I really bit off more than I could chew here. It started with a top twenty, then a top thirty and finally a top forty in classic fashion. This was probably the most arduous task of any of these lists so far for the sheer volume alone. What’s that you say? There could only be forty good songs from local bands last year. No, this was narrowed down from about 125 or so. Again, arduous. Even more difficult was to put them in order. I knew the top ten or so when I started this task, but beyond that it was some difficult business. Nevertheless, this is the second to last category of 2014 Favorites, with the album list to follow shortly, which will be much easier and it won’t be forty of them, that’s for sure. You can listen to all of the songs below and read my previous reviews of said songs. So without further ado, here are my Top 40 Favorite Local Songs of 2014.
40. Of The Painted Choir – “Margaret The Murderer”
The finale of the Barbarous EP is “Margaret The Murderer” which is one of my favorite songs in the OTPC canon and here, the production is simply stunning. Huang, along with his bandmates Darren Simoes, Phillip Hanna, Wayne Jones and Austen Mack, truly gave their all for this final record and we are wealthier for it.
39. Leonardo DiCapricorn – “Red Panda”
“Red Panda” reminds me of great punk singles I grew up listening to on 45s playing over and over again. It was the first song of theirs that really caught my ear one night at Parliament and it’s been one of my favorites ever since.
38. Wolvves – “Twenty”
“Twenty” is less than two minutes long and it’s very nearly a pop song, with beach rock flourishes and it’s a brilliant finale to the Go Demon or Go Home EP. This music is simply fun, puerile and wonderfully simplistic–it’s music to mosh to in your living room if you fancy slam dancing alone.
37. Andy Warpigs – “Ego Death”
I began hearing the buzz about Andy Warpigs over a year ago, but it wasn’t until I took a detour to Long Wong’s one night that I got him/them live and I was completely hooked. It came off as a modern day gritty, debaucherous version of the Violent Femmes–I told him as much and he said that was the second time he had heard that comparison that day. “Ego Death” channels the Femmes into an urban modernity that pumps you up just as much as their debut album might have over thirty years ago.
36. Wooden Indian – “I Know Your Trick”
The Moan Info album finishes with the amazing “I Know Your Trick”, which was released early as the preview track to announce that that album was even happening. A solid six and a half minutes of Wooden Indian’s signature sound and as a finale, it sums up the album entirely. It actually contains all of their tricks that have made me fall in love with their sound over and over again throughout the years–the rhythm section is pure jazz, the guitars flare in an out of tune doing their quirky thing wildly, everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.
35. The Woodworks – “Cycles”
“Cycles” is one of my favorite tracks in The Woodworks canon, for multiple reasons. First and foremost, two different parts of this song were stuck in my head for a week after their show. One part I knew was them, the other was a hidden counter melody that I had no idea where it came from at all until I began listening to Safe Mode on repeat. Whether they are aware of it or not the music backing the verses is very much a variation on Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” made famous by Dave Brubeck, which happens to be one of my favorite jazz tunes of all time. Here it is presented brilliantly on banjo, guitars and perfect percussion. It may be my favorite version of “Take Five” ever and if they aren’t aware of this song it makes it all the more fantastic that it’s exactly five minutes long. The chorus is completely different and lyrically it spins a familiar tale of a recurring lover that continually orbits, coming around in “Cycles.” It is a jazzy number that far exceeds the homage that is going on, providing a textural backdrop and an indie rock edge to reinvigorate a difficult timing scheme. In its complexity, I hear three songs at once and love them all.
34. Scorpion Vs. Tarantula – “Watching You Watching Me Watching You Go”
The only single and video to emerge from Claim To Fame has been the super clever “Watching You Watching Me Watching You Go.” This song has everything and if Cappy’s drums don’t hook you from the start, I’m afraid that you may have no soul. There’s more than the drums and the brilliant lyrics, the harmonies are to die for and it’s an unusual feature in their repertoire. Easily the best three minute anthem of last year period, not just for Arizona, but everywhere.
33. The Oxford Coma -”Grindstone”
I have been pushing “Grindstone” for a single from the start, this should be it as it clocks in at just over three minutes. It’s at this point in the Morphine EP that I realize I truly love every track here, there’s just nothing out like this currently that trips my trigger and this totally fucking trips my trigger–it’s been my workout music for two months straight now. This could well be another crossover song, because it’s as alternative as it is metal as it is just good rock’n’roll.
32. Instructions – “Tony”
The starter of “Tony” has to be the most straightforward rock song of their recording career thus far–filled with genuine melodies and an almost pop hook, this is a hell of a change of pace (keep in mind I haven’t listened yet to Nylon Letdown) from their previous catalog. This is downright giddy indie pop rock compared to what they’ve done before and it shows the pure potential I have as far as taking on different approaches and showing off their talent.
31. Watch For Rocks – “Whiskey Red”
“Whiskey Red” gets to the straight out rock’n’roll right away and features Ryan’s vocals right up front from the lead in and here Sarah Robinson is the back up, which is a genius choice to switch it up. In the second verse Robinson leads, but one thing that stands out through the entire song is Mercer’s relentlessly awesome drumming. This is simply stunning and my new favorite. Introduced with dark keys and a stark vocal by Robinson.
30. Sundressed- “Best of/Worst of”
“Best of/Worst of” is one of Sundressed’s best so far. It’s a very personal song, which is another aspect of his writing I like, and I suppose that’s the “emo” side of his writing, that he take deeply personal topics and completely rock out to it. Here, the song, is clearly about looking back on his struggles with substance abuse or his continuous battle to stay sober–and he’s been sober for a while now. For the first thirty seconds, you think this might be a sad ballad coming your way beginning with “Oh, God willing, I’ll be stronger than I once was…” but, that is pretty much dashed when the song explodes with screams and guitars, furiously proceeding straight to the end without letting up.
29. The Holy Coast – “The Highest Love”
The Holy Coast EP begins with “The Highest Love” a song so nice you get to hear it twice on this release. As the opener, it is no wonder that it gets a remix treatment at the end by Andy Rourke of The Smiths–and also, that’s super fucking cool. Granted “The Highest Love” or at least the intro, reminds me of another song I can’t place, but it well may be a song I dreamt of happening–either way, it’s one of the most engaging head plays I’ve heard in a while. Look, I’m a lyrical enthusiast, but I can’t even keep track of what is going down here lyrically, because this song is so fucking beautiful and amazing that the lyrics are simply added brushstrokes on an already beautiful painting. That’s not exactly true. The lyrics are fucking beautiful too.
28. Bear State – “I’m Stupid, I’m Dumb and I Have No Brain”
I was surprised that a song titled “I’m Stupid, I’m Dumb and I Have No Brain” would be one of my favorites on the Hello Alexander EP, but it turns out it might be my favorite track on the whole affair, if for no other reason than the catchy as hell chorus, which is in fact the title. Add to that a killer bassline, the crazy treble heavy drumming and some surreal sound effects and you’ve got the second single from this slab of wax ready to go.
27. Scattered Melodies – “Runnin”
I have to admit though that Parker Jones “Runnin’” is my absolute favorite on the Summer Sampler EP, maybe because it’s heavily steeped in blues, awesome back up vocals, fantastic sax–it is a rocker that rivals the power of Mergence and a few other local favorites. I’m not exaggerating, this is five an half minutes of deep, dark blues rock bliss. It may well be the best song that this collective has ever produced and for a lot of other people I’ve talked to it’s their “go-to” track–the female backing vocals are priceless here.
26. The Love Me Nots
It becomes clear with the blazing fury of “You Gotta’ Go” why that is the first single for the album Sucker, clocking in at just under two minutes, it’s a shining example of everything that’s wrong with modern rock’n'roll–meaning, this is clever, not five minutes long, fierce and it has guts, that is what is missing from nearly everything on the radio, except this song which KWSS spins.
25. The Hourglass Cats – “Too Damn Rude”
This is, perhaps, their finest song to date and the sound brings me back to the Ska I enjoyed as a young punk, long before the Ska revival when Ska and punk became confused with other genres and when everything, including bands like No Doubt, were labelled Ska. No, this is Ska in the vein of Madness, The Toasters, classic Ska to a tee that makes me smile so wide it makes my face hurt. While this is there best recording to date, that needs to be qualified, it’s not just that the song is catchy and the sound is great, but the composition and the use of the sax, keys and trombone are startlingly brilliant. It’s less than three an a half a minutes long and its simply perfect
24. The Rolling Blackouts – “What’s So Bad About Bad”
One of the songs that stood out the most from their live sets was “What’s So Bad About Bad” which I thought was just pure gold when I heard it at Rogue. I was greatly relieved to discover that it was available online with their double A-Side release 2 Anthems of Tempered Optimism. This song has not left my brain since I heard it and since it has infected me. The live version on the soundboard at Rogue actually makes the recording pale in comparison and I’d love to hear this recorded a bit better, but this is pretty fantastic and gives you the promise of this song. This is definitely a keeper in their catalog and should be further cultivated.
23. The Madera Strand – “The Void”
“The Void” was the second of three songs released from their final EP Dam Failure and its simply brilliant. Beautifully produced by Bob Hoag at Flying blanket, every member of the band really shines in this four and a half minute number. This has been one of my favorite songs in their recent live sets and its great to hear it so expertly presented here. d’Averill’s voice has never sounded better, there is a gymnastic quality about it that makes her range almost incomprehensible, there’s something of a Bjork quality to it that is absolutely mesmerizing. Chris, Cody and Dorian provide the most amazing textural backdrop to her vocals that there is a strange contrast between the moments of light and darkness, it’s as if they have made the star filled night itself into a song.
22. Diners – “Good Zone”
One of the strongest on the album Always Room is “Good Zone” which is just a rollicking track and one of the few to feature a searing guitar solo, once more a paean to young love an slightly obsessive ponderences on romantic potential it is absolutely endearing, not to mention simply upbeat and blurry in the ways those thoughts about reaching toward a new love can be. It is perfection in less than two and a half minutes.
21. Carol Pacey & The Honey Shakers -”Rock And Roll Saves”
My absolute favorite track on the album Yeah Yeah Yeah is a tribute to what I love most. “Rock And Roll Saves” should be released as a single as soon as possible. Once more Carol gives here shotgun delivery lyrically and the music just blasts away–this song sticks in my head more than anything else and I can’t help but grin wildly every time I hear it because I completely relate: “No matter where I’ve lived on Earth there was always rock’n'roll to save my life when trouble tried to steal my soul.” I never could have said it better myself. “I need music in my life more than life itself” is another good hook that makes my soul scream “YES!”
20. Celebration Guns – “The Volunteer”
The second track offered up from Celebration Guns on their split release with Twin Ponies is the amazing “The Volunteer” which has been one of my live favorites for months now, if for no other reason than the delicate bell intro by Timothy O’Brien. Somewhere there is an amazing live recording of this performed perfectly at a Last Exit Live gig that I was thrilled to witness in person. Since that time I have been eagerly anticipating its release and when O’Brien told me that it would be the second song on this release I couldn’t have been more pleased. I honestly think it’s their most accomplished tune to date, at least in consideration of what they’ve recorded so far. Brilliant.
19. Lawnchair – “Generator”
Right from the get go with opener “Generator” there is a unique style presented on Lawnchair’s debut EP–a little punky, a little poppy, a lot of homage to alt rock and a weird bit of Americana in the background somehow, that I’m not even sure they are aware of actually. It reminds me of the early days of Amerian College Rock from the mid 80s–like REM without the pretension, Guadalcanal Diary with more fun and a number of other bands you’ve never heard of, but their sound is so soaked in sunshine and chiming guitars, similarities are really contrived.
18. Luna Aura – “Radio”
Well, I’m pretty sure that newcomer Luna Aura has wrapped up the award for the category of “Sexiest Song For Audiophiles” with her single “Radio.” The song showcases her special brand of dream pop that is infused with hip hop beats and triptastic synths, creating a hypnogogic atmosphere well within the realm of blissed out pop. The lyrical hook of “You got me hooked like a song on the radio / beat so good boy, I can’t let you go” is infectious as all hell and the lyrics in the verses are a pure delight for anyone that enjoys musical metaphors. Luna Aura delivers this gem dripping with musical metaphors in a sultry voice that seduces you into an all together different dream world where music is love and love is music, and you may fall fast for something whether you want to or not, but the ears, like the heart, knows what they like and whether its cool or not, your soul has already determined the attraction for you. Brilliant.
17. The Nix – “Diamond Eyes”
The combination of husband and wife Nicolas Kizer (Babaluca) and Nichole Kizer along with Bryan Marscovetra (Factories), Tony Sziklay and Ashley Creighton is a magical thing both on stage and in the studio. This is simply great guitar pop, that covers five decades of influence quite nicely and presents a great variety of it in less than twenty five mutes. I do have to say their debut EP revolves around the twin central giants of “Sexy Time” with call and response co-ed vocals and the monstrous power pop of “Diamond Eyes” that is catchy as all hell with some phenomenal female harmonies that blow my mind every time. Those two will be on heavy rotation all year long, that’s for sure–two of the most perfectly constructed anthems I’ve heard in a while. Upon much reflection, “Diamond Eyes” wins my vote for best son on the EP.
16. Future Loves Past – “Runners”
Let’s face it, at this point I’m not sure there is a bad FLP song out there and they release two pretty amazing EPs this year. The singles I would have favored on Our Solar System came out in 2013, so I turned my attention to the Hold On Tight EP. “Runners” is Sean Wintrow’s masterpiece on this release (he had a lot of good stuff on All The Luscious Plants) and I was happy to see that he had a composition on here. Early on, after a dozen listens or so, it’s my favorite track on the EP. It’s almost a shoegazing number, even dreamier and more trippy than the opener–filled with a pop hook that you only discover when it’s playing in your head a day later and you are searching to figure out what the hell it is, so you have to backtrack over everything you’ve heard. “Some will say we jumped the gun, I say let them” is a brilliant lyric buried amidst the dizzying vocals in this impressive dreamscape. I could totally hear this being licensed for a movie or a commercial, because it likes to reside in the subconscious and spring out at you in the dark, and then it makes you smile.
15. Sister Lip- “Pure Honey”
The finale of “Pure Honey” on Sister Lip’s Thank You For The Mondays EP is simply inspired, it is one of my favorite Sister Lip songs, if not my favorite. It is also probably their most complex arrangement that showcases the power of every member in under four minutes. Every one of these women have their moment in the sun on this track and they all truly shine. They really do this justice in the studio, making it just as exciting on the recording as it is live. Listen to that voice, the bass, the drums the guitar, the keys–they all coalesce into pure magic here and it is jazzy, sexy and sensual all at once.
14. Playboy Manbaby – “Falafel Pantyhose”
While Playboy Manbaby released one of the best albums of the year with Electric Babyman, earlier in the year they released Bummeritaville which contained one of their best songs of all time. Playboy Manbaby is just a brilliant powerhouse of high energy weirdness where rap meets punk and rock and sometimes features a horn section. The much beloved live standard “Falafel Pantyhose” is a prime example of this–yes that’s right, there is a song in the world called “Falafel Pantyhose” and it’s maybe my favorite song they’ve ever done. In my book its five minutes of bliss. Though I expect Robbie to start talking shit to the crowd at any moment, but he saves that for their live performance in the bridge. Just fantastic fun.
13. Harper & The Moths – “This Is Street”
This is music for fans of The Killers, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys–fantastic modern rock with endless pop hooks and radio ready right from the start. The vocals of Harper Lines are simply flawless, he’s authentic and he gives his all in a performance as well on record, meaning that his swagger is actually backed up by talent. Check out “This Is Street” to see what I’m saying or really any of the songs found here, this is music that is just ready for a major label fresh out of the box. If these guys try hard enough, they could probably nail it and get a pretty fantastic career going.
12. Japhy’s Descent- “Bounce”
People asked me about “Bounce” for months before the release of the concept album Christopher Robin. The song that represents Tigger and the Sacral chakra is clearly a fan favorite. It is more tied to the literature behind this album than nearly any other, filled with quotes from both Hoff and Milne’s works, it is probably one of the most perfect tracks found here. It also happens to feature Banana Gun’s Kyle Scarborough on a wailing saxophone. Lyrics like “It’s not the thinkers, it’s the doers that will liberate us” and “I get my view from the top of a mountain” are direct references to the stories about Tigger finding Rabbit when he is lost and it plays out beautifully here. This should be a single everywhere, immediately.
11. Hasty Escape – “Filthier Things”
Right from the start the title track opens the album with a vibe that feel like this is a great lost album from 1972. Whether it is the combination of Knouse’s stunning vocals or the amazing guitar line courtesy of Matt Ventre, it is difficult to say, but “Filthier Things” immediately pulls you into its clutches. Lyrically, the song is a pastiche of seemingly stream of conscious poetry, that somehow evokes Autumnal thoughts and ideas of free floating romanticism: ” Goin’ out to find the filthier things, The deadening glare of the fall air and all the new hues of dead leaves, So let’s fall together, And watch it bring the color to your eyes.” The first thing that struck me, mere seconds into this song was the voice of Max Knouse. At first there is a Neil Young vibe to his voice, but it’s tempered by a definite Todd Rundgren coloring–throw in a dash of Gram Parsons with a touch of Ryan Adams and you get the idea. Brilliant.
10. Banana Gun – “Mirror, Mirror”
I feel better that a song called “Mirror, Mirror” has been stuck in my head for nearly a year rather than one called “Dong” (it’s original title) I have to admit. It’s a slow, sexy , seductive number, but not like a ballad, more like a sultry slow burner. And it has an infectious lyrical hook that will remain in your mind for days. At this point, three songs in to their album, it truly becomes apparent that the entire band has brought their A-Game to this particular platter. The guitar voodoo of Loyd and Dehaan, the rhythm section of Troost and Breslin and of course that amazing sax–all five members have never sounded better.
9. decker. – “Cellars”
“Cellars” was the first song to be released from their recently released album Patsy. It is the musical quintessence of all that is decker. which is “Psychedelic Desert Folk” according to their souncloud page and I’m not entirely sure if that refers to their music or the members of the band or a handy phrase that covers both. One thing to mention is that this song is epic, I mean that it’s over nine minutes long in this respect. Now, I have to admit that it takes a hell of a lot of mastery to keep me interested in a song that exceeds four minutes, but decker. first goes about this by switching gears nearly exactly at the four minute mark and ups the velocity, then introduces a nearly gospel sounding choir/clapping section. This is followed by a deep study in David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd that finishes the song with a lovely feedback wash of raging guitars. Yeah, I couldn’t ask for more on this particular song–I was riveted the entire time. Bloody brilliant.
8. Field Tripp- “Nothing Is As Fun”
There were a lot of stand out tracks on Field Tripp’s first EP of the year Les Is Mormon. It is however the finale that has become nearly anthemic and a crowd favorite over the course of the last year. “Nothing Is As Fun” is a paean perhaps to the loss of youth and mucking about maturity as the haunting refrain stays in your head for days, “I don’t want to be a drag but nothing is as fun as it used to be.” This song is an instant classic and its one Field Tripp’s fans already sing along to and for that matter quote constantly. The ballad of the bunch on that EP, a slow blues tunes that easily borders on Americana it is now a necessary staple in their set and for good reason, it’s vulnerable, raw, honest and emotional with a priceless slacker delivery. Brilliant from end to end, all six and a half minutes of it.
7. Fairy Bones – “Whipping Boy”
The second preview single from their recently released full length album Dramabot, and my favorite of the two, is “Whipping Boy.” This is the closest that Fairy Bones get to a pop number here, accented heavily by the synths sounding like a retro organ. I love the vibe of the whole thing and I love that “reminiscent” keyboard piece right at the end that in no way evokes Sonny and Cher. And while it seems like it’s just a lovely little song and you aren’t paying attention, there’s some lovely lyrical darkness amidst the whole affair. It’s an addictive little number and while “Waiting” may technically be the better song, this is the one that stole my heart.
6. Pro Teens – “Teen Feels”
I love the retro sound, the echo, the reverb, the early 60s beatnik vibe. At the same time the lyrics are either a little dark, a little perverse or simply good advice to a young woman. Take it as you will, but to me it sounds like a guy being driven out of control by a much younger woman in the verses and maintaining control and keeping his cool in the chorus. Clearly someone is arousing teenage feelings in the protagonist and that means a bit of lust is acting overdrive, but at the same time he’s honorable and encouraging the best in her. It’s an interesting dichotomy and yes, I over think things like this about every pop or rock song I hear. Musically, it’s phenomenal, especially the chorus and the harmonies, the surf guitar noodling, I’m not sure it can get much better. Even the bridge has a classic early 60s feel to it and yet it’s not derivative, it’s a modern take on an old style that is starting to catch a wave of revival in this town. Frankly, it’s a breath of fresh air to this listener. But hell, I love surf music…a lot.
5. Samuel L Cool J – “Slip And Slide”
First of all, I love the Tamla-Motown/Stax era of music and all that it created, so it’s not much of a stretch for me to openly adore this funky soul revival squad that happens to have some of my favorite locals at the helm. In addition to the retro heart of this project, this song is just a great summertime hit designed for cocktail laden pool parties right from the start. For a second thing, this record sounds like it was recorded in 1963, from the expert Spector like drum intro to the echo chamber vocals and it evokes a long gone era in American music, where pop culture phenomena like a Slip ‘n’ Slide would actually become fodder for songs, with a fair amount of innuendo. Samuel L. Cool J achieves this with perfection and it also happens to be catchy as all hell–I guarantee that I will catch myself singing “I wanna’ get you on my slip and slide, take a ride, down to the pool at the end…” while walking down the street, and I have. This is as much pop genius as it is an homage to songs manufactured in the Brill Building and the addition of the female backing vocals and the sax solo are simply icing on the cake. This is so refreshing I can’t stand it.
4. Party Gardens-”Highwaves”
Party Gardens launched Dance Flora EP with the release of the first single “Highwaves”, which comes across as something of a West Coast version of Vampire Weekend, which is awesome in my opinion, because I love VW, but I love Party Gardens more. Also, I’m not sure I have ever heard a more upbeat song about apocalyptic visions in my life and honestly, the band has simply never sounded better. This is three minutes and twenty-five seconds of pure power pop bliss, pure and simple, sunshine in your face, while there are earthquakes and landslides with at least a nice ocean breeze going on. This song, is however tied with “Eat Sunshine” for my favor, but this came out slightly ahead, though both songs are simply brilliant.
3. Emby Alexander – “Sexting My Friends”
“Sexting My Friends” should be the candidate for the second single from Frontispiece, I said over six months ago and it was. I said this because every time it comes on, I just think it’s the catchiest fucking pop song I’ve heard in ages and I often have to play it two or three times until I’m completely satisfied. Completely endrenched in a 60s sensibility that would make The Kinks jealous. The song is one giant chorus with a bridge and it’s one of the most brilliant things I’ve heard in a while, an anachronistic hook, lyrically perfect for our modern times: “And you’re sexting my friends, and you’ll drive with your knees, did you think they’d never tell me, well true to loyalty they did, truth through loyalty they did.” Seriously, you have to hear it to believe it. If I ever meet Ray Davies, I’m playing this song for him.
2. Day Before Plastics – “Watch You Walk Away”
The penultimate gem on this entire Physical Garbage EP is “Watch You Walk Away”, which leaves me very nearly speechless after listening to it on record as it has seeing it live. God, it’s so fucking great. Maybe it’s the vocals, maybe it’s the Spanish guitar, maybe it’s the melody, fuck I don’t really know what the hell it is but this one of my favorite songs of the year. I remember losing my mind to their performance of this at Rogue and then later that night hearing the recording, but I think that even at 5:41 this should be a single, because there is no fucking filler here–just perfection. This song is essentially a tie for number one, because I think it’s one of the finest releases, single wise than nearly anyone else. This is perfection and it has etched a place in my soul in no uncertain terms.
1. Genre – “East Coast Sunshine Blues”
“East Coast Sunshine Blues” is probably one of the greatest songs to be released in 2014, I’m not fucking joking. It’s so freaking good, you won’t believe it. I actually made a burned CD that plays “East Coast Sunshine Blues” 36 times in a row, that’s how much I like it. The delivery of the verses is absolutely perfect, but when you are about a minute in and Zac Markey screams “Someone at the gates, someone in outer space, somewhere higher than this place, i hope it’s not too late” and the guitars kick in full throttle it makes my heart explode. I live for every time they hit the raging chorus parts. It is the best two minute single since Archers Of Loaf’s “Web In Front.” This is my favorite song/single of last year, I’m pretty sure I knew that from the moment I heard it, that this was going to be how this ended up. A lot of songs move me, but few make me absolutely lose control and “East Coast Sunshine Blues” makes me lose my shit every time, even on the 500th listen. Not sure what it is, but I don’t care, it’s just a great song.