The 45 Best Songs of 2014

2014

 

There’s no sugarcoating it. As years go, 2014 was a difficult one for me.

I climbed some hills, descended into some valleys, traveled halfway across the globe and spent a week not talking to anyone but Motel 6 front desk clerks.

Throughout it all, I carried these songs with me and now wish to share them with you.

I wish I could write 400 words on each track but I have a whole new year to get to … To quote that great EELS song, “If you’re small and on a search, I’ve got a feeder for you to perch on.”

Whatever that means.

Sufjan Stevens “A Little Lost” single
Twin Shadow “To The Top” single
Alvvays “Archie, Marry Me” Alvvays
Bleachers “Rollercoaster” Strange Desire
Jack White “Lazaretto” Lazaretto
Operators “Cruel” EP 1
Spoon “Inside Out” They Want My Soul
John Mark McMillan “Monsters Talk” Borderland
TV On The Radio “Careful You” Seeds
Porter Robinson “Sad Machine” Worlds
Ingrid Michaelson “Girls Chase Boys” Lights Out
M83 “I Need You” Divergent Soundtrack
Tokyo Police Club “Feel The Effect” Forcefield
Cloud Nothings “Quieter Today” Here And Nowhere Else
The War On Drugs “Red Eyes” Lost In The Dream
Future Islands “A Dream Of You And Me” Singles
Pigeon John “All The Roads” Encino Man
Foxygen “How Can You Really” …And Star Power
Sun Kill Moon “Ben’s My Friend” Benji
Lykke Li “Gunshot” I Never Learn
The Rural Alberta Advantage “To Be Scared” Mended With Gold
The New Division “Stockholm” Together We Shine
Hamilton Lelthauser “Alexandra” Black Hours
Panama Wedding “All Of The People” Parallel Play
U2 “Invisible (Red Edit)” single
Interpol “All The Rage Back Home” El Pintor
Strand Of Oaks “Goshen ’97” HEAL
The Gaslight Anthem “Dark Places” Get Hurt
Speedy Ortiz “American Horror” Real Hair
Vacationer “The Wild Life” The Wild Life
Sharon Von Etten “Everytime The Sun Comes Up” Are We There
BRONCHO “Class Historian” Just Enough Hip To Be Woman
Conor Oberst “Zigzagging Toward The Light” Upside Down Mountain
We Were Promised Jetpacks “Safety In Numbers” Unravelling
Handsome Ghost “Blood Stutter” Blood Stutter EP
Passenger “Heart’s On Fire” Whispers
Young Fathers “Soon Come Soon” Soon Come Soon
Sylvan Esso “Coffee” Sylvan Esso
Warpaint “Disco//very” Warpaint
Taking Back Sunday “Better Homes And Gardens” Happiness Is
Mariachi El Bronx “Wildfires” Mariachi El Bronx III
The Lees of Memory “Open Your Arms” Sisyphus Says
Ryan Adams “Kim” Ryan Adams
Matthew Ryan “Boxers” Boxers
Matt Pryor “Ex’s And Oh’s” Nine Forty Live

Best Albums of 2014 – Version Rossi.0

In direct opposition to my 2013 list, 2014 was a year of highly anticipated albums that for the most part, I thought, delivered on their anticipation.

Anticipating upcoming albums is a funny thing. If it’s a band you have followed for some time, you are generally looking forward to something similar to their old stuff. Something welcoming and familiar. Many times, however, that’s not quite what you get. If it’s a new band, there are multiple ways you might have come to your place of anticipation – word of mouth, good early publicity, etc. Or maybe it’s a band you’ve known about, dabbled in but could never quite get into, but have reason to believe this new offering will be different. Three of the albums in my top 10, in particular, were highly anticipated, at least by me.

However, some came out of nowhere. There were albums that hooked me from the first listen, while still others that grew with time. I started putting a tentative list together about a month ago, and the way it has shifted since that initial list is testament, I believe, more to my wide range in tastes than anything else.

So, without further ado, below is my top 10 albums of 2014. Please, tell what I missed, why I’m wrong, and what you also loved this year!

1. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream

From a personal standpoint, the most highly anticipated album of 2014. And man, did it ever deliver. I was a bit late to the War on Drugs game, only having really started to appreciate the work of Adam Granduciel with their 2011 release, Slave Ambient. But that album was enough to get me excited for what came next. Lost in a Dream feels is deep. It’s the only way I know how to describe it. With every listen – which is likely now going on 100 for me – I hear/feel/experience something different. But I think the greatest compliment I can pay to this album is that EVERY time I listen in, it feels as if Granduciel is right next to me, playing the song for the first time. It’s that real.

2. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is back, and in a big way. It’s evident not just in how this album is everything that every Ryan Adams fan had hoped for in his return from “retirement,” but it how he’s come back into the spotlight the only way he knows how – unapologetically. From covering whatever the hell he feels like (see here, here, and here) to chastising a fan for a camera flash that set off his Ménière’s disease. Ryan Adams toured hard this fall (and I was there), including the late night talk show circuit with Jenny Lewis. And why not – this album deserves to be heard far and wide.

3. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, has been on my radar for about three years – after his debut LP Learning but before encore Put Your Back N 2 It. His first two albums were personal, dark and haunting. You felt as if you were watching him play each song behind a one-way mirror, with him unaware that anyone was listening or watching – a personal window into his soul. Too Bright, on the other hand, is Hadreas’ coming out party. Subdued opener I Decline lures you into the belief that you are in for the same ol’ same ol’. But that’s quickly rejected as in-your-face single Queen breaks out singing “No family is safe, when I sashay,” followed by grunts coupled with a catchy electronic hook. Hadreas’ previous albums saw him coupling the topics of sexuality and depression, as if there were intrinsically linked. But Too Bright has Hadreas breaking out from behind the glass, comfortable with who he is and exclaiming he is here to stay, in a big way.

4. Future Islands – Singles

The biggest missed live-performance regret of my year come by way of Baltimore-based Future Islands. For the first half of 2014, the band was playing domestic and international shows at known but not large or iconic venues. But that all changes in the second half of the year, as Singles gained in popularity, and word of their electric live shows spread across the indie music scene. That meteoric rise in popularity culminated in a much-talked-about performance on Letterman. My fear is that small, intimate venues won’t be on the tour circuit for Future Islands for the foreseeable future. Good for them.

5. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

One of the strongest albums of the year burst onto the scene in its first month. Speaking of highly anticipated albums, the first album from Against Me! since lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in a Rolling Stone article in 2012 fits snugly into that category. Admittedly, the album title that leaked some six months prior to release led to much of that anticipation, but this album delivered in a big way. From the first track to the last, Grace’s vocals and lyrics come across as raw, personal, tortured, unapologetic, and in-your-face. Remember when punk rock was overtly political? This is a throw back to the heyday.

6. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

I love the Gaslight Anthem. They have become entrenched into a list of a dozen or so bands that carry loftier status for me. Get Hurt is what it is, and it’s not what it’s not. Brilliant, right? What it is is an attempt by Brian Fallon and company to be taken more seriously as a band, to come out of the shadows of cult-status and announce themselves to a wider audience as a “serious rock band!” This is apparent, not only in the album itself, but also in the marketing campaign that surrounded its release. Hell, Fallon himself declared Pearl Jam to be the album’s biggest inspiration. What Get Hurt is not is the same ‘ol heart-on-sleeve, teenage-angst-filled combo of dance-alongs and ballads thats permeated their previous albums. This new way works, too.

7. G-Eazy – These Things Happen

Every year, one rap album is able to crack my top 10. This year’s entrant – G-Eazy – comes from the same lyric school as 2012’s representative, Kendrick Lamar (unofficially, at least). Though G-Eazy hails from almost 400 miles north on I-5, the beat style and themes covered are very similar. They include dealing with newfound success, sacrifice, and staying true to self. But the theme throughout this album that resonated the most with me is Gerald Earl Gillum’s apparent internal struggle between living in the now and an obsession with dying young. This is something everyone has dealt with at some point, but G-Eazy verbalizes it better than most.

8. Copeland – Ixora

Copeland is back doing what it does best, writing songs that combine relatively simple piano or guitar chords with deep lyrics and the haunting voice of Aaron Marsh. I was skeptical Copeland’s music could still resonate with me, but that skepticism was misguided. This is a strong album from front to back that gets better with every listen.

9. Lana Del Ray – Ultraviolence

Another highly anticipated album, following up on 2012’s strong LP Born to Die and mini-album Paradise, Ultraviolence beat back Del Ray’s haters by featuring moody songs that stuck with you long after they ended. Del Ray’s unlikely (or, maybe more accurately, “self-constructed”) path to fame is well-pronounced, but for all the hate, you have to give her credit for the staying power.

10. The Antlers – Familiars

This album doesn’t ebb and flow, doesn’t have climaxes or songs that are better than others, or even many catchy beats. What it is is steady, strong from the beginning to the end. This might not be an album I listen to much in a year, or even remember in 5 years. But I enjoyed it this year as a background soundtrack of sorts, able to be played while reading, writing, or working.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. How To Dress Well – What is this Heart?
  2. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
  3. Matthew Ryan – Boxers
  4. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
  5. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
  6. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
  7. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

Review: The Gaslight Anthem w/ Against Me! Live at 930 Club

20140910_201938Attending two live shows in three days at the same venue definitely gives you a unique perspective. As I sit down to write this review, I find myself comparing the shows. This would be unfair even if the artists were similar. In this instance, they aren’t, so I am ardently to look at last night’s show in a vacuum.

Last night’s show featured two bands that share relatively similar genres…and not much else. At this point in time, Against Me! has become an elder statesman on the punk circuit. With six albums and over a decade of touring under their belts, they have built up a relatively small but diehard following. Known primarily for combining fast, punchy guitar riffs with pulsing drum beats and lyrics that are overtly political, Against Me! knows what they are good at, and they execute.

But what made last night’s performance so intriguing was the widely publicized subject of lead singer Laura Jane Grace and her gender dysphoria.  Born Tom Gable, Laura Jane Grace announced she would be transitioning to life as a woman in a powerful and extremely poignant article published in Rolling Stone in 2012. This was the second time I had seen Against Me!, but the first since 2012. I’m unashamed to admit that I was curious to see what, if anything, might be different about the band and its lead singer.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out the answer: very little had changed, and a lot had changed. Against Me! was the same in-your-face,  unapologetic whirlwind of punk that I had enjoyed as a younger version of myself, when their songs about subjects such as teenage anarchy, disenchantment with the military industrial complex, or drinking too many Guinness resonated most deeply. With their new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the whirlwind is still there, even if the subject matter has changed. With the album title setting the stage, the new Against Me! isn’t shy about attacking head on the issues that Laura Jane Grace has faced in her transition to being a woman – fear, rebellion, hatred, desire for acceptance, and many others. The album is powerful because it’s personal, and that comes through even more live. In many ways, Against Me! is as good and relevant as ever.

The headliner of the night was The Gaslight Anthem, a band that has now released five albums since 2007, the most recent being Get Hurt in early August, 2014. This show was the opening act of a tour for the aforementioned record, a tour that will take them all over North America and Europe.

20140910_214537I don’t secretly like The Gaslight Anthem – they have been one of my favorite bands for over six years. This was my second time seeing them live, while also seeing a solo acoustic show a few years back with lead singer Brian Fallon. But coming into last night, that favoritism had begun to wane. Get Hurt takes Gaslight in a new direction. Gone are the days of uber-catchy, vivid, punk-inspired, heart-broken, modern-day Springsteen tracks. In place are grungier, arena-sized rock anthems that leave a lot to be desired. And the change is just as evident live as it is on the new album. An over-the-top light show attempted to distract from the fact that they played very few songs from their previous four albums. This didn’t feel like a band wanting to proudly unleash new tracks to the world – but rather, a band that was hiding from its past. As if their fans had forgotten where they came from.

Admittedly, the show was entertaining throughout. But what it more readily accomplished was to defend my pre-conceived notions that the band had changed, and in my opinion, not for the better. No single moment better portrayed Gaslight’s attempt at transitioning to serious rock band than their choice for final song of the night – The Who’s “Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland).” This, apparently, was a page ripped directly from their primary inspiration for the new album – Pearl Jam. Unfortunately, it came across as far too contrived, and left a lot to be desired until The Gaslight Anthem (hopefully) goes back to their roots.

Set List

2014 Week of the Concert

The vast majority of my posts for Pop Heart Etc. consist of concert reviews. This week will be no different – just more of the same in a condensed period of time. Here is my concert-going schedule for the upcoming week. Reviews of each will follow shortly after.

Monday, September 8
Ryan Adams @ 930 Club in Washington, D.C. (This is an album release show for Ryan’s upcoming self-titled album)

Wednesday, September 10
The Gaslight Anthem w/ Against Me! @ 930 Club in Washington, D.C. (Gaslight is touring on their newest album, Get Hurt)

Get Hurt? Molly and The Zombies

Most of my friends secretly like The Gaslight Anthem. I am of the opinion that if you can successfully avoid reading any Brian Fallon interviews, then the band’s output is much more enjoyable. “Get Hurt,” the title track from the record due out August 12th, is a slice of heart-on-sleeve Boss-pop that is both surprisingly restrained and sneakily memorable. It’s kind of like the ballad equivalent of Cameron Crowe’s lesser films; unless you are a soulless bastard, you are bound to feel something. Even if only for a moment.

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Earlier this year Fallon debuted a new side project, Molly and The Zombies. Listen to the band’s first two stripped-down demos now