All week long, I’ve been sharing my year-end list of my favorite new release albums of 2014.
In case you’ve missed anything, please visit these posts:
I’m finally down to the top five, so here we go:5)Alvvays — Alvvays The fuzzy jangle-pop/c-86 revivalists from Toronto are one of the great success stories of the year. It’s not often the case that a debut record is highly anticipated, but their self-titled long player was one of the most anticipated records of the year. They first released two singles early in the year — “Adult Diversion” and the impossibly catchy “Archie, Marry Me”– which had everybody on the edge of their collective seat waiting for the self-titled debut, which was finally released on July 22 via Polyvinyl Records in the US. It’s a fantastic record that’s impossible to listen to only once, and it’s pretty easy to listen to the amazing single “Archie, Marry Me”, with its enormous hooks, at least four times in a row.
There’s a pretty cool story behind the band of kids in their late twenties. The girls — Molly Rankin (vocals/guitar) and Kerri MacLellan (keyboards)– grew up as best friends and next door neighbours in a very small town on Cape Breton Island. Rankin is the daughter of the late John Morris Rankin of the famous Rankin Family band. The boys in Alvvays — Alec O’Hanley (guitar), Brian Murphy(bass), and Phil MacIsaac (drums) — all grew up in Charlottetown, PEI, and they’ve been friends since they were in diapers. So they’re a very tight band on the stage as well as off it.
The staggering debut album, which is full of bouncy, shimmery, warm songs was written in the winter and recorded in Chad VanGaalen’s studios in Calgary. Click on the album artwork above to go to the Polyvinyl Records web store for US listeners.
Just before the album was released, the band stepped into CBC Studio Q for a visit, where they performed a few songs. Here they are playing “Archie, Marry Me”. I think it’s better than the album version and better than the official music video
Also, if you have time, I suggest watching the interview Molly Rankin does with CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi. It’s a good interview, and she comes off as humble and charming and interesting. Watch that here.4)Angel Olsen — Burn Your Fire For No Witness This is the second studio album from the indie folk/indie rock singer/songwriter. She grew up all over the midwest and recently moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Sometimes, she’s mentioned in the same breath as Sharon Van Etten, whose 2014 album Are We There was the biggest disappointment of the year for me. I think at this point, Angel Olsen is moving forward with big strides in her career while Sharon Van Etten is treading water.
I was a bit late to the boat on Angel Olsen, so I didn’t know about her 2012 album Half Way Home until she was announced as one of the bands at the 2013 Hopscotch Music Festival last September in Raleigh. I acquainted myself with that album and fell in love with her 2011 EP Strange Cacti. I was especially drawn to her song “Creator, Destroyer”, and seeing her perform that song at Hopscotch was one of the highlights of the festival for me. It’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Like a blind squirrel finding a nut, I serendipitously chose the right moment to fire up my camera, and ended up with this:
When the new album was announced, I naturally pre-ordered a physical copy and waited with bated breath. I got it a few days ahead of the February 18 street date, and I was quite thrilled with it. Listening to this new album, which is by all accounts, her most personal, feels less like listening to an album and more like talking with an old friend. I don’t think anyone could write the wonderful song “Hi Five” as a non-autobiographical thing. This is straight from the heart, and you can feel her pain:
Now we don’t have to take it too extreme
We’ll keep our hands, our legs, even our lips apart
But I’m giving you my heart, my heart
Are you giving me your heart?
Are you lonely too? Are you lonely too?
High five! So am I!
And while most of the songs stick to the tried-and-true formula of focusing primarily on her folk-oriented acoustic guitar and strong but gentle vocals, there are a couple of rock-oriented “full band” songs with electric guitar and full drum kit and loud singing and all that.
This is an album that’s ended up in the high end of a lot of year-end lists, and it looks like there should be plenty more from Ms. Olsen. I saw a list somewhere that included an auxiliary list of the ten best reasons to listen to an album all the way through. Of course that list was made up entirely of album-closing songs. The final song on Burn Your Fire… –“Windows”– was on that list, and I have to agree that it’s as good of an album-closing song as I’ve ever heard. The thing is, there isn’t any filler on this record. There’s a standard practice of opening an album with one of the singles, then putting the next strongest song as the first song on side B and another very strong song to close the album. This album has eleven songs, and all of them are strong. Some are folky, some are rocky, some are a mix. “Windows” starts folky, but gets just a bit rocky by the end. I really love it, and while I love all of the official music videos from this album, and while you should watch “Forgiven/Forgotten”, and the aforementioned “Hi Five”, it’s really all about “Windows”. I don’t really understand what’s going on, but even when her face has been smeared with Vaseline, Angel Olsen is really beautiful. And she looks fantastic in that Elizabethan costume
Don’t forget to click on the album artwork above to go to the Jagjaguwar web store where you can buy the album in your choice of formats.3)Mogwai — Rave Tapes This is the eighth proper album by the Glaswegian post-rock band. Over the last few years, they’ve started to let some electronic stuff creep into their music, and while I didn’t really like it at first, I’ve grown accustomed to it. This album came out in January via Sub Pop in North America and the band’s own Rock Action Records in the UK/rest of world. Although I didn’t spring for it, I was awfully tempted to buy Sub Pop’s deluxe box vinyl set on pre-order. Instead, I waited for the street date and bought a lossless digital download. Which format I own isn’t really the point, though. This is a magnificent album. I spent most of the year “liking it a lot”, but as November ended and December started to wind down, I started spending more and more time getting this list together. As I was doing that, I found myself coming back to Rave Tapes over and over again. Sure, I liked it a lot earlier in the year. I “love” it now.
You may recall that last year, I sort of bent my own rule by allowing something that wasn’t really a “proper album” into my year-end list. Mogwai did the soundtrack for the French teevee show “Les Revenants”, and I loved the music (and the show) so much that I slotted it in at #24 in last year’s year-end list. I only slotted it so low because it wasn’t a proper album. Three or four years ago, I would have hated the fact that they’ve added some electronic bits and even some vocals into their sound, but I’m totally fine with what they’re doing. And I hope they keep doing it.
Click the album artwork above to go to the Sub Pop web shop (North American listeners). Everyone else go to the Mogwai official site.
Also, check out this video of them performing “Remurdered” at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark.
In September, I was lucky enough to have the chance to see Lightfoils play a very small and very free show in Charlotte, which is only about a 90 minute drive for me. I also used the occasion to catch up with an old friend, and to visit one of my favorite breweries, and pick up a few packs of my favorite beer, which is very hard to get my hands on around here. So it was a very, very good visit to Charlotte. The show was very good, and apparently, the guys from Ringo Deathstarr encouraged them to book a show at that venue. I hated the venue but loved the show. Afterwards, I took some time to hang out with the guys, and they were some of the nicest people I’ve met. You never know what you’re going to get in that type situation (band on the road, poorly attended show, hundreds of miles to drive to the next show the following night, etc), but it was great hanging out with them. The album was already secured in my top five, so the fact that they were awesome to hang out with didn’t really have anything to do with it, but if they had been dicks (read: Mark Kozelek), I certainly would have ranked the album lower.
In late October, the band announced that singer Jane Zabeth was leaving the band. Her angelic voice is a big part of what makes the band so appealing, and I don’t know what’s next for the band, but I really hope that they find a way to continue on with a different singer.
Click on the album artwork above to go back to the Saint Marie web store, where you should already have a bunch of stuff in your cart. This one isn’t available on vinyl, but get a copy of the CD. Also, enjoy this blistering song. Play it really loud.
I was late to the Casket Girls boat, and I didn’t know about their fantastic 2012 album Sleepwalking until sometime in 2013, but that album certainly would have been in the top ten had I known about it. There are some bizarre stories about how the new record was made, and even if they were on a bunch of acid or in the middle of conducting a séance or just plain “weird”, they made a fantastic record. Every time I listen to this album, I repeat it at least once. And I listen to this album really frequently. Although there’s a lot of dingy, dirty, fuzzy, shoegazey aspects, there’s also a bunch of really rhythmic, dance-y stuff. It fits together nicely.
Although I’ve had a few opportunities, I’ve never seen Casket Girls live. From what I’ve read, it’s a good thing: apparently, they sound much better on their records than they do live. Based on the videos that I’ve seen, I understand why people would say that they’re disappointing as a live act. My experience, though, is purely with the studio albums and a Daytrotter session from this year that’s sort of indicative of the way they are live.
This list isn’t about live performance, though. This is about albums. Between what the girls did in the studio and what Graveface did in the production room, True Love is a really phenomenal record regardless of what they sound like live.
This record is, I think, better than their first, and I hope they continue to put out great records. I also hope they find a way to be better as a live act.
Click on the album artwork above to go to the Graveface Records web store, where you’ll have to scroll down a bit.
Also, enjoy this standout song:
That’s it. Later on, I’ll put it all together in a compiled list. I might, at some point, highlight some really good EPs from this year, or some really good concert experiences from this year, or some of the albums that didn’t quite make the cut, or some of the albums that disappointed me.