#1 Douglas Dare - Whelm (Erased Tapes)
There are always a couple of albums like this every year. And I always just patiently wait for them. I just never know where they are gonna come from. I loved this album after the first listen. This album would clearly end up on the top of my most listened to albums of the year. Which naturally makes it my favorite. It is one of those albums that I prefer to listen to by myself since I am never sure if anyone is gonna like it as much as I do. Your favorite albums are the ones you keep going back to. The ones you want to start over as soon as they end. This is that album for me. An album I will always have close to my heart. This album is basically just Douglas stripped down bare with his songs and his piano. It is beautiful and heartbreaking. A fantastic debut album.
#2 Mac DeMarco - Salad Days (Captured Tracks)
Mac DeMarco's second album was one of my favorites of 2012. Here he is again with his fantastic third album. I am still not exactly sure why I can't stop loving this dude. I actually will forget how much I love him until I go and put on his albums again and then fall in love all over again. This new album is another perfect mellow pop album. Perfect for a lazy day. It gets under your skin and becomes part of you. There is just no denying the talent of this dude. I can't help but feeling sometimes that he has somehow tricked my into liking him. You seriously can't help but love this album. There is nothing upbeat about this album. However it still manages to make me so happy every time I listen to it.
#1 Douglas Dare - Whelm (Erased Tapes)
This is how it always works: You think, how am I going to find 50 albums I really liked this year? Then by the end of compiling these things, you’re leaving off records you really liked and realizing that this year didn’t suck so badly after all! Here are the 50 albums I honestly felt were the most well-made, original or enjoyable this year. Check out Aaron Detroit’s list, too, for even more good shit from 2014.
Amid the wrongheaded War on Drugs bashing and indulgent songwriting/self-mythologizing that came with it, it could be easy to forget the brilliance of Benji. But Mark Kozelek’s later-career renaissance reaches its apex on Benji. Whereas songs in his ’90s project Red House Painters were often autobiographical, if morose and romantic, if, to call Benji “confessional” would be an understatement. Not only is it a classic example oversharing in the social media age, it’s just a new classic period, the best thing he’s done since RHP’s heyday. Two songs directly address Kozelek’s love for his aging parents as he himself hits middle age (“I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “I Love My Dad” are far from ironic, though they cover ground beyond what their titles suggest). “Dogs” covers Kozelek’s history with women in sometimes excruciating detail, from his first kiss at 5 to getting bathed by two women. Part of what makes Benji so masterful is how Kozelek blends rich physical details, with references to Panera Bread and Pink Floyd records, along with impressionistic accounts, such as his atmospheric telling of what caught his attention in a Led Zeppelin film (“I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same”) and what that says about him as a person. It can be a lot to take in at once—“Micheline” at first feels like a diary dump, though it ends on a touching note about his grandmother—but most of the time, the details are funny or poignant or both, coming through clearly with little more than Kozelek’s wavering, creaking voice and reverbed acoustic guitar. “Ben’s My Friend,” which ends the album with its catchiest song (and curiosity value, due to its titular subject being Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie), is a sterling reminder of how many little things add up to the sum of our lives, making a pretty refrain out of “blue crab cakes,” throwing in some horns and flamenco guitar for good measure and tying the album up nicely with a reflective bow. Kozelek may be a cranky old man, but his lifetime of experiences made for enrapturing listening on Benji, which simply has the best songwriting of any music release this year.
It is now almost exactly halfway through 2014! It’s time to look back on the last six months and see what’s it’s had to offer music-wise. There’s already been a bunch of great records released this year, including a couple of excellent ones released just this week. If you haven’t checked these out, they’re all worth getting—pick ’em all up and catch up on what you’ve been missing.
Some people write memoirs. Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek write songs crammed with details, from a brutal story about a distant cousin’s death by a freak fire to mundane details about Panera bread and sports bar shit on the walls, that somehow come together to form something called a life. Just when you feel like the songs are too stuffed to keep up, Kozelek will let his breathy “sadcore” folk open up and focus on a seemingly trivial line like “blue crab cakes” in the song “Ben's My Friend,” and in doing so perfectly captures the weird things that stick out in our heads when we reflect. Simply put, listening is like attending a master class in songwriting.
Katy Goodman went from bassist/back up vocalist of indie rock band Vivian Girls to lead vocalist/front woman of the dream-pop band La Sera. Three albums in and Goodman shows no signs of slowing down. In 2011 (while still gigging with Vivian Girls) Goodman moved back home for two weeks, bought a guitar, a tiny practice amp, and wrote some songs. A few weeks later, she realized she had "sort of written an album by accident." The result was a solid 12 track self titled record produced by longtime friend and Vivian Girls' video director, Brady Hall. In 2012, La Sera returned with Sees The Light (Hardly Art) and critics took note of Goodman's progress in songwriting and vocal delivery. Buzz around La Sera started to grow and hasn't stopped since.
La Sera now completes the trilogy with Hour of The Dawn (Hardly Art, 2014). The new record finds Todd Wisenbaker handling producer and guitar duties. Expect to hear songs that are faster, louder, and more aggresive than previous releases with lots of great catchy vocal lines. La Sera keeps evolving and Goodman is quickly becoming a master of her craft, creating songs that resonate with fans of Vivian Girls and new found La Sera die hards. Hour of The Dawn is a testament to Goodman's star power and her steady rise to the mountain tops of rock & roll!
It should be no surprise that Real Estate’s third album is another impeccably crafted piece of beautiful guitar music. The New Jersey band has only made the necessary updates to their sound over the past few years, like polishing a statue into perfection. The album’s first few tracks offer everything we’ve come to love about this band, with sunny jangle-pop songs (opener “Had to Hear” and single “Talking Backwards”) butting next to nostalgic, minor-key songs about suburban splendor and decay—like being depressed about seeing a high school friend that never moved on, Matt Mondanile (also of Ducktails) sings “I walk past these houses where we once stood/I see past lives, but somehow you’re still here,” with perfect precision on “Past Lives.” Real Estate’s lyrics have often taken a back seat to their shimmering guitarwork, but here they’re a bit more prominent, shining a light on Mondanile’s minimalist approach—despite how lovely the music is, songs like “Crime” are pretty depressing when you get down to it, with lyrics like “I wanna die/lonely and uptight.” Musically things have expanded a bit, as the band throws in more overt nudges toward easy listening and ’70s singer-songwriters in “The Bend” and country tinges in the gauzy, pretty “How I Might Live.” Instrumentally, these guys are just top notch, as they make instrumental “April’s Song” an album highlight, even without Mondanile’s soothing vocals, allowing his tremoloed, romantic guitar lines to do the singing for him. Atlas is simply a stunningly beautiful piece of guitar pop.