As I’ve gotten older (read: lazier), I’ve had seemingly less time to scour the internet for hours for new music.  I think I’ve consumed less and less music each year after college to the point where I always feel the need to play catch-up this time of year when websites start publishing their end of year lists and roundups. I spent a lot of time in 2014 though just trying to enjoy the albums I enjoyed again and again without the need to seek out and explore all the albums that I was “supposed to listen to” (this is not something you should admit before recommending music but…).  Below are thoughts on a few favorites in a year where I remembered once again what made music my favorite pastime.

Favorite album: Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again

joyce-manor-never-hungover-againIn previous years, when friends would ask me what my favorite or best album of the year was, I always felt compelled to answer with an album that I not only really liked but also one that “MEANT SOMETHING”.  Not just to me personally, but MEANT SOMETHING in the grand scheme of things (or the grand scheme or music/art criticism). Never Hungover Again probably didn’t really mean a lot in the grand scheme of things (at least outside of the so-called “emo revival”) but it was the most fun I had listening to music this year. And man, did I play the hell out of this thing. I checked Spotify and iTunes and no surprise, this was my most played album by a long shot. Clocking in at a shockingly brief (although maybe not shocking for punk) 10 songs in 19 minutes, it’s an easy one to press replay on multiple times. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s 19 minutes of basically pure pop perfection. Equal parts the brashness of early 80s punk and the candy-coated hooks of pop punk’s 90s heyday, Never Hungover Again is pop punk served straight–an album stripped of all mixers and fillers and distilled down to its most essential elements.

Joyce Manor songs tend to take all available resources, rip out the frames and sell them for scrap to reap the most immediate benefit. No frills. No experimental interludes. Just hooks. And man, are there a ton of them in these 19 quick minutes. The yearning harmonies in the chorus for “End of the Summer” harken back to best moments of The Blue Album; “Heart Tattoo” is possibly the best song that Blink-182 never wrote; and the descending guitar solos and exuberant shouts of the song’s title in the end of “Schley” might be the most exhilarating 30 or so seconds of music this year. Hooks happen so quickly and are gone in an instant that the album becomes instantly replayable (a similar effect to that of J Dilla’s endlessly repeatable Donuts or The Forms’ 18-minute opus Icarus). Joyce Manor aren’t afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves, and Never Hungover Again sounds like that feeling you get when you can’t wait to listen to each of your favorite parts of your favorite songs and end up skipping around on your iPod to create your own mini-mix. Luckily for us, Joyce Manor have a hell of a time while doing it.

Honorable mentions:

-The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream was a slow grower for me that I initially wrote off as boring but gradually became one of the most patiently rewarding albums I’ve heard in a while (kind of the antithesis to Joyce Manor).

-Ariana Grande will probably always be somewhat maligned by her Nickelodeon past, but My Everything further refined her pop/r&b hybrid sound for the year’s most enjoyable radio pop album.

-Ben Frost’s noisy sci-fi clang of an album, A U R O R A, should have soundtracked some sort of sci-fi thriller this year. Instead, it probably soundtracked many terrifying moments for people next to me at stop lights.


Favorite song: Father John Misty – “Bored In The USA”

Father John Misty might have us all fooled.  Maybe not though.

Much has been written or discussed about the persona of Father John Misty–whether it’s a character, a performance art piece, or a genuine representation of who former Fleet Foxes drummer J. Tillman really is. The first song released from his new album early this fall, “Bored In The USA”, didn’t seem to help matters much either.

“Bored In The USA” is a hell of a first song to release for an upcoming album.  A somber piano ballad akin to Lennon’s “Imagine”, “Bored In The USA” is beautifully composed, sung, and delivered with mostly just Tillman and his piano, excepted only by a string accompaniment and well, a sitcom-like laugh track (more on that in a moment). What’s most striking though (and what most commentary on this song has focused on) is the absolute clarity with which the lyrics diagnose the entitlement, anxiety, and well, boredom that engulfs pretty much all of middle to upper class white Americans. None of this dish is served in a scathing or vindictive tone though. Tillman simply delivers the songs lyrics in a somewhat apathetic manner as if he knows the message will, unfortunately, most likely fall on deaf ears.

And man, this thing cuts deep. “Bored In The USA” implicates us all, the comfortable and righteous.  Tillman’s plainspoken and direct delivery hands down from Sinai a heavy slab of Law that seems to cut through any sort of hedge, wall, or moat that our American privilege might construct.  Seemingly, the American public does respond though in the form of the aforementioned laugh track. We the people, laughing in denial at the notion that with all of the privilege and comfort and niceties and smartphones and constructed identities and “President Jesuses” that anyone could feel unfulfilled or bored here in the USA.

In the past, Father John Misty certainly has given us a lot of reasons to scoff or laugh at him: the ridiculous over-the-top persona, the perceived intellectual superiority, the confounding onstage actions and banter to name a few.  And all of these elements seemingly served with a dose of sarcasm or irony to subvert the whole idea that he should be figured out or labeled at all. With such a reputation, “Bored In The USA” can be cast off as simply ironic or Tillman having a go at us.  But as Ian Cohen keenly noted, the song exposes the #whitepeopleproblems gag for what it is: a joke that is getting harder and harder to laugh at.  With “Bored In The USA”, Father John Misty ultimately asks if we’re simply the ones fooling ourselves.

Honorable mentions:

-According to Spotify, Route 94’s “My Love” was my most played song this year which makes sense considering the amount of time it spent on my Running playlist.  Pop-house doesn’t get much better or simpler than this.

-Jamie xx’s sublime “Sleep Sound” was a personal favorite (especially those sampled vocal harmonies which I swore at first were the Beach Boys) in a year of excellent releases from him.

-Drake’s “0 to 100/The Catch-Up” (warning: link contains explicit lyrics) was the most fun I had listening to rap with friends this year and probably the most quotable Drake song yet.


A quick note on Lecrae and Trip Lee or how I learned to start to enjoy Christian rap in 2014:

As anyone who has talked to me about my love of rap/hip-hop extensively can attest, I have a history of really not liking Christian rap/hip-hop.  It’s a knee-jerk dislike that hung on a few small tinges of truth but more so, probably a lot of rhetoric.  Enter 2014 and someone telling me for the umpteenth time that I should check out Lecrae/Reach Records stuff and for some reason this time, I actually decided to give it a fair shot. Lecrae received a lot of press this year for his album Anomaly and rightfully so, because honestly, dude made a pretty good album. And not just Christian rap good, but like overall rap good. And that stands for his label mate Trip Lee’s album, Rise, as well (which unfortunately didn’t get as much press or attention but I think slightly has the upperhand quality-wise). The biggest critique of Christian rap I’ve seen (and personally upheld in the past) is that the rapping and production are corny/subpar/a ripoff of mainstream artists. In some places, these may still ring true, but these critiques started to crumble for me in light of Anomaly and Rise. Not only are Lecrae and Trip Lee talented writers, but they also know how to craft great songs from the grand Kanye/Kendrick-esque musical beats that their producers are creating. I’m willing to admit that maybe Christian rap has been producing albums like this all along and I just haven’t been paying attention, but something felt different about these two albums to me. They both seemed much more well thought out and composed than any other Christian rap I’ve heard in the past. It may be that the press surrounding these guys became too much to ignore, but I think like many things in life that I seemingly have a problem with, I came to realize this year that my biggest problem with Christian rap was basically the “my” part.


Favorite old find: Lee Moses – “My Adorable One”

Not sure love songs get much sweeter than this (h/t to Sean Fennessey for this one):


Favorite LOUD drums: Andy Stott – “No Surrender”

A lot of music I listen to and enjoy tends to have a prominence placed on rhythmic elements or bass and drums (I think my father’s engraining of Paul Simon’s afro-influenced Graceland into me in my formative years has something to do with this). No one executed LOUD bass and drums better this year than Andy Stott on “No Surrender” (which in true Andy Stott form don’t surface till about midway through the song).  If Yeezus-era Kanye recorded in an industrial factory that was flooded by a swamp, it might sound something like this. Listen on good speakers if you got ‘em.


Favorite obnoxious/great Skrillex moment: “Stranger”

The drunk-robot-dying synth breakdown that surfaces about a minute and a half into “Stranger” was one of his finest O_o moments in a career of, as a friend of mine once said, “ruining my favorite pop songs by making them loud and weird”.


Favorite live moment:

Watching a crowd of around 50 fans sing/yell along to pretty much every word of this thing:


Favorite music writing:

– Mike Powell’s Second Hands column for Pitchfork remains some of the most personal and honest writing about music this year (which I mentioned here and here previously)

– Chris Richards touched on the “ecstatic toughness” in Rae Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone” for the Washington Post

– Amos Barshad hung out with the entirety of Wu Tang Clan and got a first hand look at the infighting that has plagued the last few albums, and also the chemistry that once made them great, for Grantland

– Max Blau wrote a heartfelt piece on the life, music, and premature death of Jason Molina of Songs:Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co. fame for Chicago Reader

­­­- Lastly, nobody writes more bluntly or hilariously about rap than Andrew Nosnitsky, and his yearly rundown of the XXL Freshman Class rankings is always well worth the read. This year was no different.


And finally, because it’s that time of year, my favorite Christmas song:

Sam Smith – “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

Seriously, someone get this man in a studio to sing every Christmas song ever.