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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Toby's Top Ten of 2014

I realize it’s kind of lame for me to have been absent around these parts for the better part of 2014 only to show up now spouting off my opinions on the best music of this past year.  You can rest assured though that I did my best to keep up with the listening part of this job just as much as I ever have, it was just the writing part…or I should say the time required to do so…that escaped me last year.  But even though I may not have reviewed the records I fell in love with in 2014, I took notes and jotted down each and every band and album that left its indelible mark in my brain.  And as much as I loathe the idea of New Year’s resolutions, which are really just empty promises people make to themselves, I’m gonna go ahead and say that in 2015 my goal is to re-establish myself as a frequent collaborator here at Heavy Planet.  So with all of that said, I give you my favorite records from 2014 and encourage you to look for more input from me in 2015.  Happy New Year.

10) Wasted Theory - Death and Taxes

Delaware’s Wasted Theory came out of nowhere this year with Death and Taxes (review here) and to take nothing away from their 2013 debut Godspeed, the improvement in both songwriting and musicianship from that album to this one were simply astounding.  Of course, having seen the band at this year’s Moving the Earth Festival back in March (recap here), I already knew that they were solidly behind these songs when their set consisted exclusively of material from the new album.  Tracks like “Dead is Dead,” “Hellfire Ritual,” and “Black Widow Liquor Run” were seething with whisky drenched vocals, Southern-fried swagger, and a mountain of groove.  With a name like Death and Taxes, one could assume that Wasted Theory figured this album was a certainty, and after listening to it over and over this year, I tend to agree with them.        

09) StubbCry of the Ocean

I had never heard Stubb’s self-titled debut prior to hearing this album, so I went in with no pre-conceived notions of what to expect.  Little did I know, that what I would hear was the sound of a bygone era when rock n’ roll could fill football stadiums and guitar solos dominated the radio dial.  Modern day revivalists of the classic power trio, these Londoners put heartfelt emotion into Cry of the Ocean.  Whether it was the combination of heavy fuzz with soul in “Cry of the Ocean, Part Two,” the acoustic buildup and subsequent slide guitar finale on “Heartbreaker,” or the obvious Hendrix worship found on “Devil’s Brew,” I couldn’t get enough of Stubb’s sophomore record and it’ll likely be in my heavy rotation for the foreseeable future.   

08) Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus - Spirit Knife

Hailing from Sweden, Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus (I'd love to know the origins of that name) play a chill inducing style of meandering, psychedelic rock that sticks with you long after the final chords fade from your speakers.  Their latest, Spirit Knife, was an odyssey of musical peaks and valleys awash in beautiful layers of fuzzed out reverb.  This was a quintessential headphone record, one where the guitars gently shimmered and violently crashed, and the drums were kept purposefully loose, serving mainly to keep the ensemble from teetering too far out of control during the instrumental passages, of which there were many.  But what kept JIRM firmly cemented in my frontal cortex were the powerful, mesmerizing vocals, which were sporadic, but frequent enough to keep me engaged.  Look no further than the album’s opening track “Fog by the Steep” for a sample, but the entirety of Spirit Knife is a journey you should experience.  It was one of the best I took in 2014. 

07) 1000 Mods - Vultures

This is the first of two bands on my list this year who hail from Greece…is something sinister in the water of the Aegean or what?  From the opening fuzzed out riff and seamless mix of laid back and shouted vocals on "Claws," 1000 Mods throw haymakers from the very get go, and they never let up throughout this album.  Being veterans of the very first Heavy Planet compilation Bong Hits from the Astral Basement, I can't help but feel a sense of pride seeing these guys develop and grow as a band.  Give a listen to "Big Beautiful" or "Horses' Green" if you'd like a sample.  Call it stoner, call it desert…shit man, call it whatever the fuck you want, but Vultures was by far some of the best heavy rock I heard in 2014. 

06) Planet of Zeus - Vigilante

This is the second Greek band on my top ten list of 2014…who knew?  If these guys (and 1000 Mods) aren't touring together throughout the Hellenic Republic, then I don't know what the fuck to say.  With a sound that manages to simultaneously harken early Clutch and the 70's excess of KISS, Planet of Zeus combine a righteous layer of fuzz alongside funky beats, aggressively throaty vocals and anthemic, fist-pounding hard rock.  The result is a sinister concoction of heavy groove, sing-along choruses, and potent rhythms.  Take a listen to "Second Coming," "Burn This City Down," "No Tomorrow," the title track…hell just take your pick because they're all solid.  Vigilante is easily one of the best albums of 2014 and should definitely accompany your next foray into drunken debauchery…if that's your sort of thing of course. 

05) The Whigs - Modern Creation

Seems like every year I include one band in my top 10 that arguably doesn't belong amongst the fuzz and sludge typically covered here at Heavy Planet and this year that band is Athens, Georgia trio The Whigs.  So yeah, this is a rock band with "pop" tendencies, and they'll likely cause you to sing (not scream) along with them, but here's the rub…like Stubb earlier, this is a power trio in the truest sense of the term.  Heavy Planet readers will likely dig tunes like "Asking Strangers for Directions" and "The Particular" which skew towards the heavier end of the spectrum.  Another reason you need to be listening to The Whigs and why they find a place in my top ten is that they easily have one of the best drummers on the circuit today and that's evident as you listen to Modern Creation.  This is straight up rock n roll, layered with pop melodies and sing-along choruses.  Frankly, I couldn't agree more with the band's own assessment as they sing on "Too Much in the Morning"…this music is "so good, so pure."

04) Fu Manchu - Gigantoid

This one seems like a no brainer, I mean c'mon man, it's Fu Manchu.  From the opening pummel of "Dimension Shifter," everything I've always loved about these SoCal stoners was there in spades.  From the chilled out, surfer vibe of the vocals, to the massive reverb and fuzz of the dual guitar attack, and the ocean sized rhythm section, Gigantoid was a worthy addition to the Fu Manchu legacy.  Songs like "No Warning" and "Triplanetary" dabbled in the hardcore punk of the band's origins, but the sound never strayed too far from the surf and skate jams that have always been their bread and butter.  Want to hear my favorite?  Check out "Evolution Machine," which was a spot on example of Fu Manchu continuing to do what they do, while simultaneously pushing the envelope of heavy music.  For a band whose first album was released 20 years ago, that's a damn fine achievement if you ask me.    

03) Slow Mover - Move Slower

What can I say about Boston’s Slow Mover and their hilariously titled sophomore record Move Slower, other than that they're spastic, have a killer sense of humor, and when they decide to let loose, they fucking destroy.  I immediately knew this album would be interesting when the first track “Home” opened with chaotic blast beats and grindcore guitars, before settling into an infectious, bouncing groove.  And I could be wrong, but based on the lyric “you have died of dysentery” I’m fairly certain that song is about the old computer game The Oregon Trail.  Subsequent tracks like “Crane Collapse” and “SFCA” continue the berserk mash-up of styles, which falls somewhere in the realm of Fu Manchu jamming with Pig Destroyer, and feature that same wicked sense of humor…”are you a wizard, I am a wizard!”  It’s safe to say, Move Slower was by far one of the most entertaining and eclectic listening experiences of 2014.     

02) Crowbar - Symmetry in Black 

How is it that nobody mentions Crowbar anymore when talking about the best doom and sludge albums on the planet?  Look, it would be easy for me to sit here and tell you that Symmetry in Black is Kirk Windstein and company returning to the form found on their classic, 1992 self-titled sophomore record, but here's the truth of the matter…they never fucking stopped delivering.  With unbelievably weighty rhythms and a downtrodden plod that only Crowbar can conjure, these vets…nay, innovators of the New Orleans sludge scene added yet another classic to an already impressive catalogue.  With tracks like the album opening "Walk With Knowledge Wisely" and "The Taste of Dying" just to name a couple, the old adage about Crowbar remains just as true today as it did back in the 90's…None Fucking Heavier.

01) The Skull - For Those Which Are Asleep

After interviewing ex-Trouble vocalist Eric Wagner, drummer Jeff Olson, and bassist Ron Holzner back in 2012 (here) about their latest project The Skull, I quickly dubbed the piece "More Trouble Than Trouble" due to their seemingly unrelenting goal to rekindle the sound and vibe that defined the early days of their former band.  Fast forward to 2014 and with their debut full length For Those Which Are Asleep, the title of that interview has never seemed more apropos.  What The Skull created was a collection of ten tracks representing the heaviest, most somber doom that you were likely to find this year (ever?).  Mixing Sabbath inspired grooves with Beatles-esque harmonies, The Skull (like early Trouble) are a lesson in musical agony and ecstasy.  From the lumbering weariness of "Sick of it All" to the bludgeoning skepticism of "Send Judas Down," For Those Which Are Asleep was the best any fan of heavy music could hope for…the revival of a classic sound married with a modern perspective.  For that reason, The Skull’s debut sits atop my favorite albums from 2014.

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