Favorites of 2014

Atomic Ned's favorite albums of 2014

As 2014 came to an end, I was asked by a few people, “What albums really stuck out to you in 2014?” My first response was, “Wow, I listened to so much music that I don’t know if there is any one or two albums that really stuck out.” But as I scanned my iTunes playlist, I discovered that there were actually quite a few albums that I enjoyed.

You may have noticed that my 2014 posting was pathetic and limited to just a few entries in early January one of which, ironically, was my “Favorites of 2013” list! But I made “Write more” a resolution for 2015 so I figured the best way to get back into posting on Atomic Ned was by posting a list of albums that I loved but didn’t blog about last year!

These are presented in alphabetical order as they appear in iTunes. And, here’s a quick explanation of how I picked these 20 albums – in this day and age, there are very few albums that I listen to repeatedly cover to cover. As it is, I typically listen to music during my work commute (30 minutes each way) or at times during the day when I can slip on some headphones and drown out other noise for 30 or 45 minutes. I’ve listened to all of these albums all the way through a number of times but, honestly, they made the list because the first 4 or 5 songs are really strong and inspired multiple listens.

Without further adieu, here are my favorite 20 releases of 2014:

Alex Dezen – Bedhead EPs (1-4)
The Damnwells lead singer dropped four 3-song EPs over the course of 2014 as a precursor to his band’s April 2015 release. These are (mostly) what you might expect from a solo album, Dezen is one of the greatest songwriters I’ve ever listened to and one of these days the rest of you will figure it out.

Beastmilk – Climax
Yeah, this came out in December 2013 but since I didn’t hear it until early 2014, figured I’d make an exception and include it. From what I can tell, these are metal dudes with a Joy Division fetish.

Bigshot – 6,600
Not a Billy Joel tribute act like the name might suggest, this Columbus, Ohio band would be a great addition to the 4AD record label with their dreamy, shoegazing goodness.

Brody Dalle – Diploid Love
One of the best shows I saw in 2014, Brody Dalle’s shed the punk rock image she had when leading The Distillers but keeps the punk rock spirit throughout these snarling tracks.

Crazy Lixx – Crazy Lixx
If I had to pick a favorite of 2014, it might be this Swedish hair metal album. Then again, I would have picked it as my favorite of 1990 (where it really belongs) had it come out then. Fans of Vain, Danger Danger and Def Leppard need to check this out.

Crosses – Crosses
Moody, synth-driven rock from the Deftones Chino Moreno. I swear I hear some Duran Duran/Depeche Mode influence in these songs.

The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger – Midnight Sun
The apple doesn’t fall from the tree in Sean Lennon’s case. Dad’s influence is apparent in this psychedelic rock that is both nostalgic and futuristic. I’d love to see The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger share a bill with Tame Impala though seeing them open for Beck this past summer was alright too 🙂

Greys – If Anything
Last year it was Metz. This year, it’s Greys. It would be too simple to say the two punk-ish bands from Canada are interchangeable, they aren’t. But both sound like the stuff SubPop was putting out in the late ’80s/early ’90s. It’s raw, it’s loud, it’s aggressive.

Helms Alee – Sleepwalking Sailors
I may have listened to “Pinniped” more than any other song in 2014. I love ebb and flow of the heaviness.

Holy Sons – The Fact Facer
Didn’t know a thing about Holy Sons until a Thrill Jockey publicist asked if we’d be interested in doing an interview with frontman Emil Amos for the other site I run, Kids Interview Bands. This reminds me a bit of the 2001 album (The Tailored Soldier) by Boxharp that Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor sang on.

Incan Abraham – Tolerance
Really thought this was one that some alternative radio program director would latch onto and champion right up the charts. The album came out in April and, to my knowledge, didn’t gain much traction (not sure if the band did any national touring; if they did, they didn’t come through Columbus). I hope that rather than head back into the studio, these guys put some road miles under their belts and work this album because it’s a good one. If we go on a beach vacation this summer as planned, this will be the soundtrack. Think Beach House, Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear.

The Life and Times – Lost Bees
2014 was a good year for fringe alternative rock bands with ’90s roots. First, Failure reformed and toured and then The Life and Times released arguably the best album in their 12-year career. The power trio, led by singer/guitarist Allen Epley (who earned his reputation fronting Shiner in the ‘90s), doesn’t feature enough keyboards or synths to be a prog rock band, nor do they overdo the reverb and land squarely in the space rock genre. Instead, The Life and Times falls somewhere in between with a deeply atmospheric full rock sound.

Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
Love how Lydia’s grown from a country singer to a rock singer (with country roots). Whereas I previous described her as “Loretta Lynn’s foul-mouthed granddaughter”, she’s definitely entered into the “midwest rock” phase of her (very) young career. I might be tempted to describe her as “Paul Westerberg’s foul-mouthed daughter” these days 🙂 If you want songs about drinking and boys, this is the album you need in your collection.

Sinkane – Mean Love
Yeah, Pharrell’s “Happy” is a pretty catchy song but I’ll take “How We Be” any day over the huge pop hit. With a variety of sounds throughout (soul, funk, pop), it’s no wonder Sinkane’s admirers include Usher, David Byrne and Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs).

Skaters – Manhattan
Knew from the first listen that this would have a home on my “Favorites” list. It’s got a mid-90s NYC sound (ie The Strokes) with some earlier ’90s Brit-rock mixed in for good measure.

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Totally jumped on the Simpson bandwagon after hearing so many friends (and musicians) sing the country singer’s praise last year. The fact that so many people dug this outlaw country sound makes me hopefully that people are starting to tire of the manufactured Nashville pop country and longing for a return to the style of music that put Nashville on the map in the ’60s and ’70s.

Temples – Sun Structures
A toss up between this and Crazy Lixx for my favorite album of 2014. How’s that for a variety?!? While Crazy Lixx sounds like ’80s hair metal, Temples sound like a psychedelic British band from 1968 and they’ve got the look that says, “We just stepped out of a time machine.” If you can imagine what Tame Impala covering the Beatles would sound like, you’re on the right track.

Ty Segall – Manipulator
Ty’s a maniac – he’s released tons of music since 2008 under his own name and with bands like the Sabbath-y Fuzz. So, yeah, might as well release a double album, 56 minutes long,  this time around! It sounds like some obscuro “Best of ‘74” mixtape passed around by the high school dope smoking kids.

Veruca Salt – The Museum of Broken Relationships/It’s Holy 7″
Only two songs, but any new music by a reunited Veruca Salt is worth celebrating. Truthfully, while I dreamt of it often, I never thought Nina and Louise would get back together and certainly never thought they’d record new music (though Louise will confirm that I sent her many pleading notes over the past few years!). These songs are everything I’d hoped they’d be and if they are all we get, I’ll be happy though I’m holding out hope for a full length sometime later this year.

Favorites of 2013

I listened to a bunch of music in 2013. Here are 15 of my favorites (when starting this list, I had about 30 albums listed), in alphabetical order because, while there was a clear #1 favorite (Speedy Ortiz), the rest are all a close 2nd.

All Dogs – 7” – Sounds like so many of the off-the-radar female-fronted acts I used to listen to and see at Stache’s and Bernie’s in the mid-90s. The Alive cover story (bringing to mind the Stephen Slaybaugh-era of the paper where local bands make regular cover appearances) turned me onto this trio and a gig opening for Speedy Ortiz earlier this month introduced me to their live performances. Still need to find their sea legs in a live setting but really hoping for great things from All Dogs in 2014.

Black Sabbath – 13 – It’s SABBATH, maaaaaan. And don’t go crying that it’s NOT Sabbath because Bill Ward doesn’t play on the album. This could have been a cash grab with a corporate-sponsored reunion tour but thankfully Rick Rubin asked the band to go back to their blues roots so it’s not packed with radio-friendly hard rock hits. Might have been the first “new” album I bought since buying a record player and worth it alone for the sick Iommi riffs in “Loner”. If Rubin employed some studio trickery to make Ozzy sound better (and I suspect he did), I DON’T CARE, that’s fine by me.

Cheatahs – Extended Plays – This album that is really a compilation of two EPs released in 2012. Cheatahs reminds me of a ton of guitar-heavy bands (Swervedriver, Smashing Pumpkins, Hum, Triple Fast Action) that I listened to on the reg on my 5-disc changer some time around 1995.

Duquette Johnston – Rabbit Runs a Destiny – Released in May yet I somehow didn’t discover it until November. Been a fan of Duquette’s since his days of playing bass in Verbena and am glad he found his own voice as a solo artist. Storytelling music in the vein of greats like Neil Young and Robbie Robertson.

Lydia Loveless – Boy Crazy (EP) – Is she or ain’t she a country singer? My kids – who don’t understand anything about musical genres – might say so but this EP, which I’m assuming is a preview to what we’ll hear on the next full length coming in February, finds Lydia rocking out more than we’ve heard in the past. As a fan, it’s great to hear Lydia (and band) expanding her sound without completely reinventing herself, it’s a natural progression that she wears well. Just waiting for 2015’s Ke$ha-inspired pop album.

Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks – Trent went back to the early days of NIN and made an album that will sound very familiar to all of us who were introduced to industrial music via ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ and ‘The Downward Spiral’. I’m okay with Reznor exploring his “soundtrack vibe” on occasion but hope he continues to dumb it down for people like me who are looking for an excuse to wallow in self-pity.

Gary Numan – Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind) – Only knowing “Cars”, I have no idea if Numan influenced Trent Reznor or if Reznor influenced Numan, but Numan’s latest is commercialized industrial music that reminds me not only of Nine Inch Nails but also the generation of post-NIN bands like Stabbing Westward.

Oranssi Pazuzu – Valonielu – Metal Rob said “Glad to hear you like black metal” when I sent him a Soundcloud link to these guys and told him “Christ man, I can’t get enough of this stuff. It’s heavy. It’s evil. It scares me but in a good way.” It’s the sound of nightmares which makes it a questionable album to listen to when going to sleep (which I’ve done more times that I can count in the last few months).

Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana – Discovered this band after reading a review in Rolling Stone (!?!?!?). Singer Sadie Dupuis said in an interview recently that she is tiring of the Liz Phair comparisons though that’s what turned me onto this band (I also hear Madder Rose, Pavement, Chavez and Helium). Hands down, my favorite release of 2013 and so glad I got to see them play a one-off show on an off night from The Breeders tour in a very small and intimate venue that was packed to the gills.

St. Lucia – When the Night – Synth-and-keyboard-driven danceable pop, the kind that we would have roller skated to or heard when playing Ms. Pac Man at the local arcade in 1983. It’s insanely catchy, it makes me feel like I’m 12 years old again and don’t have a care in the world other than making sure that the VCR is set up to record Friday Night Videos.

Todd May – Rickenbacker Girls – I wrote a review of this album in which I said it was as Americana as a mesh trucker hat and flannel shirt. I love Son Volt and bought their new album the day it came out (something I rarely do these days) but found myself reaching for Todd’s CD way more often this year when looking to scratch my Americana itch.

Two Cow Garage – The Death of the Self Preservation Society – I honestly think that social media made me a bigger fan of TCG than I previously was. This album is the soundtrack to all the experiences Micah, Shane and David shared on Facebook, Instagram, MySpace, Friendster, etc. in the last few years that I’ve been “friends” and “following” them and helps tie everything together.

Van Dale – Van Dale – Tim emailed me some MP3s, said “Want you to check out a new project I’m working on with Joe from This is My Suitcase.” Holy crap, if you haven’t already caught on by now, I’m a sucker for nostalgic music and the demos (and later, the album) sound like Weezer covering Nirvana. Or Nirvana covering Weezer. Or something like that. Saw Van Dale’s first (or second?) show, opening for Parquet Courts and it was sloppy and short and perfect. And, yes, I enjoyed them way more than the buzzed about/blogged about headliners that night.

Voodoo Circle – More Than One Way Home – The best Whitesnake album of 2013.

Winter Makes Sailors – Moving On – Sucks that we don’t live in a perfect world because, if we did, the world would know what a great songwriter/performer Sean Gardner is. I didn’t make it out to very many local shows this year but the WMS album release show was definitely the best and, seriously, covering my favorite Wilco song – “Impossible Germany” – that night???? AMAZING!