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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

The Noise That Was

Craig Silliphant
Published Monday December 22, 05:20 pm
Between tech, tiffs and tunes, 2014 was a busy year

This look back at music in 2014 is of an international scope, but before we dive in I have to take the time to mention a local star whose light still reaches us, even though he can shine no longer. Derek Bachman — father, husband, musician and executive director at SaskMusic — passed away this month. He was a mentor and friend to so many, and the Saskatchewan music scene feels his loss immensely. You can read my full tribute to him on the blog at Rest in peace, Derek.


Okay: music in 2014! We find an industry in flux, where the major players are still trying to right themselves after the fall. Other than Taylor Swift, no artist has gone platinum this year (not including the Frozen soundtrack) — and some experts are saying that Swift’s 1989 may be the last platinum album ever. But there were some amazingly good albums, shows, and some interesting news from 2014 to reminisce about while we sit by the fire and swirl a glass of brandy.




I don’t know if I finally partied myself into a brain injury, but I’m kind of agreeing with Taylor Swift. After pulling her music from streaming service Spotify, she penned an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal (a publication all discerning Swift fans read, I’m sure) saying that artists should value their craft and make sure people are paying enough for it.


Spotify says it pays about 70 per cent of its revenue to labels, but some complain that this ends up being somewhere between $0.006 and $0.0084 per play (which actually goes to the label, not necessarily the artist). There are a lot more ins and outs to the politics of all this — and some have called Swift shortsighted — but if nothing else it was an endless sinkhole of press coverage, and therefore a brilliant marketing maneuver.




I buy vinyl for the tangible product to collect, but for on-the-go use, my mp3 usage is being somewhat supplanted by streaming. Vinyl sales were up about 38 per cent over 2013, but they still only account for about three per cent of music sales. I’ve moved towards streaming services like Rdio, though the content can be sorely lacking. One thing is certain: while people are willing to pay for a subscription model like Netflix or Spotify, these services have to get it right with the artists, or they won’t get the content we want. And no content means no subscribers.




U2 dropped their new album, Songs of Innocence, by sneaking it into our iTunes accounts. But why was everybody so mad? Well, a lot of people found the music offensively poor, but my theory was more that it scared people in an age of digital identity theft. Why do I have this album I didn’t pay for? Did someone hijack my credit card? And so forth.


But like Swift with Spotify, it was fucking brilliant marketing, though perhaps not as smart as Beyonce and Run the Jewels, who both dropped surprise albums you could choose to download. So U2 ends the year by being relevant in conversations about marketing and technology. Too bad they weren’t relevant where it counts — in the music itself.




Angel-voiced Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters) splattered verbal poo all over The War on Drugs in a mostly one-sided, but hilarious, hissy fit. At the Ottawa Folk Festival, Kozelek’s set was drowned out by that of The War on Drugs, leading him to call them, “beer commercial lead guitar shit.”


He then challenged TWoD to a showdown at their Fillmore show, saying he’d like to play a new song he’d written called “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock/Sun Kil Moon: Go Fuck Yourself”. It actually kept going from there, although the response from The War on Drugs was mostly bewilderment.




I’m one of the handful of local jurors on the national Polaris Music Prize, and we held a salon this year. I’m always shit at navigating the politics and guessing the winner of Canada’s best album, but I was thrilled to see talented throat singer Tanya Tagaq walk away with the cash for her album Animism. (She plays the Broadway Theatre in February.)




Maybe it’s just because it’s fresh in my mind, but I’m going to have to go with DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist’s Renegades of Rhythm tour: two world-class DJs with access to Afrika Bambaataa’s record collection, in tune and in time with a wicked visual presentation by Ben Stokes.




The Smalls was a flashback to my younger days, so I was proud to interview them for their reunion tour. And for sheer audacity, Toronto’s White Cowbell Oklahoma gave this music journo his money’s worth, veering into conversations about meth and generally burning things down in some sort of hilarious approximation of anarchy.




There was a lot of good stuff this year, including from bands that played in Saskatoon, like Alvvays and Against Me! There was trippier stuff like Goats’ Commune and Hookworms’ The Hum, and more electronic and dream-pop stuff like the surprisingly good Röyksopp and Robyn EP and FKA Twigs’ LP1. Mr. Poopypants Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon put out a stellar record in Benji, and I also dug The Men’s Springsteen-like Tomorrow’s Hits. To rattle off a few more: Swans’ To Be Kind, Ty Segall’s Manipulator, Total Control’s Typical System, Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days, Cloud Nothings’ Here and Nowhere Else, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, and St. Vincent’s self-titled release.




Run the Jewels’ RTJ2 is hands-down the best fucking album of the year. El-P’s production, along with his and Killer Mike’s raps, are a game-changer not only for hip hop but for music in general. It’s an offensive, hilarious, angry, clever post-Ferguson takedown of the world’s bullshit artists, from the Catholic Church to lying politicians. It’s as important as it is excellent. 

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