Bradley's Almanac

[Nac Faves] My Favorite LPs of 2014

Posted on December 31, 2014 at 9:09 pm | 3 Comments

Close the book on another year, an unsettling one that won’t be missed by too many people I know. Myself included. Burn the old calendar, hang up the new one, shoot for some fresh starts and better perspectives. Hope may have been in short supply in 2014, but new-music-as-antidote sure wasn’t, so here are the long-players that made me feel better over the past 12 months.

As in previous years, it’s 20-ish favorite full-lengths in alphabetical order, along with some honorable mentions. I’ve never been a fan of relative ranking, nor whittling down to an arbitrary number, so don’t go arguing with me – I’m not saying these are the best, I’m saying they’re my favorites. Can’t argue with that. I’ll hopefully follow this up in a few days with a run down of some EPs, 7-inches, reissues, and live shows that stood out above the rest.

(the star of The Daily Tater)

Remarkably, I believe this was the first time in 14 years of keeping track that every single album I adored was available on vinyl. Makes me very happy, that does. What didn’t change was my predictable label-loyalty: Merge, Slumberland, Polyvinyl, Teen-Beat, Captured Tracks, all represented. As they probably will be next year. If we’re lucky.

My Favorite Music of 2014

Allo Darlin’“We Come From The Same Place”
[ on Slumberland Records ]

Another shining indie pop gem from these Londoners, and the soundtrack to a couple of very special nights this year, when the band I’m in got to open the final two dates of their month-long North American tour. To hear their new songs live in two very different venues was a real treat, and something I won’t soon forget.

Stream at Bandcamp / Buy at Slumberland

Alvvaysself-titled debut LP
[ on Polyvinyl Records ]

Okay, I’m going to try real hard not to gush here, but hyperbole is hard to resist: Toronto quintet Alvvays has crafted an absolutely stunning debut, one that captures everything I love about indie pop-rock: Infectious, uplifting guitar lines intertwined with gorgeous, often melancholy vocals that hit me straight in the heart. Molly Rankin’s melodies get lodged in your brain and linger for days, and even as I write this the songs are bouncing ’round my head. Perfect production and song arrangement, a remarkable attention to sonic detail, and dynamics that never feel forced. I love everything about this record, I could go on and on and on, but I’ll pick out one moment: There’s a spot near the end of “Party Police“, the album’s 5th track, where the band drops out and Rankin slightly alters the delivery of a repeated vocal line, hitting a higher note on the word ‘could’ just before the band comes back in. With that one choice, my band-crush was sealed. I’m a fan, forever.

Archie, Marry Me” = song-of-the-year candidate.

Stream at Soundcloud / Buy at Polyvinyl

David Bazan & Passenger String Quartet“Volume 1”
[ on Undertow ]

I’ve said it many times, might as well say it again here: I’m such a sucker for strings. So it’s no surprise that stripping down some of David Bazan’s best songs and rebuilding them with beautiful arrangements from the Passenger String Quartet resulted in a record I loved. Two opportunities to see them played live (first at Barsuk’s 2013 anniversary bash in Seattle, again a few months back in Arlington, MA) only deepened that love, so here’s hoping the “Volume 1” designation means we’ll be seeing a 2nd one.

(live version from July 27, 2012 at Cathedrals: Tacoma)

Stream and purchase at Undertow

Centro-matic“Take Pride In Your Long Odds”
[ on Undertow ]

A bittersweet release, marking the end of recorded output from one of my favorite bands. These Texas gents decided to pack it in this year, recently finishing up a cross-country farewell tour with some undoubtedly emotional hometown shows. Lucky for us, one of those goodbye stops was here at Great Scott in Allston, and it was glorious. They played a few songs from this record, and they stood solidly alongside their best. Leaving the stage on the highest of high notes, they’ll be much-missed, but hey, we’ll always have the records. For that, be grateful, and keep an eye on their individual musical endeavors.

Stream at Soundcloud / Buy at Undertow

Cheatahsself-titled debut LP
[ on Wichita Recordings ]

Calling them the ‘second coming of Swervedriver’ feels reductive, especially when Swervedriver themselves are readying a resurgence in 2015, but there’s no denying that they strike many of the same distorted chords. Cheatahs hit the harder side of the shoegaze wheelhouse, more rock than reverie, and I figure there’s not a lot of gazing at their shoes on stage. I missed my chance to see them live in 2014, not gonna let that happen again in the new year.

Stream at Purevolume / Buy at Wichita Recordings

Craft Spells“Nausea”
[ on Captured Tracks ]

A perfectly-placed next step for Justin Paul Vallesteros and his band, retaining the layered dreaminess that makes them so entrancing while widening their sonic palette just enough to surprise. Their songs transport, especially in a live setting, and I’m so glad it’s happening again very soon: In mid-March at Great Scott.

Stream more at Soundcloud / Buy at Captured Tracks

Ex Hex“Rips”
[ on Merge Records ]

Oh, Mary Timony, please never stop. From Autoclave, to Helium, through her solo work (just her on piano, guitar, then as a duo), she’s kept on keepin’ on for a couple decades now. Her full-band, rock-n-roll return with Wild Flag kicked off an exciting chapter in her career that ended (?) all too soon, and I was worried she’d retreat and regroup. She squashed those fears quickly with a couple of exciting Soundcloud shares as newly-christened trio Ex Hex – songs that got ’em signed to Merge and on the way to this energy-infused full-length. Retro and right-now all at once, their success bodes well for a nice long run. Fingers crossed this riff-filled record is just the first salvo.

Stream another track at Soundcloud / Buy at Merge Records

Exit/Verseself-titled debut
[ on Ernest Jenning Record Co. ]

The welcome return of former Karate/Secret Stars singer/songwriter Geoff Farina to a full-band scenario, bringing along a couple of ringers on rhythm (Pete Croke of Brokeback on bass, John Dugan of Chisel on drums) to make these new songs shine. There’s a raw, undeniable classic rock feel that just clicks, resulting in a timeless set that even your dad could love (yes, my actual Dad loves it). That ain’t an insult, my Dad’s got some damn good taste.

Stream full LP at Soundcloud / Buy at Ernest Jenning Record Co.

[ on Slumberland Records ]

Yet another ace Slumberland release. Exuberant, energetic jangle-pop out of Atlanta – an American answer to the Wedding Present (the album is called “Dalliance” after all) that exceeds mere homage. Had the distinct pleasure of catching these guys at the Middlesex Lounge (RIP live shows at the Middlesex, btw) over the summer, hoping I get another shot soon.

Stream at Bandcamp / Buy at Slumberland

Hallelujah the Hills“Have You Ever Done Something Evil?”
[ on Discrete Pageantry Records ]

Oh, Hallelujah the Hills, how shall I praise thee? Two years after releasing what I called “their best album to date”, these local gents went ahead and upped the ante, by a major margin. “HYEDSE?” is easily their strongest, most confident collection of songs, and given how much I’ve loved the rest, that’s saying something. Just over a year ago I drove solo down to Plymouth, MA to see ’em play an AGP charity show with Krill and Guillermo Sexo, hearing many of the songs that would end up on “HYEDSE” for the first time. It was “Pick Up An Old Phone” that stood out, making me hanker for a recorded version ASAP. In May, they damn well delivered.

[MP3] Hallelujah the Hills – “Pick Up An Old Phone
(live in Plymouth, MA 12/7/2013)

Stream at Bandcamp / Buy at Discrete Pageantry

The Luxembourg Signalself-titled debut
[ on Shelflife Records ]

Sporting an impressive pedigree (with members of Aberdeen and Trembling Blue Stars), this LA-based sextet debuted with a stellar set of Sarah-Records-inspired dreampop, hitting a wealth of right notes in the shimmer-spectrum while weaving in a welcome variety of other influences. A record that took me by surprise in the best way. Another candidate for “song of the year”: “She Love To Feel The Sun“.

Buy at Shelflife Records

The New Pornographers“Brill Bruisers”
[ on Matador Records ]

Calling this a ‘return to form’ seems silly, given I’ve found something to love about every New Pornos record, but it sure feels like a distillation of everything that makes them great. But there is definitely an abundance of energy in “Brill Bruisers” that almost begs a reevaluation of the couple LPs prior. It sounds like they’re just having fun on this album, and it’s infectious.

Buy at Matador Records

+/- {Plus/Minus}“Jumping The Tracks”
[ on Teenbeat Records ]

Released in January, and criminally overlooked in the best-of-year posts I’ve seen so far, the long-in-the-making album hooked me straight away, immediately setting a high bar for 2014 out of the gate. It stayed in my headphones for weeks, revealing its depths while waiting for another LP to dislodge it. A melding of darkness and light, both beautiful and unsettling at once, buoyed by hook-laden guitar playing and absolutely meticulous production. And, oh, that drumming. I bow down to you, Chris Deaner. If there was one record that defined the year for me, this is it, and I hope the turn of the calendar sees them playing a few more live shows.

Stream the LP (with bonus tracks) at Soundcloud / Purchase from Teenbeat Records

Real Estate“Atlas”
[ on the Domino Record Co. ]

Real Estate’s third record took more time than expected to get under my skin, certainly longer than 2011’s “Days” did. While it wasn’t immediate as its predecessor, the extra listening effort paid off, and their show at the Sinclair in March had the new songs standing solidly among the rest.

Stream songs at Soundcloud / Buy from Domino

Shellac“Dude Incredible”
[ on the Touch & Go Records ]

Another abrasive, body-rattling smack upside the skull from the Chicago’s no-bullshit trio. There’s no band on Earth like the mighty Shellac, and there’s no point in anyone else even trying. They strip away the artifice of the record-producing machine – their albums appear as if by magic, with little fanfare and less promotion, kick everyone in the ass, and that’s just it. It’s all we need. Truths are revealed, conventions are challenged, heads are banged. Try driving under the speed limit while this album shakes your car windows. It ain’t easy.

Buy from Touch & Go

Survival Knife“Loose Power”
[ on the Sub Pop Records ]

Yes, I bow down at the altar of Unwound. Have for ages. I’ve long held that their swan-song, “Leaves Turn Inside You”, is one of the greatest collections of recorded music ever released. I still feel physical pain when I look at my unused ticket for my final chance to see them: September 11th, 2001 at the Middle East, a show that was called off just after they soundchecked, as I stood outside lost and looking for something to cling to.

Survival Knife’s arrival, studio output, and recent first-ever cross-country tour has gone a long way towards healing that open wound. No, they’re not Unwound, but with two ex-members and a sonic recipe that includes tension, restraint, and glorious release, there is undeniably some common DNA. They scratch a lot of the same itches, telling their songs as sonic stories as they eschew traditional structures while throwing in some metal for good measure. You’re not going to hear a lot of verse-chorus-verse, and you’re not going to miss it. Last month I got to see them live here in Boston, and I felt whole.

Stream another track at Soundcloud / Buy from Sub Pop

Withered Hand“New Gods”
[ on the Slumberland Records ]

I’ll take Dan Willson, aka Mr. Withered Hand, however he wants to present himself: Solo or with his full band, backed by a crack collection of ace players or just him, his guitar, and his singularly unique voice. My first thought on hearing he’d teamed up with beloved Slumberland Records was “perfect”, and so it was. My long-standing wish to see him perform finally came true this year when he played with his band at Chickfactor 22 last March, though a Withered Hand solo gig remains high on my live show bucket list. 2015, perhaps?

Stream more WH songs at Soundcloud / Buy from Slumberland

[ on the Shake It Records ]

Cincinnati’s Wussy, a band with a wealth of great records already under their belt, could easily rest on those laurels and put out just another solid collection of songs. Instead, they released an absolute stunner. “Attica” has some of the finest work they’ve ever done, including the album opener (“Teenage Wasteland“) and the closer (“Beautiful“), each of them candidates for personal song-of-the-year. How this band continues to plug along relatively unheralded is beyond me (though the efforts of CBS Saturday Morning to help remedy that was much appreciated).

Stream/buy at Bandcamp / Buy from Shake It

Wye Oak“Shriek”
[ on the Merge Records ]

I’ll admit it, I was scared. When I first heard that Wye Oak had ditched guitars in favor of bass and keyboards for their upcoming record, I had major doubts. As a longtime fanboy, I hadn’t met a Wye Oak release I hadn’t loved, and Jenn Wasner’s guitar played no small part in that. I’m generally averse to the bleep-bloop, so the prospect of its overuse had me prepared for disappointment.

Well, whaddya know, it turns out my fears were unfounded, and I should have trusted Andy & Jenn all along. Yes, the guitar may be gone, but the songs are still there – evocative, interesting, and just plain catchy, with Jenn’s vocals sounding better than ever, and Andy astonishing with his ever-inventive drum parts and rhythmic multi-tasking. They were able to somehow embrace a whole new sonic palette, nearly reinvent themselves, and succeed in ways I didn’t expect. I don’t just love this record, I love that I love this record. Proved that even my guitar-centric mind can be rewired at my advancing age.

Stream another song at Soundcloud / Buy from Merge Records

The honorable mentions…
(aka “albums I listened to a ton and could easily
have made the above list depending on my mood”)

The Afghan Whigs – “Do To The Beast”, Hiss Golden Messenger – “Lateness of Dancers, Mogwai – “Rave Tapes”, Anders Parker – “There’s A Blue Bird In My Heart”, Soccer Mom – self-titled debut, Sharon Van Etten – “Are We There”, Sleepyhead – “Wild Sometimes”, Pink Avalanche – “The Luminous Heart of Nowhere”

Favorite records that I played on…

Colin Clary – “Twee Blues Vol.1”, Let’s Whisper – “As Close As We Are” 10-inch

If you’re bored and looking to surf some history, have a look at my previous year-end fave lists: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001.

Stop back in a few days, when I’ll hopefully have a follow-up post with a few EPs, 7-inches, reissues, and live shows that I loved in 2014. If I’m not already too deep into 2015, that is.

Best to you and yours in the new year. May it bring you all you desire, or at least none of the things you don’t.


3 Responses to “[Nac Faves] My Favorite LPs of 2014”

  1. Daniel
    January 3rd, 2015 @ 1:48 am

    I always appreciate your year-end reviews. Several of your previous collections have a permanent place on my ipod. Look forward to checking these bands out, and no doubt finding some new faves of my own. All the best in the New Year!

  2. John
    January 25th, 2015 @ 9:35 pm

    Thanks really enjoyed this list! Lots of new stuff to me. Cheers and here’s to a prosperous and peaceful 2015.

  3. Steve
    January 26th, 2015 @ 9:47 am

    Hey Brad – I haven’t listened to many on your list, but I just wanted to let you know that I had exactly the same experience with exactly the same moment of the Alvvays album. Wonderful stuff.

    Take care.


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