Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This Is The End ...Of The Year: Favorites Of 2014

So... 2014 kinda came and went, didn't it? Nice knowing ya, year of recorded human history!

Here are some of the things I liked from the year that was. Keep in mind that this isn't some sorta "Best-of 2014" list. These are just things that caught my fancy. Because best-of lists are for contention-loving schmucks.


Favorite Record  
1. Eyelids 854 (Jealous Butcher)

In a musical landscape so backwards-looking and tired, it's refreshing to hear an unfussy, straight-ahead indierock record. 854 by Portland's Eyelids is so damned awesome, it reminds of why you listen to independent rock music in the first place. Boasting a pedigree that includes musicians from Guided By Voices, The Decemberists and Elliott Smith's former back-up band, Eyelids make music as familiar as a pair of comfortably broken-in Chuck Taylors. Purchased on puke green vinyl, this record hasn't left my turntable since I brought it home.

2. Real Estate Atlas (Domino)
3. Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animals (What's Your Rupture?)
4. A Sunny Day In Glasgow Sea When Absent (Lefse)
5. Grouper Ruins (kranky)
6. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
7. The Minders It's Going to Break Out (Dirigible)
8. Tacocat NVM (Hardly Art)
9. Whirr Sway (Graveface)
10. Alvvays Alvvays (Polyvinyl)

Favorite Reissue 
Flake Music When You Land Here, It's Time To Return (Sub Pop)

Cleaned up and dusted off, this pre-Shins release from Flake Music simply sounds amazing. Where the Omnibus Records version sounded charmingly lo-fi, Sub Pop's near-crystal clear reissue (remixed by Kennie Takahashi and remastered by J.J. Golden) brings these 11 songs out from under the fuzziness and tape hiss. With new album art and songs given new names (and previously untitled songs again given names), When You Land Here... is a masterfully recharged time capsule.

Favorite Album Cover
The Faint Doom Abuse (SQE Music)

Here's a couple of things I know about The Faint: 1. They make electronic-ish music (right?) 2. Emo god Conor Oberst was in this band during it's infancy. 3. I can't name a single song of theirs. That being said, I love the album artwork on the band's sixth studio release, Doom Abuse. The collage is Robert Pollard-esque, with those kinky, creamy thigh high stockings peaking up all preying mantis style. And Doom Abuse? That's a fuckin' great name right there, I have to admit.

Favorite Song
Grouper "Clearing"
From the album Ruins (kranky)

Portland-based musician Liz Harris makes fragile and stirring music under the moniker Grouper. It's as if the songs she writes are carefully written with a fine point paint brush on the side of spider webs. Ruins, Harris' latest album (right at home on the kranky Records roster) is utterly beautiful and brilliant. Of the eight sparse and tender songs on this album, "Clearing" commands repeat rewinds. Harris' vocals weave smoothly between piano raindrops like a phantom you've always wanted haunting your world. Ruins is, quite simply, a stunning album.

Image courtesy christopher-walken.tumblr.com
Favorite Live Show
At The Crystal Ballroom
Portland, OR

As if I was going to pass on seeing shoegaze legends Slowdive perform their dreampop journal entries live on stage. Twenty years on, and the band sounds as if they never unplugged their effects pedals and called it a day. While songs from the band's first two albums sounded delightfully note-for-note, retooled songs from their third release, Pygmalion, sounded rollicking ("Crazy for You") and surf dusted ("Blue Skied An' Clear"). I even got a smile from singer Rachel Goswell as the band exited the stage. So, night absolutely - ecstatically - made.

Favorite Video
The Walking Dead Parody (Nerdist.com)

While I can't say that there was a music video from 2014 that particularly impressed my (sorry Taylor Swift), this Walking Dead parody titled (ironically enough) The Walking Dead Parody by The Hillywood Show indeed does. Set to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" - and boasting production values that put typical YouTube videos to deep, deep shame - Hilly (as Sheriff Frank Grimes) and her extremely talented crew have produced a video that is at once entertaining, inventive and, yes, highly impressive.

Favorite Record Label 
Bayonet Records

Launched this year by Beach Fossils' Dustin Payseur and his wife (former Captured Tracks label manager), Katie Garcia, Bayonet Records is one of those scrappy upstart record companies you just want to root for. With a roster that includes Warehouse, Jerry Paper, Frankie Cosmos, and, of course, Beach Fossils, Bayonet is off to a fantastic start. Even their logo over there to the left is on point. There's no website as of yet for this fledgling record label (which shows they're keeping costs down), but they have a social media presence via Facebook, Twitter and SoundCloud, so there's that. Now go out buy one of this label's records already, would ya?

Favorite Film
Guardians of the Galaxy
Directed by James Gunn
Marvel Studios

I should put Birdman or Nightcrawler here; something cinematically respectable-ish. The problem (yours, not mine) is that I can't think of a film I enjoyed watching more this year  than Marvel's Guardian's of the Galaxy (The Grand Budapest Hotel runs a very, very close second, and God Help the Girl third). Directed by James Gunn (Super, Slither), and starring Parks and Recreations' Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy is just another super hero team-building exercise, only funnier and infinitely more entertaining. Pratt plays Peter "Star Lord" Quill, a human plucked from Earth as a child by aliens, taken to a distant galaxy, seemingly fed protein shakes and muscle toner, and groomed to be expert space pirate (think Han Solo crossed with Malcolm Reynolds). Armed with the best mixtape, like, ever, Peter runs afoul of some big shot looking to retrieve the MacGuffin our hero just plundered... Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, the plot is textbook comic adaptation. What's not is the character-driven likability of the principle players. You got Pratt (always hilarious), Star Trek's Zoe Salanda as bad-ass Gamora, former wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax, Bradley Cooper as the voice of bounty hunting Rocket Racoon, and Vin Diesel (!) as the voice of giant CGI talking tree name Groot (his only line: variations of, "My name is Groot.") You'll like these guys. You'll root for these guys. And much like Firefly, by the end this crew feels like a reluctant, yet loving family. Guardians of the Galaxy is a damn good, highly entertaining and hilarious movie.

Favorite Book
Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film
By Marc Spitz

One wouldn't be remiss for confusing "twee" for "hipster." But since the word "hipster" has become a four-letter punching bag as of late (sorry, 1960's poetry-spewing beatniks), journalist Marc Spitz knows better than to put that receipt poison on the cover of his latest book, Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film. Charting the trajectory of all thing precious and whimsical in our society, Spitz gives us the history of twee culture from Charles Schultz, Nick Drake and The Smiths through to Belle and Sebastian, Wes Anderson and Zooey Deschanel. And just when you think he'll miss a touchstone or two, Spits will make mention of Vince Guaraldi, Dawn Wiener or Portlandia. For as exhaustive as Spitz research and writing are, however, his coverage is surprisingly, er, pale. Sure, this is twee culture he's writing about, and this culture appeals to a largely white demographic. But, where is the mention of former Daily Show correspondent and puppet-aided comedian Wyatt Cenac? Arthur Lee and Love?  Chaz Bundick of Toro y Moi? Graphic novelist Adrian Tomine? Or even the legions of dedicated Smiths/Morrissey fans within L.A.'s Latino community?  Where's the chapter on professional skateboarder, artist and frequent Spike Jonze collaborator Mark Gonzales? That being said, Spitz's book makes for an entertaining and educational read. There's more of you quiet, crafty and thoughtful folks out there than you know. Mark Spitz has kindly provided the bible for your kind.

Favorite Thing
Keen Footwear 'Vendetta' Mid WP, Sz. 13

Or the part where I should just call this section "Favorite Shoes." The last couple of years (seriously? Years, now?!?) doing these year-end lists, my favorite thing has been a pair of shoes. What can I say? I love shoes. This year's shoe comes from Keen Footwear. I've never owned a pair of Keen shoes, but since obtaining this brand's Vendetta waterproof mid top kicks, I realized that I have never (up until this point) known what true shoe comfort really is. The Keen Vendetta has become my go-to shoe. Comfortable and lightweight, this is the perfect fall/winter shoe. The Vendetta features a generous toe box, supportive foot bed inserts, padded collars, and traction soles, This shoe is even great for riding my bike in, as it features a reflective strip on the back ankle section. Sturdy, aesthetically slick (they remind me of Batman's Tumbler for some reason), and - above all - comfortable, The Vendetta is my absolute favorite thing from the year that was twenty-ought double-lucky.