If you’ll allow a bit of subjective experience to weigh on this otherwise objective and completely irrefutable list, I’ve had quite a few friends tell me 2014 hasn’t been a good year for independent rock music. I, with typical composure and articulate patience, respond: “Bruh.” It’s been a banner year for guitars, provided you’re happy to do some digging. Many of the year’s best indie rock releases are from new, or newer, groups—some here aren’t even proper albums, and some are self-released. And no, a few heavy-hitters didn’t make the cut. You might ask, who am I to snub the War on Drugs, or Sun Kil Moon, or St. Vincent? (I’m someone who didn’t like those albums very much, that’s who.) The good news: with many of these bands just getting started, we’ve got plenty to look forward to when we’re finishing out the decade.
I Am Scared of Everything That Isn’t Me
To call Andrew Falkous’s other projects, the legendary Mclusky and forever underrated Future of the Left, “cult bands” is to mean the term literally: Falkous makes demented, evil, brilliant music—to hear his Word is to join his ranks and spend the rest of your days evangelizing, wandering the blasted heath to convert your neighbors under pain of shredded eardrums. Christian Fitness features Falkous and only Falkous, playing every instrument on an album that belies its dissonant squall with its author’s keen pop sensibility: his layered hooks and ricocheting vocal melodies add heft to these compositions. Falkous makes more than his share of noise, but he’s never been one to do it for noise’s sake. Whether indicting xenophobic know-nothings in “I Am Scared of Everything That Isn’t Me” or spitting devastatingly dour poetry in “The Earth Keeps Its Secrets”, Falkous’s pen is as sharp as any buzzsaw riff here. Cast off your earthly bonds. Follow us into the horrible, horrible light.
For anyone still waiting for a band from Washington, D.C., to carry Fugazi’s torch into the new millennium, Mary Timony has had you covered for about two decades now, building one of the most consistent, axe-grinding discographies you’ll ever find. The former Helium frontwoman has made a career—under her own name, with the Mary Timony Band, with Soft Power, and with Carrie Brownstein in supergroup Wild Flag—as a guitar hero, forever mixing gnarled, fleet-fingered riffs cloaked in a slightly stoned, pop-friendly haze. Ex Hex trades the post-punk of Wild Flag for barnburning power-pop, with plenty of room for Timony’s shredding solos. Galloping drums propel volleys of garage chords into liquid leads, all in the service of fist-pumping exhilaration.
Toronto’s Weaves packs more excitement into an EP than most rock bands in 2014 managed in a year’s worth of LPs. From the lurching groove of “Buttercup” to “Take a Dip”, which toes the razor’s edge between anthemic pop and caterwauling dissonance, to the sexy slow burn of “Hulahoop,” the group’s songs are as restless as frontwoman Jasmyn Burke’s livewire vocals. There’s something for the whole family here: Dad wants a generous slice of noise; Mom wants R&B flavor; little Timmy wants skuzzy sleaze; you’re looking for huge beats to drown them all out. It’s rare for an EP to offer such a feast. Dig in.
Hospitality came into this world a sweet-natured, charming indie-pop band, with a self-titled EP (2008) and self-titled LP (2012) that garnered lots of NPR-flavored buzz for the Brooklyn group. But Amber Papini’s band, judging by this year’s Trouble, will leave quite a different legacy behind. Trouble‘s sharpened edges glint like a knife, the kind you don’t see until it’s sticking between your ribs. Songs like “Nightingale”, with its guitar-and-synth workout, or “I Miss Your Bones”, sure to nest in your head for weeks to come, show a more assertive, less polite Hospitality, and Trouble is all the better for it. Papini’s voice, flecked with just enough rasp, lends weight to her precisely vague lyrics, all balanced against the staccato chords or punched-up leads uncoiling from her guitar. If the leap between records this time around is any indication, album number three will be a monster.
They Want My Soul
Writing about a Spoon album in 2014 is like writing about peanut butter. You don’t need me to tell you: at this point, you know whether or not this shit does it for you. They Want My Soul combines vintage Spoon—tightly interlocking riffs, a rhythm section seemingly of one mind and six limbs, Britt Daniel’s ultra-cool, emotive vocals—with enough subtle experimentation to keep things interesting nearly 20 years after Spoon’s first release. “Inside Out” sees the band’s first (!) real use of sampling and programming to create a gorgeous soundscape, while the synth textures of “New York Kiss” hint at Daniel’s recent work in Divine Fits with Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Operators). Spoon’s never been a flashy band, which means it’s always been easy to take them for granted, sure they’d drop another stellar record in our laps every couple of years or so. But pound for pound, they’re the reigning kings of rock music in America, and Soul hits highs as stratospheric as anything in their tenure.