THE BEST OF THE REST
(feat. track – Paolo Nutini – “One Day” [spotify] from Caustic Love)
Tomorrow, I’ll unveil my #1 album of the year. In the meantime, here’s a whole lot of stuff that didn’t quite make my Top Ten Twelve but still left a big impression in 2014.
For the first time ever I believe, my Best Of The Rest list comes in with fewer entries than the year prior, 25. I’ve mentioned it before, but for some reason 2014 was more of a “singles” year than an “albums” year to me. Still, the collections below could have all, in a slightly different year, made their way into the numbered list, and all are worth your time.
Any writing I’ve done on any of these artists in 2014 is noted. Spotify (or other streaming source) links have been included, where available.
Alburn – Mouthful Of Glass [spotify]
Mouthful of Glass is Alburn’s first EP in two years; it sounds like it’s spent those entire two years in a shaken bottle, fizzing and roiling and waiting to explode. Daisy-era Brand New is the obvious touchpoint here, but Alburn bring something of their own to the mix. And acoustic closer “Sweetheart” aches like the most wounded of Kevin Devine or Andy Hull tracks.
Angels & Airwaves – The Dream Walker
I’m as shocked as you that, in 2014, a new Angels & Airwaves album is ranking on my year-end list. In opening his singular vision up by inviting in collaborator Ilan Rubin, Tom DeLonge has finally achieved what seemed impossible – creating a new album that isn’t merely a semi-blurred refraction of the album prior. DeLonge still knows his way around a pop hook, and the production, full of digitally frippery, has bite. (In particular, his bass sounds are gnarly in all the best ways on this one.) The Dream Walker is still recognizably AvA, but it’s AvA at it’s best-dressed.
Basement – Further Sky [spotify]
The defunct leaders of the scene’s grunge revival made their unexpected return this year with a series of triumphant tour dates (including a raucous, sold out ‘big room” at Webster Hall here in NYC) and with this 3 song EP pointing toward the future. “Summer’s Colour” races forward on alt-rock nostalgia; “Jet” returns to grimier, more haunted fair. (Big love to the band for covering one of my all-time faves, Suede’s “Animal Nitrate,” for the EP’s final track, though I wish I enjoyed their rendition more.)
Being As An Ocean – How We Both Wondrously Perish [spotify]
How We Both Wondrously Perish finds [Being As An Ocean] pushing the boundaries of their sound. [Frontman Joel] Quartuccio’s shout on “Even The Dead Have Their Tasks” sounds coarser than ever, while on “Mothers,” he slips into a Morrissey-esque croon. On the instrumental title track, the band diverge into Thrice-like ambient soundscapes; on the closing “Nature,” they lay heavily processed vocals over washes of burbling low-end.
The addition of [guitarist/vocalist Michael] McGough, in particular, has added a sizeable new weapon to the band’s arsenal. His clean vocals (“Death’s Great Black Wing Scrapes The Air,” “The Poets Cry For More”) inject a newfound melodic sensibility into the band’s compositions. When paired with Quartuccio’s impassioned snarl, they open up dynamics – loud and soft, gnarled and smooth, soaring and rumbling – that the band’s prior work lacked.
– Me, “Faith Based Initiatives,” Alternative Press 311 [June 2014]
Betty Who – Slow Dancing / Take Me When You Go [spotify]
Betty Who made this list last year with her debut EP, The Movement. She followed it this year with a second EP, and then a full length that compiles all the best moments of both, along with a grip of additional new songs. As such, it’s hard to narrow down the goodness to a specific release; The Movement contains most of the essentials, but also most of the filler. Still, whatever its shortcomings, they pale compared to the album’s numerous triumphs. Betty abandons her vague Whitney worship, embracing her Swedish ancestry through a series of wistful, wish-full disco numbers.
The Cab – Lock Me Up [spotify]
When I spoke to Alex DeLeon of The Cab in April, it had been nearly two years since the band had signed their major label deal – two years of silence. Lock Me Up was a fan-targeted surprise release packed full of Maroon 5-esque jams intended to hold over the faithful, but when asked about plans for a new full-length, DeLeon promised “definitely this year. I would say in the next few months.” DeLeon noted he had more than 100 songs written, and while many of them were intended for other artists, it sure seemed as if he felt that writing for the upcoming Cab record was essentially complete. Since then, it’s just been more silence. Such is the life of a major label band.
Charli XCX – Sucker [spotify]
I was incredibly excited by Charli XCX when she first hit the scene a few years back; since then, I’ve seen my interest wane with each subsequent release, her talents wasted on more-annoying-than-catchy hooks and lame-premised songs. And on that trajectory, “Break The Rules” and “Boom Clap” (the chorus of which I cannot stop from hearing as “*BOOM*, *crap*: the sound of my shart”) are the absolute nadir. There’s something exceptionally millennial (post-millennial?) about much of her songwriting that I just have a hard time relating to. Fortunately, Sucker redeems itself amply, especially in its latter half, where songs like the downtempo “Doing It” and the swinging “Need Ur Luv” mine real emotional depth that matches the sharpness of the hooks.
Dum Dum Girls – Too True [spotify]
I’ve never been a fan of Dum Dum Girls’ lo-fi garage pop; fortunately, on Too True they ditch that sound entirely for a gorgeously-produced album of synth-haunted darkwave, glimmering torch pop, and everything that generally made groups like the Bangles and Bananarama great in their time. 10 propulsive, catchy, thoughtful tunes you’ll find yourself humming for days after.
The Hotelier – Home, Like NoPlace Is There [spotify]
I wasn’t quite as taken by Home, Like NoPlace Is There as some folks were this year. Still I see why it was a Top 5 album on a lot of lists, even if not on mine If nothing else, “Your Deep Rest” rides this perfect line between being the hoariest of cliches and the most cathartic anthem of the decade. Nothing could be more appropriate than closing the album with a track named “Dendron;” Home Like NoPlace Is There is like spending 36 minutes with the pulsating of a raw, exposed nerve.
Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell [spotify]
I discovered Hundred Waters this year entirely on accident – they were the act playing before Bob Nanna at a SXSW showcase this past March. I was taken with them almost immediately – taken as in intrigued. Indeed, it took me quite a while to figure out whether or not I actually liked the act – their unpredictable rhythms, broken soundscapes and breathy vocals ride the line between chaotic and tightly composed; The Moon Rang Like A Bell pogos across the map in tempo and density, yet somehow makes for a work of remarkable consistency. Live, the material becomes much more aggressive – there’s almost a dance-punk, Fuck Buttons-y enervation to the syncopated bottom-end, which really pulled me into their performance. Yet what they lack in coiled energy on record, they make up for in dynamics.
Mystery Skulls – Forever [spotify]
Ultimately, I think I would have been much more taken with Forever, the debut LP from electro-soul producer Mystery Skulls (a/k/a Luis Dubuc, who made my Best Of The Rest 2010 list under his previous guise, The Secret Handshake,) had I not spent the last three years listening to demos from the project, many of them better than the material that made record. Even with that, the funky charm of tracks like “Paralyzed” and “Ghost” (which received a marvelous video treatment) are undeniable. What I’m saying is, don’t give it short shrift just because I did; if you haven’t heard it before, there’s some great stuff here.
No Somos Marineros – Lomas Verdes
I’ve been raving about this Mexican emo act since I first came across them at SXSW in 2013. I caught them again this year (and even had the opportunity to interview them) – they only keep getting better. Lomas Verdes is the band’s first full-length release, and it delivers on all that promise with 9 tracks of wide-ranging emo, screamo and (post)-hardcore. NSM are capable of working up throat-shredding intensity, of generating hypnotic tribal rhythms, and of constructing beautifully fragile soundscapes – occasionally, all on the same song (“Guesjusbac”). The results can be a bit unfocused at times; considering that they’re nearly bursting at the seams with good ideas, it’s hard to fault them.
Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love [spotify]
Caustic Love is actually the first Paolo Nutini LP not to make my yearly Top Ten (These Streets was #9 in 2007; Sunny Side Up made it to #2 in 2009). In part, it’s because Caustic Love’s missteps are more apparent – there are some wince-inducingly corny moments here (including the blustery, entirely un-self-aware single “Iron Sky”). In larger part though, it’s because Caustic Love finds Nutini really stretching out his sound: unfortunately, his takes on more modern pop and blues just aren’t as effective as when he sticks to blue-eyed soul. But oh, when he does, like on the soaring “One Day,” he’s as earth-rattlingly good as ever.
PUP – PUP [spotify]
The debut album by Canadian punks PUP (which is, debatably, a 2013 release) didn’t quite grab me the way it did some other folks, but at its best moments, like the frenetic, frazzled “Reservoir”, it’s as compelling as anything I’ve heard this year. I could do without some of the bloozier numbers, but when their pop side shows, they remind me of a nerve-frayed Desaparecidos, or Rivers Cuomo on the urge of a freakout. Still, the real reason PUP make this list is because their live set is astonishingly great, and after hearing these pummelers in that setting, I get it.
Pvris – White Noise [spotify]
Combining the stridency of Paramore at their most alt-rock (think “Let The Flames Begin”) with the production bent of acts like CHVRCHES, Pvris’ sink or swim on the back of vocalist Lynn Gunn; here, on their debut full-length, they could span the English Channel. Gunn turns in a powerhouse performance, carried by songs that are universally solid (if a bit same-y). If White Noise is any example, Pvris are primed for big things to come.
Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams [spotify]
I’ve been a fan of Ryan Adams since his Whiskeytown days; indeed, there was a time where I might have called him my favorite artist. He’s also remarkably prolific, and while there was a time where I would track down Suicide Handbook and his scads of unreleased material, I sort of lost interest somewhere in the Cardinals era. That said, this year’s self-titled album has reeled me back in. There’s nothing on here that doesn’t at least resemble some song Adams has release before, but what it lacks in novelty it more than makes up for in consistent greatness. Indeed, I’m not sure it’s a stretch that this is Adams’ most consistent work to date. A pleasure to listen to from beginning to end.
Set It Off – Duality [spotify]
Duality is a lesson in dichotomies. Musically, the album reuintes the chipper pop-punk of the band’s formative years with the darker orchestral pop of their newer material, and then slathers both with a heavy helping of au courant radio-pop and R&B. The results make for a diverse, stimulating listen: Tracks like “The Haunting,” with its music box twinkles, carry the torch for dark punk, but the uber-catchy “Forever Stuck In Our Youth” could pass for a lost track from Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock & Roll sessions with its loping bassline, octave vocal punches and soulful chorus. The verses of “Ancient History” immediately call to mind U2’s “Beautiful Day,” before bursting into a power-pop chorus reminiscent of SIO’s one-time tourmates Every Avenue.
But beyond the sonic reconciliation, Duality represents a unification of [frontman Cody] Carson’s divergent personae. The angry, put-upon kid and the upbeat pop-punker. The fanboy and the frontman. The affable friend and the outcast. On Duality, they merge into what might be for the first time on record, Cody Carson: Complete Human Being.
– Me, “Brand New Skin,” Alternative Press 317 [December 2014]
Taylor Swift – 1989
I did 90% of my music listening this year on Spotify. That largely kept me from listening to 1989; indeed, I think that might be the sole reason the album didn’t kick its way into my Top 10. (Which isn’t to say her withholding the album was imprudent – I think Taylor is going to be just fine without my promotional efforts). I also think that, especially on the tail end, there’s a little too much filler to ignore. That said, 1989 is so full of bangers, earworms, and perfect pop that it can’t be ignored. I was about to list off the album’s best songs here, but honestly, fully 2/3 of this album is absolutely transcendent. For her first “official” pop statement, 1989 makes a strong case that this is where Taylor Swift has truly belonged all this time.
Tiny Moving Parts – Pleasant Living [spotify]
Tiny Moving Parts deal in the sort of chaotic twinkly emo that I can only listen to in short doses, but when I’m craving it, they’re some of the best at what they do. Pleasant Livingbuilds on the foundation laid by last year’s This Couch Is Long And Full Of Friendship, but the band has grown more confident and self-assured, even if you wouldn’t know it by listening to the lyrics.
Transit – Joyride [spotify]
It’s a shame that Transit’s last album, Young New England, was so divisive, because I think it’s kept a lot of people from giving their excellent new album a fair shot. If anything, Joyride finds the band exploring similar territory as their earlier releases, with a sharper melodic tack and a sense of sanguine, wistful resignation, Joe Boynton’s lyrics as strong as ever. I’m not sure what a Tim Landers-free Transit will hold for the future, but tarnished as their reputation may be, Joyride deserved more attention.
VA – Whirr / Nothing split [spotify]
The best Smashing Pumpkins album released this year was actually this split by Whirr and Nothing, and it isn’t close. Whir’s two propulsive slow-burners suspend ethereal vocals right in the middle of fuzzy, flangey guitar. Meanwhile, Nothing’s touchstone here is more Smashing Pumpkins-circa-“Mayonaise”, with big melodic hooks that swirl and twirl up against their limits like snow in a snow globe.
One of the least expected and most satisfying comebacks of 2014, Veruca Salt’s return came backed with this three-track 7″, including two excellent new songs. “It’s Holy” picks up where “Seether” left off, an upbeat ripper with vocals so perfectly intertwined you’ll swear no time has past, even as the girls address their triumph-to-be in the lyrics. And “The Museum Of Broken Relationships” prove that the band is just as keen to revisit the more weighty material that kept the band’s first two albums from being mere radio single fodder.
White Lung – Deep Fantasy [spotify]
I was a White Lung fan prior to Deep Fantasy; I’d even had the pleasure of catching Vancouver’s hardest-charging punk quartet live at SXSW in 2013. Yet somehow, I put off listening to the album for most of 2014. That’s a shame; had I heard it earlier in the year it would have been in serious consideration for my Top Ten. Nothing they had done before could have prepared me for the dynamo the unleashed in 2014. Like a piston crashing ceaselessly into the head of injustice, personal and political, at thousands of RPMs, Deep Fantasy converts vocalist Mish Way’s explosiveness into a focused point of propulsion. A Dremel designed to carve the rot out of the West’s teeth.
Xerxes – Collision Blonde [spotify]
I couldn’t tell you much about the old Xerxes; I never paid them much attention. But by all accounts Collision Blonde is a new leaf for the band. Whatever the old Xerxes might have been, the new Xerxes incorporates more than a little bit of Touche Amore (especially in the vocal department), song structures that nod to La Dispute, crisp, propulsive basslines that call back to late 70’s / early 80’s post-punk and a sense of doomy melody that shines through the all-screamed vocals. Collision Blonde is, as Calvin Philley shouts in “Criminal, Animal,” an album written from, and for, those moments “with my head in my hands // and my heart in my throat.”
You+Me – Rose Ave. [spotify]
I honestly find it shocking that this Dallas Green + P!nk collaborative project didn’t get more press than it did. I know major labels are funny, and You+Me doesn’t exactly fit into the “how to sell more product” equation for either artist, but the songs here are generally great (with different vocals you’d have no problem passing this off as another lost Ryan Adams gem), and it’s often breathtaking how naturally the two fit together vocally – one play of album-opener “Capsized” should make it abundantly clear that this project works. Best of all is the stunning album-closing cover of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love,” P!nk’s delicate power lending just the right amount of oomph to Green’s soaring falsetto.