Posts Tagged ‘2014’

2014 Year End Music Review – My Favorite Albums

December 29, 2014

I’ve put together two mixes of my some of my favorite 2014 songs (and I’m hoping to get one more in, we’ll see)  and you can view those posts and get the links to the mp3s of the mixes here and here.  Today, I’ll give my thoughts on my favorite albums of 2014.  Some of these will be familiar to those of you who’ve been scouring the myriad year end lists on your favorite music sites.  A few others I didn’t see mentioned.  In no particular order:

1. Mac DeMarco, Salad Days.  I feel like this album is great to throw on when you have people over and want something fun, even, and not too harsh.  There’s a definite sonic blueprint that ranges across all the songs that makes that even sound, but there’s enough variation to keep me coming back and Mac has some good lyrics if you pay attention.  Saw him for the first time at the Fonda Theater this fall and he’s a great showman as well as putting out consistent rock albums.  The title track and Goodbye Weekend were two of my favorites.

2. St. Vincent, St. Vincent.  The album I listened to the most this year by far.  My wife loves this album and with good reason.  Like DeMarco, she had a plan for the feel of this album and it’s the pace of the album is always moving forward.  Annie Clark’s guitar work is stellar and some of the flourishes with horns and other instruments adds to the texture of these songs.  The first half of the album is a murder’s row of really good to great songs, including one of my top 3 songs of the year in Huey Newton.

3. Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso.  Probably the second most-listened to album of the year for me.  The reason I liked this, it was a fresh sound.  Taking pixie-like female vocals with bumping beats doesn’t sound like anything new, but I thought this was one of the most original albums of the year.  Opener Hey Mami starts with a stripped down vocal and some handclaps and builds with some booming bass lines.  Nick Sanborn really creates some great beats on this album and Amelia Meath’s voice matches up perfectly with them.  In addition to Hey Mami, Coffee, and Wolf are standouts.

4.  Neneh Cherry, Blank Project.  It was a good year for female artists this year.  This one I didn’t see on any best of lists, but I thought that Cherry’s first solo album in 18 years was a really well done album.  It came out around the same time as St. Vincent’s album and I thought there was a similar fierceness though Cherry’s album is a little bit more of a slow burn than Clark’s.  Cherry still has a nice, breathy voice that hearkens to a lounge artist and her recent collaboration with jazz trio The Thing seems to have influenced some of the music that accompanies her here.

5. Todd Terje, It’s Album Time.  I wasn’t familiar with Todd Terje, but after reading a glowing review when this came out, I took a flyer.  The DJ’s first proper album has a tongue-in-cheek title and there’s a whimsical feel throughout.  At the same time there’s an alien, outer spacey vibe.  In fact, this album was a perfect soundtrack to a surprise trip for friends out into the desert to go to a soundbath (which is a fun experience in of itself).  A cohesive first-off electronic album is hard to do, I can’t remember a better debut album effort in this genre since the Chemical Brothers’ first album.

6. Ty Segall, Manipulator.  My favorite rock album of the year, this album is chock-full of really good garage rock.  It reminded me of driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, you round a corner and think this is the best view ever and then drive on and think the same thing around the next corner.  With Manipulator, it’s this is such a great riff and song, and then you get to the next song and think the same thing all over again.

7.  Moon Hooch, Moon Hooch.  Two saxophones and a drummer doesn’t sound like it could create much variety, but you’d be wrong.  This album rocks hard and it’s one of those albums that you’ll find hard to stay seated while listening.  I’ve heard they put on a great live show and feeling the energy they put out on this album, I believe it.

There were a ton of other great releases this year, here’s a few others I’d recommend if you didn’t check them out yet: Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots, Parquet Court’s Sunbathing Animal, Run the Jewel’s Run The Jewels 2, Perfume Genius’ Too Bright, John Talabot’s DJ Kicks entry, Caribou’s Our Love, Ex Hex’s Rips.  Two other albums that probably would have made my favorites list above but I haven’t had a chance to really listen to them enough to put them in the list were Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead and D’Angelo’s Black Messiah.

2014 was a good year for albums, hopefully 2015 will bring more of the same.

 

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2014 Year End Roundup Part 2

December 27, 2014

I covered some of my favorite hard/garage rock songs of 2014 here. Next up is a mix of some of my favorite miscellaneous rock, Scandinavian pop, and folk-y songs. Again, you can download an MP3 of the mix here.

1. Down From the Rafters, Hundred Waters from The Moon Rang Like A Bell. Picking up on the slow vibe of the end of my last mix, Hundred Waters serves up an atmospheric tune that swirls around Nicole Miglis’ Bjork-like vocals, builds to a subtle groove and then fades back into the air.

2. Lonely Press Play, Damon Albarn from Everyday Robots. A lovely, shuffling track indicative of the mostly somber mood of his first solo album. As usual, Albarn’s voice fits this style well (see any of the slow pieces from a Blur album). Some took the grayness of the album as an indication of a boring affair, but I think there’s a lot of interesting things to find in here if you stay with it and give it a few listens.

3. Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes, Sun Kil Moon from Benji. Continuing the somber mood with a standout track from Mark Kozalek’s acclaimed release. Journaling as music, he pulls no punches with lyrics that tackle life’s problems surrounded, in this song at least, by the terror of the Nightstalker. His vocals have their own cadence that is the rhythm accompanying his guitar until the vocals end and a drumbeat kicks in to take you home.

4. Silver Timothy, Damien Jurado from Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. Moving a little bit more towards rock but with a spacey vibe on a standout from a solid album. The lyrics have a faint echo which contribute to the feel this song was recorded on a spaceship hurtling through deep space, the guitars spewing out the back of the ship as it hits interstellar overdrive.

5. Goodbye Weekend, Mac DeMarco from Salad Days. This track exemplifies the consistent vibe throughout this album, relaxed and welcoming. Perfect summer album for sitting on your porch with a beer and doing nothing. He sings about not telling “the boy” how to lead his life, but it’s a mild protest from someone who doesn’t really want to be bothered from getting up from that porch.

6. Are You With Me Now, Cate Le Bon from Mug Museum. Snuck in a late 2013 release that I didn’t hear until this year, but it seemed to fit in with the mix’s vibe. A sweet voice that evokes 60’s folk for me, this was a perfect song to start a morning at SXSW this year.

7. Hi-Five, Angel Olsen from Burn Your Fire For No Witness. A little country, rock, folk and a dash of punk defiance made this another album that is finding itself on a lot of top tens. A really spectacular voice that trembles with emotion along with her guitar on this song.

8. Blue Moon, Beck from Morning Phase. This album got some unfair criticism in my opinion for trying to create an album evoking pain and loss when Beck is not in a position currently in his life where he’s experiencing those things. I think this was more a reaction to the rawness of Kozalek’s album that came out around the same time more than anything. “Disingenuous” or not, I think this was a beautifully crafted record.

9. The Body Electric, Hurray For The Riff Raff from Small Town Heroes. Some more folk with elements of rock and punk influence, a sad and powerful song about violence, its effects and taking away the murder ballad from men. A good live act too, with a lot of upbeat songs to play off songs like this one.

10. Shattered & Hollow, First Aid Kit from Stay Gold. You wouldn’t know it from listening to this song, but this sister duo hails from Sweden. The sheen of Swedish pop is in their DNA as each album they’ve put out gets more polished, but they are rooted in American folk for sure.

11. Just One of the Guys, Jenny Lewis from The Voyager. Don’t sleep on this one because it came out near the end of the year! Really good stuff, a great chorus and hook that she seems to be able to effortlessly create and deliver every time she puts out a new album.

12. Younger, SW/MM/NG from Feel Not Bad.  Second band from Sweden on the mix, and though they have Swedish pop sensibilities, their music seems to have a grander, more epic scope (think Sigur Ros) than your average Swedish pop song.

13. Whatever That Means, Highasakite from Since Last Wednesday. Another Scandinavian band, though unlike First Aid Kit, this Norwegian group sounds much more like you’d expect to hear from Scandinavia. Pop beats filtered with ephemeral female vocals and soaring melodies. Saw these guys at SXSW on a rainy morning, which was the perfect setting for experiencing them for the first time.

14. Name on a Matchbook, Springtime Carnivore from Springtime Carnivore.  No, it’s not another Scandinavian group, though I thought this fit in well with those groups.  No, this band is from right here in LA, and I may or may not have been getting my hair cut next to the bassist for this band a few months ago.  Anyway, a nice piano part and some nice vocals anchor this summer-y indie pop song.  And some good whistling!

15. , Foxygen from …And Star Power. I haven’t decided yet how I feel about this album as a whole, it’s certainly not as focused as last year’s excellent effort. This song is in the wheelhouse of that album, well-crafted psychedelic 60’s pop with witty lyrics. It’s happy and wistful at the same time, fitting in well with the previous few songs.

16. Unkinder (A Tougher Love), Thumpers from Galore. End this mix with another Euro-pop number. Last year when I saw Bastille I really liked it but never thought I’d be hearing them on American Top 40 radio. This song seemed to have the same elements (bouncing beat, manicured vocals) but they haven’t made the same leap. Yet.

Let The Year-End Music Reviews Begin!

November 23, 2014

I got a head start on my own 2014 music thoughts by putting together a few playlists of songs I liked in 2014.  The first one I’ve done consists of garage rock and hard rock.  Basically songs I liked that were propulsive with killer guitar.  I’m posting the mixes on my Dropbox, you can find the mix here.

Song List:

1. Huey Newton, St. Vincent from St. Vincent.  This wouldn’t seem to fit the mix at first, but I love how it flips about half way from calm to noise.  My favorite track off one of the year’s best front-to-back albums.

2. Tall Man Skinny Lady, Ty Segall from Manipulator.  I could have picked any of a half dozen songs off this excellent release.  The man knows how to create amazing guitar riffs.  The solo on this one is sick too and the drumming isn’t too shabby either.  He scorched this one at the Echo when I saw this summer.

3. So Hot So Cold, Ex Hex from Rips.  Mary Timony created one of my favorite power pop songs with this one from her new band’s debut.  Got to see them play almost the whole new disc at SXSW this year.

4. Lazaretto, Jack White from Lazaretto.  I thought this one was a little more uneven than Blunderbuss, but this was one of the tracks that shows White still is the current king of blues-based guitar rock (sorry Black Keys).

5. Have You Seen My Son, Benjamin Booker from Benjamin Booker.  White better look in his rear view mirror, this young guy from New Orleans is going to be nipping on his heels with driving guitar and drums and just the right amount of gravel in his voice for some blues-based numbers.

6. Headbanger, King Tuff from Black Moon Spell.  Reminds me of 90s alternative rock which reminds me of being in college.  Another strong album most of the way through.

7. I Don’t Know You Anymore, Bob Mould from Beauty & Ruin.  He’s still got it.  The type of song he’s been writing for many years and they still rock with both polish and grit.  Got to see him for the first time ever at SXSW this year, up close and personal and he also hasn’t appeared to lose anything in the live department either.

8.  These Plains, Vertical Scratchers from Daughters of Everything.  Made sense to include one of Mould’s labelmates on Merge Records next.  They played much earlier in the night than Mould at the Merge showcase at SXSW, but they also rocked out in short bursts of songs that bounced along with fun guitar riffs.

9. Flying Golem, Wand from Ganglion Reef.  Mentioned these guys in my write up of Ty Segall’s show at the Echo.  This riff is right up there with anything Ty’s done this year in my opinion.  Saw them again opening for Mac Demarco a few weeks ago and they killed it again on this song.  Hope they start getting some more recognition.

10. Shelter Song, Temples from Sun Shelter. Did you think this was a Beatles song when it started.  It sure sounds like it, but it settles into a pleasant pastiche of 60’s era psychedelia that seems to emanate sunshine through the speakers.

11. Tired & Buttered, Quilt from Held in Splendor.  Some more 60s psychedelic rock to back up Temples.  Instead of England, these guys hail from Boston.  A little less sunny and a little more uptempo.  And a great song title.

12. Instant Disassembly, Parquet Courts from Sunbathing Animal.  Slow it down a bit to end the mix.  An album-of-the-year contender for me and the slow burn of this song and the album in general might not be what you expect from this band, but it suits them well.  You think the song might take off at any minute, but it just keeps moving along at its own pace and I’m just fine with that.

Look for two more mixes in the next couple weeks.

Albums of 2014, Six Months In

June 23, 2014

I think I’ve listened to more new albums in 2014 than the past few years combined and there’s been a lot of good stuff out so far. Here’s some albums I’ve enjoyed:

1. St. Vincent, s/t. One of the best live shows I’ve been to this year and one of my favorite albums. Favorite song is Huey Newton, but there’s not any stinkers in the whole album and the whole thing rocks.

2. Sun Kil Moon, Benji. Mark Kozelek bares it all (if he has more to bare, I’m not sure I can handle it) on this confessional string of songs. More than that, each song is a vivid story and his lyrics create a great rhythm that complements the mostly spare arrangements.

3. Mac DeMarco, Salad Days. Mac’s songs on this album somehow come off relaxed and rocking at the same time. It’s a great record for sitting out on your porch on a summer night.

4. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal. Overall a slower affair than the last album which I actually enjoy more, especially when they draw out the songs and let the riffs ride.

5. Todd Terje, It’s Album Time. The Norwegian DJ’s first proper LP is a fun, spacey affair that still maintains a cohesion throughout that reminded me of the Chemical Brothers first album, which is a big compliment from me.

Honorable mentions to First Aid Kit, Sharon Jones, Sylvan Esso, Damien Jurado, Hundred Waters, Liars, Angel Olson and Neneh Cherry. Like I said, a lot of good music this year.

Charles Bradley, May 17, 2014 @ The Fonda Theater

May 19, 2014

IMG_0385After seeing Charles Bradley at SXSW in 2013, I vowed that I would try my best to catch him any time he came to LA. He’s that entertaining. So I had snatched up two tickets when they first went on sale and put it on my calendar.

Flash forward to last weekend. We had invited friends over to enjoy a nice LA evening on our new patio furniture. Even though we had talked about the concert that week, it had somehow completely slipped our mind on Saturday. As we were chatting, the subject of concerts came up and one of our friends asked “so have you gone to any concerts lately.” Apparently that was what my brain needed and the connection was made. Oh crap, we actually have a concert tonight. Luckily it was only 7:30. We retreated from the porch, showered, printed tickets and were on the way to Hollywood by 8:15.

When we walked in it was after 9, and we thought the opener would be in full swing. However, they had not even started.  Turns out the scheduled opener wasn’t going to be there because instead a substitute band played.  Death Valley Girls might be a good band, but they surely didn’t pair well with the soul music everyone came for.  Throw in a drunk lead singer and this was not good.  I think most everyone in the audience would have preferred to just hear more vinyl spun by the two DJs that were playing before and after the opener.  Luckily, they didn’t play for too long.

IMG_0395Similar to his labelmate Sharon Jones, Bradley’s band comes out and hypes up the crowd a bit before Charles comes out.  The Mehanan Street Band is a great band in their own right and pair them with the theatric performer in Bradley and it’s quite the combo.  Bradley toiled as a James Brown impersonator for years in New York before being found.  It’s obvious he’s studied the master, and while he cops a few of Brown’s moves, he’s got his own personal touches.  As well as some sweet outfits, first a red suit with a jacket that had a gold “C” and “B” on each of the lapels.  Later he came out in a black suit with a matching cape.

But it’s not all flash.  He’s got a great voice that can hit all across the spectrum, from raucous to tender.  Above all, he seems so earnest in his delivery and humble in thanking both his band and the crowd for showing up and listening to him.  He made that crowd happy by mixing in songs from both his studio albums.  Standouts like “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” and “Golden Rule” sound even better live.  He closed with “Why Is It So Hard?” a soulful ballad that, like he did at SXSW, ended with him going out in the crowd to get hugs and love from his fans.  Even after the house lights went up, he was still out in the crowd.  I thought it before when I saw him a year ago, and this performance affirmed it for me, Charles Bradley will be the closest thing I’ll come to seeing in my lifetime to what audiences experienced in seeing James Brown.

Here’s a video someone took from the upper balcony at the Fonda:

SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Deap Vally

March 27, 2014

P1100257We took the good vibes from Thumpers set and went out into the afternoon sun to walk over to the Mohawk. The goal was to see Angel Olson and then stick around for Deap Vally, who I hadn’t listened to but had gotten some good words from Operation Every Band.  We spent a lot of time at the Mohawk last year and had always been able to walk right in and enjoy either the relatively spacious outdoor stage or squeeze into the small indoor stage.

This year we were met with a rather long line.  Dang.  Our only hope was that there had been enough delays during the day that we’d make it through the line before Angel went on.  In my haste to get into the line I got too close to a palm tree, which cleanly sliced the sleeve of my shirt and my shoulder.  First blood of SXSW drawn!

As the minutes ticked by and we did not move, we resigned ourselves to not seeing Angel Olson.  But we decided to stay to see if we could get in for Deap Vally.  Finally people started leaving (probably from Angel’s set) and we were in.  We grabbed a beer and slid into the back of the indoor stage.  The two women of Deap Vally were doing their soundcheck.  Lindsey Troy sings and play guitar, Julie Edwards drums and also has some vocal duties.  The soundcheck was relatively tame and didn’t prepare me for the rocking I was about to receive.

Donned in a sequined halter top and matching short shorts, Troy played fast and loud and her singing reminded me of Janis Joplin,P1100267 if she had made it in life to punk rock.  And Edwards, also bedazzled, bashed the drums and kept pushing the songs faster.  They had portions of the crowd headbanging along with them as they moved from song to song with minimal crowd talk and maximum riffing.  My reaction was this was a mix of Rubber Factory-era Black Keys and Black Sabbath because of the heaviness of their sound.  Which means I liked it a lot.

Having found that they are from the San Fernando Valley and met in Silver Lake, I was stoked to know we could be seeing them again in the future in LA.  I had already forgotten about missing Angel Olson.  We were almost done with our Wednesday day sessions, but we had one very short walk to see our last band before dinner.

 

 

SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Thumpers

March 21, 2014
Lead singer Marcus Pepperell from Thumpers.

Lead singer Marcus Pepperell from Thumpers.

Out in the streets of Austin now, we headed under the 35 highway and to the North Door to see Thumpers as part of Sub Pop’s showcase. North Door was a new venue for us. A big open first floor has a smallish stage at one end, stairs at either end of the room lead to a second floor balcony that would be a great escape if the main floor was crowded.

We didn’t head up there because the main floor was definitely not crowded. I was surprised. Guess either Sub Pop has lost its cache with the kids and/or the buzz I’d heard about Thumpers wasn’t that widespread.

I was also interested in why a label I associated with American grunge music was hosting a showcase featuring a UK indie pop outfit. Doing some research later, I found they are no longer entirely independent and have ties to one of the big boys, Warner and are the label of the more genteel indie rock bands like The Shins. Which makes the pairing more logical.

Thumpers is the duo of childhood friends Marcus Pepperell (vocals and guitar) and John Hamson (drums), though for this show they had two additional musicians playing bass, keyboards, additional percussion, and backing vocals.  As soon as they started playing, my wife leaned over and said, “it’s this year’s Bastille“.  I totally concurred.  We saw Bastille last year at SXSW, well before they broke through in the U.S. with the song Pompeii, which now is on the once an hour rotation with Katy Perry, Imagine Dragons and other U.S. pop staples here on L.A. pop stations.

What’s the similarities?  A photogenic, charismatic  lead singer with a good voice, a ton of energy with their live show, and infectious groovy songs.  Despite playing to a small room, they exuded positive vibes and seemed genuinely happy to be playing to the small group gathered at the North Room.  John Hamson’s drumming anchors the band’s sounds and he got to show off his chops throughout the set.  Pepperell isn’t a shredding guitar player, but that’s ok as they aren’t trying to be the Black Keys.  Even though we had only heard one of their songs, Unkinder (which was just as good live as the recorded version), everything else they played was fun and everyone that was there was getting more into as the set went on.

Speaking about getting into it, halfway through the set, a guy in glasses, burnt orange corduroys, and shoulder length straight hair (think a slightly nerdier version of this guy circa Dazed and Confused) came in and immediately got his dance on.  I wondered if he knew the band because he was dancing like he was very familiar with their songs and was rocking out almost a little too much.  Did Thumpers have a hype man they were planting in the crowd?  Before we could get any answers they finished up their set.  I expect to hear more from these guys.  But right now, we were trying to speed over to the Mohawk for another up-and-coming act.

Here’s a live version from another showcase Thumpers did playing Sound of Screams, another song we heard at the North Room:

Sound of Screams

SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Tennis

March 18, 2014

P1100240We arrived in Austin around noon, dropped off our stuff at our hotel, and hoofed it over to the Convention Center to pick up our badges. Since we were already at the Convention Center we decided to see some things while we were there to start the day.

My wife opted for the St. Vincent interview with Ann Powers, while I wandered over to the Radio Day Stage to see Denver’s Tennis.  In what would develop into a theme for the week, they were running late and the soundcheck took what seemed to be  a long time.

The Radio Day Stage has its pros and cons. On the good side, there’s no lines (only badge and wristbands can get in), there’s seats (which can be a godsend after standing for hours), easy access to drinks, a decent sound set up, and no need to worry about weather. On the negative side, it’s sterile, cavernous, and can be prone to small, lethargic audiences. Which means it can consume bands that don’t have a ton of energy and cause bands to play scared or apathetic.

I wondered if Tennis would get overwhelmed as a similar indie pop band we saw last year, Cayucas.  Fortunately, they did not and played a pleasant set of five songs.  Started as a husband and wife duo, they’ve added a drummer, and for this set a bass player. Singer Alaina Moore has a pretty, though not overly rangy, voice that goes well with the summery music the band plays.  I’m not that familiar with the band, so I only recognized Mean Streets and Petition.  Mean Streets is really catchy and packs a little more attitude than some of their other songs.  It was just as good live.  I would definitely go see them again, I’d imagine they’d be even better in a smaller venue.  A good start to the day, I met up with my wife to hear about the interesting interview with St. Vincent (I was only slightly bummed to have missed it) and we headed out of the confines of the Convention Center and into the city.

Some Music for the New Year

January 20, 2014

The 2014 music releases are already coming fast and furious.  Vets like Bruce Springsteen, Roseanne Cash, and Stephen Malkmus all have released new discs, which I haven’t gotten to yet.  Here’s a couple of other albums that have come out that I listened to and enjoyed:

1) Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Give The People What They Want.  Delayed while Sharon Jones got treatment for cancer, this album continues the band’s great run of capturing the essence of 60s Motown R&B.  Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, they mix in upbeat numbers with ballads that are going to leave the people wanting more.

2) Damien Jurado, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son.  Another throwback album, this one to 70s AM rock radio.  You can hear one of the songs here.

3) Twin Oaks, The Lion’s Den.  Found this on Bandcamp, it’s a California duo that evokes Mazzy Star with melancholy and haunting songs.

Listen: Beck:

Also, more excited about Beck’s new album with his release of Blue Moon.  Like Jurado, Beck seems to be channeling 70s rock in the vein of Neil Young, both musically and with his cover art (above).  Finally, St. Vincent has a new album coming out and Annie Clark looks like she’s going to continue making unique songs that still rock.  Get a sneak peak here.