Best of 2014: Music & Film

Another year, another best-of list. One of these days, when I’m old and gray, I’m going to show these lists to my grandkids and prove to them that I was at, one time, relevant with pop culture. They’ll say, “What’s a blog, Grampa Kev-bo?” I’ll say, “What?” They’ll say, “What’s a blog, Grampa Kev-bo?” And I’ll say, “What?”

You get the idea.

As for now, I’m happy to report that I still have my hearing and that I am loving 2014 music and film. Up first: here are some of my favorite albums and tracks from the year. Some you probably know, maybe a few you don’t? Give them a listen and let me know if any resonate with you.

Music

Kevin Morby-Still Life

Kevin Morby is my new favorite singer-songwriter. I’ve been obsessed with Still Life, his latest effort, for a few weeks now. The range of this record is amazing. From minimalist acoustic/drum tracks (see below), to fuzzy reverb layers, to clean 70’s pop, to indie folk, this album has a bit of everything, and it executes it well.

In reviews, I try to stay away from easy artist comparisons. Hardworking musicians, like Morby, deserve complex criticisms. That said, Kevin Morby is the brilliant lovechild of Nick Cave and David Bazan, though was raised by his god parents in the 90’s in a sailboat off Santa Monica by Beck and Lou Reed. That’s what he sounds like. Got it?

SBTRKT-Wonder Where We Land

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I don’t know anything about the dance/DJ genre. SBTRKT made its way to my ears after an NPR story. Yeah, I know. NPR is more hip than I am.

Wonder Where We Land is such a complex and intimate album. There’s so many genre-bending sounds, tones and loops going on, it feels like it could fall apart at any second. It’s an excellent place to be in, really: on the verge of a complete train wreck, but cohesive. In that respect, SBTRKT’s newest album is the musical equivalent to the film Birdman. Unique. Crazy. Nuts.

Team Spirit-Killing Time

Team Spirit is throwing some elbow grease back into the pop rock genre. Their latest album, Killing Time, is loud, fun and messy. They remind me a lot of Twin Peaks (the band), but perhaps more radio friendly.

In addition to their single, “Teenage Heart” (below), check out “Surrender” for one of the funnest, though quick, guitar solos of the year and “Different Changes” for some yearning, teenage-ish anthemy angst: “We were going through different changes.”

Amatorski-from clay to figures

This was a recent add for me. I discovered Amatorski while searching for some mellow study music. Their album, from clay to figures, accomplishes one of my favorite things ever: minimalistic electronic music. Having made electronic music (sparingly), I know how tempting it is to add layer upon layer for texture’s sake. Often, with limitless options, self-restraint in the studio is forfeited. Not here. Wonderful balance, tone and texture.

Some of their tracks remind me of The XX, but I think Amatorski is quite better.

Stream their whole album below. It’s quite bleak at points, but it’s also the perfect companion for a snowy, winter shut-in day of writing and creating art.

Bad Suns-Language & Perspective

I LOVE Bad Suns. I had a friend send me a Spotify playlist that featured them, and I would find myself humming the chorus to their single, “Cardiac Arrest” (below), hours later. Their entire album, Language & Perspective, (extra points for the cool title) packs as a big a punch as the single does. Very cool.

Like Team Spirit, it’s great to hear new bands reestablishing the pop-rock genre. I’m excited to see what these guys do next.

Weird Al Yankovic-Mandatory Fun

Any best-of list that doesn’t include Weird Al’s newest album, Mandatory Fun, is incomplete. Weird Al made himself relevant again with 8 videos in 8 days. In fact, he is the most relevant he’s ever been, scoring his first #1 album in 2014. How cool is that?

“Tacky” was probably his best parody ever, but “Word Crimes” (below) holds a special place in my heart. It’s like an English major’s wet dream. It’s not hard to imagine this video being shown on the first day of every English 101 class for the rest of time.

Jenny Lewis-The Voyager

Jenny Lewis is the coolest woman in the music business. I was honored to see her perform with The Postal Service last year on their reunion tour. I’d love to see a solo show sometime.

Her latest album, “The Voyager” is top notch. Some of my favorites tracks include, “Just One of the Guys” (below), “She’s Not Me,” and “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em.”

Weezer-Everything Will Be Alright in the End

By this point, all Weezer had to do was release an album slightly better than the mediocre garbage of their last two records. I call it, The Star Wars Condition, meaning, all JJ Abrams has to do is make Star Wars 7 better than the prequels, and we will all love it.

Weezer did more than release an okay record. They made an incredible record! I bought the CD (because, it’s Weezer), and it’s been in my car ever since. I really, really dig it.

The worst thing about this album, oddly, is the lead single, “Take Me Back.” Most people like this song, but I just can’t stand it. The lyrics are basically an updated version of “Memories,” which was from their previous album, Hurley. “Take Me Back” has a fun guitar riff and solo, but… I don’t know. Just don’t judge all of Everything Will Be… off of its cheesy single.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this album. Some of their best work. Did I mention Ric Ocasek produced it?

Beck-Morning Phase

“You try to run from trouble and it comes. Your heart is a drum, keeping time with everyone.” What a cool song. I really like this album as a whole. I’ve talked to some people about it and they say it’s boring, and that’s fair. Morning Phase is definitely boring.

I think that’s the point. It’s not a pop record or a party record or in your face at all. It’s Beck, after recreating himself over and over again, returning to the sounds of his incredible, stripped down, 2002 (sometimes also boring) album Sea Change. 

The point? Just give it a shot. Put it on next time you feel lethargic about life and maybe it will sooth your wayward soul.

Honorable Mentions

  1. The War on Drugs-Lost in the Dream
  2. Closer Talker-Flux
  3. Spoon-They Want My Soul
  4. The Front Bottoms-Rose
  5. Tweedy-Sukierae

Film

I admit it. This year, my movie picks are not very impressive. It’s all what you would expect from an average white guy who sees movies featuring above-average white people. I’m hoping to see better, more unique and diverse films in 2015; currently, my movie budget is lower than the bottom notch at a limbo dance party. When I do go out, I usually see the mainstream flicks.

I just discovered an independent theatre in Rochester called The Little, and it’s wonderful. Maybe I can see better films there, like Birdman (below).

Birdman

A film score entirely of improv jazz drumming? Michael Keaton being crazy? A loose satire of Hollywood and the super hero industry? Influenced by Raymond Carver’s short stories? I’m in. This film rocks.

See it before it wins a bunch of awards and garners unattainable expectations. Hurry!

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson being Wes Anderson. Ralph Fiennes will have a tough time winning any awards, this season, with Michael Keaton in the mix, which is a shame. He’s brilliant in it.

Guardians of the Galaxy

When the gooey love fest wears off, I’m sure we’ll all find some faults in Guardians. Until then, this movie remains almost-perfect in my memory. It accomplished exactly what I hoped it would: a unique, fun experience with characters I care about.

Edge of Tomorrow

Like Weird Al, Tom Cruise somehow made himself relevant again in 2014. Being in Edge of Tomorrow didn’t hurt. This was the smartest (big budget) sci-fi movie I have seen in quite some time. Original story, great acting and directing. Emily Blunt steals the show, take that Cruise.

What were your 2014 picks for best film and music?

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