Favourite Music 2014: Part One
I’m planning to post something about my favourite books of 2014 next week, but in the meantime I thought I might pull together a list of some of my favourite albums of the past year.
I’m not going to pretend what follows is comprehensive or make any claim to objectivity. Instead it’s a very personal list of things I’ve loved over the past twelve months. That being the case I haven’t tried to rank them or pick out absolute favourites; instead I’ve listed them alphabetically, although because the full list is a bit unwieldy I’ve decided to spread it across three posts. This first one covers A to D, the second, which will be published on Wednesday, covers E to L, and the third, which will go up Friday, covers M to Z (together with a few honourable mentions).
Think Best Coast or a dreamy mash-up of Teenage Fanclub and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Gorgeous hooks, fuzzy guitars, shimmering production and gorgeous echoes of the 1950s and the glassy cool of Blondie and New Wave. It could be from 1982 or 1990 or last week, but that nostalgic timelessness is part of what makes it so magical. And ‘Archie, Marry Me’ is worth the price of admission all on its own.
Rodrigo Amarante, Cavalo
I bought this one on a whim but I’m so glad I did. Although he’s recorded several albums with Brazilian band Los Hermanos, Amarante is probably best known in the Anglophone world for his work with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti as part of the underrated Little Joy. Cavalo is his first album and it’s wonderful, featuring songs in French, Portuguese and English, and wending its way through delicately retro numbers like the opener, ‘Nada Em Vão’ and ‘Irene’ to sneaky dance tracks like ‘Hourglass’ and gorgeous, almost unclassifiable creations like ‘Mon Nom’.
Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker
I love, love, love this album. Right from the nod to Chuck Berry in the opening bars of the first track, ‘Violent Shiver’, it’s just electric, using Booker’s raspy vocals and the deliberately rough and ready production to anchor a series of tightly written yet loosely played songs that combine elements of blues, punk and the garage rock of Pavement and The Strokes. There’s not a bad song on it, but the one I come back to over and over again is the glorious, gospel-influenced ‘Slow Coming’, a song that seems to nod implicitly to Sam Cooke’s classic ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.
Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems
I have to confess I was a bit of a latecomer to Leonard Cohen, but over the past few years I’ve become more and more fascinated by him and his work. All the qualities that make Cohen so singular are on display on Popular Problems, which easily measures up to Cohen’s work in the late-1960s and early-1970s (and leaves his work in the early years of this century for dead), and shifts with startlingly ease from the sardonic wit of ‘Almost Like The Blues’ (“There’s torture and there’s killing/And there’s all my bad reviews/The war, the children missing/Lord, it’s almost like the blues”) to beautiful love songs like ‘Did I Ever Love You’ and the delicate restraint of ‘You Got Me Singing’. And the physical version of the album also includes a wonderfully designed fold-out booklet featuring a series of images of a half-dressed Cohen cleaning his shoes, offering a wonderfully restrained tribute to both Cohen’s fascination with Buddhism and the shadow of mortality that helps lend this slyly vital album its particular beauty.
(While you’re listening to the songs I suggest you take a few minutes to check out the photos of Cohen on Hydra in the 1960s that have surfaced in recent years, many of which also feature George Johnston and Charmian Clift, and this excellent piece about them by Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell).
The Delines, Colfax
I’m a huge fan of Willy Vlautin’s work, both as a member of Richmond Fontaine and as the author of novels such as Lean on Pete and The Free, so I was very excited when I heard he’d quietly assembled The Delines, a new group featuring Richmond Fontaine drummer Sean Oldham, Decemberists keyboardist Jenny Conlee and Damnations singer Amy Boone, and that excitement was absolutely borne out by their debut album, Colfax. I’ve written about Vlautin’s songwriting before, but the songs on Colfax show all the emotional intelligence and gift for compressed narrative that make his work with Richmond Fontaine so special, as songs like ‘The Oil Rigs At Night’ make eloquently clear.
Bob Dylan, The Complete Basement Tapes
I’ve never sought out any of the endless bootlegs of Dylan and the Band’s sessions at Big Pink in 1968, which means my exposure to the great white whale of modern music was restricted to the overproduced 1975 collection, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to that now I’ve heard the real thing. I ponied up for the absurdly overpriced six CD complete version (which justifies its exorbitant price tag with two beautiful hardback books of photos, but lacks the extensive liner notes that helped make last year’s Another Self-Portrait so fascinating), and although the slightly less-obsessive fan might well do just as well with the two CD selection, it’s still a thrilling experience, filled with a sense of play and delight in the possibility of the music. I’ll leave it to others to unpick the importance and pleasures of this collection, all I have to say is whether you think you’re a Dylan fan or not, try and lay your hands on a copy: it’s wonderful.