[Gen Handley is a staff interviewer at Punknews.org.]
A lot of great albums came out in 2014 and it was tough narrowing it down to 20. I
chose these albums based on how often they appeared on my running playlists or on
my car stereo driving around Vancouver. I chose these albums because they not only
made the good times better, but they helped temper the tough times, the moments
when I needed that boost only good music can provide.
I spoke to some great artists this year, but my favourites were: Jason Cruz, Brody Dalle,
Atom Willard, Russ Rankin, Jade Puget and Craig Setari -- some really gracious,
Thom Yorke: Tomorrow's Modern Boxes
Unsurprisingly, Thom York released a surprise album and for the spontaneity, it's pretty good. If
we're comparing only his solo work, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes is more subdued than The Eraser, with
less guitar, but more atmospherics and skitters like Kid A. This isn't road trip music -- these songs need to
be listened to with headphones on so you can hear mad genius of it all. Highlights: "A Brain in a Bottle"
and "Truth Ray."
War On Drugs: Lost in the Dream
Much to my girlfriend's chagrin, when I first heard this album, I thought it was an Eagles rip-off.
But after repeated listens (and after seeing them live), I began to really like this album. The title of Lost
in the Dream is fitting in that these songs flow around you, immersing you in psychedelic and at times
almost prog-y goodness. While initially it seems a bit depressing, this album is actually pretty uplifting
and hopeful, a truly great listen, no matter what your tastes are. Highlights are "Red Eyes," "Eyes to the
Wind" and "Burning."
A band that I never took much interest in, Kasabian finally got it with this album and a solid
show when they rolled through my city. An unique balance of swaggering rock and pulsing electronica,
this album is tough to fit in a particular box. Over 13 songs in varying length, Tom Meighan spits rhymes
and wails over beats and big guitars and its awesome. Highlights: "Stevie," "Glass" and "Bumblebee."
This album is full of catchy, sing-along anthems and I can't wait until they go on tour with these
songs. While it's not reinventing the wheel, the wheel still sounds pretty good with those raspy, slurred
vocals and perfect mix of ska and punk that we've come to love from the Berkeley band. Feeling more
passionate than their last release, it sounds like the boys have got their groove back. Highlights: "Collision
Course," "Honor Is All We Know" and "Already Dead."
It's hard to stand out in the arena of pop punk, but The Hotelier's new album is different. Over
soaring, pounding guitars, lead singer Christian Holden despairs and screams, baring his soul to the cruel
world with eloquence and depth. Sincerity and drama bleed from these songs but it isn't painful or
annoying. Highlights: "The Scope of All This Rebuilding," "Life in Drag" and "Discomfort Revisited."
I'm not the biggest fan of the dream pop genre but Phantogram's Voices was one of the year's
biggest surprises for me. With only two people, their sound is surprisingly big with soaring vocals, deep
beats and swirling guitars. While it definitely has its share of poppy moments, this album to me has
more in common with the bleak British trip hop of Portishead and Massive Attack. It's solid. Highlights:
"Black Out Days," "Howling at Moon" and "Bill Murray."
I spoke to Brody earlier this year and her enthusiasm for this album was infectious -- and you can
hear that zeal in these nine tracks. This album is the perfect balance of pop and punk, somewhat
satisfying any cravings for new Distillers music. She makes motherhood and maturing sound pretty
good. Highlights: "Don't Mess With Me," "Dressed in Dreams" and "Meet The Foetus/Oh The Joy."
When the original lineup of Taking Back Sunday made amends four years ago, hopes were high
that the magic of earlier albums would return. That magic did return, but it took two albums for it to
come to fruition. While it's nothing really new, Happiness Is has everything you would want from the
band: catchy ballads, big choruses, some acoustic moments. Highlights: "All the Way," "Beat Up Car," "Like
Against Me! has gone through some big changes in the past few years and thankfully it hasn't
affected the quality of their music. Transgender Dysphoria Blues was a pleasant surprise for me
following their last album, which I just couldn't get into. On this album, Laura Jane Grace sounds
stronger and angrier than ever, tearing apart bros and the prejudice with contagious relish. Highlights:
"Transgender Dysphoria Blues," "Drinking With the Jocks" and "FUCKMYLIFE666."
Ben Frost: Aurora
Ben Frost's Aurora is proof that salient emotions and ideas can be conjured without any words
or lyrics.Tribal and distorted while being soft and ambient, Aurora evokes a lot during repeated listens
and can be a really cool experience when you let it overtake you. It's so easy (and tempting) to get lost
in the intense, fuzzy synths and rhythmic booms. Highlights: "Nolan" and "Sola Fide."
Much like another band on this list, it's great to hear the lead singer screaming his brains out
like the old days -- and Davey really fucking screams on this album. While I don't totally agree with the
Straight Edge philosophy (I mean, I could probably drink less), I do admire when artists put out
something so brutal and raw and are unapologetic about it. On top of Davey's vocal performance, Jade's
incredible guitar work makes this record memorable as well. Highlights: "Merciless," "Words for the
Unwanted" and "Dirty Nails."
Geoff Rickly has emerged from the ashes with United Nations and a really solid album,
resurrecting the screams and intensity of old Thursday. There's a lot of fire and venom behind these
songs -- in both the vocals and lyrics -- and you get the sense that this album is all about release. There's
catharsis in these songs. Highlights: "Serious Business," "Fuck the Future" and "False Flags."
Comeback Kid released a beast of an album this year, sounding more energized than ever --
these are songs meant to be played live. Darker, with even more rage, the album rises and falls like a
huge sonic wave. Probably one of my favourite bands in hardcore, Comeback Kid manages to
consistently sound fresh in a genre that, at times, can sound tired and repetitive. Highlights: "Should
Know Better," "Beyond" and "Unconditional."
Mariachi El Bronx: III
It's a testament that I feel like I can throw this record on for any occasion. While I'm cooking
dinner, riding my bike to work, getting drunk with friends. Mariachi El Bronx's newest release is that
versatile. The strong musicianship and song writing is still there, but El Bronx has changed things up a
bit, incorporating synths and distortion into the already interesting mix. The third album of what was
once a side project shows that it is not just that -- it's a split personality. Highlights: "New Beat," "Sticks and
Stones" and "Eternal."
Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots
I was always more of an Oasis fan than Blur, but that doesn't cause me to love Everyday Robots
any less. Deeply personal and meditative, lyrically, this album is one of my favourites this year. Damon
talks candidly about childhood, drug use and even a baby elephant he met on a trip to Africa, a
continent that clearly and thankfully has influences on the album -- other sounds like synths, piano
balladry and jazz beats round the record out. Highlights: "You and Me," "Everyday Robots" and "Heavy Seas
While we haven't had an album from his other band in a while, Russ released a fantastic Only
Crime album to keep us happy in the meantime. A bit heavier, a little more experimental and a lot less
literal than Good Riddance, Pursuance is that dose of melodic punk you need sometimes played by a
really talented group of musicians. Highlights: "In Blood," "Absolution" and "Life Was Fair."
I had heard rumblings about this band before but nothing had really grabbed me until this
album. Raw, fast, with hooks-a-plenty, Here and Nowhere Else, to me, is one of the year's most honest
rock and roll records. The low-fi production of the album gives texture, giving a live, more intimate and
gritty feel. Highlights: "Psychic Trauma," "Pattern Walks" and "I'm Not Part of Me."
As a longtime Lagwagon fan, the expectations for this album were pretty high. Thankfully, Joey
Cape and the rest of the crew delivered in a big, loud way with Hang. The album has heavy doses of
those riffs and melodies signature of Lagwagon's long-established sound. I was worried the band
mellowed with age but they haven't at all and these songs are proof of that. Hang is reminiscent of their
earlier albums (like Trashed) which got me into the band and into punk rock in general. Highlights:
"Reign," "Obselete Absolute" and "One More Song," a tribute to the late, great Tony Sly.
With every release, The Menzingers raise the bar a little higher and Rented World is no
exception. This album reaffirms their position as one of the best punk bands out there right now, while
surprising us with mid-tempo, almost Pixies-esque moments. Although we hear less of Tom May on this
record, him and Greg Barnett continue to be one of the best one-two punches in rock and roll, as always
complementing each other perfectly. Highlights are "Transient Love," "My Friend Kyle" and "In Remission."
Over six albums and a number of EPs, TV on the Radio have created a sound uniquely their own
and Seeds is a continuation of that. Somehow, this band has managed to a create a punk, experimental
soul album and make it sound natural, bending any preconceived notions and genres. Emotive, upbeat
and catchy-as-fuck, Seeds may have come late in the year, but it is my favourite among a cast of really
great records. Highlights: "Careful You," "Lazerray" and "Winter."