2014: Third Quarter Favorites From Suzi Ecto and Suki Girlz to The Abyss of the Dark Web

For each year's first three quarters, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter features are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heard among the more popular picks. More from this series


At least compared to the 1st and 2nd quarters, this summer’s release schedule was pretty weak. But we didn’t care. Sure, the last few months may have been short on “big” albums, but we were too busy falling in LOVE with the 20 releases below (and, notably, to list-resistant stuff like PC Music). While we didn’t have time to properly digest key late-September releases like Aphex Twin’s Syro and Perfume Genius’s Too Bright, we did happily find enough time for the collaboration between Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa (out this week) and Giant Claw’s Dark Web (out next week). The rest ranges from the usuals (James Ferraro, Jason Lescalleet) to the unusuals (Gem Jones, Nima), with unexpected collaborations (Jenny Hval/Susanna), unexpected divisiveness (FKA twigs, Kane West), and even an unexpected co-sign (posted on the same Tuesday that we put up our review, coincidentally).

But before we head into the list, here are some well-deserved shout-outs: James Hoff’s Blaster, Lorenzo Senni’s Superimpositions, Mumdance’s Take Time EP, Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke/Oren Ambarchi’s Only Wanting to Melt, Lil Bibby’s Free Crack 2, Guy Akimoto’s BaeBae EP, M.E.S.H.’s Scythians EP, Bitchin Bajas’ self-titled, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s Pika Pika Fantajin, Moonface’s City Wrecker, Kero Kero Bonito’s Intro Bonito, Circulatory System’s Mosaics Within Mosaics, Tonstartssbandht’s Overseas, Chinx Drugz’s Cocaine Riot 4, DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers, Jerry Paper’s Feels Emotions, Earth’s Primitive and Deadly, Shellac’s Dude Incredible, Cymbals Eat Guitars’ Lose, Katie Got Bandz’s Drillary Clinton 2, and, while it’s not an EP or LP, it’d be weird to not at least give props to both sides of SOPHIE’s “Lemonade” single.


iLoveMakonnen
iLoveMakonnen [EP]

[Self-Released]

Gather up all the sensationalist intel about iLoveMakonnen’s personal life — from the details of his former day jobs, to his roots in New York’s DIY scene, to his accidental manslaughter charges — and then clear it from your mind. Forget the naked Lil B smiling down from his perch on the horizon, and ignore Drake’s co-signing tentacles as they thread their way back through the underground. Put on the iLoveMakonnen EP simply to delight in spending time with Makonnen. Although the Atlanta-born MC compresses enough confessions, criminal activity, and allegations of infidelity into his seven-track narrative to fuel our tabloid-core daydreams indefinitely, his idiosyncratic delivery (see: emotive YouTube poet; confident karaoke jammer) morphs every morsel he spits into an objective curiosity, leagues apart from the coiffed and compensating hardness of the stars with whom he now shares radio airtime. Smile (or cringe) when his croon dips between octaves in the chorus to “Too Much,” as Metro Boomin’s colossal bass line shakes the subs. Raise a glass for Sarah, Brianna, and that girl behind the wheel of the dirty Impala. On the off chance that you see him out on the boulevard, don’t ask him to sell you molly.

Giant Claw
Dark Web

[Orange Milk/Noumenal Loom]

Dark Web doesn’t sound “like the internet.” It sounds like therapy for a generation who grew up with the internet, where the density and modularity of music has flourished at such a rate that we never get time alone with just one song or idea anymore. A latticework of strangely cohabitant pop partials, trap clicks, and piano rolls skipping around in bottomless MIDI-space; a clipped and thrifty collage, reflection, and superimposition of pop art through a trippy mash-up mechanism made of recycled SoundCloud footwork singles and YouTube R&B remixes. Dark Web’s fractured sonics work according to our current economy of space — they uncover shared emotional resonances across a variety of genres (trap, pop, classical music, vaporwave, footwork) at a stunning quickness. For a generation that by necessity has to be selective in its listening habits, this is less experimental than savvy. Dark Web is a document of bubbly eclecticism in 2014 passed from web guru Keith Rankin to a listener in need of a digital tour guide. A distinctly instructive art object, a confident curation of the weirdest parts of the now age.

Kane West
Western Beats

[PC Music]

House music is so stupid. A kick drum, a hi-hat, a B+ voice singing some general idea about love, and that’s it? As you stand in the club with half a whiskey in your hand watching some kid seriously mess with Serato, it just seems precious. But by harnessing all that stupid energy, Western Beats both critiques and celebrates the reality of the genre as it exists today, ultimately reminding us why we actually spend energy listening to house music. PC Music’s Kane West uses every awful trick in the book and some equally annoying new ones too (can we talk about that Super Smash Bros. sample?), but as much as he’s reading house music for filth, he’s more so celebrating how commercial un-specificity can be reappropriated to be bizarre poetry. And like any good house producer, West goes in deep, making sure danceability is never ignored. There’s even another PC Music muse, Sarah, who may be real or may be a computer, but she’ll never tell, because she’s too busy instant-messaging the Lipgloss Twins.

Hanz
Reducer

[Self-Released]

Hanz is the Plato to DJ Shadow and Wax Tailor’s Socrates. The elements of atmosphere are clear in Reducer: people are drinking tequila in a parked car, hazed by a sticky resin cloud, and fiending on some pal-vibez. Practicing social etiquette is dying in modern society; CUT TO: Tinder, REMOVE friend request, “follow me back.” “BUT, OLIVIA!! I LUVVVV YOU” *atop plastic slide* and miles of middle fingers. Although Because I’m Worth It dubbed NYC the fuck out at Cameo Bar sometime when I was shaking my head, copeland’s album appeared, and everything was completely post-BUG-dub from then on. Like, the current and before/after Duppy Gun: Hanz creates bathdub in Reducer that gets spatial while caving in your skull with PG-rated b-/cleats of sampling. Hanz has taken your worst childhood nightmare and turn’t it into an audible hallucination of adventure, leading you down corrosive corridors of music that were only familiar in a dimension of yourself. We are all planets/islands of our own being. Here’s Hanz’s space in the form of Reducer. Will you take the quest?

Kevin Drumm / Jason Lescalleet
The Abyss

[Erstwhile]

Once upon a time, It was formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. It was very good. But Light shone into the darkness and illuminated It. Form reached into the void and imaged It. Otherness, intolerably, separated It and breathed life into It. It seems as though It couldn’t have been otherwise. It frowned. It was. It walked around, looking and wondering. It was troubled. Light and Form and Otherness demanded companionship, but It didn’t want their companionship. It walked away, away, away. It cried out, longing for its primal inheritance: “I believe in formlessness and void, darkness and deep.” But It was too late. It would spend its remaining days alone, remembering and remembering what was.

Ian William Craig
A Turn of Breath

[Recital]

Achingly delicate and comfortingly crushing, A Turn of Breath finds opera singer Ian William Craig fully engaged with that titular breath, pulling it through nimbuses of analogue static and machine-generated harmonies as he crafts pieces that rest unperturbed in the space between song dynamics and ambient structures. That voice, or rather, the potential textures drawn out of it, are the focus, but the record doesn’t aspire to theoretical rigor, and it’s all the better for it, indulging in momentary detours into reams of lightly processed acoustic guitar and plateaus of gorgeously sad, near-traditional song. Its focus drifts as much as its song structures, whorls of voice and sorrow and sonic fabric called up and left to dissipate. There’s nothing inherent in Craig’s music that resists analysis or careful criticism, but it’s apparent why our review attempted to bypass that for the poetic.

James Ferraro
Suki Girlz

[Self-Released]

With Suki Girlz, “Ferraro’s Metropolis” has undergone the evaporative transformation from perdition (eternal punishment, damnation) to Dianetics (the corporate, metaphysical upgrade via cash money). Such, the Orphic poetics that have characterized Rraro’s “croon” — his vigilant interiority, his exiled personhood — have been audited. Strange, then, that Suki Girlz is his most accessible statement yet: the grooves are attractive, glossy, relatively uncomplicated pieces that promote his ideology efficiently. His aesthetic has never been more stomach-able. Yet, despite the “non-oppressive” gloss, the message is sinister; there are images of deformed 3D-rendered models, inflated lips, Malibu™ on ice, and Louis Vuitton™ splayed out on @suki_girl_’s Instagram like ready-to-be-inhaled cocaine/semio-text. To put the mixtape in Scientological terms, Suki Girlz embodies the careful removal of the reactive, subconscious mind to reach a depersonalized rhythm. To put it in physical terms, we see the surgical removal of the unwanted nose, the purchase of blue contacts — plastic beats to chorus our “shadow dancing through [this] luxury life…”

Gem Jones
Admiral Frenchkiss

[Goaty Tapes]

Gem Jones wants to say yes. Yes to every juvenile folly, yes to every unrequited love, yes to every slobbering joy, and yes to all the flawed, earthly detritus he shoves into the giddy pile that is Admiral Frenchkiss. His first tape since 2012’s Exhaust, its Dadaist world is teeming with life, with dappy keyboard runs, twitching guitar squiggles, transcendently deranged ballads, and implausibly listenable skree. And if his barely categorizable no-wave jazz-pop funk vaudeville-soul teaches us anything, it’s that yeasaying positivity is enough to inject meaning into the chaos of the universe, or at least enough to inject the chaos of genre-hopping noise with actual tunes. That’s right — tunes! So part your lips and say yes.

Seth Graham
Goop

[Noumenal Loom]

By the very fact that something can exist, then it must already exist. The elements for anything and everything are continuously in place; it’s just a matter of figuring out the formula. Manufacturing, after all, is a process of realization. Seth Graham knows this. Noumenal Loom knows this. And now we know this. The trimmed fat and salty brine of time spent listening and un-listening are apparent on Graham’s Goop. Risible paint strokes mix with confident exultations, creating a profound, wry, and fascinating listen. Nothing is sacred; everything is for the taking. Choral cuts get cut up, as do pianos and synths, gulps and breaths, and faint field recordings. But the process isn’t really the important thing here; it’s the byproduct.

Call Super
Suzi Ecto

[Houndstooth]

Call Super is as elusive as he is all-consuming. With Suzi Ecto, the club was shown to be a proper infraction, a natural and natal force. There’s a serving of live instrument and vocal abstraction throughout that constructs that entirely post-conceptual club. The kicks are sponge-y, less propulsive and more axis-orienting. Concréte collages and melodic percussive measures burst through and swirl around the stereo field, his songs calling to mind electrical storms, the ominous moments of unease, the beginnings of political unrest. Call Super has taken the club out of the hands of escapism — or rather, has dragged the realism of the outside in.

Jenny Hval & Susanna
Meshes of Voice

[SusannaSonata]

Like a classic 60s film in which the scrolling opening credits unspool exhaustively, down to that clover-eyed MPAA logo, Meshes ushers in its harrowing tableau furtively, with an exquisitely textured, wobbly clump of repeating harpsichord­like figures. Once things are properly under way and the twin attack of stately dirge and unsettling drone that is “Black Lake” deftly twists its way out of however your musicdrunk head tries to pin it down, one’s awe is already palpable. This experience is worth having not just for its rarefiedly subtle genre cross-pollination (or for its amazing artwork), but because it positively radiates as something built to last. The album is neither a short listen nor without a borderline proggy air of grandeur, but its 15 tracks are seamlessly enthralling enough to discourage idle nitpicking. It’s as intimidatingly intricate as it is an embarrassment of pitch­perfect dark-pop riches. It’s a testament to free collaboration that overwhelms and beckons in the same breath. “The Black Lake Took” and it gave, and we’re left with a satisfyingly eerie yet decidedly panicked silence, best broken by further immersion.

Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa
Savage Imagination

[Thrill Jockey]

To create is chaotic. It’s the most basic and ultimate form of disruption next to destruction, since your interactions are adding something to the whole. The process is never profitable, unlike what some idiotic techno-narcissists might have you believe. At the same time, such chaos is integral to the basis of nature. What you create isn’t anything that takes organized shape. Instead, it becomes multiple forms that aren’t immediately, if ever, recognizable to you, the creator. To say your works branch out like trees is too simplistic an explanation, for it goes places you can’t venture. Without place, you have no understanding of what you have made. And that’s fine. By adding something, you lose control of it. But perhaps that’s the whole point of the exercise. Maybe all you’re doing is fulfilling a role nature needs completed. But then that would require accepting that nature is chaotic and not entirely bound to laws that make sense. Are you willing to do that, to eliminate the self and its intellect, to eliminate the political that has become the personal for reasons that escape everyone, for the sake of creation? If so, you may just make something incredible.

Shabazz Palaces
Lese Majesty

[Sub Pop]

Loosely translated as “disrespecting the reigning sovereign,” Lese Majesty couldn’t be a more appropriate title for Shabazz Palaces’ second full-length. While Black Up nudged the boundaries of hip-hop into new territories, Lese Majesty adds a whole new chapter to the rulebook. Burying their trademark skitterish samples and beats beneath layers of gauzy synth washes is only the beginning of Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire’s exploration mission; the album’s 18 cuts are broken down into seven thematic suites that sees each song within meld effortlessly into the next, coming off like one track broken down into separate movements. But fear not: one listen to Lese Majesty allays any concerns that Shabazz Palaces are letting their ego shape their art. In fact, the suite is a perfect reference point for the ensemble approach the group takes to writing this future-gazing brand of hip-hop, roping in like-minded collaborators and using their contributions not as a byline on the tracklist or to dial-in a verse to disrupt the flow, but as another instrument in the composition of the album. And these are just the preliminary ways Lese Majesty is disrespecting the gravitas of current “sovereigns” in the hip-hop game; repeat and closer listens reward listeners who desire to unpack the dense, literary wordplay and dissect exactly what is musically going on in this album.

/F
pq​:​f

[Psalmus Diuersae]

pq​:​f (retitled from ƒ sj J¶JF : Pq​~​; ?​?​?​/​a​/​a/ J#​(​. . a a9) is another grab at the palsy-shaking enigma behind Susan Balmar, WARM THIGHS, 0000-A70U-0075, _lip/, Perry Trollope – *exhale* – SLF Tapes curator, LEWIS CARROL & THE ACADEMY, PRADA & OREGON, index of/sampler, and lord knows what else. All situated in their much-varied corners of the web, all cloaked in obscurity, a dish on top of a table in a foyer of a home bowing at the edges from short-circuiting wires known only to the soul who put them there. The depth of the body of work behind /F, and /F itself, far reaches a series of sonic branches connected to a single trunk, like previous releases. WARM THIGHS had SLF Tapes. PRADA & OREGON had auditory field theory. /F has Psalmus Diuersae. The discography of the five-month-old label, its name Latin for “different song,” as Bort pointed out, mesh with the vibe of Susan Balmar and could very well be Susan Balmer, but the thought is lost among the steady flush of new sounds (already 25 releases since its conception), and rightfully so. Put whoever/whatever blended the album’s six-part, 23-minute overture of overheating jabs and resoldered harmonies on the back burner, and take some time to savor it all.

FKA twigs
LP1

[XL]

Everyone’s a critic, and as I know intimately, every critic secretly moonlights in creative storytelling. One of last year’s juiciest characters was Tahliah Barnett, a plainly spoken British singer and dancer who made a few cryptic, sexy trip-hop tracks with sample destroyer/Yeezus crony Arca. What happened to that story? With LP1, Barnett tells her own version. It seems entirely unrealistic that our Barnett would pose for magazine covers, open up about her career as a video girl, and sing frankly about sex. Thankfully, she’s no longer our Barnett. These songs ooze, ache, moan, creak, drag you into their emotional quagmire. The immediate beauty of LP1 is such that it’s easy to forget that we’re listening to the future. Music to put one’s pen down to.

Lee Gamble
KOCH

[PAN]

It’s all about the wake. Lee Gamble’s KOCH, based as it is on the mysterious “text [Gamble is] writing,” is a riverboat at night. We’re on the shoreline — color­shifted like the cover art that might be water but also might be clouds — lapping with the waves. The strength and beauty of KOCH is not primarily in any first sound — party­starting kicks or claps, maybe — but in each and every source’s vibrations as the wobbling billows split. In “Motor System,” the kick drum carves a reverberant hollow, the reflections of which exponentially amp the weight of the initial thump. “Oneiric Contour” is built from echoing fits and starts that titter outward, ever farther afield. KOCH feels somehow, above all, invested in the space around each of its elements. These elements, sure, are taken largely from house music. But despite any initial familiarity, Gamble leaves us alone to explore his carved­-out space, understanding all the while that we might never fully master its dimensions.

Battle Trance
Palace of Wind

[NNA Tapes/New Amsterdam]

Get past the novelty — the OMG recognition of an album made without computers and by four tenor saxophonists who had never played or communicated with each other — and you start to notice Palace of Wind’s raw plasticity. Founder Travis Laplante (Little Women) composed the three-movement Palace with constant live rehearsal input, using through-composition to create something reminiscent of tonal montage. Emotional content takes on many emanations here — from violent, chaotic swarms to tranquil drones — but, as Battle Trance knows, it’s not the size of your emotions that counts, it’s how you use ‘em. With an approach that surpasses most modern acts in its visceral physicality, Laplante and Co. played with our hearts, our minds, and our perceived tolerance of (possible) “Baker Street” sax quotations in one of the more affective releases to show up this year.

OOIOO
Gamel

[Thrill Jockey]

There are (grossly) two kinds of transcendence. There’s the kind that denotes a total dissolution of temporal distinctions, and then there’s the kind that gestures at a sort of perfect alignment with that ur-frequency that vibrates through everything. OOIOO’s Gamel moves via that second kind of transcendence. Undoubtedly, Gamel will be remembered (if at all) as “that OOIOO album with all that crazy percussion,” and on a surface level, this is accurate; Indonesian gamelan is omnipresent and pervasive here (“Gamel Ninna Yamma” is essentially “Ni Na Yama” from Armonica Hewa with “Gamel” tacked on as a prefix), yet it’s not simply its form that makes our jaws form O, O, I, O, O. It doesn’t blow us away as much as it locks us into its unwavering ecstasis. It doesn’t break us down through its percussiveness, but rather unifies us through its natural and coincidental imperfections. Wherever it goes, we follow, drawn umbilically by its promises of stability through common expression amidst “constant flux.” However, like every outlet that begets transcendence (either/any form), Gamel requires a “letting go” of divisiveness. So, open up. Feel it rush through your lungs. Tweet tweet!

A Sunny Day in Glasgow
Sea When Absent

[Lefse]

A Sunny Day in Glasgow share superficial similarities to My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Cocteau Twins, even recent groups like Mahogany and School of Seven Bells. But while ASDIG’s like-minded fascination with texture continues on Sea When Absent, they tend to be even more pop-oriented here than their predecessors and peers ever were. It’s this combination that’s drawn many to ASDIG’s music and to this album in particular. Rather than submerging Jen Goma’s and Annie Fredrickson’s vocals in layers of guitars and oceanic reverb, they’re front and center throughout, enabling the ladies to belt out huge choruses with aplomb alongside an audio bricolage of stuttering guitars (“In Love With Useless”), plastic keyboard tones (“Crushin’”), and even occasional NWOBHM-styled twin guitar leads (the intro riff to “The Body, It Bends”). It’s a story of exploration: In the early 00s, when shoegaze was still an insulting term, the artists associated with Claire, Alison Records, and Tone Vendor seemed to be in perpetual search for a sound just out of grasp: a modern musical language using texture as building blocks without falling back on the old workhorse of distortion. With Sea When Absent, A Sunny Day in Glasgow have discovered it.

nima
See Feel Reel

[Harsh Riddims]

When I first listened to See Feel Reel, I was scrubbing the fuzz from a batch of okra. Have you done this? It’s one of few truly satisfying chores. Once the fuzz is removed, the chopping of the okra into half-inch circles inevitably coats hands, knife, and cutting board with a transparent-green goo, the consistency of which calls to mind semen or tears. See Feel Reel has nothing to do with this task or scene, of course, but the contrast let me into the album’s laptop speaker funeral mist from what feels like the perfect angle. A body isn’t even relevant or necessary as we listen to nima. Guts and limbs become abstractions in a tinny, haunted arena. For a little while, real. We can talk about the internet, if you’d like. The Digital Age. The ghosts of last week remind you of death, and that’s fine. Cover your eyes with your gooey hands; watch “Luv’s Infinite Cinema” in your little autumn home.

For each year's first three quarters, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter features are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heard among the more popular picks. More from this series


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