The Year in Music 2014
Our music critics pick their Top 5 albums of 2015. Some of the WFHB music directors who contributed to this section limited their picks to specific genres: e.g. best in blues, best in world music, etc.
Jim Manion The Best of 2014
DAMIEN JURADO Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
A concept album sourced from a single dream, Jurado creates an alternative universe dusted in silver with a widescreen 3D mix. I still don’t quite understand the story line, but that didn’t stop me from playing it all year long. A longtime artist on Bloomington’s Secretly Canadian Records, Jurado makes a surprising sonic leap with his latest musical evolution.
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS English Oceans
DBT played most of these songs at their 2013 Bluebird show, setting the stage for area fans digging into another substantially awesome album by this distinctive southern band. With bassist Shonna Tucker departing the band sound morphs a bit. Mike Cooley rises to the occasion to match Patterson Hood in the album’s songwriting efforts. This ups the country honky tonk vibe on some songs, and Cooley has the clever country rhyme schemes and lyrical twists down cold. Another classic.
LILY & MADELEINE Fumes
With their sublime sibling harmonies up front, Lily & Madeline continue exploring the power of fusing simple but powerful poetry with resonant melodies and hooks. Their music lifts me up like a hot air balloon on a perfect day. Backing musicians on the album represent Bloomington and Indianapolis well, with Paul Mahern and Kenny Childers guiding the sounds and songs without smothering the purity of their voices.
STURGILL SIMPSON Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
His voice recalls Waylon and Merle and his arrangements are mostly rooted in outlaw country, things a lot of guys try to channel these days. Sturgill Simpson’s surprise twists are in his lyrics and psychedelic production touches. Whether taking a hard look at present everyday reality or spinning poetry based in a deep spiritual outlook, Simpson delivers honky tonk enlightenment deluxe.
GHOST OF A SABER TOOTH TIGER Midnight Sun
Steeped in psychedelic sounds (wah-wah, echo, mellotron, phase shifts) and esoteric arcane lyrics with occult and space alien references, Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl’s latest offering is a big musical change from their cozy first album Acoustic Sessions. It’s the best Beatles album I’ve heard in years, especially when Sean Lennon dials in his father’s nasally vocal affect. Nostalgic and futuristic in equal measure, and meant to be played loud.
[Jim Manion is the WFHB Music Director and hosts the Afternoon Mix every Monday from 3-5pm.]
Erin Tobey The Best in Bloomington-Made
BUSMAN’S HOLIDAY A Long Goodbye (Joyful Noise)
Bloomington is totally in love with the charismatic Rogers brothers, and their first LP still surprised us with how much we liked it. It’s orchestral and beautiful, a grown-up version of the songwriting we’ve watched these boys perfect since they were teenagers busking at the farmer’s market. This was WFHB’s most-played album of 2014, in any genre.
THE COWBOYS Vols. 2 & 3 (Turd World)
Maybe you missed their live performance in the Wal-Mart juniors department this past summer, but collectively let’s consider these two cassettes one of this year’s great local albums. I have no idea where these guys came from or how old they are, but their raw homemade recordings fit right into the illustrious oeuvre of Bloomington weirdo punk.
MIKE ADAMS AT HIS HONEST WEIGHT Best Of Boiler Room Classics (Flannelgraph/Joyful Noise)
A sparkling achievement of a record from one guy who is excellent at writing and arranging popular rock songs, backed by other equally talented guys who are excellent at playing them. Everything about this release is well-considered, from the promotional online infomercial to the collectible photo set that came with the CD/DVD. Flannelgraph Records always gets an A+ for enthusiastic presentation.
NEVERMORES Lock Your Doors (Magnetic South)
This essential reissue from the early 90s is proof that we’ve been good at garagerock in Bloomington for a while. A scuzzy recording probably made in somebody’s basement that captures the spirit of young people winging it on cheap gear in the vacuum of Southern Indiana, making freaky sounds because it’s fun.
THE SANDS Hotel and Casino (Let’s Pretend/Houseplant)
This was in WFHB’s Top 20 most-played albums of the year. It had more plays than Prince’s album! Admittedly my husband Jefferson Grant helped make this thing, but from a purely objective perspective this is one of the best rock albums from a Bloomington band in recent memory. Is it powerpop? Wasn’t everything in 2014? Regardless, two great songwriters collaborate here with hooks and harmonies to spare.
[Erin Tobey is the co-producer of Local Live, WFHB’s local music show. It airs every Wednesday from 9-11pm with a live set at 9:30.]
Angela Backstrom The Best in Americana
STURGILL SIMPSON Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Kentucky born Sturgill Simpson has been compared to Waylon Jennings; he is the best thing to happen to Outlaw Country/Americana music in the last decade. Metamodern Sounds is the follow up album to High Top Mountain. The first track “Turtles All the Way Down” unleashes a world of LSD, aliens, and various other musing of the psychedelic. The album overall has a traditional 1970’s Nashville sound and.
DOUG SEEGERS Going Down to the River
Doug Seegers was frequently homeless and playing on the streets when he was discovered by a Swedish TV show that was filming in Nashville. He was then embraced by the Swedish public, iTunes charts and went to number 1 in Sweden. Now Doug Seegers is making a name for himself at age 62. His sound is reminiscent of artists like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. The album features Buddy Miller and the wonderful Emmylou Harris is featured on the Gram Parson’s cover “She.” Seegers is a wonderful discovery and this album is sure to please.
OTIS GIBBS Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth
Otis Gibbs is originally from Wanamaker, Indiana and now lives in East Nashville. This new release is haunting, mysterious, dreamy and yet still gritty. He has that honest storytelling style of Chris Knight and the genius of Townes Van Zandt. You can also get to know the personal side of him on his brilliant podcast show called “Thanks for giving a damn”
NIKKI LANE All or Nothin’
[Image at the top of this post: Nikki Lane.]
Nikki Lane puts the sass and sultry into country music. Her song “Right Time” has a melody and lyrics that make you want you to jump in a 70’s muscle car and escape with her on some roadside adventure. Lane’s style is reminiscent of the 1950’s and 1960’s. She sounds a bit Loretta Lynn with some added Nancy Sinatra for kicks. Dan Auerbach of the duo The Black Keys produced All or Nothin’. The album has inspired the East Nashville sound that is igniting the outlaw country music sound right now.
ZOE MUTH World of Strangers
Zoe Muth is understated, genuine, melodic, soulful, country honest and her sound is a mix of 1950’s honkytonk standards and no fluff country songs. This album takes a few listens to really understand just how wonderful it really is. Favorite picks are “Annabelle” and “Mama Needs a Margarita.” Muth’s band The Lost High Rollers has created the perfect backdrop for her unadorned storytelling.
[Angela Backstrom is the Americana Music Director of WFHB and hosts Roots for Breakfast on alternate Saturdays from 8-10 a.m.]
Mark Need The Year’s Notables
THE WAR ON DRUGS Lost in the Dream
I fully expect to see this release on many year-end “Best of” lists. A dash of Petty, a bit of 80’s Bruce, and definitely a dose of Roxy Music, but still somehow sounding fresh and new. And on Bloomington’s own Secretly Canadian, to boot!
THE BOTH THE BOTH
Two of my favorite songwriters, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, on a completely loveable joint project. A one-off that probably won’t happen again, and they toured behind it (including a show at the Buskirk). Makes She & Him (even more) unlistenable.
Nikki Nack tUnE-yArDs
A gorgeous and insanely unpredictable record, which includes “Water Fountain,” the undisputed Car Jam of 2014. The brainchild of Merrill Garbus, tUnE-yArDs are equal parts Motown, funk, Beck, and maybe even a pinch of Andrew Bird.
BLAKE MILLS Heigh Ho
A lush, strange, inventive record from a killer session guitar player and producer. At its center, “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me,” a simple folk song that doesn’t sound like the rest of the record, but is, standing alone, worth the price of admission.
TV ON THE RADIO Seeds
Seeds feels like a conscious move away from guitars and toward the dance floor for TVotR, but the result is no less compelling. A great multi-layered release from an always-interesting band—you’ll want to put the headphones on to hear everything going on here.
[Mark Need is a professor at the Maurer School of Law, and President of the Board of Directors of WFHB.]
Markus Lowe The Best in Electronic
ODESZA In Return
Best for fun. Surprise favorite by Seattle producer duo ODESZA. A start-to-finish stunner of glitch-infused electronic wonder. The album is littered with infectious hooks, phrases, up-and-coming vocalists, and plenty of potent, feel-good atmosphere.
Best for chill. Scott Hansen picks up right where his debut album Dive left off and takes you on an indie instrumental psychedelic sunset journey. Tycho paints a musical picture with driving rhythms mixing with melodic progressions. Relax, reflect, and rejuvenate.
CARIBOU Our Love
Best for lovers. Dan Snaith inches towards the dance floor on his latest release that is both thematic and intimate. The buoyant rhythms and underwater soundscapes wrap around you like a cozy, warm blanket in a blurry bedroom scene.
FLYING LOTUS You’re Dead!
Best for exploration. Steven Ellison drops a cosmically complex concept album, a rhythmic synthesis which knows no boundaries of jazz, prog-rock, electronic, and hip-hop. The great-nephew of Alice Coltrane continues the lineage of free jazz with a timeless album full of modern magic.
APHEX TWIN Syro
Best for robots. First album in over 13 years and still pushing the limits of ambient and experimental electronic. Richard D. James speaks a robotic language full of quirky, frantic rhythms alongside soothing atmospherics.
[Markus Lowe is the Electronic Music Genre Director at WFHB and host of 32Hertz, an eclectic electronic music mix, on-air Fridays at 11pm on 91.3 WFHB.]
Adriane Pontecorvo The Best in World Music
CHANCHA VIA CIRCUITO Amansara
Argentinean producer Pedro Canale’s latest album of digital cumbia fuses South American rhythms with modern electronic sounds. He pulls off a successful balancing act: sparse beats bring out lush strings and winding melodies; traditional vocals soar above modern dub. A very exclusive Andean dance party.
METÁ METÁ METAL METAL
They hail from Brazil, but Metá Metá’s debut album is as far from bossa as it could be—and that’s a great thing. It’s a frenzy of Afro-Brazilian traditions and edgy, jazzy sax and percussion, all packaged with a ringing endorsement from legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen
When you bring together some of the best salsa, bachata, and funk players in Brooklyn, you get the Peliroja collective. On Injusticia, they pull together Afrobeat, Caribbean-inspired rhythms, and 70s funk in a way that brings out all the brightest colors of each one—a buoyant sound with all the best grooves.
HAILU MERGIA AND THE WALIAS Tche Belew
He works as a taxi driver in Washington, D.C. now, but in the 1970s, Hailu Mergia was leading the first Ethiopian band to come to the United States. Their 1977 album saw a rerelease this year, and it’s just as fresh now as it was then: instrumental funk and Ethio-jazz with an emphasis on keys and timeless style.
Thirty-five years into their career, Tinariwen continues to prove that its members are the rock stars of the Sahara. The spoken words of poet Saul Williams kick off their latest album of exquisite desert blues. You don’t have to speak Tamashek to understand what they’ve been through. The twang of their guitars tells it all.
[Adriane Pontecorvo hosts the Tuesday Overnight Mix and co-hosts Planetary Caravan, Womenspace, and Radio Gnome Showgram on WFHB.]
Bob Kissel The Best in Blues
RORY BLOCK Hard Luck Child: Tribute to Skip James
Country blues artist Block gives an earnest, informed salute to Nehemiah “Skip” James on the fifth of her Mentor series, which focuses on original country blues artists she spent time with as a youngster. Rory’s blues style is a distillation of James and other influential pre-WWII blues artists with her original and distinctive touch. Ms. Block evokes the old spirits of the 1930’s through her original songs and covers of Skip James standards.
JOHN NEMETH Memphis Grease
Originally from Idaho, Nemeth forges classic Memphis sweet soul sounds out of blistering harmonica blues and classic Stax arrangements. But the delivery is all John Nemeth. Memphis Grease yields a warm, open invitation to soulful blues.
BOBBY RUSH Decisions
Collaborating with Wyoming-based funk/blues band Blinddog Smokin’, Rush presents funny & funky & serious soul music. Throw in the Nawlins’ mojo of Dr. John on piano and Decisions captures the essence of the deep south. Each song comes alive with his take on smoky bars, life in his 70’s, and the language of a time passed.
MUD MORGANFIELD & KIM WILSON For Pops (A Tribute to Muddy Waters)
You knew it had to come from the oldest son of blues icon Muddy Waters, but not with this degree of low down Chicago grit and gutter. In a sonic double take, Mud sings as if his father was at his side coaching his own vocal intonations. With a pocket solid band led by harpist Kim Wilson, lovers of 50’s Chicago blues will relish these tunes outta the Golden era of urban blues.
SUGAR RAY & THE BLUESTONES Living Tear to Tear
Pairing his veteran band with Sugar Ray, a blues harmonica player, Living Tear to Tear easily swings between the call to dance jump blues numbers and the tough yet tender classic slow shuffles. Norcia’s vocals are silky and subtle, yet at times ironic and playful. The veteran band purrs on all cylinders. This is modern, classic soulful blues par excellence.
[Bob Kissel hosts the Blue Monday program on WFHB and is the station’s blues music director.]
Jason Fickel The Year’s Notables
RUTHIE FOSTER Promise of a Brand New Day
Produced by Meshell Ndegeocello, this one brings out the deep soul of folk-blues powerhouse Foster, especially with her update of William Bell’s “This Might Not Be Right” and her own “Singing the Blues.”
JESSE WINCHESTER A Reasonable Amount of Trouble
A songwriter’s songwriter makes his last record – poignant, brilliant and funny (with production and guitars by ace Mac McAnally).
MEGHAN TRAINOR & KATE DAVIS The single, All About that Bass, from Trainor’s Album, Title
One tune in 2014 celebrated an underappreciated body-type and an underappreciated string instrument — nearly simultaneously — thanks to the genius collision/collusion of pure bubble gum and YouTube jazz.
WAR ON DRUGS Lost in the Dream
The electronica/classic rock alchemy we didn’t know we needed – it sneaks up on you easier than either genre ever did.
NICO & VINZ Am I Wrong and TOVE LO Habits
Why must the Scandinavians school us on pop? Because now they’re much, much better at it.
[Jason Fickel is a singer-songwriter-guitar player who performs frequently in Bloomington on his own and as half of the duo Jason & Ginger.]
Mike McAfee The Year’s Notables
THE DELINES COLFAX
By far my favorite 2014 release, Colfax was written by Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine for Amy Boone of the The Damnations to sing. Think Dusty Springfield meets Mazzy Star or call this late night country soul music. Vlautin is an acclaimed American story-telling treasure and The Delines feature members of The Decemberists, Minus 5 and other Pacific Northwest musicians.
CENTRO-MATIC Take Pride in Your Long Odds
Take Pride is the 11th and final release from these Texas rockers led by the prolific Will Johnson. Johnson is also a solo artist and collaborates on a number of projects including South San Gabriel, Overseas and Monsters of Folk. He said the fuzzy songs he writes on an old bass guitar tend to make it on to Centro-matic records. Salty Disciple was a #1 hit single in my car for six weeks.
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS English Oceans
This is their best release since Decoration Day and the Truckers are America’s coolest rock-n-roll band. Pauline Hawkins (inspired by a Willy Vlautin character) is my favorite song of the year. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are in their prime and we are lucky that we get to sit back and inhale it all.
LYDIA LOVELESS Somewhere Else
Her voice is golden. Every song on this is a keeper but “Head” and “Everything’s Gone” stopped me in my tracks to turn it up. She reminds me of all my favorite things about Loretta Lynn, Joan Jett and Neko Case. Long live Bloodshot Records.
SONGS: OHIA Didn’t It Rain (Deluxe Reissue)
I had to include a Jason Molina record on this list as I spent way more time listening to his music in 2014 than any other artist. The Molina reissues with demos and rare tracks that Secretly Canadian has been putting out are nothing short of spectacular. Molina had his players listen to Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush for tonal reference before they went into the studio.
Robert Meitus The Year’s Notables
BECK Morning Phase
Beck trades in most of his edge and irony for a hopeful, beautiful sound, reminiscent of the 1970’s Silver Lake acoustic era. With lots of reference points to the sounds of Nick Drake, Neil Young and Bob Dylan among others, Beck still maintains a unique sound—one that may just earn him an Album of the Year Grammy.
BEAR’S DEN Islands
This is the first full-length by a great new anthemic folk-rock band who I first discovered while opening for Mumford & Sons and later met at South by Southwest. The sound is full of acoustic instruments drenched in reverb and relentlessly catchy melodies. Maybe they won’t change the world, but Bear’s Den has made an album that you can lose yourself in for hours.
NOAM PIKELNY NOAM PIKELNY PLAYS KENNY BAKER PLAYS BILL MONROE
This is a modern take on the 1976 album by fiddler Kenny Baker, Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe. Pikelny plays the fiddle solos on banjo note-for-note along with some of the best bluegrass players, including Del McCroury on mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar and Stuart Duncan on fiddle and Mike Bub on bass. Pikelny entertained Bloomington in an impressive show at the Buskirk this past fall, sharing the stage with the wonderful Aoife O’Donovan.
SHOVELS & ROPE Swimmin’ Time
This duo from the South Carolina combines sounds of Appalachia with doo-wop and swampy blues, making for a much rawer sound than the Civil Wars and most other Americana artists.
WILCO WHAT’S YOUR 20? ESSENTIAL TRACKS 1994-2004
This collection is a reminder of how influential Jeff Tweedy has been since Uncle Tupelo split over two decades ago. From the romps on the mid 1990’s Wilco AM and Being There to the more diverse sounds of the late 2000’s Sky Blue Sky and Wilco [the album], we hear how Tweedy’s catchy roots and power-pop sound grew through experimentation, while his fractured lyrical style remained more or less consistent.