Favorite Albums of 2014 (1-5)

Today is the 4th and final entry in the Aimless Skylarking Favorite Albums of 2014. Our top 5 albums are listed below. Once we get caught up, we have an interview to prep and a favorite songs list to finalize, we hope to speak about some of the albums we excluded from the list of 20. Many are fantastic and deserve mentioning here. If you missed out on selections 6-20, follow the links listed below.

Favorite Albums of 2014 (6-10)

Favorite Albums of 2014 (11-15)

Favorite Albums of 2014 (16-20)

1. Angel Olsen Burn Your Fire For No Witness - I enjoyed Angel's folky debut 'Halfway Home', her stunning sirenlike vocals, and lyrics from a poet's pen impressed me. But I never imagined she had this in her repetoire. She gathered a full band, plugged in, and her angelic voice lit up, hypnotizing with each track. I saw her in Birmingham at the Bottletree Cafe with 150 others and spent the entire set disinterested in my surroundings, mesmerized as she commanded the room with her thousand yard stare and haunting stories.  

Essential tracks:

'Forgiven/Forgotten', 'Hi-Five', 'Lights Out', 'Stars', 'Windows'

2. PINS Girls Like Us - 2014 US release, and the album I listened to the most this year. Debut efforts aren't supposed to be this good, this full of cool, confident swagger. Guitar albums ooze those things, and this is a guitar album, but Girls Like Us isn't just guitars turned up to 11, the bass lines jump, and the drum kit screams for mercy. However, the band's greatest attribute is they know their way around catchy vocal harmonies. Then there's the infectious yelps. To say their 2nd LP is highly anticipated would be an understatement. 

Essential tracks:

'Girls Like Us", 'Waiting for the End', 'Get With Me', 'Lost Lost Lost'

3. BIRD My Fear and Me - My Fear and Me feels greater than the medium upon which it is presented, resonating with many forms of art -- poetry, film, photography, and other forms of visual art drift in and out of the work. It feels as if it could be the soundtrack to an era defining epic fantasy film, or part of a long forgotten poetry journal tucked away in a dusty old trunk in the attic of a Victorian home.

Thinking of My Fear and Me as just a musical experience is foolish, fine art doesn't often come in the form of a debut LP, but the band managed to pull off the feat. Sadly, BIRD is no longer. The band will no longer perform under the name, but hasn't yet spoke of their future, but one can hope an announcement will come soon. As I said in an earlier piece about the band, their voices can't remain silent for long.  

Essential tracks:

'Rain Song', 'Bullet', 'Blue', 'Dorothea', 'Sea of Trees'

4. Sturgill Simpson Metamodern Sounds in Country Music - Never in a million years did I think I'd ever consider a country album for this list, yet here is Sturgill Simpsons' brilliant 2nd album smirking at me. Part Merle Haggard, part Waylon Jennings, part spaced out hippie weaving tales of God, aliens, hallucinogens, and fairy tales of blood and wine. Toss is a kicked back take on When in Rome's 'The Promise' for a knockout blow. 

Essential tracks:

'Turtles All the Way Down', 'Life of Sin', 'The Promise', 'Pan Bowl'

5. Amanda X Amnesia - The Philadelphia pop punk trio's catchy debut LP overflowed with songs of heartbreak and moving on. There's plenty of despair here, but also conflicted feelings, and that's what makes the album all the more special. It's real, and earnest, there are no clean breaks when it falls apart. As I listened to the album for the first time, the opening line to 'Parsnip' stood out ("I want to wear my heart like an amulet, hanging to every word you say"), and I knew then Amnesia was going to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Plus, their Twitter feed remains one of the most entertaining out there.  

Essential tracks:

'Guatemala', 'Parsnip', 'Paranoia', 'Friendly Tones'

Free music from CMJ.com

More free music, this time from CMJ.com.  The CMJ Music Marathon is coming up this month in NYC and will feature some of Aimless Skylarking's favorite bands -- PINS, Amanda X and Bully.  A quick look at the lineup, and I see a few others that have gotten mentions here -- Hunters, Potty Mouth, RAC, & The Wytches.  Lots of other buzzy names I'm curious about as well.

I wish I had enough time off from work to attend, because I'd be all over this, however, 2 weeks of vacation time is all my company allows, which is sad, and I am saving for another UK trip.  Anyway, enough of my grumbling, over on CMJ.com, they're offering up a Marathon Mixtape featuring artists who will play at CMJ 2014, 26 tracks in all.  Go find your new favorite band, might I suggest starting with 'Waiting for the End' by the PINS.  Check it out below.  

Download the collection 

here

. (190mb in size)

Heart Shaped Amulet: A Conversation with Amanda X

"P.S. I really like doing online questionnaires."

That's the response I got from Amanda X's Cat Park when I e-mailed the band with a Q&A request.  And it wasn't even at the end of her reply, it was right in the middle, much like an "oh, by the way, before I forget", and then her whip-smart stream of consciousness continued.  At that point, I knew this Q&A was going to be revealing and fun, and that I wasn't going to get any dull well polished replies.

Photo by Peter Murray

If you don't know the Philadelphia based band by now, you should.  Last week, they were featured in Rolling Stone Magazine as one of ten artists you should know. Yes, that Rolling Stone magazine. They gathered all of this buzz over the last month because of an incredibly catchy debut LP overflowing with songs of heartbreak and moving on. Even with that, there's nothing melodramatic here, there are just as many conflicted feelings as there is defiance. And it's all over too fast, 11 pop punk songs with sing-along vocal harmonies whiz by in just over 30 minutes, and then begs for another play.  P.S. I really like Amanda X.        

Amanda X is Cat Park on vocals and guitar, Kat Bean on vocals and bass, and Tiffany Yoon on drums.  Here's what Cat had to say.

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Q: Many of the songs on Amnesia speak of the uncomfortable moments as a relationship falls apart, the upheaval, the chaos, and then the ensuing heartbreak.  How soon is too soon to write about such things?  Does there need to be some mileage for clarity?  And is the catharsis part of the moving on process?

Cat: I don't think you should think about the timing when creating anything. I think the process should be free flowing. Otherwise you could really damage your creative output. I believe the songs help and hurt at the same time, but hurting is part of healing, I suppose.

Q: 'friendly tones' is the perfect coda with the harmonizing of "I'll be fine".  Was the track order selected with anything in mind?

Cat: The track order was honestly one of the hardest things ever. If you ask any band they'll agree with me in saying it's the worst part about writing an album. The sequencing on Amnesia went through so many changes that I, right now, have to look up the order on our Bandcamp to not sound like a jerk. Originally we had 'friendly tones' at the end of side A. We thought that having it at the end was "too typical", too Pinkerton Butterfly-esque. Then we had the thought "Pinkerton rules" so we figured don't fight anything. Just put the slow song at the end, and don't fight it.

Q: Was the songwriting process a completely collaborative effort?  Lyrically and musically.

Cat: It started to be towards the end. I wrote a lot and demoed a lot, then I would bring it to them and work it out. Kat and Tiff were just starting to play their instruments you know so jamming was a little tough. We are getting to that point now though.

Kat comes up with vocal melodies first when she writes, and I usually grow off of guitar riffs when I write. Some of the songs we basically wrote all together like 'things fall apart' and 'trouble'. I think the next record will incorporate all of our song writing more. We are even trying to get Tiff to sing.

Q: Are there any other forms of art that influences the music or the band in general?  (Books, poetry, movies, comics, photography, art, etc...)

Cat: I know I read a good amount of comics, a lot of Vertigo and Frank Miller. I watch a lot of wrestling. I like the drama, maybe that transcends? I hope not? We all do some form of photography. Right now I'm sitting at this place I volunteer at once a week called Project Basho, it's a photo resource center. I also took pinhole photos across the U.S. on our last tour. We'll see if they turn out though.

Q: You appear to play a right handed guitar left handed.  What's the story behind that?

Cat: My parents brought home an acoustic guitar one day in like 8th grade. It didn't have a pickguard and obviously the body was symmetrical. I grew up playing clarinet and reading treble clef. The low notes are on the bottom. Low = bottom. In tab, the low notes are on the bottom.

Why in the hell would the lowest note be on the top? I didn't have rock'n roll friends or older siblings/family members so there was nobody there to tell me otherwise. So, by the time I learned every intro to Weezer's The Blue Album I found out I was doing it all wrong, and didn't feel like relearning 'My Name is Jonas'.

Q: How has the album been received so far?

Cat: I think good? Haha.  Music reviews are a really weird thing that has gone out of control in the past couple of years. Show reviews are even weirder. We haven't heard anything super negative yet. I hate the idea of any music/art form getting negatively reviewed by anyone. It's just such a deterrent from being yourself and being creative. I kind of hate it. Even if you think an album is the worst, it was still created and loved by someone. Wouldn't the world be absolutely boring if all music was "good"? Either way, I have not heard anything upsetting about our album, and if we do it doesn't matter too much because we've grown a phenomenal amount since Amnesia was written. So, the next album is probably going to be very different. Maybe that's a bummer for some people too.

Q: Is there a particular song the band enjoys playing most?

Cat: I like playing 'parsnip', Kat likes playing 'nothing wild', and Tiff likes those moments in between songs where she is allowed to breathe.

Q: Any plans for a fall/winter tour?  

Cat: I know we are recording for a seven inch this week that will be out on a small rad label based out of L.A. called Summer Bummer.  We just booked time at Gradwell House in December to record another full length. Other than that, we are playing CMJ. That's basically a week long tour of NYC. We are debating on touring down to SXSW in March. Also, Europe. Also, the world.

Q: Following the band on Twitter/Instagram during the recent tour was good for a few laughs, and made me wonder why Cat does all the driving?

Cat: Well, I get really friggin carsick. It will ruin my day/days. It will ruin your day too. I promise you don't want that. For the few hours I didn't drive, I also just got so damn bored. Like what do I do with my life bored? I couldn't take it. I couldn't look at my phone more. If I read I die. If we ever do Europe and have a driver, I'm probably going to be sick most of the time. But hey, we will be in Europe eating baguettes.

Q: Did you get a Mall of America t-shirt?

Cat: Do those exist? I did have the pleasure of having a Twitter conversation with the Mall of America, which has convinced me that we have to fight Skynet or all will be lost.

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For more information on Amanda X:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Bandcamp

 (To purchase Amnesia, $10 for digital, $15 + shipping for vinyl)