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Friday, December 26, 2014

Best of 2014

It is the little things.  A warm cup of coffee on a blistery winter's day.  The smell of a Christmas tree after a shitty day at the office.  The sound of your daughter's voice after a particularly good test score or sporting event.  A shared laugh with an old friend.  When your head hits the pillow late at night and the eyes looking back at you are your soul mates.

This winter, and in particular this month, has sucked real bad.

But with all the moments described above littered into the mix, shit ain't half bad either.

We all get sick.  We all (well, most of us at least) have anxiety about money.  The Holiday brings about a special set of tension and hostility.

So, if we do not embrace those little things, however fleeting, what on Earth are we doing this for???

This space attempts to filter out the noise and show you some pieces of beauty you may have missed during your tumult, er, life.

Between my colleague Doc S and I we try to cover some film, television, literature, and music.

We ask that you join the conversation during the year, either here, or on our way more active Facebook page.  I know, I know...  what kind of blogger/social media person uses Blogger and Facebook? you ask?  An out of touch one, that's who.  We tweet and have dabbled with Instagram.

But who has the time?  This will have to do for now.  Sorry, not sorry.

In order to do a proper Best of 2014, it has to start with Philadelphia rockers The War on Drugs.  If you have been paying attention to this column, and many other publications, you would know their record, Lost in The Dream, was one of the most highly acclaimed records of the year.  Adam Granduciel's soaring guitar vibe record is high on energy, positive on vibes, and, according to my Spotify playlist, absorbed for nearly 20,000 minutes.  It is a glorious ode to 70s icons like Mark Knopfler, Don Henley and Warren Zevon.  No frills.  No fuss.  Maximum pleasure.

Start with "Under the Pressure", the albums' hypnotic opening track.  From there, pay close attention to other gems like "Red Eyes" and "An Ocean In Between the Waves".

My attention span prevents me from listening to many "records."  That is, a track, or a couple singles, are often my only exposure to a band or artist.  I wanna be exposed to many different styles and varieties.  Albums and long plays take time.  Sure, I could stop listening to The War on Drugs so much.  But I am also compulsive.  Each year I happen to latch on to a record and cannot put it down.  Given that, the other down times I cram in as much as I can.
The War on Drugs Lost in the Dream is my record of the year

There were a couple other records that got some extended play.

Runners up include First Aid Kit's Stay Gold.  

The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers (which includes "Dancehall Domine" amongst others.)

Lana Del Rey's sophomore effort, Ultraviolence, was a nice early year surprise.

Any record by Ryan Adams, this year a self titled one, is worth a listen.  This record had more than a few memorable tracks.  Who knew a married and contented Adams would exist?  And who would have guessed his records would be this good???  Adams also produced  Jenny Lewis' excellent The Voyager.    Pay close attention to "She's Not Me" which brings both of their talents together in a very Linda Ronstadt/Don Henley 70s SoCal vibe.   It is also reminiscent to the work Eric Clapton did for Scorsese's The Color of Money

Spoon's They Want My Soul was the Austin's band finest effort since, well, their last effort.  This band is as formidable, consistent and entertaining as any American band making music today.  Sorry Weezer, Foo Fighters, and whomever the hell you might be thinking of.

Speaking of the Foo Fighters, they had a huge year too.  But it is not for their music.  Let's all be honest, Dave Grohl is the luckiest man in the music business.  Nirvana was a lightning in a bottle moment he happened to watch from the drum kit.  And no, this isn't shitting on Grohl's ability and song making.  He plays just fine thanks.  But many a drummer could have done what he did with Cobain's words and hooks.  His Foo Fighters are, sorry, a rather average rock and roll band.  Grohl's range is limited, as are his chords, and overall his songs.  Yes, "Everlong" is a classic.  And there are others.  But c'mon, enough already.  It's like letting Green Day in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

That said, his HBO show detailing his record, Sonic Highways, was a television wonder.  Grohl's travelogue through 8 cities as he records his new record was informative, well edited and highly entertaining.  What it lacked in detail, diversity and/or whatever else Pitchfork or Stereogum bitched about it more than made up with in heart and sincerity.

Back to the music...

Tove Lo's debut was special.  So too Alt-J's latest.  Merchandise, Beyonce, Interpol, Parquet Courts, Lykke Li, new Eels!, Cloud Nothings, and Walk the Moon also had records that were on heavy rotation in our executive offices.

Tove Lo produced a smart and sexy debut album
The band Strand of Oaks came from nowhere to critical acclaim.  Their album, Heal, is well worth the hype.  The title track and ode to the late nineties, Goshen '97 are highlights.  The fact that Tim Showalter, pretty much the entire band, spent some time living in Wilkes-Barre, PA makes this story all the more sweeeettt.   

The child band, Orwells, released their record Disgraceland earlier this year.  It had some great cuts and an overall positive vibe.  Their live show, witnessed by this author at Asbury Lanes, was far more rewarding.  As they are, like 20 years old, expect them to come around often over the next decade or so.  Do yourself a favor and see them.  Hell, I will drive.  Til then:  "Southern Comfort" recorded in The Live Room  and The Orwells Live at Letterman- Dave loves it- "Who Needs You?"

Speaking of Letterman, Baltimore journeyman Future Islands made the most of their appearance earlier this year.  Their version of the synth heavy "Seasons (Waiting on You)" was fine.  It was the lead singers, Samuel T. Herring performance that catapulted it into "viryl" status.   Herring is like a demonic, lovable cookie monster- and it all works so wonderfully.

We won't get too detailed.  You like what you like.   We like what we like.

However, 2014 was a fun and diverse year.  Artists as diverse as St. Vincent, Real Estate, Phantogram, Vance Joy, Taylor Swift, , and Lana Del Rey made memorable albums.  The definitive collection can be found on Best of 2014 and at our alternate home, GTS on FB.  

Truth is, things are freaking busy.

Not complaining, just stating facts.

There are no concerts on the horizon.  Songs, and albums, are listened to primarily going to and from.  Work, sport, school, HOLIDAYS wreak havoc on the social calendar.  Bands are often holed up for a few months too, which helps.

Let's all catch our breath as the New Year approaches.  Resolve to live a little.  Resolve to smile more.  

Earlier today, while crossing 23rd St and 5th Ave, I walked toward Bill Clinton.  Yeah, President Bill Clinton, smiling and shopping in midtown Manhattan, was standing right in front of me.  "Hello Mr President."  I said.  

"Hey" he replied.

Off he went, perhaps looking for after Christmas bargains.  I met my ladies for pasta and an espresso.

America, a country where former Presidents can share City streets with schlubs like me and exchange pleasantries.  That is what I prefer to think at least.

It is NOT the pussy whipped Nation that either a) succumbs to a dictator's request to scrap a movie or worse b) plays us for a bunch of fools and uses a canceling ploy to cover the fact their movie sucks.

It is NOT a country of hate mongers, racists, cop hating, con-artists.

It is NOT war hungry.  It is NOT corrupt.   

"I'm in my finest hour/Can I be more than just a fool?/It always gets so hard to see/Right before the moon."   *

Happy New Year all and...