Here it is….Everything Ecstatic’s 9th Annual Best Albums of the Year List. Shouts out to everyone who’s followed along over the years and I’m excited to share the spoils of another year in music witchas. This year, I had to abandon the one album a day for 20-30 days format of the past few years, cause there just weren’t enough hours in the days leading up to this post. But you can still see all of the archives from ’06 to ’13 here and 2014’s entries beginning here.
At any rate, this year’s list is 50 albums in one post, straight up. Each entry is brief, with some scattered notable videos, links and I made a playlist of all the albums at the bottom. Props to Abhi/Dijon, Drake and Bob Moses, who put out quality releases in 2015, but were the last 3 albums cut from the Top 50. Also, you won’t find D’Angelo on this list as Black Messiah was released on December 15th, 2014. I know some outlets are ranking it this year, but release dates are the only definitive indicator of what year an album belongs to. But ultimately, Black Messiah doesn’t need to be placed on an arbitrary list to validate it’s beauty and importance far beyond a musical context. You can read more of my thoughts on the first performance from D’Angelo’s renaissance here, and know that if it was a 2015 album, it’d be sitting at #2 on this list. With that, let us begin the annual ritual. Enjoy!
While The Double EP, was first released in 2013, it was finally given it’s official US release in April of 2014 on Mom+Pop Records. Oh yeah, it’s fucking great and that’s why we’re ranking it as the #10 Album of 2014 🙂 Courtney is a wonderful musician, one of my favorite discoveries of the year and it’s a sheer pleasure to watch her absolutely shred on stage. She’s just so damn unique and cool.
Coincidentally enough, I wrote a short capsule about this Album for Paste Magazine’s Top 50 Albums of 2014, where it was also ranked at #10. With that, the capsule is below and check out Paste’s list too. I had a good time making the albums and a bunch of other year end lists with 35 other writers there and it’s a solid compilation, albeit different from Everything Ecstatic’s. And now, back to Courtney:
#10 Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas – When it comes to storytelling, Courtney Barnett is as clever they come. The Australian singer/songwriter garners her share of giggles and smirks with songs that tackle situations from hilariously unsuccessful amateur gardening (aptly titled “Avant Gardener”) to drunken dreams where artists “made their paint using acid wash and lemonade” (in “History Eraser”). For every whimsically stoney lyric onThe Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, there are equally as many moments of sheer shred-ability from Barnett’s left-handed tail-spins on the guitar that often feel like she’s channeling Kurt Cobain.
The album itself is a collection of two older EPs, which despite getting released in Australia as far back as 2011, only saw their official US release gain widespread distribution in 2014, as this 12-track collection on Mom+Pop Records. Barnett’s musings are catchy and endearing. She finds ways to loop guitar solos into poppy verses, yet she avoids extremes. On “Are You Looking After Yourself” she opens with a twangy guitar into her isolated vocals that then lead to a full-on-folk implosion that’s utterly danceable. She repeats the pattern as it intensifies with the existential proclamation of “I don’t need to 9-to-5, telling me that I’m alive!” Lines and song structures like these render Barnett incredibly likable. There’s a confidence in place that make her American debut one of the most flat-out-fun records of the year.
Outside Lands has quickly become Northern California’s largest music fest and the glorious weekend is upon us. Peeps are chattering about heavyweights like Kanye West, Arctic Monkeys, Death Cab for Cutie, Tom Petty, etc, etc, etc… But there’s a slew of artists on the flyer in a smaller font size that are worth an hour of your weekend. Check it:
6. Lucius – Sunday, Sutro Stage, 2:30 – 3:20
The Brooklyn band is led by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who despite looking calculatedly stylish and similar when performing, are not sisters. Their 2013 Wildewoman (One of my favorite albums of last year) is packed with a unique energy that comes alive on stage. Blast “Nothing Ordinary” and i dare you not to feel the uncontrollable urge to jump up from your seat and dance when the chorus drops. They’ll likely be starting off my lazy Sunday. Get there!
Fun Fact: Holly and Jess provided the vocals on the album recording of San Fermin’s brilliant single, “Sonsick.”
5. Deer Tick – Saturday, Sutro Stage 4:00-5:00
The sound of Americana comes from Providence, Rhode Island…Well, at least as far as Deer Tick is concerned. These bluesy rockers were all over the soundtrack for Hall Pass, written by fellow sons of Providence, the Farrelly Brothers (not their best movie bee tee dubs). But there is indeed something so American about their sound…Be it their epic record Born on Flag Day or singer John Macauley’s labeling the band as “drunk buffoons” when they’re on stage. Go to hear “Easy” and stay to hear jams off of 2013’s Negativity and maybe you can tell me why i think they might be the embodiment of the fictional band Stillwater from Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous.
4. Gardens & Villa – Sunday, Panhandle Stage, 5:55-635
The Santa Barbara based band just put out the follow-up to a masterful 2011 self-titled debut that stood out with beautifully written and arranged tracks like “Black Hills” & “Star Fire Power.” On Dunes, they continue to explore the use of the flute and electronic waves like on “Bullet Train” and no track is as sublime as the synthy and bouncy “Colony Glen.”
Fun Fact: You can buy your very own Gardens & Villa flute here!
3. Gold Panda – Sunday, Panhandle Stage 7:40-8:25
Do you not give a shit about Tiesto? Think the Killers are just overhyped arena-rock? Cool..me too. We can all end our festival weekend together on Sunday night with what promises to be a spacey, yet lively closing set on the panhandle stage from Ghostly International’s Gold Panda. Avant-garde electronica fans might already be familiar with the London producer’s music, but you might know him best from the beat he produced for Charli XCX’s “You (Ha Ha Ha)”. Look to hear tracks from his 2013 release Half of Where You Live like “Junk City II” and my personal favorite “Brazil.” Gold Panda’s sounds are intelligent, interesting and memorable. The Panhandle stage is a treat of a venue for this set and best part is, when it’s over, you can make a smooth exit through Hellman Hollow to beat the crowds. You might even be able to get a cab or Lyft home that early!
2. El-P and Killer Mike (Run The Jewels) – Friday, Lands Ends Stage 215-305
Straight up, hip-hop like this doesn’t come around too much anymore. Last year’s show at the Independent was such a throwback to the heyday of hip hop: An El-P set, followed by a Killer Mike set and then a Run The Jewels set. The crowd fed off how much fun they were having on stage, everyone was bouncing, hands in the air and it felt for a moment that we were transported to the early 00’s. They’ve been taking the Run The Jewels on tour non-stop ever since, including playing Lollapalooza this past weekend where Rolling Stone attested to the “made for each other” vibe by dubbing them “The Best Hip-Hop Buddy Movie in the Making.” The project sees two of the fiercest rappers comin’ correct on the mic with the same flawless production that put El-P on the map in 2000.
Fun Fact: Run The Jewels 2 is nearly done and a teaser track titled “Blockbuster Night Part 1” was just released. Hear it here.
1. Courtney Barnett – Sunday, Panhandle Stage 4:20-5:00
Ok, full disclosure: The purpose of this post was just a ploy to get you to see Courtney Barnett. Here lies THE hidden gem of the festival. The Aussie singer-songwriter has been hitting the global festival circuit hard and she impresses with tongue-in-cheek jams like “Avant Gardener,” where she sings about the perils of leaving the house, egad! She’s clever as can be and plays guitar like a madwoman. She’s in the same breath as a contemporary like Sharon Van Etten, but sounds more like Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. Her 2013 release, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas is a can’t miss record and her set will surely be packed with just about every track off of it. Another fine act for the Panhandle stage, Barnett’s irresistibly cute and clever will be just what your mid-afternoon craves.
Fun Fact: Barnett covered the entire Kick album by fellow Aussie rockers INXS at Pure Pop Records’ “Summer of Classic Albums” show. She nailed it.
Here’s a handy dandy spotify playlist of tracks (only instrumentals for Run The Jewels) mentioned in this post and other by these artists to gear up for the Festival!