It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2014

Top 20

Looking back at 2014 and what I listened to, it seems I spent most of the year listening to bands from Iowa. Eight of the Top 20 Albums of 2014 for It’s Time to Play B-Sides are either living in Iowa or have roots here. Some of this is easily explained by the fact that my other music gig is writing reviews for Little Village Magazine, but I had the very good fortune of being a writer during a year with the most Iowa bands putting their best foot forward.

This list sees returns of It’s Time to Play B-Sides regular favorites– Hiss Golden Messenger, Ryan Adams, Pieta Brown and Tom Petty– each turning in what should in retrospect be career-defining releases, in my opinon.

Vinyl continued its march of popularity in 2014– out of this list, only three releases didn’t come out on vinyl. The Jack Lion JAC EP came out on cassette, though (representing the resurgence of that physical media), the Surf Zombies album– though the band has been working towards getting that one put out on vinyl. It’s a… THING! was tracked on tape and would be a natural release on black plastic disc and The Sapwoods album.

Here’s the list– not ranked.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers MC Taylor and Scott Hirsh’s post-Court & Spark band Hiss Golden Messenger is back with their sixth or seventh release (depending on how you count self-released titles) and first release on their new label Merge Records. Lateness of Dancers continues the vibe and groove of their last two releases on Paradise of Bachelors but also provides a definitive declaration of purpose. With the association with Merge– a label as big as any independant can be– Taylor and Hirsh are not wasting their opportunity for bigger visibility. It seems like every blog/internet music magazine has declared Lateness of Dancers one of the great albums of 2014, plus the band has been doing some very aggressive promotion landing one of the remaining few musical guest spots on Letterman. 2015 should bring much more widespread touring for Hiss Golden Messenger, which I’m hoping will afford me the opportunity to see the band live.

Jerry David DiCicca – Understanding Land DiCicca is probably better known as the frontman for The Black Swans, which he disassembled after their– pardon the pun– swan song 2012 album Occasion For Song. Under his own name, the solo release for DiCicca continues the very loose country blues vibe he minted in The Black Swans. With some help from some friends including Will Oldham, Kelley Deal and Spooner Oldham DiCicca has made an impressive step away from his old identity as part of The Black Swans. Understanding Land seems to have missed the radar of a lot of places that would normally be championing the kind of quietly beautiful reflective song craft DiCicca has mastered. If you haven’t heard this record, go check it out. I’ll wait here until you get back.

The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes To be honest, I’m declaring this a favorite before I’ve had a chance to listen to this as much as the other albums on this list. At first, I was kind of put off by the very calculated concept of The New Basement Tapes: “Hey, we found these lyrics that Bob Dylan didn’t think were worth recording back in 1967 and he still doesn’t want to record them so let’s pull a band together!” The results are very good and the fact that these lyrics were written by Dylan almost 50 years ago doesn’t detract. Though, you probably could have put Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket together in a room without Dylan’s lyrics and would have still resulted in a fantastic album.

The Black Keys – Turn Blue Danger Mouse is paired up with The Black Keys for the third time since 2007’s Attack and Release (if you don’t include Blacroc, the hip hop side project), and we again find the duo recording songs slightly outside of their regular sound. The whole Turn Blue record is solid and really radio-friendly and stands up to repeated listens. At times I’m reminded of the latest Beck record (also produced by Danger Mouse), but more satisfyingly varied than Morning Phase.

The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream While this album has been around awhile, and the brilliant single “Red Eyes” has been all over the place, I didn’t listen to the whole album until this month. The album’s general sound seems to come from the mid-to-late 80’s with it’s synths and either electronic percussion or drums so processed it sounds like it. At times it sounds like outtakes from Lindsey Buckingham’s 80’s albums or the more reaching anthemic sounds of Rod Stewart from the same period. A really enjoyable album.

Stanton Moore – Conversations Stanton Moore is the drummer and one of the founding members of Galactic. This is Moore’s first album as a jazz-bop trio with pianist David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton — a style that he has dabbled in live settings but never committed to tape previously. The results are really great and fits in with my regular diet of 50’s and 60’s Blue Note and Prestige sides.

Game Theory – Blaze of Glory (reissue) Normally I wouldn’t include a reissue in this list. But, I’ll make an exception for the reissue campaign that Omnivore is undertaking of the entire Game Theory catalog that is nothing short of a miracle if they can keep it up. Scott Miller, the leader of both Game Theory and The Loud Family passed away unexpectedly in 2013, breaking the hearts of his devoted followers (which includes yours truly). The now-defunct label Alias Records attempted a reissue campaign that underwent some modifications (even re-recorded parts) by Scott Miller who was publicly never satisfied with the original early recordings (of which 1982’s Blaze of Glory is included). Even though I’m a devout fan of anything Scott Miller worked on and consider myself a collector, I did not have Blaze of Glory in its original incarnation (aka the “trash bag” version since the original packaging was a white trashbag with a sticker on it). I had the few manipulated or re-recorded tracks he included in the final Enigma Records compilation Tinkers to Evers to Chance and the Distortion of Glory Alias compilation which also included the two 1983 EP’s Pointed Accounts of People You Know and Distortion. These were also lovingly reissued by Omnivore for Black Friday Record Store Day as colored 10″es.  This release of Blaze of Glory comes from the original master tapes, so unless you had the 1982 trash bag version of the album, you’ve never heard this mix before. The remaster sounds really great and sets the bar really high for the rest of the catalog to come. The album represents the very seeds of the future sound of the band. In some ways the album sounds very much a product of its time leaning heavily in the treble space (though this version brings some of the bass back) and incorporating buzzy synths and stuttering rhythms, but also not sounding like anything else at the time. Scott’s trademark turns of phrase and heartache are already established.

The digital download version includes 15 bonus tracks of demos, songs from the pre-GT band Alternative Learning, live tracks and some really early audio experiments from Scott. Having been a member of the Game Theory online community at large since the late 90’s, I’m very aware of the potential mountain of bonus material available for the rest of the releases coming down the line, so this campaign has few peers when it comes to the archives to draw from.

Teledrome – self-titled I stumbled upon the Canadian record label Mammoth Cave quite by accident as I was searching for an original pressing of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s Saavy Show Stoppers LP (“Having an Average Weekend” is the theme music to the 80’s and 90’s sketch comedy show Kids in the Hall) only to find that Mammoth Cave reissued it! Back in March the label sent out a link for a free download of Teledrome’s debut album (EP?) and I was hooked! Brooding android pop drawing from the dawn of synth pop sounding like Gary Numan or Ultravox. I’ve heard it compared to Ariel Pink as well. 10 track, 20 minutes. The vinyl is a 45 RPM 12″ and I’ll probably wear the shit out of it. Amazing record I can listen to over and over again.

Ryan Adams – self titled Lots has been written about the return of Ryan Adams– the short version is he’s addressed his health issues, gotten clean, opened his own recording studio, taken control of the business side of his art and is re-energized to work and has released an album that draws from his stated influences of 80’s rock. The album draws from the big guitar sounds of the 80’s and sounds a lot like an album that could have come out at that time– the lead single “Gimme Something Good” could just as easily have been on a Bryan Adams album (many have pointed out the similarities of the album art to Reckless). The whole album beginning to end is a fantastic listen and stands up to repeated listens and is a compliment to Love is Hell, in my opinion, which was one of the first albums I listened to from him. So far, there has only been one formal single from the record, and XM has been playing it in regular rotation. I could see a couple more singles making it in 2015. In the meantime, Ryan is also doing a limited edition monthly 7″ single release of outtakes and studio noodling that has turned out some really great tracks as well.

Springtime Carnivore – self titled I wrote about this release here. Greta Morgan of Gold Motel is back under her new solo moniker Springtime Carnivore. It’s everything I loved about Gold Motel– the sunny harmonies and melodies coupled with a darker wall-of-sound production. Be sure to catch some of the videos she’s put out in support of the record, too. Here’s the article I wrote for Play B-Sides about it.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye Petty decides to return back to a driving guitar sound and delivers the first #1 album of his career. In some regards this album is a reaction to his previous album Mojo. I really liked Mojo, but I think that his audience was turned off by the meandering bluesy sound of it. In my opinion Hypnotic Eye kind of uses Mojo and the Mudcrutch albums as a stylistic launching point. No one can argue with the incredible success Tom and the Heartbreakers have had over four decades. It’s incredible to think that he’s had hit singles in every decade of his career. I can’t think of any other band that has pulled that off for as long. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t had some albums that were, well, kind of lacking, and many of those were in this last decade. The Last DJ, Highway Companion and Echo were not great records. Though, I would put Hypnotic Eye up there with the amazing and underrated She’s The One Soundtrack and Wildflowers— the previous Rick Rubin produced albums from 1996 and 1994. Incidentally, both of these albums are getting reissues.

Greylag – self-titled Portland-based trio’s debut LP on Dead Oceans. Dead Oceans is the label for Califone these days, so that’s how I found out about Greylag. Their album sounds like a perfect melding of Jeff Buckley and Led Zeppelin III— which, now that I write it might seem redundant considering Jeff Buckley always sounded like he was influenced by Led Zeppelin III to me. Another album I can play on repeat and never tire of. I can’t wait to see what this band does going forward.

As I mentioned above, quite a few of my top list are either Iowa or Iowa-Related bands. I wrote reviews for Little Village for all of these albums, and I’ll include the link to that as well:

TWINS – Tomboys on Parade The sophomore release from TWINS finds the band tightening up what was already an impressive review of power pop influences. The word is out and they’re already touring nationally as ambassadors for the really exciting music scene that Iowa has recently. In my Little Village review of Tomboys on Parade I said the album has “sublimely polished nuggets of pop, washed in harmonies and falsettos, packed in backbeat and propelled by galloping guitars and sparkling arpeggios. The album is a damn fine slice of pop pie, and the vinyl version will spend a lot of time on my turntable.

The Sapwoods – Peaks and Valleys Another Cedar Falls band The Sapwoods steps up their game with their second album. In my LV review I said, “a timeless, straightforward and no-nonsense approach to songwriting. Guitar anthems go unapologetically for the melodic hook, carrying lyrics that focus on day-to-day concerns of the human condition.” The Sapwoods have a classic midwestern rock sound that is less like Cheap Trick and more like Wilco.

Kelly Pardekooper – Milk in Sunshine Kelly is the next generation of the Eastern Iowa Country Blues tradition– he says his influences are Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown and on his latest album Milk In Sunshine he incorporates both– Bo plays on the record and Kelly covers both a Ramsey and a Brown song on the vinyl version of the new album. The CD and digital download of the album includes all of the new songs that are Milk in Sunshine proper but also include a collection of “greatest hits”– songs that have been licensed for television. If you haven’t bought any of Kelly’s albums to date, you owe it to yourself to pick this release up. You can read my review of Milk in Sunshine here.

Pieta Brown – Paradise Outlaw Pieta Brown was invited to record at Justin Vernon’s April Base studio in Eau Claire, WI. The resulting album enhances the atmospheric aspects of her work– an organically beautiful record. Here is my review in Little Village of Paradise Outlaw.

Bedroom Shrine – No Déjà Vu I had the opportunity to hear part of Bedroom Shrine‘s debut album on the American Dust EP, and there isn’t a better way to describe this record than “dusty.” In my review in Little Village, I said, “a window obscuring its songs with a sooty lo-fi patina. At times, the fluttery tape hiss that drags in the middle of the albums’ tracks add to No Déjà Vu’s complex palette of tone and sound.”

Jack Lion – JAC EP Another record I can listen to any time– it’s a great immersive headphones record for me– jazzy trumpet, bass and drums fused with electronics. Kind of like if Miles Davis met up with Four Tet. The band admits that one of its influences is the Norwegian band Jaga Jazzist, with which it shares some similarities. Here is my review for Little Village for the JAC EP.

Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits – 2014 was the year where Lake Street Dive broke onto national awareness starting with an appearance on The Colbert Report and their update on classic R&B. The connection to Iowa is through LSD’s upright bass player Bridget Kearney, but really they are a Boston band. Here is my review of Bad Self Portraits.

Surf Zombies – It’s a… THING! Local guitar legend Brook Hoover released the fourth album from his instrumental surf band Surf Zombies and his 2nd album with members of The Wheelers and The Blendours helping out. As a long-time fan of instrumental and surf rock I look forward to new releases from Surf Zombies! Word on the street is that they’re about ready to release a new album in 2015! Here’s my review of It’s a… THING! for Little Village Magazine.

 

Miles Davis Black Friday RSD 7″ Blue Xmas

Miles Davis Blue Xmas 7This Friday, November 28 is Black Friday 2014, but more importantly is “Back to Black” Friday, or Black Friday Record Store Day. There are a few releases this time that I’m looking forward to, so I’m going to make the trek to Moondog Music in Dubuque– my regular RSD haunt.

I’m planning on picking up the 2nd Neil Young 4 LP archives set that I covered previously here. As part of Omnivore’s Game Theory reissue campaign they are pressing a couple of early Game Theory EP’s on 10″ exclusively for RSD.

One piece I think is particularly interesting is a Miles Davis Christmas 7″. In transparent blue vinyl, it includes two tracks recorded in August 1962 with the short-lived Miles Davis Sextet. This sextet lineup is Miles Davis (trumpet) Frank Rehak (trombone) Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone) Paul Chambers (bass) Jimmy Cobb (drums) and Willie Bobo (percussion).

Even more interesting is that it is a collaboration with Bob Dorough, who you might be more familiar with as the “Bill” from “I’m Just A Bill” Schoolhouse Rock.

According to the Wikipedia article on Bob Dorough, Columbia asked Davis to contribute a track to their upcoming Jingle Bell Jazz compliation and he called on Bob Dorough to collaborate since Davis was a fan of Dorough’s 1956 album Devil May Care.  The resulting sessions yielded the dark and antithematic holiday track in “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern).” During those same 2-day sessions, Dorough also tracked “Nothing Like You” which would eventually end up on Davis’s 1967 album Nefertiti. Davis wrapped those sessions up with a version of “Devil May Care.” This single for RSD is “Blue Xmas” on the A side and Davis’s version of “Devil May Care” on the flip.

The two tracks were previously also included in the 1970 import collection Facets Vol. 1.

Here is “Blue Xmas”

Here is “Devil May Care”

So, a release with a really interesting pedegree and one that is pretty essential for Miles Davis fans.

Neil Young Archives Official Release Series Discs 5 – 8 Announced for Record Store Day – New Thoughts on Next Box Sets

Neil Young Official Release Series 5-8 1

Neil Young Official Release Series 5-8 2

10-25-14 Update: This box set has been confirmed for Back to Black Friday on 11/28 by the official Record Store Day list. Bull Moose Records has the MSRP at $159.98 for the four LP’s which seems about in line with other single LP releases from Young– $40 a pop.  A few copies of this have leaked onto eBay through some Eastern European countries like Hungary and Croatia. I got the updated images from one of the listings with better pictures.

3-19-14 Update: This release has been pushed back to November. I’m assuming that it will be Black Friday Record Store Day 11/28/2014. I don’t have confirmation on this. The press release says, “due to several other projects that Young has in the works that he wishes to focus on.” 

The curious part of this is that these box sets would almost have to have been manufactured at this point to make it for RSD one month from now considering the complexity of the packaging, so I don’t know why they would hold it up on Neil’s availability, though he would have to have the last signoff I suppose. They don’t say what projects these are, but we know about Pono and his recent media blitz for that and the announced A Letter Home lo-fi album recorded with Jack White, he also apparently has a Sci-Fi book in the works to be titled “Special Deluxe.” According to this article at Billboard, he also wants to do an orchestral album– monophonic to one mic.

The original post:

This week Warner Brothers Records announced their Record Store Day (Saturday, April 19th this year, folks) special releases. In amongst the Tegan and Sara, Mastodon, Green Day and the regular avalanche of Flaming Lips there was a real eye-opener: Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 5 -8!

Possible Cover?

Unconfirmed Cover art for Official Release Series 5-8

The first Official Release Series  was announced in 2009 and included the first four albums in Young’s catalog: Neil Young, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush  and Harvest, representing the years 1969 – 1972. This release was timed with the first Neil Young Archives box set of his first recorded decade from 1963 – 1972.

The new Official Release Series has the next four LP’s in his solo catalog: Time Fades Away (1973), On the Beach (1974), Tonight’s The Night (1975) and Zuma (1975). From the Warner’s press release: “Each remastered from the original analog studio recordings at Bernie Grundman Mastering. The artwork is a historically accurate reproduction by Young’s long-time art director, Gary Burden. These classics are being reissued on 180-gram audiophile vinyl for the first time and pressed at the world’s premiere pressing plant, Pallas MFG Germany.” Bernie Grundman and Pallas were responsible for the first box as well. The release says that it will come in a “telescoping box” which I’d never heard of. From what I can tell, this just means that it isn’t a common slipcase style box (the Grateful Dead box for example), but a box just like the first Official Release Series where the “lid” of the box covers the bottom (think a typical board game box, for example). The box will be limited to 3200 and numbered.

In November of 2009, I wrote a post for this blog about the first Official Release Series and made some guesses as to how they were going to do the next Official Release box sets. With absolutely nothing to go on, I got some things right and some things wrong.

Back then, the predicted next Official Release vinyl box set was 2010, so in typical fashion the Archives was late to deliver. We still don’t have a release date for the Archives Vol 2. box, so who knows what is actually holding that up, or why Neil is holding that up.

I incorrectly assumed that the Official Release box sets would  be paired up with the Archives releases, which would be done to represent decades of Young’s career. The Archives Volume Two would likely represent 1973 – 1982, then. That represents 10 (well, 11, but I’ll get to that in a minute) LP’s and would need to be split up. I guessed it would come out as two five-LP boxes.

The eye-opener with this release is the inclusion of the contraversial Time Fades Away live album! I speculated in the 2009 article that it would not get the vinyl reissue treatment. There is a lot of information about this album available on line, but the reason this is surprising is that Young has expressed his dissatisfaction with this album and when he at long last reissued some of the “missing six” albums in 2003 on CD he left Time Fades Away out. All of the “missing six” got a remastering in 1995, but Young was famously dissatisfied with CD audio, so it took until the advent of higher-resolution HDCD and DVD-A for him to release On The Beach, American Stars n Bars, Hawks & Doves, and Re-Ac-Tor as part of his “Digital Masterpiece Series.”

Time Fades Away is referred to as being part of the “Ditch Trilogy” of post-Harvest albums which also includes On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night. So, this box set brings the trilogy back together.  These LP’s are so-named due to a quote from the Decade liner notes: “” ‘Heart of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.” And, it was a dark ditch– the tour that made up all of the songs except for one was a mess. Neil had fired Danny Whitten of Crazy Horse ahead of the tour and Whitten OD’d right after that. The depression, funk and drinking that followed made for a very erratic and tumultuous tour for everyone involved. Factor in the new and faulty mastering technology that Young was trying for these recordings and you get an album that was doomed from the start.

Original copies of Time Fades Away on vinyl are generally pretty easy to get ahold of and most of them seem to be in really good condition. I guess that most of the people who bought it were expecting a continuation of the sound from Harvest. I’ve actually bought two copies in the last few years and didn’t pay over $10 for them.

I’m certain that the inclusion of Time Fades Away in this box set signals the inclusion of it in the next box set. The 2-channel masters of the original pressing of Time Fades Away don’t exist, so this pressing and subsequent versions would have to be honest-to-goodness remixed and remastered versions from the original 16-track tapes. It’s possible that the masters used here would be based on the 1995 remasters. It isn’t clear whether Time Fades Away will also get a CD release, though it would be time to capitalize on this. Young didn’t release Journey Through The Past as an individual release (also part of the “Missing Six”), but it was in the Archives Box. According to Wikipedia, Young mentioned a Time Fades Away II that would be included in the next box which would be made up of songs from a different part of the tour that had a different band.

Based on an online music store that had it listed (and now taken down!), the MSRP on Official Release Series Discs 5-8 will be about $160. That’s $10 more than the first box, and based on the crazy prices for new Neil Young vinyl, I guess that is about in-line. That makes all four single-LP’s about $40 apiece.

Since I have the first box set (got it as a gift from my wife!) I’m interested in getting this one as well– I’m a fan of all four albums. I have original pressings of these except for Tonight’s the Night.

My Modified Speculation on the future Official Release Series Box Sets

So, what do we know based on this release? Well, for one thing, the boxes are 4 LP and don’t directly coorespond to the Archives Releases (meaning they don’t cover the same time period by box). The releases are primarily Neil Young solo albums. We didn’t get any CSNY or Buffalo Springfield LP reissues as part of this– though this might be because the catalogs for these bands are not completely owned by Neil Young. This draws into question whether the 1976 Stills-Young Band album Long May You Run would be included in a future box.

Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 9-12 would include the following albums:  American Stars n Bars (1977), Comes A Time (1978), Rust Never Sleeps (1979) and Live Rust 2 LP(1979). I like the arrangement of this box because it keeps Rust Never Sleeps and Live Rust together as they are companion releases. If they decide to release the Stills-Young Band album, then it would be part of this box set– then they could push Live Rust to the next box.

Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 13-16 could include the following albums:  Hawks & Doves (1980), Re-ac-tor (1981), Trans (1982) and Everybody’s Rockin’ (1983) bringing the first of the Geffen releases to bear. An alternative version of this might be to put Live Rust on here in the scenario where they included Long May You Run in the third box. Since Live Rust is 2 LP’s, then they could truncate this box at Re-Ac-Tor, ending the box with the last three Reprise releases. An argument for this box including up to Everybody’s Rockin’ is that 1983 ends the 2nd decade that could be included in the second Archives box set.

Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 17-20 could include the following albums: Old Ways (1985), Landing On Water (1986), Life (1987), This Note’s for You (1988). The last album marks the return of Neil Young to Reprise Records and the end of a rocky relationship with Geffen Records that ended with a lawsuit from the label accusing Neil of releasing works uncharacteristic of his career. The alternative release for this box would be one that completely encompassed the Geffen Years– especially if 13-16 didn’t include Trans and Everybody’s Rockin’.

Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 21-24 could include the following albums: Eldorado EP (1989), Freedom (1989), Ragged Glory (1990), Arc/Weld (1991) This box represents a kind of renaissance for Neil Young and an embracing of the louder sound that he trademarked with Crazy Horse. It should include the Eldorado EP since it was a formal release (even though it was only available in Japan and Australia). I would expect to see a tandem release of Times Square— the lost album that ended up making Freedom, Eldorado and This Note’s For You. He could release that 20-minute version of “Crime in the City (Sixty to Zero)” as part of that.

Obviously, no one can predict what Neil Young will do– every time you think you know what he will or won’t release, he changes it up. What the hell happened to the Homegrown “lost album” release, for example? Young is an artist more interested with new releases than focusing on his past. For the faithful, that means he’ll keep cranking out new albums until he can’t do it anymore.

As far as the Archives and Official Release Series are concerned, he’ll need to step up the pace of these. Five years between them (based on the first two) would put 21-24’s release date in 2034!?






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