2.04.2015

My Favorite Music of 2014 (non-metal)

My favorite metal of 2014.

Last year's list.

So it turns out that being married and the New Year and all that stuff keeps a body busy, as evidenced by the fact that this post is over a month overdue. Can you tell that I take this business seriously?

In my last post, I lamented the fact that very little in the 2014 realm of metal music that impressed me. Of course, all bands should strive to impress a 26 year-old newlywed male nanny. What a better world this would be with all that amazing music! 

Despite my unfounded opinion regarding the spectrum of harder music, I cannot say the same about the rest of the music I listened to in 2014. I'm glad I moved away from numeric lists and rankings, because this year's list was harder than 2012's and 2013's by a large margin. And when you've been doing this unprofessionally for nearly 2.5 years like I have, THAT'S A LOT OF LISTS. 

I'm blowing smoke here, and I want to talk about good music, so let's just get to it.


YES, I'M STILL 12

Chevelle - La Gargola


When discussing music, it's important to remember where your roots are. I came from the horrid swamps and bogs of early 2000's alt rock and nu-metal. I grew out of 90% of that music, but I'll never let go of Chevelle. The Chicago-based trio has very steadily putting out solid hard rock albums every few years. I jumped on board with their 2002 release Wonder What's Next and never looked back. That's why I enjoy La Gargola ("the gargoyle" in Spanish) so much. I feel like I'm a freshman in high school again when listening to "Hunter Eats Hunter" and "An Island." Chevelle may not be the most creative band ever, but they're consistent, and I personally think this is their best album since Vena Sera, which is a hard rock masterpiece.



MORE THAN A PLEASANT SURPRISE

Copeland - Ixora


I did not expect a new Copeland album in 2014. I missed their farewell tour in 2009, which came a year after the superb You Are My Sunshine. Every girl I knew in high school was obsessed with this band, which was reason enough for my adolescent self to turn away from them. Boy, was I a dummy. Every time I listen to Copeland, I feel as if my ears are being simultaneously drenched in honey-covered sadness and joy. Despite the band not playing music together for years, Ixora is perfect, encompassing everything I've come to love about Copeland. It's also - in my opinion - the best winter album of the year. Listen to it while walking in the snow, and everything will fall into place.



GOODNESS FROM ACROSS THE POND

Dry the River - Alarms in the Heart


This British indie/rock/whatever band blew me away in 2012 with Shallow Bed, their first full-length. To me, Dry the River is personified by soaring vocals, on-point triple harmonies, and amazing lyrics. Oh, the lyrics. I'd give this album a high score for the visuals and metaphors alone. Blaire and I were fortunate enough to see them this past year, and they were phenomenal, English accents and all. In fact, we were having dinner down the street from the venue before the show when a few of the band members walked in and sat down at the bar. We couldn't stop staring at them, and they very obviously noticed us. I think they were checking out my wife (don't blame them). I'll let them off the hook because they put this album out. But if I ever find myself in the UK...



SWEET SOUNDS FROM SWEDEN

First Aid Kit - Stay Gold


Another European band, another band I listed two years ago, another band I was lucky enough to see this past year. These Swedish sisters are on the brink of taking over the world (if they already haven't) with their brand of 60's tinged folk rock. Stay Gold is just as heavy and sad as 2012's The Lion's Roar, it just looks happier because of the brighter colors. If you ever have the chance to see them live, do yourself a favor and do so. I've been to a lot of shows over the years in all manner of venues, and First Aid Kit's Seattle show easily made it into my top 5 all-time favorite live performances. Seriously, the whole thing felt like a massive living room show, except with hundreds of people instead of only a handful. Blaire and I have decided to see them if they ever come within 100 miles of Seattle again, no matter the circumstances. That's how good they were.



A NEW CHALLENGER HAS ARRIVED

Gates - Bloom & Breathe


I'm a sucker for good album art and names with ampersands in them. Gates' debut full-length caught me by surprise (as most good music does these days), as I had only ever listened to their four song EP with mild interest. Gates has helped me deal with the breaking up of Moving Mountains, captivating me with the same vein of ambient post-rock and passages of twinkling shoegaze. The vocalist sounds like Dustin Kensrue whenever he screams, which is always a flattering comparison. Bloom & Breathe is a beautiful album, and I'm very much looking forward to what this band does in the future.



DRIVING AND DANCING IS LEGAL, RIGHT?

Lights - Little Machines


2014 was the year I started to listen to lots of electronic music. I don't mean the kind you'd listen to in a club while tripping on acid. Nah, I'm talking about the kind that your friends might make fun of you for listening to. If you pull up next to me at a red light and I just happened to be dancing in my car, it's probably because I was listening to this album. My exposure to Lights was limited to hearing the song "Lions" in 2009. She's done a lot since then, and when she released the ridiculously catchy "Up We Go" in anticipation of Little Machines, I was 100% on board. This album is dance-worthy, and I hate dancing. You don't want to see me dance. If you were at my wedding, I'm sorry. That's PTSD worthy. This album is a jam. Only tone-deaf clods would refuse to tap their feet to this record!



A YEAR OF RESURRECTION

Pompeii - Loom


Every year, there are seemingly defunct bands that rise from the ashes to release beautiful new music, like the aforementioned Copeland. Pompeii is the latest band to revive themselves with a renewed passion. I thought they were done for, having produced no new music since 2008's Nothing Happens For A Reason. Loom brings with it the familiar ambient sound (complete with cello!) and a more refined direction, as the whole album blends seamlessly together, which is something few albums do anymore, barring superficial segues. I love seeing old friends after years of little communication, only to see that they've become cooler than me in the long absence. Enter Loom.



LOVE AT FIRST LISTEN

Prawn - Kingfisher


Ah, Prawn. Every once in a while I get sick of what I'm listening to and promptly embark on a quest for new music. Prawn was the first band I found on one such journey back in late summer. From the first bright notes of "Scud Running" I knew that I had found a classic. At times reminiscent of the tamer side of American Football, other times bursting with the fervor of Tiger's Jaw, Prawn's Kingfisher quickly became one of my most listened-to albums of 2014. I'm pretty terrible with music comparisons, but they also give me a slight The Appleseed Cast vibe, which if you know me at all, you'd know they rank among most-loved bands. Catchy, high-energy, and emotional, Kingfisher is the perfect summer album. Or really any-time album.



I LIKE IT WHEN YOU'RE QUIET

Tides of Man - Young and Courageous


In this year's list of metal albums, I mentioned the band Intervals, which started out as an instrumental outfit before adding vocals. Tides of Man has done the opposite, losing the voice of their band but continuing on regardless. And it's for the best. Prior to Young and Courageous, Tides of Man could be described as a post-hardcore band, akin to Emarosa or Secret & Whisper. They weren't bad, quite the opposite, but I always felt that the musicians were far too talented for a genre hampered by copycats and try-hards. After years of looking for a vocalist, they decided to go on without one, and it resulted in my favorite post-rock album of the year. If you like Explosions in the Sky, early This Will Destroy You, or good music in general, give this record a go. Also, is it just me or does the kid on the cover look like a really young Macaulay Culkin? 



THE BEST BEARD/VOICE IN THE BUSINESS

William Fitzsimmons - Lions


Old Willy and I go way back, at least to 2009. That's when I heard his album The Sparrow & The Crow playing over the speakers in a Barnes & Noble. I immediately purchased it, quickly realizing that it might possibly be the most depressing album I had ever heard at the time. For some unknown reason, William saw fit to play a show in Abilene, TX when I was going to school there, shortly after the release of his 2011 album, Gold in The Shadow. His songs are not for the faint of heart. The singer-songwriter has seen some hurt, and each album is another step in the healing process. Lions finds him at his strongest, with signs of  breaking free from his malaise, especially in the opener "Well Enough." I was able to see William again this past year. He's hilarious, never without a beer on stage, and always poking fun at himself for writing such depressing music. Bonus: if you do a little Facebook stalking, you'll find a picture of me with him in 2011 and again in 2014. He's the one with the beard.



NEARLY ALONE AT THE TOP

The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace Is There


Most of my 2014 music preferences looked like this: The Hotelier>>>>>>>everything else, by a long shot. That's not to discount everything I've listened prior to this point. I mentioned that 2014 was a phenomenal year for music, and a large part of that is because of this album. Receiving nothing but glowing reviews early in the year, I decided to check out the buzz. I found myself turned off by the vocals. However, the music and amazing lyrics were enough to keep me interested, and I eventually found myself in love with this record. It remained my absolute favorite album for about 60% of the year, and it wasn't close. This album is incredibly raw and emotional, coming from a deep-down place of personal anguish and introspection in vocalist Christian Holden, who thoroughly destroys his vocal cords over the course of the album. After the first line of album opener "An Introduction To The Album," you'll know that you're about to listen to something special unfold. Do yourself a favor and read the lyrics; the story of Home, Like Noplace Is There will pull you apart.



MY FAVORITE ALBUM OF 2014

Pianos Become The Teeth - Keep You


I mentioned that The Hotelier beat out pretty much everything else I listened to in 2014. Their album led me to Prawn, Gates, and Pompeii - all listed here. However, Keep You tops my list, edging out The Hotelier, and I'll tell you why. 

Prior to this album, I wasn't a fan of Pianos Become The Teeth at all. There was a time (2012) when I was listened to all these post-hardcore screamo bands like Defeater, Touché Amoré, and La Dispute. They were emotionally charged, intense, and all kind of blended together. I never gave Pianos a listen because they were associated with all of these bands. When Keep You kept getting brought up as being vastly different than anything Pianos had ever released, I still wasn't about it. Long-time fans were upset that the album was composed of only "clean" vocals while others praised the new sound. Thinking that I might appreciate the new direction, I decided to give the band a chance. I'm glad I did, as Keep You quickly supplanted my previous favorite album, if only by a slim margin.

Keep You is nothing like Pianos' older albums (I've since listened to them). There is one line of screamed vocals on the entire album. Much of vocalist Kyle Durfey's lyrics focus on the loss of his father, and I've heard the progression of their albums described as anger, mourning, and the healing process, respectively. Keep You is the beginning of that healing process. I can't imagine losing a loved one, much less turning the loss into something as heart-wrenching as this album. The second track "April" is my favorite song of the year, regardless of genre. If the final seconds of album closer "Say Nothing" don't evoke any sort of response from you, then you have no feelings.

Keep You is my favorite album of 2014. Listen to it, read the lyrics, and let's talk about it.



HONORABLE MENTIONS

Bad Suns - Language & Perspective. One of the catchiest albums of 2014! Indie rock at it's most fun.
The Cinema - Talking In Your Sleep. I haven't spent much time with this, but it's Lydia's Leighton Antelman's electro-pop side project. The last one was amazing. What's not to like?
Circa Survive - Descensus. Another year, another record for these post-hardcore giants. They refuse to slow down, and Descensus is harder, faster, and louder than anything they've done in years.
††† (Crosses) - Self-titled. Another Chino Moreno project, described as "dream pop" and "dark wave." It's definitely darker than Deftones and Palms, that's for sure. 
Golden Youth - The Cabin. My favorite discovery of 2013 returns with another lovely EP. Much like the title, this album gives me the feeling of camping in the woods for days on end, with only the sounds of nature to accompany me.
Horse Feathers - So It Is With Us. The Portland based folk band does nothing but release excellent music year after year. Guitars, strings, tambourines, you name it. My favorite folk band for sure.
Kina Grannis - Elements. A singer/songwriter with a powerful voice, perfect for summer.
Kye Kye - Fantasize. The electronic trend continues. Unable to find any form of their previous releases, I was thankful to get a hold of this album. Dreamy, trance-inducing, layered in warmth.
Merriment - Sway. Does the DuPree family have a monopoly on the musically talented family front? This time, Christie (the youngest DuPree) takes center stage on this indie-pop offering. For fans of Eisley, Perma, Rising Fawn, etc. See the trend?
thank you, scientist - maps of non-existent places. This band opened for Coheed on their In Keeping Secrets tour, the first to sign to Claudio Sanchez' Evil Ink Records. Equal parts System of a Down, The Mars Volta, The Fall of Troy, except with trumpet, sax, and violins. They are also insane live.
Tycho - Awake. My second favorite instrumental album of 2014, sure to be the number one of the genre for many.
White Sea - In Cold Blood. More electronica! Major keys laced with brutal lyrics. Can you handle it?

DISAPPOINTMENTS 

(highly personal opinions)

Accents - Tall Tales. This one is selfish of me. I missed the dark, stripped down sounds of Growth & Squalor. Here, we have an overproduced album with far too many sounds going on. And I'm a jerk, but I don't like the female vocalists' voice at all. Pander to me!
This Will Destroy You - Another Language. I haven't liked these guys since the release of Tunnel Blanket, where it seems they moved from traditional post-rock to a more drone oriented sound. It puts me to sleep, and not in the good way.
New Found Glory - Resurrection. I'll probably get flak for this, but this just felt like NFG putting out an NFG record without any sort of experimentation or branching out. I get that they're in a genre that isn't particularly known for creativity, but there was very little about this album that came across as memorable. About half of the songs are good, and I'd write the rest off. Maybe I'm not used to just one guitar in the band, who knows. I'm probably just an old man.

Best Show? Like I mentioned, First Aid Kit. Go see them!!

And that will do it for my musical musings for 2014. I don't review albums, I don't do Twitter, and my opinions bear no weight. I mostly just type what I feel and then cringe in the editing process.

Is there anything I missed? Anything I should check out? Anything you want to fight me on? Please comment! We're all about conversation here.

Hopefully I'll be on time next year.

JDS










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