We have reached that time of year once again, where I look back on another great 365 days of music. Albums, songs, videos come into your life throughout the year in many ways, be it through friends, an opening band you happen to see or music blogs, etc. These are my favourite albums that came into my life for 2014 and dominated my ears throughout.
I am not a writer, or reviewer. I don’t work for anybody. This is basically the only thing I write once a year. I have avoided any year end lists up to this point. This is just a completely honest report on what I loved to drop the needle on. I have had the privilege of talking with many of the artists on this list this year, and make no mistake, getting to talk with these people and seeing multiple live shows of theirs, definitely makes more of a connection with the music. That being said, there are bands on here I have never seen live and in the case of Teledrome, may never get to. Without further ado, my Top Albums for 2014. I hope you enjoy the read and maybe even get into some new tunes.
1. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream
There was never any doubt what spot this album was taking and I’m sure it will be close to the top of many lists. It’s an epic ambitious journey from start to finish. I have been a fan of these guys for a while now and the secret is definitely out with Lost In The Dream. Through the course of their three albums, TWOD have evolved greatly. Starting out with very bare, lyric based Dylanesque songs on their debut, and Slave Ambient hinting at the sprawling epics that were to dominate this latest record.
It has been said that Adam painstakingly produced and mixed this record over a very long period of time. The word perfectionist was thrown around and the results back that claim up. “Under the Pressure” has got to be one of the greatest tracks to ever start a record, and the lead single “Red Eyes” dares you not to be engaged regardless of repeat listens. The highlight of the album is undoubtedly “An Ocean Between The Waves”. The build and release of the guitar solo over barely decipherable, urgent lyrics is transcendent.
I truly did not expect to ever like a War On Drugs album more than Slave Ambient, and am so glad they topped themselves. Question is, can they do it again? The world will be watching this time.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Adam and Co. this March in Vancouver, just prior to the album truly catching fire. We touch on the Kurt Vile/Purling Hiss support group in Philly and their connection with Vancouver. It’s definitely a unique interview, have a look.
2. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation
For the 13th full length from the Brian Jonestown Massacre, genius musician Anton Newcombe keeps the ball rolling in the same direction the mighty BJM have taken since 2010. That is, a style that still embodies the psychedelia based 60’s roots found in their early stuff, while embracing a fuller more produced, at times electronic, cleaner modern sound. The results have been amazing. The last 3 LP’s are among my favourite in the catalogue, and Revelation may just find a place at the top.
Anton produced, mixed, wrote and recorded this over two years at his studio in Berlin. There are sublime moments of eyes closed psych rock at its finest. Trippy eastern influences seep into sped up electronic based frantic drum breaks. While this record should always be enjoyed in order start to finish, side C of this double LP is absolutely the highlight of the journey. The song “Memorymix” is a gem. With chugging drums, thumping bass, organ and a classic Anton monotone vocal delivery, it’s just infectious.
Like the music, the utmost attention to detail is taken with the vinyl pressing. The double LP is on 180g two tone blue. There is an oblong inner light blue ring with the outer being a dark blue. When you hold the record up to a light source, impossibly, the two color tones switch right before your eyes. I am still not certain how this is done. I am certain that I will continue to enjoy the creative excellence of Anton Newcombe for as long as he will release incredible, endorphin releasing music as he has done since 1992. Long live the BJM. “Food For Clouds” will grab you, tempting you to discover the rest of Revelation. Take a peek.
3. Cool TV – Paint
With frenetic guitar parts, intelligent fun vocals, and insanely catchy funk drenched loops, this album blew me away all year long. I was so caught off guard by the creativity, the vibe and the sheer feeling of joy these songs fill me with. This band is one of the most exciting bands Vancouver has to offer.
Each song title has a color name, usually with lyrics to match. The whole album is a highlight. “Pink” and “Red” thrive in the live setting with The Coolettes providing full call and response. Speaking of live, you must put these guys on your list. I believe front man Adrian can win over any crowd put in front of him. He plays with such abandon and believes in his music so much that a couple songs in, the feeling is contagious.
There are some very familiar sounding parts throughout this record. I think that is part of the appeal, a subconscious perk of the ears. Case in point “White” invokes Bruce Hornsby memories. War – era U2 is in there. And check out the main riff in “Undone” by Pearl Jam in comparison to a little riff that appears in “Green”.
These tunes are for dancing. They make truly fun music that thankfully follows down the same path of “leave your cares at the door” live shows, a staple of Apollo Ghosts concerts.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with Amanda, Shawn and Adrian to chat about the creation of Paint and we even had an exclusive jam space performance of a track off one of their singles released after the LP came out. I’d tell you to get this record immediately but the limited 300 pressings are long sold out, so visit the bandcamp for your digital fix.
Look for more great stuff to come from Cool TV, as they are heading down to Olympia, WA to begin recording the follow up soon. Get to know this band in the interview here.
4. Dead Soft – S/T
A lot has been said about this record. It has been reviewed positively many times since the release for one reason: It is damn good.
Dead Soft is a trio from Vancouver, BC. On their debut LP they have crafted a record perfectly balanced with crushing riffs, catchy choruses, sweetly sung verses, soaring guitars, and fantastically intense vocals. The track “Never Forever” embodies all these characteristics. This LP delivers on every level, every time. It is simply packed with so many memorable moments lyrically and musically.
I played the hell out of this record, as I’m sure most people in Vancouver who care about local music did. The fact that they were playing a lot of amazing gigs during this time helped us connect with all these songs, seeing them so incredibly translated live. I feel like I was seeing t once a week for a good month and a half at one point.
“Death Is At My Door” is a prime example of the intensity they bring to the stage and could have really been the title track, based on the lyrical content found throughout. We debuted the artwork for this record on our show back in June and we touched on the death theme. We also talked about the track “Waste” and how it came together in the recording studio, making the cut for the LP last minute. t gave us an exclusive jam space performance too. Have a look at the interview here and get this record immediately, through Kingfisher Bluez.
5. Digital Leather/Hussy – Split12″
While this is not technically an LP, it is the same length and a collaboration between these two is in the works, so it makes the list.
The Digital Leather side sees the band create some of their finest work. Their style is just something that has to be heard. Their minimal, down tempo moods are very creative. There is lots of synth here. The lyrical content on this particular set of tunes focuses on love, at least that’s how interpret it. I feel great when I listen to this. When you don’t want to rock out, just want some chill music to make dinner to, THIS is the record you go for. The lush soundscapes of Digital Leather will encase you and leave your eyes glazed, or on fire.
On the flip side you get vintage Hussy. The Wisconsin duo of Heather and Bobby Hussy have been cranking out tunes at an incredible rate the last 3 years. They play heavy , no frills hard garage rock n roll. I actually like this side of the 12″ better than their previous full length Pagan Hiss. They even throw a Digital Leather cover in for good measure to make this a cohesive listen.
I have been waiting for either of these bands to come to Vancouver for a while now. Look out for their first collaboration coming in the form of T.I.T due out on Volar Records. I will leave you with a taste of the Digital Leather side of things. One listen and you’ll be vaporized, check it out.
6. Ty Segall – Manipulator
Of all the records on the list this year, none hit me harder upon the initial listen than this one. I instantly felt this was a classic. Had it come out earlier in the year, it may have placed higher.
Ty Segall pumps out his product, with no less than 3 LP’s and 6 7″ inch offerings in the last 3 years alone. It`s easy to get intimidated by the volume of his work. I have purchased Twins and Slaughterhouse in the past. I revisit these records, but not with any regularity.
On Manipulator, I find the Ty Segall I`ve been looking for. Every song is a winner. There are distinct catchy choruses, incredible guitar playing, acoustic and electric. The production is crisp, apparently his most polished work to date. The vocals are Marc Bolan-esque, with an edgier atmosphere behind them, the vibe calling back to the early 70`s. There are so many great grooves on this record. As an old school hip hop fan and sample junkie, there are huge big beat drum intros and breaks on this record that are just begging to be looped.
There is nothing like getting to the end of a new record and immediately saying “I want to do that again” . I think I spun this 3 times straight my first time. Try “Tall Man Skinny Lady” for a taste of Manipulator, watch here.
7. Quilt – Held In Splendor
Bliss. Psychedelic Bliss. That is what immediately comes to mind when I think of this album. The A side of this record is one of the most enjoyable sides I’ve heard all year. On this, their second LP, Quilt delve into a mix of fantastic psychedelic folk and indie rock. There are great harmonies throughout and some of these songs just soar. Where Quilt really shines is on stage. Their mix of washy guitar effects and gorgeous female vocals will leave you reeling. I’m not missing them when they come through my city. If you are a fan of the BJM, or the 60’s San Fran scene, this stuff will work for you.
I was thrilled when Mexican Summer Records got in touch with me to sit down with Quilt earlier this year. I inquired about one of their standout tracks “Tie Up The Tides”, and lead vocalist Anna gave me more than I bargained for with her in depth answer. You can see the full interview here
8. Purling Hiss – Weirdon
Purling Hiss is a band that I have been following extremely closely since I became aware of their existence by chance at a War On Drugs show in Seattle in 2011. I was totally entranced by their opening set and had never really seen a guy play guitar like Mike Polizze did that night. Their album Water On Mars made my list last year and with Weirdon, they take a step back to basics while retaining their signature sound.
The Purling Hiss crew have cleaned things up a bit on this LP in terms of fuzz and distortion. Production is clearer, the mud rinsed free save for some nooks and crannies. There are some stand out tracks on this one with truly great groovy guitar outros (“Learning Slowly”, “Another Silvermoon”, “Six Ways to Sunday”). Polizze shines throughout with inspired guitar playing and vocals. Weirdon is a far cry from the basement tape freakouts thick with wailing guitars straining from whammy pressure. There is a definite psych feel, which is right up my alley this year.
Purling Hiss does not really have a relationship with Vancouver. I don’t think they’ve ever been here. I was through waiting. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mike in Seattle very recently to talk about Weirdon, his guitar playing, writing process and all things Purling Hiss. After the interview we witnessed one hell of a performance that reminded me why I fell so hard for this band in the first place. Unreal. I sincerely hope that all my music friends get to witness the power of Purling Hiss in Vancouver soon.
Have a look at the interview here
9. Solids – Blame Confusion
For our next entry on the list we have another debut album. This time from Montreal’s Solids. This two piece creates heavy, urgent, raucous songs that contain melodic moments with a blistering drum and guitar attack.
The high energy riffs and intense drumming create a great dynamic that is woven together flawlessly. Songs like “Traces” cranked to 11 will give your stereo a workout. The highlight of the album rests on the B side however. The first track “Laisser Faire” acts as a precursor to the main course. It dies down to a drone and in comes “Cold Hands” with a vengeance just as harsh as the winter is describes.
These guys have a great following out east. They made a trip to Vancouver earlier this year. Seeing them at the tiny Media Club was great, but with 30 people in the crowd the energy that Solids gave us was not reciprocated. I can only imagine the intensity of their Montreal shows. We were lucky enough to sit down with Solids at that first ever Vancouver appearance when this record was just 3 weeks old. We talked in depth about Blame Confusion. See it here
10. Teledrome – S/T
21 minutes. That’s all it takes to get the job done on this one. Super catchy, jumpy, dark synth will leave spirals spinning out of both your eyes. The vocals are emotionless and monotone at times, while spacy atmospheric sounds set the groundwork. Definitely an 80’s sounding throwback that sounds relevant today.
The good people at Mammoth Cave sent this (mp3s) out to everyone on their mailing list, FREE. You should sign up. This album stayed on my radar the entire year, I played it a lot and I thank them for the freebie.
Check out “New Motion” here
11. Gap Dream – Shine Your Light
This album actually came out in late 2013, very close to when I posted my year end list for that year. It was a big part of my 2014 listening experience, so I am making it eligible for this year.
Shine Your Light is a bright, psychedelic, poppy listen with a laid back vibe. Intoxicating drum beats and synth set the tone. Just now I’ve learned that mastermind Gabriel Fulvimar was actually an early member of the Black Keys. The LP is produced by Gabe and Bobby Harlow, who has done the last two King Tuff records, worked with White Fang and I’m sure much more.
“There’s Blood on the Stone”, “Chill Spot” and “Immediate Life Sentence” will give you a great taste of the hazy, sun in your eyes feeling of Shine Your Light. Definitely a heavenly, elevated trip for your ears. To bring this up to date for 2014, I will leave you with his latest offering from his 7″ split, the track Strong Love. Listen here
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed the read and definitely follow some of those song links, they lead to great places.
Other top notch LPs I would check out: the great King Tuff record, Black Moon Spell. Two great punk records from Vancouver: the Needles//Pins sophomore, Shamebirds and B-Lines’ Opening Band.
You got a list? I’d love to see it or hear about it.
Thanks for reading!