Chris Pyle (standing, with Angie Pyle and Megan Lobsinger) [photo: Teddy Humpert]
Chris Pyle (standing, with Angie Pyle and Megan Lobsinger) [photo: Teddy Humpert]

Chris Pyle: My Top Albums of 2014

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This is the sixth in a series of year-end blog posts by WOUB staff, volunteers and contributors. Check out all of this year’s lists at this link.

This has been my favorite year for new music in quite some time. The first seven albums on this list could all be my #1 choice, depending on what mood I’m in.

1. Manipulator by Ty Segall

From start to finish, this album is nothing less than spectacular. Building on all the psychedelic garage-rock that came before him, Segall has not only come up with well-crafted, terrific songs, but has managed to breathe something fresh into the genre; something that many of his contemporaries tend to avoid.

2. Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son by Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado has been making records for nearly 20 years. Until recently, most of his stuff was low-fi, hushed acoustic music. However, this one, the third in an experimental series of albums, is the best record he’s ever made. Full of haunting, dreamy, psychedelic ’70s-sounding production and playing, it grabs your attention right from the start and never lets up. Most of his lyrics focus on his continued struggle with his faith.

3. The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas by Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett’s voice and lyrics make her seem like modern-day Lou Reed. But instead of documenting New York City in her lyrics, she writes about what she knows: an indie-rock world full of bands and slackers and whatever else pops into her mind. Barnett’s subject matter is sometimes humorous, sometimes serious—occasionally both within the same line. These two EPs (combined for her international debut) also feature very tasteful guitar playing by her bandmates Dan Luscombe and Alex Hamilton.

4. Way Out Weather by Steve Gunn

There are very few truly great indie-rock guitarists these days. Steve Gunn is one of them. He has a wonderfully lazy way of playing lead guitar, managing to sound fresh and “classic” at the same time. These are wonderful, melancholy songs with plenty of space: He knows when not to play, which makes him one of my new favorite guitarists. A friend of mine described this record as “Automatic for the People meets Richard Thompson.”

5. Atlas by Real Estate

For anyone who loves that jangly rock sound made famous by The Byrds, Tom Petty, R.E.M. and thousands of others. However, they don’t really sound anything like those acts, since they possess a nice dreamy chorus guitar sound that’s all their own. Every song is a winner.

6. Benji by Sun Kil Moon

I’ve liked Mark Kozelek’s previous albums but this one is, by far, his best to date. It’s a lyrical, heart-wrenching, funny masterpiece. One minute I found myself chuckling, followed by actual tears running down my face the next. You would be hard-pressed to find a better lyricist under the age of 50. Most of these songs are Kozelek’s way of coping with death and trying to make sense of the way the world works. Be prepared: It’s an emotional rollercoaster in all the best ways.

7. The River & the Thread by Rosanne Cash

Embracing her family history and sharing stories from the American South, Cash makes her best record yet. My favorite Americana record of the year.

8. Give the People What They Want by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

After taking time off to recover from bile duct cancer, Sharon Jones took her band in a different direction. This one is still steeped in early R&B but adds strings and doesn’t rely on the groove as much as their previous records. It’s great to see her reaching for something a bit different.

9. Hypnotic Eye by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

With each passing year, I’ve grown to like Tom Petty more and more. I think I took him for granted. Wildflowers, released 20 years ago, was Petty’s last real masterpiece. This comes close. It’s nothing new for Petty, but the songs are very strong. In fact, if Hypnotic Eye had been released during FM radio’s heyday, there would surely have been huge hits from this record. Guitarist Mike Campbell is as great as ever.

10. Benjamin Booker by Benjamin Booker

A punk take on the blues is nothing new, but Benjamin Booker has the chops and songs to make it sound fresh. If you like gritty garage music in the vein of Hound Dog Taylor, this is for you.

11. Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen

A cross between Hank Williams and Leonard Cohen with the perspective of a woman in her mid-twenties. With this record, Olsen breaks out of the lo-fi ghetto and makes her first great record.

12. Cold World by Naomi Shelton

I hate most Christian music that has come out during the last 30 years…and I’m a devout believer. I think I like this record so much because it sounds like it came out in the 1960s. It’s gritty and raw and sounds so convincing. If you’re a fan of Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace (which I think is one of the greatest albums ever) you’ll love this record.

13. They Want My Soul by Spoon

Spoon has come back with a really strong record. It sounds much like where they left off with their last few albums, but the songs are a little tighter and have a bit of a new wave feel to them.

14. Sun Structures by Temples

Soaked in reverb, Temples’ debut sounds like ’60s-era Kinks through a psychedelic filter. Filled with wonderful melodies and guitar work, it’s strong throughout.

15. Holly by Nick Waterhouse

The second record by R&B revivalist Nick Waterhouse, Holly takes several detours and doesn’t strictly adhere to old school R&B conventions: There’s a lot going on here. Waterhouse has said that this is a semi-concept album, based on a girl named Holly, that unfolds like the film Chinatown.

16. LOSE by Cymbals Eat Guitars

I wasn’t a fan of Cymbals Eat Guitars’ last record, Lenses Alien, but I thought their debut, Why There Are Mountains, was amazingly good. This one comes close. They seem to take their inspiration from bands like Pavement, the shoegaze movement of the early ’90s, and older progressive rock. If you’re a fan of any of the above, this record is for you.

17. Nikki Knack by Tune-Yards

This isn’t as good as Whokill–one of my favorite records of the last 10 years–but it’s still quite good, featuring quirky time signatures, loops and really unique guitar playing. If you’re already of fan of Merrill Garbus’ music, you’ll really like this record. If you’re just checking her out for the first time, start with Whokill.

18. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson

A great modern country record that doesn’t sound modern at all. Instead, it sounds like something from the early ’70s. That’s not to say that it doesn’t sound fresh or inspired, because it does. But it is a throwback. If you like Waylon Jennings and those classic outlaw country songs, you’ll really dig this. I can’t stand most modern country because it sounds overly produced and sanitized to me. Metamodern’s production is a huge reason why I like it, but the songwriting is exceptional as well.

19. Psycho Tropical Berlin by La Femme

What a weird record. A cross between Serge Gainsbourg, Tropicalia, and reverb-y surf guitar reminiscent of the B-52’s, this album mines from the past while giving listeners a fresh new take on old music that, on the surface, wouldn’t seem to go together, but in the end works out great. Wonderfully weird.

20. Half the City by St. Paul and The Broken Bones

I caught this R&B band’s set at the 2014 Nelsonville Music Festival and thought they put on quite a show. I was knocked out by how great the songs were and how gritty and sweaty it all sounded. The album, however, is a bit of a let down, due to its clean production. I think most R&B loses its edge when it’s cleaned up too much. Having said that, It’s still a really strong record. They should just record the next record live on stage with all new songs and put that out.

Honorable Mentions:  Are We There by Sharon Van Etten, Lazaretto by Jack White and Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs

Chris Pyle is owner of Donkey Coffee, The White Album & Mr. Kite Enterprises and co-owns 3 Elliott Studio in Athens, Ohio. He loves music so much that he feels guilty about it sometimes.