Year-end lists puzzle me. Do they puzzle you, too?
Paul Cantor
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Flying Lotus Live — Photo by Michelle Islas

All the best 2014

Some Happenings This Year

  • Global warming
  • People fought
  • People loved
  • People starved
  • People died
  • People were born
  • Football, Football, Football!
  • Films were made, music was made, television was crapped out into a box (except on HBO, PBS, and BBC)
  • Robin Williams kills himself
  • Immigration Reform Stalled
  • Healthcare thing. Do we all have it yet?
  • Football
  • Kim Kardasshian
  • Football
  • Buy things time
  • Bill Cosby rapes people
  • More Damn Football

It’s that time of year again, time for stuffing yourself to the brink of explosion (or beyond), and thinking about what made an impact this year. Writers, critics, and other deviant humanoid forms take this time to surmise their annum of consumption by issuing list upon list, bestowing the title “best of” on everything from fruit cake recipes to death metal albums. Above is my list of a few happenings this past year next to which music seems rather trivial.

To make a fair evaluation of even a single genre of music I would have had to listen to every release in that genre. Some kid in Alabama could have made the greatest post-dubstep, punk-funk, pre-kPop, psychedelic screamcore album ever. But that kid only gave copies to his uncle who thinks that the internet is a fad, so I never heard the album that would have topped my actual list.

Consider something less broad ranging than the futile act of writing on the definitions of the “best of” music - like naming the best hamburger in any city. Does the critic really sample every burger in the city? Even the most well travelled, health unconscious food critic would find this task difficult (if not impossible).

To make the task manageable the critic usually:

  1. Pulls from their own knowledge and takes a census of the popular choices for burgers in a city
  2. Samples a few menu items from as many of the selected burger joints as possible and decides on their favorite at that time

Time, setting, and a myriad of other non-burger factors influence their reviews. Maybe the chef had an off day? Perhaps the atmosphere played a factor in influencing the critic’s decision? All of the chains adopting the servers-cum-strippers Hooters breasturant concept indicate that there are certain environmental factors that influence one’s willingness to purchase substandard fare at inflated prices. To judge something as seemingly simple as the greatest hamburger in any city is a Sisyphean task. As the critic sampled what he thought to be the ultimate burger, a new burger joint would open, or a new menu item expanded an existing menu.

Perhaps the critic with a mind for real experimental methodology takes the task to the extreme, sets up a sterile testing facility; a stark white room where burgers are pumped into their feeding cubicle multiple times a day. After consumption they complete a battery of physical, and psychological evaluations to determine the response to the consumption of that quarter-pound-or-so of flesh. After a few months of recording data in this manner (and the data of a few other control evaluators if possible) then and only then could the completist critic dub the greatest burger in their city.

If tying to pick something as seemingly trivial as the best burger is this challenging how can any human being actually pronounce any song, movie, or other form of entertainment the “best of”? Taste is subjective whether you are talking about hamburgers, music, or anything else.

I listen to a lot of music. I am surprised on a daily basis when I hear new tracks that are really good, both a sad and happy moment. Happy because I am hearing something new that entertains, and excites me. Sad because I know that unless this is “that song” it too will soon be forgotten under the waves of media that bombard my mind daily.

In school we learned of the million images. I’m not sure if a million was the right number, and I’m not sure that it matters. Grad school was ten years ago for me. Today our lives are more intertwined than ever with, and through, our technology. Connectedness in the western world is an expectation now where once it was a privilege. Are our lives better for all of this technology, or is there just more noise to sort through to get to the essence of anything?


Some of the best things I heard this year through the noise

The War on Drugs “Lost in the Dream”
D’Angelo “Black Messiah”

I don’t really know if these are the two best albums of the year, but they seem like the two most fully realized albums I’ve heard since last year’s Arctic Monkey’s offering. I’ve been waiting for that follow up to “Voodoo” for almost half my life, so to not be disappointed is an amazing feat. I never even heard of The War on Drugs until they started popping up on a ton of year end lists. Both “Lost in the Dream” and “Black Messiah” demand repeat listening — another amazing feat in this age of mass ADD.


Taylor Swift — “Shake it Off” makes me “Happy”

I just can’t shake off this song. If this isn’t the song of the year I don’t know what is — “Happy” by Pharell I guess. Don’t know if either of these have a real shelf life, but I’m only a little tired of hearing them. We need more positivity in our world, and both of these songs offer it in spades.


Flying Lotus

One of the most ambitious, if not most listenable, albums of the year in “You’re Dead”. The Brainfeeder leaders’ sound made infectious by one of the best songs I’ve heard in years, “Never Catch Me” with Kendrick Lamar. The video (below) is on another level.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXD0vv-ds8

FlyLo’s live show is amped, a marked departure from the more headphone oriented nature of his albums. FlyLo/Captain Murphy’s rapping is both a low point and a high point for the performance. Thank you FlyLo for stepping out behind the podium, but bring it with the delivery please.

During the FlyLo show what really works is the marriage of beats and visuals. If you have a chance to see Flying Lotus perform do not miss it. Every time I see FlyLo the show gets better and better. The visuals present a trippy amalgam of eastern spiritual, anime, and minimalist motiffs produced by Strangeloop and Timeboy.


My cousin David performed at Carnegie Hall

I didn’t get to see his performance in person, but I heard the video my aunt recorded as he played the bagpipes for an Irish folk music performance. This kid is also an amazing piano player, and a magician. Did I mention he’s played at Carnegie Hall at the age of 18? I feel like I need to step up my game.


MachineDrum

I saw Machinedrum perform at Coachella’s Do Lab Stage in 2012, and he killed it, this set at Kava Lounge (one of my favorite small venues in San Diego) was different. Not as much singing or drum-and-bass this time around, more of what I’d imagine from a dancehall soundclash from the year 3000.

Machinedrum worked the Midifighter 3D like a pro, triggering airhorns and other standard soundclash sound effects with precision, and flair overtop of his beats, remixes, and other not so standard sound effects. What made the performance ever better than his waving of the magic wand of warping that is a Midifighter 3D was the use of the mic.

House, and techno djs were once not prone to using the mic. Kid Capri, Evil Dee, Funk Flex-that’s who uses the mic. The mic was the domain of the NY hip-hop DJ, rappers, and singers. Turntablists, techno, and house DJs spoke with their hands, and tracks. Machinedrum is something different though, not a standard electronic producer by any means. He makes albums, in a time of singles. His beats are dark, deep, and complex, a stark contrast to the bubblegum fodder of the EDM world.

Machinedrum, announced the coming boombast of his next track with a combo of airhorns, gunshots, and “Rest in Peace DJ Rashad” shoutouts. He was doing something different, not another geeky looking kid behind a laptop screen pressing buttons. Here was a geeky looking man, pushing buttons that lit up, waving them around for you to see, getting on the mic, bucking shots, getting crazy with it. Machinedrum, and the Midifighter 3D, might just save dance music, or at least make the performances worth watching again.


Odesza

This duo from Seattle released their album “In Return” for Ninjatune’s sublabel — Counter Records this year. Their song In Bloom is a beautifully executed melding of all things electronic music, but their live show, and “No Sleep” mix series are what really impress me.

I had a chance to open up for Odesza when they were on tour for their “My Friends Never Die” EP and I was touring through my home state of Florida in support of my funky habit. Our paths crossed at a sold out show in Tampa, and the Odesza boys delivered on the promise of their studio sounds with a live show that goes beyond the standard APC-40 Ableton Live setup by adding live pad drumming, and high quality visuals into the mix. If you dig chilled-out music pushing genre boundaries listen to Odesza.

Surely this recounting of my year in audio experiences is incomplete. Honorable mentions to: The New Mastersounds and Beats Antique killing it live somewhere in the swamps of North Florida, then jamming with Dave from Beats until the sunrise; that Caribou track I can’t get out of my damn head; interviewing Hank Shocklee from Public Enemy; watching Surgeon, Hudson Mowhawke, and Kaytranada (and those amazing crowds) on BoilerRoom; seeing one of my favorite DJs, Three, get some long overdue, high-profile recognition of his talents, and start a new label Hallucienda.

Here’s to more peace and prosperity in the coming year, more quality music, and a few more stellar memories before 2014 wraps.

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