2014, you just wanted to get weird from the get go. Weird in a very good way with surprise releases and collaborations that had strokes of genius. And locally, you saw a lot of bands in Providence really make their mark all over New England. As with every year, you also had a few albums that had a lot of hype and didn’t quite live up to expectations. None of those are on this list. Once again, here are my Top 20 Albums Of 2014 because 15 wasn’t enough.
20.) Gymshorts – No Backsies! (Manimal)
It’s absolutely safe to say that Gymshorts brought punk rock back to Providence with a vengeance when they put out their debut album No Backsies!
in February. Sarah Greenwell’s shouting vocals with raging guitars on a lo-fi recording makes for a no nonsense and no frills punk album from front to back. Once you press play you will be looking to start a mosh pit wherever you are. Work, home, on the sidewalk and you won’t care. “You Olneyville Once,” “Bed(Stuy)” and “Oh Brother” will melt your brain into rebellious goo.
19.) Modern Vices (Autumn Tone)
When this dirty doo-wop garage rock act from Chicago released their self-titled debut back in October I was completely astounded. The best way of describing Modern Vices’ sound is to imagine the vocals of Morrissey without the pretentiousness mixed with the sounds of Frankie Valli and The Stooges. Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? “Pleasure Gun,” “Cheap Style” and “Smoke Rings” are incredible tracks that are sure to impress.
18.) Smith & Weeden (Self-Released)
Highly anticipated from nearly everyone involved in the music scene in Providence, Smith & Weeden’s self-titled debut wowed people and did a whole lot more with excellent production and unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll. Jesse Smith’s songwriting is impeccable, but what really gets me are Seamus Weeden’s scorching lead guitar solos. The guy can really play. You gotta give “Aim To Please,” “Boys In Bands” and “Playing A Part” a listen. Wonderful stuff from one of the best acts going right now in The Creative Capital.
17.) Sean Rowe – Madman (Anti-)
With that trademark deep and soulful voice, Troy, NY, singer-songwriter Sean Rowe put out one heck of an album, Madman,
in September. Ranging from soul in the vein of Otis Redding to down-home blues and even a few ballads, Madman has everything a music fan looks for in an album. “Desiree,” “The Real Thing” and “The Game” are great examples of how much versatility Sean Rowe has when it comes to how he crafts a song.
16.) The Both (Super Ego)
A collaboration that made for a fantastic album, when Aimee Mann and Ted Leo got together to form a rock band it became a thing of beauty. There are some bluesy tones and a sheen of pop mixed with distorted riffs that show both Mann & Leo haven’t strayed away from their punk roots. “The Gambler,” “The Prisoner” and “Milwaukee” are very cool tracks that I highly suggest you dive into.
15.) The Viennagram – Learn To Tame The Patterns (Irrational Solutions Inc.)
First off, this album is just insane. Providence by way of New Bedford psychedelic space punks The Viennagram put out a marvelous album with Learn To Tame The Patterns on Halloween with production that sounds like something out of “The Twilight Zone.” Imagine listening to Rain Dogs by Tom Waits while on a bad acid trip and rolling through a vortex to a crazed dimension, and you got this. You get what I mean? Listen to “Straight To The Void,” “Teenage Haircut” and “Only The Good Ones Die” and you’ll catch my drift.
14.) Aphex Twin – Syro (Warp)
Yes, an electronic music album has made it onto the list and deservedly so. Also known as Richard D. James, when Aphex Twin snuck up on us all with his first studio album in 13 years with Syro in September, music fans everywhere joined the applause. Abstract beats and even some piano keys every now and then really make Syro a stunning album to listen to. I would usually tell you what tracks to try out, but you should go from start to finish with this one.
13.) Ryan Adams – 1984 (PAX AM)
Now I know what you’re going to say. First, yes I know that Ryan Adams put out a self-titled full length album this year. Second, I know that 1984
is considered to be an EP, but hear me out. 1984 has 10 songs on it, which in my opinion is enough for it to be considered a full-length album. Also in my opinion, it beats the holy hell out of his self-titled release. Harkening the sounds of ’80s punk bands like The Replacements and Husker Du, 1984
comes at you like a bat out of hell with reckless abandon. “When The Summer Ends,” “Why Did They Leave You Alone?” and “Bones And Ash” are jolting in the best way possible.
12.) Ravi Shavi – Courage (Self-Released)
Since these revolution garage mod rockers from Providence put out two releases on the same night this year, to be fair to everyone else I could only choose one to include in this list. So why not the one that has eight riveting songs on it? With contagious energy and Rafay Rashid’s ability to show his brash confidence through his songwriting, Courage could very well be Ravi Shavi’s best release yet. “Midnight,
” “Permanent Damage” and “Radical” are excellent reasons why.
11.) TV on the Radio – Seeds (Harvest)
Going back to their eclectic roots, TV on the Radio put unbridled feeling and passion on canvas when they put out Seeds
in November. Combining synth, funk, soul and rock together to form a sound that goes back to their early releases while still progressing as a band, these Brooklyn art-rock fiends got back to basics in outstanding fashion. “Winter,” “Lazerray” and “Could You” will give your ears a sense of joy they’ve never felt before.
10.) Mean Creek – Local Losers (Old Flame)
A very powerful album that hits you straight in the gut, Boston’s Mean Creek delivered a musical knockout punch when they released a punk album with Local Losers in April. Still retaining that heart on the sleeve aesthetic, Chris Keene’s fury on vocals, Aurore Oujian’s impeccable skills on lead guitar and Mikey Holland playing drums like a jet engine give this album an invigorating sense of rhythm. “Cool Town,” “My Madeline” and “Mass. Border” are musical missiles heading straight for your soul.
9.) Roz and The Rice Cakes – Need To Feed (Team Love)
It’s hard to believe that this is only the second full length album from one of the hardest working bands out there today, but Need To Feed
from Providence indie-pop power trio Roz and The Rice Cakes showed how much these three talented individuals have progressed over the years. There’s a cornucopia of styles and techniques that come together all over the album, but The Rice Cakes pull off perfectly by always keeping a rhythmic groove. “Hay Fever,” “Floor Boards” and “Push and Pull” will get you going crazy, but in a fun way.
8.) Jack White – Lazaretto (Third Man)
Continuing his solo trend of mixing Motown soul, Nashville country, Chicago blues and old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll together to create brilliant music, Jack White lived up to his reputation once again as one of the best musicians in rock with Lazaretto. With some tracks down and dirty while others are poppy and folky, Jack shows his influences on this album in full throttle fashion. “Three Women,” “High Ball Stepper” and “That Black Bat Licorice” are three songs off of Lazaretto you’ll totally dig.
7.) Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble/Xtra Mile)
An album that will go down as one of the most socially important albums of the decade, Against Me! went back to their honest brand of punk led by Laura Jane Grace and brought out a bunch of unapologetic anthems. Having an identity crisis, the death of a friend and hating the misogynistic macho attitude are all covered in the album, but musically this bad boy hits hard in the best way punk can. “True Trans Soul Rebel,” “Black Me Out” and “Obama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ” make you want to put your fist in the air and tear down brick walls.
6.) The Orwells – Disgraceland (Canvasback)
After listening to this album, I’m convinced that these kids from Elmhurst, IL, who call themselves The Orwells will become the new face of rock ‘n’ roll in less than five years if they keep it up. They’re barely old enough to drink at the places they play at. Frontman Mario Cuomo looks like a young Robert Plant who commands an audience like vintage Iggy Pop and their songs are catchy in a pleasing way. Garage rock to the fullest, “The Righteous One,” “Gotta Get Down” and “Who Needs You” are just three tracks off an album that kicks ass from front to back.
5.) Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita (Polyvinyl)
When abstract noise rock act Deerhoof released their 12th studio album with La Isla Bonita in November, I became an instant fan. The distorted guitars mixed with jazzed out pop is comparable to the styles of Talking Heads meeting the styles of The Ramones — really cool tones that had me hooked from the first time I gave it a listen. “Paradise Girls,” “Exit Only” and “Black Pitch” are weird and you’re going to love listening to them along with everything else.
4.) Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World (Last Gang/Warner Bros.)
It only took nine years to follow up their debut masterpiece, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine
, but Death From Above 1979 did it justice with The Physical World
. One thing that really got me with the album was the little hints of influence from Jesse F. Keeler’s electronica project MSTRKRFT and Sebastien Grainger’s solo material. Listen to “Cheap Talk,” “White Is Red” and “Government Trash” and see for yourself.
3.) Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City)
A guy who has put out more records than his own age (the guy is 27), Ty Segall put out a jewel with Manipulator
this past August. Proving that everything he touches is gold, this rock ‘n’ roll wunderkind does no wrong with a whole lot of fuzz. If you don’t dig that mix of punk with ’60s style psychedelia, I don’t know what to tell you. “The Faker,” “It’s Over” and “The Crawler” are so badass they might light your headphones on fire.
2.) Antemasque (Nadie)
For a while no one knew when the debut album from the new band headed by At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez was going to be released, and all we had was a Youtube stream to tempt us. This grand merging of punk and progressive rock really made Antemasque
something else, it doesn’t hurt that you have Bixler-Zavala being ferocious on the mic and Rodriguez-Lopez reaffirming himself as one of the best guitarists alive. This is best exemplified by getting revved up with “I Got No Remorse” and “In The Lurch” along with being mellowed out by “Drown All Your Witches
1.) D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah (RCA) This album had me shocked due to the sheer excellence I was listening to when I first pressed play on Black Messiah. It’s Parliament-Funkadelic meets Prince meets Al Green meets Marvin Gaye, it’s funky r&b with a full band and it’s pristine. His first release in 14 years, D’Angelo made it definitely worth the wait on this. Whoever played bass on this is a golden god. Tracks like “Ain’t That Easy,” “The Charade”, “1000 Deaths” and “Prayer” make this album the absolute best of 2014. It’s real, genuine and beautiful in so many ways.
Those are my top 20 albums of the year, take it or leave it. You probably love it and agree with everything or you flat out hate it and you want to tell me how much of an idiot I am in three different languages. There’s usually no in between with these types of things. Can we expect anything similar in 2015? Well you gotta start paying attention and listening to the music.