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2014 Rock Albums of the Year

2014’s Best Rock Albums

“Rock is dead they say.”  It’s been forty years since Pete Townshend’s poignant words first grabbed the rock ‘n roll spotlight. Since then, there have been constant refrains repeating the age-old perspective, and in the last few years, those chants are getting ominously louder.  I’ve never believed that and I still don’t today. But, I am starting to have serious consternation over the future of the rock album as the key medium for the music.

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These days, it’s just tougher and tougher to have albums funded, and then damn near impossible to have all but a few become profitable; yet at the same time, it’s easier than ever to release a single.  It seems a foregone conclusion that albums will experience at least some decline in use, but as you’ll see in the next few minutes, there are still a slew of fantastic rock releases.

Before you dig in, let me just share that this list is pretty damn schizophrenic. You’ll see alt-rock, indie rock, pop rock and hard rock. In other words, depending on your preferred genre, there will probably be a few that don’t fit your tastes, but trust me, every one of these offerings is excellent in it’s own right. Now, here are the Top 25 rock albums of 2014, according to ME! You can click on the album title to grab your own copy via iTunes.

As a warm-up, see what a few of these artists felt were the year’s top albums here, and feel free to check out our prior year lists.
2013 Albums of the Year  |  2012 Albums of the Year  |  2011 Albums of the Year

25, The Endless River – Pink Floyd – Truthfully, probably not the 25th best album of the year, but it’s another good offering from an incredibly consistent band.  These tracks are primarily Division Bell era instrumentals. Despite the continued absence of Roger Water, the group still puts out pristine headphone worthy rock, which is definitely a dying art.

24. Strange Desire – Bleachers – Jack Antonoff shows what happens when he offers a glimpse inside his brain and throws these evocative thoughts into grandiose John Waters-esque productions.  It’s a fun., optimistic album packed with a handful of intriguing, big tracks that are guaranteed to have you flashing back to the best of the eighties, as well as the best of vintage fun., circa 2013. (Our full review)

23. Be Impressive – The Griswolds – We discovered a tremendous amount of new music from Down Under this year, and the Aussies we listened to had a penchant for bouncy, enjoyable pop rock.  That’s the perfect description of the debut from Griswolds. Their “Beware The Dog” was one of the songs of the year, but this group is far from a one hit wonder.  (Our full review)

22. St. Vincent – St. Vincent – The first time I heard this album, I really wasn’t that enthralled. It was interesting, creative and different, a little classic progressive rock, a bit of jazz and a touch of new age, but I wasn’t sure it was special.  Then, I took it for a subsequent spin or two, and it has really grown on me. Not sure how to classify the genre, but guitarist/vocalist Annie Clark is undeniably special.

21. Redeemer of Souls – Judas Priest – AC/DC’s 2014 release seemed to get all of the attention from classic metal fans, but this album is so much better. Rob Halford still sounds great, the generous guitar solos are crisp and energetic, and the songwriting continues to show growth.  There’s a nice mix of straight ahead rockers and more deftly arranged offerings.

20. High Noon – Arkells – This Ontario quintet has never really exploded in the US, and probably because they don’t have any tracks with huge hit potential, but their albums, like High Noon, are packed with a non-stop supply of nicely arranged music spotlighted with poignant lyrics. There’s not a bad song on the album, and it is oh so easy to listen to.

19. Pure Adulterated Joy – Morning Parade – Fresh on the unexpected heels of being dropped by their label, this UK quintet responds with an optimistic, energetic release, that I feel is their best yet. From my album review: “The result: Pure Adulterated Joy, a damn good album that finds the band veering ever so slightly away from their pop roots and moving deeper into rock ‘n roll.” And, it works well. (Our full review)

18. Choking On Halos – Leanne Kingwell – This paragraph from my review sums the album up perfectly: “Kingwell is an Aussie chanteuse just dripping with potential. Her self-released new album is a breath of fresh air on the music landscape and boasts a handful of songs worthy of significant radio play on an album that offers non-stop diverse creative rock tracks.” If you like catchy pop rock, you need to check this out. (Our full review)

17. Lost in the Dream – The War on Drugs – This one is the antithesis of Choking On Halos. It’s a darker journey through the mind of Adam Granduciel. The music from these talented Philadelphians is captivating and has not suffered at all since the departure of Kurt Vile. The complex arrangements are wonderfully distinctive, and every song is an adventure worth taking.

16. Stuck In a Dream – Bike Thief – At times their music reminds me of two excellent Alt-rock artists in Arcade Fire and The Decemberists; it’s creative, robust rock with a distinctive theatrical flair. For any old-timers reading along, I also felt a Renaissance or very early Genesis kind of vibe as many of the songs are adeptly dotted with precisely placed intricate riffs, runs and accents. Check out my review for more insight. (Our full review)

15. Turn Blue – The Black Keys – I love the Black Keys, but just like the Foo Fighters (who did not make the list), I felt the new release was not at the same level as previous works.  For Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, it’s still a strong effort, just not as compelling as their previous albums. I like them as stripped down as possible, but there’s no denying that they’ve created a few fantastic songs on an album that still boasts a fresh, yet classically weathered spin on rock ‘n roll.

14. Isolate and Medicate – Seether – Dirty sludgy rock one track and then mainstream pop rock the next; it’s a nice diverse hard rock album with a handful of great songs. A robust, cohesive offering, with a tremendous amount of rock pouring through the speakers, especially considering the band is but a trio. The album features powerful drums, nice guitar riffs and top notch vocals from Shaun Morgan, while his lyrics are at their introspective best. It’s an active rock album with no weak songs that’s strong from start to finish, and is an absolute blast to listen to loud.

13. World On Fire (feat. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators) – Slash – An hour and 15 minutes of sharp guitar rock is always nice, and when you throw in Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge) dishing out his pristine vocals, this album is a can’t miss hard rock offering. The 17 songs are diverse, some bluesy, a few acoustic, but all guitar-driven rockers. The backing band, The Conspirators, are sharp throughout and the music passion from the players pours through.

12. Cry Is for the Flies (feat. Shirley Manson & Henry Rollins) – Le Butcherettes – The album features Teri Gender Bender (maybe not her birthname), a Mexican punk rocker with an eclectic approach to rock music. From Broken Birdie’s review, this sums it up perfectly: “It’s not for everyone but it is definitely within reach for most people if you simply have the fortitude to keep listening. A+ and I’m really looking forward to Le Butcherettes cruising through town so that I can catch what I can only imagine is a fantastic live show as well.” (Our full review)

11. Hope – Manchester Orchestra This is a first for me – two albums from the same artist on my annual list, and even more unusual, the same exact song titles. Andy Hull and crew went back to the studio and totally re-imagined the Cope album. These versions are stripped down and generally unrecognizable, and consistently they sound tremendous. It was a brave shot at repositioning the songs, and a few of the new versions are absolutely better than those on Cope. (Our full review)

 

10. The Black Market – Rise Against – Another album that grew on me the more I listened to it. On this, the seventh release from these socially conscious Chicago rockers, we still hear much of the hard-driving sound their fervent fans have come to enjoy, but on this album, they’ve mixed in a few new twists, primarily to a more mainstream sound. Listening to the lyrics, there’s also a more prominent focus on relationships, with fewer songs about social and political issues. (Our full review)

9. Alveron – Wolf Gang – I’ve anxiously waited to hear the follow-on to Suego Faults, the band’s excellent 2011 debut release, and it was worth the wait. Although this offering doesn’t boast the obvious Top 40 hits of its predecessor, the album is packed with soaring rock anthems. Produced by Flood, the arrangements are impeccable, and the band shows obvious maturity. The songs revolve around the challenges of twenty-somethings dealing with relationships and life, and the musical talent on display is impressive throughout. (Our full review)

8. Manhattan – SKATERS – One of the best debut albums I heard this year, the album is packed with snappy rock offerings interestingly arranged around little vignettes of life in the city. Lots of poppy, punk-infused music that’s just catchy as hell. The band shows their flexibility with a broad spectrum of rock sounds, on an album that feels like today’s ode to New York City; it’s not the Strokes, nor The Ramones, but it sure could be the 2014 equivalent from a cultural standpoint.  (Our full review)

7. Brill Bruisers – The New Pornographers – This All-star Vancouver lineup continuously delivers fresh, meaningful rock music, and great albums. Brill Brothers, their first release in four years continues that trend. The title track is a soaring, majestic rocker, and beautifully, there’s nothing else like it on the album. Like the proverbial box of chocolates, you don’t know what to expect from song to song on Brill Bruisers, but somehow all of the diverse offerings mesh together perfectly in the end, and provide a great musical expedition.

6. Cope – Manchester Orchestra – I loved the re-imagined version of this album, Hope, but the original was just a bit better. This one sounds like the Manchester Orchestra that we have grown to love, and boasts a handful of killer tracks. This version of the band is deeper, darker and more powerful, as immediately evidenced by the first track, “Top Notch,” where the drums are bigger, the guitars more forceful and vocals a little grittier than past efforts, and it makes for compelling rock.

5. Stuck – Adelitas Way – A few of my peers will scoff at this rating, but hey, it’s my list, deal with it. The truth is, this is a killer album packed with excellent rock songs. It’s stadium rock, done as well as we’ve heard in years, and it boasts a fresh engaging sound.  There’s not an album I’ve listened to more frequently in 2014;  it’s one of those rare albums that defines a band and jettisons them into the rock ‘n roll stratosphere. It’s Adelitas Way’s equivalent of Metallica’s Master Of Puppets or the Scorpions’ Love At First Bite.  (Our full review)

4. Royal Blood – Royal Blood – Yet another duo serving up powerful rock music. It’s amazing how this UK duo deliver the robust, powerful music that punctuates the album with just a bass and drums. They put forth freight-train powered rock ‘n roll, highlighted by Mike Kerr’s soulful vocals and catchy, intricate bass riffs. But it’s not all balls to the wall rock ‘n roll, as the more tender offerings truly complete the album. It’s one hell of a debut and jolt of energy to the rock music landscape.

3. Calm Down, Everything Is Fine – Mike Mains & The Branches – When I heard the first single, the addictive “Noises,” I was anticipating an album filled with similar pop-punk ditties. What I heard, though, was so much more. The songs are all over the rock music map but consistently fun to listen to, and they come together perfectly to shape a memorable rock ‘n roll journey. Mains puts his immense young talent on display in an album that spotlights a unique and versatile voice and a talented song-writer just dripping with potential. (Our full review)

2. Lazaretto – Jack White – I wasn’t always positive, but I’ve come to realize that Mr. White is a musical genius. He has the reputation of being a bit of a prick, and that may have clouded my views, but his music continues to impress. As we see on Lazaretto, his sound has evolved from the early White Stripe days to what we now hear as a much more, full, complex and elaborate production. The music is better than ever, but it still boasts pure raw rock ‘n roll. It’s hard to pull off, but as we see on this album, it’s magical when everything comes together. Listen to it, and if you’ve listened before, pick it up again, as it gets better with every listen.

1. Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me! – From the moment I first heard this album in January, I knew that we had a special album on our hands. It’s stood up all year, and it’s my clear choice as the album of the year. A funny thing happened on the way to the studio, as frontman Tom Gabel, became Laura Jane Grace and started writing amazingly riveting music.  The album still boasts the rugged guitar rock that has defined the band for the past decade, but the lyrics are more poignant than ever. The key, though, is that the music is urgently passionate.  Every song a story worth telling, and a journey meticulously crafted.  (Our full review)

So, that’s it for 2014. Lots of great stuff from every genre of rock music, and proof that the killer rock album still survives. What did I miss, what did I nail?  I’d love to hear your thoughts either below or on our Facebook page.

“Long live rock, be it dead or alive.”

Rock On!
Cretin

 

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The 25 Greatest Rock Albums Ever, According to Me


A few years ago, I started jotting down thoughts about the seminal albums of my lifetime, the pieces of musical genius that helped shape my musical being.  What better time to dig out that list and freshen it up, as RARA’s Farm posts our one hundredth article.

As a self-described rock ‘n roll freak, there were many fantastic albums to choose from, but what set these apart was that every song on every album was great. Not just one great “side” for you old timers. I will admit first that for most of these, there’s no great deep personal meaning, and for some, I don’t even know the lyrics – but hey, I liked the MUSIC, and it’s my list…

My self inflicted rules: No compilations, which ruled out Bob Marley, The Baby’s, Ramones and the Beautiful South; and no live albums eliminating Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Cheap Trick. Also, I only allowed myself one from each artist. So, with all of those considerations, I think what follows would better be described as 25 Great Albums, not quite the 25 Greatest.

The albums are listed in the order that I fell in love with each of these masterpieces. You can click the iTunes link after each album to check them out yourself.

Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed – my Uncle turned me on to this one and it was my first taste of album rock – a great suggestion by a smart man. Classic rock with a full orchestra, and some pretty diverse stuff. This psychedelic treat is an amazing headphones experience. It was a tough choice between this and Long Distance Voyager, only because Voyager bridged the gap from my Aunts’ and Uncles’ musical era into the 80’s and was the first big concert I attended. Days of Future Passed - The Moody Blues

Who – Who’s Next – sure I was first attracted to “They’re all wasted” from “Baba O’Reilly,”  but this album is packed with nothing but great rock, “The Song is Over” never gets enough credit – but it’s my favorite Who song of all-time. Most of these songs were penned for Lifehouse, Pete Townshend’s failed follow-up to Tommy. This was Townshend’s first major foray into integrating synthesizers and it works perfectly. Who's Next (Remastered) - The Who

Queen – Night at the Opera – My brother loved this album before I did. I actually liked the non-Freddy tunes at first, like Roger Taylor’s “I’m in Love with My Car”, or Brian May’s “39,” but later came to appreciate Freddy’s pure genius on songs like “Love of My Life” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Another very diverse collection. I’m bummed that I never got to see these guys live. A Night At the Opera - Queen

Kansas – Leftoverture – this album was the second album I heard where everything seemed to fit together perfectly (after Nights in White Satin). The best album ever for headphone listening – can’t imagine how many times I fell asleep to this one with those soup bowl sized headphones still on, as the eight track continuously clicked through the tracks. To give you an idea how good this one was, “Carry On My Wayward Son” is the only hit, but probably my least favorite song on this great concept album. Leftoverture - Kansas

Bruce Springsteen – The River – I loved everything Bruce did before this and a few after. With so many great albums, this was a tough decision – but this is a rarity – a double album where every track is strong. The album featured Bruce really diving into relationships and telling stories we could all relate to. “Sherry Darlin,” “Ramrod,” “Crush on You” and “I Wanna Marry You” are in my all-time list for Bruce. Born to Run didn’t exactly suck either. The River - Bruce Springsteen

Cars – Cars – an amazing debut album, and although they followed this with many hits, they never came close to a collection as complete as their initial effort. This is a rarity on the list, an album that I admire, performed by a band that just sucked live on stage. Absolutely love “All Mixed Up/Moving in Stereo,” and not at all because of the Fast Times flashback… The Cars - The Cars

Tom Petty – Damn the Torpedoes – This was fabulous the first time I heard it and grew better every time I listened to it. I remember playing this often when I first moved away from home to live at college, and the familiar feel eased the transition. Such a smooth diverse album. It starts off with “Refugee” and EVERY song after is better. Great stuff! Damn the Torpedoes (Remastered) - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Meatloaf – Bat Out of Hell – Meat sure could sing, but the arrangements and musicians on this album overshadow his great voice. This is one of the few where I knew every word to every song. These are still classic and timeless party songs, including Phil Rizzuto’s captivating play-by-play and the perfect boy/girl trade-offs of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” And, “No,” you don’t sound just like the record when drunkenly singing this at late night karaoke! Bat Out of Hell - Meat Loaf

Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – My first words as an infant were actually “Yeah, Yeah. Yeah,” from their 1963 hit “She Loves You,” but I never realized how great the Beatles were until I got this album. McCartney and Lennon at their best, but this one also features Ringo’s best “With a Little Help from My Friends.” The way the album ends with “A Day in the Life” is the best ending to any album EVER, which is appropriate, as this just might be the best of the best, from the best. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here – I loved all of their efforts, including The Wall, Dark Side of the Moon and 1990’s under appreciated Division Bell. But this one, a tribute to the mercurial Syd Barrett is their most musically packed. This classic features “Have a Cigar” and “Welcome to the Machine;” then there’s all nine parts and 26 plus minutes of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,”  just amazing… Wish You Were Here (Remastered) - Pink Floyd

The Alarm – Strength – One late night on my first shift on college radio I popped in the cart for “68 Guns” and fell in love with this unknown band – two years later, they released Strength, and played close by. I skipped the show because the $3.00 price tag was the equivalent of 30 beers at the Bus Stop – figured I’d have plenty of other chances. Unfortunately a few years later Mike Peters walked off the stage in the middle of “Blaze of Glory” and they were done. This album features the classic “Spirit of 76,” and the song I walked down the aisle to: “Walk Forever by my Side.” Strength 1985-1986 (Remastered) - The Alarm

REM – Reckoning – yeah, I confess that I don’t understand the lyrics to half of these songs – but does anybody? Every one of the tracks off of the band’s second album is a memorable ditty. Simple, catchy and fun. My first “go to” album as a college DJ. “Pretty Persuasion,” “So. Central Rain (Sorry)” and “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” were the classics, but “Harborcoat” and “7 Chinese Bros.” were just as good. Reckoning - R.E.M.

Prince – Purple Rain – Truthfully, a girl named Nikki turned me on to this one, but I did not meet her in a hotel lobby…  Before this, I thought Prince was a flash-in-the-pan pop star. This album proved he was a rock legend, and that my first impressions were pretty pathetic and way off-base. Solid from the first note of “Lets Go Crazy” through the final chords of “Purple Rain;” and it includes my all-time favorite Prince song, “Baby I’m a Star.” Purple Rain (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Prince & The Revolution

Alice Cooper – Schools Out – Didn’t listen to this until long after it was released when I stumbled across it on my late night Heavy Metal show. It’s another great concept album, with lots of creative stuff complementing the title track. “Public Animal #9” is pure rock, and “Grande Finale” is fantastically diverse! Mr. Furnier never got enough credit for being a great musician, and this classic never gets its just due. School's Out - Alice Cooper

Dire Straits – Love Over Gold – 5 songs. “Industrial Disease” is the only one that ever got any airplay – but this is packed with amazing guitar work from Mark Knopfler. The 14 minute “Telegraph Road” is one of my Top 10 all-time songs, and one of the great drum songs of all time from Pick Withers. It was hard not selecting Brothers In Arms, too. Love Over Gold - Dire Straits

U-2 – The Joshua Tree – I loved Boy, too, and Achtung Baby and Unforgettable Fire, and… This one edges them out because the non-hits are better, including “Trip Through Your Wires,” “Running to Stand Still” and “Red Hill Mining Town.” The album was driven by the band’s new found infatuation with America, but starts off with an amazing song about Belfast, a place where the streets had no name. The Joshua Tree (Remastered) - U2

Thrashing Doves – Bedrock Vice – I’m about to leave the Chestnut Cabaret after an energy packed Chasers show, and these “kids” get on stage pimping their first album. I decide to hang around and loved their stuff. If you ever see this one in a bargain bin grab it. “Biba’s Basement” and “Beautiful Imbalance” were addictive, but “Jesus on the Payroll” was the most intriguing. Definitely the most obscure album on the list, but it’s an unknown treasure.

Paul Westerberg – 14 Songs – I know this will piss off Replacement fans, but I think this is better than any of his efforts with the quartet from Minneapolis. The first time I listened straight through I assumed this was a greatest hits CD – lots of great stuff. “World Class Fad” is tremendous and “Things” is a beautiful ballad. 14 Songs - Paul Westerberg

Barenaked Ladies – Gordon – I bought it for “$1,000,000” – but there were so many more valuable tunes in store. “Enid,” “Grade Nine,” and “Yoko Ono” are just a few of the fun ones.  The album also features the magnificent “Brian Wilson, and some of BNL’s most touching stuff.  The best song is the under-appreciated “What a Good Boy.” Gordon - Barenaked Ladies

Stroke 9 – Nasty Little Thoughts – another band I found by mistake. They opened for someone else – I think Lit – and I loved their stuff. Yup, this is the one with “Little Black Back Pack,” but it’s packed with a bunch of other great tunes. Still amazed this band never took off. On this album, we also get to listen to “Letters,” “Washin’ and Wonderin'” and my favorite S9 tune, “Not Nothin’.” Nasty Little Thoughts - Stroke 9

Flogging Molly – Within a Mile of Home – They admittedly get extra points because of my Irish romanticism. I love the diversity on this one, and the lyrics touch my soul. “Factory Girls,” with a guest spot from Lucinda Williams is a great ride. We get to see the band stretch themselves in new ways, and it works throughout.  “Tobacco Island” is a historic flashback sure to get your Irish up. Within a Mile of Home - Flogging Molly

Green Day – American IdiotDookie and Nimrod were great, too, but I selected this one because it showed how the band was growing and adjusting to the times, and because it absolutely kicks ass. The album is written around a fictitious character “Jesus of Suburbia” and his trials and travails.  The title track is great, and one of a handful of true classics, including “Are We the Waiting,” “Holiday” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”  The non-hits include some of the band’s most creative efforts to date, as well. American Idiot - Green Day

Muse – Black Holes and Revelations – One of the first songs I heard on XM’s old Alternative Rock station Ethel was “Starlight.” I went out and bought the album the following day, and it is packed with hard charging rock and roll, pre-Twilight fame. The final track, “Knights of Cydonia” is one of the best songs of the new century. Black Holes and Revelations - Muse

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible – This one is a reflection of the times – The first selection on this list where I don’t own this album, but instead have the MP3’s. Haven’t seen them live yet, but I’m sure they’ll blow me away. From “Black Mirror” to “My Body is a Cage” – they are all powerful songs. Funeral, their debut album, was another great collection. Neon Bible - Arcade Fire

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend – A surprise quirky Indie-Rock hit in 2008. This eponymous debut album was packed with gems that dominated Indie and Alt-Rock radio for a few years.  “A-Punk” was the biggest hit, but there were plenty of other excellent tracks. “Oxford Comma,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Walcott” highlight the band’s diversity. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Just missed – The Clash – London Calling – should have been a single album, there are a dozen or so great songs, but they unfortunately stretched it out to 4 sides, and Armed Forces by Elvis Costello – loved the songs and sang along, even though I still have no idea what “Green Shirt” and “Good Squad” were about…

So, there you have it – a bit longer than I thought, but that was fun for me. If you made it through the entire list, thanks for your patience, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below…

Rock On!
Cretin