“Nighthawks at the Diner” – Top Ten of 2014
This top ten curated and written by Jack Sheridan
10. THEE OH SEES: DROP
For whatever reason, it seems like this album went almost ignored by most of the people I know who usually love Thee Oh Sees. Perhaps it’s because it’s a significant change of tone from 2013’s spectacular Floating Coffin, or maybe because it came in the midst of vast lineup changes for the band, which resulted in this being somewhat of a John Dwyer solo album. Drop opens with perhaps the band’s musically heaviest song to date, and closes with what might be the most emotionally heavy track they’ve ever recorded. Throughout the record, Dwyer and company explore an electric landscape still riddled with the fuzz guitars they’re known for. This album may not be the best record by Thee Oh Sees, but it would certainly be a shame to overlook it.
Key Tracks: “Penetrating Eye”, “Drop”
9. RUN THE JEWELS: RUN THE JEWELS 2
In all honesty, I put this album on my list partially out of fear of what nearly every other music fan might do to me if I didn’t. Run The Jewels has recently become a huge cultural talking point after Killer Mike gave an impassioned speech to a St. Louis crowd following the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson; such political agency via music seems to be rare these days. Besides that, anything that even marginally involves Zack de la Rocha gets my stamp of approval.
Key Track:”Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” feat. Zack de la Rocha
8. MEATBODIES: S/T
Chad Ubovich, the group’s frontman, had long held a presence in the California garage rock scene before the release of the Meatbodies’ debut album, whether it be playing bass in Fuzz or lead guitar in Mikal Cronin’s touring band. Their debut is clearly a product of their environment, channeling vibes from Sic Alps, Thee Oh Sees, and the Traditional Fools, and transforming them into a sleek yet grimy garage rock banger of a debut album. As if you needed another reason to check it out, the album includes a track entitled “Wahoo”, which is without a doubt an ode to dear old UVA.
Key Tracks: “Wahoo” (duhh), “Disorder”
7. JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD: DIG THE CLASSICS
Following multiple delays of their forthcoming album (now due out in early 2015), these Nashville garage rock stalwarts weren’t content to stay silent for the year. The solution: choose 6 songs that were influential in the creation of their band, and revamp them into typical JEFF style, with crunchy guitar fuzz and tight drums reminiscent of early Weezer. Among the bands covered by brothers Jake and Jamin are Teenage Fanclub, Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, and Beck. While Dig the Classics is partially a precursor to their imminent next full length, the execution is near flawless. The Bogus Bros manage to put a new spin on old favorites, without sounding derivative for even one second. The result is a giddy yet nostalgic trip through the memories of the ’90s at a breakneck pace.
Key Track: “Mad Dog 20/20” (originally by Teenage Fanclub)
6. PARQUET COURTS: SUNBATHING ANIMAL
Sunbathing Animal fits very nicely into the apparent path that Parquet Courts have been on musically. Whereas on 2013’s Light Up Gold the band rarely takes their foot off the gas pedal, Sunbathing Animal shows the band alternately slamming on the brakes and punching the accelerator. Speaking technically, the tone of the music is largely similar: the crunchy yet clean guitars, biting and measured drums, and Savage’s signature half speaking, half singing vocals. However, Sunbathing Animal indicates notable growth in terms of the band’s songwriting prowess, both musically and lyrically. The highlight of the begins with the title track, a four minute freak-out of epic proportions, followed by “Up All Night”, a lush, spacious instrumental that quickly bleeds into “Instant Disassembly”, a rambling ballad that will simultaneously make you smile and ache, without realizing why you’re doing either. Parquet Courts are a complicated band to evaluate: on one hand, they’re one of the saviors of guitar rock, but on the other, their lyrics are so specific and numerous that it seems nearly futile to even try to comprehend exactly what they’re getting at. Regardless, Sunbathing Animal is more than enough proof that Parquet Courts are one of the most exciting bands currently making music, and they demand to be heard.
Key Tracks: “Instant Disassembly”, “Bodies”
5. TY SEGALL: $INGLE$ 2
When I heard that Ty Segall would be releasing a collection of previously unreleased singles, I was obviously stoked to hear them, but not very hopeful that this album would be one of my favorites of the year. After all, how could a collection of songs he had previously deemed unworthy to be on albums be that good? The answer: Segall is good enough that even the songs he thinks aren’t his best are still miles ahead of what many other bands aspire to. $INGLE$ 2 spans the era from 2011’s Goodbye Bread through 2013’s Twins and Sleeper, though a few songs are clearly from scuzzed out Melted era. The track listing is presented in chronological order, which gives valuable insight on the transitions and trajectory that led to the creation of Manipulator, and raises interesting questions about where he will go next.
Key Tracks: “Mother Lemonade”, “Falling Hair”
4. REAL ESTATE: ATLAS
You will be hard pressed to find an album from 2014 that is an easier listen than Atlas. Real Estate has long been known for their ambient beach pop, but their latest work is notably of cleaner recording quality than their previous efforts, further streamlining their sound. However, beneath the surface, Atlas touches on some fairly serious topics. “The Bend” and “Talking Backwards” both hint at miscommunication. “Crime” is a plea for love, while “How Might I Live” does the opposite, asking, “how might I live to say you’re not the one I love?”. Listening to Atlas, and more generally Real Estate, for solely its aesthetic value is wholly satisfying, but ultimately robs the listener of the deep lyrical content contained in the music. Beneath the calm, rolling waves that make up Real Estate’s sound lie intense and pressing undercurrents filled with emotion.
Key Tracks: “The Bend”, “Crime”
3. MAC DEMARCO: SALAD DAYS
For as goofy a person as Mac Demarco is, Salad Days is a fairly heartfelt and emotional album in terms of lyrics. One need only read the song titles on the album to discover the array of topics covered: nostalgia, sadness, relationship troubles, and introspection. However, on Salad Days, Demarco still can’t manage to keep from cracking a smile every once in awhile, something that has become his signature trait. Legend has it that his record label wanted him to write a marketable pop song, so he gave them “Let Her Go”. But after the last chorus of the song, he mutters “or you can keep her, it’s up to you!”, essentially negating the meaning of the song, no doubt with a knowing smirk. Demarco seems to be a musician who is willing to deal with heavy topics, but will never let the weight of these issues kill his goofy spirit. Salad Days is an album perfect for anyone struggling with growing up, made by someone who so valiantly and effectively clings to youth himself.
Key Tracks: “Let Her Go”, “Treat Her Better”
2. TY SEGALL: MANIPULATOR
As far as albums by Ty Segall goes, this one is far and away the hardest to digest. I immediately knew I loved this album, but listening to it requires effort. Part of this is probably due to the fact that it’s nearly twice as long as his typical album, and that it spans such a wide variety of sounds. It’s honestly hard to tell if this album would sound better performed by David Bowie or Black Sabbath; Segall somehow manages to walk this line without sacrificing any coherence. The record is a double LP, and each of the 4 sides has a very distinct flavor to it, beginning with the fuzziest pop you will ever hear, and then transitioning into the very dark, heavy place that Segall loves to take his listeners to. Each previous album by this still very young musician has exposed a facet of his musical abilities, yet Manipulator seems to be both a conglomerate of his previous works and a potential springboard for future albums with infinite sonic possibilities.
Key Tracks: “The Faker”, “The Feels”
1. PARKAY QUARTS: CONTENT NAUSEA
If in January, you had told me Ty Segall would release two albums in 2014 and neither would be my favorite of the year, I would have called you a filthy liar. Yet, here we are. Parquet Courts pretty routinely get this comparison, so let’s get it out of the way: this is the best Pavement album since 1999. In fact, my first listen to Content Nausea was the most floored I’ve instantly been about an album since the first time I heard Slanted and Enchanted when I was 17. This album feels like S+E updated for the modern era, while still adding new elements that differentiate the two. As hinted in the title, frontman Andrew Savage sings about distaste with consumer culture, anxiety of the future, and everything in between, while maintaining the witty tongue-in-cheek nature the band is known for. However, Savage is dead serious as he brings the house down on the album’s closer, “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”. The constant struggle between lightheartedness and anxiety on this album reminds us that modern age distractions can only do so much to hide the existential questions we often try to avoid.
Key Tracks: “Pretty Machines”, “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”