In the opening half of June, a large handful of worthwhile records found their way into the public consciousness. Most of the five below (with one notable exception), only gained traction among niche audiences but were imbued with the kind of power that can make those numbers grow in increments. All of them, as ever, are more than worthy of purchasing from the band or label responsible for their release. A handful lived up to the hype and at least one seemed to appear from the ether. Give them all the kind of investment they deserve.
Snail Mail – Lush
Easily the highest-profile record on this list, site favorites Snail Mail made good on their early promise with a Matador debut. Debuting at a heartening 56 on the Billboard charts, Lush catapults the project into the public eye. Riding a wave of acclaim for their strong early work, sterling live show, smart marketing, and the strength of their advance singles ensured that Lush would be greeted with fanfare. That it’s devoid of any glaring weaknesses or gaps leaves the record as a testament to Lindsey Jordan’s abilities as a songwriter but more importantly, establishes Snail Mail as a genuine artist.
Flasher – Constant Image
Constant Image, the debut full-length from Flasher is one hell of a coming out party. Taut, hyper-melodic, and genre-blurring, the record’s a perfect encapsulation of a band that’s fully aware they’re coming into their own. Everything from the production to the sequencing here serves a larger whole rather than relegating distinctive sections. Every song on Constant Image is a career high for a band that’s already amassed a fairly impressive discography over a few short releases. Constant Image shouldn’t just put their name on the map but lock itself into the kind of heavy rotation slot that doesn’t get vacated.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are an act that’s been featured on this site multiple times for a handful of years, which makes it all the more surprising that Hope Downs is their first official album. What’s not as surprising, especially given that time to figure things out, is that it arrives fully-formed and eschews all of the easy traps lesser-versed bands fall into so frequently. The band knows there’s an advantage to risk-taking that doesn’t overreach and has figured out how to fully lock into their open-road identity. Hope Downs applies that wisdom spectacularly and winds up as an Americana-tinged triumph.
Likely the least recognizable release on this list, The Knees’ Stammer more than earns a spot among its contemporaries. Two songs of great, delirious post-punk that find fascinating ways to ramble with purpose. Aimless bridges on the title track add an impressive amount of hazy atmosphere, while the ridiculously fun “abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz” offers up a galvanizing version of a childhood classic. Subversive, unexpected, brimming with confidence, and delivered with a tenacious conviction, Stammer is one of the great unexpected surprises of 2018’s middle stretch. Give it a listen and leave it on repeat.
Dusk – Dusk
Dusk is a tricky record to judge on merit, as it’s essentially a glorified repurposing of a demo that was released by the earliest iteration of the band. Four songs are added (including one that’s an alternate take on a song from bassist/vocalist Amos Pitsch‘s other project, Tenement) and provide a layered depth which is welcome but where Dusk earns its spot on the list in its reinvention. Every single one of these songs benefits from what the band has become and to present them as a collective reintroduction makes sense, considering those changes have been so drastic.
As a collective, Dusk leans into soul as much as classic country, congealing all of their influence into something that’s become reminiscent of The Band, which is a far cry from their first recording. All of the songs here prove worthy of longevity, enhancing an aspect of timelessness. Dusk’s a remarkable band that’s found their power through evolution, settling into a final form that’s got a whole host of material up its sleeve. For now, we should all be more than content to sink into the spells these songs weave and be grateful to have another genuinely great record to add to our collections.
While songs like “Heat Wave” focused on what Lindsey Jordan’s project can accomplish when it’s intent on detonation, “Let’s Find An Out” scales things back to something far more intimate. A gorgeous fingerpicked guitar pattern serves as an instrumental bed with some light percussion as Jordan waxes poetic on the nature of change, giving mortality the slightest of consideration while keeping the narrative persistently rooted to the present.
It’s a beautiful track that never becomes cloying or cumbersome in its examination of larger ideas, embracing its own modesty and delivering something heartfelt and memorable; the kind of journey that’s always worth taking.
Listen to “Let’s Find An Out” below and pre-order Lush from Matador here.
Teeming with imagery that hosts a handful of connections to other iconic visuals, the band completely eschews any inhibitions of operating on anything other than a ridiculously grand scale. That grandeur pays dividends, ushering in a bold new era for a band that once seemed content to operate on nearly anarchic terms. In “The Day The Music Dies” they take their mission to the church, light some fires, present a united front, and preach from a pulpit.
All of the confrontational immediacy is escalated by the track itself, which is lent a surprising amount of heft by some incredibly effective horn charts. Fascinating at just about every turn, riddled with allusions to Gothic-tinged entertainment (Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood acting as a more recent reference point), “The Day The Music Dies” finds Iceage comfortable in continuing to expand their boundaries, making Boundless — the band’s forthcoming full-length — one of the more intriguing prospects on the release calendar. The ride to get to that release, should “The Day The Music Dies” be a solid indicator, will be worth taking.
Watch “The Day The Music Dies” below and pre-order Beyondless from Matador here.
Baker can already claim one of this present decade’s best clips in “Sprained Ankle” so any news of a new video is cause for elevated attention. In the two years that have elapsed since that notable release, Baker’s grown as an artist and grown in conviction over artistic choices. That much is clearly evident from the fiercely committed performance the songwriter delivers at the center of the Sophia Peer-directed clip for “Appointments”.
Baker, complemented by some striking DP work by Adam Uhl, appears appropriately haunted at the outset of the clip, growing more confident as the filmic narrative progresses. The song’s narrative, as bruised and battered as anything from Baker’s spellbinding solo debut, explodes the small moments that can shatter relationships into central focus. As that story plays out in song, the one on film grows in empathy as a cast of Baker’s friends provide a dichotomy by surrounding the guitarist/vocalist’s smallest, loneliest moments with company.
Whether those dancers are supposed to represent specters of the past or a wish for the present is open to interpretation but either way that’s pushed lands with an abundance of meaning. It’s a forceful reminder of how we treat the relationships to our lives, both central and peripheral, and the power that they can carry, whether we realize it in the moment or are stuck pining for them in their absence. By the time “Appointments” muted but hopeful resolution enters, it’s already made its case with enough certainty to make sure that it lingers long after its gone.
Watch “Appointments” below and pre-order Turn Off the Lights from Matador here.
A week ago Fresh Snow, Wilding, The Great Albatross, YUNG, Heaven, CHIMNEY, and Happyness all released compelling music vidoes. Algiers was another one of those acts, returning with the characteristically powerful “The Underside of Power”, drawing once again from an acute understanding of history on both a micro and macro scale and incorporating that knowledge into something as aggressively resilient as it is familiarly sorrowful.
It’s the type of narrative and vision that Henry Busby and Marcus Tortorici bring to vivid life in the direction for the video for “The Underside of the Power”, aided by the intuitive lensing of Anthony Carella. Incorporating public domain footage of the Civil Rights Movement lends the video an air of immediacy, pushing the intensity levels to dangerous levels. Intensity has always been a key component of Algiers’ calling card and “The Underside of Power” doesn’t disappoint, significantly heightening the anticipation for Algiers’ forthcoming record of the same name.
Watch “The Underside of the Power” below and pre-order the record from Matador here.
Over the course of the past two weeks, an impressive slew of music videos have fought their way out into the world. While a very select few will be highlighted in the very near-future, it’d be inexcusable to dismiss the titles below without any recognition whatsoever. Provided that time wasn’t such a restrictive issue, each and every one of these would be receiving a feature write-up dedicated to analyzing what makes them great. Truly, each one of these clips is more than worth several viewings, so stop reading and start clicking. Who knows? This pool might just contain a few new favorites. Enjoy.
Few lists have been as difficult to put together as this one, which saw upwards of 100 songs competing for a slot as one of the final 15. An extraordinary year for music by any margin, the continuously expanding models of release and outwardly stretching networks of musicians providing an astonishing amount of material that was more than worthwhile. As has been noted in the previous lists, the choices here are completely based on personal subjectivity and exclude the more major releases (like the monumental tracks from Jason Isbell, Courtney Barnett, and Death Grips) as they’ve received countless accolades already and the spotlight deserves to be spread to equally deserving artists that still don’t have access to those levels of exposure. None of these artists appeared on last year’s list but every single act who gets an inclusion this time around feels more than capable of making a return visit at some point in the near future. Somber closing tracks, heartfelt lead-off singles, and a few striking non-singles comprise the contents found below. So, without further ado, here’s 15 of ’15: The Best Songs of 2015.
15. Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon
Originally released in 2011, “Something Soon” was a deeply promising minimalist number from Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo. In the following years, Toledo expanded his outfit and managed to find a way to successfully reinvent both the Car Seat Headrest project and a few of the old songs in the process, including- of course- “Something Soon”. Oddly, upon its second release, the song felt even more of the moment than it did in its initial run, all while demonstrating a timeless panache that was elevated by things like the three-part vocal harmony that kicks off the explosive second chorus. Revamped and re-energized, “Something Soon” became an endlessly rewarding new career highlight for a band that, a dozen releases into its career, still feels like it’s only just getting started.
14. PWR BTTM – 1994
No one could have possibly predicted the absolutely monstrous run PWR BTTM would put together in 2015 back in January. Even the people that adored the band in their early stages would have been hard pressed to think that they’d have the kind of pull to be the sole focus of features from nationally renowned publications. That said, the timing couldn’t have been any better and in pairing their split with Jawbreaker Reunion and their towering debut full-length Ugly Cherries, their run couldn’t have been any stronger. One of the band’s most exhilarating moments came in the form of Ugly Cherries highlight “1994” which embodied nearly everything that makes the band necessary: identity exploration, earnest approach, searing guitar work, memorable melodies, and more than a few unbelievably fierce riffs.
13. Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky
Just a year after barelymissing this list, Ought came charging back with a new career highlight via the hypnotic “Beautiful Blue Sky“. Scaling back their excessive nervous energy into something that feels more refined, the band latched onto an approach that made them sound like they were in complete control. By substituting an abacus for their lab coats, they also tapped more fully into the inherent power of both their music and their identity. While there’s still a rambling feel to “Beautiful Blue Sky”, it’s one that’s played with casual confidence rather than manic neurosis. Easily one of Tim Darcy’s most fascinating lyric sets to date, the song explores heavy themes with tongue-in-cheek nonchalance, keeping the band’s irreverent spirit in tact. Another masterclass of interlocking grooves, “Beautiful Blue Sky” also has a shot at becoming a modern classic.
12. Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up
The first song to be reviewed on Heartbreaking Bravery in 2015 also wound up, as predicted, being one of the year’s finest. While not all of MCIII hit the extravagant heights of MCII, it wasn’t without its moments. The seeming flawlessness of “Made My Mind Up” shouldn’t come as such a surprise after MCII handily established Mikal Cronin as one of this generation’s finest pop songwriters yet it still lands with such breathtaking gracefulness that it’s hard not to be taken aback. A gorgeous piano figure finds a way to seamlessly intertwine itself with Cronin’s characteristically fuzzed-out brand of basement pop, elevating several sections of the song to levels that approach transcendence. When the stop/start dynamics of the chorus come into play, the song just starts moving effortlessly through a motion of grace notes, cementing Cronin’s position as a peerless talent.
11. Girlpool – Crowded Stranger
Girlpool can pull off a lot of varied looks but there’s something about the music they make that takes on a darker sheen that’s impossible to shake. “Plants and Worms” was the song that convinced me the band was great and “Crowded Stranger” only furthers that theory by tapping into a similar approach, one that feels infinitely more foreboding than the duo’s usual material. There’s a certain weightiness and bold uncertainty that accompanies their dips into murkier sensibilities and the effect, almost paradoxically, tends to feel more vibrant. Ostensibly a song about loss, “Crowded Stranger” is a bleak look at internal examination, circumstantial consequence, and bruised perception. One of the band’s most tortured songs to date, it winds up being an exemplary showcase of the band’s formidable grasp on their own pathos. All of those elements factored in to why “Crowded Stranger” were two of the most unforgettable minutes this year.
10. Dilly Dally – Burned by the Cold
“Burned by the Cold“, the elegiac closing track to Dilly Dally‘s incendiary full-length debut, Sore, was the moment that cemented that release’s status as a great. After 10 tracks of searing basement punk, the floor suddenly fell out from underneath the band and allowed Katie Monks to take even more complete control of the wheel as everything plummeted down in a free fall. Stripping away a few of the band’s most distinctive elements- Liz Ball’s breathtaking lead guitar work, a bruising rhythm section- and zeroing in on Monks’ unforgettable voice as it echoes through a devastating piano track, Dilly Dally found a genuinely unexpected way to flourish. As the ambient noise that swirls around “Burned by the Cold” intensifies, Monks pushes forward with a sudden vulnerability that makes Sore‘s mesmerizing final moment even more astonishing. Unprecedented by anything in their still young discography, it’s relative bravery proves the band has an untapped depth and, likely, plenty more welcome surprises to come.
9. Eskimeaux – A Hug Too Long
Nearly every song on Eskimeaux‘s masterwork O.K.was considered at one point for a spot on this list as each had a roughly equal claim. “A Hug Too Long” got the nod in the end for being, arguably, the most definitive track on the album. From the quick riff that opens the song to the lilting vocal figure that shortly follows, “A Hug Too Long” is a masterclass in composition and contains nearly everything that makes Eskimeaux such a rewarding project. Flawless melodies, production, and layered harmonies inform the track’s most vibrant moments, which once again show Gabrielle Smith’s masterful command over crafting songs that are as hopeful as they are bittersweet. Charming, endearing, and deceptively light- the song’s actually fairly crushing upon close inspection- “A Hug Too Long” finds a way to make nearly every one of the song’s structural aspects remarkable, lending it an additional emotional weight in the process. A sublime piece of songwriting, it firmly positions Gabrielle Smith as one of our finest emerging songwriters.
8. Hop Along – Waitress
One of the most heartening things to watch progress over the course of 2015 was the ascension of Hop Along, who have deserved far-reaching national acclaim for years but didn’t quite have the resources. Saddle Creek changed that when they signed the band for the release of Painted Shut, a critical knockout and a jaw-dropping show of force. While that record was peppered with several standout moments, it was “Waitress” that stood out most, a signature example of guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Frances Quinlan’s mastery of craft. Possessing one of the most arresting voices in music, Quinlan wields it like a weapon and strikes mercilessly as the rest of Hop Along viciously attacks their best track this side of “Tibetan Pop Stars” A series of bruised and beautiful moments culminate in a fiery outro that exemplifies the band’s inherent strengths. Quinlan lets loose several impassioned howls as the propulsive rhythm section goes to work with surgical precision and the guitar work nears an unprecedented level of excellence. Packaged together, it’s the kind of knockout punch that prohibits recovery.
7. Worriers – They/Them/Theirs
2015 saw the discussion surrounding gender identity take massive strides forward and open lines of dialog on a national scale that’d previously been a lot more diminished. It’s not unreasonable to think that the multimedia forms at large played in part in facilitating that transition and one of the most thoughtful and impassioned pleas came from Worriers‘ latest career highlight, “They/Them/Theirs“. Even in stripping away the lyric set, “They/Them/Theirs” is one of the band’s most powerful compositions to date but it’s the pointed narrative of “They/Them/Theirs” that makes it unforgettable, especially in its empathetic opening couplet (“You’ve got a word for one/so there’s a word for all”) and urgent chorus (“You are fighting between a rock and why bother?/we are floating between two ends that don’t matter”). At every step, the narrative’s fueled by a deep-seated frustration over the lack of understanding and driven by sheer determination to set things straight as the music conjures up something that’s both immediately accessible and genuinely thoughtful, enhancing the song’s humanist worldview.
6. Julien Baker – Go On
Like Eskimeaux’s O.K., Julien Baker‘s devastating Sprained Ankle provided a small army of tracks that were in contention for a spot on this list, which ultimately came to a showdown between the record’s unbelievably gorgeous title track and its unforgettable closer. The latter option won out and, in a strange turn of events, aligned it with Dilly Dally’s “Burned by the Cold” as a somber, piano-driven closer that’s unlikely to be released as a single. Following a record of intensely personal disclosures, “Go On”- like the vast majority of Sprained Ankle– felt palpably wounded in way that was frighteningly relatable as it confronted the inevitability of mortality. It’s also the song where Baker sounds the most severely pained and then, suddenly, one of the most chilling moments of 2015 arrives. Nothing in recorded music over the past 12 months hit me harder than the accidental broadcast interference that bleeds through the end of “Go On”, where a static-damaged sermon gets piped into a record that was heavily informed by religion. It’s in those final, largely improvised moments where Sprained Ankle feels genuinely holy.
5. Mike Krol – Less Than Together
Turkey, Mike Krol‘s unbelievably explosive third record, was one of 2015’s most exciting releases for a long string of reasons that included (but were not limited to) redemption for Sleeping in the Aviary and the rapidly growing interest surrounding DIY punk. Confrontational, irreverent, and deliriously fun, Turkey came off like several grenades all detonating simultaneously. Intriguingly, the record’s fiercest track is also its longest, the near-rabid “Less Than Together”, which serves as the record’s penultimate moment. No song got me out of bed in 2015 more times than “Less Than Together”, as its excessively frantic blend of basement punk and basement pop essentially managed to create its own singular energy source. Every element that makes Turkey such an enthralling record is present on “Less Than Together”, as it careens ahead and refuses to be apologetic to anything unfortunate enough to stand in its path. Everything clicks for Krol and the band he’s surrounded himself with as they play off of each other to enormous effect and produce something extraordinary, never pausing to look back at the destruction in their wake.
4. Fred Thomas – Every Song Sung To A Dog
One of the most heartfelt songs of 2015 was also one of the most painfully tragic. While Fred Thomas managed to stack the brilliant All Are Savedto the rafters with emotional moments of clarity in the midst of its intentional chaos, “Every Song Sung To A Dog” managed to leave the sharpest sting. As Thomas makes his way through “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, it becomes clear that the dog in question is Kuma, who served as the main source of inspiration for the songwriter’s last collection (which, accordingly, was also named after- and dedicated to- Kuma). Here, though, Kuma’s passed on and Thomas grapples with the complex emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one and produces something devastating. As the narrative probes at the questions over what separates us from our pets and our own mortality, it also functions at a remarkably high level as a character study of Thomas himself as he tears open his wounds and explores them without hesitation. Memories litter close to all of the dusty corners of “Every Song Sung To A Dog”, transforming it away from hypothetical territory into something that comes across as bravely, uncomfortably real.
3. Mutual Benefit – Not for Nothing
The past 12 months have had their fair share of exceedingly lovely songs, from the tender Cat’s Eyes number that plays over The Duke of Burgundy‘s credit reel to Mothers‘ spellbinding “Too Small for Eyes” to everything Eluvium released but none of them felt as perfectly weightless as Mutual Benefit‘s masterful “Not for Nothing“. Following the breakout success of Love’s Crushing Diamond, Jordan Lee’s project somehow grew even more gently refined, landing on something remarkably beautiful in the process. Nearly every movement of “Not for Nothing”, a song that was recorded for Weathervane Music’s deeply important Shaking Through series, can be viewed as a grace note. From Lee’s soft vocal delivery to the string section to the intuitive drumming and effective, simplistic piano figure, “Not for Nothing” finds a way to cumulative whole that comes off as miraculous. Expanded outward from the first time Lee overheard the phrase “Not for Nothing” used in a phone conversation, the song becomes an antithetical statement to the excess apathy that many of us confront in bulk on a daily basis. In finding and appreciating the world’s splendor as personal doubts seep into the song’s narrative, Mutual Benefit keep their heads pointed towards the sky and walk away with the most beautiful song of 2015.
2. All Dogs – That Kind of Girl
Ever since All Dogs initially unveiled “That Kind of Girl” back on tour in 2014, it’s been a personal favorite. On a standalone basis, it transformed Kicking Every Dayinto one of the more anticipated DIY-driven records of 2015 and provided a forceful career push for a band that genuinely deserved to have their name circulating around national press outlets on a steady basis. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), the rest of Kicking Every Day lived up to the promise of “That Kind of Girl” but nothing on the record threatened its position as the band’s finest work (although “Leading Me Back To You“, which was deemed ineligible for this list due to being both a song from some of the members’ previous bands and a partial cover, came close). As the band demonstrated on their first two releases, their strength lies in the way they treat their own vulnerability, bravely kicking out against its currents instead of letting the water wash them away. Far and away the band’s most vicious song in an increasingly impressive discography, “That Kind of Girl” saw guitarist/vocalist Maryn Jones lash out in a way that saw each successive blow leave a deeper impact as Jones’ bandmates unleash a cavalcade of their own frustrations through some of the most impassioned playing of 2015 before claiming a victory and walking away with their flag planted in the dirt.
1. Stove – Wet Food
No song throughout 2015 made me feel more than Stove‘s hopeful, world-weary, defeatist, yearning masterpiece “Wet Food“. I can vividly recall being completely frozen while filming the band providing me with my introductory listen at Palisades (the video of that can be seen below), with chills shooting down my spine multiple times over. All the concern over Ovlov‘s dissolution immediately dissipated and hope for Washer‘s future (who operate at Stove’s rhythm section) suddenly went into overdrive. It joined a rare, elite company of performances and songs that had a similar effect on me (the only other band to hit that mark in 2015 was Dilly Dally’s unexpectedly vicious cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself”, which prompted a near-out-of-body experience). From the moment the guitar sweeps upward into action, “Wet Food” is untouchable. Adorned with subtle, effective bell work, punctuated by a blown-out chorus, it manages to take on the feel of a song whose stakes feel meaningful; this is the rare all-or-nothing song that swings towards the stars and connects with the kind of emphasis that manages to keep it in line. “Wet Food” also joins a class of recent songs where the songwriter addresses themselves by name (see also: Eskimeaux’s “A Hug Too Long”, above), presenting their most internal moments on a very public forum, enhancing the song’s honesty as a result. Bruised, battered, disoriented, and- above all- resilient, “Wet Food” felt like a microcosm of the prevailing personal stories that emerged throughout 2015, securing its rightful position at the top of this list.
Ever sine the 2014 edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories came to its standard close (there may still be a forthcoming epilogue), this site’s been in constant catch-up mode. It’s not a mode that’s going to be entirely evaded- as there is still quite a bit of ground to cover along the single stream battle lines- but, as of this post, Heartbreaking Bravery’s all caught up on 2015 music videos. Having run approximately 1110 music videos from the year thus far, it’s astonishing that there are still enough to carry through a regular video mixtape set of 25 selections. For the first time, these will be presented jukebox style. Music’s always evolving, always rotating, and there are so many different sounds that deserve appreciation- but the best music (and the best clips) all exist alongside each other in enviably creative territories. Acting as complements to each other while simultaneously forming a much larger picture, the 25 music videos below are among the young year’s finest. From Pussy Riot’s breathtaking protest video to Flying Lotus’ continuous visual mastery to Ephrata’s barn-burning tiff, these clips represent some of the finest work being done in their given medium. Coverage on music videos will continue at regular pace form this point forward but it’s definitely worth setting aside an hour or two to explore some of today’s great art. Click play below and get swept up in the spree.
1. Nightmare Boy – Chivalry Is Alive and Well in Glasgow 2. SEAZOO – Panda Pains 3. Spirit Club – Duster 4. Matthew E. White – Rock & Roll Is Cold 5. Pompeii – Blueprint 6. Pussy Riot – I Can’t Breathe 7. Gaz Coombes – Detroit 8. William Ryan Fritch (feat. Esme Patterson) – Still 9. Hundred Waters – Show Me Love 10. The Amazing – Picture You 11. Woman’s Hour – Devotion 12. Weyes Blood – Bad Magic 13. Flying Lotus – Corronus, The Terminator 14. The Afghan Whigs – The Lottery 15. Big Noble – Atlantic Din 16. Only You – Let Me Burn 17. Ephrata – Say A Prayer 18. The Green Seed – Gotchoo 19. The Cush – Orange Like Water 20. Secret Space – Stay For A While 21. Dazed Pilots – Sinner 22. Boxed In – Mystery 23. Grounders – Pull It Over Me 24. ANAMAI – Lucia 25. Annalibera – Blooms
The fact that it’s been a great year for music videos has been stated- and subsequently reiterated- on this site multiple times over. It’s an unavoidable truth and the evidence in its favor continues to mount. While Part 3 (and the fourth collection) brings the featured 2015 music video total to an excess of 100, that number’s fully warranted by the material below. Due to a handful of these clips being Vimeo-only titles, tonight’s video mixtape is presented through a case-by-case basis. No accompanying text is given to the individual titles but most wind up saying more for themselves than I ever could. From familiar faces to determined upstarts to established entities, there’s a lot to mull over. Whether it’s Jack White temporarily negating seemingly everyone’s conflicted feelings with a masterfully-executed experimental interactive video (follow the link for the interactive clip, the animated version’s embedded in the list) or LVL UP getting hit in the face with steaks in slow motion, the 25 videos below are a testament to the creative spirit currently driving the contemporary state of this particular visual medium. Also: even more puppets. Watch all of the clips below, buy the records from the bands you like, and keep an eye on this site for the final installment of this series for the foreseeable future. Enjoy!
One last time for one last 2014 list: “best” is in no way an attempt to be an objective statement. The terminology is shorthand to reflect personal taste and is not to be construed as anything more. Also, for the purposes of a more personal summary in this year-end coverage period, this site’s regular restriction on first person will be lifted. In 2014, I listened to more music that was released throughout the year than any other in my life. Numbering well upwards of a thousand releases, it proved impossible to keep tracks on everything (I’m already certain a few of these lists are missing more than a few titles that I genuinely loved)- but there were a few items that were worth remembering. Below are 14 records that managed to carve their way into my esteem both instantaneously and through the process of time. Below that is what turned into the most extensive list I’ve ever assembled, one that acts as an unnecessary validation that good music is being created at an excessively high volume (all of which is hyperlinked to either a full stream or a representative portion). We’re living in a golden age for access and music continues to reap the benefits allowed by technology. In that spirit, it’s worth noting that a lot of the names included below won’t always be the most recognizable- this is due to both that volume and the fact this site’s built on a foundation that ensures bands who are marginalized will be given the consideration they deserve. So, with all of that noted, it’s time to move on to the main attraction: 14 of ’14: The Best Albums of 2014.
14. Taulard – Les Abords Du Lycée
2014’s most unexpected gem, Les Abords Du Lycée,is a mesmerizing listening that drives home taut organ/drums/vocals post-punk with a startling amount of verve. Endlessly charismatic and unpredictable, the dozen tracks on display here constantly twist and turn, never once daring to let the listener catch their breath. Mood and tempo changes abound on one of 2014’s most fearlessly unique records. Even for those who aren’t even remotely well-versed in the French language, Les Abords Du Lycée should be a thrilling listen; something like unbridled passion can always translate well enough to near the universal.
13. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
What’s easily one of 2014’s boldest concepts roots La Dispute’s mesmerizing Rooms of the House, a record that shows La Dispute’s rapid maturation with a weary grace. Centered around a meticulously brilliant narrative device, it’s a record that stunned me on my first few listens before growing into an inescapable force of nature that refused to leave my thoughts. As bleak as anything the post-hardcore has ever produced, Rooms of the House finds its strength through focus and restraint, zeroing in on difficult topics with a keen eye and an abundance of determination. Blisteringly personal and nearly voyeuristic, it stands as one of 2014’s fiercest artistic statements.
12. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood
Two Inch Astronaut’s Foulbrood has come up more than a few times on the site over the past handful of months thanks to its casual brilliance. Wielding an enticing palette of influences ranging from Drive Like Jehu to their contemporaries in Exploding in Sound, Two Inch Astronaut managed to conjure up one of the most impressive sophomore efforts of the year. The title track, “Part of Your Scene“, and “Dead White Boy” all earned themselves individual write-ups on the basis of their appealingly off-kilter and ragged identity. Foulbrood‘s a record that knows exactly what it wants to be and goes straight for the throat, sending a trail of viscera flying it its wake.
11. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
One of the things I kept coming back to throughout the course of music in 2014 was Jayson Gerycz’s drumming on this record. Not just because it’s a staggering individual performance but because there’s an undefinable, inherent quality that exists within that drumming which drives this record to obscene heights. Impossibly, stripped of the drumming, the record succeeds wildly in an acoustic setting and demonstrates Dylan Baldi’s increasing proficiency as a songwriter, a vocalist, and a guitarist. After losing a member in guitarist Joe Boyer, Cloud Nothings somehow managed to transform themselves into an act that was simultaneously heavier and poppier than when they were a quartet. Importantly, this is a record that’s built to last and it’s only grown on me as the year’s progressed (and that trend’s not showing any signs of slowing).
10. Ought – More Than Any Other Day
As beguiling as it is bewitching, Ought’s brit-pop influenced post-punk masterpiece was a record that sounded triumphant right out of the gate. Slowly, that triumph turned to transcendence and the songs contained within More Than Any Other Day became unavoidable mission statements. In terms of scope, the majority of More Than Any Other Day feels as epic as LCD Soundsystem operating at their best. Both acts share a penchant for sprawling structures and self-containment, bridging a gap between intimacy and grandeur with a knack for deceptive, intricate songwriting. Anthemic and mundane, More Than Any Other Day was like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart, waiting for the resuscitated with a sly grin and a memorable, tossed-off joke. Excessively charming and utterly winsome, it’s a record that felt (and still feels) necessary.
9. Jawbreaker Reunion – Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club
“E.M.O.”, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club‘s thrilling centerpiece, recently appeared in this site’s best songs of 2014 list- but the song’s only one part of a much larger picture. At once, one of the year’s most joyous and pissed off releases, Jawbreaker Reunion tore through a variety of serious issues with aplomb on their absolutely stunning debut effort. Other than distilling songs like “Laughing Alone Eating a Salad” with a wicked sense of humor, the whole affair’s imbued with an enviably powerful sense of songcraft. Lo-fi, DIY, punk, and teeming with an understanding of classic pop, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club was one of 2014’s boldest introductions- it was also one of its best.
8. PURPLE 7 – Jewel Finger
PURPLE 7 boasts a lineup that’s accompanied by an impressive pedigree. Members of the band have previously played in bands like Defiance, Ohio, Landlord, and Hot New Mexicans (whose self-titled record ranks among my all-time favorites and currently leads my “best of decade” selections). Unsurprisingly, their debut LP effort hits a lot of sweet spots, including a gritty middle point between basement punk and basement pop. Simply put, this is a stunning collection of songs that was overlooked by most to a baffling degree after its release. Grounded, humble, and heartfelt, Jewel Finger is one of the records that reminds me of the reasons I started this site. This is music that deserves to be celebrated.
7. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Arguably 2014’s first truly great release, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness saw the songwriter transition from a promising talent into one of the year’s most arresting figures. Embracing a fuller sound and a newfound confidence, Burn Your Fire For No Witness broke Angel Olsen’s career wide open with an onslaught of genuinely haunting tunes. Whether they were relentlessly spare or soaked in noir-ish tendencies, they were uniformly captivating; both the storm and the eerie silence before. Raw, tender, and occasionally antagonistic, Burn Your Fire For No Witness was one thing above all else: unforgettable.
6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
From the devastating opening lines all the way through to the climactic finish, LOSE holds its ground as one 2014’s most frighteningly personal albums. Largely influenced by the death of a friend close to the band, it’s a meditation on loss and the surrounding aspects of something so tragic. Easily Cymbals Eat Guitars’ finest work to date both lyrically and musically, it’s a powerful (and powerfully moving) listen. “Warning”, in particular, cuts deep- which is one of the reasons why it wound up on the best songs of 2014 list just a few days ago. Incredibly impassioned and brave in its sincerity, LOSE finds a level of catharsis in its emotional turbulence, lending it a charge that renders it one of the year’s most human (and most important) releases.
5. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love
Perfect Pussy, for better or worse, have become intrinsically linked with this site. From Meredith Graves’ insistence on tangential involvement (which I’ll forever be grateful for) to the fact that the band’s greater ascension matched up with the very start of this site, they’re a band I’ve gone step for step with since bringing Heartbreaking Bravery into existence. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been so fiercely drawn to the things that they were doing, though, which is why I approached them in the first place. Ever since those beginnings, it’s been a privilege to watch them progress, to travel at lengths to watch them play, and to see them release a record as enormously powerful as Say Yes To Love, a collection which houses my favorite song of 2014 (and possibly of this decade so far). Unapologetic, personal, damaged, resilient, powerful, feral, oddly triumphant, and unbelievably intense, Say Yes To Love operates as a perfect reminder for all of the reasons why I fell in love with this band- and why I’ll continue to pay close attention to their movements.
4. Iceage – Plowing Into The Field of Love
No band in 2014 made a more stunning artistic leap than Iceage, who went from a static blur to matching the swaggering heights of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds after discovering their voice. Plowing Into The Field Of Love was a startlingly radical change of pace for Iceage, who imbue the record with a curious restraint and a sense of deeply haunted Americana. Southern Gothic touch points are littered throughout the record’s bleak landscape, while making room for plaintive ornamentation in the form of brass, string, and piano figures. Darker and more self-aware than anything in the band’s career, Plowing Into The Field Of Love earned them quite a few words of praise from this very site. Augmented by some legitimately extraordinary music videos, Plowing Into The Field Of Love proved to be an unexpectedly rattling experience. Easily one of the year’s most divisive records (as is the case with any left turns this sharp), it suggested Iceage’s ambitions ran way deeper than anyone expected and, subsequently, that they had the know-how to see those ambitions to fruition. In chasing their whimsy they wound up with something I wouldn’t fault anyone for calling a masterpiece.
3. Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek
My connection with Mitski’s music is something that will always hold a very personal resonance. I’ll leave most of the reasoning behind that statement to a forthcoming piece but it’s worth noting in regards to a record that’s so unabashedly self-exploratory. Bury Me At Makeout Creekwas an enthralling re-introduction for Mitski, who saw it rightfully skyrocket her name recognition. Top to bottom, it’s an extraordinary effort that re-defined her artistic capabilities after a string of meticulously composed records that leaned on chamber pop tendencies. Here, that past gets blown to bits almost immediately. One of my favorite experiences in music listening all year came when “Texas Reznikoff” explodes in its final section- another came while listening to one of the best songs I’ve heard this decade (for obvious reasons, considering that statement). Where Bury Me At Makeout Creek manages to approach the transcendental is in the process of allowing listeners to hear an artist coming into their own. Part of Mitski’s identity is laid bare by Bury Me At Makeout Creek: it’s the unwillingness to accept identity as a static object and the desire to question its cumulative elements. That search is what gives Bury Me At Makeout Creek its bruised heart- and it’s why musicians will use it as a source of inspiration for several years to come.
2. Radiator Hospital – Torch Song
After the exhilarating highs of Something Wild, Radiator Hospital had a tall order for their follow-up. Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), they obliterated those towering expectations with Torch Song. Sounding more confident- and more polished- than ever before, Torch Song cemented Sam Cook-Parrott’s status as one of this generation’s keenest emerging voices. Paying attention to the minutiae of everyday experiences and injecting them with a self-deprecating sense of poetry laced with pessimism, the songs contained on this record all aim to cut and find their mark with an incredible amount of ease. Having already established themselves as one of today’s more formidable units musically, Torch Song has the added benefit of having four loaded personalities find each other in total harmony, each acting as a complement to the other. Personal diatribes, small journeys of self-discovery, and a sense of empathy inform Torch Song and help cultivate its unassuming charm. There’s not a weak track among the record’s 15 songs and it maintains an assured sense of pace throughout its relatively breezy runtime. By the time it draws to a close, it stands as one of the most fully-formed and rewarding records of recent memory.
1. LVL UP – Hoodwink’d
I don’t think any record resonated more for me throughout the course of 2014 than LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d, which I revered with literally no reservations. 2014’s strongest sophomore effort, Hoodwink’d saw LVL UP expanding most of the elements that made Space Brotherssuch an incredible release and retained all the others. Unreasonably refined and exceedingly personable, LVL UP have always found a strength in accentuating their members’ unique personalities and that trend got pushed to the forefront for their second full-length (which was co-released by Double Double Whammy and Exploding in Sound). Utilizing a distinctly unique take on their 90’s influences, the band also reveled in the benefits of a cleaner production that allowed them to sound more massive than they ever have in the past. No release felt more timely than Hoodwink’d, either, with the record practically serving as a stand-in voice for a disenfranchised sect of people. Alternately crushingly heavy, viciously poppy, relentlessly personal, and completely worn-out, Hoodwink’d never loses sight of its own mechanics. There’s a level of mutual understanding on display here that separates it from the rest of the year’s releases. Everyone feeds off each other, everyone supports each other, and everyone contributes to one hell of a set without even coming close to overstaying their welcome. Conversely, Hoodwink’d also ranks as one of the year’s most welcoming releases, radiating an empathetic warmth in its tone (and in its tones). As an entry in LVL UP’s catalog, it’s their career best. As a general 2014 release, it’s the best thing I had the privilege of hearing all year.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: All of the titles below without an accompanying link can be streamed in the order they’re listed via the embedded spotifly player below the list.]