The Albums That Defined 2014 explores how this year's most influential records have shaped and reflected the wider music landscape. Today, how even in a year off, Nick Cave was all over the indie music landscape.
Nick Cave didn't technically release an album in 2014, but his spectre loomed large over some of the year's best music.
This year's 20,000 Days On Earth is a very fictionalized documentary that follows the musician, author and screenwriter on the 20,000th day of his life. At 57, Cave is concerned about the inevitability of not being able to remember details from his past - the wellspring he draws upon to make his art - but with that awareness comes the knowledge that what he creates will live on long after he’s gone: “The song is heroic, because the song confronts death. The song is immortal and bravely stares down our own extinction.” Cave’s songs will certainly exist beyond him, and if 2014 is any indication, so too will his influence.
Hank Wood And The Hammerheads, the cowbell-riding descendants of pigfuck, released their second LP, Stay Home, earlier this year. On Stay Home you can hear the genesis of Cave’s first band, The Birthday Party, distilled and distributed throughout the United States over the past thirty years. Wood’s voice recalls that of Scratch Acid/The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow, who himself amplified Cave’s yelp and made it his own Texan caterwaul, almost to the point of being undecipherable. The Hammerheads manage to simplify the sound, giving it more of a twisted twang, while reintroducing the carnivalesque sounds of the farfisa to their noise-rock stomp.
Following the dissolution of The Birthday Party, Cave put together his own band so that he could focus on his own songwriting. There were a number of musicians outside of that original unit who helped influence their shape early on, like fellow Australian J.G. Thirlwell (a.k.a Foetus) who can be heard on the Bad Seeds’ debut, From Her To Eternity. !FLIST!’s Fuck You Im Dead sounds like an imagined full-scale collaboration between Cave and Thirlwell, a marriage between the former’s thunderous, dramatic gospel and the latter’s proto-industrial, string-swept soundscapes. The result is a haunted pop record, one that’s cinematic in scope but throbs, pulses and aches with a physical obstinate determination.
If there was one person responsible for Cave’s transformation from batty post-punk scarecrow to the gothic crooner whose 96 tears had all but dried up, it was Jeffrey Lee Pearce, whose Gun Club was the post-punk answer to Creedence Clearwater Revival. He imbued punk with countrified blues, making a decades-old sound fresh and vital again, inspiring Cave to dig deeper so that he too could preach the blues. In their transition away from wiry, snotty punks, Scandinavian shit-disturbers Iceage have tapped into Cave’s intelligent, serging sermons and their connection to the fiery spirit of Pearce. “Forever” from their Plowing Into the Field Of Love is a perfect example of how the group split the difference, channeling Pearce’s velvety calm for the verses only to hollow out the at the chorus with noisy defiance characteristic of Cave himself.
In 20,000 Days Cave describes his creative process as a feeling: “The ghosts of the past are all about and crowding in, vying for space and recognition. They are no longer content to be kept down there in the dark, they’ve been there too long.” That metaphor works equally well to understand the fever pitch with which bands are learning from Cave’s example, and carrying on where he left off... or one day will.