Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Favorite Songs of 2014: Part One

50. Say Anything – “The Shape of Love to Come” (Hebrews)

Say Anything’s Hebrews was the messiest record I listened to all year, and one that opened my eyes to the fact that an album can be bad but still admirable. It’s not for lack of trying, because Max Bemis obviously poured a whole bunch of his soul into that record, but it’s a mess. The album’s lone bright spot was this duet between Bemis and his wife Sherri Dupree-Bemis (formerly of the ethereal elf group Eisley). It’s such a pure, emotionally raw thing that I buy into 100%. But I’m also a married dude who loves it when other married dudes write incredibly sweet songs for their wives.

49. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)” (Sea When Absent)

Sea When Absent is a proper album, meaning it’s hard to isolate individual tracks for critique, but “Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)” is the big, throbbing standout portion of that album.

48. The Rentals – “It’s Time to Come Home” (Lost in Alphaville)

Matt Sharp’s still got it. In a year when Weezer made their best album in ten years, Matt Sharp reminded everyone that he was the reason that band was ever good in the first place.

47. Knuckle Puck – “Transparency” (While I Stay Secluded)

Now entering the pop-punk portion of our list. I can’t connect to this music the way I did when I was 16, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it on a lizard brain level. I wish I had Knuckle Puck when I was 16, because these guys do big, emotional pop-punk anthems like nobody’s business. I also love to see the young bucks throwing shade on our increasingly technology obsessed culture. Warms the cockles.

46. Real Friends – “Summer” (Maybe This Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing)

I fancy myself a connoisseur of break-up albums. Love ‘em. Can’t get enough of ‘em. Or so I thought, until I heard Real Friends’ latest album, which is full of so much bile for the singer’s ex that it’s unlistenable all the way through. “I was the glue that never dried/ You were the girl who made up her mind/ And left me all alone to die.” That’s a sample line from “Summer,” the track I cherry picked for the list. Though I couldn’t sit through the album in its entirety, taken song by song these are great slices of vitriol. Having once been an emotionally bruised young man, I cannot deny move love for these melodramatic “fuck you” songs.

45. The Lawrence Arms – “Acheron River” (Metropole)

I’ve always been a Chris McCaughan guy when it comes to the Larry Arms, but for Metropole I’m a Brendan Kelly guy.

44. Owl John – “Los Angeles, Be Kind” (Owl John)

Frightened Rabbit is one of my favorite bands, and Scott Hutchison is one of my favorite songwriters. His first solo jaunt as Owl John was fine, sad, and morbid as you’d expect, but overall just fine. Nothing spectacular. Except this song, which really dug its sad claws into my skin. “I can learn to love you in good kind/ Oh Los Angeles, be kind,” he sings of his adopted city. It’s an interactive conversation between Hutchison and LA and it’s a great glimpse into the man’s life at this specific point in time.

43. Owen Pallett – “Songs for Five & Six” (In Conflict)

In Conflict is another album that is practically unable to function on a song-by-song basis. It’s an amazing album, best experienced end to end. Somehow, I managed to highlight “Songs for Five & Six,” because I think it’s the part of the album where I just started saying “fucking hell” over and over because I was so impressed and moved by Pallett’s artistic prowess. Hopefully you get that, too.

42. Lagwagon – “Burdern of Proof”/ “Reign” (Hang)

Hang is Joey Cape’s first album since the death of his dear friend Tony Sly, and the one-two punch that starts off the album feels like a potent start to Cape’s method of dealing with it.

41. Nocando – “Hellfyre Club Anthem” (Jimmy the Burnout)

2014 was a big year for Hellfyre Club (at least in my little world). Open Mike Eagle (who guests here, dropping in funny one liners) released one of my favorite albums of the year, Milo delivered one of the weirdest and most fascinating rap records I’ve ever heard, and Nocando’s Jimmy the Burnout is fiercely fresh and infinitely listenable. I’ve notoriously never been a rap guy and these three albums totally changed that shit.

40. The Reigning Sound – “My My” (Shattered)

The Reigning Sound’s follow up to their monumental Love & Curses is lighter fare, but that doesn’t really mean anything because Greg Cartwright knows what the fuck he’s doing. I know they’re touting this record’s being recorded at Daptone Studios as a selling point, but it made the record sound anemic. The songs are solid, I just wish I could hear them with some of that visceral sound from Love & Curses.

39. Strand of Oaks – “Goshen ‘97” (Heal)

I didn’t have enough time in 2014 to figure out how Strand of Oaks’ Timothy Showalter separated himself from all the other bearded white dudes playing well written, heartfelt folky indie rock, but the opening track grabs you by the arm and takes you along for the ride whether you like it or not. Putting money on Heal being one of those records that opens itself up a year too late, leaving me regretting not putting it higher on my year end list.

38. Braid – “East End Hollows” (No Coast)

It seems strange that Braid released a new album at a time when so many bands affiliated with this ongoing emo revival have Braid-like elements. Regardless, Braid made a record that trumps most of those young imposters.

37. Serengeti – “No Beginner” (Kenny Dennis III)

You might not think an album about the rise and fall of a mall rap group and the aftermath would be that interesting, but you’ve obviously never met Kenny Dennis. The latest leg of his journey is a depressing one, but it starts off with a mission statement: “Hot dog for lunch/ Hot dog for dinner/ Don’t eat breakfast/ I am no beginning.” Say what you want about the KDz, the man has no regrets and understands that to win big, you gotta be ready to lose big. I should also note that Odd Nosdam’s crackly production on this one is the most satisfying sound of 2014. When that choir comes in on the chorus? Fuggitaboutit.

36. Wara from the NBHD – “Slangin” (Kidnapped)

“You know what the streets do?/ The streets breed assholes,” says the protagonist’s older brother via a pep talk trying to convince him to not follow him into drug dealing. There’s a menacing synth beat that groans throughout the track that morphs into a refrain about slinging drugs and the euphoric feeling that slinging drugs apparently entails. It’s some complex shit, and complex shit is what Kidnapped does best.

35. Dads – “Chewing Ghosts” (I’ll Be the Tornado)

I almost didn’t even give Dads a chance because what a fucking terrible band name. It’s still frustrating that a band this good saddled themselves with such an awful, boring band name of the one-word-noun ilk that has plagued the indie music scene (see: Tennis, Hospitality, Braids, Dogs, Hands, Envelopes, Lamps, Printers…ok, now I’m just naming shit on my desk). I love their album’s title though, and the music is deep, fringing on emo revival with a solid reverence for 90s alt rock. 

34. Mirah – “Turned the Heat Off” (Changing Light)

Mirah can still crush it.

33. FKA Twigs – “Two Weeks” (LP1)

This track is uncomfortably alluring, and while I admire its lack of boundaries, the pop twists and production are sensational.

32. Happyness – “Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same” (Weird Little Birthday)

Sounds like a bunch of stuff I love/ Inherently I love this band because they sound like a bunch of stuff I love but not in a thiefy way, but in a way where they almost don’t know they sound like a Sparklehorse/Wilco hybrid with serious pop chops thrown in for good measure.

31. Tweedy – “Summer Noon” (Sukierae)

I don’t know why this gem is buried in the middle of Tweedy’s expansive debut. It’s the best track on the album and maybe the chillest track of the year.

30. Modern Baseball – “Fine, Great” (You’re Gonna Miss it All)

God, the way this song unfolds and sort of rambles along feels innovative. Full of terrific barbs, great hooks, and a unique blend of pop-punk and emo revivalism that pushes all the right buttons.

29. Sharon Van Etten – “Afraid of Nothing (Are We There)

The build and release of this song is almost earth shattering.

28. Fucked Up – “Sun Glass” (Glass Boys)

Were I to make a Fucked Up mix for a person, this would be track one. It excels at everything Fucked Up excels at: an elevated version of hardcore punk that seamlessly blends ugliness and severe beauty.

27. St. Vincent – “Rattlesnake” (St. Vincent)

Any track from St. Vincent’s electrifying eponymous album could have been slotted in on this list. I feel like I’ve been exhausting myself talking about albums that I don’t like listening to outside of the context of the album itself. St. Vincent was one of those I played start to finish every single time. “Digital Witness” is probably the better single, but I love the way “Rattlesnake” sets the stage for the weird journey you’re about to embark upon. It keeps you off balance from the get-go.

26. King Creosote – “Something to Believe In” (From Scotland With Love)

This beauty constantly found itself stuck in my head. When the Royals lost the World Series, I immediately went upstairs and listened to this song. It’s got some melancholy connections to it now but, then again, it’s a melancholy song.

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