Wednesday, December 31, 2014
(20) Totem - Baton Rouge (Pure Pain Sugar/Bakery Outlet)
Baton Rouge are a band from Lyon, France that truly came out of nowhere to kick my ass. Totem is some good, dynamic emo that is heavy on the groove. The song structures are surprisingly straightforward and repetitive, but, the musicianship is relatively technical, considering. This isn't your typical twinkly emo, either, and I'm feeling hard pressed to come up with anyone to compare it to. It was most definitely THE grower of 2014.
Top jam: "Guetter les Ondees"
(19) Torch Song - Radiator Hospital (Salinas)
I liked Radiator Hospital's Something Wild last year, but, I'm way more into it now, and it would have ranked pretty high if I were to re-do that list now. But, I'm here to talk about this year's album, Torch Song, which is even better. Usually jangly, sometimes fuzzy guitar pop with exceptional melodies. Sam Cook Parrott knows his way around a hook, and surely can write a damn fine pop song. I'm not as much of a fan of the ballads, but, thankfully, there are considerably more rockers here. "Leather & Lace" is maybe the best album opener of the year, and "Midnight Nothing" could be the best closer.
Top jam: "Midnight Nothing"
(18) The Spirit of the Beehive - The Spirit of the Beehive (Ice Age/Ranch)
The Spirit of the Beehive's self-titled debut LP is yet another 2014 surprise. They are a Philadelphia band that features one of the guys from Glocca Morra (I'm having a hard time figuring out which one, but, it's one of the guitar players). This is some great dreamy shoegaze, less like like MBV and more like Swirlies and Lilys' Eccsame the Photon Band. Sparse and dynamic with both bendy and chimey guitars, smart melodies and tight-ass drumming. I'm most definitely looking forward to more from this young band in the future.
Top jam: "Roll Over"
(17) Dissed and Dismissed - Tony Molina (Slumberland)
Tony Molina is a Bay Area dude who has played in many hardcore bands. Dissed and Dismissed is his solo album originally released in 2013, and reissued in 2014 by Slumberland Records. This album has 12 songs, and averages less than one minute per song (it's running time is under 12 minutes). So, he uses the GBV/Joyce Manor strategy for writing songs, which is to include only the bare minimum in a song's structure, cutting all of the excess. This does not take away from the quality of Molina's songs, which pay lo-fi homage to early Weezer and Teenage Fanclub equally, guitar harmonies and rippin' solos and all.
Top jam: "Don't Come Back"
(16) Tropical Jinx - Little Big League (Run for Cover)
Like I said in my favorite EPs and 7"s list, I stupidly skipped on Little Big League's 2013 LP, These Are Good People. I didn't make the same mistake twice. I don't know that I'd consider this year's Tropical Jinx the better album, but, it is at least on par. They've matured a little bit in their take on 90s jagged indie rock guitars, but, they keep most of the tempos up and unleash all of those young-adult-trying-figure-life-out emotions. Michelle Zauner's vocals are attractively flawed and impassioned, and the upbeat drumming and bright guitar leads cut into the sadness enough to keep these songs in the realm of pop. I get a little bored by the end of the record, but, overall, it's another bad ass entry in the year in music. Oh, and they're from Philly. That city really killed it in 2014.
Top jam: "Dixie Gun"
(15) Vacation Vinny - Grass is Green (Exploding in Sound)
Boston's Grass is Green is part of the whole Exploding in Sound Records scene, which is pretty much a collection of bands deeply influenced by the more obscure side of 90s indie rock. One of their guitarists is also now in Speedy Ortiz. The first band that comes to mind when listening to Vacation Vinny is Polvo, but, Grass is Green is probably a little messier, albeit not quite as weird. The songs vary in volume and degree of noisiness, but they are generally complex, melodic guitar jams that hit the sweet spot for me.
Top jam: "Sammy So-Sick"
(14) Singles - Future Islands (4AD)
Early on in 2014, Future Islands performed "Seasons (Waiting on You)" on Late Show with David Letterman with singer dude singing and dancing like the awesome maniac that he is, and then took the music world by storm. "Seasons (Waiting on You)" is certainly the best song on their fourth LP, first for 4AD, Singles, and it may even be the song of the year, but, the rest of the album isn't too shabby, either. This is some glorious synth pop with driving bass (played on an actual bass guitar, which is a really nice touch) and Samuel T. Herring's signature gruff crooning. I didn't get these guys before this album, and I really want to work my way backward and see what I think.
Top jam: "Seasons (Waiting on You)"
(13) Brill Bruisers - The New Pornographers (Matador)
Supergroup The New Pornographers returned to form in 2014 with Brill Bruisers. It's their best since 2005's Twin Cinema, and, I am very grateful for this after 2010's snoozefest, Together. Carl Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar are all back at the top of their songwriting game, and of course their melodies and harmonies are spectacular. The production is enormous, which works really well for their slightly modified, futuristic power pop sound. A new albums of theirs and the quality thereof was a pleasant surprise, and even more so that I ended up liking the album as much as I do.
Top jam: "Wide Eyes"
(12) Pup - Pup (Side One Dummy)
I owe thanks to my friend Sean Clancy for getting me into Pup by posting a song from their self-titled debut full length on another friends Facebook wall. They're a melodic punk rock band from Toronto, and this record was originally released in Canada in 2013, and Side One Dummy released it to the States this year. These songs are a bit too complicated and varied to be considered straight up pop punk, but, there is plenty of pop sensibility amongst the chaos. The musicianship here is inspiring, and even if some of the songs are a little too dramatic for me, I appreciate that Pup sound relatively unique going against the sound of a lot of other punk bands this year. I'm not sure what direction the band will be going in next, but, count me in.
Top jam: "Guilt Trip"
(11) Foulbrood - Two Inch Astronaut (Exploding in Sound)
Here's a 2014 record that I got into last minute. Two Inch Astronaut are another Exploding in Sound band, hailing from Maryland. Two complaints: (1) Considering their sound (angular, knotty, somewhat mathy guitar rock), the drum sound should be bigger and better, and, (2) they really blew their load with the opening track, "Foulbrood." It is far and away the best song on the record, and would be a contender for song of the year, if I were keeping track. Don't get me wrong, the rest of the record absolutely rules too, or else it wouldn't have landed so high on this list. I'm just sayin'.
Top jam: "Foulbrood"
(10) Salad Days - Mac DeMarco (Captured Tracks)
Mac DeMarco captured the hearts of many a hipster with his two 2012 albums, Rock and Roll Night Club and 2. I liked some of the songs on those releases, but, wasn't entirely won over until Salad Days. This album of smooth soft rock tunes rules. The rhythm section grooves and the bright guitars jangle. DeMarco's melodies are hard to get out of your head. There are definitely some songs that are better than others (title track, "Let Her Go," "Passing Out Pieces"), but, as a whole, Salad Days is a consistently great album.
Top jam: "Salad Days"
(9) If Anything - Greys (Carpark)
Thanks to Ryan Allen for the tip on Toronto's Greys. Loud, yell-y punk rock that recalls Fugazi and early Nirvana, to name a few. There isn't really much else to say. If Anything rips.
Top jam: "Flip Yr Lid"
(8) Famous Graves - Cheap Girls (Xtra Mile)
Lansing's Cheap Girls are back again with another quality LP of throwback alternative rock in the vein of Gin Blossoms and The Lemonheads. I really liked 2012's Giant Orange, however, between the songwriting and improved production, Famous Graves is even better. Good fuzz, good riffs, good melodies.
Top jam: "Short Cut Days"
Couldn't find a stream of this song, or my second favorite song, so here's my third fav, "Amazing Grace."
(7) The Sky as Well as Space - Memory Map (Joyful Noise)
I last wrote about Memory Map on my 2010 year-end list. Finally, the Bloomington, IN supergroup made up of members from Good Luck, Prayer Breakfast and Push-Pull (producer extraordinaire and Lil' Bub owner Mike Bridavsky) return with a follow-up LP, and it is a doozy. While The Sky as Well as Space wasn't quite as immediate for me as Holiday Band was, it's a more mature effort (though, slightly less consistent, too) with more variation in sound. The band has calmed and mellowed a bit, while maintaining their tangled, intricate guitar pop sound. I prefer the more urgent vibes on Holiday Band, but, not significantly. This is probably the most Quillen-rock album on this whole list.
Top jam: "Hunger Poem"
(6) They Want My Soul - Spoon (Loma Vista)
I did not like having to wait four years for another Spoon record, but, They Want My Soul makes it worth it. For the first time, at least in a long while, they recorded with someone outside (Dave Fridmann!), and that was my initial concern, but, the record sounds fantastic. For the most part, it is a subtle and diverse rock and roll record that utilizes space better than anyone out there. This is all typical of Spoon. They do experiment with synthesizers, samples and electronic drum beats, putting a new twist on their tradition. "Inside Out," "Do You," "They Want My Soul" and "Let Me Be Mine" rank among their greatest songs.
Top jam: "Do You"
(5) Pom Pom - Ariel Pink (4AD)
I don't really understand the difference between an Ariel Pink solo record and a Haunted Graffiti one, as Pom Pom just sounds like the next step in his outstanding run of bizarre, sexual, impossible to define, psychedelic pop music. I thought 2012's Mature Themes was weird, but, somehow, Pink one-ups himself on Pom Pom. At 17 songs, it's a lot to digest, and there are certainly songs that aren't very good, however, they play a role in the album's flow, and they are necessary. The obnoxious, hard to follow, yet stellar "Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade" and "White Freckles" make for an awesome opening. "Dinosaur Carebears" and "Sexual Athletics" are two of the craziest, most difficult songs in all of their genre bending, but, they both have moments of pure brilliance. Lastly, "Put Your Number in My Phone," "One Summer Night," "Black Ballerina" and "Dayzed Inn Daydreams" became all-time favorite Ariel Pink songs for me. It took a little while for me to wholly grasp this record, and, I'm glad that I do now.
Top jam: "Black Ballerina"
(4) Benji - Sun Kil Moon (Caldo Verde)
Based on the year Mark Kozelek had, plus the stories of how much of a jerk he seems that I've heard from friends who have seen him live, he is not someone that I would ever care to interact with. That being said, amid all the obnoxious trolling he did, he happened to also release the first record that I absolutely loved in 2014. Benji is stunning. It is a brutally honest, soul crushing, beautifully sparse folk record that I will revisit many a fall. It really only has one flaw: that it's too long. Everybody talks about the pulverizing, depressing, sometimes embarrassing lyrics, but, Koz's rich voice and fluid guitar playing has always been the draw to any Sun Kil Moon album for me. And, when Steve Shelley's drums kick in on "Dogs" and "Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes," those are my favorite parts.
Top jam: "Dogs"
(3) Glass Boys - Fucked Up (Matador)
I was under the impression that 2011's best album (and possibly the greatest album so far this decade), David Comes to Life, was going to be Fucked Up's final album. So, when Glass Boys was announced, I was thrilled. It showcases more of their epic, melodic hardcore punk, this time at a manageable length and minus all the conceptual stuff. Sure, it's not as good, but, it's still excellent. Per usual, Damian Abraham's shrieks and screams offer a nice contrast to all the major key chord progressions and catchy, singable guitar leads. The highlights are "Sun Glass," "The Art of Patrons," "Paper the House," "Led by Hand" and the closer/title track. What sets Glass Boys apart from other Fucked Up records is the multiple drum tracking gimmick. If I remember correctly, Jonah Falco recording four takes of drums for each song: two at double-time, two at half-time. As a drummer, I love that shit.
Top jam: "Paper the House"
(2) Under Color of Official Right - Protomartyr (Hardly Art)
I was a little late to the Promotartyr game. Their debut LP, No Passion All Technique, was released in late 2012, and for some reason I convinced myself to let it count toward 2013 so I could include it in my year-end list. I was looking forward to the 2014 follow-up, Under Color of Official Right, and it exceeded my expectations so much that it landed in the #2 spot. As much as I loved Glass Boys, it is a huge drop-off from this. Protomartyr merge garage rock guitars with bouncy post-punk bass and drums. Throw in Joe Casey's tired, bored drawl and you have quite a unique sound. It's hard to point out specific elements that make this such a great record. The musicianship is perfect for these songs, as is the production. I don't know what else to say. Under Color of Official Right completely blew my mind, and I'm looking forward to whatever these boys do next. It's been a while since I've been so excited about a Michigan band.
Top jam: "Ain't So Simple"
(1) Never Hungover Again - Joyce Manor (Epitaph)
Here it is, my favorite album of 2014. It would have been my favorite of 2013, too. 2012? Not so much, but, hey, you can't win 'em all. I very much enjoy Joyce Manor's 2012 album, Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, more and more still as time goes on, too. Never Hungover Again, though, takes them to a whole other level. They don't cover as many different punk sub-genres here, but, the melodies, guitar leads and overall songwriting and performance are leaps and bounds better. Yes, this is emo-y pop punk, but, it is also much more than that. Not only is Never Hungover Again the smartest, best sounding record of 2014, and one that I still think about and crave all the time; it is an instant classic.
Top jam: "Falling in Love Again"
Monday, December 29, 2014
(40) Rabid Moon - Acid Fast (Protagonist)
Acid Fast is an Oakland, CA punk rock band made up of former members of Big Kids (one of the earlier Topshelf bands). Rabid Moon was one of the first records I listened to in 2014. Generally, these songs remind me of a mix of Jawbreaker and early Archers of Loaf's punkier moments. I had actually sort of forgotten about it until I was prepping to make this list.
Top jam: "Tease"
(39) Barragan - Blonde Redhead (Kobalt)
I'm no Blonde Redhead professional, but, I'm aware that I've done things all wrong with them. I have neglected 2004's Misery is a Butterfly and everything before then, and will be changing that soon. What I have spent time with, their last two records (23 and Penny Sparkle) are not particularly good. Barragan, however, is some really good, subtle, artsy weirdo pop. The first two-thirds of it are amazing, and I could see the remainder of it growing even more on me in time. More than Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, I feel like this is the closest we got to a Radiohead record this year.
Top jam: "Cat on Tin Roof"
(38) Two - Owls (Polyvinyl)
There had been rumors of an Owls reunion for a couple years. I'm just still shocked that it really happened and they released a sophomore LP in 2014. Victor Villareal, Sam Zurick and the Kinsella brothers return to the flowing, waterfall guitars, sometimes pocket, sometimes off-kilter bass and drumming, and impossible to follow time signatures of their 2001 self-titled Jade Tree effort. This time, the songs are darker, and I miss Steve Albini's production. But, yeah, pretty cool to have these guys back.
Top jam: "I'm Surprised..."
(37) Shrink Dust - Chad VanGaalen (Sub Pop)
I really liked Chad VanGaalen's 2008 album, Soft Airplane, but, nothing he's done since (outside of producing the two Women records) has been on the same level. His latest, Shrink Dust, is good enough to crack my top 40, though. It is not particularly weird or challenging in the way that Soft Airplane is, but, that's okay. It's a good mix of haunting backwoods folk and 60s psych pop. I am a huge fan of VanGaalen's voice.
Top jam: "All Will Combine"
(36) Bros Canoeing! - Monument (self-released)
Maryland catchy, technical emo band Monument has called it quits, but, I greatly appreciate the artifact they've left behind in Bros Canoeing! I've been aware of this band for a couple of years, but, this was my first time diving in. It's not overtly twinkly, noodly or mathy, but, it's complex in the way I like enough to stick out against a lot of the other emo records from this year. I'd wager that these dudes were listening to a lot of Frame and Canvas when writing these songs.
Top jam: "Rich Girl Pt. 2"
(35) Lost in the Dream - The War on Drugs (Secretly Canadian)
This is one of the most overrated albums of 2014, and I strongly prefer 2011's Slave Ambient. Still, Lost in the Dream is totally good. The War on Drugs are still doing the shoegazey Springsteen/Dylan/Young thing, this time with more synthesizers and some 80s production flourishes thrown in. At 10 tracks and more than an hour of running time, this is too long of a record, but, I am a forgiving human.
Top jam: "Red Eyes"
(34) Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son - Damien Jurado (Secretly Canadian)
I have a lot of friends who have been hip to Damien Jurado for various lengths of time, but, all of them longer than myself. I enjoyed 2012's Maraqopa, and this year's Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son is even better. These are some utterly beautiful folk songs, but, as much as I like Jurado's unique vocals, Richard Swift's wall of sound production is the best thing going here. Does he get a lot of Neil Young comparisons? It seems like he might. Hey Damien Jurado fans, if I were to go back to a pre-Maraqopa album, which one should I start with?
Top jam: "Silver Timothy"
(33) After the End - Merchandise (4AD)
Merchandise have made the jump from moody, noisy, ambient, lo-fi post-punk band to accessible, still moody some of the time, mega-produced pop band with a stadium-sized sound. Singer Carson Cox still Morrisseys all over the place, vocally, and that sits in well with this newer material, as the Smiths/Cure/New Order influences come through a little clearer. Admittedly, After the End didn't quite meet my expectations (which were maybe unfairly high), but, I still dig it. "Enemy," "Green Lady," and "Little Killer" are three of the best songs I've heard all year.
Top jam: "Little Killer"
(32) More Than Any Other Day - Ought (Constellation)
Ought is a newer Montreal band who released their first full length in 2014. I didn't really get More Than Any Other Day at first, but, it grew on me with every listen (the most recent time, it was actually pretty mind-blowing). The band mixes 80s post-punk and DC-style art-punk with some elements of Sonic Youth to craft a totally unique sound. Sometimes the talky and out of tune vocals aren't my thing, but, then sometimes they totally rule. I love when an album deceives me at first, and then I finally come around to it.
Top jam: "The Weather Song"
(31) Cheatahs - Cheatahs (Wichita)
Last year, London's Cheatahs re-released two EPs together as the Extended Plays collection, and it was my fourth favorite album of 2014. Thus, my expectations were very high for this year's self-titled full length debut. It did not match said expectations (this always seems to be the theme of the early portion of my year-end music lists), but, yes, it's good. Perhaps it's a more consistent version of their slightly Swervedriver-inspired shoegaze pop. Closer, "Loon Calls," is THE jam.
Top jam: "Loon Calls"
(30) Heartleap - Vashti Bunyan (Fat Cat)
Heartleap is Vashti Bunyan's third record, her first since 2005's Lookaftering, and second since 1970's (!) Just Another Diamond Day. So, yeah, she's been around for a good while, despite her limited and ridiculously spread out discography. She is said to have been the primary inspiration for the mid-2000s "freak folk" movement, which, typically would rub me the wrong way (though, I really like The Milk-Eyed Mender). She entered my radar a few years ago when I finally got into Prospect Hummer, her collaboration EP with Animal Collective. Regarding the album at hand, these are some sparse, straightforward folk songs showcasing Bunyan's breathy, tired vocals, which are quite nice. I don't really know what else to say, except that Heartleap is gorgeous, and these are some prime fall jams.
Top jam: "Across the Water"
(29) Everything/Nothing - Hurry (Hot Green)
Yet another Philadelphia band, Hurry is the project of quality poppy emo dudes Everyone Everywhere's Matt Scottoline. Straight up fuzz pop with big guitars, simple drums, and plenty of hooks. What Everything/Nothing lacks in variety, it makes up for in the solid melodies and tasteful guitar solos. Also, "Oh Whitney" is one of the best songs of the year.
Top jam: "Oh Whitney"
(28) Sea When Absent - A Sunny Day in Glasgow (Lefse)
A Sunny Day in Glasgow are a band that is impossible to define, particularly on their latest, Sea When Absent. They tend to get the dream pop and shoegaze tags thrown at them a bit, and I can definitely hear that (more so in their previous material), but, they don't really sound like anything else out there right now. It's extremely rare these days to sound as unique as they do, and that's what a thing to have going for you. This record has boy/girl vocals, some chimey guitars, crazy sounding drums and lots of synths and samples. If that sounds appealing to you, then, I recommend you listen to it.
Top jam: "Oh, I'm a Wrecker (What to Say to Crazy People)"
(27) Rips - Ex Hex (Merge)
My expectations for Mary Timony's (Helium/Autoclave/Wild Flag) new band, Ex Hex, were through the roof. Unfortunately, their debut full length, Rips, lands on the long list of 2014 albums that didn't entirely live up to the hype for me (I'm sounding like a broken record, I know). Of course, it's still really good. Gone are the heavy 90s indie rock vibes, and their place is a catchy garage rock sound with wailing guitar leads. "Hot and Cold" is another one of 2014's best songs.
Top jam: "Hot and Cold"
(26) Bon Voyage - Sport (Pike)
France's Sport put out the best beard-emo album of the year in Bon Voyage. The album's 11 tracks (well, with the exception of the intro) are generally loud and fast, but, with dynamics more typical of the 90s midwest emo scene than the Gainesville, Florida punk one. Lots of emotive, melodic yelling and guitar noodling, with some finger-tapping and open chords to boot. I totally get it if this style is not your thing. I'm pretty picky about it, myself, but, when a band does it this well, I'm a fan.
Top jam: "Charlotte Cooper"
(25) Too Shabby - Rozwell Kid (Broken World)
Here's another pleasant surprise album. On Too Shabby, Rozwell Kid do big hooks, heavy distortion and all sorts of nods and winks to early Weezer, The Rentals, and sometimes even early Smashing Pumpkins. They seem to tour with emo bands, and I can hear a slight element of that in some of the songs, but, not much. The album's production is of the highest quality, and, I think with more time, it would have ranked higher.
Top jam: "Sick Jackets"
(24) Beauty & Ruin - Bob Mould (Merge)
Beauty & Ruin is basically Bob Mould's Silver Age (2012), part two. It sounds like his early-90s band Sugar. Loud, upbeat rock songs, with a ballad or two thrown in for good measure. Two bad songs, and ten that are at least good, some even great. Can you tell that I'm growing bored writing this shit? This does not bode well for the remaining 23 albums.
Top jam: "Hey Mr. Grey"
(23) Tomorrow's Hits - The Men (Sacred Bones)
Last year's New Moon was a boring let down after 2012's Open Your Heart. Thankfully, The Men are back at it with Tomorrow's Hits. Not that it sounds anything like their louder, Sonic Youth/post-punk days, but, you know what I mean. This has got some country, some classic rock, and even a smidge of blues, making it an alcohol-infused dad-rock record if there ever was one. It sounds like CCR, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen.
Top jam: "Another Night"
(22) Boys - Herzog (Exit Stencil)
Herzog came out of nowhere to release an excellent exercise in power pop. Peppy, upbeat jams with blaring guitars and uber-catchy melodies. Within a song, they can go from sounding like Weezer, to T. Rex, to Thin Lizzy. Boys is a ver fun record.
Top jam: "Teenage Metalhead"
(21) Hoodwink'd - LVL UP (Double Double Whammy/Exploding in Sound)
Hoodwink'd is LVL UP's second album, and it has 15 songs, which is usually too many, but, is not much longer than a half-hour, so it's cool. Also, the songs rule. It's like marijuana-induced 90s slacker indie rock. Some songs are uptempo and jangly, some are slower and sort of like Pavement minus the guitar heroics. They even sing about Silver Jews.
Top jam: "I Feel Extra-Natural"
Friday, December 26, 2014
(15) Belvidere 7" - Casanovas in Heat (Katorga Works)
Casanovas in Heat came out of nowhere and kicked my ass with this 7". Think 80s college rock and power pop ala Husker Du and The Replacements with a Buzzcocks edge. It would be real nice if they released a full length in 2015.
Top jam: "Destiny St."
(14) Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street EP - Beach Slang (Tiny Engines)
The blatantly early 90s alternative rock sounding vocals and ridiculous lyrics are a bit much, but, I don't really have anything else to complain about with Beach Slang. They seem to get constant comparisons to A Boy Named Goo, and okay, that's clever and a little bit true and also really gimmicky. I'll be honest, I'm only really familiar with "Name," "Iris" and the hits from Dizzy Up the Girl, so, to me, this sounds like emo Replacements, and it is awesome. Fuzzy guitars playing open chords and excellent melodies to boot. Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street was the second EP the band released in 2014. More on that later.
Top jam: "All Fuzzed Out"
(13) Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts Into Tears EP - Krill (Exploding in Sound)
I guess I'd say Krill's follow-up to last year's quite good Lucky Leaves is an improvement, but, it's really just more of the same with slightly better production. Moody, zany, noodly, sometimes discordant and concept-heavy, but, also sometimes melodic and upbeat guitar pop with an insane sounding person singing. This EP also has a song called "Turd" on it, and I think it might actually be about poop in a way? Anyway, looking forward to next year's full length.
Top jam: "Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts Into Tears"
(12) Scary Stories You Tell in the Dark EP - Donovan Wolfington (Topshelf)
I was pleasantly surprised by last year's Stop Breathing LP, and on Donovan Wolfington's latest, the Scary Stories You Tell in the Dark EP, they continue to merge emo noodling with pop punk trajectory. This time they up the amount of early 90s alternative rock fuzz on their guitars, and there you have it. The EP's production is a little off to me, but, not enough to take away from how good the music is. One more thing: this band seems unfairly talented for how young they look.
Top jam: "Alone"
(11) Hard of Hearing EP - Dream Version (self-released)
My friend and former bandmate Alec Jensen is a music genius. I've written about him on here before. Dream Version is his new band with fellow Chicago musicians (and teachers!), and this is a little two-song digital release they unleashed on the internet early on in 2014. Jensen is probably the most talented songwriter I know, and he has found the perfect set of guys to help formulate his vision and add their own awesome character to the songs. Both "Hard of Hearing" and "Escape Your Escape" are pure pop/rock bliss with perfect melodies and arrangements. This is some truly pro shit. I am proud, and absolutely cannot wait for their full length coming in early 2015.
Top jam: "Hard of Hearing"
(10) Loose Planes EP - Loose Planes (6131)
Loose Planes are another friend band, though I only know one of the guys in it (Brent Mosser, formerly of one of my all-time favorite local Detroit bands, The Word Play). Also featured here are dudes from established and popular pop punk and emo bands like Fireworks, Make Do and Mend and Hampshire. They also released two EPs this year, the first of which (this one) got picked up and released by 6131 Records. This could be lazily categorized as pop punk, but, I think it has a little more of a Superchunk sound with slight nods to Dinosaur Jr. All four songs are great, but, "Licking Cement" is one of my favorites of the year.
Top jam: "Licking Cement"
(9) Dogs on Acid EP - Dogs on Acid (Ranch)
Dogs on Acid are a newer Philadelphia punk band featuring dudes who were in disbanded emo greats Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing and Glocca Morra (just found out they're breaking up, and I am crushed). These guys are considerably less noodly than those three bands, and I don't think they fit the emo tag exclusively (though, sure, there is an element of that in their sound). I'd say they're heading more in an Archers of Loaf sort of direction, but, brighter and poppier? These two songs rule, and I have a 7" on Asian Man to look forward to in 2015.
Top jam: "Waiting for You to Come Home"
(8) Underlay EP - Twerps (Merge/Chapter)
Travis Bravender tipped me off to Twerps a couple months ago. This is some extremely good jangly guitar pop that leans more toward 60s psych/garage pop like The Byrds and The Dovers than 80s jangle pop. A song from their forthcoming 2015 LP that was released late this year sounds like The Bats and The Feelies, though, so maybe they're going that way. Anyway, all of the songs on Underlay are good, half of them are great.
Top jam: "Conditional Report"
(7) Who Would Want Anything So Broken? EP - Beach Slang (Dead Broke)
Who Would Want Anything So Broken? is the first 2014 Beach Slang EP that I alluded to earlier. Same sound as the second one, however, different songs, obviously. I really like all four songs, but, "Get Lost" especially kills.
Top jam: "Get Lost"
(6) Split 7" - Little Big League/Ovlov (Tiny Engines)
The only split to make this list is a doozy. I had regretfully slept on Little Big League's excellent 2013 debut LP, These Are Good People, until I saw them live at Bled Fest back on Memorial Day weekend and purchased it there. They're not doing exactly the same thing as Speedy Ortiz, but, they are kindred spirits in the game of jagged, intertwining guitar dueling and front-women. "Year of the Sunhouse" and "Pure Bliss Choices" are two of their best songs. Ovlov's Am was my second favorite record of 2013, and they had a solid 2014 campaign, contributing to three different split releases. "The Great Crocodile," without question their best song of the year, continues in their MBV-meets-Dinosaur Jr. tradition, only with better production (better technically... I strongly prefer the fuzzed out, lo-fi mess that is Am).
Top jam: "The Great Crocodile" (Ovlov)
(5) The World is a Terrible Place & I Hate Myself and Want to Die EP - The Weaks (Lame-o)
The Weaks were a random discovery of mine, and I can't quite remember how it came about. Of course, they're another Philly punk band, and according to one picture I saw on the internet, I think Peter from Algernon Cadwallader/Dogs on Acid/Business Models was involved somehow at some point? I assume that the title of this EP, The World is a Terrible Place & I Hate Myself and Want to Die is a satirical nod to the popular emo/post-rock band The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die? Anyway, these six songs are fantastic, super catchy punk rock that varies in volume and tempo. "Nietzche's Harvest Song" and "How to Put an Audience to Sleep in Under Two Minutes" are the cream of the crop, bringing to a mind a louder version of Nothing Feels Good-era The Promise Ring with beard-punk vocals.
Top jam: "Nietzche's Harvest Song"
(4) Cassette EP - Viet Cong (Mexican Summer)
I am really pumped about this band. Viet Cong is made up of Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace (aka the rhythm section of the unfortunately short-lived and incredible Women) and two other guitar dudes. Mexican Summer reissued their 2013 cassette EP this year with the addition of a Bauhaus cover. Like Women, Viet Cong shift between haunting and discordant and warm and catchy. I have the 2013 version, so excluding the Bauhaus cover, the first four songs are gorgeous, chimey odes to 60s sunshine pop and 80s jangle pop. Without question, these are the best songs. "Structureless Design" is a dark post-punk jam, and then closer, "Choose Your Drone," meshes the two sounds before imploding into a wall of psychedelic noise. Can't wait for next year's full length!
Top jam: "Oxygen Feed"
(3) Real Hair EP - Speedy Ortiz (Carpark)
Speedy Ortiz followed up my favorite album of 2013, Major Arcana, perfectly with the Real Hair EP. Jagged, interwoven guitars with subtle, but driving bass and tastefully intricate drumming. More of those Archers of Loaf, Helium and Exile in Guyville vibes. These songs are bigger thanks to 90s alt-rock producer Paul Q. Kolderie, and it is a seamless and wonderful thing. Just another day for Speedy O. This band kicks so much ass.
Top jam: "Shine Theory"
(2) Separate EP - Roomrunner (Accidental Guest)
Roomrunner were hard pressed to surpass the quality of Ideal Cities, my third favorite record in 2013. But, they did it. Awesomely recorded by J. Robbins, Separate is less Bleach, and more, I don't know... a lot of things, I guess. Not that Ideal Cities is a one-trick Nirvana rip-off, but, it just seems like this EP draws from a wider array of influences. Chavez, Shiner, Hum and Swervedriver (and sure, In Utero) come to mind, except heavier, a little more straightforward (I said a little) and with simpler melodies. It's just about perfect, as every song is great, particularly "Chrono Trigger" (the tribute to the great SNES RPG in the title is most definitely not the only awesome thing about it).
Top jam: "Chrono Trigger"
(1) Kick EP - Sundials (Topshelf)
If I were to re-do my best of 2012 albums list, Sundials' When I Couldn't Breathe would rank a lot higher now (maybe even breaking into the top five). These boys know how to write a song that is structurally tricky, but chock-full of hooks and tremendous melodies. Kick is my favorite EP of 2014. It is an exceptional merging of pop punk and college rock. It is fuzz pop. It is jangle punk. It is what it is: a collection of six perfect songs.
Top jam: "Kick"