As the years
slowly quickly inevitably fade into the horizon, I fear sentimentality almost as much as I fear being too old to realistically stay out until 3:00 AM rehearsing songs that will never earn us any money. 2014 brought very few new discoveries to the table, but it was the musical equivalent of a Wes Anderson film for me: solid, reliable, slightly left-leaning but unlikely to alienate or offend most decent people. There’s something to be learned from artists that you’ve spent half of your earth-years walking around with.
10. LA Symphony – You Still On Earth? (LAS Music)
Still On Earth is a welcome return from the Los Angeles-based hip hop crew who lived through record label hell in the early aughts and lived to tell the tale. Best of all, Pigeon John is back and the 16-tracks on YSOE don’t rely on production tricks but instead offer humor, hope, cultural criticism and laid-back bravado from some dudes who are still underdogs from the underground.
9. Spoon – They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
Razor-sharp hooks, a rhythm section that is wound tighter than a suspension bridge and some great songs propel They Want My Soul into my top ten. It’s not rocket science, just rock n roll.
8. Future Islands – Singles (4AD)
I bought Singles on vinyl, which meant that I couldn’t skip around like an actual collection of singles. More than just the sum of a couple great songs (“A Dream of You and Me,” “Seasons [Waiting On You]”), Singles is actually a pretty adventurous record. At live shows, Samuel T. Herring inspires the kind of devotion and morbid fascination that has typically been reserved for Prince or Morrissey. I kid you not, we could be watching the stuff of future TIME LIFE Box Sets for 2035.
7. Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield (Mom + Pop Music)
Tokyo Police Club wisely stuck with the guitar/bass/drums + occasional keyboards formula on Forcefield, pairing it with some of the band’s strongest songwriting to date. Perennially under-appreciated, TPC quietly offer up two of the best songs of 2014, the rock-opera catharsis of “Argentina parts 1,2,3” and the heart-on-the-floor romanticism of “Feel The Effect.”
6. Sun Kill Moon – Benji (Caldo Verde)
I like to make up my own Benji-style lyrics “Got home from work/Logged on to my website/Argued with my woman about who should run for president I said I don’t know but I want some Panera right now.” All kidding aside, Benji is a real heavyweight feat of songwriting.
5. U2 – Songs Of Innocence (Interscope)
It’s not cool to like U2 and that is more than OK with me. I actually have appreciated the band in most every incarnation, including 1997’s Pop, when it was trendy to knock the band for making euro trash bleeps and video game sounds. Songs Of Innocence is not a radical reinvention and the publicity-stunt release of the record belies its emotional heft. “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight,” “Iris,” “Song For Someone” are all gimmick-free solid gold.
4. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams (PAX AM)
Adams spent his own money to record this self-titled monument after shelving another complete album. Slowing down his prolific pace, and mercilessly editing himself has allowed Adams to record his most urgent, potent songs since Cold Roses, maybe even since Heartbreaker.
3. Bill Mallonee and The Darkling Planes – Winnowing (Self-Released)
Bill Mallonee has written a lifetime’s worth of memorable songs but nothing can stem the flow of music and lyrics that dig deep into the pathology of despair and hope that define the human condition. The past several years have not been kind to Mallonee and yet he persists in chronicling a story that sounds at once familiar and foreign to the rest of us who walk the same ground. “All that binds us to this hard world is but a single golden chord and it all flooded through the windshield of an old beat up Ford,” Mallonee sings on “From An Old Beat Up Ford.” It’s clear that he still believes in the power of American music, and if you give Winnowing a chance, you will to.
2. Matthew Ryan – Boxers (Blue Rose)
“We sigh and shiver under miserable stars,” Matthew Ryan sings on “Boxers,” the title-track and album opener. A straight forward rock album for the year 2014. I honestly feel like crying, laughing and expressing incredulity that simple chord changes, bass and drums can be deconstructed and chemically altered into this legendary formula. Heisenberg has got nothing on Matt Ryan.
1. The Lees Of Memory – Sisyphus Says (Side One Dummy)
There’s always been more to John Davis and Brendan Fisher than just the mantle of power-pop-revivalists. Sisyphus Says occasionally winks at the past, like when the ending of “Not A Second More” nods back to the riff that closes Superdrag’s cathartic album-opener “Slot Machine.” But more often Davis, Fisher and drummer Nick Slack operate in an alternate universe, where My Bloody Valentine was every bit as big as The Beatles and where Jesus really did ride next to Paul Westerberg. The sonics are immaculate, the songs are generously paced without overstaying their welcome and most importantly, the hooks here are earned.
If there were any justice in the universe, The Lees of Memory wouldn’t be a shoegaze side project, they would be playing the main stage at Coachella and collaborating with a still-smooth Notorious BIG. But this is the world we live in and Sisyphus Says can be first on my list, right where we all belong.