Favorite Music of 2014

Rather than explain why these albums were my favorites of 2014, I’ll just leave a sampling from each here so you can see for yourself. Enjoy!

Jenny Lewis The Voyager

The Hold Steady Teeth Dreams

https://soundcloud.com/washingtonsquaremusic/the-hold-steady-i-hope-this

Shakey Graves And the War Came

Cory Branan The No-Hit Wonder

Shovels & Rope Swimmin’ Time

Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires Dereconstructed

Against Me! Transgender Dysphoria Blues

King Tuff Black Moon Spell

Perfect Pussy Say Yes to Love

FKA Twigs LP1

Favorite Music of 2013

Both on this blog and in everyday conversation, I use music analogies to an almost uncomfortable degree. In large part I do this because music is an important touchstone to me; I spend quite a lot of my time with some kind of music playing. These ten albums are only the tip of the sizable iceberg of stuff I listened to last year, but they’re my favorites by a long stretch.

10. The Next Day – David Bowie. A David Bowie album with Tony Visconti producing, and Bowie in top songwriting form. More artists should release albums out of the blue like he did at the beginning of the year.

9. mbv – My Bloody Valentine. I was actually dreading the thought of a new My Bloody Valentine album, in large part because I didn’t know how you top Loveless. Thankfully, they didn’t try, instead producing a strangely warm, intense, fog of emotion to act as a lovely counterbalance to their previous masterpiece.

8. No Blues – Los Campesinos! If you’re only familiar with their song “You! Me! Dancing!,” you owe it to yourself to listen through their catalog, and particularly this most recent release. Hearing them refine their sound while staying true to the energy of that first single is remarkable.

7. Magic Hour – Luscious Jackson. Luscious Jackson was sort of washed over in the wave of Nineties Alternative acts, but their clever songwriting and ease at crafting hook-laden songs always made them stand out for me. I’m glad to see them still putting out new stuff that’s as sharp as their earlier output.

6. Hesitation Marks – Nine Inch Nails. After so many years at the cutting edge of industrial and electronic music, Reznor shouldn’t have to prove he’s the equal of younger acts. I’m glad he recognizes that and uses that knowledge to focus on being surprising with his albums, rather than trying to overwhelm.

5. Days Are Gone – HAIM. I’ve been waiting for this album since “Forever” came out LAST YEAR, and I’m thrilled the rest of it’s just as catchy and quick as that song.

4. Muchacho -Phosphorescent. I only discovered this closer to the end of the year, but wow, is it a good record. Just listen to “Song for Zula,” where the vocals have the same perfect mix of understatement and strength you’d find all over Astral Weeks era Van Morrison, while the band builds to something approaching majesty.

3. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend. Speaking of catchy, Vampire Weekend put together a true gem of a record this year, with all kinds of energy and verve.

2.The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You – Neko Case. Neko Case has one of the most grand, magnificent voices in music today, and the harmonies on this album are nothing short of perfect.

1. Stay Reckless – Austin Lucas. This is a record that’s probably going to be forgotten among the heavier hitters that came out this year, and that’s a real shame. Austin Lucas puts out country music more influenced by Husker Du than Hank Williams, but with an authentic voice that really resonates beautifully. With Glossary – another favorite band of mine – backing him up, he hits a stride here that really deserves a lot more attention than he’s getting. This is my small contribution to the effort to get him in more people’s ears.

 

Replacements Reunion Show

The fine folks at The Replacements Live Archive Project have posted the entire 22 song set from last night’s first ‘Mats show in 22 years.  It’s a fantastic set, and available for download from their site.  Below is the show on their SoundCloud page, which also has several other great live tracks and sets to stream.

Excited for Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

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The third track from the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County soundtrack has just been put up over at Entertainment Weekly. This is a long gestating project that’s finally being released on June 4, and based on the three songs released so far, I’m very excited to pick it up.

Back in 2000 there was a lot of chatter that Stephen King was collaborating with John Mellencamp on a musical, and I remember the idea drawing a lot of mocking comments. King was in a relatively bloated phase in his writing, putting up as many misses as hits. And Mellencamp was a fair ways from the regular radio play he enjoyed in the eighties and early nineties. It seemed like a strange desperation play from two past-their-prime artists, particularly because the idea of a musical evoked Andrew Lloyd-Webber levels of bombast. It conjured images of over-dressed, revolving stage sets and over-emoting singers, building to the showstopping number “HEEERE’S JOHNNY!” What I didn’t understand then was how impressive a late career resurgence can be. This was way before King was writing books like Cell, Under the Dome, and Full Dark, No Stars, and reminding us how atmospheric and masterful his writing is.

The musical King and Mellencamp have crafted deals with haunted pasts and regret. These are subjects both artists have put in the years learning from painful experience. They’ve both fallen far down the ladders of excess, and they’ve both hauled themselves back up. King wrote the book for Ghost Brothers, and the storyline follows a man haunted by a terrible crime, and how that terrible act threatens his own boys. Mellecamp has an encyclopedic familiarity with roots music, and the early tracks released show him drawing from those deep wells. The show has been staged for a couple of limited performances, but it’s debut to a larger audience will be through this soundtrack, which collects a number of distinctive singers. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the soundtrack allows for a greater intimacy than a live performance would, making the songs sound more organic and haunting.

The first track they released has Neko Case channeling Patsy Cline.

The second, featuring Roseanne Cash, brings in more folk elements.

The most recent, featuring Kris Kirstofferson, is a slow burning shuffle, and reminds me of the Alejandro Escovedo songs I like to drive to late at night.

Finally, here’s a creepy song performed by Elvis Costello.

This is only a sampling, the full album also includes Ryan Bingham and Will Dailey, among others. Folk and Americana may not fill Broadway theaters, but the quiet beauty of these songs point to the kind of story that you want to ruminate over, perhaps on a porch after dusk this summer.

As You Wish: Awesome, and Available Now

Murder by Death routinely kicks ass as a live act, and their albums are a great shot of dark country-tinged rock.  Think Johnny Cash scored by Ennio Morricone, and you’re in the right ballpark.  Their original work is tight, atmospheric, and filled with some of the best songwriting you’ll find, but often the best entrance to a new artist is seeing how they translate what you’re already familiar with.  About a year ago, they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a new record, and offered some high end funders the opportunity to select songs for the band to cover on a future album.  They’ve just released the final product, As You Wish, and it’s an incredible collection of tracks.  Their take on Motorhead is just one delicious taste from this particular banquet of an album, which you can pick up over on Bandcamp for a mere ten bucks.

In Advance of Sunday’s Walking Dead Finale

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This Sunday brings to an end the Third Season of The Walking Dead, and I’d like to think there was some humor in timing the finale of a show about zombies for Easter.  This dovetails nicely with a new web series launching on Stan Lee’s World of Heroes YouTube channel. Cosplay Piano is going to be a series of shorts where accomplished pianist Sonya Belousova performs pieces with geek cred in costume.  Check out her take on The Walking Dead theme surrounded by walkers, and you’ll see how entertaining this premise can be.

Looking Forward to The Next Day

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Since discovering this morning that David Bowie’s new album The Next Day is available for streaming, I’ve been listening to it pretty much non-stop.  I came to love Bowie’s output from the years Mick Ronson was his right hand man, and much of the rest of his late seventies and early eighties output.  I dropped off from him a bit during his “resurgence” in the nineties, mostly because it felt like a lot of his music was trying too hard to adopt the style of others, rather than build on his own musical innovations.  Still, even then, I much preferred his work over other late sixties musicians, who have been more content to abandon any attempt to do something fresh in favor of lounge standards and American Songbook crooning.

So when the completely out of left field announcement of a new album hit, I immediately tracked down the first single, “Where are We Now?”  Down tempo and slow burning, it’s a song filled with sharp lyrics and elegant musicianship.  Here Bowie sounds like a man in his late sixties, and it actually serves as a great lead-in to the rest of the album, which is much harder-edged.  This first song is really the only that shows his age.  The rest of the tracks basically do everything I wished his late nineties and early aughts material would have.  Listening to each song – such as the second single “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” – you can hear hints of his past personas peeking out between the bars.  Tony Visconti’s crisp production brings a vibrancy to the songs, which have Bowie sounding fresher than he has in years.

Currently, there’s no intention on his part to tour, which is a shame because these songs would absolutely kill on stage, but simply having a new album is a treat, and one I expect I’ll be listening to quite a lot.  The full album is streaming now on iTunes, and will be out in the US March 12.