I Shit Music’s Top 20 Concerts of 2014


Marriage planning and grad-school kept me from seeing a few bands I would have loved to have seen this past year, but I still caught some gigs that will resonate within me for years to come. Also, like it should have been, the band at my wedding put on one of the greatest musical performances of my entire existence but that’s for my family and friends to revel in personally. Big ups are due to Pacific Northwest festivals which led to nine of my greatest individual musical experiences of the year. I’ve also for the first time decided to include Phish concerts in this list, if not solely for the intent of showing how they stack up with my other musical loves. Oh, and if Book of Mormon was considered a concert, it would have posed some stiff competition this year.

20) War on Drugs - Pickathon – Happy Valley, OR – 8/1
19) Phish – SPAC – Saratoga, NY – 7/4
18) Spoon - NXNW – Portland, OR – 8/17
17) Big Chief Monk Boudreaux - Jazz Fest – New Orleans, LA – 4/26
16) Foxygen - Pickathon – Happy Valley, OR – 8/1
15) Phish - MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, NV – 11/2
14) Polica - Treefort – Boise, ID – 3/22
13) Moistboys - Doug Fir – Portland, OR – 3/6
12) Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Star Theater – Portland, OR – 3/15
11) Dr. Dog - Crystal Ballroom – Portland, OR – 3/3
10) tUnE-yArDs - NXNW – Portland, OR – 8/17
09) Built To Spill - Treefort  – Boise, ID – 3/22 & 3/23
08) Beck - Edgefield – Troutdale, OR – 8/21
07) Haim - NXNW – Portland, OR – 8/17
06) Fleetwood Mac - Moda Center – Portland, OR – 11/22
05) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Some Dude’s Living Room – Portland, OR – 3/20
04) Perfect Pussy - Treefort – Boise, ID – 3/23
03) Diarrhea Planet - Pickathon – Happy Valley, OR – 8/1
02) Parquet Courts - Doug Fir – Portland, OR – 5/23
01) Phish - MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, NV – 10/31

 

20) War on Drugs - Pickathon – Happy Valley, OR – August 1
Daytime set on a stage made of trees in the middle of the woods – the ideal setting for this band.

19) Phish – SPAC – Saratoga, NY – July 4
One of my all time favorite venues to see the band, on our nation’s birthday, and with the first “Fuego” to fully launch.

18) Spoon - NXNW – Portland, OR – August 17
A perfect Summer night on the waterfront with modern legends in fine form.

17) Big Chief Monk Boudreaux - Jazz Fest – New Orleans, LA – April 26
My first time going deep with the Mardi Gras Indians – a spectacle in the sonic, visual, and emotional sense.

16) Foxygen - Pickathon – Happy Valley, OR – August 1
Everybody else thought this set was horrible, but I thought it was everything I hoped to experience seeing the kids for the first time.

15) Phish - MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, NV – November 2
The capper to a ridiculous 3-night run found the band firing on all cylinders.

14) Polica - Treefort – Boise, ID – March 22
Who knew they had double-drummers? Ridiculously tight and magical in a way their albums can’t touch.

13) Moistboys - Doug Fir – Portland, OR – March 6
Ween might be dead, but Mickey (Deaner) is still out there destroying rooms. The only natural-occurring mosh-pit I’ve ever seen happen in Portland.

12) Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Star Theater – Portland, OR – March 15
The band was both the loosest and tightest I’ve ever seen them, and the place erupted for the “Stereo” encore.

11) Dr. Dog - Crystal Ballroom – Portland, OR – March 3
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad Dr. Dog show, but this was just one of those extra amazing gigs. The spring-board floors at the Crystal were bouncing at least 4 inches.

10) tUnE-yArDs - NXNW – Portland, OR – August 17
Blew me the fuck away. The only thing more amazing than the afro-space-beat grooves is how sh’es building and looping them live on stage.

09) Built To Spill - Treefort  – Boise, ID – March 22 and 23
Seeing Doug Martsch in Boise felt like being at Built To Spill fantasy camp – the hometown pride was bubbling over from all angles.

08) Beck - Edgefield – Troutdale, OR – August 21
I’d seen Beck before and was let down, but this was an all out caucasian funk fest with the band stretching out and Michael Jackson covers thrown in for good measure.

07) Haim - NXNW – Portland, OR – August 17
I was already in love with the Haim sisters, but experiencing them crush their set so hard was inspiring to say the least.

06) Fleetwood Mac - Moda Center – Portland, OR – November 22
I wouldn’t have gone if my wife doesn’t pray at the alter of Stevie Nicks, but the show was phenomenal. With Christine Mcvie back on board, there was little separating this band from who they were in their glory years.

05) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Some Dude’s Living Room – Portland, OR – March 20
Alec Ounsworth playing acoustic for 40 people while we all sat on the floor was an experience I’ll remember all my life.

04) Perfect Pussy - Treefort – Boise, ID – March 23
I believe the set clocked in at 24 minutes and it was one of the most intense, breath-taking, enormous gigs I’ve ever attended.

03) Diarrhea Planet - Pickathon – Happy Valley, OR – August 1
Holy shit. Strong contenders for greatest live band on the planet right now – honestly crushed me. Late night, in a barn, and with people literally hanging from the rafters.

02) Parquet Courts - Doug Fir – Portland, OR – May 23
They’re my favorite band right now, and this set finally gave me an inkling of what New York City gigs in 1978 felt like. I had to hide my tears of joy once or twice.

01) Phish - MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, NV – October 31
I’ve seen the band 190 times, and this gig is easily in my top ten favorites. Phenomenal innovation from a 30 year old band that still dominates all competition.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Kravitz

Avi Buffalo: The Best Band You Never Bothered Paying Attention To


PrintTwo days ago, Avi Zahner-Isenberg announced that he was closing the book on his indie-alt/rock band, Avi Buffalo. If that name sounds familiar but you can’t place the music, it’s probably because they’re the band that you eyes have always skipped over when scanning through the Sub Pop label roster. Being a small name on a big label like that can be both a blessing and a curse; you’re likely to garner some attention and potential fans simply from your label attachment, but you’re also bound to be put on the lower echelon of priorities for said label.

I first encountered Avi when his band was opening up for Akron/Family here in Portland two years ago. He was just of legal drinking age, and I thought the kid had just the right balance of snark, charm, and songwriting skills to be an artist I could really get into. However, a lot of the songs that won me over that night were just released this past September on his sophomore album, At Best Cuckold. So that is perhaps a sign that the band wasn’t as much of a priority as it had once been for him. In his statement on facebook, Avi writes: I started it when I was a wee-15 year-old and it went WAY farther than I thought it could. In fact, the Avi Buffalo project went too far, and I don’t think this project was meant for even the minute exposure on a “professional” scale that it got, as it ended up causing a lot more pain and drained my creative energy. It makes me wake up sick, confused, depressed, out of touch with myself and irrelevant to current music’s existence. I know ya’ll wouldn’t want me to stay like that! Other more exciting and meaningful creative endeavors are what I have sought after instead, and as I am a spritely, young 24 year old, I’ve gotta lot of work to do and no time to be devoted to a sluggish incarnation of my teenaged self.

It makes sense – you can only ride that teenage dream for so long, and when your popularity has stayed on a plateau for a little while, it’s probably a good sign to start something new. But that being said, the kid can write some killer indie-rock hooks and has some great ideas rolling around in that head of his, so I hope he doesn’t self-relegate himself to being somebody’s sideman. The sad fact of the matter is that in the mid to late 90’s, a band like this on Sub Pop would have triumphantly flourished. But these days the only way an act like Avi Buffalo can make any money is to tour constantly, and being away from the people you love when your life is still kicking into gear is a trying burden for any sensible human being. So remember friends – if you hear a band you like, then give them fuckin’ money. Simple as that. Check out the cut that first won me over, which Sub Pop just released the new video for last week, and which features Avi in all his falsetto glory – “Think It’s Gonna Happen Again.”

Album Review: Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper


Layout_11_A_FINAL_CorrOver the past decade, no artist has showcased a greater fear of stagnancy than Noah Lennox. Be it with his cohorts in Animal Collective or on his own as Panda Bear, each subsequent release has shown a further push into neo-psychedelic experimentation that brings out a comparable naivety in previous efforts. Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper is such a vast leap from the dream-drones that I wrongly presumed had defined his existence on 2007’s Person Pitch, that I can only presume in a few more years he will have fully evolved into the post-human starchild.

As such, arriving with a clean slate is the best way to approach Grim Reaper. Lennox presents himself here in full 70’s-Eno disciple mode, trading out many of his booming back-beats for futuristic soundscapes – almost like he’s compiling an audition tape for the next Ridley Scott movie. “Mr. Noah” starts out with 50 seconds of what can only be appropriately described as the sound of X-wing starfighters landing at a puppy farm. When the beat kicks in, it’s more of a driving rock pulse than we’ve ever heard from him before. The only thing that’s still congruent with his past self is the incomprehensible lyrics; I presume they have something to do with death, but it’s easiest to absorb them as you would a Buddhist mantra – it’s more about the sound than the words themselves.

Further on, the backing drums continue to be the most startling part of the equation. The pumping groove of “Crosswords” sounds like somebody laced the punch at a Jockjams listening party. In fact, it’s not until halfway through the album, on “Boys Latin,” that anything resembling one of his old head-nodders bubbles up. It pairs nicely with the following groove of “Come To Your Senses” in which Lennox repeatedly asks “are you mad” (Hey, I understood those lyrics!) The answer to that question lies in the song title itself, and also serves as the reply to anyone critical of his ventures into new sonic frontiers.

Things get far more delicately lofty from there on out, and consequently far more beautiful. “Tropic Of Cancer” is centered on a cycling harp pattern that could serve as the waiting room music for the pearly gates. “Lonely Wanderer” manifests the same effect with a looping piano line that does its best to blur the line between yourself and whatever couch you may be melting into. “Principe Real” adds some kick/snare to the ethereal drift, and you can easily imagine this one soaring over a darkened festival field.

Things end triumphantly with “Acid Wash,” which is most surprising in the fact that it took him so long to give a song that title. However, it has echoes of both his past and future selves – a convergence of his previous incarnations something akin to one of those Christmas episodes of Dr. Who. And truly, if there’s anybody worth being labeled a timelord of sonic realms, it’s Panda Bear. Like always, it’s never too late to start your journey with him.

Interpreting the Flying Lotus Video For Coronus, The Terminator


zzzflyloFlying Lotus released You’re Dead! in October, but the layers of depth associated with the album keep expanding. If you haven’t yet delved into the record, be prepared for a sonic voyage through man’s existential crisis; crafted through the listener’s own interpretation of how these songs potentially relate to their own morality as members of the current human race. In other words, not only does it sounds amazing, but it reaches an emotional heaviness light years beyond any other music from last year. I ranked it at number five on my Best Of 2014 list. Last week, FlyLo released the video for “Coronus, The Terminator” – an eerily angelic track that is gloriously expanded to nearly twice its original running length here. I’ve been reading a lot of folks’ interpretations over the last week, and while I feel like I’d have a firmer grasp of what was occurring if I were more well versed in The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, I’ve come up with a narrative that I hope at least slightly resembles the message he was trying to convey.

Through a series of tweets last Fall, Lotus relayed that not only is he “singing about the end of mankind on this song” but that he wrote this song off the top of his head and it’s about The Terminator. He also said last week that “For me, ‘Coronus’ is one of the most important moments on ‘You’re Dead!’ and holds ideas I’m planning to explore in my future work. I’m happy that the visual encapsulates the meaning of the record and this ambition”

So what’s happening here. Obviously the man is dying, and it’s clear that his death is somehow connected with the boy missing an arm. Is that boy his son? It’s unclear, and potentially not relevant. We do see that when the family is laying hands upon the dying body, the boy backs away with a look of contempt in his eyes. Is the boy angry? Frightened? Sad? He could easily be feeling any and/or all of those emotions. Either way, the video is trying to make us understand that the man’s death and the boy’s missing arm are resulting from a mutual event. I think… The blatant emphasis on the imagery seems to say yes, but the fact that the boy’s arm seems like it has healed, and thus is a result from an event that occurred well before this man’s death, leads me to potentially say no. For now, let’s say the events are related.

As the man enters the quasi-purgatory realm, we see the three men covered in white ash coming for him. These men represent the beacons of death itself – they are coming to take him to the after-life. Now, it’s unclear whether they are just there to lead his transition to either the divine above or the darkness below, but there is something undeniably sinister about them. Possibly the ash represents the residue of brimstone – these men have passed through the fire below to bring this man down with them.

We see the man flee from them, upon which he runs into the boy. The boy then leads him through a darkened encampment of souls who are still dwelling within purgatory. As they come out from under the bridge though, they emerge in the light – signifying hope and a possible release into the heavens. The man kneels in the water, and water is always used as a purifier; perhaps here symbolizing the man cleaning himself of Earthly sins. The boy then pulls out his robotic arm, (a clear Terminator nod), and shoots the man in the back of the head. But instead of blood shooting out, we see flowers. This tells us that this is a moment of release, not necessarily destruction. At the same time we flip back to the bedside where we see the two looking into each other’s eyes as the man passes.

It seems clear to me that the boy is setting the man free. He is using one last act of human pain to release the man from purgatory and potentially from the draw of the men in ash. Thus, it’s possible that the man’s death is a result of his own actions, which also were the cause of the boy’s missing limb. So the man feels grief towards what he has done to the boy, and the boy is granting him forgiveness. However, it’s also possible to see that the man’s death is a result of the boy’s actions, as is the cause of the boy’s missing limb. So perhaps the boy had put himself in some sort of deadly situation of which the man saved him by sacrificing his own life. In that case, it would seem more likely that the man is the boy’s father and that the grief we see in him is his lament for leaving his boy behind and not being able to protect him anymore. Thus, the penance his son has to be is to acknowledge his own role in sending the man to the afterlife.

This final scene also seems to be a clear flip-of-the-script on the end of Terminator 2, where it is now the robotic force setting man free to die instead of vice-versa. The lyrics do say “The days of men are coming to an end/So come with me, if you want to live/You come from a time where they look the same/And think the same too/There’s nowhere left to go, so I’d like to save you/They all want to be saved.” If the days of men are ending, then we should look for grave in being freed to a world of salvation.

The vagueness of the story line here provides greater strength to the overall interpretation. It’s not important to know the background of the situation – what’s important is to understand the release from physical pain and death, and to realize that our actions are tied tightly with other human beings in both out Earthly forms and beyond. What’s incredibly clear is that FlyLo is one really psychedelic fella, and that he’s ready to grab the existential crisis of man’s place in the universe by the proverbial balls. Do you see it differently? Let me know in the comments.

What We’re Listening To – ISM Playlist #7 – 01/25/15


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA rather laid-back stock this go round, but featuring a couple tracks off the new Panda Bear record and Dr. Dog’s new live album. Also one from The Pop Group, an early punk/post-punk English band that just recently came onto my radar. Also learned this week that there are no Silver Jews albums on Spotify. Bummer, but all the more reason to give them your actual money. Enjoy friends.

 

  1. Nico – “Fairest Of The Seasons” – 1967
  2. Panda Bear – “Lonely Wanderer” – 2015
  3. Radiohead – “I Will” – 2003
  4. Wilco – “Hell Is Chrome” – 2014
  5. Sir Douglas Quintet – “Mendocino” – 1968
  6. Dr. Dog – “That Old Black Hole (Live)” – 2015
  7. Neutral Milk Hotel – “Holland, 1945” – 1998
  8. Miniature Tigers – “Goldskull” – 2010
  9. Stereolab – “Neon Beanbag (Atlas Sound Remix)” – 2008
  10. Neil Young – “Pardon My Heart” – 1975
  11. The Rolling Stones – “Moonlight Mile” – 1971
  12. Grateful Dead – “Visions Of Johanna” – 1995
  13. Ghostface Killah – “Iron Maiden” – 1997
  14. The Pop Group – “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” – 1979

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Vigier

JEFF The Brotherhood Freak The Fuck Out Of Fans With New Pop Hook


zzzjeffBrothers Jake and Jamin Orrall have been releasing albums as JEFF The Brotherhood for 14 years – in other words, longer than any band should or could be able to ride a one-trick pony. But pony riders they are not, and while many folks have considered them the definitive sound of neo-psychedelic garage-rock, there have always been elements of pop riffs embedded in their work. So can you blame the dudes when they evolve to the point where they have enough ideas to write fully cohesive songs without long passages of instrumental thunder? Well, according to some of their fans, that’s enough to permanently throw them under the bus.

The band’s new album, Wasted On The Dream, is due out on March 10, and is their second release since signing with Warner Brothers in 2011. That signing, however, was done in conjunction with their family label, Infinity Cat Records – thus maintaining their nearly complete creative control of their own music. But if you read some comments from fans, that signing meant the demise of all their artistic integrity and their devolution into manufactured cogs of the corporate wheelhouse. Lighten the fuck up people.

What first caught my ears with the band in the first place was their ability to weave moments of witty pop into their explosive sonic assault. They’re like the opposite ratio of the Weezer game-plan. While Weezer goes for a 70% pop to 30% garage rock, JEFF are closer to the 30/70 level. So sure, those levels began to even out more on 2012’s Hypnotic NIghts, but it’d be foolish to consider it selling out. Are you telling me that if Warner Brothers approached your band and told you they were going to pay for Dan Auerbach to come in and produce, that you’d be opposed? Jake described the situation best in 2012 when he said “We write songs without anyone else in mind, so Dan brought in this idea of, ‘Well, you guys do what you do and I’ll present it so everyone else will understand.’”

Which brings us to the topic at hand – “Coat Check Girl” – the first of two singles released off the new album. It doesn’t have many hits on YouTube yet, but it’s got a solid number of thumbs down votes and here’s a sample of some of the comments:

“So disappointing. Let me know when you guys get serious again.”

“They’re about the money.”

“What is this shit,??? where are jeff the brotherhood, maybe is a joke….”

“By far the worst JTB song I have ever heard.”

“I’m confused.

Now of course the other single, “What A Creep,” is a little less polished and thus there are zero thumbs downs on it and the comments are nothing but devoted fanaticism. And of course, if you were to play both songs back-to-back to a novice listener, they would have no doubts about them being the same band or of there being any drastic sonic differences between the two. This says something about how people hear their favorite bands. When you become accustomed to any band, you subconsciously isolate out your favorite parts of songs and become oblivious to the parts that may conflict with your overall impression of their sound. So when you hear new music from said band, you hear the piece as a whole and thus those elements that you had negated before are now brought to the forefront. In other words, the parts you don’t like seem to ring out loudest because you’re hearing them in a new context.

Long story short, this new music from JEFF The Brotherhood is just as great as it’s ever been. Relax, if you don’t like “Coat Check Girl” then use it as your beer-break song next time you see them. The band still kicks gargantuan ass – judge for yourself below.

Album Review: Dr. Dog – Live At A Flamingo Hotel


zzzdogOutside of the jam-band world there aren’t many acts that need a live album in order to present the true core of their being, but there also aren’t many non-jam-band acts that elicit such a live fanaticism as Dr. Dog. And while they are wizards in the studio setting, they’re warriors on the stage; making Live At A Flamingo Hotel as essential for understanding the band as At Fillmore East is to The Allman Brothers. The key element of this record is clarity. My biggest gripe about seeing the band live in recent years is that some of the bigger venues they play have garbled sound-systems that are unable to fully convey the depth of the band’s on-stage dynamics. But Flamingo serves as a testament to them being the best live harmonizers in the game, as well as showcasing how enormous Frank McElroy’s role in the band is. And oh yeah, you can finally hear what Dimitri Manos is adding to the on-stage sound with his collection of electronic toys, (hint: it’s a little bit of everything.)

There’s a touch of snark in Scott McMicken’s voice that he hides in the studio, but that defines his live presence. It rings out gloriously in cuts like “That Old Black Hole” – elevating the entire emotion of the song to its intended form. The same goes for the beloved rasp of Toby Leaman – ringing out like reclaimed echoes of a snarling Rick Danko. Both men are passionate embracers of the moment, and this album serves as the first recorded documentation of them in their truest state of being.

Presumably, there are a few folks who will lament about the absence of some of their favorite tunes here, but for a catalog that currently reaches over 100, these 19 picks are hard to argue with. Calling any one a highlight would be downplaying the strength of them all, but some are more prone for you to hit ‘repeat’ than others. The cover of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Heart It Races” has become a live staple over the past few years and shines in its’ crispness here. “The Beach” opens up like a mid-“Echoes” Pink Floyd in Pompeii, and like several tracks here benefits from a far more tremendous build than its studio incarnation. “Too Weak To Ramble” is fleshed out in full-band form as opposed to its original sparceness, but it’s still just as massive of a soul squeezer. “Jackie Wants A Black Eye” is one of those “isn’t it great to be alive even though life sucks” songs, and as such thrives with the emotional support of the crowd. “Shadow People” is just downright enormous. From novice to diehard, old-schooler to youngin, indie-cat to neo-hippie, this album is crafted to entice and elevate them all – just like all of the band’s music, just like the band themselves. Truly timeless, this is a new touchstone record in the pantheon of live albums.

Are The New Basement Tapes Worth Your Time?


zzzzbasWell, that depends on how much time you got. Now just to be clear, there’s been two sets of “Basement Tapes” released in the past couple months. The one that seems essential for any human being that likes sound is The Basement Tapes Complete, which finally reveals everything from Bob Dylan & The Band’s Big Pink recordings in 1967 and 1968. With over 20 never-before-heard songs, as well as alternate takes and fresh remastering, it’s basically the sonic equivalent of somebody realizing that there was actually a whole other tomb buried next to King Tut that nobody noticed before. But the flip-side of the coin is Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes, a new T-Bone Burnett production featuring five modern artists putting music to recently discovered Dylan lyrics from 1967. It’s some rather auspicious timing for The River to come out at the same time as Tapes Complete, but I almost feel like it could have garnered more attention had it arrived without the massive shadow looming behind it. I mean, after listening to 139 tracks of the real deal, I’m not sure how many folks are hankering to hear 20 new tracks of debatable mimicry.

But before I heard the album and watched the “making of” videos, I thought the lineup for the project seemed fairly reasonable. Elvis Costello is a legend in his own regard and has already been part of some rather intriguing collaborations over the past few years. Jim James of My Morning Jacket is incredibly apt at merging the echoes of the past with the sound of the future in his own bands, and I personally love everything he touches, so he felt like a perfect choice. Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes is part of the new generation of Laurel Canyon revivalists, and while that’s not necessarily the Big Pink sound, it does mean he’s well in touch with the art of song-crafting. Plus, his band backed up Robbie Robertson on his last tours. I’ve been fairly vocal about my opposition to everything Mumford and Sons stands for, but I still thought Marcus might bring some good ideas to the table. I’m not all that familiar with Rhiannon Giddens and her Carolina Chocolate Drops, but both some twang and some estrogen were needed to round out the equation, so she seemed like as good a fit as any.

Watching the initial session footage is pretty trying – there’s a lot of self-doubt from essentially everyone but James and Costello – which is understandable. Being specifically asked to join a project like this is a far cry from any natural collaboration that would happen between these artists. There’s also the degrees of unease that arise from some of these folks being far more prepared than the others – both James and Goldmsith come in with a pile of worked-out songs, while Mumford and Giddens show up more-or-less empty-handed. So what came out of it?

Well, the resulting tracks are a far cry from anything you’d hear on the original Basement Tapes. Obviously, you can’t just flip a switch and reignite 50 year old magic. And it’s great that most everybody tried to find the natural background sound for the lyrics, rather than uncomfortably push these songs into a Big Pink mold. But at the same time, maybe there’s a reason these lyrics have been sitting in a box since 1967 – they’re not necessarily the pinnacle of Dylan’s genius. And that fact causes the most detriment to Goldsmith’s tunes – I’ve always thought of him as a better lyricist than composer, so using sub-par lyrics as a starting point pushes his output rather far into the “meh” category. Costello’s stabs are solid but mundane; they sound like they could have been pulled from the cutting room floor of his 2003 North album. James has the most success of anyone, capitalizing on the neo-soul sound he perfected on his 2013 solo record Regions of Light and Sound of God. Giddens’ work here is beautiful, but she seems strangely under-utilized. In fact, it’s pretty depressing to watch her in the documentary footage as it seems like they keep relegating her to be alone in the corner. The biggest surprise for me comes from Mumford. More than anyone, he has the ability to make these songs seem all his own, with the lyrics meshing perfectly with the instrumentation and sounding like they were written at the same moment rather than decades apart. Is it enough for me to rethink my stance on his band? Probably not, but it definitely upgraded my opinion of him ten-fold.

So is it worth your time? Yeah, it’s worth a spin. But if you’re like me, there’s a definitive line between tracks that work and those that don’t. It’s probably best to make a playlist of your favorites and stick to em’. If you trust me enough, than you can just skip to my 7 picks – listen below.

Grateful Dead Reunion – Here’s Why Trey Is The Only Logical Choice


zzzdeadWith rumors, debates, ponderings, and accusations starting to run amok over what the original members of the Grateful Dead would be doing for their 50th anniversary, it was all laid to rest when the official announcement came last week. To the relief of many, the dismay of many, and the impartialness of none, Trey Anastasio was announced as the lead guitarist. It was no surprise that a good chunk of folks have expressed their opposition to Trey at the helm – to those involved in the scene, Phish-hating has become as synonymous in the post-Jerry deadhead universe as Phil Lesh’s donor raps. For some reason, there have always been heads that have taken any praise towards Phish and their community of fans as a direct stab against the holy miracle of the Grateful Dead. It’s a degree of jadedness that’s not really found anywhere else in the music community, and is more a commentary on the one-track mind of some deadheads that Bob Weir pointed out years ago when he said his least favorite thing about deadheads is that they only listen to the Grateful Dead.

But here’s the thing: Phish has not once ever compared themselves to the Dead. In fact, as the years have gone by, the band have placed a high degree of intent on shying from the comparison – only at brief moments ever allowing the streams to cross. The mention of them being the new “torch bearers” of the hippie-band scene is something that has always originated from an ignorant press-base looking for the easiest way to describe the admittedly hard to decipher essence of the Phish scene. In the first few years following Garcia’s death, the angst from some deadheads was horrendous. Casual debates were quick to escalate to something more akin to Mafia turf-wars. And sadly, as many of the righteous lovers of the scene floated away once Garcia was gone, the primary model of your casual Dead fan became one who thought that societal angst and imposition of fear among non-heads was the crux of the lifestyle. This has eroded to a point where Furthur shows from the past few years have seen a parking lot overflowing with kids who weren’t even alive when Jerry walked the Earth, and who think the scene is more about being part of a gang than it is about enjoying amazing music. Which leads us to another fact – 20 years. It’s been two solid decades since Garcia was alive. Thus, claiming that any guitarist’s presence with his old band is a disgrace is a claim based on folks who haven’t looked at a calender since the internet started. Plain and simple folks, nobody is ever going to replace Garcia, and that’s why Trey is the perfect choice. We need elevation, not repetition.

“We are only disappointed when we feel entitled to something we didn’t get instead of accepting the greatness of what is offered.” I’ve seen this quotation floating around in a few different places over the last few days, so I’m not sure who to attribute it to, but it sums up what is going through a lot of people’s heads – they want the Grateful Dead. That ain’t happening folks, and thus the question is what do we want out of a guitar player? There are a ton of people on this planet that have mastered their Jerry licks. I guarantee that anyone reading this post has at least one friend who they think is amazing at guitar and sounds just like Garcia – but is that what you want? Do you just want a clone of the sound? Do you think that’s what Jerry would want? The Dead, Phish, and good music in general has always been about advancing – building upon the energies that have amassed and elevating them to the next realm. Believe me, I would love to witness the Grateful Dead. I was fifteen when Jerry died, and was just about to purchase my first GD ticket to see them at the Hartford Civic Center in the Fall of 95. But just because I missed them, doesn’t mean I want a fake version of them. If that’s your thing, then go see Sublime With Rome, or Journey with that Filipino dude. This is the same reason why I have never liked Dark Star Orchestra or Furthur  – I don’t want to pretend it’s the Grateful Dead. I want to embrace whatever music I see for what it is. So if you were hoping to see John Kadlecik play these shows, then guess what? You could have seen him do his thing anywhere over the past decade for a fraction of the cost. That, already happened. What’s going to happen in Chicago is something profoundly new.

The Grateful Dead need an entity. Regardless of guitar-playing ability, that’s what made Garcia so special. And like it or not, Anastasio is the greatest living entity in the world of expansive, psychedelic music these days. He has a creative role in the current universe of sound that nobody else does. He’s willing to be respectful of the sound but push it forward. If you don’t believe that the 1999 Phil and Phriends shows with Trey and Page are the greatest post-Jerry Grateful Dead moments of the past 20 years, then you’re lying to yourself. The music is explorational, innovative, and refreshing. The “kid” is going to take these Chicago gigs more serious than any gigs in his life, and any sense of disappointment will only be derived from preconceived notions of desire. Sure, I’m quick to downplay any stereotypical Dead/Phish comparisons, but I’m also a staunch defender in knowing in my heart that nobody will be more able to do this music the explorative justice it deserves better than Anastasio. But just in case you think there’s a better option, here’s a brief rundown of why other folks weren’t chosen. And just to be clear, Trey was the only name thrown out there that wasn’t vetoed by at least one original member of the band.

John Kadlecik - As I said before, we’re not looking for a Jerry clone, and the addition of Billy and Mickey isn’t enough to bring Furthur’s draw to stadium status. Props to JK though for writing this awesome statement about the gigs.

Stu Allen – If you just said “who?!?” – then that’s exactly the point. 60,000 folks aren’t going to Chicago for a guy they’ve never heard of. And if you think that nobody does Jerry licks better than Stu, then again remember that the majority of fans aren’t on board with you for wanting a Jerry clone. And quite frankly, even though I dig Stu, some nights he is quite far from being up to snuff.

Steve Kimock - Honestly, Kimock would have been my second choice. We all know that Jerry publicly acknowledged his love for him back in the Zero days, and I think he pushes the Garcia tone to untouched realms, but the biggest problem with Steve is that you never know what you’re gonna get. Some nights he’s on fire, some nights he’s half-asleep. And after his whole feud with the Lesh family 15 some-odd years ago, there’s still plenty of bad blood floating around. Plus, he doesn’t sing. Like Kadlecik, Kimock did make a lovely statement about the gigs.

Warren Haynes - Don’t even get me started. I know nobody is more butt hurt about not getting the call than Warren, but maybe if he actually listened to other musicians when he played he’d get some more respect outside of the Mule-fanatic’s camp. The dude’s head is stuck up his ass, and he uses any and every band he plays with as a backing track to his obnoxious soloing; not once ever paying attention to what the rest of the band is ever doing. Dude walks on toes like no other guitarist in the biz, including walking all over…

Jimmy Herring - If Herring had had the chance to play in Phil and Friends sans Warren, than I think he would have been a lot of folks’ first call. He’s got a tone all his own and he took the Dead catalog to a whole other universe in Jazz Is Dead. Unfortunately, he’s just way too humble and never was willing to stake his claim as the electric wizard that he is. That’s why he’s been relegated to Widespread.

Tom Hamilton - Are you fucking kidding me? I can’t believe his name has even been mentioned by anyone but I’ve seen it pop up a few times. Listen, I love Tommy, but he’s far from being one of the greatest guitarists out there, let alone as being the right guy from this gig. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead is the most overrated GD cover band I’ve ever witnessed – there, I said it.

Anybody Else - I don’t care what pedals they have, or how many times you’ve done psychedelics and lost your mind to their playing, this isn’t the time to introduce a newcomer to the scene. We’re not trying to start a new band here – we’re trying to celebrate 50 years of transcendental expansion through music. A big name was needed to make these gigs special and to make it worthwhile for everybody to join together. Sure, there’s bigger names – Santana, Van Halen, Clapton – but they don’t play this kind of open-ended improvisational music. T-Money is the only choice everybody. If you’re hating on it, then I can guarantee there’s plenty of folks who would love to have your tickets.

All photos courtesy of the incomparable Jeff Kravitz.

Top 50 Albums of 2014… 10-1


WYR0514tubejktnoguidlines50) The Black Keys – Turn Blue
49) Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End
48) Medeski, Martin & Wood & Nels Cline – Woodstock Sessions
47) How To Dress Well – What Is This Heart?
46) Beck – Morning Phase
45) White Lung – Deep Fantasy
44) Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
43) Death Grips – Niggas On The Moon
42) Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
41) The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
40) Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband 
39) Ariel Pink – Pom Pom
38) Sun Kil Moon – Benji
37) Alvvays – Alvvays
36) Diarrhea Planet – Aliens In The Outfield
35) Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
34) Prince – Art Official Age
33) Lucius – Wildewoman
32) Shellac – Dude Incredible
31) Foxygen – …And Star Power
30) Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
29) The Young – Chrome Cactus
28) Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita
27) Swale – The Next Instead
26) Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love
25) The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream
24) Thurston Moore – The Best Day
23) Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of The Eternal Sun
22) Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
21) Spoon – They Want My Soul
20) TV On The Radio – Seeds
19) Black Lips – Underneath The Rainbow
18) Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks – Enter The Slasher House
17) Jack White – Lazaretto
16) Tweedy – Sukiera
15) tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack
14) Freeman – Freeman
13) St. Vincent – Digital Witness
12) Ty Segall – Manipulator
11) Pink Floyd – The Endless River

10) The Ghost Of a Saber Tooth Tiger – Midnight Sun
It took Sean Lennon 38 years to make any music worthy enough not to just be headlined as “John Lennon’s son,” but it was worth the wait. Midnight Sun is psych-rock mastery that owes as much to Tame Impala as it does to the late 60’s, weaving progressive structures and funk-swag over the ethereal drift. It’s at its best when it’s at its biggest, feeling like the lost soundtrack to some brilliantly drugged-out cartoon your older brother had on VHS and hid at the back of his sock drawer.

09) Karen O – Crush Songs
I’ve been waiting for a slow, soft Karen O album ever since that amazing Adidas commercial Spike Jonze made with her came out 10 years ago. But I must have just sensed its existence because Crush Songs was actually all written and recorded around the same time. The recordings have been kept pretty raw, and are 99% just O’s voice and her on an acoustic guitar, but these are massive tunes – ultimate soul crushers that touch on the crossroads of daily simplicity and the human existential crisis. She is a blessed and powerful force in the universe.

08) Temples – Sun Structures
There was so much hype about these cats being the new hot shit out of England last year that I initially approached the album with a heavy degree of pre-spiteful skepticism. But then they caught me in the middle of a huge Byrds kick over the summer, and this album just blended in too seamlessly. Which is to say yes, they’re not the most original kids on the block, but I’ll be damned if they don’t know how to play the game. They shamelessly embrace early quasi-folk psychedelia in a way that some folks may brush off as mimicry, but it’s more like resurrection.

07) Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
There aren’t many surprises on Yorke’s latest, but that makes it all the more entrancing. Even though the beats tend to get a touch too jungle for my taste, they never full consume the songs, instead allowing for the per usual haunting vocals to ride on top. Depending on how deep at the alter of Radiohead you worship, this record may have the ability to realign your spine.

06) J Mascis – Tied To A Star
Years ago the phrase “acoustic Mascis” seemed like an oxymoron – the idea of him not playing out of an amp turned up to 11 just seemed ludicrous. But recent years have found him discovering the musical canvas for his soft speaking voice, and like the sonically comparable Neil Young, now either format seems like the natural fit. Whatever his tool may be though, the man still knows how to write some amazing songs and this album is timeless.

05) Flying Lotus – You’re Dead
When the mothership descends on Devils Tower, I vote for Lotus to be at the head of the Close Encounters music-communication console. This record is like Coltrane sitting in with Weather Report with Martin Scorsese producing in a L.A. southside studio. There’s no logical reason why this record shouldn’t completely crumble under its own weight, but somehow FlyLo keeps the train barreling down the tracks. Thundercat takes some of the compositional credit here, as well as adding on his ridiculous bass playing, and this album wholeheartedly deserves to be called a modern jazz classic.

04) Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags
You’re either really into Malkmus or you just don’t give a fuck, but this album grasps a firmer hold of the middle ground than ever before. Like always, he has the amazing ability to make you feel like your favorite SM record is whatever the newest one is. A good Jicks record is like a good episode of The Wonder Years – you laugh, you cry, you self-impose your own existence on it, and then you can’t wait til the next one.

03) Real Estate – Atlas
To be completely frank, I found the first couple Real Estate albums a little boring. And truthfully, both sonically and compositionally there is no switch in game-plan on Atlas. And yet, it just works brilliantly. There’s a resonating confidence behind these songs that was lacking before, and that notable change in strength brings the vibe out of laurel canyon and back to one of those nice, wooded sections of New Jersey. This album made me miss exits on the highway three times in 2014.

02) D’Angelo – Black Messiah
I hadn’t been waiting 14 years on the this record like some huge D’Angelo fans out there, which perhaps left me with a cleaner palette, and thus in a position to get completely fucking annihilated by this album. This is a funk-soul record that finds not a single iota of blasphemy in being uttered alongside the names of Wonder and Prince. Massive pockets, heavy grooves, ridiculous playing by D’Angelo on every friggin’ instrument, and that head-nod inducement that consumes you on every track. Brilliance. Read my full review here.

01) Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Parquet Courts may currently be the most important band on the planet. In a global society that is becoming progressively more contrived and complacent, they swing this death sword of apathy against any breath of manufactured desire, and in doing so are able to tap into the primal core of true American rock music. Trying to label them as strictly punk is as misplaced as trying to do the same thing of The Clash, and truly it’s when this band is at their most distant reaches from traditional notions of punk rock that they strike the deepest. Strictly through inherent essence they bring about a sense of peaceful acceptance to living in a post Lou Reed world, but musically they grasp a garage-echo pocket that Lou could never hold. Easily, the band of 2014 over here at I Shit Music. Easily.