As I'm starting to think seriously about my 2015 year-end rankings, which are really important to get right because about 5 people will read them, I wanted to see how well last year's list has held up. The answer: not all that well. I'll talk more about that tomorrow. But in case you're interested - and because I never got around to publishing this outside of Facebook - here's a blurb I wrote to sum up my feelings toward music in 2014.
I have a coworker who constantly tries to get me to listen to things like Phantogram and Die Antwoord. He can’t believe that “as a music fan,” I don’t annually attend the Pitchfork music festival. But this morning, I tried to read that same publication’s year-end album list, and I couldn’t tell the difference between the artist and the album title until I got to Taylor Swift. It made me think about an article I read recently on poptimism, noting music critics’ tendency to “privilege the deliriously artificial over the artificially genuine.”
And then I thought, what happened to all the music that is just so purely, unabashedly, even deliriously, genuine? I want to talk about that. I want to talk about Laura Jane Grace’s giant fucking smile every time I saw her play “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” on tour this year, and how PUP slays that trippy 6/8-but-not-quite time signature in the opening track of their debut album, and how last week I saw Bob Nanna of Braid and Hey Mercedes fame play to a room of 20 people and be as grateful for their attendance as he would’ve been in a room of 2,000. These are the ideals embodied in the albums listed below, and these are the things about music that keep me coming back.
Did any of these albums blow your head clear off like they did mine? If yes, let’s go to a show together. If not… I’m sure my coworker will go to Pitchfork with you next summer.
15) Pianos Become the Teeth - Keep You
14) La Dispute - Rooms of the House
13) Have Mercy - A Place of Our Own
12) Fireworks - Oh, Common Life
11) Bane - Don’t Wait Up
10) Taylor Swift - 1989
9) The Menzingers - Rented World
8) Manchester Orchestra - Cope
7) Yellowcard - Lift a Sail
6) This Wild Life - Clouded
5) Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues
There isn’t anything about the political or social impact of this record that hasn’t already been said, so I won’t bore you by reiterating, but I do have some personal commentary. Andrew and I met at an Against Me! show. I drove to this show, which was an hour and a half from where I live, alone, solely because when I saw AM! at Riot Fest in 2013, watching Laura debut FuckMyLife666 - from an album whose release was still six months away - was spellbinding. You could say this album changed my life, in the old-school Merriam-Webster definition of “literally.”
4) The Lawrence Arms - Metropole
I spent the majority of last winter doing that dumb thing where you wonder if a band can best their previous perfect record (to be honest, didn’t we all spend the last eight years wondering that?), and I was pretty nervous when Seventeener came out. It made much less sense as a standalone single than it does now in the context of the masterpiece that is Metropole. The Lawrence Arms are introspective, reflective, and sometimes downright sad here, as they confront their own mortality as a band and as humans (“I was born and I died, and just a moment went by.”). As a complete whole, I now love this record so much that I’m considering a “Beautiful Things” tattoo on my forearm.
3) Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties - We Don’t Have Eachother
There aren’t too many albums that I would comfortably recommend to fans across genres and age groups like I would this one. But Dan Campbell’s side project boasts lyrics as poignant and relatable as any Wonder Years tune, and here they read like a heartbreaking novel propped up by Campbell’s thoroughly capable musicianship. I’ve never been divorced (c.f., “Divorce and the American South), and I haven’t personally experienced many of the themes explored herein, but I’ve sure felt lost (“It’s a lie and this isn’t home. I’m just skin and bones...”). “Grapefruit” will never fail to make me tear up.
2) PUP – PUP
Watching these dudes get on stage and say things like, “We’re PUP and we play guitar and sing sometimes” (hell, their name stands for “Pathetic Use of Potential”), and promptly completely murder their 30-minute set is such a fitting duality. Because by rooting themselves in ubiquity (“If I was drunk when I said it, it might’ve been true”), but topping it off with flourishes that channel 1994 as swiftly as they do 2014, this band has made me more excited for contemporary punk rock than I’ve been in years.
1) The Hotelier – Home, Like No Place is There
In March of 2014, I saw this band play to a crowd of about 11 people. I had already been letting Home, their sophomore album, grow on me for about a week prior, and I could tell it was something special. But I left that show positive that the next time I saw them, the crowd would be ten times as big. And at Riot Fest in September, standing in the middle of a crowd of at least 200 people, watching these guys lose their shit during the bridge of “Among the Wildflowers,” I nearly cried. I wasn’t feeling nostalgic for the tiny crowd in St. Louis earlier that year, and I wasn’t jealous that I had to share them, the way I sometimes am when I’m watching a band get bigger. I was just so fucking thrilled. This album is pure talent and pure heart. I don’t know that they’ll ever top it. I don’t know that anyone else will either.
Graduate student taking a break from grants and manuscripts to wax poetic on music.