Best of 2014

I'm sure I'm missing some things that I just plain forgot about, but here are ten records that I liked an awful lot in 2014.

1. Vaniish - Memory Work: A simply astounding debut by this San Francisco band. Echoes of so many cool postpunk bands from the '80s (Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division etc.) with their own unique twist. Essential.

2. Singapore Sling - The Tower of Foronicity: Singapore Sling is more or less the brainchild of Henrik Bjornsson and the Icelandic genius shows no signs of let down on his seventh album, an intoxicating mix of JAMC fuzz and assorted '60s garage and surf influences. 

3. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Revelation: Revelation lives up to its name, my favorite BJM record since Bravery Repetition and Noise, encompassing everything from impeccable '60s-inspired songwriting to postpunk, shoegaze, and other experimental sounds.

4. The Raveonettes -Pe'ahi:  Along with Singapore Sling, Denmark's Raveonettes are my favorite band of the 21st century, always finding new ways to make the most out of their unique sound.

5. Ceremony: Distance. Like some of the other artists on this list, Ceremony is more or less a solo deal for John Fedowitz (ex-Skywave). Fans of his former group, JAMC, and assorted '80s noise pop will dig this record immensely.

6. Pete Fij and Terry Bickers - Broken Heart Surgery: Ex-Adorable vocalist Pete Fij and House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers collaborate on this achingly beautiful concept album that documents the breakdown of a relationship. The duo incorporate everything from country pop to John Barry-esque arrangements on this dynamite recording.

7. Comet Gain: Paperback Ghosts. Criminally ignored in the Britpop era, London's Comet Gain are still relevant two decades later appealing to all us lost souls who love punk, soul, and damaged rock 'n' roll.

8. Interpol - El Pintor. NYC's Interpol are back in form with their best album since the first two. Easily the comeback of the year.

9. Ringo Deathstarr - God's Dream. As you can tell from this list, I prefer bands on the noisier side of the pop spectrum. Austin's Ringo Deathstarr fall into that category for sure. While not as immediate as their first two long players, God's Dream is pretty killer just the same.

10. David Long - Water Has Memory. While this came out in Ireland only in 2013, I did not learn about this record until earlier this year. Long fronted Into Paradise, one of the best Irish bands ever in the late '80s - early '90s. This is his first new music in close to two decades and has a similar punch to his finest work.

Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records.


Q&A about my next novel Heartworm

My second novel Heartworm will be published next year (right now the target date is August/September). It's a sequel to Wivenhoe Park, set mainly in mid-'90s Dublin and Boston. The real life Irish band Whipping Boy plays a major role in the book. Charlie Burke, an intern for my publisher, Cooperative Trade, conducted this short interview with me.

What inspired you to write Heartworm?
Heartworm was originally inspired by the Bloomsbury Academic series, 33 1/3, where you write about classic albums either in a rock criticism format or some people have done it as fiction. I was trying to write a sequel to Wivenhoe Park and was struggling with some stuff, but then the idea of writing about the album Heartworm and writing about a period in mid-90’s Ireland and Boston – where I both lived – just kind of brought it back. That album was a really important part of my life then and now and the book came together fast. The application for Bloomsbury was pretty thorough. I was forced to write an outline very fast and get a first chapter done very fast, so that kind of kick started it. Although I didn't make the short list – I'm not getting published by Bloomsbury – I was able to expand on the ideas I had for that and turn it into a second of hopefully three books about Drew. So Heartworm – that's sort of where it came from.

Why fiction writing?
I think it's just another outlet. I've written about music for so long, and I think I just wanted to create. I tried to play guitar but I never really learned to do it very well. So I think it's just wanting to be on the creative side after putting out records for other people - having been on the management/PR side for so long РI don't know, I guess as clich̩ as it sounds, it felt like a calling, it felt like I just kind of needed to do that.

What sorts of novels do you like to read? Did any inspire Heartworm?
I don't know if any inspired Heartworm. I do like a combination of noir fiction, classic crime fiction, and music-inspired fiction. You know, like Nick Hornby I like a lot, and Kevin Sampson, Cathi Unsworth – they're contemporary writers I really like. Style-wise, I love Arthur Conan Doyle, all those Sherlock Holmes Classics, and I like a lot of the – I'm not really sure if we'd call it pulp fiction, but like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. I like their economy. You know, they're getting it down without a lot of fluff. Most of the music I like is like that too. Saying as much as needs to be said. I don't like albums that just have a lot of unnecessary tracks, so I try to approach the writing the same way. Minimalist prose, if you will.

What originally got you into music?
I'd say I've always liked music, like going back to junior high and high school, and I think that's where a lot of the events from Wivenhoe Park are pretty true. You know, I ran a while for a college team, and when I realized I wasn't going to be good as I thought I was, I think I got really depressed for a while, and then I turned more to music. I started buying more records, and hanging out with people that were more creative. I kind of got of the – not that running cross-country is really a “jock mentality” because it's not really a jock sport, but I expanded my horizons, made new friends, just kind of fell into music.

What’s an album that's been particularly inspirational to you and why?
I’d say two – I'd say Psychocandy by Jesus and Mary Chain was a huge inspiration, and that album came out right when I arrived in England for my junior year abroad in college, so in the same way the album Heartworm is a soundtrack to the novel Heartworm, Psychocandy was definitely the soundtrack to Wivenhoe Park. I'd say Heartworm for the '90s was as important for me as Psychocandy was for the '80s.

What inspired you to start your own record label?
That started just because I’d been working for my friend Lee in California with his label, and it was such a rush watching – you know, just working for a small label where you learn about everything from working with the artists, the bands, doing the grunt work – the rush of wanting to put out records, the rush of wanting to share what you think is important art with people.

Is there anything Lee taught you that influenced the way you've run your label?
Elephant Stone doesn't really exist anymore other than I might do some really small print reissues. The music industry has really changed. I learned from Lee watching him go through the ups and downs. There were some months where the money was tight… I think you just have to be fearless running your own business. I think Lee taught me to be brave. I’d sometimes wonder, "Oh god, he owes this printer so much money," but then something would come through, and he just kind of kept it calm by believing in what he was doing.

What inspired you to start your own music magazine?
I've done that in waves. I did various smaller zines before I did Vendetta in the '90s and early 2000s, and that happened right after I came back from England. In the novel, the Drew character is already writing for the college paper and stuff. I started writing a little after that – so that's a little – you know, it's not totally autobiographical. But when I came back, I came across this whole zine culture where people were putting out cut-and-paste Xerox things themselves, you know, passing them around or just advertising and selling them in other music magazines like that. So I did a couple of kind of things like that before I feel like I got it much better with Vendetta. So again, it’s like the thing with the label: just wanting to promote bands that you think deserved to get promoted more that maybe weren't getting attention in the mainstream press. It's just championing people you believe in.

Without giving too much away, there's some cult activity in the book. How much is that based on your own experience?
It's loosely based on… my ex-wife got involved in some – nothing that extreme like the cult in Heartworm – but a lot of this new age kind of philosophy, like this meditation, healing crystals. And there was this center in Ireland that she became friends with some people there that they were kind of all into that. There was this one guy in particular – and my wife didn't leave me for a healer, like in Heartworm – but there was this one guy in particular that kind of was a bit of a ladies man, but he was all about the, you know, healing powers of crystals and things like that. So it was kind of based on that experience, watching people getting sucked into this kind of stuff.

In the book, Drew interviews a band about a lyric that has become controversial because it was misinterpreted. Do you worry people will similarly misinterpret the book?
I don't really worry about it. I just wrote what was in my head at the time; I guess you don't really think about that. Paul Page, the guitarist for Whipping Boy, is a friend in real life, so when I told him I was trying to write this thing for 33 1/3, he's been really supportive. He's helped me with some of the scenes. He's read it and said it was kind of uncanny how I just kind of got the dynamic of his band down. I'd say the most stressful part of the book for me was wanting – since it was fiction about a real life band – I wanted him to like it. I wanted him to think it was authentic. I was really pleased when he said he does actually really like the book, so that was really good.

Anything else?
I don't think so, other than, I think Heartworm is definitely darker than the first book. To me, really it's about turning 30, losing some of your idealism from youth, but trying to find a way to forge forward. It's dark, but if there's a theme, it's that music is really important. When I sign books, I always inscribe, "Rock and Roll saves lives." I think that sums it up.

Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


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