Ty Segall topped the musical journey of 2014
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
My first thoughts in sizing up 2014 were of getting on planes to find live music, balancing my annoyance with TSA security and delayed flights with that inner drive to hear new sounds.
But that’s not reality. If I flew a lot this year, only once was it specifically driven by music. Instead, there was just a lot to hear everywhere, with no month so loaded but instead a steady stream of new sounds that wound up serving as a soundtrack to the weeks and days.
With that, here’s some of what stood out in an undoubtedly turbulent year.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Ty Segall — Manipulator
There’s a feeling that comes within the first few songs, or even the first few bars of the best songs, on Manipulator. And that’s best expressed by the immediacy I felt in getting this out to people I know.
That excitement is a difficult one to breakdown and transcribe in writing, simply because of the perceived enormity in the moment. In Manipulator, there’s a freshness and sense of familiarity playing at once; for all the classic rock and T-Rex inspired sounds, they mingle so effortlessly with the parts I’ve never heard before. There’s an urgency to the music as well as a well-worn comfort. Segall is in total control here, and rather than meticulously orchestrate the sound, he’s confident enough to let everything hang out, raw, and ragged, for something that winds up completely compelling and new.
If he tried to do it, power to him. If this is just how he sounds, that’s even more impressive. However it came about, Manipulator is one of those albums that will live well beyond its release date. And well beyond today, I’ll still be trying to explain just why it’s so affecting and just so good.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
Sleater-Kinney - “Bury Our Friends”
Like so many post-punk trailblazers that burn out just as the star begins to shine brightest, Sleater-Kinney may be more popular now than they’ve ever been. Carrie Brownstein is riding high on the heels of her comedy series Portlandia and Wild Flag reminded fans of the power she could wield on guitar with Janet Weiss behind her.
But the sonic ass-kick of having Brownstein, Weiss and Corin Tucker back together was greater than any sketch show or side project, and their first single in a decade, “Bury Our Friends,” is the wild freak-out that fans have waited for, and then some. With the seven-album Start Together vinyl retrospective behind them, Sleater-Kinney is looking firmly ahead — No Cities to Love and a tour are due in January, and rather than merely bask in the reunion afterglow, the band is a vital force once again.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Ryan Adams — 1984
In addition to his self-titled solo album breaking three years of musical silence this year, Adams has launched his Pax-Am singles series, which has already unleashed as many gems as his proper record. But his homage to the post-punk world of SST and the like, 1984, is likely the most impressive and fun. Collecting 10 quick tracks on two sides of a 45, Adams pays tribute to artists like Minutemen while finding a home for earworms like “When the Summer Ends” and “Rats in the Wall.”
CONCERT OF THE YEAR
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers — Aug. 30, Fenway Park, Boston
Armed with an excellent new record in Hypnotic Eye, Petty and the Heartbreakers sounded 15 to 20 years younger than their age, gliding up and down their impressive catalog while playing to a stadium crowd as if it were a club. The Heartbreakers’ musicianship and elasticity has never been in question, but the strength in Petty’s delivery was a revelation, even if it shouldn’t have been. It was a great rock and roll night to cap the summer, and a reminder of the Heartbreakers’ unique place in American music.
BEST ARCHIVAL RELEASE
Bob Dylan and The Band — The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes [Raw and Complete]
The lore of the Basement Tapes goes beyond Dylan completists and bootleg collectors. They’re legendary, shrouded in the clouded aftermath of Dylan’s motorcycle accident, wrapped in the fusion of American folk, country, rhythm and blues that produced not just the next few albums of Dylan’s cannon but also The Band’s Music From Big Pink, an album so revolutionary it shattered bands and changed rock and roll’s trajectory.
The music made in Big Pink’s basement has been bootlegged famously on The Great White Wonder and released commercially, in part — The Band’s Robbie Robertson collected 16 recordings and eight Band demos, cleaned them up and presented it all as a double album in 1975. But to have the entire set, at 139 tracks, goes about 30 songs deeper than even the most comprehensive bootlegs. They’re here, unadorned, packaged as a Complete box set or a two-disc Raw highlights, and finally, available legitimately.
There were several impressive reissues and retrospectives this year, including the Sleater-Kinney anthology, Wilco’s rarities box set Alpha Mike Foxtrot and Soundgarden’s many re-releases, including a 20th anniversary box set for Superunknown and their oddities set Echo of Miles. But for historic significance, having the complete Basement Tapes out in legitimate release can’t be topped.
FAVORITE ARCHIVAL RELEASE
Mark Lanegan — Has God Seen My Shadow? An Anthology 1989-2011
Massive historic significance aside, Lanegan’s career compilation Has God Seen My Shadow? rarely left my turntable in 2014. Collecting some of his most haunting solo work, along with a third LP of unreleased tracks, put Lanegan’s career in vital new perspective, offering new listeners a chance to appreciate him not as just the singer from Screaming Trees or an occasional guest of Queens of the Stone Age, but rather as one of the more distinct songwriters and performers of his generation. It’s certainly not a career capstone — it doesn’t include any material from the four records he’s released just since 2012 — but it serves as a mile marker that also works as essential and compulsive listening.
BEST OF THE REST
Ryan Adams — Ryan Adams
Again, the Pax-Am singles are fun, but Adams’ new album not only brought him back into the spotlight, but also introduced his new band. The Shining, his first band since The Cardinals, have a deep sound that should grow in time.
The Hold Steady — Teeth Dreams
Older but still vital, Craig Finn’s lyrics are as charged as ever, but with a retrospective edge, taking stock of his characters’ party years and the roads they’ve traveled. The band’s energy hasn’t waned after 10 years together.
Jenny Lewis — Voyager
Sunny melodies paired with lively, exciting production lead to Lewis’ best album of her solo career. It sounds just at home played during a Friday-night party as it does on those solitary Sunday afternoons. It's versatile and it'll have legs.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks — Wig-Out at Jagbags
Malkmus’ lyrics are as funny and weird as ever, and the angular approach of the Jicks is as impactful as ever. Wig-Out at Jagbags has some of the catchiest and strangest tunes, and most interesting jams, of his post-Pavement musical life.
Foo Fighters — Sonic Highways
Turning to eight famous studios and their cities across the country for inspiration, Dave Grohl may have produced a singular item in his catalog. Sonic Highways is a concise compendium on everything the Foo Fighters do well.
LEAST WELCOME ALBUM
U2 — Songs of Innocence
The first thing I heard about U2’s new album was that it was available for free on iTunes. “Well that was nice,” I thought. But realizing it was automatically placed into the library of everyone with iTunes and anyone with an iPhone in their pockets was creepy at best and felt like a violation of privacy at worst.
The reaction may have come off as a lot of spoiled brats complaining about a free album, but music collections are personal creatures. They sit either poorly tagged with the same song listed multiple times or carefully culled and organized, with album art, genres, years and featured artists all dutifully tagged. But each item is placed there for a reason. To have Apple force U2 into everyone’s lives — until they created a site dedicated to specifically removing it — was overstepping bounds. It turned a potentially generous act into an invasive one.
REST IN PEACE
Scott Asheton, Jack Bruce, Joe Cocker, Phil Everley, Big Bank Hank, Bobby Keys, Ian McLagan, Tommy Ramone, Paul Revere, Jimmy Ruffin, Pete Seeger, Robin Williams, Johnny Winter, Jesse Winchester and Bobby Womack
Pearl Jam — “Who You Are,” Oct. 17, iWireless Center, Moline, Ill.
I tried to relay my excitement within the review — the swirling, frantic racing through my mind that had memories and impulses and songs slamming drunk against each other — while the opening drum pattern of “Who You Are” began, following “Sometimes” and “Hail, Hail” just as it’s supposed to on No Code. That was the signal that Pearl Jam was up to something special for this show in Moline, Ill., turning a spur-of-the-moment trip to see friends and catch the band into one of those nights where everything happened to come together for the best, a most unexpected result on a night where little could be predicted anyway.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org