Wednesday, December 31, 2014

King Of The Hill: Favorite Releases Of 2014


Putting noteworthy releases from the past year in numerical order is a difficult and occasionally arbitrary process, but I’ve finally come up with a Top 40 List Of Favorites. With a few exceptions, all of these recordings were reviewed on Broken Hearted Toy in 2014. I’d like to extend my gratitude to all the artists, press agents, and labels that contacted me in regard to reviewing music, and I apologize that due to time constraints, I often wasn’t able to respond to your messages.

To make things easier, I’ve once again separated the Various Artists compilations:

7 And 7 Is Issued by the UK-based label Fruits de Mer, this box set contains seven 45 RPM singles. Each features a current band covering two songs by an American group from the 1960s.

 Postcards From The Deep A start-to-finish party album—also from Fruits de Mer. A roster of 10 modern bands take on familiar and obscure gems from the 1960s. 

Radio Ready Wisconsin - Lost Power Pop Hits 1979 - 1982 The indie label Cheap Rewards gives the Dairy State its due with this vintage power pop compilation.

ON XRT - Volume 16 Another impressive and eclectic selection of live performances that were recorded at Chicago area venues and aired on local FM station WXRT.

And now, on to my Top 40 Favorite Releases Of 2014: 

1. King O Prussia - Zonian Girls … And The Echoes That Surround Us All  An imaginative 20-song, loosely themed album that just might be this eccentric power pop band’s masterpiece.

2. Johnny Marr - Playland  The former guitarist of The Smiths continues his flawless solo career by placing socially relevant lyrics within 1980s style guitar and keyboards arrangements.

3. The Bangles - Ladies And Gentlemen. . . The Bangles This digital-only collection featuring their 1982 self-titled EP, rare tracks, demos, and live performances provides some essential puzzle pieces of how the band brought a 1960s pop sensibility to L.A.’s 1980s punk scene.

4. The Red Plastic Buddha - Songs For Mara The third and most adventurous effort from these Chicago club scene veterans mixes humor and mind-bending imagery within authentic psychedelic rock and roll.

5. U2 - Songs Of Innocence  Forget the backlash; the band was at full power with The Edge’s distinctive guitar playing and Bono’s multi-range vocals. A series of inventive arrangements support Bono as he observes current society with a mix of spiritual nurturing and unbridled frustration.

6. Dum Dum Girls - Too True  Singer-guitarist Dee Dee Penny excels at marrying angst to irresistible melodies. Her patented blend of 1960s twanging guitar and new wave tilts more toward the rougher edges of Depeche Mode and Bauhaus on this latest effort.

7. Kaiser Chiefs - Education, Education, Education & War Singer Ricky Wilson delivers diatribes against institutionalized education and industrial pollution with biting lyrics that echo Pink Floyd and XTC. A persuasive concept album that might have the potential to become an American Idiot type of theatrical production. 

8. Chrissie Hynde - Stockholm This first solo effort from the founding member of The Pretenders has the rock and roll icon breaking new ground while still playing to her strengths.

9. Secret Colours - Positive Distractions The youthful Chicago quartet continues to spin 1980s synth rock and the original British Invasion into catchy, hypnotic tunes.

10. Hushdrops - Tomorrow  The Chicago-based band ended a 10-year absence from the recording studio with an ambitious double album of enticing prog rock and psychedelia.

11. Aerial - Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak At School? The first release in 10 years from this Scottish trio explores the transition from childhood to the adult world via clever lyrics set to energetic power pop songs.

12. Mainland - Shiner Young quartet from New York taps into the original punk era on this melodic and highly energetic four-song  EP. 

13. Paul Collins - Feel The Noise  The revered singer-guitarist embraced his power pop heritage on this collection of guitar-driven explorations of relationships and jabs at he music biz. 

14. Buzzcocks - The Way The first album from this influential English punk band in eight years still features the powerful nucleus of vocalist-guitarist Pete Shelley and vocalist-guitarist Steve Diggle.

15. The Psycho Sisters - Up On The Chair, Beatrice The long-delayed side project from Vicki Peterson and Susan Cowsill showcases their glorious harmonies as they vamp through Country and Western, pop, rock, and honky-tonk blues.

16. Mothboxer - Sand And The Rain Their fourth album is a collection of 10 smooth-as-silk Brit pop songs with gorgeous harmonies that evoke Squeeze and XTC.

17. The Mike Benign Compulsion - Here’s How It Works The Milwaukee-based power pop quartet continues to lace infectious melodies and gorgeous harmonies with acerbic observations on romantic relationships.

18.  Lannie Flowers - Live In NYC A showcase for Mr. Flowers’ power pop expertise, recorded with his band live at Brooklyn’s Trash Bar in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. 

19. The Kumari - Until That Day The London-based quartet returns to the 7-inch record format for another serving of authentic 1960s garage rock.

 20. The Safes - Record Heat  Their latest release shows these Chicago-based guys at the top of their punk/garage rock game.

21. Brett Newski - American Folk Armegeddon World-traveler singer-songwriter embraces and subverts the folk genre over the course of 10 acoustic-based tracks.

22. The Crush - Future Blimps Seattle-based coed trio evokes 1980s acts like Let’s Active and The Go-Go’s on this five song collection of catchy love songs. 

23. The Britannicas - Tea Time The international power pop trio plays catchy songs that draw inspiration from the British Invasion as well as American acts like The Beach Boys and The Byrds.

24. Rick Hromadka - Trippin’ Dinosaurs The Maple Mars singer-guitarist has a blast on this solo effort; doing all the vocals and instruments on catchy and clever power pop tunes.

25. Edward Rogers - KAYE  The veteran singer-songwriter dedicated this album to his hero, the late Kevin Ayers, and it’s an engaging collection of personal reflections and political views.

26. Jupe Jupe - Crooked Kisses  Several tracks on this third release from the Seattle-based synth band are over five minutes long, with atmospheric keyboards and ominous lyrics about everything from small-minded townspeople to cosmic disaster.

27. JIP - Last Call Chicago-based trio makes good on lead vocalist/chief songwriter Jim Gwynn’s mission to forge hard-hitting songs that evoke alternative rock bands from the 1990s.

28. Dead Fingers - Big Black Dog Husband and wife Taylor Hollingsworth and Kate Taylor Hollingsworth craft harmony vocals that are a bit off the beaten path, backed by easy-going Americana music. 

29. Go Time! - Rätsel An ambitious 19-track effort from this prolific Chicago band that explores the harder edges of power pop with inventive, energetic arrangements.

30. The JAC - Love Dumb EP Australian singer-multi-instrumentalist Joe Algeri of The Britannicas brings his offbeat perspective to infectious power pop tunes on this latest solo effort.

31. Bon Mots - Best Revenge The Chicago-based group once again shows its expertise in crafting fetching pop songs.

32. The Forty Nineteens - Spin It  The California-based trio jumps effortlessly from bluesy rock to Americana to new wave on this spirited follow-up to their 2012 debut.

33. David Bierman Overdrive - Standard Skies The Detroit-based singer-guitarist, who has been away from the music scene for 20 years, returns to his power pop roots while simultaneously driving full force into Country And Western music.

34. The Jeremy Band - All Over The World Veteran psychedelic singer-guitarist looks back on his career with this 20-song live retrospective.

35.  Sam Page - The Slog In Uncertainty The California-based singer-guitarist fires on all cylinders on his third effort, with vocals that sound equally impressive whether he’s singing power pop or bottom heavy funk rock.

36. Dann Morr - Shouting Into The Wind  The veteran of indie rock bands Wells-next-the-Sea and Mooner takes center stage with an impressive solo debut filled of well-crafted, melodic rock music.

37. Archie Powell And The Exports - Back In Black The Chicago band swapped its satiric power pop vignettes for hard rock and primal screaming on songs about the devastating effects of unrequited love. Well done, but I want the old Archie back.

38.  The Click Beetles - Wake Up To Music! Longtime power pop musician Dan Pavelich works under the pseudonym The Click Beetles for a solo collection of songs that recall his work with The Bradburys, along with some interesting experiments.

39.  Chris Wilson - It’s Flaming’ Groovy! The frontman for The Flamin’ Groovies opts for Southern rock and blues flavored tunes on this solo effort, but packs enough catchy melodies into his songs to please his power pop base.

40. Winter In Moscow - Well Done Mr. Creeper The London-based quartet brings a vintage UK punk sensibility to the seven short and melodic songs on its debut EP. 

Honorable Mentions: Other 2014 Releases That Put A Smile On My Ears
(In No Particular Order): 

Colleens - Wild Dreams 
The Legal Matters - Self-titled 
The Emperors Of Wyoming - Self-titled
Slow Buildings - Poison Condition
The Plastiscines - Black XS EP
Bronco Bullfrog - Time Waits For Norman
Feathers - Only One
The Toothe - Talons EP 
Icarus Peel/Mordecai Smyth - Barnburner EP     
The Squires Of The Subterrain - Self-Titled 
PT Walkley - Shoulders 
Roxy Swain - Restless Hearts
Bryan Howell And The Standalones - Welcome To The World

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