2014 is over, so now it’s time to see who (in my opinion) released the best albums last year.
10. Jack White – Lazaretto
Jack White can really do no wrong at this point. Even though his newest album seems more country-tinged than garage rock, his gritty attitude still shines through. His weird vocal style and hard lyricism is as potent as ever too. While the album definitely has more low points and less moments than Blunderbuss it’s still a great album. The amount of production he put into the vinyl of this album is just mind-boggling, and worth a nod too.
9. Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – Cheek To Cheek
For the sceptics out there, Lady Gaga can really sing, and is way more talented than most give her credit. This album of jazz standards with legend Tony Bennett, is as easy to listen to as it is to dance to. If you’ve been meaning to get some jazz classics in your repertoire, start here. The duets are great and the slow jams really show how great Gaga’s range really is. Definitely one you can enjoy with your parents.
8. Ty Segall – Manipulator
Most have probably never heard of Segall, despite his 50+ recording credits outside of his solo albums, but the man is an unknown virtuoso. This album jumps from psychedelic hard rock to Beatles-esque and the guitar work is flawless. He’s really the next Jack White, with a more psychedelic feel. If you’re into retro-rock, check this out.
7. Honeyblood – Honeyblood
Scotland is basically the Seattle of Europe, and from the sounds of it, Honeyblood might just be their Nirvana. Their debut is full of grunge-heavy songs with Paramore-like vocals and lyrics that cut close. Their the grunge-pop answer to last year’s Deap Vally. The songs are heavy, fast and gritty, so if that’s your thing, they’ll do the trick.
6. Temples – Sun Structures
Temples debut album is a tour through psych-rock’s history, covering the sounds of Deep Purple, The Guess Who, T. Rex and tons more, every song feels familiar but new at the same time. They also manage to pull the old phrygian sounds out (translation: the Egyptian sounding chord progressions). The band are everything a tribute act should be, frontman James Bagshaw even looks like Marc Bolan from T. Rex, but the sounds while inspired are all original and are impressively complex for a debut. If you like your music a little mystical Temples fit the bill.
5. Cold Beat – Over Me
San Francisco’s Cold Beat seems to be the stateside equivalent of Metric, but with a more visual style of writing. Many songs are fast and party rock flavoured but the rest are dark, sometimes electronic and often evoke mental images similar to some Muse albums. It’s frankly really refreshing to not only see a resurgence of bass-playing lead singers but have a few of them be female now too. The bass is powerful, the drums are both danceable and impressive (even when they’re machines) and the guitars and synth fill the rest impressively. For moody party rock, stop here.
4. Mac Demarco – Salad Days
The clown king of Canadian music, Mac Demarco, released another gem this year. Most of his songs are catchy, yet goofy as ever as the title track “Salad Days” shows but deeper, synth-filled tracks like “Chamber Of Reflection” give the album a more serious feel that give it its potency. Demarco crafts the best folky album of the year so for those who like their folk weird and lo-fi Mac’s your man.
3. Alvvays – Alvvays
Toronto may have just given birth to Canada’s serious surf-rock scene. Alvvays are Canada’s dark equivalent to Best Coast and their songs are even deeper, filled with synth and instrumentation that feels perfectly balanced in every song. Their single “Archie, Marry Me” is one of the best songs to come out all year, let alone this decade. The whole thing is topped off with Molly Rankin’s vocals (Daughter of a Canadian Rankin Family singer), that push the album over the top by entrancing you. It’s the first band in a while I feel like I really connected with as a whole, from the deep sound to the dark themes, I really empathize with where this album comes from. The album’s both happy and depressing tones make it one of the strongest of the year (the ambivalent feelings always make the best art) and my favourite Canadian release this year. Alvvays and Mac are proving that Canada has world-class potency in our music, and has me hopeful for next year’s music.
2. Olivia Jean – Bathtub Love Killings
Despite a personal love for Jack White, his protégé Olivia Jean released a much better, and more Jack White-esque album this year. When I heard The Black Belles had run its course I was a little sad but Olivia seems to really be the phoenix from the ashes. Jean recorded almost every instrument on every track, and the album is littered with great riff after great riff. Even the slow songs are written and toned enough to make them welcome breaks rather than the skippable tracks. The album is surprisingly very bass-driven too, giving me even more reason to love it.
The whole album feels constantly slightly off-kilter in its writing and sound always keeping you on your toes. The final track with dueling guitars(as well as synth vs theremin) from Olivia and Jack is a great finale and the stereo placement of their guitars is a welcome production move from Third Man who seem to really be trying to evolve from the standard mold. Cap this off with one of my favourite album covers of the year and it’s the complete package. A perfect record for any Third Man Fans.
1. Ex Hex – Rips
Ex Hex mixed rock genres like nothing else this year. Featuring Riot Grrrl veteran, Mary Timony, fresh from the breakup of Wild Flag, her writing is at its peak. Of all the records here this has been the one that I’ve listened to every track on repeat since it came out in October, and I was listening to “Hot and Cold” since the summer. Nothing quite married my love of classic rock and alt. rock like this album. I don’t think I’ve had this many chorus cheers stuck in my head in a while, every chorus is catchy, it’s like they brought in a 70s pop writer to do all the choruses. The album mixes Riot Grrrl, The Cars and The Ramones for a rock album perfectly marrying old and new.
Various Artists – Awesome Mix Volume 1
Not only was Guardians of The Galaxy one of the year’s best films, but it had the best soundtrack to boot. The totally eclectic soundtrack featured Marvin Gaye, David Bowie, 10cc, and the standout tracks “Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone and “Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede which both got well deserved revivals. The album was fun, just like the movie and really felt like something the movie would’ve been incomplete without. Add on this the physical mixtape that was in the movie and the limited run of tapes that Marvel released and it was the biggest tape release in decades.
Looking Forward: What’s next in 2015?
The year’s already begun and there are tons of great albums on the way. Most notably Sleater-Kinney is back together and their new album is set for January 20th already, it stands to be one the year’s most notable releases and hopefully one of its best.
On similar Queens Of The Stone Age lined supergroup news, Them Crooked Vultures were rumoured to have an album coming out in 2015. While QOTSA seems to be on break for the moment, Foo Fighters are seemingly tied up for a while, and who knows what John Paul Jones is doing, but who knows maybe the band will or have already recorded most of the album over small breaks.
Muse have already started work on their next album with this year slated for release, here’s hoping it’s a better return to form than The 2nd Law.
Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special has high hopes with the amazing “Uptown Funk” making me love pop music again and the Tame Impala collaboration “Daffodils” mixing funk with sonic exploration. It could be next years Random Access Memories.
Speaking of Tame Impala, Melody’s Echo Chamber(Melody being Kevin of TI’s partner) is working on her next album, and my expectations are sky-high based on her amazing debut. No definite word if Tame Impala’s record is definitely out this year but word has it there will be a more electronic feel to it.
Lastly is The Vaccines, who haven’t really put out anything in a while despite the amazing Come Of Age LP and their great debut record. It was initially though their Melody Calling – EP might be the stepping stone for a new album sooner than later but it seems like we should be getting something soon.
2014 was a great year in music with over half my top 10 being debuts of one form or another but next year’s line-up of returning artists already has the year looking incredibly strong before the newcomers start taking all the glory.