Its that time of year again: I present TBP’s annual “Different Kind of Music List” for 2014. (Click to see prior years’ lists).
Here’s the deal with our Anti-list: Lots of Best of Lists are out there, but the simple truth is they have zero relevancy to people with families, careers, hobbies, etc. Neither you nor I have time to listen to 100s of new CDs each year. Instead, you find a few favorites, and play them to death.
Hence, this list. Rather than an irrelevant age inappropriate list of new music you have never heard of (and probably never will), this is a more useful list: What a relatively informed music fan’s “Most played” albums were this year — at least, according to my iTunes and the Mrs. Big Picture (Your playing THAT again!?!). This was my personal soundtrack for 2014.
Those the ground rules. Let’s have at it:
• Album of the year: St. Vincent
I first fell in love with Annie Clark née St. Vincent due to her shredding of an under appreciated small Beatles’ tune Dig A Pony at the All Points West Festival. When her new album St. Vincent came out in the beginning of this year, I could not stop playing Digital Witness.
The entire album has a discordant syncopation that commands attention. Its quirky, eccentric even, with intelligent well crafted tunes. I hear everything from Adrian Belew’s work on King Crimson to Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush and Bjork in this. Its ethereal pop, challenging, yet accessible. Her voice is lovely, she shreds guitar with the best of them.
• Mash Up/Crossover: Jetsetter Jazz & the Persuasive Sounds of Nutty
The bizarre mash up of swingin’ jazz and crooning classic rock, with a healthy dollop of big band swing that is Nutty deserves your attention. As an example, see this blend of Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther with Jimi Hendrix’ Purple Haze.
A unique hybrid of lyrics, melody, musical hooks. Nutty’s arrangements are spiked, shaken and stirred. It’s so much more than, simply, “jazzy versions of classic rock hits” — its irreverent, humorous, and sassy. I find it delightful album to pop on when guests come over for martinis.
This one disc could cover past categories: Jazz, Classic Rock, Mash Up and WTF Album — all in one! If you are into music and fond of mashups, then check out the band Nutty.
• Classic rock album of the year: Art of McCartney was hands down, one of the most interesting albums of the year. Two CDs of 46 songs written or sung by Paul McCartney — as a Beatle, solo artist or with Wings – performed by a Who’s Who of musical talent. Very familiar songs become fresh and new again via these refreshed versions, some faithful, some quite interpretive. Part of the fun of this album is trying to guess which artist is covering which song. A DVD of how this project came together is also good fun.
Spoiler alert: Some favorites include “Let It Be” by Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders; “Junior’s Farm” by Steve Miller; an inspired choice of Kiss playing “Venus And Mars/ Rock Show”; and the incredible vocals of Roger Daltrey on “Helter Skelter.” Baby-boomers and millennials alike will find something to love in this collection.
• Movie Soundtrack of the year: Chef
I enjoyed this charming little indie film where, despite being attached to Jon Favreau, nothing whatsoever blows up (thought Robert Downey does make a cameo appearance). Favreau does quadruple duty as an Actor, Director, Producer, and Writer. The film is charming, albeit predictable, and populated with women (Sofía Vergara, Scarlett Johansson) who are way too beautiful for the storyline.
But it’s the soundtrack that stayed with me: A perfect confection of Cuban, Latin and pop music. Impossible to listen to without tapping your feet. Check it out.
• Pop Album of the Year: Taylor Swift – 1989. Who is this girl? She went from singing about her latest faux heartbreak to a confident pop star, singing infectious, compelling hooks without the cloy saccharine of her Nashville days. Shake It Off is obviously song of the year, with nearly half a billion plays on You Tube. Admit it, you helped drive those numbers up. She is everywhere, an unstoppable force in music for good or evil. New York looks good on her.
Pharrell William’s G I R L was a strong contender, but truth be told I only listened to Happy, and it was from a 2013 film Despicable 2.
• Redemption disc: Chrissie Hynde – Stockholm.
I was a huge Pretenders fan back in the day (still am). Their first disc is one of the finest rock and roll albums ever made — and the best debut disc ever (IMO). Its also probably the first album to have “Play Loud!” written across the album cover.
And I did.
After that startlingly raw and powerful debut, the band never managed to achieve a perfect, complete album again (no surprise). Now 35 years later Hyndes shows she still is in full voice, with the same nasty lyrics and snarling sensuality. There is a touch less anger, a sense of loss just below the music’s surface. These may be the most accessible songs Hynde’s has ever sung.
• Overlooked Album: I Just Dropped by to Say Hello, Johnny Hartman
I have mentioned Johnny Hartman many times over the years (see this, this and this). His best known work was the superb John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman – a beautiful, must own jazz classic — but in the same year (1963), he also released I Just Dropped by to Say Hello, with Illinois Jacquet as his sideman.
It is an overlooked masterpiece.
If you fancy yourself a Jazz fan, you really need to check this one out.
In St. Lucia last February, I was pleasantly surprised by the reggae I kept hearing, in particular, one singer, a South African reggae musician and Rastafarian named Lucky Dube. He had recorded 22 albums in Zulu, English and Afrikaans and was South Africa’s biggest-selling reggae artist.
Unfortunately, Lucky was not all that lucky, and was murdered in a car jacking gone wrong. He left behind lots of music, and you can find plenty all over You Tube. If you want to check out a few albums, let me suggest Serious Reggae Business, House Of Exile, and Captured Live. Its a great loss for such a wonderful artist to have been cut down so young . . . at least he left a wealth of music behind.
• Compilation: Mercedes Benz Mixed Tape Download
I stumbled onto the Benz Mixed Tape site sometime ago, a curated hand-picked string of musical discoveries. Every ten weeks, they release a new download compilation featuring some very interesting new talents from around the world.
Previous editions of Mixed Tape were no longer available for download — until now, courtesy of Elias Lange.