Chris Todd’s Top 8 (Eleven) Of 2014


Tis the season of the end of year list. Top 10 straight to box set DVDs. Top 1000 digital deep house labels. Etc. Once again we've decided to go for Top 8 Whatevers. The Top 8 things of the year – be them bacon sandwiches; the top 8 times you stubbed your toe against the f*cking boxes full of useless sh*t your girlfriend insists on leaving in the hallway; and so on and so forth (sorry that useless s*it one is a bit harsh). Over the next few weeks until the new year, we'll be publishing the Top 8s of our various excellent R$N scribes.

Chris Todd went a bit overboard and ended up picking 11 (ELEVEN!!!) 2014 highlights;

Shocking Pinks – “What Up With That Girl”

Nick Harte – AKA New Zealand’s Shocking Pinks – released a triple album this year, six year’s worth of bedroom sessions resulted in a sprawling piece of work lasting a punishing three hours. The album’s intention is to drag you through loads of genres that don’t go together without any real structure or sequencing, like a cheap tape from someone who might be a bit weird.

The highlight is “What Up With That Girl” (featuring the vocal sighs of Ashlin France) and encapsulates Harte’s label history perfectly: the wailing synths and monotone vocal work is typical of his previous imprint, Christchurch’s Flying Nun, fused with the crisp disco influenced 4/4 beats you’d expect to find housed in a  DFA sleeve (Harte’s label in the US). It’s easily the best track on the album, and it’s no coincidence that it’s the one that sounds like it had most time spent on it.

Pharrell Williams – “Hunter”

The commercial resurrection of Pharrell Williams after a career lull was swift and spectacular. His involvement in three number one hits last year Daft Punk’s atrocious “Get Lucky”, “Blurred Lines” by the stalky Robin Thicke, and his own dose of musical Prozac, “Happy”) has put him onto the very top perch of pop.

This Year’s GIRL album was sleek and sexy, but the go to track on the album was four minutes of filth with the unintentionally hilarious “Hunter”. A sizzling rock track that references “Kiss” by Prince in its dark minimalism and occasional use of bass with the cocksure attitude of Saturday Night Fever era Bee Gees. Written from the perspective of a woman on the prowl, the lyrics are clunky “My love is callin’, sex is calling”, etc but the real master stroke here is when Pharrell raps as if he’s the female predator. It’s as gloriously rudimentary as Debbie Harry’s rap on Blondie’s “Rapture” and follows what little flow she had on that track line for line, but instead of praise for Fab Five Freddy, we’ve got “Taxidermy is on my walls, with the full description of the killer ‘coz I’m a hunter, cupid, thank you for what you did, but you can’t aim and get what I get, I’m a hunter”. It’s unexpected, camp, stupid and brilliant. 

Tensnake – “Feel of Love”

German producer Marco Niemerski has spent a long time getting to this point. Under his Tensnake name he became a name regularly connected to quality house music thanks to being informed by a love of disco, and being rather masterly when it came to production.

His full length debut, Glow had him moving away from the strict 4/4 elements of his sound, good move. “Feel of Love”, a collaboration with Stuart Price resurrecting his Jacques Lu Cont pseudonym, is a chunky slice of 80’s pop influenced pop featuring one of the original house music vocalists from the early 90’s, Jamie Lidell which fizzes like a million Mentos soaked in Coca Cola. If you ever wondered what eighties pop band Five Star would sound like if they were fronted by Andre 3000, this is it, it sounds fantastic.

Colourmusic – Overture

Transatlantic Oklahoma based four piece Colourmusic came up trumps with their third album, May You Marry Rich. Throughout the album, they purge the metronomic beat of kraturock, the feminine beauty of shoegaze, a sordid kind of psych and the fetid corpse of grunge. They kick the shit out of each of these sounds and piece it together with the aid of computers.

“Overture” is a noisy beast driven by the kind of ferocious hell bound drumming you’ll previously have thought only John Bonham could manage. The mercilessness of the drums threaten to run ahead of the rest of the band, but the sound of the rest of them trying to keep up the pace with their weapon of choice as if the damn thing is on fire gives these tracks an irresistible itchy urgency which will have you grinding your teeth at the outcome.

Todd Terje  – “Delorean Dynamite”

Norwegian producer Todd Terje has enjoyed an elevated status over the past couple of years, be it through the immense Re-masters of the Universe remix collection, his infamous re-edits or the ubiquitous “Inspector Norse”. Finally releasing a long player after Years of one off releases, It’s Album Time proved to be bags of fun, and if you are aware of Terje’s leftfield leanings and dismissal of anything conventional, it was a work typically eclectic.

“Delorean Dynamite” is the most propelling track on the album which refers to the legacy of disco, but within a sound that’s retro he manages to make it sound as contemporary as hell. It’s probably the cheesiest track he’s recorded (in a back-cat that’s literally crammed with the stuff): Moroder bass lines, Patrick Cowley disco synths and a fantastic Nile Rogers-influenced guitar break, it’s six minutes of pure joy. Think Miami Vice, think Al Pacino in ‘Cruising’, think Studio 54 meets Larry Levan, a total master at work.

Sonic Cathedral label celebrates its 10th birthday 

Sonic Cathedral are, of course, the best label in the Country. You know you’re doing something right when lesser labels rip their name off and make out it’s a mistake – wait til I launch my label Sonnikk Church.

2014 saw them celebrating their 10th anniversary, so even more reason to celebrate themselves. Rightly so, this year saw them drop albums from The Vacant Lots, Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, Gulp, Dean Wareham, plus probably had some kind of involvement in the reformation of Slowdive and maybe even Ride.  All this and of course, the second installment of Psych For Sore Eyes 2 meant they remain a go to name for quality releases. This was a beatifully packaged double 7” package which if you stare at long enough, you actually start tripping. This is real indie music, independently distributed leftfield rock music, not dickheads in Top Shop clothes with big choruses. They drop the spectacular debut from Bristol’s noisefuckers Spectres in Febraury, it’s already 2015’s best album.

The Horrors – “I see You”

There’ve been rumblings about The Horrors going ‘electronic’ on their fourth album, Luminous, true to an extent, but we’re not talking Kompakt or Blawan style, rather that they’re now using the methods of electronic musical patterns as a base, and building from there. 

Weird Radiophonic Workship squiggles, mid-nineties LFO ambience, robust electronic beats drove their sound to a new dimension, but also resulted in something that could only be described as The Horrors. “I See You” was the most straight ahead rock track on the album and it’s an absolute highlight.  The eight shattering minutes of this track are immense, arpeggiated synths, the blatant steal of the guitar riff of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Dancing Horses” and romantic lyrical musings ( “See the way the valley starts to grow, every movement seems to be for you). The track drops into a mélange of shuffling beats and a breakdown that almost apes the way 90’s trance worked, but instead of grating riffs you get crunching shoegaze guitars and lysergic synth euphoria, a must hear track.

Total Control – Flesh War

Melbourne based five piece Total Control aren’t a band as such, rather a group of musicians all interlinked by other musical projects coming together to indulge their gloomier sides. Various members day jobs include being members of Straightjacket Nation , UV Race, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Ooga Booga, and Lace Curtain, by night, they do this, this could only be made in the dark. 

“Flesh War” is a hopelessly fraught piece that really cranks the darkness up. Here, they throw as many of their musical influences as possible into five exhilarating minutes. Dan Stewart’s vocal delivery is at its most detached here, reminiscent of Ian Curtis, while the music is also indicative of the music that backed him. There’s funereal synths, persistent bass and mechanical but live drumming, yet what manages to save it from being yet another Joy Division-aping track are the introduction of rave stabs and a gorgeous chorus break that takes the proto-shoegaze guitar sound of New Zealand’s The Chills and introduces it to 80’s The Icicle Works, creating a must hear piece of an icy bleakness – track of the year.

Gusgus – “Crossfade”

Gusgus have spent their twenty years of existence making a gradual progression from the pastoral electronica of their earlier work on 4AD to something more direct. Their signing to Cologne techno behemoths Kompakt coincided with their very best work, and in “Crossfade”, they just happen to have made the perfect electronic pop single. Pieced together with sizzling hi-hats, a backroom electronic throb and ecstatic, groaning vocals, they take the dangerous approach of using DJ terminology as shaggy metaphor, but manage to pull it off: “Do you remember the day, when we started to crossfade, our melodies laid, harmonious soundscapes / into each other” this is the kind of romanticism you can’t just press sync to obtain.

Paus – Pantimola

Paus are a four piece from Lisbon who revel in noise and chaos. They’re rock musicians performing something closer to techno by using robust drumming by their two drummers, electronic belches and synthesized atmospherics helping to add beauty to the chaos. Pantimola is a furious call to arms that slashes as hard as Fugazi, Mogwai, Fuck Buttons and Battles. This is post-rock without the boring frilly stuff, techno without the computers; the lyrics are hollered in Portuguese and sound like they are repeatedly shouting fuck you, though that’s probably not the case.

The Juan MacLean – A Place Called Space

“A Place Called Space” is an energetic shot of disco which takes its cue from Giorgio Moroder and Patrick Cowley cuts in the 70’s, Vangelis keys and a dash of pomp taken straight from superb 80’s German pop group, Propaganda’s classic “A Dream Within A Dream”, certainly nodding that way in scale of its lofty ambition anyway. At nine minutes, it’s a dramatic opener to their latest album, bubbling synths and a very disco intro of three minutes of build up before the introduction of a voice, a crunching ‘80’s hair rock guitar solo just adds to the preposterousness, an unmissable piece of 21st Century disco.