Hey, again I know it’s well into 2015, but Cory and I are working out our own personal bugs to get this site rolling, and having started it at the beginning of January, we still wanted to get some Best of 2014 stuff out there. So we don’t care that it’s halfway through February. Here’s my top five albums and top ten songs of 2014:
1 – Strange Desire – Bleachers
To say that this album was revelatory for me is to diminish its effects that brought me out of a depressing slump I’d found myself in for the first half of 2014. Things were going well in general around June, but then came Bleachers’ Strange Desire, a solo release from Jack Antonoff, guitarist of bands Steel Train and fun. The effervescent positive music had such an uplifting effect on me that it rapidly rose to the top of my playlists and was often just left on repeat throughout the summer. Songs ‘I Wanna Get Better’, ‘Rollercoaster’, ‘Reckless Love’, and ‘Like a River Runs’ are highlights. Every song is golden though.
2 – St Vincent – St Vincent
The Grammys finally acknowledged Annie Clark with her self-titled album, rewarding her with Best Alternative Music Album. Certainly this was the most interestingly crafted piece of the year, as Annie flows from the delirious ‘Birth in Reverse’ to the anthemic ‘Digital Witness’ right down to the acerbic love ballad ‘I Prefer Your Love’. Her voice is melodic, perfect for the synthetic feel of the beats and pops of the background music. She has been making great music for years now, from her debut Marry Me in 2007, to 2009’s Actor and my introduction to her in 2011’s Strange Mercy, all the way to her duet album with David Byrne, Love This Giant (2012). This is her best album to date, though, and I recommend anyone looking for a quirky female vocalist to give this a chance.
3 – TV en Francais – We Are Scientists
We Are Scientists have been putting out consistently great music for about a decade now – I first fell in love with them when I went to see their opener (#5, The Grates) in Philly in December 2006. Inexplicably, they haven’t found the same popularity in their native US as they have in England and France and other foreign nations. It’s nice to see the pair stay together despite their indie budget and international popularity – I’m just glad to have Chris Cain and Keith Murray’s warbling vocals pop up again every few years, such as in this recent release. Singing like a bitter ex-lover, they talk of growing up and finding boredom with immature friends in ‘Dumb Luck’ while the drums and guitar bounce back and forth, presenting a base for their narrative. In ‘Overreacting’ they point out their grievances with their old lover quarrels as the shoegaze sound plays beneath the lyrics. As long as the pair continues to plug away with songs like these, I’m going to love their work.
4 – Listen – The Kooks
In 2014, The Kooks wanted to try something different. They’d watched other similar bands such as Jet, Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes sputter out under ineffectual new albums. So as lead singer Luke Pritchard pointed out, they wanted to reinvent themselves. They didn’t want to so much reinvent their sound as reinvent the idea of “The Kooks”. Pritchard has stated in the past finding himself bored with playing the same old music and drumming up the same songs over and over in each subsequent album. So as part of a concept he and his bandmates, developed, Listen is a rebirth in a way. Pritchard mentioned before its release that he almost considered renaming the band, because in one way, they were a totally different group of people from when The Kooks began. Listen certainly feels that way. As a chorus belts out from the beginning of opening track ‘Around Town’, we can tell the band is more of a soul-funk Brit pop reimagining. I am absolutely behind the new vision behind The Kooks, and this is even perhaps better than their breakout album Inside In / Inside Out. It certainly sounds like a new band to me, which is wonderful. You certainly can teach an old dog new tricks.
5 – Dream Team – The Grates
It almost felt like an afterthought to give The Grates a top album. I feel like the married couple of Patience Hodgson and John Patterson were a bit distracted by their impending child (Soda, born only two weeks ago) and they wanted something to distract them. They employed Brisbane drummer Ritchie Daniell to replace the fantastic Alana Skyring (finally, they went an album without a consistent drummer) and to good effect – the drums haven’t sounded this good since the first album, Gravity Won’t Get You High. I also don’t want to discount the quality of this album – I have just found that I am more a fan of individual songs per year than albums – really I simply liked the Bleachers album, and then the next four were albums from bands I absolutely love. Which brings me to this – tracks ‘Holiday Home’ and ‘Friends with Scum’ prove that the band still has the knack for powerfully impressive lyrics and beats, but the whole thing feels a bit rushed. In fact, it was, as the group put the album out on their own label, Death Valley amidst running their cafe/bar Southside Tea Room, and creating a new human life. If anything, this will go down as an interesting tale to regale their daughter with – “we made this album while you were inside Mommy”. I still really love this band, but all this album did was make me want more, like a puddle in a desert, I just wanted to drink more of their sound.
Honorable Mentions – Going to Hell-The Pretty Reckless; They Want My Soul-Spoon; Too True-Dum Dum Girls; Ashes-The Belle Brigade; Lights Out-Ingrid Michaelson
Also want to acknowledge Paul McCartney’s New, which came out in 2013 but I first listened to in January 2014. Sometimes this happens to end of the year releases, and this was 2013/2014’s edition of that. First great new single of 2015 is Make You Better by The Decemberists, which dropped back in November.
1. Alone in My Home-Jack White
Jack White has made a fantastic solo career on soulful, meaningful songs, and Alone in My Home is no different. With a rollicking piano backdrop, White sings of his indifference to being wanted. Over the course of the past year, I dealt with my own very personal issues of love and my own past catching up to me. Very relatable parts of this song, and I love the way White ambles his way through the song as if it’s of no great matter whether we make it or not. The pain behind the words is masked behind a beautiful folk beat and I just absolutely love it.
2. Happy With Me-Holychild
A relatively new band, Holychild is a Los Angeles duo who dropped an LP, “Mindspeak” in mid-2014. Their debut album comes out in spring 2015 as they front a tour headlined by Passion Pit (who had my favorite album and song from 2012). Happy With Me burst into my eardrums with a force heretofore unheard of with a synthpop band. It’s easy to compare them as a calmer version of Sleigh Bells, but they have more of a pop sensibility and less fuzz guitars than a beat machine. This is the most fun I had in 2014, except when I went running with this song in my playlist and fell and scraped my knee on that trail in Vermont….
3. I Wanna Get Better-Bleachers
Sense a theme? Basically this whole year I was hoping to find an anthem to describe what I was feeling, and I found a handful of songs that epitomized that I was in a deep dark hole of my own creation and desperately wanted to climb back out. Here Jack Antonoff bleats about finding himself at a turning point and needing to make sure he didn’t go the wrong way. With the guitar enforcing his point through fuzzy vocals, I couldn’t stop playing this throughout the summer.
4. Ghosts-Motel Raphael
While trying to discover myself and fix all the problems I had in my life (namely no job, no motivation, no love), I went with my father to Toronto. We’re big fans of hockey and checked out a couple of historical landmarks to the game and also checked out some other things in the Canadian metropolis. One night, knowing the CMW (largest Canadian music festival) was in town for the week, I decided to check out and try to discover any underground bands my father and I might actually be interested in. Knowing we were a bit limited in offshoot chances to go, I didn’t really get to see anyone, but discovered this young new band from Montreal. Three female vocalists, a story of desperation and love, and of course ghosts, hit home really well at the beginning of my journey of discovery back in May. Horns always get to me too, so there’s that.
5. I Don’t Hate You-Kyla La Grange
As the electric beat begins and Kyla’s voice rises above the bass, I knew I was in for a strange guilty pleasure. La Grange sings about how she didn’t want to become someone’s mistake, and she was going to be stronger than the relationship itself. As I felt my way through my own strange relationships in 2014, I knew that I could never hate someone who might continually break my heart. I felt as though Kyla knew exactly how I felt, and it’s just another song that exemplifies my own personal journey through 2014.
6. Writing’s on the Wall-OK Go
The clearest message of the year was this: When the writing is on the wall, it’s so painfully obvious to both parties that a relationship is over. While OK Go premiered this song with another quirky fun Rube Goldberg-esque video, I just knew that my own relationship was probably doomed. Just another song that pretty much emerged from my own mind. Just goes to show you, human nature is omnipresent. All our experiences tend to feel the same, and our best artists know how to present it to us through song, theatre, film, or printed word.
7. Birth in Reverse-St. Vincent
The year began well enough, though this acerbic cynical single was the first highlight. Annie Clark sings of masturbating while the garbage man takes away her trash, and like many other people drifting through the year, I found myself transfixed by her lyrics and strange beats. St. Vincent’s album continued well in this fashion, but Birth in Reverse epitomized the drifter in 2014. Here’s hoping her deluxe album that dropped recently has something that tells me how to break out of it.
8. The Wolf is Free-Lily & Madeline
Strings twang like a dream, as singer sisters Lily & Madeline Jurkiewicz drone about a danger of wolves. The metaphor is clear, something is simply bothering them, and the darker meaning lurking here may be more devious than I want to delve into. I simply love this song, the feel, the sound and the lyrics. A perfect song, beaten only by ones that meant more to me.
9. I Want You-Morgan James
The name says it all, and Broadway starlet James belts out the title with great fervor. It’s got a calm, collected simple meaning, and at the point I was happiest this year, it meant a great deal to me. I’m getting more into soul and funk, and for this woman, while more about the jazzy feel of Broadway, I believe she will set the standard for women in the next few years.
10. Alexandra-Hamilton Leithauser
After the Walkmen disbanded, frontman Leithauser produced a solo album entitled Black Hours. Alexandra is the most fun had on the album, and as Hamilton croons about a lost love, it perked me up out of my own black hours. Of course, reading the lyrics, it brings the pain back home, but I know that if someone like Hamilton Leithauser can sing about this and his ability to get back to happiness, I can too. I just need a piano flowing through the soundtrack of my life.
11. Born Again-Emilyn Brodsky
I decided, fuck it, let’s have 11 because I really wanted to mention how great this song is. Simplistic, beautiful lyrics, melodic singing, new female vocalist to my ears. At the moment I heard it, I needed someone to read my mind and sing exactly what I was thinking too…and basically I was at a low point this past October, nervous about what my future held. Obviously that was five months ago, and if you’d asked me how I’ve done since, I would not really want to delve into that. But every time I bring Born Again back up, it inspires me to be a little more active, a little more excited about the future. And that’s what sometimes what we need.
12. Dumb Luck-We Are Scientists
13. Evil Blooms-Dum Dum Girls
14. Go Quietly-Cold War Kids
15. Giants-Bear Hands
16. So Blonde-EMA
17. Hour of the Dawn-La Sera
19. Love & Pain-Grace Weber
19. Digital Witness-St Vincent
20. Dreams-The Kooks
Honorable Mentions: Boom Clap-Charli XCX; Love U Forever-Jenny Lewis; It Was Always You-Maroon 5; Like a River Runs-Bleachers; Go-Grimes; Heaven Knows-The Pretty Reckless; Earth-Future Loves Past; Take All the Time You Need-Oh Honey
I’m actually much more excited about 2015 – albums from Fall Out Boy, The Decemberists, Murder by Death, Sleater-Kinney, Panda Bear, Alien Ant Farm and Belle & Sebastian have already impressed, and later this winter/spring we’ll be getting albums from Death Cab For Cutie, Modest Mouse, Incubus, Holychild, Passion Pit, Matt & Kim and The Cribs – all favorite bands of mine.