The Top 30 Albums of 2014

Rock is dead. At least so I’m told. With country, EDM, hip hop, R&B and perhaps even pop music all more popular than ever (and coalescing into the monogenre), there seems to be a widespread belief that guitar rock is passe and on the way out. On the NPR Music All Songs Considered year in review, Stephen Thompson asserted that he had hardly found any notable guitar rock this year as it had all but disappeared from popular music. Thompson’s notion that 2014 was devoid of rocking guitars was quickly dispelled as the rest of the NPR team reeled off several albums and artists that had simply slipped his mind. Nevertheless, the exchange was representative of the way that even some fans are mechanically internalizing the “conventional wisdom”.

Yet as I look over my top albums from the year gone by, one thing that stands out to me is how much great rock music there was this year. Sure, the list has some pop, synthpop, and even a touch of disco, but more than anything else, there’s rock. That’s not to say it’s a monolithic list; there’s some garage rock, indie rock, folk rock, art rock, post rock, punk, psychedelia, experimental, prog rock and plenty of metal influence, even in flamenco and latin funk forms. Suffice to say that there’s enough here to say that the heart of rock and roll is still beating, even if it’s bubbling under the surface of commercial radio.

For me, 2014 was dominated by two albums that I kept reaching for time and time again and are more appropriately labeled #1a and #1b than one and two. The rest of the list was remarkably difficult to order, to the point that I almost wanted to pull names out of a hat to make the list. I also thought about producing an unordered list, but I kind of felt like that would have been a cop-out. Then again, I have 31 albums on a top 30 list, so I’m not entirely above cop-outs (even if I placed the tie at 30 instead of number one just to preserve the optics of having the last item on a top 30 list be #30 instead of #31… tortured logic, ahoy!).

I’m not at all sure about what order most of these albums should be listed and it doesn’t really matter that much anyway, as the list will inevitably be obsolete in a week or two. Maybe I’ll revisit an album that didn’t impress me on first listen and it’ll connect, maybe some of the choices I made just won’t stick, and maybe I’ll discover an album on another list that’s really, really great. And that last point is a big reason why we make these lists: they’re about sharing a snapshot of what we liked and what made an impression over the last year and hopefully introducing others to great albums and artists that they might have missed. Inevitably, these lists will change over time, but as we stand at the end of 2014, this is the music that has soundtracked my year.

Album titles link to YouTube playlists, where officially available, Spotify albums where not. And for the one guy whose album is on neither one, you can chase that down on YouTube as well. I’ve also included a blurb from a review of each album that I appreciated as well as links to album profiles on Album of the Year, which has plenty more information and perspectives. And because there’s always Honorable Mentions, here’s who just missed the cut: Todd Terje, The Horrors, Stars, King Tuff, Liars, Jack White, Ages and Ages, The Colourist and Chromeo.

30 (tie). Future Islands – Singles
“When Future Islands recently performed their new marquee song on “Letterman”, the stunning “Seasons (Waiting On You)”, the secret was out: Here’s this guy, this dude with a tucked-in shirt, khakis, and a receding hairline bobbing and weaving, grinding gears in his throat, giving a “fuck yeah” gesture before a perfect pop modulation takes him to the chorus.” – Pitchfork | Singles on AotY
30. (tie) Mark McGuire – Along the Way
“Like a book where you can choose your own ending or a sandbox video game, the true beauty of Along The Way and the rest of McGuire’s output is that it is so free from the shackles of any genre or scene and so ‘out there’ that it is completely open to each listener’s interpretation.” – The 405 | Along the Way on AotY
29. Spoon – They Want My Soul
” It’s not exactly classic rock, not quite post-punk. It’s not the soul of indie idealists blindly conflating modesty and virtue. Instead, this band is about capturing the unknown—those “finer feelings,” as Daniel once put it—and simply letting it float.” – Pitchfork | They Want My Soul on AotY
28. Gemma Ray – Milk For Your Motors
“Sultry British singer/songwriter Gemma Ray relocated to Berlin to make her fifth album, a collection of noir-ish surf-doom ballads, and the kind of expansive pop-exotica fans have come to expect from this creative shape-shifting artist.” – AllMusic | Milk for Your Motors on AotY
27. Rodrigo y Gabriela – 9 Dead Alive
“Famed for their dextrous digits and finger-tut finicky fret freneticisms, Mexican twosome Rodrigo y Gabriela are two of the world’s most impressive guitarists. Performing ‘fusions’ as opposed to any pigeonhole-y style, their music flits between jazz, flamenco, Latin pop, heavy metal and rock.” – MusicOMH | 9 Dead Alive on AotY
26. Ex Hex – Rips
“Rips sounds fine on headphones or at home, but it’s best enjoyed in the car where it’s possible to feel more perfectly tuned into the music’s steady velocity.” – Pitchfork | Rips on AotY
25. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
“Lose, despite its detours in sound, is remarkably cohesive and whole. It’s a real gift, that the band could tackle tragedy without making it sound saccharine, but also without making it sound too glib.” – PopMatters | Lose on AotY
24. Ballet School – The Dew Lasts an Hour
“They know their way around a captivating (if not subtle) hook, so whilst it sounds bigger than the sum of its parts, there are enough great songs to justify this super-stylised and fearless approach to pop.” – MusicOMH | The Dew Lasts an Hour on AotY
23. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
“All of these techniques — the streamlined mixing, the honeycombed harmonies, the poppy sci-fi synths — build a sonic unity made all the more bright when surrounded by the irreverent lyrics.” – Consequence of Sound | Brill Bruisers on AotY
22. Real Estate – Atlas
“While some of their self-titled debut and Days had a tendency to float over the listener, each track here has a hook that pulls you in.” – MusicOMH | Atlas on AotY
21. Strand of Oaks – Heal
“Showalter hops from rock genre from song to song in an effort to exercise demons of self-hate, substance abuse, alienation, and heartbreak. It would all be very bleak if the ultimate effect wasn’t catharsis, and if the music wasn’t so jubilant and full of life.” – A.V. Club | Heal on AotY
20. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Days of Abandon
“It’s chock full of summery motifs, a John Hughes sheen and stomping chorus earworms, and if you can remove it from yer noggin without a team of skilled surgeons then get in line for canonisation, ’cause that’s a miracle.” – The 405 | Days of Abandon on AotY
19. Goat – Commune
“Like giant psychedelic wondersplats, their music gloops and gets bigger and more expansive every second, emitting bizarre rays of curling guitar lines from the jammy puddle. It’s so darn good that it makes your brain do a fuzzy little leap of joy, and hijacks every dancey muscle in sight.” – DIY | Commune on AotY
18. Kishi Bashi – Lilight
“Unless you can’t handle your musical tea with any sugar in it whatsoever, this is a staggering achievement of fun. It’s got serious chops, but at no point is it melodramatic.” – Line of Best Fit | Lilight on AotY
17. Alvvays – Alvvays
“Decked out in fuzzy warmth, youthful themes and angelic ebullience, the spangly sprogs add many a fresh twist on the tried-‘n’-tested scuzz-pop” – Line of Best Fit | Alvvays on AotY
16. Lykke Li – I Never Learn
“Though pace is rarely shaken up, this is a grandiose collection of songs with operatic tendencies. It’s the kind of record that would be backed by an orchestra during live performances.” – The 405 | I Never Learn on AotY
15. CEO – Wonderland
“an immersive experience that teeters perilously on the periphery between dream and nightmare and jubilation and despondence, while remarkably never getting lost amidst the confusion.” – Pretty Much Amazing | Wonderland on AotY
14. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags
“While Pavement were a vanguard against commercial sterility, here Malkmus chooses to embrace his status as a classic artist of a by-gone era.” – Drowned in Sound | Wig Out at Jagbags on AotY
13. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits
“Perro and the other Men … clutch to rock music like it’s a flotation device. Accordingly, Tomorrow’s Hits reflects decades of reverent listening and plays like it’ll have some say in whatever becomes of the now 11-year-olds this record will transform like Tommy transformed William Miller.” – Consequence of Sound | Tomorrow’s Hits on AotY
12. Music Go Music – Impressions
“What would you get if you took the icy, remote pop of disco-era ABBA and added just a touch of the warm, enveloping sound of peak period Fleetwood Mac?” – AllMusic | Impressions on AotY
11. Chet Faker – Built on Glass
“Despite having the kind of voice that would make your mother go weak at the knees, Chet Faker also has a strong left-field sensibility that appeals to those more discerning music aficionados out there.” – Line of Best Fit | Built on Glass on AotY
10. Mogwai – Rave Tapes
“The songs on Rave Tapes seem to be far more visceral than before – you can almost picture the scenes that each track could be soundtracking.” – The 405 | Rave Tapes on AotY
9. Archie Bronson Outfit – Wild Crush
“There has always been something of a primordial quality about Archie Bronson Outfit, whether it’s in thestomach-churning rawness of their garage-rock inspired sound, the bubbling sexual undertones of their lyrics, or perhaps simply in the facial hair…” – Line of Best Fit | Wild Crush on AotY
8. Wax Fang – The Astronaut
“The Astronaut is not without its fair share of camp. Certain lyrical choices and the degree to which the band’s tastes lean towards antiquated-sounding sci-fi rock at times brush dangerously close to the tonality of an overly-synthed New Wave groove.” – PopStache | (no AotY entry)
7. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
“Transgender Dysphoria Blues will be remembered as a milestone not because it’s the first widely known punk record performed by a trans woman, but because it brandishes a genre saturated by empty, male-centered politics to broadcast the most punk statements possible: Fuck the haters, be who you are, hold fast to those who love you.” – Consequence of Sound | Transgender Dysphoria Blues on AotY
6. Ty Segall – Manipulator
“Although Manipulator does exude a certain level of polish, there’s a sugary aggression to songs like It’s Over, Feel or The Faker, the latter being more of a Blues Magoos fuzz track.” – No Ripcord | Manipulator on AotY
5. The Budos Band – Burnt Offering
“For the first time, “funk rock” becomes an accurate descriptor for the still-complex musical sprawl, which now evokes the likes of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin right alongside Fela Kuti.” – Paste | Burnt Offering on AotY
4. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
“It isn’t hardcore itself, but St. Vincent doesn’t give a fuck, and sounds weird doing it.” – PopMatters | St. Vincent on AotY
3. The Juan MacLean – In a Dream
“In A Dream is brand new, but has the feel of a timeless dance record, the kind of record that is pulled from the crate on the most special (and danceable) of occasions.” Exclaim! | In a Dream on AotY
2. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
“But while it comes close often, Lost never fully lets go of its classic rock footing to delve fully into art rock. Instead, we get a brilliant record that serves as a perfect blueprint on how to make something new out of something old.” American Songwriter | Lost in the Dream on AotY
1. Swans – To Be Kind
“Instruments are being played, undoubtedly, but only the drums are distinct amid the chaos. The rest have been folded into a protoplasmic fist.” – A.V. Club | To Be Kind on AotY
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The Top 50 Albums of 2013

[I had meant to publish this about a month ago, but writing up blurbs about 50 albums proved to take much more time than I had available. So instead of being posted “on time”, it’s “late” … but all that means is that I get the last word on 2013. Woo!]

2013 was a great year for music. Now for someone writing about music, maybe that’s about as cliche as the President annually declaring that “the state of our union is strong”, but I’m not quite that predictable. Notably, I thought that 2012 was pretty disappointing, with its parade of one underwhelming or mediocre release after the next.

After so many albums fell flat in 2012, I was definitely ready to move along to new releases in 2013. Early in the year, I found so many albums to look forward to that I needed to start maintaining a list just to keep up. Good records aren’t just made of anticipation though and albums can fall flat anytime. But one by one, 2013’s releases delivered the goods. A wide net cast in fear of a high failure rate turned into a veritable cornucopia of outstanding 2013 releases. In fact, there were so many great records released in 2013 that I couldn’t contain my year-end list to my top 30 albums. This year, the list ballooned to 50, with a heaping helping of honorable mentions to boot.

The only catch was that Amazon’s mp3 store pricing changed this year. Two or three years ago, Amazon’s aggressive pricing in its mp3 store converted me from only buying physical media to being (mostly) a purchaser of digital downloads. But if it was the price point that pushed me into digital downloads, it was also the pricing that pushed me away. When Amazon’s “sale” prices on mp3 albums rose to $7.99 this year, I stopped buying and waited for old sale prices to return… and they never did.

One consequence of this was that my listening environment for the year lacked diversity. I couldn’t soundtrack my work day with new music on my iPod, I couldn’t burn discs of new albums to play in my car. It meant lots of listening at home, (usually) after work, at night on Spotify (I do find it ironic that Amazon would push me to be more reliant on renting music than buying it, but that’s another discussion for another day).

Since there was so much good stuff to hear and I had less time in which to listen, it meant that I spent a lot less time with my favorite albums in 2013 than I had in years past. That, in turn, made compiling this list even harder than it ordinarily has been.

Unlike the last two years when there were two or three albums jockeying for the top spot, I wasn’t able to spend enough time with this year’s releases for any of them to create much separation from the pack… at least not for more than about a month at a time. I think that if I had spent more time with these albums, it might have created more separation and more clearly-defined favorites, but that’s not what we have today. Instead, what we have are a bumper crop of very good albums and some difficult choices atop the list.

But before we get to that, here’s the honorable mentions that – on a different day – might have appeared at the bottom of the list. These tend to fall into three groups. First, there are the albums that had features that I really liked and other bits that I didn’t. Maybe I didn’t quite connect with them on the first go-round, but I can imagine revisiting them in a few months to find that I regret not putting them in my top ten. Albums like The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation, Deafheaven’s Sunbather, Julia Holter’s Loud City Song, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Push the Sky Away, Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest, Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven and Mountains’ Centralia all fall into this bucket.

Then there’s some more accessible albums that were good and enjoyable; albums that I might put in the top 50 next month, but probably not in the top half of the list. Those would include Portugal. The Man’s Evil Friends, Franz Ferdinand’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, Phoenix’s Entertainment, Classixx’s Hanging Gardens, Mikal Cronin’s MCII, Karl Bartos’ Off the Record, the Appleseed Cast’s Illumination Ritual and Melt Yourself Down’s self-titled release.

Anyway, enough reading. You’ve been waiting long enough. Time for the list! Album titles link to the album on Spotify and highlighted tracks link to the songs on Soundcloud [s] or YouTube [y].

50. Teeth of the Sea – Master
Responder [y]
Reaper [y]
49. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
24 Hours [s]
You’re Not The One [s]
48. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito
Sacrilege [y]
Despair [y]
47. Bibio – Silver Wilkinson
À tout à l’heure [y]
You [s]
46. Cayucas – Bigfoot
High School Lover [s]
Cayucos [s]
45. Deltron 3030 – Event II
City Rising From the Ashes [s]
What is This Loneliness? (Radio Edit) [s]
44. Kvelertak – Meir
Kvelertak [s]
Bruane Brenn [s]
43. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
Drew [s]
Annabel [y]
42. Man Man – On Oni Pond
Head On [s]
Loot My Body [y]
41. Atlas Genius – When It Was Now
If So [s]
Trojans [s]
40. William Tyler – Impossible Truth
Cadillac Desert [s]
A Portait of Sarah [y]
39. Washed Out – Paracosm
It All Feels Right [s]
Don’t Give Up [s]
38. Moon Hooch – Moon Hooch
Low 4 [y]
Number 9 [s]
37. AlunaGeorge – Body Music
Attracting Flies [s]
Kaleidoscope Love [s]
36. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – English Electric
Metroland [s]
Night Café [s]
35. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
San Francisco [s]
No Destruction [y]
34. Shugo Tokumaru – In Focus?
Decorate [s]
Katachi [s]
33. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
Late March, Death March [s]
Holy [y]
32. John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
Black Belt [s]
GMF [s]
31. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
The Mother We Share [s]
Lies [s]
30. !!! – Thr!!!er
One Girl/One Boy [y]
Californiyeah [y]
29. Delorean – Apar
Spirit [y]
Dominion [y]
28. Savages – Silence Yourself
She Will [y]
Shut Up [y]
27. Ricardo Donoso – As Iron Sharpens Iron, One Verse Sharpens Another
The Sphinx [s]
The Redeemer [s]
26. Pond – Hobo Rocket
Xanman [s]
Giant Tortoise [s]
25. Yo La Tengo – Fade
Ohm [y]
Is That Enough? [y]
24. Solar Bears – Supermigration
Our Future is Underground [s]
Happiness is a Warm Spacestation [s]
23. Veronica Falls – Waiting For Something To Happen
Waiting for Something to Happen [s]
My Heart Beats [s]
22. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
Play By Play [s]
Ego Free Sex Free [y]
21. Postiljonen – Skyer
Plastic Panorama [s]
Atlantis [s]
20. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium
Down the Deep River [s]
Stay Young [s]
19. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Open Eye Signal [s]
Collider [s]
18. Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
Closer [s]
I Couldn’t Be Your Friend [s]
17. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Satellite [y]
While I’m Still Here [y]
16. Chris Forsyth – Solar Motel
Solar Motel: Parts I & II [s]
15. Son Lux – Lanterns
Lost It To Trying [s]
Easy [s]
14. Jagwar Ma – Howlin
Come Save Me [s]
The Throw [s]
13. Unknown Mortal Orchestra- II
So Good at Being in Trouble [s]
Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark) [s]
12. Suede – Bloodsports
It Starts and Ends With You [y]
For the Strangers [y]
11. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
Q.U.E.E.N. [y]
Dance Apocalyptic [y]
10. Pure Bathing Culture – Moon Tides
Pendulum [s]
Dream the Dare [s]
9. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Afterlife [y]
Reflektor [y]
8. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – Uzu
One [s]
Windflower [s]
7. Holy Ghost! – Dynamics
Dumb Disco Ideas [s]
Don’t Look Down [s]
6. Darkside – Psychic
Golden Arrow [s]
Paper Trails [s]
5. Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
When I Knew [y]
Stare at the Sun [s]
4. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Fragments of Time [y]
Instant Crush [y]
3. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Stalker [y]
Hidden X’s [y]
2. Forest Swords – Engravings
Thor’s Stone [s]
The Weight of Gold [s]
1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Ya Hey [y]
Unbelievers [y]
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366TAS: Beyond 7:55

The trip from 1:50 to 7:55 is complete and we’ve enjoyed a bunch of great music across all of those times. Early in the year, I mentioned some of the better songs shorter than 1:50. Obviously, there’s a limited set of options there; you can only make a song so short and there’s only so much you can do with a shorter time. But what about the epic anthems that run longer than the times we sampled? There’s a lot more of those, including some highly celebrated songs, many of which are as renowned for their length as their greatness. Here’s a quick survey of 70 of the songs too long to make the cut over the last year. They’re not always the best long song by that particular artist and they aren’t always the longest the artist has to offer, although the list does end with the longest single track in my library…

7:58 – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – More News from Nowhere
7:59 – Weezer – Only in Dreams
8:00 – Steely Dan – Aja
8:01 – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – No More Shoes
8:03 – Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven
8:06 – Primal Scream – Come Together
8:14 – Faith No More – The Real Thing
8:14 – Phish – Maze
8:16 – The J.B.’s – It’s Not the Express, It’s the J.B.’s Monaurail (Parts 1 & 2)
8:16 – Simian Mobile Disco – Thousand Year Egg
8:17 – Medeski, Martin & Wood – We’re So Happy
8:17 – Red Hot Chili Peppers – Sir Psycho Sexy
8:21 – The Beta Band – She’s the One
8:22 – Ministry – Scarecrow
8:26 – Destroyer – Suicide Demo for Kara Walker
8:27 – Metallica – Orion
8:28 – Ricardo Donoso – The Bow and the Lyre
8:31 – Drums and Tuba – No Accomodation for Buffalo
8:33 – Yes – Roundabout
8:34 – Bob Dylan – Hurricane
8:35 – M83 – Couleurs
8:37 – Don McLean – American Pie
8:39 – The Chemical Brothers – The Sunshine Underground
8:41 – Prince – Purple Rain
8:46 – Bill Callahan – One Fine Morning
8:48 – The Polyphonic Spree – Suitcase Calling
8:51 – Spiritualized – Hey Jane
8:52 – Digital Underground – Doowutchyalike
8:54 – Cloud Nothings – Wasted Days
8:54 – Genesis – Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
8:57 – Guns N’ Roses – November Rain
8:59 – The Phenomenal Handclap Band – The Circle is Broken
9:02 – Gogol Bordello – Baro Foro
9:12 – DJ Shadow – Blood on the Motorway
9:12 – The Allman Brothers – Back Where it All Begins
9:21 – The Propellerheads – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
9:25 – Kraftwerk – Autobahn
9:26 – Parliament – Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)
9:29 – Stereolab – Outer Bongolia
9:34 – Bruce Springsteen – Jungleland
9:37 – Rush – La Villa Strangiato
9:39 – Alaksa! – The Light
9:41 – Music Go Music – Warm in the Shadows
9:49 – The Outlaws – Green Grass and High Tides
9:50 – Discodeine – Figures in a Soundscape
9:52 – Nurse With Wound – Two Shaves and a Shine (Concerto For Bouzouki And 3 Piece Rock Group In 93 Six Second Segments)
9:57 – Frank Ocean – Pyramids
10:00 – Daft Punk – Too Long
10:07 – Explosions in the Sky – Let Me Back In
10:08 – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird
10:21 – Swans – The Apostate (Edit)
10:54 – Royal Space Force – Uber Code
10:55 – Cat Power – Nothin But Time
10:56 – The Doors – When the Music’s Over
11:00 – Cannonball Adderley – Autumn Leaves
11:06 – Creedence Clearwater Revival – I Heard it Through the Grapevine
11:22 – Gang Gang Dance – Glass Jar
11:27 – moe. – Rebubula
13:31 – Pink Floyd – Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5)
14:02 – Titus Andronicus – The Battle of Hampton Roads
14:19 – Dire Straits – Telegraph Road
15:07 – Cut Copy – Sun God
15:45 – Herbie Hancock – Chameleon
16:04 – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Cappriccio Italien, Op. 45
16:19 – Mogwai – Mogwai Fear Satan
17:02 – Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
20:07 – Godspeed You! Black Emperor – We Drift Like Worried Fire
30:15 – Santana – Freeway (live)
46:05 – LCD Soundsystem – 45:33

Here’s a Spotify playlist to give you a taste of most of these selections (note that several are unavailable on Spotify):

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366TAS: 7:55 – Stereolab – Metronomic Underground

As the 366TAS project comes to a close today, I’ve saved (one of) the best for last. Stereolab is one of my very favorite bands. A framed copy of one of their albums hangs on my wall, one of their song titles serves as my nom de plume and only Belle and Sebastian (109) and Pink Floyd (108) place more songs in my iTunes library than Stereolab’s 98. When the band played DC supporting the 2008 release of their album, Chemical Chords, I went to the show and came home with one of the best bits of merch booth I’ve ever seen at a show: the Stereolab laundry bag!

The Stereolab laundry bag!By the time I got around to listening to Stereolab in the early 2000’s, they had been a going concern for about a decade. However, their lack of commercial success meant they got no airplay on the radio. As a result, I hadn’t heard of them for most of their career and when I finally did, I had no idea if they were the kind of thing I would have liked. I was also a poor college student at the time, so I couldn’t just go out and take a flyer on all the bands that I heard some good buzz about. Being a reasonably tech-savvy 21st century youth, I did what most music fans of the era would do: I turned to file sharing services to find out.

Sure enough, I downloaded a few tracks and really liked what I heard out of Stereolab. Their rich sonic blend of pop, lounge and krautrock, heavy on vintage keyboards and breezy guitars was a refreshing break from the countless interchangeable bands that dominated alternative rock radio and the singer/songwriter types with whom WYEP was so enamored.

Shortly after graduation, I moved down to Gaithersburg, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. Within a few months, I had started working 12 hour days doing document review. The work was miserable and the commute – an hour each way – may have been worse. The good news was that I finally had some spare cash to start buying albums again and my first purchase, one that came to define what I listened to during the six months I spent in Gaithersburg, was the Warren Zevon anthology and a pair of Stereolab albums. My daily trips from home to the Metro were often soundtracked by Stereolab’s Margerine Eclipse (the album now on my wall) and before I got my first iPod toward the end of that project, these few minutes in my car were often the highlight of my day.

Since then, my Stereolab collection has grown substantially and they’ve spent several years in my regular rotation as an essential influence. Although I was oblivious to Stereolab’s work for far too much of their career, I was fortunate to get on the bandwagon when I did, because shortly after I saw them live in 2009, they went on indefinite hiatus. Hopefully, they’ll reunite sometime in the future, but if not, they’ve left us with a great treasure trove of music filled with odd sounds and odder song titles.

For me, none of this experience would have been possible without file sharing. Now I understand full well that there are those who abuse the system, sucking up the music like a leech. However, the discovery function that they provided for me was invaluable. After all, nobody loves a band they’ve never heard of.

Nowadays, the availability of streaming services places a ton of great music out there for anyone to discover their own personal Stereolab, and that’s great for fans. As we’ve found this year, however, it’s not such a great arrangement for the artists. As more and more people shift their listening patterns to streaming-only, the economic question becomes all the more pressing for artists. Much more well-informed people than I have pondered the issue of fair compensation for artists all year and, as far as I’m aware, they’ve come up empty so far.

I continue to use Spotify regularly to listen to new music, but I can’t quite imagine it taking the place of actual album purchases. Right now, I have a budget of about $20 a month that I’ll spend to buy new music. More often than not, that’s mp3 albums, but I do still buy a few favorites on CD. I’m a little old-fashioned like that. To some folks, this music-purchasing regime may sound extravagant, but it’s less than a Starbucks habit of two trips a week, and I’m pretty sure I enjoy a lot of the music I’m buying a lot more than you like your cup of coffee. For a truly great album, I’m sure that it’s “worth” all of the misses that come with the territory of finding those few hits. So go out and buy a few albums. It’ll make you happy in the long run.

I’ve found a way to make this work for me. How can it work for you? How can you hear about bands you’ve never heard of? Well I like to think that I’ve hopefully introduced you to a few new names throughout this past year with the 366TAS project. Beyond that, there’s loads of music blogs to read, year-end lists of recommendations and even something as simple as browsing Wikipedia entries can help lead you to new bands and musicians. With so much information and music at your fingertips, “I haven’t heard of them” is no longer a valid reason to “not like” a band.

Otherwise, stay tuned to Corsairs Affairs. Even as the 366TAS project has come to a conclusion, I’ll be carrying on with playlists, polls and other music recommendations going forward. Oh, and here’s Stereolab to take us home…

Metronomic Underground – Stereolab

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366TAS: 7:54 – VHS or Beta – Solid Gold

I wonder if you were to take a survey of kids in college today, how many of them would understand what would be up for decision when asked to choose between VHS or Beta. I mean, they probably haven’t heard of LaserDiscs either, but I suppose that’s kind of understandable. The band is of relatively recent vintage, putting out their first album in 2004, so they were referencing obsolete technology from the get-go. That has a certain retro coolness to it and sometimes the etymology of a band name is enlightening, but it’s one that more and more kids are going to have to investigate going forward.

Solid Gold – VHS or Beta

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366TAS: 7:53 – Boards of Canada – Happy Cycling

Back in the good old days, bands were up front about where they came from. Boston was from Boston, Kansas was from Kansas, Chicago was from Chicago, Europe was from Europe (Sweden, to be specific). It was simple, life was good. But what’s in a name has changed and you just can’t be certain about a bands’ origins anymore. I’m From Barcelona isn’t actually from Barcelona; they’re from Sweden. Architecture in Helsinki is only in Helsinki if they’re on a world tour, because they hail from Australia. The Japandroids are Canadian, unlike Boards of Canada, who are Scottish.

Boards of Canada also gets bonus credit for great song titles like “Under the Coke Sign”, “Turquoise Hexagon Sun”, “Oscar See Through Red Eye”, “Everything You Do is a Balloon”, “Sherbet Head” and “Pete Standing Alone”.

Happy Cycling – Boards of Canada

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366TAS: 7:52 – Massive Attack – Protection

Although several genres, including Britpop, neo-swing, ska and the countless indistinguishable “alternative” bands attained a certain level of popularity in the 90’s, my experience has been that when most people think of “90’s music”, the conversation typically focuses on grunge. Given the way that Seattle’s grunge scene dominated the early part of the decade, that’s not entirely unreasonable, but while US audiences were looking to the upper northwest, UK music fans were starting to get excited about the happenings going on in Bristol where acts like Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack were at the forefront of the trip-hop movement.

Although they never experienced substantial commercial success in the US, all three acts placed albums in the top ten of the UK charts, with Portishead hitting #2 three times and Massive Attack placing four albums in the top six, with a fifth at #13. “Protection” is the title track from their second album, released in 1994.

Protection – Massive Attack

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