by Josh Kohan
The ground is muddy, the sky is gray, but the tunes keep cranking, albeit crankily, out of my portable Altec speaker (circa 2006) as I enjoy a mug of hot coffee and crispy bacon on a lazy, Sunday morning.
Usually, it is Bluegrass Sundays for me (especially during the cold winters); however, now it is April – almost spring but not yet – so moody, indie rock is the call to order. Since the start of 2014, there have been some real impressive albums that dropped – making the beginnings of 2014 to be one of the most impressive years musically in recent memory.
It may be that I was a child of ‘90s alternative rock, and although none of these bands are by any way new to listeners of the genre, these rock veterans listed below really are putting out some stellar new releases that I hope to share with all of you.
So without further ado, I present the “Top Albums of 2014”.
- Beck Morning Phase
In 2002, Beck defied critics and fans alike by releasing his weirdest album concept yet – an acoustic folk album about lost love entitled Sea Change. Twelve years and five albums later, Beck reprises this mellow sound perfectly timed to both fit in and defy the “Americana” craze that has been a welcome fixture of current rock music. One full spin of Morning Phase is all that is needed to appreciate how Beck continues to strive for new creative lengths, even if it means going backwards musically. In Beck’s world, this makes perfect artistic sense. In our world, we are just thankful he can continue to make music that just keeps getting better. Calling Morning Phase a “sequel” does the album a disservice. Calling it “a refinement” would limit its inventiveness. Like any other Beck album, it’s a colossal challenge to label even more so as you are hypnotized in its harmonies.
Beck “Waking Light”
- Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks Wig Out at Jagbags
Malkmus is an indie rock “God”. There is no denying it. While listening to his latest album, Wig out at Jagbags, I came to a realization that Malkmus has firmly established himself as an artist very much removed from his “glory days” as the Pavement front man. Like rock god contemporaries Greg Dulli and J. Mascis, Malkmus has been a firm fixture of indie rock much longer than his seven years with the seminal nineties rock band. Fun, varied, and unpredictable, the new album seals Malkmus’ legacy. In fact, Wig out at Jagbags is so good, that I promise I won’t mention Pavement (or the Silver Jews) in my longer review of his latest album.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks “Cinnamon and Lesbians”
- Sun Kil Moon Benji
Handjobs, grandmothers, Led Zepplin, Rednecks, James Gandofini, Blue crabcakes, albinos, Nagging prostates, Newtown massacre. Mark Kozelek’s mind is an open door, but upstairs there is a loaded weapon, so be careful. Reassuringly depressing, we can’t help but to be drawn in. Through deeply personal stories, trapped characters, and small town tragedy, this latest album is seemingly recorded in one long take in a stale bedroom on a dreary, rainy afternoon, and fully captures the dismal settings of Mark Kozelek’s humble, if not harsh, Ohio upbringings. Benji, in all of its Keroaucian “stream of consciousness” mad man rambling, may in fact be Mark Kozelek’s career masterpiece, and arguably the best album of 2014.
Sun Kil Moon Benji (Full Album)
- Real Estate Atlas
Critics: All their songs sound the same – three minutes of guitar-driven whimsical dreaminess.
Me: Yeah. So? All their songs are fucking awesome.
Critics: That’s true.
Me: And they are from the Jersey suburbs, so can you really blame them?
Critics: Fair enough.
Real Estate “Talking Backwards” directed by Charles Poekel (an acquaintance of my wife)
- War on Drugs Lost in the Dream
If Kurt Vile leaving War on Drugs has had any ill effects on the band, the fallout has been hidden deep, very deep. Perhaps this split inspired the music that came after. If anything, the band has only gotten stronger and more cemented. The meandering musical imagery of Lost in the Dream is a rightful follow-up to the beautifully haunted landscapes of Kurt Vile’s 2013 epic Walking on a Pretty Daze. Each song better than the next, each album more focused than its predecessor, the War on Drugs keeps the all but lost art of buying albums alive. Admittedly, I don’t own a record player, but I just might purchase this album on vinyl anyway; it’s just that good. And presumptuousness notwithstanding, Lost in the Dream may actually be the best album of the year.
War on Drugs Lost in the Dream (Full Album)