Before the ball drops on Wednesday night, join us in counting down the top 10 local albums of 2014.
10. Brand New Silhouettes – Body Futures
Like two tightrope walkers participating in some dangerous high-wire fisticuffs, the 11-song debut from mathy four-piece Body Futures delicately toes the line between dissonance and pop. The sticky sweet vocals from Dixie Jacobs shrewdly contrast with the noisy guitars and aggressive rhythm section to form an infectious and equally powerful album.
9. We Only Come Out At Night – Sugar Stems
We Only Come Out At Night is a bright, scorching power-pop record from Sugar Stems that features sun-drenched melodies that blaze with bursts of yellow and orange and that conjures the catchy hooks of classic girl groups and bubblegum pop. That cheerful mood, however, is underpinned by singer Betsy Heibler’s sterner discourse on more mature themes—like depression, heartache and mental illness.
8. Poetry Volume One: The Shit Talker Tape – Bliss & Alice
Bliss & Alice has a lot to say on this debut mixtape. He doesn’t even wait for the classical strings to begin before the whip-smart word-slinger runs through his first few lines. The eloquent, jazzy production seems to be the only thing keeping the frenetic-paced rapper from going entirely off the rails on this gripping, emotional effort.
7. Turn It On – Whips
Ashley Smith (formerly of Red Knife Lottery) spits fire on Whips’ debut full-length Turn It On, but that’s not the only trick the devilish singer has up her sleeve. She also mystically conjures the art-punk howl of Karen O behind rumbling guitars, punchy bass lines and bruising drums. It’s no surprise when Evel Knievel shows up on the sinewy track “Right On” since Whips employs the risk-taker’s brash, daredevil attitude throughout the swift 32-minute record. On that song, Smith clearly outlines the band’s daring mission statement when she snarls, “If you can’t get it higher/ you’ve got to set it on fire.”
6. Hush – The Delphines
It’s heartbreaking that post punk four-piece The Delphines broke up right around the time debut full-length, Hush, came out in May. The 10-song, 27-minute album is brash, noisy and full of life and doesn’t run a second longer than absolutely necessary—almost every song stays under the 3-minute mark. Hush plays great on cassette (the only non-digital release it saw) and some vintage speakers, but you have to think these songs would’ve killed in the city’s small, sweaty clubs.
5. Human Hell – Call Me Lightning
Overcoming roadblock after roadblock over the past four years, Call Me Lightning finally released a follow-up to 2010’s tremendous When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free this March. And Human Hell, sure enough, exemplifies the necessary cathartic outpouring of rage that needs to be vented after that prolonged frustration. “Your life is no miracle/ Your death is no curse” Nathan Lilley sings repeatedly until he starts howling on “Live Forever.” For a track that extols “I don’t want to live forever,” the song remains surprisingly ebullient, just like the rest of this impressive album.
4. Marigolden – Field Report
The second record from Field Report came with lots of buzz and therefore, inflated expectations, but Marigolden lived up to the hype and cemented frontman Chris Porterfield as the city’s finest musical export. Porterfield keeps the folk-rock formula interesting by incorporating electronic flourishes to his arrangements this time around, but he’s at his finest when he’s simply behind a piano contemplating the golf course suicide of a mean, Skoal-chewing childhood acquaintance on “Ambrosia.”
3. Maximize Your Faith – Canopies
Canopies’ trendy, psychedelic synth-pop sound scored some mainstream press on wide-reaching outlets like NME, Entertainment Weekly, Stereogum, and Spin, where the album streamed exclusively a week before its release, and that attention was duly warranted. The five-piece took more than three years to record its lush, dreamy full length debut, Maximize Your Faith and the extended gap between its five-song EP was used to meticulously compose and record every layer of this meticulously layered album.
2. Space Raft – Space Raft
There was not another local release this year that was better suited to throw on at a backyard barbecue than the debut self-titled album from Space Raft. It’s a record chock full of infectious ‘70s power pop tunes, sweet guitar licks and songs about the great unknown—you know, the perfect soundtrack for drinking tallboys and munching down some brats. Anybody feeling nostalgic for the summer? Just throw this one on again.
1. Ensemble – Death Blues
Masterpiece gets thrown around a little too loosely these days, but there’s no denying that the final Death Blues album more than adequately fits that descriptor. Ensemble is the exquisitely layered culmination to Jon Mueller’s heady project that seeks to confront the listener with his or her impending death as a way to live in the present. Whereas earlier Death Blues albums centered on Mueller’s drumming and hammered acoustic guitar, Ensemble broadens the scope of the music from harsh sepia tones to bright Technicolor patterns by incorporating around 30 extra instruments. Mueller couldn’t have completed the project without help from San Francisco-based film composer and multi-instrumentalist William Ryan Fritch, whose dedication to the album is astounding. He says he spent 800-1000 hours recording the detailed arrangements in his secluded barn studio. Even the packaging for Ensemble was ambitious, featuring a book of compelling essays on the Death Blues concept.
Main image courtesy of Shutterstock.