I spent the first half of 2014 complaining that it was a slow year for Un-Herd awesomeness, but it turns out that it was as good a year as any; it's just that it's getting harder and harder to even find out about these releases. For example, I count myself as a pretty big Silver Sun fan, and yet I had no idea they had a new album out (which may or may not have been released in 2013 or 2014 - even the exact year is difficult to discern). Ditto Chris Devotion & the Expectations. I mean, if the news of their work isn't even reaching the people actively looking for it, what chance do these artists have of reaching your casual, garden-variety music listener? And this is supposed to be the age of information.
The Un-Herd Music Top 50 of 2014
1. The Nuclears- This Is How We Party
This is no ersatz garage rawk, and it's definitely not made by artsy
dipshits slumming it out in the sloppy psyche revival. Nope, what we got
here are some honest-to-jebus last remnants of the rock & roll true
believers, mixing and matching every impulse they can remember from
their dad's dusty elpee collection.
2. Spoon - They Want My Soul
Like no other band since REM, they've somehow managed to gain
popularity with each successive album while staying true to their
original intent and, if anything, getting slightly weirder as they've
3. Ex Hex - Rips
Shutting the door on her indie-prog past with Helium, Mary Timony here
concentrates on that basic 4/4 beat and some zippy power pop
4. Nude Beach - 77
A sprawling and overwhelming collection that funnels everything Nude Beach suggested on their two previous
albums into more conventional songcraft and slightly better production.
5. Twin Peaks - Wild Onion
Combining a probably harmful Lou Reed fixation with the ambition to
equal the pop appeal of Lennon/McCartney, Twin Peaks allow their rock & roll heart to be exposed on this 16 track behemoth.
6. The Both - The Both
The combination of Ted Leo and Aimee Mann somehow manages to make two already great halves into an even greater whole.
7. The Rich Hands - Out Of My Head
Their 2012 debut claimed the Rich Hands as part of the ragged garage pop
revival without really offering the suggestion that they could stand
out from the pack. Well, Out Of My Head's heady mix of 70s power pop, T.Rex glam, bubblegum punk and boozy Southern soul changes that perception.
8. The Jeanies - The Jeanies
With the late, great Plimsouls as their guardian angels, the Jeanies play muscular power pop with
faint R&B derivations, offering a clutch of should-could-won't-be classics that deserve far more attention than the void of indifference that has met them so far.
9. Little Jackie - Queen of Prospect Park
Copping arrangements from 60s girl groups and marrying them to modern
production touches is what Little Jackie does, and the success of the
tactic depends entirely on the strength of the melodic hooks - and this
album is loaded with 'em.
10. Happyness - Weird Little Birthday
Off kilter cool that sounds either like a Sparklehorse album as played by Pavement, or a Pavement
album as played by Mark Linkous, and attains a strange magic hour
ambiance that just won't let me stop playing it.
11. The Breakdowns - Rock 'n' Roller Skates
Hits on everything cool from 50s doo wop to 70s skinny tie power pop to klassic Kiss cheese to Ramones bamalama while forging into the future. I mean, really, what's not to love?
12. Needles//Pins - Shamebirds
Another step forward for this band that effortlessly hides pure pop hooks in their short, sharp blasts of ragged punk.
13. Chris Devotion & the Expectations - Break Out
It's hard not to reach back to the glory days of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe when describing this Scottish outfit, which pretty succinctly sums up why you need it.
14. Nicole Atkins - Slow Phaser
Like PJ Harvey meeting the Shangri-Las in the red velvet glitz of an off-Broadway theatre.
15. The Solicitors - Blank Check
When I say this album sounds like it should have been the second release by the Jags I mean to compliment both bands, and to assure any readers who get the reference that they're in for a major treat.
16. Fauna Flora - Fauna Flora
A gorgeous melancholy song cycle that reveals further layers with every listen.
17. The CRY! - Dangerous Game
An addictive rush of bubblegum punk that conjures up no less of a spirit than the dearly departed Exploding Hearts.
18. Sugar Stems - Only Come Out At Night
This pop punk bunch has flirted with greatness before, but this time out they've not only sharpened the hooks but have delved further into the Spector-esque ghost of girl groups past.
19. Lydia Loveless - Somewhere Else
Loveless brings a raw rocker's edge to the proceedings, which not only scuffs up the Americana sound but lends a cynical post-feminist intelligence to the lyrics.
20. Watts - Flash of White Light
A tightly packed firecracker superstring of Keef riffs, ACDC stomp, bad attitude and pop smarts. Play it at your next party if you want to bust a lease.
21. The Soft White Sixties Get Right.
22. The Ricky C Quartet Recent Affairs
23. Reigning Sound Shattered
24. Cheap Cassettes All Anxious, All The Time
25. New Swears Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever
26. Broncho Just Enough Hip To Be A Woman
27. Silver Sun A Lick And A Promise
28. Velociraptor Velociraptor
29. Steve Conte Steve Conte NYC
30. Ming City Rockers Ming City Rockers
31. Motel Beds These Are The Days Gone By
32. Sunrise Highway Windows
33. Jamie T Carry On The Grudge
34. Ex Cops Daggers
35. Linus of Hollywood Something Good
36. Brand New Hate Hangover and Over
37. Gramercy Arms The Seasons of Love
38. Dum Dum Girls Too True
39. The Number Ones #1's
40. Actual Water Call 4 Fun
41. Chains of Love L.P.
42. Sweet Apple Golden Age of Glitter
43. Phonograph Phonograph Vol. 1
44. The Grates Dream Team
45. The Men Tomorrow's Hits
46. Nick Waterhouse Holly
47. Papernut Cambridge There's No Underground
48. Split Squad Now Hear This
49. Chuck Prophet Night Surfer
50. James Williamson Re-Licked
1. Spoon Do You
2. The Nuc1ears I Can't Quite Say
3. Ex Hex Waterfa11
4. Nude Beach I'm Not 1ike You
5. Twin Peaks Mind Frame
6. The Breakdowns Rock City Limit
7. Chris Devotion & the Expectations If You Wanna 1eave
8. Nico1e Atkins Cool People
9. Litt1e Jackie Sweet
10. The Rich Hands 1 Get By
11. Need1es//Pins I'm a Drag
12. Reiqning Sound In My Dreams
13. The CRY Seventeen
14. The So1icitors Pretty Penny
15. Happyness Great Minds Think A1ike, A11 Brains Taste the Same
16. The Both Vo1unteers of America
17. Fauna F1ora Happy Hour
18. The Jeanies I Think You're The Wrong One
19. Suger Stems Sun Rise, Sea Change
20. Ve1ociraptor Robocop
21. The Soft White Sxties Up To The Light
22. New Swears Stay Go1d
23. Ming City Rockers Twist It
24. Si1ver Sun Have a Good Time, All of the Time
25. The Cheap Cassettes B1ack Viny1!
I've been seeing a pile of Best of 2014 lists, and they all seem to offer a puzzling consensus on what are supposed to be the best albums of the year. Predictably enough, very few of them are part of the Un-Herd universe. So while the members of the mainstream (and mainstream indie as defined by the likes of Pitchfork - I mean, at this stage of the game, is there any notable difference between the two?) suck on each others' faces, I'll just continue on as the uninvited third wheel, promoting the unfairly neglected... or the gloriously ignored, depending on how you want to look at it. And, as always, there's lots to sort through before I attempt a UHM Best of the Year. Keep an eye out, though - it's coming.
1. Jamee T Zombie
2. Cowbe11 Change Her Ways
3. Ex Hex How You Got That Gir1
4. The Pau1 & John Long Way Back
5. Linus of Ho11ywood Don't Fuck It Up
6. Shove1s & Rope Coping Mechanism
7. Litt1e Jackie Lose It
8. King Tuff Eddie's Song
9. Broncho C1ass Historian
10. LVL UP Annie's a Witch
11. Mote1 Beds Smoke Your Homework
12. The Soft White Sixties You Are Go1d
13. Mathew Ryan Suffer No More
14. Ming City Rockers I Wanna Get Out of Here But I Can't Take You Anywhere
15. Doug Gi11ard On Target
16. The Vase1ines Crazy Lady
17. Team Spirit Teenage Heart
18. James Wi11iamson w/ Richmond S1uts Wet My Bed
19. Watts Rocks
20. Sing1e Mothers Money
21. The Jeanies The Girl's Gonna Go
22. Eight Rounds Rapid Dostoevsky
23. The Popguns If You Ever Change Your Mind
24. The Grates What's Wrong With You
Listen, I'm not saying that it's necessarily a bad thing to open your house to a fat, unshaven old man who wants to ply your child with gifts, I'm just saying a background check might first be prudent.
1. The Connection Rock 'n' Ro1l Christmas
2. The JAC I Don't Want Your Presents
3. The Dol1yrots I Saw Mommy Biting Santa Claus
4. Karen Basset It's A1most Christmas Time
5. The Undecided By Defau1t This Christmas
6. Te1evision City The Night Johnny Thunders Saved Christmas
7. Greg Pope Christmas Snow
8. The Davnports Whore for the Ho1idays
9. Dum Dum Gir1s On Christmas
10. The New Mendicants A Very Sorry Christmas
11. Ash I Wish It Cou1d Be Christmas Every Day
12. The Kavanaghs Kinda Cool
13. The So1icitors Help Me Forget
14. Katte Nash I Hate You This Christmas
15. Los Campesinos! Lone1y This Christmas
16. Fitz & the Tantrums Santa Sto1e My Lady
17. The Sp1it Squad Another Lonely Christmas
18. Cathy Harrington Sha La La
19. TV Smith Xmas B1oody Xmas
20. The Legendary Tiger Man Fuck Christmas, I Got The B1ues
All previous cynical, jebus-hatin' Santa-baitin' Xmas mixes here.
The fact that it took this blog over 4 years to reach the landmark of 100,000 hits pretty much outlines the very notion of Un-Herd. This will never be a popular site (and let me just thank those few kindred souls out there who continue to visit and comment - it's both appreciated and comforting), and likewise most of the bands championed will tragically never be huge sellers, but neither of those dour predictions take anything away from the greatness of the music. So I'm using this occasion as an opportunity to offer some gratitude by returning to the primal source of the music I cherish.
Rock 'n' roll. It's a name that sounds so quaint and old-fashioned now, easy to forget that it started as a hip euphemism for sex. Every time I say it out loud I can't help visualize Dick Clark heartlessly uttering it just before introducing some anti-rock abomination on American Bandstand. Ol' Dick talked it, but sure as shit didn't walk it, and his show was quite obviously uncomfortable with the real deal and instead sought safety in whitewashed treacle by Fabian, Frankie Avalon, and their ilk and, ultimately (and predictably), sided with the cold, mechanical conservatism of disco over the untamed beast of rock 'n' roll.
I've long held the belief that a band is entirely worthless if they can't master the simple 4/4 beat of rock 'n' roll. It's seemingly so simple, usually scoffed at by musicians and prog fans, but here's the thing: most of the people scoffing can't do it. Oh, they can play a 4/4, but they can't make it move. It's like Bob Seger's attempted tribute to the music, "Old Time Rock & Roll." All the elements are there (and hey, Seger was a true fan with some stone cold classics to his credit) but in the years between "Rambling Gambling Man" and Night Moves Bob had lost the plot. As a result, "Old Time Rock & Roll" just lied there, static, unmoving. Devoid of swing. Dead on the carpet. A dusty museum piece that was more of an embalming than a celebration. I fucking hate that song so much, because so many people can't hear the difference between it and the real thing.
Another key element to a band's worth is a sense of humor. And that's not to mean comedic. A great rock 'n' roll band holds two key contradictory beliefs: 1) they take it utterly seriously, and 2) they know it's all a little ridiculous. Take as an example my fave band of all time, the New York Dolls. Their sartorial choices poked fun at the very notion of teen idol sexuality, turning the Jagger/Richards model into an awesome cartoon. You couldn't look at them without at least a smirk, and you could see them smirking back. And yet, those guys lived and died for the music (three fifths of them quite literally). You can extrapolate that same sentiment to all the greats along the continuum, from Elvis's self-parodying hip gyrations to the Sex Pistols and Johnny Rotten's simultaneous hatred for rock 'n' roll and his absolute commitment to singing it. It was funny, and they meant it, man.
True rock 'n' roll is about transcendence. It's about breaking out of the mortal bounds, both societal and psychological, however briefly. It taps into religiosity. That's why the lyrics are often incidental. Exhortations to dance, to rock, to roll, to get crazy; demands for more and, if not more, at least for something else. It's what that smug Steve Allen couldn't comprehend back in the day when he intoned the lyrics of "Be Bop A Lula" in an attempt to demonstrate its idiocy. Of course it was idiotic; that's what made it genius! Steve Allen only managed to show he didn't get it. Plus he helped draw the battle lines that still exist to this day (and if they've faded at all, I'm always available with my chalk to redraw them).
This mix, then, is straight rock 'n' roll. You'll hear a lot of the Holy Trinity of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Guitars, drums, bass, pounding 88s, saxophones that squeal and honk. Background vox as gang chants. Vocalists that whoop and holler and shred their larynx in the pursuit of that unexplainable Other. No genre splicing. No experiments. Just the real hairy deal.
This music doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel; this is the wheel.
1. The Yum Yums Let's Rock & Roll
2. JD McPherson North Side Gal
3. The Meows This Man's Crazy
4. The F1eshtones Hard Lovin' Man
5. River City Rebe1s Her New Man
6. Heavy Trash The Loveless
7. Barrence Whitfie1d & the Savages Hey Little Girl
8. De1 Moroccos I Want Some More
9. Two Wounded Birds Daddy's Junk
10. The Computers Se1ina Chinese
11. The Detroit Cobras Shout Bama Lama
12. Jim Jones Revue High Horse
13. Lucero Women & Work
14. The Bamboo Kids Bad Man
15. Brand New Hate Hoochie Coochie Baby
16. Nick Curran & the Low Lifes Baby You Crazy
17. Janis Martin As Long As I'm Movin'
18. The New Trocaderos Real Gone Kitty
19. Joe E1y & Sue Fo1ey Great Balls of Fire
20. Teenage Head You're Tearing Me Apart
21. Lars Fredriksen & the Bastards 6 Foot 5
22. The Outrageous Va1entinos Action Man
23. The Fondas Might As Well Go
24. The Dozen Dimes All I Wanna Do Is Roll
25. The Stompers Rock, Jump, and Holler
26. The Swingin' Neckbreakers Rip It, Rip It Up
27. Nikki Hi1l Strapped To The Beat
28. Screamin' Stukas Action
29. Chuck E. Weiss Jimmy Would
30. 1an Hunter Still Love Rock 'n' Roll
Popular in their home country of Australia yet puzzlingly obscure everywhere else, You Am I occupy that gray area in the UnHerd universe. A populist band whose only sin was to favor those heralded virtues of the past: melody, hooks, guitars, and passion packed into the 3 minute glory shot. They combined go-for-broke rock & roll with wit and wounded romanticism in a way that's comparable to the Replacements, with front man Tim Rogers equally liable to pen a heart-on-the-sleeve confessional ballad as a raging slab of punk insolence. That unclassifiable range, of course, might be the aspect that kept them from the larger audience they so clearly deserved - but it's also what turned me into such a fan. Their last transmission as a band was in 2010, so let's hope this story isn't finished yet.
1. Baby Clothes
2. If We Can't Get It Together
3. Heavy Heart
4. Radio Rumble
5. ...And Vandalism
6. Kick a Hole in the Sky
7. One Cent Coins
11. Givin' Up and Gettin' Fat
12. We Hardly Knew You
Tracks 1, 2 from Hourly, Daily (1996) Tracks 3, 4, 5 from You Am I's #4 Record (1998) Track 6 from Dress Me Slowly (2001) Track 7 from Damage EP (2000) Track 8, 9 from Deliverance (2002) Track 10 from Convicts (2007) Track 11 from Dilettantes (2008) Track 12 from You Am I (2010)
Still behind any regular schedule, but still finding the gems. This past third of the year has seen some amazingly good releases, and some equally amazing teasers for upcoming releases. It looks like when it's all said and done, and after a slow start, 2014 will be as good a year for UnHerd music as any.
And on an up note, I've recently heard the new Spoon reckid blasting from a yuppie mansion and at the local gym. That suggests Spoon have wormed their way into the consciousness of the greater public, which is extremely gratifying for someone that's been a fan since their days of being booted off the A&M label. "The Agony of Lafitte" must seem like a million years ago to Britt Daniel. Congrats to him and them. And even further congrats for They Want My Soul, the album and the song. The album is completely awesome, and the song might be my favorite track the band has yet produced (which is why it's leading off this mix's hit parade).
It's a small victory for the good guys. Next task: get the rest of these bands blasting outta gyms, houses, and clubs.
1. Sp00n They Want My Soul
2. S1oan Keep Swinging (Downtown)
3. Brand New Hate Feeling Bad Feels Good
4. Happiness It's On You
5. Army Navy The Mistakes
6. Lydia Love1ess I Really Wanna See You
7. Har1an Pepper TV/ Let It Slide
8. Stephen Lawrenson Obscuriosity
9. The So1icitors If You Let Me Hold You
10. Bitrs Indigo
11. The #1s Sharon Shouldn't
12. Twin Peaks Making Breakfast
13. Reining Sound My My
14. Blue Skies for B1ack Hearts The Past
15. The Dwarves Sluts of the USA
16. Suger Stems Some Might Say
17. Nude Beech For You
18. Sp1it Squad Feel The Same About You
19. A1vvays Archie, Marry Me
20. The Orwe11s Bathroom Tile Blues
21. The Phenomenauts One in Seven Billion Girl
22. Strand of 0aks Goshen '97
23. The Muffz Paint By Numbers
24. The Empty Harts I Don't Want Your Love (If You Don't Want Me)
This year's summer mix comes when there's not much summer left. Suffice to say, life has been considerably too busy to enjoy the sun as much as the little guy above. This mix is the usual sweltering smorgasbord of different eras and genres, and should work nicely for those last few pool parties - or even for that first hint of Fall. Summer's coming ----> summer's gone.
1. Adam Danie1 Summer's Coming
2. James Younger Quiet Life
3. Pa1ma Violets California Sun
4. Si1ver Sun Last Day
5. Beach Day Walking On The Streets
6. Bedouin Soundc1ash When The Night Feels My Song
7. Brownsvi1le Station Go Out And Get Her
8. The Vio1et Archers Time To Kill
9. Ween Flutes Of Chi
10. The Zutons Valerie
11. Pa1oma Faith Taste My Own Tears
12. The Mounties Tokyo Summer
13. Dead Professiona1 Hold Back
14. Happiness Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste The Same
15. Ted Leo + the Pharmacists Already Too Late
16. Auburn Day Dreamin'
17. Foxygn No Destruction
18. The F1eshtones Tear For Tear
19. Average Times Summer Nights
20. Nikki & the Corvettes Summertime Fun
21. The Lo1as Having A Party
22. Phonagraph Waiting For The Sun
23. Chrissy Hynde You Or No One
24. The Proper Ornaments Summer's Gone
SWM, slim, attractive, likes candle-lit dinners, romantic walks in the rain, the purring of contented kittens, and pointing and laughing at the handicapped. No head games please.
Everything on this blog is an attempt to support bands and artists that I feel deserve more attention. If you have a problem with my use of a song or a link, please contact me directly and I'll simply remove it. T'ain't no big thang.