Happy holidays from Team Sisson, and congratulations on receiving Chris Schuck's 13th Annual Surprise Birthday Bash for Jesus. As always, we've picked and exquisitely sequenced tracks from 19 of our favorite records of 2014 for your listening pleasure. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
We apologize for our lateness, but not for our greatness.....
1. The Family Crest - "Beneath the Brine"
Album: Beneath the Brine
We kick things off with The Family Crest. I told some buddies on a float trip this summer I was really into a San Francisco string band fronted by an opera singer. This statement was met with what in hindsight was a predictable amount guffaws, chortles and cachinnations. When will I learn? I stand by it though. The Family Crest has all the things I like in a band these days. Lots of different and sometimes interesting instruments, big catchy vocals, and music that swells. Man do I love a good swell. Here they are doing a Tiny Desk Concert
Also check out: "The World", "Love Don't Go"
2. Sun Kil Moon - "Ben's My Friend"
Sun Kil Moon is the stage name of Mark Kozelek. You may, but probably don't know him as the guy who played bass for Stillwater in the movie Almost Famous. Benji came out early in the year and was initially regarded as a front runner for album of the year (came in #16 on Metacritic's best of 2014 list). Since then I've seen a few articles talking about how it was overrated, or doesn't hold up over multiple listens. Let me tell you something, Benji is the gift that keeps on giving. This is one of the few records on this year's Bash mellow enough for me to put on at the office, but compelling enough for me to keep going back to it. Every time I listen to it I pick up some new interesting turn of phrase or sad story (lots of sad stories on this one). He does a great job of singing almost conversationally, but making it all fit into the song. I've seen the fantastic opener, "Carissa" on a lot of best songs of 2014 lists. I can say for sure I have listened to Benji more than any other record this year. Please enjoy.
Also check out: "Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes"
3. Moon Hooch - "Bari 3"
Album: This Is Cave Music
Saxophone is a high risk/high reward instrument. It can make or ruin a song. Sun Kil Moon utilized a sax at the end of "Ben's My Friend," which could have potentially ruined the whole experience (it didn't for me though). Meanwhile Moon Hooch without saxophones is just a drummer...literally. As you can probably tell via my ham fisted description, the band consists of two saxophone players and a drummer. They all met at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York and honed their sound busking in subway stations. How disappointed would you be if your kids got in to that school? Sure, it means they're incredibly talented, but it also means they're going to be borrowing money from you the rest of their lives. OK.....I'm sure (not really) that's a slight exaggeration. Here's Moon Hooch doing a Tiny Desk Concert
Also check out: "EWI"
4. Azaealia Banks - "Gimme a Chance"
Album: Broke With Expensive Taste
Azaealia Banks was the next big thing 3 years ago, but never really got anywhere with it. I was a bit suspicious back then when I first heard her first single, "212." It seemed to be more interesting for its shock value (copious use of the C-word) rather than musical quality. Since then she's released a couple of mixtapes, started some twitter wars and fought with her record company (Interscope), who eventually let her out of her deal. So now finally we have a proper album, most of which we've heard in bits and pieces over the years. For that reason it isn't a real cohesive listen, but that's what I like about it. There are a wide range of styles on this record so it doesn't get stale at any point. Despite all the non-music related press, Azaealia does have some real chops so we'll probably be seeing more of her in the future.
Also check out: "Heavy Metal and Reflective", "Chasing Time"
5. Lana Del Rey - "West Coast"
I have never been able to figure out if I'm supposed to like Lana Del Rey. It seemed like she was getting a lot of good press when Born To Die came out in 2012 and I really liked her song "Video Games", but then that SNL thing happened. It was so weird they spoofed it the very next week on Weekend Update. Then Ultraviolence comes out this year and it sounds amazing, but I see a ton of bad press...not really related to the sound of the record but to the subject matter. It kind of reminds me of the first couple of years of Colbert when conservatives would willingly go on because they didn't realize he was goofing on them. Come on people, she's goofing on you! Or maybe not. Either way, who cares? For some reason I have started getting Maxim magazine. I didn't order it and no one has told me they ordered me a gift subscription. Anyway, Lana Del Rey is the cover story of the December/January issue. In it she describes her frustration with her previous record company. "I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to incorporate cinematic strings with a heavier, nastier sound and lyrics." Cinematic strings? Check. Heavier nasty songs? Check! Mission accomplished. Again, this record sounds amazing.
Also check out: "Ultraviolence", "Shades of Cool"
6. Chris Staples - "Dark Side of the Moon"
Album: American Soft
This was a total NPR find (as were The Family Crest and Moon Hooch). It looks like Mr. Staples has been around since the late 90's both as a solo act and in other bands. It was "Dark Side of the Moon" that hooked me though, mostly because it encapsulates the emotions, fears and desires of fatherhood in a really amazing way (...I want to love you, I want to pass it on, I want to give, and give, 'til it's all gone, I want to know you, while we have the time, 'cause that's all we got to leave behind....). Here he is playing a 20 minute set at KEXP.
Also check out: "Hold Onto Something"
7. Sylvan Esso - "Coffee"
Album: Sylvan Esso
A couple of years ago, Cory Finely, Jacqueline Onassis Wilson and I went to see the Decemberists play at the Uptown Theater in KC. Great show. The opener was this band called Mountain Man. I had never heard of them but was 100% sure I knew what they would sound/look like. It was going to be 4 dudes with beards of varying lengths playing somber droning Pacific Northwest rock. To our surprise Mountain Man turned out to be four women wearing robes and singing a Capella. It turns out one of those girls (Amelia Meath) turned in her robe and started singing over electronics (provided by Nick Sanborn of Megafaun) in the band Sylvan Esso. If Hozier's "Take Me To Chuch" isn't the song of the year, then "Coffee" is. Good luck not getting this stuck in your head. Here they are playing a set on KEXP.
Also check out: "Play It Right", "Come Down"
8. Aa - Fish Phone
I can almost guarantee the Birthday Bash is the world's only Best of 2014 list that includes Aa (I believe its pronounced "big a little a"). Here is their record release party set.....as of today this has a total of 135 views! I mean come on! This was uploaded over 10 months ago! There are like 5 guys in the band (three drummers....no wonder I like them). Shouldn't more that 135 people care about this music? I guess not (three drummers....no wonder nobody besides me likes them). Well I make no excuses. I like Aa and I love the song "Fish Phone"! I hope you do to.
9. Run The Jewels - "Lie, Cheat, Steal"
Album: Run the Jewels 2
I think it's safe to say RTJ2 was the most critically acclaimed rap record of the year (#1 on Pitchfork's list for example), which should be no surprise since the duo of Killer Mike and El-P have been kicking ass together since they started collaborating back in 2012 on Killer Mike's solo record R.A.P. Music which was one of our favorites of that year. The song "Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)" featuring Zack de la Rocha has also appeared on several best tracks of 2014 lists. Love RTJ but also love cat sounds? You're in luck! Meow the Jewels—a remake of Run the Jewels 2—is set to be remixed using only cat sounds, and the proceeds will go to charity thanks to a Kickstarter that’s already pledged $65,000!!!! This is actually happening!
Also check out: "Blockbuster Night Part 1", "Oh My Darling (Don't Cry)"
10. TV on the Radio - "Happy Idiot"
We here at Team Sisson have been big fans of TVOTR since Young Liars way back in 2003. For most of that time they have been critical darlings, but lately it seems the music press has cooled a bit. Maybe they've just outstayed their welcome as the hippest band in the world, or perhaps they're simply too popular to be cool anymore, but I for one still love their sound. Here's a full set on Morning Becomes Eclectic.
Also check out: "Lazerray"
11. The Rural Alberta Advantage - "Runners in the Night"
Album: Mended With Gold
The Rural Alberta Advantage has quietly become one of my absolute favorite bands. Mended With Gold is so freaking good!!! I only wish we lived closer to civilization so I had a shot at seeing them live because I imagine they are quite entertaining. That is all.
Also check out: "Terrified", "Vulcan, AB"
12. Cloud Nothings - "I'm Not Part of Me"
Album: Here and Nowhere Else
Over the past three years we here at Team Sisson have been trying to keep the Birthday Bash fresh by introducing new artwork and minimizing repeat artist appearances. If sales remain sluggish we may have to introduce a new character in 2015. Anyway, in 2012 we brought you a track off of Attack on Memory, which was one of our favorites that year (produced by Steve Albini...did you see the Chicago episode of Sonic Highways? Albini's studio, history and business practices were featured heavily in that episode. You should check it out). And now here we are again with Here and Nowhere Else! That makes three repeats in a row. Mission failed! We just couldn't keep Cloud Nothings off the list. Here features the same loud, catchy songs with absolutely insane drumming, but with more polish to the production. In fact, the Pitchfork reviews of Cloud Nothings and RAA both mention how each band's respective drummer seems to be trying to win the title of best drummer in indie rock. What's not to like?
Also check out: "Now Hear In", "Psychic Trauma"
13. The Faint - "Help in the Head"
Album: Doom Abuse
Remember how in the early 00's a lot of rock bands rediscovered disco? I'm thinking of Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, The Bravery, etc. I was a big fan of all those bands (well, not the Bravery...sorry Bravery fans....or more likely...Bravery fan......wow, that was mean). The Faint had a similar sound, but for some reason I never really even heard them, much less got into them. And now here they are on the Bash. However, I feel I must tell you I am including them largely on the strength of the amazing first 10 seconds of "Help in the Head." However, the rest of the album is quite enjoyable too. Here's a full set on KEXP
Also check out: "Evil Voices", "You Stranger"
14. Sea Oleena - "If I'm"
I don't really know much about Sea Oleena. Now that I think about it, this was yet another NPR find, but I don't really remember what they said about her. Shallow is a collection of very pretty songs that I find myself humming over and over again. Shallow has been on heavy rotation in my office over the past few months.
15. Hozier - "Jackie and Wilson"
I just scrolled through Metacritic's exhaustive list of best album of 2014 lists and got nearly to the bottom of the page before I saw Hozier listed. Am I finally at the age where I just don't get it anymore? I mean, The War On Drugs was listed 50 times before I saw Hozier......I can't stand The War On Drugs!!....and isn't "Take Me To Church" the song of the year? I mean he did sing it at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show! Oh wait...is that the problem? Is he too mainstream? No, that can't be it....Taylor Swift is listed a bunch of times too. How did Taylor Swift get all this crossover mass appeal along with hipster cred? Is it because she writes catchy songs? But Hozier writes catchy songs.....can you possibly listen to "Take Me To Church" without humming it for the rest of the day? Let me answer for you...no! I don't know what's going on in the world anymore....but I do know Hozier has a bunch of really great songs. I gave you "Jackie and Wilson" because it's awesome and I assumed everyone had heard "Take Me To Church" enough.....maybe I was wrong.
Also check out: "Take Me To Church", "From Eden", "Angel of Small Death & The Codeine Scene"
16. Wolf Alice - "Moaning Lisa Smile"
Album: Creature Songs EP
The last two cuts from the 2014 Bash were Cold Specks' Neuroplasticity and Royal Blood's Royal Blood. I'm already having "Birthday Bash Editor's Remorse" over Cold Specks, but I'm perfectly at ease leaving Royal Blood off the list as I feel Wolf Alice offers essentially the same, if not better sound from across the pond. Plus I looked at some modern rock radio station playlists to see what they're playing these days and saw a bunch of Royal Blood, so my assumption is you've already heard "Figure It Out." However, if you're like me and live in a town where they arrest you on sight (sound?) if you're listening to anything other than cowboy hat country, then you probably haven't. Check it out. Wow...that was a lot on Royal Blood. Meanwhile you're listening to Wolf Alice. Shout out to 89.3 The Current in Minneapolis for introducing me to this band. Veteran Birthday Bash listeners know I go to great lengths to listen to the Current at work, and when I heard them play Wolf Alice I assumed it was another Minnesota band I'd have no choice to put on the Bash due to their intense rocking (see Fury Things on the 2013 Birthday Bash). However it turns out they're from a little know suburb of Minneapolis called London, England. My geography is rusty!
17. Dudley Perkins - "Foot Surgery"
Album: Dr. Stokley
Busted again! Dr. Stokely officially came out in 2013 but I didn't hear it until the first week of January. I added it to my just created Best of 2014 back then thinking it would be a placeholder. The rap music made in the previous two years was so unbelievably great surely there would be plenty of options better than some dude named Dudley. Right? Well, Dr. Stokely turned out to have quite a bit of stick-to-it -iveness. Dudley Perkins isn't the greatest rapper in the world, but on Dr. Stokely he's rhyming over some of the best beats of 2014 (2013....whatever), none better than the one you're currently bobbing your head to. Headphones baby...smack on your headphones and try not to thank me later.
Also check out: "Lung Specialist"
18. Spoon - "They Want My Soul"
Album: They Want My Soul
I guess this one was pretty predictable. Long time Birthday Bash listeners know Team Sisson have been Spoon superfans for several years. There's nothing complicated about their sound, but no one else really does what they do, or even tries to do what they do. When's the last time you heard a band and thought they were a Spoon ripoff. Well maybe if you've been to a wedding reception where the Spoon cover band, Poon was playing.....haha....I just made that up....comedy gold! These and many more hilarious plays on words can be heard on the upcoming comedy podcast I will be making with local hairdresser and fellow wiffle ball enthusiast, Brad Cooley. Potential show titles include "Cool & the Bang", "CB Radio" & "WTF with Marc Maron." So, to summarize...listen to Spoon, because they are great, then listen to us to remember what the opposite of greatness sounds like.
Also check out: "Inside Out", "Do You"
19. Strand of Oaks - "JM"
We'll go ahead and count HEAL as the local record this year (for those new to the Bash, when we lived closer to civilization we used to try to highlight at least one local band each year on the bash....this year the only local band we saw was The Lawn Chair Rebellion featuring Steve Patterson....don't get me wrong....I love those guys, but it takes more than Band of Horses covers and a high profile guest appearance by the local undertaker to get on the Bash)...ahem. Strand of Oaks used to just be this dude with an awesome beard named Tim Showalter from Indiana (where in the Hoosier State? even Wikipedia is stumped), but now he has a full band and a record full of really great songs. I guess he lives in Philadelphia now and is chummy with that awful band The War On Drugs....have I mentioned how much I dislike The War On Drugs? Let's see...."JM" is a song about Jason Molina, a very talented musician (solo work & Magnolia Electric Co.) who lost his battle with alcoholism in 2013. Usually we don't allow 7 minute songs on the Birthday Bash since we want to include as many deserving artists as possible, but "JM" has the combination of quiet & melodic with loud & crunchy we find irresistable, so sorry Cold Specks. Maybe next year. Here's a full set on KEXP.
Also check out: "Goshen '97", "Shut In", "Same Emotions"
That's it. Nothing left to do but close your browser and sit quietly for 12 months until your next Birthday Bash arrives. Well I guess there is one more thing to do. THE 6th ANNUAL BIRTHDAY BASH TRIVIA CONTEST!!!!
Now I don't want to cause too much excitement, but last year's winner, Adam "Fiddy" Zentz walked away with a sweet National t-shirt, an even sweeter Eels t-shirt and as if that wasn't sweet enough, a sweeeeeet Deltron 3030 t-shirt. I took a picture of Zentz's sweet booty...I mean what he won in the contest...but I can't find it. You'll have to take my word for it. It was sweet.
Here's the fine print. To be eligible to participate in the 6th Annual Birthday Bash Trivia Contest:
-You must have yourself received or have had an immediate family member receive the Birthday Bash.
-You may not have any past or present affiliation with the "University" of Kansas. Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis.
Now, for the incredibly easy trivia question: Four of the nineteen artists included in the 2014 Birthday Bash have been featured on previous versions of the Bash. Who are those artists?
The first person to submit a correct response will win a personalized prize-pack of 2014 Birthday Bash artist band merch (t-shirts, mugs, hats....whatever we can find that looks cool.....but probably t-shirts). Please e-mail your responses with "Birthday Bash Trivia Contest" in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck and have a great 2015!
Oh, one more thing. Special thanks to Mike Kallenberger and Vinnie "DJ" Iuppa for sending us their Best of 2013 & Best of 2014 mixes. If you're not friends with these dudes you should be. Team Sisson out.
1/9/15 11:54 CST
We have a winner! The aforementioned Mike Kallenberger has risen to the challenge and correctly identified TV On the Radio, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Cloud Nothings and Spoon as the four bands previously featured on the Birthday Bash. We here at Team Sisson salute Mr. Kallenberger for his ability to read context clues and/or scroll down to see previous track listings. Thanks for playing everyone.