Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2014

This was a hard list to write because I loved a lot of the music that came out this year so much. It's a shame the Grammy's aren't recognizing most of these amazing voices because of the bullshit that is the music industry. Either way, here's my top 10 (and some honorable mentions).

10. Foo Fighters Sonic Highways

The Foo Fighters went on a quest this year to travel across the United States to find and play in some of the most important recording studios in music history. The outcome of that is this album and an HBO series, both titled Sonic Highways (I haven't watched it yet but I intend to). It was an ambitious project that only Dave Grohl would actually try to attempt and succeed with it. I love Grohl's love for music history and want to share it with this generation of music fans. It's a very similar idea to his great documentary he directed in 2013, Sound City. Most of the songs sound a lot like their work on the incredible Wasting Light, especially their single from the album, “Something from Nothing”. But they did try to mask their style a little with the historical style of the musically significant city they were in. A decent album from a great band. They're #10 due to lack of creativity because honestly, this is just the same ol' Foo's but I love the same ol' Foo's just the same, so on my list it shall be.

9. Foster the People Supermodel

Again, I must defend Foster the People and their awesomeness! Supermodel was weird but they experimented and for a sophomore album, that's a ballsy thing to do. Plus, “Coming of Age” was a great first single for the album and just a very catchy song. I've already explained my love for this album on this blog, during NABLOPOMO so there's no need for that. Just listen to them and love them, damnit!

8. Alvvays Self Titled

Alvvays is a band from Canada that kind of snuck up on me towards the end of the year. As some people who read this blog know, I'm a librarian, and I saw this at the circulation desk a lot during October and November. I checked it out and the first thing I thought was, “oh god, another Best Coast surf pop band with ridiculously catchy songs – I'm hooked.” I'm such a sucker for these type of bands. “Archie, Marry Me” and “Party Police” are some key tracks. If you're like me and love these peppy, 1960's beach party bands, give this a listen.

7. Angel Olsen Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Here's another artist that snuck up on me towards the end of the year – damn! Angel Olsen sounds like Fiona Apple, The Dead Weather and Patti Smith mixed together...I love it. This is her second studio album and it's been getting rave reviews from pretty much every music media outlet...she'll be around for sure. Olsen is raw and visceral. It's also obvious she doesn't care what other people think and is just doing her thing – that's what makes this album important. Key tracks: EVERY SONG. Listen to it. 

6. Banks Goddess

Jillian Banks came out in 2014 with a fresh, new sound that showed us what R&B and dance music can sound like with passion and unapologetic honesty. Her raspy growl makes you feel every word she's singing and won't stop until you know how much she's hurting. Key tracks include “Waiting Game”, “Brain”, “This is What it Feels Like” and “Beggin' for Thread”. A great introduction to hopefully a long lasting career in music. 

5. Courtney Barnett The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

I don't think I've mentioned Courtney Barnett at all on this blog. Barnett is one of the artists I fell in love with this year. She reminds me of early 90's rock – her guitar snarls from the amplifier almost like Kurt Cobain or Billy Corgan would prefer. Her lyrics are just rambles from what sounds like a journal, but it totally works. Some key tracks include “Out of the Woodwork”, “History Eraser”, “Anonymous Club”, “Avant Gardner” and “Lance Jr.”.

4. Sylvan Esso Self Titled

The type of music Sylan Esso creates could easily be very boring, lacking creativity and passion. Not Sylvan Esso though, they know how to do this type of music. Their self titled is full of bright and breezy melodies that will get you dancing. It's albums and bands like Sylvan Esso that should make dance and electropop groups want to be better. Some key tracks include, “Coffee”, “Wolf”, “H.S.K.T” and “Uncatena”. 

3. Jenny Lewis The Voyager

JLew had an amazing year, releasing her third solo album, The Voyager, produced by the exceptional Ryan Adams. I do miss Rilo Kiley but I'm glad Jenny Lewis is still making music because it's the closest we still have to the infamous indie foursome. You can tell, especially on this album, that Lewis had a strong influence in Rilo Kiley's sound and lyrics. “Slippery Slopes” sounds like it could be straight out of More Adventurous or The Execution of All Things. One thing I love about Jenny Lewis is her ability to write a song that sounds poppy and not serious and then out of nowhere, a serious thought will come through your speakers and you say to yourself, “well that got really deep really quick.” I loved that she worked with Ryan Adams on this album too because I feel both of them are a little like that. They're also very similar in their way of writing a song. They both discussed how they literally stayed at Pax AM (Adams Los Angeles studio,) for 48 hours straight just to get the guitar right for “She's Not Me” or the mood set for “You Can't Outrun 'Em”. When they write, they WRITE. They live and breathe these songs and it shows. Some key tracks include “Head Underwater”, “She's Not Me”, “Just One of the Guys” and “Late Bloomer”.

2. Against Me! Transgender Dysphoria Blues

A very pivotal album in their career and in lead singer Laura Jane Grace's personal life, Transgender Dysphoria Blues really showed fans of Against Me! that they still had it. That indefinable thing that makes Against Me! great – their raw passion and unapologetic honesty that goes into their music and their lives. There's a reason why there's an exclamation point after their name. Energy is probably the first word I think of, when I think of Against Me!'s music. Let's rewind a little bit to 2010 when White Crosses came out. To be honest, Against Me! were having a rough couple years and now we know it's partially because of Laura Jane and her personal issues with her gender identity. White Crosses was okay but any Against Me! fan knew from listening, that their heart wasn't in it. There was just something about it. When a formerly identified Tom Gabel came out with the news that she would start transitioning from a male to a female, fans were supportive and curious to see how this change would effect Against Me! and their music. It turns out that luckily, they got better. A lot better. When Will Hermes reviewed this album for Rolling Stone, he said, “it takes balls to come out this way, in this genre”. Laura wouldn't have it any other way. Not to mention, I saw Against Me! play during their last tour when they came to the Capital Region and I didn't think it was possible that their live show could be more enjoyable but they sound better than ever. Key tracks include “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”, “True Trans Soul Rebel”, “FUCKMYLIFE666” and “Dead Friend”.

1. Ryan Adams Self Titled 
It's going to be very hard for me to write a coherent, cohesive sentence about Ryan Adams and this album. That's how much I love it. I can't even put into words how much I love this album and how proud I am of Ryan Adams this year. I've been following Ryan Adams for a long time. I really liked “New York, New York” when I heard it and years later when I was a senior in high school, I checked out Gold at the library I worked at. I fell in love and haven't looked back since. It's been a little rough for Adams and his music hasn't been consistent but I've loved him just the same. Then, he married Mandy Moore, discovered he had Meniere's Disease and got treatment for it and probably the most important part, he got clean. Adams struggled with drugs and alcohol pretty much his entire adult life and I'm so happy he has gotten it under control and is realizing now what he needs to do to make himself better. This album is the Ryan Adams fans knew was there, that's why we've stuck by him this entire time. This is going to sound weird but the music Adams creates now at his Pax AM studio is almost like a punk version of alternative country. There's distortion, the guitar is very rough and it's stripped down. Much like Laura Jane Grace, it's refreshing to see Adams doing what he wants to do finally, with no record label or person holding him back. The Ryan Adams we're seeing now is 100% him. Some of the songs on this album almost mirrors an early Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen – notably “Trouble”, “Stay With Me” and “I Just Might”. People have been comparing him to Bob Dylan and Graham Parsons for years and there's definitely still truth to that (seriously, no Graham Parsons, no Ryan Adams. Literally. I believe that.) but he's shying away from the country twang that he's become so known for from albums like Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights with the Cardinals and doing more of a mix that is uniquely Ryan. The entire album is great but key tracks include “Gimme Something Good,” “Trouble”, “Am I Safe”, “Stay With Me” and “Shadows”.

Honorable Mentions: 
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye
Hozier Self Titled
Bayside Cult
Interpol El Pintor
Ed Sheeran X

Friday, December 19, 2014

Wait a sec...

I haven't published a "best albums of the year" list since 2010?! 20-freakin-10?!?!

That's changing NOW.

EDIT: Okay, technically, it was 2011, I couldn't find it due to my end of the year tardiness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Recent Obsession with Tiny Desk Concert

A lot of bands I've been into recently have been performing Tiny Desk Concerts at NPR headquarters in D.C. I'm not entirely sure why but, it works and I love it.

It's a series that started on the music program, All Songs Considered. ASC host Bob Boilen started recording concerts at the 9:30 club in Washington D.C. and started a podcast to broadcast the recordings, promoting it on All Songs Considered. I couldn't find a lot of information about the middle of this endeavor but my guess is, the podcast became really popular and BAM Tiny Desk Concert! Instead of just recording other shows in D.C., why not bring musicians to NPR to record a concert of their own? Makes sense to me.

Here's a list of all the Tiny Desk Concerts you can ogle at on YouTube. SO. MANY. My favorites have got to be Macklemore, Hozier, The Civil Wars, Frank Turner and of course, Valerie June, whose Tiny Desk Concert I've already posted on this blog.

Even if you don't know the artist being showcased, it's also a great way to expose yourself to new music. And not only that, you get to see how they perform live (maybe more important for a new artist than how they sound on the recording). They usually run about 12-15 minutes, so it's not a lot of time you have to invest, although you could easily blow 2 hours looking at these damn videos. The artists usually do acoustic, due to tiny desk constraints, so that's a really cool aspect of this too. Some artists that primarily use electronics in their sound (LIKE UM, T-PAIN? So awesome he did one of these,) might be more inclined not to use their normal equipment just because of the small space and at this point, it's kind of gotten a reputation for being an acoustic space.

Basically, it's awesome. Watch a couple and you'll be hooked, waiting for the next one.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sylvan Esso

This band has proven to me that they're worth talking about. I've been hearing "Coffee" on the radio for a couple months now and really liked it. Until I watched Conan one night and they were on the show (click the link to watch). That's where Sylvan Esso ruined it for me a little bit. I thought to myself, "wow, they are trying way too hard" and it seemed very contrived. Fast forward to a couple weeks later, a lot of my friends are into them and talking about them. Posting YouTube videos of their songs on Facebook. Since I was intrigued by them from the start, I thought, "okay, I'll click play and see what else they have to offer" and right around then was when I forgave them for the Conan performance because I fucking love this band!

The duo consists of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, both from other bands originally. Their debut self titled album came out in May 2014 and "Coffee" was on the Billboard top 40 charts for July and August, staying at #39 but still, it's a big accomplishment.

I'm not sure if this is just a side project for them, but I hope they continue working together to make music. They seem to blend electronic music with different instruments (cowbell, banjo,) and it turns out to be pretty interesting. They seem like they aren't afraid to take risks and I like that. They remind me of what Arcade Fire would be if they wrote songs like "Sprawl II" all the time - very intricate, detailed synth electronic music. Definitely worth a listen.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Yeah, about NaBloPoMo...and Banks

Why did November have to be National Blog Writing Month? NABLOPOMO. Trying to make it happen!

I moved this month and my boyfriend and I decided it would be a good idea to host Thanksgiving in our new place (it was,) so I was a little busy. Sorry I went MIA...during NABLOPOMO...OF ALL THE MONTHS!

I'm going to try picking up right where I left off, starting with discussing Banks! Jillian Rose if you nasty!

So this girl grew up in California and started writing songs when she was a teenager. She got attention while touring with The Weeknd and began recording her debut album, Goddess, shortly after, in 2013.

Surprisingly, she's gotten a lot of Aaliyah comparisons. I don't really see it. She does tend to mumble and run off with her words similarly to Aaliyah but otherwise, not seeing it. Banks is definitely rougher and more alternative than Aaliyah, less R&B and more electro-trip-hop. She did however, do an amazing cover of "Are You That Somebody?"

Overall, I like her and I think she's doing something very original. No one really sounds like her right now. However, I'm still not sure if she has staying power. Goddess is a great debut album, but I'll believe her songwriting ability withstanding the music business when I see it.