Top Records of 2014: 20-16

It's been another slow year at Snobbin'. As much as I tried, the posts have come fewer and farther in between. Hopefully that will change in the new year, but for now I want to present my top records of 2014. The list was really hard to determine this year because there were a lot of great records, but there was also less variety in what I had time to listen to and what came out. For example, Metal and Punk records didn't make the list like they have in recent years because I didn't hear that much that really rewarded repeat listens. The list has become more of a singer-songwriter, Americana sort of exercise. That's just the way I've been heading the last few years. I also decided to shorten the list as I think last year's was a tad extreme.

20. Sun Kil Moon - Benji (Caldo Verde)  Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek can be an ornery, irascible cuss. This year alone he called out fans at a show as hillbillies and started a tongue in cheek fight with another band on this list, War on Drugs, even writing a song, "War on Drugs Can Suck My Cock." Yet he has a knack for writing moving personal story songs that sound like they fell out of a lost, timeless song book dropped by the likes of Bob Dylan, or perhaps, given their idiosyncrasy, Arthur Lee. Kozelek takes mundane subjects -- he includes songs that discuss both his mother and father and their friends, or cataclysmic events and figures -- Newtown and Richard Ramirez -- and instills them with a vibrancy that pulls at the heartstrings. Sometimes he is given to wordiness and the songs are longer than necessary, but these drawbacks are eclipsed by the mesmerizing quality of his voice and lyrics. These are short stories put to music.

19. David Mayfield - Strangers (Compass) David Mayfield's songs have been invading the peripheries of my mind for sometime now. 2013's Good Man Down was a beautiful record that strayed very close to what many Americana artists were doing at the time, resting on a vibe that was not much different from Ryan Adams; his songs were strong but he still seemed to be looking for his footing. With Strangers, he has found it. The musicianship is hot, and Mayfield's voice has settled into a steady groove. The banjos, fiddles, keyboards, and tight rhythm section imbue his songs with a framework that allows his finely wrought songs to shine. The guitar solo on "Caution" and the passionate backup vocals give the album a loose, yet considered feel. "Ohio (It's Fake)" could be the long lost answer song to Gillian Welch's "Look At Miss Ohio." Mayfield's vocals recall Damien Jurado at his best here. Other songs feel well-traveled. "The Man I'm Trying To Be" and "Show" are classic road songs, a little bit Avett Brothers, a tad Felice Brothers, with great sing along choruses. Mayfield's vocals get better as the songs go on, especially "In Your Eyes," which recalls traditional mountain songs. David Mayfield will be an artist to watch in 2015.  

18. War on Drugs - Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian) War on Drugs has been making psychedelic-tinged, Americana-stressed indie for awhile, resting in the same vein as other genre-mixing stalwarts like Blitzen Trapper and Dr. Dog. Lost In The Dream feels different, perhaps because of the multi-layered nature of the record. Songs such as "Under The Pressure" and "An Ocean In Between The Waves" could be tight, snappy pop songs, but they are lengthened through feedback and sound experiments that contort and construct the vibe of each. The resulting undercurrent recalls such disparate artists as Sonic Youth and Fleetwood Mac at their dreamiest, even as the vocals and instrumentation remain at the Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen level. The vibe of Lost In The Dream is otherworldly, yet comforting. Adam Granduciel's simple songs become a statement of beauty that is uplifted through the production and organization of the album, becoming a tight, cohesive album that transcends any touchstones or comparisons one could name. 

17. Mark Lanegan Band - Phantom Radio (Vagrant) On first listen, Phantom Radio appears very different from most of the other albums in Mark Lanegan's discography due to the electronic nature of the production. His vocals are haunting and whiskey smoked and the songs are still dark and well-lived in, touching on murder ballad tragedies just like The Winding Sheet. "Judgement Time," begins "She said it's a time of judgement / I'm a rolling holy down a dirty river/ In a dream, I heard Gabriel's trumpet / Lord and I was blistered/ Just a strung out Angel." These haunted, mournful lyrics are Lanegan's bread and butter, but more than ever Phantom Radio relies on the electronic instrumentation of Johannes, giving the record a quality that is not as organic as his earlier work. Regardless, Lanegan's voice and songs shine. He keeps making great records even if the production has changed.

16. The Menzingers - Rented World (Epitaph) The Menzingers are always a pure kick of fun, even when their lyrics are depressing. From the first notes of "I Don't Wanna Be An Asshole," the listener is taken on a trip into commonplace lives torn apart by the poor decisions and ups and downs that we all face on a daily basis. The album rocks much like their 2012 classic On The Impossible Past, but the band slows things down a bit and is more reflective. They still write catchy songs with great lyrics, but it seems they are growing up with each release, producing great albums that should be appreciated by all punk fans, as well as any others looking to rock out. In a different world, "Where Your Heartache Exists" would be an interesting radio single.


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