Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Top 10 Tracks Of 2014 (My First Ever "Top 10 Of The Year" List In 7 Years As A Blogger)

I've been blogging on this site for more than 7 years now. I started covering mainly the cinema and celebrities of Hong Kong. I got bored with that and started shifting to music slightly in 2009 or so and now the shift is more or less complete and permanent, despite the rare post on a comic book or film. The Shaw Brothers reviews are still up, as are the posts on Hammer films, but this blog is now mainly a music site.

I'm a bit skeptical of "best of" lists but they serve a purpose. And that's the reason I am doing 2 of them this year. The reason is simple: there was a LOT of good music released in 2014 and if I can highlight the tracks and albums I enjoyed so much, then I can help in some small way to get the word out about that good music. There are a few bands here who won't make the Top 10 Albums of 2014 list, and vice versa. Between the 10 tracks here and the 10 albums I'm going to highlight soon, I think I can cover all of the music that meant so much to me during the course of my wild 2014 as my wife and I made the move from Lamma Island, Hong Kong, to the outskirts of Washington, D.C., in Maryland.

So here goes and in no particular order at all...

Kenixfan's Top 10 Tracks Of 2014

1. "Futurology" by Manic Street Preachers (from Futurology)

Of course the Manics are on this list. While I loved 2013's Rewind the Film, it was 2014's Futurology that more immediately seized my imagination. I played the album nearly once a day, all the way through, as I went to and from work during my last month in Hong Kong. Like with 1996's Everything Must Go and 1994's The Holy Bible -- an album the band is now prepping to play in full on tour -- Futurology is the sort of record that seems to perfectly encapsulate the many, many charms of these Welsh legends at this point in their career. They rarely disappoint and consistently surprise a listener and nowhere was that more apparent than on the title track to their 2014 album where they sounded revived and aware of their place in rock history.

2. "Trippy Gum" by Deers

Why does a band with so little recorded material get so much attention so quickly? This is why. The NME hyped these Spanish gals first, I gave one listen to this, and then I did the same thing. They have released maybe 4 songs officially. That's not a lot but it's hard not to love this, no matter what they put out in the future. Taking a hint of the Sixties and tossing in a dash of Beck's best stuff, "Trippy Gum" is infectious and charming in both familiar and new ways. I am sure 2015 will see Deers release a full-length record. If not, we'll just content ourselves with some more tracks like this.

3. "Beat the Sky" by Connections (from Into Sixes)

I already raved about this one back in July but it's worthy of more raving. Taken from their awesome 2014 album Into Sixes, "Beat the Sky" is like classic line-up Guided by Voices stuff with the plaintive heart-on-the-sleeve yearning of mid-period Superchunk tracks. It is that good. I love this band and wish that they were more famous. A tour with Ex Hex helped spread the word. Here's spreading it a bit more.

4. "Black Tambourine" by Withered Hand (from New Gods)

It positively blows my mind to think that this song is named after a band featuring kids I went to college with and who bought records from a shop I worked at (the University of Maryland's Record Co-Op, 1988 to 1990). But even if you know nothing about Black Tambourine, and which members went on to form other bands like Velocity Girl and Glo-Worm, it doesn't matter 'cause this is a PERFECT song. Smart and bright like the best Go-Betweens singles, "Black Tambourine" is a delight. You know how you used to feel when you'd listen to "Right Here" by The Go-Betweens and think it should be a Top 40 hit everywhere in the world? That's how I feel about this one too. I know that this song came out in late 2013 and that I already raved about it late last year, but New Gods dropped in 2014...and the track is so good that it had to be on this list. I'm still playing the heck out of this single.

5. "Fade Away" by Twin Peaks (from Wild Onion)

How can I pick just one song from this awesome album!?! Wild Onion was released in August and it's been the one album whose songs all sounded great whenever I threw one of them into the middle of a mix in the last half of 2014. These cats get me excited about music and I feel like I'm 19 again when I spin this one. This version, filmed live at D.C.'s WAMU Bandwidth studios, is fantastic. If you don't like this then stop listening to music and stop reading my blog. Seriously.

6. "Music" by The Jet Age (from Jukebox Memoir)

The Jet Age -- Eric Tischler, Greg Bennett, and Pete Nuwayser -- put out a difficult record in 2014. I say "difficult" only because the album sounded a bit different than the band's earlier albums. Still, as you can tell from my review, I found a lot to love and admire on Jukebox Memoir. And maybe my favorite track on the record was the risk-taking "Music" where frontman Eric Tischler gave in and fully indulged his love of early Stevie Wonder singles. It was a bold step but I think the band succeeded tremendously on this track. Just don't expect all of their future albums to sound like this.

7. "Pale" by Young Romance

I raved about this one back in June but I'm raving again 'cause I'm still playing it. A LOT! I swear that every time "Pale" by London's Young Romance comes up on my iPod I crank it up like a lunatic. Whether it was while walking the last block to work in Hong Kong last summer, or driving around D.C. now, it seems like I've been nodding my head to this one at least once a week for half of this year. The Kate Bush-meets-My Bloody Valentine rush of this cut is so good that I can't wait to see what this band will put out in the future. The best 2 minutes of 2014? Perhaps...

8. "Being There" by The June Brides (from the "She Seems Quite Free" EP)

The return of The June Brides is a thing to be appreciated. Part of that C86 brigade despite not being on the actual cassette, the band put out the excellent She Seems Quite Free EP a few months ago and it's worth seeking out if you missed it earlier. "Being There" is a bunch of chiming guitars behind Phil Wilson's vocals and it's a blast of happiness for any fan of this band. The June Brides sometimes fly under the radar but they are consistently tuneful and have been for decades. Spin "Being There" and see what I mean.

9. "As I Am" by Childhood (from Lacuna)

I don't think it will surprise anyone when I reveal that Childhood are going to be on both this list and my "Top 10 Albums of 2014" list. And why wouldn't they? Their debut, Lacuna, was an album I had been waiting for for about 2 years and it was worth the wait. I love this band and love this album. Which track to pick for this list? I went with this bit of bliss. "As I Am" coasts in like a classic single from A.R. Kane and then morphs into something closer to the spirit of late period Talk Talk distilled into a catchy single.

10. "Distracted" by The Human Hearts with Franklin Bruno and Jenny Toomey (from the "Loyal Opposition" single)

There are so many bands missing from this list. Don't worry 'cause they will turn up on the Top 10 Albums of 2014 list but there was no way I could leave this one off. "Distracted" was the flip-side of the "Loyal Opposition" single from the Human Hearts (with Franklin Bruno and Jenny Toomey) but it was released first and I immediately loved it, as you can see. Marking the former Tsunami member's return to recording after a few years, it's a lovely mix of Pretenders-style hooks and the sort of vocals Aimee Mann could crank out if she didn't always sound so depressed. In terms of "playability" this might be my track of the year 'cause I've played it so many, many times since I heard it a few months ago.

Stay tuned for my Top 10 Albums of 2014 list in a few days...or a few weeks. Not quite sure when yet.