NN PRESENTS: Best Records of 2014



It’s that time of year again where every jerk with a blog runs down their top something of something for some year, and we all click along so that we feel good about our choices. Or at least, that’s how it feels sometimes. If you’re like me, and I’m guessing you’re not or you would currently be listening to old Bohren & Der Club of Gore albums and coming down from a cookie induced sugar high, but if you were like me, I’d say that you probably made your own selections for top however-many of the year very carefully. And if you put a small and finite number on it like we’re doing here, then you may even have a little guilt in doing so, like you’re limiting something with a lot of potential and heart, which is precisely how I feel.

So let’s talk about those feelings, guys. Let’s put on our best Dr. Phil moustaches and pretend like we know everything about having a relationship/being a sassy southerner (just like Dr. Phil!), and really get to the bottom of what is the top five records of 2014, five local/five (inter)national. Does writing this mean we had to search sometimes to find the best five, or that we may have forgotten something? Duh. I’m sure I did and I’m sure you’ll kick me for it, or at least like, iKick me through the interweb or something. I don’t know what you kids are up to nowadays. Does writing this serve as a poignant reminder that I should spend more time with every record I get, instead of all of the fantastic podcasts I wile my jogging time away with? You betcha.

But we’re willing to work through our pain to give you what we think of as the head of the class of 2014. So read on with the full knowledge that we at Never Nervous are absolute heroes absolutely, and will do anything to indulge your wildest “top something of something” fantasies, so long as they involve what we’ve just done here. You’re welcome.

PHIL PICKS
 LOUISVILLE

Young WidowsEasy Pain
I believe Easy Pain is the best record from Young Widows from top to bottom. In the past they sounded a lot like The Jesus Lizard, but with their 2014 effort they truly stand alone. This album is beautifully loud and brutal, and I anticipate that in the future it will become one of Louisville’s most quintessential records. My personal favorite track is “Doomed Moon.” [LISTEN]


White ReaperSelftitled EP
If having a good time is your kind of thing, then White Reaper’s selftitled EP was made just for you. It contains six fuzzed out pop-rock songs that are all equally infectious. My favorite hot track is “Half Bad.” It’s the best White Reaper song I’ve heard yet. Stripped down, it’s another of their quick pop-punk songs, but with a unique fuzzed out charm that only White Reaper can offer.  [LISTEN]


Black Birds Of ParadiseB.B.o.P.
Apparently Black Birds of Paradise didn’t get the memo on what Louisville bands are supposed to sound like.  I can’t think of a similar band from this town that plays/played poppy psych rock and successfully pulled it off. And goddammit, that’s a good thing, at least with these guys. There are plenty of good songs on B.B.o.P. including “I Love You But I Don’t Know Why” and “Beware Of The Sun,” but my personal favorite is the “la-la-la-la” heavy “Exotica.” Highly recommended. [LISTEN]


1200Symphony I
The approach from 1200 comes across like a young LL Cool J/modern Kanye West hybrid.  He’s clever, charismatic, and seems to have a massive chip on his shoulder.  My favorite track is the extraordinarily long fifth track “OZ” which clocks in at 10:49.  I promise you, there’s no filler, this shit is good from start to finish.  Symphony I is without a doubt my favorite hip hop album to come out of Louisville in years. [LISTEN]


KarassOrder Of Operations
Most of the time Karass make instrumental post-rock music, and they do it very well.  To change things up, they made Order Of Operations.  The five-song EP boasts five tracks, each with a different guest vocalist.  And the roster of one-timers is pretty boss, as it includes fantastic contributions from Danica Ransom, Cheyenne Mize, Touch AC, Cher Von, and Amber Thieneman. 
[LISTEN]

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Anwar SadatObedience; Skyscraper Stereo Buzzkyll; Jaye Jayle…It’s Jaye Jayle Time; The Hot WiresPhantom Fire


(INTER)NATIONAL


St. VincentSt. Vincent
Annie Clark is her usual quirky, weirdo self here, the songs are just better than before with her latest record.  Not to say her past albums weren’t good, because I love almost everything she’s done.  I just feel that with this self-titled record, she upped the ante.  While her single “Birth In Reverse” is fucking awesome, the song I like most is the catchy danced up “Digital Witness.”  [LISTEN]


AlvvaysAlvvays
Molly Rankin’s voice is what keeps me coming back to Alvvays. The longing in her vocals featured on “Marry Me Archie” get me every damned time.   If you like your dream pop soaked in reverb and catchy as hell, the selftitled debut from Alvvays will almost certainly suit you. [LISTEN]


Mac DemarcoSalad Days
Mac Demarco’s last record 2 was brilliant, as is his follow-up 2014 album record Salad Days. His voice is lazy, but certainly lovable, and his guitar never seems to be completely in tune, but nothing about this album seems to be sloppy or unstructured. Every song is fucking fantastic. [LISTEN]


TennisRitual In Repeat
This is certainly the most polished record that Tennis has released, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less personal than what we’ve heard before. Alaina Moore’s voice is the main attraction as usual as she never fails to disappoint.  The songs on Ritual In Repeat are well written, catchy pop songs from start to finish.  [LISTEN]


Run The JewelsRTJ2
If there’s a better hip hop album from 2014 than RTJ2, than I haven’t heard it. Killer Mike and El-P have a unique chemistry that is pretty unlike anything I’ve heard before, and that bond is on full display here. Killer Mike’s approach is mostly boisterous and in-your-face, while the rhymes from El-P are delivered with a bit more finesse. RTJ2 is not only one of the best records of 2014, but in my opinion is one of the finest of the decade. [LISTEN]

HONORABLE MENTIONS: BeckMorning Phase; CherubYear Of The Caprese; Jenny LewisThe Voyager; Future IslandsSingles; Real EstateAtlas


SYD PICKS

 LOUISVILLE

Young WidowsEasy Pain
This fucking record. I want to do every jump kick, to crush something in a tank, and to pick up a goddamned instrument all at once. With Easy Pain, Young Widows are at their most realized, the perfect blend of monolithic grit and visceral riffs. How a band can be this heavy, but still lay down such amazing hooks is beyond me, but I’m definitely inspired. As an added bonus, Easy Pain contains my absolute favorite track of 2014, the epic “King Sol.” Listening to it, I feel like I’m in the presence of something enormous in scope, something Lovecraftian and ominous in nature in a way that only Young Widows can really pull off. [LISTEN]


ShadowpactThe Narrative
If I had half the talent these kids had when I was 20, well… shit, I don’t know how to finish that analogy. I mean, I can’t speak for them. I have no idea what they want to do, just that they make some fantastic hip-hop at a skill level that I personally would not have been able to reproduce. And now I’m thinking that my scale here “could-Syd-do-it” is really condescending, like I’m the ultimate barometer or something. What I’m really trying to say (THE POWER OF LANGUAGE, Y’ALL), is that The Narrative is a damn fine showing, a smooth as fuck album, with clever rhyme schemes and dope beats, one they should be proud of. I hope very much that the good folks in Shadowpact blow the fuck up, if that’s even something they’d want. They definitely deserve it. [LISTEN]


Touch ACSatan’s On His Way and Wants His Drugs
There is everything right about this record, which I have given the handy abbreviation SOHWAWHD. The production is spectacular, and the rhymes are always on point. Touch AC continues to thrill, putting the boom in the bap, and making tons of pithy observations along the way. This is a serious banger that never lets up, that has plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested, but that still manages a cohesive sound. And these Touch AC and FilthyRich and company put on a fantastic live show, that’s full of the kind of energy that my sorry ass needs to get properly riled anymore. Father Bishop needs to bang sometimes, kids, and this is on my short list to get my skis shined up. [LISTEN]


Tara Jane O’NeilWhere Shine New Lights
Should this be considered a Louisville release? Hell, I don’t know. Tara Jane O’Neil lives in Los Angeles right now, where I assume she spends her time in audience at the UCB Theatre or to catch live Conan shows, which is what I would do. Realistically speaking though, she should be petitioning to get her beautiful music into films, because in a lot of ways it sounds custom tailored for such. There is a sublimely cinematic vibe to Where Shine New Lights, which was recorded in Louisville, with Louisville people, by a native Louisvillian, that surpasses a lot of modern film scores. This is an inherently beautiful album that requires repeated listens on chilly days, snuggled up with good company and something pleasant and warm to drink. [LISTEN]


Anwar SadatObedience
Definitely the newest thing on the list, but no less powerful, Obedience is a top banger. Anwar Sadat continue to impress, all punk sneer and fury, but with an undeniable pop undercurrent. It’s not necessarily an obvious vibe though, and one that could easily get lost in the pace of the record, but I’ll be damned if these tracks aren’t hella catchy. Want an earworm that will make you jump a flaming bus into a canyon? Obedience is for you. [LISTEN]

HONORABLE MENTIONSKogan DumbYen AM Dollar; Cher VonGol; Jonathan Glen WoodAlone

(INTER)NATIONAL

Run the JewelsRTJ2
If this doesn’t make you want to flip a table, you’re doing it wrong. I liked the first Run the Jewels record pretty well, but RTJ2 came out hot from the gates. El-P and Killer Mike are in top form and serve as a living testament to long term durability of rap. And make no bones about it, this is fucking rap album. It defies the “hip-hop” term that folks usually apply to the genre so that they can feel secure or render it as “academic” or “intellectual,” terms that have no real currency here except to help the speaker condescend. This is hard as fuck and if it doesn’t get you riled up, nothing will. [LISTEN]


Thom YorkeTomorrow’s Modern Boxes
At this point I’m fairly certain that Thom Yorke/Radiohead exist to piss off music snobs, so that there can be some long and pointless debate about what came first or who did it better. I don’t give a shit about any of that. I dig what Yorke and company do, and don’t mind if you don’t. Why be so divisive? And Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is surprisingly catchy, a lot more so than the Atoms for Peace record that dropped last year. I think Thom Yorke does some pretty neat things with sound and air, and this cuts the perfect mood for me. [LISTEN]


Bohren & Der Club of GorePiano Nights
Have you seen this album cover? Bohren & Der Club of Gore are a bunch of weirdo German morlocks that play the kind of music you’d expect with that name and that cover. Have you ever seethed over your enemies happiness and contemplated their ultimate failure? Bohren & Der Club of Gore has that quiet vibe, a jazzy, doom-and-gloom charm, that reminds me how wonderful it is that Twin Peaks is getting a third season. [LISTEN]


GrouperRuins
This is a really sublime record by a really sublime musician. Grouper makes music that is so stark and austere that it at times seems to cease existing, a real mediation on sound and the power inherent to the space between the notes. The album title here is perfect with the music, a desolate kind of soul-crushing experience that relies on the fragility of Liz Harris’ voice and performance to convey what feels like a sense of loss or at least transformation. This is heavy and beautiful in the best possible way you can imagine. [LISTEN]


Mogwai – Rave Tapes
I couldn’t tell you why, but about a decade ago I started associating Mogwai with Christmas, and it’s not because of this song either. There is something so perfectly wintery about Mogwai, although this album has a bit more energy than I would usually associate with the season. In a lot of ways, Rave Tapes lives up the usual Mogwai standards: it has catchy/punchy riffs and the fucking worst song titles ever. It stands out from their other work though, in their use of synths to generate new and interesting atmospheres. [LISTEN]


Mica LeviUnder the Skin Soundtrack
Did I just put six things on here? Yes. I forgot this album came out this year, and when I remembered I decided not to move anything around. Because I’m a fucking boss here and I’ll have a secret/not-secret top-six if I want, goddammit. This movie absolutely terrifying, which you can largely attribute to this score. And if you want further proof of this, please look no further than almost every single Movie Monday post that we’ve made in the last several months, and see it get referenced over and over as a gloriously creepy soundtrack to every nightmare you’ve ever had and ever will. Listening to this earlier, I realized that virtually any imagery is rendered horrifying when set to this album, as I was flipping through Facebook or something and looking at cat’s do the darnedest things. Oh cats, you are forever rascally. [LISTEN]

HONORABLE MENTIONS: – ShellacDude, Incredible; NehruvianDoom – s/t; Ben FrostAurora; Aphex TwinSyro

JAKE PICKS 

LOUISVILLE

Nick DittmeierLight of Day
I’ve been a fan of Nick since the days of Slithering Beast. I even had the pleasure of playing with that group of guys for short stint. “Light of Day” features the most mature songwriting Nick has ever released. It’s also the best recording, the best musicianship, and the best cover art of all of his albums. Nick’s brand of southern rock is unique in Louisville. Plenty of locals have tried to do southern rock but I haven’t heard any that pull it off so genuinely. [LISTEN]


GreyhavenCult America
This album completely snuck up on me. My much younger and hipper brother turned me on to these guys. I haven’t really listened to much hardcore in the past few years. I’m not that pissed off anymore. “Cult America” is one of those great hardcore albums that can make you pissed off about nothing. They also remind me of Coalesce and that’s fucking cool. [LISTEN]


White Reaper – Selftitled EP
This is my favorite album this year. It’s just spectacular from start to finish. It’s fast, it’s catchy, and it’s fuzzy. It’s only a matter of time before this band blows up. With songs like “Cool,” “Funn,” and “Ohh (Yeah),” how could you not have a blast listening to it? [LISTEN]


Skyscraper Stereo
Buzzkyll
I had a party this summer. We lit a fire. Drank a lot. Did some other things. Listened to “Buzzkyll” for a while. It’s great party music. The world needs more of that. You should have a party and do the same, and invite me. [LISTEN]


VaderbombHalloween Show
Ok, so this isn’t an album. Still, my favorite moment of the year was Vaderbomb playing at Mag Bar on Halloween night. They opened the show by dumping a trash can full of “weapons” onto the pit. So yea, fuck your rules. Vaderbomb deserves to be on every list about Louisville music. [WATCH]

(INTER)NATIONAL

Run The JewelsRTJ2
RTJ2 is more RTJ. So it’s a good thing. When Killer Mike and El-P spit socially conscious rhymes over the hardest beats that have come out all year, it’s golden. How is this album not in everyone’s top 5? [LISTEN]


BeckMorning Phase
Morning Phase is on my list because it’s such a well put together album. That was rare in 2014. When I think of this album, I think of the mood I’m in from listening to every song straight through. It’s not about one song at all. The mood I get is blue…I think. [LISTEN]


Ryan AdamsRyan Adams
Love him or hate him, he writes some touching lyrics. I like that he’s not afraid to reach in a direction that some may consider corny. Why is 80’s rock considered corny? I don’t know. When I listen to this album I miss some of the great rock bands in the 80’s like Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and Don Henley. This album holds its own in that company. That’s high praise. [LISTEN]


Neil YoungA Letter Home
“A Letter Home” is the saddest album of the year. It’s beautiful and raw and personal. The conceit is that when Neil steps into this booth that records directly to vinyl, he is able to speak to his deceased mother. I’ve honestly only listened to this album twice. I don’t like to be sad, but feeling something from music is a good thing. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen. [LISTEN]


The WhigsModern Creation
This is the most underrated album of the year in my opinion. Maybe The Whigs are the most under appreciated band around. They don’t do anything fabulous or inspirational. They just write good pop rock songs. A full album of good songs was hard to come by this year. [LISTEN]

BRIAN PICKS


LOUISVILLE

Various ArtistsHead Cleaner
Look, I’m bad about this end of the year list thing, because I hate contests, and that’s what a lot of people do with them. But, that’s not the vibe with the Never Nervous crew, and I appreciate them giving a shit about my opinion, and waiting on me to turn in stuff late. And picking a compilation as one of the albums from 2014 that I’d like to highlight is not a cop-out, because I consider this one real important-like. It doesn’t have every band in Louisville, but it comes very close. Almost seven hours of mostly current local music spread through three Skittle-colored cassettes and a fourth giant downloadable album. The flow is superb, bouncing from genre to genre happily, all of which I already talked about here recently. This is a gigantic archive of this whole thing we call local, and features some of my favorite artists all year, including Andy Matter, Blind Tigers, Rude Weirdo, Black Kaspar, The Teeth, 1200…it’s impossible to name ‘em all. [LISTEN]


SapatA Post Human Guide to Advent Calendar Origins of the Peep Show
A couple of my picks here are from the last couple of months of the year. That isn’t due to a lazy brain, but we’ve gotten bombarded with a slew of great year-end records. Sapat has been an anchor in the experimental music scene here in Louisville for circa 15 years. I think this is their third proper release. The band acts as a purse for some of my favorite musicians in town, stringing members together from such bands as softcheque, Tropical Trash, New Mother Nature, and hell I can’t remember them all. This outing is a rougher tumble through aggressive riffs and percussive pounds than before; a rugged orchestra that has broken bottles and takes stabs at obtuse song form with jagged glass teeth. The whole album is like witnessing a barroom brawl happening during the performance of an operatic soprano from space while drinking formaldehyde in a hidden sleazy hooligan dive out in the weeds past the brink of town. [LISTEN]


SweatermeatBad Boobs
Going back to earlier in the year, this album stands out to me as capturing the backbone of this band, all drenched in catchy, stripped-down lo-fi garage-punk. This album is fun, bratty, silly, and it rocks. Yoko Molotov’s bass is distorted as fuck, and John Gravotte’s guitar tilts into a Wipers-feel after sloshing down a mix of robo and gas station speed. And it represents the lo-fi collective that hails from the Eviction Records chemical compound. These people are an energetic and creative clan that crank out CDs and tapes monthly, ranging from acoustic experiments to frightening noise projects, without a care in the world of pleasing large audiences, earning awards or making money. Instead, they just make, and I dig. This includes such bands as Spoopy, Harpy, The Awkwardnauts, Niles Kane, Pajama and more. [LISTEN]


Savage MasterMask of the Devil 
Another one I reviewed in these pages not long ago, but it has risen to be a favorite. Old school New Wave of British Heavy Metal, elements of thrash, Satan, leather, screams, headbanging. I think Louisville has a kick ass metal scene that can go travel through many styles and types. Savage Master have notched a niche by taking a classic form of metal and bringing it to 2014. Making the Bottomless Pit a fiery party is a good listen. [LISTEN]


William RaglandSoundtrack to KORA
I wanted to bring up this epic two volume brilliance from William Ragland. Taking a different turn from his position in metal band All Dead, Ragland has created and published a large amount of recorded work in the last couple of years centering on operations in electronic experimentation. KORA is a full soundtrack that explores and sonically paints the themes and images presented within local filmmaker Beau Kaelin’s KORA, a collage of images documenting the sights and feels of modern day China that resides somewhere in the inspirations of the Godfrey Reggio/Philip Glass Quatsi trilogy. The music fluctuates between minimalist ambience, harsh industrial crashes and intense hypnosis. [LISTEN]

HONORABLE MENTIONS: – Shutaro NoguchiSun Sai Gai 2; Blood PlanetDucks Never Say Die; Andy MatterPacific MidwestO O O – s/t; The Ritchie White OrchestraSeven Inches; Cher VonGOL; New Bravado – Translucent Dreams;  SolenodonAggressive Menace; Black KasparThe Tower; Great FloodsFailures; Exacta Cube – s/t; The Bottom SopArmed and DangerousTender Mercy As Someone Else You Embrace the Moment In Us; 1200Symphony I; Dominic RepublicBlack Blizzard; Sketching – s/t; Dane WatersA Harp with Teeth That’s Drooling and Crying; The ManBorn from Blood; Jaye Jayle… It’s Jayle Time

(INTER)NATIONAL
I wanted to write about new non-local 2014 releases, but I cannot. Not because there isn’t awesome stuff coming out. I hear new (inter)national music all the time, but 2014 has been nothing but keeping up with L’ville and Kentucky musicks. Plus, I have to make enough time to listen to my Red Sovine and Pee Wee Hunt records, and neither of them have cranked out anything in 2014.