By Brian Tucker
This year has been amazing in terms of album releases from local acts, the largest I’ve seen in the last decade, and there’s a handful already set to come out in 2015. The number of releases in November alone was surprising (nine), with forty four in total as of this writing.
That number doesn’t include the live albums from Dubtown Cosmonauts, Cosmic Groove Lizards, Mac & Juice Quartet, The Del Zorros, two Mixgrotto mixtape releases, a greatest hits album from The Needles, two songs by Possum Creek on the Tammy movie soundtrack, and a re-release of Weedeater’s 2001 album And Justice For Y’all.
The fourteen albums below is not a “Best-Of” of 2014, that’s for you to decide. Instead, it’s a selection of the numerous albums released in 2014 by local acts.
Salvación – God, Gold and Glory (February)
Heavy metal and hard rock act released the eight song God, Gold and Glory, partly influenced by infamous Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes. Lead track “Stroke of Luck” song combines old school heavy metal with fun, hard driving riffs along with Nicky Sponsel’s dynamite raging vocals. I’ve been a fan of Sponsel’s for some time, often citing his whiplash and wicked vocals that fans of Ronnie James Dio will dig.
Pet Names – Missed Connections (February)
Pet Names’ second EP is a heartfelt blast of indie rock and punk. Boasting engaging vocals and lyrics, the music is fun and melodic. Faster tunes feel like they’re hanging back while slower ones maintain a rock and roll feel. “Smoke Signals” and “Untied Laces” are what Green Day would sound like if they played slower. Pet Names aren’t a knock-off; they’re four musicians delivering melodic, catchy songs. While their “Empty Fortune Cookie” is some of the best music inside a minute and a half, “Chasing Me Down” is a distant relative to The Alarm and the song’s spitfire drumming helps make it the best song on the EP.
MindsOne & Kev Brown – Pillars EP (April)
Hip hop group MindsOne released Pillars as a double treat – one half is five new songs and the other half is the instrumental versions of them. Essentially two albums, one is a hip hop collection that turns the music upside down once vocals begin. The other is straight ambiance – laid back music highlighting the prowess and thinking of its creators. For all the relaxed qualities of Pillars it maintains subtle ominous qualities, be it surly keyboards or lyrics about loyalty, striving to keep moving forward, and the threat of mortality.
The Phantom Playboys – Baby Likes Booze (April)
This rockabilly act created a solid full-length album produced by Southern Culture on the Skids’ Rick Miller. Recorded over three days, it’s a very “live” sounding album with a variety of energetic songs whose hearty vocals from Eric Lawson echo both Carl Perkins and Lux Interior, whether it’s spoken word on “Devil’s Socks” or hubba-hubba delivery on “65 Caprice.” Horn player Maaike Brender À Brandis gives “Look at that Cadillac” an Andrews Sisters flair. You can hear the band really having fun on “Baby Likes Booze,” a fine compliment to their live show.
White Tiger and the Bed of Roses – Pharaohs en Sombreros (May)
White Tiger delivered its best album yet with this (again) surprising collection of songs. More focused, while still retaining the wild, raucous energy, it’s their most mature album while also taking chances. They don’t mind wearing a heart on the sleeve, notably on “Old” whose title says it all. Matt Hearn sings with intensity – “All my friends are getting old, and so am I/All my friends are getting bald, and so am I.” This is music that sounds anything but “getting old.”
D&D Sluggers – Hot Banana (June)
Now the solo effort of Tim White, D&D Sluggers’ Hot Banana remains lively, energetic chiptune music, namely on lead song “Fight” which combines dance floor/video game tinged melodies with White’s R&B delivery. The slower, seductive “Stasis” gives “Fight” a run for best song on the album. On the new album D&D gets creative, even a bit murky, all without straying too far from the party.
¡pretend surprise! – Butcher It (July)
Experimental indie rock on this EP (on Blood Drunk Records) found the band painting with different colors while retaining the intensity of its original sound. The band carves new territory through restraint and softer qualities. As their music has slightly shifted focus, it remains aggressive and mood, at time more internal. It’s notable on “The Actress,” whether it’s the heartbeat drumming, the injection of calm moments that feel like peaceful defeat or Zac Nobles singing from a gritty place like the telling line “I traded my girlfriend for an actress.”
Mojo Collins – Joyful Ride (July)
Collins’ latest is a fine example of aging gracefully, some songs revealing fire still in his belly. At 70 he’s made an album that’s often a reflective affair, about fallen soldiers, a life playing the blues, the joys of sultry women. It’s blues music done with a sun-setting-on-the-coast vibe, a lot of strutting, strolling and smiling, and with a voice rich in character that has an easy going style.
Temple5 – The Bap is Eternal: The Argument (July)
The second EP from this local hip hop live band with Wolf House on the majority of the songs delivering vocals. The band sounds a lot smoother here, laying down a slinkier, more intricate sound. Horns are warm and mellow, keys are playful, and the drumming popping. Temple5’s first EP is solid but this entry is more focused.
Mood Mechanics – Once a Mountain (August)
Emotional, moody, and sonically elegant, Once a Mountain is like a tattered, warm blanket full of history. Musically it’s comforting, but not without damage on display. The seven songs work less like a collection of material than an elongated mini-epic. As engaging indie rock material it aims, and succeeds, to transcend the genre. Mood Mechanics have an ear for crafting songs with stinging, emotional characteristics. The music is colored with them and unearths great material, whether haunting or uplifting.
The Carvers – Surf & Stomp Combo (September)
The Carvers’ second release is a wide assortment of surf rock music, reaching back to the 50s and 60s but also with their feet in the present. The album was recorded above the Dixie Grille over two days and bears a down and dirty feel. They made a record sounding like it was pulled from your parent’s record collection. Built around original material and some cool covers, the band has made a summer sounding album, one that hits on a variety of moods and atmospheres.
David Dixon – David Dixon (November)
This solo performer and band leader’s first full length is a bluesy mix of reggae, ska and rock with singing that’s a cool blend of soul and R&B. Dixon has been playing solo acoustic gigs and with his band the David Dixon Trio for two years. The self-titled album is one of the smoothest albums, from beginning to end, I’ve ever heard, especially given the wandering styles. There’s a lot of sultry soul on it, whether it’s “Stay” or “Love and Hate” with its wonderful guitar solo near the end.
Beta Radio – Colony of Bees (November)
The Americana and folk duo of Ben Mabry and Brent Holloman release their first album in four years and it’s worth the wait. It echoes the charm and warmth of their debut Seven Sisters but likes to roam with lush results into graceful, introspective territory. It takes things higher with the infectious “Kilmanjaro” and memorable with “Come on Make it Right Once.”
A Bottle Volcanic – A Place in Hell (November)
There was a lot under the surface in ABV’s first release Away with Funeral Music. Atmospheric and layered, it left us thinking what would come next. Throughout 2014 the band posted videos of new songs, all different but with a similar vibe. Those new songs are a haunting and blistering affair, layered and nuanced enough to make for repeated spins. “Smokin’ Gun” is insanely fun garage rock and “Hello, Operator” is a standout, oscillating between something tender only to dive into effectively gut wrenching vocals and nasty, fuzzed out guitar.