So I’ve had this written in my head for a month or so now (since the actual mid-year), but the busyness of this summer hit me like a ton of bricks and I haven’t been able to write anything until now. It’s a shame because I might argue that 2014 has been the best year for music in the last decade yet I haven’t had the time I wish I had to discuss it more. Hopefully as I move back to Atlanta and settle into my second year of teaching, I will find more time to dedicate to my truest passion: music and writing. Anyway, despite having little time to write, I have still been ingesting a ton of music this year, which has made this list harder than ever to create. Since these are not album reviews like I normally do, I will not spend too much time actually describing the music, but rather listing it, saying why I like it, and moving on. Definitely check out all the albums though. While these are my opinions based on how I feel when I listen to them, feel free to dispute any misses I made (please don’t shove Swans down my throat, though). Links are included for Bandcamps on #10 and #4:
Top Ten Albums
10. THANKS. - Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth
For the last few years, Philadelphia based singer-songwriter James Falandays has been pleasing hundreds of college students in dingy basements of Delaware house parties with his Morrissey-inspired, DIY flavor of indie blues. Now with the release of his long-awaited debut, and an updated, albeit inferior band name, he hopes to reach a wider audience. When this Newark proprietary makes it big in a few years, Joe Biden will no longer be the only name you think of from the state of Delaware.
9. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
In March, I was able to see Ms. Clark as she supported this release, and it was incredible. While I believe this album still pales in comparison to Strange Mercy overall, the album is much more fun and danceable, most likely thanks to the influence of David Byrne. To get on a top 10 list for me, the songs needs to be consistent throughout, and like her other efforts, Annie Clark is the queen of production - there is not a single dud on this album.
8. Future Islands - Singles
I admit it. Like many others, I was completely sold once I saw the glorious dancing Samuel Herring on Letterman earlier this year. Yes, they’ve been around since 2006, and no I did not know them until this year, but I don’t care. I have jumped on the bandwagon, and I’m riding strong. “Seasons,” as well as the rest of Singles continually blows me away thanks to the synthy-groove textues, not to mention Herring’s intoxicating growl (listen to “Fall From Grace” for the best example of this). This band is doing interesting things and I can’t get enough of it.
7. Mac DeMarco - Salad Days
My hero, my disgusting serial-murdering/pumpkin carving/lobster-eating hero, how I love you Mac DeMarco. How he can make such lovely jazz-inspired tunes and still be such a foul-mouthed frat bro at the same time is truly inspiring to me. His latest effort “Salad Days” picks up where “2” left off, with effortless melodies and rich folk-jizz-jazz textures that make me want to dance around in a parasol in France. Hoping his next album starts where “Chamber of Reflection” left us, arguably his greatest and most divisive song to date.
6. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else
Maybe I’m a dilettante when it comes to really loud music, but I can’t even name ten albums that make me as pumped up as this one. Absolute fist-through-the-wall heartpounding noise, Cloud Nothings dominate the post-hardcore scene of for a brief 31 minutes before you quickly press the replay button. With only 3 members, Baldi and company often sound like a symphony of noise, much thanks to drummer Jayson Gerycz’s ridelin-infused percussion. Seriously, listen to the end of “Psychic Trauma” and tell me your neck doesn’t hurt when you’re done.
5. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
It’s funny - when this album came out, I was raving that it was the best album of the year and nothing would top it. I even have a text from my friend claiming it the best album of the decade. With Song of the Year contenders “Red Eyes” and “An Ocean in Between the Waves” on the same album, it’s hard to imagine a list without this album on it, but as the year passed, I found myself quenching this album less and less. Maybe it’s the length, the patience it takes to fully appreciate the nuances, or the lackluster second half of the album, but I have since bumped this to number 5 on my list. That being said, it is still incredible. The endless guitar textures Granduciel is able to create is mind-numbing, as well as his ability to sound like every Dad Rock band of the 60s without ever sounding the least bit cheesy. Kurt Vile, you may have a day dedicated to you in Philly, but after Lost in the Dream, you no longer reign supreme.
4. Sharpless - The One I Wanted to Be
Okay, so chances are extremely high you have never heard of this band so let me explain them a little bit. Sharpless is the product of Jack Greenleaf, leader of a community of great musicians that call themselves The Epoch, and yes, it is indeed epic. Inspired by K-pop, Weezer, and musicals, Sharpless are the overly-dramatic, adolescent soundtrack to your high-school memories. It’s music that should be incredibly embarrassing to listen to, and still might be, but it so undeniably catchy and relatable that it’s easy to forgive. Throughout the course of the record, Greenleaf tells stories of teenage heartbreak, growing up, and drinking forties, that anyone that had a typical childhood can relate to. Lines like: “When we were kids we looked at bars with amazement / but now we’re here and all we talk about are basements” produce insane nostalgia whereas lines like “the pain of something that can never be explained is the same pain that makes a person grow” make my head spin from it’s beauty and eternal truthfulness. I’m sure when you listen to this you would scoff and turn it off for it’s bombastic, surely immature sound, and really, I’m okay with that. It’s my list and I’m content having Sharpless to myself.
3. The Antlers - Familars
Ed - I cannot possibly write about the Antlers in a cohesive, unbiased way so I apologize ahead of time.
You all knew this was coming. The impossibly-long wait for a very dedicated fan, The Antler’s new Familars is a very satisfactory return from 2012’s aquatic-sounding Undersea. With an added emphasis on horns thanks to Darby, and more patient songwriting, The Antlers have truly produced a gorgeous piece of work. Experimenting with new sounds, such as the effeminate ”Palace” or the baritone on “Doppleganger,” Pete (I can call him that) continues to evolve each album as a singer, becoming more and more patient with each release. The Antlers are certainly a less-is-more band nowadays as opposed to the verbose speaking-singing of Hospice and Attic. While many have criticized this album for not reaching it’s full potential on many songs, despite some impressive groundwork, I believe this is the exact reason why this album is so successful for me. The nuances are so small - dare i say infinitesimal - that when they hit, it’s the most beautiful thing in the entire world. I’m talking 2:33 of “Director,” the sexy 7th minute outro of “Revisted,” or the impossibly low voice at the beginning of “Doppeganger.” For the rest of the album, it’s like a wave about to break, and while nothing ends up climaxing like “Epilogue” anymore, that is no longer the point. The Antlers are no longer concerned with where we’re going, but instead how we’re getting there. The only outliers on this album are “Hotel” and “Parade” which are superb indie-pop gems that deserve complete individual acclaim.
2. Sharon Van Etten - Are We There
A little history. In May, the record came out. In June, I saw her preform live in Philadelphia. Yesterday, July 14, I friended her on Facebook. Yes, my love for Sharon has grown quickly and creepily, and I have no shame professing it. After all, she was the one to call me cute at her concert in front of 300 fans. Despite being a decently long-time listener, Are We There is her most brilliant effort to date. Not quite maturing, not quite changing her sound, but simply polishing, this release rarely misses a beat, save for the tame chorus of “Our Love.”
Sharon is a master of the effortless melody, a gift all hardworking musicians seek but can’t naturally achieve. No matter what she is singing about, it sounds beautiful, broody, and bountiful. Personally, she is a cute, awkward, and funny woman, but the second she starts singing, all limbs become numb and the emotions take over. Between “Your Love is Killing Me” and “I Love You But I’m Lost,” you will need a Costco amount of tissues to account for the waterworks. The crazy thing about sve is that, her lyrics aren’t spectacular (most songs tackle the same strained relationships of her past - she really should move on to greener pastures aka me), she’s not a great musician, and she lacks ambition, however, her songs induce an outer-worldly amount of emotion for the listener. This is the music that makes me pull over on the side of the road and stuff my face in the small holes in the steering wheel, the music that makes me eat the whole box or Oreos when I should only have eaten a couple, or the music that makes me hate people who share baby pictures on Facebook. It’s that powerful.
1. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
Everyone knows I’m a hyperbolic person. I make statements I can’t defend. I call every positive experience “the best time ever,” and every negative experience “the worst time ever.” So when I write that Benji by Sun Kil Moon is the most life-changing album I’ve ever heard, I will assume it won’t be taken that seriously. But in all reality, it is.
I’m cried myself to Hospice over 1000 by my iTunes count, basked in the greatness of Kid A since high school, but never have had such a life-changing, personality-checking experience as I have to Mark Kozelek’s life-affirming Benji.
On the surface, Benji is a depressing retelling of every relative and friend that Kozelek has lost in his life. For over an hour, we are invited into the intimate, personal details from Mark’s life that end up being almost 100% factual, despite being incredibly unbelievable. His uncle and cousin both dying in freak aerosol can explosions, his father beating when we was younger, his best friend dying from an aneurysm to his wrist, or his long-overdue apology for bullying a kid in high school, are just a few of the stories we are so intricately brought into. But it’s not in these tragic stories that make this album so meaningful. Rather, it’s the lessons Kozelek teaches us through the details; his response and reactions to the deaths, and his overall outlook of the universe. After digesting this album for months, I am sure Kozelek is a role model, a man to look after, and a man to truly respect.
He teaches patience, respect, humility, love, graciousness, and appreciation in a way that has never stuck before, solely based on his unique and thoughtful commentary of the last 47 years of his life. While the instrumentation is secondary to the storytelling, the gorgeous acoustic-folk fingerpicking would be a sin not to mention, as well as the infrequent, yet crucial use of percussion and horns.
I know people say this all the time about “important” records, but this album takes a long, long time to fully appreciate. If you put this on in the background it will most likely wash over you as a boring acoustic folk record. But when you have time to really sit down alone to absorb the album, or drive with more than an hour to kill, I guarantee this album with resonate with you. By your umpteenth listen, you will realize this was never a depressing record to begin with. Instead, it’s the most eye-opening, uplifting piece of work that’s ever been written.
Top Ten Songs
Not going to write about these because I already spoke about most of the albums so just listen and enjoy.
10. Wye Oak - “Glory”
9. tUnE-yArDs - “Water Fountain”
8. Sharpless - “Greater Than (>)”
7. Alex G - “Hollow”
6. Future Islands - “Seasons (Waiting On You)”
5. Sharon Van Etten - “You Know Me Well”
4. The Antlers - “Hotel”
3. Sharon Van Etten - “Your Love Is Killing Me”
2. The War on Drugs - “Red Eyes”
1. Pile - “Special Snowflakes”