Christopher Surratt, of Spoken Nerd, kidDEAD Cult, and Brandon Brains semi fame, here. Thought I’d share a bit about my year and weave a little bit of rock n roll into the story. 2014 saw my lovely girlfriend Kristen and I travel coast to coast, visit a variety of national parks (Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Death Valley, Hoover Dam, New River Gorge), and spend time exploring everything from the cliffs of Malibu to mountains of West Virginia. We logged roughly 6,000 miles of travel on vacations near and far. How did we do it? The right way, the American way, in the form of the lost art of the great American road trip.
This, of course, required lots of music. Rather than recycling the same old playlists, we turned to you for assistance. Matthew Welchel assembled a great Facebook group called Perfect Records. This was a good place to start. In fact, the members of the group contributed to a playlist that reached 500 perfect songs that spanned decades, genres, well known favorites, new music, obscure music, and everything in between. We turned to family and friends for additional playlists, discovered new artists, and obscure songs by artists we thought we knew well. The music seemed to follow us like a mystical being. I remember listening to the Beach Boys as the sun set over the Mojave desert, Sinatra as we drove through LA at night, and Jackson Browne as we drove down route 66. It was a year of incredible adventure and wonderful experiences. And, as has become the norm, it was a year of musical adventures with Nathan and Ross (Spoken Nerd and kidDEAD).
We set out on a variety tours perfectly content with our newfound three man chemistry. Audiofeed, the southeast, the Midwest, and along the way, a few sets of my music. In fact, I released three Damn Tsingtao records: Dreams, Gibberish, and Undercover December (a month long covers project that lasted the entire month). Music was a significant piece of everything in my life this year. Fitting that it was also a really good year for new music.
I recently ranked my favorite albums of the year. Rather than rehash the entire list, I’m going to focus on a few that restored my faith in rock n roll. Here goes:
Weezer-Everything Will Be Alright In The End
I had the great fortune to witness two nights of Weezer at Nashville’s hallowed Ryman Auditorium. They performed the blue album and Pinkerton. What they didn’t bother to mention was that they were mixing one of the best damn rock n roll albums of the last several years while touring. This album rocks from the beginning. There are elements of classic Weezer, elements of the irreverence of later Weezer, and new sonic aspects. This is the album Weezer fans have hoped for. It’s the album that lifelong fans such as myself believed we would see. It’s polished, mature, yet still classically goofy. And, most importantly, it’s damn fine rock n roll.
Foo Fighters-Sonic Highway
I’ll admit that I had my doubts about this grandiose experiment. The last Foo record was the best since The Colour and the Shape. It seemed impossible to follow that up, let alone embark on a nationwide recording project. Grohl and the boys were more than up to the task. This is rock n roll. In fact, it’s ROCK N ROLL. It’s an album that pays homage to the great music cities of America as it stirs your head to banging and limbs to flailing. The Foo Fighters remain at the top of their game twenty years into what began as a grieving process for Dave Grohl. It’s a proclamation, a declaration, a statement. That statement is: rock and roll is not dead!
Lees of Memory-Sisyphus Says
John Davis and Brandon Davis of Superdrag fame put this record together. Some critics loved it, some spent considerable time critiquing the album’s use of the shoegaze sounds that predate Superdrag. In fairness, both camps are correct. Set all that aside, however, and just give it a listen. It’s chaotic shoe gaze noise rock at its most fine tuned. Furthermore, its melodically beautiful. Davis can bury his vocals in the mix, whisper the words, but he can’t hide that trademarked penchant for melody. Therein lies the beauty of this record. Loud, noisy guitars that rock through an enormous wall of sound (like My Bloody Valentine) juxtaposed against power pop melodies composed in the mind of a true craftsman. And again, the album rocks.
Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil-Goliath
For those of you not familiar with Steve Taylor’s 80s and 90s work, he was the original crossover artist, much too sarcastic and honest for the Christian music world, but a bit too Christian for the mainstream music world. He attempted a full on alternative rock career with a brilliant band named Chagall Guevera, released one final solo album, a live album that garnered music video spins on Alternative Nation and 120 Minutes, then vanished into filmmaking and running a record labor for the next twenty years. Then, sometime last year, little rumors started circulating here in Nashville. The word was that Steve Taylor was putting together a rocking indie band with plans to release a record. Well, he did and it’s fantastic. Bluesy at times, hard rocking at others, and with the same lyrical wit that made him both beloved and loathed. Lyrically, he’s still got much to teach the religious establishment, but he’s also got plenty to say to the rest of us about our increasing vanity and inability to form real relationships. Humor, brutal honesty, and all of this set against a bluesy indie rock pallet that is perfectly modern garage rock without pandering the the trendy sounds of the day. It’s indie rock for people who are sick of the gimmicks running rampant in the indie rock world. No quirky set ups, no unnecessary instruments from other genres, no excessive slap back reverb on the vocals. Just straightforward rock n roll filtered through the modern sounds. It’s a fine rock n roll record.
Ryan Adams-Ryan Adams
Some years back, Ryan Adams released a record titled Rock n Roll. Personally, I loved the record, but critics panned it as derivative and forced. This time around, however, Ryan Adams has emerged from retirement to give us a perfect rock n roll record. Straightforward, bluesy rock with a tinge of punk energy juxtaposed against well written and thoughtful lyrics. Perhaps that’s what Rock n Roll lacked in the minds of some critics, that certain lyrical gift that Ryan Adams has displayed for nearly two decades. Well, he didn’t disappoint this time around. Somehow, he managed to combine his rock sound with his folk songwriting. Yes, Americana lovers, Ryan Adams is a rocker.
I could cover another twenty albums, tell dozens of stories, but I chose these snippets in order to tie them into the subject line. 2014 offered me experiences that showed me just how amazing the people of whom America is composed can be. So many interesting, friendly, fascinating strangers. Moments of reconnecting with family and friends, adventures near and far, a whirlwind of a year. It’s fitting that my faith would be restored in rock n roll as well. After all, it’s an American art form. This year just happened to be a particularly good year for the art. Here’s to 2014 and to whatever adventures 2015 has in store. Cheers and Happy New Year!