Anybody who calls 2014 “a weak year for music” is clearly A) lying or B) unknowing of what the year has given us. Granted, 2013 dropped some absolute bombshells on the music community, from The National’s Trouble Will Find Me to Drake and Kanye West releasing some of the best work of their careers. But 2014 gave us a Copeland reunion, Run the Jewels 2, and the best Against Me! record to date. Nevertheless, we music fans can be a hard group to please, so I’ve paired up some of the community’s least favorite albums this year with their unexpected counterparts, (probably) guaranteed to satisfy your musical leanings.
*Author’s note: I actually enjoy all of these records – even the “letdowns.” But alas, I am not the mass majority. They say to write what you know, and if the worst thing I can do with this article is point people towards eight records they may have overlooked this year, well, I call that job satisfaction.
Number Four – The Letdown: Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways. The biggest complaint against Sonic Highways is, with eight songs each recorded in a separate city for the band’s HBO show of the same name, these songs feel closer to a bonus soundtrack than they do a full studio album. Not only do some of the songs tread B-side category, but with almost each of them running well over four minutes, several hitting the six and seven minute marks, the tunes here ultimately start to drag before ever really exploding the way we’d like them to.
Instead, check out: The Gaslight Anthem’s Get Hurt. While Get Hurt proved to be more polarizing than Sonic Highways, as far as the awful branding of “dad-rock” goes, it’s bolder and more resonant every step of the way. From the Pearl Jam-channeling opener, “Stay Vicious,” to the album’s beautiful, downtrodden title track, The Gaslight Anthem continue to grow and stretch their classic rock influences into something truly special.
Number Three – The Letdown: Say Anything’s Hebrews. For some (including myself), Hebrews is Say Anything mastermind Max Bemis’ best work since 2011’s double-LP, In Defense of the Genre. Still, while flashy guest appearances from Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull and Balance and Composure’s Jon Simmons make Hebrews quite the aural experience, the album’s experimental twist of being synth and string prominent with absolutely zero guitars can be quite grating to the band’s old fan base.
Instead, check out: Weatherbox’s Flies in All Directions. When I first heard Weatherbox in the second semester of my freshman year in college, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Here, the songs retain a kind of theatricality and darkness fans of Say Anything’s …Is a Real Boy will instantly remember. This, paired with the catchy melodies behind songs like “Bring Us the Head of Weatherbox,” are what eventually pushed this album to become my favorite of 2014. Bonus: We still get a guest appearance from Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, who intertwines Weatherbox’s “The Devil and I” with “The Mansion,” a song from Manchester Orchestra’s 2014 release, Cope.
Number Two – The Letdown: Weezer’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End. Inevitably, Weezer’s fan base has been split in two ever since The Green Album; there are those who hate each coming Weezer release because it’s not the second coming of Pinkerton, and there are those who are able to suspend old hopes to enjoy each release for whatever it may be. EWBAITE is almost undeniably the band’s best work since 2002’s Maladroit, but it’s still nu-Weezer (read: corny and overproduced).
Instead, check out: PUP’s PUP. Technically released in 2013 and officially released in 2014, PUP’s self-titled debut is the best discovery I made after crafting my Best of 2014 list. PUP is the Pinkerton-esque record everyone wants, while having more in common with current punk laureates Joyce Manor and The Menzingers than anything Weezer-produced in the past decade. There are beer-soaked ragers to get the blood pumping (“Reservoir”), unforgettable pop-punk melodies drenched in distortion (“Lionheart”), and even a first car tribute song (“Mabu”).
Number One – The Letdown: The Menzinger’s Rented World. In 2012, The Menzingers solidified their place as current scene-runners when they released On the Impossible Past, one of the most important punk-rock records of the decade. Pulling from various musical influences and writing an incredibly emotional concept album, the Menzingers left many wondering what new ground the band could tread next. Unfortunately, when Rented World dropped this year, many fans were left describing the follow-up as bland, largely forgettable, and 2D in comparison.
Instead, check out: The Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace is There. What’s left to write about this year’s biggest surprise? Seemingly out of nowhere, The Hotelier stole our hearts with a nine-song concept album about mental health, gender identity, and coping with a friend’s death. Not only do these songs hit home for a lot of listeners, but their messages are important. I’d be hard pressed to think of many albums that fit the overused descriptor “instant classic,” but of all the contenders that come to mind, this album leaps ahead of the rest.