Top Ten (or 20 or so) of 2014

Christmas is officially over.  Let’s not pretend that I’m struggling right up until the last minute to come up with my top 10 records for the year.  Let’s just get it done.  Here you go…

I did a surprising amount of the work on this image in Publisher.
I did a surprising amount of the work on this image in Publisher.

Because you can’t possibly read all of that…  Here it is in list form:

  1. Manchester Orchestra – Cope
  2. The Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams
  3. Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans
  4. Pixies – Indie Cindy
  5. U2 – Songs of Innocence
  6. …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – IX
  7. Lowercase Noises – This is for Our Sins
  8. Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter
  9. Prince – Plectrum Electrum AND Art Official Age (Tie)
  10. Pink Floyd – The Endless River

Some of that needs some explanation, to be sure.  Starting at the top…why Manchester Orchestra, and why now???  It’s very simple.  There’s not a bad song on the record.  I picked it up on something of a whim because when it first came out, my friend Brandon was raving about it.  Decided I’d give it a chance and enjoyed it.  Then I kept coming back to it again and again.  And again and again.  And I don’t want to skip any of the songs.  I’m almost irritated that it’s at #1.  I’m new to the band, and it feels kind of a poser-ish move to make something I just got into the #1 record…but with every other record on the list, there are songs I tend to skip over.  Not this one.  It’s near flawless.  (By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the band, I believe they’re classified “post-hardcore,” which is an absolutely meaningless phrase…  They’re that type of music that doesn’t have the balls to be punk and doesn’t have the pretentiousness to be metal, but it’s unfair to just call them “rock,” too.  That.)

Moving down the list, you see some of the usual suspects–or at least stuff you’d have expected out of me.  The Hold Steady, DBT, the Pixies (and I’m SO happy that I got to say the phrase, “the new Pixies record” in my lifetime!).  Not a ton of surprises.  Although, the U2 record might come across a little controversial.  The “it’s in your iTunes, so shut up” marketing stunt backfired on them a little, but the songs are strong.  And even though everyone got it for free, the subsequent vinyl release STILL grabbed them the #4 spot on the charts.  That kind of speaks for itself.  It’s a great record, and I’m very glad to have it–terrible fucking cover aside.

The new …Dead (I’m not writing all of that again, I’m a busy guy) record probably comes as no surprise from me, as well.  But the Lowercase Noises one might.  I think they classify as “post-hardcore” too, which just proves how stupid a phrase it is, because they’re nothing LIKE Manchester…  They’re mostly instrumental, ambient music with guitars and strings and other stuff melding together to form something more like a movie score than an album.  It’s really great.  Slipknot may also catch some of you off guard, especially balanced against the rest of the list…but it’s excellent.  Dark as all hell…but excellent.  “If Rain is What You Want” is breathtaking.

I cheated and put BOTH new Prince albums on here, but counted them as ONE.  I stand by it.  I think of them as one release, even though there are notable differences between them.  They came out on the same day and have the same artistic vision driving them.  When I hear one, I want to immediately also hear the other.  So I think it’s a valid choice.  But if I HAVE to choose, then “Plectrum Electrum” is probably just a gnat’s wing better.

The entry on here that is probably MOST surprising (even to me) is that the new Pink Floyd is in at #10. When I heard about it, I didn’t think it would come anywhere NEAR being a favorite for the year.  I thought it was going to be an abysmal failure that would stand as an insult to the rest of their catalogue (and I’m counting “The Final Cut” AND “The Division Bell” in that).  Even when it came out and I didn’t hate it, I still didn’t think it would make the top ten.  But then one day, I was in Vintage Vinyl and they started playing it.  And it felt like an old friend had arrived.  I knew right then that it was on the list.  As I write this now, I wonder if it shouldn’t be a place or two HIGHER, in fact.  Although the “diss each other on sight” line bugs the hell out of me, so this is probably about right.  (Worst thing that ever happened to Floyd was when Polly Samson started writing lyrics for them.  And I’m counting “The Final Cut” AND “The Division Bell” in that. The latter justly, since she wrote a lot of the lyrics on it.)

So…that’s our top ten…but let’s expand the universe a little and do ten more, for the top-twenty!  (I’ll keep this short…)  Here they are, with list following.  I’ll put my comments with the list, and keep them brief.  (Spoiler alert – WordPress sucks and wouldn’t let me start with #11 on a new list and use the same justification as above.  It’s just SLIGHTLY off, and it’s driving me nuts.)

If you put the two together, it looks like a diamond with a flat center...but I'm not going to tell you hot to live your life.
If you put the two together, it looks like a diamond with a flat center…but I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.

11. The Both – The Both | Joint effort from Aimee Mann and Ted Leo that shouldn’t have worked, but did. Really catchy and fun.
12. Bob Mould – Beauty and Ruin | Former Husker Du frontman and current really great songwriter.  No surprises on this one, and that’s just how I like it out of Bob and his ilk.
13. The Strypes – Snapshot | This one was almost on the top 10, but it’s mostly covers, so I didn’t think it was fair…but this is a great band.  They’re WAY better than YOUR band.  Bunch of young guys playing R&B staples. (Think it came out in 2013 elsewhere, but 2014 in the US.)
14. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream | Early in the year, I assumed this would be in the top 10.  Instead it’s in the top 20.  Sue me.
15. Centro-matic – Take Pride in Your Long Odds | Always great to have a new Centro-matic record.  Always beautiful and rough around the edges all at once.  Sad to know this is probably the LAST record we’ll get out of them.  But it’s been a hell of a good time being a fan.
16. Delta Spirit – Into the Wide | New to them, but they feel like an old shoe.  Catchy and poppy but with a few dark tones just below the surface if you’re willing to look.  Worth your time.
17. Sharon Jones & the DAP Kings – Give the People What They Want | Excellent soulful music that’ll lift you up and break your heart at the same time.  And Sharon’s a cancer survivor who was promoting this record with no hair thanks to the chemo…but she fucking OWNED it.  Major props.  If you’d told me in March that this would be in the top 20 instead of 10, I’d have asked you what happened.  (The answer: I don’t know! Stop bothering me!)
18. Old 97s – Most Messed Up | Album title is probably an apt description to any fan startled to hear the lead singer say “fuck” approximately 40 times on the record.  (Not exaggerating.)  That’s new for them–they used to work completely clean until they decided they’re grownups and can say what they want.  Music’s good.  Lyrics are fine.  I admire the guts it took to put out a sweary-record when no one expects that from you.  (Did that twice myself this year, in fact.)  But it’s still not their BEST album, so it didn’t crack the top 10.
19. Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio | Been a fan of Lanegan’s since “Field Songs” and each record is its own landscape.  I enjoyed this one a lot.
20. This Will Destroy You – Another Language | Also of the “movie-score music” genre described above.  Saw them on stage a couple of months ago.  They didn’t move much…wasn’t a lot to look at…but the music sure was pretty.  Good music to relax to.

…and this is getting really long…for my “honorable mentions,” see the “Report Card” post I wrote a couple weeks back.

As a few miscellaneous notes…

  • Three records from 2013 I wish I’d known about at the time were The National’s “Trouble Will Find Me,” Over the Rhine’s “Meet Me at the Edge of the World,” and James Blunt’s “Moon Landing.”  I know that last one’s lame.  Guilty pleasure.
  • We just lost Joe Cocker.  That’s very sad.  Don’t smoke, kids.  (Or do.  I’m not the boss of you.  It’ll make you LOOK a lot cooler if you do, though.  And it’ll reduce your stress level…but…  Y’know what?  Smoke.  There, I said it.)
  • My favorite movies I’ve seen this year were Nebraska (came out in 2013, but saw it this year), Guardians of the Galaxy, the last Planet of the Apes flick, and the Hobbit.
  • Don’t feel passionately enough about enough new TV shows to mention anything other than Doctor Who… Capaldi is doing GREAT!
  • Best books I’ve read in the past year have all been by Tana French. She writes great murder-mysteries that, although they can be a little predictable, keep you drawn in.
  • Biggest dog I’ve ever seen: Probably an English Mastiff or something.
  • Best concert I attended: Toss-up between The Pixies and Jason Isbell.  Although Ben Folds was a lot of fun, too…
  • New music I’m looking forward to in 2015: Frank Turner, Anthrax, Metallica, Motorhead, Slayer, and even U2 (again!) are rumored to have new releases coming.  And I’m sure there’s a lot more I don’t know about.

Okay…It’s well into Boxing Day now.  I’m going to bed!

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