My still-dumb Best of 2014 Albums list/blog/thing

Goodness, I finally get to write this! I’m sorry to anyone who’s reading this that has been following my music blog on Tumblr—I’ve had to leave it on hiatus for the time being from being too preoccupied with other things in life. Pretty much the same reason I haven't written anything here since March. Things are looking far more stable on my end, so I’ll maybe return to my music blog in the future. Maybe make some posts here, too. We’ll have to see.

Anyways, hello! It’s time to write up on what were my favorite albums of this year! Like last year, I kept a list on Rateyourmusic that I would update every time I listened to a new album that released in 2014. I finished last year with a list of 101 albums, so I feel pretty good about beating that with 125 albums on this year’s. After giving a quick listen over to most of the list and going through a final sort, I've compiled what are the best albums I've listened to in 2014. This is purely subjective, and largely informed by my own tastes in music, so don’t take this like it’s factual or anything. Though you should. Because I am fact. All of it. Forever.

But hey, maybe you’ll discover and like something new! This year turned out to be way more interesting than I actually imagined it would be. Around March I was looking at my list-in-progress thinking "Man, this looks pretty bleak" but not only am I more excited by this year's list, I'm excited about what isn't on the list. There's a ton of albums that aren't in my top 10 that are still SUPER rad and well worth checking out. Stuff like Oliver Schories' Noise Ball, f(x)'s Red Light, Meliyas' MAJO LP, TOKiMONSTA's Desiderium, Miyagi's Forever... So much cool stuff. Not to say it's all been positives, sadly. I can't say I was a fan of Glitch Mob's new album, Love Death Immortality, and I was profoundly disappointed by last year's star and Giant Bomb community favorite Charisma.com's new album, DLStopping. It felt soulless and rushed, like it was lacking the attitude and personality that made their first album so fantastic. (Though, ironically enough, the song I linked from the album is one of my favorite by them.)

Really, though, it's all inconsequential because my true favorite thing this year was the Mat Zo Mix, a bi-weekly one-hour mix by electronic star (and artist on last year's top 10) Mat Zo. They air on SiriusXM and he posts archives on his Soundcloud, something I adamantly suggest you check out. They're fantastic. Some of the best music you'll hear.

Anyways, what you're here for is my favorite stuff this year so let's get started with that!

ー ミュージック!ー

Nothing quite says “Top 10” list like starting it with something I believe will turn everyone off instantly. At least, I’ve yet to find anyone other than maybe two people who liked KIRARA’s music. BUT HEY, ALL ABOUT NEW EXPERIENCES, RIGHT?

KIRARA is the solo project of Dongjae, a South Korean producer who originally went by the name of “STQ Project” but switched to KIRARA in 2012 because “the former was too long.” Punchy and energetic, as if Shinichi Osawa’s music was trying to be way louder than it ought to be, KIRARA’s strange blend of electronic and rock is a sound I’ve grown awfully attached to since the release of rcts, her most complete album to date.

She likes to describe her music as “pretty and strong”. I get an immense sense of bizarre electro-cuteness and fun from it, myself. I had @monosukoi describe his impression of it as “childish”. Frankly, all of the above descriptors fit. There’s confidence and constant amusement in the sounds of rcts, composed and produced in a brash way that I think someone who’s perhaps taking a less serious approach could only come up with. To be clear, that isn’t something I mean in a pejorative way—there’s an obliviousness to structure and harmony in KIRARA’s music that I find refreshing.

The brazenly loud clashing drums and synths of “ct14074” and its accompanying “wah!” sampling have been imprinted in my mind since I first heard it. Its forever-spinning music video is something I frequently come back to as well. One of my other album favorites, “Snow”, is a song that has a tremendous amount of momentum, diving in and out of discordance and ear-shatteringly high-pitched bleeps with aplomb, as if it truly believed it really was a series of pleasantly energetic notes. The power, confidence, and blind rhythm of “Snow” is captivating and addictive to me.

rcts is also a great album for the refinement it introduces to KIRARA’s releases. Though still largely a collection of her past work, rcts has far more experimentation and flow to its experience than any of her past EPs and albums. The intermissions between tracks, the “Thinking of” trilogy of songs near the end—they’re different and provide a much more varied contrast to her otherwise-bold approach to pacing.

Even with that said, I’m not sure what I just typed out is enough to convince you on KIRARA’s music. After having SEVERAL people bail on “ct14074”, my favorite track of hers, within 30~ seconds of listening to it, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not for everyone. More so than most music. It’s loud, strange, childish, and unapologetic to everything it attempts to do. The only hint of reservation is in her slower tracks like “Thinking of Anexiety”, which are even then clear offspring of her amusingly melodic mind.

In a year where I listened to dozens of musicians explore territory they’ve always wanted to explore, trying to do something that was much closer to their hearts and inspirations, it’s enjoyable to hear someone do it from the outset. rcts, and the rest of KIRARA’s music, is a sound unique to her and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It might not be everyone, but if you have a hefty appreciation for loud, arrogantly fun electronic music full of personality, do check out rcts, an album that’s cemented KIRARA as one of my favorite musicians.

ー ミュージック!ー

What a fun album this is. I feel like labeling this album as “classical” is somehow derogatory because it’s so vivid and colorful. Not that classical music isn’t so, you could certainly prove me wrong on that account, but there’s something about VOCALO CLASSIC that’s so lively it makes me feel like it extends beyond the genre it’s rooted in.

Ayako Ishikawa’s newest album is a great showcase of her range as a violinist, able to effortlessly switch between moods both from track-to-track and within a piece itself. The fluctuating rhythms of “Senbonzakura” speak especially to this, starting as an engaging serenade of strings and ending in a rapid-fire series of notes, softly landing into a once-more climatic ending. Despite changing moods several times within seconds, it never loses its pace and neither do the rest of the compositions on VOCALO CLASSIC.

What makes her album so captivating to me, though, is the constant variety in sounds that the album features. Lounge, orchestral fantasy, pop-rock, upbeat jazz—it’s a seven-track clearance of violin fusion and I love going back to it every time. I only wish it were longer because VOCALO CLASSIC flies by every time I listen to it.

ー ミュージック!ー

Parts of me wish I kept up with Slow Magic more often than I did. His first album, , was a pretty decent glo-fi romp that I can’t say had much staying power with me. His music really clicked with me months later when he released a single, On Yr Side, and I knew I wanted to hear more of that sound. However, like the last time aound, months would pass until I heard anything from him. Largely my own fault.

Cue the week of How to Run Away’s release. I’m browsing Reddit and r/electronicmusic links to Slow Magic’s Bandcamp page, sharing the release. The comments are full of people going mad, incredulous that the album is so good.

Three months later, I’m sitting at my desk underneath the warm glow of my light-up Slow Magic mask, listening to How to Run Away, remembering the night I saw him live and how incredible of a time it was. I’ve never seen someone so into his own music, so eager to interact and play off the crowd, so thrilled to just be in the same space as dozens and dozens of fans wanting nothing other than to hear the powerful drums and beats of his music.

How to Run Away is not the most intricately composed album I’ve heard this year, its rhythms are a bit disjointed when taken in a single listen, but the songs themselves feel refined and complete. What was missing from ▲ was a soul to its sounds and How to Run Away has it in full supply. The echoing, reverse-sampled vocals of “Girls” engage, the dramatically slow “Hold Still” relaxes, the exclamatory synths and energetic drums of “Youth Group” awaken; the upbeat groove of “Bear Dance” adeptly ending on the entrancing crescendo of “Closer”.

Like his show, How to Run Away is energetic and full of heart. It’s an album that works incredibly well despite none of the songs really connecting with each other. One of the few albums that I think you could listen to on shuffle and largely get the same experience, though you’d probably be doing yourself a disservice for missing out on “Closer”, being the perfect ending that it is. Parts of me wish I kept up with Slow Magic more often than I did, but I am glad that’s no longer a problem. I aim to never let it be one again, and neither should you.

ー ミュージック!ー

Arguably the punchiest start I have on this entire list, (Not) Nuclear Love (or Affection) is Japanese electro-rock duo Inshow-ha’s second mini-album. It was the first exposure I had to them and I’m ecstatic to see what comes next because this album seriously obliterates any other rock-oriented release I’ve heard this year.

Miu and Mica’s dueling vocals, energetic synth, and catchy guitar make for an especially unique listen. There’s an addictive quality to their first two tracks, “BEAM!” and “Afureru”, that has been the key to me coming back to the album time and time again. Their rhythms are rapid and captivating, drawing me in seconds after they both start. The ‘Ah- ah- ah- Afureru’ hook in “Afureru” alone could make this album worth recommending.

Why I love (Not) Nuclear Love (or Affection) so much, though, is how fantastic its pace is past those two tracks. “Rai! Rai! Rai!” and its interlude, “Fairy Gokigen na Name”, flow so well after the dramatic tones of “Afureru”. It’s the perfect setup for the slower vocal raps of “MABATAKI Shinai DOLL no Watashi” and its ironically upbeat follow-up “(I FEEL) Pitiless”. The album’s closer, “Onsen”, is a strange throw-back to 90’s-era alt-rock and perhaps isn’t the most satisfying of finales, but it carries enough of the album’s sound to be an enjoyable listen. It’s a somewhat empty finale, though. Every time the album ends, I find myself sitting in silence for a minute or two expecting the next track to come on, and “BEAM!”, while a stunning opener, isn’t the type of track to end-loop the album that way.

Regardless of that fault, it’s been an album I’ve had on repeat for days on end and that’s happened few and far between this year. It carries a momentum that’s worth experiencing and easily has two of the best songs I’ve heard in 2014. Their turnaround on albums seems to be almost a year on-the-dot, so I’m desperately hoping Inshow-ha’s next album crushes as much as (Not) Nuclear Love (or Affection) does.

ー ミュージック!ー

I hate writing about The Flashbulb because I never feel eloquent or knowledgeable enough to properly comment on his music. Not to say I’m an idiot, or elevate his music to some hoity-toity level of elegance and complexity, but there’s an astonishingly deep critique and exploration of his albums lying around somewhere on the internet and I know I’m just not the person to deliver it.

What I can say, though, is that Nothing is Real is the first album of his that’s stuck with me in a very long time. Probably since his 2010 album, Arboreal, which is largely considered by his fanbase to be his best work to date. His releases since then have been good but never quite captivating enough to keep me hooked for their intimidatingly long durations. Hardscrabble was a particular disappointment, considering it was a sort of return-to-form to his earlier breakcore roots. Thankfully, Nothing is Real is not only a wonderful expansion to his already-vast discography but it might honestly challenge Aboreal as his finest work.

Benn Jordan’s unique fusion of IDM, classical, jazz, and ambient experimentation has always served to create interesting soundscapes, and I think Nothing is Real capitalises on this more than any of his other albums. His absolutely gorgeous guitar compositions continue to stun and entrance me. His subtle synths and atmospheric mixing of nature sampling and fantastical sounds evolve over the course of the album, establishing this sense of... Well, a world. One that forms in my head as the album progresses, like I’m traveling on a coast, going from one area to the next on this large, connected series of places that carry the same theme. The same auditory ideas and concepts, yet every place feels different. Some feel haunting. Some feel relaxing. Others, sad. Lonely. Some like there’s something there hiding, waiting for me to see it.

I’m rambling. I’m legitimately getting lost in my words. Before I started writing these thoughts, I was thinking to myself “Do I really want Nothing is Real on my list? I’m sure I could give up this spot, bump the rest up and throw in _____ album.” I was worried that I might be misremembering how good of an album it was.

Yet here I am, convincing myself to stop because I’m unable to express my thoughts coherently while the album is on. As soon as I hear the inviting, complex, and mysterious sounds of The Flashbulb’s Nothing is Real, I forget what I am doing and all I want to do is explore. All I want to do is close my eyes and listen.

ー ミュージック!ー

I don’t even remember how I stumbled into this album and it’s kind of hurting me. I wish I did. I wish I knew what steps led me to discovering Girl Sense, OOHYO’s debut release, because I want to use the same methods of discovery again in hopes of finding something else this wonderful.

The strangest thing is that this doesn’t feel like a debut EP at all. Each track is elegantly composed and produced. The vocals are crisp and captivating. It feels like the second or third entry in a storied musician’s career, one that explores thoughtful memories of who they are and what they feel.

Girl Sense largely features a relaxed synthpop-like sound, one that probably leans a bit too heavily on traditional instruments to fully dive into synthpop, but I’m positive I wouldn’t have it any other way. The tracks are composed and performed with aplomb, but the shining light of the EP are, without a doubt, OOHYO’s vocals. I often find myself surprised to hear the switch from English to Korean between tracks because her voice carries so much emotion and personality that it communicates clearly, regardless of language. Be it on the relaxed, acoustic finale of “Teddy Bear Rises” or the powerful performance that is “Motorcycle”, OOHYO expresses in her music better than I’ve heard any other artist do this year on vocals alone. The way she sustains and peaks her singing on “Motorcycle” halts me every time I hear it, a perfect compliment to the song’s impactful structure. Her final chant,

The night is cold

The wind has speed

It doesn’t matter

‘Cause I have you

and you have me

On this motorcycle

followed by nothing other than loud, emotional guitar riffs is powerful. It leaves the perfect space for a strong vocal finale but opts instead to leave it blank, leaving you behind as she departs.

The EP is for sure without its faults. I wish the finale was as strong as its start. ... Actually, that might be the only thing I can really say against it. It’s one of those rare releases that will end and though I know there’s closure, my heart sinks on its end. I feel empty, like there needs to be more. I’ll immediately start playing it again, telling myself “No, it can’t end now” until I’ve played it several times over, completely escaped into the memories OOHYO has captured with Girl Sense.

It’s the same effect I’ve gotten while watching Persona 4 or Lovely Complex come to their close. That pain of knowing this thing you’ve connected to is over but you emotionally can’t leave just yet. It tore through me for both aforementioned media but with Girl Sense, I can just hit play and have it start all over again. And again. And again... La la la la-la~

ー ミュージック!ー

Following in my seemingly frequent pattern of highlighting female solo electronic musicians from South Korea, Haihm’s Point 9 is the fourth pick on my Best Of list. Point 9 was actually pretty low on my overall for 2014 until I revisited it a couple weeks ago. When I did start listening to it again, I just kept playing it and playing it, looping it in the background more and more until it ended up being one of my most frequently played album for weeks.

The odd thing is that I’m not sure I have all that much to say on Point 9. It’s an album that leaves me speechless. Not because it’s some incredible masterpiece, but because it a rather modest album. It is subdued, even during its dramatic finale, and its five tracks fly by without ever overstaying their welcome.

The instrumental opener, “9.9”, sets up what largely is the sound of Point 9 without really spoiling the charm of the release, either. The album’s delicate blend of IDM, ambient, and lounge all tiptoe in this weird middle-ground, never really overreaching into one more than the other. It’s precisely composed, produced, and mixed, but in a strangely honest way.

I feel like those aren’t words I should be using to describe music but I’m having a difficult time doing otherwise. Point 9 is an incredibly unique-sounding album, one that I think is the clear result of refinement and skill. It’s perfect to throw in the background while working or to get lost in on your own. I’m curious to see what comes from Haihm post-Point 9 because I’d love to see more in this style. Point 9, if anything, is reserved in a way that I think gives it charm that I can’t find anywhere else. It’s likely the reason I’ve had it on so often this year.

ー ミュージック!ー

I think if I was going to make this as objective a list as possible, Shingo Nakamura’s Days would be in the top slot with the following album starting at fifth or sixth place to emphasize its dominance. It’s without a doubt my most played album of the year and quite possibly the best progressive house release I’ve ever heard. I’m honestly not even sure the following few paragraphs will do it justice.

Having listened to a couple of Shingo Nakamura’s past releases, namely Sapporo, I wasn’t expecting anything incredible but I certainly wasn’t expecting anything awful, either. The Otographic Music label has frequently released some of my favorite music from some of Japan’s most talented trance and house musicians. Having their bar set so high, I assumed Days would be of some quality as well but this... I wasn’t prepared for.

Days is a gorgeous, minutely composed series of songs that paint an auditory portrait of Japan’s urban jungle. Its overall sound is captivating in an exploratory way, much like The Flashbulb’s Nothing is Real, only much more focused and modern in sound. Though the songs vary in melody, tone, and rhythm, they all share a common thread—Shingo Nakamura’s astonishing ability to convey movement. Like, actual forward movement. More than any other listening experience this year, Days makes me feel like I’m traveling through its notes. Not discovering its sounds through my own imagination but through clearly defined, well-structured composition and progression.

Yet, as mentioned above, Days is completely at ease with varying its stylings from song to song. Switching from the echoing vocal samples and deep bass synths of “Depict” to the airy bell-like synths of “Travelog”, all while maintaining the album’s core flow, is a flawless act on the part of Shingo Nakamura. Even when featuring other artists, like the Electro powerhouse himself, Nhato, on “1247”, Days sounds coherent and captivating.

All of what I said above is meaningless, however, without examining why any of that matters or works. A large portion of that is Shingo Nakamura’s ability to pace and structure, but an equally large potion of that is the production itself. His now-signature basslines and supporting percussions have become progressive house pillars in my mind now, making other releases in the genre I’ve explored this year feel hollow and unfulfilling in comparison. I’m sorry, I should be going somewhere more critical with this but I just spend the last 14 minutes staring blankly into space listening to the album again. Where was I?

Right, his production. His ability to utilise sustained notes, echoing synths, and subtle reverb to mimic atmosphere and open air. All of these expertly utilised tricks, skills, and concepts form a captivating, convincing journey through Shingo Nakamura’s modern landscapes.

Up until this point, deadmau5’s Random Album Title stood as my all-time favorite progressive house album. It’s a brilliant album that defines a concise and addictive sound, one I’d argue as being his peak. What it lacked, however, is what Days has in spades. Movement. Shingo Nakamura’s album carries me through its tracks, effortlessly making me explore its varied and engrossing sounds. Since it released earlier this year, it’s been my go-to album when reading and a mainstay when working on art or other creative tasks. It’s fueled me like few albums do, and probably like few ever will.

Like I mentioned at the outset—if this was an objective list, it would sit high and above at the top, looming over the rest of my entries as the undisputed king of excellence. In many ways, it is my favorite album of the year. But, as you’ll see, hear, and read in the following paragraphs, I started looking at music as more than just an audio companion. Because of that, it sits slightly lower in my overall Top 10—though don’t let that fool you. Shingo Nakamura’s Days is one of this year’s best and an easy contender for one of my all-time favorite albums.

ー ミュージック!ー

I don’t even know where to begin with Worlds, Porter Robinson’s new album—one that is a complete departure from the genres and scene that gave him tremendous amounts of recognition. I guess I’ll start from the beginning, which is the original Worlds announce, followed by a series of Twitter posts from Porter himself. To cut his lengthy tale short, he no longer felt a connection to the music he was making. He tried to keep making EDM, dance music, dubstep, whatever. None of it worked, none of it felt right, and he felt unhappy. So he took a chance. He canned everything and started work on an album where he wouldn’t restrict himself. He’d write it how he wanted to, not following established dance-music formulae, and make something that came from his heart and soul. He ended by saying that if any fans disagreed and wanted to bail, he couldn’t blame them and he was grateful they were along for the ride.

Months later, he released his first single from Worlds, “Sea of Voices”, a chillwave song that @onimonkii immediately (and somewhat accurately) described as “Yukari x Porter Robinson.” It’s not a wrong way to approach that song but not necessarily a derogatory one, either. It’s a beautiful track, one that shows the clear departure he was ready to take with his music. As a pretty big fan of chillwave, and just musical exploration in general, I was on-board.

Weeks later, he released a second single, “Sad Machine”, a Vocaloid/Porter duet track that is catchy, emotional, and also a large departure from what he’s done before. I loved it but from that point on, I wanted to hear nothing more from Worlds. I wanted to keep it as a surprise, banking on Porter’s promise that the album would have a narrative—that it would be something best listened to in a single, linear listen.

The problem is that it was insanely difficult to avoid spoilers from that point on. Blogs hailed his singles as the resurgence of true electronic artistry. That Porter was saying “fuck you” to the “scene” and that this was the most important album dance music was going to hear. He’d go on to release two more singles, “Flicker” and “Lionhearted”, and my Twitter and Facebook feeds continued to get bombarded about the album’s importance, which I felt was unearned as it still wasn’t out for weeks.

It was aggravating. I had pre-ordered the album the second they went live on Porter Robinson’s official site only to be sent an email months later that told me I should upgrade to the special Collector’s Edition of Worlds. I wanted nothing more to do with the album. For something that was trying to distance itself from the mainstream electronic scene, it sure as fuck was marketing itself like it. It saddened because it felt like whatever meaning and merit the album had vanished out the window. It had gone ‘commercial’ before it was even out.

Then, on August 12, 2014, Worlds launched. And I didn’t like it at all. It felt disjointed and unoriginal. Like someone had listened to a plethora of genres I deeply appreciated and tried to make an ‘Intro to _____’ version of them all. I was sad. It was the music I liked with none of the complexity behind it. I gave it a few more listens and gave up.

Something close to two weeks before October 2nd, I remembered that in my hype for the album, I had pre-ordered a ticket for Porter Robinson’s Worlds tour. It was a show he promised wouldn’t be just a DJ set. It wouldn’t be just a performance. It would be something different, something unique, and something unlike anything you’d experience with the album alone. What the fuck would that mean, though? I didn’t like the album. If I didn’t like that, I couldn’t imagine I was going to like his idea of an “experience” either, whatever it was he had in store.

I cried at his show. Like, actual tears. As “Goodbye To A World” drew to its close, I cried my eyes out amidst hundreds, emotionally impacted from what I had just seen and heard.

I don’t want to get too much into the Worlds live show because that could take up as much text as this entire post, but it made me appreciate what Worlds is as an album. It made me understand it. Worlds isn’t meant to be a take on the genres I loved. It isn’t supposed to be the album that saves EDM or some bullshit like that. I bought into that hype and I’m an asshole for doing so. Worlds shouldn’t be anything other than a window. A window into the soul and personality of a single individual. The sounds, sights, memories, experiences, likes, dislikes, quirks, faults, and stylings of one person.

Worlds is a flawed album. It’s early structure is confusing. It’s indietronica tracks are lackluster. Some of its production is a little sketchy, particularly in more experimental tracks like “Fellow Feeling.” But those flaws are what makes Worlds. To use a tired-ass analogy, it’s like the crack in the Liberty Bell. Without its faults, without its ambition, without its personality, it would just be one in a few thousand. It wouldn’t be the unique, distinct thing that it is.

More than any other form of media I’ve listened to, watched, played, or read, Worlds is an embodiment of the individual that made. It’s why I love the album so much. It’s why I can’t stop listening to it. It’s why I will forever hold it as inspiration for what I wish to achieve with my art. Much like my #1 pick, Worlds is what happens when someone puts 100% of themselves into their work. What happens when they fuse their craft and personality together. I can listen to Worlds and think “this is exactly what Porter Robinson is like.” I want nothing more for someone to similarly look at my art and think “this is exactly what aurahack is like.”

It’s infrequent that an album can affect me on such a personal level and it’s a one-in-a-million shot that something can forever change my creative output. I want to make things that are me. That are entirely made from my inspirations, my thoughts, my life, and my self. That is what Worlds is to Porter Robinson. It could be my favorite. In many ways, it is. I think "Flicker" is a song that is more representative of my own self than any other song.

Unfortunately there's just something about it that's holding it back. I can't divorce myself from the bitterness I felt leading up to it and the middling thoughts I have on some of the production and structure issues I mentioned earlier. Worlds is an amazing album, an important album, and a remarkably descriptive album. It's one of my favorites this year, just not the favorite.

ー ミュージック!ー

I have been waiting to write about Suiyoubi no Campanella for a very very long time. It’s been months since I gave them my first listen with their 2013 album Rashomon and I’ve more or less been unable to shut up about them since. Not just because their music is fantastic but because the strange performance art of their act has been so creatively inspiring to me.

Forgive me—let me at least explain what kind of music they make. Suiyoubi no Campanella is two-piece act consisting of KOM_I, (pronounced Komuai) the singer/songwriter/performer, and Kenmochi Hidefumi, the composer/producer. The duo also frequently teams up with Dir.F for their music videos, though they’ve varied in that aspect significantly more as of late. Their music is an odd blend of drum n’ bass, progressive house, trance, dance, pop, rock or whatever else Kenmochi feels like making. All the songs are sung by KOM_I, her performances ranging from melodically speaking to proper rap breaks, all referencing pop culture and strange historical figures and events. It’s a bizarre blend that I can easily see being super off-putting at first. It’s lead me to numerous situations where I’m not exactly sure what to link to someone who’s never heard them before.

But then I realise there’s no bad starting point. Despite dramatically evolving in sound over the past year, Suiyoubi no Campanella remains the bizarre, personality-driven act that it’s always been—and it’s been getting better and better with each release. Listening to Rashomon now is a bizarre experience because KOM_I’s vocals are much more restrained, (and recorded at a much lower quality) like she isn’t putting all of her talent and personality into it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a terrific album and “Marie Antoinette” continues to be one of my favorite songs by them—but the contrast between it and their most recent effort, Watashi Wo Onigashima ni Tsurete tte, is stark.

Even between Rashomon and Cinema Jack, their earlier album from this year, the difference is clear. Cinema Jack is much closer in sound and style to their new album but lacks its structure. A detriment to its overall experience but some of the songs on Cinema Jack, like “Mothra” and “Mitsuko”, are incredible.

What’s so stunning to me about Watashi Wo Onigashima ni Tsurete tte is how vivid and seamless of an experience it is. The previous albums I listed are terrific in their own right but largely feel like a collection of tracks, whereas this feels like their first proper, coherent album—even if the art is about as goofy and strange as you could imagine. Then again, that album art is probably the best way to describe Suiyoubi no Campanella. It’s KOM_I front-and-center just... being strange.

“Inca,” linked just above, encapsulates everything I love about Suiyoubi no Campanella, both in its MV and the song itself. The instrumental is superbly composed, a perfect blend of subtly upbeat electronic beats, piano, violin, and ambient sampling. The vocals are filled with personality and fun, ranging in emotions. Playfully soft to dramatically rhythmic, KOM_I’s strengths are at full blast in the song’s breakdown/climax, followed by an energetic finale to close out the song.

I just deleted four paragraphs before and after the “Inca” one because it was just me breaking down what each song on the album was and how it structurally fit but that’s not what I’m here to write about. I left the paragraph for “Inca” because it’s starting line is critical to why Suiyoubi no Campanella’s album is so killer, in addition to why I care so much about them as a group.

Their act, even for how removed Kenmochi is during performances, is so full of personality, fun, cheerfulness, pop-culture nonsense, and overall weirdness that I can’t help but be swept in by them. KOM_I is a strange lady who seems unable to take a normal picture of herself. She plays concerts for seniors and takes out a miniature table on stage only to reenact the table flipping emote. She walks around Shibuya’s streets with a boombox blasting their music, singing the entirety of their album in the streets because that’s just what they do. She performs in front of a massive crowd barefoot, arm covered in Sharpie tattoos, forgetting half the lyrics to her buildup and plays it off entirely from her energy and interaction with the crowd.

Suiyoubi no Campanella gives me life. They give me smiles and laughter, fun and inspiration, engagement and admiration. Similarly to what you've read about Worlds, Suiyoubi no Campanella is so in tune with my aspirations as an artist that I can’t help but love them. Their exorbitant overflow of personality is how I want to carry myself and my art. KOM_I is, in some bizarrely dumb way, my spirit animal, and Watashi Wo Onigashima ni Tsurete tte is my favorite album of the year for being a flawless showcase of why.

It’s worth noting that Cinema Jack also released in 2014 and, if I were to respect my list to the tee, would be at the #7 spot in this top 10. I didn’t want to put two of the same artist, though, so I’m tossing in this bit here to let y’all know Hey maybe you should really check them out okay? They're kind of my favorite thing in music right now.

~-~ BONUS! ~-~

I’ve already written at length about Ohheejung’s Everybody here wants you back, which you can read on my on-hiatus blog here. Because I’ve already written about it, I’ll keep this somewhat brief. Or, at least, try to.

Everybody here wants you back is Ohheejung’s debut EP, previously the vocalist for South Korean indie group Beautiful Days. She wrote, composed, produced, edited, and mastered the entire EP on her own—an alarmingly common thread in the underground Korean indie scene—and it continues to bend my mind whenever I think of it. Less so because of how common it’s become, but still continuously so for how exceptional of a release it is.

The discordant and slow sound of “1.compliment is a sunshine” sets the mood for the album’s experience—a relaxed, softly emotional mix of electronic, IDM, and ambient styles. It’s a short, succinct setup for its following tracks, “Lazy afternoon”, “Replay”, and “coffee machine.” More importantly, it is the distant introduction to the release’s showstopper, “Everybody here wants you back.”

An intense and climactic auditory trip, “Everybody here wants you back” completely erases my mind’s slate whenever it starts playing. I immediately stop paying attention to anything around me, hearing only the low-fi instruments and discordant, reversed strings. Ohheejung’s vocals are beautiful and captivating across the mini-album but the power that they carry during “Everybody here wants you back” is unreal. Its loud, clashing finale is one of my favorite moments in music and it’s kept me revisiting it regularly since my first listen.

Sadly, Ohheejung’s most recent release, Set Adrift, isn’t as good of a follow-up as I hoped it’d be. It’s a terrific release none-the-less but it’s missing the control and emotion that Everybody here wants you back has. The things that EP makes me feel are magical, a unique attribute that is has above any other South Korean indie-electronic artist I’ve listened to. It’ll no doubt keep me listening to it for months, maybe even years, to come.

~-~

And that about does it! Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone who's left me dozens of comments, PMs, and tweets looking into my music blog's status or if I was going to make another list like this. Hearing that you guys legit care about it is super super rad :> I'm looking to get my music blog started again in a different format so keep an eye on musiccrossaura.tumblr.com if you want to keep up to date with it.

As for actual Game of the Year stuff, I'll have that done soon, too! It will likely be posted after New Year's since I'm a little busy with some personal stuff.

Until next time!

9 Comments

The Unofficial Alt+F1 Beginner's Guide to Formula 1! — Introduction

Y’all excited for the new F1 season? Damn right you are! Especially since Drew and Gamespot’s own Danny O’Dwyer will be starting a weekly podcast, Alt+F1, dedicated to the sport. I figured that since the podcast is likely to bring in new eyes and ears to the sport, I’d make a guide of sorts to get people ready for the new season.

Why? Well a recap’s always nice but more importantly: 2014 brings a lot of new changes to F1 that are worth going over. Additionally, a lot of the excitement in Formula 1 has to do with pit lane ~drama~, so I’ll go over the biggest stories from last year and how they’ll likely affect this upcoming season. I’ll also explain a bit of the technical terms for those that aren't too familiar with stuff like what KERS is or why you can only use DRS in small stretches of track.

(Sorry for splitting this into multiple blogs. It was the best way I could make this work.)

Also feel free to join in on the discussion at the Giant Bomb Formula 1 Discussion thread!

The 2014 Formula One season officially starts this Friday, the 14th of March with Free Practice in Australia. The first race of the season will be on Sunday, the 16th of March, 2014.

Contents

First of all, it’s not “F1”, it’s “Formula 1” you commoner. … Nah, I’m just messin’ with you. We’re all too lazy to say the whole thing.

Overview

For those of you completely new to the sport, F1 is the highest and brightest of worldwide racing events. Formula 1 cars are the fastest circuit-racing vehicles in the world, often reaching speeds in excess of 200+ mph. (Sometimes even through corners!) It is, in many ways, the apex of engineering and technological efforts from engine and automotive manufacturers alike. Technology developed and tested in Formula 1 has often made its way into consumer products, a most recent example being the KERS system. (More on that later.) If anything, Formula 1 is currently the closest we have to WipEout being a reality.

A Crap History Overview

Mmm yeah girl look at that wing mmm yeah gurl yeah

With its roots as far back as 1950, Formula 1 has long had the reputation of being the hoity-toity, exclusive rich-man’s sport. There is a lot of history and glamour associated to F1, particularly during the 80s and 90s where drivers were held as cultural icons. You’d be hard pressed to find a racing fanatic who doesn’t know the name Senna or Schumacher. Formula 1 fans come in all shapes and sizes, from the die-hard, facepaint wearing ones to the collared-shirt rich guy with his far-too-young girlfriend who indulge in what is the polo equivalent of the automotive world.

Quick Race Weekend Overview

The F1 grid is split into 11 teams of two drivers, totaling 22 drivers in a race, who will compete this year on 19 tracks. A race event, named “Round”, consists of three practice sessions, a qualifying session, and the race. There are two practice sessions one the first day (Friday) to test car setups for the race, one more session before qualifying on the second day, (Saturday) and the race on the third and final day. (Sunday)

Qualifying is split into three sessions: Q1, Q2, and Q3. In it, drivers go onto the track inside a set period of time and set the fastest laps possible to avoid elimination. Q1 lasts for 18 minutes and knocks out the last 6 racers. Q2 lasts for 15 minutes and also knocks out the last 6 remaining from Q1. Q3 lasts 12 minutes and the remaining 10 drivers fight for pole position. The order determined in qualifying sets the grid for race day on Sunday.

GOD DAMMIT GROSJEAN

Races last for a pre-determined set of laps, which varies track by track. Races also have a maximum time limit of two hours. Weather conditions can sometimes halt the race and increase its duration, as can major crashes. (Anything that incites a red flag, which halts the race completely.)

In the event of an accident, a Safety Car to patrol the circuit and force drivers to lineup behind it at a reduced speed, as to allow track workers to clear any debris off the circuit. Once the track is clear, the Safety Car returns to the pit lane and the race resumes. On rare occasions, the race is stopped completely and restarted from the grid when the track has been cleared of debris/parts.

Pit stops are a requirement in F1 races and will often vary in number. Certain tracks require multiple pit stops while others don’t and this is a key component of race strategy. Ultimately, teams want to have as little pit stops as possible so that they can stay out on the track longer. Pit stops are a large part of strategy during a race, sometimes opting for multiple stops as a part of countering another team’s performance during the race weekend.

Once the race is over, the top 10 drivers are assigned points in order of their finishing position. These points are then tallied at the end of the season and the driver with the most points wins the coveted Drivers Championship title. The team with the most tallied points also gets the Constructors Championship title.

~

Contents

Worth mentioning: I was unable to make an Off-Topic wiki guide (duh) so the guide has to remain on my blog as of this writing. However, I would like it to be a community thing so if you're an F1 nut that's got some extra knowledge you'd think would be helpful for beginners, give me a shout in the comments or in a PM and I'll add it to the guide. Similarly, if you're a newbie who's got some questions that didn't get answered, feel free to ask and if it warrants a new section/inclusion in the guide, I'll be sure to add it!

52 Comments

The Unofficial Alt+F1 Beginner's Guide to Formula 1! — Recap + 2014 Changes

2013 was a year of conflicting opinions, due mostly to the continued victory streak of long-time winner Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull Racing team. With pre-season knowledge that 2014 was to bring entirely new engine and chassis regulations, several manufacturers weighed their options: do they go full-in with R&D on this season’s car, or do they save up on costs in wait of developing for 2014.

This conundrum posed difficulties for several teams, the most glaring of which being McLaren. McLaren has been one of the sport’s most victorious and top-tier teams for decades, yet 2013 saw them take an incredibly hard slap to the face. Their star driver from 2012, Lewis Hamilton, left for another team and McLaren opted to hire Sergio Perez, a rookie who showed promise in the previous season. This ended up being a risk that didn’t pay off for McLaren, however. In addition to having a car that simply could not perform up to par with the rest of the grid’s top teams, Perez didn’t deliver on the promise he initially had.

The season proved difficult for many teams, with the likes of Sauber, Williams, and Force India all scoring well under what they had expected. Mercedes, however, fared incredibly well during the 2013 season. Though they faced a mediocre 2012 season, 2013 brought a number of wins and pole positions to the team—something that surprised most fans. Like the 2012 season, F1’s 2013 season was also rife with controversy regarding its tires. A series of explosions during the Silverstone race raised a number of alarmed concerns and questions, with severe blame being thrown at F1’s sole tire manufacturer, Pirelli.

While a competitive ground was present in the first half of the season, the second half brought an unrelenting assault from Red Bull Racing and its three-time championship winner Sebastian Vettel. They won the last 10 races, slowing down the pace of competition by a considerable amount. Some teams had clearly given up, while some drivers saw it as a chance to say “fuck it” and go for broke. This led to some boring racing up front, but incredibly competitive and aggressive racing mid-pack. The race outcomes led to a divide between fans, with some arguing Vettel turning the sport into a snoozefest. Others argued against, saying the rest of the grid remained as competitive as ever.

With a 151-point lead, Sebastian Vettel ended the 2013 season in Brazil with his fourth consecutive Driver’s Championship title.

Formula 1 will see a host of new changes, the most important of which being with the cars themselves. I’ll try to keep most of the detail out, partially because I am not an engineer and really can’t tell you why KERS is now ERS-K.

New Engines

Look at this thing! It's all... engine-like.

For the first time since 1988, Formula 1’s engines will now be turbocharged. The new, smaller engines are meant to be more efficient as well as more durable, with regulations requiring them to last twice as long in use versus last year’s.

Last year’s announcement that 2014 would see turbocharged engines came with its share of criticisms. A lot of fans perceived the smaller engines as a sign of the sport going soft and bending towards “greener” tendencies, which they saw as a contrast to Formula 1's reputation of being the peak of automotive engineering.

New Cosmetic Changes — The Low Noses

No, but for real, how stupid does this look.

With new engines comes new cosmetic regulations, such as changes to have larger air intakes and wider side-pods. The most noticeable change this year comes in the shape of low noses, a change encouraged for safety reasons. The strange angle required by FIA (Formula 1’s governing body) regulations has left every team in an extremely experimental spot with nearly every car sporting a different nose configuration.

FIA regulations for a car’s design are extremely strict, so it’s rather surprising to see a host of different noses on the cars this year. The objective of the car’s design is to make it as aerodynamic as possible with as much downforce as possible, so it will be interesting to see what designs work best for the teams.

KERS/ERS-K/ERS/ACRONYMS

Accurate representation of a Formula 1 driver activating KERS.

KERS, a system introduced into the sport a few years ago, will see changes this year as well. KERS, which stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System, is a device separate to the car’s engine that would store kinetic energy released from braking into a “battery”, which could then be re-used as a boost during a race. Each lap, the driver would be allotted a set amount of “energy” to use during a lap, with the allotted amount resetting back to full on a new lap.

This year, KERS is being renamed to ERS-K, and is seeing a change in its design. It is now integrated into the engine itself and will also capture heat dispelled from the turbochargers in the engine, which can then be re-used as a boost similar to the former KERS setup. However, unlike last year, KERS' integration into the engine means that a manual boost is no longer required—the engines are automatically "boosted" by pressing down on the throttle. The older function of KERS, pressing a button to activate it, remains for overtaking.

The biggest change comes to its use time, however. Formerly, KERS could only be used for a total of six seconds during a lap and would output an extra 80 hp. This year, it will output 161 extra hp and can be used for a total of 33 seconds per lap. This is close to a third of a lap on most tracks, (with more than a third on shorter tracks) so ERS-K will see far more use in this year’s season than in previous seasons.

Penalty Points

In an effort to encourage increased safety while racing, penalty points will be introduced this season. Penalty Points will be assigned to drivers when a penalty is given to them during a race and once a total of 12 points has been amassed, the driver will be given a one-race ban. After the ban, the driver will then start with 5 points already on their profile, as to further discourage rule breaking/reckless driving.

More Points

Though this will only come into effect at the end of the year, the final race of the calendar will now offer double points to the top 10 racers. This has been introduced to help keep the championship fight alive should a certain driver somehow manage to amass a considerable lead in points over the season.

~

Contents

2 Comments

The Unofficial Alt+F1 Beginner's Guide to Formula 1! — 2014 Driver Lineup

There are a lot of shakeups within the teams this year, so I’ll go over what I can to shed some light on why X driver being on Y team is significant, if there is such a case.

Listed in the pictures is the team’s name, their engine supplier, and their driver lineup for this year.

Top Pack

These teams occupy the top spots in the grid. They consistently make it into the last round of qualifying and, barring any mechanical failures or accidents, typically finish in the top 10.

Dominators of last year’s season, Red Bull return with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Notably absent is Mark Webber, who departed from Formula 1 after last year’s season after seven years at Red Bull. While Mark clearly had very mixed feelings towards the team, he left content of his stay in the sport and hopeful of Ricciardo, of whom he championed as a fellow Australian.

Mark Webber’s departure from F1 raised numerous questions as to who would fill in his seat in 2014. There were many rumblings of driver changes towards the latter half of 2013 and Ricciardo was but one of many names thrown around for Webber’s prized seat at Red Bull. Eventually, the team settled with Ricciardo, who has proved himself a great driver at the Toro Rosso team.

The pick comes to little surprise to most fans, since Vettel had also come from the Toro Rosso team. There is criticism towards the choice, as the other potential drivers who could fill in Webber’s seat were seen as more competitive than Ricciardo would be, particularly versus Vettel himself. 2014 will be the proving ground to see if Ricciardo can truly stand out on his own, or if he’ll fall into the role of Vettel and Red Bull’s assistant driver during races.

Hamilton returns to Mercedes this year after an incredibly successful season in 2013, his debut at Mercedes. Moving from McLaren to Mercedes was seen as an incredibly poor move by many, especially given Mercedes’ less-than-stellar 2012 performance.

In classic “joke’s on you!” fashion, Mercedes blew expectations out the water with a stunning performance in 2013 thanks to Lewis’ and Nico’s exceptional driving skills. However, team politics grew tense towards the end of the year resulting in Ross Brawn, the team principal, (guy what orchestrates the whole team) retiring from F1 completely. With a new principal on their hands, we’ll see if 2014 can continue Mercedes’ success from last year.

Two silver cars, both with Mercedes in their names. Confused yet? Just you wait until the next team, where both drivers are called Mercedes.

… I kid.

After an absolutely dreadful year in 2013, McLaren is returning to 2014 with another conundrum on their hands: They will be changing engine suppliers from Mercedes to Honda in 2015. This season will see if they’re continuing to hold off on development in waiting for their new Honda partnership, or if they’ll have spent the extra dime to improve upon last year’s performance. Of course, that choice poses far less of an issue than last year, where they were switching engine and chassis types altogether. An engine’s an engine, after all.

Button remains in McLaren, loyal to the team that brought him many victories and pole positions. 2013’s difficult season posed clear issues with Button, sounding nothing short of defeated every time he was asked about his performance.

After a short and ineffective year at McLaren, Perez is gone from McLaren and replaced by Kevin Magnussen, a rookie driver who’s proven himself outside out the sport enough for McLaren to recruit him. With a rookie driver and last year’s problematic season as a starting point, McLaren is more-than-hoping to return to its former glory this year.

Alonso isn’t really that smug. I just saw that picture and had to use it because it’s too funny.

Ferrari is one of the oldest teams in the sport and with it comes great expectations from its enormous and rabid fanbase. Their average performance in 2013 confused many, with Ferrari ultimately admitting that its car was not up to par with what it wanted.

However, despite the car's issues, many were surprised by how competitive Alonso continued to be on the grid. Fans commonly regard his 2013 performance as being far and away the best, given that he accomplished so much with so little.

Massa, who had an inconsistent pace last season, has been replaced by Kimi Raikkonen, who left Lotus last year amidst payment woes and general displeasure towards the team. Kimi drove for Ferrari from 2007-2009, where he won a Driver’s Championship, only to leave for Rally racing until 2012. Now back in his most infamous Formula 1 seat, he will no doubt prove difficult competition for Alonso during the 2014 season. Both drivers have remarkable skill but have always raced with a lone-wolf mentality, which is bound to make for some exciting racing from the two this year.

With its financial issues from 2013 supposedly resolved, Lotus returns with a half-changed roster and a hope to deliver on its promise from the last two years. 2012 saw Lotus rise as the dark horse of the sport, posing a serious threat to the top-tier teams, despite the rookie mistakes of its now-star driver Romain Grosjean.

Responsible for many mistakes during the 2012 season, one of which earned him a one-race ban, Grosjean returned in 2013 with a solid performance—one that admittedly lacked the audacity of his best races in 2012. 2014 now sees him in the top spot at Lotus, though his new teammate will prove no more cooperative than his former, Kimi Raikkonen.

Pastor Maldonado, after several tense arguments with Williams during 2013, finds a seat at Lotus which comes with criticisms from many. With Raikkonen’s seat up for grabs, many saw the incredibly talented Hulkenberg as the sure-fit entry. Maldonado, however, carries with him an incredibly wealthy sponsorship deal from Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA. With Lotus in a severe financial crisis last year due to lost funding from its investors, it saw no choice but to hire Maldonado.

Arguably one of the most disliked drivers in the sport’s recent history, Maldonado’s skill rests in contrast of his apathy towards safety. Responsible for several collisions in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Maldonado now sits in the driver’s seat at Lotus with hopes of a better performance than he was capable at Williams.

Of course, it came as a great laugh to many that Maldonado, one of the most reckless drivers to join the sport in years, would join Grosjean’s team, who himself is responsible for the largest crash in the last few years.

Mid-Pack

These teams usually occupy the 10-20 positions in a race. Though competitive, they lack the resources (and top-tier engines) to compete with the top pack.

After a promising 2012 season and an average 2013 season, Force India returns this year with seemingly few changes besides new engines. Almost frightening to see a stable team in the pit lane.

2014 sees the return of Nico Hulkenberg, who left the team for Sauber in the 2013 season, unable to find a seat anywhere else. One of the grid’s most promising drivers, he sits in Force India’s seat this year hoping to catch one of the higher teams’ attention once again.

Perez found himself, much like Hulkenberg, searching for a seat after losing his spot at McLaren in 2013. Though skilled, Perez has much to prove at Force India this year. In the era of pay drivers, it’s not often you see a driver dropped from a top-tier team in favor of a complete rookie.

One of 2012’s surprise teams, Sauber missed the boat in 2013 and didn’t live up to the promise they showed previously. Guttierez remains in 2014 and hopefully as skilled as ever.

Sutil moves to Sauber from Force India this year in hopes of a better drive. Last year saw his return to the sport after a brief departure with terrific results… which tapered off as the year grew longer. Hopefully this year will bring more stable results for him, as he’s certainly proved capable—much like Sauber itself.

Williams, after financial woes and rather poor performance last year, returns with a shiny new livery, a shiny new sponsor, and a shiny new driver.

Valtteri Bottas remains this year despite an average performance last year, though Williams’ rather dismal car last year did not help much in that regard. A proven driver during testing and outside of the sport, 2014 should fare better for him if Williams can also keep up with their car.

Massa now finds a seat at Williams after losing his in Ferrari, a move he seems relatively content with. He had clearly lost his pace at Ferrari and despite showing some exceptional racing last year, he ultimately couldn’t fight Raikkonen returning and settled at Williams instead. With a new outlook on the sport and a team excited to have him, 2014 ought to prove a good season for the skilled Brazilian driver.

Williams has long fought to stay relevant in the sport but severe financial issues have left them in the dust, a tragic fall for one of the sport’s most recognisable and renowned names. It is the hopes of many that the new engines this year will bring the team back to its former glory… or at least close to it.

The formerly Ferrari-supplied, now Renault-powered, test team for Red Bull Racing returns this year with a new rookie on board. Ricciardo, Jean-Eric’s former teammate, has since moved on to the team’s grown-up brother and Russian GP3 winner Daniil Kyvat will instead take his place.

Despite having skilled drivers, Toro Rosso had a rough pace last season, sometimes struggling to make it past the first round of qualifying. Like with many other teams, the new engines bring hope of a possible revival in their performance at the hands of Vergne and Kyvat.

Back-markers

These are the low-tier teams, who's lack of resources and higher-end engines don't allow them to perform on a competitive level with the rest of the grid. They generally do not make it past the first round of Qualifying and will finish the race in last place.

Though the two other "groups" of teams typically aren't referred to as "top-tier" and "mid-tier", back-markers are often called as such due to being the first drivers to be lapped (the lead driver caught up and overtook them to be a full lap ahead of them) in a race.

Caterham returns this year with an entirely new driver lineup, opting to hire GP2 driver Marcus Ericsson and former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi. 2014 hopes to see them return to form, finishing below Marussia last year in end-of-year standings to take last place. Kobayashi, a fan-favorite in the sport, returns after a year in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Marussia returns this year with Ferrari as a new engine supplier since their former supplier, Cosworth, decided to not produce new engines with 2014 regulations. The team retains its drivers from last year, Chilton and Bianchi, who both performed well enough to surpass Caterham in the standings at the end of the 2013 season.

~

Contents

3 Comments

The Unofficial Alt+F1 Beginner's Guide to Formula 1! — 2014 Calendar

Looking for an up-to-date countdown for when the next race is going to start? Then head on over to Crazy Bob's Official Formula 1 Website Emporium!

The 2014 calendar brings some new circuits to the mix as well as a few changes. For one, the Korean race is no longer on the calendar this year… which is fine. I might have an unapologetic love for anything that involves that country but the Yeongam circuit is bad, especially at the time of year they would traditionally host it.

At any rate, the Mexican and New Jersey race will also not take place this year, which were promised in the provisional calendar last year. The Sochi race remains, however, as does the mix-up with a few other tracks.

Tracks in Formula 1 are broken into three “sectors”. At the start of each sector, drivers are timed and given feedback as to how well their pace is. This lets drivers know in which sectors they are faster in and in which they are struggling as to improve their times afterwards. It also serves as a point of reference for how far apart cars are within each other in those areas of the track.

14-16 March, 2014

The first race of the season every year, Australia is one of the most interesting races in the calendar for a number of factors. For one, the teams will be racing completely new setups in true fashion for the first time, resulting in a lot of unexpected performances. These setups are rarely ever carried through the rest of the season, so performances here are never a true indicator of season pace and always good fun because of it. Additionally, the street circuit’s first two corners are a severe right-left cut after a long straightaway that always leads to some start-of-race chaos.

The Melbourne Circuit is a fast track with a beautiful scenery of downtown Melbourne and its location in Albert Park. There are few tracks that compare to it and is a perfect host for the season’s start.

28-30 March, 2014

Iconic for its unique gigantic seating complex and haphazardous weather, Sepang is always a fun watch. Malaysia’s extremely humid climate makes it a pretty strenuous race for the drivers and its height fluctuations don’t help during intense weather conditions, either. Puddles will often gather at the base of inclines, making for some pretty slippery corner entries.

Save for the initial bends after the Start/Finish line, Malaysia is not a particularly complex track. Fast, but not complex. Overtaking on the circuit becomes trickier in that situation, forcing drivers to pass within the few tight corners that the track offers.

4-6 April, 2014

Bahrain is an often controversial race, particularly within the last few years where there’s been active fighting within city streets against the government from its citizens.

The 2012 race was requested to be cancelled by F1 fans and participants alike, fearing for their safety during the protests and violence ongoing at the time. Force India crew members were even caught amidst a bombing, thankfully unharmed. Force India management decided to send those crew members home due to shock, which the Formula One Management commission recognised as “unsportsmanlike”. As such, FOM ordered that TV cameramen (also under FOM control) not show any Force India cars on screen during race weekend. Upsetting the team’s sponsors and, more importantly, fans of the sport, Bernie Ecclestone (F1’s current director) and FOM morals were called into question with no repercussion enacted on them since.

The Bahrain Circuit itself features several long, fast straights broken by chicanes and a tight middle sector. It proves every year to be a difficult track with pit stop strategy, since the circuit’s dry heat proves arduous in managing tire wear.

For the first time ever, the Bahrain Grand Prix will be held at night time in celebration of its 10th race on the F1 calendar.

18-20 April, 2014

With one of the most impressive grandstand structures on the calendar, the Shanghai Circuit is always a pleasure to see. Inspired by the Chinese character for “Shang”, (上) the Shanghai Circuit is a long and technical circuit that proves challenging for numerous reasons. The first set of corners after the pit lane straight is a winding right turn that goes downhill into a steep left turn, which makes for an always-exciting start to the race.

The circuit also features a fast set of corners in its middle sector and ends on the longest straightaway on the Formula 1 calendar. The straight ends into an extremely sharp hairpin turn, which makes for one of the most strenuous parts of any F1 track. Cars are pushed to their maximum speeds before braking down to under 60 mph as quickly as possible, putting intense strain on the car’s brakes and frame. It’s certainly caused its fair share of problems in the past!

9-11 May, 2014

After a short break, teams return to the calendar in Barcelona with slight adjustments to their setups based off performance in the previous 4 races. Barcelona is also one of the most attended races on the calendar thanks to Spaniard Fernando Alonso.

Catalunya was meant to alternate this year with another Spanish track, Valencia, but was dropped for financial reasons. Catalunya is a well-balanced track, with a fast first sector, direct middle sector, and technical final sector.

23-25 May, 2014

Arguably the most historic track on the calendar, Monaco is always a sight to see and rarely a pleasure to watch. On the official calendar since 1950, Monaco is very much like the entire sport’s “hometown” race. The race and the events around the race are almost two entirely separate affairs, and racers always relish the opportunity to race on a circuit as historic as Monaco.

Unfortunately, the circuit doesn’t lend itself particularly well to modern Formula 1 cars. The street circuit is incredibly narrow, which makes overtaking a near-impossible affair. Collisions are frequent as there is no run-off areas on the track. (Meaning there are metal barricades directly on the track’s extremities.) Though interesting to watch because of the legacy, there are many more exciting races on the calendar

6-8 June, 2014

A favorite for many drivers and fans, the Montreal race has often been an interesting race for its fast lap times and challenging corners. The infamous hairpin and “wall of champions” are home to many frustrated drivers.

The weather is also fairly unpredictable, with some races seeing race-stopping downpours in contrast to some of the brightest and sunniest days seen in Eastern Canada. Like Button’s race-winning overtake against Vettel in 2011, the Montreal race is always full of surprises.

20-22 June, 2014

After years off the F1 calendar and eventually starting deconstruction work amidst its deteriorating state, Red Bull purchased the track, renovated it, and reopened it under its new name, Red Bull Ring, in 2011.

Though no official time has been set on it with a new generation of Formula 1 cars, the original A1 layout (mostly unchanged currently) was one of the fastest circuits on the calendar with a fastest recorded lap time of 1:08:337. Like the Circuit of the Americas, the Red Bull Ring has a steep uphill climb to its first corner and should prove for some fast and exciting racing this season.

4-6 July, 2014

Silverstone, like Monaco, is a historic track on the calendar that, fortunately enough, is also an exciting circuit to watch. Like many tracks in the UK, Silverstone is built on top of an unused World War II airstrip.

One of the longer circuits in the calendar, Silverstone is composed mostly of long straights broken apart by chicanes and wide hairpin turns. Navigating its corners into straights create many overtaking opportunities, so the British Grand Prix is often an exciting race.

The Silverstone Circuit was also source of controversy last year due to a series of tire explosions, which you can find more about later in the guide in the “Biggest Stories of 2013” section.

18-20 July, 2014

In an agreement to alternate between Germany’s two Formula 1 circuits every year, the Nurburgring F1 track is being replaced this year by the Hockenheim ring. The circuit is an odd inclusion in the calendar, as it’s been the source of financial loss for event organizers for years.

It was also rebuilt from its original layout into a faster, more interesting configuration, though is now completely flat in elevation.

25-27 July, 2014

The Hungarian Grand Prix is a constant source of puzzlement, with performances always varying between astonishing and mind-numbing. The circuit, located in the distant woods of Budapest, is not frequently used and causes it to be excessively dusty and grimey on race weekend. This forces drivers to be far more cautious with their driving, limiting overtaking opportunities.

Because of that, however, pit strategies come into play quite significantly and are the key to winning in Budapest. The series of short and quick turns in the circuit’s middle sector make for interesting openings for overtaking, but the real excitement here is from seeing what teams have to counter the rest of the grid when pit time comes.

22-24 August, 2014

Another in the line of “historic and completely awesome to watch” tracks on the calendar, Spa is the second longest circuit in Formula 1 and always puts on an exciting show.

The track starts immediately into one of the scariest hairpins in Formula 1, site of many crashes including Grojean’s famous 2012 blunder, before leading into a hair-raising hill climb which drivers navigate at flatout speeds. What follows are sets of complex, consecutive corners ending in a fast and bending backroad. Due to its length, the circuit has a reduced lap count.

5-7 September, 2014

Monza, like Monaco, is a historic track that stands for a great amount in Formula 1 culture, though arguably does not hold much excitement for those at home. It is the home of Scuderia Ferrari and the fan turnout is through the roof every year, but its long straights and fast corners pose almost no overtaking opportunity.

Unfortunately, Monza is also not a circuit that relies heavily on pit strategy since its conditions are generally quite favorable. This, combined with its emphasis on speed, makes it so that the top qualifying cars rarely exchange positions by the end of the race. Like Monaco, however, it remains on the calendar as a cultural milestone and carries some amount of excitement because of it.

19-21 September, 2014

Currently the longest circuit on the calendar, Singapore is night race that takes place in Singapore’s city streets in close proximity to the beautiful Marina Bay Sands hotel.

Clocking in at 1:48 on the fastest recorded lap, its lap count of 61 has posed a continued problem over the years its been hosted. Partially due to being a street circuit, the Singapore track is excessively bumpy and takes a considerable amount of energy out of drivers. In addition to some fairly nasty chicanes, the race ends up going on for longer than both drivers and teams can sustain. Collisions are prone towards the end of the race and driver performance tapers off significantly because of it.

3-5 October, 2014

There is little to be said about Suzuka which already isn’t known by racing aficionados. One of the most interesting, fun, and exciting tracks on the calendar returns once again, home to some of the fiercest battles in Formula 1 history.

Suzuka is a mid-length circuit that features long straights, an S Curve-filled first sector and a fast middle and final sector. It is also the only track on the calendar to criss-cross, with a bridge in the final sector overlapping the middle sector. Its variety and iconic ferris-wheel backdrop have made it a fan-favorite in both Formula 1 and racing games culture alike.

10-12 October, 2014

Under construction as of this writing, the Sochi Street Circuit will take place both in the Olympic Park and city streets. Road conditions have shown to be acceptable at best within the confines of the Olympic Park, however.

The mixed road structure might be problematic, much like it was for the Circuit of the Americas during its inaugural race. The asphalt, freshly built shortly before the event’s start, had little grip because the track had not been worn in sufficiently. Mixing this in with older, more worn streets could pose an issue with drivers and their performance in Sochi. Of course, that is just speculation on my part. We’ll have to wait and see until the race in mid-October.

31 October-2 November, 2014

Returning for its third year on the calendar is the fan-favorite and surprising success, the Circuit of the Americas. Comprised of several elements from historic and important circuits in F1 history, CoTA is a veritable “Best Of” circuit—which understandably makes for some exciting racing.

With an awe-inspiring hill climb into its first corner, CoTA sees a number of elevation changes and challenging corners. Though its inaugural race proved to be slightly hazardous due to reduced grip, its second year was a runaway success with over 100,000 attending the race.

Also, if you use your imagination, part of it kind of looks like a steak knife.

7-9 November, 2014

Contrary to the past several years, Interlagos will now be the penultimate race in the Formula 1 calendar. One of the fastest circuits, Interlagos is popular amongst drivers for its severe changes in elevations. The circuit becomes more challenging for drivers as a result, particularly because it demands more out of their cars. This is in large part what made the circuit so much as a end-of-season battleground.

Brazil’s fan turnout is also numerous. F1 has long roots in the country’s culture, in large part due to sport icon Ayrton Senna, and it shows every year. Rain or shine, the crowds are there en-masse for the spectacle.

21-23 November, 2014

In a surprising turn of events, the revolver-shaped track will now be the final race on the Formula 1 calendar. Infamous for its seamless day-night cycle and high polygon count…

… ok but no, for real, the race starts during the end of the day and transitions into nighttime, where the Yas Viceroy hotel lights up into a rainbow of colors during the race’s duration. Its fast first and second sectors set the stage for the circuit’s third sector, a complex series of hard-edged corners that are rife with overtaking opportunities. Though Interlagos was a fitting end to the Formula 1 season, Yas Marina could make up for it with some fantastic racing, especially now that the final race will have double points for the top 10 drivers.

~

Contents

4 Comments

The Unofficial Alt+F1 Beginner's Guide to Formula 1! — 2013 Stories Recap

Last year saw a number of stories raise concern among the teams, media, and fans. I’ll give a quick recap here of the ones that will likely have an effect on this season.

Pirelli’s Reign of Terror

Pirelli has been the sole supplier of tires to the grid since 2011. In 2012, Pirelli introduced a new tire compound that wore out much faster, meant to increase pit strategies and make racing more interesting. This was met with considerable criticism with most disagreeing, saying that the tires were now forcing drivers to “play it safe” and removed any competitive edge in later stages of races.

In addition to this, teams and drivers alike criticised the tire’s deteriorations due to an issue known as the “cliff”, which is the severe drop-off in grip that the tires have when wearing. Instead of wear declining in a linear fashion, they deteriorate sharply and become almost useless once past a certain point in their lifespan.

Explosions!!!!

Ultimately, Pirelli’s goal was met with success: pit strategies became a more significant part of race weekends, though the argument that they made racing more interesting remains questionable. The “cliff” issue remained throughout 2012 into 2013.

At the 2013 British Grand Prix, a series of rear tire explosions affected several drivers on the grid. Hamilton, Alonso, Perez, Guttierez, Massa, and Vergne all had tire punctures happen in the same section of the track. Due to favorable weather conditions, the blame was put towards Pirelli, who were quick to defend themselves saying that the track was to blame.

After post-race investigations, it was found that the issue was due to teams switching tires around, using rear-right tires on the rear-left slot instead. Varying tire pressures in combination with that particular section of the track caused the explosions/punctures. Pirelli said their tires are designed asymmetrically and not meant to be used that way, but the FIA stepped in and forced them to alter their future designs to allow such functionality.

Pirelli’s tire troubles continued in the season during the Indian Grand Prix, where they asked teams to race the tires for a specific number of laps in fear of the tires degrading beyond useable margins.

Though Rosberg suffered tire issues in pre-season testing, 2014 will be the year to see if Pirelli will have brought any significant change to its tires. Tire degradation talk has dominated the pit lane for close to two years now. It’s understandable that teams, drivers, and fans alike are hoping for a new dominant topic.

Mercedes’ rise, McLaren’s fall

2012 brought news that Lewis Hamilton, long-time star driver at McLaren, would be leaving his seat for Mercedes, a team that had been struggling until then. There were few who saw Hamilton’s move as a wise decision, seeing his departure from such a sure-fire seat as crazy. At the time, McLaren’s pace was lacking behind Red Bull’s but still posed as considerable competition.

In a surprising turn of events, and probably a few laughs on Hamilton’s part, Mercedes absolutely shined in the first half of the 2013 season. Mercedes finally had a competitive car and Hamilton’s skill fit perfectly with it, as did his teammate Nico Rosberg.

No matter how fast the pitstops, McLaren just couldn't keep pace.

McLaren, on the other hand, saw one of the worst struggles they had faced in years. Their car was nowhere near competitive throughout the entire year. Jenson Button, long-time McLaren driver, had trouble justifying their performance after nearly every race. End-season interviews even had him saying words like “Well, I’ll just say I’m going to be glad when this season’s over.”

McLaren also hired Perez out of Sauber to fill in Hamilton’s shoes, hoping that the rookie’s promise at Sauber in 2012 would deliver that year. That unfortunately didn’t pan out and though the car didn’t help much, Perez’s performances were below par. It was announced at the end of the 2013 season that McLaren would be dropping Perez in favor of Kevin Magnussen.

McLaren is currently looking to get back into form, especially with the impending change to Honda engines in 2015. If anything, it would be difficult for them to do worse than they did last year. Mercedes looks to improve upon the performance they showed this year and put up a true fight for the Constructor’s Championship against Red Bull.

Vettel’s Continued Dominance

Chances are, if you’ve heard of F1, you’ve probably heard of Vettel. Four-time Driver’s Championship winner, Sebastian Vettel has absolutely dominated the sport for longer than some are starting to care for.

2012 saw him face competition in the form of Lotus, McLaren, and Ferrari but 2013, especially the latter half of 2013, was a complete steal for Red Bull and the young German driver. Many are looking at the changes in engine regulations to shake things up, but it would be silly to lie to ourselves: Vettel still poses a great threat. He’s a flawless driver and has no doubt deserved his victories up until now, but Formula 1 remains a spectator sport and it would be a shame to see it fall in the midst of forever knowing who will win.

Lotus Bleeds Money, Can’t Pay its Drivers

Generally how Kimi feels about everything, particularly about Lotus.

Lotus, 2012’s dark horse and a considerable threat early on in 2013, ran into financial issues halfway through 2013 when one of its investors backed out. (Or something along those lines. It was a mess and was difficult to follow, to be honest.) The consequence of this was that some crew members weren’t being paid in time, including Kimi Raikkonen, their top-performing driver.

The insecurity of Lotus’ financial situation continued into the season until Kimi Raikkonen retired from the Yas Marina Grand Prix after the first corner and sat out of the last two races to have back surgery. With considerable tension between Kimi and Lotus, it was no surprise to hear him take his former seat at Ferrari back.

Of course, this brought about rumors of who would fill in Raikkonen’s seat at Lotus. Like Mark Webber’s seat at Red Bull, many names were tossed around but one of the more recurring ones was Nico Hulkenberg, who had more than proven himself at Force India and Sauber.

Ultimately, Hulkenberg lost out to Maldonado, who left Williams with his own issues. In dire need of financial sponsorship, Maldonado, and his oil sponsor, gained priority at Lotus and the announcement was made towards the tail end of the season.

~

Contents

Start the Conversation

The Unofficial Alt+F1 Beginner's Guide to Formula 1! — Technical Jargon

There’s a lot of really technical shit in F1 that’s worth explaining quick, so I’ll go over the most commonly used terms and what they mean.

KERS/ERS-K

KERS, a system introduced into the sport a few years ago, will see changes this year as well. KERS, which stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System, is a device separate to the car’s engine that would store kinetic energy released from braking into a “battery”, which could then be re-used as a boost during a race. Each lap, the driver would be allotted a set amount of “energy” to use during a lap, with the allotted amount resetting back to full on a new lap.

As of 2014 season, KERS is being renamed to ERS-K, and is seeing a change in its design. It is now integrated into the engine itself and will also capture heat dispelled from the turbochargers in the engine, which can then be re-used as a boost similar to the former KERS setup.

The biggest change comes to its use, however. Formerly, KERS could only be used for a total of six seconds during a lap and would output an extra 80 hp. This year, it will output 161 extra hp and can be used for a total of 33 seconds per lap. This is close to a third of a lap on most tracks, (with more than a third on shorter tracks) so ERS-K will see far more use in this year’s season than in previous seasons.

DRS

An active DRS flap.

DRS stands for Drag Reduction System and is the mechanism that allows a “flap” on the rear wing to open. This reduces wind resistance and increases the car’s top speed at the expense of downforce. (Which keeps the car on track.) It was introduced as an incentive to overtake opponents and is primarily used as such.

DRS is only allowed in certain sections of the track referred to as DRS-enabled zones. For DRS to be enabled, they must be within one second of the driver ahead of them as they enter the DRS zone. DRS zones are typically straight sections of the track, since the reduced wind resistance makes navigating corners significantly more difficult. Regulations used to allow only one DRS zone per track, though 2013 saw this increase to two per track. Some tracks, such as Monaco, don’t have enough straight lines to allow two DRS zones, so they remained with one.

DRS used to also be allowed during any part of the track in qualifying, a rule that has been changed since 2013. Cars must now use DRS in DRS-only zones, even in qualifying.

DRS has seen its fair share of criticisms, with some blaming the system for making drivers rely too heavily on it when attempting to overtake.

Kerbs

Kerrrrrrrrbs

Kerbs are the raised red and white sections that edge out corners on a circuit. They are indicators of a corner’s apex and exits, in addition to preventing drivers from cutting corners. Instead of driving on grass to cut a corner as close as possible, they instead driver over kerbs to maintain their grip and speed through a corner.

They are generally avoided in wet conditions, however, since the rain makes the kerbs’ surfaces quite slippery.

Paddock

Paddock is a general term used for the pit lane and the teams and media within it. When someone says “I heard rumors around the paddock…” they are simply saying “I heard it from someone who either works for a team or is involved with the race in some way.”

Tyre

A stupid English way of saying “tire”.

Tire Compounds

There are several tire compounds that serve several purposes, which can be broken down as such:

NameColorGrip LevelDurabilityUse
Super-soft (Option)RedVery HighVery LowUsed in rare occasions, especially in qualifying as to get the best time possible.
Soft (Option)YellowHighLowOne of the most commonly used compounds. Used early/late in pit strategies.
Medium (Prime)WhiteMediumMediumCommon compound, used frequently. More suited to colder conditions.
Hard (Prime)OrangeLowHighCommon compound, used frequently. More suited to warmer conditions.
IntermediateGreenUsed in wet conditions, generally when there is little presence of water on the track.
WetBlueUsed in wet conditions, only when there is heavy presence of water on the track.

Before the start of a race weekend, Pirelli selects two types of tires to use out of its available four normal tires. One Soft tire (Option) and one Hard tire. (Prime) Teams are obligated to race on both sets of tires during a race, forcing at least one pit stop.

Though most races will see 2-3 pit stops, there are certain circuits that allow teams to push for 1-stop strategies at the expense of grip and durability.

Chicane

A quick succession of short swerving corners. Generally shaped like an S and used to reduce speeds in high-speed sections of a track.

Downforce

Used to refer to wind resistance pushing the car down onto the ground, increasing grip. The more downforce there is, the more the car sticks to the track at high speeds. In Formula 1, downforce is essential since cars frequently take turns well over 100mph.

Box

During a race, you will often hear pit crew and drivers alike use the term "box". This refers to the pit box, which is a team's garage in the pit lane. When a radio message is sent to the driver saying "Box this lap", (or more commonly "Box box box") it means the team is asking the driver to make a pit stop during their current lap.

FIA

FIA stands for Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (International Automotive Federation) and is the governing body of Formula 1 regulations, as well as several other motorsports. The FIA oversees technical, team, driver, and track regulations as well enforcing rules set in place by them. You'll hear the FIA come up during a race if a post-race investigation has to take place. An in-race incident or regulation infraction will result in the FIA investigating the matter and, if they find the accused to be guilty, will issue a fine and/or other penalties.

FOM

FOM stands for Formula One Management and oversees the commercial operation of the sport. FOM operates everything related to the sport's broadcast, in addition to the sport's organization and sponsorships. FOM has complete control of its televised broadcast, using its own feed that it distributes to third-party broadcasters. FOM has seen criticism for this, particularly due to their iron grip over internet distribution of their content. The owner of FOM, Bernie Ecclestone, has also seen criticism for legal and monetary deals that have taken place in favor of profit over the sport's benefit. (See: the Bahrain 2013-2013 incidents.)

~

Contents

3 Comments

The Unofficial Alt+F1 Beginner's Guide to Formula 1! — HOW DO WATCH F1 BRO?

So, now that you’re all caught up… where do you watch F1?

Welp, I’m in Canada so I’ll try and speak best for everyone but if I’m missing an area that you are in, I’m sorry!

Are you in North America?

Sweet! Let’s ditch this place and get some burgers.

When we get back, you can tune into NBC Sports, which has full coverage of race weekends. I don’t watch it myself but I’ve heard their coverage is quite good! They even have practise sessions which is rad.

Are you in Canada?

Awesome, eh. Then you can tune into TSN or TSN 2 if you don’t get NBC Sports. I’ve never watched TSN but I hear their coverage is good. TSN will show most races and qualifying sessions, with practice sessions being shown on TSN 2.

Si tu as la mauvaise chance d’être en quelque-part au Québec, tu peut écouter la course sur RDS. Ils affichent les qualifications et la course en direct, mais je n’ai personellment jamais aimé leur présentation. Ils coupent aux annonces très souvent et le commentaire n’est pas très inspiré. Je conseillerais écouter un stream en-ligne ou le reportage de TSN si il est mieux. Préférence personelle, par contre! Il y en a qu'ils l'aiment beaucoup.

Are you in Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania?

Excellent! Then you can watch Formula 1 on Viasat Motor, a dedicated motorsports channel. (Thanks @olemarthin!)

Are you in France?

Magnifique! Vous pouvez écouter la F1 sur Canal+ et Canal+ Sport. (Thanks @jamesjeux007!)

Are you in Australia?

˙ǝʇısqǝʍ ɹıǝɥʇ uo ǝʌıן ɹo ʌʇ ɥbnoɹɥʇ TEN uo ʇɹods ǝɥʇ ɥɔʇɐʍ uɐɔ noʎ ¡ǝʇɐɯ 'ʇɐǝɹb s,ʇɐɥʇ (Thanks, @thompson820!)

Are you in the UK?

Then you have two options at your disposal: watch the races for free on the BBC or pay for Sky and watch it on Sky Sports F1.

Unfortunately, due to contractual stuff with Sky, BBC only shows certain races. You can find out which ones on their website. BBC’s coverage is excellent. The commentary is superb and the pre/post-race shows are terrific.

Personally, I watch Sky Sports’ coverage. The commentary by David Croft and Martin Brundle is on-point and engaging, as is pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz. The analysis provided on Sky is always top-tier and everyone on the Sky team is charismatic and fun. The pre-race commentary by Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert, and Martin Brundle is always terrific. Their pre/post-shows are also quite good, though they lack the charm that the BBC has.

Are you in another country and can tell me what channel shows F1?

Chill! Then comment, tell me, and I’ll edit it in here!

Are you on the internet?

Then there are probably certain ways you can watch the race, either live or recorded, on it. You can figure that out, I’m sure. If you can obtain it by legal means, then please do.

~

Contents

4 Comments

My dumb Best of 2013 Albums list/blog/thing/whoop

BOY HAVE I BEEN ACTIVE RECENTLY

Sorry. I guess I’m making the same apology I do every time. I’ve been really busy on the count of getting a job in late June and being knee-deep in game development since. It’s astonishing how little free time you have when you’re one of five people trying to make a game!

Early next year I hope to post my Game of the Year… well, I won’t call it a list, because it isn’t one. I mean it is, but it isn’t. You’ll see. It’s awesome, but I need some time to work on it. Not like posting it NOW!!! is all that critical anyway.

In the mean time, I present to you a list of my favorite albums released this year. In January, I gave myself the goal of listening to 100 albums released within the year and I’ve managed to listen to 103. It’s… a lot of music. And that’s not even counting, like, stuff I listened to that wasn’t from this year. It’s a lot but it’s made me discover a ton of really awesome stuff that I’d like to share a part of. Hopefully you can discover something awesome from this, too!

Talking with a friend earlier in the year who was versed enough in Chinese pop music led me to being somewhat interested but never enough to actively seek out anything on my own. Not long after, Hebe Tien’s new album, Insignificance, showed up in the Recommendations area of the tracker I get my music from, so I decided to check out. Couldn’t hurt, and I wanted something new to listen to at the time. I was rather surprised, then, that my first jump into C-pop would end up being one of my favorite releases of the year.

My limited exposure to C-pop really shortens the amount of what I can say regarding Insignificance but despite it’s slow pace, it’s an album that has a great amount of variety in sound and in emotion. Hebe Tien’s echoing vocals in the title song gorgeously contrast against the eerie, mystical instrumentals backing her, flipping on a dime in the rock-heavy, harmonised vocals of “终身大事” without ever dropping the album’s actual pace.

Though I wish the album’s end was as strong as its start, Insignificance is still a beautiful album that establishes a mood worth getting engrossed in. I found it to be the perfect companion when drawing at work, letting Hebe Tien’s vocals blank out the world around me.

You can purchase Insignificance on iTunes here.

I am typically one to shy away from ballad albums because… well, they’re typically pretty boring. I haven’t really come across an artist that was able to carry an entire release in a genre that relies so heavily on its vocals over the production of the tracks themselves. Fortunately, @onimonkii pressured the shit out of me to listen to Younha’s Subsonic and while I don’t think my opinion on ballads has drastically changed, I found myself completely floored by how strong the album is.

Right out of the gate, Younha’s voice powers through the opening track and controls it perfectly to match the intensity and mood of the instrumentals backing her. Regardless of the song’s pace, like the upbeat “Subsonic” or the more relaxed “Home”, you can instantly connect with the song’s emotion and let yourself be carried by her voice.

The mini-album’s structure is worth admiring, too. The insanely fast turnaround of Korean music releases has kind of neutralised my appreciation of a properly composed and structured album but it’s present in Subsonic and that makes it so much more enjoyable. The powerfully crescendoing start of “시간을 믿었어” to the calm, composed end of “Home” is a wonderful journey, especially when it lets you upbeatedly catch your breath in the middle with “없어” and its amazing cameo from Eluphant.

Subsonic is a terrific album well worth listening to, even if you might not have a penchant for the slower stuff. Words do little justice to how strong Younha’s voice is and how terrific the instrumentals are.

You can purchase Subsonic on iTunes here.

I really, really wanted to set myself a rule of “no K-pop albums” in my top 10 list because while I really, really enjoy K-pop, I also know that the reasons why I enjoy it make it so that it doesn’t necessarily fit into a proper ‘Best of’ list. But whatever, it’s a personal list and you know what, f(x)’s Pink Tape is legitimately terrific. Instead of being a bunch of previously released singles repackaged into a full album, Pink Tape is a non-stop assault of new, terrific material from a group that desperately needed a strong release.

I’ve never been super into f(x)’s past releases because they’ve always been… well, pretty lacking. There was just that “spark” in them that I never felt and it made most of their singles fall flat to me. Like they didn’t have a distinct sound I could get into. Pink Tape has completely changed that, though. Its a barrage of groovy and punchy beats that rarely slows down and they last all the way to its end. The album instantly fires in every direction with the addictive “Rum Pum Pum Pum” as its start and only lets off the throttle a bit mid-way with “Goodbye Summer” for a ballad break, which even despite being a ballad, I completely love.

Personal highlights from the album are “Kick” and “Signal”, with my favorite being “Step” for how relentless it is in its pace and for how addictive its chorus is. It’s terrifying how often I’ll unknowingly say out loud “HEY, GET OUT THE WAY, PLEASE” in tandem when when listening to it. If anything, I feel like “Step” is the perfect example of why Pink Tape is such a great album. The vocals are terrific, the beat is unflinchingly catchy, and the instrumental track is unique and fun. The repeating horn is so bizarre when you hear it the first time but it’s impossible not to love it by the time the song’s over.

More importantly though, Step (like the rest of the album) has a sound. There’s a signature sound that I think f(x) has found in Pink Tape that it was completely lacking in any of their previous songs. The heavily electronic hip hop-paced beats, the groovy swings and pacing, and Amber-powered breakdowns define this album and make it the best K-pop release I’ve heard since T-ARA’s astonishing 2009 Absolute First Album.

Even if you’re averse to K-pop, or anything that isn’t in your own language, I encourage you to check it out if you like fun, catchy, and well produced music. I included Pink Tape not because I wanted a K-pop release on here, but because I legitimately believe it stands as one of the best musical releases of the year. In the company that it has on this list, I hope that stands to mean something.

You can purchase Pink Tape on iTunes here.

If there’s one name I feel like you should pay attention to, it’s Mat Zo. Apart from having my favorite Twitter account, he’s also the underrated genius behind last year’s “Easy” and his fucking brilliant Mat Zo Mix show that airs on Sirius XM. (Which you can listen to on his Soundcloud, where he uploads them for free.)

He’s released numerous singles and EPs through Anjunabeats that have always been very trance-heavy, so I admittedly got a little skeptical when I saw signs of Damage Control, his debut album, exploring different and more upbeat territory. Thankfully, my worries were immediately washed away when hearing the full album. Damage Control is terrific from start to finish and has some of the most high-quality production I’ve heard in electronic music.

Singles “The Sky” and “Easy”, older tracks of his, make their way onto the album but are buried amidst a panoply of new material that is as varied as it is great. The slow, head-nodding pace of “Only For You” is matched by the complex, bass-thumping, IDM-like composition of “Caller ID”. The clubby rhythm of “Pyramid Scheme” is also great fun, as its the throwback sound of “Lucid Dream”. Even interludes like “Little Damage” and “Moderate Stimulation” have a ton of impact despite their passive role in the album’s structure.

Mat Zo’s unique, open sound combined with his terrific synth work makes Damage Control a wonderful and enjoyable album. Behind his jokester, silly personality lies a musical genius. Damage Control is clearly just the beginning for him and I am dying to see what’s next.

You can purchase Damage Control on iTunes here.

I have a very love-hate relationship with Yasutaka Nakata, the production mind behind Capsule and pretty much every other electronic-pop act ever in Japan. I really felt like having his hands in so many different places (Perfume, MEG, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, to name a few) has diluted his sound beyond rescue. As someone who greatly likes Capsule, his personal project, I was worried about the impending release of CAPS LOCK because what came before it has been a really uneven series of releases. STEREO WORXXX was alright, albeit very repetitive, and PLAYER and WORLD of FANTASY were both completely dreadful.

There’s nothing but sighs of relief on my end, thankfully. Not only is CAPS LOCK a great album, but it’s easily Yasutaka Nakata’s best work since Capsule’s 2007 album Sugarless GiRL. I’d be thrilled if the reason was because it was a good Capsule album but it’s even more than that. It’s an album that strays from the typical Capsule formula and replaces it instead with a personal approach to composition and structure, ditching predictable and punchy electro beats for avant-garde and experimental sounds.

CAPS LOCK might actually be a pretty divisive album for Capsule fans as it contains very little vocals from Toshiko Koshijima, a trait completely opposite to all other Capsule albums to date. Furthermore, Toshiko’s minor presence in the album is heavily edited and synthesized (more so than previous Capsule releases) providing a distinctly different sound than long-time fans might welcome. She’s been such an essential part of Capsule’s best songs and releases that I could easily see why a fan would oppose and dislike an album that features so little of her.

Personally though, I welcome it. Instead of saturating Toshiko’s vocals throughout the album like past releases, Yasutaka instead opted to carefully pace her voice across the album’s length, emphasizing them when necessary and removing them completely when useless. The end result is an album that is much more coherent, like it has a story to tell, instead of sounding like a disjointed collection of singles.

The cohesiveness of CAPS LOCK is also why I enjoy it so much. The majority, if not all, of Capsule’s previous releases have always felt like an assault on the senses. It worked more often than not, but there’s only so far that pounding synths accompanied by edited and randomized vocals can take you. CAPS LOCK feels so much more like a journey of sounds, occasionally hinting at what you’ve always appreciated in Capsule’s music, but diverging out into different areas that Yasutaka’s production skills can take him. Despite “CONTROL” and “SHIFT” providing far more Capsule-like experiences, they fit well into the more interesting and structured progression of “HOME”’s introduction, diving into the jarringly experimental “12345678” halfway through the album.

All of it leads to one of the most satisfying ends I’ve heard to an album this year, being the combined closure of “SPACE” and “RETURN”. “ESC” provides a terrific interlude into the ambient, atmospheric sound of “SPACE” that sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. The minimalist use of Toshiko’s vocals as a secondary synth to the song’s chorus is engaging, as is the choice to let the calm structure of the song take center stage instead of Capsule’s traditional “let’s shibuya-kei this motherfucker up” formula.

Really, CAPS LOCK is just barely a Capsule album, and that’s why I enjoy it so much. Though my appreciation for their older work remains, I don’t know if I could have withstood another traditional Capsule album. Seeing Yasutaka Nakata explore different territory and pull it off so well is encouraging, and the product that came out of it is easily one of the best albums this year. It’s certainly my favorite album he’s produced to date.

You can purchase CAPS LOCK on iTunes here.

Pop-rock/shoegaze is definitely not my strong suit. Often being more bored than anything else with the genre has taught me that, so I am pretty surprised to enjoy Akai Ko-en’s Ko-en Debut as much as I do. It has such charming melodies and wonderful performances from the individual members that it’s impossible not to love.

The all-over-the-place intro of “今更” introduces the band perfectly, from Chiaki pouring her heart into the vocals to Maisa’s ability to go from slow-rock strumming to full-on crazy guitar. Nao’s drums and Hikari’s bass are also terrific, with the entire band’s roles being critical to how enjoyable every song on the album is. You could single them all out and have super interesting parts to listen to no matter the track. The true star for me is Chiaki’s vocals, though.

Although the entire band’s performance in “交信” is stellar, Chiaki’s voice accompanies the keyboard so perfectly and she powerfully carries the emotion of the song through to its climactic and satisfying end. Having the song be immediately followed by “体温計” is a pretty much a double-treat, with her vocals and piano skills being the only force at work here. I’ve rarely heard a vocalist exert her voice to such an extent that you can hear it fall apart in front of you… and still have it be as powerful of an experience, if not more so, than something more composed and controlled.

Of course, the rest of the album is an absolute blast. The chaotic “急げ” is as exciting to hear as the uplifting end of “くい”, and the chants of children to accompany Chiaki in “カウンター” are good fun. It’s a unique, upbeat, and engaging rock album that is far more reliant on melody than anything else. There’s a ton of depth in each track to be found but that didn’t stop it from being the perfect album for me to put on when I had nothing particular to listen to in mind. Ko-en Debut is easy to jump into and you’ll be rewarded with some really interesting music when you do.

You can purchase Ko-en Debut on iTunes here.

I wish I didn’t have to put this here. This album started at the top spot and continuously fell down the list because the more I listen to it, the more its shortcomings jumped out at me. I wish it ended better, and I wish its middle were more interesting, but fortunately that’s just about the only faults I have with The M Machine’s Metropolis Pt. 2, which is an otherwise stellar album.

Like last year’s Metropolis Pt. 1, Pt. 2 true strength lies in its atmosphere. The M Machine is, if anything, exceedingly talented at creating a true sense of atmosphere to their music. Right out the gate, “The Palace”’s blasting synths drop you deep into its underwater-like world of carefully constructed music. The vocal work in both “The Palace” and “Ghosts in the Machine” is so brilliant, as is the production and editing applied to them.

The middle half of the album is where I have a bit of an issue, though. “Ghosts in the Machine” sets such a great atmosphere and pace, yet I feel like every time, “Tiny Anthem” throws me off course. It’s a decent song but it fits awkwardly between “Ghosts in the Machine” and “Moon Song”. It’s pacing is so different and its sound is not as coherent as the rest of the album is. “Moon Song” isn’t the strongest of tracks either, but it picks up the pace from “Tiny Anthem” well enough to lead into the mini-album’s highlight, “Schadenfreude”.

I imagine this is a very subjective opinion, given how aggressive “Schadenfreude” is, but it embodies what I value so highly in Metropolis Pt. 2: atmosphere. The echoing drums and reverberating sounds, the distant vocals, the oscillating synths… all of it is as captivating as it is chilling, building up to its mind-blowing and siren-blasting chorus that throws you neck deep into the world The M Machine has imagined.

Though “Luma” is a fitting end, I do find it to be a little anti-climatic after “Schadenfreude”’s powerful production. But despite my problems with the EP as a whole, I continue to value it highly. Metropolis Pt. 2 is the only album I’ve listened to this year where I can close my eyes for its duration and just see the music unfold in front of me. The production on all of the tracks is genius beyond reason, not for how catchy the rhythms are, but for the picture they paint. That’s something I feel is well worth appreciating, even if all the pieces don’t entirely align at times.

You can purchase Metropolis Pt. 2 on iTunes here.

I’m almost tempted to simply write “It’s a Feed Me album. It’s fucking brilliant. This isn’t news to anyone and that’s why it’s ranked here.” but I suppose I owe Calamari Tuesday more of an explanation than that.

From his debut Feed Me’s Big Adventure album to his most recent EPs like To The Stars and Escape from Electric Mountain, Feed Me’s music has always been incredibly relevant to whatever style is popular without ever cheapening its production to be as mass-appealing as possible. It’s always felt like it came from his heart and that’s why it always shone above the rest. Calamari Tuesday is no exception to this rule, arguably being his best work to date.

Though the start of the album doesn’t flow together as well as the latter half, Calamari Tuesday is 15 tracks of pure electronic bliss. Take “Lonely Mountain” for example: a track so varied, groovy, and well-composed that it might be deserving of a spot amongst electro-house’s greats. Or “Rat Trap”, a song so well produced that its bass and sampling is almost oppressive from how angry they sound.

Calamari Tuesday shines in its second half, though. From “Chinchilla” up to the very end of “Last Requests”, it’s like a veritable showcase of how talented and skilled a composer and producer Feed Me has become. “Short Skirt”, “No Grip”, and “Onstuh” is a true triple-threat of variety and bangers, from the swinging sampling and editing of “Short Skirt”, to the trip-hop-like beats of “No Grip”, finally into the relentless pace of “Onstuh” that throws such a jump-worthy beat into Feed Me’s classic funky synths. And, of course, the triple-threat being closed out by the impeccable vocals and climax of “Last Requests”, which is such a brilliant way of ending the album that I can’t help but withhold from saying how it does so. It’s too perfect to spoil—seek it out yourself.

If you’re a fan of electronic music of any kind, you owe it to yourself to check out Calamari Tuesday. It’s a spectacular album. Feed Me’s production is so excellent and precise, I really have nothing more to say. It’s a Feed Me album. It’s fucking brilliant. This isn’t news to anyone and that’s why I ranked it third.

You can purchase Calamari Tuesday on iTunes here.

Although they arguably have the hardest name to Google, Charisma.com might just be the most exciting act I’ve discovered. The duo consisting of vocalist/rapper MC Itsuka and producer DJ Gonchi and their debut album, Ai-Ai Syndrome, are arguably the most fun I’ve had listening to any musical release this year. And I’m not talking about like, “Oh, yes, this is well made so I enjoy it.” kind of fun. I’m talking about smile from ear-to-ear, head-bobbing, and feet movin’ kind of fun.

Ai-Ai Syndrome packs so much attitude, fun, and variety into its album that I found myself putting it on repeat for days at a time, unable to escape how addictive it is. DJ Gonchi, the production side of the duo, is astonishingly skilled at composing and producing beats that are not only catchy and fun, but also stand alone without any vocals whatsoever. Of course, it goes without saying that each track compliment Itsuka’s vocals with aplomb.

MC Itsuka’s vocals shine as brightly as the instrumentals, as she delivers them with such impeccable timing and a captivating, if not vicious, attitude. The absolute spite for everything in the album’s lyrics, from fashion-crazed and kawaii-obsessing girls in “HATE” to people staring at their phones every day in “LIFEFULL”, truly shows in how impeccably Itsuka delivers all of her lyrics. It’s such a breath of fresh air, even. For how obsessively joyful and excited all of Japanese pop music, or any Japanese genre really, sounds, it’s refreshing to hear something that’s so catchy and enjoyable while still packing such a strong attitude.

Ai-Ai Syndrome might not have the best production or the best vocals I’ve heard this year, but they’re both pretty terrific. It towers above the rest, however, for being simply fun. I can put it on any time and enjoy it like it was the first time I heard it. It’s an album that gives so little fucks and just does what it does, having a blast the entire way through while totally not giving a shit if you dislike it or not. I love it.

You can purchase Ai-Ai Syndrome ... um... from their website? I guess? If you know someone in Japan that can ship shit to you? Or hit me up on Twitter.

Edit: It seems you can also purchase it off Amazon.co.jp, which I believe has international shipping. At least, Jeff just ordered it and I ordered a she album off it a while a go, so there!

Earlier this year, I discovered Oliver Schories and his Herzensangelegenheit album. It’s a 2012 release that, had I discovered then, would probably have taken the top spot. … Well, 2nd spot. I guess you'll find out what was my 2012 album of 2013.

Point being: Oliver Schories is a terrific producer and composer. His most recent album Exit, blows every other album this year out of the water so hard I can barely justify it through words. Instead, here is a link to a continuous mix of the entire album. It’s mixed by Oliver himself and is featured on the album as an alternate way of listening to it. Listen to it.

I like Exit for similar reasons to why I like Metropolis Pt. 2, which is that it sets a mood and atmosphere. While not as graphic and vivid as Metropolis Pt. 2, Exit’s mood is still rich and captivating. Oliver’s masterful use of soft synths and subtle percussions create a zone to get completely lost in. The pounding, yet vacant, bass of “Intro (State of)”, the quiet and repetitive synths that perfectly fit around the vocals of “But Maybe”, the upbeat bass strums of “Another Day”... it’s engrossing in a way no other album this year was for me.

Even better is the Continuous DJ Mix, which runs for an hour and 21 minutes. Oliver mixed the entirety of Exit into a single mix, something I would have loved for Herzensangelegenheit, and is easily the best way to enjoy the album. His DJ skills are as impeccable as his production ones.

Exit is one of those rare albums. The type I can put on and then before I know it, it’s over and an hour has passed by. It’s transports me to a completely other world and I exit (HA HA HA) on the other end from a captivating and engrossing ride. It’s such a tight, intricate, well-composed album that I can truly listen to it when I want to enjoy it, in addition to being calm and passive enough that it can act as the perfect background music to reading or something similar.

More than anything, I adore an album that I can put on and forget everything exists around me. That the only thing between me and my headphones is nothing but pure escapism. That is what Exit is, and it’s why it’s my favorite album of the year.

You can purchase Exit on iTunes here.

Of course, I just had to listen to this album a few days after I posted my 2012 Best Of list. Of course.

Igorrr’s Hallelujah is fucking impossible to describe to anyone. The baroque, breakcore, IDM, abstract, grind/deathmetal sounds that populate his music is so chaotic and frightening at first glance that I can rarely let someone listen to it without them immediately twitching their ears away in fear.

Once you get past the initial shock of how insane his music is, the door to the a precisely constructed album opens to you. The opera chant of “Tout Petit Moineau” that progresses into screams into unfathomable yelling in tune to the breakneck speed of its instrumentals is haunting.

Yet like all other tracks on Hallelujah, it’s precise in its insanity. If you pay attention to it all, it’s not random insanity. It’s perfectly timed, in synch with each other, every sound interacting with the other to create a harmony of insanity that is as detailed as it is overwhelming. The daunting complexity of Hallelujah is hard not to admire and even when it’s at its most insane, it’s still so enjoyable and listenable that I find myself going back to it time after time. Had I waited to post my list after listening to it, it’d easily have taken the top spot.

—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—

And that's it! Woo! Hopefully you discover something new, and like last year I'd love to hear what are some of your favorites! I'm always open to anything new.

Addtionally, if you want to see a ranked list that I kept up to date throughout the year of the 103 releases I listened to, you can check it out on my Rateyourmusic list! There's some stuff in there that's also definitely worth checking out. Pretty much anything between 1 and 30~ is like... a must listen to me.

66 Comments

Are you a DJMAX Technika player? If so, then I need your help!

Hey, fellow DJMAX fans!

I'm in the process of writing a retrospective of the DJMAX series to post here. I've got most of my bases covered on the Portable/Trilogy front but I'm lacking in knowledge on the Technika side of things.

Though I have Technika Tune, (and love it) there are no Technika machines in Montréal (never have been) so I haven't been able to play the arcade games myself.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, (mostly the official forums and Bemanistyle) I've been able to collect a lot of technical info on the Technika series, but I've hard a hard time finding out what the actual arcade scene with it has been like because... well, I've not been able to a part of it myself. So that's where I need your help:

I'd like to have your input, stories, anecdotes, or information on what the Technika arcade scene is like to you now, before, or both! Anything like your experience with the Platinum Crew system, waiting lines at the arcade, conversations with friends, local tourneys, anything! I really want a personal perspective on it so the more detailed and the more heartfelt, the better! Love or hate, I want to know! :D Make sure you let me know where you are located in the world, too. Getting a sense of the international scene is pretty important for me.

Thanks!

2 Comments