DS Staff Picks – Top 10 Releases of 2014 (Carson Winter)

This was a big year for me. I moved out of my small town, giving credence to all the pop-punk songs about this-towns nationwide, and settled into the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area. Its been a trip, but its been a great one. I find myself able to indulge in the scene I dedicate too much time to and meet a lot of other cool people with the same obsession.

Musically, this year for me was about surprise. Bands I love released mediocre albums, bands I wrote off slapped me in the face with great releases, and a bunch of other bands with fresh cut debuts blew me away and reminded that punk rock is a living, breathing thing. Cells die and flake off, and new ones grow. Circle of life.

The biggest surprise for me though was that the great music this year wasn’t limited to full lengths. So much great music came out in EP format, it made me really think about how we consume our tunes and the artistic intent involved in either format. I came to the conclusion that EP’s are no less valid as art and I shouldn’t even try to do two separate lists. Should we be placing awesome, cohesive releases in the short-form ghetto because they can form a complete sentence in four songs instead of ten? I don’t think so. So, this year I amended the titling to make it an all inclusive celebration of great punk rock releases, no matter the length.

Check out my picks for the top 10 releases of 2014 below.

10. Beach Slang – Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street

Beach Slang is really on the nose about what they are. I mean, c’mon, “these chords are really just my heart plugged in and played loud?” Has the whole Replacements’ punk rock thing finally reached self parody? Whatever it is, it’s undeniable and I love it. Even if its all about everything we say modern punk rock is about, at least its totally unabashed about it. There’s some real beauty in that, and ugh, I guess you could feel it in every chord and singalong chorus.

9. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again

Never Hungover Again was kind of a comeback record. I fully admit, I gave Joyce Manor’s last album, Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired an undue amount of praise. In retrospect, besides its excellent and very odd cover of The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” it kind of sucked. But Never Hungover Again feels a lot less labored. The experimentation is more natural and cohesive (that synth on “Falling In Love Again” adds to the song, rather than distracting from it) and the melodies are that much more sweeter. They also proved they could tear it up again with “Catalina Fight Song.” There was a time I thought they’d never match their self-titled. I’m glad I’ve been proven wrong.

8. Andrew Jackson Jihad- Christmas Island

Andrew Jackson Jihad is one of my favorite bands, so I’ll admit it, I’m already predisposed to Christmas Island. But even disregarding my love for the band, I’ve got to say the album they came out with was both interesting and unexpected. Knife Man may still be my favorite, but I admire the band for making a dense, and altogether different album.

7. Gnarwolves – s/t

Melodic hardcore is a hard genre to make relevant and interesting in 2014, but Gnarwolves made it happen. Their debut is a nasty, heavy sounding record filled with emo flourishes that strip away the skate-park-politico aesthetics of the genre’s early days and replace it with unvarnished emotion and slice of life storytelling.

6. 48 Thrills – That’s How It Go!Oh!Ohs

I discovered 48 Thrills in Portland, OR on their home turf. It was an unexpected discovery that left me stoked to have moved to such a talented area. Sure enough, having heard That’s How It Go!Oh!Ohs, I can confirm that my initial excitement wasn’t a fluke. This is some seriously good pop punk songwriting backed with some hard hitting playing. I can wax and wane on why this album is great for hours, but the best thing I can say about it is that it deserves to be heard.

5. Dead Bars – s/t

I fell in love with Dead Bars at first listen. They do the gravelly pop punk thing, but they do it better than most. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were the mold. Their songwriting is tight and descriptive and they get extra points for helping me claim that Northwest punk is the best punk.

If you’re a twenty something punk that spends your days off day drinking and wondering what could’ve been, this is for you.

4. Pears – Go To Prison

Pears brings hardcore back to life with Go To Prison, their rollicking and reckless debut album. It has sweet melodies and machine gun vocal delivery and serves as an insane slap in the face to modern punk and hardcore. This is pure energy and excitement that hearkens back to when the genre was fresh faced and angry about everything. I had the pleasure of seeing Pears earlier this year and I was happy to see they brought the same livid energy to their live show. Oh, and the singer was wearing a Pikachu onesie, so that’s cool, right?

 3. Antarctigo Vespucci – Soulmate Stuff

I have a short list of all time favorite artists. It doesn’t matter the medium, some artists just resonate with you. Jeff Rosenstock joined the ranks of David Cronenberg and Cliver Barker when I first heard Vacation, and ever since I’ve been a devotee. Antarctigo Vespucci is a collaboration with Chris Farren of Fake Problems that is an ingenious mix of stylistic voices and sugary sweet melodies. Soulmate Stuff shows off Rosenstock’s preternatural production and some seriously stellar songwriting– but most importantly it gave me the soundtrack to my move in the form of  “Don’t Die In Yr Hometown.”

2. Tiny Empires – Weird Headspace

The screaming and yearning across Tiny Empires’ Weird Headspace hit me a lot harder than I could have ever expected. The tracks expand and contract and unleash such undiluted passion that it feels like you’re mainlining experience. It has a Fugazi post-hardcore feel with giant scream-a-longs that are cut from the same cloth as early Against Me!– the result is something loud and exciting, and makes for one of the best of the year.

1. PUP – s/t

From first listen, “Dark Days” became my jam of 2014. When music imprints itself on you like that, it means business.

There’s always that one album you can’t keep yourself from going back to. This year, it was Pup’s self-titled. Riffy and melodic punk with Beach Boys’ harmonies and jangly, off-kilter fretwork coalesced into perfection that was as heavy as it was poppy. For me, there was no better album.

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