As the champion of Malaysian Flight Simulator, I have a keen understanding of how music can fall off my proverbial radar undetected.
To protect you from having the same fate, we’ve collaborated on delivering to you some first-quarter artist and album highlights from our personal highlight reels. From the avant-garde and the macabre to the uptempo, D&B, and “dad rock” genres, we’re confident that you’ll find something in our 27-song playlist that’s worth checking out here.
Featuring tracks by Tokyo Police Club, Nebelung, Calibre, Kamchatka, and Animals as Leaders, we hope our diversified showcase underscores that 2014 is off to a splendid start.
Happy ‘official’ Opening Day, too, baseball fans. Enjoy! -Jom
I don’t think this is intentional on my part, but I have such a Euro-Austral-‘Murica tilt in my listening habits that there’s a distinct lack of Asian artists per my RYM listening map (while I haven’t updated this in awhile, it’s probably damning that my only listed bands are Boris, The Black Mages, Orphaned Land, and Koji Kondo, who composes soundtracks for The Legend of Zelda series). My pseudo-resolution this year was to do some spelunking in the world’s largest continent and found this little gem of a record in February. At first glance, the Tokyo, Japan-based line-up (2 guitarists, 2 bassists, and 2 drummers) seems obnoxious, but if you love a rumbling rhythm section (the bass, in particular, is mixed masterfully) and lightning-quick guitar fretwork in your post-rock/math rock hybrid, this is well worth your time. -Jom
Conjuring a swirling vortex of chaos combining black and death metal in a package that is surprisingly different from bands of similar style, Howls of Ebb manage to be bizarre enough to make a name for themselves despite Vigils of the 3rd Eye being their debut release. It’s a cacophony of wild tremolo riffing paired alongside throaty rasps that are akin to their black/death brethren, but wrapped up in song structures that are quite unique in format and carry little similarity to each other. It’s an album of surprising variation, occult imagery and massive atmosphere, with “The Arc. The Vine. The Blight” serving as a swift, brutal cut from a behemoth that rises up even larger. -Crysis
Vancouver’s Loscil has somehow managed to be just about as prolific as he is good. Whether it’s the ambient techno of his earlier albums ala Submers, or the dub influenced splashes of First Narrows, all the way to the droning, subterranean ambiance of Coast/Range/Arc, his releases have been nothing if not consistently enjoyable. Somehow always managing to find new sonic ground to explore in a sound that remains all his own, a new Loscil album is always a treat to hear. This year, he’s decided to grace us with a split with fellow Vancouver musician Fieldhead, whose similar but unique style perfectly compliments the sound Loscil has been perfecting for years. Acting as a sort of melange of most of the ground he’s already covered, Fury and Hecla is a wonderful, soothing wash of ambient textures from both artists that stands as one of the best ambient pieces so far this year. Highly recommended. –Hyperion
Blending pop-punk, power pop, and good old fashioned rock ‘n roll into a hectic, neurotic 3-minute blast has always been Tokyo Police Club’s trademark since 2006’s A Lesson in Crime, a record which barely scratched the 16-minute mark. “Argentina,” the band’s first bit of original music since 2010’s Champ, follows all these signposts, with one minor twist: there’s a helluva lot more of it. At eight-and-a-half minutes, the song is a veritable titan amongst Tokyo Police Club’s discography. What’s amazing, then, is how little its running time really registers; it sounds like a Tokyo Police Club song, except longer, but time here is relative. The band’s ability to make catchy, guitar-centric music feel vibrant and danceable in 2014 is almost as impressive as their ability to spin a whole three-part tale out of it – proof that Tokyo Police Club never really went away, never mind changing. The chorus is clever, David Monks’ you-are-there storytelling quality about a crush both charming and totally self-flagellating, as only Monks can be. When he sings “I would have been so much nicer” as the song winds down, you can’t tell whether he’s being genuine or just painting a more sympathetic picture of what could be any early 20s asshole. There may be apologies in the Tokyo Police Club universe, but “Argentina” makes clear there will never be any regrets. –Klap
It’s been some years since Distance has seemed this passionate with his craft, this vital. Chestplate’s 20th jubilee ‘A Result Of Sound’ was a step back towards the dark fringes of My Demons, but one that still felt guided by an out of practice hand. Managerial responsibilities aside, Greg Sanders has spent the last few years phoning in his releases, which makes Outer Limits even more victorious, for both artist and listener. ‘Andromeda’, while also serving as the EPs highlight, is perhaps the crowning achievement in Distance’s post-LP work, the perfect marriage of the dueling components that have become the bedrock for Distance’s signature sound. Sharpening and refining his gritty guitar lines and sci-fi synth arrangements into a boiling alchemy of echochamber fury, ‘Andromeda’ is Distance returning in his most violent form yet. – Deviant.
Finland’s Ø (brainchild of Mika Vainio, one half of the legendary Finnish glitch masters Pan Sonic) has been releasing experiments in extreme minimalism since the early 90’s. Consisting of blots of sine waves, pulsing rhythmic undercurrents, subterranean ambiance, and a massive amount of negative space, Vainio has been pushing the limits of how absent music can be while still retaining the aesthetic that makes it listenable. His latest release, Konstellaatio, is yet another extension of this kind of style he has been honing over the years, but with some fresh new ideas spread throughout to make it possibly his most engaging listen yet. Music like this is more about how sounds sound than anything else, and Konstellaatio’s sonic palette is as brilliantly diverse and far-reaching as ever, focusing more on the glistening sonic breadth of cold, distant synth tones and drifting, formless ambient sound design than ever before. Acting as something akin to the reclusive, autistic brother of Confield era Autechre, Ø’s Konstellaatio is an essential listen for anyone interested in music as an exploration of sound rather than a hapless exploitation of theory. –Hyperion
Grungy, distortion-heavy, and sporting an admirable who’s-who of musical influences, One Year is a frenetic and energetic debut from the Edinburgh-based trio. As a firm believer in album openers starting on an emphatic note, the anthemic “Voice for the Voiceless”, features a bruising main riff reminiscent of Troublegum-era Therapy? but is infectious enough in its hook without sounding overly boilerplate. Relying on tried-and-true method of heavily palm-muted verses bookending a confident, soaring chorus, “Voice for the Voiceless” is a splendid introduction to Hagana, even if the rest of One Year isn’t as captivating in its sonic consistency. -Jom
Nebelung’s sound is earthy and real, yet carries a bit of a dreamy flair that makes the music different from the band’s neofolk contemporaries. The acoustic guitars are warm and sorrowful, backed by radiant strings that help the slow pace ease itself along; building up and crashing down like small waves. “Nachtgewalt” is a piece from the band’s most recent LP Palingenesis, one that comes after their appearance on the who’s-who of neofolk compilations Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings, where they unleashed one of the album’s placid sleepers “Ich würd es hören”. While “Nachtgewalt” doesn’t feature the deep, German vocal arrangements that appear throughout the band’s music, it does feature a strong sense of movement and a suffocating atmosphere that is darker than usual for this style of music. It’s a hopeful mood, though filtered through a screen of oppressive sorrow, twisting the atmosphere of the song into a knot of emotion that makes itself heard even though not a single word is ever spoken. –Crysis
If you live in Estonia, you might find yourself to be a bit exhausted from Metsatöll, but then again, it’s not their fault that they are our only big name metal band; if you are from anywhere else – hey, this here is a really cool, earthy folk metal band that you should undoubtedly check out! The 2014 version of Metsatöll is a throwback one: with Karjajuht (Leader of the Pack, a most fitting title), they’ve gone back to the basics. Not that Metsatöll ever had any of that extraneous fluff a lot of modern folk metal bands use, but Karjajuht is their most fundamental, straightforward album in a long time – one that impresses with its simplistic but memorable riffs and organic approach. There are a lot of killer tracks on their new one, but “Öö” (“Night”) is probably the best example to drive my point home: an uptempo, surprisingly thrashy cut that puts the metal in folk metal. And just listen to those folk instruments – they actually sound folky, not like a symphony of elf farts. 100% quality and 110% manly, Karjajuht needs your attention. -Magnus Altküla
Imagine Lewis Carroll penned a shadowy, brooding short story and Tim Burton were signed to bring it to life – several passages in Twilight Cinema would be right at home. Although this is Major Parkinson’s darkest record, it’s arguably their most accessible without ceding the band’s hallmark experimental side – it’s less circus-like and more cabaret – while still sounding remarkably cohesive. One idea logically falls in sequence with the next transition (“The Wheelbarrow” is the quintessential example, although “Impermanence” would be a brilliant pick, too) in this so-called “doom poetry”, and I hear something new with each subsequent listen. Twilight Cinema is also a series of juxtapositions: from the Tom Waits-like male vocal to the brighter, gentler female vocals, from straightforward and heavy to ghoulish and macabre, this record is a true gem from these Norwegians. -Jom
Profane Omen – “Sonic Wings” (4:19)
Listen if you like: Sanctimony, Gorefest, Pantera
Finland’s Profane Omen have been one of my go-to summer metal bands for a long time and, unsurprisingly, their latest offering Reset will fit nicely into my upcoming 2014 summer playlist, offering exactly what we’ve come to know and expect from the band: speedy, joyous, high-octane death ’n’ roll/groove metal that is sure to get feet tapping and heads bobbing. “Sonic Wings”, the first single off the new album, is a great ambassador for Reset, as it moves and grooves through its 4-minute runtime like your lovable pooch in search of tail. Terrible metaphor, I know, but “Sonic Wings” is really animated in a feel-good way is what I’m getting at. I’m of the opinion that metal doesn’t have to be super serious or dark to be effective, and the kind of positive sonic energy Profane Omen provide is well met in my music library. -Magnus Altküla
Calibre – “Sagan” (5:48)
Listen if you like: Marcus Intalex, Commix, Zero T
Calibre – “Sagan” (5:48)
Calibre’s Shelflife series (collections of previously unreleased tunes) have always held a certain reverence within the drum & bass community, as tunes that have taken on near mythical status due to their unavailability, finally, maybe, get to see the light of day; ‘Sagan’ is one such tune, a rolling balustrade of harmonics and wind-swept melody. It’s become a fan favourite through its live rinsing via Calibre himself . Calibre’s continued success has always been his incredible knack for such intricate subtlety, and ‘Sagan’ is a song that doesn’t initially feel as if it has any real momentum to it (beyond its high tempo). Its charm lies in its ability to hypnotize its listener, less focused on moving the listener and more moving through the listener. Relax, close your eyes, and vibe. – Deviant.
Whereas Pneuma‘s psychedelic black metal sound took hold rather steadfastly throughout its run-time, the Greek trio’s follow-up, Oi Magoi (The Magicians), coalesces the progressive and the psychedelic far more seamlessly without sacrificing the album’s atmosphere. True, Oi Magoi is less black metal and more “ebonized rock” – the album oscillates between harsh guitars and vocals and ethereal prog-psychedelic passages in a remarkably engaging way – and what was thought to be just a Transcending Bizarre? side-project has now delivered two superb albums back-to-back. Between its genre-hopping alternations in sounds and the record’s many hazy layers, Oi Magoi‘s triumph is also in its accessibility – I’d encourage you to start here and work backwards to Pneuma, then compare-and-contrast the two to see if this is a band to keep on your radar as well. -Jom
Motorpsycho – “Hell, Part 4-6: Traitor/The Tapestry/Cheese Mountain” (12:22)
Behind The Sun
Listen if you like: King Crimson, Yes, Camel
This relatively hidden Norwegian gem never ceases to amaze. Constantly shifting genres, Motorpsycho have proven their musical prowess by wandering into the unknown without any fear of losing integrity and relevancy. While the ongoing experimentation was and still is very rewarding to their fans, their latest full length, Behind The Sun, shares one of their most beautiful pieces so far. The ‘Hell’ suite was divided into seven parts over two records, yet ‘Hell, part 4-6’ is by far the most comprehensive and beautiful of all. The gorgeous strings that are intertwined with acoustic guitars, a groovy bass line and subtle synthesizers create a lovely journey led Bent Saether’s gentle croon. The epic finale turns the volume up with some heavy riffing and prolonged guitar solos all accompanying the powerful Eastern-tinged violins. Even though Motorpsycho’s discography is scattered with highlights, this tune might be their most encompassing and essential one yet. –Raul Stanciu
While both Nothing and Whirr have exploded in popularity due to the recent shoegaze boom, the side project containing members of both bands, Death Of Loves, remains on the down low. Where their more well known exploits embrace indie aesthetic and huge alt-rock hooks hidden behind their walls and walls of fuzz laden noise, Death of Lovers hides behind a veil of 80’s post-punk and goth rock gloom. While most of the record is reminiscent of the softer tracks on The Cure’s classic Disintegration, the title track is an ungodly moody convergence of classic post-punk tones and the more modern shoegaze histrionics that define the band’s day jobs. It’s a throwback, for sure, but something about it is appropriately modern. It’s a perfect fit for those moments where you want to bring out your inner synthwave goth kid without totally embarrassing yourself in front of your friends. – Adam Thomas
Swedish hard rock act Kamchatka wear their influences with pride on their latest record, The Search Goes On. All those slick grooves, juicy solos and melodic vocals take the best from classic acts such as ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin or Cactus to create some memorable tunes the band should really be proud of. It’s no wonder the album’s highlight ‘Tango Decadence’ is such a fun, carefree tune. The simple, yet catchy rhythm led by the infectious vocals give way to the awesome and powerful chorus, before doing it all over again. Also, the unexpected traditional Russian ending bit is a nice nod to the band’s name. There’s nothing complicated or pretentious about the track, it just rocks. That’s why it’s no use in dissecting it because it works best when you let yourself get carried by the music itself. –Raul Stanciu
“We gotta get them (x3) before they get us,” Nate Bergman persistently chants the instantly memorable finale of “Amazing Science Facts.” Lionize have an uncanny knack for imbuing their socially conscious, witty lyrics with pop-culture references and sci-fi themes. In this case, they tackle conspiracy theories and technological advancements adversely affecting our lives. The song may be about “faking our way into the brighter future” in the long run, but the band’s pessimistic prophecies are laced with an unmistakably poignant undercurrent. Musically, this is a unique hodgepodge of influences that seamlessly integrates engrossing rapped verses and a reflective chorus with resplendent space rock leanings. Lionize shrewdly bridge the gap between driving ambition and accessibility, delivering one of their most visceral numbers in the process. –Greg Fisher
Royalston – “Slimebanks” (4:58)
Listen if you like: Noisia, Icicle, anyone from Critical Music’s roster
Royalston – “Slimebanks” (4:58)
2014 has kicked off with a bang in drum & bass, with fantastic releases already by NickBee, Skeptical, Thelem, and Emperor, but the best release by far unfortunately slipped under the radar of most DnB heads. Royalston’s OCD is eighteen brutal, unrelenting tracks worth of uptempo breakbeats, and “Slimebanks” represents best just how good the album is. Its blistering, stuttering kicks drive straight through a white-hot low-register wobble, as powerful and intense as the work of the best in the game right now. It’s quite possibly the biggest hidden gem in all of electronic music this year, coming in at an astonishingly low 1000 views on YouTube. Nevertheless, this song, as well as the rest of the album, is easily the best drum & bass track of 2014 so far, and is absolutely worth a listen from anyone with even a passing interest in the style. –Will Robinson
The latest Elbow album may not be their magnum opus many fans have been clamoring for, but it undeniably sports a handful of perfect songs. “Charge” sees the quintet’s singer Guy Garvey rendering an old man in a pub who’s perpetually avoided by the younger generation. “Glory be, these fuckers are ignoring me,” he snarls one minute to a groovy chain-gang rhythm, then in turn both bitter and resigned states, “I’ve broken jaws protecting laws to keep you free. I made your day so take a seat by me.” We’ve witnessed this guy before many a time, but Garvey makes us feel for him. As is often the case in his lyrics, the singer turns the mundanity of life into gorgeously human stories which resonate with the listener. Here, his musings are backed by a wondrously ornate arrangement that’s embellished with superbly orchestrated strings to stunning effect. –Greg Fisher
Sometimes it seems as though the entirety of the press focused on the modern hardcore scene is stuck with a stateside mentality. While all the underground blogs are focused on the resurgence of power-violence and every print magazine can’t seem to make up its mind on weather or not watered down melodic hardcore or homogenized screamo is going to be the sound of the twenty-teens, European bands have been out-pacing and out-creating most of their US cousins. Jungbluth’s “Keeping Peace” encompasses the entirety of the last decade of the European underground in five incredible minutes. It brilliantly melds crust punk intensity and brooding darkened hardcore atmosphere with the visceral emotion that has defined European screamo for years. The end result is both beautiful and frightening. “Keeping Peace”’s opening movement is a bludgeoning mass of churning distortion and vocal caterwauling that is as intense as anything that has been put to tape, yet the second half of the song is as resoundingly beautiful as the most moving post-rock crescendos. It’s a testament to Jungbluth’s creative might and songwriting ability, as not only have they managed to document the whole of the European underground – they’ve manged to transcend it. – Adam Thomas
Tove Lo – “Not on Drugs” (3:03)
Truth Serum (EP)
Listen if you like: Pop music played on the radio
Tove Lo – “Not on Drugs” (3:03)
In an admittedly weak year for radio-friendly pop (no Billboard #1 this year not rhyming with “schmappy” was originally released in 2014), Tove Lo’s six-track debut release, Truth Serum, came as a welcome relief upon its release in February. It had everything going for it: major-label backing (Universal), spotless production, commanding vocals, and everyone expected it to be good. What no one (least of all myself) expected was for it to be much, much more than that. Sitting comfortably on top of my albums-of-the-year list three months in, Truth Serum is a fresh, fun pop album, synthesizing everything good from its influences (Disney starlets gone musical, synth-pop, and neon EDM, to name a few), and “Not on Drugs” is ample evidence of just how excellent the EP is. It’s far and away the best straight-up pop song thus far in 2014, euphoric half-time dubstep-lite chorus, perfect build, and intensely celebratory vocals all melding to form one of the most satisfying rushes of elation in recent memory. –Will Robinson
I remember reading in an interview around the time of July‘s release how Marissa Nadler hates it when her music is described as “ethereal”. At first I was slightly taken aback, because I on numerous occasions have used that adjective to describe her music in conversation, but it got me thinking. She was right. Sure, the triple tracked vocals reminded me of Liz Harris, but where Grouper exists in a dream-like haze in just about every aspect, Marissa Nadler’s work is rooted in something so much more tangible. Her stories are intensely her own. Her dusty folk chords and aching Americana is a history that can be felt. Everything is entrenched in the real. “Drive”, the first track on her latest LP July, is the haunting introduction to her take on the break-up record. Everything about it screams “somber”; the distant lap steel guitar cries, the ghostly vocal harmonies, the dark production – all of it. But at the same time, there’s a resilience echoing in Marissa’s words in the chorus. It’s just as empowering as it is heartbreaking. – Adam Thomas
When you analyze The Joy of Motion as a whole, it becomes hard to say why “Physical Education” is the obvious standout among tall and exciting tracks from “Another Year” to “Para Mexer.” But it really comes back to a primal connection. “Physical Education” is a highly rhythmic song with grooves that cut back into our innate desire to shake, move, and get busy. From dance floors to drum circles, “Physical Education” is the culmination of a band who have learned every trick in the book only to apply them all back at step one by creating a masterful beat that everyone can get down to. -Thompson D. Gerhart
U2 – “Invisible” (3:47)
Listen if you like: Joy Division, Coldplay, R.E.M.; dad rock, basically.
There’s still no definitive word on when the elusive mythical creature otherwise known as U2’s thirteenth studio album might appear – if at all. The idea of producing a companion album to No Line on the Horizon was floated as early as mid-2009, but the impetus required to make that sort of artistic statement has long since disappeared. Even more tellingly, Bono would soon go on to tell Hot Press in June 2011 that he thought “the next thing that people need to hear from U2 is not an art project, [but something with] a rock ‘n’ roll heart, even if it’s not rock ‘n’ roll music.”
Which brings us nicely onto the subject of “Invisible”. Some thirty-odd years ago, the men of U2 started their careers as mere acolytes to more established post-punk acts like The Clash, Buzzcocks, and Ramones. But while “Invisible” isn’t exactly Boy for the new millennium, the song is at least informed by the type of dogged and gritty edge that U2 have only been capable of hinting at over the past twenty years. The song’s introductory bassline leads explosively into a soundscape of the Edge’s signature ambient guitar chiming, all while a series of twinkly keyboard motifs practically fall over themselves in a thinly-veiled attempt at recalling some of the zeitgeist of 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire. Yet the band is confident that they are on to something: “I am more than you know/I am more than you see here,” insists Bono repeatedly in the song’s chorus, and we are liable to keep waiting with bated breath. – Irving Tan
Real Estate’s third album Atlas is a soundtrack for the future, seen through the stress lines and red eyes of the present. Like all Real Estate records, it’s a gorgeous meditation on the deadened haze of suburbia, but unlike its predecessors, it has something to say about getting out, facing the music, and all the anxiety that brings with it. Fitting, then, that it closes with “Navigator,” a forlorn, beautiful piece of nostalgia borne gently along by Matt Mondanile’s crystalline lead and weighed down by thousands of frayed memories and vicious, unrelenting time. “The day is young, but I’m already spent,” Martin Courtney sings in that plaintive vessel of a voice, one that never really seems to swing too far to any end of the spectrum yet still manages to pack so much emotion into what is, essentially, a very straightforward midtempo Real Estate song. But that’s the band’s unique beauty, right? Everyone’s been where Courtney is, or will be – with “no idea where the days been” – where life throws an ice cold bucket of water on your face and that simple, secret memory in the chorus becomes more and more like a dream. Real Estate’s greatest asset is their ability to turn the regular into the sublime, and “Navigator” is the finest example of that yet. –Klap
To me, “Actaeon” is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful track. There just something to it, something in its dramatic tone, something in its echoing clean keys, that hits me way harder than I imagined the new Mechina could after the 9 tracks that came before Xenon’s closer. Empyrean was one of my favorite records of 2013, so while I like Xenon, I’ve grown to be a little disappointed with it and its lack of, well, epicness. “Actaeon” excites me though. It’s something different from Mechina, and I feel on their next album they should definitely experiment further with ambient/post rock passages – if this song is anything to go by, they could be awfully good at implementing them. People have started to complain that Mechina just keep releasing the same, albeit good album over and over again. More “Actaeon”-esque material would definitely change minds and turn heads. -Magnus Altküla
Banks (featuring Shlohmo) – “Brain” (4:42)
Brain (digital single)
Listen if you like: the idea of James Blake as a woman
Banks (featuring Shlohmo) – “Brain” (4:42)
When you think about it, this is a match made in heaven. Shlohmo, who has made a living off of drugged out, 5am-romancing r&b teaming up with Banks, a woman with a voice that might very well personify sex itself. That’s really all I can say to be honest, I’m getting edgy just thinking about it… – Deviant.