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In the groove

Albums of 2014 that got us pressing play - over and over again

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There's a warmth and liveliness to Three-Eared Dog's When the Whiskey Kicks In that makes even the most tragic lines"strangle me slow, if I can't have you I'd rather be dead"feel upbeat. Listening, you feel like you're at the best party in town with a whole night ahead of you. (EF)

On Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Laura Jane Grace, who up until recently was Tom Gabel, busts out political songs more personal than ever. It's the album the band absolutely needed to make, and one that I needed to hear: a nod to the past yet a determined step forward. (BJ)

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I am not a Gourd-head, but I am a sucker for vivid lyrics, even silly ones, and the Gourds have that in spades. But All the Labor, the official soundtrack to Missoula filmmaker Doug Hawes-Davis' rockumentary, allows you to experience how damn hard the band works on stage. You can tell they don't do it for anything but sincere love of playing music to an audience that loves them right back. (EF)

Till Midnight, the newest album from Chuck Ragan, aka "punk rock's manliest man," features Ragan's gravelly voice and plenty of pretty fingerpicking and steel guitar. Every song is just as earnest and sweet as it gets, like on "Wake With You." "You've got all of me if you want it that way," Ragan sings. Even the manliest of men can be in touch with their feelings. (KW)

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Though each track on The Royal Familie sounds like Missoula's Skin Flowers, none adhere to a strict style. It's My Morning Jacket at their spaciest, the Kinks at their funkiest. It's a throwback with keen production, an ensemble of obscure references all vying for attention. (BJ)

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Underground rappers attacking the wack-ness of their mainstream contemporaries is overdone, but on Copper Gone, Sage Francis makes his digs pointed and intelligent. The album is a torch of righteous indignation that signifies the welcome return of a force to be reckoned with. (JN)

Most Messed Up is the Old 97's album we've been waiting for, the hard rockin' backyard barbecue soundtrack of the summer. With the exception of the Bottle Rockets and Robbie Fulks when he tries, the Old 97's are the last band standing from alt-country's Class of '94, defending honest music against the onslaught of Garth, Toby and Shania. (BW)

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It took a week for me to get past the first song on The Best Westerns' new album, High Country. Every time "Emmylou" ended I immediately missed it fiercely—couldn't let it go. As it turns out, all of High Country works as a magnetic elixir. The songs are so charming and sincere that when Isaac Opatz sings in his rich, deep voice, "You make me want to make/ sweet mistakes," you're convinced you do, too. (EF)

Bird's Mile Home's April in Goddamn contains four driving, twangy punk songs that will be plenty familiar to anyone who's gone to the Missoula band's shows. Bassist Timmy Arrowtop's acerbic sense of humor shines through in the lyrics, but it's guitarist Keith Moore who gets the last word on this too-brief record, in "Last Song," belting out a sharp, "Go up to bed." I'd suggest hitting play again. (KW)

If you've ever wondered what a flock of freaky rock-and-roll trumpeter swans sounds like, just aim your earholes toward the tripped-out sounds of Tucson's Lenguas Largas' Come On In. But don't get too attached, as these guitarists are seemingly able to conjure any tone, anytime. A band that can at once summon comparisons to Sam Cooke and David Bowie, while sounding utterly like itself, is aces. (JM)

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J Mascis makes yet another compelling case for being my favorite guitarist on his new solo album, Tied to a Star. While it would be easy enough to make just another collection of acoustic versions of Dinosaur Jr. songs and call it a day, Mascis digs deeper with these tracks, articulating every note on his guitar, free of the trademark fuzz of the band he's fronted on and off for 30 years. (BJ)

Cory Branan's No-Hit Wonder is a more country-fied, cohesive showcase for the musician's Southern charm, with guests like Jason Isbell, Craig Finn and Austin Lucas. But the musical evolving hasn't dulled Branan's edge—he can be heartbroken and bitter at one turn, gleefully in love at the next. (KW)

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Track for track, Ty Segall's new LP, Manipulator, counts as his best work, and it is certainly among the most invigorating rock albums of 2014. Like his previous recordings, Manipulator draws on recognizable sounds from the '60s and '70s, but the overall effect is strikingly contemporary. He retains the old energy, though, channeled in a torrent rather than an explosion. (DB)

How sweet is it to see a band live up to its promise? Think Los Lobos' Kiko, or the Georgia Satellites' The Land of Salvation and Sin. Locally, witness the ascension of Missoula's MudSlide Charley. On New and Used, the musicians roar out of the chute with the bare bones elements that drive all the best rhythm and blues: gritty electric guitar, elastic bass and a backbeat that punches you right in the sternum. (BW)

Nikki Lane's second record, All Or Nothin', was my hands-down summer jam of 2014. I don't know that I got through any other record in its entirety without switching to at least a couple cuts from this one. It's a country record, but has a healthy dose of vintage '70s Laurel Canyon, SoCal rock vibe to it, too. Love, danger—it's all here. And I'm all in. (CLT)

The Magpies' Tornado is at its most exhilarating in chaotic bursts of noise, but it's the setups that hold it together. The album's opener, "Parties Unknown Until Now," creates a laid-back intensity reminiscent of late-1990s Yo La Tengo. As Tornado progresses, though, it evokes sounds farther west. It is Magpies' own sound, subtle and persistent, undergirding the crafted noise rock of one of Missoula's best bands. (DB)

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If measured solely by the merits of its lyrics and melody alone, Jacob Robert Stephens' The Sun Beyond the Storm is an undeniably good album. What makes it truly great is the cast of standout local musicians. Together, this crew pulled off something rare and exciting; they created an album that already feels like an old favorite, from the very first listen. (MM)

Reviews by Erika Fredrickson, Kate Whittle, Dan Brooks, Jason McMackin, Brooks Johnson, Melissa Mylchreest, Chris La Tray, Jed Nussbaum and Bob Wire.

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