Also turns out Todd and I tend have similarly [impeccable] taste not only in bands but in 'hometowns' and pro sports franchises (for better or worse). He helped me out by contributing year end lists last year and i'm lucky enough he's agreed to supply them again this go-around.
Todd Farrell Jr.'s Best of 2014
1. The Hotelier - “Home, Like Noplace is There”
This record came completely out of nowhere for me. Like many of the great records that came out this year, this one is from a band that I had previously not heard of. The opening track “An Introduction to the Album” sets the tone absolutely perfectly with three and a half minutes of building to a crescendo that doesn’t deliver, then it doesn’t deliver, and then… it delivers so hard with everything you wanted it to be and more. It’s one of the most satisfying opening opening tracks I’ve ever heard. The entire record is a victory in words, and is one that requires active and inattentive listening to fully comprehend those words (if anyone really can truly know what Christian Holden yearns to say more than he does). The closer “Dendron” is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever heard, and the melodic tie into the opening track seals and delivers this record as a complete piece of work that hits everything it wanted to do perfectly. I saw them in Nashville last summer(?) and they played the record in its entirety, and it was one of the most satisfying and rewarding punk rock sets I’ve seen in a long time. Cheers, Hotelier, this album rules.
2. Against Me! - “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
Before we get started with this one, I want it to go on record that I’m not picking this because of how “important” it is. Yes, I think it’s very important, maybe even one of the most important records of the decade. It’s honest like punk goes, but the courage behind that honesty sets it apart from the rest. However, the reason it is so high up my list is because of what any music list should be… the songs are really good. Laura Jane Grace successfully wrote an entire record about the struggles of coming to terms with and living as a transgender person that is completely relatable to a straight white kid (me). The songs are so good, and that’s what makes it even more important.
3. Restorations - “LP3”
Restorations’ “LP2” was my top record of the year last year, and it came close to hitting that spot again. This band defies any sort of genre or label and seems to make all the right noises at the right time to pull at your musical and musical heartstrings simultaneously. I think they’re geniuses.
4. Ryan Adams - “Ryan Adams”
It may come a a surprise, but I’m not actually a HUGE Ryan Adams fan. I like his stuff, but never really spent a considerable amount of time with it (other than Whiskeytown). This record was a great one for two main reasons. First and foremost, the songs are great. Second, the sonic pallet is slightly different than you’d expect from a release like this. Instead of lots of mandolin and fiddle and banlol and all the "cool-kid Americana” stuff that everyone in East Nashville worships nowadays, Adams lets it rip with electric guitars and poppy hooks, and I’m so happy for it. This record also gave me renewed faith in the Fender Stratocaster and the chorus pedal.
5. The Lawrence Arms - “Metropole”
I think this record will be passed over by a lot of other lists because of it’s similarity and release proximity to the Against Me! record. It’s an old man punk band (“org-core", as they call it) putting out a a comeback album in early January. The thing is, it’s really good. “October Blood” might be one of their best songs ever. It’s a front to back listen that picks up right where they left off, only now the songwriting is a little more mature and focused. There’s still the dirty wit of Brendan Kelly, but it’s now maybe a little darker and introspective. I may have listened to this record more than any other this year.
6. Cory Branan - “The No-Hit Wonder”
I’ve had the pleasure of calling Cory a friend of mine for a while now, and this was a very cool and exciting year for Cory. He had a kid, got to play the Ryman, and even had his face painted on the side of a building in my neighborhood in East Nashville. Bloodshot seems to really like him, which is great because he deserves every bit of it. It’s a really great record, and it finally gives us recorded versions of some of the best songs he’s ever written that we’ve been hearing him play live for a good while. It seems like he’s finally getting the recognition and push that he’s always deserved, and I couldn’t be happier about it. (Special story and slight humble brag note: at his release party at The High Watt, Austin Lucas, Chris Carraba and myself very sang very drunken BGVs on “Wayward and Down”, and while we were still on stage he brought his son, Clem, out on stage to introduce to the audience. A month or so later, he did the same thing at the Ryman Auditorium (sans drunk BGV singers), which I think is every musician’s dream. Cheers to Cory for a great year.
7. Centro-Matic - “Take Pride in Your Long Odds”
Centro-Matic has never put out bad album. Everything Will Johnson and Matt Pence touche immediately turns into gold, in my opinion. This being their last record, there’s a certain sentimental feeling to it, that I can’t really even describe because I think on its own it’s up there with the best of their catalog.
8. At the Gates - “At War With Reality”
OK, hang with me. At the Gates is a Swedish death metal band who (along with In Flames) created what’s known as “the Gothenburg sound”, which is basically really heavy music combined with lots of melody… or as it’s so cleverly called, “melodic death metal”. At the Gates last record “Slaughter of the Soul” was one of the most important records to come out of that scene, and set the tone for it. Then the band broke up. Well, they surprised everyone when they decided to get back together, and record another record. I was worried, because it would be very easy for them to put out a mediocre album (ahem, Darkest Hour’s last one) and ruin something I loved so much. They didn’t, and it’s just as relentless and true to form as the rest of their catalog. It’s been a long time since I thought a metal record was worthy of a top 10, so take that for what you will.
9. Somos - “Temple of Plenty”
This is another one that popped up out of nowhere for me. It’s a punk/almost piper pop album, but it has a very different sonic platform than most of the other records of its ilk. Guitar tones and guitar work that is a little noodley and all over the place that comes together to form really tight hooks and melodies. It’s a really cool sound, and I can’t wait to hear what comes next from them.
10. The Menzingers - “Rented World”
A lot of people hated on this album, and I think the reason is dumb. The Menzinger’s last record “On the Impossible Past” was near flawless. “Rented World” goes in a slightly different direction, but that doesn’t mean the direction is bad. I don’t think comparing catalogs warrants reason for a record to be good (for the same reason, I also don’t think that Gaslight Anthem record is bad, it’s just different). “Rented World”, however, has really great songs on it. I think the lyrics of “My Friend Kyle” has some of the best lines I’ve heard all year.
Honorable mentions: Matthew Ryan, Lydia Loveless, Cheap Girls, The Hold Steady, Banner Pilot, Modern Baseball, The Hold Steady
Beach Slang - “Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street”
Aaron Lee Tasjan - “Crooked River Burning”
The Downtown Struts - “Hope You’re Dope”
Beach Slang - “Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?”
(tie) Nightmares For a Week/Banquets - “Split”, Courtesy Drop - “Stabilize"
Restorations - “All My Home”
The Hotelier - “Dendron”
Against Me! - “Fuckmylife666"
Beach Slang - “Dirty Cigarettes”
The Lawrence Arms - “October Blood"
Cory Branan - "The Only You”
Somos - “Strangest Example”
Ryan Adams - “Kim”
The Menzingers - “My Friend Kyle”
The Hold Steady - “The Only One”
Best shows I saw in 2014:
Jason Isbell at the Ryman Auditorium (night 3, Sturgill Simpson opening)
Centro-Matic farewell tour at Mercy Lounge (openers: Water Liars, Kelly/Joey from Glossary)
Against Me! at Mercy Lounge
Red Collar at the White Water Tavern (Last Chance Records Holiday Hangout)
Ryan Adams at the Chicago Theater (opener: Butch Walker)