Best of 2014: Ryan's Top Albums

As the years slowly quickly inevitably fade into the horizon, I fear sentimentality almost as much as I fear being too old to realistically stay out until 3:00 AM rehearsing songs that will never earn us any money. 2014 brought very few new discoveries to the table, but it was the musical equivalent of a Wes Anderson film for me: solid, reliable, slightly left-leaning but unlikely to alienate or offend most decent people. There’s something to be learned from artists that you’ve spent half of your earth-years walking around with.

Best Of (3)
A chart of my life looks something like this: Birth>>Walkman>>Discman>>iRiver>>iPod>>Android>>iPhone>>WindowsMobile

10. LA Symphony – You Still On Earth? (LAS Music)

Still On Earth is a welcome return from the Los Angeles-based hip hop crew who lived through record label hell in the early aughts and lived to tell the tale. Best of all, Pigeon John is back and the 16-tracks on YSOE don’t rely on production tricks but instead offer humor, hope, cultural criticism and laid-back bravado from some dudes who are still underdogs from the underground.


9. Spoon – They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)


Razor-sharp hooks, a rhythm section that is wound tighter than a suspension bridge and some great songs propel They Want My Soul into my top ten. It’s not rocket science, just rock n roll.


8. Future Islands – Singles (4AD)


I bought Singles on vinyl, which meant that I couldn’t skip around like an actual collection of singles. More than just the sum of a couple great songs (“A Dream of You and Me,” “Seasons [Waiting On You]”), Singles is actually a pretty adventurous record. At live shows, Samuel T. Herring inspires the kind of devotion and morbid fascination that has typically been reserved for Prince or Morrissey. I kid you not, we could be watching the stuff of future TIME LIFE Box Sets for 2035.


7. Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield (Mom + Pop Music)

Tokyo Police Club wisely stuck with the guitar/bass/drums + occasional keyboards formula on Forcefield, pairing it with some of the band’s strongest songwriting to date. Perennially under-appreciated, TPC quietly offer up two of the best songs of 2014, the rock-opera catharsis of “Argentina parts 1,2,3” and the heart-on-the-floor romanticism of “Feel The Effect.”


6. Sun Kill Moon – Benji (Caldo Verde)


I like to make up my own Benji-style lyrics “Got home from work/Logged on to my website/Argued with my woman about who should run for president I said I don’t know but I want some Panera right now.” All kidding aside, Benji is a real heavyweight feat of songwriting.


5. U2 – Songs Of Innocence (Interscope)

It’s not cool to like U2 and that is more than OK with me. I actually have appreciated the band in most every incarnation, including 1997’s Pop, when it was trendy to knock the band for making euro trash bleeps and video game sounds. Songs Of Innocence is not a radical reinvention and the publicity-stunt release of the record belies its emotional heft. “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight,” “Iris,” “Song For Someone” are all gimmick-free solid gold.



4. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams (PAX AM)


Adams spent his own money to record this self-titled monument after shelving another complete album. Slowing down his prolific pace, and mercilessly editing himself has allowed Adams to record his most urgent, potent songs since Cold Roses, maybe even since Heartbreaker.


3. Bill Mallonee and The Darkling Planes – Winnowing (Self-Released)

Bill Mallonee has written a lifetime’s worth of memorable songs but nothing can stem the flow of music and lyrics that dig deep into the pathology of despair and hope that define the human condition. The past several years have not been kind to Mallonee and yet he persists in chronicling a story that sounds at once familiar and foreign to the rest of us who walk the same ground. “All that binds us to this hard world is but a single golden chord and it all flooded through the windshield of an old beat up Ford,” Mallonee sings on “From An Old Beat Up Ford.” It’s clear that he still believes in the power of American music, and if you give Winnowing a chance, you will to.


2. Matthew Ryan – Boxers (Blue Rose)

“We sigh and shiver under miserable stars,” Matthew Ryan sings on “Boxers,” the title-track and album opener. A straight forward rock album for the year 2014. I honestly feel like crying, laughing and expressing incredulity that simple chord changes, bass and drums can be deconstructed and chemically altered into this legendary formula. Heisenberg has got nothing on Matt Ryan.


1. The Lees Of Memory – Sisyphus Says (Side One Dummy)


There’s always been more to John Davis and Brendan Fisher than just the mantle of power-pop-revivalists. Sisyphus Says occasionally winks at the past, like when the ending of “Not A Second More” nods back to the riff that closes Superdrag’s cathartic album-opener “Slot Machine.” But more often Davis, Fisher and drummer Nick Slack operate in an alternate universe, where My Bloody Valentine was every bit as big as The Beatles and where Jesus really did ride next to Paul Westerberg. The sonics are immaculate, the songs are generously paced without overstaying their welcome and most importantly, the hooks here are earned.

If there were any justice in the universe, The Lees of Memory wouldn’t be a shoegaze side project, they would be playing the main stage at Coachella and collaborating with a still-smooth Notorious BIG. But this is the world we live in and Sisyphus Says can be first on my list, right where we all belong.

A Couple Handfuls of Music From 2014: A Top 10 List.


It’s been several years since I’ve put together a formalized list of albums at the year’s end.  To provide excuses for my lack of exploration would just label me lazy.  Let us all assume that you either do not care that I am sporadic, or that this is your first time reading my opinion toward music that matters.  Music has always been an important piece in my life and, in some ways, has played a rather big role in making me who I am today.  I have my favorite bands.  I have my favorite songwriters.  I even have a few favorite guilty pleasures.  (Yes, a “few”.)  One thing is for sure, and that is I always favor the album of a certain artist in which I had either personally discovered them by or had been introduced through by a friend.  That album may or may not be considered the “best” work from the particular artist, but it remains to be the personal favorite within my world.  And since the world revolves around my world we all should agree that what you are about to read is certain and true.

“Top 10” & “Best of” lists are evolutionary.  If you were to ask me today what my top albums from 3 years ago were, in order, I’d undoubtedly have a differing opinion than myself from that particular time.  Establishing this important tone I present to you my 10 favorite albums from 2014.  (In no particular order except for this moment in January 2015.)

10 the lawrence arms – metropole

I anticipated back in the beginning of the year that this album would be the best punk of 2014.  Although it did not succeed in that presumption, it did come close.  Good punk rock is a bit hard to come by if you are referring to much of it later than the 1990s.  Since their first record in 2002 they have accompanied dozens of other post punk rock bands chasing the coat tails of their predecessors’ successes. Metropole brings them back in to the conversation and gives the punk rock music fan an alternative to the critical favorite but often overhyped Against Me! albums.  This record was one that was long overdue with just two years shy of a decade since the last time an album was released by The Lawrence Arms.  I’m often overheard saying that a “post-hiatus” or a “long break” preceding an album’s release often times means it will be a 45-minute disappointment.  Metropole proved me wrong.

Stand out tracks:  The YMCA Down the Street From the Clinic, Seventeener (17th and 37th), Beautiful Things

9 we were promised jetpacks – unraveling

I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m a sucker for UK brit rock, especially if it’s from the kilted north. I first became a fan of this band from Scotland with their debut These Four Walls in 2009, quite honestly, because of the name of their band.  Luckily for me their songs are pretty good too.  The addition of a fifth member, Stuart McGachan, has helped redesign the sound as well as expand the appeal of an already enjoyable brit-rock post-punk indie band.

Stand out tracks:  Peaks and Troughs, Peace Sign, Night Terror

8 tom petty & the heartbreakers – hypnotic eye

Tom Petty has still got it!  It’s a bit unorthodox to include a Heartbreakers album on a Top 10 list post-1991, and I admit it’s no Into The Great Wide Open.  Still I cannot help deny that they brought the bass back to rock ‘n roll in 2014.  Admittedly, I was a skeptic of the news hearing that the Heartbreakers were pairing back again with Tom Petty.  A few years ago they tried to charm us with their Mojo, but ironically it made the Heartbreakers less relevant in my personal music collection. Not since Wildflowers have I been found to put any Petty record on repeat.  Right from the start this record hooked me in when the familiar vocals on “American Dream Plan B” start.

I’m gonna make my way through this world someday/I don’t care what nobody say/American dream, political scheme/I’m gonna find out for myself someday

There’s nothing petty about the new Petty record as Hypnotic Eye begs to be put on repeat.

Stand out tracks:  American Dream Plan B, Red River, Forgotten Man

7 margot & the nuclear so and so’s – slingshot to heaven/tell me more about evil

The ambition and persistence to remain indie have provided a lingering reason why I’ve been a fan of this band. To understand the relevance of that statement refer to Animal/Not Animal of 2008.  A self-proclaimed back-to-basics album (Slingshot to Heaven) recorded on 2-inch analog tape in their own studio accompanied by an alternate album (Tell Me More About Evil) on 10 rolls of 16mm film screams pretentious but results in melancholy perfection.  And when I say “melancholy perfection” I mean that the gloom has found it’s smirk.  Everything that I’ve grown to appreciate from the So & So’s plus distortion and abrasion.

Stand out tracks:  Bleary-eye-d Blue, When You’re Gone, Long Legged Blonde Memphis

6 only crime – pursuance

If the discussion was which were the best drums on an album from 2014 it’d be Pursuance.  I’d assume that my old friend “BJ” would agree this to be true.  That’d be assuming no new Swedish Speed Metal came out to prove my hypothesis incorrect.  I stumbled across Only Crime earlier this year for the first time surprised over the fact that I hadn’t done so any earlier.  I tend to forget about the punk bands that I listened to in the late 90s, but with resurgences as good as this one I’m reminded that punk rock can actually still be relevant.  With members from Good Riddance and Descendants/All it’s quite certain that the expectations of sound are the mouth-watering equivalent to staring at the Cinnabon display behind the glass at the town mall.  Pursuance is a record full of punk rock melodic hardcore fist pumping sing-a-long songs for less than 30 minutes.  If the only other punk record besides Transgender Dysphoria Blues you listen to from 2014 is this one then you have a bit of good taste.

Stand out tracks:  Find Yourself Alone, In Blood, Life Was Fair

tom the lion – sleep

There’s always a record, a band, a songwriter that catches you by literal surprise.  Often times these surprises occur not because you found it, but because somehow it found you.  I do not recall specifically how or when I stumbled upon Sleep, but I do remember it having something to do with Twitter and it being prior to the album’s release.  The single, Sleep, is a hypnotic 4 minute melody that peaked my interest enough to seek out the record once it was available.  Highly difficult to find in the US for purchase in a record store, I resorted to Ebay.  In the meantime – Spotify.  The album teeters between indie pop and early-80s retro.  With vocals similar to Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and hair like Anthony Kiedis, Tom the Lion has got the potential to be a UK success story.

Stand out tracks:  Silent Partner, Ragdoll, Beholden

4 the war on drugs – lost in the dream

Bob Dylan voice is all the rage right now.

For quite some time I’ve been wondering where my generation’s “Bob Dylan Voice” was.  I did not intend to get a literal answer.  Such blatant comparisons to previous past musical icons is difficult to take seriously.  The War On Drugs is not only a conveniently timed name of an indie rock band but it is also a breath of fresh air in a convoluted generic pond of indie rock.  I wasn’t sure if I liked this record when I first listened to it, and now after several playbacks later I’m not sure if I hate it either.  It’s actually quite good.  Letterman had him first, but after their Tonight Show appearance  it seems that this is going to be the band that released the record in 2014 that all hipsters loved, and then in 2015 conveniently disassociated from while they replace it with El Ten Eleven dance beats.

Stand out tracks:  An Ocean In Between The Waves, Red Eyes, Eyes To The Wind

3 manchester orchestra – hope

Manchester Orchestra have been one of my favorite rock bands for several years.  They are the last band to succumb to my tendency to gravitate toward post-grunge.  Last year they released 11 songs of fist-pumping rock songs with Cope, and this year they reinvented those same songs with Hope.  It’s an interesting perspective to think your own creation needs reinterpretation less than one year later.  As much as I enjoy the Manchester Orchestra of the past, I am beginning to think that they are much more than the image that they have presented up to this point.  Hope is a beautiful piece of art toned down from the greatly impressive return to rock that Cope had given us.  Put the two together and I believe that you possess the best work by a rock band in the last two years.  Given the revealing state of 2014, the a-cappella track “See It Again” provides an intimate look into the question of whether the second-coming will ever provide relief for the failing human race. This record and its tone may suggest that the final chapter of Right Away Great Captain! may never come to be if Manchester Orchestra uses this new sound to catapult their accessibility.  Either way I do not mind.

Stand out tracks:  See It Again, Choose You, Girl Harbor

2 strand of oaks – heal

Intimate.  Honest.  Poetic.  Rock & Roll.  Nearly the best record of 2014.  This has everything a great album needs:  intimate lyrics, honesty, melodies, and a little hook.  Since discovering Heal I have listened to it at least a few times every week and have found some varying perspectives to consume the passionate lyrics and fluid structure of this record.  If you are seeking the music for the decade after the musicforthemorningafter then this is the record to hear.  Sometimes great albums need minimal explanation.  So, that is all.  Just go listen.

Stand out tracks:  Heal, JM, Goshen ’97

1 spoon – they want my soul

“I remember when you walked out of Garden State ’cause you had taste.”

That’s what Britt Daniel informs us of in the first track of the flip side of what turned out to be my favorite album of the year.  Spoon is the mathematical equation of popped collars minus douche plus some skips in your step divided by an indie sensibility of relevant rock and roll.  Eight records deep in a career destined to be one of my favorites, They Want My Soul will soon be seen as a piece of Spoon’s finest work.  The poetic subtleties of Daniels and the contributions of bass and guitar of Rob Pope, paired with the drum beats from long-time member Jim Eno, have brought a progressive evolution to Spoon’s sound.  This is my favorite Spoon record since Kill The Moonlight and I see it being a peak in a career that lack many valleys.

Stand out tracks:  New York Kiss, Knock Knock Knock, Do You