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In Tune Top 10 records of 2014
2014 has been a great year for the New Orleans sound. Breakout performances by local bands like Hurray for the Riff Raff and The Deslondes and regional acts, like Royal Teeth, have really put contemporary New Orleans indie music back into the national spotlight. While Hurray for the Riff Raff may be the only truly local band on this list, the influence of local rhythms seems to permeate the efforts of all those included. Additionally, almost all of these artists have made the pilgrimage to New Orleans over the last year to perform.
Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso
Picking an album of the year was difficult with so many strong contenders. Ultimately, it came down to sheer number of listens, and Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut has dominated my time this year. The Durham-based duo seems to have an endless supply of catchy hooks accompanied by perfect transitions. Standout tracks: “Dress” and “Coffee”
alt-J, All This is Yours
If you follow this column regularly, you have already heard me talk a fair bit about this band. alt-J has developed a style all their own and grown into complete comfort with their sound. This record is ostensibly a pastoral concept album in the style of the the Kinks or XTC, but with a thoroughly modern conceit. As a companion record to their 2012 debut, this record continues to mark the evolution of what will be a profoundly influential band. Standout tracks: “Left Hand Free” and “Pusher”
Sinkane, Mean Love
Ahmed Gallab, better known as Sinkane, has a comprehensive and ultimately mathematical understanding of funk and R&B combined with an improvisational streak that belongs to the realm of free jazz. This is an album with so much New Orleans in the sound that it is astounding that it did not originate here. The consensus at Sinkane’s One Eyed Jacks show was that if we put him on a bill with Dumpstaphunk and the Joe Krown Trio he would have an eternal following in the Big Easy. The track “Yacha” could be straight off of a classic Aaron Neville record. Standout tracks: “Yacha” and “Mean Love”
St. Vincent, St. Vincent
Annie Clark’s fourth record as St. Vincent is self-titled and the clearest statement of her talents as an artist. After her album and subsequent tour with David Bryre, Clark has retained some of Byrne’s rhythms and most of the theatricality but made them thoroughly her own. If that weren’t enough she is easily one of the the best if not the best guitarist currently touring. Her tone and presentation is unparalleled. Standout tracks: “Digital Witness” and “Birth in Reverse”
Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
This Nashville-based singer/songwriter is changing the face of country music. Simpson is a a bit of a puzzle. His albums sound as though the “new country” revolution never happened, yet his arrangements and lyricism are thoroughly contemporary. Think along the lines of Waylon Jennings arranged by Jeff Tweedy. Standout tracks: “Life of Sin” and “Turtle All the Way Down”
Hurray For the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes
I have been a fan of Alynda Lee Segarra since she arrived in New Orleans and became part of Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?. When she founded Hurray For the Riff Raff in 2007, she found a platform for her unique lyricism and musical stylings. Her performances at the Newport Folk Festival this summer were truly extraordinary. Segarra has completely reworked the folk style into something at once personal and reflective of our time. Standout tracks: “Blue Ridge Mountain” and “The Body Electric”
This Australian indie rock band’s second record is bound to be near the top of every best of list this year. There is a quiet simplicity and elegance to the storytelling that belies the complexity of the orchestration and sentiment. This is an album that demands repeated listening and constantly reveals more of its excellence with each subsequent visit. Standout tracks: “Without a Face” and “Small Window”
Parkay Quarts, Content Nausea
The Parkay Quarts are the alter-ego of the indie rock band, Parquet Courts. While a bit of word play separates the two names, the sounds diverge a bit more severely. This record was recorded on a four-track cassette and gleefully mimics the bands that still dominate the indie sound (Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Pavement, etc.). Despite the mimicry, this is a thoroughly original record that carries with it a sense of foreboding about the speed of technology and the anxiety of influence. Standout tracks: “Content Nausea” and “Slide Machine”
Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2
Run the Jewels is a hip-hop duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P. This record is a masterpiece of the genre, so much so that the style and flow of the tracks is at times overwhelming. There is so much density and complexity of rhyme it will take months to fully unwind. The amazing track “Love Again” manages to completely subvert gender stereotypes often present in the genre. This is a record that will change our understanding of what hip-hop can be. As a warning, this record is quite explicit. Standout tracks: “Love Again” and “Blockbuster Night Part 1”.
Perfume Genius, Too Bright
With his third record Mike Hadreas has turned a corner. He has layered the spare harmonies and calculated quiet of his first two records with a powerful and confident glamor (in the Bowie sense) that has created an entirely new depth of meaning for his work. The simplicity and calculation is still there, but with an assertiveness that was absent in the past. This record is a truly exceptional moment in the evolution of personal style and expression. It is influenced without being derivative and spare without being simple. Standout tracks: “Queen” and “I Decline”