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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Top 10 Songs of 2014

These are songs I thought were cool this year.

10. “Give Up” – PAWS

The PAWS album Youth Culture Forever dwells on the insincerity of old relationships as people grow up and grow apart. “Give Up” tries to parse though the bullshit of facades of indifference in a two and a half minutes of pissed off punk brilliance propelled by Josh Swinney wicked drumming. Burn bright, young and reckless glory.

9. “Forgiven/Forgotten” – Angel Olsen

Much of Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness employs a slow burning pace that allows her to meticulously melt listeners’ emotional innards. “Forgiven/Forgotten” provides an essential divination from that clip, speeding things up and allowing Olsen to get her fangs out and bite into your still beating heart. The ferocity in her delivery makes any proclaimed forgiveness seem like shaky footing, but there’s no choice but to dig your heals in and let her intensity wash over you.

8. “Hey Girl” – TacocaT

“Hey Girl” isn’t my favorite song off TacocaT’s awesome album NVM. In fact, there are probably four our five I like better (“This is Anarchy” and “F.U. #8” for sure. But throughout the year I kept finding myself sharing the anti-catcalling anthem the most. While there was (as always) lots of push back, I think 2014 was a significantly positive year as far as feminist awareness goes, and when discussions sprung up in person or online, I often found myself bring up the greatness of “Hey Girl.” Those I shared the song with greeted it with near universal approval. It seems reductive to label it a feminist “moment,” but however you choose to categorize this year’s strives to equality, TacocaT contributed in the most fun way possible. That counts for something.

7. “Taking Chances (Demo)” – Sharon Van Etten

The album version of “Taking Chances” from Are We There is superb in its own right, but there’s a haunting vintage air to Sharon Van Etten’s demo version that’s even more enthralling. The 7″ b-side has a feel of lo-fi distance that makes it sound like a track from some long forgotten 1930s gem. Van Etten coos like a ghost of a bygone era, giving the song an ever so slightly different emotional punch. It may not be polished, but goddamn it’s beautiful.

(Note: There was no version of the song online, so I had to crudely shoot this video myself. Hopefully it does the track a modicum of justice and doesn’t get pulled.)

6. “Everybody Knows” – Iska Dhaaf

There’s something ominous about the lead guitar riff in “Everybody Knows.” It’s consistently swirling overhead like the memory chopper blades above a long forgotten battlefield (this was the imagery in my head prior to the music video being release, which made said video strangely more creepy). Iska Dhaaf builds progressively more tension with each verse, and the momentary relief of the inescapably catchy choruses only offer a brief reprieve before more chaos breaks loose. It’s an artfully balanced rock song that can’t simply be hid in the recesses of the mind.

5. “Fallen Giants” – Kithkin

“Fallen Giants” is basically everything you need to know about the chattering forest indie rock of Kithkin distilled into 4 blisteringly energetic minutes. Cascading layers of floor percussion rhythms clash with frantic yelps and wailing guitar lines, Ian McCutcheon and Kelton Sears trade smoothly calm and wildly jittery vocal verses, and the whole thing ends in a ball of chaos. It’s so exhilarating that it’s almost exhausting.

4. “Bigger Party” – Speedy Ortiz

Rule #1 of a Speedy Ortiz party: Keep your friends close and Sadie Dupuis closer. While Speedy Ortiz followed up 2013’s Major Arcana this year with the Real Hair EP, the band’s best song came via Adult Swim’s free single series. “Bigger Party” is the poppiest Speedy Ortiz tune to date and Dupuis sly lyricism cuts sharp and she meta-laments “I only want to sing about murder in my songs / I have to use these metaphors just to say I like you” and delivers the hooky refrain with the hollow apology, “I’m sorry for the time that I made out with all your friends / I’m really a shithead.” It the perfect tune for a basement party she’d be sure to ruin.

3. “True Trans Soul Rebel” – Against Me!

“True Trans Soul Rebel” acts as Transgender Dysphoria Blues‘s, and by that token Laura Jane Grace’s, heartbreaking declaration of transgender arrival and defiance. While she get more personal regarding her own transsexual experience on other tracks, the poetic simplicity and poignancy of refrain of “Does God bless your transsexual heart? / True trans soul rebel” shows the authentic tattered heart of a fighter. And while that would be powerful in and of itself, the fact that she was able to turn those lines into an anthemic rock chorus that demands to be screamed along regardless of where you identify on the gender spectrum ingrains the song with power and serves as a testament to Grace’s songwriting skills.

2. “Losing to the Dark” – La Sera

Don’t neglect La Sera’s Katy Goodman and expect to get away unscathed. On “Losing to the Dark,” Goodman brims with confidence and eye-rolling sarcastic ire as she decries her lover’s rock and roll lifestyle (“How ’bout you write another song about how fun you are to drink with at the bar?”) and angelically quips “What a shame it must be to have to be in love with me.” The edge in her voice is bolstered further by the surrounding tones as guitarist Todd Wisenbaker shreds without abandon. It’s the a vicious takedown tied up in a pretty surf pop package.

1. “Cannibal” – Dude York

I’ve had the first 5 seconds of “Cannibal” stuck in my head all year and loved air drumming along with the downbeat playing in my head every time. The strength of the song is the leash-like control Dude York maintains; one moment the grip is loose as Peter Richards howls and guitar bends make a crazy scene, but with a quick yank things become taunt and instantly focused around Andrew Hall’s drum beats. It’s an invigorating audio tug of war that’s yet to grow old.

Top 10 Albums of 2010 Revisited

As is the tradition around here at Long Live the Album, I look back at last year’s best album list before tackling the current years incarnation. This is that. Because music is fluid, so why not make revisions, additions, and subtractions?

The Original Top 10 Albums of 2010

1. Swim – Caribou
2. Home Acres – Aloha
3. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
4. Champ – Tokyo Police Club
5. True Devotion – Rocky Votolato
6. Where the Messengers Meet – Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band
7. My Dinosaur Life – Motion City Soundtrack
8. White Crosses – Against Me!
9. Personal Life – The Thermals
10. The Game of Monogamy – Tim Kasher

The Updated Top 10 Albums of 2010

1. Swim – Caribou
2. Home Acres – Aloha
3. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
4. Epic – Sharon Van Etten
5. Champ – Tokyo Police Club
6. True Devotion – Rocky Votolato
7. The Game of Monogamy – Tim Kasher
8. Personal Life – The Thermals
9. Where the Messengers Meet – Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band
10. My Dinosaur Life – Motion City Soundtrack

Notes:

*I’ve fallen madly in love with Sharon Van Etten’s music (not Sharon herself mind you – I want to date these songs). The broken-up sorrow of Epic keeps me coming back. From the defiantly angry (still in) love song of “A Crime” to more upbeat numbers like “Peace Signs” and “One Day,” each track builds on Ms. Van Etten’s powerfully personal voice. I can’t believe it took me until this year’s SXSW to catch on to her tunes.

*You guys, Home Acres is still so, so good. I really wish people knew Aloha.

*Lyrically The Game of Monogamy has stuck with me more than any other album on last year’s list. Tim’s musings on the crushing tedium and hopelessness of marriage still stings. It deserved to move up on those merits.

*I had Personal Life ranked slightly lower to close last year mainly because it’s simply not as good as the best The Thermals albums. But the warmth of these pop songs seems more timeless with each passing listen, hence the bump.

Against Me! Feature From The Inlander

Live With Pleasure!

Against Me! is just as crazy onstage as it’s always been.

Against Me!’s live show seems like an experiment — a clever test to see how unrelenting a punk concert can be while still remaining blissful and anthemic. The band, now a decade old, fills its shows with song after song of hammered power chords, Tom Gabel’s shredding vocals and poppy harmonies — leaving hardly a moment for the band, or the audience, to catch its breath.

“It’s non-stop,” Against Me! bassist Andrew Seward says. “You have to give it your all every night or there’s no point in doing it. You have to kill it. It’s mandatory. Mandatory kill.”

Against Me!’s commitment to play loud and hard every night hasn’t wavered, but the band did have a shaky last few months. The group parted ways with its label (Sire), drummer George Rebelo left to go back to his old band (Hot Water Music), and the group was forced to cancel the final months of touring in 2010.

The split with Sire comes after the group’s last album, White Crosses — one that didn’t sell as well as expected. And while Against Me! has a devoted set of fans, it has never been a band that produces singles — and the lead single from White Crosses was about teenage anarchism, for goodness’ sake. Not exactly a topic that resonates with mainstream America.

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White Crosses – Against Me!

No band rivals Against Me! in terms of the amount of abuse it takes from its own fanbase. The same people that listened to Reinventing Axl Rose until they knew every syllable and note by heart, have spent much of the past few years venomously spitting words like “hypocrite,” “sell-out,” and “fake” at Against Me! frontman Tom Gabel. Undeterred but not unaware, Against Me!’s new album White Crosses pushes the band into new territory. The cynics are sure to spend hours debating whether the band is still punk or if it’s now just rock. But this inane hair splitting misses the real question – is the music still any good? To answer simply – yes.

Because of the punk “purist” backlash, any discussion about White Crosses has to begin with the album’s first single “I Was Teenage Anarchist.” The song is the closest to Against Me!’s previous work, excelling thanks Gabel’s lyrical transition from deeply personal verses – addressing the disconnect between his present and his anarchist past – to a huge chorus that rings with a universal relatability (“Do you remember when you were young and want to set the world on fire?”). To the “hypocrite” and “sell-out” crowd, this tune seems like the perfect ammunition to prove that Gabel’s past work – most specifically Reinventing Axl Rose‘s rallying ode “Baby, I’m An Anarchist” – is nothing but lies and spineless posturing. How can he still play “Baby, I’m An Anarchist” live when he screams “The revolution was a lie” in “I Was Teenage Anarchist”?

But look at the songs for what they really are. At their core they are not political rallying cries. “Baby, I’m An Anarchist” is a love song and “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” is its accompanying break-up song. Looking at “Baby, I’m An Anarchist”‘s lyrics, it’s about a guy who is unable to reconcile severe political differences (“You believe in authority, I believe in myself. I’m a molotov cocktail. You’re Dom Perignon.”) in order to have a relationship. His true love isn’t another person – it’s the anarchist ideal. But just like a bad girlfriend, time together has shown Gabel that his love isn’t the perfect entity he thought it was. They’ve drifted apart. Things have been said that can’t be unsaid. There are irreconcilable differences between the two parties. And on track two of White Crosses they split up for good. Like any worthwhile break-up song “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” combines a hint of the good times of the past (the chorus) with a bitterness and realization of how flawed the ex was. “The scene was to rigid” in the same way someone can feel suffocated in a relationship. No one bats an eyelash when a songwriter falls in love and writes songs about their lover, only to have an ugly split which leads to angry songs about the ex. In Gabel’s case, he fell in love with an ideal. Stones should not be tossed his way because the spark faded.
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Top 50 Albums of ’00s (10-1)

Here’s a quick recap previous installments: #50-41, #40-31, #30-21, & #20-11.

Without further ado, here’s the very best of the decade…

10. With Love And Squalor – We Are Scientists

The brilliance of With Love And Squalor might seem confusing at first. Everything clashes, but it sounds like noting clashes. That is to say, none of the musical elements are similar parts; the drums tap a certain rhythm, which varies from what the bass plays, which sounds nothing like the guitar part. Yet, when all these pieces come together, the result is some of the most fun dance rock in existence. Over backdrop, frontman Keith Murray muses about the proverbial “scene” and all the troubles and hook-ups that go along with it. The album does have some moments of clarity amongst the late night antics, be it the sense of being slighted (“Inaction”) or the realization of a desperate need for companionship despite what others might think (“Lousy Reputation”). However, the album’s essence is really found in tracks like “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” and “It’s A Hit,” which are just too fun to ignore. With Love And Squalor is one scene that never grows tired.

9. Nightmare Of You – Nightmare Of You

On a list of overlooked gems from the ’00s, Nightmare of You’s self-titled debut has to rank near the top. The group delivered a blissful collection of jaunty tunes in the vain of The Smiths. There’s a certain pop sweetness that prevails throughout the album (especially on songs like “The Days Go By Oh So Slow”), but there is also nuance beneath the surface. Each song has a devilishly wry smile about it, as if its a little more cunning and devious than it want to let anyone realize at first glance. This aspect really pops out on ditties like “I Want to Be Buried in Your Backyard” and “Dear Scene, I Wish I Were Deaf.” The mix of atmospheric instrumentals and sharp lyricism really do the trick. Case in point, it’s to find a better lyrically simple chorus than “My Name is Trouble”‘s “This is the last time that I’ll hold your hand, I want to kiss you on the mouth an tell you I’m your biggest fan…” It is things like that that make new biggest fans out of those that listen to Nightmare Of You.

8. Stay What You Are – Saves the Day

Laying the direct groundwork for the emo boom, Saves the Day’s Stay What You Are is just about as much as anyone could ask from an emo/pop punk album. There’s well-worded hate (“At Your Funeral”), hyperbole of the pain a relationship can cause (“See You”), and tender shyness (“Freakish”). The emotions are all allowed to shine thanks to a sundry set of catchy instrumentations. By the time Stay What You Are burns out on “Firefly,” Save the Day’s Chris Conley manages to get the heart he wears on his sleeve to find a little place inside the listener’s own ticker. Stay What You Are is aptly titled. It would be foolish to want these songs to ever change.

(Full review here.)

7. Relationship Of Command – At The Drive-In

Aggressive and otherworldly, 2000’s Relationship Of Command is like a mule kick to the jaw (which appropriately enough is frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s signature moves in concert) Each song still feels like it’s way, way ahead of anything that’s currently being released, and it dropped in 2000. The band’s hardcore spirit mixes with instrumentals that manage to be simultaneously crazily cacophonic and yet smoothly grooving. As the guitars wildly cascade from track to track, Bixler-Zavala shifts his vocals from the hyper spoken word verses of “Invalid Jitter Dept.” to the aggressive yelps on “Enfilade” and “One Armed Scissor.” The bottom line is Relationship Of Command has an inherent life-force; an energy which makes it seem vital. With the At The Drive-In long since split, this station may be non-operational, but with the signals that people can still pick up anyone would be crazy to touch the dial.

6. Control – Pedro the Lion

Control is portrait of married life and accompanying adultery which makes the notion of wedded “bliss” sound like the worst thing imaginable. David Bazan takes this concept and runs with it, finding the sordid details of a relationship gone awry. The opener “Options” sets the tone, taking one of Pedro the Lion’s signature single note riffs and weaving it into a story of halfhearted love that both parties begrudgingly accept (“And I told her I loved her, and she told me she loved me. And I mostly believed her, and she mostly believed me.”) That moment of sad, solemn togetherness is quickly broken by “Rapture” and it’s unguarded words of infidelity’s physical bliss. As the husband’s cheating ways become more and more evident (“Rehearsal”), the tensions eventually escalate until the reach a tumultuous end (“Priests And Paramedics”). Even the couple’s children, and their brief period of youthful innocence, complete with blissful unawareness of the crumbing situation around them, is broached on “Indian Summer.” All of these pieces of the story are matched perfectly by each tracks instrumentals, from electronic hums to harshly plucked acoustic strings. But the thing that stands out most is not the tale itself, but the underlying question of “why” things like this happen. Is it lustful instinct? Sheer stupidity? An insatiable urge to simply escape the monotony of everyday life? And where is the supposedly loving God in all of this? Control leaves the listener with more than just intricate tunes, it leaves them with philosophical quandaries.
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Album Hierarchies By Artist – Vol. 1

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I’ve been incredibly busy with school the past few weeks and have still been having to churn out articles for my school paper, hence the lack of recent posting.

To get back in the swing of things I’ve decided to start a series where I’ll rank all the albums by some of my favorite artists in order of just how good (or bad) they are. The best is listed as at the top and it goes down from there. Simple enough. We’ll start this in with 5 in alphabetical order…

Against Me!

Reinventing Axl Rose
The Acoustic EP
Crime [EP]
New Wave
Searching For A Former Clarity
As The Eternal Cowboy
Death Before Disco (EP)
Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live In London!!!

Alkaline Trio

Goddamnit
Alkaline Trio
Good Mourning
From Here To Infirmary
Maybe I’ll Catch Fire
Remains
Agony and Irony
Crimson

Blink-182

The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back)
Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
Cheshire Cat
Dude Ranch
Enema of the State
Blink-182
Buddha

Brand New

Deja Entendu
Your Favorite Weapon
The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

The Clash

London Calling
The Clash
Combat Rock
Give ’em Enough Rope
Sandinista!