Photographer Chris Jorgensen has once again set up shot at Bonnaroo, a four-day, multi-stage camping festival held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee. Each day we’ll be posting some of his up-close-and-personal shots of the bands, the fans, and the press events.
Spoon (#1–10 of 5)
As if taking a cue from Daft Punk’s nothing-but-nostalgic triumph at the Grammy Awards, 2014 was the year of the late arrival. Two years after its release, Disclosure’s “Latch” suddenly and belatedly became a wedding-reception staple. (Though, as Sam Smith could now attest in no less than 35 states in the Union, sometimes the wait’s worth it.) Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” which first appeared two summers ago in the utterly inconsequential Despicable Me 2, rode a surprise Oscar nomination to rule the charts throughout spring, before ultimately winding up as the year’s preeminent song for everyone to pretend they hated all along. And Taylor Swift finally admitted to being the pop artist the rest of the country-music world already knew she’s been the entire time. Of course, the industry’s default mode remains as ever the hot new preferably young thing. So it’s hardly surprising that, despite Swift’s many magazine covers, Ariana Grande emerged as arguably the most ubiquitous force of perk on the pop charts, her melisma sounding freshly trained like the first-in-class graduate of the Mariah Carey Arpeggio Academy she is. Ultimately, none of these artists came within earshot of making our list, which only goes to show that finding the gems in popular music, the songs with freshness and vitality, is as much a burrower’s game as ever these days. The songs we chose share with Grande that sense of emergence and discovery. Only they’re darker, with a disinclination for showing their faces until you reckon with their imposing talent, or, conversely, zeal for giving listeners uncompromisingly violent sexuality at face value, leaving more dead bodies strewn in their wake. And more references to masturbation.
10. Andrew Bird, “Scythian Empire” (Armchair Apocrypha, 2007)
Judging by his interviews, the suspiciously pleasurable Andrew Bird burnt out on pretty much all forms of modern music during his conservatory days and now just listens to the more obscure corners of the world music catalogue. Absolutely none of which you can hear in his music, which time and time again sounds effortlessly warm and well-crafted in a resolutely non-confrontational manner, which seems like a warning that maybe this is secretly Muzak. “Scythian Empire” is one of the best, an elegy for the decay and obsolescence of a once-proud reign now just remembered for a curious name and a few disconnected, passed-down images. Like The Flaming Lips, Bird’s a musical existentialist: Lyrics of doubt and worry against a reassuring musical backdrop.
The Rural Alberta Advantage, Hometowns: Emo for the masses! I am, generally speaking, not crazy about yelpy kids singing things like “All these things will pass and the good ones will last” and “I never want to feel this again,” but The Rural Alberta Advantage are a very good band who’ve given my inner emo a reason to peek out; their craftsmanship and musical intelligence makes their endless teen summer a guiltlessly fun thing to soak in. I always hated Bright Eyes’ quavery self-indulgences, so I’ll take Nils Adenloff’s generic nasal attack (Neutral Milk Hotel’s 500th heir) any day as far as Saddle Creek stuff goes. Half of this is expert break-up stuff: “Don’t Haunt This Place” and “Sleep All Day” prove there’s nothing like a cello to make you feel especially justified in your lugubriousness. With no bass, the band gets its drive from drummer Paul Banwatt, who goes heavy on rapid high-hat attacks; whether aided by electronic beats (on opener “The Ballad Of The RAA”) or not, the kit’s got almost no dynamic range, just an artificially compressed range of forceful attack. (On “Drain The Blood,” Banwatt seems to be going so fast he might as well be aided by Tilly And The Wall’s tap dancers.) The band name’s no joke: there’s a pleasing geographical specificity to the lyrics, occasionally pulling them out of generic white 20something malaise and into the realm of melancholy Candian-ness (an acquired taste, but one well worth acquiring). Prime example: “Frank, AB” is a histrionic love ballad (“I’ll hold on to your touch ’til they find the bones of us” etc.), but it’s also from the perspective of two people buried in the Frank Landslide of 1903, so it’s indulgent without being overly indulgent. I dunno why liking this so much bothers me more than, say, the smooth sounds of Elizabeth And The Catapult (see below)—I fear reverting to my teen years, I guess—but I’m effectively sucked into the RAA’s sad, mopey (well-crafted!) world as long as this album lasts.
Top 10 lists are an exercise in futility, scenester-ism and dick-measuring. But we do them anyway, because they give us (or me and millions of other stunted “adults”) a necessary framework for thinking about the year that passed. A disclaimer just in case: this is a subjective list. It’s my past year, and I’m sorry I didn’t ever get around to hearing the highly-acclaimed LCD Soundsystem record. It’s always something.