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Music: The Best Albums of 2014

 

 

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Last year seemed like a great year for music. This year – not so much. There was more Spotify angst as the industry continued to deflate and Billboard started to include streaming data into their Top Albums chart for the first time. It was a terrible year for hip-hop with a handful of decent albums and some fine singles but many more disappointed. After a banner year for new country, mainstream country once again dominated and took the genre back into MOR territory.

Some of the best records this year were veterans returning to form: Beck, Steve Malkmus, Neneh Cherry,Aphex Twin, Leonard Cohen,  Spoon and New Pornographers all fit the bill while Ex Hex was the vehicle for Mary Timony to cement her post-Heluim comeback.

St. Vincent tops my list this year, though any of my top 5 could have. I gave it to Annie Clark because she pulled off sounding completely contemporary by honing her formidable songwriting, singing and guitar talents to a razor sharp edge. Her previous collaboration  with David Byrne may have dissapointed but she seems to have absorbed the knack he had in Talking Heads of creating pop from radical, artsy elements. This is spinal music, connecting the hips to the brain.

Ex Hex also features some wild guitar but in a more traditional setting. Timony sets some of her best songs in a hopped up adrenalized garage sound, her guitar shimmying like Keith Richards circa 1966. There’s not an ounce of fat, just riffs, propulsion and hooks.

Run The Jewels was an easy favorite in a bad year for the genre. Killer Mike and EL-P are formidable on their own but unlike Kanye and Jay-Z , they elevate each other’s game in tandem. This sequel to last year’s debut tops the first one.

You’d have to go all the way back to their mid-90s debut to find a mediocre Spoon album. Since then their consistency has been a burden in itself as they solidified a trademark sound. By Transference they were sounding a bit peaked and predictable though only by their own previous standards. Now after some extra-curricular work Britt Daniels sounds refreshed and ready for the brass ring with some of the band’s best work.

Aphex Twin, or Richard D. James as he’s known at the DMV made some of the most powerful and uncompromising electronic music of the 90’s. After a long hiatus he returns, seemingly unconcerned with the fashions that have have defined his genre in his absence. Instead he serves up a whammee of incredible and surprisingly accessible songs. There’s nothing here he hasn’t done before, save for the seemingly sincere and approachably melodic streak that invites a whole new generation to discover him.

Below is the rest of my list – you can also hear it on Spotify here:

40. Todd Terje – it’s Album Time

39. Michael Christmas – Is This Art?

38. Strand of Oaks – HEAL

37. Pink Mountaintops – Get Back

36. Tweens – Tweens

35. Black Milk – if there’s a Hell Below

34. Cibo Matto – Hotel Valentine

33. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Make My Head Sing

32. Cherry Glazerr – Haxel Princess

31. Hospitality – Trouble

30.  Fat White Family – Champagne Holocaust

29. Your Old Droog – Your Old Droog

28. Palace – Lost in the Night

27.  FKA Twigs – LP1

26.  Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

25. Ty Segall – Manipulator

24. Meatbodies – Meatbodies

23. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

22. Mac Demarco – Salad Days

21. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

20. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits

19. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project

18. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

17. TV on The Radio – Seeds

16. Caribou – Our Love

15. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

14. Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems

13. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom

12. Steve Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig out at Jagbag

11. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!!!

10. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lose

9. Azalea Banks – Broke With Expensive Tastes

8. Beck – Morning Phase

7.  Thee Oh Sees – Drop

6. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

5. Aphex Twin – Syro

4. Spoon – They Want My Soul

3. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

2. Ex Hex – Rips

1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Detroit 2014: The New Cars and Trucks You Need To Know About From The North American International Automobile Show

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The latest  NAIAS  show blew into Cobo Hall in Detroit last week and bought a slew of major production and concept car debuts. They included a new version of the best selling vehicle in North America, a hot variant of one of 2013’s biggest debuts, and a new design direction from a major brand. Here are the cars and trucks you need to know about to be “vehicle literate” in the coming months.

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Ford F150

What’s the big deal?  This is the all-new version of America’s best-selling vehicle. Ford took styling cues from last year’s acclaimed Atlas concept including the sculpted bracket-style headlamps and radical side window profile. While this is arguably the handsomest truck in the market, Ford saves the real radicalism for what’s under the skin, and the skin itself. Aluminum, once the province of high end makes like Audi, Jaguar, and Cadillac, goes mainstream with use throughout the F-150 with an eye towards massive weight savings. Coupled with an advanced lineup of 4 and 6 cylinder power plants Ford is on track to wring great fuel economy out of these rigs.

Will people buy it? The only thing that could hold this juggernaut back is a glitch in all the new technology at launch, so Ford has to get the rollout right. They sell 500k plus of these things every year in a segment with high customer loyalty so expect pent-up demand to be satiated. One potential wrinkle is the lack of expertise and equipment to fix dents and dings in aluminum body panels at most body shops around the country – leading to potentially more costly repairs and insurance. Nevertheless Ford says this will merely bring rates into line with the rest of the industry and have the clout to get shops to invest in the needed tools. Expect a huge marketing blitz on this truck.

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The 20 Coolest Cars and Trucks of 2013

 

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How do we define coolest? In this case it’s about the LOOK of the vehicle. It’s not about how it drives, who drives it, or whether it’s in an arctic zone. Solely about the communication between eyeballs and brainstem. I’ve mixed production models with concepts so deal with it.

Ford Atlas

 

1. Ford Atlas Concept

Ford’s grown up Tonka truck concept is thought to be a pretty good preview of the upcoming new F-Series due to be revealed at the Detroit show in a few weeks. It was also a shot over the bow of GM who unveiled their new pickups to yawns from the design community.

Corvette Stingray

 

2. Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

For three generations Corvettes have been locked into the design language set forth by the 1968-1982 C3, with its glass bubble rear glass, circular quad tail-lamps, single side window and sloping hood. Thousands of midlife crisis purchases later Chevy finally evolves the Vette’s look with an aggressive new front end look, side quarter windows and roofline and a dramatic rear end.

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The Best Music of 2011 – The Year of the Sax

 

2011 was an OK year for music unless you happened to be a sax player. Those guys had a great year, even the “Big Man” Clarence Clemons, who got to play on a hit single from Lady Gaga which was pretty cool for him but then died, which was less cool. The sax was wielded on albums from such indie stalwarts as Iron & Wine, Destroyer, P.J. Harvey and countless others. It may even be safe now to play the solo from Foreigner’s “Urgent” in public again.

Here are my100  favorite songs of 2011 on a Spotify playlist – dig it!

100 Best Tracks of 2011

And below are my 50  favorite albums of the year:

50. Clams Casino – Instrumentals

49. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

48. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2

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Music: The 500 Best Albums of the Last 40 Years Part V 100- 1

This is the end my friends, the final installment in my big birthday capping list. To see the previous entries click here for 101-200, here for 201-300, here for 301-400, and here for 401-500.

 

100. Minutemen – Double Nickels on The Dime (1984)

San Pedro’s finest was a;also one of the greatest bands to come out of the American hardcore punk scene, a three piece influenced as much by Captain Beefheart and Bob Dylan as by The Ramones. This is their magnum opus, 43 songs that show off their passion, heart, brains and humor. For them this is stretching out with several songs over their vaunted 1 minute mark and a few over two.

99. Camper Van Beethoven – Key Lime Pie (1989)

This was an atypical record for CVD, violinist Jonathan Segal had left and his pan-global approach to the instrument went with him as Morgan Fichter took over. David Lowery was more in contol than ever and the lyrics were the densest and most compelling he’d ever written. The band complied with a bigger widescreen sound that hewed more towards rock without becoming generic. It’s a song cycle about the hottest, sweatiest part of summer and the feeling of oppressive humidity is palpable. Bonus points for being available on a lime green cassette back when I first bought it.

98. Radiohead – The Bends (1995)

Radiohead seemed destined to be a one-hit wonder after their success with the song “Creep” a blatant if effective Pixies rip-off that was not matched by anything else on their uneven debut. Thus expectations were low for this slow burning follow up that began  to build a reputation through word of mouth and a string of clever videos. The songs were much more mature, musically varied but accessible. The tone is one they would perfect, ennui with depression lingering around the edges but the music and Thom Yorke’s incisive lyrics keep it from feeling like a pity party. Instead it’s moving, rousing stuff.

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