Another lap around the sun, another end of the year list. Last year, we gave special recognition to the year’s most memorable albums. This year, we do much of the same, but with a wider range of topics, including: everything. All this week, we’re running a special feature that underlines and explores all that made us excited this year. The best, the most interesting, or even just the most noticeable. The common thread is that as we head into 2015, these will be things worth looking back on.
As always, these lists are definitive and everything we single out is canonized as cool and important. No exceptions. As tastemaker god-kings, this list is the single most coveted piece of journalism on the internet. Enjoy!
BEST USE OF ROCK & ROLL THROWBACK SOUND
Strand of Oaks – Heal
I said I’d do it! This year everyone was wrapped up in a tizzy about The War On Drugs album Lost in the Dream, but I haven’t been able to connect to anything they’ve made since “Best Night” on Slave Ambient. Every rock music nerd digs their modern synthesizing of classic rock influences, but if I had to pick the artist that draws from the same history, it’d be Strand of Oaks by a mile.
Heal is a wildly spirited album that aims to drain you of hurt and then fill you back up. A song like “Shut In” takes you through highs and lows with no whiplash, while the punk-ish “Goshen ’97” is as simple and true as a chorus can get. What a wonderful way to be. — Justin Pansacola
FINALLY DECIDED TO COME AROUND AND RELEASE A NEW ALBUM AFTER 8 YEARS AWARD
My Favourite Faded Fantasy – Damien Rice
While it may be rather strange to realize Damien Rice has only ever had three albums released since he first hit the charts in 2001, it’s quite endearing to have an artist push his limits ever so knowingly. There is no doubt very few artists can achieve the depressing altitudes Rice can simply with his nostalgic lyrics and gruff melodies, so it’s about time we had something more than “The Blower’s Daughter,” The Animals Were Gone,” or “Accidental Babies” tearing up our insides. The third studio album features “Colour Me In,” “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man,” and “The Greatest Bastard,” which is by far the most interesting if you couldn’t tell from the title alone. Because Rice acts so deliberately, there is an undertone in his most recent piece that is reflective on everything he’s been through in the past, from the sentimental and intimate moments to those melancholy and brooding. If anyone can translate solitude exceptionally well, it’s this guy. — Ani Mikaelian
BEST LIVE PERFORMANCE IN WHICH THE PERFORMER SMOKED A JOINT THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE SET
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Outside Lands 2014
It’s no coincidence that Tom Petty crafted his setlist so that “Mary Jane” was the second number at the San Franciscan music festival. Spectators looked on as Petty retreated to the darkness after every number, only to come back with a shroud of vapor following him. Petty has made zero efforts throughout his career to hide his affinity for marijuana, applauding crowds at his shows for sending “cosmic smoke” his way and clearly lighting up after “Learning To Fly.”
Outside Lands 2014 seemed like a particularly sentimental occasion for Petty to smoke pot; this year marked the 35th anniversary of The Heartbreakers’ classic album Damn The Torpedoes, as well as a warmly received and newly released Hypnotic Eye. Petty, who played the festival in 2007, was exuberant as ever, putting on what was easily the best performance of the festival. It seems old habits die hard – Petty, 64, looked as goofy with every toke as he did in 1976. — Jake Tully
MOST SATISFYING RETURN TO FORM
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Rilo Kiley received a small revival as a beloved relic of indie’s history thanks to the release of rkives, the rarity compilation and the final release under the Rilo Kiley name. It was a great opportunity to look back and fondly remember those songs that wowed us, but it was also a little sad to know that it was over. Suddenly, this year gave us Jenny Lewis’ solo album The Voyager and it’s her best work since 2004’s More Adventurous.
It’s an astounding feat just when I had resigned to believing Lewis would mostly be making plainly decent alt-country albums. The Voyager is chock full of finely tuned and refined songwriting while taking on subjects more mature than RK’s heyday but still just as vital. — Justin Pansacola
THE BEST LA CLUB NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT UNLESS YOU’RE COOL AND STUFF
Downtown LA is on the up and up. It’s no longer just the place where business people go to work during the day, and homeless crack addicts roam the street at night (although admittedly those things still happen there). The area is becoming increasingly trendy with more and more DJ/Producers choosing to live there (like that one DJ guy with the glasses who has long hair and half his head shaved, you know the one). This has in turn led to a different breed of events and event spaces in the area, of which my personal favorite is The Lash. All the pomp and frills of a stereotypical nightclub are removed for a more minimalistic music listening experience. With the concrete and pipes all over the place the venue has the vibe of an underground warehouse party, but you don’t have to worry about the cops rolling through at any minute and busting the party. OWSLA holds a regular event there on select fridays, and Athletixx held their first ever Club Rituals party there as well. Since it’s a smaller venue, DJs feel more comfortable playing whatever they want, as opposed to being forced to appeal to the basic needs and wants of the masses. Additionally, the venue boasts a fine selection of beers on tap, something you can’t find at most clubs. The best part? Almost all the events held there are free. — Taylor Barnes
BEST SNL CAST MEMBER TO HAVE JOINED THE PROGRAM IN THE LAST 3 MONTHS
Easily the funniest addition to the cast in quite some time, comedian and writer Leslie Jones is making SNL worth watching again. Despite being ousted from the show’s obligatory addition of Sasheer Zamata late in 39th season, Jones made wildly popular appearances on the show’s Weekend Update segments and appeared frequently in skits before being officially added to the cast. Jones was finally granted Featured Player status on the program in October, receiving rave reviews.
While SNL is guilty of underusing its featured players (see: the stunted and otherwise unfunny Zamata) Jones has been given the lionshare of air time for the show’s featured players, and rightfully so. SNL head Lorne Michaels has finally made a decision as of late to benefit the show, and thank goodness for that. — Jake Tully