Here and now we arrive, whole but not necessarily unscathed, at the end of a very, very heavy year. The sounds cataloged below feel representative of the lowest psychic lows 2014 had to offer and the highest heights we were elevated to. As ever, anybody complaining that our modern era is lacking in exciting, adventurous music simply isn’t looking hard enough. Dig in, and better yet, jam all this noise concurrently — because, after all, you can.
36. Fejhed, “Drinking Spit”
Pucker up for some busted-sprinkler malevolence courtesy of this L.A.-based duo, whose conceptual cauldrons boil over with samples, raw electronics, and vertigo-inducing dissonance.
35. A.P. Vague, “Timer Test Audio #1”
This very subtle increase in barometric pressure, from somewhere in Philadelphia, is lightly redolent of 12K minimalism at its finest.
34. Rene Kita, “Paketablage”
While there’s literally no “best” place to start with Finland’s Rene Kita, you may as well jump onboard with this track, which suggests a bipolar Chewbacca attempting to beatbox.
33. Sean Derrick Cooper Marquardt, “Drone Messiah (self-inflicted wounds)”
As busily combustible as it is mystically aquatic, “Drone Messiah” ably Cuisinarts asphalt grit and Barefoot Contessa-grade bee honey until it becomes almost impossible to tell one apart from the other. Presently based in Berlin, Germany, Marquardt is ceaselessly creative — and keeping up with his output is challenging — but this is arguably among the most strangely beautiful pieces to emerge this year.
32. Reverse Baptism, “Profiteer”
Baltimore’s best-kept punk-noise secret vents a few liquid ounces of spleen, as only it can.
31. Horse Thief, “Destroy/Environment”
A gale kicks up over the New Mexico desert, at first sounding suspiciously like a sigh, then, auspiciously, like the end of the known universe.
30. Elizabeth Veldon, “One,” from Two Short Notes Towards an AIDS Mass
Somewhere in the wilds of Edinburgh, a profligate noise activist transforms herself into an infinitely funkier Max Headroom.
29. Medical Cantoon, “Light From Skagaströnd”
Brace yourselves for prime-time electronics wilding-out from Belarus, a standout on the kickass Sound Interpretation: Reykjavík compilation.
28. Excepter, “The Fence”
In advance of the Familiar LP, on The Stand EP, the NYC/L.A. concern unfurled this extended, dream-deceiving workout, a delirious psychic ant-hotel you can visit, but never fully leave. What’s that, you say? High-hats have never laid waste to your synapses? They will.
27. Savage Cross, “For Nothing”
Even within its punk scene, Newark, Delaware, never seemed an especially aggro place to spend time; it’s always felt like such a mellow college town. The bombed-out demon-core of Savage Cross has gone a good ways toward disabusing that perception, burying doom and slowed-pulse screamo beneath enough distortion to choke a whale.
26. Pagan Cops, “Swat Blood”
Staring straight into the sun without eyewear in 2093 will probably feel how this sucker sounds.
25. Dog in the Evening, “will___at__mill___”
Sometimes, the simplest gestures can have the greatest impact. Here, by marrying tape hiss to dinky keyboards, laughter, and echo-soaked vocals, this Chicago outfit achieves a cozy wizardry.
24. Diode, “Get Paid”
Rogue West Virginians make scuzzy, muddy synthpop possessed of neither floor nor ceilings nor fidelity, effortlessly fricassee skulls, unknowingly serve airtight argument as to why the rest of the world should quit picking on West Virginia, like, yesterday.
23. Bloodeath, “Somebody Took My Teeth”
“Machine-shop industrial noise” is a legit subgenre, but Bloodeath trump their peers by flawlessly imagining what someone wearing ear protection might actually hear on a machine-shop floor. Whenever these folks drop a full LP, watch out.
22. MATMOS, “Weed World”
Baltimore’s conceptual techno masters cook up a wicked gumbo of futurist pop, free jazz, Eastern flourishes, magic dust, test-signal dross, everything else under the damn sun. Damn, son!
21. Ou Où, “Mt Ng”
File this St. Louis duo’s spew under “field-recorded ambient with interstitial interruptions.” A lot of the fun of “Mt Ng” is the uncertainty it engenders; it’s difficult to determine whether a click, clack, or scuffle will introduce a new rhythmic initiative or just dissolve back into the gloom whence it came.
20. Bob Bellerue, “111810”
Brooklyn’s Bellerue invites one and all into the guts of an active sewing machine.
19. Consumer Electronics, “Affirmation”
Disturbing, co-ed inner-ear infection chaos from London, performed live, that owes as much to radical theater as it does to anti-music. Experiencing this as a recording almost seems inadequate; I wish these three were really and truly yelling in my face, spitting in my lager.
18. Shredded Nerve, “Mind Begins to Crumble as the Dots Are Connected”
L.A.’s Shredded Nerve wire squeaky hinges, car crashes, and stray feedback together to form a groove that at first pays bloody lip-service to coherence…then evolves into something far stranger.
17. Khate and FERALCATSCAN, “End Dub”
Scrambling signals, juggling wavelengths, and stitching in beats at odd angles, two of Virginia’s most unheralded noisemakers conspire to make your pets loathe you.
16. Philip White, “20140717 Flamenco Sketches”
Brooklyn’s Philip White sieves and sand-blasts canonical Miles Davis into something unrecognizably bold.
15. Joseph Strength Audio, “Drug Wizard Won’t Come Out of His House”
This is quite possibly the most stimulating fake simulation of a random spin of the AM dial I’ve come across this year. You don’t need drugs.
14. White Suns, “Prostrate”
Aimed squarely at listeners’ nerve centers, “Prostrate” fashioned the sonic refuse of destruction into something garishly compelling. Its birthplace? The Big Apple, natch.
13. Odor Baby, “Support Gravity”
Mystery crew feed television static through a temperamental threshing machine, survive to do our heads in.
12. Telecult Powers, “A Wish for Ouisch”
This Cleveland/Brooklyn duo push forward again, into new and exciting territories. Like a restless wave on a stormy sea, “A Wish for Ouisch” settles into an uneasy rhythm, gliding in and out of tonal glare until the massed chorus of Rachel Evans, Grant Evans, and Kate McGuire pour on some sugar.
11. Bromp Treb, “Duck Billings Hep Brood”
A small team of intrepid hobbyists from Turners Falls, Massachusetts, demonstrate how to recalibrate an as-yet-theoretical instrument roughly the size of an NFL stadium, using only common household tools.
10. Raajmahal, “Scylla”
Flower Orgy’s Carla Baker and Decimus’s Pat Murano team up to deliver the meandering, full-cranium bubble-bath — with flutes, no less — that you didn’t even realize you needed.
9. TAHNZZ, “CUCUY”
On this choice cut from the GyV 2014 Compilation, New Mexico’s Tahnee Udero takes a big step away from measured, terrestrial drones toward a lighter, more baroque sound. Choppy distortion still abounds, and at moments it feels as though samurai swords are slashing through the mix, yet this feels like a departure of sorts.
8. Yellow Tears, “Gaggle”
Behold “Gaggle,” wherein NYC’s Yellow Tears force-feed their essence into carefree Disney soundtrack juvenilia, emerging with something indisputably NSFW.
7. Lea Bertucci, Light Silence, Dark Speech Side 2
Behold: Atonal birdsong flutter in wind-instrument camo from Chicago, where the winters are epic.
6. Good Area, “Climate-E”
Utilizing a metronome as a backbeat, Ohio duo unleashes full-court tape-deck/spoken-word miscellany with intoxicating results.
5. Styrofoam Sanchez, “Empire”
Oakland, California’s finest make crepuscular noise magic with cybernetic appendages, blast furnaces, and borrowed Darth Vader helmets.
4. Scott Lawlor, “Drone Excursion 002”
From far-off Motherwell arrives the meditative sound of a great bell tolling slowly, slowly, slowly for all the dawns that never quite arrive.
3. Pharmakustic + Tanner Garza, “Ascitic Fluid”
You know how on some mornings — the roughest mornings — it can feel like you’re encased in thick, thick Jell-O? This is absolutely the worst music to turn to on mornings like those, unless you’ve got nothing to do and nowhere to be.
2. Bryan Eubanks, “Enclosed Space Ritual“
Nineteen minutes of rapturously spine-tingling sinewave bliss from the Berlin-based artist who helped to bring you closer to GOD.
1. Mesa Ritual, “Procession VIII”
A twitchy, 12-minute meltdown of keening, stippling, and disintegrating strings? Sign me up and spot me a plane ticket to New Mexico. This duo have established a reputation for intensity live and on record, but with “Procession VIII” they transcend it, emerging with a wonder that’s tribal, sonorous, squirrelly, and immersive.
(A bright spot for 2015: the Farewell My Concubine/Angels In America/Laura Warholic axis-of-awesome is still, apparently, a thing.)