I don’t think it’s very professional to admit this, but then again I’m barely professional so I don’t really have a problem with it, I look forward to making my 10 Best Albums list all year. I know I shouldn’t but all year long I think to myself, “oooh this is on the list, and this is on the list…” I just can’t help it. The main reason I think about this all year long? I don’t make many Best of… lists throughout the year, and I relish the opportunity to put up 10 amazing albums on one page and say to you, “these are the best.” By the way if you didn’t check out my 10 Favorite Singles/Ep’s of 2014, you should definitely check that out too.
There are a lot of top albums of 2014 lists coming out, and to be honest many of them are just well coordinated marketing tools for notable bands. Did you see the Rolling Stone Top 50? I mean really, St. Vincent takes the 4 slot while The Black Keys (eh okay), Bruce Springsteen (huh), and U2 (what?!?) filled out the top 3? Not to knock on those three, but if St. Vincent was good enough for 4, she was good enough for 1. Thirty years from now we’ll talk about this St. Vincent album, while the Black Keys, Springsteen, and U2 albums will be footnotes to their more notable efforts. So how could you not look at this as pure marketing.
I can promise you there is no marketing involved in my list, no one has contacted me or pushed me to make any of these selections. If we were a bigger publication I’m sure some of these selections would be removed in favor of more notable/traffic driving acts, but I chose these 10 albums because I listened to them more than any other. As simple as that. Is this a list of my 10 favorite local albums? No, but it is true that 8 out of 10 are local. Don’t look at the other 2 as oddities or aberrations either… what I’m trying to get at is that these were my 10 favorite albums regardless of where they were from.
As always though I might suggest otherwise in the descriptions of these albums, put no stock in the ordering of this list, the order is more or less random and in no way a numbered list.
KITHKIN ~ RITUALS, TRANCES & ECSTASIES FOR HUMANS IN FACE OF THE COLLAPSE
Though I’d promised not to say this anymore, at least while I’m talking about this album it still feels appropriate, the first time I heard Kithkin I just didn’t get it. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw them live at Bumbershoot 2013 that everything clicked. Rituals… is one of the most perfect examples of a band capturing the energy and tone of their live performances in studio. On the surface you might hear a mess but amidst the thundering drums, the crunching bass, howling guitar, and rolling organ is an album of great emotional depth. Kithkin has a showy exterior and a lot of gimmick, but they back that up with some of the hardest hitting and sincere music around. I don’t think there was any other album I played more in 2014, it was a favorite of my own and a favorite around my house. Rituals… is a pillar in the history of Northwest music and I’m confident that many years from now this album will hold a special place for many people.
LONESOME SHACK ~ MORE PRIMITIVE
For their pervious album City Man, Lonesome Shack recorded everything live at Cafe Racer, it was a gutsy move that they spent considerable time wrestling with, but after the shooting that took the lives of Cafe Racer friends, they were almost left with no choice but to move forward with a heavily emotional album. For More Primitive they went the opposite direction and we get to hear the bands cleanest (still delightfully gritty) sound. Luke Bergman’s bass fills out the album to perfection with Ben Todd’s blues guitar, and Kristian Garrard’s impeccable drums. Todd’s vocals and lyrical work is spot on here, with some gnarly lines that feel like sand on your teeth. The way everything came together for More Primitive made it the band’s best album yet, and one of my favorites of 2014.
SHE KEEPS BEES ~ EIGHT HOUSES
The D.C. band She Keeps Bees was largely known for front woman Jessica Larabee’s blasting guitar and belting vocals with a blues undertone in a minimalist form. With Eight Houses they seemed to leave all that behind, blasting guitars are used sparingly, and Larabee’s vocals are wonderfully harnessed and often with a sexy smooth flow. Though they retain that minimal feel, throughout the album is the inclusion of a variety of sounds and instruments that you’d never expect in She Keeps Bees; saxophone, piano, atmospheric swirls etc. I hesitate to say it’s their best album yet, simply because it just feels so different, but it does feel like the deepest and most complete album they’ve released thus far. Every song on this album feels like a hit single.
SiLM ~ LISTEN WITHIN
I don’t expect this to make many year end lists, and what a shame because it it wholly deserving. I had expectations that this Anacortes duo would be experimental and inaccessible, it is actually the opposite, these are great progressive indie rock songs. From beginning to finish there are so many surprises on this album I mean you finish the album with an indie rock anthem… Still Slow Life is arguably the best song on the album and it closes things out. The North Sound is quickly coming to rival Olympia as the music capitol outside of Seattle and bands like SiLM are leading the pack. Even when I tried to move on I kept going back to Listen Within.
DAMIEN JURADO ~ BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE ETERNAL SON
Maraqopa made just about everyone’s Best Of… list back in 2012 (including my own) and it was deserving, it felt like Damien Jurado’s entire career was leading up to that album. But I personally feel that Brothers and Sister of the Eternal Son might be better. Brothers… is more along the lines of a companion album to Maraqopa, admittedly a sequel, except to my ear the songs on Brothers… feel like they’re Maraqopa songs unraveling. It feels like the tape was literally tearing apart, like the instruments were breaking down, everywhere that Maraqopa had an upbeat Brothers… takes a downbeat. This album is a pretty phenomenal achievement, and while I haven’t seen it dominate 2014 top’s, I just don’t know how it could not make every list.
CATALDO ~ GILDED OLDIES
I tried to leave this album off this list and couldn’t. That’s a really weird thing to say but it’s part of the process for how I select albums on this list. Every time I compiled a list and Gilded Oldies wasn’t on it I knew the list was lacking. Eric Anderson really turned a corner with this album, with a bigger sound and more biting emotional content. Looking at Cataldo’s discography Gilded Oldies rests so much higher than its predecessors that it’s practically a whole different artist. In Now and Then is seriously one of the best songs I’ve heard all year and I’m more impressed by it every time I put it on.
ANA TIJOUX ~ VENGO
Ana’s 2012 release La Bala was really good, I mean it made my 2012 list, but the whole time I felt that it was missing some of the traditional Chilean flare that 1977 seemed to exhibit. With Vengo Tijoux returns with a more traditional Chilean take on music, returning to her roots. The drums and latin guitar presented throughout compliment Tijoux’s smooth and rapid Spanish tongue to perfection. I always feel a little weird in celebrating the work Ana Tijoux considering that I don’t speak Spanish and don’t understand a word of her lyrics, instead I’ve had to appreciate the sound of her voice and the way the words roll off her tongue, but I suppose you don’t have to connect with a song on every level to know just how good it is.
KARL BLAU ~ WEST COAST CHALICE
Physical copies of this album were circulating long before 2014, but the album had an official release and appeared in Karl’s bandcamp store in 2014 justifying its placement here. There’s so much to love about this album it’s hard to know where to begin, the concept for example; Karl takes 10 notable Northwest female songwriters and covers their songs with a grunge twist. The concept is meaningless however if he doesn’t deliver and spoiler alert, he fucking delivers! It feels like a much different album for Karl, the sound is much more straight forward and narrowed, and really that just serves to demonstrate just how talented Karl is as a musician.
DUDE YORK ~ DEHUMANIZE
If you were to ask Dude York their opinion of Dehumanize I’m not sure you would get much more than a cocked head and a shoulder shrug, but that’s why you can’t ask artists their opinions of their work. You see I thought Dehumanize was goddamn great. Just like Gilded Oldies every time I made the list I just couldn’t finalize it without Dude York. Part indie Pop, part punk rock, and at times both, I couldn’t help but think just how much this album reminded me of Chastity Belt’s No Regerts, like it’s a full-on party packed into twelve inches of vinyl.
JOSEPH ~ NATIVE DREAMER KIN
For the skeptic there’s plenty that might turn you off from Joseph, they’re from Portland, they’re comprised of three sisters, they play an inspired form of indie folk-pop. That’s all superficial stuff, and what you can’t argue with are their devastatingly pure songs. The album opens with Cloudline and from then on lives up to what Joseph describes as “genetically perfected harmonies.” Say what you will about the Portland music scene, but it is bursting with some of the sweetest voices in all of indie music, Joseph fills out the entirety of Native Dreamer Kin with some of the sweetest harmonies you’ll ever find. I nearly forgot about this album but upon revisiting it I just continue to be impressed by its power.
Despite everything I said at the top it’s worth noting that Mac DeMarco, St. Vincent, and the War On Drugs were all worthy of making this list. They were obvious choices, but I just couldn’t move on without the albums I already had on here. Now get out there and buy each and every one of these, the price is sure to be a steal because they’re all goddamn priceless.