Music had a pretty good year in 2014. Although there weren’t any behemoth releases, the field was much wider than last year. Of course this only really counts my tiny rock corner of the universe, but word on the street is rock isn’t quite dead yet. Even if no album this year is an instant classic, it should be easy to find a new workhorse for your music rotation in the suggestions below. There was a lot of great stuff this year!
Album of The Year : Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
Death from Above is a strange band. Their melody is all beat because the duo mostly sticks to bass and drums. This thrumping pulse is met with clean vocals and some slight dance punk architecture. Mostly though Death From Above is a steam drill tunneling through a mountain, an unstoppable rhythmic force which in my mind typifies the essence of rock. They broke apart like a comet after hitting the atmosphere in 2005, and without much ado suddenly reappeared with The Physical World. This album is a slicker reimagining of their previous sound, though consequently much of the conversation has been about comparisons to yesteryear. Well sorry to say but since 2005 an atomic bomb has gone off destroying grunge. The survivors put together careless garage albums huddled around bandcamp and soundcloud. Vampire Weekend and vacant looking folk singers rule the leftovers. The Physical World, cleaned up though it may be, is the driving album of the year, a one two three four album bursting with energy and production, the likes of which we just don’t see much anymore. It’s not a prog opus and it doesn’t soundscape, it just keeps coming. Constant tempo shifts create a wind sprint of an album, with lulls and lurking lunges. Each song rarely peaks 3 minutes, and just as suddenly as it came in to tear up your house it’s out the door. Caveat, if you listen to this too much it might make the rest of your music sound boring.
Best Song : Always On
2. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
The Cloud Nothings are one of those garage bands mentioned above, but to their credit they created the fuzz record that rivals Death From Above. If The Physical World is quick than Here and Nowhere Else is lightning, Cloud Nothings don’t waste a second filling each of their songs with a wall of noise. All the tracks are blistering and pensive, building to the occasional cathartic release. Which makes sense, because this is a garage rock concept album. Similar to Attack on Memory, Dylan Baldi sings about the weird, usually undescribed feelings you have during and after a relationship. Wanting the other person to hurt, or not caring and then caring too much, second guessing intentions, and even emotional boredom with the struggle. The kind of things that make you just want to scream into a microphone. Still bratty and a little more anthemic than Attack on Memory, Here and Nowhere Else displays a marked improvement on the group’s musicianship. These songs are tight, filling every edge of the sonic landscape with distorted guitar with maybe two or three thirty second lulls over the half hour. This is another excellent step forward for Cloud Nothings.
Best Song : Giving Into Seeing
3. Tune Yards – Nikki Nakk
When we say Tune Yards we’re really just saying Merrill Garbus, who creates most of the sound in her performances by looping trilling vocals and afro beats she creates on the spot. I know, I know, it sounds impossibly twee, but on her last album Whokill she proved she could create incredibly forceful songs amid lilting ballads. Her new album, Nikki Nakk, errs on the side of power. Merrill often sings from a perspective of moral certainty, although sing isn’t always the right word. Honestly the force and speed of her speech mimics the cadence of rap, even though the backup singers and lack of backing beat disguise the similarity. Just as in Whokill, Tune Yards is interested in sound and often explores nearly every possibility of drum and voice. She also has not given into production, songs remain joyous and spare, with tracks that almost all sound like live performances. When the songs build in tension it’s almost exclusively coming from the power exuding from Merrill’s vocal chords which creates a singular purity, as in the tidal waves on Real Thing and Water Fountain. Give it a few listens and let the cadence and sounds open up to you; Nikki Nakk is one of the most unique and fun albums of 2014.
Best Song : Real Thing
4. Ty Segall – Manipulator
Ty Segall is Los Angeles’ rock road warrior. Since 2011’s Goodbye Bread blew my mind, he has been pumping out an album every six months or so for years. This prodigious guitar smith is also highly experimental, usually trying a new sound on for each album. He’s collaborated with the Beatles sounding White Fences and dipped into metal. No matter where Ty Segall goes though he remains in the garage, committed to fuzz, guitars, and musicianship in place of production. His newest exploration is maybe his longest album yet, the 70’s classic rock tribute Manipulator. Ty has gone in search of a Led Zeppelin album and come back with 17 extremely solid songs. His last album was the low key Sleeper, so much of this album is still restrained and relaxed. The electric guitar is the second vocalist, keeping the conversation rolling along. Although it lacks the powerhouse bite of Slaughterhouse, it still maintains a pleasant buzz in the listener, not unlike last year’s Kurt Vile record. Manipulator demonstrates that Ty Segall is in complete control of west coast rock.
Best Song : Who’s Producing You?
Parquet Courts have, in one form or another, pumped out 5 albums in 3 years. Their approach to jangly punk seems to be simple; find a riff and go. They are always at their best when that riff is double time, and Sunbathing Animal is filled with punk blitzes like the eponymous track. It’s going to be difficult not to join in screaming “it’s hard to be an animal” at the end of that song. A fun and straightforward album, Sunbathing Animal is marred only by their repetitive lulls, like the must-skip Instant Disassembly. Frontman Andrew Savage is in command and the band responds to his energy and keeps his slightly grungy yell out in front. Lucky for them he can sing very fast, propelling them over the finish line. Many songs on the record acquire that manic energy, where you imagine everyone on stage just collapsing with the last note. This isn’t the Ramones though, indie peculiarity pervades the structure and lyrics, making Sunbathing Animal an interesting animal.
Best Song : Black and White
Best of the Rest
Here are few more good albums from this year that merit a mention
Ex Hex – Rips : The non-Brownstein half of Wild Flag, they show that fem punk soul was shared throughout the band. Lacks the vocal peculiarity but maintains the musicianship and songwriting chops.
White Lung – Deep Fantasy : Punk with some nice clean vocals. Angriest record on the slate here. Anger’s kind of out of style, huh?
Gardens and Villa – Dunes : Really interesting use of 80’s synth to blow open the soundscape. The rest of the band is your standard quiet indie fair but it’s enough to create a memorable album.
TV on the Radio – Seeds : A solid effort from the indie mainstays. Happy Idiot should get your blood pumping.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji : Folk, which is a little outside my usual purview, but he writes lyrics that are as interesting as hell.
Til next year, keep rockin.