Once again, this will began with the two necessary prefaces to all of the year-end list coverage: “best” is a term used loosely as it’s a reflection of personal taste and the first person restriction will be lifted so that these lists can be as direct- and as personal- as possible. Over the past few weeks I’ve gone through thousands of releases (revisiting in most cases but discovering in a few others), organizing, reflecting, and ranking every single one that caught (or continued to catch) my ear. This list and all of the ensuing lists have been condensed to 14 selections representing the very best of 2014 and, in addition to those picks, there’ll be an auxiliary list of every release (with hyperlinks provided when applicable) that I considered putting into the top 14. After all of these lists have gone up, there will be a multi-part project that provides a fitting end-cap to this site’s 2014 coverage. Since the title’s somewhat ambiguous, it’s probably worth noting that the releases taken into consideration for this particular list included flexi’s, plexi’s, CD-R’s, demos, online singles, and other titles only available digitally (or on cassette). Additionally, there will be a few other singular “best” efforts in niche categories above the long list. So, without further ado, here are the 14 best online singles (and other assorted oddities) of 2014.
14. New York – 20 Minutes From Here
20 Minutes From Here is the exhilarating sound of what happens when you throw members of Iron Chic, Shang-A-Lang, Low Culture, and Jonesin’ into a room with instruments. It’s a hastily recorded and scrappy as hell collection of fiercely energetic basement punk songs that (even with the unabashedly lo-fi aesthetic) rank among the best entries of the considerable careers of everyone involved.
13. Dan Webb and the Spiders – September Demos, Perfect Problem
One of the first things I noticed about Dan Webb and the Spiders’ two 2014 releases is that they have a distinctly Midwestern feel, despite the band’s Boston residence. While that may stand out as a curious anomaly (if not entirely unprecedented- Springsteen’s from New Jersey, after all), it’s a small fact that pales in comparison to the band’s casual brilliance. Both their demo reel and Perfect Problem suggest this is a band that’s latched onto something that should open quite a few traditionally sought-after doors.
12. Grubs – Dec 15/Gym Shame
It’s unsurprising to learn that Grubs and Joanna Gruesome share at least one common member; both bands exist in the exact center of Reeks of Effort’s wheelhouse. Sly, somewhat cynical, partially twee, and entirely vicious, Grubs’ teaser effort’s an extraordinarily tantalizing appetizer. If the album they’re currently recording lives up to what they’ve achieved here, 2015 will be due for a very strong highlight.
11. Sea Ghost – Spokes/Gold Teeth, Cave Song
Sea Ghost are another band who, like Dan Webb and the Spiders, turned in a few unexpectedly powerful efforts to start their careers off in 2014. Between the gently propulsive trio of “Spokes”, “Gold Teeth”, and “Cave Song”, they’ve come out swinging. With those three songs, they’ve already managed to exude a greater sense of identity and refinement than most bands manage to conjure up in their careers. Operating with subtlety, nuance, and verve, they’ve more than earned a status as a band worth following.
10. Earth Girls – Demo 2014
More than a few outstanding demos surfaced over the course of 2014, Earth Girls’ punchy take on the bridge between basement punk and powerpop managed to exceed even those high standards. Dark undertones permeate throughout each of these five songs, which are recorded in a way that accentuates their formidable atmosphere and relentless power. Reminiscent of Nervosas with an extremely heightened affinity for powerpop, it’s no surprise that the band’s next release is due out on a label as revered as Dirt Cult.
9. Dark Thoughts – Four Songs
One of the strongest basement punk releases over the course of the past 12 months was a four song demo debut that embodied some of the genre’s best qualities. Incendiary guitar work, venomous vocals, ferocious (and ferociously short) songs, and a palpable level of varying frustrations and unease. It’s brisk, it’s to the point, and- importantly- it’s memorable.
8. Broadbay – Demo(n)s
I can’t stress enough how strong the crop of demos from 2014 wound up being. That Broadbay’s insanely strong Demo(n)s isn’t even the highest ranked demo release in this list should say quite a bit about this very welcome aspect of the past year. Visceral, engaging, and powerfully dynamic, Demo(n)s is a resounding announcement heralding the arrival of Broadbay- and it’s one hell of an arrival.
7. Mulligrub – Canadian Classic
Over the course of this site’s 14 month existence, I’ve been fortunate to receive a handful of emails from bands containing great music that didn’t get the amount of press it deserved. Mulligrub’s Canadian Classic was one that connected with me immediately. As such, nearly every reason for why this is appearing in this list has already been laid out. Those reasons haven’t changed.
6. Toby Coke – Face Taker
Last year, Joseph Frankl (also of The Frankl Project) wound up cracking one of these lists with a strong solo release. Frankl outdid himself this year with another solo project, this time operating under the moniker Toby Coke. “Face Taker” may only be one song but it more than illustrates Frankl’s enviable skills as a songwriter and hints at Toby Coke being a project that could pay massive dividends. It’s also yet another instance of my initial thoughts growing even more certain.
5. Trifles – Demo
Trifles’ Demo seemed to come out of nowhere but when it hit, it made sure everyone felt its mark. Dark and unforgiving, this is the crowning jewel of a very specific new, emerging breed of post-punk. Taking all of the aesthetic and emotional cues from bands like Pleasure Leftists and integrating them with something easily accessible (while also managing to take some cues from hardcore) made this one of 2014’s most fascinating releases in any format. Unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the best.
4. Infinity Crush – Heaven
One of the year’s finest songs was relegated to a modest tumblr post, which somehow fit the song’s nature to a tee. “Heaven” may be the quietest song on here but it’s also the most emotionally-charged (and devastating) to have come out in 2014. As a public self-examination, it’s alarmingly brutal and frighteningly heartfelt. “Heaven” is a deceptively cruel title for a song that’s dressed up beautifully but is secretly bruised all to hell.
3. Dweller On The Threshold – Decimal Spaces, Ollie Ox & Free, Barnfire
Looking at Dweller On The Threshold’s lineup (and their respective correlating pedigrees), it shouldn’t be surprising that the music they’ve been slowly unveiling has been masterful. Members of Parquet Courts, Kindling, Ampere, Death to Tyrants, and Daniel Striped Guitar are all involved in this project that blurs the lines between post-rock and shoegaze more successfully than just about any band making similar attempts. All three songs the band’s made publicly available have been towering genre masterpieces leading up to what’s promising to be a breathtaking full-length debut.
2. Bent Shapes – 86’d in ’03
“86’d in ‘o3” isn’t just the best song of Bent Shapes’ career, it’s one of the best powerpop songs to emerge from the past few years. Backed with “Bridgeport Lathe” on a lathecut picture plexi disc, it’s also one of the year’s more curious limited run items. I’ve already detailed my love for the A-side but “Bridgeport Lathe” has managed to sneak its way into my subconscious. Both songs complement each other in odd ways, demonstrating the considerable range that makes Bent Shapes one of Boston’s more celebrated local acts and both songs are strong enough to land them a spot on this list.
1. Slight – Run
Between this and LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d, drummer Greg Rutkin had an absurdly strong 2014. No two-song release was stronger than Slight’s follow-up to their excellent townie490 EP. With members of site favorites Trace Mountains and Painted Zeros also involved, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that this wound up taking this spot. In the review I originally posted, the emphasis fell on the influences the band turned to as touch points but largely eschewed the band’s unwavering sense of atmosphere. I don’t know if it’s the production, the tones, or just a happy accident but it’s hard not to think of the band practices and basement shows where everything just clicks while listening to both of these songs. There’s grit, determination, sweat, and an unfiltered sense of joy and affirmation reverberating throughout all five minutes and forty seconds. Run is imbued with a celebratory sound (whether the intention was willful or not) and it’s a release well worth celebrating.
Best Compilation: The Le Sigh – Vol. II
Best Series: Art Is Hard Records – Pizza Club
Best Live Record: Courtney Barnett – Live at Splendour in the Grass*
Best Package Release: Crying – Get Olde/Second Wind
*This is an extended recording of the session that Live at Splendour in the Grass, which is no longer publicly available, was taken from for its official release.
2014 releases from this category that deserve to be heard:
White Sands – The Wait | Frankie Teardrop – End of Summertime Blues | Honduras – Break | Mother’s Children – I Like Mother’s Children | Gloom Sleeper – Demo | Zero Gain – 2014 Recording | Times Beach – Demos | This Cold Night – This Cold Night | Savages – Fuckers b/w Dream Baby Dream | Lil Tits – 7 Year Bleed | Fucked Up – Year of the Dragon | The Death of Pop – The Fifths | The Frankl Project – Little Wrecking Ball | Fax Holiday – Venn, and Very Up | Mermaidens – O, Dive, Bones | WTCHS – It’s Not A Cross, It’s A Curse! | Cheap Riot – Single #1 | Black Panties – Mississippi | Terrorista – Purple Tape, Pink Tape | Girl Band – The Cha Cha Cha | Bethlehem Steel – Dem Ohs | A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Atomos VII | Connections – Record Store Day 2014 | Soft Fangs – Live from The Whitehaus | Desert Sharks – Template Hair | ScotDrakula – O’Clock/Shazon | Myrrh Myrrh – Peter Criss/Until | Ovens – Feel Like Shit