Well here we are, 2014 is more than half over, and we’ve been flat-out lazy thus far in our coverage and content. Mea culpa. In an attempt to kickstart our coverage for the rest of the year, four Tactile Tracks staff writers provide their thoughts on the year thus far.
Ten Semi-Random Thoughts on the Year in Music Thus Far:
- My top ten albums of the first half are, in alphabetical order by artist, Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots; The Antlers, Familiars; Bear In Heaven, Time Is Over One Day Old; Behemoth, the Satanist; S. Carey, Range of Light; Duck Sauce, Quack; the Flashbulb, Nothing Is Real; Jungle, Jungle; Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun; and Warpaint, Warpaint.
- My top fourteen songs of the first half are, in alphabetical order by artist, “Autumn,” Bear In Heaven; “Himalayan,” Band of Skulls; “Unicorn,” Basement Jaxx; “Magic,” Coldplay; “0 to 100,” Drake; “Move That Dope,” Future feat. Pusha T and Pharrell, “An Introduction to the Album,” the Hotelier; “All Under One Roof Raving,” Jamie xx; “Girl,” Jamie xx; “Remurdered,” Mogwai; “Ascii Bot,” Percussions; “Do It Again,” Robyn & Royksopp; “Artifice,” SOHN; and “Disco//Very,” Warpaint.
- It took me a lot of work to get those lists together, and not because I was overwhelmed by too many worthy choices. This has been a boring year thus far, just a complete and utter paucity of new and exciting sounds. Right now I don’t think a record has even come close to matching Warpaint as my favorite album this year, though both Bear In Heaven and Jungle are making solid efforts for the top spot.
- If we’re being honest, I’m much more excited about the slate of releases still to come in the second half of the year than I am for almost anything already in rotation. Caribou, Basement Jaxx, Opeth, Pallbearer, Spoon, the New Pornographers, Rustie, FaltyDL, the Underachievers, Tricky, Banks, Simian Mobile Disco, Raekwon, Alt-J, Cam’ron/A-Trak, the Cool Kids, Jamie xx…that’s a murderers row right there, and my fingers are crossed that they deliver.
- Speaking of Jamie xx, his singles released this year (“All Under One Roof Raving,” “Girl” and “Sleep Sound” have catapulted him into the ranks of my favorite active musicians. Just a series of extraordinary steps forward which find him opening up his already considerable pallet to include new, yet familiar sounds.
- This has been the worst year for hip-hop that I can recall in a long, long time. Just flat out awful. I’m getting angry, let’s just move on.
- Mastodon is (rightfully) getting press for their magnificent new album (don’t say I didn’t warn you), but I have a sneaking feeling that at the end of the year, the “token-metal-album-which-non-metal-fans-will-pretend-to-love” (aka the Deafheaven award) will wind up being Behemoth’s The Satanist, a crushing, monstrous record which is somehow also impossibly catchy.
- Several albums cited as early critical darlings have left me cold. Chief among these is The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream, a limp, languid album which sounds like early-70’s Dylan singing lead for Dire Straits. It’s not a terrible album, but I feel as if it’s terrifically overrated. (See also, Future Islands.)
- Can people stop giving Drake top-flight beats and production, so I can go back to hating him unconditionally? That would be awesome.
- Finally, I need to give a plug to Nothing Is Real, the newest release from producer Benn Jordan which has flown completely under the radar. Recording as the Flashbulb, Jordan has created yet another cinematically extravagant and atmospheric record which ranks among the finest front-to-back albums of the year. This is not an album full of singles, it’s a uniquely engrossing listening experience which deserves to be heard in full.
If 2013 was supposed to be a reawakening of hip-hop, a ceremonial torch-passing of sorts, then 2014 was the industry collectively going back to sleep. For a genre that’s lived at the heart of popular and modern music for over two decades, that has been the bass line that the rest of the industry marched to, it feels empty this year. It’s not for lack of releases, my Spotify has been ripping through middling hip-hop all year desperately seeking something to put a stranglehold on my headphones for a few weeks. But here we are, entering the middle of July and there are a mere handful of albums even worth mentioning. Piñata, the joint project between Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, is the leader of the class, and it’s not even close. In a year dripping in mediocrity, Piñata is a refreshing, classic hip-hop album. I could write 1,000 words on the four-song run from “Shitsville” to “Uno,” or pop in the instrumentals album and just bask in Madlib’s brilliance. But from there it’s an uneasy tip-toe through a minefield of abominations to the genre.
While there are some quality projects to be found along the lines of Oxymoron, Good To Be Home and Mastermind, these get lost in a sea of underwhelming and lifeless material. This could simply be a microcosm of what is an overall slow year in music, one that could be balanced out with strong second-half releases (and there are potentially a ton), but the get-off has been less than inspiring, to say the least. I just don’t see what others are seeing with acts like the homeless man’s Kendrick (Isaiah Rashad) or TDE’s resident art-school hipster (Ab-Soul). I refuse to consider Pharrell anything other than pop music and the Roots really don’t deserve to be pegged as a hip-hop act anymore, either. I really wish Young Money would stop sizzupring or whatever the fuck it is that has them all sounding like drunk little kids screaming random gibberish into a mic. I Honestly want Future to stop being hyped like he’s the second coming of Three Stacks and recognized as the mediocre, boring, unimaginative rapper that he is. Anyone who legitimately enjoys Riff Raff as something other than comedy needs to be pushed out to sea on an ice float. And if you put Die Antwoord on any list of “bests” please do the rest of us a favor and go play in traffic during rush hour.
Top 5 albums of 2014 (so far):
1. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
2. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
3. Future Islands – Singles
4. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
5. Duck Sauce – Quack
Maybe it’s the summer talking, but when I look back on 2014 today all I see are pop hits. Robyn & Royksopp’s club/running mix anthem “Do It Again” slots in among their best ever, while Nile Rodgers’ “Do What You Wanna Do,” an actual anthem for the International Music Summit, is a disco hit that more than absolves Rodgers of the sin of working with Avicii. Meanwhile, Beyonce’s self-titled album, although technically from 2013, is producing a seemingly endless stream of 2014 hits like “XO,” “Drunk in Love,” and “Partition,” while adding some refreshing depth and variety to her catalog. It also helps that the accompanying tours by Robyn & Royksopp and Beyonce & Jay-Z are a bright spot in a generally ho-hum year for live music.
The year to date has also brought a few exciting pop breakthroughs from Ariana Grande, Sia, and Sam Smith. This week, Grande followed up this winter’s promising “Problems” with what will no doubt be the pop-EDM song of the year, “Break Free.” Sia and Sam Smith both demonstrate their refreshing vocal chops with “Chandelier” and “Stay With Me,” the latter being so popular it has given new life (and Top-40 airplay!) to Smith’s 2012 single with Disclosure, “Latch.”
But, despite my love for 2014’s pop music, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge we’re on the verge of a guitar renaissance. Guitar-centric albums by War on Drugs, St. Vincent, Mark McGuire, and Strand of Oaks are bound to top numerous year-end lists (my own included), and the new Mastodon album is tickling the fancy of the growing numbers of metal fans. It seems clear that we’re collectively inching toward a new era of pure rock music, but in the meantime, I’ll take another listen to Todd Terje and anxiously await the new Caribou album.
It’s interesting that Dan mentions what is seemingly becoming a sort of re-taking of music by rock and rollers as of late and his subsequent rejection of all things guitar; while Dan is selling his guitar and buying a turntable, I’ve been doing quite the opposite. The overwhelming majority of the records that have stuck with me thus far in 2014 have been those guitar-centric returns to my classic rock upbringing, basically a continuation of last year where I felt myself becoming disillusioned with the state of Big Indie and electronica.
Perhaps it’s just a bit of the remnants of a music burn-out I’ve been going through, but the things that are appealing to me the most are more and more those that feel simple and real in a way that I don’t have to think about. I don’t have to try with Mastodon, or Cloud Nothings. Behemoth make things very easy for me by appealing to that sixteen-year old who permanently resides somewhere inside me, twiddling away at pentatonic scales on his Statocaster. It’s been a massive year for rock and metal, with artists like Agalloch and Woods of Desolation peeking through the rubble of the doorways knocked down by Deafheaven’s crossover success last year. The aforementioned Behemoth, a band who has enjoyed a long tenure of critical acclaim in the metal world is now poised to shake things up on year-end lists webwide thanks to mammoth tracks like “O Father, O Satan, O Sun,” and Indian’s latest absolutely slays, garnering its own fair share of buzz.
As the year progresses, it doesn’t look like metal’s grip will be loosened in the slightest; fellow Arkansas boys Pallbearer are sure to stun with their sophomore LP — if the ten-minute “Ghost I Used to Be” is any indication, which it likely is; Judas Priest is coming stateside; Earth is coming out of hiding. If anything, I’m just thrilled that guitar is becoming cool again, even on a personal level.