Holy schnikies, has it been nearly five months already since my last Jalepzerz post?! Sure, time has passed, seasons have changed, and adult beverages have been consumed en masse, but honestly I still have no friggin' clue how often I'm going to be able to write for this blog going forward. Sobeit. Regardless, this past weekend, when it's disgustingly humid out and I'm dealing with the tail end of a nasty case of WookFlu, might as well fire up some of the ol' keyboard tap-tap-taparoo.
Oh, yeah - I should have a bunch of show reviews from Summer Tour coming up in the weeks ahead, but for now I'm'a try to tackle some of the best non-Phish stuff of the year. As such, here's the 10 best albums of the year, in approximate best-to-least-best order. There's obviously a ton of potentially great albums coming out over these next few months (Death From Above 1979, Melvins, Perfume Genius, etc.), so it's pretty likely this list will look much different at year's end, yadda yadda yadda.
The 10 Best Albums of 2014, So Far.
The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream -- An outstanding rock record, during an era in which such things are increasingly rare. Although Adam Granduciel's Tom Petty fetish is evident throughout, Granduciel has an uncanny ability to avoid sounding clicheed in a domain that seemingly has little virgin territory. Beyond his songcraft (and even his singing voice), this is Granduciel's greatest debt to Petty.
Earthless - In a Dutch Haze -- As the story goes, at the last minute Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell was unable to make it to the show at which this was recorded, allowing Heavy Blanket's J Mascis (also of Dinosaur Jr, natch) and Graham Clise the opportunity to save the day. What results is nearly an hour of pure, explosive, unbridled improv, even more berserk and unhinged than a typical Earthless live joint. Yes, there's some sloppiness and spinning of wheels on here, but the peaks on this match the most frenzied jamming from Earthless' proper catalog.
Beck - Morning Phase -- Taken as a companion piece to 2002's Sea Change, Morning Phase manages to deal with similar topics (heartbreak, loneliness, growin' old) without being as overbearingly morose, actually winding up with a vaguely inspirational overall tone.
The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi -- While little has changed in the way that Sune Rose Wagner composes his melodic surf-noir mini masterpieces, his willingness to experiment with varied instrumentation gives Pe'ahi a different flavor than all previous Ravonettes releases. This time around, the subject matter touches on the recent passing of Wagner's estranged, alcoholic father, giving some of the material (in particular "Summer Ends") a caustic bite.
The Men - Tomorrow's Hits -- Although a few of the moments on Tomorrow's Hits seem a little bit trite (the horns on "Another Night," in particular) these shape-shifting (former??) Brooklyn punks can credibly add "70s FM Radio" to their list of conquered genres.
The Austerity Program - Beyond Calculation -- Infinitely more intense, furious, and generally awesome than two geniuses with a drum machine have any right being.
Todd Terje - It's Album Time -- To me at least, it's high praise to mention that several of these songs could be easily mistaken for alternate backing tracks from Gorillaz' excellent Plastic Beach album. It's Album Time is relentlessly diverse, reimagining the best work of contemporary electronic artists (Holy Fuck, Maserati, Ratatat before they jumped the shark), tipping its cap to classic '80s synthpop sounds, as well as indulging in other assorted playful goofiness.
Bobby Bare, Jr. - Undefeated -- The perennially underrated alt-country lifer finds songwriting inspiration in heartbreak (in particular, the dissolution of his relationship as depicted in the documentary, Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)), interminable, low-reward touring, and the inherent sadness of absentee fatherhood. But it's not all doom and gloom; "North of Alabama by Morning" is a tale of dogged perseverence, and album closer "Don't Stand at the Stove" is an undeniable barn-burning rocker.
Sharon Van Etten - Are We There -- Three major features set Sharon Van Etten apart from generic confessional coffeehouse claptrap. First, her lyrics are so deeply evocative and self-deprecating that hearing them can, at times, be uncomfortable. Second, she possesses a singing voice gorgeous enough to swath her pointed words in soothing honey. Third, she has an uncommon gift for pop songwriting unmatched by other current artists with the dreaded "singer-songwriter" tag (this album would be worth it for the incredible "Tarifa" alone).
Guided by Voices - Cool Planet -- basically a toss-up here between Cool Planet and GbV's *other* 2014 release, Motivational Jumpsuit, this one gets the nod due to superior contributions from GbV second-fiddle Tobin Sprout. Yes, GbV's musical landscape is dotted with all manner of in-jokes and throwaways, but to those who have the necessary patience, that just makes discovering their diamonds in the rough all that much more rewarding.
Honorable mention: Guided by Voices - Motivational Jumpsuit; Haunted Hearts - Initiation; Floor - Oblation; Swans - To Be Kind; Pelican - Arktika; Low Fat Getting High - Poor Circulation; Mogwai - Rave Tapes; Death Vessel - Island Intervals.
Above is the new (official) video for one of the two best songs off of the newest GbV album, Motivational Jumpsuit. Video stars Rob Corddry and one of the dudes from Breaking Bad. Below is the first single from the album - after a few listens, these two songs are far and away the best stuff on there.
Yeah, this one's not even close. After being fortunate enough to attend 12 shows during Summer Tour, then 9 of 12 shows on Phish's Fall Tour (and couch touring the other three), I have to say that these sonsabitches haven't performed / improvised at this level since the legendary Fall Tour '97 / NYE Run '97 / Island Tour '98 era. With '13 NYE Run just 5 days away, we can only hope that they deliver something close to what went down from late October thru early November. STOKED BRAH.
In Russian Circles' sonic arsenal, the atmospherics are the glue that binds their whole bag of tricks together. Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines (and a touring member of Interpol), has helmed the last three (excellent) Russian Circles albums, helping to shape the band's evocative, dramatic music into something that's entirely lyrical despite being totally wordless.
This one's kinda a dark horse. It's loud and fast, which will help you keep the RPMS up. But the fact that it's scary as fuck will want to make you outrun it like it's a relentless methed-up boogeyman who's looking to get some tail. (Yours.)
1.) SONG OF THE YEAR: Palma Violets - "Last of the Summer Wine"
Just like countless other great rock n' roll songs, this one's greater than the sum of its parts. Yeah, the intro's too long on this song. And so's the outro. The lyrics are moronic. (The "official" video is absolute garbage - see above.) And the chord progression isn't exactly original but... there's just somethin' about the classic guitar tone and the finesse they play the lick with and the sweet, sweet melody that slays me every time.
"How bad did this year suck?" you ask. Well, it sucked so bad that I had to change the rules to where live albums are disqualified just to keep an archival live release from being my Album of the Year. Why did I feel the need to even bother tweaking the formula? I DON'T FUCKING KNOW!!!!! So, I guess, congrats to Phish for having the year's best release overall. Huzzah!
Anyway, let's have at it, shall we........
1.) ALBUM OF THE YEAR - Deafheaven - Sunbather
A gorgeous, terrifying, exhausting album - casual listening this is not. While retaining the unrelenting brutality of black metal as the musical underpinning, Sunbather adds gorgeous, melodic guitar lines reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky, ratcheting up the drama with a keen Mogwai-esque understanding of how to manipulate quiet / loud dynamics.
2.)Ceramic Dog - Your Turn
This is a helluva album, and it's also a helluva unexpected album. It's incredibly rare that a musician who has attained Marc Ribot's level of success and renown in the jazz world chooses to express himself artistically in a manner that's as angry, ornery, and loud as Your Turn, but it's not simply experimenting with a mode of expression that's a triumph here; it's that the album is a smashing success. Your Turn takes its detours down several stylistc alleys (heavy blues / hard rock, grunge, distorted fusion jams reminiscent of late-period Hendrix, and even a cacophonous, distortion-heavy update of a classic jazz tune) while streamlining the more freeform, scattershot approach taken on the trio's more noodly previous album, Party Intellectuals.
Ribot's tone on Your Turn is furious, his desire to rock is unwaveringly unapologetic, and the music's heavy grooves are arresting. So, listen to this if you like great music, otherwise feel free to go fuck yourself.
3.) Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
If you're skeptical of yet another posthumous Hendrix release, you should be; the list of "archival" stuff that's been pinched off in the 43 years since Hendrix' death is littered with shoddy quality bootleg material and inessential, often redundant crap, the sheer quantity of which greatly outpaces the (occasionally transcendent) worthwhile stuff by a large margin. Sure, I'm definitely a sucker for unreleased / archival stuff, but this release works surprisingly well on its own as a cohesive album. Comprised mostly of material Hendrix was working on as a follow up to Electric Ladyland, People, Hell and Angels allows the listener a rare glimpse at what might have been had Hendrix' appetite for heroin and pills been less fiendish.
4.) Palma Violets - 180
Earlier this year, Palma Violets were apparently the subject of the creepy-ass UK music press' embarrassing crush; of course, if you're actually regularly reading the NME you've likely already lost the battle. Regardless, this album is a real success, incorporating classic chord progressions, strong melodies, and a warm, inviting garagey sound into their sonic stew. Where many indie acts seem to be self-consciously stuck playing small ball, 180 is unafraid to swing for the fences, evoking the work of several of music's heavy hitters (J&MC, Stone Roses, Velvets, even Springsteen) without being dominated by their influences.
5.)The Men - New Moon
The Men are a band that's seemingly always in the middle of significant stylistic flux, and growing pains are to be expected as a side effect of significant experimentation. New Moon sees them attempting to situate their music on an AM AOR station circa 1976. But for all the genre hopping that they've done over the course of their relatively brief career, to their credit these guys seem like real students (and practitioners) of "what makes rock music great," instead of simply hipster dilettantes.