Yes, I have been meaning to do this since December, but you know how it goes, you’re reviewing an album one minute and you’re wrestling a great bear of a distraction (known as “life”) the next.
At any rate, 2014 has had plenty of important and interesting moments happen in the world of music, but here are my personal favorites:
–Commune by Goat-
These Swedish psych travelers just keep getting better and tighter all of the time. Often times, the guitar work and shamanic communal hallucination like atmosphere is very reminiscent of Amon Duul II and Cromagnon. Other times the vocals and blistering sludges of pounding beats and fuzz comes straight out of Bardo Pond territory. Meanwhile, “The Light Within” is like smashing together some lost 1970s Zambian rock gem and the haziest of Os Mutantes tracks. Mingle that with the fact that the Standard Rekords printing of the album had 200 uniquely different covers created by 200 separate artists. Could they get any more incredible? Sure, but the next album would have to come in an digestible liquid form and placed upon sugar cubes.
-Whoop Dee Doo- The Muffs
Chock full of Insatiable hooks, warm chunks of buzzing distorted guitars and vocals that range from the sweet to the scorching; Whoop Dee Doo is an instant classic. If you just want one track to feel out how the whole album is, then look no further than “Up and Around.” It’s hard pop at its finest with its arresting guitar, jaw-droppingly impressive vocals and a smirking attitude that are all set to a melody so catchy that you will be begging to hear it a thousand times over. Somewhere between “So Sad About Us,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “Packin’ a Rod.” An absolute necessity for anyone who likes this little thing called “rock.”
-The first ever tour of Polaris
If you grew up in the ’90s and had Nickelodeon like me, you probably (hopefully) watched or at least knew of the glorious masterpiece of television that was The Adventures of Pete & Pete. If you did, then you wouldn’t need me to explain how one of the highlights of the show was its amazing soundtrack. Not only did they get to use songs from a wide range of amazing independent and alternative bands like The Magnetic Fields, Drop Nineteens and The Apples in Stereo, but they had one of the greatest songwriters to come out of the last 30 years, Mark Mulcahy, write and perform nearly all of the original music for the show, including its theme song. With every episode of Pete Pete, Mulcahy and his band Polaris (basically one of the many different line ups of Miracle Legion) shot their incredibly pleasing ear candy of catchy pop rock songs through the TV and into the young and impressionable minds of my generation. Seeing the band perform and mess around in the Wrigley’s front yard as a kid was one of my first impressions of what a rock band was and what they did. I understandably thought that that was really cool and I wanted them or any other rock band to play in my front yard. Every song stayed with me, playing in my head while on the school bus, riding my bike through the neighborhood, getting in trouble at the local pool during the summer, etc. In a way, I felt like Little Pete when he came across Polaris playing “Summer Baby” at a neighboring garage in the episode A Hard Day’s Pete. Sure I’m romancing it a bit, but when I heard those songs, I knew that they stirred some sort of emotion inside of me and I liked that. Even though I was between the ages of 6 and 8, I know that this experience helped turn me towards the direction of music, which has of course since become a major aspect of my life.
Some 20 years later, ’90s nostalgia became all the rage and the cast and crew of Pete & Pete have had several live sold out reunion forums which had also seen the first ever live performances of Polaris. Mulcahy, who had several amazing solo albums since the days of Pete (including the exquisite Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You from 2013) must have had a great time at these reunion gigs because in August of ’14, he announced the debut tour of Polaris, which took place through the fall and winter. Many of the shows were sold out and highly praised by fan and critic alike. The tour was also accompanied by a cassette single of two exceptional new songs, “Happy Green Moon Face” and “Baby Tae Kwon Do.”
I unfortunately didn’t act fast enough to snag any tickets when Polaris came near me, but thank god they’ll be playing The High Line Ballroom in May. Seeing them now is kind of the fulfillment of that wish I made when I was a kid for getting to see this fictional rock band perform in person. Are you going? I sure am and so should you.
Also, it was just announced that the Pete & Pete soundtrack is receiving its first ever vinyl reissue for Record Store Day this year.
Brooklyn’s own King Pizza Records put on a 3-day, 20+ band festival extravaganza. Each day was featured at a different location and filled with no-holds-barred fierce rock and roll, newly released tapes and of course, lots of pizza. I was able to attend most of Day 2, which was held on the roof of an apartment building in Bed-Stuy, on a gloriously sunny, breezy Saturday afternoon.
From the chest busting power pop of The Jeanies and (the now defunct) Ma to the mind shattering comedic hardcore/cartoon-core? of Otto Mann, every act was fun, raw and wild in all of the best ways. If more of the world heard these groups, each one would be as appreciated as The Black Lips or Vivian Girls.
The tossing of inflatable pool toys and streams of silly string into the audience by Otto Mann, watching the floor of the roof bow and dip dramatically under the feet of the audience while they jumped and danced together in a clump right in front of the stage during The Jeanie’s set and of course the great fucking music made this show my most memorable of the year and possibly my life.
-Bob Dylan-The Complete Basement Tapes
So the original Basement Tapes album by Dylan and The Band has always been a major fascination of mine. It was one of the first records that I have a memory of seeing and hearing as a small child, thanks to my dad having it in his collection. Later, when I was old enough to really listen to and appreciate music, the laid back, weird Americana songs drew me in and held me permanently transfixed. Sure, Highway 61 Revisited and Music From Big Pink were favorites of mine too, but there was always a special place in my heart for The Basement Tapes, even after finding out that a lot of the record was full of overdubs or rerecordings from the 1970s. This only prompted me to search deep into the foggy world of bootlegs and the early days of Limewire (and the subsequent computer viruses that always came along uninvited through Limewire). After some time, I thought I had heard or at least heard of every sound and note recorded by Dylan and The Band in Woodstock during those fun sessions, but when the news of this box set came out, I had to scour every available detail ahead of time. Finding that this set might actually contain tons of material that I had either never been able to track down myself or was completely new to me, I preordered it right away. My god, was this a mighty release.
Across the 6 CDs, I’d say that the majority of it I had never heard before. At least in this quality. I have never been so consistently floored by so many songs across so many discs. I was floored for about three weeks straight after the set arrived at my door. From vague sketches and early songwriting drafts/jams to alternate takes of previously released songs and completed yet unreleased songs, The Complete Basement Tapes contains everything you might want to hear from these legendary days.
Everything from the joke numbers like “See You Later Allen Ginsberg” to the stunning “Wild Wolf” and “I’m Not There,” shows that Dylan was able to relax and really enjoy playing music with his friends while also producing some powerful songs and lyrics, possibly as a result of this rest. The covers are also phenomenal. From blues and country standards and old traditional folk songs even to tracks from his earlier records, Dylan and The Band show off their grand encyclopedic knowledge of American music and a fantastic ability of adapting and transforming it through their new and unique collective sound.
One of my only complaints is that the songs that The Band wrote were not included, which I do understand, seeing that this is a Dylan record, but I walked into the album expecting for their songs to be there too. The other nit-picked complaint is the cover of the set itself. It’s just kinda bland and slightly cheap looking. I might only think this because the original cover for The Basement Tapes was so interesting and eye catching. Hell, its weirdness is probably why it stood out to me when I was a child. Not a big deal, especially considering that the books included with the set are chock full of amazing images and insightful essays, so it’s more than made up for.
So 2014 had its moments. Nearly three months into 2015 and we already had some heavy downs and yet some heavy ups too (Net Neutrality! Yeah!) but hopefully the musical ups will outnumber all of the downs and ups from the last 1663 years.