Back in 2014

I’m always late with these things. It’s probably for two reasons – well three…. I see too many people giving their “Top Albums of the Year” lists when, really, who cares?…. I think the timing of too many of those lists means great albums released as the year draws to a close don’t get that little bit more exposure by inclusion and albums released in the early stages tend to be forgotten come December. Thirdly… well, life keeps me busy.

However…

I listened to a lot in 2014 and plenty of new music within that lot. Pretty sure it was a good growth year for my vinyl collection too as I tried, for the most part, to stick with vinyl when it came to buying new music.

There were a couple of instances where I’m glad I didn’t shell out for the black circle though…

Two big names released new albums this year and, despite initial expectations, I was left a little disappointed by both. I’ve mumbled enough on the let down of Springsteen’s High Hopes here. It still holds, I’ve not gone back and listened to it and discovered any hidden layers since. That it made Number 2 on Rolling Stones’ albums of the year list baffles me. Then again they gave U2 the Number 1 slot and I don’t think I’ve heard anything that bad that wasn’t coming from an adjoining cubicle in a public toilet.

The second disappointment was more of a shocker, though. It was a shock to hear that, after twenty years, Pink Floyd would be dropping an album. It was a bit of a surprise that it was to be ambient / song-free and I was even more surprised that my excitement didn’t continue after I’d heard it. Granted, I first heard The Endless River through headphones on Spotify (having been put off by the hefty price tag associated with vinyl pre-orders) and when I picked up the CD it did reveal more. It’s not a bad album but it’s not a great album, which their legacy deserves. It’s an album divided into four distinct parts and I think it’s fair to say I like 2/4 of it, love 1/4 and outright loath the other 1/4 – the first half is a decent lead in, the third quarter is abysmal and the final stretch from Talkin’ Hawkin’ is spot on.  While Louder Than Words is a nice nod to and send off for Rick Wright, I still think High Hopes was the perfect way to say farewell to Floyd.

That’s the negative out of the way.

photo 1There was a lot of new music I loved in 2014. Mogwai got things going with the early release (and then forgotten about come those Best of lists) of Rave Tapes. A lot of spins on the record player and a lot of plays in the car – while not as adventurous or different in sound as the press would suggest, it marked a good step forward in their sound and did find them incorporating additional elements into the mix. Though am I alone as a Mogwai fan in not really enjoying it when they sing?

Speaking of which… Thee Silver Mt Zion’s Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything was another stand out. I tend to view Silver Mt releases with mixed emotions; as much as I enjoy them I’d still rather Godspeed was the main going concern. Still, Fuck Off Get Free… is a solid addition to a very strong canon and sees Menuck really developing as a lyricist.

Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There found its way into my collection in October after reading positive review after positive review. It justifies those reviews. Loved it. Lot of pain and emotional fall out in the lyrics but such delivery and luscious song writing.

I was given Ryan Adams‘ self-titled new album this year too. I wasn’t hugely taken with his ‘comeback’ album Ashes & Fire (don’t get me wrong; it’s good, but…) but this one is a different kettle of fish altogether. Sounding much more vibrant, confident and sure of himself than perhaps ever, really. More direct and accessible than previous albums, hugely enjoyable and listen-able from start to finish.

I spoke of the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways – it’s still getting a lot of rotation (again, probably fuelled by the fact that my son enjoys it so much too) and more appreciation with each listen. Still can’t get over the cumbersome nature of Congregation as a lyric.

Also warranting a few rotations was the latest J Mascis solo trundle – Tied to a Star. While not as much as a revelation as his first ‘alone with an acoustic’ album Several Shades of Why, Tied to a Star is very enjoyable, adding a bit more of a backing band to flesh out the sound along with the odd burning guitar solo though never quite realising the highs of either the former album or his Dinosaur Jr work, of which I hope there’s more to come this year.

A couple of EPs – both the third in a series – bookended the year for me: Pixies EP3 (which also allows me to count Indie Cindy as one of this year’s most played) and EP3 from SQÜRL. Though vastly different in sound of course, both are cracking ends to a trilogy and contain some of each bands best work. Though the SQÜRL EP gets the win if only for the presentation and picture disc.

At the tail end of 2013 I started getting in the War on Drugs. Their new album Lost In The Dream made its way to the top of a lot of end of year / critics choice lists and it thoroughly deserved to. I loved it. It threw me at first – I thought there was something wrong with my record player thanks to the sound. It’s a beauty. It does recall a lot of those 80’s rock landmarks like Springsteen, Petty and the whole Den Henley  Boys of Summer vibe (all of which get a tick from me) but they’re hinted at, alluded to rather than worn brazenly on a denim-clad sleeve, it’s very much a contemporary sound. One which is so easy to get lost in as you travel through the album – despite being great to spin on a Sunday afternoon, it’s very much an album for listening to on the move. Hazy, dream-like sounds danced all over by some sublime guitar lines.

photo 3In terms of Re-Issues… I only really got into two. Some Pixies magic (again) with the end-of-year release (so will ludicrously miss being included on all those lists when it deserves to sit atop them) of Doolittle 25 meant a triple album of greatness, with the original album remastered, demos, b-sides and Peel sessions all making a compelling release. The second was Led Zeppelin’s IV reissue – hugely superior sound quality and a second slab of vinyl containing alternate takes and mixes adding to an already faultless album.

Most Played?

Bu6ErPKIEAAJp0PThe record that probably got the most spins this year? It’s a very tasty album indeed. It’s the Mondo Tees reissue of the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I love this for so many reasons. I was (very) lucky enough to be given this for my first Fathers Day by my wife after I’d hum this to get our son to sleep. I was also very (very) lucky enough to get one of the very rare Dilophosaurus version. Also, John Williams created another beautiful soundtrack for JP back in 1993 all summed up beautifully in Welcome to Jurassic Park:

I’m still playing catch-up with some of 2014’s releases – I’ve only just picked up Karen O’s Crush Songs and have yet to drop needle on it’s lovely blue vinyl, nor did I get around to hearing new albums from Jenny Lewis, Ben Frost, Spoon or even the terrifying good (based on the little I have heard) Swans albums dropped in 2014. What can I say; I’m a busy guy and who really cares what I think of them?

 

Watching The Corners

I’m aware that when I’ve muttered about new albums from ‘big’ names – referring, that is, to their importance in my music taste-range – I’ve been pretty negative. There have been more than a few albums released this year that I’ve loved (whether or not I’ll end up doing a Best of 2012 is another thing) so I thought I’d start mentioning a couple of those instead of just slamming new albums.

One of those bands that were always around but I never really acknowledged or paid attention to almost until it was too late, was Dinosaur Jr. By the time I got round to checking out one of their albums it was their comeback disc Beyond. It was being hailed as a ‘return to form’, and people were ecstatic as it was ‘as if they’d never been away’ – except to me they hadn’t really because this was the first time I was listening and knowing who was playing. I played the arse off that album. It absolutely slayed me. So much so that within a pretty short space of time I’d gotten the rest of their stock – my wife even managed to find the otherwise “bastard to locate at a decent price” Without A Sound for me in Paris. Suddenly the buzz around Beyond made sense. It was a phenomenal return to form after the lucklustre release J. had made during the 90’s with other musicians under the name of Dinosaur Jr. Which is odd because I really liked his two efforts with The Fog – so much better than, say, Hand It Over.

dinosaur jr

From that point I’ve been eagerly awaiting new Dino albums (or the recent J. Mascis solo record) and was not disappointed either with Farm or this year’s I Bet On Sky. It’s true that the three albums are all very much similar (even excusing the use of keyboards on opener Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know); 10 or 12 songs, the bulk of which are sung by J and contain either hurried or gently fuzzy rocking leading up to the point at which J can’t hold back any longer and lets loose the guitar solo that continues until the end of the track. And you know what? I bloody love it. The melodies are a world clearer than they were on the bands original trio before the lineup became a rotational club, J’s a lot more confident at the old singing game and his guitar tone is beatific. His phrasing and fluidity mean that when each song breaks it’s more like being wrapped up in a warm blanked of tone. Somehow each time he breaks it sounds different and he finds something new on that guitar neck.

After my wife and I recently dug back into the 90s I was flicking through a book she got me last Christmas. It’s the photo collection Grunge by Michael Lavine and with a bit of text from none other than Thurston Moore. There’s a bit of a love-in with Thurston and J – Thurston (along with his basement and daughter) were in the video for Dinosaur Jr’s Been There All The Time and J played some shit-hot lead on Thurston’s amazeballs solo lp Trees Outside The Academy. Anyway there’s photo of Dinosaur Jr in there and – at the back of the book – a summary of all the bands featured within. Thurston’s summary of Dinosaur Jr reads:

“Awesome heavy melodic power trio from Amhers, Massachusetts…. Gerard Cosloy convinced the band to record an LP fr his Homestead imprint and it, along with its successor, You’re Living All Over Me, released on SST, became indelible blueprints for a generation of extreme yet beautiful guitar love core”

I like that phrase “guitar love core”. While the original trilogy was certainly something and the years in between yielded a few gems too I think the most recent clutch of albums from the band a lot more of a guitar love in. Plus it game on a gorgeous slab of purple vinyl and nice, high-quality gate-fold too.