Music has always meant a lot to both Matt and me. It’s something we both immensely enjoy discussing and sharing, and it’s always had some impact or another on the state of our company. There was a short stretch during our renovation process in which we really weren’t motivated or getting much done, and then realized it was mostly due to the fact that, for whatever reason, we had stopped blasting music constantly while working. Music has always been fuel to us.
For myself specifically, music is something I love to study; a good bulk of what little free time I’ve got is dedicated to finding, listening to, reading about, talking about and sharing new albums. Its the one thing I geek out about as much as I geek out about beer. And that, family, is why I’ve decided to put together a short list of albums that got some especially heavy rotation this year. So here you go: The 5(ish) albums we played the hell out of in 2014.
1. Classixx – Hanging Gardens <2013>
This list covers albums that were played during two completely different chapters in our lives – the renovation phase, and the open-for-business phase. One album essentially became the unofficial theme-album to the latter of the two: Hanging Gardens, the lush, bouncy debut LP from L.A. electronic duo Classixx.
Hanging Gardens is the epicenter of the Venn diagram of Matt’s and my musical interests. As our friend who recommended it so eloquently stated, this is an album that “throws it in third gear and just cruises the whole way through”, an incredibly apt description given that it feels like it belongs in a much sunnier version of the movie Drive. The retro 80s synth-pop vibe plays well with the crisp, maximalist layering of current electronic music, making for a summer album that keeps on giving. It’s eminently danceable, yet settles into the background when you need it to, making it perfect for frequent taproom appearances.
And if you’re only going to listen to one track: All You’re Waiting For (4:17)
2. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time <2014>
Maybe it’s the outrageous mid-century modern album cover, maybe it’s the fact that this album is entitled It’s Album Time; it’s a great thing seeing an absolute master of one’s craft make such a concerted effort to not take themselves seriously. Norwegian DJ Todd Terje’s debut is an insane trip, a whimsical amalgam of disco, 80s synth, and modern house. For lovers of the type of retro-futuristic funk found oozing out of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, It’s Album Time is its rich, layered, much more playful companion. It’s as if it were the soundtrack to an 1980s Atari game, set in a 1970s jazz lounge with a highly saturated pastel color pallette, located in some sort of campy, Jetsons-esque version of outer space where all the stars have little circles on the tips. This album is, without a doubt, one of the most straight-up fun albums I’ve ever heard. Content with his creation’s own inherent goofiness, Terje goes full-bore Willy Wonka.
Similarly to Hanging Gardens, this is another taproom frequent flier. Terje himself is proud to admit that this album is “good, danceable elevator music”, perfect for seeping into the backdrop of a bustling, dimly lit bar on a Friday night. But it functions far more enjoyably as a start-to-finish listen, as the colorful world of It’s Album Time really shines in its flashy little details.
And if you’re only going to listen to one track: Preben Goes To Acapulco (4:35)
3. Kanye West – Yeezus <2013>
Say what you will about Kanye West, The Human Being – the man is undoubtedly one of the great pompous assholes of our time. Kanye West, The Artist, on the other hand, is making some of the most innovative music of its time, and should not be written off. No one else is making music like this.
Yeezus is Kanye’s watershed album, a huge artistic shift from nearly all of his previous work (of which 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy shares the top seat of my favorite albums list alongside Paul Simon’s Graceland). It is gritty, jarring, noisy, industrial, distorted, grinding, melancholy, angry, confident, and pornographic. This is not, in heavy air quotes, “easy listening”, but an incredibly raw and minimalistic look into what’s actually going on inside the mind of a mad genius. Nearly universal positive reviews from music critics must serve to boost West’s already massively inflated ego, but the praise is most definitely not unwarranted. This album is something special.
It seems at times that Kanye’s aggressive masterpiece is some form of sonic cocaine, making physical labor seem less difficult for the duration of its fleeting 40-minute high. Just as Hanging Gardens became the unofficial theme music to the open-for-business phase, Yeezus was a major player during the renovation phase. And no, we don’t play this in the taproom. That would be absolutely ludicrous.
And if you’re only going to listen to one track: On Sight (2:37)
4. Javelin – No Mas <2010> / Hi Beams <2013>
Ok, so I’m cheating a bit here – number four is two separate albums, not one – but these two LPs from Brooklyn production duo Javelin fit well enough in succession that it feels like Side A and Side B of the same release. Also, Matt prefers No Mas and I prefer Hi Beams, so the inclusion of both was necessary.
Javelin’s music is a strange dream world of clicks and blips and pops, an odd and eclectic collage of samples and candy-sweet beats. 2010’s No Mas is the brighter and more unique of the two, substantially more layered and sample-heavy compared to its 2013 follow-up. Hi Beams is a bit more grounded, less spastic, and more vocals-heavy. It sacrifices a bit of No Mas’ neon glow for a tighter, more listenable album. Once again, we’ve got modern music with a lot of retro inspiration… noticing a theme?
Amusing anecdote about No Mas: Matt attempted to purchase the LP on vinyl from Amazon for his girlfriend’s record collection. Upon opening the package, he realized that Amazon had instead sent him a copy of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon – a seminal album, nonetheless, but not the intended purchase. Upon calling Amazon, alerting them of the mix-up, returning the package and receiving a replacement, Matt opened the package to find… yet another copy of Dark Side of the Moon.
And if you’re only going to listen to one track: Off My Mind (3:02)
5. Action Bronson – Blue Chips 2 <2013>
Joining Terje in the camp of Insanely Talented People Who Don’t Take Themselves Seriously At All is Queens, NY rapper Action Bronson: a large, pasty white, heavily bearded redhead who has built his brief but massively successful career thus far upon his unique flow and insane volume of releases. Bronson’s 2013 mixtape Blue Chips 2 (alongside production duo Party Supplies) highlights one of the rapper’s most impressive talents: the ability to spit long, complex raps, often recorded in only one take, over beats of nearly any variety. The songs on Blue Chips 2 aren’t built to be radio bangers, they’re just small parcels of content being pile-driven down the chimney en masse by a large, rapping Santa Claus who clearly has a lot of fun doing his job. This is a sketchbook, not a gallery opening.
As always, part of Bronson’s allure is his posse. Party Supplies delivers a large range of backing tracks, predominantly sampling oldies rock n’ roll, blues, and soul, always keeping it fresh. Throw in appearances from fellow rappers Mac Miller and Mayhem Lauren, as well as the odd cameo from Bronson’s two-bit Albanian cousin Big Body Bes, a petty thug who occasionally flexes mad nuts on short skits full of cartoonish bravado.
And if you’re only going to listen to one track: It Concerns Me (3:43)
There are a few titles that definitely needed to be listed, but were much more personal favorites than shared favorites. We may not have played these a lot when we were around each other, but hot damn did we bump these on our headphones.
Asa’s Pick: Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels <2013> / Run The Jewels 2 <2014>
Run The Jewels, the collaboration project by Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P and Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, is an oddity amongst modern hip-hop: it’s much darker, deeper and distorted than anything on the radio, full of driving beats that, at its most intense climaxes, makes the get-up-and-run type of raw energy found on Yeezus look like a fourth grade slumber party. But the defining factor of this partnership is the insane level of collective wit displayed by its members. As Rolling Stone notes of the second RTJ release (which can currently be found on nearly all year-end “best albums of 2014” lists), this collaboration is a “noise-addled, dog-shooting, future-shocked reinvention of golden-era rap… that dealt equally in righteous political indignation, bragmaster alpha-male antics and hilarious third-degree burns”. In the words of the great Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach, “this shit bangs”.
And if you’re only going to listen to one track: Blockbuster Night, Part 1 (2:33)
Matt’s Pick: Above & Beyond – Group Therapy Radio <2012 – (ongoing)>
This isn’t an album, per se, but a weekly radio program by Engish trance DJ collective Above & Beyond. This is the ultra-professional, super-high-production-value wing of the EDM scene, a team that acts as curators of an highly energetic emerging music scene. Seeing their 100th show live at Madison Square Garden was one of Matt’s highlights of 2014, and after seeing the show footage myself (in HD on YouTube!), it’s very clear that these gentlemen are running a very tight ship indeed. This is also insanely good music to have on in the background while doing desk work, something Matt is intimately familiar with.
And if you’re only going to listen to one track: Well it’s a radio show, so I don’t think it’s a “one track” kind of deal. But you can listen here.