Album Review of the Year 2014

2015 Haul

It’s that time of year when the round up of the passing year in (name your preferred area of interest) get published. I’ve already harrumphed through a few lists, uttered a few ‘are you insanes’ and exercised some eye rolling. I’m terrible at lists, deeply inconsistent (I’ll leave that to @Bukowski, he’s organized and literate). I did however keep a list of the new albums (no re-releases or opportunist purchases) that came my way this year.

So avoiding any abstract rating system these are things that generated enough interest in my mind to incite the release of cash from my notoriously tight wallet.

I’ve included some video and a few mainly ill considered and badly formulated comments about the records under consideration.

January

Lee Ranaldo & the Dust – Rising Tide – Demos & Rehearsals

An early in the year release, and a bit of filler to follow on from the Rising Tide album from 2013. Pretty excellent filler tbh, with acoustic versions and extended demos illustrating the bands creative process during the recording of Rising Tide. Is was hoping to see the Dust but they didn’t get close enough this year.

I Break Horses – Chiaroscuro

The bands follow up to ‘Hearts’ which was a wonderful and original debut album. I was really looking forward to this and I’ll confess that it didn’t do it for me as I’d hoped. Still a very innovative and individual record but lacking some of the freshness of ‘Hearts’. They did get some great live reviews early in the year though, and Frederick & Maria seem like really nice folks.

Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes

The ‘Boss’. I picked this up firstly because me lovely wife bought me a vinyl record player for Christmas and the man in HMV persuaded me the free CD with every vinyl copy was a good deal. I used really like Bruce. Darkness & Nebraska are truly great records and there are a lot of other good ones. There are some good tracks on this, particularly the big electric version of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’

Thee Silver Mount Zion etc… – Fuck_Off_Get_Free_We_Pour_Light_on_Everything

There are three or four bands that even though I was aware of them previously, I really discovered in 2014. TSMZOATLLB are one of them. Either what was written about them didn’t resonate with me or I was paying attention before. This album is immense and totally engaging and I count the days until I get to see them.

February

Sun Kil Moon – Benji

I knew of Mark Kozelek & Sun Kil Moon but other than ‘Ghosts of the Great Highway’ didn’t know the music in detail. Benji was the catalyst to take a proper look. The album is probably, at push, with moral support and encouragement, in the running for best album of the year and if there was a list for it, best album of the decade. Its lyrical power is stunning and the band take the old quiet/loud dynamic of Nirvana & the Pixies into new territory with a quite quiet but loud formula. Incandescent beauty.

Peter Buck – I Am Back To Blow Your Mind Once Again

Bucks second minor release solo album. Vinyl only, zero PR or distribution, definitely made a loss and no, he isn’t touring. After playing with REM forever Peter is having fun. He has the least commercially viable vocal style (unless you count Dylan who has worked for the title) but has a deep love for music and knows how to kick it out of the room. REM sidemen and friends contribute to a new age Americana classic. Loved the album and following single ‘Opium Drivel’.

Jim Jarmusch & Squrl – Only Lovers Left Alive OST

I found Squrl in 2013 with their two EP releases. Hanging their hat on a lot of feedback, twisted cover version and a willful ‘art’ aspect, the OST for Jarmusch movie was more traditional soundtrack in some ways but is still a peculiar event and very atmospheric thing. Jarmusch, like Lynch & Tarrantino takes huge interest in the soundscape of his films. As well as Squrl his collaborator Joseph Van Wissum appears, as do space rock duo White Hills.

Twelve – Tragik

Chris Olley continues with his electronic/Teutonic exploration during Six.BySeven down time. This was a much darker set than previous albums. Using ‘heritage’ electronics these are more visceral recordings than most current EDM recordings.

March

Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas – Other World

A cut-up soundscape collaboration from VDGG main man. Hammill is an inveterate experimenter and whilst he might not get the venues that Fripp does he’s his own master and has one of the most unfakeable voices in prog.

The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

I like this. Its high on the many lists of albums of 2014 but I couldn’t relate a song to you in retrospect. In style its light Americana, I thought Fleetwood Mac (later years) or Steely Dan. All great places to start, and it has some very handy guitar playing. Mark Kozelek did a song about them, now that was funny.

April

Bill Callahan – Have Fun With God

When it was suggested that Bill was releasing a dub version of his wonderful 2013 album ‘Dream River’ it might have sounded like an Aprils Fool gag. The record took longer to materialize than was first suggested but it was worth the wait. Another level of excellent was attained.

Neil Young – Letter Home

NY took a lo-fi line with this album, made in a ‘record yourself’ record booth in Jack Whites Tennessee studio. It’s not A grade Neil but a damn sight better than the mainstream. An album of nostalgic covers and letters home to Mum.

May

Sweet Apple – The Golden Age of Glitter

I chased this due to its inclusion of J Mascis. I’d have to say their first album was a little better. It’s big and loud and balls to the wall R’n’R. Some good riffs and verging on ‘Spinal Tap’ themes.

Pink Mountaintops – Get Back

Pink Mountaintops are another of the discovery bands of the year. Connected to God Speed You Black Emperor & Thee Silver…. They are a bit more of a straight song based band . This album is so broad in its references from indie, glam, noise and more it makes for great record. J Mascis also makes an appearance as does Annie Hardy on the pretty shocking ‘North Hollywood Microwaves’. I played the grooves off this for a month or more.

Swans – To Be Kind

This is big one. I had heard of Swans a little before but this was another level of noise. Not a song under 10mins and sound starting at loud and working its way up. I saw the band at the beginning of December and they exceed expectation. There was a genuine look of terror on the faces of some of the audience when they realized the scale of the sound coming out of the huge stacks of Orange amps. The volume was physical and the intent & execution of band meticulous. One of a kind.

June

Heavy Blanket – In a Dutch Haze

More J Mascis, this time with Dutch band Earthless and colleagues from Heavy Blanket. This is basically a single performance split over a double vinyl LP. It’s a long space jam, mainly improvised. It was a limited edition vinyl release and took a while to land but was worth the wait.

Jack White – Lazaretto

Like a lot of others I was hooked on the ‘super vinyl’ edition. Hidden tracks, playing from the center out, shiny holograms, click groove loops etc. The music is pretty good. Not peak Jack White but it has its moments. A stylish release but slightly dodging the core purpose of a great record by not having very memorable song. Awful pretty though.

Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin

A solid effort from Bob. He played a very small number of gigs in the UK but none close enough to attend. He’s an icon of a genre and this album got a good thrashing when it came out.

REM – Unplugged Sessions

This release of the two REM MTV Unplugged appearances was really overdue. One of my favorite bands of all time, in amazing live period piece recordings. I had the 1991 version in short on cassette for years and wore it out. Great to have the full sets now with some classic versions of their many classic toons.

JULY

Brian Johnstown Massacre – Revelation

It was probably ‘Dig’ that got me into BJM but I’ve seen then four times over the last few years. ‘Revelation’ was a great album, typical Anton anthemic songs with Icelandic influences and a top band whipped into obedience. They played the Rescue Rooms near the release date and it was a six guitarmageddon performance. I love the anti-industry approach of Anton and he’s a Twitter star to boot. I have no idea what Courtney is doing (actually they played the Rescue Rooms the day before and got great reviews) but I’d follow Anton’s output any day.

Kikagaku Moyo – Forest of Lost Children

These guys really are my number one of the year. I think I heard them via a Face Book record company site, they had crazy graphics, I got sucked in…. After getting this album it took me another month or so to get their two previous releases. Both small label releases, one from Greece strangely. They are a six piece prog/psych group from Japan who play mainly long improvisations and include a traditionally trained Sitar player. ‘Forest….’ is the most accessible album with some kicking & hard tracks.
When Damo Suzuki fell ill and couldn’t make a performance in Nottingham at a little Café venue the band took the slot. I think they played 5 or 6 UK gigs and I’m so pleased I managed to see them. Their set tore the room up and was a highlight gig of the year. I can’t wait for their next release and look forward to seeing them in front of a big crowd.

AUGUST

Pere Ubu – Carnival of Souls

David Thomas and his band are always bringing in their projects from places others don’t really visit. Pere Ubu fix things and are masters of Squonk (or so they pronounced) and anything else they turn their collective mind towards. My biggest disappointment was that when they played over here they did it on the same night as another band I wanted to see leading to difficult no win choices. CoS has still stayed on my playlist since it’s release. No one makes music like Pere Ubu.

J Mascis – Tied To A Star

J’s follow up to the 2011 album ‘Several Shades of Why’ and a step away from the big noise of Dinosaur and the many collaborations and contributions he makes. Scheduled to be my first live show of 2015 and I’ll be there early for a front row place. Melodic, twinkly and subtle, pure joy and warmth.

Joel Gion – Apple Bonkers

Joel, as tambourine man with the BJM, has a place in music history assured. This however took his pop-psych cred into less quarrelsome territory. With members of BJM at the side this was another surprise top gig of the year. A melodic record with well constructed songs but above all delivered with style and Joel almost aloof cool. The band stood shoulder-to-shoulder on stage and glowed through the set. They followed the album with a great little single ‘Over Throw’.

Aphex Twin – Syro

Snuck out guerilla style and heavily anticipated, I only had limited awareness of Mr Twin before this. It’s an odd one but I seem to keep coming back to it.

SEPTEMBER

Queen – Live at the Rainbow 1975

A long time coming official release for the much bootlegged shows, Queens two 1975 appearances at the Rainbow Theatre. The shows book end the period when they started to get wider attention. Songs are from the first three albums and as I still recall every word to all of them, for me it was the sing-a-long hit of the year. And Freddie remains one to best front men on any stage ever.

Tuatara – Underworld

Tuatara have been making records for a number of years but it was this one that found me first. The band includes Peter Buck and a number of other collaborators and is a musician’s band. The albums are mainly instrumental and mix up genres from folk, traditional & world. A very enjoyable and unique album.

Shellac – Dude Incredible

Audiophile quality thrash noise. More tuneful than a number of earlier Shellac records but retaining the metallic shards of guitar and trouser shaking bass.

Goat – Commune

The second album by the masked world music troop. Joyful and urgent with some stellar guitar playing and uplifting African chants. Apparently a great live band as well.

Thom Yorke – Tomorrows Modern Boxes

Thom popped this out by surprise and through the Bit Torrent channels more common amongst file sharers. An experimental album probably made using a new age reclaimed plastic iPad (sorry, that’s cynical). It’s an engaging and interesting record but as with some of the other high promise releases expectation possibly exceed delivery – but anyone wanting a new OK Computer is going to send a lot disappointment. On that note however the OK Computer/In Rainbows 0110010100110 splice reached broader public awareness and I did spend quite a lot of time trying to get my head around that.

OCTOBER

White Hills – Glitter, Glamour, Atrocity

I picked this up when they played at Spanky Van Dykes in Nottingham. White Hills are a great live band who shred space rock tunes and put out an invigorating performance. The album is verging on concept and plays with ‘B’ movie / noir themes. Best played loud.

Six By Seven – KluB MiX!33

The second entry here from Chris Olley who took a chance with the Six.BySeven name and mixed his Twelve electro/kraut rock solo stylings with the long dark guitar night of the soul moves more recognized as Six.BySeven. I really enjoyed it and the limited edition vinyl only release made for a special occasion.

Thurston Moore – The Best Day

If there was a rating system in place here this would be in the upper reaches. Thurstons new band that includes Steve Shelly & Deb Googe with guitarist James Sedwards are a top live band. I was lucky enough to see them on the last night of the tour in a completely packed Bodega. They improvise around the tracks on the album and it’s as close to classic Sonic Youth as you can get. Great interplay between Moore & Sedwards. Had the album on repeat for weeks afterwards.

Scott Walker & SunnO))) – Soused

Like the Bill Callahan dub album, when this was announced it sounded a bit ‘…..ok..?’. It came with expectations of extreme noise and obscure Avant-gaurdisms. It materialized with dark and beautiful artwork and what can only be described as real songs, albeit blackly themed and delivered with operatic singing and heavy drones. No other record has ever sounded quite like this. A high light of the year.

NOVEMBER

Pink Floyd – The Endless River

Announced as the last studio album by the Floyd with an ear to Richard Wrights contributions during the recordings for ‘The Division Bell’ in 1994. It’s mainly instrumental and includes a number of other musicians. There are some wonderful guitar lines from Gilmour, and prog staple drum solo and masses of lush keyboards. Only one track included vocals which is perhaps the only disappointment. I’m sure the Floyd have a stack of demos and live recordings kicking around so it’s unlikely to be the last we hear from them but this was a fine way to sail off into the sunset.

Einstürzende Neubauten – Lament

I nearly missed this. Blixa and chums released this broadly conceptual / themed album about World War One and it’s interesting to hear from the other side of football field of war for once. The album is poly lingual and not what I would imagine the band to sound like. It took a few listens but it’s grown on me. Its mixes poetry and historical recordings with multiple musical styles. Music to think about.

And thats about it. I havn’t purchased anything so far in December and its typically a month for ‘Pop Party 53’ or ‘Thats What I Call Music 1059’. But so we go out on a high, I received the wonderful ‘In the Orbit of Ra – Marshall Allen presents Sun Ra’ as a birthday gift. So Happy New Year, this is jazz from another planet…. See you same time next year.

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