Music – The Stuff I Liked in 2014

(UPDATE: Somewhere the proper version of this post has fallen in between the cracks. This one here is slightly different and closer to what I intended than the post that got published a week or so back. One thing I need to add, among others, is that I’ve finally gotten around to listening to War On Drugs and it’s fricking wonderful.)

And now for something completely different. I’d meant to do this post up all nice with album cover photos and affiliate links to Amazon that no one would click on, but with my move now less than 3 weeks away, I’ll never get to it. So here it is, raw.

I spent far less time listening to music in the past year than I probably should have, and much of that listening time was devoted to stuff that was familiar and comfortable rather than exploring the new.  So here’s my quirky list of new stuff, reissues, things I have marked as “spend more time listening to this” and other bits and bobs.

Adam Cohen – We Go Home – this past year I’ve been re-obsessed with all things Leonard Cohen. Adam is one of his kids and may not be as exceptional as his dad but works a similar vein and doesn’t insult your intelligence.

The Allman Brothers Band – The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings – great to get all of these complete sets and sounding so good, but one thing it makes clear is that they picked the right versions of these songs for the original release.

Annie Lennox – Nostalgia – I was depressed thinking that after a gap of so many years, the best she could come back with was this album of 12 covers, most of which are songs that have been covered too many times already (Georgia on My Mind) or seem inappropriate for a wealthy white British woman to be singing (Strange Fruit). But I’ll say this – she sings the hell out of these songs.

Beck – Morning Phase – A sort of sequel to Sea Change, this album of quieter songs (with arrangements from his dad) really resonated with me. I’ve played this more than any Beck album since, well, since Sea Change

Black Keys – Turn Blue – a huge success but I didn’t care for this as much as its predecessor.

Bob Dylan and The Band – Basement Tapes Complete – Like so many others, I’ve obsessed over the Basement Tapes for decades. Now we get everything (so they say) and we get it with the mid-70s overdubs removed. Add to that the best packaging of the year. The challenge is to find time to edit this down to a playlist of my favorite tracks – or just go with the 2 CD version, which consists of the tracks that made up the original mid-70s release.

Brian Eno – Nerve Net – a whole series of expanded Eno reissues, this one is the highlight because the bonus disc is My Squelchy Life.

Brian Eno & Karl Hyde – Someday World/High Life – the first album sounded as if they were stuck in the 90s, the second a bit of an improvement.

Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes –  a patchwork and I find I’m no fan of XXX’s guitar work here.

Bryan Ferry – Avonmore. As good as any solo album he’s ever done. Ten originals, two covers and his cover of Robert Palmer’s John and Mary is worth hearing – several times.

Crosby Stills Nash & Young – CSNY 1974 – I know there are fans out there for this document of their 1974 tour but for me only the Neil Young stuff here still holds up. Everything else just seems to be dueling egos.

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots – This is his first proper “solo” album and it didn’t disappoint me.

David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed – the 3 CD deluxe edition is the best career retrospective from Bowie yet. It runs in reverse chronological order, starting with his new collaboration with Maria Schneider. I really like the James Murphy remix of Love is Lost.

Eric Clapton – The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale – I have very low expectations of any Clapton album. This one didn’t put me to sleep and did get me to dig out Cale’s records again.

FKA Twigs – LP1 – Everyone loves this. Guess I’ll go back and play it again.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Inside the Pleasuredome. I won’t try and defend my love for everything and anything ZTT. This 7 LP set seems to collect every possible permutation of FGTH’s first album, which I still play far too often.

Gary Clark Jr – Live – His debut album was all over the map, this is more focused. He’ll be a great guitarist one day and he’s got a terrific voice. This might have been better as a single disc though.

Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours. Retro ballads from a former member of …. Kind of early Scott Walker-ish. I played this a lot but it’s not consistent – the first few tracks are the best.

Howlin’ Wolf – The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs 1951-1962 – because every record collection should have this.

Jack White – Lazaretto – I never really got the White Stripes but I’ve always admired White as “authentic” – I only became a fan after the movie It Might Get Loud – and I like his two solo albums a lot more than the WS stuff.

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager – I’ve only played this once so far but it sounded great and I need to get back to it.

Jessie J – Sweet Talker – I have no idea why, but Bang Bang is one of the few singles from 2014 that I like. I haven’t listened to the rest of the album though.

Joe Bonamassa – Different Shades of Blue – You can always count on Bonamassa to try something different and here there are more original songs and different backing musicians but in the end it’s not as good as his previous album, Dust Bowl.

John Hiatt – Terms of My Surrender – Hiatt’s got a real late-career renaissance going.

John Mellencamp – Plain Spoken – Mellencamp stays in his Okie folkie range and I played this more than his previous couple of albums.

Johnny Winter – True to the Blues – Nice to get a definitive Johnny Winter compilation, sad that he died this year.

King Crimson – The deluxe reissue overkill continued this year with 20+ disc sets for Starless and Red. My favorite era of Crimson but I just don’t have time for all of this so I’ve concentrated on the Steven Wilson remixes.

Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence – In which she not only shows that the last album wasn’t a fluke, she improves upon it.

LCD Soundsystem – The Long Goodbye – great recording of their farewell concert. This is where I finally realized how good James Murphy has been for so long.

Led Zeppelin – the super deluxe reissues from Jimmy Page. Frankly I’m not knocked out by most of the bonus material. It leaves me wondering “is this really all there is?” But the remastered sound is splendid and the accompanying hardcover books in the super deluxe box set are nice to have.

Leonard Cohen – Live in Dublin – While this duplicates a lot of the Live in London set from four years ago, there are new songs and there’s still that great band, yielding truly definitive versions of many of his classic songs.

Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems – Worth the price of entry just for Almost Like the Blues, but plenty of other good new songs to listen to and ponder over.

Michael Bloomfield – From His Head to His Heart to His Hands – Al Kooper put together this splendid retrospective, 3 CDs plus 1 DVD, with key tracks from Butterfield Blues Band, Electric Flag, Super Session and his solo work. One of the most important guitarists ever and yet all but forgotten. Anyone who loves electric blues guitar should have this in their collection.

Muddy Waters – The Complete Aristocrat & Chess Singles As & Bs 1947-1962 – just like the Howlin’ Wolf set mentioned above, essential.

Neil Young – Storytone – Sorry, I think he’s lost the plot. I share his environmental concerns but I think most of the song writing is far below his best.

The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River – T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, one of the Mumfords and others put music to a bunch of Bob Dylan lyrics from the 60s recently discovered in a trunk somewhere.  When I listen to it, I’m just too conscious that it’s Dylan throw-aways and while some of them are good all I can think of is, “Is this how Zimmy would have done it?”

Nils Lofgren – Face the Music – massive boxed set that makes the case that he’s not just a great guitarist and not just a great backing musician for Springsteen and Neil Young. Even if he never stepped on stage with anyone else, he’d still be worth following.

Pink Floyd – The Endless River – unreleased mostly instrumental studio jams from 20 years ago, remixed and edited, some new instruments added. It sounds like classic era Floyd but it meanders and is less than essential.

R.E.M. – A good year for them, big collections featuring both of their MTV Unplugged appearances and “rarities” from both the IRS and the Warner Bros days.

Robert Plant – Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar – I admire Plant so much for what he’s doing here. He’s still a great singer and the arrangements are inventive across the board. I just wish the songs were a little stronger.

Robert Wyatt – Different Every Time – fabulous two disc compilation that omits I’m a Believer and still seems close to definitive.

Robyn Hitchcock – The Ghost in You. Hitchcock used to be a major fave. I stopped listening to him a few years ago. This gorgeous album has me loving him all over again.

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams – This sounds like great mainstream classic rock and I think it will sound good for years to come.

Santana – Corazon – the big guest name approach yet again, but this time on a mostly Latino album, so it’s different enough and it works. I really love his take on Bob Marley’s Iron Lion Zion, featuring Ziggy Marley.

Scott Walker & Sunn O))) – Soused – I should give this a listen.

St. Vincent – St. Vincent – I should give this a listen.

Swans – To Be Kind – A big noise, A huge fucking noise. I didn’t think I still liked this kind of challenging music but in this case, I still do.

Taylor Swift – 1989 – I’ve never listened to her before but gave it a couple of spins since it made so many year’s best lists. I’m not sure that I’d know it was her if I didn’t already know it’s her. All this Max Martin stuff sounds alike to me.

Tom Petty – Hypnotic Eye – Wow, did the media hype this album, a return to rocking 70s form for him, they said. Not really.

Tweedy – Sukirae – I should give this a listen.

U2 – Songs of Innocence. Rolling Stone magazine named this the best album of the year. I stopped paying attention to Rolling Stone’s album reviews years ago precisely because of stuff like that.

The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground 45th Anniversary Edition – Magnificent. Three very different mixes of the album. Two more CDs of live stuff and another CD with the scrapped 4th album (most of the tracks made it out over the years but they never sounded this good).

2014 was a good year for collectors as record companies continued to churn out massive box sets offering the complete output from a varied selection of artists. Often no-frills packaging and no bonus tracks but still a nice way to grab everything at once from everyone from Emmylou Harris to Rick James.

So not that much music on my list from new acts under the age of 30. I don’t listen to as much music as I’d like now because I don’t use music as background noise when I’m working or reading. When I listen to music, I listen to music. But my time for listening frequently occurs in venues where I want to hear something I already know I like – on the bus going home after a long day at work, as one example.

Plus, let’s face it, the dominant popular music remains hip hop, and as near as I can tell the dominant lyrical theme in hip hop remains “I’m so great” and “I’m so rich” and that doesn’t hold any interest for me. The indie and alternative rock bands mostly strike me as either too derivative or too discordant.

I get it. My tastes are becoming more mainstream as I get older. I used to thrill to new releases with song titles that read like calculus. Now I simply don’t want to work that hard.

2 thoughts on “Music – The Stuff I Liked in 2014”

  1. “Rolling Stone magazine named this the best album of the year. I stopped paying attention to Rolling Stone’s album reviews years ago precisely because of stuff like that.”

    Pure gold!

    You should give St Vincent a proper listen. Her album, along with FKA Twigs and the new Foo Fighters’ one were my three fav pop albums of the year.

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