XLR8R's Best of 2014: Odds and Ends, Part 1 - XLR8R

XLR8R's Best of 2014: Odds and Ends, Part 1

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Over the past few weeks, we've gradually unveiled the various facets of our Best of 2014 coverage, and while it might seem like we've covered just about every aspect of the year in electronic music, we realized amidst all of our listmaking that we had a few observations that didn't fit neatly into one of the usual categories. As such, we've created a new "best of" round-up, Odds and Ends, in which we can share a few of our lingering thoughts and opinions from 2014. (The first half debuts today, while the rest of our selections will be published tomorrow.) Admittedly, these "awards" are something of a mixed bag; some are serious, some are silly, some are incredibly specific, and others are quite general. Regardless, everything in here left an impression, and our look back at the year gone by wouldn't be quite complete without them.

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Comment Thread That Needs to Stop: Machinedrum's Mustache
Let's just first put it out there: Machinedrum had a mustache for some time. Now, it appears he doesn't. Mustaches can be a tricky proposition, and some guys pull them off better than others, but at the end of the day, we honestly don't really care what facial hair Machinedrum is sporting. With a track record as long and fruitful as his, he can really do whatever he damn well pleases when it comes to grooming himself. This seems reasonable enough to us, so here's to hoping the internet commenters of the world can reach a similarly sensible conclusion in 2015. Glenn Jackson

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Most Effectively Showing Up the Kids: Robert Hood
Robert Hood has been at this for well over 20 years; from the early days of techno to now, he's seen electronic music evolve, change directions, break off into a million different pockets, mutate, and repeatedly try to come back around to where it started. Somehow, he's remained relevant through it all. In 2013 and 2014 in particular, Hood's Floorplan alias has loomed large over house and techno, with his track "Never Grow Old" and its "Re-Plant" version dominating dancefloors for the past two years (and likely to continue to do so for some time to come). Still, Robert Hood is no young buck; he's an older gentleman with a family to take care of in Alabama (where he's resided since leaving Detroit), which is to say, he is essentially the opposite of the out-at-clubs-all-night-with-an-insatiable-hunger-for-warehouse-raves persona that's touted by so many up-and-coming "underground" DJs. It makes us wonder, if house and techno are supposedly such young man's games, how is Robert Hood still managing to beat everyone else at it? Glenn Jackson

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Record That Had Almost Nothing to Do with the Rest of the Music We Cover, But We Loved Anyways: Grouper's Ruin
Right off the bat, we should note that XLR8R has been covering Grouper for a long time. (Back in 2008, we ran this in-depth feature about her.) That being said, we're also well aware that her nakedly emotive singer-songwriter stylings, especially the largely acoustic sounds that populate her latest album, Ruins, bear little resemblance to the vast majority of the music that appears on the site these days. These things do happen from time to time; an artist goes one way, XLR8R goes another, and usually, we politely bid them adieu. But when it comes to Grouper, her music is simply too good for us to ignore. Ruins was one of 2014's best albums. Maybe it wasn't exactly an "XLR8R album," but we loved it all the same. Shawn Reynaldo

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Most Groan-Inducing Hype Cycle: Aphex Twin's Syro
Though this word gets thrown around a bit loosely these days (and we're guilty of it too), there are not too many true legends in electronic music. Aphex Twin, however, is one of them. This year, his return was completely unexpected, and the campaign that announced his arrival (and the impending release of a new LP) was one of the most elaborate promotional pushes for an "underground" electronic album that we've ever witnessed—there was a fucking blimp involved. Still, as each piece of new content (the artwork, the tracklist, a list of gear used on the LP, a YouTube video for one track, etc.) painstakingly came to light, we started to realize how much effort we had put into following the album's many marketing twists and turns, all without being able to actually hear the music.

In the end, it's hard to argue that the roll out of Syro didn't work: the record debuted at number one on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums chart, landed at number 11 on the Billboard 200, and was undoubtedly one of the biggest releases of the year in our realm of the music world. Still, if there was anyone we thought (or, more accurately, naively hoped) could rise above the hype cycle, and just release a successful record out of nowhere, it was Aphex Twin. And, well, he didn't. Glenn Jackson

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Most Bizarre Collaborative Project: Legowelt's & Willie Burns' TV Show
It seems safe to say that this was not the intended reaction to Relics of the Past, Legowelt's and Wille Burns' offbeat public access TV show, but there really is something almost adorable about the series. Only two episodes have been aired so far, but the production skills, acting, and plotlines are all pleasantly reminiscent of a home movie made by a pack of stoned high schoolers, and the ambiguous, drug-induced mysticism strewn throughout adds an extra layer of foggy allure. Between its kitschy sci-fi music cues (which come from Legowelt and Burns themselves) and curious pieces of dialogue (statements such as, "But it does indeed feel like we're in space," or "I was playing the sock puppet in an intricate game of firetruck chess" are not uncommon), Relics of the Past provided a pleasant respite from the daily drudge of press releases and track streams. Furthermore, it was an unexpected, but welcome, reminder that having fun is often more rewarding than taking oneself too seriously. Glenn Jackson

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Artist Who Was Suddenly (and Not Annoyingly) Everywhere: Matrixxman
Matrixxman is a machine. Granted, that's an easy joke to make, especially with his cybernetically inclined artist name, but this San Francisco producer was so active in 2014 that we occasionally found ourselves wondering when exactly he found the time to sleep. Over the course of the year, he issued original material via Dekmantel, Spectral Sound, Delft, Unknown to the Unknown, Kraftek, and Soo Wavey, the label he runs in tandem with frequent collaborator Vin Sol; for most artists, that would have been enough, but Matrixxman also kept active on the remix front, lending his touch to efforts from Audion, Hard Ton, Alis, and several others. (He and Vin Sol also found the time to drop a sequel to their highly sought-after 12" of bootleg Sade remixes.) As his DJ gigs (both in the US and abroad) piled up, it often felt like Matrixxman's name was constantly coming across our desks, yet we never found ourselves unhappy to see it. It's not so much that his sound is all that original; like many artists, he owes a major debt to classic Chicago house and Detroit techno, and there's no question that his work is hopelessly tied to the sounds of vintage drum machines. At the same time, where many of his peers are essentially engaging in naked revivalism, Matrixxman somehow finds a way to channel '80s and '90s tropes while making intensely percussive (and surprisingly soulful) music that's undeniably fresh and, perhaps more importantly, absolutely slays in a club setting. We may have seen a lot of him in 2014, but we can't wait to hear more in 2015 and beyond. Shawn Reynaldo

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We "Get" It, We Just Don't Like It: PC Music
Of all the new electronic music to emerge in 2014, the sounds coming from the PC Music camp certainly seemed to generate the most online fervor. Across the internet, the crew's high-gloss hyperactivity quickly became a "love it or hate it" proposition, and also launched a myriad of think pieces about what it all meant. However, that sort of hand wringing was essentially absent here on XLR8R. In truth, we really didn't talk a whole lot about PC Music, for one simple reason: we didn't really like it all that much.

Now, many of the label's proponents have claimed that those who don't like PC Music don't "get" it, often falling back on cartoonish stereotypes of stodgy, frustrated house and techno diehards unwilling to accept or even consider a bold new sound. Well, we can't speak for everyone, but we think we "get" it: PC Music is a collective of like-minded, internet-savvy, art school-trained young artists making music that references mainstream pop culture in an intensely bright, over-the-top fashion, in the process both celebrating and mocking its predominance and power in modern society. Obviously, it's possible to go deeper (and plenty of journalists this year did exactly that), but the gist of what PC Music is trying to do feels pretty obvious.

While the label perhaps deserves some credit for developing a concept and really going for it, when it comes to XLR8R, PC Music's output just wasn't something that we felt really warranted much of our attention. So-called "internet music" is nothing new (we did an in-depth feature about it nearly two years ago), and the dissection of mainstream pop isn't exactly original either. PC Music might have been going about it in a new way—and one designed to ruffle the feathers of the established "underground," no less—but in the end, a lot of the songs simply weren't that great. (In truth, some of them were downright annoying.)

At the same time, treating the label as some sort of affront to quality electronic music seemed pointless, and efforts in that vein ultimately played right into the hands of PC Music and its fans. In that sense, the label has been an overwhelming success—it's certainly generated plenty of grist for the online content mill. It's supposed to be provocative, and everyone who loudly sings its praises or howls about its offensiveness is essentially taking the bait. Perhaps that's interesting in and of itself, but we'd prefer to focus on the music, and until PC Music does something a lot better on that front, we're going to keep our coverage to a minimum. Shawn Reynaldo

XLR8R's Best of 2014 coverage concludes this week, so keeping checking back for our final year-end round-ups. In the meantime, don't forget to take a look at the other Best of 2014 pieces we've posted already:

XLR8R's Best of 2014: Top Downloads (100 - 76)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Top Downloads (75 - 51)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Top Downloads (50 - 26)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Top Downloads (25 - 1)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Features
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Podcasts
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Gear
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Tracks (50 - 26)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Tracks (25 - 1)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Releases (30 - 16)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Releases (15 - 1)
XLR8R's Best of 2014: New Artists
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Labels
XLR8R's Best of 2014: Readers Poll