Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Countdown to 30: My Favorite Album From 2014


I didn't listen to many new albums in 2014 for a variety of reasons. There were some really good albums released that year, but between working 60+ hour weeks, my grandpa's death, moving and trying to tidy up my mental health, I didn't have much energy left to use on listening to and reviewing a ton of new albums. My year-in-review that year was only about singles. There were quite a few good albums though. Taylor Swift, Lily Allen, Speak, and Ingrid Michaelson all had good releases in my opinion. But my favorites were...

Runner-up number four is Not a Trampoline by Rob Cantor (formerly of Tall Hall). I had the good fortune to review this album ahead of its release, and the opportunity to interview Rob Cantor about the album. Cantor and producer Gregtronic went for a very synthesized '80s sound on the majority of the album. The topics of songs range from the heartfelt ("Ghost," "All I Need is You") to the silly ("Flamingo" and oddly, "In Memoriam," a track in remembrance of the still-living Alan Alda). My favorite song on the album has to be "Let Your Mother Know," tied with a track adapted from a Tally Hall song, "I'm Gonna Win." All of the songs on Not a Trampoline are good. The marketing surrounding the album is also choice, from the unusual album art crafted by Bora Karaca to the viral music videos (the video for "Perfect" has 18 million views and was crafted to appear as though Cantor is doing celebrity impressions whilst singing the song). 

Eric Hutchinson's Pure Fiction is, like much of Hutchinson's work, pretty incredible start to finish. One of the singles, "Tell the World" kicks off the album with a great energy, followed by "A Little More," the power-pop track that acted as another single for the album. After that, the album starts flipping between slow songs and blues-rock jams. "Sun Goes Down" is a fictional account of a man haunted by postcards from his runaway ex. It tells a clear story that is easy to picture from the lyrics. On Pure Fiction, Hutchinson displays his abilities as a writer of story songs, his ability to move smoothly between genres and sounds, and his prowess as a musician in general. 

Miniature Tigers crafted another near-perfect album with Cruel Runnings. There are a lot of '80s synth sounds on this one as well as the Rob Cantor entry, because I guess that's what you did in 2014. Miniature Tigers craft a fantastic synth-laden album, with Brand's lyrics as perfect as they can get. "Used to be the S***" features a fantastic line "Our love was warm like a VHS tape of Aladdin//Now our love's so cold//laser disc of Cruel Intentions." "Swimming Pool Blues" is a perfect pop track. The perfect end-credits song "Oblivious" might be my favorite on the album. Incidentally, not only does "Oblivious" sound like an end-credits song, it also acted as the credits song for the film Sleeping With Other People, for whom Miniature Tigers act as something of a house band. I love most Miniature Tigers albums, but this one is distinctive from their first three for certain. 

We're down to the top two. I had a lot of trouble picking between these two, but my final runner-up is Stockholm by Chrissie Hynde. 

Hynde's songwriting on this album is fantastic. She wrote almost all of the songs with Björn Yttling (of Peter, Björn, and John) who also produced the album. The remaining two songs were penned with Joakim Åhlund (Caesars). They wrote together in Stockholm for two years, inspiring the title of the album. Hynde stated that she was drawn to the music scene in Stockholm, just as she had been to London's punk scene in the '70s. She also said that she attempted to get Yttling and Åhlund to join a band with her, but this was all she could get by way of a compromise. 

Yttling evidently helped in the lyric-writing process by suggesting a title and challenging Hynde to come up with lyrics. He suggested "Dark Sunglasses," and though Hynde thought it cliched, she couldn't argue with the results. I played "Dark Sunglasses" on repeat until those around me were being driven crazy and yet I can still listen to it without it seeming stale to me. I ended up naming it my single of the year for 2014."You or No One" is a romantic tune about finding your person but it's also an earworm. "Down the Wrong Way" is another great song, featuring guitar work from Neil Young. Tennis great John McEnroe contributes guitar to "A Plan Too Far."

Stockholm is highly under-rated in my opinion, as it might be my favorite album Hynde has worked on since Last of the Independents. But another album just barely edged it out of the top spot.

Most people close to me think they understand what kind of music I listen to- power pop, sunshine pop, classic rock, something like that. The truth is, even I'm not sure what exactly I like, and that's how I ended up with my favorite album from 2014 being Tyranny by Julian Casablancas + the Voidz.

Isn't it strange that not one album by The Strokes has made it onto my lists so far, and yet this dark, weird album is my album of the year? For sure! I love The Strokes. For some reason, this Voidz album just hit me the right way at the right time. I may have been in a dark place, I may have been more open to challenging sounds, I'm really not sure what the perfect storm was. Maybe it's that this album is just really good. 

Tyranny doesn't play by any set of rules. There's a throwback quality to it, but it still sounds incredibly modern and new. It's harder than anything else Casablancas has released, yet the guitar can also be bright and cheerful somehow. It's totally unrestrained and there doesn't seem to be any pressure for it to be one thing or another. The freedom of expression and to experiment with sounds on the two Voidz albums definitely contributed to The Strokes' 2020 accomplishment The New Abnormal

The first single released from Tyranny was "Human Sadness," which features a sample of Mozart's "Requiem in D Minor." "Human Sadness" is almost 11 minutes long, and is a roller-coaster ride of sounds. The sample is made more haunting through the use of effects. The bassline comes in, followed by Julian Casablancas' vocals which are simultaneously smooth and rough somehow. Through use of effects, his voice sometimes sounds like another synthesizer line. Jarring noises will cut in at seemingly random times, but rather than taking away from the song, they add to it, and enable the instrumentals to break into a more aggressive, jarring tone themselves. "Human Sadness" is actually about Casablancas' relationship with his father, which was a rocky one. 

The second single is the one I preferred, "Where No Eagles Fly." The addictive bassline reminds me of the bassline/verse melody from The Long Blondes' "Swallow Tattoo" (and yes, that's a hill I'm willing to die on). "Where No Eagles Fly" shows off the ability of this music to still be catchy, despite the many varied elements and experimentation. 

"Father Electricity" features a Latin/Caribbean hook. The opening track "Take Me in Your Army" contains heavy synths and vocal effects that create a sense of foreboding. More than any other track, "Army" has a sense of nostalgia to it as well. There is a track called "Nintendo Blood," which could have been the title of the whole album and it would have made sense. 

In 2014 I found my lovely cat, Cowboy.
When this album came out, I was very much keeping to myself. I got an email about it because I was a fan of The Strokes, and on the website they were offering a digital download for $3.87. I downloaded it immediately and was very impressed. I wouldn't even say it was a challenging listen, although you can hear different elements every time you hear the tracks. There's something about it that I find compelling. It is creepy. I played it at my Halloween party the following year, surprising my best friend who didn't expect my sunshine pop tastes to be compatible with Tyranny. She and I got to see The Voidz at El Club in Detroit. Not only was the venue awesome, the show was too. 

I love what the band were able to do on this album. The production is fantastic, the band are positively perfect together, and the songs are weird and wonderful. 

Let's check out that leaderboard.

Join me tomorrow for my favorite album from 2015!

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