In a lot of ways I’m going to miss 2014. The previous year ended on such a sour note for me that 2014 was bound to be better, based on the balance of nature. 2014 still had its ups and downs, but just like before we made it through the good and the bad. As in previous years, I’m going to stick to what I know, baseball, beer, food and music. Here is 2014 as it mattered to me.
Just A Bit Outside
Madison Bumgarner! Wow, what else can you say. The surly lefty carried the SF Giants on his back to a World Series win. I love the guy, but know that he’s gonna have it rough in 2015 with all those innings logged this year. The Kansas City Royals making it to within an out of tying the series was incredibly impressive as well. Baseball, really needed that and obviously so did the KC fans. It gave a lot of hope to just about any team. A few smart moves and your team could end up in the same spot. That’s probably my favorite thing about baseball now, the parity and quality of competition. Just about every team, bar a few exceptions, have a chance to compete. The Yankees season was just frustrating all around. Injuries and old age really caught up with the team this year. Quote from last year “This team badly needs a youth infusion”. The same sentiment rings true again. They are moving in the right direction, but still have so many questions about their injuries, age and depth. I hope they have a few more moves in store for this offseason, because the team as it looks now, is not a playoff team. And as KC showed, just getting in is half the battle some times. Anything can happen in the postseason now a days.
Last thing about baseball. I cannot remember what it’s like to watch a Yankee game without good old #2 in the lineup. I cannot believe it’s been 20 years since the Yanks had a shortstop different from Derek Jeter. I was fortunate to see him play one of his very first games in 1996 and one of his last in 2014. The guy was a competitor, a class act and a winner. We should be so lucky to see a player like that in our lifetime. He will be missed, by both myself and baseball fans around the world. Best of luck to the man in whatever he decides to do in the future.
The Foamy Stuff
I enjoyed so many great beers this year. There was the amazing Bruery event at Gingerman in September that featured so many beers I never thought I’d try. As for other beers I’ve enjoyed, the new Brooklyn brewery, Other Half did not disappoint one bit. They make tons of hoppy and floral beers, Green Diamonds and Southernhopalistic amongst the best. They have a cool little tasting room as well. Worth a visit if you can make it. Transmitter in LIC is also making some really fantastic saison and farmhouse beers, some with really funky sour notes to them. You can try just about anything of theirs and it will be solid.
My favorite new beer bar in NYC, is the conveniently located Bondurants in the Upper East Side. They have a fantastic selection, with a good amount of quality beers on draft, plus really solid food and friendly, knowledgable staff. It’s a great looking bar too, with old wood finish and an awesome copper bar. Other new favorites include the Jeffrey and Fools Gold. Both solid spots with great selections. Lots of great new places opened this year, one of the more anticipated being the Bronx Brewery’s spot in Hunters Point. Surprisingly a quick 20 minute subway ride from the UES.
In My Belly
It was yet another great year for eating out and food. I tried a bunch of new spots in 2014. Amongst my favorite was the fantastic thin crust pizza and rabbit meatballs at Marta. The Roman-style pizza was inventive and delicious, with toppings like a sunny side egg, tripe, goat sausage and zucchini flowers. Lots of other good stuff on the menu as well. Another of my favorite new places tried was Bar Primi, in the old Peels location on the Bowery. Really solid garlic linguini, kicked up with 4 cloves of the stuff. Really solid. Easily one of my favorite dishes tried all year. Alidoro makes probably my favorite sandwiches in the city. So good.
Another of my favorite new places was Mimi Cheng’s dumplings in the East Village. They are doing some cool stuff with dumplings, aside from traditional versions. They had a buffalo chicken dumpling earlier in the fall, plus a Thanksgiving dumpling. Their homemade sauce is also pretty great, so good, I think they should sell it on it’s own. It would become a hot condiment, much like hot honey or sriracha. Speaking of which, Mokbar in Chelsea market is doing some really cool and inventive stuff with Korean-style ramen and kimchi. Their lunch special bibimbap topped with seasonal vegetables, spicy dressing and pork, was one of the best I’ve ever had. Can’t wait to get back there and try more stuff from the menu.
In One Ear
Like last year, I’m going to start with some of the records that I think are good, but just missed on something. First off, is the SBTRKT album. I was expecting so much from this album, maybe unrealistically so. The previous album was a revelation, mixing many electronic, dance, dub and hiphop elements, plus combining an array of talented quest vocalists. The first few singles showed so much promise too. However this record really falters on so many levels. The songs seem incomplete and as if they were written for the vocalists involved, instead of bringing them in as almost another instrument. That’s what made the first album so special. There was a cohesive vibe and the vocalists all blended into the formula so well. A few other records that I was expecting a lot more from include the Gaslight Anthem, Ariel Pink, Antlers and iceage records. The Gaslight album just fell short in memorable hooks and stories. A fine album, but that’s all. The Ariel Pink just didn’t seem to take his songwriting to the next level as I expected. The Antlers, maybe got a little too much into making a certain kind of record. A couple great songs, but a lot of boring fluff too. The iceage album is just sloppy. I don’t mind the change in direction, they just didn’t fulfill it. The production is just bad, with much of the album sounding terrible, despite some really inventive songwriting. All you hear is vocals, when the instrumentation was begging to be let out.
Finally, on to the best! The Horrors delivered what I think might be their best record yet. They’ve developed from an art-house punk project into one of the most important UK acts around. Luminous takes their sound and just makes it groovier and picking up the pace. The low end really shines through on this album. There are some sick grooves amongst the droney psychedelia, shoegaze and krautrock stylization. It’s an album that could be listened to going on a long run or paired with a bottle of vodka and hallucinogens. It’s wacked out and trippy, but also very rhythmic and machinelike at times. They made a love ballad and huge Soundgarden type riffs(Mine and Yours) all on the same album. They have perfected their formula and are once again my album of the year.
My second favorite album of the year is Tampa post-punk outfit Merchandise’s After the End. I jokingly told a young colleague of mine that they sounds like The Smiths meet The Wedding Present meets Talk Talk. He obviously looked at me and had no clue what I was talking about. Bare with me though. It’s a fantastic record that wouldn’t have sounded out of place being played to death in an early 90’s college dorm. It’s got that angst ridden influence of 80’s Brit-pop yet totally American spirit that many of my generation grew up on. Just a fantastic album that combines so much of what I loved in music growing up, yet feels fresh and original. Cloud Nothings Here and Nowhere Else is just an amazing piece of abrasive, fast paced rock and roll with lyrics that explore mental illness, heartbreak and growing up. It’s a punk rock record for 2014. The guitars are loud and edgy, the drumming is propulsive and maybe some of the best I’ve heard all year. Fantastic album from these kids. 8 songs in 28 minutes. Fuck Yeah! Cheatahs self-titled album is much of what I loved about indie(er..college) rock in the 90’s. Sprawlling guitars, hushed vocals, heavy rhythmsection and some stare at the floor shoegaze. I’m a sucker for that shit, everyone knows that. This album hits on all those notes. They were also the loudest band I saw all year….proportionately speaking of course. We Were Promised Jetpacks third album is the realization of years of hard work. Unraveling sees the young Scots leave behind some of the campy, pubescent, nerd punk they were so known for and sees a mature, thoughtful and driven band. They are louder, tighter and more developed. Structurally, they have more in common with bands like Snow Patrol and Coldplay(the good kind), then they do with what they sounded like before. The songs are a little darker and grander then they’ve ever been before. Huge leap by these guys. Live too, they destroy now.
The rest of the top ten is a mix of old and new. The Eagulls, made a dark post-punk album that just kicks you in the face. It’s measured, aggresive and angular, with tons of feedback and swirling noise. Toronto’s Death From Above 1979 delivered their 2nd proper studio album, a mere 10 years after their first. It seems like they did not skip a beat, with deep groves, explosive beats and snarky vocals. They developed their craft over the years and sound much more cohesive and accomplished than ever before. Pains of Being Pure At Heart make heart on your sleeve power pop. They’ve gotten really, really good at it. Gone are the days of the back-room indie twee, this band has a full and dynamic sound. They scored a Hershey’s commercial for crying out loud. It makes me happy everytime I see it. Spoon’s 19th record, well not really it’s only their 8th, but seems like they’ve been around forever huh? Another fantastic album, this one a bit more Elvis Costello than the last record, which I thought was a bit mellow. This is a bunch of methodically crafted songs of jangly pop infused with Southern soul. Excellent as always. Jungle, came through with one of the best debut records in recent memory. They had a ton of hype around them and it was pulsating when they played their first live show in the US last March. I don’t think anyone thought they’d look like they do, which I actually really loved about it. They made a really soulful and groovy record that would make disciples of TV on the Radio and Ratatat proud.
From there, a bunch of great albums from old mainstays, TV On The Radio, Interpol, Kevin Drew, Jesse Ware, Kele Okerke, Wild Beasts, Twilight Sad, Caribou, The Drums, Aurelio Valle and more, plus Nenah Cherry came back with a phenomenal new album produced by Fourtet, her first in some time. Run the Jewels made the hip hop album of the year and let us hear something from Zach De La Rocha for the first time in ages. The Jazz June returned with their fist album in some ten years. New stuff from upstarts and new acts Ryan Hemsworth, Movement, Ume, Little Daylight, Perfume Genius, Alvvays, FKA Twigs, War on Drugs, Phantogram, The Young, Single Mothers, and Bass Drum of Death. Additionally, there were some really solid EP’s and singles from Operators, featuring Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade, plus a solid EP from No Devotion, featuring old friend Geoff from Thursday, plus the remaining members of Lostprophets. Additionally, old pal Walter Schreifels popped up on Vanishing Life, a melodic hardcore band he fronts. And finally, Les Sins the dancey side project of Chaz Bundick, the mastermind behind Toro y Moi.
Listening Pile: The Horrors– In and Out of Sight – My favorite song on the album, this trippy sounscape of swirling guitars and funky bassline is just so incredibly awesome. The video is weird. Looks like some sort of loopy clip. Maybe fan made. Don’t know.