I really don’t know how best to describe 2014, musically speaking. It seemed that I heard over and over again, “Not a lot of great music this year.” And yet, by year’s end, I disagreed — wildly. I’m still not sure that there were many (if any) records I’d throw in my album canon (no, not an album cannon, though that would kick ass), but, in general, there were a lot of really great records that emerged throughout the year. In fact, there were two records I didn’t discover until December that I absolutely fell in love with but quick. So, yeah, that’s pretty much why you can never start these things too damn early.
In terms of what dominated the musical landscape of 2014 — or, at least, my musical landscape — there was a strange mix of punk, female vocalists and the sweet, sweet tenor of indie stalwarts. Or, at least, bands that so reeked of indie stalwarts that I found myself transported to the early 1990s. Yes, Guided By Voices kicked out two more records, while Spoon returned with another gem (though, strangely, they failed to make my actual mixes, if only because there was too much to choose from). While I don’t know how many records I actually listened to, I can tell you that my “Best of 2014” folder included 180 songs that I painstakingly whittled down to two-CDs’ worth of music. (More on that below.)
So, without further adieu, here’s what 2014 had to offer…
Album Cover of the Year:
together PANGEA – Badillac
Vocal Moment of the Year:
Frankie Cosmos – “Owen” (At the 29-second mark, Frankie Cosmos (along with Aaron Maine, I believe) erupt into this sudden drum- and guitar-laden duet as they belt out the words, “It’s raining in my head.” I loved the record the moment I hit play on track 1, but this single moment floored me the first time I heard it.)
Song I Heard Once and Knew Immediately It Would Be On My Year-End List:
Radiator Hospital – “Blue Gown” (Hard to argue, really, particularly since it features Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield.)
Most Overrated Record(s) of the Year Based On the Critics’ Picks:
Beck – Morning Phase (There’s just no need for this. I’ve never been the biggest Beck fan, but I loved One Foot in the Grave, and pretty much enjoyed everything up to and including Midnight Vultures. Since then? No thanks.)
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager (Too slick, too dull. The only song I liked off the album was the title track, and even that featured a too-breathy Jenny Lewis. Bring back The Watson Twins!)
Sun Kil Moon – Benji (Ladies and gentlemen, may I present indie Eddie Vedder!)
The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream (Can’t. Stand. His. Voice.)
Wye Oak – Shriek (I tried and I tried and I tried to like it. It was impossible. Frankly, there was nothing to justify their decision to do a guitar-free record riddled with synth bullshit.)
Most Disappointing Records That I Was Highly Anticipating:
Interpol – El Pintor (I hoped and prayed in 2014 that they’d finally figured it out. Instead, they just got older. Fuck.)
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager (See above.)
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags (There’s a line in an old Twilight Zone episode called “The Piano” where the rich socialite has just embarrassed himself and asks his butler, “Why aren’t you laughing?” The butler then replies, “I don’t find you funny anymore.” I could say the same of Malkmus, though I might substitute “interesting” for “funny.” There’s just a melody and insistence that’s no longer there.)
Pixies – Indie Cindy (I’d be lying if I said there was nothing I liked on this “album” (three collected EPs), but for fuck’s sake, why? WHY, FRANK BLACK, WHY?!)
Wye Oak – Shriek (See above.)
Videos of the Year:
Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not Part of Me”
Connections – “Aylia”
The New Pornographers – “War On the East Coast”
Pissed Jeans – “Boring Girls”
Record That Would Have Been in My Top Ten Records of the Year Had It Not Been an EP:
White Reaper – White Reaper
Ten Honorable Mentions of 2014 (in Alphabetical Order):
Connections – Into Sixes (Anyway)
Creepoid – Creepoid (No Idea Records)
Fucked Up – Glass Boys (Matador / Arts & Crafts)
Guided By Voices – Cool Planet (GBV / Fire)
Guided By Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit (GBV / Fire)
Inventions – Inventions (Temporary Residence)
Mitski – Bury Me at Makeout Creek (Double Double Whammy)
Spoon – They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (Temporary Residence)
Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust (Sub Pop)
Top Ten Records of 2014:
10. Big Ups – Eighteen Hours of Static (Tough Love / Dead Labour)
9. Chumped – Teenage Retirement (Anchorless)
8. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All (Run for Cover)
7. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble)
6. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark / Mom & Pop)
5. Nothing – Guilty of Everything (Relapse)
4. together PANGEA – Badillac (Harvest Capitol)
3. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar)
2. LVL UP – Hoodwink’d (Double Double Whammy)
1. Frankie Cosmos – Zentropy (Double Double Whammy)
Frankie Cosmos (real name Greta Kline) did something that no other band did this year: she surprised me. Frankly (Franklie?), I didn’t know what to expect when I first hit play on the stunning Zentropy. I had never heard of Frankie Cosmos, though apparently she’d recorded a bevy of records (around 40 — 40 FUCKING RECORDS!) that had simply never been brought to my (or, it seems, most people’s) attention. Keep in mine, Kline is only 19 years old, which becomes abundantly clear lyrically as she sings about art school, her dog, and her being the type of girl that buses splash with rain. The thing of it is, though, she doesn’t come off as immature or silly. Quite the contrary, actually. She is somehow worldly, even if that world exists primarily in her own bedroom and with the people directly in front of her. Kline possesses a quality that I find downright refreshing: she’s confessional. She’s honest. She writes songs/lyrics from a very real, personal place (akin to the emotional honesty of the new Against Me! record), but she never sounds as though she’s naive or simply complaining. It’s as though we’re given access to an extremely well-written diary whose owner is equal parts of quirky and vulnerable. And if that’s not enough, the record clocks in at around 20 minutes. Who in the hell does that?! The bottom line is this: Zentropy is exciting. It’s fresh and sweet and heartbreaking. And it’s by far the record I’ve listened to more than any other in 2014. Kudos to you, Frankie Cosmos. Guess I’ve got 39 more records to get my hands on…
As always, I made two CD-length mixes this year, which, as usual, forced me to omit so many great songs. Seriously, I was devastated by some of the numbers I had to leave out. While I once again don’t know how many records I actually plowed through, I know it was a shit-ton. I sort of made it my mission to only listen to 2014 music this year (along with a shit-ton of podcasts, that is). So, yeah, I listened to a lot of records a lot of times.
So what’s changed? No CDs. “Huh?” Yeah, you heard me. I made two mixes, both of which would fit on a standard CD. And, yes, I made cover art for those CDs, because I’m anal and a creature of habit. But seeing as how we’re in an iTunes age where CDs have gone the way of the dodo, I essentially decided there was no reason for me to make physical copies. What’s more, I’m very lazy.
As for the tracks below, I linked to studio versions of the songs and some live/alternate versions of the songs that actually appears on the mix, either because I couldn’t find the studio version or simply really enjoyed the live performance. This year I considered uploading the actual files as opposed to including YouTube links, for instance. In the end, I once again decided to stay true to form, namely because it’s easier for me to share music that’s free online as opposed to including files that may not be so free. Let’s leave it at that. Most of the links below feature the actual studio versions of the songs, with some exceptions: there’s an alternate version of The Orwells’ “Who Needs You” from their appearance on Letterman (and I urge you to stick around to the end), a live version of Ought’s “Today More Than Any Other Day” (because it’s fun), and a stream of Herzog’s entire record, as I couldn’t find “Boys Part 2” on its own. Again, I hang my head in shame regarding the omission of so many great songs. I’m only one man.
Because 2014 was full of great album openers and closers, I thought I’d add an extra wrinkle this year and denote those songs in my mixes, with an * indicating songs that opened records, and a ^ indicating those that did closing duty.
Oh, and one last note. This year I included a song that is easily the longest song I’ve ever put on any mix ever. That is all.
With that, I give you the 48 songs (same total as last year) that comprise my 2014 mixes…
Monument front cover.
Monument interior artwork.
Ash front cover.
Ash interior artwork.
Monument (The Best “Fast” Tracks of 2014):
1. Parquet Courts – “Sunbathing Animal” (Sunbathing Animal)
2. Big Ups – “Justice” (Eighteen Hours of Static)
3. Joyce Manor – “Victoria” (Never Hungover Again)
4. White Reaper – “Ohh (Yeah)” (White Reaper)
5. together PANGEA – “Make Myself True“* (Badillac)
6. Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not Part of Me”^ (Here and Nowhere Else)
7. Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues“* (Transgender Dysphoria Blues)
8. LVL UP – “Medication” (Hoodwink’d)
9. Radiator Hospital – “Blue Gown” (Torch Song)
10. Modern Baseball – “Apartment” (You’re Gonna Miss It All)
11. Iceage – “The Lord’s Favorite” (Plowing Into the Fields of Love)
12. Fucked Up – “The Art of Patrons” (Glass Boys)
13. Little Big League – “Sucker” (Tropical Jinx)
14. Celestial Shore – “Creation Myth“* (Enter Ghost)
15. Connections – “Aylia”* (Into Sixes)
16. Guided By Voices – “Vote for Me Dummy” (Motivational Jumpsuit)
17. Chumped – “Hot 97 Summer Jam” (Teenage Retirement)
18. The New Pornographers – “War On the East Coast” (Brill Bruisers)
19. Frankie Cosmos – “Owen” (Zentropy)
20. The Orwells – “Who Needs You” (Disgraceland) [Alternate live performance on Letterman]
21. The Whigs – “Friday Night” (Modern Creation)
22. Angel Olsen – “Forgiven/Forgotten” (Burn Your Fire for No Witness)
23. Strand of Oaks – “Goshen ’97“* (HEAL)
24. The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Not Love or Death” (Mended With Gold)
25. Nothing – “Get Well” (Guilty of Everything)
26. Ought – “Today More Than Any Other Day” (More Than Any Other Day)
Ash (The Best “Slow” Tracks of 2014):
1. Mitski – “Texas Reznikoff“* (Bury Me at Makeout Creek)
2. Tweens – “Want U” (Tweens)
3. Angel Olsen – “Unfucktheworld“* (Burn Your Fire For No Witness)
4. Chad VanGaalen – “Lila” (Shrink Dust)
5. Herzog – “Boys Part 2“^ (Boys)
6. Connections – “Angie” (Into Sixes)
7. Frankie Cosmos – “Buses Splash With Rain” (Zentropy)
8. Alvvays – “Archie, Marry Me” (Alvvays)
9. The Fresh & Onlys – “Who Let the Devil” (House of Spirits)
10. Celestial Shore – “Gloria” (Enter Ghost)
11. Chumped – “Anywhere But Here” (Teenage Retirement)
12. together PANGEA – “Badillac” (Badillac)
13. The Rural Alberta Advantage – “45/33” (Mended With Gold)
14. Joyce Manor – “Christmas Card“* (Never Hungover Again)
15. Radiator Hospital – “Midnight Nothing” (Torch Song)
16. Literature – “Court/Date” (Chorus)
17. Against Me! – “Black Me Out“^ (Transgender Dysphoria Blues)
18. Parkay Quarts – “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth“^ (Content Nausea)
19. LVL UP – “I Feel Extra Natural” (Hoodwink’d)
20. Avi Buffalo – “Won’t Be Around No More“^ (At Best Cuckold)
21. Nothing – “Guilty of Everything“^ (Guilty of Everything)
22. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – “What We Loved Was Not Enough” (Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything)
Well, folks, that’ll do it for 2014. With that, I now ask that you do the following four things:
- In the comments section, let me know your picks for the best songs, records, and anything else music of 2014. What did I miss? What do you violently disagree with? What are you wholeheartedly in agreement with? What the hell else?
- Should you choose to (or if you have already) put together a Best of 2014 disc of your own, by all means send me a copy of the disc, or at the very least a track listing. I’ll do my best to post them on my blog.
- If you’re feeling nostalgic, go back and check out my Best of… mixes from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, etc.
- You’ve got Twitter, Facebook, and a thousand other social media outlets at your disposal. Share this with the world, even if you only have two Twitter followers (and one of them is me).
Until the Best of 2015, have at it, you vultures!