[Joe Pelone is a staff reviewer and former reviews editor at Punknews.org.]
I was born then I diedThe years are blurring together. I already had a tenuous grasp on popular culture, what with me being all the way punx and all, but being a father has significantly boosted that withdrawal. My son and I have been off in our little corner, minding our animal-friendly business. While I loved my first year as a father, year two has been more active, which is pretty darn fun. So here are the records that scored our goofy dance parties and car rides. Sometimes the special lady friend that is my wife showed up too.
Top 20 Fucking Jams Bro
The Raveonettes: Pe'ahi
Beat Dies Records
"Sand in my shoes / And death on my mind" go the opening lines of opening song "Endless Sleepers." Not since the Cure's "Killing an Arab" have I heard such an awesomely goth song about a beach. The Raveonettes tweak their JAMC sound ever so slightly each record. Pe'ahi finds them combining the shoegaze noise of Lust Lust Lust with the pop hooks of In and Out of Control. I almost want to group the three together into a trilogy, because Pe'ahi is also their strongest record since Control. Bits of bubblegum and beach guitar rock swim around the periphery. I like my pop songs dark.
Super catchy twee band follows up tightly wound first album with an even more tightly wound album. Genius! Chorus shows Literature growing more comfortable with their influences, and occasionally doing sweet, sweet guitar tricks.
Paper + Plastick
Halfheartedly dropped at the end of 2013, Rules For Making Up Words finally received a physical release this year, and deservedly so. Ex Friends never quite got the respek they deserved while they were still together, so please allow me to remind you all that "Dirty Ben Franklin" is the jam. A lot of great Philly punk records came out this year; Rules feels the most explicitly about living here.
Dee Dee Penny and longtime studio collaborator Sune Rose Wagner from the Raveonettes dropped garage rock in favor of goth-pop here, but the same key qualities remain: haunting melodies, shimmering guitars, lovelorn tunes. Too True dials down the noise and ups the hooks, resulting in Dum Dum Girls' catchiest record yet. And the vinyl came with a bonus 7-inch!
Three Lobed Records
In which guitar droner Jenks Miller stops being metal and starts fucking with the scariest folk music I've ever heard. Piedmont Apocrypha is almost completely divorced from previous album Half Breed,but it's just as haunting. Miller builds over repetitive rhythms and self-analyzing chants in the vein of Earth and Om, but with a bit more bite. I think this guy might be the Americana Jesu, which is cool.
WIFE: What's Between
I miss post-black metal pioneers Altar of Plagues something fierce. But I also super dig what frontman James Kelly accomplished with his new project, WIFE. While he's gone pretty much in the opposite direction (clean singing, dreamy electronica arrangements, very few blast beats), he's still putting out interesting work. Indeed, what made AoP appealing was the way they worked outside of metal's typical affectations, and the same goes for WIFE. What's Between is an intimate 2 a.m. type of record. For all the booming bass flourishes and bits of white noise, it's still such a sparsely arranged collection that it practically demands the isolation that comes with headphones. Much like Horseback, Kelly steers away from dissonance but still comes out with some hypnotically droning compositions.
St. Vincent: St. Vincent
Here's where Annie Clark starts subverting (almost) everything that defines St. Vincent. Less guitar, more electronic textures! Also she did something new with her hair! The one constant between all of Clark's records, though, is her lyrics: She's great at cultivating terror and existential dread. Here, she focuses those vibes on technological alienation, best exemplified by single "Digital Witness." Basically, this is her Fear of Music. Because your all-encompassing paranoia deserves a good beat.
The Both: The Both
I am so stoked on Aimee Mann and Ted Leo being friends. The Both basically sound like two buddies talking about their favorite power pop records. The resulting album comes off like something Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe would have concocted later in life. Leo gets to show off his arsenal of classic rock riffs, Mann gets to rock out a bit more, and I get to have some fun. This record gets a bit more somber compared to the rest of this list, but hey, sometimes you just need to chill with yr buds.
Spoon: They Want My Soul
Britt Daniel's output shifts subtly, but it's not like he ever needed to grow that much. A Kinks classicist, he has gradually refined his garage rock approach, this time adding electronic textures to Spoon's indie rock on They Want My Soul. These songs have got grit and soul and charm and also my dark lord Satan. Anyone who writes catchy rock songs about evil shit is going to catch my affections.
Radiator Hospital: Torch Song
Prep the onions flip the tape saute the tofu flip the tape drink a beer while boiling the water flip the tape FIST PUMP flip the tape. The boom box in my kitchen is pretty much only good for cassettes at this point. This fall I only cooked to Radiator Hospital's Torch Song (when I wasn't playing Allison Crutchfield's Lean Into It and, um, the Ghostbusters II soundtrack anyway). You want to know why cassettes are making a comeback? Because I bought this amazing fuzz rock record new for $5, that's why. Like the Wrens without the label issues or Swearin' with a better name, Radiator Hospital drops one catchy tune about impermanence and relationship issues after another ("Sad songs make me sadder" sums up more about me than I'd care to admit). The record's centerpiece is the two-part "Fireworks," which explores both perspectives in a rocky relationship. Also, I kind of love that the reprise is slightly longer than the original song.
Arguably the best album title of 2014, provided you feel too many feelings, Nervous Like Me is a strong debut from Cayetana. Two years ago they were making the online rounds with a demo; now they're changing the g.d. game. Cayetana combines sad introspective lyrics with fuzzy, peppy post-punk rhythms. There's a bit of Bongos and R.E.M. in their DNA, which just might save us all from bearded drunk punk homogeneity.
Alcest always kept their metal hazy, but Shelter managed to be controversial simply by going full-on shoegaze. And while I still don't think it quite compares to the band's other records, I also couldn't stop spinning it this year. It's a compelling misfire, an attempt at courting a bigger audience by integrating My Bloody Valentine and M83 that almost works. Shelter kicks off with the triumphant segue of intro track "Wings" into single "Opale" before turning into this totally different album, one where every song is a whisper. Pretty much any time it rained, I put this album on. I'm feeling a little cocky right now, so I'm just going to deem Shelter Alcest's Disintegration. That is to say, it's a monolithic, melancholy melange that gradually unravels. It took me the entire year to appreciate this record, but it was worth the effort.
In which I remember when I unironically self-identified as emo because when the instruments are this booming and the lyrics are this clever I could be convinced to call myself whatever you want. Frame and Canvas is nearly 15 years old, and here we are in the gloriously terrifying future with the belated, celebrated return to form from Braid. Turns out I like emo better when it's really just catchy indie rock with better word choices. "Many Enemies" is such an infectious diss track that I wish it was about me.
Like a dummy, I was late to the White Lung party circa Sorry. But I did not err in tracking down Deep Fantasy, a record that answers the question "How angry is Canada?" with "Wow, very angry, gosh." Deep Fantasy takes everything White Lung accomplished on Sorry up a notch: The production is louder, the guitars are louder, frontwoman Mish Way is... actually she was always pretty intense. But everything just seems so much more assured and fiery thanks to Jesse Gander's production. The material is a little more stretched out (by which I mean most of the songs exceed two minutes), but that allows the band to go bigger on choruses and show off their dynamics a little more. This is my favorite hardcore record of 2014.
Kevin Drew: Darlings
Arts & Crafts
Look, I had some nice sex in 2014 while listening to this record, and maybe you will too. Given that Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew went to the trouble of writing a bunch of quasi-funky indie pop jams about sexy sex, I felt obligated to offer this testimonial: This record works! Don't be grossed out!
I don't know what constitutes black metal, I just know every time I like a band that I think matches that genre, they get tagged as "post-black metal" instead. Either way, Tombs were still the best of the pre/during/post-black metal outfits this year, with Savage Gold being their best album yet. The name is almost cocky, but it describes the songs perfectly: Always brutal, always tops. Mike Hill continues to A) totally wreck my ear holes but like in a good way and B) do whatever he wants and thereby buck the system. If he wants to throw a trippy post-punk dirge in the middle of a metal record, then that is exactly what Mike Hill is going to do, and he's going to name that song "Deathripper" just so he can work in a goth Beatles joke too.
So, are the Menzingers an alt-rock band now? On the Impossible Past suggested a newfound love of the Pixies' quiet/loud dynamics, and they've covered Smashing Pumpkins live. Rented World is their least punk record, which means it's actually their most punk because anarchy. While they've still got the Clash in their hearts on "I Don't Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore," "The Talk" and "My Friend Kyle," the record pursues just as many quiet dynamics on "Where Your Heartache Exists," "Transient Love" and "When You Died." It's hard ranking the Menzingers' albums, but this might be their best. It's their most musically accomplished and lyrically mature. And c'mon; how can you deny a chorus so infectiously catchy yet hilariously goofy as "I don't wanna be an asshole anymore / WHOOOAAAA"?
THE RIFFS THEY COMPEL ME. Steve Brooks is a genius and as proof I hold up Floor's Oblation. He could have easily taken Torche's direction (and name) and forced it on his old band. But instead his reunion with Anthony Vialon and Henry Wilson has its own distinct, droning vibe. Brooks still slips in some pop-metal hooks for flavor, but it's the bombshell booms of the title, and every song that follows, that stick. So heavy bro.
AM! survived the major label death machine and emerged with a new record (and a new lineup) so intensely personal in its details yet so inescapably universal in its scope. Laura Jane Grace covers being a minority in a minority with such vivid imagery that I can't help but live inside every song, even as she details social pressures and personal issues which I will never experience. It helps that she welds these story-songs to catchy tunes, alternating between the folk-punk of AM!'s early period on cuts like the title track and "Two Coffins" and more pop rock-friendly material on "Unconditional Love" and "True Trans Soul Rebel" and "FUCKMYLIFE666." There are also touches of Husker Du's dissonance and Alkaline Trio's gothic romance in cuts like "Dead Friend," "Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ" and fiery closer "Black Me Out." I've got some reunion records on this list, but Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the best comeback story of the year.
I'm becoming my father. I see my odd little tics and eccentricities in my son. I tend to think everything is connected and nothing ends so much as it changes. And that's pretty much what the Lawrence Arms talk about on Metropole, the much belated follow-up to 2006's Oh! Calcutta!. Musically, the record sounds like classic Arms, albeit maybe a little slower and more melancholy. Otherwise, they're still a mighty power trio of grungy bass, chiming guitars and pounding drums. They even bring back some of the vocal interplay of The Greatest Story Ever Told. But lyrically, there's conflict between being world weary yet also feeling connected, a part of a cycle. "Paradise Shitty" and the title track in particular make 99 percent of all drunk punk irrelevant. I sing "October Blood" to my son most nights before bed and hope we'll still be close when he's a father himself. I kept returning to this record during every seasonal change, and from January to now, it's served me well.
Top 10 Most Valuable Extended Players
Like a slower, sadder continuation of that album I love so dang much. TLA ALL THE WAY.
Big Eyes / Post Teens: Split [7-inch]
Big Eyes bring the hooks, Post Teens bring the noise, I bring the bedroom pogo. No Idea sure knows their way around garage punk all stars.
Mikey Erg / Warren Franklin: Split [7-inch]
Count Your Lucky Stars
*SWOON* More Mikey Erg garage punk songs about bad breakups. So reliable, so smooth and he even has a song about Philly! Yeah Philly! Warren Franklin tries to keep up by offering a faithful cover of the Ergs' "See Him Again."
Lemuria: Race the Germ [7-inch]
Alex Kerns keeps coming up with interesting ideas to get his music out. This "surprise" 7-inch came bundled with extra goodies, but the best prize of all was the songs themselves: a smattering of studio outtakes that would've fit right in with any of their albums.
Kyle Kinane / The Slow Death: Under the Table #2 [7-inch]
Kinane goes on a tangent about skunks while the Slow Death trots out their favorite (Young) Pioneers songs. Skunk punk lives!
Restorations: Alright Boys, When We Get To The Airport, There Will Be Absolutely No Place To Land [7-inch]
Call + Response
Disclaimer/humble brag: I helped fund this record! I'm like a regular David Geffen over here. I love my buddy Kira, who in turn loves art and Restorations and wanted to combine the two for a gallery called Call + Response IV. I answered the call with a donation of several dollars, and Kira and Restorations responded with this righteous instrumental tune, split over two sides of a 45. The song feels like a throwback to Restorations' more post-rock-ish early material, even going so far as to add a locked groove at the end of the A side for extra droning goodness.
Allison Crutchfield: Lean Into It
Lean Into It is Allison Crutchfield's McCartney II, a keyboard-heavy home-recording project of high merit. While Crutchfield's songs have typically been more rock-oriented for her band, Swearin', here she gets to pursue airy electronic pop with a lo-fi bent. Just like with Radiator Hospital, I played this cassette a lot while cooking.
Ex Friends went out on top, with their best material saved for swan song Animal Needs. Literate, socio-political pop-punk that ain't afraid of cussin', Animal Needs is endlessly replayable.
Praise Iommi, indeed. Given that their most well-known release is the hour-long single song Dopesmoker, I guess calling 11-minute track "The Clarity" a "single" is relatively accurate. Hearing Sleep bring this to thundering life at Union Transfer was amazing; taking home this etched vinyl was pretty neat too.
Sunny Day Real Estate / Circa Survive: Split [7-inch]
"Lipton Witch" is the first new Sunny Day Real Estate song in 14 years (give or take the Fire Theft), and it's really quite good. Anthemic, booming, alternative and more straightforward than the last two SDRE releases, this track makes for a great back-to-basics comeback single. Circa Survive serves up a great complementary track with the mellower, but still just as catchy "Bad Heart." Circa Survive always reminded me of SDRE circa Rising Tide, so this is a perfect combo.
The Very Honorable Mentions
John Darnielle: Wolf in the White Van
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
I've been an uncomfortably enthusiastic Mountain Goats fan for a decade-plus, and I am so dang stoked for John Darnielle's transition from songwriting to writing-writing. His albums have always been rife with character studies; Wolf in the White Van just goes deeper. The novel explores how choices branch out into more choices while backtracking to a life-changing accident in the protagonist's life. Like Metropole, it operates under the premise that nothing ends, no matter how bad it gets. This book is only tangentially related to music (although it does give Rush and Tom Petty stirring endorsements!), hence its honorable mention. Oh, and check out the audiobook too, because nobody ready Darnielle's material better than Darnielle himself.
George Harrison: Apple Reissues
Harrison's solo albums from his Apple Records years were remastered recently, and of particular interest to me were his experimental efforts Wonderwall Music, which expands on the psychedelic sitar jamming of Sgt. Pepper's "Within You Without You," and Electronic Sound, which outdrones everybody with its Moog improvisations. I wish Harrison took more sonic detours like these.
The Rentals: Somewhere in Alphaville
The much belated third Rentals record seeks to right many wrongs by redeeming the better songs on the Songs About Time!! experiment. It piles on the group harmonies and synth swells and drummy drums and just about nearly succeeds. I like it quite a bit and don't want to be a dick, but a lot of these songs were already released in 2009 in quieter, more electronic forms.
The Pogues / Joe Strummer: Live in London
Record Store Day 2014 had the strongest releases in the shopping holiday's brief existence. In addition to scoring that Sunny Day Real Estate/Circa Survive split above, I also obtained this live album from when Strummer fronted the Pogues on a 1991 tour. The Pogues' tunes get a bit more soul; the Clash tunes get a bit more folk. The whole thing is just so dang beautiful. RSD typically carries a lot of excess, but between Live in London and the Acton Hall live record, the day has also established a nice tradition of combing through Strummer's archives for some nuggets. In fact, can we just established an annual tradition of officially releasing Strummer bootlegs? Can that just be a thing?
Top 5 Shows I Saw With John Gentile
1. Beyonce/Jay Z @ Citizens Bank Park [in which my wife played the role of John Gentile]
2. Sleep @ Union Transfer [IN WHICH PROCEED THE WEEDIANS]
3. Banner Pilot/Mikey Erg/Goddamnit @the Barbary [in which I learned Banner Pilot are the most pleasant punks of all]
4. Tombs / Vattnet Viskar @ the Underground [John wasnâ€™t at this show either. This premise is falling apart pretty quickly. Death is imminent. Trust no one.]
5. King Buzzo @ the Underground [John WAS at this one! And a fight with words broke out between Buzzo and the buzzed]
Top 10 Reasons to Choose Life in 2015
Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love
Torche - Restarter
Torche - Restarter
Torche - Restarter
Torche - Restarter
Torche - Restarter
Torche - Restarter
Torche - Restarter
Torche - Restarter
Torche - Restarter