Beer and Pavement

Reviewing 2014: Music

Posted in Records, Review by SM on December 28, 2014

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Crap. Where did the year go?

All I have done is taken several hiatuses in between some fairly mediocre blog posts. I would like to tell you 2015 will be different, but why lie? It won’t. I’ll be a sporadic blogger as it seems to be my ultimate destiny. So, you’ll forgive my momentary lapse in judgement when I thought a PhD was a good idea. You won’t mind when I prioritize my job and career over my hobbies. And you’ll give me a pass for being a parent of two who rarely gets a full night’s sleep.

That said, I still found a way to consume and as you well know, consuming indie rock records and craft beer are what I do best when I’m not parenting or working. I didn’t listen to nearly as much music as year’s past, but I did drink a shit-ton of beer as my waist will attest. So, I have something to say about both topics.

The format will be a bit different than years past. Usually, I write a list of records and/or beers. Last year I opted not to rank my choices for the year. This year I will simply name some arbitrary categories to fill with some sort of commentary. Do with this list what you will. However, I hope you can find the time to comment and even throw some money at the good people I’m about to praise.

The 2014 Beer and Pavement Recognitions and Such – Indie Rock Division

“The Next Sharon Van Etten or Courtney Barnett of 2014”

Well, this could have been Sharon Van Etten as her Are We There is yet another stellar album from the songstress, or it could have been Courtney Barnett’s as I listened to The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas on repeat after discovering it a year too late. Hell, I didn’t even get my hands on Barnett’s physical artifact until this year.

Still, there was one woman I listened to more than any other this year or at least that’s according to Spotify. Angel Olsen dominated this year with her Burn Your Fire For No Witness. This is one of the few albums on my personal list I am finding all over year-end lists. It’s an incredibly haunting, Patsy Cline-esque, fucking great record. Had I not been so busy this year, I would have written ad nauseam about this singer who could channel a lo-fi Roy Orbison on one track and turn around with something more akin to a Kristin Hersh rocker the next. She’s a phenomenal talent and from right here in Missouri. Who woulda thunk it?

“Best Reissues (Multiple Categories)”

I didn’t know that I had missed Life Without Buildings the first time around and needed their über-rare Record Store Day until I discovered them in the “Best New Music” category on Pitchfork’s Spotify page. Well, one listen was enough to send me out to my local supplier for a preview of there RSD releases only to find out they had not ordered it. I waited a week or two and tried eBay. It was costly, but nothing obscene and I scored my record. LWB’s Any Other City was a forgotten/unheard of treasure with a danceable no wave sound that would have also fit well in mid-90’s Chicago, but what set this band apart was front woman Sue Tompkins erratic spoken-word lyrics. Although 14 years old, the record was maybe the freshest thing I heard all year. Too bad they only released this record, a handful of singles, and a live album.

The other reissue wins the box set division as Sleater-Kinney is doing this whole comeback thing right. Not only were all their albums reissued on glorious 180-gram vinyl on Sub Pop, but the band put all these albums into one box complete with a book of never-before-seen photos and a surprise 7″ of new material. Now that’s a way to announce a reunion. The best part of this box and the individual reissues is that all the music was remastered, giving them the treatment they all deserved, especially those early records recorded on a budget.

Oh, and that open letter I wrote worked.

“Favorite EP’s – short and long formats”

Funny thing about my two favorite EP’s is that both are from this region of the world. How does that happen? An overwhelming sense of depression caused from living in the middle of racists and corn fields? Yeah, that’s probably what it is. The first is really just a short LP – sorta missing the idea of an “extended play” format – and the other is a more traditional supplement to and earlier full-length effort.

Your Friend’s Jekyll/Hyde is a nearly perfect example of the form capturing atmospherics, chilly femme vocals, and some silly-good theatrics surrounding stories of sisters and awkward thirteen year olds living in Kansas. Rarely do EP’s feel like LP’s but this one does. The songs can come off as quiet and pretty, but the intensity comes through in a live setting as I was lucky to witness last spring. Look for this EP to launch Your Friend in the coming year.

My friends in New Tongues put out a short-form EP that kills, nay destroys. Three originals lead off before a cover of a Simon and Garfunkel cover completely floors you. Following up last year’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, this EP does what the format is meant to do which is extend what work has been done and in the best cases expanding said work. the production on this 4-song EP explodes from the speakers with all the post-hardcore clichés one can muster. (The music is not clichéd, just the reviews.) To add insult to injury, that aforementioned Simon and Garfunkel cover is maybe the cover of the year.

I also considered an E.P. by some other friends in Enemy Airship, but the hard copy has yet to arrive. Additionally, there was Ought’s E.P., but I have more to say on that later…

“Best Dad Rock”

I am a dad twice over. In fact, our little release this year might be is my favorite. His name is Theo and he should know that dads can rock. Right now, Theo’s favorite song is “Bird Is the Word.” We’ll have to work on that.

Dad rock can best be defined as the music by bands who dads probably listened to back in college. Bonus points go to bands and musicians who are actually dads themselves. This year, there were three releases that I think exemplified my own version of Dad Rock.

First and foremost, there’s Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. I crossed paths with Malk on his way to the venue where he was playing. I wanted to talk to him about fatherhood and his new record, but he didn’t have time to chat. I suspect he had to Skype with his kids from the tour van. Anyway, Wig Out at Jagbags is return to form after 2011’s Beck-esque Mirror Traffic. In Wig Out…, Malk and the Jicks get all nostalgic for the Grateful Dead and Lilith Fair-era Lesbians. It’s as goofy as they have been on a record which is quintessential dad behavior.

Then, there’s the Kickstarted project from Swearing at Motorists. S@M’s Dave Doughman is also a dad. This comes out in some heartbreaking-yet-sweet moments throughout While Laughing, the Joker Tells the Truth. Intermingled with laments and celebrations of parenthood is an obsession with acting and drama, escapes from the daily grind of being someone’s dad. It’s maybe Doughman’s most mature release yet, one I didn’t know or care if he could make. Still, it deserves a proper release once the Kickstarter money runs out.

The third Dad Rock honoree is the most obvious of the bunch. Jeff and Spencer Tweedy’s Sukierae under the band name Tweedy. This project comes from the heart as Jeff Tweedy’s creative juices seem to come alive after some so-so Wilco efforts. Honestly, I had written off Tweedy. I figured he was going to make the same Wilco record over and over and tour until his knees or liver gave out. And as a fellow dad with mouths to feed, I’m okay with selling out. However, that’s not what he’s done here. Spencer who is a gifted drummer has inspired something in his dad that I hope continues. Sukierae was a pleasant surprise and has made me look at my own life as a father and how I can rejuvinate my own creativity.

“Best Album by a Former Member of the Walkmen”

Three records were released this year by former Walkmen. There was Walter Martin’s We’re All Young Together which is a kids album and probably should have made the Dad Rock list above as it’s the most dad-like thing ever. Then there was Hamilton Leithauser’s Black Hours and Peter Matthew Bauer’s Liberation! which also came out this year. Kids music only goes so far with me. So, I figured Leithauser’s record would shine as he was the voice of the Walkmen and sort of personified their cool aesthetic. However, it was Bauer who impressed with his solo debut, a cacophony of religion, mysticism, and chic. The album is so good you wonder if maybe Bauer had more say in the Walkmen’s image than was typically let on. Either way, he put out a solid record that remained on heavy rotation throughout the year.

“Speaking of Nostalgia…”

The Afghan Whigs got back together. Well, two of them did, but those two put together a pretty tight group of musicians. Then the Whigs did the unthinkable in 90’s reunion etiquette and actually recorded an album. Do the Beast would have fit nicely after Black Love with its thematic leanings and dynamics. Plus, those old guys can still rawk.

“The One Album upon which the Critics and I Tend to Agree”

Ex Hex’s Rips is a swift kick to the gut. In much the same way Jeff Tweedy seemed to be recharged by working with his son, Mary Timony’s inner-guitar god rose from the ashes of 90’s indie rock anonymity when she joined Wild Flag, a one-off, super group who released one of the best records of 2011 and put on ridiculously great live shows. This record comes at you from the word go and it never lets up until you’re stunned to find it’s over. Mary Timony has quietly made great music for years, I’m just glad others are beginning to realize it as Rips finds a place on many year-end lists.

“The One Album upon which the Critics and I Tend to Disagree”

Well, that isn’t exactly fair. Trouble by Hospitality generally received good reviews everywhere. However, it didn’t make many (or possibly any) year-end lists. And I’m not really sure why. While it lacks the punch the Ex Hex record delivers, it certainly has its share of dynamics as well as subtle nods to that 80’s thing everyone is doing. This album might be the equivalent of Future Islands’ Singles which is getting all kinds of attention these days. However, Trouble lacks a career-making appearance on Letterman to put it over the hump. Still, the band did what bands with promising debuts are supposed to do with their sophomore efforts: expand and improve on said promise. The trouble is that most bands falter with their second release, not Hospitality. Synth, Belle & Sebastian sensibility, a bit of an edge… It’s all there and I’m not sure why no one else has noticed.

“Artist/Band of the Year”

I opted not to pick just one album as I have played the shit out of those praised above. I do plan to do a singles list if I get a chance, but I digress. I have a band of the year and it might not be who you think.

Let’s get a few of the normal artists up for this kind of consideration out of the way. The War on Drugs and Sun Kil Moon don’t make the list as the most interesting things they did was get in a non-feud. And since we’re on boring, white dude music, I’m not bothering with Real Estate, Spoon, or Mac DeMarco.

Oh, there’s more. I don’t care for dance music. So, most of that stuff doesn’t get much of a listen from me, even in a year when Caribou released an album, but I haven’t enjoyed them since 2007’s Andorra. Same goes for most rap and hip-hop. While I have an appreciation for them, I just haven’t been able to get into Vince Staples or Run the Jewels. Grouper’s record was nice, but a bit too quiet for me. (And if you like that sort of thing, check out my friend C. Vadi’s latest here.) Please don’t get me started on Ariel Pink, Todd Terje, or Taylor Swift.

There were records who probably deserved more of my attention. St. Vincent, Perfume Genius, Parquet Courts, Cloud Nothings, or Ty Segall. I’m okay with this. I have limited time and whatever art you make has to grab my attention. The bands and records I’m recognizing here did that, but none more than Montreal’s Ought.

And Ought hit my trifecta for 2014. They blew me away with an album I did not see coming. Impressed onstage in front of way too few people. Plus, they released an EP that just made me want more. This was done while sounding like a fresher, more meaningful reincarnation of the Feelies and Talking Heads. They look like Joy Division and sound like Television and the Violent Femmes. And I don’t even think they’ve scratched the surface of what they can do.

I’m not sure what else I could tell you about them. The songs are written and performed with feeling every time. They unloaded More Than Any Other Day with its critiques of the mundane and commercialism. Sonically it called back to those New and No Wave days of NYC. The live show could happen in front of 10 people or 10,000. It’s captivating and raw. They drone and jam on only to break it with sudden impulses of noise and general disruption. The EP, Once More with Feeling, supplements the LP’s material but introduces something new. “Pill” is a song I’ve obsessed over as it suits their ages better, but the simple chord structure is an ear worm by itself. The EP provides promise that this band has more to offer and I can’t wait to see what it is.

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6 Responses

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  1. Bill said, on December 29, 2014 at 10:47 am

    My album of the year was the New Pornographers record — it gave me the most joy. Tweedy left me the way the recent Wilco albums left you, apparently! But I love the fact that father and son work together. Spencer drummed on the Mavis Staples album that Jeff produced (the latest one — I think he’s produced two or three). I loved the Spoon album, and figure they’re the current equivalent of AC/DC — all the records sound the same, and yet nevertheless are awesome.

    • Zac said, on December 29, 2014 at 11:05 am

      Yeah, I need to give that New Pornos record a good listen. However, I find myself bored when I listen to them. Same goes for Spoon. They’re just putting out the same album over and over. Tweedy was honestly a surprise for me. It’s so different from his Wilco stuff, yet it includes some elements of his most avant garde work.

  2. Mike said, on December 29, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I keep meaning to check out Ought; they’ve played Denver a couple times since I moved here but I had schedule conflicts. I missed them at their show in St. Louis by a week.

    • Zac said, on December 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      They are pretty great. However, I’ve been similarly excited about new bands like this before. See: Vampire Weekend, Interpol, Tokyo Police Club, etc.

      • Mike said, on December 29, 2014 at 1:47 pm

        Seems like you have a pretty good batting average.

      • Zac said, on December 29, 2014 at 1:50 pm

        I am getting better thanks to Spotify. Instead of buying a lot of stuff blindly, I can sample it pretty thoroughly before dropping some cash on a physical record. It’s sorta like trying new beers at bars (which I don’t do nearly as often as I used to).


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