2014 was a rollercoaster and I’m not a fan of rollercoasters. Fortunately, I had my earbuds in at all times. The biggest surprise, was my love affair with Against Me! which began when I saw them perform at the Ventura Theater. For me, this is the purest, most organic way to enter into relationship with a musical artist. Late to the party once more, it was also the year I finally”got” the Smiths which along with Against Me! and Brian Jonestown Massacre were the soundtrack of my year. In between, were the records that I listened to repeatedly. There were several new records that deserve the accolades they are receiving, but just didn’t click for me. Among them were St. Vincent’s self-titled release. My biggest disappointment was Ryan Adams’ Ryan Adams. If I wanted to hear a Tom Petty record, I’d put on a Tom Petty record, not a Ryan Adams record. Come back, dude. We miss you.
The LIST (mostly in no particular order)
Against Me!— Transgender Dysphoria Blues
No record this year strained my lungs and vocal chords as much as Transgender Dysphoria Blues. When bandleader Laura Jane Grace (the artist formerly known as a dude) came out about her transition in 2012, she took a massive artistic risk that resulted in some of her best songwriting to date as well as a potent antidote for self-loathing. “Drinking With the Jocks” (“There will always be a difference, between me and YOU!”) and “Black Me Out” are nourishing misfit anthems, while the title track beautifully crystallizes the pain of the transgender experience in one simple verse: “You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you like they see every other girl/They just see a faggot . . ..” A master work.
Lana Del Rey — Ultraviolence
Having filed this artist under “contrived/manufactured pabulum” based almost entirely on her name, I confess I did not give Lana Del Rey a fair shake until this year when I finally surrendered to Ultraviolence. Haunting vocals and lyrics that both betray this femme fatale’s dark side and belie her age are awash in a lush, moody production that makes for one seductive and hypnotic listening experience. Like a cat poised to bite the hand that strokes it, Del Rey shrouds her pathological love confessions in a girlish innocence that leaves us feeling a little dirty.
Sleaford Mods — Divide and Exit
2014 was the year Sleaford Mods broke. One of those overnight sensations that was seven years in the making, the duo’s second release, Divide and Exit, made virtually every U.K. “best of 2014” list, though it hasn’t fully caught on in the U.S. Jason Williamson’s unrelenting flow of working-class laments set to Andrew Fearn’s simple groove-beats speak to and of the desperate bleakness of these times, especially for the have-nots. If it weren’t for the humor and shock that Williamson’s spitballs of discontent intermittently provoke, the material could be a tad depressing: “Three words: cage, wheel, hamster.” On the other hand, someone needs to tell it like it is, even if the particulars are Brit-centric. And Williamson does it with a confrontational, if peculiar zeal that gratifies.
Jenny Lewis, The Voyager
Black Angels, Clear Lake Forest
Foxygen, . . . And Star Power
Beck, Morning Phase
Bass Drum of Death, Rip This
Tears for Fears, Songs From the Big Chair remaster (just because)
Jason Cruz and Howl, Good Man’s Ruin
Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways