Unlike most years, 2014 didn’t ever really feel like a year where I had to go too far out of my way to find good music. So much so that I’m still catching up with really good late December releases like Charli XCX’s Sucker (it’s like bratty pop music! But with guitars!) or D’Anglelo’s Black Messiah (it’s like Prince! But sloppier!), both of which I just haven’t spent enough time with to put in to consideration. Also, I guess 2014 was a year in which I ended up listening to music in a lot of different formats, because looking at my list, I can see there’s at least one album I bought on vinyl, a couple I bought on CD, one I bought on iTunes, one I got for free directly from the artist’s website, and several that I acquired by much less respectable means. Anyways… on to the list.
Tony Molina – Dissed And Dismissed
The Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams
Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Considering the other contender for this spot on the list was Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There, the ten spot was undoubtedly going to go to a somber female singer-songwriter album that centered on doomed relationships. Why this one stuck with me a little more, I can’t say for certain, but it probably has to do with Lykke Li’s unflappable pop instincts, even in the face of so much gloominess. Which combined with all of I Never Learn‘s raw emotional scars, made for an album that had me connecting with a seemingly flawless Swede way more than I had any right to.
Here’s a futile and dumb question: Why aren’t more young bands just goin’ for it anymore? You know, just lettin’ her rip, and never leaving anything to chance and trying to crush the world with their rock? Well, thankfully Cymbals Eat Guitars decided to passionately imbue their latest album with all the fears and anxiety and defeat that awaits anyone trying to make their way through this ragged, guitar-depleted world in which we’re all doomed to, you know, lose. Hmm, I think I sadly just answered my own question.
I still say these guys haven’t gotten enough respect, although I did hear one of their songs on the radio the other day, so I guess they haven’t been completely ignored. But perhaps a band that rides such a fine line between indie rock and straight-up pop is a bit of a hard sell, though maybe we should just stop acting like there is any line at all at this point. No, instead we should all be tapping the fuck out of our toes to infectious ditties like “Somebody’s Talkin'” and “Cruel”, because I sure know that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few months.
It seems entirely possible that the racially-charged heaviness of the closing months of 2014 might’ve compelled music critics to give even more love to RTJ2 atop their end of the year lists than it would’ve otherwise gotten. It also seems possible that this is what compelled me to give this album a much higher slot than any hip-hop album tends to get on my end of the year lists. But regardless, this album is legitimately awesome, and even though I’m still not entirely sure what a fuckboy is, I’ll gladly support El-P and Killer Mike’s anti-fuckboy agenda as well as their agenda to smash the shit out of my eardrums while championing the spirit of the underdog.
I feel like every year there’s at least one album that makes it on to my list that falls under the category of “bandwagon albums”. Meaning that I’ll get really heavily into a band that had a new album come out in a given year, and the good memories I have of listening to said band’s discography during the year will sustain enough goodwill towards their newest album to make it on to my top 10. Brill Bruisers is pretty much that, but I’ll still go to bat for it because I say it’s the band’s best and most joyous since Twin Cinema, and it’s a great example of their ability to adapt to a slightly modern sound while A.C. Newman and Dan Bejar are still great at crafting hooks that tend to sneak up on you in waves.
Annie Clark is better than you. You know how I know? I listened to the episode of WTF she was on, and on it she claimed that she doesn’t even use the internet anymore. This is a statement that I would find hard to believe if it were to come from the other 99.9% of all famous people, but with her I can totally believe it. She makes art. She doesn’t have time to waste on reading the kind of digital crap that you’re reading at this very moment (but thanks for reading anyways). Instead she puts all of her energy into being the kind of smart, confident, and always curious rock star that the 21st century needs so badly.
I liked The War On Drugs’ 2011 album a lot, even though it seemed to get lost in the shuffle of a lot of similarly atmospheric records that came out around that time. So it was nice to see this band’s quiet rise to prominence over the course of 2014, and do it with a sound that was oddly epic and introspective at the same time. A lot has been made of this album’s ’80s-inspired production as well as pretty much everything about it, since it seems about as close to the consesus indie rock favorite of 2014 as we were able to get. And because of that I’ll just say I liked it. I liked it a lot.
Man, writing this is starting to feel really tedious now that I’m realizing I’ve already written about every single album on this list before, which is kinda why I’m looking forward to everyone else’s lists since they haven’t talked about 2014 music nearly as much as I did. But as for They Want My Soul, how does the world not feel like an instantly cooler place while you’re listening to this album? Like every time that heavy drum groove kicks off “Rent I Pay”, I instantly feel like my life has been transformed into that “deal with it” meme and pixelated sunglasses are about to fall from the heavens onto my face. But also, I just love the world-weariness of this album, as Britt Daniel and company prove that even though the cardsharks and streetpreachers may have sucked a bit of their soul, it ain’t no reason not to give ’em hell.
I am almost certain I listened to this album way more than anything else that came out in 2014, and if you were somehow able to resist Rips‘s charms, you clearly value catchy rock music a lot less than I do, or are an asshole, or both most likely. Either way, I had the pleasure of seeing Ex Hex live in a small club about a week after Rips came out, and it was one of the more inspiring live performances I saw last year. Now, “inspiring” may be a word that you’d associate more with music that’s cheesy or intentionally emotionally uplifting, but for me, there’s nothing that warms my heart like a bunch of veteran musicians going onstage and tearing it up like they’re seventeen again.
I feel like the initial praise for this album was deflated a bit after Mark Kozelek had that feud with War On Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel, which seems really stupid to me. Because I’ve got a newflash for you: most great artists, in any medium, are assholes. And you know why great artists are assholes? Because they have the ability to cut through the bullshit and create something that doesn’t need to pander to critics, while great artists never attempt to build up some sort of public persona around the idea that they’re a “nice guy”. And thank god for that lack of filter, because it’s the reason why Benji hit me in a place that was so much more raw and honest than anything else I heard this year. Honestly, there were moments I’d be driving home from work where I’d put on Benji, and if I let my guard down, there’d be passages of Kozelek’s lyrics that would hit me in a way that I’d have to fight back the urge to break down and starting weeping in my car. It’s the kind of emotional reaction that I can’t recall ever having to a piece of music, and for that alone it probably would be deserving of the top spot. But apart from it’s plain-spoken poignancy, there’s such a wide array of emotions that this album evokes, and all of it feels completely inseparable from the supposed “asshole” who was so willing to share it with all of us.