Well, I began my last entry with a sensation-grabbing retrospect on the previous year, and I might begin this post with the same thing. I do believe that cinema (as an art form) is healthier than popular music at the moment, but nonetheless 2013 was not bad to the rock and roll fan (we will ignore the despicable MTV shows or the uninteresting year on the Top 40, it has been that way for a long time and it will probably stay that way).
But right now I’d rather look forward toward this coming year with a nice big smile (or gritted teeth?) and a positive “rock on” sign. I probably should have written this sooner as a couple of albums I was excited about a month ago (Bruce Springsteen and Switchfoot’s latest) have been released this week. Aw, darn, I got to go fill those two vacancies! Easily.
Anyway, so the two-zero-one-four.
Well, *subjectively* speaking: will this be the year where guitar-furious rock songs reign supreme on the Top 40 again? Will it be the year where the evil empire called MTV falls under the weight of good music? Will it be the year when music stops being about capitalism or grossing or monetary gain and about free expression of the soul? Well, I doubt it, but exciting things are on the horizon.
An interesting newer alternative group, a posthumous release, a band of 40-year veterans, a third-wave emo cult band coming out of a long break, and one survivor of grunge, still rocking and rolling. It may lack newer, up-and-coming musicians, but I like to let those bands surprise me as sleepers (and barely anything’s announced at this moment).
Here are albums coming out in 2014 that I am quite excited to hear.
5. Too True by Dum Dum Girls
I laugh at the man who said “post-punk is dead.” If anybody did, in fact, say that.
Post-punk is very much alive. I suppose there was a revival in the early aughts, but that was really more of a new take on the genre rather than a raw throwback. As much as I love The Strokes, Bloc Party and Interpol, their job was really to build on the post-punk of the past rather than reviving the sounds of 1980.
Enter Dum Dum Girls, a brilliant, all-girl band who hearken back to the days of Siouxsie and the Banshees in sound. They have all the Gothic glamour of The Cure and all the fighting power of a riot grrl group. Their new sounds will be flooding my ear canal later this month. Good vintage-sounding LA post-punk to accompany my cold New York winter.
4. Out Among the Stars by Johnny Cash
Late country star and prophet Johnny Cash embodied everything about Americana that we find…well, American. His life had the template of any good American legend: drunken outlaw found love and redemption in the end. That end was eleven years ago, and his legend shows no signs of slowing down or dying out. In March we can hear some parts of that legend that were never revealed to us: Out Among the Stars will bring us some lost sessions from the late 1980s that Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, discovered in 2012. Although posthumous compilation releases can go either way, since it’s Cash, take my cash.
You can pretend I didn’t make that joke if you want.
But anyway, the fact that we can hear a part of The Man In Black legend that we never got to hear in 2014 is another sign that this legend is still very much alive.
3. Untitled by U2
Sometime this year
Yes, yes, I know. U2. The huge band that has as many detractors as it has worshipers. Whether or not you can stand Bono and his crazy shades, U2’s 5 year(!) vacancy has been too long for us fans of the group, and we’ll finally get to hear them again. Expectations are high after their masterful 2009 album No Line On The Horizon brought together the soaring, echoing anthems of ecstasy from their mid-’80s Joshua Tree era and their ironic, pomp-pop-kitsch experimentation in the Achtung Baby ‘90s while ultimately being part of their career revitalization of the 2000s. This record was a near masterpiece, and it spawned a fantastic tour that I got to witness in Boston. Given that U2’s career has been almost perfectly divided into chapters by decade, their first album of the ’10s may give us something new. Maybe a conglomerate of all of their previous phases (won’t that be interesting). Whether it’s a flop or a masterpiece, the opportunity to see them in concert again will be tempting.
2. The Fifth Studio Album and First in Five Freaking Years by Brand New
We May Never Know
And now we get a tad personal. Bear with me here.
Unfortunately prolific and high-quality do not go hand in hand. Brand New can be seen as a prime example. A band with musical and lyrical depth that most friends in the scene cannot reach, the band has transcended the “emo” label that has been following them around since their masterful Deja Entendu was unleashed on the world (which to this day, I hold that as its generation’s The Bends). They are one of the few bands I feel that I can show to both a My Chemical Romance fan and a Neutral Milk Hotel fan and say “here, I’m pretty sure that you will love this.” Now, even though I’m in BN’s own native New York, I seldom found another fan during my years in high school. Then I went to college. Then I found that they do have a fanbase. A rabid, mean, dedicated, attached, even competitive fanbase.
If there are any problems with being a fan of Jesse Lacey’s group, they are but two: 1. Other Brand New fans and 2. Waiting for more music. For quite a while, Brand New were my favorite band. I suddenly saw that I was among many rather rude people, angry at everything, cynical, taking to Tumblr to vent rage against parents, Republicans and other Brand New fans. But what turned me off to the fanbase most of all was their whining for: A. another tour; B. sold out tickets and C. a new album. Distressed by this madness, I narrowed my fandom down to listening to the music and going to festivals that would have them playing with other bands (the disaster as a die-hard, ticket-seeking fan culminated in my attempt to get a ticket from a NJ venue, where they had me wait in a “virtual waiting room” for a half-hour before telling me that there were no tickets left).
But then I realized that the more I wait, the more impatient I become for some new music. If anything, the boys in this band have not been lazy, but humbly committing time to promoting their friends’ projects (Kevin Devine, Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, among others). In 2012, while on tour, Lacey announced that the band had plans for a new album. Recently in an interview, drummer Brian Lane revealed that “there is Brand New stuff happening.” As with all things that are special to me and simply excite me, I want to avoid speculating too much about what the album will offer. All I’m concerned with is whether this was worth the half-decade long wait. After four albums and zero slip-ups, I have faith that it will be.
1. Untitled But Still Announced by Foo Fighters
Well, what else would it be? Getting personal here again.
At the age of 13, I watched a little awards show called the Grammys. A group I had known the name of for a long time was performing a song from their nominated album. This song was called “The Pretender”. While I was astounded by the stage presence that these four men, each a gripping virtuoso, committed to their performance, I actually found the melody interesting. I had thought at that moment that there was classic rock and only classic rock. Modern Rock and Roll was dead for all I knew. But no, these four guys showed me that rock is very much alive, and that it is a powerful thing.
Fast forward to Junior year in high school. I remember the last album, 2011’s terrific Wasting Light and buying it on a Tuesday in April, right upon its release. It was, of course, like every other Foo Fighters album, a dose of arena ready rock. Wait, make that an AWESOME dose of arena rock! Like every other Foo Fighters album.
The Foo formula (Foo-rmula?) may be a formula. But it is an (ahem) awesome formula. Dave Grohl is to rock and roll what Martin Scorsese is to cinema; a master, an advocate, a mouthpiece, a historian, and a preserver. I do not know of any other rock star so dedicated to and so fervent in their passion for the genre they participate in. While selling out arenas via Ticketmaster, Grohl is not afraid to speak his mind about American Idol being a cop-out for aspiring and talented musicians. While being a mainstay on MTV (yes, that evil corporation does still show great rock videos on occasion), he’s not afraid to criticize the VMAs. He has survived Courtney Love’s wrath. And as a multi-talented performer, he has assembled the greatest instrumentalists to back up his great songwriting.
Grohl has been teasing an eighth album for months now. According to him, it will be done in a way that has never been done before. Knowing that Dave has a “shameless” practice of using a songwriting approach that works perfectly for him and his group and the kind of music that they are intent on playing, I’m guessing that he means recording technique rather than songwriting experimentation. Either way, we can expect and trust Dave to give us a rock solid album, one that can sound good played in the garage or at Wembley Stadium. As the supposed nice guy in rock, I think we’ve been able to trust this man with his project over the past 19 years, despite the fact that they haven’t gone all Kid A on their fans. This is lack of 180 degrees is, quite naturally, to the chagrin of many a critic.
A critic I used to have a lot more respect for, The Chicago Sun-Times’s Jim DeRogatis, is known for writing off the Foo Fighters (among countless other respected artists) because of their “tedious and hollow arena bombast” and “formulaic grunge retreads” as said in the scathing review of “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” (their while I can write a scathing review of DeRogatis’ rather elitist and rigidly picky criteria standards that would make even Pitchfork livid with envy, he’s right in a way. Remove his contextual tone and the subjective adjectives he uses (“tedious,” “hollow”) and he’s certainly right. The Foo Fighters have a formula that is called rock n’ roll. And that is their game: to give us some real, bona fide rockers backed by layers of guitars and couched in strong melodies. And in a genre that’s (subjectively speaking) in a bit of a slump in our mainstream media, what more could rock fans ask for? It will be: say it with me…