Top 10 RVA Albums of 2014

Bob's Burgers

A few days ago, I saw yet another malcontented article about how 2014 wasn’t a great year for music, and how there were “good” albums but no “great” albums. I can’t remember where I saw it, and I’m not going to bother trying to find a link, because it’s crap. I’ll give you three reasons why:

  • One person’s good is another person’s great.
  • The way an album is perceived can and will change over time, so good now can be great later.
  • This was a great year for Richmond music.

That last one warrants its own list, so here are 10 reasons we should join Tina Belcher in raising a glass and toasting RVA music’s 2014. Consider it an alphabetically ordered top 10 that doubles as a drinking game.

Avers — Empty Light


Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because Avers shows how, in a tightly knit community full of talented people, the lineup possibilities are endless and endlessly rewarding.

Avers — “The Only One” [Spotify/iTunes]

Black Girls — Claire Sinclaire

Claire Sinclaire

Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because the snuff rock sound took a giant leap in terms of realization and articulation.

Black Girls — “Buyin’ Time” [Spotify/iTunes]

Butcher Brown — All Purpose Music

Butcher Brown

Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because truly groovy music — songs that find a pocket, set up shop and explore all the space it has to offer — can be enjoyed over and over, and in any situation.

Butcher Brown (ft. Nicholas Payton) — “Jellowstone Room” [Spotify/iTunes]

Dead Fame — Vicious Design EP

Dead Fame

Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because you don’t have to choose between intensity and danceability.

Dead Fame — “Joan Crawford” [Spotify/iTunes]

Everyone Dies in the End — All Things Lead to This

Everyone Dies in the End

Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because the cycle of creation and destruction is a powerful thing to witness.

Everyone Dies in the End — “We Bears Are A Proud Race” [Spotify/iTunes]

Lightfields — Junior


Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because the chorus of “Junior” feels like an invitation — the kind of singalong that makes you feel like a part of something.

Lightfields — “Junior” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sleepwalkers — Greenwood Shade


Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because every track being dynamite and not being able to pick a favorite is a wonderful problem to have.

Sleepwalkers — “Breaking My Heart” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sundials — Kick EP


Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because Sundials’ Kick EP packed a full-length album’s punch into six tightly crafted songs that can be enjoyed over and over without losing an ounce of their emotional impact.

Sundials — “Gained A Grip” [Spotify/iTunes]

Trio of Justice — Pookie’s March

Trio of Justice

Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because the roomy, thoughtful mastery of Pookie’s March tells us that Jellowstone’s success will be varied and fun to follow.

Trio of Justice — “Motherland” [Spotify/iTunes]

White Laces — Trance

White Laces

Reason We Should Raise Our Glasses: Because the word is getting out about White Laces, so Richmonders and non-Richmonders alike can cozy up to the many-splendored warmth of TRANCE.

White Laces — “Nothing Clicks” [Soundcloud]



Almost exactly two years ago, when writing about Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, I coined a term (sounds so much better than “made up a word,” doesn’t it?) that I’m still waiting for popular culture to whisk away. It’s confrenzus — the consensus frenzy that results from a book, movie or album that is so clearly worthy of acclaim that everywhere you look, someone is heaping praise on it.

There’s a confrenzus brewing, and it’s about to bubble over at the Broadberry. Tonight is the release show for Greenwood Shade — the new album from Richmond-based band Sleepwalkers — and I can’t resist joining the chorus in saying that tonight’s event (which also features Black Girls and Dead Professional) is well worth your time.

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Black Girls

Claire Sinclaire

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it differently — there’s a distinct, elevated echelon of songs and albums that manage to both entertain and offer up new perspective on something you thought you had a handle on. For me, it usually happens in relation to words. Most recently, Jason Isbell’s Southeastern took the word “down” and turned it on its head via some gorgeous, wilting guitar work and an overarching narrative of hard-earned serenity. I’ll never look at the hierarchical relationship between “up” and “down” the same way. Black Girls’ new album Claire Sinclaire gets to that transcendent point, proving enjoyable in the extreme while bringing on its own haunting redefinition.

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The Great White Caps

Great White Caps

According to the number of dangling inchworms I’ve been unsuccessfully dodging recently, spring has sprung in my neck of the woods, and I’m hoping that warmer temperatures thaw the horrendous live music freeze-out I’ve been experiencing over the past few months. I’ve let opportunity after opportunity pass me by, but I’m ready to get back in the game, and the night before last, with about an hour to go before The Trillions showed The Camel why they remain one of the most explosive acts in town, Bandmate 4eva Doug and I took in a fantastic opening set by a Bethlehem, PA-based surf rock group called The Great White Caps.

I know we’re not all the way to true beach weather yet, and I know that decent wave-riding in Richmond is at least a few decades’ worth of global warming away, but on Wednesday night, with the first Friday Cheers looming large and the hopefulness of spring coating the city like a fresh dusting of pollen, the Caps offered a frenetic and reverb-soaked performance that was every bit as invigorating as it would have been to hop in my temporarily yellow Honda Fit, drive to Virginia Beach and jump in a 58-degree, early-May Atlantic Ocean. Just as invigorating was the clarity of The Great White Caps’ approach, which I found myself thinking about for much of their set.

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5×5, Part 4: RVA Long Plays

5x5, Part 4 - RVA Long Plays

(Click here for Part 1 – Songs, here for Part 2 – Collaborations, and here for Part 3 – Late Breakers.)

When Richmond Playlist posted its Best Richmond Albums of 2012 list last week, two things immediately became clear: Richmond produced a bumper crop of new music in 2012, and I managed to wrap my brain around only a small portion of that output. But instead of blaming myself, as is customary for a person with a guilt complex as highly developed as mine, I’m going to project blame onto the following 5 LPs, which were so damn good I couldn’t stop fawning over them. Here are my favorite full-length albums from Richmond artists this year, along with a bonus list of the EPs that loomed large as well.

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The Trillions

(Editor’s Note: This past Saturday was such a great day for music that I’ve split up my reaction into three posts. Check out the second one below, and click here if you missed the first.)

Because of the shindig I mentioned yesterday, I wasn’t sure if I could make it to Saturday night’s Trillions CD release show at Gallery 5. And by the time I got there, I was pretty tuckered out and had already missed Kid Is Qual’s set (more on these fine folks to come in a future post). I definitely needed a pick-me-up, and having recently gone cold turkey on Red Bull certainly wasn’t working in my favor. But I’ll tell you two things that were working in my favor: Worthless Junk labelmates Black Girls occupying the second opening slot and the Trillions kicking ass/taking names.

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RVA Magazine


Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to interview RVA’s favorite team of #snuffrock specialists, Black Girls. It was a tremendous honor meeting and chatting with these 5 incredibly talented and gracious gents, and the resulting article is available now in the spring issue of RVA Magazine. I’m excited about how it turned out, as the band has had some wonderful things happen in the last few months, and I really believe they are destined for great things. If’n you’re interested, you can read the piece online here or, if you’re an ink and paper kind of guy/gal, you can pick up a hard copy of RVA Magazine for $0 at several spots around town (my favorite place to snag the mag when it comes out is Steady Sounds on Broad Street, but hey, that’s just me). In the meantime, you can sample Black Girls’ song “Get Off” below and, if you don’t have it yet, click here to pick up their kickass recent album, Hell Dragon.

Black Girls — “Get Off” [Spotify/iTunes]

Black Girls

So last Wednesday’s show at the National was quite the hootenanny. I already wrote about how much I enjoyed the outstanding headlining act, the Head and the Heart, but I have to say a few words about the fine work done by Black Girls in their opening set. There’s nothing like catching one of your favorite bands on the perfect night. Homecoming shows are always special, but this was the RVA group’s first stop in town after their most packed string of dates yet, having spent March on a trans-American/Canadian tour with the above mentioned, Seattle-based headliner. The atmosphere on Wednesday was appropriately celebratory, and Black Girls’ music fed off the welcome-home-y energy throughout, sounding equal parts powerful and joyful. And it wasn’t just who started off the evening but what as well, given that having “South Carolina” at the very top of a setlist is akin to waking up in the morning and immediately downing one of those giant Red Bulls that only truckers and people who sell Red Bull to truckers drink. From these first few moments until the closing notes of “Broadway,” the band channeled all the energy in the room into what may have been the best performance I’ve seen them give. You often hear about how busy concert schedules like the one they had in March render a band tighter or more polished, and this is undoubtedly the case for Black Girls, as well. But two of the band’s greatest strengths are a loose, confident swagger and a willingness to take chances, and the road seems to have, somewhat paradoxically, nurtured these qualities as well. As precise as each member’s performance was, it seemed like I was also hearing some additional layers and stylistic flourishes that I hadn’t before. Gillihan’s vocal improvisation was as far-reaching and captivating as I’d ever heard it, and the use of synth felt bolder and more emphatic than I remembered, shining a light on an aspect of their recently released album Hell Dragon that I absolutely loved. As a side note, this post doubles as an official, 5-alarm, all-hands-on-deck Merch Alert. I snagged the above pictured t-shirt just a few minutes after they concluded “Broadway,” and I was not the only one clamoring for one. I suggest grabbing yours at the earliest opportunity, as they appear to be too fly to last long. And even though iTunes technically has an infinite number of Hell Dragon downloads left in stock, I encourage springing into action on that front as well, given how great the album is. Get a taste of the #snuffrock awaiting therein by previewing “Broadway” and “St. Simons” below.

Black Girls — “Broadway” [Spotify/iTunes]

Black Girls — “St. Simons” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Head and the Heart

My introduction to the Head and the Heart came courtesy of an RVA Magazine interview with drummer Tyler Williams, who took a leap of faith a few years back by moving from Richmond to Seattle to join the group. He did so at the suggestion of another former Richmond resident, Jonathan Russell, who is half of the band’s founding partnership (he also happens to be a former high school friend of Williams’). File what I’m about to say under “Small and Mostly Meaningless Coincidences,” but I read this article in the midst of my own westward journey, aboard my very first cross-continental flight, bound for Portland. As tenuous as that connection may have been, I was pretty damn excited to see what the west coast was like, and reading about these fine Virginia gents heading west made me feel adventurous as well (so much so that I bought the 7-inch single of “Down In The Valley” while in Portland, even though I had no idea what it sounded like).

Reliving that adventurousness is one reason I was so excited about heading to the National this Wednesday evening to see the Head and the Heart in person (another reason being that Richmond’s outstanding Black Girls was one of the two opening acts — more to come on their performance in a separate post). And there was so much to love about the headlining set — singer and violin player Charity Rose Thielen’s impressive voice and magnetic personality won the crowd over completely, and Russell playing a solo acoustic tune to kick off the encore was a treat — but it was the last song of the night that best illustrated why I love the Head and the Heart so much.

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RVA Hot Sauce

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I started writing You Hear That, I had no idea how much amazing music is being made right here in Richmond, VA. During the course of the past year, I’ve been completely blown away by RVA’s homegrown tunes, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to blogs like Richmond Playlist and Sounds of RVA for pointing me in all the right directions. And as inspired as I’ve been by outstanding groups like White Laces, Black Girls, Goldrush and The Trillions, there’s so much more to discover — especially when it comes to RVA hip hop. The Cheats Movement blog, which is a tremendous source for information about local rap artists (not to mention a seemingly bottomless well of positivity and enthusiasm), has helped me take a big step in that direction by posting the video above, which is the first in the series of clips that will document an event that took place on October 21, 2011 called RVA Hot Sauce. Much like the graffiti photos that got me hooked on Marc Cheatham’s blog several months ago, this video is a wake-up call as to the staggering amount of creativity flowing through this city, and I can’t wait to see the additional installments and hear more from performers like Black Liquid. Watch him and several other talented RVA folks in action in the video above (seeing Brian McDaniel from Dirty Richmond freestyle is particularly awesome), listen below to an older Black Liquid tune called “Life,” and keep an eye out for more RVA Hot Sauce videos down the road.

Black Liquid — “Life