Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Favorite CDs of 2014

Twenty-fourteen was not one of the all-time great rock and roll years. Not like 1965 or 1980 or even 2011. 

There were a passel of good releases, plus some noteworthy boxed sets and archival live albums. But nothing I played to the exclusion of sleep or even leaving for work on time.

On the other hand, maybe I'm just getting old. Or more responsible. Being that sixty is closer than fifty, one of these is a distinct possibility.

OK. On to 2014. 

First, the box sets.

I'm taking the road less-traveled and choosing the three-disc Michael Bloomfield collection From His Head to His Heart to His Hands.

The careers of other sixties guitar gods were certainly more celebrated and more thoroughly-chronicled than Bloomfield's. But I can't imagine they were any more deserving than that of this Chicago kid with the unruly hair.

His stinging leads informed some of the sixties most indelible albums, and helped usher the guitar into new and unimagined realms. This collection shines a much-needed light on the career of one of rock's unacknowledged masters.

Every once in a while, a tour attains legendary status. Such tours represent a watershed moment in the career of a band or artist. Examples would be the Rolling Stones in 1972. Bob Dylan in 1966. Or the Talking Heads in 1983.

Another would be Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in 1978. The uniform intensity of the band's performances (all 111 of them) was staggering. I've never heard a band play so hard so often. They were relentless.

Fortunately for us, several shows were simulcast on radio. And one of them, the August 9th date at the Agora Theater in Cleveland, recently received an official release by LeftField media on Bruce Springsteen.net.

The sound quality is excellent, as is the performance. Cleveland was an early stronghold for Springsteen, and suitably enlivened, he and the E Street Band turn in a charged performance worthy of release.

Now for 2014's favorites:

1. Hookworms – The Hum On their second album, Hookworms don't just confront the so-called sophomore jinx, they assault and batter it until it's the consistency of porridge. (Which isn't to be construed as an endorsement of senseless violence, but as the Square Peg's way of saying The Hum is really good.)

Dark, aggressive, eerie—The Hum might be how The Doors would've sounded had it been recorded today, rather than a half-century ago. Most amazing of all is that Hookworms are able to infuse the proceedings with melody and, well, hooks.

Who knows—I might just be late for work one of these days.

Check “The Impasse” and “Retreat”.

2. Mogwai – Rave Tapes The spare and austere beauty of Scotland oozes from this collection, a continuation of the work featured on last year's brilliant Les Revenants soundtrack. Call it Mogwai 2.0.

The rock-inspired crunch continues to give way to a subtler, more-nuanced music that is as resonant as it is unhurried. 

Only a labored spoken word piece mars the glorious mood. On planet LPG, Rave Tapes was the grower of the year.

Check “No Medicine for Regret” and “Heard About You Last Night”.

3. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager I wasn't cool-enough to tap into Rilo Kiley until Under the Blacklight, and by then it was pretty much over with. Thankfully, Lewis' solo career has been a fruitful one.

The Voyager finds Lewis grappling with the questions biological clocks and boyfriends who won't take off their headphones pose. Paradoxically, it's all cloaked in a warm pop sheen, burnished by Lewis' oh-so-charismatic voice.

However deeply you choose to listen, The Voyager is a trip worth taking.

Check “Aloha & the Three Johns” and “Slippery Slopes”.

4. Hamish Kilgour – All of It and Nothing Brother David is better-known, but Hamish's solo debut is a smack dab doozy.

In that way a certain generation of Flying Nun alumni have, Kilgour's spare, talk-sung epics have an appealing understatement which is unlike anything out there. The shambling melodies and Kilgour's modest voice imparts an intimate, homemade feel.

Odd bits of instrumentation shine like stars in All of It and Nothing's vast sky, cementing its appeal.

Check “Crazy Radiance” and “Smile”.

5. Temples – Sun Structures Temples hit all the right notes on this, their debut album. 

Inhabiting a sweet spot somewhere between early Pink Floyd, mid-sixties Byrds and a bit of the Walker Brothers, they fashion a hook-laden nugget that's one of the freshest-sounding releases of the year.     

Check song of the year “Keep in the Dark” and “Sand Dance”.

6. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There When Van Etten asks if we're 'there', she's not referring to a vacation destination. 'There' is a place where, if you're really lucky, it might stop raining long-enough for sunlight to animate the particle of color in her endless night.

But with light comes shadows, and the haunted Van Etten can't help but wonder what romantic devilment lies within.

A snippet of lighthearted studio chatter closes Are We There, suggesting the possibility of a happy ending. Which is fine—as long as it doesn't preclude her master's thesis on the dark side of love.

Check “Our Love” and “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”.

7. Gary Clark, Jr. – Live Were it not for the smoldering, electric guitar goodness of this album, I'd be concerned this release masks a case writer's block, coming as it does two years after his last studio release and with no plans for another one anytime soon.

But when you have a talent like Clark who can sing like Marvin and play like Jimi, it's best to just enjoy the music however and whenever it comes. So what if it doesn't follow the prescribed path to success? 

Being on hold never sounded so good.

Check “Catfish Blues” and “If Trouble Was Money”.

8. The Faint – Doom Abuse I'd lost track of this Omaha, Nebraska outfit after 2004's Wet from Birth. Turns out it wasn't very hard, as following a year-long tour for Fasciinatiion they essentially disbanded.

Doom Abuse isn't the rusty release you could rightfully fear after so much time off, but a hit-the-ground-running collection that sounds like it came straight from the kinetic aftermath of a hot tour.

Check “Your Stranger” and the would-have-been Max Headroom favorite “Dress Code”.

9. Rodney Crowell – Tarpaper Sky On one hand, as perhaps one of three guys on this list who could recall the 1976 punk explosion, Crowell is a survivor.

On the other, that would be damming him with faint praise.

Albums like Tarpaper Sky are the reason Crowell isn't appearing at your local casino alongside Eddie Rabbit and the Oak Ridge Boys on those generic, pre-packaged oldies tours.

His remains a fresh and vital talent.

Check “Grandma Loved That Old Man” and “I Wouldn't Be Me Without You”.

10. Prince – Art Official Age September was twofer time in Paisley Park as Prince released a pair of albums, the better and more cohesive of which appears here.

Art Official Age isn't anything you haven't heard before, and it isn't going to replace Dirty Mind or Sign of the Times in your Prince pantheon.

But all of that's forgotten the first time you get up and pop n' lock.

Check “Breakfast Can Wait” and “Art Official Cage”.

Honorable mentions:

Wussy – Attica!
The Black Keys – Turn Blue
Jack White – Lazaretto

No comments:

Post a Comment