The year is over, but it left behind some great music. I write about music. Compiling a list of what I consider the greatest music released in 2014 is therefore obligatory (and admittedly quite fun, albeit exhausting and stressful, to figure out).
Keep in mind this isn’t necessarily a list of the beat music released this year. That sort of thing is wildly subjective and open to interpretation. Rather, consider this the best music to me: the best because of how much it all impacted my year as well as how much I believe it will impact many years to come. If you don’t believe me, click on the artist/ album name to listen on Spotify.
Let’s start with the best:
1) Weatherbox – Flies in All Directions
Let’s start things off with a confession. Up until Flies in All Directions I never listened to Weatherbox. I know, I’m sorry. Although bigger mistakes have been made, most pale in comparison to this gross negligence on my part. What brainchild Brain Warren creates with Weatherbox is a weird, frantic acid-rock trip that careens unexpectedly one minute to the next. Flies in All Directions starts on an abruptly uproarious opening, racing through spastic but articulately crafted tracks to a bipolar finish that seemingly bores itself and completely shifts gears on a whim before bowing out in spectacular fashion. It’s a record that never fails to surprise and, simply put, it’s the record that got me into Weatherbox and through the year.
2) Run River North – Run River North
Run River North (though you may know the band by their previous name—Monsters Calling Home) is easily the best folk rock band out there: consisting of classically trained musicians. The group’s instrumental and vocal mastery couple to craft beautiful, ornate tracks packed with intricately layered elements that burst with heart. Run River North, the album of the same name, bounces effortlessly from full-bodied, bluesy rock to acapella harmonies, majestic string arrangements, and gang chants…and that’s all in just one song. Though their true charm, like most, lies in their live act. Run River North captures enough spirited showmanship to ensure an immediate sense of comfort and familiarity within their precisely constructed tracks. It’s hard to believe that this is only their debut record. Expect big things from this band that sounds way too versed to be this young.
3) Merriment – Sway
I official decree Sway the sleeper indie album of the year. Though it rests serenely in mid-tempo territory (think lazy, but blissful afternoon vibes), it’s poppy enough to keep you swaying (pun). With heavy draws of southern spirit and folk sensibility providing a healing dose of heart, Sway was my go to soothe record this year. Somehow I’ve gotten this far without mentioning Christie Dupree’s angelic voice. Her delicately flowing vocals alongside their simple yet captivating instrumental accompaniment make this an easy-going affair for days when you need to unwind and relax—or any day really.
4) Aaron West & the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other
When The Wonder Years’ vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell takes a crack at writing the great American novel, it takes the form a soul-crushing, blues-folk concept album that’s a little punk and a lot of Americana. We Don’t Have Each Other follows the completely fictitious, but no less impactful story of Aaron West as he deals with heartbreak, divorce, reluctance and finding hope amidst it all. Campbell masterfully tells the tale with weepy vocal delivery, weaving his alter ego narrative within stripped cuts of acoustic peppered alongside furious folk-punk tracks that wouldn’t be strangers at a Wonder Years show: slow and brooding at times, racing (though, I guess, still brooding) at others. This is a record for those who like drowning their broken hearts in a bottle of whiskey while driving off into the sunset.
5) Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
Modern Baseball is like no other band I’ve heard. Sure, you can lump the raw energy of their live show in with the pop punk crowd; slap the emo revival stamp on their foreheads due to the unpredictably structured songwriting; or cite their influential cues—American Football, Weezer, and even fellow Philadelphians, The Wonder Years. Still, between their cleverly blunt lyrics, offbeat vocal delivery, and rough but somehow laid back vibe, they bring the party like no one else. Listening to this record feels like kicking back with a beer, playing video games with friends, and driving around aimlessly just for the hell of it. Coincidentally that exactly how I spent my time listening to Modern Baseball this year.
6) Emarosa – Versus
I can’t think of any modern band that so effortlessly reinvented themselves than Emarosa. With the simple swapping of singers, from the notorious Johnny Craig to the soulful Bradley Walden (ex-Squid The Whale), the group completely changed up their, well, everything. With Versus, they throw out the past, the wandering guitar soundscapes and the vocal showboating, giving way to a sound that’s more immediate and powerful than ever before. In doing so Emarosa transformed from abstract to a tightly focused rock spectacle. Of course, it’d be impossible to not mention Walden’s formidable power. His vocal prowess constantly has me shaking my head wondering how he managed to belt out such an incredible and impossible note. Then, without giving you a second to speculate, he does it again, again, and again. Versus is a record that feel like a classic already: like one I’ve somehow known for years. The exciting part about this is that, for this current iteration of Emarosa, this is only the beginning of something truly great.
7) Fireworks – Oh, Common Life
Fireworks frontman David Pest may very well be the best singer in the pop-punk circuit at the moment. It’s appropriate since he may very well be fronting the best, and most inventive, group of the genre right now. With a career that began in the typical punk style of racing to an album’s close, the group’s been steadily shifting to a grander (and, yes, poppier) sound devoid of typical genre conventions. Not content to crank out 12 tracks of power chords and rapid shouts, Oh, Common Life is much less immediate than its predecessors. That slow burn though, that trickling growth in your mind, steadily builds into an obsession. Unlike other punk albums that burn bright and fast, this one flickers: catching steadily until it engulfs you entirely without warning. The album will end and you’ll think that means it’s over. Then you’ll feel a song swell up in your brain and, almost on impulse, the needle will drop and the record will begin again. It’s that special connection, the one that bridges the gap between music listening and music experience, that makes Oh, Common Life worth the slow burn.
8) Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Against Me! got back their grit. After spending the past two consecutive album runs riding the new wave, the group found their fury and embraced their low-fi punk origins. Call it a return to form, a comeback, or whatever you want. Just know that Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a rough and dirty endeavor that will leave you scuffed up and covered in bruises, but begging for more. Gone are the borderline radio friendly cuts and pseudo ballads. They’ve been replaced with ragged and pissed off tracks about self-respect in a world full off hatred. All of them delivered with vocalist Laura Jane Grace’s trademark snarl.
9) From Indian Lakes – Absent Sounds
It’s probably unfair to say that From Indian Lakes dialed things back from their previous endeavor, Able Bodies. Sure, they’ve toned down the weight of their guitars, eliminated the weirdly throaty scream/yelps, and generally made things quieter. Don’t take that to mean a once formidable rock outfit deferred to chill acoustics or whispering ambience though. Instead they refocused their sound and tweaked it to a formula that feels much more befitting. Let’s call it, for lack of a better word, poppier: think upbeat and snappy without relying on edge or gruffness. It’s strange that, by simplifying, the band has never sounded so vibrant and interesting. Newfound lushness and a focus on creative diversity go a long way to make this an album that’s, if not immediate, than slowly engrossing.
10) Manchester Orchestra – Cope/ Hope
I don’t think anyone expecting them to go full fuzz rock when Manchester Orchestra announced Cope as their hardest record to date. It’s exhausting in the beat way possible: never letting up from start to finish, always chugging harshly along, pausing only for a quick breath between tracks. Flipping the material on its head, the band also reworked the entire album into Hope, a completely stripped back version that’s haunting, reverent—almost gospel sounding—and the polar opposite of the alternative source. Pair the two together for a whiplash of quiet contemplation bursting into sonic disruption or, my preferable order, to take a calm rest after the storm.
…and now for the rest (minus the Spotify links this time):
11) Prawn – Kingfisher
12) Say Anything – Hebrews
13) Tigers on Trains - Antarctica in Color
14) The Honey Trees – Bright Fire
15) Driver Friendly – Unimagined Bridges
16) Copeland – Ixora
17) The Menzingers – Rented World
18) You Blew It – Keep Doing What You’re Doing
19) Charlie Simpson - Long Road Home
20) Chuck Ragan – Till Midnight
21) This Wild Life – Clouded
22) Andrew Jackson Jihad - Christmas Island
23) Chet Faker - Built on Glass
24) First Aid Kit - Stay Gold
25) Vacationer – Relief
26) Taylor Swift – 1989
27) Braid – No Coast
28) Somos – Temple of Plenty
29) Circa Survive – Descensus
30) Bleachers – Strange Desire