who Died in His Boat. Maybe that says something about the rough decade we’re gliding towards the middle of, or the tumultuous year we’re about to close the door on forever. If I’m sure about anything, though, it’s that whoever or whatever (what’s up, amniotic AI sentiences?) is left alive after humanity perishes in a plague will have several millennia of underexposed Bandcamp/Soundcloud/YouTube bounty to feed on. They’ll never, ever be bored. Raymond Cummings

The winner!

Grouper, Ruins (Kranky). Like seeing a new color or discovering a new star, Ruins unveils yet another side of Liz Harris’ genius. On her most direct—in terms of chords and lyrically speaking—record yet, Harris communicates the same emotional isolation and intimacy without any of the reverb, delay, or tape loops that have appeared on every other Grouper release (save for the final track “Made of Air,” recorded in 2004). Above all, Harris is an incredible songwriter with a natural ear for melodies that are devastating and hauntingly beautiful, often comprised of less than half a dozen notes. Her voice is without peer, singing within the thin range of the main line on “Clearing” or the angelic falsetto on “Call Across Rooms.” Harris’ words and the way she phrases them are as massive and affecting as they were hidden beneath bushes of digital fuzz; “it’s funny when we fuck up/no one really has to care” and “I have a present to give you when we finally figure it out” are two lines that have stuck with me ever since I first heard them. Her voice runs circles inside my head, and I hear her music everywhere now—in heat pipes, in the wind, in white noise. Harris has supernatural talent, and we’re all blessed and the better for it. Nicky Smith

These albums tied for second place.

Ariel Pink: Pom Pom (4AD). Ariel Pink, speed freak and casual misogynist is inseparable from Ariel Pink, primo tunesmith. Pom Pom—a fitting final testament should he die before age 40—is crude, lewd, and irresistibly catchy, another fat batch of genre-melting pop brilliance most reminiscent of Prince’s Sign o’ the Times. Pink’s penchant for Ann Coulter-esque trolling is beyond gross, but if you dismiss him solely on baiting the media by calling Grimes “stupid and retarded,” then how can you ever listen to Rumours knowing that Lindsey Buckingham dragged Carol Ann Harris’ down a gravel driveway, one hand holding her head and the other gripping a steering wheel? As with Fleetwood Mac, the psychodrama is inseparable from the music, and golden pop like “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade,” “White Freckles,” “Put Your Number in My Phone,” and “Dayzed Inn Daydreams” floats above the petty pull quotes and drug-related hearsay. With his scorched-earth press campaign, Pink has drastically narrowed his fan base, leaving only those who sing his praises in private. So for the diehards, Pom Pom is a treat, a kaleidoscopic journey through Pink’s obsessions and neuroses that hangs together better than any album he’s released thus far. NS

Jordannah Elizabeth, Bring to the Table (self-released). Jordannah Elizabeth—who has written for this site—characterizes her music as psychedelic soul, but this EP collaboration seems to veer more towards roots music of one kind or another. The interaction between Elizabeth's guitar and Kate Porter's cello recalls Nick Drake. But Elizabeth's singing, filled with swoops, grunts, and hiccups, and interjections, recalls other predecessors—Son House, Marion Williams, Joni Mitchell. The combination of disparate influences is seamless and mesmerizing, creating a vision of a world in which all the things that have been called folk—fey British acoustic music, coffee house folk, blues, roots, country—turn into one genre, bleak, knowing, and beautiful. It's easily my favorite album of 2014. Noah Berlatsky

Yellow Tears, Golden Showers May Bring Flowers (Septic World International). On its first long player since 2008’s stellar The Pissmop, this NYC trio presses Play on its day-to-day life then shuffles in a suite of New Age-y themes and streaks of tape hiss, emerging with what might be the ultimate noise reality show/radio play album. Crass, broadly satirical, bizarre, and gross—bodily fluids have always been central to the Yellow Tears ethos—Golden Showers May Bring Flowers revolves around a fictional theme park and the dedicated “garglers” who visit it. Fractured and baffling, the narrative resists coherence even as it offers glimpses of the realities band members live when not expanding the parameters of what experimental music can accomplish. And did I mention that this album is also a film? Well, it is. RC

These albums tied for third place.

Circulatory System, Mosaics within Mosaics (Cloud Recordings). This was the year my son got into Harry Potter—first through the books, then via the film adaptations, which I watched with him. (He’s growing up to be a fast reader, and left me in the dust on the dead-tree front.) Athens, GA’s Circulatory System foster a sound that’s a lot like the vision of Hogwarts School that you see in the Potter movies: shifting staircase, meddlesome ghosts, hidden, dark secrets, monsters that go bump in the night. In a sense, Mosaics within Mosaics represents a continuation of what Circulatory System started on 2001’s Circulatory System and 2009’s Signal Morning—the crafty application of Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique to updated hippie-scum eclecticism, shit-fits scored for strings, horn blats, narrative time-traveling ala the Manni in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. If there’s a difference on the band’s end, it might be that Will Cullen Hart’s singing seems more tired and contented than outright awestruck; if there’s a difference on the listeners’ end, it might be that we’re realizing how lucky we are to still have him around, guiding us everywhere and nowhere, all at once. RC

Open Mike Eagle, Dark Comedy (Mello Music Group). There are very few music albums that leave you laughing helplessly all the way through. De la Soul is Dead is one—and Open Mike Eagle's Dark Comedy is another. Mike is, not coincidentally, indebted to Native Tongue consciousness and positivity—but he also has a laid-back wisdom that sets him apart from his more mercurial forebears. "Fuck you if you're a white man who assumes I speak for black folks/Fuck you if you're a white man who assumes I can't speak for black folks…Respect my qualifiers," and "Any karaoke fans here? Don't get drunk and do Kashmir—it's not a good choice" are words for us all to live by, while the lovely "Very Much Money" manages to be both hysterically funny and tender enough to make me tear up. "My friends are superheroes, none of us have very much money though/They wear the same underwear as billionaires." Love, regret, hope, nerd knowledge, and pride, all wrapped in goofy underwear and sweet, slow beats. No disrespect to the radio stars, but this is the best hip-hop album of the year. NB

Repelican, Pall Mall Blues (self-released). Pall Mall Blues is another notch in Jon Ehrens’ belt of pop perfection—a crazy, Todd Rundgren-style solo album that actually is pretty much just him. Fowley? Bolles? Gilmore? Bullshit. Ehrens has released music under the name Repelican before, but he’s best known to Baltimore music fans as driving force behind psycho-speed art rock band The Art Department and plastic soul outfit White Life, as well as his duo with Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Dungeonesse. Pall Mall Blues is widescreen pop that floats in a cloud above both of his other bands, blending the frenetic guitar playing and the walls of warm, gooey, Tron-blue synthesizers and vocoders that add up to something like a more laid-back A Wizard, a True Star. NS

These albums tied for fourth place.

Bob Bellerue, Damned Piano (Anarchymoon Recordings). Brooklyn’s Bob Bellerue released or featured on more noise or noise-associated albums this year than I have fingers to count them; they’re all good to great, but Damned Piano is the LP I find myself returning to again and again. Sixty-some minutes of concentrated croak, drone, and scrape rooted in bass, Piano proffers rich, understated rumble that occasionally gives way to towering showers of sparks or lonesome cable-car rides across abysses. The overall effect is less grindingly vigorous than it is meditatively dissociative, zapping the listener out of the realm of the immediate and leaving her backstroking through ether, contemplating the eternal. RC

A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Sea When Absent (Lefse Records). A Sunny Day in Glasgow has made a bunch of great shoegaze/dream-pop albums over the years, but this year's Sea When Absent is where they make their most obvious bid to move out of the subgenre and stake a claim as rock gods. The songs are more structured and intricate, keyboards, harmonies, guitars, and those ethereal vocals wrapping around each other into a bliss that not only soars, but swaggers. "I am a double dutch, falling in love" is a nice summative catchphrase for an album that manages, as well as anything in recent memory, to pick up the mantle of idiosyncratic, multiple indie genius without sounding crabbed or forced. If you want to believe rock isn't dead, this is the album to pick up. NB

Silk Rhodes, Silk Rhodes (Stones Throw). The self-titled debut from Michael Collins (Run DMT, Salvia Plath) and Sasha Desree rides a rail between drug-sick sadness and the optimism of the golden hour. The minimal song structures, melancholy chord progressions, crispy digital production, and old school funk instrumentation make Silk Rhodes a perfect record for the come-up or the come-down, but nowhere in between. The instrumentals are tired and world-weary, and the lush vocals sound like they’re wrapping up a party long gone. Desree’s voice is gorgeous, and his falsetto on songs like “Barely New” and “Reeltime” pierces through the music’s amber haze. Drug analogies are a bit overdone, but considering the title and Collins’ past projects, it’s hard not to hear patterns and moods that reflect what it feels like to come down hard, and looking up to catch the sun for one last half hour before waking up in the dark again. Best for long drives home, and as a balm for bad dates when the movie projector stalls and burns the negative to a crisp. NS

Voters’ Musical Ephemera

Noah Berlatsky

The Five Best Albums from 2013 I Didn't Hear Until 2014:

RP Boo, Legacy (Planet Mu)

Insect Ark, Long Arms EP (Geweih Ritual Documents)

Lizzo, LizzoBangers (Totally Gross National Product)

Sevyn Streeter, Call Me Crazy, But… (Atlantic Records)

Natural Snow Buildings, The Snowbringer Cult (Ba Da Bing!, reissue)

Raymond Cummings

Best 2013 album that didn’t make my ballot because “lol mid-December wtf”: Beyoncé, Beyonce

Best 2014 album that will probably not make my ballot because “lol mid-December wtf”: D’Angelo & the Vanguard, Black Messiah

Dumbest non-critic jibe from those who don’t quite grasp that critics have to have their end of year lists done in October/November/early December not because they necessarily want to complete them early, but because this is what editors at most publications demand, and have demanded for eons: “Now that’ll finally those teach critics not to wrap their lists so bloody early”

Best reason not to care about the above: Because the most worthwhile music will ably and inevitably transcend time, space, criticism, rockism, societal amnesia, callous neglect

Worst sunglasses that are also the best sunglasses: Prince on Saturday Night Live

Gnarliest, least foreseen comeback bid: Gerald Way, Hesitant Alien

Least defensible trend: Indie rockers suddenly as confrontational and combative as rappers used to be

Least defensible counter-trend: Think pieces about how we should disregard indie rockers who are suddenly as confrontational and combative as rappers used to be—not because the think piece authors aren’t essentially right, but because said think pieces have the effect of redoubling the attention on said indie-rock dicks

Best confluence of indie-rock’s Singularity fears: Spoon’s “They Want My Soul” and St. Vincent’s “Digital Witness

Best wholesale fan-base trolling: Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence vs. Julian Casablancas and the Voidz, Tyranny (tie)

Best art-pop implosion: Deerhoof, La Isla Bonita

Nicky Smith

Best song: “Little Fang,” Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks

Best breakout star: The microwave that beeps at the end of Grouper’s “Labyrinth”

Best new house-hold name: Future Islands

Best house venue: Boyzhouse & Seminary in Richmond, VA

Best concert: Panda Bear - 9:30 Club, May 16 2014

Best ear-worm: “Slow” by Roomrunner

Best self-fulfilling prophecy: Billy Corgan tells the Wall Street Journal “I have no fan base”; new Smashing Pumpkins album Monuments to an Elegy sells only 17,000 copies in its first week

Best distraction from a tooth infection: Billy Corgan’s 8-hour modular synth interpretation of Siddhartha

Most disappointing shit-head: Ariel Pink

Best sample: The stab on Silk Rhodes’ “Personal Use” that sounds like a piano crushing Pluto the dog 

Worst blow out of the blue: The death of Isaiah “Ikey" Owens

Best secret: The symmetrical song titles on Grouper’s Ruins


Register or Login to leave a comment