Monthly Archives: December 2014

Favorites 2014

In past years I rolled my eyes at you when you said how great music sounds through headphones. I was wrong to do that. I am sorry.

In addition to converting to headphones, music still filled the air in our house this year. Judy has been learning guitar. That has been fun. For some reason there was somewhat less new music around our place to check out. Still, there are a few standouts, and even a few groups that we found so impressive that they lured us out after dark to hear them live.

Real Estate – Atlas (2014 Domino).



There is an unforced earnestness to each beat, note, and syllable that makes this collection of songs feel not only brand new, but also somehow like an album that’s been around a while. This is the best of 2014 and is Real Estate’s strongest LP. Along with the rest of their catalogue I will continue to enjoy it for years. All three of the band’s records have a wistful summery feeling that I think a lot of people pick up on and dig. What it is: That feeling that something wonderful is happening, and you have not processed how important it will be to you in the future. You know that something wonderful is going to end – soon – and that the freedom that comes with that something wonderful is evaporating.



I never read a better description of the record’s (and the band’s current) summertime vibe than this one by Pitchfork’s Jason Greene: “The once-ideal pool party band … has turned to soundtracking the cleanup: Everyone’s gone, the sky’s threatening rain, there are cigarette butts floating in the pool, and we’ve all gotta work tomorrow.”

This is music to play as you head happily home or toward a loved one you are eager to see. A song and a sentiment so simple and so beautiful – this makes me shake my head in wonder:

Horizon by Real Estate.

Dum Dum GirlsToo True (2014 Sub Pop Records).



Dee Dee Penny is the radiant face and the main songwriter of the Dum Dum Girls. Combining an assured and silky delivery with her searching lyrics she often brings to mind a range of singers from the girl groups of the 60s. Few acts can claim the successful synthesis of musical and personal styles created by the band. Together they wed great, introspective pop songs with a cultivated and sincerely detached, great, dark collective image. The comportment and the look of the band are consistently darker than the actual music which often has more in common with straightforward, skilled, cool rock-and-roll than any goth-y post punk. Dum Dum Girls never disappoint, and I knew right away that this record with its short, to-the-point songs and driving pop rock would be one of my favorites of the year.

Phenomenal pop songs, these were highlights of the band’s terrific live set at The Waiting Room in Omaha in October.

Rimbaud Eyes by Dum Dum Girls.

Girls Intuition by Dum Dum Girls.

St. VincentSt. Vincent (2014 Loma Vista).



Is anyone else challenging the ideas and limits of rock music as successfully as Annie Clark? The new persona is a trope. Like David Bowie’s creations Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust, she’s playing a far out, (and, one supposes, a temporary,) character. Aside from her current incarnation as the transfixing silver-haired, vinyl-clad high priestess of white spirits, there is her jarring music.

She is a fearless and often brilliant experimenter, and has always zigged when one expected that she’d zag: unexpectedly slowing things down a beat, going a half note sharp here or there, blasting trumpets when you expect a gentle flute. There is so much to be impressed by – in what seems on the surface to be over-the-top there is an agonizing restraint.

She is astonishing live, and KILLED it at Omaha’s Sokol Hall in April. These songs are from a concert in Berlin earlier this year. They are a trifle rough, but worth it to catch her mystifying presence in performance.

I Prefer Your Love by St. Vincent.

Huey Newton by St. Vincent.

Also loved:

BeverlyCareers (2014 Kanine Records).

This band provides the low-glamor, tossed-off fun of magic marker ‘tattoos’. It is in super-heavy rotation at our house. This music is huggable.

Honey Do by Beverly.

CaribouOur Love (2014 Merge Records).

Beat heavy, generous with hooks and groovy elements of disco. Dan Snaith is Caribou, and may be the best in the business in the dreamy, neo-psych, electronica game. Test him.

Silver by Caribou.

D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014 RCA).

Fantastic. And it’s a little time machine. Like it’s R & B brethren from the 1970s, (and VERY much like the records of Prince!!) it is funky and fun, straight up sexy, soulful, and sonically weird and experimental.

Till It’s Done (Tutu)  by D’Angleo and the Vanguard.

Hundred WatersThe Moon Rang Like a Bell (2014 OWSLA).

Absolutely beautiful. Fans of Bjork, Cocteau Twins, and Hammock – plug in. Like looking down from a great height through the clouds at the rolling ocean.

Out Alee by Hundred Waters.

Temples – Sun Structures (2014 Heavenly Recordings).

Psychedelic music weaves its way organically into so many different genres – it is a vibrant part of rock, folk, soul, funk, and electronic dance music. Temples are not really pretending to break any new ground – they have generously acknowledged their many influences – and here prove that psychedelic rock remains fertile creative ground. Temples’ consistently successful new iteration of the tradition of psychedelic rock music sounds to me like creatively joyful homage. They are big and getting bigger.

Representing the super-psych-a-licious sides of predecessors The Beatles, T. Rex, The Shamen, and Pink Floyd:

Colours To Life by Temples.

TheWar on DrugsLost in the Dream (2014 Secretly Canadian).

Hippy please. This release got a reputation for being a redux 70s/80s classic-rock record, and I am disappointed to report that may have had the effect of causing me to delay giving it a serious listen. The rep is understandable, but this record is SO much more. It has marvelous ambient stretches and multi-layered production that provides surprises upon each new listen.

The Haunting Idle by TheWar on Drugs.

Warpaint – Warpaint (2014 Rough Trade).

Dreamy and dark. Like a marijuana-fuelled Radiohead record, Warpaint will reward you if you like the kind of expansive and patient music of Massive Attack, or the soundtracks for films of David Lynch. It is composed and more of a grower than their immediately likeable previous record, The Fool. Spacious and mature, Warpaint delivers the same commitment and energy as ever and they come together powerfully.

Drive by Warpaint.

Given more time, these may find their way into the favorites list:

Haunted HeartsInitiation (2014 Zoo Music/Dream).

A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent (2014 Lefse).

TV On The RadioSeeds (2014 Harvest).

Thurston Moore The Best Day (2014 Matador).

14 Dec 2014

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

Judy is checking books off her reading list

J’s been checking books off her reading list:

Maybe because I’m supposed to be writing a research dissertation right now that I am in the mood to read fiction. Maybe it’s human nature to want to do the opposite of what you’re supposed to do, which for me is to read when I’m supposed to write. In my defense, I have a pretty good introduction completed. The methodology section is mostly wrapped up. Even my Appendix A is in good shape. It’s the literature review. The storyline. The creative part, I’m having trouble with.  In that sense, I’ve always been more of a consumer than a producer. So to make myself feel better and more productive, I thought I’d write a literature review for my Weekly Reader friends.  Nothing special, just books off my list available at the library when I was looking for amusing diversion.

images-1Shanghai Girls– Good historic fiction about two Chinese sisters who are young and pretty models living a life of high fashion, fabulous clubs, and famous friends, in the “Paris of Asia” in the late 1930s, until they find out their father married them off to pay his gambling debts. Life’s cruel to them from that point on as the story follows them from the Japanese bombing of their city, across the sea to their months in internment once reaching the U.S shore, to finally making a home in LA with the strangers that are their husbands. Glimpses into the Chinese culture were fascinating, even if the story itself had one disaster after another too many in my opinion.

images-2The Middlesteins– A family, each member with his or her own neuroses, centered around the mom, Edie’s, obesity.  And of course, Edie’s appetite represents more than a hunger for food. It’s a yearning for love and comfort in all forms. Each character in the story has an obsession, something that could be seen as ugly about them. At the same time all of them are loveable to someone, in some way. Edie, who’s husband leaves her because of her weight and her unwillingness to take care of her health, finds love and romance with a Chinese chef who needed someone to cook for after his wife died. He is delighted with Edie and her appetite and cooks her all the dumplings she will eat. Edie’s daughter, Robin, is an alcoholic. Her daughter-in-law, Rachelle, a control freak. Her son, Ben, a pot-head…and so on. To haul out an oldie, but a goody…the Middlesteins put the fun in family dys-fun-ction.  If you don’t see a tiny bit of yourself or your own family in the characters of this story, then lucky you.

imagesPotboiler– I admit it, I read this one because of the name. What a great name for a mystery. The beginning of this book was fantastic. Two college friends work for the college newspaper. One known as the scholarly one, the writer, and the other is the businessman, the advertising chief. Both of them are in love with the same girl. Writer waits for the relationship to unfold, but in the meantime, Businessman and Girl fall in love and get married. That’s the beginning of the end of the friendship. Writer goes on to publish one novel. It was a minor literary success, but it sold badly. He becomes an adjunct professor at a no-name college on the east coast. There is a waiting list for his class because of his modest fame, but the truth is he has not been able to produce more than a few strained pages of drivel here and there since his first novel. He’s struggling just to pay his bills. Businessman becomes a best-selling crime novelist making millions and lives in LA. Writer’s jealousy killed what was left of the friendship.

Twenty years later, in the present day, Businessman dies in a boating accident and his body is lost at sea. After a month, the search is called off and his widow (remember, Writer was in love with her) calls and asks him to come for the memorial service. While in LA, he sleeps with the widow, steals the last unpublished but mostly finished manuscript of the dead husband, goes back home, rewrites it a little, sells it with a three-book deal, makes millions, and goes on a cross-country book tour. He avoids the widow for as long as he can. He’s sure she’ll put two and two together, or probably already has. When he finally sees her, she doesn’t say a word about the theft except congratulations on his success. Then they shack up.

Now Writer has two problems:  First…he cannot figure out if she really doesn’t know he stole the book, knows and doesn’t care, or knows and is planning on using it against him somehow in the future. Second…he’s got publishers breathing down his neck for his next book and he’s only realizing now, that he’s not a very good writer. He cannot come up with the next story line. He’s desperate. He’s mining students’ old papers for ideas, ready to plagiarize again. If you’re the reader, you’re also thinking he may have a third problem… the husband’s body was never found !

It was at this point I said out loud “This is a GREAT book.” And that’s exactly when it went south too. For me anyway. Read on if you want. But don’t expect more of the same.

So…what have you been reading?


Posted in Books | Leave a comment

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

The Chaperone
My latest read was The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. It spans almost the whole 20th century about the life of a woman who came to the Midwest from NY on an orphan train. She has, at first, a lucky then very disappointing early life and marriage. She has sort of resigned herself to living out the rest of her unsatisfactory existence after her sons go off to college, when she is given the opportunity to chaperone an over-the-top precocious 15-year-old to New York. She takes advantage, and has her own adventure that determines the rest of her life even when she returns home  to the Midwest. It was a really good story. I’ve decided it would make a terrific mini-series and yesterday on my run I was making casting considerations for it in my head.
Posted in Books | Leave a comment