Best, Worst and Everything Else of 2014

2014

2014 was surely a year. I heard a lot of great albums, I missed a lot more. Really, I missed a ton of albums this year, guys, really didn’t do my one job right. Over on the Filtered Lens I compiled two “official” reviewer’s Top 10 Songs and Albums lists, but here I’m going stretch out, take off my tie and be totally personal. Here’s the crap I liked:

Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year:

10. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Christmas Island” (Review)
9. Tinashe – “Aquarius” (Review)
8. Future – “Honest” (Review)
7. Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels 2″
6. Pharmakon – “Bestial Burden” (Review)
5. Modern Baseball – “You’re Gonna Miss It All” (Review)
4. Interpol – “El Pintor” (Review)
3. the Menzingers – “Rented World” (Review)
2. White Lung – “Deep Fantasy” (Review)
1. St. Vincent – “St. Vincent” (Review)

(Honorable mentions: Lana Del Ray’s “Ultraviolence,” Parquet Courts’ “Sunbathing Animal,” Perfect Pussy’s “Say Yes to Love,” Lakutis’ “Three Seashells” and The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s “Broken Bodies,” which originally sat at #7 until I decided an EP in a list of LP’s didn’t fit)

And now for tonight’s main event, my totally subjective, completely personal 30 Best Songs of the Year, regardless if they were singles or not:

30. FKA twigs – “Video Girl”
29. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Temple Grandin”
28. Run the Jewels – “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck) [feat. Zack de la Rocha]”
27. Parquet Courts – “Sunbathing Animal” (Album Review)
26. Prince – “FUNKNROLL” (Album Review)
25. Foxygen – “How Can You Really” (Album Review)
24. Courtney Barnett – “Avant Gardener”
23. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Children of God”
22. Lakutis – “Too Ill For the Law” (Album Review)
21. Jeremih, YG – “Don’t Tell ‘Em”
20. The Creeping Ivies – “The Creeps” (Album Review)
19. White Lung – “I Believe You”
18. MisterWives – “Reflections” (EP Review)
17. Jessie J/Ariana Grande/Nicki Minaj – “Bang Bang”
16. Pharmakon – “Bestial Burden”
15. Beck – “Wave” (Album Review)
14. the Menzingers – “In Remission”
13. Phantogram – “Fall in Love”
12. Tinashe – “2 On (feat. ScHoolboy Q)”
11. Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”
10. Sia – “Chandelier”
9. the Menzingers – “Rodent”
8. Interpol – “All the Rage Back Home”
7. St. Vincent – “Rattlesnake”
6. Bruce Springsteen – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
5. White Lung – “Drown With the Monster”
4. Phantogram – “Black Out Days”
3. Grimes – “Go (feat. Blood Diamonds)”
2. Future – “Move That Dope (feat. Pusha T, Pharrell, Casino)”
1. St. Vincent – “Birth in Reverse”

Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist of 29 of these songs (the Lakutis album “Three Seashells,” which has song #22, is not on Spotify)

And here’s thirty more songs I loved (but not enough to rank), in alphabetical order, by artist:

Aphex Twin – “180db_[130]”
Iggy Azalea – “Black Widow” (god, I’m sorry)
Beyonce/Jay-Z – “Drunk in Love”
Big Data – “Dangerous”
Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better”
Cardinal Cardinal – “When I’m Not Alone”
Clean Bandit/Jess Glynne – “Rather Be”
DJ Snake/Lil’ Jon – “Turn Down For What”
Drake – “0 to 100/The Catch Up”
Foxygen – “Can’t Contextualize My Mind”
Ariana Grande/Iggy Azalea – “Problem”
Maroon 5 – “Maps”
the Menzingers – “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore”
Milky Chance – “Stolen Dance”
Modern Baseball – “Fine, Great”
Bob Mould – “I Don’t Know You Anymore”
the Orwells – “Who Needs You”
Parquet Courts – “Ducking & Dodging”
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “American Dream Plan B”
Shakira/Rihanna – “Can’t Remember to Forget You”
Sleeper Agent – “Waves”
St. Vincent – “Bring Me Your Loves”
Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”
Tove Lo – “Habits (Stay High)”
the World is a Beautiful Place and so on and so on – “If and When I Die”
You Blew It! – “Surf Wax America” (Weezer cover)

Superlatives:

Best guest spot: 1) YG on Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em”
2) ScHoolboy Q on Tinashe’s “2 On”
3) Pusha T, Pharrell and Casino on Future’s “Move That Dope”

Worst guest spot: Eat the cake, anime

Best cover song: “Surf Wax America” – You Blew It!

Best two bands that are great but I still have a little trouble telling apart – You Blew It! and Modern Baseball

Most Irritating Song of the Year: 1) “Lazaretto” – Jack White
2) “Rude” – Magic! (sorry, I know that’s a big blow to the Canadian reggae scene)
3) “Animals” – Maroon 5

Best Person to Wish He Were Born in a Different Generation and For Us to All Agree: Jack White!

Best Jack White Album: The Black Keys – Turn Blue! Fight me.

Best Free U2 album: an illegally downloaded copy of “The Joshua Tree”

Best Classic Rock Album Overshadowed by U2: Tom Petty & the Heatbreaker’s “Hypnotic Eye.” Sorry, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and Bruce.

Best Prince: “Art Official Age”

Worst Prince: “Plectrumelectrum”

Best Death Grips Album: “Run the Jewels 2″

Worst Death Grips Album: “N****s on the Moon”

Best Unplugged Performance: Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Super Bowl

Worst Unplugged Performance: Probably any other Red Hot Chili Peppers performance

Best “Chinese Democracy”: Pink Floyd’s “The Endless River”

Best Adjective Mike: Killer Mike

Worst Adjective Mike: Fat Mike

Best Album That Made Most Reviewer’s Top 10 Lists That I Didn’t Listen to Because Ariel Pink is a Shithead: “pom pom” – Ariel Pink

Most Intentionally Terrifying Song: “Bestial Burden” – Pharmakon

Most Unintenionally Terrifying Song: “Lock the Door” – Robin Thicke

Best/Worst Song Titles: Aphex Twin

Best Band Name: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

Worst Band Name: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

A song that I would like to let you know exists: “Got Me Runnin’ Round,” a collaboration between Nickelback and Flo Rida. Seriously.

Potential albums to look forward to in 2015: Sleater-Kinney – “No Cities to Love” (1/20)
Two Gallants – “We Are Undone” (2/3)
Father John Misty – “I Love You, Honeybear” (2/10)
Hot Sugar – “God’s Hand” (2/24)
Heems – “Eat Pray Thug” (3/3) (solo debut from the Das Racist frontman – keep an eye out for this one)
Modest Mouse – “Strangers to Ourselves” (3/3)
Madonna – “Rebel Heart” (3/10)
Wale – “The Album About Nothing” (3/31) (Yes, the collaborative album with Jerry Seinfeld)
Chance the Rapper – “Surf”
Death Grips – “the powers that b”
Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels 3″ and “Meow the Jewels,” the cat version of “Run the Jewels 2″
2015 also might hold new albums from Kendrick Lamar, Sky Ferreira, Beyonce, Adele, Drake, Metz, Radiohead, Rihanna, Kanye, Deafheaven, Frank Ocean, Waxahatchee, and Giorgio Moroder’s first album since 1992, if we’re lucky.

See you with even more cynicisms next year!

-Andrew McNally

(PS – this is, by sheer coincidence, this blog’s 200th post!)

Everything Ever – “Solid Ground”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Big Ideas” “Black Cat”

Not every up-and-coming punk band can come out of the gate with a debut album as consistent and enjoyable as “Solid Ground,” but not every punk band gets to open for Arrogant Sons of Bitches, too. When I first saw Everything Ever (then known as Curious Volume), they were the opening band on the line-up on night two of ASOB’s two-off reunion performances (a bill that also included Laura Stevenson, Shinobu, members of MU330 and I think Good Luck). The energy that these young men put into their show really surprised me, they held their own in a huge line-up. Now their debut album is out, brimming with energy and poetry.

I hesitate to call Everything Ever “pop-punk,” because they’re not as cut-and-paste (thankfully). Their music has pop-punk qualities, but it isn’t directly aligned with any punk subgenre. It could equally be called skate-punk with emotion. What is there, however, is big choruses. The band has big choruses and ‘gang’ vocals right out of their Staten & Long Island(s) roots. And there’s a lot of energy, especially in the album’s early songs. The opening trio of songs, “This Destruction,” “Rock Bottom” and “Big Ideas,” come roaring with enough energy and volume to make pop-punk purists smile. Likewise, late-album song “From Below” is a little blast to kickstart into the finale. This is something that has always come easy to the band, a nice benefit to have, and it’s on full display here.

But the band – consisting of Zach Sandel on drums, John Trotta on bass/vocals and Andrew Paladino on guitar/vocals – add some little eccentricities to their music to elevate beyond pop-punk simplicity. Trotta and Paladino put more emphasis on vocals and vocal rhythms than most punk bands, adding some depth to the tracks (I noticed it the most on “Of Guilt”). They also put in musical flourishes that save the songs from being verse-chorus-verse-chorus, etc. There are breakdowns, calmer moments, and just generally motivated songwriting. Listen closely on “Rock Bottom” for a quick, very effective chord change, for example. Absolutely the best example of the band’s songwriting is the finale, “Black Cats,” which does something most pop-punk bands would gawk at – stretches past six minutes. It’s a flowing song and a fitting finale, one that doesn’t sound nearly as long as it is. Everything Ever could be a pop-punk band – but are more one that have launched off of a template.

It could be that I saw the band open for ASOB and that I’m listening to Bomb the Music Industry! as I write this, but there were two things I noticed on the album that reminded me of Jeff Rosenstock’s songwriting – another man whose undefinable punk combined pop- and skate- templates. One example was quick – the pairing of lines “I gotta be more friendly / I gotta sing more passionately” in “Big Ideas” is delivered in a ‘pseudo-optimistic but kinda apathetic’ way that’s reminiscent of Jeff. And the lyrics, in general, have the same kind of poetic self-deprecation that BTMI was overloaded with. While most NY pop-punk bands direct their anger outwards, Paladino’s lyrics tend to focus more inwards, and while they’re maybe not as direct or specific as they could be, they’re still a poetic benefit that isn’t shared in fellow punk bands. So call Everything Ever what you’d like; maybe their name fits them well. “Solid Ground” is a strong debut, one that asks for a few listens. And with the band’s blending of influences, there’s no reason not to give it a few spins.

If you like this, try: Realistically, Everything Ever doesn’t actually sound a whole lot like ASOB/BTMI, even though I just spent a whole paragraph on comparisons. I’d rather align them with the Menzingers’ recent album, “Rented World,” which drifts closer to pop-punk than their earlier albums.

-By Andrew McNally

The Menzingers – “Rented World”

(Photo Credit: Noisey)

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” “Rodent”

*** Let me start, as I have a few times before, by saying that this review should be taken with a grain of salt, as my love for the Menzingers runs deep enough that it’s impossible for me to stay unbiased as I shriek and clap listening to their new album. ***

The only downside to releasing a heralding, magnum opus of an album is figuring out how to follow it. Look at the most magnum opus-y album of this generation: Titus Andronicus’ “The Monitor.” (Okay, it’s probably “Yeezus,” but for the sake of conversation). The band followed it up with a significantly more straightforward and approachable album, “Local Business” (that’s just as good and I do and will always defend it). But this is tougher for pop-punk group the Menzingers, because 2012’s “On the Impossible Past” is simply a “magnum opus” because of how good it is. Listening to it for the first time is as memorable as graduating or getting married. The band accidentally created a masterpiece. So the only way to follow up an album as good as it is to just stick to the formula.

“Rented World” opens with a track called “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore.” It starts with a shrieking guitar and frantic energy, as any pop-punk opener should. But the song seems to slowly cool down, giving way a few times to just vocals. The follow-up, “Bad Things,” is strong but a lot more moderately-paced. This is how the Menzingers operate – their energy often feels forced, like they don’t quite have the heart to give it their all. And it fits them well, given their often lackluster-y existential lyrics. The album still has a ton of energy to it, but as with “Past,” the emotion comes first. Pop-punk has changed. This isn’t pizza, jorts and hating this town, this is death, addiction and overwhelming apathy.

For those playing along at home, the second track is indeed called “Bad Things.” “Past” had “Good Things” and “Nice Things,” and even those ironically-named times have taken a turn for the worse. While the album isn’t as interesting musically – it’s straighter, and it isn’t self-referential – it might just be even darker lyrically. “Past” was a cohesive album, because it told reflective stories. “Casey,” “Freedom Bridge,” “Nice Things” and “Gates” all tied specific memories to specific, lost people. But where that album was outward, this one is inward. There’s exceptions on both albums, of course, but “Rented World” is a look at all that’s wrong inside. The album is peppered with beautifully devastating lines like “I am only bad news / For you,” on “Rodent,” and “If everyone needs a crutch / I need a wheelchair” on first single and Key Track runner-up “In Remission.” “I know where your heartache exists,” “Nothing feels good anymore.” If “Past” was a sad look at a memory that can’t be relived, “World” is an honest look at a present that can’t be changed.

The Menzingers need to stop hogging talent. Sure, they’re a pop-punk band, they’re not the most talented group. But the band shares two great, similar singers in Tom May and Greg Barnett, and somehow, sharing rough lyrics between two singers deepens their impact. This album’s only real fault is lacking the arc that made “On the Impossible Past” the overnight success it is. But again, it’s an extremely tough act to follow. They do branch out just a little – “Transient Love” is a legit slower song, and almost a minute longer than any song on it’s predecessor. And it’s followed by “The Talk,” a >2:30 kicker that, at times, sounds more like traditional early 00’s pop-punk than their own moody blend. Otherwise, “Rented World” is simply a collection of songs meant to beat you up inside, and it certainly succeeds. It’s going to forever be compared to “Past,” but it doesn’t need to be; it’s a separate, confident and viable album that’s going to be remembered nearly as fondly. It’s crisp and concise; inspired and emotional, and loud as all hell. Effortlessly great songs like “Hearts Unknown” and “In Remission” prove that the Menzingers know exactly what they’re doing. So don’t fear a mediocre follow-up, and prep your heart and stomach in advance.

If you like this, try: This is a tough one, but as mentioned before, I defend Titus Andronicus’ “Local Business” to death. It’s another example of capitalizing on an insurmountable predecessor in a more straightforward but equally inspired manner.

-By Andrew McNally

Grammer – “Awesome Knifes”

(Photo Credit: bandcamp)

Grade: A-

Key Track: “Quit (Your Job)”

“Twinkly emo” is a terrible name for a genre, but it’s impossible to ignore the almost meteoric rise of emo’s fourth-wave. (It’s practically founded this blog). Fourth-wave emo has risen like drug rock did in 1967, thanks largely to now-defunct bands Snowing and Algernon Cadwallader channeling Midwestern second-wave bands. Since then, pop-punk and punk bands like the Menzingers, Dads and Modern Baseball have fallen inline with the genre, as have more creative bands like the collective The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s discordant six minute songs about volcanoes. But bands like Grammer – properly from the Midwest – invoke a simpler, 2011 sound that’s somehow now a throwback to a throwback.

Grammer’s debut EP is five songs and roughly thirteen minutes, and really feels like the EP’s of the subgenre’s two origin bands. All five songs are midtempo and are grounded by those (ugh) twinkly guitar rhythms that dominated pretty much every song Snowing ever recorded. Opening track “Astronaww, Man” even sounds a little like Snowing. They seem to channel a few different specific influences throughout the EP. “Coy Wolf” matches Algernon Cadwallader in it’s harsh vocals ugly pairing over clean riffs. “Quit (Your Job)” sounds a little like Dads, with more of a chord-based punk sound. But this isn’t copying predecessors, because Grammer have their own sound. They’re a little grittier, and their lyrics about childhood and life eschew complaining for apathy.

The people in Grammer – Maxx on vocals, Dakota and Miles on guitar, Grady on bass, and Alex on drums, are good musicians and songwriters. This EP fits nicely into the ever-increasing qualifications of fourth-wave emo, without sounding like it’s trying to. It hints at indie and punk, and hints at some emotions and lyrics thematically different than most emo bands. And there are surprises – like the great false ending to “Cigarette Regimen.” “Emo” has become an umbrella term over the last year, for any sort of sad, poetic, relatable, twinkly, fast, slow, loud, soft combination desirable. Grammer are more straightforward than most, and “Awesome Knifes” is a promising EP for a proper, no-frills, Midwestern group.

The EP is available for stream and downloading here.

If you like this, try: It should be obvious here that I’ll mention one of two bands. So try any releases by Snowing, if for some reason you haven’t already.

Larry And His Flask – “By the Lamplight”

(Photo Credit: Brooklyn Vegan)

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Pandemonium,” “The Battle For Clear Sight”

“By the Lamplight,” the second official release for the band Larry and His Flask, begins a capella. It only stays that way for a few beats, but it is enough for the band to set the stages. Larry And His Flask are, at the end of the day, a punk band. Yet the banjos and intense acoustic guitar are equally reminiscent of both folk and folk-punk bands, far away from the slight Irish tone to their music. They are a diverse band, taking their inspirations more from cultures than genres, like a Gogol Bordello without an eccentric lead singer.  Their second official release follows this trend, although it is a little more standard than their previous full-length. Still, the a capella opening acts as a bizarre intro for an unfamiliar listener and a gleefully expected one for fans.

When Larry and His Flask are at their best, which is often, they invoke one-thirds Mumford & Sons speed-folk and two-thirds Nekromantix rockabilly punk. The opening half of the album sees them accomplishing this frequently. Early track “The Battle For Clear Sight” has a nice addition of a female singer, Jenny Owen Youngs. The second half of the album gets a little bogged down in songs that sound a little too unoriginal, because of an already high standard that has been previously set. Still, the album’s fastest and slowest tracks, “Home of the Slave” and “All That We’ve Seen,” help to break it up some. And the band always sounds like they are having fun in the studio, which transposes to the listener. They are a fun band, one that genuinely enjoys what they are recording.

“By the Lamplight” is a little less experimental than their previous effort, but it still ranks the band among the most experimental bands in punk music. Their sound is equal parts Celtic punk, rockabilly and folk, and their diversity makes for a truly interesting band. I learned about this band after seeing them in Brooklyn open for the Menzingers (a perfect band), at a show that Gogol Bordello was coincidentally supposed to play at (it got cancelled part way through because of weather). If Larry and His Flask come your way, I recommend them live. Their diversity translates to a fun live show.

If you like this, try: Frank Turner’s “England Keep My Bones,” another diverse Irish-folk-punk musician whose best album is the second most recent.

By Andrew McNally