This year I can’t in good conscience list ten albums in order. It always feels like splitting invisible hairs to decide between one and two or five and six, and when the albums I loved this year are such a diverse bunch it just seems silly. (I would say it is like comparing apples to oranges, but one can compare apples to oranges easily. Oranges are much better. Clearly. Ask anyone.) There is a unifying theme in my list, though it embarrasses me a bit to notice it. Almost all of these albums have a throwback quality to them. They often involve attempts to recapture something pure from earlier incarnations of the genres. The best albums of the year represent pure forms of rap/hip-hop, country/rock and punk. Among the others you can hear echoes of Madonna, Magnetic Fields, Silver Jews, and (um, of course) the Talking Heads. St. Vincent is probably the exception. As an aside, it somehow seems to me that many of the newest sounds these days come from women–witness Cate LeBon, PJ Harvey, and Bjork. And Radiohead. I guess Radiohead is the exception that proves the rule is not really a rule after all. In any case, here’s my shot at this year’s list.
Cloud Nothings, Here and Nowhere Else (Subpop)
These Cleveland darlings just keep getting better with every release. There are shades of Nirvana, The Descendants, and about a dozen other punky lovelies. I probably listened to this one more than any album this year.
Run the Jewels, RTJ2 (Mass Appeal)
In this year of racial fucknuttery, with white cops reviving scenes of Selma and dumbasses taking it out perfectly innocent police, it was a perfect year for RTJ2 to bring us intelligent, hard hitting rap. El-P and Killer Mike have had the year of their lives and the excitement is infectious as hell. Just hearing Killer Mike start the thing out makes me start punching the air. Lie, Cheat, Steal might be the track of the year.
Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar)
It’s not really fair to have a voice this strong while still kicking ass as a songwriter. How can someone like this not make those boneheads in Nashville change the way they think about making and marketing music? If you liked Sharon von Etten’s Tramp, and you did if you are even moderately reasonable, this album should be on your shelf. Like von Etten, Olsen spills her guts with style, but perhaps with a greater diversity of styles. She morphs from Patsy Cline to Leonard Cohen in a heartbeat.
Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain Records)
My friend Eric turned me onto this saying “This guy is legit as shit,” and this album plus that comment is a good reminder of why we love our friends. I haven’t been as excited about country since Richard Buckner’s early albums. Unapologetically excellent. (Might be paired well with Luke B. Goebel’s “14 Stories and None of them are Yours.” Those two guys might be the same damn person.)
Death from Above 1979, The Physical World (Last Gang/Warner Bros.)
Another album from a duo who packs the energy of an entire decade of rock. I doubt these two spend afterparties riding alligators around a hotel room bonfire, but they sound like it. I’ll eagerly wait another ten years for these guys to record another album if I have to. This stuff is timeless.
St. Vincent, St. Vincent (Loma Vista)
We Dallasites like to think of Annie Clark as our own, and those of us who have done time in that monochromatic suburb of Garland want to feel somewhat redeemed by the association. But the truth is she is probably from outer space and has some Kryptonian story of how she got here. For my money she belongs with PJ Harvey and Bjork as one of the most interesting and innovative artists out there. She can hack the guitar into pieces and hit all manner of notes while stoically packaging herself for television consumption. Every St. Vincent album is worth having, and this might be her best yet , but I wouldn’t be surprised if she just continues to get better for about sixty years.
Alvvays, Alvvays (Polyvinyl/Transgressive)
If I can’t include Chad VanGaalen’s album on my year end list, and honestly I can’t, I’m happy at least to include an album he produced. Toronto based Alvvays’ self-titled album is the sort of fresh lo-fi pop that is easy to try but damned difficult to pull off. While they remind me a lot of Camera Obscura, they’re willing to let a little more fray show at the edges, and their sound is a little too rough to be twee. Just try not to like Archie, Marry Me. If you do try, you’re just being a jerk.
Christians have been awaiting the second coming of Jesus Christ for more than two millennia, now. Comparatively, we had to wait just under 15 years for Black Messiah.
Notoriously reclusive R&B superstar D’Angelo quickly and quietly released Black Messiah, the long-awaited follow-up to 2000’s Voodoo, to iTunes and Spotify last night, after teasing the album over the weekend by dropping a 15-second album trailer on Friday and first single “Sugah Daddy” on Saturday.
Fifteen years is a long time to wait for a follow-up, and the track record for albums with such long waits, uh, isn’t good. (See: Chinese Democracy; SMiLE.) But damn if Black Messiah, on first listen, is well worth the delay. Black Messiah is a superlative funk record in the vein of Prince circa Prince, Sly circa There’s a Riot Going On and P-Funk circa “Maggot Brain,” thanks in large part to D’Angelo’s fierce and fluid backing band The Vanguard. “Sugah Daddy,” teased earlier in the weekend, is vintage D’Angelo, sexy and sprightly and playful. And the vicious, quasi-industrial “1000 Deaths” is already making me regret submitting my Village Voice Pazz + Jop ballot early.
As part of the Lorde-curated soundtrack for Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, Charli XCX has teamed up with Duran Duran‘s Simon Le Bon for a dramatic piano ballad called “Kingdom.” She wrote the song with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij after they spent a drunken night at a Miley Cyrus concert. She recently told Pitchfork that Lorde insisted on bringing in someone from a different era and that she was excited “to be working with someone who’s iconic and from a different time than me.” The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 soundtrack is out now via Republic.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 22nd, 2014@ 3:53 pm Tags:stream
Well, this discovery made my day. Jawbreaker has released a video for “Boxcar” from its close to perfect pop-punk song cycle, 24-Hour Revenge Therapy, a mere 20 years too late. Drummer Adam Pfahler evidently found a bunch of Super 8 footage circa 1992, and thus we have a video for “Boxcar.” I suppose it’s not without its benefits considering the band just reissued 24-Hour Revenge Therapy on Pfahler’s own Blackball records.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 22nd, 2014@ 2:36 pm Tags:video
At this point I don’t think you can call it luck that TV on the Radio has ridden a decade long wave of overwhelmingly adoring press. Must be doing something right. I’ve never been much more than a cursory admirer, following the band’s trajectory only loosely. I saw TVOTR open for Bauhaus and Nine Inch Nails in 2006, and I’ve got a few of their records. But I’ve yet to be blown away, despite all the accolades. I cringe at the concept of bands being “overrated” because it seems paradoxical to say so. I may be coming around, though. When I first heard “Happy Idiot” it instantly clicked with its unabashed new wave hooks, which is a first for any song by TVOTR and me. Seeds came out Tuesday, and I’ve had a hard time not keeping it on repeat.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 22nd, 2014@ 1:48 pm Tags:tv · video
Even though his de facto method of transmission with Dinosaur Jr. is at ear-splitting volume, J Mascis proves his chops are not merely a byproduct of noise with an acoustic performance for NPR. Mascis runs through a medley of songs off his latest solo record for Sub Pop, the unsurprisingly solid Tied to a Star, as well as the Dinosaur Jr. classic “Little Furry Things.” [via Spin]
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 22nd, 2014@ 1:06 pm Tags:liveshow · stream · video
David Bowie is one of those rare artists who’s practically impervious to criticism. When you’ve achieved as much as he has throughout a four-decade-plus spanning career you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want without worrying about sullying your legacy. With another retrospective collection to promote (Nothing Has Changed), Bowie has just released a jazz-noir new single replete with a Raymond Chandler-esque lyric video. It’s Bowie in full croon mode, but he keeps it interesting with creepy imagery: “Sue, I pushed you down beneath the weeds/Endless faith in hopeless deeds.”
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 22nd, 2014@ 11:17 am Tags:video
In other bizarre, unexpected reunion news, Minneapolis’ Babes in Toyland have announced its first shows in 18 years. I first saw BIT when I was in high school at a tiny club in Nashville, and it scared the ever-living shit out of me. Ket Bjelland’s manic stage presence is not for the faint of heart. And it turns out her demons were/are real, which makes it all even crazier. A trio of Google employees are footing the bill for the reunion, which is as surprising as it is cool. The fact that this band ever made it to a major label is quite a coup and just reiterates the power of Nirvana’s impact on the music business in the early 1990’s. Hit singles were not in the cards for this band, but by God they rocked.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 22nd, 2014@ 10:11 am Tags:news · video
St. Vincent’s self-titled fourth record is without a doubt in my top ten for the year. Her music is an idiosyncratic mix of post-Bowie stylized weirdness, syncopated, dance-able rhythms, and off-kilter guitar bravado. There is no one in her league. Her lyrics are intellectual and articulate with the requisite amount of oddness to match the music’s strict left-of-center bent. She’s clearly come into her own musically with this record, and her live show brings a theatrical element that elevates her bizarre stories and dystopian commentary. If watching her perform doesn’t make you want to buy her records, I can’t help you.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 22nd, 2014@ 9:50 am Tags:liveshow · stream
I’m always completely torn when a band I worship – or have worshiped – decides to reunite. Of course, there’s the selfish desire to relive the nostalgic emotions a certain record may have evoked during the formative teenage years. But then there’s the cynical desire to understand the invariably disappointing motivation, which always points to the potential pile of cash. The Pixies have reduced the reunion act to its basest form: an obvious (and unending) play on fans’ collective nostalgia followed by the dreaded yet inevitable failure of “new music.” When I read that Ride had decided to reunite, I felt the usual dose of inner conflict. On the one hand, Nowhere was a seminal record for me. I immersed myself in it, obsessing over every note for months and basking in the wash of glorious shoegaze feedback its majestic wall of noise created. I can return to it any time and still feel the same rush- a rare feat for any album to sustain that sort of impact, especially outside of the context of being 17. A Ride poster adorned my freshman dorm room, much to the bewilderment of my TLC-loving roommate. But decades have passed. I used to think rock n roll was a decidedly youthful endeavor. But, as I age, I am less strict in my cut off points for what is “too old” for rock n roll. Obviously, part of it stems from my reticence to accept my own age and relative stage in life. I used to be appalled by the fact that The Rolling Stones existed a day past 1975. Now, I find myself starting to justify their longevity, despite the obvious cash cow their “brand” generates. I once heard a guy say, “there’s nothing sadder than an old punk.” I get that. And my 19-year-old self would completely agree. I probably still agree. Certain genres do have a lifespan that has a definite expiration date. But being so cut and dry is probably missing the point. I’ve seen plenty of reunited bands over the years. Some lived up to the idealized potential while others were beyond embarrassing. If you can still pull it off without compromising the integrity of the music, I don’t see why you can’t forge on. But then the thought of watching a bunch of haggard ass has-beens trying to act like they’re 25 sounds like hell on Earth. Nostalgia and curiosity almost always win. So, I’m definitely erring on the side of excitement at the thought of Ride existing in any form in 2015. It’s just not without a healthy dose of trepidation.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 22nd, 2014@ 8:56 am Tags:commentary · news
Johnny Jewel has been unearthing a slew of Chromatics jams lately on his SoundCloud page. Not sure to what end but since it’s been a minute since the last Chromatics full length, these scraps are making up for lost time. “White Light” is brocade of wispy synths, over-reverbed guitar, and the requisite ethereal vocals.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 21st, 2014@ 4:27 pm Tags:stream
Unless you have God-given perfect pitch, singing live is no easy feat. So many variables with which to contend. If you can’t hear yourself, you’re totally effed. So, I feel slightly bad about posting this, but at the same time I love these isolated tracks when they show up on YouTube because, you know, trainwrecks and all that … can’t avert your eyes or ears in this case. Speaking of train wrecks, it’s Courtney Love. And, man, there’s not enough pitch shifting software in the world to fix this catastrophe. And then there’s the isolated guitar playing. Good God. This was posted out of spite by a sound man who was commissioned to record this particular show, but no one wanted to pay the invoice. So, he shared his recording. [via Buddyhead]
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 21st, 2014@ 3:36 pm Tags:humor · stream · video
I can’t be sure how deliberate it was, but Iceage‘s new sound is the smartest career move I’ve seen from a band in a long time. What makes it so utterly genius is the fact that it sounds so natural and uncontrived. Iceage could have easily fallen into the “bands that could have been” heap after two better than great post-punk records and no small amount of fanfare, but any more of the same would have pinned Iceage against either critical backlash or just general apathy (ask Interpol how that works). Plowing the Field of Love is the band’s best record, which I realize is a bold statement, but it allows Iceage room to breathe both musically and in its career development. Punk bands don’t normally think in terms of careers. It’s a burn out and die mentality. But this third record is the birth of a new band- one that understands what made it great to begin with and what makes it even even better now. Yes, there’s a drunken swagger that reeks of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but it’s so brilliantly filtered through a (post) post-punk lens that it sounds completely new. This record will go down as one of the greats- not just of the year but of a career and possibly an era.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: November 21st, 2014@ 10:46 am Tags:video
“I challenge War On Drugs to let me join them onstage and play a hilarious song I’ve written called ‘War On Drugs: Suck My Cock/Sun Kil Moon: Go Fuck Yourself’ at the Fillmore, October 6,” Kozelek wrote in on his website (in a post that seems to have since been deleted), “provided they let me handle the beer commercial lead guitar.”
He wasn’t joking. Kozelek released the song to his Sun Kil Moon website at midnight EST, presumably right before The War on Drugs took the stage at its sold-out show at The Fillmore in San Francisco. In addition to repeatedly inviting the Philadelphia band to “suck my cock,” he talks about the Sun Kil Moon Hopscotch performance where he called the crowd “fuckin’ hillbillies.” (He’s still selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan.)
The War on Drugs dudes, Kozelek concedes, are “pretty nice,” but “definitely the whitest fuckin’ band I’ve ever heard.” “Sounded like basic John Fogerty rock,” he sings, and, later: “The War on Drugs loves John Mellencamp.” Also: “Bridge-and-tunnel people love them some War on Drugs.” Burn, yo.
The song is actually, as Kozelek claimed it would be, kind of hilarious — whether it’s intentional or because it paints Kozelek as an increasingly crochety, curmudgeonly dude. For instance, he follows up following up a line about The War on Drugs’ “beer commercial lead guitar” by yelping “Wait, there’s more!” and deploying a harmonized dual-guitar line. After needling the band with “To make three albums, took ‘em nine fuckin’ years!,” a canned audience applauds.
It’s not all tongue-in-cheek: He lashes out at Indyweek writer Allison Hussey with the particularly vituperative couplet “Someone got offended and wrote a piece of crap / Some spoiled bitch rich kid blogger brat.” Not cool, Kozzy.
The War on Drugs, meanwhile, have yet to respond with a song called “Sun Kil Moon: Go Fuck Yourself.” I’d pay to hear that one.
Back when I had, y’know, steady employment, I bought a lot of records. I made a particular mission to pick up every piece of John Coltrane vinyl I could afford. (I’m really, really regretting not buying a mint first pressing of Om when I had the chance.)
Now that I, y’know, don’t have steady employment, I don’t buy many records. But I still search out Coltrane gems when I have the extra scratch — and in September, Impluse! is releasing one.
On Sept. 23, John Coltrane’s birthday, Impulse! will release Offering, a long sought-after 1966 performance by Coltrane that took place in Philadelphia. It was one of Coltrane’s wildest but last performances; he’d be dead in less than a year. It features most of the lineup that comprised his live band in his later years: Alice Coltrane on piano, Pharoah Sanders on reeds and flute, and Rashied Ali on drums; Sonny Johnson filled in for regular bassist Jimmy Garrison.
Bootlegs of this concert have been circulating for years; to wit, Discogs currently has two for sale. But the bootleg doesn’t feature the entire show, and the sound quality is poor. Offering, uh, offers a remastered version of the entire 90-minute performance. It’ll be available as a double CD and double LP. The concert spans Coltrane’s entire oeuvre — extended interpretations of earlier material like “Naima,” from Giant Steps, and the title tracks from 1961’s My Favorite Things and (a personal favorite) 1964’s Crescent, and of later, freer jams like “Leo” and “Expression.”
Coltrane’s late ’60s concerts, when he was entrenched in the most difficult but most fascinating work of his brief but bright career — see: Concert in Japan, The Olatunde Concert — were often physically thundering affairs that nonetheless overflowed with emotional and spiritual energy. Coltrane, nearing the end of his life, played with the incendiary fury of a man in pain, but his energy — songs often stretched to near hour-long lengths — is nonetheless unflagging. If the Temple concert — I’ve never heard it — resembles anything on Concert in Japan or Olatunde, it’ll be a wild ride.
Anyway. I’ll be saving up for this one.
Comments OffPosted by Patrick Wall: April 2nd, 2014@ 12:10 pm Tags:news
There’s one big sticking for eligibility for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (outside of that whole, y’know, being good and important thing). As in baseball, it’s all about time: To qualify for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there must be a passing of 25 years since the band’s first release.
It’s been exactly 25 years since Nirvana released Bleach, and if there are few first-ballot decisions as no-brainer as Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl.
But Grohl didn’t play on Bleach. Chad Channing did. (He’s the guy on the far right in the above picture.)
But Chad Channing isn’t getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Worse, he found out via text message.
“Can you tell whoever looks after Chad Channing that he isn’t being inducted,” the Rock Hall wrote to Nirvana’s manager, reports radio.com. “It is just Dave, Krist and Kurt.”
“I’ll be there at the table ready to walk up,” Channing told the site in an earlier interview about Nirvana’s imminent induction. “When I told my daughter about the induction, she was super excited for me! So much of my excitement about it is for her!”
COLD. BLOODED. I haven’t been this upset about a Hall of Fame snub since Tim “Rock” Raines.
(Then again, if the Hall inducts Chad Channing, shouldn’t it induct Dale Crover, who played on Bleach‘s “Floyd the Barber”, “Paper Cuts” and “Downer”? Then again, isn’t the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame kind of stupid to begin with?)
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony is April 10 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Hamilton Leithauser may (or may not?) have played his final show with The Walkmen, but his first solo record, Black Hours, is definitely coming out this May via Ribbon Music. This first single is an uncharacteristically upbeat affair. It’s odd hearing Leithauser’s voice in such a self-confident and cheerful setting, but when you can sing like that you can get away with just about anything. I dare you not to like this.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: March 2nd, 2014@ 1:31 pm Tags:video
Lily Allen has announced the name of her new record with the following post on Instagram: “Oh Christ” adorned with the above photo. This is amazing. Kanye West is going to hate this so much, and I can’t wait to see his reaction.
And here’s the video for the second single off Sheezus, “Hot Air Balloon,” featuring Allen all blinged out and in fine form.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: February 23rd, 2014@ 5:52 pm Tags:news · video