The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2014 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #8-10. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 19. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20.
#10: Broncho, Just Enough Hip To Be Woman
This was kind of a late addition to my list. Sirius XMU played the song “Class Historian” basically every 5 minutes this fall and I was pretty annoyed by it at first. Then I caught myself dancing around my kitchen to it one morning while making breakfast. Damn you Broncho! Those infectious doot-doot-doot-doot’s hooked me in. At work that day, I brought the album up on Spotify and listened to it several times. Since then its been a mainstay on my work playlist.
So why’s it so good? Just Hip Enough is your basic garage rock filled with instantly memorable hooks that never seem to grow tiresome. Broncho reminds me of several bands at the same time. The vocals make me think of “Surrender” era Cheap Trick and the overall feel of the album is a lot like Catherine’s, Hot Saki and Bedtime Stories, an album on my Top 100 of all time. (That’s an obscure one, I bet the Catherine band members don’t even have that album in their top 100)
Check Just Hip Enough out for yourself and I guaranty you’ll find something to love about it. It’s a quick listen clocking in at 32 minutes. If anything, it will help keep you from falling asleep at your desk.
#9: Ariana Grande, My Everything
Yup…not kidding. This album is very good. Really…I can’t believe it either.
A few months ago, I would have called you crazy if you told me an Ariana Grande record would show up on my best of the year list. I was one of the Ariana haters too. I hated her stupid T.V. show Sam & Cat that my tween daughter insisted on watching non-stop, I hated her incredibly annoying speaking voice on said show and mostly I hated that Pitchfork gave her a 7.7 out of 10 on her album review. 7.7! That’s pretty high regard for a website notorious for its music-snobbery. They gave the Pixies a fucking 1.0 for their new EP-1. What’s the world come to when the Pixies, Rock n’ Roll Gods mind you, get a 1.0 and this annoying little whore gets a 7.7?!!…take a breath. I was convinced the reviewer was either trying to get into trouble or get “into” Ariana Grande.
Then, at the request of my daughter, I downloaded My Everything. I was all set to hate it. The thing was I didn’t hate it…like…at all. Halfway through every song I would think to myself, “Damn it, this is good.” I needed reassurance from an adult I trusted that this was actually happening. I played My Everything for my wife. She had the same reaction as me. Her exact words were, “I want to hate it but I just can’t.” Well said darlin’.
At first listen you may think every song sounds like another artist. You say, “Oh this is the Mariah song, this is the Janet Jackson song, this is the one that sounds like Michael.” Then you’ll realize like I did, that her songs are instantly likable BECAUSE they remind you of other artists. She also pairs herself with other talented artists in many of the songs which help give her some credibility. (She gets a writer’s credit on almost all of the songs but I’m convinced she can’t possibly read or write. She seems real-real dumb. I picture her putting on lipstick, twisting the tube until it’s fully extended, then eating the remainder of the stick).
In summation…I’m serious, it’s very good.
#8: Phox, Phox
Another in a long line of bands with names featuring alternate,more Google friendly, spellings of common words. Chvrches, Alvvays, now Phox. While Phox plays the same weird name game, that is pretty much where the similarities stop amongst those bands. There’s no Chvrches-esque electronic sounding songs in Phox’s self-titled album. Of the 6 Phox band members, not one of them is twisting knobs on a turntable. There is also nothing lo-fi about Phox’s music. The musicianship and plush vocals make this a much more quiet and intimate listening experience.
I can’t rave enough about the lead, Monica Martin’s, voice. Whispering, shimmery, crooning, breathy and deceivingly powerful. She truly uses her voice like an instrument with long breathy runs throughout songs like “Leisure” and “Laura”. None of it seems forced and all of it fits perfectly.
I recently found out that Phox was going to be in town this January and I can’t wait to see if the live show is as satisfying a listen as this album. Maybe we’ll see you there?
#10: Royksopp and Robyn, Do It Again
I love that one of my favorite releases of 2014, Do It Again by Royksopp and Robyn, features one of my favorite toys from 1982 or 1983 on lead vocals. That would be the song “Sayit,” calling upon a Speak & Spell to deliver the mantra of “I…Want…You,” with Robyn answering back with a come-hither “I want you too.” They even include the ruptured voice that the S&S would make when the batteries run low. Pure genius.
Of course, there’s more to this five-song gem than just some ’80s electronics. The opening track, “Monument,” is a great build-up intro, loads of tension. It gives way to the aforementioned “Sayit” and then the title track, which is a real conundrum of a tune. On one hand, it is pop perfection, so much so that it makes me wonder why the song isn’t absolutely huge. On the other hand, if that’s the case, one might think that I would instantly hate it.
The first part has to do with the marketing machine (or lack thereof) behind these Swedes. Their ambition isn’t to play some fucking Friday morning concert for GMA. They are more than content to play on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night TV stage. The second part has to do with the misconception that just because I write a pseudo-diary about music, I would hate everything popular and/or poppy. Not true. Most things, but not all. Great pop music works for me, as long as I call the shots on how often I get/have to hear it.
All in all, this is a solid EP, a welcome return of Robyn to my rotation. Hope these guys work together more often down the road.
#9: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
At this very moment, “Emmylou” remains my favorite First Aid Kit song. (It’s so great.) But despite the presence of that tune on The Lion’s Roar, I much prefer FAK’s most recent album, Stay Gold, and it’s not even close, really.
The album is a satisfying listen from start to finish. It kicks off with “My Silver Lining,” a song that is the closest thing to a contender to “Emmylou”‘s perch atop the First Aid Kit catalog. “Master Pretender” is an upbeat song 2, followed by the title track, which is another showcase of the sisters’ powerful pipes. It always gets me when they both launch into the chorus with gusto: “What if our hard work ends in despair? What if the road won’t take me there? Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold.” I love it.
The two voices intertwine so wonderfully throughout the album; I really don’t see a dull moment among the 10-track playlist. And the hippie vibe I’ve always felt from these two comes through in musical flourishes on “The Bell” and “Cedar Lane.” It’s wrong to characterize this album, or First Aid Kit as a whole, as chill, even if the music wants to take you there. (The closing song, “A Long Time Ago,” might be an exception.) Their voices are too powerful to allow for that simple of a classification. Beautiful works, though, as does intriguing.
#8: Sharon Van Etten, Are We There
Can’t address this album without looking back at a couple of fun moments involving Sharon Van Etten: her excellent set at Pitchfork, and her show at Gabe’s in Iowa City, where Sam incurred the wrath of SVE when all he was trying to do was get more people to the show. (They kissed and made up after the show. Or hugged. Or high-fived. I dunno.)
But I wouldn’t care about either of those live encounters unless the music she was performing was top-notch. Are We There is just that. Much like First Aid Kit above, I really like a couple of songs from Van Etten’s previous album but feel like the latest offering is head and shoulders above. It’s a heavy listen, as you might expect from an album featuring “I Love You But I’m Lost” and “Break Me.” The album starts well, with SVE pleading that she “needs you to be afraid of nothing”—fair warning for the emotional depths about to be explored. “Taking Chances” stretches out the word “emotions” into a full line of a verse while keyboards soar in a place where guitar solos might have once lived. “Our Love” is a lighter moment on the surface, but then you hear the lyrics (“At the bottom of a well//I’m reliving my own hell//Someone throws the ladder down//Still don’t know what I have found//In our love”).
I haven’t even touched on the best song (“Your Love Is Killing Me”) or the song with the funny/bizarre lyric (“Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” which features the line “I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom”). Rest assured, though, that this album is an amazing emotional ride.