MUSIC: 24 stellar songs from 2014
I’ve already waxed poetically about my favorite 2014 albums, but there’s also something to be said for pulling together a collection of random individual tracks. (Mix tape, anyone?) Here are 24 songs released this past year -- in styles from rock, alternative and indie to blues, country and soul -- that would make a fine addition to any iPod.
“Archie, Marry Me” from “Alvvays,” Alvvays. Delightfully old-fashioned, with dreamy vocals from frontwoman Molly Rankin and just enough of a fuzz-factor for those who like their indie pop straight from the garage.
“The Mistakes” from “The Wilderness Inside,” Army Navy. Gen Y longing meets Mersey beat jangle on this standout from the California power pop trio.
“I Wanna Get Better” from “Strange Desire,” Bleachers. Jack Antonoff’s side project from Fun combines that band’s poppish whimsy with a National-like anthemic grandeur, nowhere more so than on this sparkling single.
“Avant Gardener” from “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas,” Courtney Barnett. Both languid and catchy, Barnett’s account of a garden asthma attack is far more clever and endearing than you’d probably expect -- the Elvis references are just a bonus.
“Rimbaud Eyes” from “Too True,” Dum Dum Girls. Eighties New Wave junkies may hear shades of The Motels here, as Dee Dee Penny’s indie surf soundscapes get even dreamier on her latest foray into lo-fi alt twang, if there is such a thing.
“Opportunity” from “Jigsaw Heart,” Eden Brent. This sultry Joan Armatrading cover is just one highlight of Brent’s latest collection, a gumbo of Mississippi boogie-woogie piano, soulful Americana and Ella-esque jazz swagger.
“Sweet Albion Blues” from “Polaroid Picture,” Frank Turner. Turner’s in full acoustic-punk mood in this ode to “travelin’ boots,” strumming ferociously as he rambles through U.K. cities and warns against the dangers of standing still.
“Anywhere But Here” from “Scaredy Cat,” Grace Askew. You can hear shades of Lucinda Williams, Wanda Jackson and even a little bit of a Buddy Holly hiccup in this smoky nugget, an album highlight and a perfect showcase for the “Voice” star’s echoey drawl.
“I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)” from “Small Town Heroes,” Hurray for the Riff Raff. Alynda Lee Segarra delivers achingly smooth Americana with just the right amount of trilly twang on her group’s major label debut, and this piano-driven track has a jaunty, music-hall appeal.
“Every Morning” from “Tied to a Star,” J. Mascis. The man behind alt-rock heroes Dinosaur Jr. combines his seemingly effortless guitar licks with bouncy percussion in an infectious but ultimately melancholy track about dashed dreams.
“Fingernails” from “Hillbillies and Holy Rollers,” Jason D. Williams. A cover of a little-known Joe Ely rocker (“I keep my fingernails long so they click when I play the piano,” Williams declares, and then proves it), this track typifies the more raucous pleasures to be had on the Jerry Lee Lewis acolyte’s latest album.
“Holy Bastard” from “Deserts & Long Trails,” Kristin Mueller. Layered harmonies and alt-’90s echoes highlight this track, which builds slowly before the horns and guitars kick in at the halfway mark and Mueller lets loose with a fiery, Grace Potter-like verve.
“Dirt Track” from “Dereconstructed,” Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. Elvis is alive and well (at least in spirit) on this crunchy, fiery cut from the Alabama rockers, which builds to a screeching halt like a NASCAR crash before coming back for a glorious Southern rock coda.
“Good Answer” from “We Already Have Birds That Sing,” Life in a Blender. Soundbites get ripped from the headlines Family Feud-style in this shouting smackdown of pop-culture conformity from the off-kilter NYC-based “chamber pop” band.
“I Love You Money” from “We Loved Her Dearly,” Lowell. “Money hey, money woo!” sings the Canadian pop chanteuse on this quirky track about a woman with the means to call her own shots, and somehow you know exactly what she’s talking about.
“Then She Threw Me Like A Hand Grenade” from “Boxers,” Matthew Ryan. We’ve all been there, guys, am I right? Another stark, affecting offering from the raspy alt country stalwart.
“Kingfisher” from “PHOX,” PHOX. Monica Martin declares that “reverie is my goddamn right” on this dreamy track from her band’s full-length debut, and it’s the perfect sentiment to accompany her mesmerizing vocals and the group’s melodic indie-folk.
“World of Strange Design” from “The River & The Thread,” Rosanne Cash. “If Jesus came to Mississippi,” muses Cash on this spooky, vaguely biblical meditation on sadness and starting over, part of a stellar collection that channels her trademark heart and spirit.
“Get Up and Get Out” from “Give The People What They Want,” Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. Jones’ throwback soul is always irresistible, and this not-so-fond farewell to a shiftless suitor, with its straight-from-Motown backing vocals, is no exception.
“Tarifa” from “Are We There,” Sharon Van Etten. There will always be a place for music best listened to on stormy afternoons through rain-streaked window panes, and that’s why we have Sharon Van Etten. This track has a surfy, retro feel that alleviates the lovelorn hopelessness, almost.
“Rat Trap” from “Living Tear to Tear,” Sugar Ray & The Bluetones. There’s something to be said for good, old-fashioned house-rocking blues, and this album opener from the Bluetones’ excellent new collection is jet-fueled by Sugar Ray Norcia’s smoking harmonica and guitarist “Monster” Mike Welch’s rollicking licks.
“Before and After” from “Spiral Road,” Suzanne Jarvie. “Close your eyes and drive by feel,” Jarvie advises on this smooth standout track -- it’s not great advice but it’s a hell of a line, one of dozens on a sparkling debut disc that mixes down-home Americana and sad country wisdom.
“Volunteers of America” from “The Both,” The Both. This year’s album-length collaboration between Amy Mann and Ted Leo was a winning one for both parties, and this track shows why: Mann’s indie gravitas and Leo’s guitar exuberance combine for pure pop perfection.
“Brill Bruisers” from “Brill Bruisers,” The New Pornographers. Who knows what this song is about, and who cares? It’s a glorious wall of sound that harkens back to the Brill Building era its title invokes, and it’s a gorgeous listen.