2014 in music

I was a terrible blogger this year. No reviews, no articles, just one post about an album’s anniversary. I didn’t even finish this in time to post it before going out of town for New Years Eve. Oh well, it’s been a crazy year. Here’s a brief run-down of some of my favorite musical moments from 2014.

tl;dr version: My favorite albums of the year were A Thousand Surfaces by Hard Girls and Never Hungover Again by Joyce Manor.

A Thousand SurfacesNever Hungover Again

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Pete’s best of 2013

For your consideration, here are the music, movies, games, and experiences that stood out for me in 2013.

busch gardens
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Xmas songs no. 14: Rocket from the Crypt – “Cancel Christmas”

Happy Birthday, Baby JesusI’ve gone on before about how Rocket from the Crypt are my favorite local band of all time, and one of my all-time favorite bands period. I got to see them three times this year, and I’ve already got tickets to see them twice more in 2014 (January at the Casbah and March in L.A.). This song is from a 10″ holiday compilation that the Sympathy for the Record Industry label put out in 1993. SFTRI did a sequel to it a year or so later and then re-released both as a single CD. No lyrics with this one; as with most Rocket songs, no lyric sheet is provided and it’s hard to decipher Speedo’s ramblings.

Halloween songs no. 31: Rocket from the Crypt – “I Drink Blood”

Halloween HootenannyI’ve been saving this one for today. Explaining who Rocket from the Crypt is and why they’re one of my favorite bands could take up a lot of room, so I won’t subject you to too much rambling. Suffice to say they’re one of the best bands to have ever come out of San Diego, maybe the best. I’m not just saying that either; they were voted Best San Diego Band of All Time in 1999 by the local music ‘zine. This was a group that signed to a major label (Interscope), but worked the deal such that not only could they (and did they) continue to release numerous vinyl singles and EPs through indepenedent labels, they used Interscope’s money to fund a tour on which fans weren’t charged admission to the shows. They’d hold raffles during their gigs and spin a wheel to determine the setlist. Whenever possible, they’d let fans with tattoos of their logo into their shows for free, for life. They started their own record label to release rarities and albums by their side projects and their friends’ bands. All in all, very punk rock.

All of this wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t also amazing. Rocket played revved-up rock & roll that incorporated punk, garage, and alternative rock to create a sound that wasn’t quite like anyone else’s. I didn’t even get into them until several years after their mid-’90s heyday, but they very quickly became one of my all-time top 5 bands. I went to high school with singer/guitarist John “Speedo” Reis’ younger brother; I remember him bringing in Rocket records and videos to show around, but I had no musical taste at the time and didn’t “get it”. I was yet to really discover punk rock and the vibrant music scene that was going on in SD at the time; that wouldn’t really happen until I started college in ’98. The photos in the liner notes of Rocket’s 1998 album RFTC are of my high school classmates; I still look at them today and see kids I’d gone to school with since 5th grade, the parking lot I got dropped off in every morning, and my old biology classroom.

I only saw Rocket twice during their initial run, once at one of the annual Street Scene festivals around the time Group Sounds came out in 2001 and then again at their farewell show on Halloween in 2005. After 16 years they’d decided to call it a day. I’d just moved back to San Diego after 3 years spent working on cruise ships and was just in time to find out about the farewell gig. Of course I went, and it was an amazing show. Halloween gigs used to be an annual tradition for Rocket, but it’d been a few years since they’d done one. They pulled out all the stops, renting out the ballroom of a hotel downtown and going through multiple costume changes throughout the set. The show is captured on their live album and video R.I.P. In the subsequent years many of the members’ other projects (Hot Snakes, Sultans, The Night Marchers, Beehive and the Barracudas, Earthless, Off!) have become some of my favorite bands, but Rocket remains the trunk of the family tree in my mind and one of the most important bands to me personally. Rocket from the Crypt is, to me, the sound of home.

A couple years ago the band got back together for a one-off appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba (on which Speedo plays a recurring role as the Music Swami), which led to a full reunion earlier this year. They played a secret word-of-mouth gig at the Bar Pink (which Speedo is co-owner of) before taking off for a European tour. Though I’d been at previous short-notice shows by the Hot Snakes and other bands there, I was unaware of this one. Their only “official” SoCal gigs since reuniting have been at the Ink & Iron festival in Long Beach and one at the Del Mar Racetrack, both of which I went to. But tonight is special. Tonight is Halloween. Tonight is Rocket from the Crypt, in downtown San Diego, on their favorite day of the year. This hasn’t happened in 8 years. So you know where I’ll be…

The song below, “I Drink Blood”, isn’t one of their best. It isn’t even really representative of their sound. If any one song could be said to represent the band, it’d undoubtedly be “On a Rope” from 1995’s excellent Scream, Dracula, Scream!, which was a minor hit in the UK and which Speedo says “will forever be our piss stain on the footnotes of underground ’90s rock lore”. “I Drink Blood” wasn’t even on a proper album; it’s a b-side from the RFTC era that was on a Rob Zombie-curated compilation called Halloween Hootenanny (it was later include on the b-sides collection All Systems Go 2). But it is a Halloween song. And I just found out that the compilation it originally appeared on came out on my 18th birthday, October 13th, 1998. Effing serendipity.


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