Dec 30, 2014

Farce the Music's Top 20 Albums of 2014

You were expecting something else, maybe? Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is epic. Despite there only being 9 songs on the official release (plus a bonus track), this is a big big record. Simpson takes the hard country brilliance we all loved on High Top Mountain and expands on the textures and topics. He gets weird in a few places, trippy and edgy even, but it never feels like a put on. This is where Sturgill wanted to go and he hopes we'll come along, but whatever. I'm in.

Mark Kozelek may not agree, but Lost in the Dream is an immersing record, long in listen and longer in ear-pleasing sounds. Though popular in indie rock circles, there's little about Lost in the Dream that fits that usually intentionally prickly sub-genre. It's an easy-to-listen-to, hard to quickly digest collection of atmospheric classic rock, steeped in the sounds of Dylan, Springsteen, Dire Straits and the like. Mark Koz (Sun Kil Moon) said it's "beer commercial guitar rock," but he doesn't like anything not frocked with stream of consciousness lyrics and picked on a nylon string guitar. Other detractors have called it boring, and I would have agreed after a couple of listens. Once it clicked though, Lost in the Dream burrowed its way in and stuck with me throughout the year. It's a beautiful album whose strength lies in its commitment to to a cohesive sound and an unapologetic earnestness.

A deep and beautiful record, as easy to enjoy on first listen as it is difficult to fully grasp on the 30th. Faucett's voice would be the clear calling card if the writing weren't so damn good as well. It's an album that sticks with you long after the final notes have faded. It sounds like nothing else released in 2014.

I lack the proper words to tell you why I love this album or why you should too. It's damn good or it wouldn't be at #4. Check the context. That's enough of a review. RIYL: Deer Tick, Bob Dylan, The Band, Jimbo Mathus.

The band goes back to their roots with fantastic results on this raucous and hedonistic trip of an album. It's billed as a look back at their career, but Most Messed Up feels far more lived-in than a simple recollection. The attitude is cocky and contagious, the partying over-the-top, the drinks frequent, and the music is rocking. They've been doing this "longer than you've been alive" and it sounds like they're still way better at it than anybody else. There's a little regret and some soul-searching but all-in-all, this is no nostalgia project - it's a reclaiming of what makes Old 97s a vital and legendary alternative country act.

Lydia blends pop sensibilities into her rockabilly side on Somewhere Else and crafts a versatile and fulfilling piece of roots-rock-pop-abilly or whatever you wanna call it. It's a well-written, liberated and enchanting performance with memorable songs that sound like hits from a world with better taste.

Darker and more focused than last year's debut from the duo, Run the Jewels 2 kicks out windshields and smacks around f**kboys, all the while sounding infinitely more intelligent and purpose-driven than most of their contemporaries. This is anarchy with reason, chaos with a plan, savagery with a heart. The interplay of El-P's off-kilter lyricism and Killer Mike's straightforward bomb-dropping makes their message hit all the harder.

Kelsey Waldon sounds more vulnerable and confessional than say, Loretta Lynn, on these 11 tracks but she's every bit as sure of herself. Hers is a sweet voice that belies a depth of realism and a spirit that forgives but never forgets. It's a world-weary but optimistic outlook that keeps The Goldmine from ever sinking into despair. It's a moving and memorable album that should easily satisfy fans of classic country and modern Americana, and make Waldon an artist to watch for years to come.

The heavier realms of metal call out to me a few times a year, and while not qualified to write about such music adequately, I inevitably end up loving some of what I come across. Pallbearer is a doom metal band, but apparently Foundations of Burden isn't true doom metal or something something blah blah I read in reviews by true metal aficionados. All I know is that I do like doom and stoner metal, and that Foundations of Burden fits right in for me. It's dark, slow, anthemic, epic and driving. Some of it sounds a little prog-rock with its endless journeying, but there's always a destination here, it's not riffing on just for the hell of it. Maybe what sets Pallbearer apart the most for me is that lead singer Brett Campbell actually has a good voice. He can't wail with the classic metal gods like Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford, but he's certainly from that school of vocalizing.  The hypnotic 10 minute 17 second "Ghost I Used to Be" is even more epic in sound than length; it's one of my favorite songs of the year - and likely my favorite song ever from the doom metal genre. Non-metal fans probably shouldn't bother with this detour from FTM's usual fare. For the rest: throw some Iron Maiden, Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Queensryche into a blender on low-speed for reference. Amazing album - deserving of far better words written about it.

Womack sounds as assured and authentic as ever on this collection of memorable and well-chosen songs. She's a treasure and it's good to have her back, especially with such a worthy return.

Dereconstructed loudly takes on the "duality of the Southern thing" that Drive-by Truckers explored years ago on Southern Rock Opera. LBIII does it their own way: angry, political at times, and amped-up at nearly all times. The lyrics, which you may or may not be able to make out without reading the album booklet, are smart, poetic and often biting.

This is a downer of a Red Dirt country album that will leave you feeling surprisingly hopeful. LaRue tries out a variety of styles including folksy introspection, country rock, and even a little 70's-style Mellotron swoon - finding them all fitting in this deeply personal but highly relatable gem.

RIYL: Patsy Cline, Lydia Loveless.

Fire Mountain's All Dies Down harkens back to the 90s glory days of alt-country, bringing to mind the guitar pop of The Gin Blossoms, the addictive low-key melodies of Whiskeytown, and the edgy jangle of R.E.M.'s more country-leaning tunes. All Dies Down isn't stuck in that era by any means, but it certainly draws deeply from the well.

Don Williams sounds as good now as he did in his '80s heyday, maybe better. The excellent "I'll Be Here in the Morning" reassures a lover that "I'll be here for a while." God, I hope so.

Matt Woods has released his strongest album to date with With Love from Brushy Mountain. He's shaken off some of the "spot the influence" unsureness I heard in his earlier works and found his own voice and sound. This is country music filtered through rock, folk, punk, red-dirt and bar room soul and it doesn't sound like anybody else.

The early '90s might have been Stuart's commercial peak, but he's on the long swell of an artistic wave like none other right now. SN/SM shows off every facet of he and his expert band's absurd skill set of virtuoustic talents across an expansive collection of songs that never overstays its welcome.

Dark Night of the Soul presents all aspects of Jimbo Mathus: soul-singer, folksy storyteller, strutting rocker, country songwriter - there's little he can't do and sound masterful doing it. The most gripping thing about this record is just how little Mathus holds back. He's found his groove and is barreling headlong and breathlessly forward.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I appreciate the fact that your lists cross genres, and I always enjoy the write-ups.

    I got The War on Drugs album for Christmas and have spun it a couple of times so far. I appreciated it, but I was worried I was missing something because I found it slightly boring. Sounds like I need to press on and keep listening though.



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