Monday, December 15, 2014

2013-2014 Albums Countdown

The Season ending Countdown is finally here, after more work than I probably anticipated. I guess one thing to say right off the bat here is, beyond the #21 record, I am not really giving exact rankings per say, but it's just a slightly random countdown of records. Vaguely in order I suppose.

2013-2014 admittedly, did not see any clear-cut definitive staple, masterwork on my playlist, but more of just a lot of very good, 3.5-4.5 star releases, so at least depth-wise this past Season was pretty good.

The top release below found that spot I would say largely due to addiction (which happens most Seasons anyway), but also due to ambition and originality.

This past Season also was one that certainly continued my lack of the ability to listen to music extensively at work. Although I am a fair amount better at my new job than I was during 2012-2013 I suppose, the job itself in general just limits my time with headphones. But I did find more time at least this past Season, and anticipate 2014-2015 much of the same.

I should also add of course since the deadline was Halloween, the likes of:

Ne Obliviscaris - Citadel
Subterranean Masquerade - The Great Bazaar
Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Thomas Giles - Modern Noise
Demians - Mercury
Break My Fucking Sky - Eviscerate Soul
Hardcore Crayons - Zozzled

won't be in here,

even though they all did, or will find a release date before 2015.

Records I enjoyed moments on but didn't enjoy as much as others. Or I didn't hear them enough and/or just didn't get a chance to write about at this point. Some due to lack of interest, some just due to circumstances.

Greg Herriges - Artifacts
The Antlers - Familiars
The Stepkids - Wanderers
Karen O - Crush Songs
Gavin Castleton - Blessed
Eatiz - All of It
Antemasque - Antemasque
Field Mouse - Hold Still Life
Spiral - Our Final Days on Bellicus Prime
Other Country Ensemble - Live at the Black Dog
Motopony - Idle Beauty [EP]
Behemoth - The Satanist
Wolfmother - New Crown
Bigelf - Into the Maelstrom
Sound and Shape - Bad Actors
Being - Anthropocene
Pharrell Williams - G I R L
St. Vincent - St. Vincent
Tangled Thoughts of Leaving - Downbeat [EP]
Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun
Fallujah - Starlit Path
The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers
Transatlantic - Kaleidoscope
Crippled Black Phoenix - White Light Generator
Warpaint - Warpaint
Hannes Grossmann - The Radial Covenant
Fire Garden - Sound of Majestic Colors
Yes - Heaven and Earth
Destrage - Are You Kidding Me? No.
Flying Colors - Second Nature
The Grape and the Grain - The Grape and the Grain
Weird Al Yankovic - Mandatory Fun

Tell Me If It's True cover art
Bed of Stars - Tell Me If It's True [EP]
Another nice EP from Bed of Stars. The title track is right up there with "Nothing Left to Lose" in a great concise, melodic, layered and uplifting tune from Evan Konrad aka Bed of Stars.  "The Spell" and "Cold Hands" also really work well and showcase his wonderful voice. I hope this is just the tip of what's to come for Bed of Stars, which may be the 1st full length in the current season.

The Aston Shuffle - Photographs
A fun record at times. The Mayer Hawthorne track "Never Take it Away" is the best song on here. The opening track "Tear it Down" also features this incredible synthesizer crescendo that I don't come across much. It's infectious and energetic.

Syd Arthur - Sound Mirror
They opened for Yes last Summer and impressed. The modern canterbury or jazz-rock side of this band I enjoy most.

Nicole Atkins - Slow Phaser
After supporting the Pledgemusic Campaign, I liked this record, but never found myself wanting to go back to it too much. There are a few very power-pop-ish tracks from memory, which I enjoyed the most.

Pat Metheny Unity Group Kin
Pat Metheny Unity Group - Kin (← →)
Not bad, but not all that new or progressive exactly from Pat. I do like the use of (soprano?) sax on this at least, which if I recall is a little different from his more recent lps.

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Cloud Caverns - Gypsy Loft
Brandon from Hotel of the Laughing Tree's solo project. Nice emotional folk with a twist and turn here and there.

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U2 - Songs of Innocence
I have no problem with this being sent everywhere, nor the music. Although I only checked this out maybe twice, but I already like it better than No Line on the Horizon.

The 4 Korners - The 4 Korners
A very funky, fun jazz fusion record.

Enchant - The Great Divide
I enjoyed some of this initially, but per lack of time and other things intriguing me more, it still needs more time. I am happy they finally released a new record after a decade, much like some other bands this year.

Edit: I would say the best moments are the 1st couple of tracks "Circles" and "Within an Inch," some of the keyboard work and Ted's vocals namely. Reminscent of some of the early stuff.

The closing track "Hear and Now,"also seems very heartfelt at times, which allows it to stand out.

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Solstafir - Otta
Probably their most post-rock and least heavy record. There's an odd catchiness to some of this which was unexpected. And an improvement in the clarity of the Mix is a step-up.

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Toria - Octave
Long time making debut LP from Latvian Post Rock band. No samples sadly this time, but the electronic side does work quite well at times.

Chromeo - White Women
Some slick, catchy singles like "Jealous," 'Come Alive," "Over Your Shoulder," and "Sexy Socialite." The rest is a bit hit and miss, but I'll admit, part of my interest in this record is per my gf's large love of them. They are fun live, even if the show we saw this year was a little abbreviated.

Three - Sugarlife + You Are the Alien
Enjoyable tracks from Three, with 1 coming every month for awhile. I hope these come out on a
future release of course.

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The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra - Zombie Mouth
An epic record, which includes vocals for the 1st time on a TGCO release. I honestly, checked this out early in the Season as I was a backer of the Pledgemusic Campaign they were successful with; and then somehow forgot about it. There is a lot of good work on here from memory, like "So Long" and the title track. But time/more revisiting may lend more details and appreciation at this point.

Jeremy Messersmith - Heart Murmurs
A good album, that I initially almost loved. As it turns out, there's a few standouts "Heidi" being rather catchy and "Tourniquet" the 1st single? I recall.

Sucré - Loner [EP]
Another nice release from Sucre, although a lot of this features an industrial edge to it, along with some of the trademark strings/piano and Stacey's angelic voice. "Line of Fire" probably is a favorite as it has some great horn arrangements and percussion that stand out. The march is quite grand.

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Opeth - Pale Communion
No Metal, Retro-Prog, late 70's Hard Rock, Rainbow, Deep Purple, etc. Yeah, it was well advertised and came out that way. The riffs and entirely clean vocals do work on some levels on this, and I'll admit that among the token prog releases this year, this is another one I probably should give more time to.

But at this point, all I can say is it's not bad, even for what it is."River" I recall being the most impressed by. And I would agree with how it is rated on rym, being a fair amount better than Heritage, which if I recall, was at the tail end of that Season's list.

Agalloch - The Serpent and the Sphere
Compositionally, a nice record, but I did find that for the most part, the ideas on here didn't vary that much from even their last record Marrow of the Spirit. The climaxes are not quite as memorable, or varied. The samples are absent as well really, which is a big part of what I love with Agalloch, as evidenced with their last EP Faustian Echoes and of course my favorite, The White EP.

Cynic - Kindly Bent to Free Us
Initially I liked a lot of this record (and it's different style in some ways), even if it was a departure from their Metal roots in a lot of ways. And I do prefer it to Traced in Air. But sadly, I never got too addicted to it.

This Is The Third Album Of A Band Called Adebisi Shank cover art
Adebisi Shank - This Is the Third Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank
In some ways, their most unique record. Sad it's a Swan Song at this point, but these guys always had great energy and a fun, quirky style that is present on this last record of theirs like their other two. RIP.

Dog Fashion Disco - Sweet Nothings
Next to no swallowing from their singer, and a lot of crazy technical sections at times, that are badass while also being funny. Like The Moron Police, they capture a ton of what I love about bands like System of a Down and Mr.Bungle I suppose. A record I listened to and enjoyed a few times, and probably will more with time.

The Contortionist - Language

"Ebb and Flow...Ebb and Flow...Ebb and Flow....Ebb and Flow"

This record got a fair amount of hype on some of the forums and prog metal scene this year. And having only been mildly impressed with their previous music, I didn't expect a ton. Namely due to the fact they did use a fair amount of djent in their sound.

But I'll admit, in giving it some time, I have grown to both follow and appreciate the strong words about it. The djent side and even the metalcore side to their sound is limited. Even the sort of expected/cliche prog metal side only comes and goes.

It's not a short record, but I suppose given how much their sound reminded me of the band Being, and now comparing this to Anthropocene, I must admit this album seems short and more well constructed. I like the way they use Pink Floyd-like textures and atmosphere with mostly clean vocals and Scifi-ish lyrics. And they do still get technical enough.

I must admit having liking this record enough, I wonder if their next album could be even better.

Tracks: Language I: Intuition, Language II: Conspire, Thrive, Ebb and Flow

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Alphabetical Order Orchestra - AOO1 [EP]
A debut 4 tune release from this new project from members of the great Scottish band My Latest Novel. This does feature the great vocal harmonies and almost poetic style of lyrics along with uplifting melodies ("The Corrections" for one). I was one of the Kickstarter people who picked up the vinyl too.

Put Down the Muffin - Charged Particles
Long awaited and Crowd-funded LP from local Minnesota jazz-rock band. This is a fun record that never sounds like the band take themselves or the music too seriously.

A lot of nice keyboard parts (and tones, some sounding almost Nintendo-ish, others very moody) and drum work along with guitar tones are used.

A song like "Bed Foil" even does include some background chants.

I hear or am reminded of bands like Return to Forever and Weather Report. With the departure of Media Addicts a few years ago, I felt a bit of a loss for having a local Fusion band (save for maybe some of Dean Magraw's music of course), but these guys coming back has kind of filled that loss. I just have yet to see them live still.

Tracks: Claire the Loon, Bed Foil,Limbic Fever, Nightline News, Hüba Güba, Arab Baker

Light Years EP cover art
Sir Video - Light Years [EP]
Another nice collection of tunes from Sir Video. It does include "Never Knew" and "Do What You Wanna" from last Seasons singles. "She's a Killer" and "(Oh No) They're on the Radio" were much in a similar vein of using electronics/synths with Timmy's energetic vocals that include some vocoder and harmonies. "Take it Away" is also a very power-pop-ish and a dancy track; and in fact it was the song a sample was used if I recall when introducing Sir Video a few years back in a preview video.

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Chris Letchford - Lightbox
Instrumental solo record from the guitarist from Scale the Summit. It does include 2 of the members of The Reign of Kindo on some songs. I enjoy this album, but was not blown away by it. Nor did I hear it vary huge amounts from the StS music. I suppose it didn't include as much metal riffs, and was slightly more subdued with a jazz approach.

Rx Bandits - Gemini, Her Majesty
Happy to see them back beyond the King Crimson cover from a few years back.

Jessie Ware - Tough Love
In some ways, a better, more consistent record than her debut LP from 2012

Defenders of the Small Yard cover art
Moron Police - Defenders of the Small Yard
"T-bag Your Grandma" does win for the most overtly comedic song title of the season. This is a really fun, energetic record that captures a lot of what I love about Faith No More and System of a Down in many ways. Some technical chops included, but very much a band who are talented musicians but don't come across as taking their songs too seriously (in a good way).

Also melodically, this album is quite uplifting.


Mammoth Skin, Pt. 2 cover art
Hotel of the Laughing Tree - Mammoth Skin Pt. 2 [EP]
Another impressive collection of tunes from HOTLT.  The opening "Steamwalker" ("whoa let your garden grow..let your garden growww.......make your mother and father proud") and  the closing "A Gentleman in a Giants Country" are 2 of the best parts.

Along with "Winterside" which includes the classic echoing, plus gang vocals and some great dreamy organ textures.

"All That We Know" maybe is the newest or most different kind of track for these guys, but I recall initially really loving it and it's use of electronics + a great funky rhythm. Even the trumpet and distorted outro is charming.


Self - Super Fake Nice [EP]

"Hey Hipster" remains my favorite on this, nice return from sElf, even if it is just an EP. And even if Matt mentions "Minneapolis" in the lyrics. I just wish he'd be able to actually come-to and play a show in-Minneapolis at some point soon.

"Runaway" got some attention with the cat video, but I just love it's classic sElf sound and the electronic/powerpop style. It's definitely catchy and pretty much a song nobody else but sElf could make.

"Looks and Money" and its trumpet + quirky style has it's charm.
"Subconscious Life"..nice piano-driven pop track.
"Splitting Atoms" is crazy good, with very dense sounding guitar riffs featured.

As a pretty big sElf fan, this is great to see Matt finally release something beyond a single or two, really since the early part of the 2000's, I sincerely hope this means there will be more new music to come soon. Perhaps he's finally found the ability to give sElf more of his time, unlike he had done the last 10 years or so.

Casey Crescenzo - Amour and Attrition
The compositions have their moments, even though the resemblance to The Dear Hunter's music is very little; plus Casey does not sing nor perform anything on this physically.

Umphrey's McGee - Similar Skin
A bit of a comeback or release working in their Bret Saberhagen-pattern of every other record I enjoy. "Bridgeless," "Little Gift," and "Puppetstring" among my favorites, which if I recall, feature Joel their guitarist, on vocals.

Also the title track, "Hourglass," and "Cut the Cable" were among the other moments that stand out.

Stasis cover art
Josh Benash - Stasis
Another excellent release from one of the main forces behind Kiss Kiss and Vuvuzela. A lot of details were given in the review from the season .

"And I'm Told,"  "Soul Eyes" stand out

and "For Two Weeks (I've Been Happy)" 

All I want to dooooooo is watch the TEEEVEEEE"

as I posted back then are my favorite tracks on here. But this record is very moody (dreamy, haunting, trippy) like a lot of his music, but I think in terms of his evolution as a songwriter, it's a very nice progression to see. 

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21 The Dang ol' Tri ole - Rise and Shine

Minnesota based Bluegrass/Cabaret/Folk/Prog group's 2nd LP, and the 1st I guess featuring the Higgins brothers from Brice Plays Drums.

The opening tune "Sotally" is rather catchy and sets the tone for this record well. The trumpet and fiddle (or violin?) stand out specifically
"Roger Moore" is another favorite.

"Back on the Road" features some great drums/percussion.

The variation in vocals adds some to this album; for one, trumpet player Richard Yaeger contrasts Michael Higgins style, with very character-driven/comedic singing, similar in some ways to the singer from Gogol Bordello.  And upright bass player Rob Higgins seems to show up more as a lead singer on this album than he does with Brice. "Coming Home" for example.

The closing track "World of Tomorrow" is another that stands out, with it's changing times and off-beat rhythm, along with lyrics mentioning the title of the record. The build that it leads to I'll admit, is very Brice Plays Drums-like, which is a  section that gets fun and crazy, including layers of mandolin.


20 Archive - Axiom
Very moody flow to the music for what is a Soundtrack to a pretty dark, noir type film I imagine. Although this is hardly an epic record, it still seems to work as less-is-more regardless. The title track/theme is just haunting, namely the use of adding layers to the rhythm which begins about 4 or 5 minutes in to an 11 minute track.

"Baptism" has its moments, and "Shiver" I can easily seeing being used in a dramatic part of the film.

I still really would like to see the movie itself at some point, although unlikely with the gf given the tone (although at least she acknowledged the band's name given it's sort of related to the field she and many she knows are going into.."Archivists," etc).

But it probably is worth adding, they have a new LP coming in January as well, so perhaps there will be more music in this vein (which the early shared tracks and the band's recent style would not suggest otherwise).

19 Big Wreck - Ghosts
The 2nd record in a comeback of sorts from this late 90's Canadian Rock band, who once opened for Dream Theater and I often associate with both The Tea Party and I Mother Earth. This album received a fair amount of buzz on some of the forums this year, and I will admit to being more intrigued by it for that reason. And I did like a lot of it; probably more than I expected.

I guess the things to say about it is it a lengthly album, clocking in at nearly 70 minutes, and that was one reason I was rarely able to listen to it all at once. And the sound on it, while varies here and there a little, overall is similar through most of it. But damn, there are some fantastic tracks that use very groove-driven bluesy rock, along with other things like happy vocal harmonies and some tasteful guitar solos.

Like The Tea Party, these guys really can capture those badass Zeppelin-like riffs that I am a sucker for. This album may be one to grow more in time, in that despite it's length, the best tunes on it are so good, I don't want to sleep on them.

Favorites: Making Friends, Hey Mama, Break, My Life, War Baby, A Place to Call Home

18 Imogen Heap - Sparks
Released the same day as Kimbra's The Golden Echo, I grew to enjoy this album almost as much as that record, and certainly enjoyed it more than her last LP Ellipse (as a whole). I like how she used some Eastern or ethnic elements (Cycle Song, Minds Without Fear), with her trademark electronic/experimental side, to her more melodic (Entanglement, Lifeline, You Know Where to Find Me, Run-Time)

"The Listening Chair"is almost crazy with the back and forth layers. Some of it is sad and relate-able lyrically. It's an exploration in a lot of ways. I guess it is the recording of her experience of her in an actual chair while wearing gloves that she can manipulate sounds and textures. Which I guess in and of itself is peculiar, but it came out appealing and memorable still which goes back to her ability as a songwriter. Because it could have been just random sound or a mess, but did not.

I even enjoy the sad/narrative/quiet elements of "Neglected Space." It's almost melancholy, but hearing it from Imogen Heap, I think adds beauty and mood that for the experience for some looking to share company with their misery, it can work.

"The Beast" in some ways, is kind of a beast of a tune. With many layers with a methodical march. The outro uses some very cool acoustic instrumentation.

"Run-Time," I actually think might be the biggest standout track in that it has that wonderful pop sensibility I love about many songs from Immi, namely on Speark For Yourself, but yet it twists and turns enough to add more elements, I find I get more out of it than some of the other poppier tracks on this album. Even just the outro, which I could have gone for it to go on for a minute or 2 longer..

A very nice comeback to me.

Get Lost cover art
17 Genders - Get Lost
This album was on last Season's list, but was kind of a late addition, being it was released after Halloween in 2013. I guess I can just add about it being an excellent debut record I still enjoy. It features among others, Katherine Paul (ex-Forest Park), now on drums,

Lot of nice female vocals/vocal harmonies, and almost power-pop guitar riffs, and some of the post rock and dreamy nature of many moments throughout this album.

"Golden State" still remains one of my favorites, with it's happy, almost tropical guitar riff and the happy vocal lines.

"Technicolor Vision" has these trippy guitar lines and features some odd time changes.

"Four Years" is another track that the guitar, dynamics, and dreamy mood I really love.

Image of Clone: Full Album (mp3)
16 Clone - Clone
An Ambitious project which features Ben Cooper of Radical Face/Electric President and Richard Colado aka RickoLus.

This record or project of sorts features 6 parts or "Acts" which can be purchased for download individually or altogether per the project's store at And they can be streamed per Ben Cooper's YouTube Channel .

The whole thing is about an hour, so it's not exactly a short work, but the whole thing does work pretty cohesively.

It is cinematic at times, a bit electronic, yet also quite acoustic at other times. I do think it's one of those projects that I figured I would enjoy because I enjoy Radical Face so much anyway, plus because of the ambition and concept/story factor of it.

It does seem dark at times and the energy goes from slow to uptempo throughout. But I'd be lying if I didn't say more time could reveal more appreciation for it as I already do. It's kind of like The River Empires in that sense. It seems to be something that asks for the listener to go back and take-in more each time to fully know what they made with this.

There are highlights of course. The end of the 1st Act, "The Laboratory" features great chanting vocal harmonies and then a piano-led riff that rocks out quite well.

"Act 2: The Fields" has a sort of a playful ragtime section in the middle, and the guitar solo at the end is pretty moving.

'Act 3: The City, Daytime" has this nice bright piano section, which I almost think of the pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, which goes on for awhile, but I never find I tire of it.

"Act 4: The City, Night 1" is darker, but about 7 minutes in, this really sad, subtle melody is used with some kind of synth patch which almost sounds like an oboe or something. But it's another part of this thing that shows the dynamic of different kinds of emotion and tones.

"Act 5: The City, Night 2" uses what sounds like a mellotron patch that almost reprises the sad melody from Night 1. Hauntingly beautiful. It transitions to this wonderful almost ethnic sounding percussion with chanting and some other stuff which I always seem to enjoy. Then some vocals talking about "hello good evening brother"..."You're just a copy like us." "Father always loved you best" "But look whose in charge now." And then some of the ragtime stuff is brought back along with a very fuzzy guitar riff (reminds me of something Brent Knopf would use).

"Act 6: The Ocean" about the 4 minute mark, another beautiful section comes in, which does remind me of Radical Face in some ways. Very uplifting as it's sort of a happy climax of the story I suppose.

I guess I may find this record could stand out even more over time, as it is really a great work, that Ben and Rick did work on for many years I guess. What I'm not really clear about is whether it's just a 1-off thing, or is there more they may want to do with it. Which I have mixed feelings about, but my fandom leans towards hoping more will come from it. But even if not, there is a lot to explore with just this release itself.

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15 Brice Plays Drums - ProgTagonist

The follow-up to Man the Animal Cannon, which has become not only 1 of my favorite local albums this decade (or ever), but just progressive rock albums in general. I do enjoy this album a fair amount, even admitted fanboy thoughts included. It is solid, even though it differs from its predecessor.

"Sisyphus" is among the best tracks the band has made. It is classic BPD in a lot of ways, which a groove-led (almost Santana-like) riff that segues eventually into a cool piano section and some of Michael Higgins great story/illustrative verses

"I will stand on top of the mountain...

Love the vocal harmonies and even the interval pattern that is introduced there, and then a bit later, is played more uptempo and groovier.

"Alyosha" has its moments for the 1st 5 minutes, even as subtle as they are, and then it shifts gears a bit changing times and tones. Lots of interplay between the rhythm and piano and the guitar section.

"Ramses" I guess I think of for the band incorporating a middle eastern element as much as anything, with what sounds like some sitar, guitar sustains and vocal harmonies that use echoes.

"build my city build my city..."

"Gemini" starts with a march and then kind of goes in and out with ideas. Sort of The Mars Volta-like with different jazzy parts, synths, bluesy/folky guitar textures, and short sections that the lyrics reference different experiences. Changing times frequently.

"I will breath deeply from the air that surrounds me"

Maybe my favorite section is around the 6:10-7:30.

"When Lions Meet Bears" reminds me of The Grateful Dead in some ways. I know the guys told me it was influenced by Yes which I can hear at points maybe most in the vocals/vocal harmonies and some time changes; but I guess I hear more Dead than anything.The happy strumming and organ tone, and lyrics talking about mountains again. Rather jamband-ish.

I do enjoy this record, but not to the addiction of Man the Animal Cannon at this point. But it does add to the quality of their catalog that Minnesota does have prog rock.

Tracks: Sisyphus, Ramses, When Lions Meet Bears

Iron and Rust cover art
14 NOMIA - Iron and Rust
Long Awaited and in-the-works as the members of Nomia spent many years playing live which led to their writing, recording and releasing this debut record of theirs which I purchased on Vinyl at their record release show in August.

Nomia I could say are probably my favorite "post" band from Minnesota. This album style wise is post-rock or heavy post rock I suppose. Even going back to the free EP they made available in 2008, they clearly were not as typical as many of the post-rock bands I have come across. I mean that in that they clearly use dynamics and heavy riffs as an emphasis as much if not more than much of the nature-sounding-guitar chords that crescendo gradually, which is the stereotype "post" music is or at least was well-known for.

I mean I suppose you could call them more in the "Post Metal" vein, but even that isn't exactly the same as some of the traditional names. But Russian Circles or stuff like Long Distance Calling or Shelter Red I suppose you could say they are closer to.

But it isn't a slam dunk. The music on here doesn't seem to drag, nor seem boring really or something to meditate to. It just flows quite well. It is all instrumental and mostly all guitar + bass + and drums (with some piano in spots,"The Precipice" for example). But each time I listen to it, I find myself enjoying it maybe more than the last time.

And I'll just say again, I think that the time/years they spent writing it probably allowed that; in that they knew how to compose the music on here so much that it didn't sound exactly like many of the bands they may be fans of, etc (which is odd, and tricky, since often it's the opposite which happens).

Favorite Tracks: A Windswept Tree (all 11+ mins), Ad Infinitum, Palisades (the riffs at 2:28 and 5:20 stand out)

Heretics cover art
13 Dream the Electric Sleep - Heretics
I've been pretty won over by this band and this album at the end of the season after sleeping on it for so long. This is modern progressive rock of a kind. Their singer reminds me more than one singer, but maybe most Judah Nagler from The Velvet Teen and Evan Konrad of Bed of Stars.

There is this story element here, almost creating these lost tales of these people, women I imagine from the cover art and namely my favorite track on the record "Elizabeth."

The opening title track and that 8-minute piece really flow together well, and I'd say the following song "Utopic"as well also has a great build, energy and climax.

The rest of the record is continuing to grow on me, at times it gets dark, with some acoustic pieces /sections, and other parts just stay with you. Like "The Name You Fear" and "How Long We Wait" which has this great uptempo riff which kind of says to me, the end is near and lets celebrate.

From elements of Post Rock to a lot of almost Classic-Rock or Blues Rock sounding guitar solos, along with an arty approach and very emotive vocals, this album I think stands out in many ways. Maybe the songwriting and flow first and foremost.

Kind of a breakthrough for this band I guess, although I am enjoying their previous record Lost and Gone Forever quite a bit too. I think they along with some others like iamthemorning, are great to keep an eye on for progressive rock this decade as their future seems bright.

tracks: Elizabeth, The Name You Fear, To Love is to Leave, It Must Taste Good, How Long We Wait

Belighted cover art
12 iamthemorning - Belighted

A Russian duo who on this 2nd LP of theirs,have a  great blend of modern sounding progressive rock with classical music elements. Probably the best example of this to come across my radar since maybe Distrails. A wonderful female singer and a lot of lush, acoustic instrumentation from piano to strings (harp, upright bass).

And this record keeps growing on me with each listening. The little "intermission" interludes add charm. Although I noticed the band's previous record uses them as well, so maybe it's sort of their style when composing a full record.

"Gerta" maybe the most recent track that has caught my attention. The subtle piano parts with Marjana's soothing voice is just sublime, namely in the outro.

Tracks: K.O.S. Gerta, The Howler, 5/4, Crowded Corridors

recent review

11 Markéta Irglová - Muna

I enjoyed her last/debut record Anar from 2011 quite a bit, but I think this album  I have fallen even more for. I even picked it up on Vinyl back in October after finally getting to see her and her band play at the Cedar Cultural Center..

Marketa creates these deeply emotional, almost sad moments in her music, I can't help but love. The closing track "This Right Here" is a perfect example of that. A bit like "Falling Slowly" from The Swell Season/Once work, it gives me goosebumps every time. Maybe even down to the lyrics like "like a wish that's remained concealed, like a wound that never heals" And then later leads to this sad yet gorgeous string arrangement with Marketa's piano textures.

The previous song "Gabriel" also and its use of horns with piano has this gradual build that I love every time I listen to it. The climax is divine.

"The Leading Bird" has another string arrangement that is just so lush and tasteful, it stands out as well.

"Fortune Teller" includes a wonderful, middle-eastern sounding rhythm to it. Rather dance-able too. Among this record, I probably notice Iranian (and Minnesotan per University?) musician Aida Shahghasemi who both chants/sings and plays a wonderful middle eastern percussive instrument known as a DAF.

Gentle, beautiful music is something I often latch onto, especially from Marketa who always seems to push that emotioinal button for me.

Tracks: This Right Here, Gabriel, Fortune Teller, Point of Creation, The Leading Bird

10 Team Me - Blind as Night
I love a lot of this record from Norway's answer to Mew. Probably the 1st single "F is for Faker" the most still. I really became attached to their debut 2011 LP To the Treetops. It featured amazing energy and big choruses. "F is for Faker" has that. Those soaring vocals and twists. Their Mew and Polyphonic Spree element comes out as good as anything on this record or the Treetops record. It has that almost natural "high" or uplifting feeling and is extremely catchy at times. "You're One of a Kind.." and the chanting just never gets old.

Other highlights include "Kick and Curse" and its opening driving rhythm is another big energy track. "Knock me to my knees now I'm on the floor, with a pack of wolves outside my door."

"Man Eating Machine" works well as a diversion which is slower ballad, but uses nice strings .

"Riding My Bicycle" has an electronic edge to it, and is a little darker in tone. The last section is quite good with the interplay of strings and some kind of echo or distortion.

"The All Time High" has a rather memorable chorus with the trademark Team Me gang-vocals.

"Blind as Night" ends the record with a nice contrast, using recorder and a music box? and some minor keys with a methodical march.

In some ways, a nice progression from Treetops using a lot of elements while including many new kinds of sounds.

9 Kimbra - The Golden Echo
I didn't get blown away as much by this as Vows, but at the same time, I still liked a lot of the songs on this album. Maybe a bit of Fanboy-ism involved. "Miracle" is frankly, a huge upbeat earworm track, that totally works to move to. "Teen Heat" has that great off-beat screaming that stands out. "There's gonna-be-no-turneeeen baaaaack"

"Carolina" is odd harmonically, especially with her voice and the way it kind of hypnotically sounds with I would guess 2 or 3 tracks of vocals and echoing. The bridge may be my favorite part though. with its so forward, upbeat, fast tempo. I almost get the sense Kimbra is saying, "I'm gonna kick your ass," or at least kick this song into a different gear; as it's not just a slow burner.

But in my heart I know it's time to come back
(I feel it, I feel it)
Cos you're the home I never find off the beaten track
(I feel it)
In my heart I know I can't keep running away
(I feel it, I feel it)
I'm always travelling fast to nowhere
(I feel it)

"Madhouse" is another standout. Very funky.
"Nobody But You" has that big chorus that the groove works very well. Quite dance-able.

"Goldmine" is a track I've grown to really love. The chorus is very possessive sounding. "I've got a Goldmine and it's all mine, nobody can touch this gold of mine." 

Although even if it does sound protective and boasting in a way, I kind of liken it to her saying I got this something, and no matter what anyone says or does, it can't be taken away from me. Which is kind of relate-able in some ways.

The little transitioning/segues and guests add to more of this record's charm. Even the much polarized single "90's Music" I found to be a nice grower track. Even as odd as it is, the chorus does work, and the style somehow does, even though it doesn't sound that much like many of her other songs.

8 Major Parkinson - Twilight Cinema
This prog band from Norway I noticed some folks really talk up at points. And after a little sampling, I followed why.  "Impermanence" and "The Wheel Barrow" are 2 of the best track from this past Season.

The use of piano is catchy as hell on "Impermanence." I would have that piano melody in my head for hours after. Also the guitar solo in the bridge and synths standout, as well as the narrative lyrics (referencing some authors in the chorus "All the quotes from Keats, TS Eliot, Byron and Pope").

"The Wheelbarrow" has this very infectious section after its slow intro. Using what almost sounds like an accordion with thick synths. The build up is huge on this song. The lyrics also stand out in a way, which is narrative in a way, but also poetry-like. "She can do anything, he can change anyone, doing the same routine ohhhver and ohhhhver."

Also the vocal style, while it definitely threw me off, given their singer sounds like Liam Neeson at times, his voice very much grew on me.

I really got to love this record more and more, so much so I even bought the limited printed Vinyl edition. And Not just those 2 favorite tracks, but like their other records, there is this wonderful cinematic or theatrical narrative going on. Circus-like in some ways. I mean they are doing prog rock, but it's not exactly like many other bands I am into. Pepe Deluxe, Vuvuzela and even stuff like Mr.Bungle in the Cabaret/Circus Prog.

Tracks: Impermanence, The Wheelbarrow, Cabin in the Sky, Heart Machine

7 Grimus - Emergence
Name dropped I recall on an Ours album review on rateyourmusic, this Romanian alternative rock band caught my attention with some of their earlier music, and this album. I like a lot of things about this band and album. From the synths and piano,, to the vocal style(s), to the energy. And I think it is a case of my love for this vocal sound/style being like Jimmy Gnecco (and some others) at times, didn't bug me, because the vocal melodies are very well written. And, their main lead singer, frankly, just has a very good voice (using falsetto quite well at times).

Tracks: The Hell I'm In, Satellites, Weird Disco, Emergence, Peregrine, Tunduska, We Don't Live Here

6 The Mercury Tree - Countenance
What seems like a breakthrough record from this Portland, Oregon Trio. A record without a boring track, and a few that do stand out. Probably my favorite parts being the soaring, sad melody in "Vestigial." "With you removed, with you removed. With you removed, I am Hollow." and among the other great sections in the nearly 11 minute dynamic track "Otoliths" the also soaring vocal harmony "I know what I know, I know what I know, now that I know what I know what I know. How do I know that I know?"

But really, this band is mathy, heavy, jazzy, and diverse, even using some screaming at points effectively, yet their songs seem to all work very well, both within this whole record, and even on their own. Sure they have their quirks, and certainly like to play with time changes and layers, but not without focusing on the songs. And I might even say this is their best work. although I do enjoy the Family Style EP quite a lot too.

They even have a couple of moments I hear almost references to Yes ("Mazz Jathy," almost sounds like Siberian Khatru at one point) and Pearl Jam (after the soaring vocal climax, the quiet guitar part reminds me of part of "Black").

I really think they could find a larger audience with more exposure, and it does seem with some tours and festival appearances, they have been to a point, as they are one of the best new prog or otherwise bands to come on my radar in the last Season or so.

tracks: Pitchless Tone, Mazz Jathy, Jazz Hands of Doom, + Otoliths, Vestigial

5 The Family Crest - Beneath the Brine
Maybe my favorite newly discovered artist this season. I saw them open for Mother Falcon back in June I recall and both live and the studio material floored me. They make such infectious chamber folk/rock of a kind, I couldn't help but fall for them. Liam their vocalist has great range and a wonderful presence. He also is one of the main songwriters in the band.

The opening title track probably is the greatest moment of this album, among many. The symphonic side to it and dynamics just totally work. I guess to compare, I love this band like I love not only a band like Mother Falcon but maybe moreso Typhoon and The Dear Hunter. The varied styles and influences. At times they are jazzy, other times, very rhythmic, lyrical, instrumentally (and percussively) driven. Plus there are a number of ear worms on this album. One being the piano and then repeated on violin, cello and some other instruments and chants from the chorus of their single "Love Don't Go."

Another being the echoing vocal chants and horns on "Howl" which has a very story-based sound to it, like a Tall Tale or Fable or something.

I really can't say enough good things about this band and this album I find being their best. It includes beyond the 7 or 8 touring members, dozens and dozens of guest musicians that are in the credits. Many of which live around the country or world.

And in seeing them live again this Fall, their next record sounds even more ambitious, with Liam and maybe others traveling around recording as many different people in various places like coffee shops, taverns, or little home studios. The bar may be setting a little high given how great Beneath the Brine is, but their next record coming sometime in the next season or 2, may trump even this work based on talking to some of the members. It has me very intrigued. But until then, this album ended up being one of the most uplifting and addictive records for 2013-2014.

4 The Tea Party - The Ocean at the End
The Comeback record of the Season? Well, at least just a great comeback. An *epic* one at that. Sound wise I suppose it compares to their early records like Splendor Solis and The Edges of Twilight with the great Zeppelin-esque blues rock + acoustic and middle eastern styles. Although the Pink Floyd influence is certainly heard on this record as well.

As for specifics, I would lean towards the lead single "Water's on Fire" maybe being my favorite, but I think part of that is how it fits on or within the album.  It has such a soaring, emotional chorus with textures of guitars and vocal layers that really almost paint a picture or make you feel the story or journey this album takes you on.

The Daniel Lanois cover "The Maker" is gorgeous and Jeff Martin's voice works incredibly well with it. "Brazil," 'Cypherm" and 'The Black Sea" also come to mind among the highlights. But I suppose it's another record that is so well conceived thematically, it's the ole cliche, greater than the sum of its parts.

3 Anathema - Distant Satellites
A 2-sided album, that is close to the quality of their last 2 LPs(or 3 even including Falling Deeper)
"Ariel" remains my favorite as it has that incredibly deep emotion. The title track is soothing and dreamy as hell. "The Lost Song" suite and their Self-Titled track stand out as well. Despite adding electronic elements, this is another successful Anathema record, that works on many levels, and is one I probably enjoy listening to all of in one listening when I can.

Bend Sinister Announce 'Animals' LP, Premiere New Track
2 Bend Sinister - Animals
A pretty consistent record track to track. The multi-part track "Best of You" stands out on this album and among the best pieces the band has made. "Teacher" "Seventeen," "I Got Love," and "Thunder and Lightning" all have those big, energetic rock choruses, many rather keyboard or organ-toned. "It Will Never End" is another favorite of mine on this album, namely its sad repeated melody with the dreamy synths. I have vivid memories playing this album on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon at work while alone in the office, and just feeling incredibly sad and nostalgic. Things that I'm struggling with that seem to *never end* whether it being medical, or professional, or my relationship or others.

I was nearly brought to tears a few times with it; even just thinking about my appreciation for this band and all the years being a fan, and not seeing too much increase in their interest. And while it doesn't seem they are becoming a household name, I think this album and with the help of Mike Portnoy and some others in the progressive rock scene, it does seem they are slowly but surely gaining a wider audience. "It Will Never End" like "Quest for Love" from their previous LP Small Fame, includes this great, incredibly fast tempo-ed outro.

1 Fjokra - Thoughtsteps [EP]
The most addictive release really, as I constantly went back to this EP for months. I still think "Infinite Loops" is still my favorite track of this Season. It's just so catchy and dynamic. It's one of those high energy tracks I fall for frequently. And I still kind of think of it as a sequel or at least in common ground with Kevin Gilbert's "Shadow Self."

  "A Book on the Shelf, a message to Myself. ....Continue like you begin"

"picture a boy, riddled with guilt"

'blame it on the white, blame it on city lights..blame it on the devil ...well embrace your blues when he comes looking for you"

"I'm a piece of a shit, a hypocrite, so sue me, I'm doing my best to test verses the rest"

"i don't-know-what-to-think  I-don't-know-what-to- write. Information overload...right in the minds eye......we're all just souls in a book"

"She looks at me like I'm herrrrrr guyyyy. ...But-she-couldn' hide behind..smiling eyes."

I will not forget youuuuuuuuuuuuuu. The feeling..I will not forget youuuuu, not even if I want to"

The vocals are just sung so fast and at times un-clearly, I'm unable to actually capture them verbatim, but regardless, the vocals are just so bloody good on this song. The synth parts, and the dynamics. This is like a perfect example of using lyrics and music that fit together so well. Each is like battling the other for what the song is about more. The lyrics are so introspective, very much looking at oneself and trying to come up for explanations why things are the way they are. But one is lost.

The masochistic element is almost like a fail-safe. Self-esteem lacking or not, it's like saying to anyone else, you can't criticize me more than I already am myself. So, in-effect you win and lose at the same time.

I dunno, I just went back to this song over and over again, because it was so catchy and energetic. And refreshing sounding. Plus better than any other song I heard really, at least in terms of memorability. And it seems to be very much worth 1000 words or more, just as the video is.

The other tracks are all so well written and produced. "Love, Thrust, Burn" is textured, enigmatic, cinematic and just catchy. "Change Channel, Solar Panel, got me shining everywhere"

"We Love the Voices, we love the sound, we love the noise of everyone around"

Jazz keys and trumpet add to Fjokra's vocals so well. Those keys seem to lead the way until it segues until one of Fjokra's *big* distorted sections with layers. I love how he uses vocal-distortion, almost like a rap, but it is more like singing or something between the two.

"Ooh, you look so good. Standing in my bedroom looking at me in nude."

The verse and interval pattern is a huge earworm. Also then the guitar solo, which the more I hear his music, I am reminded of someone like David Gilmour.

"I don't know whyyy, I can't seem to figure out this liiiife."

Like "Infinite Loops," this is very introspective lyrically, To me it seems it's like Fjokra is looking at himself and his life, or anyone could be or whoever this song is about, and he/she is frustrated with lack of progress or accomplishment or even the ole what the hell am I doing here right now? what is the meaning of life? Could be rather philosophical, yet also sad/depressive. Which I will totally admit, given that is how I perceive those lyrics, I can very much relate to in my life, really everyday. So in that sense this song also spoke to me.

I also just adore the atmosphere. Breath taking really. And epic.

"Get Amongst It" is really bad ass. It starts off Industrial where again it is sort of like rapping, but used under textures to come across as much as singing or musically rather than just beats (or synth tones).

"I'm craving you, I'm saving you from me"

the fast singing/rapping with the industrial beat is still  quite catchy, as odd as it sounds. One could dance to it.

This song is dark, but it definitely grew on me a ton, so much so, I now always look forward to hearing it within this record,, despite it's sinister, angst-ridden tone. It almost says to me"hey, yo, check me out" or "check this shit out."

"The Old Time Nook" I love with it's use of big band horns, noir/narrative with female and male voices, and it's use of vocal distortion. The chants, tones of old/new and frantic twists. Another track that reminds me of like a dozen artists including Kevin Gilbert, and combines things that aren't expected to work together, but totally do somehow.

I also adore the jazzy lounge section around 2:07, that with the big band horns again, is really infectious.

Then the drum rhythm comes in with the clarinet "ain't no time like the old time nook"

It was actually the 1st thing I ever heard from Fjokra like a year and half ago, and I recall thinking how odd it was, but still cool with the combination of styles. And the old time clips as well in the video.

"Slyrex" is kind of a slow burner, but never feels like it drags. It seems to reference or come back to the idea from the lyric in "Love. Thrust. Burn" about "always love you when you're naked." Nude/Naked, etc.

It eventually gets to a pounding riff and drum section that along with some synths brings in a big climax to this track.

"Psycho for the Sake of It" is a crazy, older track  which intially included on 1 of the sites selling the EP (I forget now, but I'm sure a search in this blog would reveal where), but it appears to be available on both versions per Run N Jump Records Fjokra's label.

"I really don't remember what it was I have to tell you" (slow/clean)

"Weeeeeeeeee Got Out. Weeeee Got Out. For cannnn't remember him" (clean chanting)

"I really don't remember what it was I have to tell you. I lose my head and then I fall and live to tell you. Meet me in the forest because I've got something to sell you. " (faster/more melodic)

"Psycho! For the.!Psycho for the Sake of it!!!!!!!" (Screamed)

Then there is this Gogol Bordello old-man accented verse and which leads to the chorus:

"We Got Out. We Got Out. Kill the Doubt" (cleaning chanting).

"Spread the Sweat" is another older track, that is a bonus track like "Psycho for the Sake of It"  really like a accented rap tune in a lot of ways. Fjokra doesn't sing the verses, but he does the counter voices and the main chorus.

the piano is kind of a nice interlude..

This track is probably the only one I didn't really go back to, mainly because it does come across in some ways as overtly urban and trying to sound badass, which it is in some ways.I dunno, it may grow on me over time, but even if it doesn't, I still enjoy it for what it is.

But this EP as a whole really is something, and one that I couldn't get enough of, and that's kind of why I found it to be the best release of this Season, even if it is just an EP. Fjokra is an amazing musician and band, and really the sky is the limit at this point, as I can't help but hope for even more greatness from him; which already has happened recently per the 2 newest songs/videos, namely "Koi" which I can't get the hell out of my head, it's so good.

And also the fact this is just an EP, with this newest music the "Mellowsound Sessions" the next release could be in this new season, and I may be writing this up a year from now and talking about Fjokra having my favorite release for a 2nd straight Season. But in the mean time, I am going to put 2013-2014 to bed with the memory of Thoughtsteps like John Arch's EP A Twist of Fate in 2003, as my favorite (and most played/addictive) thing from this season.


Nordic Giants - Build Seas / Dismantle Suns
I'm taking a bit of a liberty with this as all this is, is a release of 2 EPs that came out the previous Season, but this actual Double-EP release (on Vinyl) came out during the 2013-2014 Season. And frankly, I've fallen pretty hard for this damn thing over the last 2 weeks.

This is some of the most moving, emotional, well-composed and varied Post-Rock I've ever heard. I'm at times pretty in awe of this band and these 2 EP's., Loads of wonderful moments, from sad piano, to samples that create such a relaxing, calming, yet melancholy mood. The female vocals totally work, along with strings and trumpet arrangements.

"Neotenie," "Drumfire," "Mechanical Minds," 'Little Bird," "Strangest Tides," "Violent Lights," are some of my favorites, from a release I keep going back to. I may have found a new favorite post-rock band in this project from India/the U.K. now on the same label with Anathema and Steven Wilson, KScope. I am absolutely super excited for their new/debut LP which is supposed to come in 2014-2015.

YouTube Video may be coming soon