Sunday, December 21, 2014

Best Of The Rest Of 14: Old Favorites, New Sounds

At the beginning of every year I start a Spotify playlist called Of Note In [insert year] which is my place to dump interesting sounding tracks, whether its  things I read about, songs people recommend, or new releases from artist I follow. If it's not on Spotify I have to work a little harder to keep track but I have other ways. If you use Spotify and want to keep up with most of what I'm listening to, you can follow the playlist and then you will get a little notification whenever I add something to the list. That way you can avoid that "Wow, I could've had a V8!" moment when I start posting my best of lists. Get a leg up and start following Of Note In 2015 now.

Having done the heavy lifting of the Top 20, now it's time to draw attention the other things that got me going over the last (nearly) 12 months. First up: new records from some familiar faces.

Old Favorites, New Sounds: 

While I loved the last two albums by The Strokes, I thought Casablancas' first solo album was awful. Phrazes For The Young seemed to play to every one of his weaknesses, with out of tune singing, stilted melodies and a cheap sound. Tyranny by Julian Casablancas + The Voidz is a different beast altogether, and it is a beast, with a sound that bolts blistering guitars to boxy electronics and features what seem almost like random noises that drop in and out, in a strange approximation of dub techniques. Casablancas distorts his voice more than ever, which is ironic considering Tyranny is supposed to be a concept album about wealth inequality and an overbearing security state (I think). I can tell that he thinks what he's singing about is really important, and for some reason that's enough for me. Also, there is an almost operatic sweep that comes through, especially on the nearly 11 minute Human Sadness, which makes for exciting listening. The ambition Casablancas brings to Tyranny is almost overwhelming, with through-composed song structures, deep layering in the production, and a slight sense of mania. I didn't know he had this in him, which is a rare thing to say about an artist I'm so familiar with. While it would make me sad if there were never another Strokes album, Tyranny makes me wonder if Casablancas has actually outgrown them. There's no end to where he goes from here.

When Lucinda Williams is in her sweet spot, it's almost always good, and much of her first double album, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, is very good, if not quite at the level of her last album, Blessed. But West Memphis is one of her greatest songs ever, with Tony Joe White adding extra swampiness to possibly the grooviest song about injustice since Dylan's Hurricane. 

EMA's The Future's Void had much that fascinated but it was not quite the major statement I had hoped for. Still, nobody does quite what she does so I was glad for a follow-up to the shattering Past Life Martyred Saints, one of the great records of the century. Even quirkier, The Pink Caves, the second album from German-American band Fenster found them hoeing their fragile little row with more great songs and homemade sounds, and indie stalwarts Cibo Matto returned with Hotel Valentine, their most entertaining album since Viva La Woman. 

Almost Like The Blues is now in the pantheon of great Leonard Cohen songs, no matter if the album, Popular Problems, didn't entirely live up to its promise. Now 80, Cohen has certainly been more productive of late than Aphex Twin, who took 13 years off before releasing Syro. Expectations ran high, naturally, and while it was a very good album, with some of his jammiest tracks yet, it wasn't the roadmap to the future that he used to provide. Speaking of elder states-people, do yourself a favor and listen to the first five songs on Marianne Faithfull's Give My Love To London. If the rest of it had kicked that much ass, it might have been in my Top 20.

Brian Eno celebrated his new bromance with Underworld's Karl Hyde by putting out not one but two fine albums, Someday World and High Life. The first found the two finishing some of Eno's old pop songs in the vein of Wrong Way Up, Eno's 1990 collaboration with John Cale, and the second was filled with expansive yet incisive jams that announced Hyde as an afro-beat inspired guitar magus. Parquet Courts also put out two scrappy, fun records but might want to contemplate bringing a little more focus to their thing next time. Of the two, Sunbathing Animal had more staying power with me than Content Nausea.

Coming next: Hip Hop.

No comments:

Post a Comment