Towards the end of the year we asked several KDVS DJs about their favorite release of 2014. In no particular order, here is the list accompanied with a few words from a few KDVS DJs.
[DJ: Felonious Nap (Nathan Sistek)] [Album: You’re Dead] [Artist: Flying Lotus]
In his fifth studio album, “You’re Dead!,” electronic music experimentalist and beat-maker heavyweight Flying Lotus has written a cross-genre masterpiece, a death-focused concept album that marks his best work yet. The album’s deathly tone is set by its incredible album art, done by Japanese manga artist Shintaro Kago. It features bloodied male figures, one depicting Flylo collaborator and maniacal bassline-writing producer Thundercat, another Freddie Mercury. Centered is Flying Lotus himself, his open hands held up in an almost saintlike pose, his face replaced by a giant white hole, reminiscent of the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.” The album itself is a fantastical forty minute journey. It explores all sorts of ideas concerning death, touching on jazz, rap, and the distinct wonky beats Flylo is well known for. Some tracks are profoundly morbid while others playful. The ethereal “Descent Into Madness” features an eery choir, singing of “no escaping the black hole,” while “Never Catch Me” is a danceable celebration of life, featuring the words and voice of Kendrick Lamar. Other features on the album include jazz legend Herbie Hancock, Snoop Dogg, and Flylo’s rapper alter-ego Captain Murphy. Each of the album’s tracks feel like stories from individual cities from a cross-country roadtrip, each having their own character while all contributing to a broad whole. Upon reaching the conclusion of “You’re Dead!,” it’s quite hard not to think back on the amazing trip, just as one might ponder one’s life as they reach their end.
[DJ: Wham Bam Sam (Sam Ribakoff)] [Album: Lese Majesty] [Artist: Shabazz Palaces]
There were way too many great hip hop albums released this year. From this Chicago kid named SD’s street pop odes to Chiraq on his “Truly Blessed” mixtape, to Sacramento legends Death Grip’s unrelenting abstract anger at “The Powers that b”, it was hard to pick “the best” out of a genre that’s constantly evolving as more artists choose to experiment with their own sound and refuse to be co-opted and sucked dry by major labels. Having said that, I’m going with Shabazz Palaces’ “Lese Majesty” as the best album of the year, an album that was released by Sub Pop Records, whose parent company is Warner Music Group. Whatever. You might have seen Shabazz Palaces mentioned on a corny music blog, or mentioned in passing by a white dude with a beard and a newsboy hat who only listens to “real hip hop”, but don’t be discouraged. Musically the album takes as much from techno, house music and jazz as much as it does hip hop. The bass gently bumps in the lower half of the mix while warm synths and the occasional guitar tone sweeps in and out, all anchored by a mix of acoustic hand drums and electronic drum machines. Perfect music for a late night drive, or bikeride, I guess. Lyrically the album isn’t a lecture, it’s poetry, like good poetry. Intentions aren’t spelled out for listeners, instead social and political themes are scattered and embedded throughout the album for listeners to pick up on if they want, if not there’s also a song about being “nice like Jerry Rice” and “coming up like Donald Duck.” And that’s why this album is great.
[DJ: Ophelia Necro] [Label: Death Waltz Recording Company]
With about 50 releases in 2014 alone, Death Waltz Recording Company out of the UK is the go to label for horror movie soundtracks and has been since they got started in 2011. With so many releases this year it’s hard for me to pick a favorite but I really like the Fabio Frizzi’s “City of the Living Dead” soundtrack, I am also very fond of the John Carpenter’s Halloween 2 and 3 releases. Just in time for Christmas they released “Christmas Evil” and “Silent Night, Deadly Night”. The Death Waltz discography is impressive and their products are a vinyl junkies dream as each album is pressed on 180 gram colored vinyl, come with posters and prints of the original cover art and are housed in a heavyweight jacket. The price tag is a bit steep but you can find Death Waltz Recording Company online and their stuff is also distributed by Republic of Music & Light in the Attic, if your diligent you might also find their stuff at Amoeba Records.
[DJ: DJ Avon (Paul Webb)] [Album: Language & Perspective] [Artist: Bad Suns]
The Bad Suns are a four-member band from Los Angeles, CA: Christo Bowman (vocal and guitar), Gavin Bennett (bass), Miles Kottak (drums) and Ray Libby (guitar). On June 24th, Vagrant Records released the Bad Suns debut album titled Language & Perspective. The cover of the album is red and features a hieroglyph of the Sun with vertical and horizontal rays. The symbol represents the four members of the band and the bright, amplified sound emitted from their instruments. Before publishing Language & Perspective, the band cultivated interest with local advertisements, live shows, and a promotional broadcast single titled, Cardiac Arrest. The single peaked at #15 on the Billboard Rock: Alternative Song list. On Aug. 3rd they played Harlow’s Nightclub in Sacramento. Furthermore, spray-paint stencils of the band’s symbol, the Sun hieroglyph, can be found at and around live music Less than 20% of the songs on the album are indecent. Dancing On Quicksand, the first song on the B-side and has a swear word in the chorus. The chorus repeats between verses, like many traditional pop song choruses. Sleep Paralysis, the second to last song, features a somber mood, industrial effects on the bass, and spacey vocals. As a result, the album is not recommended for juveniles. Bad Sun live shows are 21 and over. However, they are not known for being very loud and earplugs are only recommended for sensitive listeners. About 80% of Bad Suns debut album Language & Perspective is appropriate for broadcasting, dancing, or listening to during quiet times.
[DJ: Timmy Turner (Michael Scharf)] [Album: My Krazy Life] [Artist: YG]
For a lot of us, our first exposure to YG was the radio-friendly hit-single “My Nigga”. Unsurprisingly, I did not have high hopes for this album. Like many albums today, what I came to expect was a couple stand-out tracks with about 10 or so DJ Mustard-produced throwaways. What I got instead was a thugged-out good kid, m.a.a.d. city. This album hits hard track after track, blending together radio-friendly singles(Left, Right, Who Do You Love?) with flawless representations of the highs and lows of the gangbanging lifestyle (1AM, Sorry Momma), almost single-handedly bringing back the West Coast G-funk style. YG’s believability in his lyrics is his greatest asset; while he does bring to the table the usual threatening rapper persona, he also shows a very personal side, touching on subjects such as his mom’s health to being cheated on by an ex-girlfriend. All of which is consistently provided within the context of his ubiquitous gang affiliations, with references to “Bompton” being especially prominent. DJ Mustard’s production is also superb on this album, masterfully jumping from club banger to soul jam with ease. The infamous “Hey!” sample, however, is still in use, although seemingly in decline. While not exactly a concept album, it is incredibly cohesive, with DJ Mustard and YG showing that they are a West Coast duo to be reckoned with. Plus, My Krazy Life also brings the coolest song title of the year, “Bicken Back Being Bool”.
[DJ: Niyomo (Stephanie Guzman) [Album: Norte] [Artist: Little Jesus]
I stumbled across this album by Little Jesus while searching for music to play on my show. I instantly fell in love with the album’s upbeat sounds and the singer’s voice. This album was originally released in 2013, but was released again in 2014 with six new bonus songs. It contains 15 songs, which are all in Spanish, except the last two which are in Japanese. My favorite song on the album is “Tiempo.” I highly recommend it to fans of Zoé’s older music (I am a big fan of Zoé), and anyone interested in rock en español!
[DJ: Bill Wagman] [Album: Look Again to the Wind, Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited] [Artist: Various Artists]
The various artists release “Look Again To The Wind, Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited” on the Sony Masterworks label is one. Johnny Cash originally released the album “Bitter Tears” in 1964 featuring 8 songs, one written by Cash, one written by Johnny Horton and the rest written by Peter La Farge. was the son of Pulitzer Prize winning author Oliver Lafarge. Oliver was an anthropologist and his prize winning novel “Laughing Boy” was set among the Navajos. As a result of his upbringing Peter grew up identifying with Native Americans and in the sixties ended up writing songs as part of the Greenwich Village folk scene. Perhaps his best known song is “The Ballad Of Ira Hayes” about the Pima Indian who was part of the flag raising on Iwo Jima in the Second World War. Ira Hayes died an alcoholic a few years after the war after having been hailed as a hero, a tragic story. Johnny Cash discovered La Farge’s songs and decided to put them on the album “Bitter Tears” not realizing how difficult it would be to get the album out. Columbia, his record label was not pleased and radio stations refused to play it because of its’ sympathetic view to Native Americans. Cash ended up spending much of his own money to promote the album. It is wonderful to see the album honored fifty years after its’ release and featuring a wonderful collection of musicians. In addition to Norman Blake, who played on the original album such wonderful performers as Gillian Welch, Davis Rawlings, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson and Rhiannon Giddens jon the cast. It is wonderful to see this mostly forgotten album of Johnny Cash’s honored and paid tribute to fifty years later.
[DJ: DJ Beauregard (Violet Elder)] [Album: No Wonders] [Artist: Jack + Eliza]
Jack + Eliza’s EP is summery and simple, with a sweet vintage vibe. Their voices seem to weave together, with first one singing harmony, and then the other. The delicate reverb and rhythmic guitar add a lovely retro vibe, and result in music reminiscent of The Beatles and The Mamas & The Papas. Their tracks feature their voices and two guitars almost exclusively, producing a simple, beachy sound that puts the focus on those playful harmonies. The lyrics are wistful and sweet – no surprise, given Eliza won the John Lennon Songwriting contest at the age of 15 (the youngest winner so far!). Did I mention they’re both only college sophomores? The EP is warm, sincere, and bursting with youthful optimism, while simultaneously being sweetly nostalgic and calm. Picture yourself sitting on a park bench with golden leaves falling around you, pulled off of tree branches by a soft breeze. The sun is warming your face, and the weather is temperate and mild. Sounds nice, right? That’s what listening to this EP feels like.
[DJ: John Love] [Album: Issues] [Artist: Issues]
Issues is the culmination of everything that myspace scenecore bands like A Day to Remember and Attack Attack have been working towards. Sure, the basic formula is familiar: alternate between screamed verses and sung choruses while guitarists chug out a couple dozen breakdowns. But what sets Issuesapart is the sheer level of their songwriting skills; this actually feels like a complete ALBUM. This band is essentially Top 40 pop backed up with immense breakdowns and it’s the best goddamn thing to come out of the Warped Tour crowd yet.
The secret weapon that sets Issues apart from their peers is clean vocalist Tyler Carter. Tyler is an incredibly talented RnB vocalist who’s infectiously catchy vocal lines are far beyond anything by typical metalcore singers. Remember the name Tyler Carter and mark my words, he’s going to be the next Justin Timberlake in 5 years. Also of note is DJ Ty Acord, who scratches records for the band and provides keyboards, synthesizers and additional percussion. Ty is a young musician trained in jazz composition who writes unique chord progressions to complement Tyler’s melodies and guitarist AJ Rebollo’s massive djent tone. I was lucky enough to see Issues play in Sacramento last month and their skill level and professionalism is unmatched in the genre. Check out “Mad at Myself” and “Stingray Affliction” and you’ll see why Issues’ self-titled album debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200.
[DJ: The Narrator (Alannah Clark)] [Album: They Want My Soul] [Artist: Spoon]
Spoon‘s latest album “They Want My Soul” is the first they’ve released under their new record label Loma Vista after working more than 10 years with Merge. Despite this potentially-scary change, the album itself reminds us that Spoon has definitely not lost its touch in providing truly enjoyable music. Its songs are refreshingly reminiscent of older tracks in maintaining its unique indie-rock sound (is it punk? is it psychedlic? is it pop? yes and no, to all of them!) and showcasing Britt Daniel’s recognizable voice. And yet, they are also noticeably more polished with a new sound aided by confidently catchy guitar riffs, minimalist lyrics, and the addition of new keyboard/guitarist Alex Fischel. With its fairly wide range of music styles, from upbeat tracks like “Rent I Pay” (my personal favorite), “Do You”, and “Rainy Taxi”, to more relaxed and trancelike tunes like “New York Kiss” and “Outlier”, Spoon‘s latest album has no problem reassuring us that their distinguishably fun sound is here to stay.