One Music Writer’s Resolutions for 2015
I left a lot of things undone in 2014. For instance, hip-hop and country acts seemed to break more boundaries than indie rock acts while I, admittedly, remained largely oblivious to it. And as podcasting became even more the method of choice for talking about, well, anything -- from economics to bad movies to unsolved murders -- music podcasts investigated songs, albums, history, artistic intentions and more, and I felt like I barely scratched the surface.
The end of 2014 also left 2015 open to the promise of great new music from Sleater-Kinney, Mount Eerie and oh so much more. Time to stop listening to the old standbys of 2014. So my resolutions for next year are mostly focused on broadening my perspective. I've shed my regrets and now I'm facing the new year with an open mind. Here's to 2015.
I resolve to listen to 'Run the Jewels 2.'
I know it doesn’t matter anymore, but all the write-ups have made me eager to see what it’s all about. Somehow this oft-cited album of alternative hip-hop (am I allowed to call it that without having heard it?) managed to stay out of my Discman.
I resolve to see as many DIY shows as possible.
Scruffy basement shows packed with 20 year olds are, of course, the easiest way to make yourself feel old. But there’s also no better way to see a show — to get other people’s sweat on you and hear a band fighting with the sound system while maybe playing their first show ever with no pressure other than to get people listening and moving. In 2015, I saw Palehound play in a kitchen for 20 kids with the vocals drowned out completely and a can of beer stuffed in my pocket. It felt like something was really happening. Nothing approaching art is ever truly achieved at Irving Plaza or Terminal 5 or Madison Square Garden -- where all bands must be rehearsed, all concertgoers frisked and all sounds checked.
I resolve not to listen to 'Lost in the Dream' by the War on Drugs once in 2015.
I’m actually listening to it right now -- you know, to get it out of my system. I've been hooked on it for a big part of this year. Once, I spent three days driving around Sioux Falls listening to it. There’s no better album for driving around a cold, empty city — it's an album that’s barely awake, recalling staticky FM radio that keeps tempo with white highway lines. But now, months later, it's starting to get in my way. I'm ready to leave 2014 music in 2014. Sleater-Kinney, Viet Cong, Mount Eerie, BadBadNotGood + Ghostface Killah, and THEESatisfaction are all putting out albums in 2015 — and that’s just before March. Not to mention all the FKA Twigs, Angel Olsens and Sylvan Essos sure to come out of the woodwork. No, that’s enough 'Red Eyes.’ Let me… just… go hit pause...
I resolve to get to know Sleater-Kinney better before I see them at Terminal 5.
I know 'The Woods' because it came out when I was getting ready to go to college in 2005, and it was perfect for me at the time as I was swapping out my hardcore punk CDs for Radiohead. Produced by Flaming Lips co-conspirator Dave Fridmann, 'The Woods' was the perfect middle ground. But that means I still have six albums, 73 songs and 151 minutes' worth of music to get familiar with before late February.
I resolve to pay more attention to country music.
Believe it or not, country music is not the enemy of indie rock. Based on the recommendations of others, I listened to Lee Ann Womack's 'The Way I'm Livin' -- a down-to-earth antidote to the bro-country that dominates the airwaves -- and it grooves as well as anything by Jack White. Eric Church's 'Give Me Back My Hometown' is the country cousin of Cymbals Eat Guitars' 'Chambers.' Oh, and Sturgill Simpson sang about meeting Buddha and chasing reptile aliens. A handful of country singers are focused on creating honest storytelling songs about living in blue-collar America -- or, in Simpson's case, anything at all -- without pandering about daddy's tractor or sweet country girls. It's an exciting time for the twang.
I resolve to listen to more music podcasts.
Late in the year, I discovered two music podcasts as obsessive about music as I am. The first is BBC Radio 4's 'Soul Music' -- check out their investigation of Teddy Pendergrass' 'Don't Leave Me This Way' via the AIDS-striken '80s dance scene in the U.K., a woman fighting with a terminal illness and Pendergrass' own struggles after an auto accident left him paraplegic at the age of 42. The second is Vish Khanna's Kreative Kontrol. Khanna is a veteran CBC radio host and his recent guests include Jasmyn Burke of Weaves, Steve Albini and Ronnie Spector. Next up for me? Song Exploder, a podcast about indie rock songcraft that has already dug into songs by the National and the Microphones; and Turned Out a Punk, an interview show hosted by F---ed Up's Damian Abraham.
I resolve to hear the next Bob Dylan or Public Enemy (to paraphrase Questlove).
Can you imagine a popular singer today — maybe Rihanna, Lana del Rey or Iggy Azalea — singing, "Oh, but this whole country is full of lies / You're all gonna die and die like flies?" That’s what Nina Simone did in 1964 on the stage at Carnegie Hall before a largely white audience, no less. I’d rather see Iggy Azalea stick to what she’s good at, but I also resolve to keep my ears open for someone to come along who isn't afraid to speak a little truth in these troubled times — not (for example) a perfunctory, half-hearted statement like Wu-Tang’s mealy ‘A Better Tomorrow.’ D’Angelo’s ‘The Charade’ is promising, but it suffers from lack of clarity. I resolve to keep my ears open.