It was definitely Songs > Albums this year. Mostly because I just didn't have time to get too invested in more than a handful of albums (more on that next week, or after Christmas, or whenever I can sneak away from Dad Duty to write up the list) and relied a lot on "Siri, Shuffle Songs." These were my favorites (obviously).
25. Sun Kil Moon – “Carissa” (Benji)
25. Sun Kil Moon – “Carissa” (Benji)
Just listen to Benji, ok? I don’t care if you think it’ll make you sad, it’s one of the purest depictions of the human experience you’ll find anywhere. It wasn’t my favorite record of the year, but it was the best album of the year.
24. TV on the Radio – “Careful You” (Seeds)
TV on the Radio got flak for Seeds being just regular great. Pff, this record was outstanding, which is really the expectation when it comes to a band as innovative and badass as TVOTR, but even the people who were like “ITS NOT AS GOOD AS RETURN TO COOKIE MOUNTAIN” gotta admit “Careful You” is the motherfucking jam.
23. Conor Oberst – “Time Forgot” (Upside Down Mountain)
Conor Oberst, doing what he do, aging like wine. And not Trader Joes wine either! Like, good wine. I used to think Oberst peaked with Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, but now I don’t even know anymore. “Time Forgot” is another beautiful gem from someone who might prove to be his era’s Dylan.
22. The Menzingers – “In Remission” (Rented World)
No other song this year made me want to pump my fist in the air as hard as this song. Give it a whirl and try to keep your fists balled up at your sides. I dare you.
21. Mac DeMarco – “Let Her Go” (Salad Days)
If people thought Mac DeMarco was some sort of goofy idiot before Salad Days, well, actually, people might still think he’s a goofy idiot. I still think of him as a sort of idiot savant. A poet in clown shoes. And that can hardly be an insult because whatever he’s doing, it’s obviously working. “Let Her Go” is so addictive, and a beautiful contrast to all the “I gotta get her back!” songs flooding the sad rock dude landscape. God, that slack guitar is the most comforting thing in the world right now.
20. Spoon – “Inside Out” (They Want My Soul)
“Inside Out” is a technical masterpiece. Go listen to the episode of the Song Exploder podcast where Jim Eno talks about how they put this one together. It’s fascinating. It’s like finding out you can manufacture true love in a lab or something. Making one of the more seductive, intriguing tracks out of studio magic.
19. The War on Drugs – “Burning” (Lost in the Dream)
The War on Drugs live on feelings we’ve already had for other bands and they barely even bother to retool it for the modern era. The point is we always crave big anthems meant to be blared from American cars blitzing down two lane highways in the middle of the night. Essentially, the War on Drugs are doing for Springsteen-esque anthem music what Fleet Foxes did for Appalacian folk a few years back: nothing new, but who gives a shit it’s really fucking good. Whenever I had to drive home from work late and my podcast ended a couple miles from home, I would say “Siri, play Burning by the War on Drugs.” And then Siri would get confused because that technology is straight fucked and doesn’t work, so I’d pull over, find “Burning” and put it on repeat to guide me home. I’ve still got complicated feelings for Lost in the Dream, but the one thing I can’t deny is that it’s an immensely satisfying record and that is honestly the only thing that matters. Fuck hierarchy or whether or not it’s contributing anything new to the sonic landscape. This is the shit you crave.
18. The New Pornographers – “Brill Bruisers” (Brill Bruisers)
Carl Newman operating at a high level, as usual. It’s all very nuts and bolts. It’s what you expect from the New Pornos, and it’s like getting my favorite dish from my favorite restaurant: a total fucking pleasure.
17. Frontier Ruckus – “A&W Orange and Brown” (Sitcom Afterlife)
I think I’m drawn to “A&W Orange and brown” over the other, more single-y tracks from Sitcom Afterlife because it’s the closest thing to the long-form storytelling that made Eternity of Dimming my favorite record of 2013. I don’t think I was ready for a new one, so I was a little off guard and maybe I’m defaulting to my comfort zone (note: I love the record, as you’ll see when I release my favorite albums list next week) but good lord this track is so good. I find myself whistling its melody, worshipping those newfound boy-girl harmonies, and trying to keep back my bafflement that this band isn’t more beloved.
16. Aaron Freeman – “Covert Discretion” (Freeman)
In case you wanted to know why Ween broke up, Gener went and gave you the answer on his first proper solo record. It’s a brutally honest tale of rock and roll dreams gone awry, and a man coming to terms with crushing that dream to break the cycle of addiction that only ends in death. “Fuck you all, I gotta reason to live and I’m never gonna die,” he sings to…well, everyone.
15. Bob Mould – “The War” (Beauty & Ruin)
If it’s still up, listen to Bob Mould’s episode of the WTF podcast. Not only is it a fascinating look into the guy’s life, but he plays an acoustic version of this track at the end and I was rapt. It got me to give Beauty & Ruin a thorough spin, and further deepened his status as one of my idols. I feel like his power chords are the Rosetta Stone for decoding the sonic touchstones in my life. Or maybe the tone of those chords is my spirit animal. Either way, there is something about them, then and now, that resonates down to the very center of my being.
14. Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not Part of Me” (Here and Nowhere Else)
Cloud Nothings was one of the only bands I saw live this year, and I thought the band seemed burnt out. But when they played this song, through their touring haze, it was still electric. It’s a track that possesses both immediacy and a tremendous amount of depth in its franticly chiming power chords, repeated lines, thundering drums, thumping bass, and howling vocals. It feels like true catharsis all the way through.
13. Perfume Genius – “Queen” (Too Bright)
Mark Hadreas is no stranger to these lists. At this point, whenever I see that there’s a new Perfume Genius record coming out I pencil it in to my best of. It’s not surprising that he keeps getting better and more inventive on each successive album. It’s the status quo. For someone who’s first record was just him and a piano and a fistful of the most heartbreaking songs you’ve ever heard, the sonic prowess of “Queen” is a revelation. It’s one of the most gripping tracks of the year.
12. La Dispute – “For Mayor of Splitsville (Rooms of the House)
This song feels like getting punched in the face for three and a half minutes. The guitars stab at you, the singer yells at you, it’s a pummeling. And the centerpiece from an emotionally exhausting concept album. It’s knotty and a little voyeuristic feeling as you stare in at a whole bunch of human wreckage. Who needs weapons when you can hurl around pointed lines like, “I’d rather run for mayor of Splitsville/ Than suffer your jokes again.”
11. Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All the Way Down” (Metamodern Sounds in Country Music)
On the surface, Sturgill Simpson might sound like an outlaw country revivalist with vocal cords made of solid gold, but the introspective, metaphysical, and psychedelic content of “Turtles All the Way Down” sets the table for one of the year’s best deepest records.
10. Angel Olsen – “Forgiven/Forgotten” (Burn Your Fire for No Witness)
Burn Your Fire for No Witness earns its keep in the top ten records of 2014 with it’s more smoldering moments, but the fuzzy crunch of the guitars on the brisk “Forgiven/Forgotten” is the album’s most accessible track. The hook. The brief sampling that leads you down the rabbit hole into one of the most devastating records of the year.
9. The Hotelier – “The Scope of All This Rebuilding” (Home, Like Noplace is There)
Home, Like Noplace is There is the emo revival record of the year. God, that’s gonna sound so stupid in two years. It already sounds stupid, “emo revival.” But I got no better words. This is powerful shit. “The Scope and All This Rebuilding” is the most dynamic track, and the one that cracks the album wide open and lays bare all the heavy shit inside. There are heavier moments and deeper truths within the album’s quieter moments, but even those are connected to this one
8. Against Me! – “Black Me Out” (Transgender Dysphoria Blues)
It’s really sort of a shame that Laura Jane Grace’s transitioning overshadows how fucking great that new Against Me! record is. When the anarcho-punk heroes signed to a major label and released two radio-ready mainstream rock records, it was safe to assume they were gone forever. “Black Me Out” functions as both a brilliant/brutal fuck you to the major labels (“I wanna piss on the walls of your house/ I wanna chop those brass rings off your fat fingers/ As if you were kingmaker”) and dovetails nicely with the album’s titular theme.
7. Cheap Girls – “7-8 Years” (Famous Graves)
Famous Graves is a remarkably solid indie rock record. No frills, ham and egger dude jams with killer hooks. I could have picked any song from this record, but the bonus track "7-8 Years" is the one I was humming to myself all year. Something in that line "I spent all of my money on this Vizio TV" gets me. That detail. Plus the chorus "So kick me in the kidneys really hard/ I'm gonna write my name in blood in the backyard" is just fantastic. This was actually the first Cheap Girls song I heard, because my track listing was accidentally reversed on iTunes. I thought "Damn, what a great opening track" only to realize it wasn't even technically on the album. But I've always admired bands whose b-sides are better than most bands' album stuff, so there you go.
6. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Temple Grandin” (Christmas Island)
There’s no greater opening line than “Open up your murder eyes and see the ugly world that spat you out.” Thus begins one of the year’s most thoughtful, odd, ugly, and awesome records. I had to narrow AJJ’s contribution to this list down from about seven tracks off of Christmas Island and only settled on “Temple Grandin” because it serves as a sort of thesis statement. On the songwriting front this year, amidst so many amazing contenders, Sean Bonnette’s heart was the purest.
5. Courtney Barnett – “Avant Gardener” (The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas)
“Avant Gardener” is of the more fun and inventive story songs I’ve heard in a while. A tale of getting off of one’s ass, getting back to nature and…having this new life in gardening cut short by a severe allergic reaction. The chilled out slacker vibe of Barnett’s blend of indie rock and the refrain of “I’m having trouble breathing in” maybe makes this the ultimate anthem for one’s mid-twenties. Ace. Also, I’m totally aware this is a track from 2013, but I think it’s that goddamn good it transcends “years.”
4. Open Mike Eagle – “Doug Stamper (Advice Raps)” (Dark Comedy)
The dark sense of humor on the aptly titled Dark Comedy is glorious. Open Mike Eagle enlists his buddy (and one of the greatest comics of our day) Hannibal Burress to craft a hilarious and self-aware piece of rap commentary.
3. Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Jackson” (LOSE)
My favorite thing about “Jackson” is that you feel like you’re in the backseat of the car where this song takes place. There’s this easy going lullabye quality to the song that perfectly captures a car ride, but then somehow turns into one of the biggest songs I heard all year. It morphs into a beautiful cacophony of guitars, the likes of which are rare on an increasingly electronic landscape. Also, the punch that comes at the end of the line “a delirious…KISS” is maybe my favorite moment on any song this year.
2. Mikal Cronin – “I Don’t Mind” (Polyvinyl 4-Track Singles Series)
Sometimes the greatest songs get cast out into the void via weird little singles series. Mikal Cronin’s Mcii was a big miss on my part from 2013, but I spent the majority of the warm months blasting it from my car stereo and on the deck. And yet, I’d be the first to cop to listing Cronin so high as a means of righting that wrong, but I’m not. This song somehow landed in my iTunes and after hearing it once (on shuffle, of course) I took it with me wherever I go. It’s as majestic as majestic pop bliss gets, and recorded on a 4-track no less! Cronin is an alchemist, a wizard, a scholar, and a brilliant tunesmith and I can’t wait for his next record.
1. The Hold Steady – “Oaks” (Teeth Dreams)
The Hold Steady have built their empire chronicling the life and times of party people. There have been massive nights, party pits, and killer parties. Sometimes people end up in chillout tents or (in the case of Hallelujah, the protagonist of their masterpiece Separation Sunday) going through the ringer and coming through to the other side a little bit broken but still mostly in tact. Teeth Dreams epic closer “Oaks” plays like the dark reality of the kids on the corners and the hoodrat chicks. It’s a tragic portrait of junkies adrift, culminating in a metaphor involving a mountain of trees turning to smoke aided by a colossal, mournful guitar riff punctuating the heartbreak.