Alternate Routes is a column from Flavorwire contributor and WFMU DJ Jesse Jarnow, in which he’ll explore music solely distributed outside the Big 3 of Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon.
Christmas has traditionally been the loneliest time of year for off-grid music, absent from year-end considerations and broader recognition due to scarcity or obscure format. Lately, though, this jolliest of list-making seasons has grown more accommodating to recordings from the corners. And while a truly functional SEO economy would provide full-time pensions for beat critics to cover the latest emissions from every conceivable platform, locality, and micro-genre, the annual listicle harvest and its celebration is the next best solution. The mirthful exchange of linkage and cultural capital has become a feel-good info-age ritual for our dystopian sci-fi present. Or perhaps not. But even mopesters like recent New York Times op-ed-ist Sal Nunziato, who claims to miss the record industry gatekeepers of yore, might find holiday cheer in the idiosyncratic wrap-ups of the 12 months previous, assuming he can dig through the bounty. Kindly leave any listicles summarizing the best end-of-year listicles in the comments.
Best Afro-Fuzz Duo Cassette Featuring a Guy Drumming on a Box
Olives in the Ears, the second cassette from the New York’s 75 Dollar Bill, is electrified by the sound of a tight jamming duo expanding its vocabulary into ambitious new places. Formed as a part-time street band by veteran No Wave percussionist Rick Brown and young’un guitarist Che Chen, the pair’s rough textural edges amplify into elegance, slightly-out-of-tune guitar melding enthusiastically with crate-thumped rhythms. With the exception of the strangely tocking “C.T.F.M.T.,” nearly all 40 minutes of the tape aim for the danceable ecstatic, a pulse-mediated space between the Velvet Underground and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Expanding to include viola and bass on the opening “WZN #3,” the tape’s hot tracks are Chen and Brown alone, especially the econo-jammed title cut. Cassette suits them well, but they have a proper debut en route from Other Music early next year.
The No. 1 Essential-For-Rockists Nine-LP Box Set Issued in Severely Limited Edition by a Major Label
Following six-and-a-half hours of Complete Basement Tapes comes another massive chunk of archival Bob Dylan, released by Sony in an edition of 1,000 copies, only on vinyl, only in Europe, in order to retain copyright on the recordings made by Dylan in 1964. For casual Dylan hardcores, The 50th Anniversary Collection: 1964 has alternate takes from Another Side of Bob Dylan, and a living room session with Eric Von Schmidt featuring rarity after rarity, including three sketches for the lost drug-folk classic “Stoned on the Mountain.” For frothing Dylanologists, there is a new pile of live performances ranging from high-quality BBC tapings to grotty audience recordings of yet more takes of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and such, but will leave all gasping for air when trying to imagine what else labels will need to copyright when the 50th anniversary of marketable ’60s bands really kicks in next year.
Greatest Country Duo By a Husband and Wife in the News for Disorderly Conduct
Whether PR stunt, inspired response song, or natural product of collaboration, Edie Brickell and Paul Simon’s “Like to Get to Know You” dropped its unfussy self onto Soundcloud only two days after the couple’s widely publicized domestic disturbance. Though set up with a classic his/hers dynamic, the song manages to avoid the expected turns of novelty cliché, reaching for sweetness in the depths of bummed-out domesticity. Layered harmonies hum under dobro breaks, a winning production to support an excellent and natural duet between Brickell and Simon on a great song that needed to be written eventually, so they did.
Top New Female Tuareg Guitarists
As field recorder Chris Kirkley points out, there are only two known women guitarists in all of Niger: Fatou Seidi Ghali and Mariam Ahmed. Via Kirkley’s Sahel Sounds blog, his recordings of both are wildly beautiful and completely arresting. Ghali performs in gentle call-and-response with her siblings, her voice recalling the lonesome sweetness of blues guitarist Elizabeth Cotten, while crickets provide gentle atmosphere behind detailed syncopations. There are crickets, perhaps, on one track of Mariam Ahmed, too, simply labeled “Cover,” and perhaps the muffling oscillation of a ceiling fan. Her voice is softer, sadder, her syncopations more worn. Hopefully, further recordings are forthcoming.
Tip-Toppiest Celestial Jams by a Japanese Pedal Steel Guitarist Inexplicably Deleted from Soundcloud
Strange modern sensation: landing on a Soundcloud page belonging to a Japanese guitarist with a pair of barely played pedal steel extrapolations, like Brian Eno’s Apollo Atmospheres gone Hawaiian, falling in love with them, and returning later to find them vamoosed into the digital void. These two lush tracks, credited to Eddie Marcon member Ztom Motoyama, differ vastly, “10 22 2012” a rolling ten-minute solo piece, “Maria Elena/Homesick Islanders” a picaresque slice of layered exotica replete with ocean waves, ukelele, and singing saw. Their disappearance is a lesson in the ephemerality of modern music listening, a demonstration of the difference between streaming and collecting, and a reminder of the efficacy of various audio preservation tools, like making cassette tapes of radio broadcasts.
Most Interesting Confusion About Brooklyn Indie Culture Caused by a Soundcloud Cover
Perhaps accidentally, Brooklyn quartet Roya best sum up 2014’s cultural confusion with a casually burning Soundcloud-only cover of Television Personalities’ 1978 debut single, “14th Floor.” Flipping a single word of the original — “London” to “Brooklyn” — singer Rahil Jamilifard conjures simultaneous views from the two most prominent types of 14th floor in the Kings County landscape these days, glass-box condos and apartment projects. The complexities linger even after the lyrics quickly revert to the originals, set in British council housing. For those who dig melody with their split-screen ideological-cultural puzzlement, Jamilifard tightens the original into a lilting sing-song. Plus it’s got a good beat–a nice hard shimmy by veteran drummer Hamish Kilgour–and you can dance to it.
Finest Music Premiered Simultaneously for an Arena Audience and via Webcast
For the second year in a row, Phish used their Halloween performance to debut an entirely new set of music, unannounced, webcast live and distributed via their LivePhish app and mp3 the following day. Where last year’s Wingsuit transformed into this year’s hyper-polished studio album Fuego, the 2014 stunt riffed on Disney’s 1964 sound effects LP The Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House for a performance that needs no more permanent record than its live document. Involving a stage set, choreography, zombie makeup, and 11 new pieces of Phish music, getting the full 3D effect requires intense Phishhead programming, but as far as surprise album drops go, it should be anyone’s candidate for No. 1. The music is exactly what Phish’s detractors have always accused their songs of being but for the first time actually are, thinly disguised excuses to jam (nice costume, dudes!), and the punchline is that the band does so adventurously and concisely. It gives Phish fans plenty to mull, and gives Phish the best representation of their post-reunion vitality.