Best Albums of 2014

12: -Alvvays – “Alvvays”:
So much more than just “Archie, Marry Me”, though a listener should be forgiven for an inability to get beyond that song, which is just *the* perfect pop song of 2014. I know they’re supposed to be pronounced “always” but feel free to go ahead and pronounce them like they’re spelled (and sound like Bela Lugosi in the process). Just solid and effortless-sounding pop from this Toronto 5 piece.

11: -Beach Slang – two eps: “Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street” (Sept.) and “Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?” (May)
The best Replacements cover band that don’t even bother to play a Replacements song. They capture that wild, just-barely-duct-taped-together feel of the Replacements, with comparable hooks, but without the occasional-but-inevitable train wrecks (and worse dull songs) that the Replacements had (I’m looking at you, “Lay It Down, Clown”). Their bandcamp page comes complete with a header that’s a mini-manifesto.  The sort of thing I would write on my wall while still in high school. The sort of thing I might pretend to be embarrassed of later, when I grew up, but would still secretly believe with all my heart:

There are days when you feel so alive your teeth get electric.
When that happens, play this. And play it loud. That thing that’s burning your guts, scream it out. That junk that bullies your jaw, punch it off.
We were never going to be okay.
All of this much is the good stuff. That stuff that steadies your spine. Fuck being accepted.  You already belong.
Go to a basement show and sweat out songs with kids fighting the same good fight.
Stay up. Stay young. And makeout.
You’ll write about all of this some day. And it’ll crack your lips crooked.
The louder the speakers, the brighter the hearts.
And we are shining.

This band just *is* what Parquet Courts is trying so hard to be, (and I like Parquet Courts, despite the vocals) Wearing your influences on your sleeve is never a bad thing as long as you create from that wellspring instead of merely ape it, and this band just gets it right. Would honestly be higher if there were more songs.

10: -Cayteana “Nervous Like Me”
Rough and raw pop from three amazingly talented women from Philadelphia who write songs about those important moments that sneak in and you become aware of, little details like how a switch in cigarettes types somehow mean something bigger, in songs like “Dirty Laundry” that like the best things in life are over before you realized how much they meant. The songs are full of lyrics that mourn and glorify all the urgent mistakes of youth, like:
“Well I switched back from the yellow to the orange pack
And you shaved your beard, just to sit and watch it grow back
It’s funny the things we find comfort in
It’s funny the things that make us feel again
I still want you in a bad way
I wanna see you on your bad days
Oh I want you in the worst ways
I want you in the worst ways, yeah
I’ll lay here with my endless guilt
And you’ll force photos of the life you built
Enough to make you feel better
It’s not enough to make you feel better”
or
“I came here alone
And I plan to leave that way
But I find comfort in
All of the things you say
My heart unthawed
And my brain unstalled…
And we’re both prone to misery
But you still get drunk
And wanna hang out with me
And I’m at my best
When I’m sleeping alone
It’s funny how time stops
And starts on its own
I came here alone
And I plan to leave that way.”

Aching pop with a hard edge forcefully played by powerful women. That pretty much checks off everything I’m looking for in a song.

9: -Dum Dum Girls “Too True”
The Dum Dum Girls always had a mild flirtation with the gothic, but it was always tempered by other influences, like indiepop and punk (check out their radical reinvention of The Misfits’ “Last Caress” on their Slumberland 7” “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout” or their somewhat more faithful cover of “Throw Aggie From The Bridge”, complete with that ethereal distance in the guitar sound that Black Tambourine mastered, or consider their cover of Strawberry Switchblade’s “Trees and Flowers”, which seems like a band that Dum Dum Girls were created to cover). On this album, Dee Dee Penny embraces it fully, with danceable beats and darkly pop hooks reminiscent of Siouxie and the Banshee’s best work. I knew right off the bat that this was gonna be an album that I was gonna take to when I found out there was a song comparing a would-be lover’s eyes to Rimbaud (although she butchers his name, pronouncing it “Rim-bo” instead of like the Sly Stallone character forged to life from the wet dream of a dementia-ridden Ronald Regan—who was probably saner in his late stages than he ever was in his post-broadcasting political life).

8: -Katie The Pest “Other Cities, Other Girls”
This band skates in on a technicality, as these songs were recorded in 2007 but remastered and released in 2014, but the heart of these wonderful songs from this Long Beach noisepop band lie firmly in the mid 90’s. “Spit It Out” is the real standout on this release, with its full tubey-distortion opening into its jangly-distorted verse and earworm of a chorus, “If you knew what you had, then you wouldn’t be spitting it out”. This is a song that Velocity Girl at their fuzzy best would have given anything to have written. This entire album (and its predecessor “This Giant Will Kill You”, with easily a top 10 all-time dessert island song “Golden”) just reminds me of everything I loved about mid-90s indie music, back when that meant “Band That You Found Out About From A Zine” instead of “Pitchfork Gave This Band On A Major Label An 8.2”.

7: -Eagulls “Eagulls”:
Once again, here’s another band that you have to first be willing to get behind the puke-inducing cutesy/clever name. Once you do, you’ll find nothing either cutesy or clever, just straight-forward high energy post-punk. Yes, the lyrics are cringe-worthy reading from the high school “everyone’s a phony” Holden Caufield/punk-rock cred playbook with lines like “THINK UP YOUR COUNTERFEIT MIND AND KEEP BOTH OF YOUR EYES PEELED UP FOR NOTHING IN DEPTH”, but the intensity and songwriting are so present that it’s easy to forgive the utter banality of the lyrics. And let’s be honest, if you’re into hardcore or post-punk for the lyrics 98% of the time you’re gonna walk away disappointed if you can read above a 9th grade reading level. This is the band that Palma Violets could be if they stopped checking their own reflections in the mirror long enough to really just let loose. This is heavy, forget-yourself-in-the-storms-of-youth music, which is a thing I will never tire of when done right. Besides that terrible name, they get it right.

6: -Literature “Chorus”
Here’s where it really starts getting tough to assign a number rank. Numbers 6-2 could all easily swap places with each other, since the songwriting and the execution are just top notch from these following releases. I put the work from this high-energy Philly powerpop at #6 mostly in the attempt to feign some sort of journalistic integrity, since my band opened up for them at a Portland tour stop this year. Upbeat jangly guitar weaves its way around clever lyrical turns of phrase that linger pleasantly like aftertaste notes on a high end bourbon. Easily the best-looking release this year, with a purple splatter on the Slumberland vinyl. Even if you just picked up this record just to see this visual, it’d be worth it, but the songs are so good that you’d be wise to prepare for that album to camp out on your turntable space like a broke college kid at a coffee house.

5: -PoBPaH “Days of Abandon”
Great artists do not merely recreate their past successes with only slight variation—they reinvent themselves. This album is a reinvention from a reinvented band and that might frustrate some people who want to hear again the loveletter to MBV, Ride, Black Tambourine and Sarah bands like The Field Mice and Another Sunny Day that the perfect first, self-titled, album of fuzzy goodness and Moz-level wordplay was. This newest direction is a more delicate, and sunny turn after sophomore effort “Belong”s foray into a heavier, Butch Vig-era Pumpkin’s sound. Firmly in place are the lyrical strengths Kip is famous for: that impossibly rare combination of allusive and clever while still being heartfelt. With a new lineup, enhanced by the stellar backup (and sometimes lead) singing of Jen Goma (from “A Sunny Day In Glasgow”) and the able backing of Able Body this release shines with songs like “Kelly”, “Until the Sun Explodes” and the track Hershey’s used to score a commercial “Simple and Sure”. The real gem on the album is the Greek myth transposed onto a failed relationship that is “Eurydice” with its brightly building chorus against a backdrop of a buzzsaw MBV-esque guitar that crescendos into pure pop bliss. This necessarily makes the narrator Orpheus, and after hearing that song, I’m not so sure what Simonides wrote about was mere myth.

4: -Gold-Bears “Dalliance”
In a nod to the closing song on their debut album “Are You Falling In Love?”, this follow-up on Slumberland begins with a song also called “Yeah, Tonight”, but what completely different songs! Although they tread somewhat similar lyrical ground, both dealing with a failed relationship, that’s really where similarities end. The former begins somehow simultaneously wistful and mournful, with an acoustic guitar an initially hopeful, reverby plea of “Yeah, tonight we’ll fall in love and love again”, implying that the couple have fallen out of love, and weaves a series of invocations to possibilities. This could be a tender song by itself, clocking in at around three minutes, but instead of gently slipping away, singer Jeremy Underwood smashes the fourth wall, telling us “…and then the drums come in.” and the song explodes in a noisy powerpop crescendo, that both resolves everything and yet still leaves them ambiguous. Is the musical explosion the realization of the hope and a magic reconciliation? Is it the dissolution of relationship in a fireball of beauty? Either way it’s perfectly fitting. Whereas the “Yeah, Right” on Dalliances shoots out of the gate like a Roman Candle, with Jeremy trading vocals and then harmonizing with Emma from Standard Fare/Without Feathers/Mammoth Penguins. It’s a testament to how compelling Jeremy is as a songwriter and as a singer that he’s able to craft such a song and then keep perfect pace with the person who in my never-humble estimation has the most powerful voice in indiepop (I’d say Rachel from Flowers has the most delicately enchanting voice in indiepop, and I’d give next to anything to see these two share a stage together, in much the same way that I’m firmly convinced that the sounds of heaven are not Handel’s “Messiah” or angels playing a harp, but Juliana Hatfield and Harriet Wheeler harmonizing together). While many of these songs clock in at a bit over two minutes, Gold-Bears are one of the few bands that write songs that can hold my unflagging attention for five minutes when they decide to go that long as they do on the jangly “Hey Sophie”:.

Crashpop is the perfect term to describe this band, because these songs tumble around the room, knocking things around. These are songs to sing arm-in-arm stumbling down the street at night after a few too many, when you’ve drank enough to believe the best in people, even when you know the worst. Yeah, these are full of poppy hooks, but they’re hooks because they cut into you and make you bleed. There is far more instrumentation than the standard guitar, bass drums, but none of it ever presents itself as obtrusive or gimmicky, only another tool in service of the song. This is punk without the bs machismo and noise without the interminable length or the impermeableness. Most of all these are songs, meaning you hear them, they stay with you and you want to sing them yourself. As great as the first release was, this is just more.

3: -Flowers “Do What You Want To; It’s What you Should Do”

On their label’s website (The stellar Kanine Records) the claim that “the reception at live shows has been nothing less than rapturous” may sound like hyperbole; having seen them perform both at the 2013 London Popfest and the 2013 NYC Popfest, I can assure you it’s no exaggeration. From the heartbeat-doing-a-waltz opening drum beats of “Young” till the final note on the single-stringed bass at the end of the utterly mesmerizing “Stuck”, Flowers delicately enchant with musicianship that is elegantly understated, yet complete. Truly a perfect name for this band because, very much like how flora cannot be improved upon with artifice since they are already perfect on their own (hence the phrase “gilding the lily”), these songs are as marked by their restraint as they are by the talent of the musicians involved. This is stop-you-in-your-tracks, silence-a-boisterous-crowd music that commands you to stop, take note and leaves you in awe at what you have just experienced. If you have not fallen in love with Flowers yet, it is merely because you have not yet heard them. So what are you waiting for?

2: -Martha “Courting Strong”
An absolute firecracker of a debut album from this vegan, straight-edge, Anarchist, queer-positive group of North England powerpopsters on the verge of punk. Super high-energy, shout-along music with snaky and jangling guitar lines. The songs will “break your heart and your double helix” but the harmonies will sew them back together for you. I challenge you. Listen to “1967, I Miss You I’m Lonely” and try to get it out of your head. I double dog dare you. Crack open a bottle of Irn Bru and do it. Clever lyrics shout-sang in an unmistakable and charismatic brogue. Easily one of the best live acts I’ve seen, as well. Truly kinetic, in the sense that seeing them will fill you with more energy than chugging a 32oz of cold brew coffee from Heart would.

1: -Hobbes Fanclub “Up At Lagrange”
Like I said, #6-2 were painfully hard to pick the order of, but #1 was easy. This debut album from Bradford, England’s trio was so hotly anticipated by me, and yet it was one of those rare moments in life where excited buildup actually paid off instead of disappointed. 36 all-too-brief minutes of achingly heartfelt effects-heavy guitar creating hooks that push dreaminess into edginess. This is the album you always wanted Ride to make, the one where the songwriting caught up to the clever level of effects. Or maybe it’s the album you always wanted the “Frosting On The Beater”-era Posies to make, where the wall-of-sound would be as daydreamy as the songwriting. 2012’s Shelflife single “Your Doubting Heart” makes a redone appearance, as does the lead song off of Cloudberry’s self-titled ep “The Boy From Outer Space”, but these beloved gateway drugs into the band’s music give way to the harder stull that the last three songs comprise: “Why You Should Tell The Truth”, the eponymous “Up At Lagrange” and the breathtaking closer “Sometimes”. The only problem I have with this album is that I want more of it. A lot more.

Honorable Mentions:

-The Luxembourg Signal- “The Luxembourg Signal”
If Shelflife Records was a baseball player, you’d have to walk them not to get hurt, because they never swing and miss. Every release is a hit. When you realize the pedigree of the people in this amazing band, it’ll make perfect sense. This would definitely make the list had I spent enough time with this album; I just haven’t since I haven’t scooped it on vinyl yet and suspect it’s long gone.

-September Girls – “Veneer”.
If this wasn’t an EP, this would have definitely cracked the list.

-The Hotelier – “Home, Like Noplace Is There”
What emo once was, not what you think of now and cringe.

-Fear of Men – “Loom”
I slept on picking this up on vinyl (to my great discredit) and this is certain to be my first purchase of the new year. I just haven’t had the chance to give it a close listen, but just based on that first cursory digital pass-through, I’m certain it should rate.

-Tape Waves – “Let You Go”
How can music this good come from just two people? One of the highlights of this year’s NYCPopfest. South Carolina dreampop.

-Honeyblood – “Honeyblood”
Good pop with an edge. Wish I spent more time with this one.

-Taylor Swift – “1989”. You know you love it. It’s ok. Everything will be alright in the end.

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One thought on “Best Albums of 2014

  1. Michael Feck Post author

    There’s always the nagging feeling one gets while writing these sorts of lists that something very major is being forgotten. In this case it was, (apologies to Sleater-Kinney, whose version is *the* definitive) More Than A Feeling, since I forgot the stellar release from beloved band Allo Darlin’. Expect a thorough album and show review soon to appear in these pages.

    Reply

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