Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 2014 Okapi Sampler!

"The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." - Madeleine L'Engle. 

I was born in 1970, exactly in the middle of Generation X, the life era of those of us defined by "The Breakfast Club," new wave, and Atari.   We remember public payphones, the fall of the wall, and when MTV played music videos.   We knew Madonna when she was provocative and the New Kids on the Block when they were kids.   Our youth was spent at the mall.   And it was spent living in the shadow of the Baby Boomer generation.  We were labelled, dismissed, and marketed to as the generation of angst loving slackers, while nearly all of America's cultural space continued to be occupied by the Baby Boomers' reminiscences of their youth.  They reminded us through just about every possible cultural medium how they fought segregation and war and blind allegiance to tradition, and how we wouldn't even fight for the right to party.   They told us we were just a "filler" generation, between them and the wizards of tech.   And, to quite an extent, we believed them, despite our generational accomplishments and our contributions to culture and history.

But, we're all older now.  And with age comes new understandings of past experiences.  And the current generation of music creators is helping all of us to re-understand the music of my era so we can all move forward again.  Certainly some of the interest in 80s and 90s music is due to a desire to escape the current headlines, bu they aren't just imitating my generation's new wave, acid house, grunge, and rave music by churning out rehashed "retro" sounds...they are picking up where we left off when we gave in to the labels placed upon us.  Much of the best of 2014 reached back to take us forward.  

So, here's a very biased look at the top 10 of the year....

 # 10  Eskuche & Nu Sky - "Acid Jump"

Acid house.  It's the perfect music history legend...a few kids with some homemade music exploded out of Chicago in the late '80s and created a global movement.  This year, a few kids, who weren't even born when the genre was invented, took a fresh look at squelchy acid trax.   Eskuche & Nu Sky from New York City's underground released "Acid Jump" over the summer and used the tools of today to take us back to summers ago with Jack and Fierce Ruling Diva.   If you gotta believe in something, why not believe in acid?   

 # 9 Ariel Pink - "Lipstick"

Ariel Pink has been piquing my interest for a few years now, and this track is the perfect example of why.   It's one part mid-'80s Echo & The Bunnymen, one part Animal Collective, and one part original Scooby-Doo mystery.   It's reaches into a few decades for eccentricities and still perfectly captures 2014's most hipster of sounds.

# 8 TV On The Radio - "Happy Idiot"

TVOTR = indie rock bliss.   They've been making really solid indie rock since 2001, and this year they released their fifth album, Seeds; the first since the 2011 death of their bassist, Gerard Smith.  It's hard not to hear the early '80s REM and early 90s Sonic Youth influences (and they really remind me of Wire at their best), but it's perfectly relevant today.   With "Happy Idiot" they do what they do best...walk that beautiful line at the intersection of painfully urgent and indulgently atmospheric.   

 #7 Hercules and Love Affair feat. John Grant - " I Try To Talk To You"

Yes, Hercules and Love Affair made it to my year end top ten, again.   Well, it's my top ten, so I can include whatever I please.   Besides, this track featuring alt-folk singer John Grant, is fucking amazing.   Hercules and Love Affair came to be out of a need to take another look at early '90s heyday House.   That's the House that saved lives on the dance floor in the midst of a terrifying plague.   John Grant's almost goth voice sharing the experience of finding out he'd become HIV positive laid down over a life-saving House beat allows us to re-understand that time from the relative safety of 2014.   

 # 6 Jamie xx - "All Under One Roof Raving" 

Jamie xx, from the English group The xx, gave us this tribute to the UK rave scene of a couple of decades ago by overlaying a story of rave day conversations on top of a very current post-dubstep track.  Oh, did I mention the steel drum?   Yes, please. 

# 5 Kiesza - "Hideaway"

Around the same time that Kiesza was learning to walk, Robin S and Ce Ce Peniston were filling dancefloors around the world with deep house infused dance pop.   Those of us who remember the days of "Finally" thought there'd never be that kind of synth bass catchy hook again.   We were wrong.   "Hideaway" gives Rick Astley's biggest hits a run for their money on catchiness...but let's be clear...it's all kinds of good.  

#4 Kim Ann Foxman - "Steal My Secrets"

Kim Ann Foxman knows House.  She knows where it came from and why.   As a Hercules and Love Affair affiliate that's not too surprising.   What is surprising is the degree to which "Steal My Secrets" sounds like a long lost record from a San Francisco full moon rave in 1992.   It isn't influenced by that special place and time.  It is that place and time.  And that was a damned good era 

# 3 Neneh Cherry - "Blank Project"

Neneh Cherry's 1988 smash, "Buffalo Stance" made it to # 50 on VH1's top 100 one hit wonders.   And, while there's nothing wrong with being a one hit wonder (the vast majority of us are NO hit wonders), Neneh Cherry is much, much more than that.   She left New York City when when she 16 to join the just emerging punk scene and played in The Slits.   She's created punk, rap, house, and more recently, experimental jazz.   And this year she released this intensely personal piece as an expression of her coping with the death of her mother.   This is what art sounds like.  

# 2 Caribou - "Our Love"

Beautiful.   Provocative.   Straddling the sacred line between joy and yearning.   This track is, to me, perfection.   With flourishes of strings, oddly placed bleeps, and a chunky 1991 techno rhythm line, well just damn.  

  # 1  Shamir - "Sometimes A Man"

The Godfather of House, Frankie Knuckles, passed away in March of this year.   It was hard to understand how a man who invented and created a music movement so based on the energies of youth could have left us and passed into history.   It's such a cliche, but it's also true that his music will live and influence and inspire for generations to come.  Shamir, born in the suburbs of Las Vegas in 1994, has no first hand experience of what happened in Chicago in the 1980s, but his House is directly from Frankie, and his talent is startling.  His EP, Northtown, is downright exciting in scope, from Chicago house, to R&B influenced electronica, to an authentic bluegrass ballad.   Sometimes a man is more than he says he is. 

So, there it is.   The Lair of the Okapi's Top 10 Songs of 2014!   It was a hard one this year, and here are some more excellent tracks that I just couldn't fit in to the top 10...

Foster The People - "Best Friend"
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - "Stranger To My Happiness"
Sam Smith feat. Mary J. Blige - "Stay With Me"
Sinkane - "New Name"
Basement Jaxx - "Power To The People"
Craft Spells - "Breaking The Angle Against The Tide"
Hozier - "Take Me To Church"
and, of course, Pharrel - "Happy"




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