Robert Christgau famously wrote that Dylan’s The Basement Tapes was the best album of 1975, and would have been the best album of 1967, too, if it had been released the year it was recorded. It goes without saying that if The Basement Tapes Complete were not a 47-year old document, it would have topped the 2014 Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List (c).
But it would be unfair to trump the excellent albums released this year with one of rock’s classics, released as it was from the vapors of the past. And this year there were many excellent records vying for top honors. Thee Oh Sees missed our list because it was a transition year for John Dwyer, and as much as we enjoyed Drop, recording without the band that made Floating Coffin such a delight was a disappointment. Asteroid #4 eponymous release was in contention, but just missed. There were some other close calls, competition was tight, but in the end, we think this is a pretty good list for you to scratch out and leave for Santa to find.
#10: Maui Tears by Sleepy Sun
Back in February, we wrote this:
“Maui Tears is constructed along the blueprint specs that Stephen McBean used in Black Mountain’s Wilderness Heart: there’s tuneful, exciting, straight-ahead rock’n’roll (“The Lane”) followed by acoustic balladry you might have found on early Led Zep, and then immersion into the headphone imperatives of metal-psyche. “Outside” is, for our money, a better version of MBV than anything found on m b v. “11:32″ is a mere 4:10 worthy of punk-metal goodness, and on “Thielbar” you can catch a whiff of Black Rebel Motorcycle exhaust and it smells like… victory.”
Eight months later it still holds.
#9: Ganglion Reef by Wand
In late September, we wrote this:
“Ganglion Reef, the 35-minute long debut album by L.A.’s Wand is sonic DMT, a short, intense trip you can take on your lunch break and return to work with a slightly loopy smile on your face. The best psychedelica, like the best punk, always had a gooey core of pop music at its center, catchy melodies being just as important — maybe more important, given the heavy winds the music otherwise generates — than anything aimed right at radio programmers. And so it is with Wand, a band that can appeal to anyone who made a mixtape including both Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Even after powering through sludgy riffs that seem like a bulldozer plowing a highway in the Mariana Trench, they shift to some sweet-sounding harmonies bristling with hooks.”
#8: Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers
We never actually wrote about Brill Bruisers, which comes about as close as we ever do to the mainstream. For even though they qualify as Alt something or other, The New Pornographers are a big band, big following, no lack of critical attention. When we saw them in November, it confirmed that Brill Brusiers was as good as Challengers, which we loved, though not as good as Twin Cinemas, of course. How they do it — how they create completely polyester pop when what we love is all natural fibers is a miracle to behold. And that’s what The New Pornos are, circa 2014.
#7 With Light And With Love by Woods
Having given Bend Beyond a #1 ranking in 2012, it was hard to see how Woods could top what was, we said then, a perfect album. But here’s how we viewed this glorious record when it came in the spring:
“What’s different here is evident from the start, wherein album opener “Shepherd” has a pedal steel and Nicky Hopkins piano sound, a postcard from whatever country locale Woods has arrived in, far out of town and in touch with their Flying Burrito Brothers. We suppose that Woods — a Brooklyn band that records Upstate — has a shorter distance to travel than Darker My Love did when they veered into chiming ’60s country rock with Alive As You Are ( another Perfect Album that took Tulip Frenzy Album of the Year honors. And in fact, Tim Presley plays on this ‘un.) The country vibe sure is lovely, but better yet comes the Dylanesque “Leaves Like Glass,” whose instrumentation sounds like the tape was left rolling during the Blonde On Blonde sessions. We would dare anyone to listen to “Twin Steps” and not immediately plan on proceeding, with the missionary zeal of a programmed zombie, to catch this band live. And while the 9:07 title track sums up this band’s virtuosity and complexity in spades, it’s “Moving To The Left” that harkens, ironically, to the right of the radio dial, where in a perfect world it would remain, being played over and over throughout the summer months.”
#6 Dean Wareham by Dean Wareham
A solo album released by one of our heroes produced the pleasure we anticipated, and live with Britta, playing songs from Galaxie 500 and Luna, not to mention Dean and Britta and New Order, made this year a great moment to take stock of one of pop culture’s treasures. Add to this the many interviews Warham sat for and the writing he published, and he added to the sum of life’s pleasures.
Here’s what we wrote in March:
“Dean Wareham is produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and it is an old-fashioned, two-sided LP. Yes, of course, it’s a digital download and a CD, but it is structured pretty much as two distinct sides. Something that has always been hard to reconcile is Wareham’s admiration both for the songwriting of his friend Lou Reed and his taste for Glen Campbell. Yes, you read that right. But on his solo album, the softer first side and the harder-hitting second half for the first time make these seemingly irreconcilable aspects of his musical personality make sense. We have spent years culling our favorite songs from Luna albums onto play lists, which assumes also that there are songs we leave behind. But this is an album you can play all the way through, enjoying everything.
It really takes off in the album’s final 25 minutes, beginning with the breathtaking “Holding Pattern,” but we can’t imagine dropping the first side’s songs out of any playlist. “Babes In The Woods” finishes with a structure those who loved “Friendly Advice” from Luna’s live shows will surely recognize, and both versions of “Happy & Free” will bring a smile to the faces of anyone who’s spent the evening driving with Galaxie 500 or Luna on the tape deck.”
#5 Held In Splendor by Quilt
We played this record so often when it came out, we literally couldn’t listen to it again until recently. Listening to it confirms what we believed when it was released in the spring: Quilt is a patchwork of sonic delight.
Here’s what we wrote in March:
“Shane Butler and Anna Fox Rochinski were art-school students when they formed Quilt at the dawn of the Obama years, and we bet their teachers shook their heads in dismay when they veered into music. For the rest of us, art school’s loss is our earbuds’ gain as angels dance around guitar and keyboard weirdness that can call to mind both Magic Trick and the Magic Castles in the span of a single song. Where Widowspeak lacks fiber, Quilt has just enough bulk to maintain a consistent weight. Held In Splendor is wonderfully produced, weird in the way Prince Rupert’s Drops are weird, thrilling in the way Woods are thrilling. Yeah, this is a good ‘un, and we’ll just state the obvious: if these guys really were from the late ’60s Bay Area, Altamont would never have happened, and by 2014 the land would be harmonious and we’d all be happy vegans. ‘Course, they’re in the here and now, and so you have the chance to hear ‘em now.”
#4 Manipulator by Ty Segall
We were a little disappointed when Manipulator came out, and then we realized we were behaving like an asshole. Having chided Segall three years ago for not getting serious about putting down an album that could capture the music that would make him the hugest star, when the guy recorded a commercial masterpiece, we wrote, essentially, why isn’t he continuing to make songs just for us? Yeah, we were wrong.
But we were right in this:
“On the title track, on songs like “It’s Over” and “Feel,” the magic is there. Oh brother, is it there. We exult in it, and hope those listening for the first time — and we suspect millions will — are moved by this ‘un to press the music wide-eyed on all their friends and family, and then go explore the earlier, rawer albums, and the associated recs by Thee Oh Sees and White Fence that have been made better by the knowledge that Ty was out back, recording his new one in a cheap and scuzzy garage.”
#3 V Is For Vaselines by The Vaselines
The Vaselines make us happy. What more needs to be said.
Oh yeah, here’s how we first responded to this amazing album:
“And now comes V For Vaselines, the tightest, likely the most tuneful album of punk rock since Rocket To Russia, an album that if listened to on the Delta Shuttle (true story) provokes such aisle seat joy that cross aisle neighbors stare before you realize you are snapping your fingers and possibly singing along. Eugene and Frances have never sung better, the propulsive drumming is more infectious than Ebola, and the whole album swings. We wake in the middle of the night with “Crazy Lady” being powered through the Marshall amps inside our mind, and when we say that this song — actually, the whole album — reminds us of I (Heart) The Mekons, we of course are offering the highest praise. “Earth Is Speeding” is a reminder of what could have happened if Roxy Music, in 1977, had hopped on the punk rock bandwagon. Lovers once upon a time, adult collaborators these days, Kelly and McKee have literally never sounded better than they do on “Number One Crush,” with its great lyrical premise of tongue-tied love (“Being with you/Kills my IQ).”
#2 Revelation by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Anton Newcombe’s career revival continued in 2014, and continues to this minute, as the just-released +-E.P. is even better than the two albums BJM have released in the past two years. A successful European tour and his Twitter feed are just further indications that one of rock’s true geniuses is, at this point in his life, taking on a Dylan-esque late phase creative flowering, a metaphor we used when we wrote about Revelation last summer:
“Revelation, which officially comes out tomorrow but happily was available to download last night, is so good, we wonder if it might be the Love and Theft to Aufheben‘s Time Out Of Mind, a portent not just of a return to greatness after a less-than-great creative patch, but an indicator that Newcombe’s best work, like Dylan’s, might someday be understood to have been made when his youth was behind him — to be not what he produced when he was a young and brash punk, but what came after a hard-earned perspective. I mean, there were days when few people might have expected Anton would be around to make an album in 2014 — but to discover that he’s produced one of the best albums of his career? Yeah, it’s got the right name: Revelation.
The album begins wonderfully, with the Swedish rocker “Vad Hande Med Dem” giving way to the Kurt Vile-ish “What You Isn’t.” By the time we get to “Memory Camp,” it doesn’t matter which members of the large tribe that have variously performed as BJM are playing behind Anton, it doesn’t matter that we’re in Berlin, not California, no other band or set of musicians — not even ones like the Morning After Girls who worshipped the sticky ground on which Anton walked — could produce a Brian Jonestown Massacre album half as good as this. By the time we got to “Food For Clouds,” we were grinning ear to ear. At “Memorymix,” we were ready to take the day off and just hole up, having committed to memory the phone number to the Dominos delivery folks. By “Xibalba” we were dancing around the house.”
#1 For The Recently Found Innocent by White Fence
We loved this record from the moment we heard it, and have played it on an almost daily basis since August. We are so pleased to welcome Tim Presley back — yes, back — to the cherished #1 rank on Tulip Frenzy’s Top 10 List. We can’t describe it better today than we did then:
“We knew what Presley could do, not just because his band Darker My Love released Tulip Frenzy’s #1 album in 2010, Alive As You Are. And in 2012, Presley and Segall collaborated on Hair, which qualified as no less than that year’s 2nd best album. And then, after we complained for what seems like ever that we wished Presley would get out of the bedroom and take his talents to a proper studio and record with a proper band, not to mention straighten up and comb his hair etc., he closed out the year with a live masterpiece — White Fence’s Live In San Francisco, which made our Top Ten List(c). What a hootenanny that one is! Maybe the best punk rock record of the last five years! You could hear John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees chortling at the knobs, as he recorded Presley in all his barrre-chord glory. And now we can hear the impact of his friend Ty Segall, who plays drums and produces what is already apparent as the best batch of White Fence cookies to come out of the oven. Ever.
Whether he’s an introvert, or just likes the freedom of recording at home, the intervention by friends Dwyer and Segall to get Tim Presley to share with the world a better sounding version of the magic that takes place the moment he picks up a guitar is surely welcomed. We are done comparing Presley to Kurtz, gone up the river. On For The Recently Found Innocent he has brought his jangly guitar, his reverence for early Who and Kinks dynamics, his fondness for psychedelic chords, wispy vocals, the patchouli ambience… brought it all to a studio where Mr. Segall himself plays drums and marshals the Dolby hiss fighters to render this in damn near high fi!”