By aurahack 16 Comments
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!
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.
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.
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.
- You can listen to and purchase How to Run Away on Bandcamp. You can also stream the album on Spotify.
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.
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.
- You can listen to and purchase Nothing is Real on Bandcamp. You can also stream the album on Spotify.
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~
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.
- You can purchase Point 9 on iTunes.
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.
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.
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.
- You can purchase Watashi Wo Onigashima ni Tsurete tte, as well as the rest of Suiyoubi no Campanella's music, on OTOTOY. (JP site but does accept international credit cards) You can also check out their YouTube page, where they have music videos for the majority of their singles.
~-~ 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!