2014 in retrospect: music (part 1 of 4)

I love music. Not to the point that a lot of people do, maybe, but I have a minor obsession with collecting music (I have close to 1,000 CDs at the time of this writing) and I closely track, categorize, and rate everything I listen to over at RateYourMusic and Last.fm. I have strong opinions on music; it’s one of the few things about which I tend to feel confident enough in my knowledge to actually share my opinions with those who care, and engaging in discussions about musical trends, arguing through certain bands’ best and worst albums, and defending pop are some of my favorite things to do, when I can. Music is vitally important to me as a person; it has shaped me into the person I am today in more ways than one, and continues to do so.

I also really love lists. Year-end lists are especially useful to me; being a patient person (in general), I often wait until the end of the year to see the best things I need to check out from the last 12 months, both in terms of music and other media. I’ve always wanted to make a year-end list for myself, particularly with music; unfortunately, I don’t keep up with much modern music and haven’t for several years. I’ll sporadically buy new albums if there’s a release by an artist I like but I rarely check out new music by new artists, unless it piques my interest for whatever reason. This makes it hard for me to build an end-of-2014 list based on current music, so I thought I’d do something a little different: this is a list of all the notable music-related things I’ve encountered this past year. Almost all of it is not based on current trends or anything, but rather it’s based on whatever I happened to listen to throughout the year.

Until now, I never really had an outlet to display a list like this, so this should be fun. I will be making four separate posts, one per day for the next four days, detailing the best of the best from a few different categories:

-Realizations, revelations, and musings

So let’s get started!

Realizations, Revelations, and Musings

Those things that maybe I hadn’t given much thought to before that took me by surprise, the things about which I changed my opinions upon further reflection, and the things this year about which I have particularly strong opinions. Includes random thoughts that have stuck with me through the year.

Indie noise rock sucks, or maybe I’m just bitter…
…because, really, this is about the fact that Drum’s Not Dead really kinda pissed me off. I’d had the CD for a good long while before I decided to listen to it earlier this year, and it was one of the most challenging albums to sit through, at least in the last several years (besides maybe Clinic’s Walking With Thee…yeck). Boring, droning drivel. I don’t know how people can listen to and actually enjoy this stuff, and Liars have now put me off from ever wanting to listen to anything by, say, No Age, or Swans, or Deerhoof. But maybe it’s really not fair of me to indict a whole genre…after all, Daydream Nation is still top-tier music, no matter what else I might say.

Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album (1996)
The album reviews that I’ll be posting in a couple days are all positive, so I’ll just put the negative one here…I don’t get this album. Maybe IDM (or “Intelligent Dance Music”, possibly the most pretentious and egomaniacal name for a genre in the history of music) just isn’t for me, but listening to this album was not a pleasant or enlightening experience; just the opposite, in fact. I don’t want to think really hard about and interpret every single sound in my music, I want to follow a beat, and I want there to be a rational progression to the music. Richard D. James Album has pretty much none of these things; it’s just weird for the sake of being weird, and it’s made me really hesitant to listen to anything else in this vein. I can see the appeal, I suppose, and I guess I kinda like “4”, but I’ll stick to the Dumb Dance Music for now.

I was very, very wrong about James Blake.
James Blake
Ha ha, maybe I was just kidding about my generalizations in that Aphex Twin album review, because after I wrote that I listened through James Blake’s three debut EPs, and I was floored by what I heard (full disclosure: I once likened listening to The Bells Sketch to listening to a badly-tuned radio). It’s different, and a refreshing return to the roots of dubstep; ironically, most people would never classify this as such, because it doesn’t drop in quite the same way as, oh, I don’t know, this. There is a certain purity to Blake’s music that makes it much more intriguing than the brostep that dominates popular electronic music these days. So yeah, maybe it would earn that IDM classifier…screw me, I don’t know what I like.

Arcade Fire are pretentious and overrated.
Can we all just jump off the Arcade Fire train now? Are they done being cool yet? Because the more I listen to them, the more I realize that they’re really just an overblown, self-important indie music franchise that needs to go away. Yes, The Suburbs is a pretty phenomenal piece of indie rock, I will admit to that. But almost everything else they’ve done just grates on me. Funeral is nothing more than an okay indie outing that really hasn’t stood the test of time (to my ears). Neon Bible was pompous and bloated from the start. Reflektor…well, I couldn’t make it through the whole album so maybe I shouldn’t judge it yet. And it’s entirely possible that I’m being too heavily influenced by this one Washington Post article. All I know is that I’ve just completely lost interest in these guys, and if they were to suddenly stop making music I’m pretty sure my world would not fall apart.

The Talking Heads aren’t really that great…
If “indie cred” is still a phrase with any substance, I suppose I’m losing what little I might have with this statement, but whatever, I never wanted to be a hipster anyway. I always judged the Talking Heads based solely off of Remain In Light and its proto-LCD Soundsystem sound (who are one of my favorite bands, can I have some of that cred back?), but once I started listening through the rest of their catalog (More Songs About Building And Food, Fear Of Music, Little Creatures) I realized these guys aren’t for me. How anyone can stand David Byrne’s voice beyond a single album is beyond my level of comprehension.

…and neither is Depeche Mode…
This might be too crass a generalization to make at this point, but beyond Violator and “Precious”, I can’t think of a single thing I like from these guys (having listened through Music For The Masses and Songs Of Faith And Devotion as well). It’s weird too, because it’s music that’s right up my alley — dark, brooding ’80s sythpop. I dunno, man, sometimes the pieces just don’t fit.

…and neither is Rush.
I like nerdy sci-fi/fantasy prog rock as much as the next anime/video game/music blogger (okay, not really), but my re-examination of Rush earlier this year left me cold. I used to love these guys in high school and college, but my evolving music tastes have not been good to Rush. They are competent musicians; “2112 Overture” is a great, iconic song, Moving Pictures is actually pretty good, and “Subdivisions” is one of the best songs of the ’80s, but the majority of their discography leaves zero impression on me. I think I’ll stick to their Retrospective albums from here on out; the pomp and fluff of all their non-radio stuff just doesn’t sit with me like it used to.

The Afterman is possibly the best thing that Coheed and Cambria have ever released.
I don’t say this lightly, as I once proclaimed In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 as my all-time favorite album (years ago), but taking the two Afterman albums together very nearly usurps the throne in the C&C kingdom. Ascension was labeled a “return to form” by content-starved C&C fans who thought that they hadn’t released anything worthwhile since Good Apollo 1 (an overstuffed, pretentious, horribly overrated mess of an album), and Descension followed behind, but was a much-delayed “grower” of an album. Now that it has grown on me though…man, these two albums are almost untouchable in C&C’s discography.

My love affair with trance music has ended.
Point of clarification: I realized this year that I stopped really liking trance years ago. I just never bothered to actually acknowledge it until recently. I discovered trance in college through AMVs, and became obsessed with it, randomly buying any trance mix that looked the least bit interesting (and hey, credit where it’s due, I found one of the all-time great EDM albums this way), but now, years later, the honeymoon stage is over and all that’s left is a vague, occasional fondness for the genre. Once you learn all the tricks, it becomes a stale, reptitive sound in an electronic music landscape that is bursting with creativity elsewhere.

Listening to Dark Side Of The Moon while driving on a dark, barely-lit highway at night is a wondrous experience.
I really don’t feel like I need to explain this.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Radiohead.
I have a lot of problems with Radiohead, and with Radiohead fans (I’m talking about the rabid ones), and I simply don’t know how I feel about them. OK Computer is not the greatest album of all time. Oh, and neither is Kid A. Nothing that I’ve heard from Radiohead would even crack any kind of Top 10 or even 20 or maybe 50 of any kind of list I made. I respect them but their music doesn’t speak to me or affect me in any meaningful way. Should it? Is there something wrong with my musical tastes? Is it bad that I can’t see them as anything more than a competent alternative band? Come back to this blog in a year and see if I’ve figured it out.

What’s the big deal with Pinkerton?
Maybe not so much a realization or revelation as a question, but I listened through Pinkerton at one point this year and I can’t remember a thing about it. In fact, I remember not remembering a thing about it five minutes after I’d finished listening to it. I don’t get it? I’ve never really been a huge fan of Weezer anyway, but I figured I’d give Pinkerton a shot because it’s one of those ’90s giants, and man was I disappointed.

Ian MacKaye does not seem like someone I’d have wanted to meet in the 1980s.
2014 music_ian mackaye
Seriously, when your band’s entire discography can fit onto a single disc and it’s just 47 straight minutes of YELLING (no, really), you can’t be that pleasant of a person to be around. I dunno, maybe I’m wrong, but I think some o’ them ’80s punks took themselves way too seriously. I’ll take a tongue-in-cheek faux-horror Misfits song any day over stuff like “Guilty of Being White”. Admittedly, the punk subculture is one of the most fascinating musical subcultures to me, and there are some days where the aggression of stuff like “Seeing Red” or the politicism of “When Ya Get Drafted” is equally as fascinating…but musically, give me fun.

Can we pause for a moment and give a round of applause to whoever made the cover art for Underworld’s Second Toughest In The Infants?
Second Toughest In The Infants

Honestly, this is just beautiful and is basically the visual analog to the music on this album. Welcome to the abstract, blue-tinted underground where the beats are loud and the bass is ink-stained and the lyrics are fascinating, Rorshach-like nonsense.

The National are awesome. Just, they’re awesome, okay?
I’ve had High Violet for years and I got Trouble Will Find Me shortly after it was released last year, and while I enjoyed both I never remember thinking, “Hey yeah, The National dude, they’re incredible” or anything like it. At some point this year though, I crossed a line and I can’t say when it was or why it happened, but everything clicked and I realized that these guys are among the best current indie rock bands, period. They burn slow, and their albums are constantly referred to as “growers”, but water that seed man, the fruit is delicious.


About crakthesky

Early 30s and vocal about my subculture.
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5 Responses to 2014 in retrospect: music (part 1 of 4)

  1. Seasons says:

    I could write a lot in response to this post if I were so inclined. Which I am, but I’d rather not embarrass myself.
    For now I’ll just say that this is highly relevant to my interests and that Underworld are one of my favorite bands ever. Maybe I’ll come back to that later.


    • crakthesky says:

      Please do write more. Always write more :|


      • Seasons says:

        “Guilty of Being White” is one of those songs that some people love because it validates their feelings that black racism against whites is just as prevalent and just as bad as white racism against blacks, that it’s all relative and is a problem that they have no responsibility to address until the other side does first. I’m not saying that’s something that Ian MacKaye believes but that’s the meaning its taken on, I feel. I probably came to this conclusion by reading too many message board posts/Youtube comments, so maybe I’m reading way too much into the opinions of a small sample, but people definitely aren’t shy about honestly speaking their mind and saying how they really feel using those kind of public forums.

        I used to like Liars but had a really tough time getting through Drum’s Not Dead and I really don’t care for very much in that vein anymore. I’ve grown really sick of indie rock in general, I guess, aside from a handful of bands that I’ve loved for a long time (who have almost nothing in common with the young bands that came up in the Pitchfork era).

        Radiohead fans are some of the most obnoxious idiots on the Internet, which sucks because I really love Radiohead. I’m trying hard not to spend so much time dwelling on how I hate people, even if I think there’s a good reason to, so I won’t say anything else about that other than the fact that Rateyourmusic would be a much better place without them.

        The early James Blake EPs were terrific, I thought his album was very boring and I never want to listen to it again. Aphex Twin is terrific, too. But most of my love for him will always go back to the Selected Ambient Works albums. For me, a lot of his music after that has been enjoyable in small doses, but when I really think about it, I always have a tough time getting through I Care Because You Do or Richard D. James in their entirety. The new album (Syro) is okay. It’s not that it’s bad but it’s not the sort of thing that I’m really into as much anymore as I used to be, I don’t know if I can really judge it or not.


        • crakthesky says:

          Re: “Guilty of Being White”…honestly I just pulled that as one example of almost any that could have worked equally as well. I don’t hate Minor Threat or anything, and I totally, 100% understand why people like them more than I do. I could write a lot about punk in general (what little I know/have observed about it, anyway), but I’ll just leave with this: Political/social-themed punk has its place, and I love that it’s one of the most no-BS forms of music out there. I just don’t tend to prefer all the screaming :P

          Re: Radiohead…I don’t tend to like really intense Radiohead fans (I’ve known only a few IRL), but most of my ambivalence is just because I don’t get it. I mean, I guess I like Radiohead. If you look at my album scores for them on my RYM account, you’ll see they’re all rated pretty high, but I think a lot of that is influenced by this weird external pressure I feel to think highly of them for some reason. They’re good. But their godlike status in the music realm is just perplexing to me. I mean, just because they’re trendsetters, does it mean that they’re the undisputed best at what they do? I dunno, rant rant rant.

          Re: Aphex Twin…Richard D. James Album is the only album of his I’ve listened to. I’m actually mildly interested in hearing what Syro sounds like, so I may pick it up eventually. His other stuff just doesn’t interest me in the least. I have almost zero patience for “ambient” music in general, and since a lot of IDM seems to fall under that moniker as well (for some reason), it just doesn’t pique my interest at all. James Blake’s three debut EPs are actually really aggressive at the ground level, which is probably why I changed my tune on them.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Seasons says:

    You ought to give Selected Ambient Works vol. 1 a listen. It’s not really “ambient” at all aside from the name. On the contrary, pretty much every track is really melodic and catchy, and in a way that’s a million miles away from anything resembling generic IDM. Vol 2, on the other hand, is probably not the sort of thing you’d be interested in.

    I really don’t want to go off on rants like that (re: “Guilty of Being White”) since that was obviously not the point of your post at all and had little to do, specifically, with why you don’t like Minor Threat. Heck, that’s not even the reason I don’t like them, as if there would be a single simple reason anyway.


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