FEATURE: The 10 Best Albums of 2014 So Far

Hotelier
FEATURE: The 10 Best Albums of 2014 So Far

by Chad Jewett and Trevor Johnson

You Blew It! Keep Doing What You’re Doing

As remarkably assured and effortlessly melody-rich an album as you’re bound to come across this year, Keep Doing What You’re Doing, the sophomore LP from Florida emo favorites You Blew It!, finds the band singularly focused on melody and precision. An impressive expansion from the charmed scruffiness of 2012’s Grow Up Dude, Keep Doing (produced by Into It. Over It.’s Evan Weiss) aims for wider ranges, richer palettes, deeper narratives. Take “Regional Dialect,” which smooths away some of the band’s pop-punk clutter for an airy passage of slow-core spaciousness, making room for Tanner Jones’ new-found falsetto, an affecting bit of gentleness in which the band hopefully continues to invest. Elsewhere, the breathless 1-2 rush of album openers “Match & Tinder” and “Award of the Year Award” offer You Blew It! honing their sparkling second wave emo to a muscular pop sheen, each new part feeling like the pre-chorus to an even bigger hook, an even brighter melody. – CJ

The Hotelier Home, Like NoPlace Is There

Home, Like NoPlace Is There is immediately moving. It’s a work that can evoke deep, dormant feelings of ennui and yearning that haven’t seen the light of day (at least through music) in some time. It’s hard to come up with even a handful of albums as devastating and tuneful as Home, that match melody and memory so poignantly, or that explore the familiar feelings we associate with home, aging, responsibility, and changes with such deft humanism. With that in mind, you find yourself quickly asking questions about just how meaningful it must be to the band from which it came, since albums like these, so obviously personal, nevertheless have a different life with their admirers. That’s much of what makes The Hotelier‘s sophomore album so special — the way its specificity doubles as universality. You connect with the album out of adoration but also out of respect for the artists who gave it shape. That is true of every track on Home, Like NoPlace Is There; this is a work to be appreciated, to be revered, and for which to be thankful. – TJ

Future Honest

Taking the progressive rap futurism (no pun intended) of Pluto and bringing it back down to earth (again, no pun intended), Future’s sophomore album Honest finds the Atlanta rapper committing his signature, auto-tuned subjectivity to a wider range of ideas, narratives, and moods. If Pluto told us everything about how agile Future could be with a sing-along hook, then Honest takes some time to tell us about who Future is, to compelling effect. For every undeniable banger like the sci-fi soundscape of “Move That Dope” and the slinky, cinematic “Look Ahead,” there are spacious, electro-pop numbers like the gorgeous, affecting “I Be U,” a song that pairs Future’s cyborg vocal effects to a lush sheet of cottony synthesizers and doppler echoes. Executive produced by Mike WiLL, one of hip-hop’s most interesting sonic auteurs, Honest is an impeccably crafted record, a finely-tuned match for Future’s thrilling yen for exploration and expansion. – CJ

St. Vincent St. Vincent

If I have my way, 2014 will be the year that all of music journalism — all of it — acknowledges Annie Clark for the genius that she is. As it stands, her latest effort only proves that she is one of the most prolific, original songwriters active today (and has been for some time). St. Vincent is a collage of organic and electronic sounds molded into tracks that are unmistakably “St. Vincent”, immediately memorable and ranging from emotionally moving to physically moving, all done with an gleeful disregard for genre. Lots of people complain about the ambiguity of the term “indie rock” — and with good reason — but to create something so original against a vast musical backdrop and still make it pop-level accessible and gratifying is indie rock at its finest. That mix of the cerebral and the utterly enjoyable has also been Annie Clark’s calling card for some time now, and never more apparent than in 2014. – TJ

Cloud Nothings Here and Nowhere Else

Twenty years ago this spring Kurt Cobain passed away and Green Day’s Dookie was released. If you can overlap those two events — the death of grunge’s true poster boy and the birth of mainstream pop punk — you can imagine the exact intersection where Here and Nowhere Else originates, the center of a alt-rock Venn diagram. Cloud Nothings newest album has the delivery, the piss and distain that was rich in Cobain’s voice, while also harnessing the sense of melody, the unique, scuffed-up catchiness that Dookie nailed almost effortlessly (a lack of effort apparently being the point). Sure, there are a lot of other forces at work here, but Cloud Nothings have just the right admixture of “Breed” and “Welcome to Paradise” to show either side of the aisle a thing or two they might have previously missed. – TJ

Brave Bird T-Minus Grand Gesture

Clocking in at twenty-two minutes, yet containing arcs and movements more indicative of an honest-to-god album than an EP, T-Minus Grand Gesture is as difficult to classify as the band that made it. Building upon the literary, melody-rich successes of Maybe You, No One Else Worth It, Brave Bird offer an even wider palette on T-Minus, ranging from shaggy pop-punk (“Hard Enough”) through renaissance emo sparkle (“Macaroni Time”) to dulcet-toned alt-country (“Rekindle”) and rich, cascading indie-pop (the album’s stunning title track). Brave Bird are also showing off a growing studio touch, evinced by the lovely, keening guitars that echo through an early interlude of “I Don’t Wanna Know” and the twinkling Fender Rhodes piano that dots “Rekindle.” With T-Minus Grand Gesture, The Ann Arbor quartet are proving to be emo’s most adventurous, thoughtful, restless innovators. – CJ

Somos Temple of Plenty

This site has already pounded plenty of keys (and will continue to) on the Boston quartet’s debut to the point that a few links could do most of the necessary talking. But here’s something we may not have offered up just yet: there is a workman-like quality to every aspect of Temple of Plenty that seems a bit too rare currently. This album might not have been the easiest thing to make, because it sounds like the product of perfectionist hands. Few records show the signs of painstaking craft and honing the way Temple of Plenty does at its finest. But the best songwriting can also be deceptively formulaic. Somos never wastes time with anything other than the most direct route to a great song. The result is endlessly reliable – melodic punk at its most assured and economic. – TJ

Two Knights Shut Up

Simultaneously an abstract work of post-hardcore mathematics and emotional expressionism and a model of instinctually catchy emo effervescence, Shut Up, the debut full-length from Texas duo Two Knights, manages to make even the most willfully difficult passages of its thorny, tangled sound wildly compelling. Singer/guitarist Parker Lawson often punctuates his cascading, algebraic guitar figures (which pair like parallel squiggly lines with the jazz-like motion of drummer Miles DeBruin) with pained yelps and hollers, yet these moments of discord often fold into movingly pretty passages of deeply affecting harmony. Take “Symphony for the Righteous Destruction of Humanity”, which finds Lawson tearing at his own throat over combusting jazz-hardcore until the whole thing boils down to a lone guitar, gorgeously refracting like stained glass as Lawson hums a simple melody: “Together forever.” Punk experimentalism and pop classicism in two minutes and change. – CJ

Direct Effect Sunburn

As thrillingly complete a collection of garage punk as we’ve heard in years, Direct Effect’s debut album, Sunburn (via Tiny Engines Records), is quite simply an adept thirty minutes of basement hardcore, torn-up to perfection. Spanning the sludgy churn of the VFW 1980s (“Commit To Memory”), the sharp angularity of Dischord’s second act (“Permanent Vacation”, “BWPV”), and even some of the slashing stylishness of millennial nouveau garage (“Permanent Vacation”, closing high-light “Thoughts of Honey”), Sunburn plays like a hardcore punk “How-To” guide, an object lesson in how to bend guitars into expressionist shapes, in how to carve noise into wry avant-punk attitude. While the three-chord pileups that constitute Direct Effect’s aesthetic may seem simple, one need only look around to see just how deft the band’s garage-core alchemy actually is – there are precious few Direct Effects to be found. – CJ

S Carey Range of Light

The sophomore effort from Sean Carey picks up where 2010’s All We Grow left off. Carey, otherwise known as a multi-instrumentalist in Bon Iver, seems to be constantly sound-tracking a nature film that no one has any business disturbing with cameras or stringent direction. Range of Light flexes its new age muscles proudly, as it builds continuously on pristine layers, all the while drifting at a constant, soothing strata. Carey spends his time in lush soundscapes, eschewing large dynamic shifts for the swell and weight of a gorgeous aura. – TJ

 

EPs

Joie de Vivre / Prawn Split

Apparently continuing the traditions of second-wave emo by parking some of their best songs on a limited-run, vinyl-only split, Joie de Vive and Prawn brought their A game to this shared released, co-pressed by Topshelf Records and Count Your Lucky Stars. Joie de Vivre pairs their trademark sparkling arpeggios to a newfound taste for rhythm on the bouncing, airy “Tenstopet” while Prawn channels the delicate intricacy of Rilo Kiley and the melodic punk weariness of The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me on the gorgeous, epic “Why You Always Leave a Note”. – CJ

Lilith Bloom

A breathtakingly expressionistic fifteen minutes of modern hardcore, Lilith’s Bloom matches its deep investment in progressive politics, feminism, and punk activism to a churning surface of utterly compelling left-field punk. Sarah McCann offers indelible narratives of resistance, survival, and injustice in a sharp, effusive alto shout, a radiant burst haloing the band’s barbed, athletic hardcore. Six months into 2014, there isn’t a finer collection of stunning punk progressivism. – CJ

Annabel / Dowsing Split

By all appearances, Annabel and Dowsing approached their recent split 7″ for Count Your Lucky Stars as an opportunity to begin pushing at the margins of their aesthetics. For Annabel, that meant taking the glowing, finely-tuned pop cinematics of Youth in Youth and streamlining the whole thing into the reedy, earth-toned jog of “Always.” For Dowsing, fresh air came in the form of rougher exteriors, chipping away at the affable twee-pop accents of I Don’t Even Care Anymore and coming up with the sharper, more fraught “World’s Finest Chocolate.” – CJ

Beach Slang Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?

As warm and deeply earnest as the nostalgic memories currently driving indie-rock’s renewed fondness for Clinton-era melodic punk and emo, Beach Slang’s debut EP Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? is a stirringly affectionate collection of gently-eroded melody and dog-eared major keys. Songs like record-opener “Filthy Luck” have an uncanny knack for basement punk poetry — indeed, you’re not going to find a better dispatch of emo romanticism than a line like “Kids like us are weird, and more, we’re brave.” – CJ

 

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3 Responses

  1. June 24, 2014

    […] volume, and bright-eyed tunefulness that defined You Blew It!’s most recent album (the exceptional Keep Doing What You’re Doing), “Surf Wax America” seemingly constitutes a sizable link in the band’s DNA. For their part, […]

  2. July 2, 2014

    […] night with expanded, compelling versions of songs from their most recent, excellent full-length, Keep Doing What You’re Doing. If the album was notable for the ways in which Tanner Jones found himself pushing his voice to a […]

  3. August 22, 2014

    […] revitalization of emo at its most mathematic and self-immolating, Texas duo Two Knights released one of the finest albums of this year on the fearless, moving, and incredibly re-playable Shut Up. Able to nimbly pivot between […]

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