Music in 2014 just wasn’t as enticing as last year. When 2013 came to a close, I couldn’t bear choosing just 20 albums to include in my Best Of list…and here, I struggled to really scrape up a solid 10. Sure, there were many albums I liked in the last 12 months, but not too many that I absolutely lost my shit over. Because of increased hemming and hawing, I am just now getting to post this – but better late than never. Here are TLW’s picks for the Best of 2014 – and hopefully 2015 makes my dick harder…or you know. The musical-auditory version of that.
10: Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness
I love a good genre-bender. Olsen’s latest is a coming-of-age album – a young 27-year-old Southern gal trying to find her voice and place in the world. There’s loads of spirit and heart and all the other wonderful poetic nuances one hopes for when listening to a folk record. She’s not that one-note though – she’s also an indie rock singer with a fiery punk attitude and just enough country twang in her vocals. It’s a delicious blend of every All-American bit of music you’d need for a balanced diet. (Sidebar: I regret skipping out on her New Haven show last spring. I hear her live show is the hotness. I fucked up.)
Guilty pleasure time! EDM may not be your thing. Or maybe it is your thing and Calvin Harris is too mainstream and pop for you. But damn it all to hell – I streamed this album a shitload since its recent release. It’s a great disc to get fall-down drunk to or maybe to put on when you’re pregaming. Or after popping a handful of uppers. IT’S ENERGY, YOU GUYS. What’s great about Motion is that Harris finally balances out his edgier beats a la I Created Disco with the poppy radio-ready tunes from 18 Months. A balance that was welcomed, especially with Haim, Gwen Stefani, Ellie Goulding, and Big Sean riding shotgun.
8: Temples – Sun Structures
Ah, the retro choice. I’m always drawn to vintage throwbacks. Though these guys are not quite as strong as Tame Impala, say, they still recreate a vintage England-in-the-60’s vibe that was very different from many of the other offerings this year. It’s the debut record for these psychedelic oddballs, who also performed for the first time on U.S. TV this year, performing “Shelter Song” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Keep an eye on these guys. And an ear on Sun Structures.
7: Kaiser Chiefs – Education, Education, Education & War
The fifth album by the Ricky Wilson-led Brits just may be my favorite since their debut, Employment, in 2005. Full disclosure: I hadn’t heard The Future is Medieval – I fell off with them after Off with Their Head. Though I can’t say the Kaisers are doing anything different or uniquely new nowadays, the songs are stronger than ever with Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha sing-alongs, catchy choruses, and rocking melodies. We finally caught them at Firefly this year and the live show more than backed up the energy found on this year’s album. I just dig these guys, guys.
The biggest and best surprise of the year for me? Phantogram – the electronic rock duo from NY, consisting of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel – and yet another show I had the chance to catch this year and didn’t (FAIL). The band describes their sound as “street beat, psych pop” which says it all, and perhaps, nothing, all at the same time. Their influences? Bowie, The Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, Prince. They employ some super sexy beats that don’t sound like the usual indie-pop fare of late at all. Just listen to their single “Fall in Love” for proof of that. They’re like Metric somewhat, but stronger, darker, funkier, and without the Pop. So maybe they aren’t like Metric at all. Just listen to Phantogram. (Bonus points for having a song called “Bill Murray.”)
5: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
Not to discredit Dave Grohl, Rock God at large / Mr. Nice Guy Rock Man That Everyone Likes and Shit, but putting Sonic Highways in a number 5 slot is generous. I realize this, but I’m doing it anyways. I dig the concept – recording 8 different song in 8 different cities. The HBO series does a fantastic job of documenting each city, and the musical history behind each that makes it a music mecca. I think my love for the show is clouding my judgment of the album, but hey, this is my blog so screw it. Sonic has some ferocious songs, and some of the Foos best recently: “Something from Nothing” crescendos gradually and explodes like a fuckton of fireworks; “The Feast and the Famine” is a rager with less substance, but bitchin’ nonetheless; and “Congregation,” the best song on the album, is one of their best songs of their career. It’s a shame that the second half of the album sort of falls off a cliff, because on an album so short, each song weighs much more heavily. But it’s Grohl! And the Foos! It’s still a great record, even if half the disc is slower mood music.
Everyone loves Cookie Mountain, but if you fell off the wagon and become disinterested by their 2011 release, Seeds is your ticket back to the desserty hills. (That was the dumbest thing I have ever written and I’m not even high.) The fifth album from the Brooklyn indie band (and first since the death of bassist Gerard Smith – RIP), sneaks in at the buzzer, having just been released on November 18th. Here, the band channels their loss into a propulsive flow, facing their issues at the forefront of the record, and looking toward a brighter 2015 on the latter half. The energies and tempos undulate, but the vibes and feels never do. Compare the emotive, synth-heavy “Careful You” with the upbeat “Happy Idiot” for a gist of this.
3: Jack White – Lazaretto
Jack White. Produced by Jack White. Starring Jack White. With guest vocals from Jack White and extra instrumentation by Jack White. I’m sort of sick about reading and writing about Jack White, but fuck me sideways, Lazaretto is a great fucking album. I mean…shit goddamn.
2: Brody Dalle – Diploid Love
The most underrated album of the year. Why wasn’t this bigger? Do people not love thrashing guitars with a fuck you attitude? Though her youthful angst and anger has subsided, the former Distillers frontwoman finally stepped out under her own name and the result was a homerun slam dunk hat trick, and other sporting terms, too. Dalle is a little bit older and a little bit wiser, and it showed. “I Don’t Need Your Love” stands as a letter to her deadbeat dad and love song to her children at the same time (along with “Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy”). She waxes poetic about a city that doesn’t want her anymore on “Rat Race.” She tangos with Mariachi El Bronx on the album’s best track, “Underworld” (horns always = GOOD in my book). It’s a shame that she sometimes takes the backseat to husband Josh Homme’s awesomeness, but Dalle is more than deserving of her own pedestal after all these years. Diploid is an A+.
1: Band of Skulls – Himalayan
Band of Skulls are no stranger to The Littlest Winslow. Not only are they one of my personal faves, but I think they’re one of the best rock bands out now. Eschewing any pull toward indie trends, this trio from Southampton, England just WAILS. They plug in, they get electric, and they deliver – song after song, record after record. Their third disc, Himalayan, beats even their strong sophomore release, Sweet Sour. They experiment with more melodic guitars in the title track, but they don’t abandon their signature shreds, like on “I Guess I Know You Fairly Well” and “I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead And One Dying” – two songs that blow my mind every. single. time. I hear them. I’ve also never known a band that can master ballads in the same vein that they master the rest of their rock jams. Case in point: “You Are All That I Am Not.” Their lyrics are meaningful, their songwriting is top notch, their guitars are ear-splitting and fresh. Rock isn’t dead – it just tends to skew in other directions lately – indie, dance/pop-rock, folk. We have few real ROCK bands that aren’t Jack or Foo and other larger scale acts. Band of Skulls are SO worth your time, having released three excellent, strong-as-hell records. And Himalayan is their most consistent, loudest, and most importantly, their best.
Here are some albums I really liked a lot, but not enough to extend this post to a Top 20. In some cases, albums were more of the same from that particular artist. In other cases, the albums were EPs or whatever. But these are still worth checking out if you’re feeling saucy.
Walk the Moon – TALKING IS HARD
Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear (Pop at its best – and one of the greatest pop vocalists and songwriters)
Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else (Not quite Attack on Memory, but good!)
Nicole Atkins – Slow Phaser
Against Me – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Future Islands – Singles
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – Give the People What They Want
White Lung – Deep Fantasy
Foxygen – …And Star Power