Our Favorite Albums & Tracks of 2014
by Andrew Sacher and Bill Pearis
We love year-end lists -- reading them, making them, arguing about them. BrooklynVegan editors Andrew Sacher and Bill Pearis have once again figured out their favorite albums of the year which you can check out, with commentary, below. Someday we may be able to come to an agreement on an official BV year-end list, but as you'll see there's not a lot of commonality between their two lists. (Specifically, there is zero commonality.) Which is ok! Diff'rent Strokes to rule the world. This year, they've also added their Top 20 favorite songs as well.
Find out what made their lists, below...
Andrew Sacher's Top 20 Albums/Tracks of 2014
Like every year, 2014 had so many great records come out between January and now that narrowing it down to my 20 favorites isn't easy to do. There's a ton of albums I wish I had room for here, and I re-ordered the ones I did choose many times, but as of now these are the records that meant the most to me over the past 12 months. Because no list like this can, I'm not trying to say these were the "best" albums of 2014, but they're the ones I loved, went back to, and thought about the most. Almost all of them are more or less rock albums, which is not to suggest any musical trends died or came to life in 2014 -- this just happened to be the type of music that hit me hardest this year. Who knows, maybe one day I'll fall in love with that FKA twigs album. But until then, here's my list of my favorite records of 2014.
Andrew's 20 Favorite Albums of 2014
20) Weatherbox - Flies In All Directions (Triple Crown)
An ambitious, eccentric album that does too much genre hopping to be pigeonholed.
19) EMA - The Future's Void (Matador)
EMA followed her confessional lo-fi breakthrough with a sci-fi concept album that pulls from industrial, '90s alt-rock and more, and it works.
18) Sharon Van Etten - Are We There (Jagjaguwar)
When it comes to great pop songwriting in the traditional sense, I can't really think of anyone who did it better than Sharon this year.
17) Sun Kil Moon - Benji (Caldo Verde)
Mark Kozelek's been having a late-career creative burst this half-decade, and so far Benji's the best of it.
16) Pianos Become the Teeth - Keep You (Epitaph)
The album where this screamo band stopped screaming yet arguably became more intense.
15) Swans - To Be Kind (Mute / Young God)
Somehow Swans made the best album of their three-decade long career with 2012's The Seer, and To Be Kind practically equals it.
14) The Antlers - Familiars (ANTI-)
Softer and more delicate than their previous work, and proof that The Antlers are doing just fine with the initial buzz of Hospice way behind them.
13) Tigers Jaw - Charmer (Run For Cover)
Charmer is mopey but driving, the sound of a band getting into The Smiths via hearing Brand New namedrop them.
12) The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)
The War On Drugs wear their unhip '80s heartland rock influences on their sleeves on Lost In The Dream, but their songs have never been stronger. My go-to comfort album of 2014.
11) La Dispute - Rooms of the House (Better Living)
Rooms of the House is a fictional concept album, a clear departure from its two also-excellent predecessors, and one of the most uniquely powerful post-hardcore records in recent memory.
10) Radiator Hospital - Torch Song (Salinas)
Radiator Hospital are one of a few recent bands who sound like they came up on pop punk, indie pop, twee folk, and lo-fi bedroom recordings, and managed to bring them all together into one super-genre. The ideas were there on last year's Something Wild, but they really come together on Torch Song. I still don't think this one has a song as singularly great as "Our Song," but it's a stronger album start to finish, and plenty of moments come close ("Cut Your Bangs," "Blue Gown," and "Fireworks," to name a few).
9) Cymbals Eat Guitars - LOSE (Barsuk)
Cymbals Eat Guitars' 2009 debut, Why There Are Mountains, gained them buzz band status but its comparatively difficult successor took that spotlight away from them. Feeling like they had nothing left to lose (no pun intended), Cymbals swung for the fences on their third album and came out with one of the strongest trad-style indie rock albums of 2014. Much of the album finds frontman Joe D'Agostino opening up about the 2007 death of his high school best friend, and while you don't need tragedy to write a great album, when you can turn that tragedy into songs that send shivers down the listener's spine ("XR" especially does this), other songs just sound fleeting in comparison. Not to mention it doesn't hurt that the album's got their biggest hooks yet ("Warning"), and some of their most varied music (prog pop centerpiece "Laramie").
8) Have A Nice Life - The Unnatural World (The Flenser)
In an internet-driven world where no music can be "truly underground" anymore, The Unnatural World feels pretty damn close to a real outsider album. Its sonic reference points are gloomy post-punk, shoegaze, noise, industrial and drone. A mix like that doesn't sound like something that's going to penetrate the world of populist indie rock (and so far this hasn't), but The Unnatural World is also very melodic and led by passionate vocals too urgent to be obscured by reverb or distortion.
7) Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar)
It's no longer news that the rediscovery of the great loner folk albums of the late '60s and early '70s has resulted in a handful of younger artists exploring that sound. A lot of the newer stuff is great, but it's only once in a while we get a song like "White Fire," a 7-minute dirge that sounds like a lost track off Songs of Leonard Cohen. And that's just what one song sounds like on this album. Elsewhere, there's the driving '90s-style indie rock of "Forgiven/Forgotten," the twanging, yodeling "Hi-Five," the ballroom ballad "Dance Slow Decades," the anthemic album closer "Windows," and still more. It's one of those albums so strongly varied that you can discover something new each time.
Listen to it via Dazed.
6) Perfume Genius - Too Bright (Matador)
Perfume Genius's first two albums were both excellent when they came out and they both hold up, but now if someone new to PG asked me where they should start I would say Too Bright. It's got plenty of the heartbreaking piano balladry that made his first two records so great, but it also goes into entirely new territory for Perfume Genius. There's wacked-out industrial synths, moments that would fit on sci-fi/horror soundtracks, and music that's physical. No longer just for the mind and heart, Perfume Genius is now for the body too. Perfume Genius has spoken in interviews and press releases about how much of the album was inspired by the panic he experiences -- even in a liberal society -- as a gay man. If those feelings sound less universal to you than the ones on, say, a breakup album, consider the last line on the record: "I don't need you to understand, I need you to listen." And listen you should.
5) Joyce Manor - Never Hungover Again (Epitaph)
I'll say right off the bat that Never Hungover Again is a pop punk album, but if that term bothers you, it's because too many bands who get called pop punk just don't do it as well as Joyce Manor. At some point, it became widely accepted that the genre means "pop with distorted guitars," and the overproduction and a preference for fashion over music didn't make it any harder for the cool kids to write off. But Joyce Manor remember that pop punk can mean no-frills punk rock that also happens to have big hooks. Never Hungover Again is also the kind of pop punk album that would appeal to indie rock fans -- it's no more or less pop or punk than bands like Superchunk, Sugar and Archers of Loaf -- but that's also because it's an album that can remind you how similar those two worlds can be. More importantly than any of this genre talk though, is just how hard the album rocks from start to finish -- which by the way is under 20 minutes.
Listen to it via YouTube.
4) Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark / Mom + Pop)
2012's Attack on Memory was Cloud Nothings' shift away from their lo-fi/noise pop beginnings towards post-hardcore, and this year Here and Nowhere Else saw them getting even heavier. Dylan Baldi screams more here, Jayson Gerycz remains one of the most apeshit drummers in modern day indie rock, and props to bassist TJ Duke for keeping it heavy when Dylan goes all Kurt/Thurston with his noise solos. All three of them sound like they have no restraint at all times, and it's never at the expense of good songs. The melodies will stick in your head, but look even at the album's lead single and biggest pop moment "I'm Not Part of Me" for the darkness in these lyrics.
3) Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)
Pallbearer's second album is doom metal through and through, but I've been selling it as one of my favorite pop albums of the year. It's got crushing riffs in the tradition of Black Sabbath to Candlemass to Electric Wizard, but endlessly catchy vocals that in a different musical climate could be all over the radio. It's like Dio-era Sabbath if those albums had Iommi writing riffs like "Into The Void" and Dio writing choruses like "Rainbow in the Dark." Doom's a difficult genre to break new ground in, and even if the argument's there that Pallbearer don't necessarily do that, with songs this effortlessly enjoyable it doesn't really matter.
2) Beach Slang - Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? (Dead Broke) / Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street (Tiny Engines)
Beach Slang's the only new band on this list, though their members are hardly unfamiliar faces. Weston's James Snyder got together with former members of NONA and Ex Friends and busted out two EPs with eight of 2014's most life-affirming rock songs. Every drum fill and ringing open chord is a fist-clenching, cathartic release. The hooks go from big to bigger, and these songs are overflowing with the kind of poetic punk rock that people are already getting tattooed on them. They're the kind of lyrics that make all the feelings you have feel validated. They tap into your inner sadness and self-doubt, but also into how big all the tiny almost-perfect moments really are, and how alive they can make you feel. Beach Slang know the power of punk rock all too well, and they sing about that too.
1) White Lung - Deep Fantasy (Domino)
The hypocritical thing about a lot of musically ambitious punk records is that they work in long songs, slow parts, and other unpunk elements, coming out with albums that can clock in at over an hour. Nothing wrong with that, but it's refreshing to see White Lung making musically ambitious punk records that still adhere to the "short and fast" criteria, and are over and done with in about 20 minutes. Deep Fantasy is their third album to do this, and their biggest-sounding one yet. While the drums and bass stick to the tried-and-true approach of early '80s hardcore, the guitar playing defies it completely. It manages to pack riffs as diverse, complex and plentiful (and often more interesting) as a lengthy prog rock album into just one of their 2-minute songs. On top of that brilliant musical backdrop, it's Mish Way, who seems like she was born to front a band, that makes Deep Fantasy the masterpiece it is. She can be as angry and loud as the best hardcore vocalists and as melodic as the best alternative rock bands in the same song. And like any great punk band, Mish has something to say. She has a message to get across, an underheard voice to make louder ("I Believe You" is about a rape victim afraid to talk about it), and she does so with artful imagery and metaphors rather than direct bluntness. If Deep Fantasy is the shape of punk to come, we'll be pretty lucky.
Andrew's 20 Favorite Tracks of 2014
1. Beach Slang - Kids
2. The War On Drugs - Red Eyes
3. Pallbearer - The Ghost I Used To Be
4. Cymbals Eat Guitars - XR
5. Radiator Hospital - Cut Your Bangs
6. S - Brunch
7. Have A Nice Life - Burial Society
8. EMA - Chtulu
9. Angel Olsen - Windows
10. Lykke Li - No Rest for the Wicked
11. Leonard Cohen - Did I Ever Love You?
12. Grouper - Clearing
13. Mitski - Townie
14. Restorations - Separate Songs
15. Nicki Minaj - Shanghai
16. Wild Beasts - Mecca
17. TV on the Radio - Happy Idiot
18. Nothing - Get Well
19. Donovan Wolfington - Hey Alex
20. Childbirth - I Only Fucked You As A Joke
Bill's 20 Favorite Albums/Tracks of 2014
Are these the BEST albums of 2014? Dunno, but they were my favorites. I always think it's a good year for music. (If you didn't hear anything you liked, maybe you weren't trying?) This year had more old standbys in my list than I've had in a while (If you'd told me in January that both New Pornographers and Spoon would be in my Top 20, I wouldn't believe it). My #1 has been a lock for most of the year, as has my #2. Your mileage probably varies. Also a word of warning, I did my list in descending order so you might want to scroll down first if you don't want to immediately know that Protomartyr is atop my list (oops).
Bill's 20 Favorite Albums of 2014
1. Protomartyr - Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)
Protomartyr's second album was the sound of 2014 for me, both because I've been listening to this repeatedly since February or so, and also because it echoes the unease and tension that's been building all year. Frontman Joe Casey is a barstool pundit who holds court on a variety of subjects, and is not afraid to issue the death penalty for those he sees as guilty. Under Color of Official Right has some of the year's most quotable lyrics (sad, angry, often funny) but they're made all the better by the band's absolutely killer, nuanced postpunk backing that drives every line home. I could write just as much about what guitarist Greg Ahee, drummer Alex Leonard and bassist Scott Davidson do with their instruments as what Casey sings. No other record even came close this year.
Listen via Rdio.
2. Klaus Johann Grobe - Im Sinne der Zeit (Trouble in Mind)
This record is a pure groove machine that really zooms. What really gets you first is the rhythm section, sometimes laying down a heavy motorik groove, sometimes funky, like if Can had jammed with Os Mutantes... and Stereolab owned the only bootleg. (The basslines on this record are absolutely killer.) The keyboards tie things together -- they sing in German (Swiss German, to be specific) but you hardly notice. I have listened to Im Sinne der Zeit every day since I got it.
Listen via Spotify.
3. Ty Segall - Manipulator (Drag City)
Known as much for being prolific as his energetic garage rock, Ty Segall slowed down (a bit) this year, went into a real studio and showed everybody just what he's capable of when he puts his mind to it. That would be Manipulator, a double album that shows off his growing songwriting skills and versatility. You get the kind of chunky jams he's known for, but there's also string-laden glam anthems, and trips down the psych opus rabbithole. Only one record a year is just fine if they're all this good.
Stream it on YouTube.
4. The Gotobeds - Poor People are Revolting/T (12XU)
From the title down, Poor People are Revolting is attitude-heavy, snarling, railing-against-everything punk-informed indie rock. The Gotobeds (featured a couple members of Kim Phuc) play like Protomartyr's smartass younger cousins, armed with punny titles, big hooks, shouty choruses and a love of The Fall. If you dig Protomartyr and Parquet Courts, this is essential listening.
Listen to it on Bandcamp.
5. Todd Terje - It's Album Time (Olsen)
While he's best known for '80s-inspired arpeggiated workouts like "Inspector Norse" and "Delorean Dynamite," Norway's Todd Terje stretched out on his first-ever album, indulging in a welcome playful side. There's nods to Ennio Morricone's exotica side, at least one samba jam, and that gorgeous cover of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary" featuring Bryan Ferry. It's Album Time also has it's fair share of dancefloor fillers too, but Terje keeps you guessing throughout.
6. The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers (Matador)
It's rare that a band 15 years into their career deliver their best album yet, but Brill Bruisers is brimming with ideas both musical and lyrical and is a real showcase for the pop smarts of everyone involved. The record also feels more like a band album than they've made in a while, with AC Newman, Neko Case and Kathryn Calder sharing the spotlight on many of the records best songs. (Dan Bejar brings his A-game too.) If they hadn't already named an album Together, it would've been a very appropriate title for this one.
7. Quilt - Held in Splendor (Mexican Summer)
Boston's Quilt moved beyond the psychedelic '60s folk pop of their debut, into something that feels much more modern. The three-part harmonies and sunshine melodies are still there, but they've incorporated a wide variety of influences into the arrangements. It also helps that Anna Fox Rochinski, Shane Butler, and John Andrews are all great songwriters whose styles compliment each other. One of the year's most underrated albums. They're even better live.
8. Hollie Cook - Twice (Mr Bongo)
Daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook (who spent time in The Slits too), Hollie Cook really found the sound to perfectly match her honeyed vocals on her second album, tropical pop with production by Prince Fatty whose really knows how to make this kind of record sound just right. While this is a great summer album, Twice's breezy vibe, incorporating lovers rock and other classic reggae elements into its lush, string-laden pop sound, works great any time of year.
09. The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi (The Raveonettes, Ltd)
Driven by the death Sune Rose Wagner's father, and originally intended as an EP, The Raveonettes sound very much alive on Pe'ahi which might be the best record they've ever made. Still working within their fuzz-pop milieu, they go widescreen here, with harp, xylophones and other exotic instrumentation. It all works and still sounds like The Raveonettes.
Listen to it on Rdio.
10. Cold Beat - Over Me (Crime on the Moon)
Grass Widow bassist Hannah Lew formed Cold Beat last year with Bianca Sparta (Erase Errata) on drums, and Kyle King on guitar. Despite a name that sounds like it should be a French minimal wave band from 1981, Cold Beat make (kinda) cheery indiepop, jangly and harmony-laden. Not miles away from Grass Widow, but definitely a little less obtuse. Total Control's Mikey Young helps on the back end to get the record sounding just a little distant without completely drenching things in reverb. There's a lot of music that sounds like this, but no similar record in 2014 was as good, and few in any genre that were, for that matter.
Listen to a few songs here.
11. Sleaford Mods - Divide & Exit (Harbinger Sound)
Very angry, very British, nobody cursed with as much veracity and flair as Sleaford Mods on their terrific new album. Not for everyone and not like anything else.
12. Caribou - Our Love (Merge)
Maybe I'm just used to the dancey Caribou now, or maybe Dan Snaith is comfortable enough with his new sound to get a little weird again, but Our Love is a much more satisfying album than Swim to these ears.
13. Liars - Mess (Mute)
Their most straightforward album in ages, it's also amongst Liars' best. Form and hooks suit these guys well.
14. Hookworms - The Hum (Weird World)
More of Hookworms' drony psych, but decidedly more upbeat this time. Enjoyment of this terrific album definitely increases with the volume.
15. Spoon - They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
Spoon left Merge and found their spirit again, as well as their bite.
16. Virginia Wing - Methods of Joy (Fire Records)
I'm a sucker for icy, synthy, krauty, baroque pop and UK band Virginia Wing delivered in spades on their debut album. Fans of Broadcast, listen up.
17. Metronomy - Love Letters (Because Music)
Made all-analogue at London's Toe Rag Studios, Love Letters may be deficient in dancefloor bangers, but it's made up for with smart, off-kilter, '70s-esque pop.
18. Baxter Dury - It's a Pleasure (PIAS)
Metronomy's Joseph Mount called Baxter Dury (son of Ian) London's Serge Gainsbourg and don't think I can come up with a better descriptor. Classy, but loose, it's a charmer.
19. Ex Hex - Rips (Merge)
Indie rock vet Mary Timony unleashes her inner rock star with Ex Hex, making killer glammy power pop. All hits.
20. Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal / Parkay Quarts - Content Nausea (What's Your Rupture)
In between constant touring and side projects, Parquet Courts busted out two great albums this year. Sunbathing Animal showcasing the full band's growing instrumental strength; Content Nausea being the weird one, recorded in a week on four-track, but no less enjoyable.
Bill's 20 Favorite Tracks of 2014 (In no real order and I've probably forgotten some)
1. TOPS - "Way to be Loved"
2. Fat White Family - "Touch the Leather"
3. Liars - "Mess on a Mission"
4. Twerps - "Back to You"
5. Crystal Stilts - "Delerium Tremendous"
6. The Gotobeds - "New York's Alright (If You Like Sex & Phones)"
7. Sleaford Mods - "Tiswas"
8. Marvelous Mark - "Bite Me"
9. JC Satan - "Italian Summer"
10. The New Pornographers - "War on the East Coast"
11. Medicine - "Turning"
12. Viet Cong - "Continental Shelf"
13. Spoon - "Do You"
14. Flowers - "Joanna"
15. La Roux - "Uptight Downtown"
16. Mr Twin Sister - "House of Yes"
17. Negative Scanner - "Ambitious People"
18. Part Time - "My Jamey"
19. Juniore - "Christine"
20. Roisin Murphy - In Sentisi"