Monday, December 29, 2014

Billy's Hit List 2014

Because no one demanded it, here's the list of best albums and songs from 2014, as told by Billy at the Bottom of the Glass:

Five albums stood out above the rest in 2014, although the choices speak more to how much I yearn, and desperately so, for an era of rock and roll that might never come back to us. An era of rock that was about, well, yearning desperately, sometimes angrily. It was rock because it had crunchy guitars and human beings who played actual instruments with strings, wires, skins. It was rock because, with or without ProTools, it took a talent that reaches beyond a game on the PS4.

We've lost some of the anger in music. Occasionally you'll get an angry pop song, but it's nothing like the anger in a Stones song from the early '70s.

TOP FIVE ALBUMS OF 2014 (In No Particular Order):

Augustines: Augstines
I wrote about 'em a few months back. This album has been playing on and off with devoted regularity since I purchased it 10 months ago.  No need rehashing my love with new words strung together in familiar ways. It's a stunning album full of pain and hope.

Try these: Walkabouts, Don't You Look Back, Kid You're On Your Own

Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams' 2014 eponymous effort is the album for all moods, all times, all company. If you're feeling happy or sad, mellow or agitated, this album might not be the perfect fit, but it's like that fleece vest you can wear for the mid-60s or the low 40s and still be comfortable. All-weather music, if you will.

Although I'm not well-acquainted with Jackson Browne's CV, I can't get past how very Jackson Browne this album feels, how very 1978-1983 it feels, how very Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Breakfast Club it feels. It is smooth, expertly-crafted mid-tempo AOR with the timeless themes of classic rock, and it goes down like that first beer after a grueling workout or after a Lent without it.

Try these: Feels Like Fire, Gimme Something Good, Tired of Giving Up

Wussy: Attica
The album has all the vitamins and minerals a college kid from the '90s would need. Reverb. Mumbly lyrics. A hint of shoegazing. A backpack full of bitterness and lamentation. It's got Seattle and Athens, Georgia, and a dash of DBT.

As an added bonus, the only way you would likely know of this band is if you were anti-establishment, anti-radio, and too cool for school. In other words, you probably haven't ever heard of this band or this album, but if you want to seem really cool with your music-loving friends, drop this band's name and say something like, "Wussy's homage to The Who is flat-out epic, don't you think?" Either they know the album, and you're cool, or they don't know the album, and you're cool.

Try these: Teenage Wasteland, North Sea Girls

Sleeper Agent: About Last Night
By far the poppiest of this list, Sleeper Agent is the band I would have followed fanatically as a college sophomore. They're fun. They have fun with rock. The music they churn out makes me want to go all Night at the Roxbury with my head bobs. They sing about lusty urges in the middle of the night, things a guy should never tell a girl if he wants to get laid and still be respected. They sing about all the fun you can have until you wake up and realize you're either an alcoholic, a narcissist, or just a lost puppy. Maybe all three.

Try these: Bad News, Good Job, Be Brave

Royal Blood: Royal Blood
Just listen to the first 30 seconds of this album, and you'll know. Either that off-kilter opening drum lick will wake your soul or annoy the crap out of you. I saw one critic call them "The Blacker Keys." People describe them using words like "muscular" and "lean." The words "to the bone" come to mind. It's hard, testosterone-fueled angst rock, and it's fun in 2014 because it's hard to find, like gem mining for emeralds in a Gatlinburg tourist trap.

Try these: Out of the Black, Loose Change, Figure It Out

Noteworthy Others:
The War on Drugs, Jack White, Foo Fighters, Broods, Jenny Lewis, The New Pornographers, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, The Hold Steady, U2
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THE BEST SONGS OF 2014 (in no particular order):

27 - Passenger: When artists stuck in the rut of critically-beloved obscurity write songs about how much it pisses them off to be hailed as talented and under-appreciated, how much it sucks to be good at something that makes no money, how much a troubadour's life revolves around alcohol, nicotine and failed relationships, it's usually awesome, and it's usually their best shot at expanding their fan base. Hopefully he succeeded. There are a number of good songs on his album.

1,000 Years - Gaslight Anthem: A somewhat conventional but terrifically catchy song about divorce.

Lazaretto - Jack White: A freakishly unconventional confessional that, I suspect, reveals more of the true soul of the enigmatic creature that is Jack White than perhaps any other song he's written. Or maybe it says nothing about him at all.

Chandelier - Sia: The best song sung joyously and cluelessly by drunken 20-something women about the depressing vacuum of emptiness and meaninglessness they're afraid their lives might be. Nothing is as awesome as the dramatic irony of a song insulting the very people most likely to love it.

Spinners - The Hold Steady: "Chandelier" written by a great rock band. So obv 20-something women don't love it. So obv few people ever heard it.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues - Against Me!: A potent window into the soul of someone very much not like you.

Out of the Woods - Taylor Swift: I wrote about it here. It's quite amazing for a simple pop song.

In The Clear - Foo Fighters: Some critics thought the Foo's latest album was a poorly-executed gimmick. To me it was a brilliant experiment. You write songs vaguely inspired by various cities central to the American Music ethos. You record them in one of that city's most revered studios. You pull in someone wicked cool and indigenous to that city to guest play on that song. Their homage to New Orleans, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, gives me Rock & Creole butterflies.

The War - Bob Mould: The songs on Bob Mould albums tend to blur together into a big crunchy stew of similarity, but this one -- another great breakup/divorce song -- stood out for me on his latest strong outing, Beauty & Ruin.

L.A.F. - Broods: Funky beat by this New Zealand version of Chvrches (which is intended as a compliment). The initials supposedly stand for "loose as f*#k" and is about the camaraderie of a small band of friends experiencing the nightlife scene together. Whatevs, yo. I just dig that kickin' beat.

The Best That I Can Give - Emerson Hart: This dude has made a career out of being depressed and broken up. This song might be the best he could give this genre of songs, which is full of some quality tear-jerkers.

The Devil is All Around - Shovels & Rope: A semi-religious song about unraveling. You can bet your bottom dollar that a little-known duo few have heard of that can sell out the Ryman more than two months in advance puts on a legendary live show. This song captures most of what mesmerizes me about their sound.

Marching Orders - The New Pornographers: I have absolutely no clue what this song is about. None. I just know I love Neko Case's voice leading the creative efforts of this stellar pop band even better than I like her voice on her solo efforts. She never loses her voice on these albums.

1 comment:

troutking said...

OK, I will listen to Ryan Adams' album after that review!