By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
And so, another year has come to pass. 2014 offered up a number of exceptional music festivals, buzz worthy releases and reunions that most fans never saw coming. Yes, who would have thought both Wu-Tang Clan and Pink Floyd would deliver new music? And that is just the very tip of the iceberg. Alternative rock and metal artists enjoyed the most chart success in years, while underground rap and hip-hop were right behind them. Some of the biggest contenders in classic rock also proved their staying power and overall relevance by knocking today’s contemporary acts right out of the top spot. And let’s not for U2’s ultimate troll, providing Apple consumers with a largely unwanted product.
2014 was definitely a great year for indie and alternative rock. Iconic artists like Morrissey, J Mascis, Beck, Johnny Marr and the Swans all dropped well-received new records this year. But it’s the relative new-comers who have made quite possibly the biggest impression. Acts like alt-j, St. Vincent, Iceage, Perfect Pussy and The War on Drugs all made quite a splash, topping the bill at many major festivals and influencing a next generation of young alternative garage acts. Post-punk acts Death From Above 1979 and Interpol also marked their return, releasing two great albums respectively.
Classic alternative acts saw their share of success as well. The Foo Fighters’ new album, Sonic Highways, went right to the top of the charts, and successful tours from bands like Pearl Jam and the co-headlining jaunt from Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden drew in fans by the millions. Plus, high-profile reunions from Primus and Faith No More prove that this ear of rock bands still have a lot to say, and the fans want to hear it!
The dynamic duo of rappers El-P and Killer Mike (AKA Run the Jewels), also took the underground by storm with their sophomore collaboration disc, RTJ2. The record featured many high profile guests including Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha and Blink-182 drummer-extraordinaire Travis Barker, and took no prisoners. Dropping alongside the massive reunions of Outkast and Wu-Tang Clan, hip-hop is seeing a new golden age, where classic and contemporary alternative acts of the genre are lining up, providing a much needed breath of fresh air among its massive commercialized market.
Punk rock had it’s share dominance this year. The successful Punk Rock Summer Nationals tour brought together big names like The Offspring, Bad Religion, Pennywise and the Vandals all on one bill. Punk acts as diverse as OFF!, The Gaslight Anthem, The Damned and Against Me! released gritty, brutal records that show maturity and loyalty to the genre’s ethos.
Metal fans had to much to rejoice in 2014. Big contemporary players like Slipknot, Machine Head, In Flames and Mastodon took to the top of the charts, along with genre staples like Judas Priest and Exodus, who experienced the highest first-week sales and chart positions of their entire career. A standout release was Behemoth’s massive opus, The Satanist. The controversial Polish Blackened Death Metal act released both a chart topper and a game changer, bringing wide attention to the act in America, who had previous only seen moderate success.
Fans of Doom and Sludge metal had arguably an even better year in 2014. Heavy hitters Crowbar and Electric Wizard kept it, well, heavy! Not to mention Sludge pioneers the Melvins and the Columbus, Ohio underground sensation Lo-Pan dropping two massive records, keeping fans more than pleased. The bands Floor and Sleep also released new music, proving the sub-genre as relevant and powerful as ever.
Classic Rock artists like David Bowie, Nel Young, Paul McCartney and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released new music, with the latter seeing their first number one album ever. But perhaps the biggest surprise of 2014 was the return of Pink Floyd. The members have been very active in recent years, with the act’s notable leaders, David Gilmour and Roger Waters, both touring worldwide and occasionally making guest appearances at each other’s shows. However, most fans had dropped the idea of a full-fledged reunion, after a one-off 20-minute set at Live 8 in 2005 and the death of founding member and keyboardist Rick Wright in 2008. But by late summer, surviving members Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason announced a (somewhat) new Pink Floyd album was in the works. The Endless River was released in November, featuring unreleased material featuring Wright, re-recorded with a few new additions. Waters, who officially left the band in 1984, was not involved in the project. The album went straight to the top of the charts, knocking contemporary pop princess Taylor Swift off her fluffy throne.
Many of music’s mega-stars also pulled some noteworthy stunts. Taylor Swift, or most likely her label reps, pulled her latest release off Spotify and other popular music streaming services, forcing fans to purchase the physical copy. U2, took the opposite approach, and gave their new album, Songs of Innocence, away for free via Apple products. Both stunts garnered the acts equal publicity and equal dismay from the public. While Swift seemingly took a stance for the current value of music, U2 received a lot of heat for the ostensibly generous move, with high-profile acts like Pink Floyd and Foo Fighters criticizing them for “devaluing” music. This only goes to show that 15 years after the explosion of Napster, the music industry, as well as some of today’s top artists, are still on unstable ground. As of 2014, the future of the music industry was murky at best.
Let’s not forget who we lost in 2014. Iconic folk singer and activist Pete Seeger left us early in the year, while legendary blues guitarist Johnny Winter and punk icon Tommy Ramone of the Ramones passed in the summer. Ohio rock legend Denis T. Menass of classic rockers Left End also passed away in the summer, before his former band was honored at the Youngstown Music Awards later in the year. Bass virtuoso and Cream founder Jack Bruce left us in October, while the heavy metal community lost former Static-X frontman Wayne Static and Black Tusk bassist Jonathan Athon both in November. Later in the year, Jack White’s touring keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens and Small Faces Ian McLagan had passed away. For a complete tribute of 2014’s fallen musicians, visit here.
Although rock music, in all of it’s various sub-genre’s and identities, is not the dominant force in music that it once was, it is no where near out of the equation. While pop and country largely dominate the charts, and reality television continues to pump out one manufactured one-hit wonder after another, the real music fans have spoken the loudest. In 2014, rock, alternative, and especially metal acts, have pushed the highest number of physical album sales, proving their loyalty to their art. And as we move further into the digital age, where the value of music is constantly being questioned, it is the fans, all of you, who’ll ultimately deliver the final answer!
Cheers to 2015! Go out to shows, support local/regional/independent music, and keep buying records!!