The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2014 1 509

blazing top 50


the-safes-record-heat The Safes
Record Heat
Wee Rock Records [2014]

#50 is one of the hardest positions to select because there are plenty of albums that just missed the list. What made Chicago’s The Safes stand out is their solid 60’s style garage power pop on Record Heat that had us from the first strum. The band is truly under the radar on the DIY label Wee Rock out of Springfield, Missouri. This type of record is the reason The Fire Note exists!

The Safes: Record Heat [Fire Note Review 6/30/14]


kishi-bashi-lighght Kishi Bashi
Joyful Noise Recordings [2014]

Kishi Bashi’s sophomore record Lighght (pronounced “Light”) challenged your ears this time by going with bigger arrangements, a little 70’s prog, repetitive improvisations and several ballads that stuck in your head. Lighght didn’t have the innocence of their debut but its bigger moments grew on me with repeat listens and made it one of the more unique listens this year.

Kishi Bashi: Lighght [Fire Note Review 5/16/14]


shellac-dude-incredible Shellac
Dude Incredible
Touch And Go Records [2014]

Dude Incredible is filled with the sort of Math/Post Rock that makes Slint fans feel like they have a purpose in life. Shellac didn’t reinventing the wheel here, but does what they do best, and they do it better than just about anyone. Steve Albini has been playing this kind of music since the days of Big Black, but there is no question that Shellac is the best vehicle for his challenging songs and they are highlighted on Dude Incredible.

Shellac: Dude Incredible [Fire Note Review 10/13/14]


flying-lotus-youre-dead Flying Lotus
You’re Dead!
Warp Records [2014]

For fans of jazz and/or hip hop, Flying Lotus made an interesting and accessible album with You’re Dead! This was Flying Lotus’ fifth studio album and the first four tracks of the LP consume you with their amazing instrumental jazz-fusion. It is a record that will surprise and impress your ears even if these genres aren’t your thing as Flying Lotus takes you on a completely different journey from beginning to end.

Flyng Lotus: You’re Dead! [Fire Note Review 12/1/14]


caribou-our-love Caribou
Our Love
Merge Records [2014]

Caribou returned after a four year absence with the drop dead gorgeous Our Love. Caribou is still heavily electronic and chill, but Our Love has a cool psychedelic haze enveloped around it. It’s a darker record than its predecessor, a heavy meditation about love, without ever really revealing exactly what it is about. Both sonically and texturally, this record is stunning as it packs a heavy emotional punch and kept us on the edge of our seat.

Caribou: Our Love [Fire Note Review 10/8/14]


meatbodies Meatbodies
In The Red Records [2014]

Band leader Chad Ubovich is included in the Ty Segall family and Meatbodies self-titled debut rocked out as expected. Meatbodies has just enough distinct moments and characteristics from Chad’s other projects that it stood out. Meatbodies is a solid listen that rolls more than sits as it achieves a novel sound with its mid-track genre changes that keeps you guessing. Better with every spin!

Meatbodies: Meatbodies [Fire Note Review 10/16/14]


lab-partners-seven-seas Lab Partners
Seven Seas
Pravda Records [2014]

Dayton, Ohio’s Lab Partners returned with their first record since their 2010 and it completely satisfied with its guitar attack. At 48 minutes and 10 tracks long, there is not a bad moment on Seven Seas. The all five review may have been driven by excitement at the time but the band has definitely returned with a sonic vengeance, and a worthy LP landing at #44!

Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots [Fire Note Review 5/8/14]


ariel-pink-pom-pom Ariel Pink
Pom Pom
4AD Records [2014]

Pom Pom is an insanely infectious joyride that seems to take you on a different route each time you listen. It is the kind of record you either love or hate, but will never think “It’s Ok”. It definitely provokes a strong reaction from the audience, and that’s the point. It’s Ariel Pink and that’s art.

Ariel Pink: Pom Pom [Fire Note Review 11/21/14]


circus-devils-escape Circus Devils
Happy Jack Rock Records [2014]

The Circus Devils never make the same album twice. Robert Pollard and the Tobias brothers shift into a calmer gear on Escape and create what might be the best Circus Devils album yet. Call it mellow, call it rainy-day music; however you categorize Escape, it was new territory for Pollard and an entirely successful experiment for the Circus Devils.

Circus Devils: Escape [Fire Note Review 11/10/14]


jack-white-album Jack White
Third Man/Columbia Records [2014]

Jack White is a man of many talents. He is also hard to pigeon hole with one sound and that was evident on his sophomore solo release Lazaretto. Instead of flaking out with a Blunderbuss/career rehash, White still delivered original rock hooks but also showed that country music runs through his veins. Lazaretto was not the top 10 record we were hoping for but it also sounds better over time and easily still showed up in our list.

Jack White: Lazaretto [Fire Note Review 6/10/14]


perfect-pussy-say-yes-to-love Perfect Pussy
Say Yes To Love
Captured Tracks [2014]

When you combine the actual crackle of noise that begins the opening track with one of the most hyped bands in 2014, you have a recipe for an experience. Frontwoman Meredith Graves somewhat indecipherable vocals left you trying to surface for air as Perfect Pussy had no problem absolutely ripping it up for the first 14 minutes of Say Yes To Love. The drone tracks near the end of the record were a challenge but the overall presentation from Perfect Pussy was a win and made them a band to watch!

Perfect Pussy: Say Yes To Love [Fire Note Review 3/20/14]


st.-vincent St. Vincent
St. Vincent
Loma Vista Recordings [2014]

If you get St. Vincent and all of the eclectic pieces that go along with Annie Clark then you really liked her 2014 self-titled record. I feel now that our review missed the mark somewhat only because this album took more time to sink in. St. Vincent, the record, is beautifully weird and Clark’s delivery combined with the riffs here make a great listen. A great listen worthy of its Top 50 spot.

St. Vincent: St. Vincent [Fire Note Review 2/24/14]


wussy-attica Wussy
Shake It Records [2014]

Wussy have been gaining some steam lately as they were just recently featured on CBS’s Saturday Session. It is a much deserved highlight to this long running and hardworking indie band that just released one of their best in Attica!. Dynamic interweaving vocals from co-leads, Chuck Weaver (Ass Ponys) and Lisa Walker showcase how Wussy works as this album gives and gives and gives. With just a few spins you understand quickly what all the quiet hype is about!

Wussy: Attica! [Fire Note Review 5/15/14]


white-lung-deep-fantasy White Lung
Deep Fantasy
Domino Records [2014]

White Lung’s third LP, Deep Fantasy, is a rip roaring punk record that will easily remind you of early albums by the likes of Hole, L7, and Babes In Toyland. If you are like us, that is all you need to hear to jump into Deep Fantasy and White Lung’s pummeling 23 minutes of effortless in your face rock. There were not many other records released this year that can match Deep Fantasy’s intensity which is why it is in our Top 50.

White Lung: Deep Fantasy [Fire Note Review 6/16/14]


matthew-melton-outside-of-paradise Matthew Melton
Outside Of Paradise
Southpaw Records [2014]

Matthew Melton’s sophomore album, Outside of Paradise, was a really cool lo-fi garage ride. It is a record that has swagger without trying as Outside of Paradise is a tidy 34 minutes and flows seamlessly. Melton released a Warm Soda record this year as well but Outside of Paradise is where he hit all the right chords.

Matthew Melton: Outside Of Paradise [Fire Note Review 12/14/14]


wand-ganglion Wand
Ganglion Reef
GOD?/Drag City Records [2014]

We live in a world where many artists try to reshape psychedelic music, and a lot of those who try fail. Wand used instinct, authenticity, and texture to an impressive degree that made their debut Ganglion Reef a squirrely kaleidoscope of lucid beauty and impactful fuzz. On more simple terms – it is a great record!

Wand: Ganglion Reef [Fire Note Review 9/2/14]


vertical-scratchers-daughter-of-everything Vertical Scratchers
Daughter Of Everything
Merge Records [2014]

Vertical Scratchers were destined to create indie rock, as members John Schmersal (ex-Brainiac/Enon, live Caribou, and Crooks on Tape) and Christian Beaulieu (ex-Triclops!/Anywhere) resume suggest. Their pure sound will remind you of the 90’s but the reality is that Vertical Scratchers have created a timeless record that gives credit to the past but is fun today!

Vertical Scratchers: Daughter Of Everything [Fire Note Review 2/25/14]


hotelier-home-like-noplace-is-there The Hotelier
Home, Like Noplace Is There
Tiny Engines [2014]

The Hotelier officially brought emo-punk back to proper form on Home, Like Noplace Is There. Their emotion filled sophomore record takes you on an energetic punk rock journey that is easily one of the best records I have heard in this genre, in quite a while.

The Hotelier: Home, Like Noplace Is There [Fire Note Review 3/10/14]


ghost-of-a-saber-tooth-tiger-midnight-sun The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger
Midnight Sun
Chimera Music [2014]

I am sure their name scared some people off but you might be surprised to find out that GOASTT is a band from Sean Lennon. The record is easily his most accessible music since his solo days and Midnight Sun showcases his creative side with its full-fledged infused psychedelic and whimsical 60’s trippy pop vibe. Sound weird – maybe a little but only in a good way!

The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger [Fire Note Review 6/5/14]


circulartory-systems-mosaics-within-mosaics Circulatory System
Mosaics Within Mosaics
Cloud Recordings [2014]

Does it get any better than 60’s pop melodies and wild psychedelic excursions woven together to create a giant sonic tapestry. That is just one description used for this double 31 track record. Its scope is enormous, it’s flawed in spots, it’s highly rewarding, and it can be dissected closely by rock archaeologists for the next 50 years.

Circulatory System: Mosaics Within Mosaics [Fire Note Review 6/26/14]


weezer-everything-will-be-alright-in-the-end Weezer
Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Republic Records [2014]

I don’t think anyone could have predicted Weezer in the Top 50. Sure we heard the rumors about Everything but I don’t think anyone believed them. Even after the sort of cheesy, sort of cool “Back To The Shack” single many people still wrote Weezer off. Guess what – this is their best record since the beloved Pinkerton and it just gets more fun everytime I spin it.

Weezer: Everything Will Be Alright In The End [Fire Note Review 10/3/14]


amen-dunes-love Amen Dunes
Sacred Bones Records [2014]

I like finding records that I can just sit down with. Amen Dunes third record Love is one of those albums. Love, found Amen Dunes dropping their guard some as they embraced the idea of using more musicians and highlighting Damon McMahon’s vocals that pulls you in with its sincere delivery. This new focus on the details changes the soundscape for Amen Dunes and helped create their most engaging record yet.

Amen Dunes: Love [Fire Note Review 5/29/14]


tuneyards-nikki-nack tUnE-yArDs
Nikki Nack
4AD Records [2014]

This record seemed to build momentum as 2104 rolled on. From opening for Arcade Fire to commercials, tUnE-yArDs are everywhere I turn. There is a reason for this and that would be the strength and music revolutions found on Nikki Nack.

tUnE-yArDs: Nikki Nack [Fire Note Review 5/9/14]


buffalo-killers-heavy-reverie Buffalo Killers
Heavy Reverie
Sun Pedal Recordings [2014]

I couldn’t believe that Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers released a record on a subdivision of Warner Bros. Records with Heavy Reverie. They definitely had earned the shot and if you checked out their sonically polished effort you would be singing their praises. Their southern rock influence was running through every track while a hint of 90’s indie rock drove some of the jamming ship. Buffalo Killers continue to impress and we can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for them!

Buffalo Killers: Heavy Reverie [Fire Note Review 5/12/14]


iceage-plowing Iceage
Plowing Into The Field Of Love
Matador Records [2014]

Iceage might not be for everyone as Plowing Into the Field of Love can get under your skin a little. I like this edge and with repeat listens this record just gets more intense. Plowing Into The Field is all about soaking up Iceage’s mood which at times is edgy, catchy, haunting, daunting and outright punky but overall creates a great listening experience that keeps on giving all the way to the end.

Iceage: Plowing Into The Field Of Love [Fire Note Review 10/17/14]


sharon-van-etten-are-we-there Sharon Van Etten
Are We There
Jagjaguwar Records [2014]

Here is a record I wish I had spent more time with. Are We There is a lush, emotionally powerful collection of songs that never found Sharon Van Etten holding back. At times the indie rock scene lacks female voices, so it’s a welcome sight to see someone like Van Etten rise to the surface and shine.

Shron Van Etten: Are We There [Fire Note Review 7/18/14]


how-to-dress-well-what-is-this-heart How To Dress Well
What Is This Heart?
Weird World Recording Co. [2014]

There was no wasted space on What Is This Heart?. The album flows in a way that you don’t notice when it ends and starts over. How To Dress Well-crafted a sophomore album that builds on their previous strengths and throws some new tricks at you. Tom Krell has established a high bar with his work up to this point, and What Is This Heart? is just another statement that backs it up.

How To Dress Well: What Is This Heart? [Fire Note Review 6/27/14]


temples-sun-structures Temples
Sun Structures
Fat Possum Records [2014]

Melodic psych 60’s rock from the UK? Sign me up. Temples came onto the scene with the catchy single “Shelter Song” and never slowed down. Temples filled every bit of space with musical ideas, covering sonic territory from fuzzy acid rock to spacey proto-prog to harmony-laden, British Invasion-influenced freakbeat, often within the same track. Looking forward to where they go next!

Temples: Sun Structures [Fire Note Review 3/20/14]


lykke-li-i-never-learn Lykke Li
I Never Learn
Atlantic Records [2014]

I never would have thought this record would capture us the way it did. Lykke Li’s third album is not only her best yet but also one of the top break up records released this decade. It is a powerful statement on life that is captured in a very listenable 33 minutes that easily found its place here in the Top 50.

Lykke Li: I Never Learn [Fire Note Review 5/8/14]


strand-of-oaks-heal Strand Of Oaks
Dead Oceans [2014]

HEAL is Timothy Showalter’s, a.k.a. Strand of Oaks, fourth LP and easily his most expansive as it takes you on a journey through some synth pop, a little post-punk, folky Americana and even a bit of hard rock. What could have been a scattered disaster, HEAL thrived on its different personas as Strand of Oaks have officially placed themselves on the musical map with this memorable release.

Strand Of Oaks: HEAL [Fire Note Review 7/8/14]


cloud-nothings-here-nowhere-else Cloud Nothings
Here And Nowhere Else
Carpark Records [2014]

Cloud Nothings delivered an expected high quality indie rock record. No more and no less. At first listen, I think many people shrugged their shoulders as if nothing had changed but the maturity that oozes out of Here And Nowhere Else after repeat spins is hard to turn away from. Basically, Cloud Nothings provided one bad ass, in your face, kick your teeth in, pounder of an album that hardly ever let up – Just what the doctor ordered!

Cloud Nothings: Here And Nowhere [Fire Note Review 3/31/14]


Res Road Cover Easton Stagger Phillips
Resolution Road
Campfire Propaganda/Rebeltone Records [2014]

I can’t say enough about the talent of Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips. Resolution Road was easily the best Americana/folk record I listened to this year as its pure harmonies just pour out of the album. ESP did an excellent job of making a cohesive record while still shining individually when the light was on them vocally. Their hard work paid off as Resolution Road is a timeless keeper.

Easton Stagger Phillips: Resolution Road [Fire Note Review 5/1/14]


real-estate-atlas Real Estate
Domino Records [2014]

If it’s not broke don’t fix it – just tweak it. That is the main story behind Real Estate’s third record Atlas. The New Jersey group returned with an album that took their tighter and more refined approach to a different level by melting down their pop gems into a much more mature and even tone listen.

Real Estate: Atlas [Fire Note Review 3/5/14]


ryan-adams-cover Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams
PAX-AM/Blue Note Records [2014]

Ryan Adams continues to impress and his recent output has been high quality. If mini-records could have made the list his ripper Replacements like record 1984 would be here as well. His self-titled release captures the essence of classic rock while keeping it very 2014. That is not an easy task but when you have the songwriting talent of Adams and the chops to pull it off – he satisfyingly makes it look and sound very easy.

Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams [Fire Note Review 9/10/14]


woods-with-light-and-with-love Woods
With Light And With Love
Woodsist Records [2014]

Woods unique blend of 60’s and early 70’s rustic psychedelic pop music goes down smooth and sinks deeper into your brain with each listen. They are one of the greatest bands in the world right now, if you aren’t paying attention to them yet, you should be. With Light And With Love is the album for a wider audience to recognize this.

Woods: With Light And With Love [Fire Note Review 4/15/14]


afghan-whigs-do-to-the-beast The Afghan Whigs
Do To The Beast
Sub Pop Records [2014]

16 years? No problem – The Afghan Whigs picked right back up where they left off! Do To The Beast was one of the more critically overlooked records this year that never left TFN player. Do To The Beast is not only a natural return to the scene but one that does not take any shit. That is the attitude we expected from The Afghan Whigs and that is exactly what they bring back to the table!

The Afghan Whigs: Do To The Beast [Fire Note Review 4/11/14]


curtis-harding-soul-power Curtis Harding
Soul Power
Burger Records [2014]

There is a reason Jack White called upon Curtis Harding to open several of his shows. His retro-soul meets rock is incredibly infectious. On his Soul Power debut Harding’s sound is classic but his progression is 2014 as he sing effortlessly with cool passion. Curtis Harding is an emerging artist that you should get to know now and Soul Power proves that point.

Curtis Harding: Soul Power [Fire Note Review 5/28/14]


white-fence-for-recently-found-innocent White Fence
For The Recently Found Innocent
Drag City Records [2014]

White Fence broke through to the next level and fulfilled all expectations with For The Recently Found Innocent. The record is chock full of Kinks and Who inspired garage rock anthems that just get better after every spin. Tim Presley has always been a stellar songwriter, but this raw edge he displays here really suits the material and firmly places the album at #12.

White Fence: For The Recently Found Innocent [Fire Note Review 7/23/14]


tv-on-the-radio-seeds TV On The Radio
Harvest Records [2014]

Seeds is a profound journey through pain and loss, and ultimately, spiritual recovery and rebirth! It also is catchy as hell. On their new album, the band has dialed back on the experimentation and atmosphere and has instead chosen to put their strongest set of melodies front and center. TV on the Radio has long been one of the finest bands in the world, but with this album, they have reached another level.

TV On The Radio: Seeds [Fire Note Review 11/26/14]


beck-morning-phase Beck
Morning Phase
Capitol Records [2014]

Morning Phase is a record that had nothing to prove but everything to give! As much as we would put this album down, we just could not put it away. I think that if fans went into this record with defined expectations, Morning Phase may have passed them over. Morning Phase represents Beck’s total control of his career and you can hear his love of music in each carefully sung line on this album. Morning Phase has such a sonic flow that it became impossible to turn away from which is why it lands at #10.

Beck: Morning Phase [Fire Note Review 2/24/14]


spoon-they-want-my-soul Spoon
They Want My Soul
Loma Vista/Republic Records [2014]

Thinking some of their best work may be behind them, Spoon’s They Want My Soul is a near-perfect return to form. We can’t imagine a more balanced, engaging, addictive, surprising album coming out this year. Spoon has a long history of excellent work, but They Want My Soul ranks right up there. It’s good to have Britt Daniel and the guys back.

Spoon: They Want My Soul [Fire Note Review 8/4/14]


king-gizzard-lizard-wizard-im-in-your-mind-fuzz King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
I’m In Your Mind Fuzz
Castle Face Records [2014]

Australia’s King Gizzard will give you an entire new perspective in every way that is good. I’m In Your Mind Fuzz treats you to wild transitions, fuzzed up vocals, spiraling out of control instruments and plenty of energy that feels new and fresh. Funky turns and psychedelic jams are just a few descriptions for I’m In Your Mind Fuzz – “Exciting new band to check out,” is the only way to describe King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: I’m In Your Mind Fuzz [Fire Note Review 11/12/14]


parquet-courts-sunbathing-animal Parquet Courts
Sunbathing Animal
What’s Your Rupture? / Mom & Pop Music [2014]

Could Sunbathing Animal be better than their excellent last record? I kept thinking I was missing something because it is rare for lighting to strike twice, so I cautiously kept listening to the NYC band Parquet Courts post-punk/slacker indie rock. Sunbathing Animal is a sharp and smart record that finds a classic punk groove that will remind you of Wire and several more punk art bands. No question – Top 10 material.

Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal [Fire Note Review 6/25/14]


mac-demarco-salad-days Mac DeMarco
Salad Days
Captured Tracks [2014]

Mac DeMarco grows up? With Salad Days – Yes. Mac DeMarco is a great pop songwriter in the tradition of his 60’s idols and Salad Days has such a cool laid back vibe that it becomes a classic. DeMarco is on the verge of bigger venues and wider success – Salad Days will always be the record which put him there.

Mac DeMarco: Salad Days [Fire Note Review 4/1/14]


10_404_404_525_exhex_rips_2500px Ex Hex
Merge Records [2014]

Ex Hex has quickly become one of the best female power trios on the music scene today. Rips brings back a classic sound of rock n roll that kindles the spirits of the Ramones, Joan Jett’s Runaways and even a little Cheap Trick. It is a fun never slow down type of record that finds an electric chemistry between these three women that not only makes Rips stronger with every replay but also a whole lot of fun!

Ex Hex: Rips [Fire Note Review 10/6/14]


gbv-motivational-jumpsuite Guided By Voices
Motivational Jumpsuit
Guided By Voices Inc. [2014]

GBV hit a home run with their strongest “classic lineup reunion” album yet! Motivational Jumpsuit has the classic seamless transitions of early era GBV while providing big time rock hooks. The thundering “Planet Score” is easily one of the best tracks the current configuration released while the rollicking “Alex and the Omegas,” is the strongest album closer. Motivational Jumpsuit surly will be remembered!

Guided By Voices: Motivational Jumpsuit [Fire Note Review 2/14/14]


sun-kil-moon-benji Sun Kil Moon
Caldo Verde Records [2014]

Benji is one of the most intense lyrical driven records you will ever here. Sun Kil Moon takes a deep look at life here that sometimes is tough to hear twice but the record’s superb musicianship makes it go down easier. Benji is an album that not only stands up as one of the best releases this year, but will remain an excellent and timeless piece of work that will be enjoyed years from now.

Sun Kil Moon: Benji [Fire Note Review 2/12/14]


war-on-drugs-lost-in-dream The War On Drugs
Lost In The Dream
Secretly Canadian Records [2014]

We don’t call albums “instant classics” very often but that is exactly how we feel about The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream. It’s got it all, great instrumentation, a great vocal and melody, and a cool vibe. It is album that takes some dedication as it passes the one hour mark but it is completely worth the investment as you will just sit in stunned silence upon its conclusion. That is a priceless feeling when it comes to music and The War On Drugs make it happen!

The War On Drugs: Lost In The Dream [Fire Note Review 3/18/14]


ty-segall-manipulator Ty Segall
Drag City Records [2014]

Manipulator was such a different record for Ty Segall. It has a polished production, is 56 minutes long, mellow in parts, groovy in others and contains many surprises. A great double album has to be impeccably sequenced in order to keep the listener from getting ear fatigue. Manipulator does just that and lets Segall show that he is a master of his craft. The scorching guitar on “Feel” alone placed this album at the top for us but it is really about how Segall effortlessly moves between styles and masters them all. He has put out many great albums over the past few years, but this is his best.

Ty Segall: Manipulator [Fire Note Review 8/26/14]

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Honorable Mention Albums of 2016 0 419

Let’s face it – not every album we enjoyed can end up in our year end Blazing Top 50. Many times, there are records that almost make the cut and honestly probably could have replaced another record but for one reason or another they were just left out.

Realizing that, you will find 12 of those such records below that came so close to making the Top 50 but still deserve a highlight, so they are now included in The Fire Note Honorable Mention Albums of 2016.

Honorable Mention

beach-slang-teenage Beach Slang
A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings
Polyvinyl Records [2016]

TFN has been all over Beach Slang’s Replacement style rock n roll since their pair of EP debuts back in 2014. A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings brought back the exact same formula as the band wanted to make another record that was for the fans. It feels like volume 2 from their debut as it just never takes its foot off the accelerator. A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is an energetic rush from beginning to end that we just couldn’t turn off!

Beach Slang: A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings [Fire Note Review 9/27/16]

Honorable Mention

dba-start-own Various Artists
Start Your Own Fucking Show Space
Famous Class Records [2016]

We typically do not feature a live compilation like this in the Top 50 but Start Your Own Fucking Show Space still needs a highlight. This 3 LP set from Famous Class features 26 live tracks from various artists that captures the last days of the popular Brooklyn Death by Audio venue. It is an amazing grouping of artists that finds bigger names like Deefhoof, Parquet Courts, Thee Oh Sees, Ted Leo and Ty Segall with others you might not know as well such as Nots, Sleepies, Pampers or The Numerators. It is pure example of why the live show will never die!

Various Artists: Start Your Own Fucking Show Space [Fire Note Review 8/10/16]

Honorable Mention

bent-shapes-wolves-of-want Bent Shapes
Wolves Of Want
Slumberland Records [2016]

TFN is easily drawn to a well-done power pop record and Boston’s Bent Shapes was a stand out with their sophomore outing Wolves Of Want. The record dealt with some bigger subject matter but disguised it with quality catchy power pop precision. Its 10 songs clocking in at 28 minutes also made it super easy to ingest and go back for more while leaving you humming every last line!

Bent Shapes: Woves Of Want [Fire Note Review 3/24/16]

Honorable Mention

eztv-high-in-place EZTV
High In Place
Captured Tracks [2016]

If your record features Jenny Lewis and Real Estate’s Martin Courtney and Matt Kallman then you must be doing something right. High in Place found EZTV returning quickly after last year’s debut as they kept things simple and consistent without much alteration to their laid back soft indie rock. EZTV have a very soft power pop sound that throws back to The Byrds or Dwight Twilley while giving nods to Teenage Fanclub and I still have not figured out why they just don’t get more press. Oh well – we like them!

EZTV: High In Place [Fire Note Review 11/8/16]

Honorable Mention

Robert-Pollard-Of-Course-You-AreRobert Pollard
Of Course You Are
Fire Records [2016]

Robert Pollard can crank out a record from start to finish faster than most people can think about recording one. 2016 was another productive year for him and Of Course You Are was another great solo performance. This record was somewhat of a continuance from last year’s Ricked Wicky as all of the instruments on Of Course You Are were played by Ricked Wicky’s Nick Mitchell. This direction shook things up a bit for a slightly different vibe that still fits neatly in Pollard’s catalog.

Robert Pollard: Of Course You Are [Fire Note Review 3/3/16]

Honorable Mention

Lost Boy?
Goose Wazoo
Little Dickman Records [2016]

The rule at TFN is that if an album does not receive a review it is not eligible for the Top 50. Lost Boy?’s excellent Goose Wazoo unfortunately falls to HM because of this law. It is too bad because this record is Top 50 material with its lo-fi pop that is both catchy and quirky. With a good mix of old school Elephant 6 collective sounds stirred with some Ween like moments, Lost Boy? will stick with you if you just take the time to discover them right now!

The Friday Fire Track: Lost Boy? – “Goose Wazoo” [Fire Note 9/23/16]

Honorable Mention

paul-orwell-organized-blues Paul Orwell
Organized Blues
Heavy Soul Records [2016]

Paul Orwell followed up last year’s ’60s style rocker, Blowing Your Mind Away, with an album of 12 heavy Hammond organ instrumentals. Guess what? It is fantastic and with some well-placed horns, drums and guitar plus an ending cover of Neal Hefti’s Batman theme, Organized Blues was one of the biggest surprises we listened to in 2016. It also was a vinyl only release which was just one more reason to get the turntable spinning!

Paul Orwell: Organized Blues [Fire Note Review 8/4/16]

Honorable Mention

CF-075cover_large Thee Oh Sees
Live In San Francisco
Castle Face Records [2016]

Castle Face’s Live In San Francisco series has been a hit since day one with great sets from the Ty Segall Band, FUZZ, Destruction Unit, White Fence, OBN III’s and the newest being Feral Ohms. Thee Oh Sees of course set a new bar for the series on this one as it was the first double LP in the series and included a DVD. If you are a Thee Oh Sees fan, Live In San Francisco is a must own. The songs come to life in this settling and the guitars just come through your speakers. It not only sounds and feels like you are at the show but this just may be the best release in the series yet.

Thee Oh Sees: Live In San Francisco [Fire Note Review 7/27/16]

Honorable Mention

rob-crow-gloomy-place Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place
You’re Doomed. Be Nice.
Temporary Residence Ltd. [2016]

Pinback’s Rob Crow publicly withdrew from music early last year so this release was a great surprise. He has one of the best voices in indie rock and with his new band made up of close friends, Crow sounds inspired. The vocal interplay, the muscular guitar work and the pounding drums all swirl in and out which gave Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place a fresh starting point in his catalog and deserved much more press than it received.

Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place: You’re Doomed. Be Nice. [Fire Note Review 3/1/16]

Honorable Mention

ty-segall-emotional Ty Segall
Emotional Mugger
Drag City Records [2016]

Ty in the scary baby mask is how we will remember Emotional Mugger as it was released way back in January. This album was paranoid, claustrophobic and itching for trouble, as Segall offered big riffs with twists and turns until it wrapped Emotional Mugger into a pretzel. It may not have been as catchy as his last two efforts but it also wasn’t too bad either!

Ty Segall: Emotional Mugger [Fire Note Review 1/26/16]

Honorable Mention

band-of-horses-why-are-you-ok Band Of Horses
Why Are You OK
Interscope Records [2016]

Why Are You OK is Band of Horses best major label record to date and it was an album that became catchier everytime we listened. “Casual Party” was fun while “In A Drawer,” with J. Mascis on backing vocals, is still one of our favorite singles this year. I really want Band Of Horses to succeed and the more attention to detail on Why Are You OK gives me hope that the band has not been lost forever to the major labels.

Band Of Horses: Why Are You OK [Fire Note Review 6/23/16]

Honorable Mention

pink-mexico-fool Pink Mexico
Burger Records [2016]

If you like fuzz-laden rock, then you should not be missing out on Pink Mexico. The band can stuff a melody right between two walls of sound and not blink. That is exactly what you consistently get on Fool with fast tempo rockers and mellower numbers that catch you in their trippy chorus. Really, we were sold on Pink Mexico when we typed fuzz-laden!

Pink Mexico: Fool [Fire Note Review 8/16/16]

Finally, below are several other albums that never made the review page. We recommend checking them out as well as they were great listens but unfortunately not eligible for a spot!

They are:
Tim Presley – The Wink (Drag City);
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia);
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic);
LVL UP – Return To Love (Sub Pop)

I am sure there were more but that is enough to keep you busy! The Blazing Top 50 of 2016 posts tomorrow.

Fire Note Staff

Fire Note Staff

Online Music Magazine: Independent Music Reviews, Vinyl Spotlights, Music News, Videos, 7-inch record features + more!
Fire Note Staff

Prog 2016 – The Year In Review 4 706

It’s been a rough couple years for Prog with the losses of Chris Squire of Yes, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of ELP, Nektar’s Roye Albrighton and Daevid Allen of Gong. The heroes of the Golden Age of progressive rock are entering their twilight years. Along with that comes the realization that anyone born after 1970 would have no recollection of just how big the titans of Prog truly were – both commercially and artistically.

Bands like Yes, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and ELP sold millions of records and sold out venues around the world. At the genre’s peak (1971-1977) only Led Zeppelin outsold them. What happened after that is the subject of much debate: the rise of punk and disco did, of course, hurt but the hubris of the major acts was just as important. As was the incompetence of the record labels who came to view Prog as a relic long before audiences did.

Though beaten down in the eighties, Prog never quite died and the nineties saw a revival – first in Sweden (with bands like Anglagard, Landberk and Anekdoten) and then in America (where Spock’s Beard, Echolyn and Dream Theater formed). Since then it has been a long and mostly fruitless climb back to relevance. Long gone are the heady days of major labels and radio airplay. The practitioners of modern Prog toil in obscurity and poverty; a truly underground scene that is home to some of the most exciting music being recorded today. Here’s a look at the best progressive rock albums of the past 12 months.


Nuclear Blast America [2016]

These Swedish champions of the prog metal universe continue to expand on their progressive journey away from death growls and towards Deep Purple and Jethro Tull – complete with vintage keyboards and acoustic guitars. For the third album in a row Mikael Akerfeldt dispenses with the Cookie Monster vocals and allows his love for 70’s Prog to inform these tracks. Opeth has already lost some of their hardcore fans who long for the old death metal days but it appears that they’ve acquired enough new ones to continue down this path. One can only hope.


Inside Out Music [2016]

Haken are a truly strange band – a Prog metal outfit with a Gentle Giant fetish. This time out they incorporate 80’s era Yes, Asia and Rush as touchstones and the result is a very different record than their 2013 masterwork, The Mountain. This time out the band explore the chilly environs of technology – both in the human experience and the music they’re currently making. The guitars sound digitally supercharged and the electronic flourishes blend in seamlessly making Affinity a likely outlier in their discography. But in a good way.


Gustavo Santhiago
Records DK [2016]

What? Wait a minute! This Brazilian dude is only 17 years old? Shades of Mike Oldfield with a sprinkling of Camel and PFM, this instrumental album plays with so many themes and moods but keeps the focus on classic 70’s Prog. This may be retro stuff but the composition is rock solid. Playing keyboards, flute and bass, Gustavo is a rare talent who possesses an old soul and an ability to scale the heights of his chosen genre with an ease and effortless grace. Look out for this kid.


Falling Satellites
Inside Out Music [2016]

The on again/off again project of producer Jem Godfrey and the much in-demand singer/guitarist John Mitchell (It Bites, Arena), Frost* delivers a very diverse set of songs for their third album. From Belew-era King Crimson to Max Tundra and a whole lot in between, Falling Satellites is one record that unashamedly lets the less proggy influences shine. This is modern Prog at its most “modern” sounding. Unlike their incredible debut, this one took a few spins to grow on me but now that it has I can’t get enough.


Atkinsong Productions [2016]

Falling under the “neo-prog” subset usually means a band has a strange affection for late 70’s Genesis without the songwriting abilities. Well, Nashville musician Shane Atkinson and singer Beau West have just put paid to that misconception. Sometimes heavy like Dream Theater, other times laid back like Marillion, the sheer sonic variety is impressive. As are West’s vocals which recall the great Freddy Mercury. Atkinson says he has at least four more albums worth of material already written so it’s safe to say we’ll be hearing more from this talented group.


Cirrus Bay
Places Unseen
Self-Released [2016]

Playing pastoral, whimsical progressive rock with a female vocalist will almost always lead to Renaissance comparisons and with album number five, Cirrus Bay have a new lead singer, Tai Shan, who sounds even more like Annie Haslam. Luckily the music has gotten more intricate and evokes as much Genesis or Caravan as it does Renaissance. They are more polished, more electric and more progressive this time around and if you’re not already convinced that this is a band you need to hear they even pay homage to the late, great Bo Hansson.


Kaipa Da Capo
Darskapens Monotoni
Foxtrot Records [2016]

Not to be confused with that other Swedish Prog band (Kaipa), this version of the band is basically the original 70’s line-up minus Hans Lundin. As Lundin keeps making great records as Kaipa, Roine Stolt obviously felt the need to surpass those. Enlisting his brother Mikael into the fold insured that this album has The Flower Kings written all over it. Warm and inviting, this record continues Stolt’s hot streak but I sure do wish they sang in English. Well, the purists love that stuff.


Van Der Graaf Generator
Do Not Disturb
Esoteric Antenna [2016]

That Peter Hammil, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans are still making music as Van Der Graaf Generator is a miracle. After a long hiatus, VDGG returned in 2005 and have since released five terrific albums and this one may be the best of the reunion records. Hammil still sounds completely unhinged but the melodies are beautiful and more memorable than at any time since their 70’s heyday. Rumor has it that this may be their swan song and if that’s true than they are, without a doubt, going out in grand style.


Valley Of The Windmill
Frontiers Music [2016]

Billy Sherwood is a divisive figure in the history of Yes. Having been a part of that band in the 90’s and now the hand-picked successor to the mighty Chris Squire it should come as no surprise that Circa (which also includes ex-Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) sounds a lot like the mothership. Sherwood’s vocals are grittier and more Americanized than anything to be found on a Yes album but the music resides squarely in that realm: melodic and symphonic to a fault. Nothing particularly new or groundbreaking going on here just some good old fashioned Prog. Okay?


Bent Knee
Say So
Cuneiform Records [2016]

Fans of Fiona Apple or Shirley Manson won’t feel too alienated with this Boston group’s sumptuous third album. Courtney Swain has the kind of sultry voice that really makes Bent Knee’s music seem more “normal” than it actually is. And when a band includes their producer/sound engineer as a full-fledged member of the band (as Vince Welsh is) there’s a very good chance that their records sound pretty good and this is one of the best examples of a current band using the studio to augment their vision. Very sorry I missed them when they played in Dayton earlier this year.


The Prelude Implicit
Inside Out Music [2016]

Sixteen years since their last album, Kansas comes back with a vengeance – and three new members: vocalist Ronnie Platt, guitarist Zak Rizvi and keyboardist David Manion. The result is a truly engaging record that not only recalls past triumphs but firmly establishes this version of the band as a bona fide contender. The absence of Steve Walsh and Kerry Livgren from this line-up sounds like a death sentence but it has actually given these Prog stalwarts a new lease on life. Given my low expectations this one was a pleasant surprise!


Dream Theater
The Astonishing
Roadrunner Records [2016]

These progressive metal titans return with a double concept album about an evil empire and the magical power of music. Think Game Of Thrones meets Rush’s 2112 and (while you’re at it) add a touch of Disney to the proceedings. Longtime fans are pretty much split about this one (the third without co-founder Mike Portnoy). The virtuosity on display is, as always, second to none but after two hours The Astonishing can be exhausting. Definitely not the place to start if new to the band but still filled with lots of proggy goodness.


The Pineapple Thief
Your Wilderness
Kscope [2016]

This Bruce Soord-led project is now eleven albums in and as their name grows in stature they eschew the trappings of the more polished edges of their last couple records and go for a more standard Prog sound. The inclusion of drummer Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree, King Crimson) proves to be pure magic as his percussive touch is all over this release. There’s a melancholy to these songs as Soord deals with the issues of isolation and alienation while musically there’s not a lot of distance between this and Radiohead.


The Dear Hunter
Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional
Equal Vision Records [2016]

The fifth (and final) installment of the series, Casey Crescenzo saved some of his best material for this. As usual, genres are blurred beyond any recognition and song craft becomes the star of the story – which is a good thing as the tale is as confusing as anything Coheed & Cambria could have dreamt up. This is not traditional Prog in any sense of the word. In fact, it owes a huge debt to emo which isn’t surprising given Crescenzo once played in the Warped Tour band The Receiving End Of Sirens.


Glass Hammer
Sound Resources [2016]

Chattanooga based band is best known for its former vocalist, Jon Davison, joining Yes but founding members Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have put together perhaps their best album. Susie Bogdanovicz returns as lead singer and it’s a match made in heaven. The “war sucks” storyline doesn’t really add a lot but it’s not a hindrance either – these songs are just top notch regardless. After seventeen albums it seems like Glass Hammer are just now hitting their stride.


Inside Out Music [2016]

Jonas Reingold and company finally sound like a real band and not a side project. Reingold is involved in so many things (The Flower Kings, Anderson/Stolt, The Tangent, Kaipa, The Fringe) that it would be understandable if he let Karmakanic sit idle or – worse still – release a subpar album. Fear not! The perfect blend of symphonic rock, progressive metal, jazz fusion and classic AOR; Karmakanic have come a long way since being a vacation from The Flower Kings.

Karmakanic: Dot [Fire Note Review 10/31/16]


Bottled Out Of Eden
Inside Out Music [2016]

Modern Prog with avant garde and pop sensibilities galore. The future is now. Kavus Torabi is carving out a unique position in the Prog world. Having been a part of Cardiacs certainly gives him the right pedigree and now (as if he isn’t busy enough) he has taken the helm of the good ship Gong after Daevid Allen’s passing. But this is no mere side project. The attention to detail in each track is astounding. More importantly, these songs really grab the listener and never let go.

Knifeworld: Bottled Out Of Eden [Fire Note Review 6/3/16]


a3251413013_10Big Big Train
Giant Electric Pea [2016]

These guys are so English that they might as well be from another planet – just out of this world great. Most years this would be the hands down winner but as our top two spots are generational albums, Folklore is still a very satisfying release and Big Big Train’s best effort yet. With all the pieces now in place (former members of XTC, Genesis and Beardfish are now in) it will be exciting to see where they go from here. Pastoral but never boring, melodic but never delicate – BBT has entered the top tier.

Big Big Train: Folklore [Fire Note Review 7/12/16]


Invention Of Knowledge
Inside Out Music [2016]

Yes meets The Flower Kings. And it works like a dream. Easily the best work Anderson has done in decades (with or without Yes) this marriage of Prog heavyweights gives off all kinds of Tales From Topographic Oceans flavor and the spirituality of that 1973 masterwork is reworked by lead Flower King, Roine Stolt, in such a loving and reverential way that it’s hard not to wonder why Yes can’t release something this good. Laid back like Anderson’s solo debut, Olias Of Sunhillow, but with more of a rock backbone.

Anderson/Stolt: Invention Of Knowledge [Fire Note Review 7/28/16]


cover-neal_morse-the_similitude_of_a_dream-1024x1014 The Neal Morse Band
The Similitude Of A Dream
Radiant Records [2016]

The best band in the world that you aren’t listening to -or- Giving Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd a run for their money. This is Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard) and Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) working at a level few humans can approach. Technically brilliant yet still strongly song-centric, Similitude is a modern classic and destined to be considered one of the best concept albums ever. Best of all: you don’t really need to follow the story to enjoy it either as individual songs or as a whole. If you thought no one writes ’em like that anymore then this is proof that you are wrong!

The Neal Morse Band: The Similitude Of A Dream [Fire Note Review 11/28/16]

Honorable mention to: Devin Townsend, Thank You Scientist, GOAT, Mantra Vega, The Mute Gods, Airbag, iamthemorning, Hexvessel, Messenger, The Syn, Headspace, The Samurai Of Prog, Galdalf’s Fist and The Gift. They all produced beautiful records in 2016 but I decided to leave it at the twenty albums that I found myself returning to over and over throughout the year. Just remember: Prog never died – even if many of its leading lights are departing us, the music lives forever.

-Recap by Scot Lade

Fire Note Staff

Fire Note Staff

Online Music Magazine: Independent Music Reviews, Vinyl Spotlights, Music News, Videos, 7-inch record features + more!
Fire Note Staff

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