Top Records of 2014: 15-11

15. Panopticon - Roads to the North (Bindrune) Panopticon is the project of Kentucky native Austin  Lunn and combines elements of traditional folk music with Metal, yet never seems like a Black Metal retread as it relies heavily on American musical folk styles. Panopticon's songs are an atmospheric reinvention of where folk and metal might intersect. Some, such as "The Echoes of Disharmonium" are thrashy, guttural metal numbers, while "The Long Road Part 1: One Last Fire is a distortion free traditional bluegrass fiddling interlude that merges with "The Long Road Part 2: Capricious Miles," a seven plus minute melodically epic track more easily than one would suspect. Panopticon makes these transitions look simple, merging heavy music and several American folk forms, including traditional Native American flutes and even banjos with startling clarity. Roads to the North builds on their earlier records and reflects the growth of this interesting amalgamation. There is something here for everybody who likes experimental and passionate music. Purists might look elsewhere though.

14. Protomartyr - Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art) Protomartyr create a timeless sound that combines arty postpunk and 60s garage rock. They use echoes and effects that recall the Fall as much as it recalls tape experimenters like Mission of Burma and Califone. They begin with a Detroit garage aesthetic and transform it into something more fully realized, tightening up their playing and their songwriting. The songs Under the Color are short bursts of sound and light; none clock in at more than four minutes. "Want Remover" is my pick for best song of the year. Joe Casey's vocals sound like Tom Verlaine possessed by the specter of Lux Interior.

13. Shellac - Dude Incredible (Touch and Go) The artsy part of this list continues with Shellac's first album in seven years, a record that was worth the wait. Shellac make seamless, arty, uncompromising rock music, and each successive record adds to the legend. Steve Albini's abrasive delivery gets no less manic as the years go by. The album is short for a Shellac record, but delivers the goods in droves. "Dude Incredible," is a workmanlike rocker like no other, while "Compliant" builds the mood. "You Came In Me" is undeniably funky. The band sounds tighter than ever, and the stories that Albini's lyrics tell are sharp, if not instantly understandable. The Big Black days were a long time ago now, but he still knows how to write them, and the band can certainly still play them with gusto.

12. Thurston Moore - The Best Day (Matador) None of my lists would be complete without a Sonic Youth related record as all former members have continually created great records since their disbandment in 2011. Kim Gordon's work with Body/Head, while uber-experimental, has been stellar. Lee Renaldo has written some of his best pop songs and somehow failed to crack this list last year. Thurston Moore has thrown himself into new projects with abandon recording with Chelsea Light Moving and releasing several solo records. The Best Day might be the best, amping up and building on all the touchstones of Moore's songwriting. From the opening salvo of the "Teen Age Riot-esque" "Speak to the Wild," the record presents a united front of song-craft like little Moore has done outside of SY. The eleven minute elegiac "Forevermore" has a lilting quality that sits nicely next to "Tape" and its ballad-like structure and manipulation. Even "Germs Burn," another of Moore's common references to Darby Crash's doomed band, the Germs, with its Nirvana influenced guitar lines shows the depth of Moore's vision.

11. Jerry Lee Lewis - Rock & Roll Time (Vanguard) The Killer delivers another fine record even though he certainly doesn't have to keep making them. This time out he eschews the guest setup of the last few for a leaner, sparer approach. While big name celebrity guests like Keith Richards and Ron Wood help out, they let Lewis' vocals shine for the most part. He storms through a set of songs that recall his earlier Sun days, including a few Chuck Berry numbers. Although there are some surprises like Bob Dylan's "Stepchild," which has received a ton of critical acclaim, the song list is not what makes this record a great showing by the accomplished veteran. The rocking numbers and the decision to give Lewis space are why the album shines. Lewis continually shows why he is such a great stylist, taking each of these songs and making them his own.


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