Just as I will always remember that day in 1977 when I walked past Free Being Records on 2nd Avenue and saw that first Elvis Costello single hanging in the store’s window. Or in 1983, the Professor at Phoenix Records handing me the “I Will Dare” 12 inch and saying “I think you might like these guys.” Or being at a CMJ show at Tramps in 1993 when a band with the worst name in the world took the stage and became the band that saved my life. I will always remember the May 7th thread on my Facebook page where I was complaining about how another new music Tuesday came and went without anything worth listening to, and my friend Aggie Donkar wrote: “My favorite under the radar 2014 record is the new Lydia Loveless.”
I trusted Aggie’s taste, and bought the digital version of SOMEWHERE ELSE on Amazon. The opening track, REALLY WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN, started up with guitars that sounded like they belonged on PLEASE TO MEET ME, and then I heard her voice. And once again, just like that, just like in those examples stated above, my life was forever changed.
To say that Lydia Loveless took over my musical life in 2014 is a ridiculous understatement. Ask anyone who’s spent ten minutes with me. I even had friends who suggested an LL drinking game, doing a shot every time I mentioned her name or one of her songs, but then they realized they’d be drunk by 11 AM. Even when albums from old time favorites were released, I’d listen once, maybe twice, and turn right back to Lydia. And by mid-summer I was seriously thinking that this year’s top 10 album list would have spots two through ten left blank.
I eventually came to my senses. Sort of. Because there were other very good albums released this year. Some great albums. Those records are listed below.
But it was also the year of massive disappointment. Some of my favorite musicians of all time put out albums that I truly disliked (talking about you Lucinda, Ryan, Taylor, Ty, Lykke, Bob, EMA, Bruce). And bands that I had the highest hopes for released redundant piles of crap as their second album.
Of course did any of that matter when I got to see The Replacements live three times, including the home-coming show at Midway, which on a scale of one to ten, well, to paraphrase the brilliant Nigel Tufnel, “went to 11.”
So, without further blabbering, my list of the best of everything for 2014…
1. SOMEWHERE ELSE – Lydia Loveless – I can think of few albums that are as perfectly in touch with everything I look for in music: great songwriting, ferocious guitar licks, a sense of humor, a sense of rock history, that record-it-live feeling, and a voice. Goddamn does she have a voice. Whether she’s belting out “Well there were times when I was not there for you at all” in the opening track, and you know she’s not being hard enough on herself, or evoking tears with those subtle hints of a vibrato in EVERYTHING’S GONE, a song about saving her family’s farm, Loveless’ voice is at the forefront here. I’ve described her to friends as the daughter Paul Westerberg and Lucinda Williams never knew they had, and even then I think I’m selling her short. This is a perfect record from the most important new artist of the last decade.
2. BURN YOUR FIRE FOR NO WITNESS – Angel Olsen – Noise and heartbreak collide in a collection of songs so stark you’ll feel uncomfortable, as if you’re peeking through someone’s bedroom window, and they know you’re there, but they keep on doing whatever it is despite you, or perhaps to spite you.
3. BOXERS – Matthew Ryan – It’s been a while since Matt Ryan has rocked. And this record comes across as if the pent up energy finally exploded and he couldn’t hold it back any longer. This is buckets of Springsteen, The Replacements, and The Clash flung against the wall, their colors streaming together to create something fresh and new and vibrant. This is the record so many other rockers tried to make this year, failing miserably.
4. HERE AND NOWHERE ELSE – Cloud Nothings – For the longest time I was not going to put this record on this list because of how much I detested their live performance. But then I realized that wasn’t fair to the record, which was a damn great indie rock record with shades of Archers and the Mats running throughout. Buy the album, skip the show (unless you’re into a bunch of kids standing around looking at themselves as if they’re in their garage practicing).
5. BENJAMIN BOOKER – Benjamin Booker – This is such a nasty rock and roll record you’ll need a shower afterwards. Dirty is the word that comes to mind when I think of both his exquisite guitar playing and vocal delivery. Just so fucking good.
6. LET’S NOT BE FRIENDS – The Girls! – Everything about this record makes me smile. This is pure punk pop bliss. Great songs, great riffs, and a sexy sense of humor. And “Sophomore” is one of the best odes to sexual frustration I’ve heard in a long while.
7. METAMODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC – Sturgill Simpson – This is Hank Williams country. This is Johnny Cash. Basically, there’s dark, and then there’s Simpson. “Woke up today and decided to kill my ego.” Fuck, man! Not always easy to listen to, but a great record.
8. SUKIERAE – Tweedy – This record feels like a long walk through your childhood neighborhood with an old friend. You talk, you laugh, you cry a little, all the while polishing off that sixer of Bud, ‘cause it’s the only thing your granddad had in the fridge.
9. HEIGH HO – Blake Mills – Really hard to describe, so let’s say noise alt-country pop. And if that doesn’t make you want to listen I don’t know why you’re reading my list in the first place. Every song is sort of a Pandora’s Box waiting to be opened.
OTHER GREAT ALBUMS:
THE BEST DAY – Thurston Moore
RIPS – Ex Hex
FAMOUS GRAVES – Cheap Girls
ENGLISH OCEANS – Drive-By Truckers
AND THE WAR CAME – Shakey Graves
PAINT ANOTHER LAYER ON MY HEART – Caleb Caudle
WORST ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
DISGRACELAND – The Orwells – After showing such amazing punk/pop/rock potential with their first album, The Orwells returned with an unlistenable collection of songs not even worthy of a B-side. It’s the laziest record of the year. As if they went into the studio with the mindset that David Letterman loves us and we can do no wrong. Well, you did wrong, boys. This record sucks.
BEST SONG OF THE YEAR:
MILE HIGH – Lydia Loveless – I don’t know any other way to say it: THIS IS A PERFECT SONG. It’s full of confusion and longing and wit. It’s feminine/masculine, it’s breathless. And it fucking rocks. It’s on endless repeat.
OTHER GREAT SONGS:
UNFUCKTHEWORLD – Angel Olsen – an ode to when everything perfect breaks. Her whisper gives me chills.
GOD’S NOT HERE TONIGHT – Matthew Ryan – This is the perfect anthem for this broken, fucked-up year. A BASTARDS OF YOUNG minus the hope.
MESMERIZE – The Girls! – Just a freakin’ great song. Nothing more need be said.
IT AIN’T ALL FLOWERS – Sturgill Simpson – You wake up in a strange room next to someone you’ve never seen before, stumble towards the bathroom, catch your reflection is a cracked mirror, what’s all that blood! You drop to your knees, the room is spinning, and everything would be alright if you could just remember your fucking name. That’s this song.
BEST COVER SONG:
COME PICK ME UP – Superchunk – Mac and company take the classic Ryan Adams heartbreaker and rock it the fuck out. They make it theirs. And that’s saying a lot when the original is one of the great songs of all time.
BEST BOX SET/REISSUE/RECORD THAT DOESN’T FALL INTO ONE OF THE CATEGORIES ABOVE:
ALPHA MIKE FOXTROT: RARE TRACKS 1994-2014 – Wilco – A collection that makes you realize the scope and talent of this band. Beautifully packaged, with 77 tracks of outtakes and demos and live recordings. It’s like the Tweedy album, except this time your friend is telling you all these great secrets which make you grin from ear to ear.
BEST LIVE SHOW:
The Replacements – Midway Stadium , St. Paul, MN – What separated this show from the other 4 Mats concerts I’ve seen since the reunion was the emotion. It was a homecoming of rock and roll soldiers we all thought were long lost as war. They raised their guitars as high as the flag on Iwo Jima and showed us that their songs could never be defeated. And we were all a little teary eyed singing along with Paul to UNSATISFIED.
Lydia Loveless – the Studio at Webster Hall – in any other year this show would have been number one. It was everything you could possibly want from a rock show: noisy one moment, a whisper the next, chaotic, frantic, full of surprises. Do not miss Lydia and company when they play your town in 2015. Because even compared to the reunited Mats, hers is the greatest rock band on the planet right now.
BEST NARRATIVE FILM:
IDA – directed by Paweł Pawlikowski – Quiet, haunting, and chillingly beautiful, this is a masterpiece of the sort Bergman might have made in the late 1950. A story of a young nun about to take her vows only to learn from her one living relative that she is Jewish. You will never forget this film.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM:
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER – directed by John Maloof & Charlie Siskel – a thrilling mystery that begins with a box of photo negatives bought at an auction and leads you through a life of a woman who was secretly one of the greatest photographers of our time. To everyone other than herself she was simply a nanny. Completely captivating.
HOMELAND – Claire Danes and company came back from a horrible third season with a vengeance. This is edge of your seat, scream at the TV, need a stiff drink sort of drama. And while the ending was a slow burn, if was probably necessary after the wringer they put us through.
BOOKS OF THE YEAR:
DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE: THE WILD, OBSESSIVE HUNT FOR THE WORLD’S RAREST 78RPM RECORDS by Amanda Petrusich – More than just about old guys looking for 78s, it’s about obsession, about the history of American music, it’s about what drives us. I wish it were twice as long. Brilliant!
HOPE FOR FILM: FROM THE FRONT LINE OF THE INDEPENDENT CINEMA REVOLUTIONS by Ted Hope – a real-life in-the-trenches look at what it takes to make an independent feature. Trust me when I tell you, Hope knows what he’s talking about. Every filmmaker, every producer should read this book. You’ll learn more here than you will in any film class on the planet.
And that’s it. That’s enough. We’ve got a lot of great stuff coming up this year. A DOG NAMED GUCCI will be premiering shortly. And in January I’ll be announcing rock doc number four. Stay tuned. Come back for more. And please, never tell me to turn it down, ‘cause it ain’t loud enough.