Thursday, January 1, 2015


I started this blog seven years ago. I remember the impetus: I was reading some other blog's year end wrap up and they were discussing the Raconteurs. It was something like, "Remember when 'Steady As She Goes' came out and we couldn't stop talking about it? And then by the time the album, Broken Boy Soldiers came out, we didn't care anymore?"

Obviously, there were seismic changes in music and media for years at that point, and the world was still digesting them. File sharing was old news, blogs were starting to rule but social media hadn't yet exploded. But things were changing fast.

When I read that bit about the Raconteurs, though, something struck me: at no point did this blog say that that "Steady As She Goes" wasn't a good song. Or that Broken Boy Soldiers wasn't a good album. It was just that they were tired of talking about it. They were tired of an album before they'd heard any of it other than the single... which they admitted was great. I realized that this was an entirely new era, and one that moved really fast... and didn't have much of an attention span. Music reporting would be more about the next shiny new thing than about something that was truly great but didn't pander to specific markets, or to the news cycle.

So I started No Expiration as a sort of remedy to all the other blogs that seemed more interested in talking about music (generally in a way that I felt was mostly about snark and often ageist) than in listening to music. I hate to use the word "hipster" (does anyone actually self-identify as being a hipster?) but it's useful here because everyone knows what it means. I wanted a non-hipster blog. I could still talk about Kanye West or Arctic Monkeys or M.I.A. because they make music that I love and that I think will endure for decades. But I definitely wouldn't be limited to that. I wrote - un-ironically and without caveat - about Rush, Phil Collins, Public Enemy, Primus, Norah Jones, Rancid or other artists that the press no longer found attractive, or artists who they never liked. It turns out that a lot of people like those artists.

Speaking of artists that people like, there's been a lot of talk about "poptimism" this year; it's like a reaction to "rockism" which, I guess, is the stance that rock bands are the greatest thing ever, that it's important to usually write the songs that you sing, and blah blah blah. "Poptimism" is all about how pop music should be taken seriously as an art form (and there seems to be an inherent defense mechanism there that comes off as, cough, anti-rockist and anti-anyone over 35). It's kind of a reaction to the old guard of music criticism - Rolling Stone, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the New York Times of the world. I guess it's healthy in a way: why buy into what an older generation decides is important or relevant or great.

My take is: I like a little bit of both schools of thought. Yes, some pop music deserves to be taken seriously, and some rock music does too. Do I think that Katy Perry or Justin Bieber deserve the respect that, say, Bruce Springsteen gets? I do not. That said, if Katy's "Friday Night" is playing at a Bar Mitzvah, I'll dance to that s*** in a second and not feel weird about it at all.

Listen to what you like. Try not to think of what liking it says about you. If you like pop music, like it. Own it. If you like classic rock bands who are not trendy at the moment - let's say, Bad Company, Bob Seger or the J. Geils Band - wave that flag. If you love the "alternative rock" bands of the '90s who seem a bit out of step today, who cares: you love some of the greatest music of all time, don't worry if you're not moved by the Dirty Projectors or whoever. Also: you shouldn't feel guilty about so-called guilty pleasures.  (That said, I have some guilty pleasures, not that I'm losing sleep over them: Yo La Tengo's "From a Motel 6," Sebadoh's "Ocean" and Pavement's "Summer Babe" to name a few.)

Well, that's my state of the union. Here's my top albums of the year.

1. St. Vincent - St. Vincent: OK, after that preamble, you probably weren't expecting this. But once I heard this album (after hearing one of my colleagues talking about it, and reading a few reviews), and also after seeing Annie Clark jam with Nirvana at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I checked her new album out. I was really knocked out. It doesn't sound like anything else I've ever heard. It's sexy but not crass, fun but also serious, it has dance elements but she's a monster guitar player (Guitar World should feature her on the cover STAT) and she writes great songs. I saw her perform at the Ed Sullivan Theater as part of CBS's Live on Letterman series and I was blown away. So, I'm with the critics on this one (Rolling Stone named it the 4th best album of the year, after U2, Springsteen and the Black Keys - not even *I* would have named U2 and Bruce #1 and #2 of this year, by the way; Entertainment Weekly named it their album of the year). I don't really look for ingenuity in new music; it's like a bonus if I find it. It doesn't happen often. But when I listen to St. Vincent, it's like when I first heard PJ Harvey or Jane's Addiction: it's new, there's a sense of danger, it's sexy, it's exciting. It's music worth paying attention to and loving. I think once you check her out, you'll be living her music for a long time to come.

2. Jack White - Lazaretto: I'm not sure why this album didn't seem to get the accolades that it should have. To me, it's a classic album. I think it's like what I was saying about the Raconteurs in my opening paragraph: the media got tired of writing about him. But wow, what an album: the title track, which he's pointed out was influenced by MC Lyte's "Cha Cha Cha," is an instant classic. The rest of the album is jammed with great songs, which are likely influenced by the end of his marriage with Karen Elson (although he's totally denied that). It's also worth noting that he now has a discography that includes classics with three different bands and also as a solo artist, which is pretty incredible.

3. Robert Plant - lullaby and... the Ceaseless Roar: "Relevant"used to be one of those words that only cultural critics would use. These days, fans of all kinds of music use it, and I think it's meaning has changed. Relevance used to be tied to a certain cultural cache: were you influential on the culture, or on a subculture? Now, it's actually quantitative: it seems to refer to revenue and impressions. How much has your music been streamed, what are your YouTube numbers, how many followers do you have on Twitter or Instagram and how engaged are they with your content and how many endorsement deals do you have (and how much are you getting paid for them)? The idea of an artist focusing only on the music and not worrying about the rest of it, it's a bit quaint to pop culture in 2014. But Robert Plant cares very little about fitting in in 2014. He probably hasn't worried about that for a very long time. I think he wants to be vital, but doesn't care if he's part of pop culture's zeitgeist. He definitely doesn't want to be living in 1973, and he has the fortitude to turn down huge paychecks that would pay him to do that. The story of him turning down a nine-figure deal to reunite with Led Zeppelin turned out not to be true. But the fact is, if offered, he probably would turn it down. And Zep is not the only ensemble he's turned his back on: surely a tour with Alison Krauss would come with a large guarantee. But the man follows his muse, and it really paid off (artistically, at least) on this album, even if few in the media noticed. Reuniting with most of the musicians who worked on his pre-Raising Sand album Mighty ReArranger, lullaby combines blues, rockabilly, dance music and what is known as "world" music with stunning results. "Rainbow" is one of his finest post-Zep songs, and holds up to much of the Zep catalog as well.

4. The Black Keys - Turn Blue : They're consistently the best band in the land these days, album after album. And Dan Auerbach almost can't miss: he's great working with other artists as well (that said, I didn't spend much time with the album he produced for Lana del Rey, and what I heard didn't really grab my attention). One thing that really struck me about the album is that they saved the best song for last: "Gotta Get Away" is such a great '70s style radio rocker, it almost reminds me of the Steve Miller Band or Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I obviously mean that as a compliment. But it's so "pop" (or at least pop if this was 1977) that I think because of their "indie rock" roots, they may have felt uncomfortable with it. Whatever, it's a great ending to a great album. I can't wait to hear what they do next.

5. Sam Smith In the Lonely Hour - It's soul music, straight up, 2014 style. A really well done album. He and his team could have taken these songs down to Memphis and recorded them at Stax, and they would have sounded just as good. But it's 2014, he's British, he's not a historian (in the way that guys like maybe Jack White or Dan Auerbach are). I think I heard an interview where he referred to Mariah and Whitney as "legends." That's his truth. He's very true to himself, and this is a really honest, and excellent, album. "Stay With Me" is a classic, and there are a lot of others songs on the album that are just as good (certainly "I'm Not the Only One"). I felt like I could imagine Otis Redding, or Sam and Dave or Aretha Franklin singing some of these songs.

6. The Afghan Whigs Do To the Beast - This would totally be on all the hipster year-end best-of lists... if this was 1992. There was no "peer pressure," as it were, to listen to this album this year, which is a shame, because it is a great album. It was their first album in sixteen years; of course, you always have to approach a "reunion" album with managed expectations. But Do To the Beast sounds like the young Afghan Whigs of the early '90s teleported through time to 2014, and that no time has passed since 1998's 1965. I saw them twice since this album came out, and what struck me is that the crowd was as enthused about the new songs as the old ones. And I felt the same way.

7. The Last Internationale We Will Reign - It's probably true that I would not have heard about this band if it wasn't for their new drummer, Brad Wilk (of Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave). But happily, I did and what a great band they are. They are rocking, they are political, they are soulful and they have nothing to do with indie rock circa 2014. Singer Delia Paz, if I had to compare her voice to someone, it would be Ann Wilson of Heart. She's amazing. This is not the kind of rock music that gets written about today. People seem more OK with bands influenced by Pavement than by the MC5, which is a shame. But I know they'll find their audience. One of their fans is none other than Robert Plant, who tapped them to open a bunch of shows for him this year. Rock and roll isn't necessarily about being the thing that all the magazines are writing about; it's often being the thing that the media hasn't noticed while they're fawning over a of-the-moment trend. When I was getting into music, Rush was my favorite band, and I couldn't find much about them in any magazines. That was my introduction to music magazines. In 1981, when they released Moving Pictures, they weren't on the cover of Rolling Stone (nor have they ever been, in any year), but Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, Rickie Lee Jones and James Taylor all got covers. I realized early on that those who decided what music was "important" were often asleep at the wheel. (On a personal note, it was a total pleasure to interview Mr. Wilk in 2014).

8. Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 2 I may not have paid attention to this one if it hadn't been for Zach de la Rocha's appearance on "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)." (And I love that this marks the second appearance by a Rage Against The Machine member on this list!) This will sound a bit "get off my lawn!" but I've been so bored with hip-hop, generally speaking, for quite a while. There's rare exceptions like Kanye or Kendrick, but I feel like most of the acts I hear today are so lightweight. And they headline huge venues and sell lots of records. (Ice-T agreed with me.) I doubt that Run The Jewels get much radio play. But then again, neither did Public Enemy. "Radio! Suckers never play me!" Not much has changed, I guess. Anyway, this is a great album, and even the critics have noticed, happily.

9. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye If Rolling Stone was really intent on handing the album of the year honor to one of their mainstays, I would have humbly suggested that they would have selected this album over U2 and Bruce Springsteen's albums. Years ago, I interviewed Mr. Petty for VH1 (this was during The Last DJ era) and he said that if he was a young kid today, he doesn't think he'd be into rock and roll at all. That kind of bummed me out, but I got what he was saying. A lot of my favorite bands through high school and college, you had to search out, at least at first. Tom grew up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as new bands; it was a much different world, obviously. Anyway, Tom did what he does best on this album: wrote a bunch of straight-head, catchy as hell, no-nonsense songs. He's a bit pissed off here, which I like; I am a fan of The Last DJ and he seems to be in that mode on this album. "American Dream Plan B" should have been an anthem for 2015, it's too bad that there are no radio stations playing new Tom Petty songs. He's still got a lot to say. And the Heartbreakers are still one of the best bands in the world. (Another highlight of the year was interviewing Heartbreaker Benmont Tench).

10. Royal Blood Royal Blood Great band. You don't have to believe me, Jimmy Page himself said it (and I love that two former Led Zeppelin members have made it to this list as tastemakers). They sound like Zeppelin fans, but most of all, it sounds like they've listened to every record that Jack White and Josh Homme have ever played on. A good thing, obviously. Whenever I hear a new(ish) band that people are talking about, I try to imagine, could they have played Lollapalooza in the '90s. The answer is, usually not. But this band could have, without a doubt. I look forward to seeing them this summer: they're opening for the Foo Fighters. I think they're going to be around for a long time.

Here's some honorable mentions, there were other things I loved in 2014:

  • Lucinda Williams Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone Like many double albums, it might have been stronger as a single album. Still, Lu is pretty consistently great, and this album is no exception. 
  • Beck Morning Phase He's "Sad Beck" again on this album. A bit slow, and a surprising nominee for the Album of the Year GRAMMY, but a solid album nonetheless. 
  • Willie Nelson Band of Brothers I'm a big fan of Willie's work in the past few years, and this album, which comes without any real gimmick or hook, is one of his strongest. "Whenever You Come Around" is one of my favorite Willie songs. 
  • The Both The Both A duo featuring one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever, Aimee Mann, and also Ted Leo. It's a fun album, I hope they do more in the future (although I'm curious to hear Aimee's next solo record too). 
  • Ben and Ellen Harper a house is a home Ben Harper has done collaborative albums with the great gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama and the legendary blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite (which was my favorite album last year). This time he collaborates with his mother, who makes her recorded debut here. It's a lovely album. and it was a huge thrill to interview Ben and his mom. 
  • The New Basement Tapes Lost on the River AKA Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons), Jim James (of My Morning Jacket), Rhiannon Giddens (of Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Taylor Goldsmith (of Dawes) making songs out of unused Bob Dylan lyrics from the late '60s. I love the album and the documentary of the making of it. And this may be sacrilegious to admit, but I really enjoyed this album more than I did the release of Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Complete Basement Tapes
  • Rancid ... Honor Is All We Know It was probably about a decade ago, I went to see Rancid at Roseland. The upper level - always reserved for media and industry types - was pretty empty. But downstairs? Packed. I'd been to lots of shows where the so-called "V.I.P." section was crowded but the show hadn't sold out. That's kind of the deal with Rancid: the music industry, who once couldn't get enough of them, have moved on. But that doesn't affect the band, or their fans, at all. You can write in some magazine that "punk rock is dead" but I wouldn't say that too loudly at a Rancid show if you want to keep your teeth. Their last album, 2009's Let the Dominoes Fall, was a classic that didn't get noticed, and the new one is just as good. 
  • Foo Fighters Sonic Highways  I feel like I need to write a bit more about this. The album is the follow up to 2011's Wasting Light, which was my second favorite album of the year. I don't think this one is quite as good, although I love the concept of recording in different studios across the country. But there was a moment in the Nashville episode of the HBO documentary series, where Dave Grohl returned to the studio after a break and everyone was wearing cowboy hats, and he got a bit freaked out. I think maybe he should have been a bit more open to the being influenced by the other forms of music he was learning about: you kind of don't get a sense of where the songs are from by listening to the album. I do think some of the guests - especially Joe Walsh - fit in really well. 
  • U2 Songs of Innocence I feel like I have to write a bit more about this one too. No, it's not the best album of the year, and it's not a five star album, but it's definitely got some great moments, especially "Every Breaking Wave." People bitching about it are just being bitchy. If Beyonce's album landed in everyone's iTunes, 
  • Bruce Springsteen High Hopes and American Beauty EP I also think I should have written more about Bruce's releases. I don't love them as much as Wrecking Ball, my favorite album of 2012. But this year it seemed like Bruce realized that the meaning of an "album," and an "album cycle" aren't as set in stone as they used to be. So, High Hopes is a bit more of an "odds and sods" collection than an "album," as such. He covered songs he already covered (the title track, Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream"), re-recorded some of his songs ("American Skin," "Ghost of Tom Joad") did a new cover ("Just Like Fire Would") and added a few great songs to his repertoire. Unfortunately, "Harry's Place" was the second song on the album, and it sounded like a tribute to Glenn Frey's solo career, which was a bit of a turnoff. But the record is mostly excellent, and the American Beauty EP was solid. 
  • The Roots ...and Then You Shoot Your Cousin Their most ambitious album yet. Now that their "day job" pays the bills, they can do whatever they want with their records, which is a good thing. The idea of these guys having to listen to hip-hop marketing teams telling them what they should be doing is a bit awkward at this point. (I also reviewed a very unique performance of the album.) 
  • Miranda Lambert Platinum I didn't like this as much as her last one, Four the Record, and I didn't like the first single "Automatic," but all in all, it's another great Miranda album. The first song, "Girls," is great. 
  • Angaleena Presley American Middle Class Miranda's Pistol Annies bandmate shows that she's as talented as her fellow Annies. 
  • Chrissie Hynde Stockholm It wasn't really supposed to be a solo album. She recorded it with a group of musicians, and she thought they were a band. But the other guys didn't want to tour, and everyone (other than Chrissie) thought it would be great if she just put her name on it. Anyway, it's a great album. And interviewing Ms. Hynde was a true thrill, and was a story in and of itself, which I will tell another time. 
  • TV On The Radio Seeds One of the few bands to come out of the post-millenial indie scene that I buy into. This is a really cool album, I feel like it got slept on a bit. I love the song "Happy Idiot." 
  • Annie Lennox Nostalgia A beautiful album of covers. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Lennox this year.
  • St. Paul and the Broken Bones Half the City I wish this got even half the attention that Sam Smith got. Great singer, great band, great songs. A more vintage take on soul music in 2014. 
  • Benjamin Booker Benjamin Booker Another great debut. There's still great new music being made, it just may not be what everyone is writing about. He opened for Jack White, which probably got him a lot of well deserved attention. 
  • Puss N Boots No Fools, No Fun This should have made my top ten, but it's mostly covers so I don't know if it should count as a "new" album. Puss N Boots is Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson (a singer/songwriter who I am now a fan of as well) and Catherine Popper (who has played bass for Jack White and Ryan Adams, among others). Their album is so much fun, their show was as well, and interviewing them was just a blast.
  • AC/DC Rock or Bust What can I say? It's great, like every other AC/DC album, and the title track is a classic. I was at an "album release party" two weeks before the album came out: it sold out Webster Hall in New York City. It was a beautiful event (if I can use that in describing AC/DC) and I wrote about it.   
  • Pharrell "Gust of Wind" - his underrated collaboration with Daft Punk from his G I R L album. I also love the song "Come and Get It Bae." 
  • Ed Sheeran "Sing" - produced by Pharrell. There's a couple of other great songs on his x album that I've heard, like "Don't" and "Thinking Out Loud." 
  • Beyonce "7-11" - Well, don't want the Beygency to come after me. But credit where it's due, she put out a great album and it became a huge event that lasted all year. Props to her. There were other great songs on the album too, including "Flawless" and "Partition." 
So, it was a pretty good year for music. But my plan to blog more in 2014 didn't work out. I'm planning on posting links to some of my favorite stories that I (and my colleagues) have written in the future. I write so much about music during the day though, that I don't usually feel like doing it at night as well.

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