Through a Glass, Darkly: 2014 in perspective
Being asked to reflect back on a year in music, much of it spent in the company of the extreme variety sounds like an easy gig; if truth be known, it’s anything but. When you’re writing, your perspective is skewed by the time of year you were writing your review, the mood that you were in when you were writing it so, as with many of these end of year lists/reviews you are probably wise to see this as just another opinion to add to the many that you have probably already encountered.
It’s de rigeur at this junction to opine on “what 2014 will be remembered for”; experience tells me that we will look differently upon the year past in another twelve months time when its ebbs and flows, challenges, opportunities, highs and lows have had some more time to creep into our collective consciousness and sub-conscious. With that caveat in mind, and probably about to look enormously foolish, my reflection on 2014 looks something a bit like this….
2014 has been an odd year. I think of it a little bit like a boxer. Lots of good sparring, lots of interesting upper cuts and deflected jabs but not one knockdown, championship winning punch of an album that could define a year (in the way that 1991 was dominated by Nirvana’s Nevermind or 1987 got taken by the scruff of the neck by a certain Guns ‘N’ Roses and their insatiable Appetite for Destruction).
I think it’s fair to say that 2014 was a year of not necessarily taking stock, but harrying around the canvas wondering where to land the next haymaker. No one trend truly caught the collective imagination, no one band truly dominated, no one sound sat glue like in our collective cerebellum. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any great music in 2014 (there was bucketloads of it). The big difference is that you had to seek it out rather than it being a constant presence in society’s soundtrack.
The most debated record of the year was unquestionably U2’s Songs of Innocence which landed in the iTunes accounts of some 500m listeners and is, by some considerable margin, their “biggest” (26m copies and counting) record of the last few years. Most of the debate around the record focussed, somewhat understandably, on the process of getting the music out there as opposed to debating the merits of the actual music- ironically, then, as Songs of Innocence is perhaps the band’s best record in a decade. Similarly, the decision of Taylor Swift to remove her country pop album 1989 from all streaming sites again spoke volumes about the record industry’s travails in identifying a long term business model in an age of change and digital ubiquity.
Over here in the boundaries of extreme music, the mainstream is something that most of us don’t generally give two hoots about but there is, for this writer at least, an ongoing frisson of excitement when one of “our” bands makes a breakthrough into the broader public consciousness. I have never subscribed, and never will, to the notion that our music should remain in the underground- on the contrary, I want as many people to hear the amazing sounds, insights, ideas of much of the stuff covered in Ghost Cult. Consequently, the fairly triumphant return of Slipknot to the top of the Billboard charts and to a ground-breaking Knotfest extravaganza is something to be cherished and celebrated. Likewise, a creatively rich album from Atlanta’s Mastodon in the guise of Once More ‘Round the Sun having an equally critically and commercially positive impact is perhaps proof positive that intelligent, diverse and inexorably heavy music can generate a broad based level of support and enthusiasm.
Part II…. next