Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Music Weird's best albums of 2014

I'm calling this a "best of 2014" list, but it's really a "my favorites of 2014" list. For one thing, I didn't listen to every recording that was released in 2014. In fact, no one did, which makes any so-called best-of list instantly ridiculous. We could list the 10 or 20 or 100 best grains of sand in the world with exactly as much authority and credibility as these best-albums-of-the-year lists that are popping up everywhere.

I also take issue with the notion of "best" in music, but "my favorite albums out of the ones I managed to hear in 2014" wouldn't make for a very catchy headline, so we won't dwell on it.


1. Miniature Tigers – Cruel Runnings

This was my summer album. I never got into the earlier Miniature Tigers albums very much, but this one really hit the spot.



2. Featherweights – Featherweights

Quiet, wryly humorous story songs by a Swedish boy-girl duo. I listened to this album a lot.




3. Neighbors – Failure

Synth-y, '80s-inspired pop from Brooklyn. Not to be confused with the power-pop group of the same name.



4. The Memories – Touched by an Angel

The Memories are prolific stoners who crank out lo-fi pop gems between bong hits. That's their image, at least, but I think they work a little harder than their image suggests. The Memories released two albums in 2014: Touched by an Angel and Hot Afternoon. Both are good, but Touched by an Angel is especially good.  

5. Ocean Party – Soft Focus

The fourth Ocean Party album is their best one yet, in my opinion. Jangly, meticulously arranged Australian pop.




6. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom

One of the few "critics' favorites" on my year-end list. Pom Pom is bursting with ideas, which is impressive coming from an artist who has such an extensive discography. Some of my favorite songs are ones that other people have told me they hate, like "Black Ballerina" and "Sexual Athletics."


7. Broncho – Just Enough Hip to Be a Woman

Their band name is hilarious. The cheesy, videotaped video for "Class Historian" looks like something from Tim and Eric Awesome Show.




8. Forest & the Trees – Missions

Slick, airy Swedish pop. "The Song That Breaks My Heart" was the first one that grabbed me.




9. French for Rabbits – Spirits

I miss the days when practically everything that came out of New Zealand was great. French for Rabbits are more lovely than scrappy, so they don't sound much like the Flying Nun bands of yore.



10. Twerps – Underlay

The new Twerps release is categorized as an EP, but it has eight songs, which is as long as many albums were in the LP era, so I'm counting it as an album. (If I were including EPs on this list, I'd add Croquet Club's Jacuzzi.)




11. Night Dew Call – Spots

Night Dew Call is an especially cool band because they're from the Ukraine. The vocalist reminds me a bit of Tobias Isaksson from the Swedish band Irene.





12. Ginnels – A Country Life

 An excellent new album from one of Ireland's finest exports.





13. Tape Waves – Let You Go

A bit like early Tennis combined with early Beach Fossils but in higher fidelity.





14. Alpaca Sports – Sealed with a Kiss

This would have been a more exciting release if nearly all of the songs hadn't come out previously on singles and EPs, but the first full-length by Alpaca Sports is still very good—it just didn't seem very new.




15. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

Morbid story songs about dead people. I'm a big fan of Advance Base, and "Jim Wise" is practically an Advance Base song, so that's what got me into this album.

16. Tycho – Awake

I admire artists who record instrumental rock albums today. Instrumental rock plummeted in popularity after 1963, so the cards are stacked against the instro rockers. This is a good one, though, and a great album to play while driving.

17. Cher Lloyd – Sorry I'm Late

I don't even think this is all that great of an album, but I listened to it so much this year that I feel obligated to include it among my favorites. I'll admit to being a "brat" (as Cher Lloyd's fans are called) even though her handlers do everything they can to mess up her music. "I Wish," for example, is almost ruined by T.I.'s lame rap. "Dirty Love" could have been this album's "Superhero" if the production hadn't been so gimmicky. "Just Be Mine" and "Sirens" are pretty good, but the whole second side is weak. Nevertheless, I love listening to Lloyd's vast array of vocal techniques. You can tell that she's a hard worker.

18. Craft Spells – Nausea

Craft Spells' second album is uneven, but I appreciate the richly orchestrated sound they went for this time, and "Breaking the Angle Against the Tide" is a great single. I wish I had written that guitar riff.

19. Allo Darlin' – We Come from the Same Place

A new Allo Darlin' album will almost automatically make it onto my list, unless they do something really screwy.

20. Advance Base – Plastic Owen Band

A name-your-price odds-and-ends album that appeared without fanfare on Bandcamp in November. This one makes the list just because I love Advance Base. The cover of CCR's "Lodi" is especially good.




Best reissues of 2014

1. Ronnie Dove – The Complete Original Chart Hits: 1964-1969 (Real Gone)

This was the one physical CD that I actually pre-ordered in 2014. I love 1960s easy listening pop vocal music that has one foot in the Nashville Sound, and that describes Dove pretty well. Dove had a lot of minor and middling hits in the '60s but never had a really big one, so he's not a household name in most households. Boy, could he sing, though. "Say You" is awesome. Dove's catalog hasn't been well handled, and many of the reissues of his classic recordings suffer from poor fidelity. This hits collection from Real Gone Music is the first one to present all of his chart hits in excellent sound quality. 

2. Various Artists – Complete Pop Instrumental Hits of 1959

I worked on this collection, so it might be a conflict of interest for me to list it here, but it blew me away. The Complete '60s label's Complete Pop Instrumental Hits series previously rounded up every charting instrumental hit for each year from 1960-1962, but then the label went back to 1959 for this year's installment. All of the collections in the series present these vintage recordings in the best possible sound quality, but this one is particularly impressive. The Virtues' "Guitar Boogie Shuffle," for one, is unbelievable.  

3. Various Artists – Native North America vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock & Country

This is another one of those awesome anthologies that Light in the Attic compiles, like last year's I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age in America, 1950-1990. I had never heard of any of these Native American artists before I got this double album. Some of this is like a cross between Peter La Farge and the Meat Puppets, which isn't a combination I would have thought of, but it's one that I immediately like. 

4. Lavender Country – Lavender Country

You might assume that a record billed as the first openly gay country record would have primarily historical or novelty value, but this 1973 album by Lavender Country is just plain good. I listened to "I Can't Shake the Stranger Out of You" endlessly.

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