To obscurity and beyond

The best overlooked albums of 2014

By Alan Sculley

Photo: Old Monk’s, Posing As Love claims No. 1 on The Best Overlooked Albums of 2014

With literally thousands of albums getting released each year (let’s thank computer music programs, affordable home recording equipment and Internet marketing for enabling just about anyone who wants to make a CD to get it done and release their music), it keeps getting harder for artists to be heard and harder for fans to find the good albums hidden in the mass of mediocrity that each year floods the marketplace.

There’s no way for one person to hear every worthy album, but I came across my share of obscure gems and stellar releases that got some attention (Sturgill Simpson, Manchester Orchestra), but not nearly as much as they deserved. Here are my favorite 20 albums for 2014 that flew under the radar.

10. Trigger Hippy: Trigger Hippy

With a lineup that includes such established talents as singer Joan Osborne, guitarist/keyboardist Jackie Greene and The Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman, this debut release should have drawn more attention than it has so far. The music more than lives up to the resumes, and the stylistic backgrounds, of the band members as this self-titled debut offers a lively mix of swaggering Southern rock and earthy soul.

9. Crookes: Soapbox

The third album from this Sheffield, England band is a consistently engaging and entertaining collection of songs that evoke a few eras of guitar-driven Brit-rock/pop. The songs on Soapbox range from the Oasis-ish driving power pop of “Before the Night Falls” to the ringing Smiths-ish rock of “Outsiders” to the shimmering balladry of “Howl.”

8. Temples: Sun Structures

Mixing together gauzy psychedelic rock, Beatles-esque Brit-pop, some Middle Eastern overtones and a little pop jangle, Temples can be a bit hard to pin down stylistically. But songs like “Keep in the Dark,” “Colours to Life” and “Shelter Song” are so good, you’ll be too busy enjoying the music to worry about genre labels.

7. Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

“Turtles All the Way Down,” the opening song on this album, evokes a bit of Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.” It’s a fitting way to start an album where Sturgill breathes life into this collection of fine songs rooted in the classic country sound of the ’60s and ’70s.

6. The Rural Alberta Advantage: Mended With Gold

Forget the images of dusty prairies and bluegrass evoked by the band name. Yes, there are hints of Americana here and there, but the expansive “On the Rocks,” the visceral two-and-a-half-minute blast of U2-on-steroids arena rock of “This City” and the big riffs of “45/33” show that a rock and roll heart beats strongly within this band.

5. Manchester Orchestra: Cope

On Cope, Manchester Orchestra calms down some of the chaos and cacophony that sometimes muddied its first three albums. The band hasn’t gone soft, but the slightly more settled feel of Cope allows the potent and catchy riffs that drive songs like “Choose You,” “The Mansion” and “All That I Really Wanted” to shine through. This is loud, arena-worthy rock done right.

4. Ex Hex: Rips

The debut album from this band is a brash, extremely catchy collision of punk energy and psychedelic quirkiness. The raucous feel of songs like “Beast” and “You Fell Apart” is matched by big hooks that are packed into the guitar riffs and vocal melodies. A few other songs, “Waste Your Time,” “Waterfall” and “How You Got That Girl,” bring just enough changes of pace to keep “Rips” from becoming too much of a one-trick sugar rush. As it is, this is a sweet introduction to a promising group.

3. Hannah Aldridge: Razor Wire

Falling somewhere between being a rockabilly-ish raver and introspective Americana singer-songwriter, Aldridge shows a gift for strong, uncluttered melody and plain-spoken lyrics that cut to the bone, yank at the heart and sometimes take no prisoners (“I miss you like morphine” – how’s that for an opening line in “Lie Like You Love Me?”). It’s strong stuff from an artist with a bright future.

2. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal

The band’s second album offers more of the kind of jagged, taut, melodic and, at times, spastic punk rock that earned the debut album plenty of critical attention. Sunbathing Animal is just as fun, as it ping pongs between frenetic rockers like “Always Back in Town,” “Black and White” and the title track, more measured Velvet Underground-ish tracks like “Dear Ramona” and “What Color Is Blood,” and angular, offbeat tunes like “Vienna II.”

1. Old Monk: Posing As Love

Take some early, quirky Talking Heads, some of the angular punk of Pavement or The Velvet Underground, then spice things up with a little of the Buzzcocks’ spiky punk and a touch of the punchy, pastoral rock of Blitzen Trapper and you get an idea of what to expect from Old Monk. Songs like “Volcanic Prisons,” “Alta Rush,” “Seymour,” “Art Heist” and “Fowl & Foe” are edgy, offbeat (and even a bit weird), but they possess big-time hooks that help make Posing As Love one of the freshest sounding debuts of the year.

Honorable mention: Eagulls: Eagulls; Alvvays: Alvvays; Ought: More Than Any Other Day; Moonlight Towers: Heartbeat Overdrive; Joyce Manor: Never Hungover Again; The Safes: Record Heat; Delta Spirit: Into the Wide; Hans Chew: Life & Love; Ume: Monuments; Hard Working Americans: Hard Working Americans

Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Alan Sculley
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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