Constant Rotation 2014

I say this every year, but 2014 was a really, really great year in music. Here is a list of the albums I spent the most time playing this year, albums that I can truly listen to front and back, albums that really stuck with me. If anybody happens upon this, know that I am not a reviewer (far from it). I am just some dude who loves music.

#1: The Hotelier — Home, Like Noplace Is There

Favorite track: An Introduction to the Album

Everything about the way this record is crafted is beautiful. Aside from the excellent musicianship and production, the real impact is found in the story it tells. Its subject matter is nothing that hasn’t been touched upon before — feelings of depression, suicide, gender identity, abuse — but the style in its presentation and its alarmingly honest perspective makes this record something special. Whether it’s a ballad about crippling self-doubt and depression that explodes 3-minutes in with an extremely cathartic and gutteral “FUCK!” or a song-long metaphor about a dog in an abusive home, Christian Holden’s lyrics never feel superfluous or forced, particularly in a genre where I feel like these things are amplified for added effect. It’s raw, poetic but direct, sprawling yet focused in theme. It’s relatable and heartbreaking at the same time, but far from hopeless or unearned. It’s everything that an ‘emo’ record should be.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to An Introduction to an Album:

Open the curtains
Singing birds tell me “tear the buildings down”
You felt blessed to receive their pleasant sound
Things that break make you cringe inside yourself
There’s a child counting stars in their time out
Of their day in the corners of their frame
They’re encased in the losing of a grain
Of themselves pushed against the ebb and flow
Wave goodbye and watch it go
Well show me the honest, proper way
To disarm predatory gaze
Sucking dry, never satiated
You’ve been misused
Been rewired, you’re short-circuiting now
Just remember when you’d call me to come
Take a deep breath and then jump
So fragile are bodies
So concave, work in self-destructive ways
You shot from the hip and missed
Detaching from all of this
In physical pictures you remain
Spiral ‘round yourself in figure-eight
I recoil at every new beginning
I searched for a way out, don’t we all?
An existentialist recall
Turn in all, all dichotomies and truths
That I gave, I felt wrong in many ways
It didn’t heal, it just got harder every day
To be still, to be passing through the throes
In a daze, feeling heavy, feeling cold
In my skin, in my hand-me-downs wearing everything thin
And the pills that you gave didn’t do anything
I just slept for years on end
So if I call, should I beg?
‘Cause I’m desperate here
A couple steps from the edge
I can’t seem to burn bright enough
I’m cold and I’m left alone, we’re all alone
Grab a hold, I know I said to not but what the fuck do I know?
I had a chance to construct something beautiful
And I choked
#2: Fireworks — Oh, Common Life

Favorite Track: Run, Brother, Run

I am a huge fan of sad lyrics dressed up and disguised in catchy melodies. On tracks like The Only Thing That Haunts This House Is Me, Dave Mackinder sings in candid self-awareness:

I use metaphors to write about what I really should just say out loud
I wish I could piss on a strip to see what’s really going on inside of me

There’s a certain maturity and legitimate sadness in this record that really draws me in, each and every time I listen to it. Mackinder’s exploration of the death of his father underlie the struggles of a young adult that I feel are not oft-visited in the pop-punk genre Fireworks always seems to be grouped in. But that’s a disservice to the band to compare them to their peers, because while Oh, Common Life may draw influence from their roots, this record is far more sophisticated musically and lyrically than expected.

#3: Crying — Get Olde/Second Wind

Favorite Track: ES

What a contrast between the first two albums, right? I love how difficult it is for reviewers to really pin down what to label Crying in terms of a catch-all genre. Emo? Chiptune? Pop-punk? Indie-rock? Whatever. I’m not really sure what I would use myself, so I’ll just go with what their twitter bio states: ‘detailed pop.’ Yes, they use a Gameboy as a primary driving instrument, but it would be an injustice to the excellency of their songwriting capabilities to focus solely on that. All 3 members of Crying are clearly very adept at their instrument(s), but are careful to use them tastefully. With the almost lazy vocal delivery contrasting with the busyness of the guitar/Gameboy and drum work, it’s an odd but winning combination. My favorite track, ES, comes from vocalist Elaiza Santos’ introspective look at herself through the lens of others (including her family), as she croons:

Every goddamn family reunion
Someone’s got somethin’ to say
How didja become this way?
As if I’ve made a mistake
Meanwhile they’ve slaughtered the cake

I may not be ES, but the feeling here is all too familiar.

#4: Souvenirs — You, Fear and Me

Favorite track: Go and Stay Gone

What can I say? It’s such a solid record front to back. Polished and tasteful production, simple but meaningful lyrics, and excellent musicianship. Souvenirs gets a lot of comparisons to late 90s emo, and rightfully so. But that’s not to say they don’t bring it to the present, adding their own imprint.

#5: Joyce Manor — Never Hungover Again

Favorite track: Falling in Love Again

This is by far my favorite record of 2014 to listen to while driving. Coming in at a tight 19 minutes, this record pulls no punches. No bullshit. Straightforward, loud, fast, and fun. I’ve found myself in situations where I listen to this twice (even thrice) in a row because it’s so short but so full of character. Give how low-key this band is and how downright goofy the lyrics can be, it’s almost deceiving how musically-sound this album is and how competent they are at their instruments. Some of my favorite guitar work of this year comes from tracks like Falling in Love Again and Schley, having the rhythm section the backbone to slashing guitar tones and strange but fitting riffs. These songs never end up going the way you think they will. It’s weird, but fitting, and a testament to just how strong Joyce Manor’s songwriting abilities can be in a limiting genre.

And the best of the rest:

#6: Tigers Jaw — Charmer

Favorite track: Teen Rocket

#7: Speedy Ortiz — Real Hair

Favorite track: American Horror

#8: From Indian Lakes — Absent Sounds

Favorite track: Sleeping Limbs

#9: Copeland — Ixora

Favorite track: Erase

#10: Cloud Nothings — Here and Nowhere Else

Favorite track: Psychic Trauma