Each month at AUX, our specialists in punk, metal, indie, hip hop, electronic, and pop vouch for their favourite releases of the month and have it out behind the scenes to bring you a trim, alphabetical, genre-representational list of the Top 10 Albums of the Month, because we are nice friends who love nice music.
Here were our favourite releases from October 2014.
By: Jesse Locke (JL), Jeremy Mersereau (JM), Tyler Munro (TM), Mark Teo (MT), and Aaron Zorgel (AZ)
Riff-razing Toronto trio Das Rad have successfully bottled their bipolar fury. The songs helmed by vocalist/guitar mangler Ireek Sofia blast off in varying waves of heaviness, from doomy headbanger hairwhip (“Eye of Baal,” the awesomely named “Land of Nod”) to groovy psych-outs (“Burial”) and thuggish punk (the 43-second “Shit Magnet”). When bassist Allyn Norris takes her turn at the mic, the band shows off a whole other side of its supernatural split personality, from the piano-driven death march of “1331” to the lulling acoustic number “Sake of Sound.” Every spawn of Sabbath needs its “Planet Caravan.” The most triumphant moment is the darkly lit duet “Vacuum,” with a spectral Spector beat propelling a single lyric into infinity: “When you look into the vacuum of my eyes…” Tossing in one last genre ritual for good measure, the metallic motorik of “Radiator” flickers with pedal FX overdrive, as they rip down the Autobahn into an inferno. (JL)
Alex Zhang Hungtai’s departing release as Dirty Beaches is a tour de force that knows no bounds. Throughout four expansive and expressionistic instrumentals, he leaves a decade of musical wanderlust in the rear view with sax/synth soundscapes sailing out into uncharted waters. Vittorio Demarin — the album’s sole collaborator and member of grave-faced Italian avant-rock group Father Murphy — lends his nimble fingers to the viola, alternating between sorrowful sawing and all-devouring drone. Opener “Displaced” floats in on rhythmic stabs of circular breathing, while the 11-minute title track is an ominous piece of pulsating minimalism in the tradition of Terry Riley’s “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band.” From the hushed mood-pieces of Hungtai’s early Fixture Records releases to recent film scores for Waterpark and The Hippo, Stateless serves as both a stunning send-off and culmination. Lord knows it won’t be the final farewell. (JL)
(Dark Descent Records)
Ecdysis is the scientific name for molting, a process by which an invertebrate insect or spider sheds, like, its entire body. For Horrendous, the term doesn’t quite apply. While it’s what gives their new album its name, this is less so a band evolved than a genre ingrained; at any point, Ecdysis sounds like Dismember’s The God that Never Was or a thrashier Clandestine, while “When the Walls Fell” is maybe the first time we’ve heard Iron Maiden worship bleed into Human-era Death on “Pavor Nocturnus.” But as every influence blends more seamlessly into the next, the one thing that endures throughout Ecdysisis that it sounds like it was actually fun to make. In turn, it’s really fun to listen to, and that’s not something often said about a death metal album. (TM)
Halloween may have just passed, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve satiated our lust for spooked-out music. That’s why we’re still appreciating Ottobre, the All Hallows-themed EP put out by Jay Holy, who, at this point, you might recognize as a member of Toronto garage-punk outfit the Pow Wows. Yet Ottobre doesn’t stand by the precedents Holy sets: It isn’t rollicking r’n’r, like the Pow Wows, and despite the fact that it opens with a cover of “She Said Destroy,” it isn’t an exercise in Death in June-esque neo-folk, either. Indeed, this isn’t the funeral-march fare of Douglas Pearce; rather, it’s a playful blend of tastefully campy skeleton keys, psychedelic synthesizers, and spaghetti-western balladry. Ottobre flaunts that melange best in its middle four tracks: “So Glad” is the earnest pop track of the bunch; the instrumental “Paranormal Singing” sounds like a decaying cassette of haunted-house music; and the pulsating basslines on “Ghost of Love” and “Through a Skin Veil” could almost pass as something from Taylor Kirk’s playbook. Balls-out metal closer “Scorched Heavens,” though, caps off why Ottobre‘s such a likeable project—it’s willfully out of place, but it’s a reminder that Holy’s horror is delivered with a grin. [Disclosure: AUX contributor Jesse Locke plays drums with Jay Holy and we told him Mark picked this for his best of the month and he can’t wait to read it. Hi Jesse hope you like it.](MT)
TJ Hertz delivers on the futuristic promise of earlier releases like “The Goose that Got Away” and “Cactus” and then some with his debut full-length, Flatland. A former engineer for German music technology giants Native Instruments, it’s easy to draw a line from that company’s streamlined sounds to Objekt’s airtight, pristine techno. Heavy machine workouts (“Strays”) sit surprisingly well alongside more meditative, beatless moments like “Agnes Apparatus” and “Cataracts,” mostly because they would sound completely natural in the laboratories of 2400 AD. At its best, Flatland sounds like music for alien clean rooms, but occasionally that sterile quality seems oppressive in an album format: “One Stitch Follows Another” is the definition of background music, and not in the good way. Like all techno, Objekt’s productions are at their most powerful when laser-focused and released as singles, but taken as a whole cohesive work, Flatland is still a solid slab of forward-thinking future music. (JM)
Margaret Chardiet’s Pharmakon project isn’t easy listening, but as anyone who’s attempted to half-listen to it at work can attest, it commands your full attention. Indeed, Chardiet’s brand of noise-drenched power electronics isn’t built for ambience, nor is it built for aesthetic beauty—instead, it’s ugly, visceral stuff that equally exhausts, punishes, and ultimately, exhilarates. Bestial Burden, which the New York native has stated is about the grotesqueness of the human body, delivers on that promise: Opening with short, ragged breaths, Chardiet builds a world—a distinctly animalistic one, at that—that sounds terrifying claustrophobic. It’s a tension that’s repeated throughout Bestial Burden—Pharmakon builds around bleak, impersonal blocks of noise, and the only hints of humanity manifest themselves as anguish, fear, and shame. Yet it’s undeniably moving: Sometimes, it’s impossible to tell if she’s laughing or shrieking out in pain. Other times, her choking shriek sounds almost defiant, bracing itself against pulsating industrial synthesizers. Other times, as in “Primitive Struggle,” it’s simply disgusting: Atop a heartbeat-esque pulse and a phlegm-spewing, vomiting cough, it reminds us that we can be indeed threatened by our own bodies. Not for the faint of heart. (MT)
Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels 2
RTJ are back and… are the same as ever. That’s not a bad thing. El-P and Killer Mike’s 2013 opening salvo was so violent and sudden, we’re all still trying to catch up. It might be more of the same, but RTJ2 sounds more pissed-off and dangerous than the first go-round: the beats are more distorted and unstable, the rhymes are more polemical, the whole package is now 20 per cent more incendiary. Back-to-back highlights “Lie, Cheat, Steal” and “Early” are the best showcases of Run the Jewels’ strengths: El-P’s ghostly synths morphing unpredictably into heavy slabs of distortion, Killer Mike’s on-point inflammatory rapping, and the duo’s effortless switching of flows and detailing of political, societal, and fuckboy-ical problems they uh, take issue with. The Kickstarter antics might have gotten the press, but in the end nothing’s needed to prop up the product: Run the Jewels is the sound of two hip-hop masters whose individual skillsets were already off the charts, so it’s fortunate for rap fans they hit on the surefire way of reaching the next level: find a partner in crime. (JM)
It’s obvious that Single Mothers singer Drew Thomson was primed on a steady diet of Craig Finn, but painting his band into the Hold Steady corner is as lazy as it is limiting. Negative Qualities pairs Finn’s delivery with Keith Buckley’s wit and Chris Colohan’s ferocity, and musically it toes the line pretty stunningly from Cursed to Burning Love. But as the comparisons pile up it becomes all the more obvious that Negative Qualities is an album that strides on its own merit; there’s nobody else writing songs quite like this. On “Patricide,” Thomson shouts at a rumbling pace that he needs god about as much as she needs him, a one-two punch that’s bested only on “Crooks,” which slices Evan Redsky’s rolling basslines with the record’s attitude-defining lyric: If this is living the dream, just kill me, or at least wake me up. (TM)
Taylor Swift has been writing what could be described as “crossover hits” for years. To be more specific, literally every single she’s released, including her debut country breakthrough “Tim McGraw” in 2006, has been, by definition, a hit on multiple Billboard charts. Still, some people were surprised by what is being interpreted as a transformational record. Taylor Swift, yes, is a pop star, but it should be no surprise to anyone. If this was a game of Clue, it would end in like, two seconds: it was Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick. She’s always been a pop singer, but with 1989 she’s just given up her side-gig as the country music industry’s license to print money. Despite a staunch absence of banjo plunking, Taylor’s lyrical world of heartsick anxiety cloaked in clever metaphors is still intact and ferocious as ever, giving way to bonafide synthpop crushers like “Out Of The Woods” and “Style.” 1989 is a bit cringey in moments—album opener “Welcome To New York” feels like it was written by a first time visitor post-landing on an aircraft tarmac outside of Laguardia. But it’s a pop record, and it never feels inauthentic. And that’s exactly why it’s the only platinum record to come out in 2014. There are two known truths in this game: Colonel Mustard is not to be trusted, and Taylor Swift is a pop star. (AZ)
There’s only one explanation for why it took Tinashe this long to pop, and here it is: for years, people have been too afraid to recommend her to their friends, because they’re not totally sure how to pronounce her name. Well idiots, you all figured out Beyoncé eventually, and Tinashe should be next on your list. After releasing a trio of mixtapes, it was the DJ Mustard-slathered, Drake-remixed, Sean Paul-nodding surprise smash “2 On” that brought Tinashe to the masses in a big way. Luckily, there’s enough muscle on Aquarius to capitalize on the single’s success. There’s definitely some ‘00s R&B influence here, but Tinashe’s sound and commanding delivery cultivate a darkness that puts her more in the sonic company of innovators Sza and FKA Twigs rather than luminaries like Mya and Ciara. At 18 tracks, Aquarius is a bit bulky, but there are songs on here that could prove that “2 On” is no fluke. Whether it’s the A$AP Rocky assisted “Pretend” or the Stargate/Cashmere Cat collaborative snapper “All Hands On Deck” is yet to be seen. She may not be the next Beyoncé (no human exists, ok?), but you should probably learn how to say her name if you want to seem cool at a party in 2015. (AZ)