A Year In Review: 2014's top musical moments

Goldring Arts Journalism grad student Kate Drozynski picks the best recordings, the best live shows and the best musicians from 2014.

Music is personal. With a bevy of end-of-the-year best-of lists streaming from every outlet, it’s easy to forget that what matters most is how you felt about what you heard in 2014. I’ve been fortunate enough to see and hear a lot of things this year. Sifting through the musical memories and compiling a list of favorite moments is what these wrap-ups are all about. Here are a few moments that made my 2014 worth listening to.

Favorite Opening Act: Larry & His Flask (with Foxy Shazam at Town Ballroom, Buffalo)

Often opening acts are often ignored or abhorred as an eager crowd awaits the main act. Larry & His Flask saw the challenge of being a little-known opener to headliners Foxy Shazam and quickly won the crowd over in swells of punk-rock bluegrass goodness. These guys are nuts. Not an audience member was still as the five-piece band battered their instruments with the chaotic force of a herd of wild Muppets. Their ferocious set culminated in what was also my favorite mosh pit moment of the year: A swirl of excited listeners swarmed around the bass player, who jumped off stage with his upright to embolden the bedlam in the pit. The whole experience felt like an aggressive hug.

Suggested Listening: “Pandemonium,” from By the Lamplight, “Beggars Will Ride,” from All That We Know

Favorite Headliner: Alabama Shakes (Stage AE, Pittsburgh)

When Alabama Shakes brought their Southern sound to Pittsburgh last summer, I knew I was in for a good show. The Shakes’ debut album, Boys & Girls, came out in 2012 to glowing critical response and several Grammy nominations. What I did not expect, however, was to see front woman Brittany Howard’s soul. The band was fantastic, brewing haunting blues and upbeat rock, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Howard. She poured so much of herself into each tune, I’m not sure how there was anything left of her when she walked off stage. I left the venue feeling intoxicated, imbued with the passion and excitement Howard left behind.

Suggested Listening: “Be Mine,” from Boys & Girls, “Heavy Chevy,” bonus track on Boys & Girls

Favorite EP: Diarrhea Planet - Aliens In the Outfield

“OK, Kate. Shut up about Diarrhea Planet already.” But seriously, I can’t stop talking about these guys. It seems like everywhere I go, I feel compelled to spread the good word about a great band with a nauseating name. If you can get past the mental image the moniker inspires, you’ll be hit with a wall of bass, drums and four well-shredded axes. The band describes themselves as “pop played through the filter of heavy metal,” which pretty well sums up their third EP, Aliens In The Outfield released on Infinity Cat Records in November. The tunes are catchy, and complex and there is no shortage of pure rock.

Suggested Listening: “Platinum Girls," “Bamboo Curtain”

Favorite LP: St. Vincent - St. Vincent

I have to defer to pretty much every top album list out there for this one. Critics and listeners alike have fallen in love with St. Vincent (alias Annie Clark) and her self-titled fifth LP. It’s been nominated for a Grammy for Best Alternative Album and named album of the year by NME, the Guardian and the U.K. Sunday Times. All of its accolades are well-deserved, too. The album is interesting and accessible. Clark shows off her quirky songwriting skills as well as an astounding prowess at the guitar. The album is full of detail and distortion that make it hard to turn off.

Suggested Listening:"Digital Witness," “Rattlesnake”

Favorite New Find: San Fermin

Sometimes a band enters your life and you wonder how you’ve gotten as far as you have in this world without them. It happened with Neutral Milk Hotel. It happened with Ty Segall. In 2014, it happened to me with San Fermin. I wasn’t too embarrassingly late on this one. San Fermin formed in Brooklyn in 2011 and released their first album, San Fermin, in 2013. Their baroque pop sound is exquisitely constructed by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, a graduate of Yale’s music composition program. The album was written at Canada’s prestigious Banff Center and recorded by 22 different musicians. The most notable, though, is the haunting operatic baritone of Allen Tate. Even better than their debut is the recently released first single from their upcoming sophomore record, Jackrabbit, expected in 2015. Allen’s bottomless range is contrasted by flighty female vocals, punchy dissonant horns and twisted lyrics. It’s weird and it’s wonderful.

Suggested Listening:“Sonsick” from San Fermin, “Renaissance” from San Fermin, “Parasites” single

Blog photo: MarcusOfBrooklyn on Flickr

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