My 10 favorite albums of 2014

Happy holidays, I come bearing good tidings. After much soul searching, I’ve compiled a list of my 10 favorite albums of this year. Of course, this is an entirely subjective process, totally based on my taste. As always, this is not a cheer-ocracy.  In order of excellence, here are the 10 best albums 2014 had to offer.

10. Tacocat- NVM

It’s sort of brazen for a Seattle-area punk band to christen an album with an abbreviation of the phrase never mind, but with songs about teenage drug trips, menstruation and skewering suburban anarchy, Tacocat are kind of a brazen band. Like a slightly more well-known album called Nevermind by a slightly more popular Seattle-based band, NVM is packed with slick, catchy rock music. NVM is such an incredibly fun record, it can feel slight. However, the tunes are great, the songs have a unique perspective and the lyrics are wildly entertaining.

9. Vince Staples- Hell Can Wait

Hell Can Wait is an exceptional Hip-Hop album. It’s an uncompromising look at a life of knowingly doing wrong to survive. The lyrics are angry, socially charged, introspective and occasionally sad. There is even a pinch of broader social commentary on “Hands Up”. Production is crisp and interesting. Unfortunately, Vince Staples released this album the same year a pair of releases(see No.8 and No.2 on this list) used similar premises to greater effect. If you have a soft spot for West Coast gangsta rap, this is still a must listen.

8. Schoolboy Q- Oxymoron

This is another California gangsta rap album that displays complete awareness of its deplorable moral vacuum. However, Schoolboy Q has a magnetic charisma and sense of humor that make the bleakness of his subject matter both more palatable and more interesting. This is a rapper who has single handedly revived the bucket hatOxymoron is Q’s major label debut, and “Collard Greens” is the best possible result a studio mandate for a Schoolboy Q hit single could possibly have. Deep self-examinations of what it means to be an opiate-addict, drug-pushing gangsta and a dad mingle with oddball dance tracks, and despite some bloat, it totally works.

7 and 6.(tie) White Lung- Deep Fantasy and Perfect Pussy- Say Yes to Love

If you have a taste for noise rock made by angry women and can stomach some absolutely acrid lyrics, 2014 was a great year. It’s hard for me to talk about Deep Fantasy or Say Yest to Love without referencing each other. Perfect Pussy’s album features more fuzz and screeching, while White Lung’s album is more in-focus and aggressive, but these are two sides of the same exhilarating rock coin.

6. Protomartyr- Under Color of Official Light

Protomartyr’s sophomore effort, Under Color of Official Light is an amazing, offbeat piece of art. The album is the exact sonic intersection of KYUSS and Joy Division. Heavy, murky guitar riffs with post-punk drum beats and angular, brooding vocals. Somehow sludgy and energetic, it’s one of the year’s most original releases and definitely worth a few spins.

5. Cloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings found the perfect balance between Attack on Memory‘s raw aggression and the bubblegum hooks of Dylan Baldi’s earlier work. These are hummable melodies created by a full-fledged rock band absolutely pummeling their instruments. In modern rock music, there are few things capable of eliciting as much involuntary body movement as the spastic head nods caused by the moment on any given track on Here and Nowhere Else when Baldi and Co. decide to kick things into the next gear.

4. St. Vincent- St. Vincent

St. Vincent’s eponymous release is a perfect encapsulation of everything Annie Clark does extraordinarily well. There’s angular robo-rock, spacey dance tunes, oddball lyrics and, of course, exquisite guitar work. If there is room in your heart for interesting art-rock, you’ll love this album.

3. Ex Hex – Rips

This is a power pop album ripped straight from ’70s AM radio in the best possible way. Everything slightly derivative, but it’s impossible to listen to without a dumb grin plastered across my face. At any given moment, Rips is never more than 20 seconds from the next near-perfect guitar lick. Everything is driving, catchy and instantly familiar in a wonderful, comfrotable way. Because it already sounds classic, Rips is probably this year’s most re-listenable album, and the fantastic, catchy melodies make those repeat listens downright compulsive.

2. Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels 2

RTJ2 is maybe the most intense release of the year. It tackles large social concerns–race relations, police brutality, poverty, etc– while also hurling some of the most colorful, hilarious insults of the year toward anyone, usually deemed a “fuck boy” who dares to oppose Killer Mike and El-P. The chemistry between Mike and Jaime is jaw-dropping as the two MC’s fluidly drop tag-team rhymes. Once again, El-P’s production is spot on, and the beats sound like no one else in rap music. This album is positively visceral. Run the Jewels made the perfect soundtrack for an often tumultuous year and committed fully to filling the airwaves with their own angry truth.

1. Strand of Oaks- Heal

From the opening moments of “Goshen ’97” I strongly suspected Heal would be my favorite album of the year, and I was 100 percent correct. It’s a snapshot of a man’s head space as he moves past addiction, isolation and marital issues. It explores a variety of a sonic terrain ranging from ’90s alt-rock radio to shimmering synthesizer rock to piano balladry. The common through lines are giant choruses and an unapologetic love for musics. References to artists, media formats and respected musicians dot the entirety of Heal, and the album’s first five songs form an incredibly satisfying emotional arc. It combines the “beer commerfcial” guitar of a War on Drugs album with the weightier meditations of Sun Kil Moon in a year, when it was decided those two qualities were dichotomous. Heal is a deeply personal statement made in the most broadly appealing way, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Honorable mentions(in no particular order): War on Drugs- Lost in the Dream; Sun Kil Moon- Benji; Sturgill Simpson- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music; D’Angelo-Black Messiah; First Aid Kit-Stay Gold; Perfume Genius-Too Bright; and Jenny Lewis-The Voyager

5 worthwhile bands with controversial names

The quality of a band’s name can be entirely  inconsequential to a band’s sound.

Plenty of great bands have awful names. Arguably the greatest band of all-time, The Beatles, has one of the worst names. It’s a groan worthy pun inspired by a seminal band that came before them.

Even when bands’ names seem inextricably linked to their sound there might be more disconnect than first imagined.

For example, everyone knows Trent Reznor named his brooding, industrial band Nine Inch Nails in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s a dark name to match a bleak band with a penchant for goth aesthetic.

Except, as Reznor has revealed in interviews, the Nine Inch Nails moniker has almost no meaning.

Usually you think you have a great one and you look at it the next day and it’s stupid. I had about 200 of those. Nine Inch Nails lasted the two week test, looked great in print, and could be abbreviated easily. It really doesn’t have any literal meaning.

Still, band names are important. Would anyone have paid attention to Anal Cunt’s incessant unpleasant, vulgar trolling if they weren’t named, well, Anal Cunt?

A great or incendiary name can turn large swaths of demographics on or off of a group’s music before even pressing play.

This can lead people toward or away from great music.

If someone recognizes Modest Mouse take their name from an allusion to Virginia Woolfe, loves Woolfe and decides to check out their music then everyone wins.

A well-named band attracted a well-read listener to well-made music.

However, not every band is so fortunate. These are five bands making great, or in some cases at least serviceable music, whose names may have caused controversy, but are absolutely worth a listen.

Each band’s name has its own brand of controversy in order to keep this from turning into a fuck music fest.

1. Perfect Pussy

With an almost unprintable name and a sound reliant on screeching noise and feedback it’s easy to dismiss them as an aggro band desperate for attention.

However, there’s a reason Perfect Pussy is every critic’s favorite blog buzz band at the moment, and that is the tight, bracing tunes hiding under all the violent fuzz.

Their new album, Say Yest to Love, is the sort of scathing, distorted 28-minute violent outburst that makes the world a better place.

Plus, the band’s name, aesthetic, lyrics and wonderfully abrasive sound are all most likely part of a feminist or post-feminist Statement I’m wildly unqualified to comment on. At the very least, this band has something to say, and right now, they’re speaking very loudly.

2. Fucked Up

It’s documented that I think Fucked Up are great but it’s not just me. Despite sometimes having to be billed as Pu Dekcuf, this is a band boasting a metacritic score of 81–everyone who moves past their profane name loves this band. If you like any type of rock music there’s most likely a song in their body of work from you. Fucked Up have range from yowling post-hardcore to Tommy-esque full-bodied rock opera.

To top it all off, Fucked Up is absolutely tremendous live.

3. The Soft Pack (The Muslims)

At first glance these San Diego garage rockers don’t seem to fit the common theme. Unless of course, you Google their name. Under a picture of the band in large bold type is a cutline reading The Muslims.

The Muslims was The Soft Pack’s original name, and it was under this name they released their best work 2009’s The Muslims EP. Ultimately, their name caused enough controversy to warrant a change.

The Soft Pack favor a flavor of snotty garage rock in the same vein as their San Diego peer, WAVVES, and their music is not  at all indicative of their early name.

4. Pop Etc. (The Morning Benders)

Before finding out that bender is slang for something entirely different across the pond, Pop Etc. were known as The Morning Benders, and they released two excellent albums under that name. Even the American definition of a bender made this name a poor fit for the band.

The Morning Bender’s music was notable for sensitive vocals, melodic jangle, deep percussion and its ’60s influence. Notably absent from that list are the face shredding power chords their original name would suggest.

The Morning Bender’s first album, Talking Through Tin Cans, is a simple jangle pop album and an absolute pleasure, and their second album, Big Echo, was even a bit of a critical darling.

The change to Pop Etc. was marked with a heartfelt release on the band’s official website and a subsequent departure toward a more electronic sound.

5.  Joy Division

Famously, Joy Dision were named after a Nazi prostitution wing.

They are one of the most influential bands of the ’80s with genres from post-punk to goth to dance music owing some facet of their style to this band.

Although the music of Joy Division could be bleak it never really hit the depths of morose perversion the word cluster Nazi prostitution ring would suggest.

After the suicide of lead singer, Ian Curtis, Joy Division re-branded themselves as New Order, and resumed making awesome music. As New Order the surviving members attained a staggering amount of commercial success.