My 2014 Soundtrack: J. Edward Keyes

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 12.17.14 in Features

One of the nicest surprises of 2014 has been my full-on reconnection with the music of Steve Taylor, who was one of my favorite artists when I was a cynical Christian teenager trying to make sense of both the world of religion and the world at large. Goliath, his latest, was a record I liked when I first heard it, and then liked more and more with each listen. In my review I did Taylor a deep disservice by pointing out the ways in which our political ideologies differ — based, by the way, on songs he wrote 30 years ago, another bit of unfairness on my part. Revisiting his early albums, I’m struck more now by how much our ideologies are alike, and how relevant a lot of his songs still are. The fruitless quest for immortality depicted in “Am I In Sync?” seems to anticipate the rise of social media by a good three decades; the barnstorming condemnation of racism “We Don’t Need No Colour Code” rang truer than ever in 2014. And “Lifeboat,” a skit-song I once found a little cloying, now scans as a stunningly precise dismantling of the kind of Randian philosophy that has been increasingly on the rise. And “I Manipulate,” written initially as a pointed criticism of the preacher Bill Gothard feels like a precise indictment of lingering cultural backwardness (particularly the pointed line, written from the perspective of the bullying pastor, “A good wife learns to cower/ underneath the umbrella of power.”)

I won’t offer any theories as to what “Comedian,” the final song on Goliath and my favorite song of 2014, is about. In my review of Goliath, I wrongly interpreted the title track as some sort of “Christians vs. Everyone” battle cry when, as it turns out, it was inspired by a Malcolm Gladwell book. I will say, however, that I’ve listened to it more than any other song this year, for several reasons. One is that, somehow, Taylor is becoming an even better lyricist as he ages, and his mastery of the English language is on full display (the line “The Amen Coroner’s marching orders got nailed to my front door” is one example of perfect syntactic construction that I marvel at every time). The second is that, even in its deliberately opaque lyrics, it managed to encapsulate a host of things I felt over the course of 2014. The finale, about which I was initially ambivalent, has now turned into a hurricane of pure catharsis. The line “Didn’t I take up all your crosses that were made of balsa wood” — i.e., the lightest kind of wood there is — gets me in the gut. But the lyric that means the most to me is the also most oblique, and thankfully so: “The king and I began a feud time will not erase until he wipes that omniscient smile off his face.” The song, I think, is about a lot of things (Taylor referred to it as “a lyrical dialectic with God”), but that feud, that push/pull between humanity and the Divine or fate or the future — call it whatever you want — is the thing I keep coming back to. And when I try to write about why that is, the meaning dissolves in my hands. So I’ll just wrap this up with an expression of gratitude that this song exists, and that it arrived right when I needed it.

40 Favorite Shows of 2014

01. Cold Specks, Rough Trade NYC (11/7/2014)
02. Neutral Milk Hotel, BAM (1/23/2014)
03. The Knife, Terminal 5 (4/30/2014)
04. Shamir, Babycastles (CMJ)
05. Flying Lotus, Terminal 5 (10/17/2014)
06. Demdike Stare, First Unitarian Church (4/4/2014)
07. Charly Bliss, Shea Stadium (7/30/2014)
08. White Lung, St Vitus (7/25/2014)
09. Larry Levan Street Party, Paradise Garage (5/11/2014)
10. The Haxan Cloak, Brooklyn Masonic Temple (5/10/2014)
11. Indie Pop Prom, Baby’s All Right (2/22/2014)
12. Prurient, Azar Swan & Clay Rendering, St. Vitus (1/24/2014)
13. Palehound, Piano’s (2/20/2014)
14. Ought, Baby’s All Right (7/11/2014)
15. Against Me!, Music Hall of Williamsburg (1/9/2014)
16. Bocian Records Showcase, Issue Project Room (4/6/2014)
17. Sky Ferreira, Music Hall of Williamsburg (7/9/2014)
18. Marshstepper, Palisades (7/4/2014)
19. Kevin Gates, Gramercy Theater (8/20/2014)
20. Godflesh, Pharmakon & Cut Hands, Webster Hall (4/10/2014)
21. Dean Blunt, The Studio at Webster Hall (11/6/2014)
22. Future Islands, Bowery Ballroom (2/7/2014)
23. Total Abuse, Rectal Hygenics & Ligature, Home Sweet Home (7/23/2014)
24. Hardcore Activity in Progress, Knockdown Center (5/16/2014)
25. Radiator Hospital & Potty Mouth, Glasslands (1/6/2014)
26. Miley Cyrus, Icona Pop, Sky Ferreira, Barclay’s Center (4/5/2014)
27. Downtown Boys, Silent Barn (10/3/2014)
28. Bluffing, Muchmore’s (5/25/2014)
29. Hailu Mergia, Le Poisson Rouge (5/23/2014)
30. Angel Olsen, Le Poisson Rouge (2/20/2014)
31. Habibi, Baby’s All Right (1/29/2014)
32. Alynda Lee Segarra (solo), Jalopy Club (1/8/2014)
33. Power Trip, St. Vitus (1/15/2014)
34. Jonas Reinhardt, Union Pool (1/21/2014)
35. Warpaint, Webster Hall (3/21/2014)
36. Augustines, Bowery Ballroom (3/3/2014)
37. Courtship Ritual & Jerry Paper, Baby’s All Right (9/22/2014)
38. Spirit Kid, Lulu’s (2/21/2014)
39. Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Glasslands (9/21/2014)
40. Dum Dum Girls, Sapphire Mansions & the New Lines, Mercury Lounge (1/30/2014)

65 Favorite Albums of 2014

01. Protomartyr, Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)
02. Steve Taylor & the Perfect Foil, Goliath (Splint Entertainment)
03. White Lung, Deep Fantasy (Domino)
04. Amen Dunes, Love (Sacred Bones)
05. Miranda Lambert, Platinum
06. Perfume Genius, Too Bright (Matador)
07. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)
08. Run the Jewels, RTJ2 (Fool’s Gold)
09. Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste (Prospect Park)
10. Scott Walker + Sunn-O))), Soused (4AD)
11. Gem Jones, Admiral Frenchkiss (Goaty Tapes)
12. Giant Claw, Deep Web (Orange Milk)
13. Mitski, Bury Me at Makeout Creek (Double Double Whammy)
14. The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)
15. YG , My Krazy Life (Def Jam)
16. Aphex Twin, Syro (Warp)
17. Angaleena Presley, American Middle Class (Slate Creek)
18. Marissa Nadler, July (Sacred Bones)
19. Triptykon, Melena Chasmata (Century Media)
20. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Give the People What They Want (Daptone)
21. Various Artists, Nippon Girls 2: Japanese Pop, Beat & Rock’n’Roll 1966-1970 (Big Beat)
22. Tony Molina, Dissed & Dismissed (Slumberland)
23. Swans, To Be Kind (Young God)
24. Panopticon, Roads to the North (Bindrune)
25. Hurray for the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes (ATO)
26. Bronze, World Arena, (Not Not Fun)
27. The Body, I Shall Die Here (RVNG)
28. Verma, Sunrunner (Trouble in Mind)
29. Ought, More Than Any Other Day (Constellation)
30. Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble)
31. Literature, Chorus (Slumberland)
32. Childbirth, It’s a Girl (Help Yourself)
33. deathsdynamicshroud.wmv, Olympics (Orange Milk)
34. Various Artists, Calypso! Musical Poetry in the Caribbean 1955 – 69 (Soundway)
35. Vibrant Light, Lust for Morality (Psychic Troubles)
36. Mayhem, Esoteric Warfare (Season of Mist)
37. Alvvays, Alvvays (Polyvinyl)
38. Cayetana, Nervous Like Me (Tiny Engines)
39. Andy Stott, Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)
40. Radiator Hospital, Torch Song (Salinas)
41. XYR, Arktika (Constellation Tatsu)
42. EMA, Future’s Void (Matador)
43. Chumped, Teenage Retirement (Anchorless)
44. Iceage, Plowing Into the Fields of Love (Matador)
45. Warpaint, Warpaint (Rough Trade)
46. Acid Fast, Rabid Moon (Protagonist)
47. Dark Blue, Pure Reality (Jade Tree)
48. Stone Jack Jones, Ancestor (Western Vinyl)
49. Pharmakon, Bestial Burden (Sacred Bones)
50. Ultimate Painting, Ultimate Painting (Trouble in Mind)
51. Filthy Huns, Leopard on My Right (Not Not Fun)
52. Blind Shake, Breakfast of Failures (Goner)
53. Dead Space, Faker (12XU)
54. The Hotelier, Home, Like Noplace Is There (Tiny Engines)
55. Dean Blunt, Black Metal (Rough Trade)
56. The Atlas Moth, The Old Believer (Profound Lore)
57. Dum Dum Girls, Too True (Sub Pop)
58. Perfect Pussy, Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks)
59. Torn Hawk, Let’s Cry and Do Pushups at the Same Time (Mexican Summer)
60. Ruined Fortune, Ruined Fortune (HoZac)
61. Nikki Lane, All Or Nothin’ (New West)
62. Dan Bodan, Soft (DFA)
63. The Gotobeds, Poor People Are Revolting (12XU)
64. Eureka California, Crunch (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
65. Alunar, Aureole (Fallen Empire)

18 Favorite Films of 2014
(This list limited by the number of films I had the opportunity to see as a lay moviegoer)

1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, dir.)
2. We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson, dir.)
3. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, dir.)
4. Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, dir.)
5. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, dir.)
6. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, dir.)
7. Dear White People (Justin Simien, dir.)
8. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, dir.)
9. Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, dir.)
10. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, dir.)
11. Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry, dir.)
12. Story of My Death (Albert Serra, dir.)
13. Daredevils (Stephanie Barber, dir.)
14. 20,000 Days on Earth (Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard, dirs.)
15. Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-Liang, dir.)
16. What Now? Remind Me (Joaquim Pinto, dir.)
17. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, dir)
18. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, dir.)