Overlooked Records 2014

Treble staff

In exactly two weeks, Treble is unveiling its Top 50 albums of 2014. It’s a day we’ve all been looking forward to, and putting off, for a while now. And though the journey’s been long, there’s still a bit of road ahead of us. Before we get to the albums and songs that defined the year for us, we’re taking on a series of different features that highlight some of the more obscure corners of pop music in 2014. First up: Overlooked Records (as recently discussed in our new podcast). Yes, we all miss out on some good records each year, and as much as we cram into every year, we somehow manage to let a few good ones slide beneath our radar. We’re not proud of it — it just happens. So to make up for it, we’re kicking off the year-end good times with a list of the best albums we heard a little late in the game. Sit back and enjoy our Overlooked Records 2014.


overlooked records 2014 hval susannaSusanna/Jenny HvalMeshes of Voice
(SusannaSonata)

The singing voices of Jenny Hval and Susanna Wallumrød, together, might be strong enough to crumble mountains. In fact, at times on Meshes of Voice, the two Norwegian artists seem to have pressed Record right in the middle of a deep valley. I’m not an expert on Scandinavia, but if there ever were a soundtrack for the alpine tundra, this collaborative album would be a good place to start. Blast Meshes of Voice through a PA at the top of Galdhøpiggen, Norway’s highest mountain, and agony, beauty, and sorrow may come barreling down as an avalanche of soaring voices and distorted feedback. But Jenny Hval and Susanna aren’t exactly making music on Meshes of Voice. Simply put, this is a noise album layered with gorgeous vocal duets, a handful of acoustic suites, and some piano balladry. The storm clouds of noise (“I Have a Darkness”) and gusts of feedback (“I Have Walked This Body”) are debilitating, but the superhuman pipes of Hval and Susanna have a way of grounding Meshes of Voice in this sort of creeping splendor. This is not an album to play at social gatherings; it’s meant for personal use. Winter is here, so strap on those headphones, lay under the covers, and feel the storm. – JJM


Open Mike Eagle overlooked records 2014Open Mike EagleDark Comedy
(Mello)

From the start of this eclectic, understated opus, Open Mike Eagle isn’t afraid of coming off as complicated, confused, hypocritical and — in short — human. Fitting to its title, Dark Comedy balances hilarity with Eagle’s pointed observations of society at large, of hip-hop culture and of himself. He turns braggadocio on its head with “Thirsty Ego Raps,” parodies advice raps on “Doug Stamper,” and deals with the financial implications of staying true to your art/self on “Jon Lovitz (Fantasy Booking Yarn)” — and that’s just the first half of the record. Dark Comedy also blurs lines in regards to what exactly makes for a successful hip hop album from a musical perspective. Using varied and eccentric production from Busdriver, Dibiase, Alpha MC and more, Eagle frequently switches between his poetic rhymes and quiet, stressed singing that shares more in common with indie-rockers Grandaddy than any verse or hook you’ll hear on most rap records, experimental or otherwise. It’s a refreshingly understated take on the genre, truly living up to Eagle’s self-designated style of Art Raps. – ATB


Overlooked Records 2014 PanopticonPanopticonRoads to the North
(Bindrune)

There’s a lot about Panopticon that’s pretty similar to the classic black metal acts of Scandinavia in the early ’90s. It’s a solitary studio project rather than a touring band, for instance. There’s snow on the cover of new album Roads to the North. And Panopticon has a pretty cool — and legible! — logo. There’s also the expected mixture of screams, blast beats and tremolo-picked guitar riffs. But Austin Lunn, the Louisville, Kentucky musician behind the project, isn’t all that interested in creating a traditional black metal record. In fact, none of the albums in Lunn’s discography are, be it the social commentary of Social Disservices or the Appalachian folk influences of Kentucky. Roads to the North is the strongest of the bunch — a moving and beautiful piece of music that incorporates elements of bluegrass (fiddle, banjos, etc.) while being unquestionably black metal. Though their are some notable peers of Lunn’s in that respect — namely Horseback’s Jenks Miller or Liberteer’s Matthew Widener — never has a fusion of traditional American folk music and metal sounded so natural, or so breathtaking. – JT


overlooked records 2014 ratkingRATKINGSo It Goes
(XL)

Combining the hard-hitting, industrial-leaning mayhem of Run The Jewels with influences as varied as dub, reggae and glitch, RATKING might just be this year’s most promising hip-hop rookies. Over Sporting Life’s chaotic production, emcees Wiki and Hak unleash bar after bar of honest, socially-aware chronicles of modern life in Harlem. The highlight of this well-crafted fifty-minutes of risky hip-hop is “Remove Ya,” which focuses its crosshairs on NYPD’s controversial Stop, Question And Frisk program. Over two quick minutes of laser-sharp beats, RATKING give a honest and timely analysis of what it’s like to be subjected to police profiling on a regular basis. It’s a harsh track — a hit on the head. But that’s exactly what you hope for from a rap album that bucks trends in favor of the gritty truth. – ATB


Thee Silver Mt Zion overlooked records 2014Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial OrchestraFuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
(Constellation)

Even though Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra and Godspeed You! Black Emperor were formed about a year apart from one another — and have always shared at least a handful of members at any given time— I’ve always paid more careful attention to the latter’s evolving discography. Something about the mostly-instrumental post-rock bliss that Godspeed constructs always seemed more immediate and well-planned than the prog-leaning art rock SMZ usually deliver. But on Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything, SMZ’s seventh full-length, the Montreal quintet manages to merge the best of both bands, crafting six genre-defying tracks that come across as some sort of otherworldly, experimental baroque pop. Right out of the gates, on the record’s semi-titular opening track, one can feel a greater sense of song structure and thematic motivation than SMZ has ever boasted before. The track comes across in an almost classical light; a theme song for a country that was never founded. From there, the triumphs only build off one another, taking the listener through movement after swelling, emotional movement for a journey that you won’t soon forget. – ATB


overlooked records 2014 vince staplesVince StaplesHell Can Wait
(Def Jam)

Long beach rapper Vince Staples has been slinging mixtapes and guest-appearing on albums made by his more popular friends since 2010, but a particularly killer feature on Earl Sweatshirt’s “Hive” from last year shone a larger light on Staples’ rising talent. “Hive” proved that Staples’ flow and delivery was just as good as Earl’s as he barreled through metaphors and rhymes to close out the track. Hell Can Wait is Staples’ first commercial release through heavyweight Def Jam Recordings, and the seven-song EP is an excellent piece of hip-hop that serves as a launching pad for a big-league career. Staples tells us that he’s learned everything from being out in the streets; Hell Can Wait is his depiction of those streets. He begins the EP with pessimism (“Fire,” “65 Hunnid”) and ends it with optimism (“Limos,” “Feelin’ the Love”) while rapping about drug sales (“Screen Door”), crooked L.A. cops (“Hands Up”), and gang violence (“Blue Suede”) in between. The high production value is complete with crisp high hats, serious swagger, drips, and synths that threaten to slice through your brain. Hell Can Wait sets a lofty bar. Let’s see if Staples can keep it up. – JJM


Overlooked Records 2014 tinasheTinasheAquarius
(RCA)

Tinashe is the second artist from Kentucky to be featured on this list of overlooked records, which probably tells us that we should keep a closer watch on the Bluegrass State in 2015 (though we did a Louisville Top 10 this year — give us some credit). However, while Panopticon’s black metal reflects a unique Kentucky heritage, Tinashe is more of a Los Angeles artist at heart, having grown up on the west coast and being more closely in tune with mainstream pop music. Not that it’s stopped anyone from labeling her atmospheric and haunting jams as “PBR&B” — you may induce groaning, now. Aquarius is one of the best things to happen in pop music this year, with a super-team of producers laying down some mesmerizing sonic beds on which the 21-year-old diva lays down some subtle, albeit expressive vocal leads. Sure, there are the expected guest appearances from in-vogue emcees, though A$AP Rocky and Schoolboy Q don’t really add a lot of value to what are already strong tracks. It’s on a highlight like the Dev Hynes-produced “Bet” where Tinashe really shines — losing herself inside of a hypnotic wash of synths. Follow her in and you might not want to take the breadcrumb trail back out. – JT


tobacco overlooked records 2014TobaccoUltima II Massage
(Ghostly)

I let this album slip under my radar because I had convinced myself that I was done listening to Black Moth Super Rainbow. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of 2009’s Eating Us and have fond memories of seeing the band live. It’s just that, after a while, BMSR (as well as any of frontman Tobacco’s side- or solo-activities) start to sound identical. Those solo albums in particular have a tendency to sound a little one-note, like a one-man cover of an unreleased BMSR record. But on Ultima II Massage, Tobacco finally puts a different set of skills to use, setting aside some of his go-to psychedelia for a more dance-friendly, hip-hop influenced record. That doesn’t mean these tracks aren’t bizarre; “Eruption (Gonna Get My Hair Cut at the End of the Summer)” is probably the record’s most accessible moment, and it’s a far stretch from a Hot 100 affair. Still, these songs groove and sparkle in a way that Tobacco normally shies away from, making a few listens more than worth your time. – ATB


united nations overlooked records 2014United NationsThe Next Four Years
(Temporary Residence)

It’s tempting to call United Nations a hardcore supergroup, what with its revolving door of collaborators from bands like Pianos Become the Teeth and Glassjaw, and vocals from former Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly. But more accurately, United Nations is a hardcore meta-group, the whole of their output a satirical and referential mirror on hardcore culture. The Next Four Years is designed to imitate the collected career of a hardcore band, which goes from minute-long bursts of barely contained powerviolence to lengthy post-rock explorations. As sequenced on its vinyl version, however, the album provides an astonishing diversity under a hardcore umbrella, be it in the roaring blast-beat opening of “Serious Business” or the Godspeed-winking “F# A# $.” It’s all heavy and overwhelming — take it from someone who learned the hard way, don’t forget to wear earplugs at their shows. As Rickly sneers in the album’s first track, this is serious business; this is also as much fun as you can have without breaking a rib.  – JT


overlooked records 2014 White Lung Deep FantasyWhite LungDeep Fantasy
(Domino)

When a band makes the leap from small indie label to considerably larger indie label, there’s often a leap in production values that come with it. But when Vancouver punk outfit White Lung aligned themselves with Domino Records, they not only came out of the studio with a better-produced album than their debut, Sorry, but one that packs a much heavier punch. From the ominous roar of opening track “Drown With the Monster,” the band seems to have stepped into a more menacing and heavy approach, at times recalling the likes of Toronto prog-punks Fucked Up without the highfalutin concepts. Hell — that first track is just this side of a heavy metal track. But there’s much more to White Lung’s growth than simply the intensity that goes into the music. Their hooks are sharper. Their instrumentation is tighter. And these are the strongest melodies they’ve written yet — even when they reach a boiling point so tense that it seems like everything’s about to explode. It’s not an album you’re likely to forget after hearing it, though at a scant 22 minutes, you might not know what hit you. – JT

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