It's been quite a great year for rock n' roll. This list was hard to limit, so I didn't bother trying.
Cloud Nothings // Here and Nowhere Else
Christmas came early for me in 2014 when a shiny new album arrived on April 1st: Cloud Nothing's third studio outing, Here and Nowhere Else. Clocking in just over thirty minutes, this junior effort shows a power trio solidifying their personal take on rock in measured noisy, anthemic blasts. The big drums, crunchy guitars, and lyrics about love and relationships pulled no punches on my ears and heart, and made me nostalgic for my younger days watching punk rock bands in basements around Ohio.
'I'm Not Part of Me" sounds deceptively like a love-lost relationship lament, but is more like overcoming an immense personal struggle.
Ty Segall // Manipulator
Always on my radar as a talented and prolific rocker, I was not prepared for the bomb Ty Segall dropped on my head with Manipulator. While Mr. Segall has admitted to setting his sights on a Tony Visconti-style sound for this behemoth double-album, what strikes me is how much dirt and grit is mixed up in the glitter of his glam - like Mudhoney backing up Bowie on Diamond Dogs. If sludgey guitar theatrics take you to your happy place, songs like 'Feel' and 'the Crawler' will challenge you to suppress an idiotic, ear-to-ear grin. Even the cleaner entries on the album - from title track 'Manipulator' to 'Mister Main - drip with hooks.
Ex Hex // Rips
Going back almost twenty years, I had pegged Mary Timony as one of my favorite guitarists and songwriters. Pirate Prude by Helium still stands as one of my favorite recordings. Rips is a sea change in style from most of Timony's previous work - where Helium and her solo work was more fanciful, Ex Hex as a band, er, RIPS. This is a straight-up guitar rock album for the ages, akin to The Pretenders and Runaways, or contemporaries like King Tuff and The Go. All killer, no filler.
Protomartyr // Under Color of Official Right
Vulnerable and dark, Protomartyr's sophomore album is the perfect soundtrack for a moody day; not quite downtrodden, but distraught enough to kick the leaves and trash at your feet. Under Color of Official Right delivers gritty, guitar-driven noise rock with hooks reminiscent of Joy Division.
Motel Beds // These Are Days Gone By
This record is a cheat. A shoe-in. Motel Beds, a rock band from Dayton, OH, have put excellent albums every year for the past 6 years or so. These Are Days Gone By is a best-of: a compilation or diving-off point into a sea of superb songs for fans of high-energy pop and huge, huge hooks. I can't thump the bible of Motel Beds enough.And this video makes me happy every time I watch it:
Herzog // Boys
I can't get enough big, powerful pop. Add some fuzzed out guitars, vocal harmonies, solos, big drum fills... I'm a happy camper. Herzog from Cleveland, OH has delivered an album littered with treats for a sugary hook-addict such as myself.
White Reaper // White Reaper
Polyvinyl Record Company
This is my type of punk rock party. Fun, bratty, and soulful all at once. White Reaper from Louisville, KY manages to cram catchy synth riffs and pop grit into the smallest cracks showing in their garage rock facade. It's a short blast of a recording, but it's fun fun fun.
Vertical Scratchers // Daughter of Everything
This record was the surprise of the year for me. After releasing his loopy pop project Crooks on Tape in late 2013, I didn't expect John Schmersal (Brainiac, Enon, touring Caribou) to put out another album. I certainly didn't expect an album that would contain so many short, volatile blasts of Kinks-infused pop. But that seems to be the point: present stripped-down songs that throw as many hooks at the human ear in two minutes. It's a dizzying display of songcraft and musicianship.
Hard Girls // A Thousand Surfaces
Asian Man Records
I'm late to the game, but fortunately the bands of the SF Bay Area made it clear to me that Hard Girls' album 'A Thousand Surfaces' needed my attention. And now I can tell you that it needs YOUR attention. Records don't usually sound this urgent, raw and vital when delivering their pleasure and pain. You're party to their experiences through these songs, whether it's happily raggedly throwing yourself around a party ('Sign of the Dune'), or dragging your carcass home the next day defeated ('Without A Sound'). Big, noisy guitars. Hoarse and happy vocals.
Happy Diving // Big World
I can name the exact point in time this album reminds me of: 1995. Specifically, the time between Pavement's release of "Wowee Zowee" and Weezer's release of "Pinkerton". The songs on "Big World" alternate between slack jangling and crushing fuzz guitar and bass, not unlike the aforementioned groups. I've also been fortunate enough to have this pop juggernaut ring my bell live in concert. It hits as hard live as you would think it does after listening to the entire album.