Today’s post begins my series of year-end posts about the music, movies, and books I enjoyed this year. This isn’t meant to be my objective list of the Best of 2014. I certainly listen to a lot of music in a year, but not enough to say with honesty that I’ve heard everything worth praise. I tracked down what seemed interesting, bought my usual dozen or so albums and offer the following selection as a record of what sounds spoke to me and what I suspect I will still be listening to years after 2014.
As usual, I’ll work my way up to my favorite album this year starting at:
#4: Rosanne Cash The River and The Thread It’s a shame that this album came out at nearly the exact moment HBO’s True Detective was airing, as any number of songs here could have found a place on that soundtrack. Cash here is in her most prophetic style, marrying bare and rusty chords to songs about feverish horses and money roads where blues legends lie buried. It’s a simple, and familiar sound, not terribly challenging but absolutely heart-felt and genuine. Must-listens: “Etta’s Tune,” “Tell Heaven,” and “Money Road."
#1: The War on Drugs Lost in a Dream. The mark of growth of an pop artist is not that they suddenly repudiate everything that came before and drop some out-of-nowhere masterpiece, but that the themes and obsessions of previous works come alive, that what came before now draws into focus, lent new meaning by the gradual accretion of wisdom. In that way, Adam Granduciel’s new album is like the 117th permutation of a reoccurring dream, the one where the dreamer suddenly wakes up inside of the old patterns, and leaves with a self-awareness of why these patterns exist. The entire album flows together, the feedback washes of one track foreshadowing the droning intro of the next. That said, the true genius of this album is that it is also a collection of individual and powerful songs. The jubilant whoops of the liberated prisoner in “Red Eyes,” the weary outrage of “The Ocean Between the Waves,” and the true simple longing of “Burning.” In The War on Drugs last effort, Slave Ambient the disparate influences had not quite solidified, Granduceil’s wooly drawl standing apart from the krautrock rhythms and drones. Here, the influences have embraced, intermingled into something with the fire of classic rock n’ roll but the hazy distance of Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine. A nifty trick I look forward to seeing repeated in the years to come.
As I’ve detailed on previous post this was also the year of This American Life’s spin off podcast Serial. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the impact of this one show. I can’t wait for the second season but I also want to see what Serial’s obvious success could mean for the entire universe of podcasts and online media.