Top Albums of 2014

Pre- (r)amble: Well, 2014 wasn’t such a great year for music, was it? The problem with this year is the same  from recent years – the bands I like from my late-’90s/early-’00s young-adulthood are largely slumping and there aren’t enough quality young bands taking their place. If I’m correct, ten of the fifteen albums listed below are from artists in their forties, or beyond. That said, there were still a lot of really good releases, and here are my Top 15. Enjoy!

1. Mark Lanegan – Phantom Radio (Vagrant)

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I like all of Mark Lanegan’s solo albums, but Phantom Radio is perhaps his best yet. Using Kraftwerk-esque electronica is the key to getting the most out of Lanegan’s dark and introspective musings.
2. Death Of Samantha – If Memory Serves Us Well (St. Valentine)
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Somehow new rehearsal room recordings of this Midwestern punky rock’n’roll group’s underground tunes from more than 20 years ago is the 2nd best album of the year. Why can’t younger groups do this kind of stuff?
3. Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation (A)
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While I’ll always miss the wild psychedelia of their late-’90s albums, Revelation is an aptly titled release for The Brian Jonestown Massacre and their most consistently engaging batch of song in over a decade.
4. Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham (Double Feature)
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Dean Wareham’s (Luna/Galaxie 500) is quietly having a really good solo career. This self-titled nine song album may not offer much in the way of surprises from the veteran, but do you need surprises when you’ve got great songs like “Holding Pattern” and “Babes In The Woods”?
5. Parquet Courts- Sunbathing Animal (What’s Your Rupture)
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A step down from 2013’s victorious Light Up Gold, Sunbathing Animal is still proof that this Brooklyn band is one of the few young acts giving me hope for the future of rock music. Recalls The Feelies, Modern Lovers, VU, Sonic Youth and Pavement, but with a current flavor all it’s own.
6. The Socks – The Socks (Smallstone)
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The best album of 2014 by a heavy rock band, The Socks brought back the early days of Sabbath in a big way. Though they’ve since changed their band name to Sunder (I guess socks aren’t metal enough), I hope their mastery of proto-metal remains.
7. The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions – Axels and Sockets (Glitterhouse)
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The third and final release in this excellent series whereby a tremendous cast of musicians pay tribute to the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce, by making songs out of recorded fragments or unused lyrics he left behind. Any album that boasts Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan and Thurston Moore (among others) will probably be found on my year-end Best Of.
8. Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours (Ribbon)
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The Walkmen may be on an extended hiatus but Leithauser’s voice is so singular that listening to his solo album makes it harder to miss them. He and his bandmates continue to be the only NY band that came up in the early-2000s to age respectably.
9. Jimi Goodwin – Odludek (Heavenly)
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I don’t think anyone bought it, but for me the former Doves singer’s first solo album is a success. Opening track “Terracotta Warrior” ranks up there with anything he did with Doves.
10. Sultan Bathery – Sultan Bathery (Slovenly)
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Full-throttle garage punk with intense performances and fuzz guitars galore from these young Italian upstarts.
11. Acid Baby Jesus – Selected Recordings (Slovenly)
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Really evil sounding psychedelic drone rock from Greece. Selected Recordings sounds like a great example of what Spacemen 3 referred to as “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to”.
12. Spoon – They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
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Spoon can always be counted on for a solid album and They Want My Soul is no different. “Inside Out” and “Do You” are especially strong entries into the band’s catalogue of indie hits.
13. Proper Ornaments – Wooden Head (Slumberland)
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Mid-tempo fuzz pop that strikes a perfect balance between darkness and sweetness. Informed by VU, Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands and ’60s harmony singing.
14. Walking Bicycles – To Him That Wills The Way (Highwheel)
Post-punk Chicagoans score again with their latest long-playing platter of inventive sonic claustrophobia that mixes the visceral with the atmospheric.
15. Sharon Jones – Give The People What They Want (Daptone)
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The weakest Sharon Jones album is still the best example of retro soul from 2014. Opener “Retreat!” is one of the band’s best songs to date.