Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Head Medicine's Best Music of 2014

2014 was an amazing year for new music, possibly the most inspired year of the past decade.  be leery of anyone who would say otherwise; they obviously are not digging deep enough.  a ridiculously wide array of tunes was released from long standing legends on down to the newest hatchlings on the scene.  pure creativity and originality could be found literally everywhere.  i know there are countless albums that would have been on my list had i heard them, but it was impossible to keep up with everything.  so this is simply a list of the best music i did have the pleasure of hearing in 2014.  ~kojak

Morgan Delt

photo by Annique Johnson

As 2014 began, Morgan Delt was creating music alone in almost complete obscurity in his Southern California home.  By the end of January, his self-titled debut album would be released by Trouble In Mind Records (full Head Medicine review HERE) and it was an instant psych classic. The 36-year old self-professed musical hermit soon put together a band and began to play live for the first time.  Later that spring, Delt's sixth live show ever was on the mainstage at the Austin Psych Fest, and by the summer he was handpicked to open a series of concerts for the Flaming Lips, no less.  By Halloween, with probably a dozen live performances total under his belt, Delt was onstage collaborating with the Lips on national television on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, sharing a rainbow costume with Wayne fucking Coyne, singing lead vocals on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."  All of that in the span of ten months.  Few creative hermits have the guts to throw themselves out as far as Morgan Delt did in 2014, and his success is inspiring.  Delt was an easy choice for Head Medicine's 2014 Artist of the Year.


 Goat - Commune
Morgan Delt - Morgan Delt

(Rocket Recordings/Sub Pop)

Goat's sophmore album, Commune, might have been my most anticipated album since Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf, and it did not disappoint. A stunning, wide-reaching travelogue for the adventurous musical explorer. (full Head Medicine review HERE)

We spoke with Goat about 2014 and what lies ahead in 2015:

Head Medicine: Goat went out on their first extended European tour this year soon after Commune was released.  even though these were some of the very first times the Commune material was played live, Goat had already begun experimenting with arrangements and extended jams.  What was the process of turning the newly recorded Commune material into a live performance? 

Goat:  With most songs it wasn't a problem but with a few we didn't have the time to get it right so we left them for now. We'll see if we pick them up another time. The process of rehersing them and arranging them was fun though. What works when you record won't necessarily work the same way live but it's nice to make different things out of a song.

HM: Were there any shows that stood out, where either your performance or the crowd or venue was a step above?

Goat:  I think we had a fun night in Birmingham, and London at the Roundhouse was special to. But I think we all agree  that all the shows on the tour and the Scandinavian shows in the end of November were our best shows ever.  And the crowd was amazing every night. We are truly spoiled, ha ha!

HM:  It seems that there is a near-psychic connection between the guitarists of Goat  and the way their  lines swirl around each other.  i think they might be the best guitar duo out there right now.  i know that there is a revolving cast of musicians behind the scenes, but are the two lead guitarists on stage mostly the same lead guitarists on Commune?

Goat:  they have both been playing most of the shows together, apart from one or two I think. And they have definitely found a way to combine their playing into something extraordinary. It has grown forth. But it is not always them playing on the records.

HM:  Recently Goat released their first ever video for "Hide from the Sun."  How did that come about?  was it a collaboration where Goat was creatively involved or was it the director's vision?  would you like to have more videos made in the future?

Goat: we were not involved at all. But we did see the finished version and  we wanted to change it so they did remake it a little bit. But that was all we participated in the making of that. Personally I think it's a funny little piece of film. I don't know about videos really.. It's a way for the labels to sell records and if they wanna do it it's fine by us as long we get to say something before it become official.

HM:  "Dig My Grave" was a bonus 7" track that went along with the Commune vinyl.  it has a looser, more relaxed feel to it that stands out from the mostly intense sounds you guys have made in the past. not only should that have been on the record, it should have been a single!  was that an outtake or was it recorded after Commune was done?   if it was an outtake, was it not included because there wasn't room for it or because it didn't fit in sonically with the rest of the album? 

Goat:  it was actually one of the firsts songs we did for the album, but it didn't fit in. And it's not really tightly played either. Happy you like it though! I like the solo in the second verse.

HM: When Goat isn't touring or formally recording, how often do you guys get together and plug in and jam?  are any ideas brought into these jam sessions to work on, or is it mostly loose and spontaneous?

Goat:  it depends. Someone is there in the studio I'm sure but we also need to find time of playing music. Especially directly after tours. Creativity needs room to breathe.

HM:  any writing/recording/touring plans for 2015?   i see there is a short Italian tour in May, are there any plans for more shows through the year?  what are the chances of a US appearance in '15?

Goat:  we might not go back to the US in 2015 unfourtunately... But we have other plans. They will be announced during the year. But we have rebuilt our studio so recordings will be made.

Morgan Delt  
Morgan Delt
(Trouble in Mind)

the ghost of 60s California psychedelia.  a swirling hallucinogenic fever dream from the first note to the last. classique.  (full album review HERE)

and don't forget the killer non-album b-side "Black Tuna Gang"

and here's a new Morgan Delt song from the Psych For Sore Eyes 2 compilation

~The Next Best~

Budos Band  
Burnt Offering
(Daptone Records)

These blaxploitation afrobeat masters have taken their music to a different place on Burnt Offering.  a dark, almost metal sound has been introduced to their swanky style, and it is a perfect match.  everything Budos Band has ever done has been fucking GREAT, in case you didn't already know.

here's a brilliant horror movie montage set to "Aphasia."

Kikagaku Moyo  
Forest of Lost Children
(Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records)

These flourishing psych masters from Tokyo have made an immediate impact in a very short amount of time.  Forest of Lost Children is an album of shocking scope and vision, with an unpredictable mix of styles seemlessly assembled together.  There is swirling sitar, blazing fuzzed out wah guitar, meditative acoustics, soulful blues, and heavy prog rock all jammed together.  Live, Kikagaku Moyo must be seen to be believed.  i was lucky enough to catch their set at the Austin Psych Fest this past summer, and everyone who was there knew we witnessed something pretty special.  KEY TRACKS: "Smoke and Mirrors," "Streets of Calcutta," "Hem"

Sleepy Sun
 Maui Tears
(Dine Alone Records)

If this isn't Sleepy Sun's OK Computer, than i'm pretty confident it is  The Bends and a sign of even greater things to come A near masterpiece,  Maui Tears is classic rock of the 21st Century.  KEY TRACKS:  The Lane, Words, Slowdown, Galaxy Punk, Maui Tears    (full Head Medicine review HERE)

the video for "The Lane," directed by Ron Robinson

Ultima II Massage
 (Ghostly International)

Tobacco is the sound of the future, and it is terrifying.  Ultima II Massage sounds like back alley Blade Runner sex club muzak, with people humpin on smokin' hot sex bots and dosing on alien secretions.  as perverted, twisted, and broken as it gets.

Khun Narin's Electric Phin Band  
Khun Narin's Electric Phin Band
(Innovative Leisure)

The fact that this album even exists is pretty extraordinary. Khun Narin's Electric Phin Band (aka Khun Narin Phin Sing) are a group of street musicians from deep rural Thailand, and their existence was only known after a couple of iphone videos surfaced on Youtube in 2012.  To the ears of foreigners, Khun Narin is some of the most delicious reverb-drenched psychedelia available, but the band is simply playing their version of traditional Thai folk music.  The group is almost completely isolated from any Western psych music, new or old.  This is a beautiful and transcendent field recording of Khun Narin's Electric Phin Band in their native surroundings in rural Thailand.  The feel good story of the year. (full Head Medicine review HERE)

Steve Gunn  
Way Out Weather
(Paradise of Bachelors)

Steve Gunn's Way Out Weather is dusty sunset, big sky Americana at its finest.  Endless horizons of repetitive and soothing guitar from Gunn with a masterfully subtle touch from his backing band.  the album's final track, "Tommy's Congo," steps out into a more ominous realm. 

here's a short film by Serbian director Nikola Ležaić inspired by "Tommy's Congo."

Mark Lanegan  
Phantom Radio and the No Bells on Sunday EP

Though not as brilliant as its predecessor, Blues Funeral, Phantom Radio is still another solid entry into Mark Lanegan's seemingly endless catalog.  Lanegan continues  experimenting with 80s electronic pulses and on tracks like "Torn Red Heart" and "Waltzing in Blue" he finds some of his most beautiful songs yet.  "Sad Lover" from No Bells on Sunday is a surprising deja vu to his late 80s, SST-era Screaming Trees sound. 

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters  
lullaby and... THE CEASELESS ROAR

While Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones sit around waiting for their phones to ring, Robert Plant continues to wander his own path.  One of Plant's greatest strengths has been surrounding himself with talented musicians, and the Sensational Space Shifters is his most eclectic band to date.  Led by his longtime partner Justin Adams on guitar, with Portishead's John Baggot on keys, guitarist Skin Tyson, bassist Billy Fuller, and Gambian ritti fiddler Juldeh Camara, the Space Shifters allow Plant to navigate a wide variety of international sounds and textures.  Thank God Jimmy Page has been remastering and archiving the Zeppelin catalog, cuz Plant sure as hell never would.  His restless creativity wouldn't allow it.

All Them Witches  
Lighting at the Door
(+180 Records)

Any band that considers themselves to be "psychedelta blues" is right up my alley.  thick and swampy stoner blues rawk, kinda where Melvins and Kyuss meet up with the early Black Keys albums. KEY TRACKS:  "When God Comes Back," "The Marriage of Coyote Woman," "Charles William"

Refractory Obdurate
(Deathwish inc)

David Eugene Edwards continues his Old Testement/vengeful God-style of songwriting he made with the legendary 16 Horsepower, but has now pushed it into a far heavier and more punishing direction.  i will admit i am not as familiar with Wovenhand's past albums as i should be, but Refractory Obdurate is easily the strongest and most compelling work i've heard out of Edwards in quite a while.  He is wielding his words and music like a sledgehammer this time around.

Primitive and Deadly
(Southern Lord)

for over 20 years, Seattle's Earth has been making heavy, monolithic mood music that lumbers at a glacial pace.  Primitive and Deadly doesn't stray too far off script, but it may be their most focused and concise album to date.  For the first time, Dylan Carlson has brought in vocalists to sing on an Earth album, enlisting his old friend Mark Lanegan no less to sing on two tracks. 

Pagan Fruit
(Small Stone)

sun scorched, peyote-fueled desert blues out of Salt Lake City.  since their debut in 2012 with Good Morning Harikiri, Dwellers has dug down even deeper into their hazy atmospherics.  Guitarist Joey Toscano is always in full command of his leads even as he spirals out into the sun, never losing track of where he has been or needs to get to.  the addition of mellotron and cello works beautifully, and adds a new layer to their expanding sound.

They Want My Soul 
(Loma Vista/Republic)

Spoon had a string of great albums going there for a while, but dropped off of my radar completely after a couple of toothless, standard indie rock records.  Luckily a friend picked this up, cuz i never would have on my own.  There is some fantastic stuff here, and "Inside Out" is one of their best songs.  It's nice to see Spoon relevant again.   KEY TRACKS: "Inside Out," "Knock Knock Knock,"Outlier,"

here's a tripped out video for "Inside Out," featuring the photography of Todd Baxter and edited by Mau Morgó


Sturgill Simpson  
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
(High Top Mountain)

There is hardly a more predictable and mind-numbing genre out there than modern country, but Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson is out to change that.  He is tapping into the sound of classic Outlaw country icons like Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, but is bringing a unique social consciousness and metaphysical introspection with his lyrics.  "Turtles All the Way Down" is one of the best songs of the year, with lyrics illustrating Simpson's mind-expanding experiences with DMT:  "There's a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane/Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain."  the album closer "It Ain't All Flowers" is probably the trippiest honky tonk song ever.  By turning his back on the country music establishment, Sturgill Simpson is successfully peddling his wares to people who would normally never be caught dead listening to country music.

i found this stripped down performance to be a good introduction to Simpson's work.

please feel free to post links to any albums i tragically overlooked and i'll give em a try!

~by kojak

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