2014; civil unrest, missing planes, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS. There was plenty of anxiety provoking stories and events that dominated not only headlines, but artistic culture at large.
The call and response game of where we’ve been and where we’re headed is internalized and reflected in some of the best musical releases of the past year. Although the gap between the been and headed seems to be closing faster and faster with our immediate access to information, refuge can be found by shutting it all out and sitting with noise of a different color.
This year was another great year for music and for us. We were lucky enough to bring aboard a number of new freelancers who have enabled us to capture and promote our beloved New Jersey metro scene at large. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to Speak Into My Good Eye in 2014 and help make this our best year yet.
We’d also like to thank everyone who participated in our inaugural 24 Hour Songwriting Challenge. The impetus behind that great project was an idea that blossomed with support. We encourage anyone who has a seemingly too large of a picture idea to come to us. We want to work with you in 2015. Please follow and support our friends CoolDad Music, You Don’t Know Jersey, Phil Shepherd, Jeff Crespi, Jersey Rock, and Dark City Entertainment & Promotions.
-Mike Mehalick & Chris Rotolo
Deal Casino – Heck
Seaside Caves – S/T
Alvvays – S/T
Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
Wye Oak – Shriek
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
Ty Segall – Manipulator
Overlake – Sighs
ROMP – Sorry, Not Sorry
Wreaths – S/T
Sorry Taylor Swift. Feel free to write a song about how we’ve wronged thee.
50. Ex Hex – Rips
49. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There
48. Prehistoric Forest – Pulling Teeth
With their live shows notorious for their unhinged, devil may care, early-aughts NYC garage rock inspired nature, the sophomore LP from NJ’s Prehistoric Forest was something teased and shaped over the course of the band’s busy touring schedule in 2014. To be a little more direct, I was excited for this album, and Prehistoric Forest delivered with Pulling Teeth.
Underrated and under-loved, Pulling Teeth has all the marks of a band hitting their stride with the title track, “Into The Night”, and “Point Of No Return” reviving a pure, gritty sound lost not too long ago in the zeitgeist. Prehistoric Forest wants to make you dance, but aren’t resorting to any electronic tricks. Just them and their natural swagger.
47. Roy Orbitron – Jeffrey Lynne
I remember running into Roy Orbitron, don’t know how exactly, and thinking, “Oh wow, each record is named after a member of Traveling Wilburys. Cool.”
Then I streamed Jeffrey Lynne and realized that Conor Meara’s talents and vision extend far, far beyond an in-tribute-to gimmick. Jeffrey Lynne breathes with an ear pleasing, yet unsettling pulse that hyper extends through the genre hopping and Meara’s garbled, far away VOX vocals.
Waking up on the cold pavement that is real early adult life, existentialism, angst, and irony all play into Roy Orbitron’s latest effort, which may serve as the Wilbury-line opus.
46. Those Mockingbirds – Penny The Dreadful
Principal songwriter and frontman of Those Mockingbirds, Adam Bird, is always a great artist to catch up with. Catch him smoking a cigarette outside any local venue and he’ll tell you that he’s got dozens upon dozens of new songs he’s working on scattered across loose iPhone notes to thoughts scribbled on a napkin.
This ambition would suggest that the final output would be prolific but stretched thin. Not the case with the dialed in Penny The Dreadful. Pensive tracks like “A Ballad From Hell” show Those Mockingbirds’ ability to draw you in with atmosphere, whereas “How To Rob A Bank”, and its subsequent live performances, showcased the band’s range and ability to rock the fuck out. Let’s hope Adam gets those thoughts again together soon.
45. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
44. Black Wine – Yell Boss
43. Jack White – Lazaretto
42. Hot Blood – No Kings
There was a time when Punk-Rock served a purpose; a time when frontmen spit venom at what they believed to be wrong in their communities, and the instrumentals that supported their unifying calls were just as stirring, scalding, and destructive to the societal shackles set in place by the faceless powers that be.
It was music that lived in nameless basements, burnt out bomb shelters, and sound-proofed backrooms. Punk was revolutionary in a period of time when the people needed an uprising. Some would say our modern culture is headed in a similar direction, if we’re not already there. Could Hot Blood be the fire starters we need? No Kings makes a legitimate case for these Asbury Park punks to be the flag bearers.
Selections from this Little Dickman Records release like “Can’t Hold Us Down”, “Real Bad Case”, and “Class Warfare” have induced their share of pits in the past. Maybe these tunes were meant to incite larger audiences?
41. Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else
40. Angel Olson – Burn Your Fire For No Witneess
39. Hospitality – Trouble
38. Circa Survive – Descensus
37. Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – Tyranny
36. Radiator Hospital – Torch Song
35. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent
34. Accidental Seabirds – The Greenpoint Spill
Accidental Seabirds delivered one of the very first albums we received in 2014, and this 17-track collection never strayed too far from my Crosley or my mind.
Folk-Rock offerings, avante-garde artistry, and poetic pop compositions breathed life into an often stale and stagnating genre, as Jesse Lee Herdman’s unique delivery – a mix of haunting vocal hooks and emphatic spoken word lyricism – meshed with the masterful experimentations of some of the Jersey Shore’s most talented multi-instrumentalists in Jimmy James Cutrera, Anthony Defabritas, and Javier Rebollar made for such beautifully chaotic selections as “A Pool of Pianos and Violins” and “Bright Red”, while “Footprints”, “Don’t Let Down”, and the likes fed one’s hunger for the alluring sing-along.
33. TV On The Radio – Careful You
32. PUP – S/T
31. BRONCHO – Just Enough Hip To Be Woman
30. Mumblr – Full of Snakes
29. Caribou – Our Love
28. Dentist – S/T
Not every soundtrack to 2014 was rooted in such depressing material. There were moments of joy, and spinning the self-titled debut from Asbury Park’s own Dentist was certainly one of them.
Building off a pop-rock foundation first cemented in the recently defunct but beloved No Wine For Kittens, Dentist turned up the warm glow of the New Jersey’s revered summertime atmosphere, added an experimental surf-rock twang, and constructed some of the most alluring pop songs to emerge from, not merely the Garden State’s underground scene, but the national spectrum.
And the local community was quick to recognize that craftsmanship when the outfit was awarded Song of the Year honors for “Bird In A Cage”…just one of the many essential numbers in this collection.
27. Interpol – El Pintor
26. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
25. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
24. Frankie Cosmos – Zentropy
23. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
22. Andrew Jackson Jihad – Christmas Island
21. EMA – The Future’s Void
20. Cymbals East Guitars – LOSE
19. Wild Beasts – Present Tense
18. Moon Motel – Live For No One
Yes, J. Sales makes music under the guise of Moon Motel, but at the core of this artist is a writer.
More accurately a poet, who uses delicately struck strings as the pamphlet for his characters, stories, emotions, and simply, his words to live and breathe.
The anticipated follow up to The Lonely Romantic came this past year in Live For No One and, though it wasn’t thought to be possible, was more emotionally jarring than its predecessor, exposing the listener to the aftermath of love torn to shreds, and the dangerous powers of the mind when left to its own devices.
This collection is visceral and stirring, and isn’t recommended for those in certain state of misery…or just maybe, knowing there is another out there who shares a similar sentiment is just the lift you need.
17. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
16. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again
15. Twin Peaks – Wild Onion
14. The Menzingers – Rented World
13. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
12. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
11. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
10. Tara Dente – Leave Your Ghosts Behind
Whether the theme is intentional or an after effect of this Long Branch-based songstress’ head space, time is certainly of the essence on Leave Your Ghosts Behind.
Tara Dente emerged as one of the Jersey Shore’s premier songwriters in 2014 with her latest full-length release, and it’s album worthy of the greatest compliment I know how to pay to an artist, in that her music not only made me think, but contemplate my position in this existence. Is it healthy to regret? No. Is it useful to wither away? Absolutely not. Then why do it, when life marches on?
It’s a question posed on the album’s opening salvo “The One Thing”, and though the song – as are all of Dente’s works – is acoustic and humble in demeanor on the surface, it’s the message which leaves an impact crater at the listener’s core. In a way Leave Your Ghosts Behind is an emotional farewell letter to the community Dente is leaving – she really is moving to Vermont – as much as it is a warning to cherish the time you have and not allow yourself to stagnate.
It’s a message well received, and bit of advice that is appreciated.
9. Temples – Sun Structures
A classic case of the hype leading to minds being made up in advance, UK psych-rockers Temples were met with a measure of blowback in response to their debut album, Sun Structures. As with the sound their emulating, this is a record that takes a while to gestate and rattle around in your brain leading to a lasting impact.
Lead track “Shelter Song” establishes the world of Temples straight away. Their influences are definitive and easily traceable, but that doesn’t mean they were unable to find new grounds to tread. Backed by otherworldly, haight ashbury harmonies and a deft approach to melody and structure, Temples are left to play and stretch out.
The yield of these experiments drawn into a concise album output comes in the monstrous guitar line that heralds “The Golden Throne”, the campfire psych of “Keep In The Dark”, and the pure, driving pop perfection of “Mesmerize”. We may very well look back on Sun Structures years from now as the genesis point of band we’ll be hearing a lot from for years to come.
8. Corrina, Corrina – American Short Stories
The next great punk band has arrived, and its members are from Middletown, NJ…who knew?
Asbury Park’s own Little Dickman Records struck gold when they released the writhing debut LP from Corrina, Corrina, a group of angsty songwriters with a collection of stories to tell over charred guitar chords – and on one occasion a series of subdued acoustic picking – and a batch of influences worn prominently on the sleeves of their shredded t-shirts (Bouncing Souls, Gaslight Anthem, The Menzingers).
Where Springsteen once found the key to his universe in the engine of an old car, Corrina, Corrina found theirs “in a pack of Spirits.” And while the Boss was in search of a jukebox graduate to be his first mate, this burgeoning pack of local luminaries is looking for drugs in the strangest of places, while holding back the hair of seasick mama as she throws up…the point is life isn’t as glamorous as some musicians make it out to be, and American Short Stories is a record of that gritty, vivid, realism, laid out on a bed of unifying lyricism and alluring instrumental hooks.
The whole album is a highlight. Go spin it.
7. Future Islands – Singles
Arguably the biggest successes story of 2014, the rise of Maryland synth-rock band Future Islands has been a long time coming, and that time has come with Singles.
Yes, there was the infamous Letterman performance of “Seasons (Waiting On You)” which spring-boarded the band into the viral stratosphere, but Samuel T. Herring’s animalistic-Elvis style dancing and cavorting has been a part of the Future Islands story for years now. A legacy that’s risen from basements to two sold out shows at Terminal 5.
That being said, there’s no other band that could have employed such heart on the sleeve lyrics and themes than Future Islands and most of that has to do with Herring’s delivery. This time, he’s at the absolute fore front riding synth waves and grabbing you by the throat or crooning to you sweetly, sometimes within the same passage.
Instant ear worm choruses that produce feelings emotional triumph or longing are the key driving factor underneath it all coming out in “Sun in the Morning”, “Doves”, and the heart wrenching “Fall From Grace”.
Future Islands finally broke through with Singles showcasing not only what was already a best kept secret, but a significant growth as well.
6. Slothrust – Of Course You Do
The Boston-based Slothrust landed on my radar when the outfit was tapped by The Menzingers to accompany Philadelphia’s finest upon a string of U.S. tour dates, and then the sophomore LP Of Course You Do dropped and poured from my speakers in a grandiose avalanche of art-rock guitar explosions and revelatory lyricism from the enigmatic front-woman that is Leah Wellbaum.
With moments both frenetic and placid Wellbaum muses about the inner strength of the woefully lonesome (“7:30 AM”) and the common bond of pain shared by two like-minded lovers of cats (“Crockpot”), and those are just two of the many highlights.
5. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks – Enter The Slasher House
The sound track to my Spring of 2014 and an album that I feel was totally overlooked, Enter The Slasher House, the debut album from Avey Tare and his newly formed Slasher Flicks, is the artist’s most concentrated psych-pop experiment to date. Seemingly operating in the shadow of his Animal Collective band mate Panda Bear, Tare dialed in the base rhythmic focus of his primary band, and translated visual influences from the cheesy horror movies he loves to an album format.
With Angel Deradoorian, former member of Dirty Projectors, and ex-Ponytail drummer, Jeremy Hyman in tow, Enter The Slasher House takes rare breathers and is full of dynamic, genre-hopping morsels highlighted by Avey Tare’s signature yelps and near limitless vocal range.
“A Sender” establishes the overall mood from the outset unfurling into an overlapping rhythmic overload finish while “Blind Babe” soars with unwavering, full bore musicianship from the trio.
There’s also no neglecting the gorgeous pop-melody of single “Little Fang” and the instant dance party starter, “Strange Colores”, ranking amongst one of the top the songs of 2014 that didn’t receive its due.
It’s amazing to consider the output of artists like Avey Tare who can tap into different modalities, live with it, internalize, and move on to the next project. Here’s hoping Slasher Flicks wasn’t a one time thing.
4. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
Philadelphia’s young rising sons of the emotionally-driven pop realm followed up a seemingly perfect 2012 debut in Sports with an even more essential sophomore LP that soundtracked this penman’s summertime drives down the Garden State Parkway to the office at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood (Sports writer by day).
Another resounding opening pitch by yet another relatable wordsmith in Brendan Lukens encapsulated the moment for anyone suffering from that debilitating loneliness with “Fine, Great”, and further expanding on the notion, “Home alone on a Friday night/no better time for exercise/and wishing you were still my girlfriend.” (Broken Cash Machine). And though track three was aptly titled “Rock Bottom”, not all subject matter was so manically depressive, as the pit churning “Apartment” discussed that love at first sight moment…and the total awkwardness that ensues.
Sadness interspersed with awkward moments and fleeting bits of joy, such is life, and such is You’re Gonna Miss It All.
3. Spoon – They Want My Soul
A lot was made of Spoon’s return following Britt Daniel’s brief super group foray with Divine Fits a year prior. If anything, the time away and engorged with trickles of collective influences in Divine Fits contributed to a re-invigorated approach to the music of Spoon, which had many hand wringing in tempered expectation before the release of the excellent They Want My Soul.
If you wanted Daniel’s soul, well, here it is with Spoon’s return to form and beyond. The swaggering, jagged cuts of the opener, “Rent I Pay”, segue into the world weary, skittering rhythms of “Inside Out”.
My choice for song of the year likely goes to “Do You” which I dare you to consume and wash from your memory. Not possible. “Indie-rock” construction at its finest.
The album snakes around different corners and pockets of the eclectic Spoon sound, but the resonance of closer, “New York Kiss”, is especially worthy of mention as the lovelorn lyrics and atmospheric elements tug at a memory everyone’s reflected on. That one kiss. Whether it was a one night adventure, staying up way too late, and sharing something and depositing into the ether, or that first kiss up press up against a wall outside a bar. The one display that breaks the tension and shares in something real.
Nostalgia aches but is celebrated as having lived with They Want My Soul, what may be someday looked back upon as Spoon’s finest album.
2. PUJOL – Kludge
The latest studio effort from Nashville Garage-Poet poet Daniel Pujol found me at an interesting time in my life. Nearly five years after witnessing this burgeoning maestro of the underground rock scene destroy a New Brunswick basement, while stealing the spotlight from one Ted Leo, PUJOL was overtaking my aural cavities once more, resonating from line one with “I’m getting back into the swing of things, I had a real bad year.”
You and me both sir, and with that we were off into an artistic realm as fabricated as it was rooted in reality, complete with hooky guitar manipulation, cinematic undertones, and raspy vocal melodies discussing the loss of one’s love, mind, and self, all intertwined with nods to Gary Oldman (“Judas Booth”), a Dylan-esque depiction of a perfect existence featuring a loved one and a pet bunny (“Spooky Scary”), and an ode the last remaining sanctuary where it’s still okay to turn off you phone (“Pitch Black”).
KLUDGE is everything you could want in a rock record…and a therapist.
1. Ariel Pink – pom pom
I have been waiting a long time to write the following. An odd statement to make not only because it has nothing to do with the actual writings hence forth, but concerns an artistic work that’s not even two months old.
Up front, separating the material from the real world statements of Ariel Pink is not something to be cast aside as a “troll move”. Composer John Maus summarized it best in a brief psycho-analysis in that:
“Ariel Pink is not a misogynist. He is a nymphomaniac, a little girl, a dog, etc. The claim that Ariel ‘hates women’ is false because it neglects a greater and more important truth: what he affirms and defends in everything, precisely, are the innumerable queers that the residue of a sexual economy ordered to the sanctioned identities of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ only ever violently arrest.”
With pom pom Ariel Pink has delivered on the perfect narrative blend of his eccentricities, spirit, and musical brilliance evident in select drips and drabs over the course of his career. The most obvious feedback you could give up front is that this is one for the Zappa, Ween, et al disciples which either indicates a short attention span or patience depending on if you’re approaching that view from inside or out.
The tone is immediately set up front with “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” where Pink introduces his to his new aural universe with an up-tempo, whacked out pop song that is continuously fire bombed by explosions or horse whinnys while borrowing somewhat from the seminal concept record, Sgt. Peppers and, more specifically, “With A Little Help From My Friends”.
Zoom away to “White Freckles” which grabs you up from the rubble of the previous track and jets you off on a guitar driven ride coming to the swirling bridge and then back up again for, “Freckles, freckles, where’d you get those freckles, Stencils, Did you paint them on? White freckles, white freckles. It’s on the DL tip and guaranteed to blow your mind it’s such a simple DIY.”
Lurching below the surface is the cleverly titled “Four Shadows” which shines a dirty, yellowing spotlight on Pink’s acid-washed, glam-rock screams. “Lipstick” offers up the first single worthy construction, with a blooming synth wave that supports a warm, yet cave-hollow atmosphere.
“Not Enough Violence” is a spinning descent heralding one’s doom repeating, “And we power plant bodies (on the body farm).” You and I are fertilizer in the end.
Easily the most immediately digest-able song on pom pom is “Put Your Number In My Phone” which I was delighted to see embraced by Speak Into My Good Eye compatriot James Appio (CoolDad Music):
“As I listen to it more, though, it becomes a little darker and creepier for me. I get this image of Pink putting on some calculated, nice, sensitive guy persona just to pick up girls. That’s not that unusual, but the song is so sweet on its face that it takes on a “…doth protest too much” vibe, making the narrator almost a little scary. It makes the song into this kind of cynical, cold-hearted thing for me. The voicemail that serves as a bridge is the giveaway, I think. Or I’m just an overly suspicious person.”
To speed things up, there’s the dreamy, alien-gentleman a-courtin’ of “One Summer Night”, the surf-irony of “Nude Beach A Go-Go” which manages to put many full time purveyors of the genre to shame, and the crusty, dark punk of “Goth Bomb”.
Now, here’s the real challenge. Engage in the commitment of seeing “Dinosaur Carebears” all the way through. I’ll just let that one speak for itself. Silly, ballsy, and warped.
One of my favorite tracks, “Negative Ed”, is a ripping space rock burner with the most furious guitar work on the record. Pink sneers and chastises Ed who seems to exist only as a detractor, “Negative Ed, Don’t play my bassline wrong, dickhead.” The crying French child over slipped in for good measure is particularly unsettling, which I personally love in a listening experience.
Pink gets his 70’s lounge sleeze on with “Sexual Athletics” presenting a “sex king” who isn’t nearly as smooth as he’s making himself out to be. The song closes with a cloud of innocent harmonies with the sentiment, “All I wanted was a girlfriend, but she’s too sexual,” framing the artist’s internal conflict deposited into his recorded output.
“Jell-O” is catchy and hilarious while taking a page out of another concept narrative song, the baseball call metaphor on Meatloaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”.
If you’re looking for the singular track which makes the most straightforward sense in the story Pink is trying to outline on pom pom, the funky fart stomp of “Black Ballerina” is the place to start. Here we find our protagonist, Billy, timidly exploring his sexual demons, eventually getting kicked out of a strip club for touching a topless dancer after laying the panty dropper line, “uh, I like your areolas…baby.”
So I’ve mentioned every song on the record up until this point, but I’ll close with the haunting crown jewel that is “Picture Me Gone”. Easily slot-able as a mood establisher in most Kubrick films, “Picture Me Gone” explores the confusion of the supposed immortality and projected best image of selfies, Facebook posts about that cute thing your boyfriend did for you, and the overall ephemera of the modern era.
It wouldn’t be a bold Ariel Pink statement without traces of irony and inventive, otherworldly approach to balladry.
“Let’s make a toast to glory days
When you were 8 and I was only 41.
I dedicate this selfie to the little guy
Who will outlast me when I’m done.”
This is someone who is other beleaguered or entranced by the thought of the perceived perception of others in a digital age being open to interpretation. Chances are its a mix of both.
With pom pom, Ariel Pink has created a sonic world that encapsulates the scatter brained, ADD culture presented in the media we consume daily, while finding a tenderness and tempered feeling of trust in it all. Succumb to the guiles of pom pom, Speak Into My Good Eye’s top album of 2014.