Wednesday, January 07, 2015

2014 in Review: Music

This is part four in a series looking back on 2014. Previous entries discussed books, food, and movies.

In hindsight, 2014 seems like a very uneventful year musically. I’m inclined to say I listened to less new music in 2014 than I probably have in any other recent year. Lifestyle changes account for much of that. We moved across the country, and since then I haven’t been spending nearly as much time working at my computer, which is where I do most of my music listening. And living in someone else’s home, I think I’ve been less inclined to have music blaring than I was back in Tallahassee. Those two factors alone have taken a lot of steam out of my music listening. Additionally, there’s the financial shift that has made me less able to purchase new music, although truth be told, I think this has had very little impact on what I’ve been listening to. I don’t recall there being as many new albums in 2014 that piqued my interest.

So, did I discover any music in 2014 that is particularly noteworthy? Indeed, I did. If for no other reason, I am grateful to 2014 for introducing me to Dum Dum Girls. Released last January, the album Too True is fantastic from start to finish. I’m not sure how the band is billed, but I’d call them new wave, albeit a darker, moodier, more haunting type of new wave—somewhere in the ballpark of The Church, The Cure, or New Order. For a while there, I couldn’t stop listening to their album. Something in it really resonates with me. I’ve heard plenty of newer bands that remind me of the 80s, but despite my never hearing them before, Dum Dum Girls make me feel truly nostalgic. Like, in an extremely visceral sense. I doubt I can put it into words. It’s far beyond merely reminding me of the 80s. It’s like emotions are conjured that I haven’t felt since I was a child. I wish I knew how to describe it. Anyway, I suppose the best thing to do is share some of that music. It’s hard for me to settle on a favorite, but here’s one of several tracks that have the described effect on me (the song is called “Rimbaud Eyes”):

Another band that is entirely new to my ears in 2014 is Lily & Madeleine, a pair of sisters who offer gentle, piano-driven folk music with their harmonious vocals as icing on the cake. It’s a rather reverential sound, if I may say so. Here’s a taste of something from their eponymous 2013 album, the song “Devil We Know”:

The bulk of good music I heard in 2014 came from artists I’ve known and loved for quite some time. At the top of the list is The New Pornographers, who released the album Brill Bruisers in August. I had the good fortune of attending their concert in October. I wrote about that on my blog and included several videos of their music, including tracks from the new album. I’m tempted to repost the video for “War on the East Coast,” because it’s a song that Creegan latched onto and would ask me about the lyrics. However, I included that video on the post about the concert, so you can always find it there. Here, I’ll include a song from Brill Bruisers that I very much like but that wasn’t performed at the concert. The song is titled “Wide Eyes.”

Speaking of Creegan latching onto music, he does it more and more as he gets older. Thus, some of the music that stands out to me from 2014 is the music that Beegy liked a lot and would request to listen to. One song he quite liked is “Bulletproof Picasso” from the album of the same name by Train. Train isn’t among my very, very favorite bands, but I enjoy them well enough and found the album Bulletproof Picasso to be pretty good. Another of Beegy’s 2014 favorites is “Earthquake Driver” by Counting Crows, the second song on their recent album, Somewhere under Wonderland. The chorus of the song concludes with the line “I just don’t want to go home.” Singer Adam Duritz drags out the word “home,” which Beegy finds amusing and likes to mimic. However, Beegy is also rather intrigued by the lyrics themselves. He has asked numerous times, “But where does he want to go?” You can listen to both “Bulletproof Picasso” and “Earthquake Driver” here:

I splurged a bit in October, what with it being my birthday month, and purchased a few CDs. Weezer released Everything Will Be Alright in the End, and Billy Idol released Kings and Queens of the Underground two weeks later. I also picked up Lullaby and … the Ceaseless Roar by Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, which had been released in September. Although I’m not overly fond of a couple of Weezer’s earlier albums, and even though the last few albums have felt somewhat redundant, rare is the Weezer song that isn’t pretty darn catchy. I don’t think there’s anything on their latest album that I absolutely love, but overall it gets a thumbs-up from me, in part for songs like “Go Away,” which is featured below. Meanwhile, Robert Plant continues to spend the latter part of his post–Led Zeppelin career dabbling in folk rock imbued with both tribal and 1950s sensibilities. I highly enjoy several songs on Lullaby, including “Rainbow,” which is featured below. And finally, Billy Idol’s latest is a tad bit disappointing. When he ended a 12-year recording hiatus by re-teaming with guitarist Steve Stevens for 2005’s Devil’s Playground, the result was outstanding. It took nine years for the follow-up album, and it’s nothing special. There’s not enough diversity among the songs, and I daresay that “Postcards from the Past” is a thinly-veiled rearrangement of “Rebel Yell.” (Given the song’s title, maybe it’s meant to be.) It’s not a terrible album, but I had hoped for more. “Save Me Now” is among the better tracks on the album, although that’s not saying a lot. Have a listen to Weezer, Robert Plant, and Billy Idol below.

Beck released Morning Phase in February 2014. It’s marketed as a “companion piece” to 2002’s Sea Change, which is an absolutely amazing album. Even if it hadn’t been marketed as such, the similarities would be apparent. The song “Morning,” which opens Morning Phase,1  could easily be mistaken for the opening song of Sea Change, “The Golden Age”—if you aren’t paying close attention. Listen closely, however, and you’ll recognize “Morning” as the inferior song. Don’t get me wrong, “Morning” is an incredibly good song. But it’s nowhere near the caliber of “The Golden Age.” The entire Morning Phase album follows that trend: it’s like Sea Change, but not as mind-blowing. Very good, yes, but a distant runner-up.

Foster the People and Coldplay both released albums in 2014. I couldn’t get enough of Foster the People’s debut album, Torches, but I haven’t devoted much time to their sophomore effort. I think any individual song on Supermodel sounds pretty good in and of itself, but as a whole, the album lacks pizzazz. I also haven’t spent a great deal of time on Coldplay’s Ghost Stories despite thinking it’s a nice addition to their catalog. It’s a decidedly more subdued album, even for Coldplay. It has a kind of cerebral, dreamy quality to it. Not in a lullaby type of way, nor in a psychedelic type of way. There’s a stillness to it, but one that pulls at you on an almost subconscious level. Like it’s distant, and yet somehow internal. Can you tell I’m struggling to put my experience into words? Like if you were fading out of consciousness and hit this almost euphoric plateau of indifference, you’d find that this music has probably been playing very quietly inside your mind all along and you just never knew it. That probably doesn’t sound like a recommendation, and truth be told, it’s neither a compliment nor a complaint. It’s just a description. Anyway, I like the album. You’ve probably heard “A Sky Full of Stars” on the radio, so I’ll showcase a different song here. Below is Foster the People’s “Coming of Age” and Coldplay’s “Another’s Arms.”

Some 2014 releases that failed to grip me include Jack White’s Lazaretto and the posthumous Michael Jackson album Xscape. Jack White baffles me a bit. I absolutely love The White Stripes, but his solo work and work with other bands hasn’t really clicked with me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I dislike his other stuff, but it doesn’t compel me to listen. I feel the same about Michael Jackson’s Xscape. When Michael’s first posthumous studio album (called Michael) was released in 2010, I quite liked it. But of course, as I understand it, Michael himself would’ve been more intimately and thoroughly involved with what became Michael than he was with Xscape. All I know is that I listened to Xscape three times and don’t really remember anything about it, other than vague recollections of a so-so song based on America’s “A Horse with No Name.” I won’t bother sharing anything from these albums, because I don’t feel that attached to them. Likewise, I won’t share anything from U2’s Songs of Innocence, the album that was automatically downloaded as a free gift to anyone with an iTunes account—much to the chagrin of many a people. I listened to it and thought it wasn’t half bad, but that’s about as far as my opinion goes.

I’ll mention one final 2014 release: “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun. As a kid, I was a big fan of Weird Al, so a part of me has always felt compelled to keep up my collection. I don’t own all of his albums, but I opted to download Mandatory Fun when it temporarily became available to me for a mere four dollars. I enjoyed it. There, I admit it. And you can bet I’ve listened to it more than I’ve listened to any of the albums in the preceding paragraph. I quite like his parody of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive,” which gets the Weird Al treatment as “Inactive.” It’s one of few songs from the album not to be turned into a music video during Weird Al’s eight-music-videos-released-in-eight-days promotional stunt. Of the songs that were turned into videos, my favorite is “Word Crimes.” It is a parody of “Blurred Lines” by Alan Thicke’s kid, but I had never (and still have never) heard the original. The good news is, familiarity with Robin Thicke’s song doesn’t seem necessary for appreciating Weird Al’s. And so, here it is:

Thank you and good night.

1 “Morning” is the first full-length song on the album.  There is, however, a 40-second instrumental piece that precedes it, titled “Cycle.”

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