2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 4
by Steven Spoerl
Welcome to round four of a series that it’s been an absolute honor and privilege to present. Over the past few months, I’ve been gathering up some of my favorite people in music- emphasizing musicians, writers, label heads, and music video cinematographers/directors- asking each to share some of their favorite moments of 2014’s rich world of music. The responses they generated have been stunning and have, largely, made me indescribably proud of people I’ve admired for some time. 20 people have contributed to this series so far and today, five more get added to that total: Christopher Good (whose work on Saintseneca‘s “Happy Alone” and Perfume Genius’ “Queen“, among others, was inspired), Edgar Durden (whose unrelenting commitment to being a positive force in music and undying support of emerging bands has made him a genuine presence), Ray McAndrew (who’s been making extraordinary music for more years than most realize), Christine Varriale (whose work on Allston Pudding has been invaluable), and Ali Donohue (whose contributions to music continue to be endless). From a Girls Rock camp to the reunion of The Unicorns, there’s quite a bit of ground to cover. So, onward and upward, here’s part four of 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.
Panda Bear’s Return and A Few More Notable Moments
I think in the end my favorite music moment of 2014 was the return of Panda Bear- according to my iTunes I’ve racked up exactly 200 plays to date of “Mr. Noah“- so the proof is in the pudding I suppose. Also I really like that song “Just Call It” by SUSAN, it reminds me of Lush when they went all Britpop. I guess it’s weird to say you like a song because it reminds you of the trend-chasing version of a previous band but there you go. Part of me wants to say my favorite moment was Future Islands’ performance on Letterman just because the emergence of a unique persona like that on such a large stage feels so rare- but I’m still kind of bummed that they named their album Singles and then “Seasons” was like the only really, really good track on there. Also big thanks to Speedy Ortiz for introducing me to Sibylle Baier, I don’t know where she’d been all my life!
-Christopher Good (Music Video Cinematographer/Director)
A List for 2014
2014 seemed like a musical dream to me. Chris Brown fell even deeper into irrelevance, Beyonce dropped a surprise album, fake revolutionaries Death Grips “broke up”, and Lorde toured with Majical Cloudz. Really great things happened. But sadly, really shitty things did too (mostly Ariel Pink, but whatever). 2014 was a tough year, personally and socially, but it is in those times that music is present to bring us closer to like-minded people- at least ideally. The chances of a couple of Virgos ending up together in a church courtyard in a little town in the southernmost tip of Texas must be one in a million. But that is exactly what music did back in March during the annual Galax Z Fair. Somehow two weirdos with the same birthday sat on a bench and thought about how beautiful certain things were, including chance, including luck, including music. 2014 was a great year. I don’t know if this is a statement or an argument I’m making to myself.
Here are my favorite records of the year:
Sam Cook-Parrot is my favorite poet. Sam describes my own feelings better than I ever could. The simplicity of the music, the complexity of the feelings being described, and the combination of the two make a perfect record. Thank you, Sam. There must be something beautiful in heartbreak.
Perfect Pussy created the most sonically challenging and brutally honest works of art of the year. Jenny Holzer meets Sonic Youth meets The Russian Ballet. Perfect Pussy can’t simply be heard, Perfect Pussy must be experienced. The sheer energy that shines through each band member can change a bad day to a great day. There is so much going on, whether Shaun is making light become noise, Meredith is speaking in dead languages, or Ray is beating the devil out of his guitar. There is never a dull moment with Perfect Pussy. They’re the brave band we needed. Perfect Pussy is the band that is ready to take on the world, I worry the world isn’t ready to take on Perfect Pussy.
Disclaimer: Angel Olsen smiled at me the night I saw her perform in McAllen.
The first time I listened to this record I felt an ache deep in my chest that I wasn’t very familiar with. It was a hopeful type of heartbreak. Angel’s voice is that of an actual angel with evil intentions, like she is trying to take you to the darkest room in heaven, like she is whispering your own secrets to you. I hope to be as beautiful as this record someday.
How do you describe a record that has to be felt? You don’t. Go listen to this record. Start a war against your local assholes, and use this as the soundtrack. Scum, Rise!
Mitski possesses one of those voices that haunt you; one of those voices that inhabits the deepest, darkest corners of your heart and mind. The effortlessness of this make it that much more devastating. The beauty isn’t the focal point- but neither is the rawness of the music. But, my god is this record raw and beautiful.
6. Bodies and Control and Money and Power by Priests
A punk band from DC puts out a semi-political record. This is probably the easiest way to write about Priests, but Priests require much more than a simple tagline. Priests are a weird, weird band. They touch on very political themes without ever being political. If anything, Katie Alice Greer seems to be letting us into her mind and her psyche rather than telling us about her beliefs. Katie is a force of nature, and when this record is spinning I am caught in her storm.
Disclaimer: I first heard this record in 2013.
Thoughts on record: It still fucking rules.
Makthaverskan means “the woman with the power/in power.” This record came to me when I needed it the most. It explained a troubled relationship to me through the other side of the coin. After three years of being a really shitty boyfriend, my significant other decided it was time for her to venture out and find something a little bit more tangible and more, well, stable. I wasn’t the one yelling “FUCK YOU”, I was the one being yelled at… and it was kind of beautiful.
I sat in my bedroom wearing some grey sweatpants when I saw David Letterman introduce Perfume Genius on The Late Show. What happened next was incredible and so goddamn powerful. There stood a beautiful man in beautiful red lipstick wearing his heart on his sleeve. This wasn’t the usual performance. This was broadcasted to Middle America, to all the bigots, to all the racists, to all the homophobes, and to all the assholes too. And Perfume Genius stood victorious. And we knew our queen.
Nothing will ever devastate me as much as Carson’s vocals do. This record takes me away, like a vivid dream, as if I could float above a field of broken hearts. Wow. And it all feels so real.
Favorite Song of the year:
“Club Going Up On A Tuesday” by ILOVEMAKONNEN ft. Drake
A song about the anxieties that come with modern life; a song about living in the modern age without the privilege that your peers have; a song about doing what it takes to live an actual life; a song about living in a police state; a song about Tuesdays. This song is as silly as it is profound, as it is poetic, as it is perfect.
-Edgar Durden (Edgar’s Friends)
Rediscovering The Unicorns
The Unicorns have played a key part in my life this past year in subtle and not so subtle ways. The first time I remember them being mentioned this year was in March, when I had the opportunity to meet Nardwuar. He had a theory that without The Unicorns, the Arcade Fire would be nothing- entirely due to the fact that The Unicorns (at the peak of their popularity 10 years ago) brought their friends in The Arcade Fire on their first national tour. This made sense to me at the time but- since The Unicorns weren’t very relevant at the time of the conversation- I gave it no other thought. I was 13 when they broke up and listened to their album many times throughout the years thanks to two older brothers’ music libraries. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone had always been an album I associated with my brothers and one that brought back memories, but I hadn’t listened to them in a while. Nardwuar never came out and said it but I think he may have been hinting at the idea of a Unicorns 2014 reunion tour.
The third time, The Unicorns created a Twitter account and announced a string of reunion shows with who else but The Arcade Fire? The Unicorns 2014. The prophecy had come true! Except I am 22, not 13. I thought about going but when I saw ticket prices I X’ed out of the internet tab, laughing.
The fourth time I thought about the Unicorns was unexpectedly, in Nuremberg, Germany. I was playing a show with Perfect Pussy that was part of a festival, I went outside for a cigarette (at that time I hadn’t quit smoking) and heard someone call my name. I turned around and it was Jamie Thompson. I knew Jamie only through being a member of The Secret Unicorns Forum (and later we would become Facebook friends), although we didn’t talk that much. It turned out the festival had booked a puppet show that Jamie was a part of a few years ago. He seemed as confused by the whole thing as I did. Jamie saw we were playing the same night he landed in Nuremberg and came to the show to meet me for the first time. We ended up hanging out for the rest of the night until I had had too much to drink and needed to go back to our hotel. This was the highlight of tour for me, having an accidental run in with the drummer of one of my favorite bands during my pubescent years. Some forgotten dream of mine had finally been realized. After that night I rediscovered The Unicorns’ music and began my retrospective that all would lead up to one night at Pop Montreal.
I didn’t know I was going to see the Unicorns until a day before their reunion show in Montreal. I was visiting my partner in Cleveland with the intention of seeing, coincidentally, Islands for the first time when she posed the idea of driving to Montreal the next day to see The Unicorns. Tickets weren’t sold out and we had no responsibilities that weren’t cancel-worthy to prevent us from seeing their final reunion performance in their hometown of Montreal- so why not?
The show played out in a way that I can only imagine a show curated by The Unicorns could have played out. It was hinted at throughout the show that The Unicorns had selected all the bands that played. Of the bands playing I had only heard Each Other– who played second of four. The first band was an embarrassing joke of a bar rock band not even worth mentioning beyond this point.
Each Other were great. I had heard a tape of theirs that a friend reissued through his label, Prison Art, but they didn’t play any songs from it. The shock for most at the show, or at least the bearded bro standing next to me, was Light Fires. A MTF transsexual who stole the stage the moment she stepped onto it. Armed with only an iPod, Light Fires high kicked, sexy danced, and punched her way through her set. Between songs she bragged about the multiple celebrity musicians she knew and about how amazing she is- and I believed her. I believed every word. The bearded bro let out a brief chuckle at everything Regina said. After the 10th or so time it became obvious how uncomfortable he and some of his friends were. These bros would later turn out to be the same bros that repeatedly elbowed me and my partner with half-mosh-half-dance moves during the Unicorns set. They were a mild annoyance on an overall great night.
The Unicorns performance was more subtle in its flamboyancy, but it still held true to a lot of the theatrics that I had seen in their videos. Alden Penner had his eyes darkened and wore a tight pink tanktop and black pants. Nick Thorburn wore a completely yellow outfit, slightly resembling a banana. Jamie Thompson, the only one who wouldn’t have gotten a side eye walking down a busy sidewalk, wore a Brooklyn jersey and had his hair in a bun. The three of their clashing styles were brought together by old Microsoft Windows screensavers that were being projected in the background. The moment the Unicorns began to play the crowd jumped into a frenzy. I don’t remember all the songs that were played but I know they were all from their LP as well as a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Rocketship”.
The Unicorns had three encores. They are a band that’s known for their wry humor on stage, in recordings, and in interviews and that came through in their encores. Their first encore consisted of a stick click count in and a single quarter note played by each band member. The second encore was quite similar to the first encore. Finally the third encore, which only came after a hand from behind a curtain told the crowd to beg for it, was the infamous “I Was Born (A Unicorn)”. Their set was short, sweet, and felt like it went for the perfect amount of time. The songs were slightly more deconstructed than how I imagined they’d be live but I wasn’t disappointed. It was just nice to see a band I adored as a kid and never had the chance to see when they were initially active.
A Strong Year in Boston
I knew 2014 would be my best year yet the moment midnight on New Year’s Eve passed and Krill broke into the most passionate performance of “Theme from Krill” I’ve heard them play to date. The crowd at Pizzeria Regina in Allston, MA (yes an actual pizza place Allston Pudding threw our New Year’s Eve show at) yelled “KRILL KRILL KRILL FOREVER” like we wouldn’t hear this song over and over again throughout 2014.
Allston Pudding has been a part of my life for three and a half years now but 2014 was when it became my family. All of the people I work with at Allston Pudding mean the world to me and becoming a managing editor is the only promotion I’ve ever received- but it will always be the best one. When I started in 2011, I was this unconfident writer and photographer with no idea what good music was, to be honest. Then I discovered Pile and my life was forever changed. Through Pile I discovered all of the other bands that make the Boston/Massachusetts music scene the powerful force it is: Speedy Ortiz, Kal Marks, Sneeze, Girlfriends (now Bent Shapes), Fat History Month (now Bad History Month), and countless others. I grew to love these bands; they grew to be my friends. It’s hard to go to a show in Boston and not feel as comfortable as I would never leaving my apartment (an oft-chosen alternative in my life), because I know people at every show.
Through these bands, I got to learn the other people in the scene not only in Boston but beyond. Writers and other music people like Liz Pelly and The Media, The Le Sigh, Perry Eaton, my fellow Allston Pudding writers, Ethan Long, Steven Spoerl, Dan Goldin, Amy Leigh, Ellen Kempner, Michael Falcone, Aurore Ounjian, Maura Johnston, and Sadie Dupuis, who inspire me and help me strive to be more present and aware of all of the great music and movements happening right now in 2014.
There were some amazing moments in 2014. As I stated earlier, starting with “Theme from Krill” was the best kick-off. Some of my favorite shows were the Speedy Ortiz Real Hair EP release show at Tasty Burger (I guess Boston likes food places for venues?); Disco Doom, Pile, Ovlov, LVL UP and Krill at Great Scott in March; everything at NXNE in Toronto; Boston Calling in May; every Frankie Cosmos show I went to; Ava Luna, Celestial Shore, Palehound, and Rosie and the Rosies; Boston Hassle Fest; seeing Radiator Hospital for the first time (and two other times after that); Waxahatchee, All Dogs, Potty Mouth, Cayetana; finally seeing Swearin’ live; Pile’s Special Snowflakes release show; every time I saw Lady Bones; seeing Mitski in a living room in Oak Square with 11 other people: the list continues!
Some moments can’t be tied to a specific show or event. Some friendships churn over time and these people I’ve blossomed with in 2014 have become some of my favorite people I’ve ever met. To call them my friends is weird and amazing. I wouldn’t change anything that happened in 2014- and if I could relive this year over and over again, that would be my a-ok fine with me.
-Christine Varriale (Allston Pudding)
//GIRLS ROCK CAMP BOSTON//
//AKA the coolest thing I did this year//
It is hard to look back on this past year and pick out a single moment to share. I went on my first full US tour, had more than a few bandmates/friends move, started new projects, watched friends play sets in different pockets of the country and felt like I never stopped moving around, constantly chasing whatever was waiting ahead. If I had to pick a single music-related moment from 2014 to share with the internet volunteering at Girls Rock Boston is the thing that stands out. Girls Rock Campaign Boston is a volunteer-run summer program for girls that fosters collaboration and confidence using music. I initially heard about Girls Rock Boston from Hanna, my bandmate in Tomboy, who volunteered at GRCB the summer before. This past summer Fleabite played one of the lunchtime performances to an auditorium of young girls and badass volunteers, and I taught guitar and coached a band of tweens.
It was awesome and uplifting working with the campers and working alongside so many inspirational women, especially because at the time I was volunteering my life felt like a soggy mess. The week of camp happened to overlap with many other endings. Summer was ending, the pizza place I had been working at for two years closed for good, a bunch of friends and bandmates moved across the county, and I was about to leave for a three week tour. I remember crying a lot but I also remember laughing a lot, smiling, and feeling inspired by the people around me. By the end of the camp I felt a little more together, especially when I watched the group of girls I helped coach take the stage, chant their band name (R.U. IN?), rock out, and have fun.
I can’t relate to the anxiety and sadness I was feeling that week even though I remember that it was there. Summer ended, I found a new job, my friends are still my friends even if they live far away, tour happened and I returned. Looking back I’m glad that my time at GRCB overlapped with those polar experiences because it served as the perfect reminder of the things that are truly important: supporting one another, creating community, and putting your shit aside for a moment to be a part of something larger than yourself. I highly recommend finding a way to support your local Girls Rock chapter and consider starting such a thing if it doesn’t already exist in your community. If you want to find out more about Girls Rock Boston please check out their website and consider donating:
See you in the pit at Girls Rock Boston 2k15!
// HONORABLE MENTIONS //
Some other 2k14 highlights include // playing Liz Pelly’s b-day bash on the 4th of July at the Silent Barn, Smash it Dead fest raising $5,800+ for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, playing a very weird show on Martha’s Vineyard, Tomboy playing a college show in central mass that devolved into a karaoke party, Up Yours Fest @ SUNY Purchase, and a Ramones cover band.
-Ali Donohue (Fleabite, Tomboy)