My 30 Favorite Albums of 2014: 10-1
10. Connections - Into Sixes and 5 Imaginary Boys (EP) and Missed (EP) (Anyway Records)
Since 2012, this Columbus OH quintet has cranked out about 60 songs with nary a non-keeper in the mix. You can hear lots of GBV influence in their sound and their apparent belief that the motto that "less is more" is bunk. They just give you everything and let you decide what you like best.
9. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar)
The second proper release from Olsen moves gracefully from old time-y country and folk to up-tempo indie rock. But it's the hypnotic vocals with a voice that recalls the late Roy Orbison that will keep you coming back to this album again and again.
8. Dark Blue - Pure Reality, "Just One of the Boys" (single), "Subterranean Man" (single) (Jade Tree Records)
This LP and 2 singles totaled 12 tracks and I combined them as one really stellar release on the list. John Sharkey III's latest project was one of the most enjoyable releases of the year, with melodic songs about his life as a husband, father, and working-class man in Philly and Canberra, AUS.
7. Courtney Barnett - The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (Milk! Records)
Yeah I know this technically came out late in 2013. This is the most lyrically clever album on the list. Barnett spits out witty line after witty line all set to a backdrop of indie rock that recalls Pavement's less shambolic and twangiest songs (think how "Harness Your Hopes" is so close to being a CCR song) and some of the old Flying Nun label records.
6. Bob Mould - Beauty & Ruin (Merge)
Bob Mould could have retired from music after Hüsker Dü broke up in the late 80s and his place in music history would be secure. And he soldiered on with a string of mostly good solo records and also with Sugar. And here we are 35 years after Hüsker Dü. Not too many artists write their best song and one of their best albums over thirty years into their career but Mould did that two years ago with "The Descent" from Silver Age. So it was going to be a tough album to top. I don't think he did, but he came pretty close. With Jon Wurster and Jason Narducy both of Superchunk (among other projects), on drums and bass, Mould has himself a powerhouse power trio that's probably as good as any band he's ever been in. Not too shabby for an already legendary 54-yr old guitar god.
5. Ty Segall - Manipulator (Drag City)
Segall has been as prolific as anyone in his generation when it comes to the sheer output and eclectic style - mixing garage, punk, noise, glam, 60's style psychedelic, recalling everyone from the Velvet Underground to the Stooges to T.Rex to the Byrds to Black Flag. Since 2008, he's released a solo LP every single year, usually accompanied by at least one other "band" release with his band or other bands (Thee Oh Sees, White Fence, et al), or singles compilations. Manipulator is my favorite of his to date.
4. Ex Hex - Rips (Merge)
After spending most of the 2000's releasing solid but unappreciated albums that sometimes dabbled in fantasy/wizard themes and prog-rock, Mary Timony joined Wild Flag with Carrie Brownstein in the early 00's. After Wild Flag disbanded, apparently she was still intent on showing us her riffs, so she formed a power trio with Betsy Wright and Laura Harris. The concept was to create the kind punky new wave record that might have been popular enough to get some radio airplay in the late 70s/early 80s with obvious nod to the Runaways/Joan Jett and Slant 6, but also traces of bands like the Voidoids and Television at times.
3. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Wig Out at Jagbags (Matador)
Stephen Malkmus' post-Pavement career (solo and officially with the Jicks) is now one album and five years longer than with his former seminal band. He'll never release anything that will be as influential or as beloved as Slanted And Enchanted or Crooked Rain, but, well, who will? Much like Mould's career, if you continue releasing really good albums, people stop comparing your past greatness to your current goodness and just enjoy the new records for what they are.
2. Purling Hiss - Weirdon (Drag City)
Philly's Purling Hiss used to be a one-man fuzzy noise-rock band project of Mike Polizze but now have evolved into a powerhouse 3-piece band recalling legendary bands like Dinosaur Jr., Sugar, Mudhoney, Mission of Burma, et al. Water on Mars and now Weirdon make a perfect bookend of 2013 and 2014 releases for a band on quite a hot streak.
1. Protomartyr - Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)
Most profiles of Protomartyr focus a tad too much on the band's Detroit roots, but it seems appropriate with this group. There is a certain unassuming no-frills Midwestern grit to them and it comes through in the music. Maybe it's due to the pride, confidence, and the zero-fucks-given attitude of guys who stuck it out in their hometown, years after most of the country declared it a bankrupt wasteland. They lack the straight outta Williamsburg packaged look to them so to the unfamiliar they appear to be a group of schlubs fronted by a guy from the accounting department mumbling half-drunk rants behind some killer songs. Joe Casey's vocal delivery reminds you of the marble-mouthed Joe Strummer in a good way. In any case Under Color is a no-bullshit instant classic.