Let’s jump right in…
10. Various Artists, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1
Granted, not a millisecond of Awesome Mix hit the airwaves for the first time within the last two decades, much less the last 12 months. While the collection includes undeniable classics — Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways — it also drudges up better-left-forgotten tracks like “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede. If I was ranking this list strictly in terms of what I listened to often and enjoyed this year, World/Inferno Friendship Society, Warpaint, even Antichrist Demoncore would all deserve the #10 slot much more.
But hear me out — this soundtrack-meets-nostalgia comp was very significant in 2014, but for genius marketing instead of content. How does one convince consumers who stopped paying for music 10 years ago to buy a grab bag of yesteryear’s novelty hits? How does one ensure such a product’s placement atop the Billboard chart? Make it a superhero’s favorite thing.“Hey there, Little Billy,” figuratively says Guardians. “Isn’t Star-Lord cool? Y’wanna be just like ‘im, eh? Well, tell mommy and daddy to buy you the official Star-Lord Battle Gear Playset — including plastic quad blasters and way cool space mask – plus Awesome Mix Vol. 1, ‘cause how else are you gonna play Star-Lord unless you’re jamming out to the “Pina Colada Song” JUST LIKE HE DOES?”
9. Hooray for Earth, Racy
The New York band we kept insisting was a Boston band even though they clearly weren’t pulled a Dave Chappelle this year and went out on top with Racy – a listening experience akin to wading through a brisk-yet-soothing ocean amidst a summertime heatwave, except the ocean is made of guitar sounds instead of water. Strangely, Racy got a handful of mediocre reviews. I’m not sure why. I really like it! Hopefully a Hooray for Earth reunion isn’t out of the cards… or they’ll all go start new projects and the rest of us can enjoy those instead. Either way works.
8. Future Islands, Singles
Normally when someone says “What in the world were (so-and-so band) doing on their late night TV performance?” it’s because “so-and-so band” fucked up. But In the instance of Future Islands’ 2014 gigs on Letterman and Kimmel, it was the singular, histrionic boogies of singer/occasional growler Samuel T. Herring that summoned the public’s shock and awe — specifically, the nice kind of shock and awe. (Shock and aw?). I would direct anyone who dismisses synth-pop as impersonal or vapid to Singles, which manages abundant pathos while pretty much living up to its presumptuous title.
7. Perfect Pussy, Say Yes To Love
During an April show at the Middle East Downstairs, Perfect Pussy burned more calories in a 20-minute set than most of us could possibly manage in a week. The unbridled mania would’ve been wasted, had it not been for the absolute raddness of the Syracuseian troupe’s noisy wares. Their ramshackle song structures and deliberately, generously deployed feedback won’t endear them to a universal audience, but what’s the point of punk if it’s not alienating anyone?
6. The Both, Self-Titled
As the whole front row took pictures of itself at the Sound of Our Town fest a few months back, Ted Leo and Aimee Mann crooned, “We got over that bridge and went walking, back to a table with cards to be dealt, and a show where the whole front row was takin’ pictures of itself…” I’ve never heard a lyric describe what was happening in front of me with such immediacy and exactitude. It’s a neat memory! This first attempt from Leo and Mann doesn’t live up to the potential of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists remaking Mann’s jams from the Magnolia OST. Nonetheless, uncanny smile-inducer “Milwaukee” is my favorite song from 2014’s second half, so I’d be lying to everyone if I left The Both off this thing.
5. Iceage, Plowing Into the Field of Love
Those of us who gobbled up You’re Nothing last year would’ve been perfectly content with more of the same. Instead, we got a stylistically sundry batch of tracks sometimes sporting viola, mandolin, and/or piano. While the gathering of combated and combative Danes stray from post-punk conventions, their undercurrent of raw anguish remains frothing as ever… except on lead single “The Lord’s Favorite,” a peppy hoedown satirizing self-bestowed entitlement with a wink and a hat tip toward good ol’ fashioned hedonism.
4. Nothing, Guilty of Everything
On Guilty of Everything, Nothing cultivate a damaged majesty rarely achieved by acts that, to any degree, click on hardcore or punk bills. In practice, it’s a slab of sludgy garage rock liberally garnished with shoegazey overtones. In spirit, the record hits the same beats as “A Warm Place” by Nine Inch Nails or Clint Mansell’s “Lux Aeterna” from the Requiem for a Dream OST. Nothing’s split 12” with Whirr, also of 2014, sees the Philadelphia bedlam-merchants exploring slightly sunnier realms of post-rock. Whether that becomes a trend or not remains to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine Nothing could possibly get much bleaker.
3. The War on Drugs: Lost In The Dream
In the smash hit single “The War On Drugs Can Suck My Cock,” Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon describes The War on Drugs as the whitest band he’s ever heard. Mark Kozelek is either a liar or an ignoramus. Taylor Swift, Dave Matthews Band, American Authors, Blood on the Dance Floor, The Lumineers, fun., The Decemberists, Van Halen, Skrewdriver, Mumford and Sons, Vampire Weekend, Pomplamoose, Death In June, Ra Ra Riot, Iggy Azalea, and every artist who’s ever had an album for sale at Starbucks are whiter than The War on Drugs. The whiteness of The War on Drugs only matches that of Broken Social Scene, making them notably white, but not overwhelmingly white. I kid, of course. While The War on Drugs make an easy target for deriders of uncontroversial indie rock, good luck staying snarky when the chorus of “Red Eyes” hits its precipice.
2. White Lung, Deep Fantasy
The Canadian expat four-piece handedly surpassed any expectations pumped up by 2012’s killer Sorry. With the newly-enlisted Hether Fortune brandishing the bass, Mish Way and co. prove a record can send a positive message, and provide the ambiance necessary for a proper curb stomping. In a year marred by unpunished police brutality, religious zealotry both home and abroad, gamer gaters, and one of the most wholesome sitcom dads in history outted as a serial rapist, the aural fury of Deep Fantasy helped alleviate all the other kinds of fury.
1. Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues
By coming out as transgender in 2012, Laura Jane Grace demonstrated applause-worthy pugnacity, and offered herself up as a celebrity(ish) representative for a community that previously lacked star power. Since then, the mainstream press has kinda emphasized her incidental social activism over her band. That’s the way it should be –social activism, even when incidental, is usually more important than punk rock songs. But that needn’t diminish Grace’s corresponding creative resurgence, and some of the grandest Against Me! product since 2001’s Reinventing Axl Rose. Conveniently arranged consecutively on Transgender…, I speak of “Drinking With the Jocks,” “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” and “FuckMyLife666.” Pretty sure I played that last one on repeat for like a week.
Follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @barelytomson