Best and Worst musical moments of 2014 by @chrisdigsmusic

By @chrisdigsmusic

2014 was a rather interesting year for music, to say the least. So much so, that it’s pretty difficult to do a coherent list containing the “bests” and “worsts” of the year. Instead, I would much prefer to hand out a bunch of awards for some of the best (and worst) musical moments of 2014:

Best Debut Album: Banks’ “Goddess”

From the same ether that spawned both Massive Attack and Lorde’s down-tempo dreamy sound comes Jillian Banks (going by Banks for short) and her rather brooding first release. Known for her collaborations with The Weekend, Banks’ confessional lyrics are carried with an effortless air that causes visceral flashbacks to the likes of PJ Harvey. Though initially murky and a bit scattered, “Goddess” is an impressive first effort from an act that promises to take the dark pop popularized by acts like Lorde and Lykke Li and shape it into something truly impressive.

Worst Debut Album: Bleachers’ “Strange Desire”

Riding on the coattails of fun.’s unexpected rise to fame, guitarist Jack Antonoff decided that it was a proper time to try his hand at a solo project. Despite a relatively fun (pun intended) and polished single, Bleachers’ “Strange Desire” fails to take off beyond the hilariously blatant homage to Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.” Sadly, Mr. Antonoff lacks the verbal and lyrical chops that made fun. so catchy, and the seemingly forced hipster attitude of the album makes the half hour of music play out a bit more like a Portlandia skit than a true solo effort.

Best Collaboration: Sunn 0))) and Scott Walker’s “Soused”

Calling Scott Walker a living legend is an understatement at best. His work with The Walker Brothers set the stage for some of the greatest baroque pop albums of all time, and Scott’s melancholic croon is the reason why David Bowie sings in the manner that he does. In recent years, Scott has gone down a dark path and has released (arguably) the scariest albums of all time. Though serving as a cathartic release of Scott’s overwhelming anxieties and tortured past, the last three albums released by him are surprisingly beautiful in their structure and composition. This being said, this doesn’t mean that one should take a stroll through the mind of Mr. Walker haphazardly. Enter drone pioneers Sunn 0))). Known for their overwhelming sonic assaults and excessive tube amps, any and all bands that experiment with overwhelming drone owe their entire careers to them. If there is any band that could keep up with Scott Walker’s overwhelmingly aggressive and tortured writing, it’s totally Sunn 0))). “Soused” is a perfect meld of sound and story that paints a rather visceral portrait of an artist who, despite his age, is still standing strong. Though not for the faint of heart and for casual listeners, “Soused” stands alone when it comes to the genre of nightmarish-but-beautiful collaborations (a genre surprisingly thin).

Worst Collaboration: Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s “Cheek To Cheek”

It’s been only six years since Lady Gaga has released her first album, and yet it’s painfully clear she’s fighting to retain relevancy in the ever-evolving pop scene. Her bizarre antics have become somewhat common-place nowadays, and try as she might to push the envelope, someone pushes it a bit further.  So, instead of pushing against the tide, Lady Gaga took a step back and decided to stick to the classics. Now, Gaga and the iconic Tony Bennett have worked together in the past. In fact, their version of “The Lady Is a Tramp” was quite fun and intriguing (in the whole David Bowie/Bing Crosby sense). However, an entire album of standards done in the same predictable format causes the novelty of this weird duo to wear off quickly, making “Cheek To Cheek” little more than a novelty stocking stuffer of an album.

Best Comeback: Aphex Twin's "Syro”

Richard D. James is, undeniably, the most important figure in the electronic music scene. Virtually all the albums crafted by him are permanent fixtures on every electronic best-of list, and the replay value his work has is unmatched. This being said, the last name he released under the Aphex Twin monicker was over a decade ago, and many thought he took his final bow. Then, a strange blimp bearing his logo appeared over several cities this year. After a suspicious website appeared on the deep web using the same logo, it was clear that he wasn't quite done yet. "Syro" picked up immediately where he left off musically, and he proves yet again that he has quite literally nothing to prove. His effortless brilliance has only improved over the past thirteen years, and the prospect of not having to wait another decade for another Aphex Twin album only adds to the perfection.

Best Single: Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk"

English DJ/producer/musician/all-around cool dude Mark Ronson is no stranger to taking the back seat when it comes to fame. His work with Adele and Amy Winehouse is remarkable, and his ability to bend his talents with collaborators is impressive. Bruno Mars was quite an intriguing choice when it came to "Uptown Funk," but man, it works so well. His bubbly and tongue-in-cheek lyrics flow flawlessly through a funky sea of perfectly arranged horns and a thumping bassline that would make George Cliton jealous. At times, it's hard to differentiate between "Uptown Funk" and some other classic funk tunes, and the sheer nostalgia factor this provides makes it not only a memorable throwback, but also provides a bit of hope for Bruno and Ronson's future together. 

Worst Single: Jason Derulo's "Trumpets"

There are few things more obnoxious than watching a movie or a television show that is filled to the brim with references and product placement. There's a very small capsizing point where a movie becomes less of a movie and more of a platform run by it's contents. This is less of a problem in the music industry seeing that most tunes that contain an overwhelming amount of references are most likely commercial jingles to begin with. And then there's "Trumpets." The premise behind the song is that it's a song he wrote for a girl after thinking about said girl. This, of course, is nothing to knew in music history. However, the way that Mr. Derulo does it is on a COMPLETELY different level. The entire song is based around comparing different parts of this girl's body to specific musician's work... In the exact same sentence format... The whole entire song... "Is it weird that your _____ reminds me of a _____ song?" Over. And. Over. Again. 

Yes Jason. It is weird that her eyes remind you of a Coldplay song, and that her ass reminds you of a Kanye West song. Please stop. This, combined with horribly over-autotuned synths makes this song virtually unlistenable. Listen if you dare. 

Local Album of The Year: Fishing The Sky's "For You"

Rob Hughes’ labor of love, Fishing the Sky, has been evolving for years. Defining a proper genre is difficult because of how effortlessly he blends influences. The sound he makes bounds from melancholic ambience to instrumental ferocity within mere moments, and is all the more prominent in "For You." Instead of continuing where he left off, Rob's latest effort bounds forward and creates an atmosphere of curiosity and proficiency that grips you from the beginning and carries you through the end. Featuring easily some of the best songs featured on a Fishing The Sky album, "For You" can and will restore and justify your faith in the local music scene. 

Local Artist of The Year: Molly Pinto Madigan

If you've been remotely close to the downtown Salem area, there's no doubt that you've seen the name Molly Pinto Madigan. "Busy" doesn't even begin to describe Molly and her artistic tendencies. As she diligently works on her new album, Molly is also rather busy playing shows across the state on an almost daily basis. The Celtic folk flare of her music channels the likes likes of legendary artists including Nick Drake and Linda Thompson that, despite any possible comparisons, stands alone. Molly also recently received the 2014 Big Red Recognition for best female singer songwriter. Despite the fact that her new album isn't quite out yet, the tireless effort she puts into the craft certainly makes the wait almost unbearable. This is certainly not the last you'll hear of Molly Pinto Madigan. Not by a longshot. 

Best Album of the Year: D'Angelo's "Black Messiah."

The recent rise in social activism and protests spawned by racial tensions boiling over is impossible to ignore. The social media coverage of these events adds a light to them that was absent decades ago, and creates a different atmosphere around them. Because of the rapid pace of these incidents and the ever-changing emotions surrounding them, many artists have struggled to find the words to best put things into perspective. Earlier in December, with literally 72 hours notice, 90's R&B icon D'Angelo not only announced the end of his fifteen year hiatus, but also that his new album was complete and heading to stores. "Black Messiah" was pushed to completion in light of the nationwide protests and unrest, and provides an incredible grounding and summation of any and all feelings surrounding these events. "Black Messiah" feels like it's creation used every single of those fifteen years was meticulously, and any imperfections are hard to find. The lyrics weave the feelings of rage and disgust with feelings of love and peace, to the point where the meaning of the album is as ambiguous as the anonymous protest featured on the album's artwork. Instrumentally, the sound is as new and risky as it is timeless. The proto-funk vibe makes Prince's two new albums look embarrassing, while the electronic sampling and tone make it feel futuristic. Comparable to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" in it's immediate longevity and the perfect artistic portrait it paints, "Black Messiah" is a triumph not only for D'Angelo, but for those who need an album that understands listener as well as the listener themselves. 

Worst Album of The Year: Robin Thicke's "Paula."

It feels like just last year that Robin Thicke's rather disturbing mysoginistic anthem "Blurred Lines" was at the top of the charts. It feels like just last year when he dressed in that Beetlejuice-looking suit while doing a risqué dance with Miley Cyrus. Man. What a difference a year makes, huh?
After some time and some rather incriminating evidence, Robin's wife Paula left him. What is the proper thing to do in this situation? Do you pull a "Say Anything" and play Peter Gabriel outside of her window? Do you admit defeat and move on? Do you rush an album bearing her name filled with begging and pleading, but balance it out awkwardly with name calling? Did you say the last option was a bad idea? If so, you've got a better grasp over things than Robin Thicke. "Paula" made headlines for selling only a few thousand copies in America and only a few hundred in England. The album is an incredibly uncomfortable exploration in the mind of a man who doesn't really understand how to say "sorry" for the bad things he has done, and acts as a creepy swan song that is baffling beyond belief. At points, he talks about how much love mattered, at points he talks about how he's a free man now, and, overall, the album serves as a perfect reason to *not* get back together with Robin Thicke. It's creepy, it's offensive, it's unnecessary, and it's not even worth thinking about.

Earth- Primitive and Deadly- A Review

EARTH – PRIMITIVE AND DEADLY – A REVIEW

The evolution of a band is sometimes rather subtle. The synthesis of influence and the progression of skill is, for the most part, abruptly prominent over the course of a handful of albums. This being said, Seattle-based Earth has proven that this isn’t always the case. Listening to their eighth album “Primitive and Deadly” conjures many questions. Where did this come from? Is this the same band? And, most importantly, why did they decide to release their opus now?

In their early years, Earth were a drone band through and through; resulting in many almost unlistenable albums, and the creation of “Earth 2” which is widely considered to be the finest example of drone music ever recorded. After a six year hiatus spawned due to Dylan Carlson’s ongoing and well-documented personal issues,  Earth returned with a more brooding and immense sound inspired by classic country artists, Ennio Morricone, and post-rock. After a series of albums, including 2012’s masterful two-part “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light,” Earth come back swinging for the fences with “Primitive and Deadly.”

Though very much an Earth album, “Primitive and Deadly” features a multitude of creative textures that have been absent in their discography that makes you wonder how different their previous albums would have been. Featuring a sonic thunder that has been tested since “Hex: Or Printing The Infernal Method,” the cohesion of Earth’s current lineup has never been so tight. Randall Dunn’s keyboard proficiency is accented perfectly with Carlson’s winey-yet-weighty guitar fills, and leveled effortlessly with second guitarist Brett Nelson’s thunderous undertones. Adding Adrienne Davies cymbal-heavy drum sledging and Bill Herzog’s fuzzy and tense bass only adds to the atmospheric high featured from start to finish. The chugging, yet endearing instrumental opener “Torn by the Fox on the Crescent Moon” is the heaviest track the band have crafted since their formation, and yet it doesn’t seem like a band trying to be sonically overwhelming anymore. From there, the harmonics featured on the second instrumental track “Even Hell has Its Heroes” are completely unexpected. At its core a blues track, the song’s abundant feedback serves merely as a backdrop as the rest of the band swings in and takes control.

An interesting addition to this album are two separate vocalists. The first, and most notable, is former Screaming Tree’s front man Mark Lanegan who, despite releasing a wide range of solo albums and collaborative efforts since the Screaming Trees broke up, has never felt more at home on an album than he does on “Primitive and Deadly.” His post-apocalyptic soothsaying on “There Is a Serpent Coming” needs his whisky-drowned growl for it to be taken seriously, and is clearly the most significant experiment the album has to offer. Rose Windows’ Rabia Shaheen Qazi’s fierce vocals on the album’s 11 minute centerpiece “From the Zodiacal Light” takes the band into a higher level of instrumental nirvana that has never been tested by the band before. The minimal and relatively eerie closer, “Rooks Across The Gate” offers an album-wide retrospective of a band that, despite an abrupt change in skill and cohesion, are an incredible force in the music world that have finally looked beyond the abyss of yesteryear.

ALBUM RATING: A (MANDATORY)


I’m a Salem-based writer with a flair for visual arts and all things music. I’ve been working diligently at Salem State University to further my education and have served as the Managing Editor for North Shore Art*Throb for over a year.

I’ve been a very big fan of wordplay for as long as I can remember, and part of that is easily attributed to the eclectic array of music I grew up listening to. Artists like Talking Heads, David Bowie, R.E.M., and Lou Reed were on heavy rotation while I was younger, and their bizarre and (at times) playful lyrics sparked a love for writing that continues today.

The only thing I love more than listening to music is sharing it with others, and I hope that some of my reviews help some people expand their musical horizons and get over the whole “there’s no good new music” cliché. Some personal favorite artists include Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, Scott Walker, Beck, and Animal Collective. 

Visit Chris's Creative Professional page

Big Ol Dirty Bucket - Bucket Express - A Review

By Chris Ricci

It’s pretty hard to deny the pure instrumental bliss and entertainment that encapsulates the funk genre. My first personal funk experience came in 2009 when I saw George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars play in Boston. Before the show, I would safely say I thought I was pretty familiar with the music of both Parliament and Funkadelic. However, watching the five minute tunes I knew by heart turn into 17 minute mind-boggling experiments both instrumentally and visually was as unexpected as it was welcomed. With this in mind, I’ve come to accept the fact that there are two kinds of funk: there’s the limited funk you can hear on a CD or a record, and then there’s the live funk where the musical beast really stretches its claws. If Big Ol' Dirty Bucket’s mastery of the album-based funk on their sophomore album is testament to their prowess, then the sky is the limit when it comes to their free-form abilities.

Photo by Todd Brick Photography

Photo by Todd Brick Photography

The brilliance of the group is noticeable early-on in their production. The balance of the instrumentation and vocals on “Bucket Express” stress the undeniable fact that Big Ol’ Dirty Bucket are a summation of their parts. The cascading horns blend almost too perfectly with the beautifully tuned guitar (most noticeably on “Boss Hogg”), to the point where it’s even hard for me to decipher which one is which. The same goes for the keys and bass guitar work; the synthesis between the two is eerily reminiscent between Bernie Worrell and Cordell Mosson in Parliament, both booming and low, but fluid and impossibly rhythmic.

The playful and inviting lyrics on “Bucket Express” are only intensified by the wonderful delivery of the vocals. Lil’ Shrimp’s powerful vocals harkens the likes of Gloria Gaynor, Tina Turner, and Grace Jones and carries the already flawless instrumentation to a different level of funkiness. This being said, the closing track “Vidalia” features her at the top of her vocal game, and serves as one of the best album closers in recent memory. Big Daddy Disco’s complexity and speed is reminiscent of The Roots’ Black Thought (most notably on the titular track), and provides an excellent vocal balance that is sadly absent in most contemporary funk

Photo by Social Palates

Photo by Social Palates

It’s, honestly, quite hard to rank any one aspect of “Bucket Express” higher than another. The auteurist instrumentation highlighted by Big Ol’ Dirty Bucket is balanced in a way that forces the listener to accept all the parts that make the whole, and it’s honestly quite genius. This, combined with two inherently different but similar vocal styles, creates a funk experience that would make George Clinton jealous. In short, “Bucket Express” is a must-listen for not only fans of funk, but fans of fun music in general. However, as stated earlier, there’s two ways to really dig the funk: in the studio, and live. Even at 59 minutes, “Bucket Express” seems short; but, after a few listens, it’s clear that many of these tunes were meant to be heard loud, and heard live. That is where the true talent of Big Ol’ Dirty Bucket lies.

 Long live the funk!  


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JUST ANNOUNCED! The official album release party for 'Bucket Express' will be on Halloween night in Salem MA. at the newly refurbished Ames Hall right in downtown Salem. This show will also feature Danny Bedrosian's Secret Army with members of Parliament Funkadelic! 

Tickets and information can be found HERE

What exactly is a Fishing the Sky? by Chris Ricci

By Chris Ricci

It was a few years ago, but I remember it as if it was just the other day. I was walking with a good friend of mine in Salem and, because of our yearning for some snacks and maybe a drink or two, we decided to check out the Gulu-Gulu Café. As we walked through the front door, we saw the strangest sight: a group of men walking around drums hitting each one as they passed by while ethereal instrumental ambience filled the room. The succession of the drumming increased as the song reached an incredible climax. The room was in stunned silence, which was broken by a very simple statement from the man in the middle “Hi, my name is Rob. This is Fishing the Sky.”

Photo by Social Palates Photography

Rob Hughes, the multi-instrumentalist behind the project, has always had a flair for music. “I started playing music when I was about 15” he said. “I played in bands all throughout high school, I went to UMass Lowell to study music for two years before switching schools, to Salem State.” However, after the switch, Rob changed his focus of studies from music to philosophy. “Formal music education wasn’t for me” he said. This being said, his passion for music never truly faded, it just began to change. “I had always been in ‘traditional’ bands, your usual rock n' roll bass, drums and guitars set up” he said. “However, I was realizing it was possible to make full sounding music on my own. I started to turn to my laptop to create and play music. That's how Fishing the Sky got created.”

Though not a Salem native, Rob admits that the North Shore has had a profound impact on his musical growth. “I grew up in Peabody and moved to Salem at 23” he said. “When I was growing up there was an incredibly strong DIY punk/hardcore/old school emo scene in Salem, primarily based at the Salem Elks Club that had a huge influence on me not only musically but personally as well. I don't even know if I'd be playing music if it wasn't for that.” Not only this, but his contact with local musicians (like Qwill or Forrest James)also helped encourage him to branch out and try things in a different manner. “I don't think the conversations, jam sessions, musical discussions and collaborations with other awesome Salem musicians would have happened were I not living in the same city with them” said Rob. “They've really helped to push me branch out from my comfort zones and think more deeply about what it is I do.

Despite being a project full-on in the digital age (where downloading and streaming are king), Rob has a set of principles that haven’t changed since he started. “ The DIY principles I ascribed to at 17 to get people out to shows and listen to my music are essentially the same “ said Rob. “Get it in people's faces and get it in their faces often. If anything it's made exposing people to your music easier.” He continied by adding that “yes, there's more noise (FB newsfeeds, Tumblr, Twitter, whatever) but it's never been easier to bring your music to people.” His new album “For You” was funded on August 20th through a successful Kickstarter campaign, and promises to bring a mini making-of documentary along with it. The projected release date for the new album and documentary is November of this year. Rob is very excited about the release, and promises one of the best songs he has ever written. When asked if he could be remembered by one album or song of his, Rob said “If I had my way it would be a tune from the new release called ‘Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.’ It's probably the best Fishing the Sky song I've ever written. I think it actually does encompass everything that is Fishing the Sky.

Rob Hughes shows no sign of slowing down, and the local music scene is a lot better because of that. He made it clear that his long-term goals musically are rather simple: “Play shows. Release music. Whack drums.”

For more information on Rob’s music and Fishing the Sky, check them out at the following locations:

http://fishingtheskyband.bandcamp.com/

http://fishingtheskyband.tumblr.com/

https://www.facebook.com/fishingtheskymusic


Meet Chris Ricci

I’m a Salem-based writer with a flair for visual arts and all things music. I’ve been working diligently at Salem State University to further my education and have served as the Managing Editor for North Shore Art*Throb for over a year.

I’ve been a very big fan of wordplay for as long as I can remember, and part of that is easily attributed to the eclectic array of music I grew up listening to. Artists like Talking Heads, David Bowie, R.E.M., and Lou Reed were on heavy rotation while I was younger, and their bizarre and (at times) playful lyrics sparked a love for writing that continues today.

The only thing I love more than listening to music is sharing it with others, and I hope that some of my reviews help some people expand their musical horizons and get over the whole “there’s no good new music” cliché. Some personal favorite artists include Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, Scott Walker, Beck, and Animal Collective. 

Visit Chris's Creative Professional page

More reviews from Chris

Iggy Azalea - The New Classic - A Review

There’s absolutely no denying Iggy Azalea’s ambitious drive in the rap game. And even if you did deny it, Iggy’s lyrics constantly proclaiming her prowess on “The New Classic” will eventually make you accept it. 

Let’s get real for a few minutes, though.

The Australian born Iggy’s first album is, on the surface, a massive hodge-podge that owes a major thanks to T.I. and his Grand Hustle Record label. Being one of the major purveyors in Atlanta rappers and Trap artists, Grand Hustle’s influence is all over “The New Classic” ranging from the generic Killer Mike and B.o.B. synth based instrumentation on “Don’t Need Y’all” and “100” to the guest appearances by T.I. and Watch The Duck.

The overwhelming lyrical narcissism prevalent across the entire album becomes boarder-line campy and begs the obvious question: can Iggy rap about anything besides herself? Lines like “I’m already in love with myself” and “first thing’s first, I’m the realist” are rather gaudy for an introduction from a budding young artist, and sets the bar pretty high for any future albums she may have. Her delivery doesn’t really take off until the album’s midway point, and she isn’t necessarily a bad rapper. It’s just very hard to take her seriously amidst the “me me me” subject matter that serves as a form of irony for the album’s title: Is this album a “new classic” because she says so, or is it because she considers herself to be a “new classic” throughout? The world may never know.

This being said, the production and instrumentation throughout “The New Classic” makes it a worthwhile listen. Watch The Duck’s trapstep brilliance resonates fairly well on “100,” and the impressive laundry list of live musicians on the album gives the album an interestingly polished 80s vibe at points. However, take away the 30-plus engineers, artists, and writers, and you have a semi-obnoxious self-indulgent album that doesn’t really deliver on the promise of it being a new classic. Such is the tragic tale of a contemporary summer toe-tapping artist. Here’s hoping for the instrumental version of the album. 

Album Rating: D (just listen to the singles on the radio [while they’re relevant])


Meet Chris Ricci

I’m a Salem-based writer with a flair for visual arts and all things music. I’ve been working diligently at Salem State University to further my education and have served as the Managing Editor for North Shore Art*Throb for over a year.

I’ve been a very big fan of wordplay for as long as I can remember, and part of that is easily attributed to the eclectic array of music I grew up listening to. Artists like Talking Heads, David Bowie, R.E.M., and Lou Reed were on heavy rotation while I was younger, and their bizarre and (at times) playful lyrics sparked a love for writing that continues today.

The only thing I love more than listening to music is sharing it with others, and I hope that some of my reviews help some people expand their musical horizons and get over the whole “there’s no good new music” cliché. Some personal favorite artists include Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, Scott Walker, Beck, and Animal Collective. 

Visit Chris's Creative Professional page