Top 10 Albums of 2014

Before we launch into the list, I’m going to take a moment reiterate some points (somewhat verbatim) that I made about year end lists when writing about my 10 favorite Seattle albums of the year over at Seattle Met. I’ve seen a lot of chatter recently decrying the very concept of ranking artistic endeavors as a year winds down. The main ideas behind this stance seems to be twofold:

1. “Art isn’t supposed to be a competition.”

That’s true, but one has to have a pretty warped and jaded to view to see lists like this as any sort of competition. A list is simply a way to say, “Look at all the awesome stuff that came out this year. Check out what you may have missed.” I take ranking to be merely a way of saying, “If you have limited amount of time, I’d say check out #1 first, #2 second…” and so on. People usually spend more time complaining about what isn’t on a list then thinking about what made any given countdown. Viewed them celebrations of things that provided some moments of joy rather than tools of derision.

2. “There’s no objective way to rank what’s the best.”

Duh. All year end lists are based on personal (or group editorial) preferences and biases. For example, the list below is entirely comprised of rock music. That’s weird, but that’s just how it shook out this year. I wasn’t drawn to any traditional pop, hip-hop, electronic, or other genre records enough for them to make the cut in 2014 (Lorde and Caribou have topped recent year end lists, so I clearly have no bias against any of it). And that’s totally fine. It’s all objective. It’s always objective.

Posse - Soft Opening10. Soft Opening – Posse
Posse’s throwback slacker indie rock vibe calls to mind some of the best of the ’90s bands, but it feels like the band’s simply kicking dirt on the outskirts of those forefathers’ property rather than looking to move in. The relaxed instrumental worlds the band creates seem so effortlessly natural, which offers the perfect backdrop whenever Paul Witmann-Todd interjects with another detached, snarky lyrical line on tracks like “Shut Up” and “Zone.” Soft Opening is music that’s artfully laissez-faire.

S - Cool Choices9. Cool Choices – S
Cool Choices is the breakup album of the year by a mile. From the lip-quivering opening notes of “Losers” to the finale’s (“Let the Light In”) blunt declaration “This was how I thought I’d get over you / I’d write it all down like it makes this true / Let go of the things that you said to me / And now in the end we can feel so free,” S (aka Jenn Ghetto) explores all the lowest moments in the aftermath of a love gone sour. In order to get over it, Ghetto’s got to let out all the pain. Cool Choices is catharsis in action.

PAWS - Youth Culture Forever8. Youth Culture Forever – PAWS
On Youth Culture Forever, PAWS connects with the spirit of youth while dealing with the reality of no longer being a kid. It’s about the making it through rough patches of growing up without growing old in soul. Whether it’s decrying the false pretense of cool apathy in a snarling burst of punk (“Give Up”) or reflecting on the melancholic feelings of returning to your hometown over distant, weakly gripped chords (“YCF”), the album hashes out those universal moments of old friends, old flames, and the old bullshit they bring to the table.

Dude York - Dehumanize7. Dehumanize – Dude York
Charmingly bratty is a difficult persona to pull off, but Dude York makes it look easy on Dehumanize. With manic energy and a strong melodic sensibility the band rips through songs of love (“Hesitate”), disenchantment (“Dehumanize Yourself and Face To Bloodshed”), and nihilism (“Believer”) behind Peter Richards’s berserk vocals and guitar and Andrew Hall’s deftly rapid fire beats and fills (my favorite drumming performance of the year). The album captures a delightfully foolhardy sense of passion that begs for a little thrashing.

La Sera - Hour of the Dawn6. Hour of the Dawn – La Sera
La Sera’s Katy Goodman dreams of eternal summer, but inevitably the season fades. Hour of the Dawn finds La Sera floating though a sea of warm and dreamy surf pop musings centered around the freedom, love, and decay of summer. After the blistering vitriol on the opening track “Losing to the Dark,” the band settles into a carefree groove with a touch of shredding guitar edge. There’s joy to be found by bathing in the sunshine of songs like “Running Wild” and even “Hour of the Dawn” despite its lament, “Summertime was the time of my life / Now it’s the hour of the dawn.” Don’t worry Katy, much like anyone who gives this album a listen, it’ll return.

TacocaT - NVM5. NVM – TacocaT
NVM is quite simply the funnest album that came out in 2014 than NVM. TacocaT excels at crafting silly sugary pop punk tunes out of just about any topic, from drug-fueled birthdays (“Psychedelic Quinceanera”) to menstruation woes (“Crimson Wave”) to anarchist roommates (“This is Anarchy”) to Seattle being unable to handle inclement weather (“Snow Day”). The most serious the band gets on NVM comes in the form of the audio middle finger to catcallers that is “Hey Girl,” but the rest of the time the singer Emily Nokes is more content to let her anger and tambourine banging loose on things like the bus not showing up (“FU #8”). Rocking out to stoner pop has never felt so sweet.

jag246.111834. Burn Your Fire for No Witness – Angel Olsen
While it spends most of the time softly brooding, Burn Your Fire for No Witness is without a doubt the most brutal record of the year. Angel Olsen’s haunting voice and knife-twisting songwriting make each a song a gut-wrenchingly beautiful exercise in the cruelty of love. With unshakeable songs like “White Fire,” Burn Your Fire for No Witness makes the listener feel like a slow burning candle – each passing moment they melt even further until there’s nothing left and the flame extinguishes.

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There3. Are We There – Sharon Van Etten
When was the last time Sharon Van Etten wrote a song that wasn’t—at the absolute least—very good? That’s not a rhetorical question. Van Etten is a model of heart-wrenching songwriting consistency, and Are We There is another worthy entry in her impressive songbook. She struts through each track with a vet’s swagger, nailing each song’s necessary demeanor: Cooly confident on “Taking Chances, emotionally masochistic on “Your Love is Killing Me,” and breezily whimsical on “Every Time the Sun Comes Up.” Even when the songs are bummers, there’s undeniable bliss in listening to a master continue to perfect her craft.

St.Vincent - St. Vincent2. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
With each passing record, St. Vincent is getting slightly stranger (and slightly better). St. Vincent finds Annie Clark effortlessly gliding between electronic funk of “Rattlesnake,” angular guitar riff driven tunes like “Birth in Reverse,” the horn-heavy “Digital Witness,” and spacey ethereal odes like “Prince Johnny” and “Severed Crossed Fingers.” Her (non-severed) fingers remain ever skilled on the fretboard as she delivers her takes on the monotony of our mundane modern existence (being out on the road with David Byrne for a couple of years will do that to you). I always like to joke that Clark is a higher life form than us humans, but—considering St. Vincent is her most complete and cohesive record in an already sterling catalog—it might just actually be the truth.

Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues1. Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me!
If punk rock is supposed to give a voice to the brash, rebellious, maligned, and disenfranchised though unfettered aggression, then Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues might just be the most punk album ever. The record serves as Laura Jane Grace’s screamed declaration of arrival as an open and out transgender woman. Over the course of 10 unrelenting tracks, she says” “Here’s who I am, here are the insecurities I’ve dealt with all my life, and I’m gonna kick in the teeth of any bigot who get in my way.” Against Me! turns deeply personal explorations of transgender issue into catchy, anthemic sing-alongs and capture the heartbreaking anguish of being a true outsider.

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