This is the fourth year I’ve done one of these lists at Dying Scene, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it was the hardest year yet to come up with some sort of a “Top Ten” list. I’ve spent a long time looking at my list, and realizing that it’s not just that I have more than ten albums that I really dig, but that any of the top baker’s dozen albums are almost interchangeable depending on mood. That’s the best thing about music, really.
Anyway, here’s what I came up with for a list. Last year I included non-Dying Scene albums, but this year we’re back to sticking to the script. As such, you won’t see Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady, Rocco Deluca’s self-titled masterpiece, Joshua Black Wilkins’ best album yet (Settling The Dust), Bob Mould’s stellar Beauty & Ruin, Cymbals Eat Guitars’ Lose or the latest, greatest Tom Petty album. As usual, I don’t include 7-inches, live albums and EPs, because there’d be just too many to list. But if you’re interested, the Street Dogs‘ split with Noi!se is a pretty great one, as is the long-awaited (by me, anyway) new one from The Reveling.
Check out my list below.
17. Continental – Millionaires (East Grand Record Company)
“Busted” is still one of my favorite songs of the year. Love Rick’s honesty and candor in it. Here’s the review I did back in September.
16. Swingin’ Utters – “Fistful OF Hollow” (Fat Wreck Chords)
It is incredibly refreshing to me that a band that’s been around as long as the Utters is still capable of putting out vital, earnest music. My only problem with Fistful Of Hollow, if it’s even a problem, is that I love every second of Poorly Formed and this one is only about 97% as good as Poorly Formed.
15. Me First And The Gimme Gimmes – Are We Not Men? We Are DIVA! (Fat Wreck Chords)
I’ve admittedly got an incredibly soft spot for the Gimmes. Even if I didn’t, I’d still say that …We Are DIVA! is hands-down their best album yet. Plus…Spike looks ravishing, no?
14. The Menzingers – Rented World (Epitaph Records)
I’m not seeing Rented World on a hell of a lot of year-end lists yet, and that bothers me, particularly considering that this album blows the doors off On The Impossible Past, and On The Impossible Past was swooned over by damn near everybody, particularly on this site. I guess sex sells after all…
13. Johnny Two Bags – Salvation Town (Isotone Records)
The debut solo full-length from Social Distortion’s Johnny “Two Bags” Wickersham makes you wonder where this has been all this time. There’s a certain gritty roadhouse blues vibe to this record that can only come from the seedier parts of southern California. Solid, solid album. Given the length of time it takes Social D to put out albums, we should have another four or five Two Bags efforts before we hear from Mike Ness and the rest of the gang, and that’s fine by me.
12. The Darlings – Made Of Phantoms (Echotone Records)
If I were to put out my Best of 2014 album at the end of 2015, I’m sure that I’ll have this album much higher. I think that it kinda got lost in the shuffle, and I feel bad about that. Buddy Darling and the fellas have a knack for hook-heavy gritty punk rock songs, and this one is a great step forward from The New Escape. Love The Darlings’ sound; what punk rock should be.
11. Cory Branan – The No-Hit Wonder (Bloodshot Records)
Cory Branan is another one of those “punk-by-association” guys who really transcends most genre boundaries. Not quite country, not quite folk, not quite Americana, but all badass, Cory is one of the best lyricists and best guitar players on the planet. He’s got tongue planted firmly in cheek all over this release, and the husbandhood and fatherhood that Branan have stumbled into since his last release make some thematic appearances here. This is a recurring theme if you’re reading this list from 18 to 1…
10. Matt Charette – Back East
I’ve waxed poetic about this album a few times in other places on this site. But a recap for those that don’t read every word I write: over the course of the last year or so, Matt Charette has gone from being “that guy I see at a bunch of shows” to “that guy that sometimes plays with Street Dogs and Lenny Lashley at times” to “oh my god, that guy is a heavyweight songwriter.” Can’t tell you enough how much I was blown away by this album the first time I heard it (and on all subsequent spins). That more people haven’t heard this is criminal.
9. FM359 – Truth, Love & Liberty (Pirates Press Records)
This is a release that came from out of left field. I’ll catch you up: FM359 formed out of what were seemingly the ashes of Street Dogs (only they turned out to be false ashes), when Mike McColgan and Johnny Rioux teamed up again with Rick Barton (Continental, ex-Dropkick Murphys) and Hugh Morrison (The Dead Rabbits) on this stellar, early-Americana release. Truth, Love & Liberty reminds us that American protest music predates punk rock by a couple centuries. Also, my impromptu chat with Johnny, Rick and Mike in the basement at McGreevy’s at their record release was one of the highlights of my year.
8. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt (Island Records)
This right here is the trickiest spot of the whole list, and the trickiest album of the whole year. Maybe ever. Get Hurt might be my favorite album of the year, but it might also be my thirteenth favorite album of the year. Yes, it’s Brian Fallon’s “break-up record,” but Fallon has a knack for writing break-up songs, so if you didn’t know that he and his wife had split, it might be “just another Gaslight record.” Lyrically it’s great, but it’s also right in his wheelhouse. Victim of his own success, I guess. I honestly can’t tell if I’m underrating or overrating this album.
7. Blacklist Royals – Die Young With Me (Krian Music Group)
I almost forgot to put this album on here because I’ve known about most of it for quite some time, so I thought it was, at the very least, a 2013 album. The Brothers’ Rufus made a trip out West and re-recorded these tracks with the assistance of Ted Hutt, and his expertise shows. I’ve commented before about how the album is lacking a certain something, but I also saw someone in some corner of the internet refer to how this is the album that Gaslight Anthem should have written and recorded, and that sounds about right. The world needs more Blacklist Royals.
6. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble)
I really have only two remotely negative things to say about Transgender Dysphoria Blues: 1)the sound quality isn’t consistent between songs, and 2)it’s too goddamned short. This could seriously have been a triple album and I’d have thought it was probably too short anyway. Music-wise and lyric-wise, this album is perfect. Intense, personal, gut-wrenching, powerful. Just don’t let your six-year-old catch you singing “Drinking With The Jocks” while you’re making dinner…
5. Lagwagon – Hang (Fat Wreck Chords)
I’m writing the narrative parts to these entries in reverse fashion, and I’m sorta sensing that there’s a theme to what I think are the cream-of-the-crop albums this year. In my chat with Joey Cape earlier this year, the Lagwagon frontman referred to Hang as his “bitter old man” album, fueled by a worldview that has shifted continually since becoming a father. Again, maybe there’s some self-identification going on here on my part, but I still think that Hang is no doubt the sharpest, heaviest, most focused album in the Lagwagon canon.
4. Jason Cruz & Howl – Good Man’s Ruin (Echotone Records)
I know that we’ve all been clamoring for the album that Strung Out album have been hard at work on for what seems like ages at this point. Somehow, frontman Jason Cruz found the time to team up with his pal Buddy Darling to record a stellar, near flawless album that’s dark, trippy, “spiritual” and still heavy, but in vastly different ways from Strung Out. Just hope this show would hit the road to the East Coast.
3. The Bunny Gang – Thrive (Hardline Entertainment)
I’m not going to compare The Bunny Gang to The Clash; that would be irresponsible pseudo-journalism, and I try, whenever possible, to be the most responsible pseudo-journalist I can be. That said, Nathen Maxwell (Flogging Molly) and his retooled crew come about as close to The Clash’s reggae-rocksteady-dub inspired brand of punk rock as we’re going to get. Thrive genuinely had me hooked before my first time through was even through. “Sirens Through The City” is the absolute best riff and best jam of the year.
2. Tim Barry – Lost & Rootless (Chunksaah Records)
Tim Barry’s fifth solo release (sixth if you count the Laurel Street demos, I suppose), Lost & Rootless, is unquestionably his best yet, which is saying something, because its predecessor, 40 Miler, was also his unquestionable best yet at the time. Marriage and fatherhood haven’t softened Barry’s focus, simply realigned his sites. It probably makes him uncomfortable to hear, but Barry continues to be an inspiring presence, particularly for those of us who are trying to get older and greyer with grace. Which brings us to…
1. Chuck Ragan – Till Midnight (SideOneDummy Records)
Speaking of inspirational characters from our little corner of the music world… My love for Dave Hause’s Devour as the best album of 2013 is well-documented. Hell, Devour is probably still my most-listened-too album of 2014. But this is a close second. In many ways, it’s the anti-Devour, at least thematically. Ragan rounded out The Camaraderie’s sound with Todd Beene on pedal steel and David Hidalgo Jr. on drums, and filled an album with ten songs of love and grace and positivity. But that doesn’t mean Ragan has gotten soft in his old age, as he still plays with the fire and brimstone that make you wonder how his head hasn’t exploded, Scanners-style yet.