Jane Weaver – The Silver Globe

I’m rapidly reaching obsessive levels of play with this adventurous album. Space rock meets 60s British melancholia: if you puzzle over which element is retro and which is futuristic, then this is the record for you. Weaver’s voice is mysterious and spellbinding — just one more reason why she fills the space left by British indie groups Broadcast and Stereolab.


D’Angelo & the Vanguard – Black Messiah

Was there a bigger ‘event album’ in 2014 than this one? D’Angelo ended his 15-year drought to address the outrages and laments of Black America in the year of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and too, too many others. (Among other revelations, his surprise release also illustrates why music writers should really wait until the very end of the year to write their end-of-year lists.) This would all be academic if not for the music — an exciting evolution of his singular, waaay-behind-the-beat funk.


The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

Yes, I’m adding my voice to the massive consensus surrounding this record. Color me surprised that the 80s MOR rock of Bruce Hornsby and Dire Straits could be harnessed so well to indie rock as heartfelt and emotional as this. Man, fuck Mark Kozelek!


Ty Segall – Manipulator

Having done my time with garage rock since first discovering the Cramps and the Fuzztones back in the early 80s, I kept tabs on this San Francisco whizz-kid but was still totally unprepared for this, his obvious masterpiece. Seventeen tracks of MC5/Stooges Detroit fire meets T. Rex boogie, all killer no filler, recorded in gorgeous analog — the reverb off the rhythm tracks alone made for one of my favorite headphones experiences this year. Dude played almost every instrument on this record!


King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – I’m Your Mind Fuzz

More than one has sought the throne this year (I’m looking at you, King Tuff), but for me the crown of 2014 sits on the head of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. The Australian group plays generally simple garage rock with go-for-broke force — both likely consequences of having seven members (!), three guitars (!!), and two drumkits (!!!).


Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

The guy’s voice cracks like vintage Waylon Jennings, he writes a weeper like nobody’s business, and his band honky-tonks seven shades of shit. Do we really need to weigh in on whether this is the psychedelic album that modern country music needs, or the album that NPR/Americana listeners want?


Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours

The first of several solo albums appearing in the wake of the Walkmen’s indefinite hiatus, and easily the best. Voice fits material perfectly here: wry, intimate, bittersweet, romantic. People used to listen to Chris Isaak for this kind of mood.


Nicole Atkins – Slow Phaser

Another voice that just slays me. In a perfect world, Nicole Atkins would make as big a commercial impact as, say, Sheryl Crow did in the 90s. (Which would makes this, Atkins’ third album, her Globe Sessions — don’t sleep on that one, either.) A sassy, keen songwriter, Atkins recorded this in Sweden, letting some of that country’s tasteful indie-pop add nuance to her 70s California rock sound.


Martha and the Muffins/M+M – Mystery Walk (30th anniversary edition)

You knew I’d have to mention Martha and the Muffins, right? This was the last of their three records recorded with Daniel Lanois, and their biggest success, even if they lost their critical momentum by abandoning the Muffins moniker for the innocuous “M+M.” (Imagine an alternate universe where a young Marshall Mathers chose not to call himself Eminem for fear of being confused with the group behind “Black Stations/White Stations”!) Still sounds remarkably fresh today.


Heaven’s Jail – Ace Called Zero

I may be more partial to their previous Bandcamp record, but it was a pleasure to see this Brooklyn group get some critical visibility for this “debut” album. Advancing the march of straight-ahead, AOR-style rock into the musical realm we still call indie, Heaven’s Jail cut with a sushi chef’s precision and a welterweight’s jab.


Black Bananas – Electric Wall

Music lifers have certain generational touchstones, and mine is Royal Trux. Neil Haggerty & Jennifer Herrema set the bar for how fearless, fucked up and plain gone one can get with rock music. Neil may have been the brains behind the operation, but Jennifer was the heart — and that heart beats strong and funky on the latest record by her post-RTX band.


Brody Dalle – Diploid Love

This record scratched an itch for the screaming 90s alt-rock of Hole and Seven Year Bitch that I didn’t know I had anymore. An Aussie veteran of bands you maybe never heard of (the Distillers) and maybe should have (Spinnerette), Dalle makes a noise loud and worthy enough to drown out any references to “Mrs. Josh Homme.”


Courtney Barnett – The Double EP

Droll and unassuming, Courtney Barnett won me and everyone else over with her slacker indie-rock. Seems like the Australians rode in like the cavalry to save rock’n’roll, doesn’t it?


Music Go Music – Impressions

This enigmatic L.A. group released another album of disco-pop bearing the influence of Abba and the Human League. They seem to be in a pattern of doing this every few years now, then retreating into their equally obscure group Bodies of Water, leaving the attentive to parse over these gems of studio magic.


Pillar Point – Pillar Point

My friend Scott Reitherman turned the recording of the third album by Throw Me The Statue (interviewed in this blog) into a solo electronic project. The musical tones are no longer indie-pop, the moods not so whimsical, but he’s still got his chops. Nice video here by another friend (and former student) Jacob Krupnick.


John Doe – Best of John Doe: So Far

2014 saw the release of several excellent anthologies surveying the careers of worthy yet underrated musicians. The ones for Robert Wyatt and Arto Lindsay deserve mention, but I had followed those two on and off over the years anyway. However, I completely forgot to keep up with John Doe for, oh, the last 25 years; in one fell swoop this album solved that problem. That voice sounds fantastic, and he’s still a gifted writer of duos with female singers (Neko Case, Aimee Mann, Kathleen Edwards and others here).


Kiesza – “Hideaway”

Out of nowhere came this sleek, spacious slab of American house music circa 1994-97 — the kind I remember blasting out from women’s shoe stores on Broadway Avenue. The video has its charms, especially if you liked “Footloose, but it’s that wordless vocal hook that brought me back again and again: “ooh… ahh… ahh… ooh…”


The Horrors – “I See You”

For better or worse, I don’t really have place in my annual musical rotation for but one British group playing mid-tempo alt-rock featuring finely cheekboned musicians, retro rockstar haircuts and exquisitely pronounced if emotionally vacuous vocals. In 2014, the Horrors occupied that space. This track sounds like an exciting rumble between “Up On The Catwalk”-era Simple Minds and “Lips Like Sugar”-era Echo and the Bunnymen.