Saturday, December 13, 2014

Favorites of 2014

Nothing takes the fun out of determining a Top 10 albums of the year list like spending whatever free time you have in December desperately pawing through the albums on other people's lists you couldn't or wouldn't get to in an attempt not look so damned ignorant. So before that continues any further I have to make peace with my ignorance, and give what I got. As usual I spent considerably more time re-examining stuff from the 1970s than keeping up with the contemporaries this year. But who knows, those guys probably missed some stuff too.

As always, this list isn't "best," or even most worthy, just those that were released during the calendar year that I gave sufficient chance to, and enjoyed the most.

And now, on with the Dadrock Top Ten...

10. The Hold Steady TEETH DREAMS
It's missing the Roy Bittan-y piano that marked their best stuff but a nice comeback from their last record, with all the manic energy and shaggy doggedness, and when they rock out they almost kill me. I got the sense that some listeners were turned off by the massively hooky "Wait A While" but I can't imagine why.

9. Christopher Denny, IF THE ROSES DON'T KILL US
OK, so this is one of those I plucked off someone else's best-of list just a couple weeks ago and I'm a little suspicious of its new-ness to me, but there's no denying this guy, even if his songs aren't destined to last, has a voice I'll remember for a long time. Like John Fullbright (read on) Denny is probably best classified as a "country" artist but he's mixing in soul, gospel and rock, all of it a bit off-kilter.

8. The War on Drugs, LOST IN THE DREAM
Atmospheric, evocative and contemporary take on rock, a little more lustrous and hazy than I normally go for but I'll confess to giving them a shot mostly as a result of having come across a video of them impressively covering Springsteen's "The Ties That Bind." Speaking of legends, the chilly intimacy, chiming guitar and echo reminds me of Lindsey Buckingham's solo work.

7. The Both, THE BOTH
Veteran singer-songwriter Aimee Mann teams up with indy-punk guitar slinger Ted Leo for a set of charming power-pop duets. Suffers a little bit from that soft/loud thing but solid overall and at times catchy as hell. I mean, this song:

6. Bruce Springsteen, HIGH HOPES
When I heard this was a collection of leftovers, rerecordings and covers I was hardly excited (the shittiest album cover of his career didn't help) but Bruce is an exception to most rules, and naturally the political thread running loosely through this collection turned out to be especially prescient. The defining element of this album is the addition of guitarist Tom Morello who brings a blood-and-guts edge to Bruce's songs including vicious interpretations of "American Skin" and "Tom Joad." It doesn't always work when the Boss himself engages in profanity, but I get what he was going for here.

Bruce being Bruce, he soon issued a leftover-from-the-leftovers EP featuring the terrific, nonpolitical "Hurry Up Sundown" also worth a pursuit.


I understand where Weezer fans probably feel the joke is on them: They've been so disappointed waiting for a record that sounds like their classic "blue" album that when the band finally does so it comes with a glib apology: "Sorry guys I didn't realize I needed you so much. I thought I'd get a new audience. I forgot that disco sucks!" singer Rivers Cuomo confesses in the irresistable throwback "Back to the Shack." Weezer were so off my radar I hadn't realized they'd been out sucking, but I'm glad they're back anyway. This record, like "blue" is knowing and funny, and packed with angsty hooks. (See also the 50s inspired duet with Bethany Cosentino).

4. John Fullbright, SONGS
In a year without a great many revelations I was pleased to discover this Oklahoma singer/songwriter who sounds a little bit like a cross between Steve Earle and "Closing Time" era Tom Waits. The album's not perfect -- it drags at times and I recognized a guy acknowledging his own creative frustrations in "Write a Song" -- but his ability is plain as day as demonstrated in this crusher:

3. The Empty Hearts, THE EMPTY HEARTS
I was a born sucker for this supergroup including musicians from three turn-of-the-80s bands I've admired forever: Singer Wally Palmar of the Romantics; guitarist Elliot Easton of the Cars; and Blondie's great drummer Clem Burke. Together with bassist Andy Babiuk of the Chesterfield Kings they made a record based on the sounds they admired growing up -- not 80s new wave but pure 60s garage rock. It hardly breaks new ground but there's not a bad cut on it, and played exactly as you'd imagine old pros just doing what they love would.

2. Roddy Frame, SEVEN DIALS
The former Aztec Cameraman sings about a personal rebirth and practically has one right there on the record, his first in seven years. I don't know how much is autobiographical but if you told me he'd been through a soul-crushing divorce and went to find himself in San Francisco I'd totally believe you. You can practically smell the Pacific on "Postcard" referencing Fleetwood Mac with a chorus ripped right out of the Eagles' "One of These Nights." A sparkling, moving, grown-up record.

1. Chuck Prophet, NIGHT SURFER
"Look out all you losers, here I come!" Chuck Prophet warns the world on "Wish Me Luck" ("not that I really need it!"), an ironic keynote to a 13th solo album by a guy most people have never heard of. NIGHT SURFER isn't likely to break Prophet's remarkable obscurity, despite so much to recommend it. He's a strong songwriter, a wicked guitarist and an expressive, conversational singer with a gift of innovating his delivery in the manner of Jim Carroll. It's straight-ahead greasy rock-n-roll at its core but also well structured, with strings and precise background vocals counterbalancing Prophet's wild attitudes and observations.

I'd recommend going beyond the embedded vid for all of these records, and/or pressing the little blue triangle on the below mix of songs that caught my ear during 2014. Thanks to my tastemaking pals out there in the virtual world for the recommendations. What did you like this year?

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