Stereotype Top Albums of 2014

IMG_3368-2Another year has gone past and yet again it has produced many fantastic albums, of which we have only listened to minority of what was released in 2014, but here’s our favourites that we kept coming back to time and time again. Happy New Year!

10. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

14589-stay-goldFirst Aid Kit’s debut albums The Lion’s Roar picked up top honours in 2012. Stay Gold continues where the Swedish sisters left off with a set of delightfully easy to listen to pop/folk tunes. Favourite tracks are opener My Silver Lining (Live on Letterman), title track Stay Gold and the Summery Waitress Song (Live). Recommended, but if First Aid Kit are new to you, I suggest you also pick up The Lion’s Roar.

9. Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather

Steve-Gunn-Way-Out-Weather-608x608Title track off Steve Gunn’s Way Out Weather would be a contender for song of the year for me, I absolutely love everything about it, and as the YouTube comments say it is an absolute crime that this has only had 30K views, come on people!! Do yourself a favour and click the link above now, everything in the world will seem right for a few minutes. The rest of the album doesn’t disappoint with stand-out tracks like Milly’s Garden and Drifter upping the tempo a bit, and the laid back Atmosphere all rewarding the listener with sonic goodness.

8. The Black Keys – Turn Blue

turn-blueIt took me a while to listen to Turn Blue because I really couldn’t get into the single Fever which was being thrashed on Hauraki. Once I did pick up the album and give it some time I was loving the fact the rest of the album is quite different from Fever… Stand-out tracks for me are title track Turn Blue (Live at BBC), Waiting on Words and In Our Prime. The Black Keys prove yet again they are one of THE bands of this decade and keep delivering solid albums by making our Top 10 lists in 2009 with Keep it Hid (Dan Auebach’s solo release), 2010 with Brothers and in 2012 with El Camino. Had I started this blog in 2008 Attack & Release probably would have made my Top album list for that year too!

7. Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son

Damien-Jurado-Brothers-And-Sisters-Of-The-Eternal-Son-608x608A friend of mine posted the track Silver Timothy on Facebook and from that I check out the rest of the album which was my first experience of Damien Jurado. What an album! Some of the songs take a few listens to grow on you, and others hit you right away. Stand-out tracks for me are Metallic Cloud (Live acoustic on Jools Holland), Silver Malcolm and Silver Joy. Yes lots of the song titles start with Silver! Go get this, it will become one of your favourite albums that you’ll listen to for years to come.

6. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

conor-oberst-1400163701Conor Oberst is best known for his work with Bright Eyes, and also features on First Aid Kit’s King of the World. Oberst is a fantastic songwriter and Upside Down Mountain has many great poetic examples, such as:

I want to walk in that howling wind ’til it scatters all my thoughts, Sit alone on that riverbank ’til I Forget that I can talk, Just listen.

Stand-out tracks for me are Time Forgot, Zigzagging Toward the Light, Enola Gay and Double Life. You can listen to the whole album here, enjoy.

5. Angus and Julia Stone (Self Titled)

Angus-Julia-StoneI’m a huge fan of Angus and Julia Stone, the Aussie brother and sister duo have served up a great range of tunes over the years and in 2014 they teamed up with Rick Rubin to create their 3rd full length studio album together. Angus’ solo album made my 2009 top album list and Julia’s solo album made my 2012 list. Stand-out tracks for me aside from single Heart Beats Slow which you’ve probably heard on the radio are: Little Whiskey, Please You and Get Home. And as always with these two, a fantastic recording too.

4. Ryan Adams (Self Titled)

ryan-adams-d138c563Ryan Adams is likely the most played artist in my home, both my wife and I really enjoy his work and many of his songs have been the soundtrack to special times in our lives. This album kicks off with Tom Petty style guitar riffs with Gimme Something Good (Check out this Letterman performance) and ends in true Adams style with a quieter yet stunning number Let Go. Everything in between is great too, this is a solid album from beginning to end, with Kim (Live on Jimmy Fallon, spot the drummer missing his first note) and Tired of Giving Up being other stand-outs.

3. Beck – Morning Phase

12275-morning-phaseBeck’s Sea Change (2002) is somewhat of an audiophile darling when it comes to recordings, I think Morning Phase can be best described as side two of Sea Change. Both in terms of outstanding recording quality and overall tone, sentiment and beautiful song writing. There’s never a dull moment on here, but if you want to show off your system try Morning, Unforgiven, and Don’t Let it Go. Oldschool Beck fans might complain that its all too grown up and beg for another Mellow Gold/Odelay/Midnight Vultures-esque record, but I don’t mind at all if Beck keeps going on this path.

2. Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything

elbowElbow’s sixth studio album really hit a cord with me from the first listen. Their 2011 album Build a Rocket Boys! made 3rd place on my Top 10 list and I’ve enjoyed this record even more so it deserves to jump a position and make it to #2. Hearing Elbow live for a second time this year was a concert highlight for me, especially when they played Scattered Black and Whites which they hadn’t played live for years. Stand-out tracks are plentiful but Charge, Fly Boy Blue/Lunette (it’s so good when Lunette kicks in at 3:11) and Colour Fields would be my picks if I had to pick. Check this record out, and if you haven’t heard much of Elbow go back through the catalogue and you won’t disappointed. This is seriously good music that gets missed in a world of mass produced forgettable pop.

1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

41f440f9#1 on many top album of 2014 lists, and for good reason. The War on Drugs have produced an album that appeals to so many, and in doing to have firmly put themselves on the musical map. With an 80’s rock flavour, this collection of ambient yet melodic rock songs is one that you never tire of, it can be played over and over, and at the end of each time, you’re glad its starting again. The opening 3 tracks are killer, but my favourites also include Eyes to the Wind (Live) and In Reverse (Live Acoustic), but the second track Red Eyes (Live on Letterman) would get my vote for song of the year. I can’t say it better than Pitchfork, so here’s what they wrote:

The album is loaded with songs whose greatness is revealed slowly, where the simplest, most understated chord change can blow a track wide open and elevate it from simply pretty to absolutely devastating.

You can listen to the full album here, I recommend you do so right now.

Bring on 2015, we can’t wait to see what new music comes out, especially when a new Radiohead album is being worked on…

Exposure returns to New Zealand!

exposure-logoUK brand Exposure Electronics has made a return to our shores with their fantastic range of Amplifiers, CD Players and a DAC/Preamplifier. Exposure is a UK brand that started back in 1974 with a reputation of similar sonic characteristics of another famous UK brand, without the high price. Exposure lives by their slogan of “real hi-fi at real world prices” and their products live up to this claim. Exposure products were born out of founder John Farlowe’s obsession for excellent reproduction of recorded music, having worked in studios with the likes of David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

Exposure’s signature sound is something special. There is a delicacy in the upper ranges and openness in the midrange, underpinned by deep yet agile bass that “dances” along. Hi-fi critics have praised Exposure for offering “rightness” in sound as well as the best of both worlds – in terms of the speed and precision of the best solid state designs flavoured with a touch of the “sweetness” of valves. So, to put it simply, the engineering and design philosophy is to make hi-fi that gets on with the task of reproducing the right sounds while fading into the background. This is cool, since most people prefer to listen to their music rather than the hi-fi.

3010s2
On the back of recently winning the Hi-fi News 2014 Group Test of ‘Integrated Amplifiers £1500-£2000’ with the Exposure 3010S2 (beating offerings from Naim, Rega, Moon and NAD details here) it’s a welcome return indeed of this boutique UK brand to NZ.

There are three integrated amplifiers in the line-up which form the core of an all Exposure based system, these are the 2x 50W Exposure 1010 ($999), 2x 75w Exposure 2010S2 ($1599) and the top range 2x 110W Exposure 3010S2 ($2699). From here you can add on additional dedicated power amplification and of course a high quality frontend with either the 1010 ($999) or 2010S2 CD Player ($1399).

One of the highlights in the range is the 2010S2 DAC Preamplifier ($1399) which can be paired directly with either the 2010S2 ($1299) or the 3010S2 ($1999) power amp for an all-digital minimalist system perfect for high res downloaded music.

For more information and to view the range, please visit http://www.stereotype.co.nz/exposure

Recommended listening for NZ Music Month

Every May NZ Music month rolls around as if to remind people that little old NZ makes great music. As kiwi’s we should be proud of our local artists all year round as there is so much good talent to be proud of! This blog gets a high percentage of overseas traffic so I hope that this in some way helps showcase a few kiwi albums and artists you may not of heard of (there’s more to us than Split Enz, Shihad, Fat Freddy’s, Dave Dobbyn and Lorde – nothing wrong with any of these btw!). If you’re a kiwi you’ve probably heard of most of these artists or the bands they’ve been involved in, I don’t consider myself to be on the cutting edge of the NZ underground music scene so let your recommendations be known in the comments. However, as very few of the popular radio stations ever play stuff off the albums below, perhaps these will be new for you too.

Here’s a little list of NZ albums that I love, play regularly, and think you should check out if you haven’t heard of them. Plus they are albums that will likely never make a Top 100 NZ Albums list such as this one – only for the most part that these artist’s other work pushes themselves off the chart.


dave-yettonDave Yetton – Blow Out Your Candles (2007)
Best known as the front man for JPS Experience and Stereobus (who are one of the best bands NZ has produced IMHO), Dave Yetton’s debut solo album is a great pop album, and a fantastic recording too. Opening track That Bump Has Fallen Off and Fallen in Love with the Weekend are stand out tracks, and favourite’s of mine for showing off my little tiny Jamo E805’s in the study.

 


It doesn’t get much more local than this, these guys are based on Auckland’s North Shore (like us). This is an album I literally stumbled upon. At my job that pays the bills we had a work garage sale and Mali Mali was sitting in a pile of CDs between Kiwi Beer Drinking Songs and Titanium – what a find! Gather Round the Gooseclock has been on high rotate at my place and I’ve had plenty of people ask about it. Lead singer Ben Tolich maybe better known as the keyboardist from Avalanche City (you know the guys with the ridiculously catchy single Love, Love, Love) but Gather Round the Gooseclock is a different sound, its stripped back, deeper and musically has greater longevity. Top tracks: All the Shy will Congregate, Good Arvo and Magnetic North.

dimmerDimmer – There My Dear (2006)
Front man Shayne Carter is one of NZ Music’s golden boys and my favourite work of his is what he produced with Dimmer. Dimmer aren’t just one of my favourite NZ bands, they are one of favourite bands period. The debut I Believe You Are A Star (2001) is a masterpiece, sophomore release You’ve Got To Hear The Music (2004) picked up two NZ Music awards including Best Rock Album and then Dimmer went on to produce two more solid albums There My Dear (2006) and Degrees of Existence (2009) – which was our #3 album of 2009 – before Carter called this project quits. All four albums have their own merits, and There My Dear offers a couple of unique moments that I don’t ever get tired of, they’re You’re Only Leaving Hurt and I Won’t Let You Break My Heart. I imagine a lot of Kiwi’s have only listened to one or both of the first two albums, but you’d be missing out on so much goodness from the newer half of Dimmer’s work.


lady alienGareth Thomas Band – Lady Alien (2010)
Gareth Thomas is the keyboardist and second vocalist for NZ band Goodshirt. Goodshirt achieved mainstream success with hits such as Sophie, Blowing Dirt, and Buck it Up. Thomas’ debut solo album Lady Alien was our #1 Album of 2011! (yes, even though it came out late 2010). I still listen to this album regularly, and tracks All This, Don’t Stop, and Out of Fashion have become some of our go to test tracks for evaluating Hifi. Highly recommended, give it a listen.


The-Phoenix-Foundation-BuffaloThe Phoenix Foundation – Buffalo (2010)
I shouldn’t need to introduce The Phoenix Foundation to even our overseas readers, Happy Ending (2007), Buffalo (2010) and Fandango (2013) all have achieved success abroad. Buffalo, their fourth studio album is a more mature listen from their earlier work, with more polish perhaps. Buffalo is an excellent recording as well as being excellent musically. It was our #5 album of 2010 with stand out tracks Flock of Hearts and Wonton still regularly being used for demoing speakers. Dig it out, have another listen if its been a while, put it on shuffle if you must as it would be a shame to only hear the first half.


Southern Lights is my favourite work from SJD (Sean James Donnelly), and the Pic n’ Mix edition includes a 5 track ep featuring two remixes which are perfect for giving your system a test. One even made it to our top bass tracks blog. There’s an overall tone to Southern Lights which is just so pleasing on the ear, it wasn’t as radio friendly or successful as the later Songs from the Dictaphone, but I find myself listening to Southern Lights far more than the later. This is a record I’ll never get tired of.

Jet Jaguar – Think About it Laterjet-jaguar (2003)
This is a great electronic downbeat album with big bass that digs deep! You can buy it in FLAC for $4.50 so stop reading this blog and go ahead and do that already. It was great when it came out, and its one that still gets plenty of airplay at my place. There’s a tonne of free downloads on his site including a 4-track Phoenix Foundation remix ep. Get the free download, and pay the $4.50 for Think About It Later, it’s less that coffee.

So, what NZ Music are you playing of late?