Record Geek Heaven’s Favorite Songs of 2014

20. Andrew Jackson Jihad “Temple Grandin”

One of the strangest, catchiest songs I heard all year. Sean Bonnette’s lyrics are wildly inventive, often hilarious, and they always offer up a buffet of grotesque imagery. He paints a picture of an insane little world that you can’t help but want to visit.

19. Owen Pallett “Song for Five and Six”

Sure, the arpeggio thing is done a lot, and this song is basically built around it. But, Pallett and contributor Brian Eno are big boys with big ideas, and together they push it into some pretty cool territory. As always, Pallett’s orchestral arrangements are stellar, and he continues to experiment with rhythm and sound placement in head-turning ways.

18. The War on Drugs “Red Eyes”

There are lots of addictive tracks on Lost in the Dream, and a few of them get better with each listen. Right now, this one is at the top of the list. It really comes alive right before that main guitar riff, when Adam Granduciel’s “woo!” cues these insanely loud drums that just propel it off the rails.

17. Shellac “You Came In Me”

Three recording engineers picking on Led Zeppelin. It’s pretty enthralling, actually. The first big guitar break, where Albini’s guitar sounds like a fat woman waling in extreme pain, sends me through the roof every time. And with his very few lyrics, Albini still manages to go straight for the jugular. It’s almost as if he tries to pick the least possible words that will have the highest possible offensive impact – a noble experiment.

16. Nude Beach “I Can’t Keep the Tears From Falling”

Tom Petty fans will be pleased with this one. Petty always had a good knack for mixing more traditional rock and roll with power pop sensibilities, just enough to keep from being actually referred to as power pop (because, let’s face it, that’s a marketing death knell). But Nude Beach are straight up, unabashed power pop, recalling the late seventies when the genre experienced arguably it’s greatest renaissance. The fact that the album is called 77 is probably not a coincidence.

15. Real Estate “Talking Backwards”

Real Estate’s songs have taken a more straight-ahead angle since the quirkiness of their debut album, but they have honed their songwriting talents quite nicely. “Talking Backwards” doesn’t mess around – it gets in there with its hook, does its thing and gets out, with hardly a tip of the hat. It just seems so modest, but it sinks in and sticks with you.

14. Tokyo Police Club “Miserable”

I think of this song as pure candy, and man, do I have a sweet tooth. “Miserable” is obviously not the best song ever – in fact, some of the lyrics are almost laughably bad. It’s just like a really, really good pop radio hit, fun and so freakin’ easy to rock out to. Tokyo Police Club seem to be gunning for radio hit status, but at least they are trying to do it their way. They even use like, real guitars and drums and stuff!

13. King Tuff “Beautiful Thing”

King Tuff take their love of T. Rex to an unabashed level on Black Moon Spell, but they manage to find that sweet spot between tribute and innovation that makes it all their own. “Beautiful Thing” is the peak of the experiment, perfectly combining all of those Bolan-esque elements (the sassy attitude, the imagery, the old-school style background vocals) and the King Tuff trademark swagger into one explosive track.

12. Alvvays “Party Police”

I just started listening to this album two weeks ago and a lot of the songs have immediately wormed their way into my brain, this one especially. Molly Rankin has the sexiest deadpan vocal delivery ever, and when she sings “we can find comfort in debauchery”, it makes me think naughty thoughts.

11. The New Pornographers “Brill Bruisers”

This is definitely the best song on the latest New Pornographers album, and it kicks the whole thing off. I like that – some bands feel like they have to bury those songs just a bit, so they don’t blow their wad. But in this case, track 1 is the only appropriate placement. It packs all the crazy vocals and bright sounds of this record into one three-minute sonic celebration.

10. Hard Girls “996 Tears”

Hard Girls take the term “power trio” to new heights. Their from-the-gut musical approach, in-the-red vocal style and undeniable pop sensibility help them stand out from their label mates on Asian Man Records. They’re not quite pop-punk, and not quite pop-rock. In fact, they might have foreshadowed a whole new genre – prick-rock, perhaps? Any way you look at it, even if their songwriting is not always the most glaringly original, Hard Girls have carved out a sound all their own. For anyone interested, “996 Tears” wraps all of this up and puts a neat little bow on top. Not since the Minutemen has there been a band that has so clearly identified their individual roles . The trebly, erratic guitar riffs are the perfect coating for the fuzzed out low end and hyperactive drumming, and man, there is just some wicked synergy here. Hard Girls rock like they are running out of time, so check them out right now, or they just might.

9. Lydia Loveless “Chris Isaak”

This was one of those songs that unexpectedly stuck with me this year. I have never listened to Lydia Loveless before this album, but my preconceived notions pigeonholed her as a take on modern country that I probably wouldn’t be too interested in. Man, was I wrong. Everyone’s all about that Kacey Musgraves chick because she talks about partying and smoking weed, but Loveless is SO much more of a badass. She could knock Musgraves into the next trailer park in a song-off alone. While sex and drugs are most definitely on her agenda, Loveless brings to the table true, unmistakable heartache that seems to ooze from her every pore. After letting her sexy, desperate wails in “Chris Isaak” really sink in, it doesn’t matter how simple of a song it is. You’ll want to keep listening to it again and again just to hear Loveless’ voice reach those heights, as her heart plumbs the depths.

8. Cheap Girls “7-8 Years”

This might be my favorite song ever by Cheap Girls. Ian Graham’s lyrics are widely known to be somewhat self-effacing, but these are downright self-destructive…in only the most charming way, of course. “Kick me in the kidneys really hard, I’m gonna write my name in blood in the backyard,” Graham sings nonchalantly, as if such a thing were a daily occurrence. In fact, most of the lyrics in the song are pretty brilliant. “I’ll be as happy as an unhappy person can actually be, or a leper uninvited from the leper colony.” Lines like that can almost make depression and disillusionment seem appealing. In true Cheap Girls fashion, it’s all set to a completely unpretentious rock and roll backdrop recalling a hybrid of The Replacements, Smoking Popes and and Weezer. This band certainly has a singular vision and do not step outside of it too often, but in the process, they have perfected their focus.

7. Shy Boys “Life is Peachy”

Kansas City’s Shy Boys had two releases this year – their self-titled debut full-length, and their first 7” single. Two songs graced the single, which were this one, and the B-side “Follow the Leader”. Do they realize that each song steals its title from albums by Korn? We may never know… All that aside, this band writes some superb indie pop. For me, “Life Is Peachy” is their defining moment. It somehow manages to showcase their trademark softness (buoyed by Collin Rausch’s near-whispered yet emotive vocals) while presenting them rocking harder as a band than ever before. When Shy Boys are in the studio, keeping it simple seems to be the only rule. I’m not sure if any of their recordings contain a single overdub, as they carry this amazingly lush live feel to them. Shy Boys fill the space, though, with an amazing performance chemistry (surely helped by the fact that Collin and bassist/drummer Kyle Rausch are brothers who have played music together most of their lives) and a great sensibility for sound placement. The vocal cadence at the end propels the song into anthem status, and jackhammers “Life Is Peachy” deep into the psyche.

6. Sloan “Cleopatra”

Sloan have been one of my favorite bands since 1999, so it’s difficult for me to step back from them to gain perspective. The plethora of gems on their 11th release help to continue that personal challenge for me. Sloan has 4 members and 4 songwriters, and throughout their career have maintained a near-perfect democratic division of work. On their second double album Commonwealth, each member gets their own “solo side”, a move most likely influenced by Kiss’ bold yet unsuccessful simultaneous release of 4 solo albums in 1979. (This is no coincidence – Sloan are enormous Kiss fans.) After having his songs relegated to second or third best in the past, guitarist Jay Ferguson finally steals the show with his album-opening side. The penultimate “Cleopatra” takes the inventive energy and stark beauty of his side and stirs it up into one completely addictive track. Even if part of it does utilize a hook from the earlier track “You’ve Got A Lot On Your Mind” (continuing a style he began tinkering with on their last album The Double Cross, also terrific), it’s done so well that it only helps to elevate his string of songs into an entity all their own. “Cleopatra” is the height of it, though. It’s power pop with little pinches of classic rock and indie sensibilities, and it’s full of hooks that simply soar.

5. Hospitality “I Miss Your Bones”

Since 2012, Amber Papini’s songwriting has progressed in some interesting ways. While Hospitality’s debut was more or less a straight-up twee record, their sophomore effort Trouble comes fairly close to being genre-defying. “I Miss Your Bones” seems like the reference point, the blueprint of the band’s overall goal for this album. A pummeling guitar riff in 10/4 time undercuts Papini’s cooing vocals, combining the jarring musicality of Sleater-Kinney with the pouty attitude of Chrissy Hynde. As its turn-on-a-dime rhythms pivot around a catchy yet obtuse chord progression, the whole thing gradually devolves in the most awesomely sporadic way. It all falls together, apart, and barely together again. As if maintaining balance on a tight wire, reaching the end feels almost death-defying.

4. Mac Demarco “Chamber of Reflection”

Mac Demarco’s third album surprised a lot of people, and not always in a good way. In contrast to his stylistically diverse 2012 record 2, nearly every song on Salad Days lurches along at the same lackadaisical tempo, almost to the point of sounding like Demarco recorded the whole thing lying on his back. Give it some time, though – this album is a grower. Specifically, let Salad Days play through to side two standout “Chamber of Reflection” at least a few times. It’s completely uplifting, even in the midst of its hopeless sentiments. Something about the sparse chord changes and unique usage of analog synths combined with an uncharacteristically breathy lead vocal from Demarco makes it seem timeless, even as he proudly wears his 70’s influences on his 80’s-soaked sleeve.

3. Sun Kil Moon “I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same”

I don’t play video games, but I think it’s cool that companies are starting to push the envelope and make games more like interactive movies (2013’s The Last of Us is a terrific example). Sun Kil Moon’s Benji, my favorite album of 2014, feels like the album version of this idea. It’s probably as close to a movie as you can get without actually watching one, thanks to Mark Kozelek’s extremely verbose and revealing autobiographical musings. If Benji is the movie, “I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same” is the movie within it. This seems appropriate, considering the song is Benji’s centerpiece and it actually mentions a movie – but the idea goes further than that. The album begins with the death of an estranged family member, and as Kozelek tries to deal with all of the immediate implications of this, his past slowly begins to haunt him. “I Watched the Film” is a ten-minute journey from the absolute depth of his depression, when he is at his most hopeless, to the point when he begins to climb out of it. As Kozelek walks us through his deepest life regrets and painful memories, we as listeners are forced to face ours, as well. It’s about as cathartic as music has ever been.

2. Angel Olsen “Forgiven/Forgotten”

“I don’t know anything, but I love you.” Is there any better way to sum up the confusing nature of relationships? These days, the term “it’s complicated” is used more and more, and Angel Olsen knows this all too well. In under two-and-a-half minutes, with a rock fervor uncharacteristic of the rest of Olsen’s starkly brilliant Burn Your Fire for No Witness, “Forgiven/Forgotten” manages to sum up the simultaneous sadness, longing and infatuation that keeps so many couples together, often wrongly. It’s almost like the musical interpretation of the end of Annie Hall, in which Woody Allen questions why people keep getting themselves into relationships if all they will find at the end is heartbreak. Olsen seems to feed off of it, as if these situations are fuel for her pain-soaked, Cohen/Orbison hybrid style of crooning. But if songs like this are the result of such affairs, by all means, let her have ‘em.

1. Against Me! “True Trans Soul Rebel”

The music of Against Me! was once a much more primal affair. Their early tunes were extremely political, many of them using almost a group pub sing-along vibe to lash out against what they perceived as an unjust world. On Transgender Dysphoria Blues, songwriter Tom Gable introduces herself as Laura Jane Grace, and turns further inward than ever before. The result is by far the band’s most personal record, but Grace hasn’t lost touch with the outside world. “True Trans Soul Rebel” is a microcosm of what the album does so well – it presents the experience of being trans in a way that makes it seem universal. “Yet to be born, you’re already dead,” Grace sings, as an onslaught of barreling guitars and drums propel her already irresistible melodies. The song is contagiously self-affirming; accessible, yet undeniable. In a time when our next defining civil rights movement will more than likely involve the transgender community, this song feels like the most important rock anthem of the decade, let alone 2014.

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One Response to “Record Geek Heaven’s Favorite Songs of 2014”

  1. Record Geek Heaven’s Favorite Albums of 2014 | Record Geek Heaven Says:

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