\\Notes From Downriver//
\\Punk (La Vie Antérieure)//
\\Minimal Techno//
\\(Co-Dependent) Independent Jangling//
\\Occasional Modern Classical//

By James Harbard

The Skygreen Leopards - Family Crimes (Woodsist - 2014)

There was a mechanic I knew who had gone down the same path and we spent a lot of time together, quitting our jobs just for a few months. Perpetually hungover it was hard to say how often we actually made it to the lake, but the nights that we did were always so beautiful. There was a large white rock in the middle of that particular lake coated in lizards and what I assume were cherubs and sometimes I would see the girl I’d constantly fantasize about reclined on it, still dressed in that same a white dress she wore on her birthday but drenched head to toe. The mechanic’s fingers were uncleanable, he’d wash them for hours and hours in the lake which proved a fruitless task but it was fine with me. I’d just stare at her while I waited.

We’d come home and listen to The Skygreen Leopards’ “Garden Blue” and have a cigarette. The mechanic would say it reminded him of a Woods song, I’d say “fuck dude does it matter, they’ve been around longer anyway and they’re on their record label”. He’d agree. Then when “Reno wedding” would come on he’d be like “fuck yeah dude this guitar bit killllls!!!”

Shabazz Places - “Forerunner Foray” (Sub Pop - 2014)

From what I’d read about the new highly anticipated (by me) Shabazz Palaces record, they’ve made a break from the fractured Black Up to something more typically beautiful yet still equally disorienting. The first cut didn’t really sell it that way and I’m still holding out from the leak, (you kinda have to have this shit at 320), but I couldn’t help but have a listen to what GvB are calling the records highlight, The delightfully named “Forerunner Foray.” Is this is what it sounds like to be in love in Luc Besson’s Fifth Element?

Ricky Eat Acid - “p u l l “ (Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs - 2014)

After releasing the years most unexpected and deliriously beautiful piece of dance music in the middle of one of the years best ambient records, Sam Ray has parted with this haunting Salem esq thing, apparently the first thing he recorded as Ricky Eat Acid. It’s another thing that shouldn’t work that just does. Because. Sam Ray.





United Waters - Sunburner (Bathetic Records - 2014)

Depending on how much you’ve had to drink Sunburner either sounds like a post punk band playing underwater or a band tuning up. It’s essentially highly experimental indie rock or just indie rock smeared across a canvas and it’s at its most starling when it suddenly pops into focus, an obvious and well used trick, but one that’s deployed uniquely here. These moments could be via an unexpected guitar lick like the one that crops up in “Out of Flight” or a the shift down into murky melody on “Archers”, moments that make you think that you’re actually drowning in cigarette smoke. The intermittent industrial drum machines ad a additionally surreal edge to the whole thing, Sunbruner is inherently anxious in its entirity, but its creators seem calm to the point of being removed from its angst, by listening along willingly you are as well. It never quite hits the way it you think it should which is both unnerving, strangely satisfying and calming. You can dig quite deep into Sunburner and never get to it’s core, because it’s core was never really formed instead it settles into droney repetitious segments very peacefully and accessibly. In this way it possibly serves as an entry point to a type of music that isn’t really indie rock, it’s where guitars go to die and becoming never ending fuzzy fragments of sound that beg discovery and it will calm you down if your patience is gifted to it.

Bostro Pesopeo - “Cheer Up” (Permanent Vacation - 2013)

My friend took this one amazing photo of Carlton Gardens. He looks like he’s the only one there and it looks warm. I ordered a pizza last night and decided that photo sounds like this.

Wolves In The Throne Room - Celestite (Artemisia - 2014)

Wolves In The Throne Room aren’t really a black metal band and they never were, they’re primarily concerned with atmosphere and lots and lots of it. Take the heaviness of “Thja Magas Imperium”, or the cultish backing vocals of “Subterranean Initiation” and you’ll find the best moments on these tracks are the ones they’re being played in a damp cave far beneath the earth, the moments where they do in fact become genre-less. WITTR seemed always to thrive for a certain hippy aesthetic in a very non hippy genre, they were longing to be in touch with nature, if mostly it’s harsher elements.

Taking that into account Celestite, shouldn’t be a genuine surprise but it is. It sees them biting the bullet and terminating any last remaining shred of metal from their existence. The whole thing was built from analogue synths, from the sounds of it pretty fucking old ones. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a sea of new age hippy records at a market in Eltham in an incense filled tent. Still despite all the intense hatred thrown the way of Celestite I’ve found it very hard to write off completely or even consider a disappointment. I don’t think this record is a backlash against black metal’s purism, or even meant to shock fans, it’s simply a very self indulgent experiment in a corner of music these guys have actually never really been shy about loving.

And you can hear it the fact they always wanted to make Celestite within Celestite. This is not as dense as most of their work with guitars, but it does offer a craftsmanship and nods to their past that in parts separates this from a sea of music that, yes you can buy for $2 on a cassette in any market anywhere. “Celestite Mirror” is the undisputed highlight and I’ve enjoyed it on numerous occasions. It holds it’s own over its mammoth run time, a cave of “by one get one free healing crystals”, appearing in the middle of it before a few doom riffs sign it off. The main draw back here, is not a shock tactics, or boredom, but instead the tools. You can’t help but think that this record could have been something absolutely incredible if they had branched out from basic synths, but perhaps that’s the point. They wanted this thing to sound like this. It’s hard to take Celestite as anything other than a hippy cliche, but what more perfect band could deliver a cliche new age hippy record in 2014?

Noveller & Thisquietarmy - Reveries (Shelter Press - 2014)

Empty architecture, luminosity, rocks and deserted zones. Somewhere between Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and Tarkovski’s Stalker, there is a walk, a wait and an epiphany.
It happened. You were not there. You just read it.

I used to have an almost unquenchable thirst for drone but as of late I haven’t been listening to a lot of it, I think that’s largely due to the fact I’m busier, I only really listen to ambient music when I’m doing nothing else, I need to devote 100% ofmyself to it. I’m happier, ambient music is often something to drown yourself in. Reveries is the deepest point of the furthest reaches of the ocean.

It’s very hard for anyone with even a passing interest in ambient music to go past a release by these two. It’s a sprawling sea of guitar drone, the mood shifting from light to dark, from optimistic to the depths of despair. It’s horrendously beautiful in parts. The track above’s closing minutes sound like you’re never coming home.

Ricky Eat Acid - “In My Dreams We’re Almost Touching” (Orchid Tapes - 2014)

I don’t think I need to tell you about how much I love Sam Ray, I can’t listen to any of his discography without instantly remembering exactly how I felt about her at the time. It’s great because he appeared in my life about the same time she did and he’s becoming clearer as she does.

But this….. nobody expected this, I expected a scrubbed up Julia Brown record maybe but not this, It’s one of my favourite tracks of this year just as “Library” was last year.
, and they couldn’t be more different, “In My Dreams” is love struck, Field esq ambient techno, “Library” was strung out heroin guitar. The feelings however are the same.

Sam are you bandcamp Jesus? Be honest with me.

Tim Hecker - “Amps, Drugs, Mellotron” (Adult Swim -2014)

Hecker has shared with us the sister track to 2013’s beautiful “Amps, Drugs, Harmonium”, My favourite Hecker Track of last year.

Following his other stepping stone contribution to 2014 - that field remix - it’s as good as you’d think, an inexplicable an improvement on the original. He just keeps coming.

The Hotelier - Home, Like No Noplace There Is (The Engines - 2014)

One of the most contentious topics of my youth was emo music, it’s died down a little bit now as the subculture is nowhere near as visible or as segregated as it once was, but unease around it still exists. Some of my closest friends in high school identified with emo and I always had conflicting feelings about it, I could never really understand why there were publicly accepted bands that I loved that were emo, but were so “good” nobody would admit it so we could all listen to “Such Great Heights.” I found most of it too sickly sweet to listen to regularly but I liked the fact that those kids with identified with a subculture that was truly theirs.

The Hotelier’s brilliant Home, Like Noplace there is is a devastating emo record. It’s a little more mature than the stuff I was talking about before, but people still kill themselves, people skip funerals, people desperately try to rebuild their shattered lives in a public sphere. Over its relatively brief runtime it asserts its desperation like no other record this year through euphoric melodic highs and breathless screams. I remember once someone pointed out to me that The Arcade Fire’s much celebrated, (not to mention hyper cool at the time) breakout Funeral was inherently not that much different to the emo music our generation was so Berlin walled on, Home reminded me of this comment only for its ability to retroactively capture the sheer desperation of youth in a mature domain, with musical ability and maturity that only comes with age.

One of the main gripes with Emo was that the melodic structures are inherently obvious and that is the case in many ways here, the chord progressions are the ones you find yourself roaming to when you have a guitar, an afternoon and no goals, but are the indie rock signatures that yes, are slightly less obviously progressive any different now they’ve been played for 25 years? Take any indie rock song say… Frankie Roses “Nightswim” - I used this example cos it’s a great song - were those guitar lines in any way hidden or unique? The guitar on Home is astonishingly obvious but also very powerful and expertly played, take the walls of melody that make up “Life In Drag” the records most desperate and aggressive track, The guitars shroud that in beauty in a way that I’ve only really heard one band do.

Then there’s the incredible centerpiece and album highlight “Among the Wildflowers” that cements just how skilled these guys are as musicians. The thing starts off as a straight forward anthemic pop-punk track with a chorus line as predictable as “Cut the Line.” It’s still highly enjoyable and easy to loose yourself in this form, before the beat doubles back on itself, the guitars are stripped to a choppier array and then drop away althogether as if your headphones broke for a second. Then they return in devastating full colour, the vocals shift from reflective emo dude, to powerful hardcore dude. The thing ends with the type of Godspeed esq interlude that Deafheaven just missed perfecting last years definitive Sunbather with, a small kid trying to explain how he’s going to stop a bully and it sounds cliche on paper, but in the context of what comes before it’s nothing less than strangely moving.

Like a lot of my favourite records this year the vocals here will probably be the decisive element, Christian Holden doesn’t have the ability to hit all the notes he goes for but he goes for them anyway and somehow gets away with it. The, sickly sweetness of them does sometimes wear at even the most patient of new participants, on “Housebroken” he sounds a little too preppy for his own good, but even that track is saved by the immaculate guitars that work way harder than they need to to. At his best like on “Life in Drag” he seems less conscious about singing well and more about making a point - it feels more natural even though on that track he’s pushing his voice to human extremes.

If a record has a track called “intro” and many do, you’d often expect a minute ambient interlude or a gentle ease into what could be a record that aims  deep, instead here “An introduction to the Album” starts and finishes the statement that Home aims and succeeds in making, as Holden’s band mates join him in “oh oh oh” backing vocals, everything seems to click into place and this record denounces all genres even though it is particularly beholden to one, those backing vocals feel like a much celebrated track (excuse the Pun) Japandroids “The House that heaven Built” a track that broke down genre barriers and further let pop punk into indie rocks once closed domain in an overtly happy way. Now that indie rock has been mainstreamed and pitchfork gives Beyonce 8.8’s and bands like The Arcade Fire are stadium selling acts, just like in the early 90’s people are finding comfort that records like this on independent labels. This stuff is made for people who want to immerse themselves in music that was made by people who feel real people things just like them and it’s wonderful they still exist with this level of professionalism. Take Julia Brown, take Teen Suicide, take Fucked Up, and in 2014 over all else take a Hotel Year.