Thursday, May 7, 2015

2014-2015 Midseason Ratings List/Countdown

2014-2015 has seen a lot of records come out I've enjoyed, although not many I'm addicted to. The 1 though that I can claim that, came out of nowhere, and won and continues to win me over.

But I am happy a lot of these records have come out finally, as it seems every year/season there's albums I and many others look forward to, but often get pushed back. And in some cases, they do come out, and just end up being underwhelming for whatever reason.

However, I do think many times the 1st half of the season/year ends up having something come out and it gets shelved and forgotten until the end of the season or even years later, and then does win many over. In a sense, I almost enjoy that more; thus, I actually look to some of the lesser listened to albums as having potential to go up at a later time.

And of course, like 2013-2014 with iamthemorning and Dream the Electric Sleep, I did sleep on them and then got won over at the end. But part of that is not even knowing about them or their new album. So, there's certainly a good chance a few records have come out that I am totally unaware of that I will end up loving come the beginning of November.

That all being said, I do think the 1st half of 2014-2015 has been pretty strong, and there are a handful of big records to look forward to in the 2nd Half, namely Mike Vennart, The Dear Hunter and of course Kaddisfly. So, the Countdown in November I would not be surprised may look a fair amount different. But the #1 record on this countdown certainly will not be easy to beat.

3-stars or less

Umphrey's McGee - The London Session

Good, mostly older tunes re-recorded at Abbey Road Studios. A bit like the Pain of Salvation record from 2013-2014 Falling Home.

Ne Obliviscaris - Citadel

I enjoy this still, but I'm not sure if their style has passed me by or something in that I don't love this like their debut and am kind of finding it somewhat undesirable to listen to them now. Maybe it's me and their style of prog metal (especially with so much of the mix using the blast beats).

Tuxedo - Tuxedo

Fun sideproject from Mayer, doing music a little closer to Chromeo than his solo band, with the electronic and dancey nature.

Zozzled cover art
Hardcore Crayons- Zozzled

Caravan of Thieves - Kiss Kiss

Dave Kerzner - New World
Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Thomas Giles - Modern Noise
Susanne Sundfør - Ten Love Songs
Steve Hackett - Wolflight
Public Service Broadcasting - The Race for Space
The Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
Danny Cavanagh - Memory and Meaning
Daniel Johns - Aerial Love [EP]
Author - Of Brighter Days
Josh Rouse - The Embers of Time
Lost Lander - Medallion
Demians - Mercury
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress'
Vola - Inmazes
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell


Nordic Giants - A Séance of Dark Delusions

I've only gone through this a couple of times, but I already am enjoying it much like I did the 2 EPs Build Seas and Dismantle Suns, which I heard previously.

They made another winner track with samples and atmosphere with "Evolve or Parish."

A lot of great female vocal parts with textures, piano, strings, etc.

Mercies - Blue Against Green

Dreamy and catchy. Maybe even more consistent in terms of the dreamy Barbershop chanting, compared to the excellent debut Three Thoussand Days from 2011.

Punch Brothers - The Phosphorescent Blues

Another record from this band that features no really boring parts, and a few unexpected moments. The opening 10+ minute piece "Familiarity" along with tracks like "I Blew it Off" to the closing piece "Little Lights" with it's soaring strings and choir vocals, stand out certainly.

This band continue to surprise me when I underestimate them.

Archive - Restriction

Another solid record from Archive, and much of the continuation in quality from 2014's Axiom soundtrack. A lot of dark, electronic moments, which is not new, but seems to usually work well for them.

The melancholy soaring ballad "Black and Blue" is probably my favorite cut at this point.

Native Construct - Quiet World

This is a debut record from some Berklee college of Music kids, released on Metal Blade records. It is well written prog metal that certainly channels the likes of Between the Buried and Me, Pain of Salvation and even Mr. Bungle at points. They are schizophrenic enough, but still manage to allow the compositions to breathe.

I'm not sure if they should be given credit for combining influences well, or just using influences to write interesting songs.

Steven Wilson - Hand.Cannot.Erase

A good follow up to The Raven That Refused to Sing. The concept or story part of this record does seem to be maybe the biggest focus, and maybe one reason I haven't fallen in love with this album exactly. But the music itself, sounds like Steven Wilson really, mixing progressive rock, with textured, atmosphere at points.

The title track and "Happy Returns" and its quite sad/melancholic nature, are my favorites or the songs I probably think about this record the most for. Many reviews have mentioned their love of songs like "Home Invasion" and especially "Ancestral" which I can follow, but the dynamic shifts in tone almost come across as forced with those. Yet, I do still enjoy parts of them and the other sections of this album.

Signal-to-Noise - I Won't Let the World Become a Prison

This kind of came out of nowhere to be one of my favorite records thus far in 2014-2015. It is more or less written and recorded/performed all by Chicago musician Michael Downing of the band Single Channel Stereo.

I really enjoy a lot of the songs on here's (simple in some ways) yet very unusual melodic nature. The use of piano certainly works well, along with a lot of echoing tones and textures. Even the lyrics seem relate-able and tell interesting stories.

In a lot of ways less being more.

Favorite tracks: Universal, Biologic, Firebox, Presque Vu, Something to Say

Thurisaz - The Pulse of Mourning

It has been a few years since their last LP The Cimmerian Years, but I gotta say, this album has refreshed my memory about why I loved this band. They use textures and melodic death metal in a cool way. This album seems to feature a lot of strings and new instrumentation, and very tastefully, along with some samples which adds to the atmosphere.

I have no idea how many people, even in the Metal scene know about this album or even this band, but they certainly deserve a more visible following than I notice. A bit like Archive I suppose among progressive rock fans. They are still around, doing their thing with I'm sure their loyal fans, but for some reason they have yet to really breakthrough to a wider audience.

Maybe by the end of the year, this album could do that for them.

Favorites: In All Rememberance, One Final Step, Pattetrns of Life, Tanagram,

The Barnum Meserve - The Barnum Meserve

Great debut record from the heavy rock band that uses chamber instruments very tastefully. Trumpet, strings, piano, all blend nicely with vocals that are quite unique sounding. The Barnum Meserve's singer really uses a lot of emotion and force in his vibrato. And tone-wise, I'm unfamiliar with another singer who sounds like him really.

Very promising debut record that has been a few years in the making; so much so, there's 2 more albums coming in the near future, possibly over the next few years.

If I chose 1 standout track, "Take Shelter" would make sense at this point. Very epic.

Shiina Ringo - Hi Izuru Tokoro

This may be a compilation or many of her older b-sides re-recorded, but I don't care really as I am enjoying this as much as anything from Shiina's career (both solo and Tokyo Jihen).

Madam Officer - Madam Officer [EP]

Great debut EP, mixed incredibly well. Sound wise, the dreamy nature of the tracks remind me a lot of Warpaint or fellow Portland, Oregon band Genders.

Tigran Hamasayan - Mockroot

Very impressive  instrumental Jazz-Rock, which the couple of times I've listened to this album, I have enjoyed it, so much so, I may be sleeping on it more than I'm afraid to admit. Very impressive writing and musicianship.


New World Sundown cover art
Hotel of the Laughing Tree- New World Sundown
A good follow-up to both the amazing debut album Terror and Everything After and the 2 Mammoth Skin EPs. More song-oriented and subtle, yet each track offers something and flows well into the next.

Favorites: Aging Archimedes, The Generals Girl, Temple Arms, Stray, Crook in the Gold, Brussels

Mew - + -
Another long awaited LP from a band last heard from in 2009. This album I enjoy more or less all of, but have come to conclude early-on, other than "Rows" there's not any statement/classic tracks thus far. But "Rows" gets both dreamy and trippy as it goes along, I look forward to it each time.

"Clinging to a Bad Dream" "My Complications" "The Night Believer" (feat Kimbra) "Satellites" and "Cross the River on Your Own" I do enjoy and seem to get a little more each time I hear them.

I guess I love this band as much as I do, I can't feel unhappy or even disappointed in this album, even as long as its been. A little like No More Stories I suppose, in it's more greater than the sum of its parts. At least for now, I guess we'll see come this Fall and years that follow how well it holds up.

The Great Bazaar cover art
Subterranean Masquerade - The Great Bazaar
A wonderful comeback after a decade since their only full-length LP. This new record is very polished progressive metal that features middle eastern instrumentation, great piano arrangements, and saxophone, along with Paul Kuhr's both clean and guttural vocals, as well as some other vocalists, namely Kobi from Orphaned Land.

Tour Diary and Blanket of Longing are among my favorites.

Sun & Moon cover art
Timbre - Sun and Moon

A 110 minute double LP singer/songwriter and harp virtuoso Timbre labored over for over 4 years. There's a lot of brilliant work on this album, and I'll admit, in a lot of ways, it reminds me of something like The River Empires record from 2010. I guess time may have the work on this to standout even more, both just from a ambition standpoint, and just some of her and the best music that has been made bringing Classical music together with modern folk/pop/rock.

The "Sun" disc, I can hardly find any part of to skip, save for maybe a small portion of the track "I am in the Garden," but even that track has already grown on me.

Otherwise, from the proggy "The Nightgirl" to the happy  "Song of the Sun" to tracks like "Singing and Singing" and "Chicago Pier" I keep enjoying that 1st half of this album more. The Moon disc, the oboe+harp-driven "As the Night" remains my favorite piece. The choral or acapella? compositions "Sunset" and "Sanctus" I am coming to acceptt as part of the sound of this album, but ultimately, I'm not sure if I will ever find I'll listen to regularly. The other tracks "St.Cecilia" and especially the closing 17-minute live epic "Day Boy" I have found repeated listening has helped and allowed me to appreciate this record more.

The concept? I may want to spend the rest of this season trying to take-in and enjoy more about, but otherwise, I'm pretty sure Sun and Moon will measure up favorably to many others, come early November.


Face Yourself, and Remove Your Sandals cover art

1. Small Leaks, Sink Ships - Face Yourself and Remove Your Sandals

Classic experience for me of a record coming out of nowhere, no knowledge of its release or even much of the band's (recent) activity. This album won me over the more I listened to it. It's very cohesive, mesmerizing, diverse, creative. I mean I love the moods throughout, from the opening track "Power Outage" to the closing epic "The Mind is its own Place" I never want to skip any part of it.

"Building Blocks" and "Midnight Jin" remain my favorite tracks, but there's parts of every track I find standout.

And I also can say it's the 1st clear cut 5-star record I've heard in over 2 years. Based on that and many other things, I'm not sure if any of the anticipated 2nd half releases will be able to challenge it for my favorite this season (but I'd love that to happen).

haven't heard (among many others I'm sure):
Brian Wilson - No Pier Pressure
Tangled Thoughts of Leaving - Yield to Despair

2nd Half Anticipation (as of the 1st week of May 2015)

Faith No More - Sol Invictus
Other Lives - Rituals
The Helio Sequence - The Helio Sequence
God is an Astronaut - Helios | Erebus
Daniel Johns - Talk
Mike Vennart - The Demon Joke
Refused - Freedom
The Velvet Teen - All Is Illusory
Muse - Drones
Between the Buried and Me - Coma Ecliptic
Everything Everything - Get to Heaven
Kaddisfly - Horses Galloping on Sailboats
The Dear Hunter - Act IV: Reprise in Rebirth
The Bird and the Bee - Recreational Love

and of course many others with titles but not much in terms of a time frame of release yet, or no titles but still a reasonable chance of a release (like Fjokra, or Mutemath among many others).

I may post a new Anticipation topic in the next month or 2 when more of the details come for so many others not on the list above.