Friday, January 23, 2015

Favorite Records of 2014 - A fond look back

As another year passes us by its always a lot of fun to have a look at the music you bought over the past year and try to make sense of it all.  What was good?  What was great?  What wasn't so good?  Since about 1995 I've made a very conscious effort to take the time to give all the records I bought in the calendar year that one real good 'sit down' and see if I can rank em.  Why?  Well because lists are fun and when you spend a lot of dough on music you have to make it seem reasonable.

The rules are simple.  I have to own the record.  It has to have come out between 1/1/14 and 12/31/14.  No live records, eps, best ofs are allowed (heck soundtracks and compliations are discouraged as well)

As a final note, these are my favorite records of the year.  A year from now I might roll my eyes at the inclusion, or gasp I left something off.  These records just found their way in to the player(s) more often, or I found myself suggesting to others, getting excited about. 

What I noticed this year..a lot of first timers!!  That is what makes it even better, is there is always something out there that can grab you!  9 of the 27 are new, with 2 of them my top 10.

off we go.....

Bubbling under - U2 (I warmed up to it), Mogwai, Sharon Jones and Annie Lennox...I should have just made 30 as my is 27....

27. Jack White – Lazaretto

Jack White continues to release solid records.  The guitar playing is slowly finding more and more followers.  Those that already are in the know, know how good a guitar player he is.  He writes it all, produces, plays a slew of instruments and sings.  Barn burner rockers to classic country sounding tracks roll forth.

Stand out Tracks -  Lazaretto
Previous List Appearances - First time as a solo artist.

26. Mark Lanegan – Phantom Radio

Performing with a full band again Mark seems even more open than before.  From the uptempo opener to the more somber “mark like” songs later the whiskey soaked vocals just wash over you time and time again.  Time has done him well, he still hangs on to a microphone stand like someone is going to steal it, but man can he sing.

Stand out tracks – Harvest Home
Previous List Appearances -  Scraps at Midnight #14 1998.  Field Songs #7 2001. Bubblegum #18 2004. Blues Funeral #9 2012.
25. Foo Fighters – Sonic Highway

I know its cliché now days to diss on Dave Grohl.  He seems to genuinely like what he is doing.  Think about it.  He is usually smiling, playing and seems to care about the fan base.  It is hard to not root for the band.  The story has been told on this record, go around the country and record in various studios and document each song as part of a documentary of the same name.  All that aside, the band can still write some stadium anthems, and now and again, that is okay.

Stand Out Tracks – What Did I Do? The Feast and the Famine
Previous List Appearances -  The Color and the Shape #1 1997.  One By One #19 2002  Wasting Light #12 2011


24.  Jakob – Sines

Seeming to come out of nowhere for me.  The New Zealand trio took eight years to release the record (their 4th full length).  Another “vocal less” post rock record that can seem to set the mood on any given play.  The trio does the whole “quiet/loud” thing well enough but the rather than speeding through things they let it unfold, all the while not making it something that slogs along.
Always the best news when you find a band and they've been at it for a bit  is I have so much more to explore!

Stand out Tracks -  Blind Them With Science, Harmonia
Previous List Appearances – First timers.


23. Beck – Morning Phase

Beck releases a record and I buy it.  Its been like this for some time.  The indie poster boy of the 90's continues to spread his style on this heavily acoustic based record.  Much of it is a pretty and calm listen.  Not something you'd toss on to start the party, but something you'd put on later when its time to hang out and chat.  This is the older/wiser version of Beck.  If you are willing to sit and listen, you'll find some really solid moments.

Stand out Tracks -  Morning, Say Good Bye
Previous List Appearances - Odelay #4 1996.  Midnight Vultures #4 1999.  Sea Change#11 in 2002. Guero #12 2005.  Information #11 2006. 


22. James – La Petite Mort

Yes, its James.  The band that found major success in the US over 22 years ago with “Laid” have quietly released records.  After disbanding in 2001 the band reformed in 2007 and has been active since.  Tim Booth has a voice that you recognize almost immediate and the band has grown even more but still craft a wonderful pop song.  They did a great service on this record too by having much of the later tracks roll one to the next, keeping it as one long “suite” which is great.  If you ever were a fan, it might be time to circle back and give them an listen again.

Stand Out Tracks – Curse Curse,  Gone Baby Gone, Quicken The Dead
Previous List Appearances - Whiplash #18 1997.  Hey Ma #13 2008.

21. Mono – Last Dawn and  Rays of Darkness

Sort of need to give them a kitchen pass on this one.  The Japanese post rock band released two records on the same day that totals 11 tracks.  I've been a fan for ages so I'll let it slide (it really could be one record, or even charge me double as a single package, but since no “single” record has fit on one record since 2003...)  Rays of Darkness is heavier record of the two (the one I might lean on more) while Last Dawn, still heavy at times, is more the Mono long time fans might better associate with.  You get the long slow build ups and thunderous musical moments that follow.  The band takes you to the bottom of the ocean to outer space, to the top of a mountain to weeping in a corner.  With no vocals you run image upon image through your mind creating a new moment each time you listen.  Now in their 16th year they still continue to release one breath taking record after another.

Stand out Tracks – Recoil,Ignite as well as – The Land Between Tides, Elysian Castles
Previous List Appearances -  – One More Step and You Die #9 2003.  Walking Cloud..#6 2004
You Are There #5 2006. Hymn to the Immortal Wind #10 2009. For My Parents #11 2012


20. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

I was talking to a friend about this record recently and I said “either this is brilliant, or the most tedious listen you can have..depending on the day”.  Mark Kozelek fronts this “band” which to the listener is largely Mark and an acoustic guitar.  His songs are very autobiographical, they lack that typical verse-chorus-verse which is typically how most people listen to music.  Kozelek has a deep baritone and the long stream of consciousness tracks almost seem like he just comes up with and idea, strums and guitar and points out the obvious.  Tracks like and “I Love My Dad” just feels like him telling you about growing up and the things his Dad told him (like not being afraid of albinos and them the two of them listening to Edgar Winter). Bottom line, if you get it, you'll adore it.  If you don't...give it a day and try it again because there is something there.

Stand out Tracks – I Love My Dad, Ben's My Friend
Previous List Appearances -  Among the Leaves #18 2012


19. Weezer - Everything Will Be All Right In The End

For the first time in a while I feel pretty good about putting a Weezer record on a list of my favorites of the year.  They've gone to the well for things that have worked, most notably really fun hooks.  Lets face it, Weezer has always been sort of quirky and that is why they have legions of fans.  Guitars grab you, drums swing you and bass grooves you.  They've found the mojo again.  A very welcome return. (All you need to listen to is “Back to the Shack” to hear them “getting it”.

Stand Out Tracks – Back to the Shack, Go Away
Previous List Appearances -  Pinkterton #18 1996.  The Green Album #15 2001.


18. The Strypes – Snapshot

60's garage rock never sounded so good done by kids that are the same age as my teenage daughter.
Hailing from Ireland these young guys sling the blues rock for one of the better albums to check out in your car, or your back porch.  You will get at least one person saying “who is this?”.  Don't believe me, google their appearance on Letterman from March of 2014 and listen to Dave's reaction at the end.

Stand out Tracks -  Mystery Man, What a Shame, Heart of the City
Previous List Appearances – First time


17.  Interpol -  Elpintor


I am not sure fans of the band thought there would be another record, but never say never.  Listed now as a trio singer Paul Banks sounds just like you remember.  Sort of that nasal and dark delivery but the band keeps things upbeat on what some might see as being a dark record (for some reason).  From the rowdy opener of “All the Rage Back Home” long time fans of the band are right at home.  Everything is there that had you fall in love with them to begin with. A record I honestly went in to not expecting a ton, but found pretty solid.

Stand out Tracks – All the Rage Back Home, My Blue Supreme
Previous List Appearances -  Turn on the Bright Lights #14 2002.  Antics #11 2004


16. This Will Destroy You – Another Language

Post rock from Texas...hmm..seems to be a big deal.  When one things “post rock” and “Texas” an immediate comparison to Explosions in the Sky will occur.  That is not a bad thing, as each band does something different, but still in the same realm.  The band has been together for nine years and this is only its third full length, but they are always busy (ep's and live releases).  The band seems to go for a bit more a “shoegaze” feel (I know a lot of buzz words) but its not hard to hear these songs and thing of a smoke filled room with walls of guitars running at you.

Stand Out Tracks -  Serpent Mound, Memory Loss
Previous List Appearances -  First Time


15. Rival Sons -  Great Western Valkyrie 


For a band that has been at it since 2008 I have to say I hang my head in a little bit of shame for not taking notice earlier.  An old friend introduced me to them and that “oh shit” moment occurred.  Sometimes records as “simple” as this go unnoticed.  There are no flashy guitar solos, just a heavy back beat and howling vocals.  Sure it draws comparisons to Led Zeppelin, but I hear Cream in there as well.  Records can be simple, rocking and heavy..this one is proof of  that point.

Stand out Tracks – Electric Man, Secret, Play the Fool
Previous List Appearances – This is their first time



14. Royal Blood – Royal Blood


One of two duos on this list that are made up of bass and drums.  I am not sure if Howard Sterns love of them helped push sales but they seemed to appear ever so more late in the year.  Slated to hit the road as the support act for the Foo Fighters tour 2015 looks bright for the duo.  The big sound keeps you wondering just how they heck they do it.  For us, lets hope they keep doing it.  They only formed in 2013 and Mike Kerr (bass) and Ben Thatcher (drums) have never made “garage rock” sound so good.

Stand out Tracks – Figure It Out,  Come on Over
Previous List Appearances – First Time


13. Pray for Sound – Dreamer

This is the second album from MA natives Pray for Sound.  Originally a one man band, Bruce Malley found some like minded folks and expanded on their lavish soundscapes.  The seven song album unfolds with each track telling its own story, but expanding on a theme.  Decayer to Conceiver to Mourner the listener is taken through various paths, but all lead to beautiful and powerful moments.  Hopefully this is just the start for these post rock stalwarts.

Stand out Tracks -  “Decayer” “Conceiver”
Previous List Appearances -  First Timers


12. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World

The other of the two “bass and drum” bands on the list.  DFA1979 stormed in to my collective conscience with “Your a Woman I'm A Machine”, where they then seemed to be everywhere doing everything to gain their audience...only to break up shortly after.  Time away from each other seemed to work wonders and its like they duo never missed a beat.  The drilling bass sound always grabs your attention.  Heck the band gets in and out of 11 tracks in 35 minutes.  Sebastian Grainger and Jesse Keeler made amends and we reap the benefits.

Stand Out Tracks -  Right On Frankenstein!, Virgins
Previous List Appearances - You're A Woman I'm A Machine #15 2004


11. Echo and The Bunnymen – Meteorites


What the heck year is this?  For all the “new” stuff I tend to gravitate to its always nice to hear something new from a band you've listened to and have enjoyed for over 25 years.  The Bunnymen are now just Ian and Will (as its been for ages) but they still know how to capture that magic.  From the jangle of the guitar to the swooping bass lines (Is this A Breakdown) you are pushed right back to the early days of Echo and the Bunnymen.  Like an old friend, you can pick it right up where ever you might have left off and have it be as strong as you remember.

Stand Out Tracks -  Constantinople, Is this a Breakdown, Market Town
Previous List Appearances -  Evergreen # 5 1997. Flowers #3 2001. The Fountain #7 2009


10. Phish – Fuego

Its been said time and time again that nobody ever goes on a road trip and says “lets toss on the studio album ____ from Phish!”.  Its always a live set.  Something that expands right along with the road ahead of you.  Phish are elder statesmen now.  They release records at a slower pace, and even their live appearances seem to have dipped (in sheer volume) wise over the years.  The vocals are shared amongst members giving it more full and complete record feel.  “555” was penned (and sung) by Mike Gordon while McConnell runs “Halfway to the Moon”.  Barring the track “Wombat” there are songs that should stand the test of time, both in a live setting and on whatever method you choose to play back.  Also the trend continues of me finding something redeeming out of Phish studio albums.

Stand Out Tracks -  “Fuego”, “Sing Monica” “555”
Previous List Appearances -  Billy Breathes #12 1996.  Story of the Ghost #10 1998.  Farmhouse #5 2000. Undermind #16 2004. Joy #16, 2009


09. Shellac – Dude Incredible


Every few years a new Shellac disc is suddenly available.  Continuing to record, release and tour on their own relaxed pace the Chicago trio continues to deliver. (This is only their 5th release in 23 years)  Whatever the guitar effect(s) that Steve Albini uses always give you the trademark “buzz”.  Todd Trainer and Bob West are the solid back holding it all together.  Right from the albums opener/title track its a pummeling listen.

Previous List Appearances - 1000 Hurts #8 2000. 
Stand out Tracks – Dude Incredible, I Came In You, The Peoples Microphone


08. Bob Mould – Beauty and Ruin

Mould is probably looked at, and rightfully so, as an elder statesmen of rock and roll.  From is ground breaking work in Husker Du through his solo projects and Sugar back and forth Mould always gives you what you want.  Going in to the record I knew time had beaten up his ears pretty well and I wasn't sure if he was afraid to unload on the electric and “Low Season” which opens up the record was that moment of “oh well he is taking it easy”..but no.  “Little Glass Pill” just screams out and Mould attacks his guitar as he did many years ago.  If you are looking for a rollicking Mould record, grab it.

Previous List Appearances - Silver Age #22 2012
Stand Out Tracks – Little Glass Pill, I Don't Know You Anymore, Kid With Crooked Face


07. The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams

Craig Finn has always had a lot to say with his lyrics.  I've read in recent years there are comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and even his fans are tending to agree.  In your standard 3:30 rock song Finn some how rams 5+ verses and chorus' and all the while having it seem easy.  The band has always had that really killer guitar sound and its evident on tracks like “Spinners” one of the best on the record.  Finn is never going to go wild on his vocal delivery allowing the whole to be taken as one, rather than this big solo or soaring voice.  Get used to it, as its a rewarding style.  This band keeps releasing records and I keep buying em.  Never upset I do just that.

Previous List Appearances - - Boys and Girls in America #1 in 2006. Stay Positive #3 in 2008  Heaven is Whenever #9 2010. 
Stand Out Tracks – Spinners, Wait a While


06. Mastodon – Once More 'Round the Sun


One of the most complex and consistently interesting metal bands. How this band continues to evolve musically is both confusing and exhilarating. Always something to latch on to from their records. Most of their music seems to roll like a long story and you feel out of place not giving them your full attention. The riffs are big, the drums are technical and do more than “fill in the space” and the bass lines usually pop off the speakers. A “thinking mans” metal? Who knows, what I know is 9 times out of 10 it rocks.
Stand Out Tracks – Tread Lightly, The Motherload
Previous List Appearances -  Blood Mountain #9 in 2006 Crack the Skye #2 in 2009. The Hunter #2 2011


05. APOA – Enuma Elis


Although I am not really a “down loader” (far prefer having a physical copy for my money) the internet does allow for some neat chances to stream and check out records.  A popular Post Rock site I read posted a link to this record from the German trio.  By the second track I was hitting the “buy it now” button.  What makes it even cooler is the band responded to my message, wrote a nice note with the cd package and tossed in some “extras”.  That goes a long way.  Now, about the music.  Yes there are no vocals and its maybe a bit heavier than some post rock (a bit more Russian Circles) but if you like thundering drums bass and guitar you shouldn't care there are no vocals you are too busy singing guitar parts and playing air drums.

Stand Out Tracks – Nacken, Admiral Byrd
Previous List Appearances – First Time


04. Swans – To Be Kind


I'll be first to admit I am pretty new to this band.  Formed in 82 and active until 1997 before breaking up (and yes reforming) the band has released two double cds in the last few years.  Its loud, its sort of all over the map, its experimental, it takes you to places that music should.  Tracks on the double cd go from 4-5 minutes up to 30+ minutes.  A challenge for someone new to their sound, but what an unreal journey you are taken on.

Stand out tracks – Screen Shot
Previous List Appearances - First Timers


03. Manchester Orchestra - Cope

It was a busy year for the Georgia band.  They released this album in April (their 4th) and before the end of the year they released “Hope” which was an acoustic and “re imagined” version of the Cope record.  Cope really didn't need to be touched.  If you were going to get either I'd suggest Cope first, and its not that Hope is bad, its just Cope is REALLY good.  Andy Hull continues to evolve in to one of my personal favorite singers the last few years.  The support cast is nothing to flinch at either.  This is a “guitar” record.  Not a wanky solo type deal, just a super power riff bundle.  I think I'd give it the award as my “Sound Track for a Speeding Ticket” record.

Stand Out Tracks -  Girl Harbor, The Mansion, The Ocean
Previous List Appearances -Mean Everything to Nothing #3 in 2009. Simple Math #3 2011

02. TV On The Radio – Seeds

The only thing that really held this back was how late in the year it came out.  Once out though it stayed in...the cd player of any/all devices I owned.  For a band that nearly broke up after the passing of their bassist from cancer late night jam sessions expanded to this stunning collection.  At times somber, at times rowdy each listen gives you one more thing to latch on to.  One of the best songs is called “Love Stained” and many would skip over the 2+ minute intro on the track, but if you stick around it just rings right out as singer Tunde Adebimpe puts it all out there.  One of those tracks you get half way in to and want to go back to the start to see what you missed and to be sure its as awesome as you thought (it is). The sonic punch of Lazerray to the quiet, yet easy to sing along to “Seeds” you would be hard pressed to find any “duds” on this record.   This feels like a “summer” record and I can't wait to enjoy it for many summers to come.

Stand out Tracks -  Careful You, Could You, Love Stained, Lazerray, Seeds
Previous List Appearances -  Return to Cookie Mountain #7 2006.  Dear Science #2 2008. Nine Types of Light #13 2011


01. Elbow – The Take Off And Landing of Everything

From the very first listen, to their amazing show earlier this year it was going to be a tough one for anyone to bump them.  How massive US success has eluded them remains a mystery.  Easily my favorite record of 2014.  The players, the vocals are all top notch.  They almost feel like a group of studio guys that put something together.  See them live, grab their music and enjoy.  You can thank me later.  The title track alone should sum it up their current sound and to steal a line "What a perfect waste of time".

Stand out Tracks – New York Morning, The Take off and Landing of Everything, My Sad Captains.  Honestly the whole damn thing.
Previous List Appearances - Asleep in Back #17 200.  The Seldom Seen Kid #11 2008.  Build a Rocket Boys #15 2011

There you have it.  Fire back where I was wrong, what I missed and what you loved in the comments.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

It is almost here..

Coming look back at my favorite records of 2014.  I hope you'll stop by!