The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2017

blazing top 50

#50

Old 97’s
Graveyard Whistling
ATO Records [2017]

Drinkin’, whiskey, cars, trouble, women, God and Texas – Dallas, Texas that is. That has been the story of the Old 97’s since their first record, Hitchhike To Rome which was released back in 1994. This veteran group returned this year with an album that embraced the alt-country world they helped build. Graveyard Whistling delightfully is the groups best record since 2008’s Blame It On Gravity and is easily in their top 5. Overall, there was nothing to dislike on Graveyard Whistling if you are a fan as the Old 97’s sound as young as ever.

Old 97’s: Graveyard Whistling [Fire Note Review 2/28/17]

#49

Big Thief
Capacity
Saddle Creek Records [2017]

After the clamor and scrawl of Big Thief’s debut album, Masterpiece, it might be a surprise to some to find the quiet moments on Capacity. There’s an intimacy here, between songwriter and listener, and even in its quieter moments, it still remained as intense as the band’s roaring rockers. You can see the life lived on these songs from Big Thief, in the images they conjure as it tested our limits, to fill ourselves both positively and negatively with the things that make the world spin.

Big Thief: Capacity [Fire Note Review 6/19/17]

#48

Once & Future Band
Once & Future Band
Castle Face Records [2017]

What was an unabashedly progressive rock band doing on John Dwyer’s Castle Face imprint? t seems an odd marriage at first. But then again, the line between Psych and Prog has always been a little blurry to say the least and even more modernized with Once & Future Band. Once & Future band are not clones. What they’re doing is updating an entire genre by putting a very unique spin on it. Once & Future Band created a very solid batch of songs that all sound like they belong together and flow well throughout. If Prog was going to move into the indie world Once & Future Band will be on the front line as they courageously defy current trends.

Once & Future Band: Once & Future Band [Fire Note Review 3/24/17]

#47

A. Savage
Thawing Dawn
Dull Tools [2017]

A. Savage is best known as one of the frontman for Parquet Courts. Thawing Dawn is his first solo record, that was recorded between December 2016 and June 2017 by a group of Savage’s friends that included members of Woods, Ultimate Painting, PC Worship, EZTV, Sunwatchers, and Psychic TV. A. Savage brought his crooner skills and kept it fairly simple here as it has many different flavors from spaghetti western strumming to rocking out to a great indie rock church performance. He is a true talent.

A. Savage: Thawing Dawn [Fire Note Review 10/18/17]

#46

Mac DeMarco
This Old Dog
Captured Tracks [2017]

Maturity is a weird thing because not only does it seem to happen overnight but you can typically identify the very “moment” it takes place. You can recognize it in your friends, in your own kids, your favorite athlete, actor and author and usually in your favorite artist. For the lighthearted and laid-back indie nice guy, Mac DeMarco, his third full length record, This Old Dog, is his “moment.” This record never broke out and showcased a very relaxed DeMarco. You bundle the heartfelt subject matter with his wavy crooning vocals, comfortable approach and truly mature songwriting, This Old Dog resulted in another fantastic edition to his catalog.

Mac DeMarco: This Old Dog [Fire Note Review 5/3/17]

#45

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
Lotta Sea Lice
Matador Records [2017]

In today’s indie music scene, I couldn’t think of a current pairing that have an equal rising momentum like Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett. Lotta Sea Lice found them teaming up and essentially hanging out for this nine-song record. What makes Lotta Sea Lice successful is that it is a real collaboration and neither artist takes over the record. The songwriting is strong and the arrangements are memorable. It is an album that you can put on and play and its timeless vibe will keep you coming back. Lotta Sea Lice is an interesting conversation at the coffee house that comes complete with guitars and everyone is invited.

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice [Fire Note Review 10/12/17]

#44

Tobin Sprout
The Universe And Me
Burger Records [2017]

Tobin Sprout’s first album in seven years is wistful, poignant and brings the rock. This album kicked off 2017 right as The Universe and Me ran the gamut of what you would want in a Tobin Sprout record. There are the crunchy power pop tracks, the bright, nostalgic Guided By Voices trips and the poignant heavy hitters that can wring a tear from your eyes and put a lump in your throat. The Universe And Me is a showcase of some exceptional songwriting and excellent production.

Tobin Sprout: The Universe And Me [Fire Note Review 1/23/17]

#43

ORB
Naturality
Castle Face/Flightless Records [2017]

ORB hail from Australia and run around with label mates King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard which are both on Flightless and Castle Face Records. Naturality is their sophomore record. Naturality continues some of their known sludge rock but now this muscle finds the group working a psych pop angle with more vocals and shorter compositions. Naturality show that ORB have more personality, creativeness and energy while still giving fans the power thumping tracks. The record is fierce, bombastic and has swagger right down to the end as ORB is another solid Australian act that are coming into their own with this entertaining album.

ORB: Naturality [Fire Note Review 10/5/17]

#42

BIRDS
Everything All At Once
Greenway Records [2017]

Brooklyn band BIRDS offer a very organic free flowing fuzzed-out mix of psychedelic rock that sways around some in the Elephant 6 Collective style like an Apples In Stereo and The Minders. BIRDS do not stay in that mode though as they also have a Kurt Vile meets Swervedriver energy throughout the album. This mix of shoegaze is where Everything All At Once finds its uniqueness because the band can smolder songs with big waves of reverb while still offering plenty of upbeat indie rock that comes with a youthful vigor. A very promising debut as we look forward to what the BIRDS release next.

BIRDS: Everything All At Once [Fire Note Review 8/16/17]

#41

Flotation Toy Warning
The Machine That Made Us
Talitres [2017]

Flotation Toy Warning returned after a 13-year hiatus and delivered an excellent record. The Machine That Made Us clocks in at just over an hour-long running time and encompasses 10 carefully crafted and beautifully layered songs. Each track is a journey, a chapter in a deliberately paced adventure novel. The music and lyrics fill your head with such strange and vivid visions that you cannot wait to get to the next chapter. You will need to spend some time with this album to appreciate it fully. If you have been looking for a reason to buy some high-quality headphones, this album is it.

Flotation Toy Warning: The Machine That Made Us [Fire Note Review 7/5/17]

#40

Iron & Wine
Beast Epic
Sub Pop Records [2017]

From one perspective, Beast Epic is a “safe” record, from Iron & Wine that is a culmination of Sam Beam’s earlier experiments; instead of adding new pieces to the puzzle, Beam is starting to put it together. It may not be as surprising as previous releases have been, but there’s something oddly compelling about an Iron & Wine album emphasizing craft over novelty. If this is the sound of Sam Beam settling into a groove, then it’s about time because not only does Beast Epic fit like a good old pair of sneakers – it is an excellent highlight on Iron & Wine’s talents.

Iron & Wine: Beast Epic [Fire Note Review 10/23/17]

#39

St. Vincent
Masseduction
Loma Vista Recordings [2017]

St. Vincent’s eponymously titled 4th solo album, released in 2014, was easily her most accessible album, while also delivering some pretty amazing songs packaged with electro-pop polish, and marked by her unique guitar playing. She returned with Masseduction, that can be warm and close, or cold and hard, but it’s impossible to ignore. Once again, St. Vincent was able to offer something fresh that included funk hooks, darker techno vibes, and industrial tones that all were driven with her stand out vocals. While her songs are melodically evocative, St. Vincent was thinking big picture here and created an artistic statement about the current shape of the world, or at least her experience of it. The end result made Masseducation evocative as it is engaging, and as challenging as it is entertaining.

St. Vincent: Masseduction [Fire Note Review 11/30/17]

#38

Ryan Adams
Prisoner
PAX AM/Blue Note Records [2017]

Adam’s 2014 self-titled album dealt with the beginning of a pulling away from an unspoken someone, so this time around Adams reached into rock history to see how they dealt with horrible breakups. And where some would reach for Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Adams reaches into Springsteen’s own 1987 document of the dissolution of his marriage, Tunnel of Love. Adams doesn’t hold anything back here as the songs display his pain as the album’s trajectory has as an arc, so as the songs click by, so does the weight of his loss. In the end, Prisoner was another top record in this career artists catalog.

Ryan Adams: Prisoner [Fire Note Review 2/16/17]

#37

Spoon
Hot Thoughts
Matador Records [2017]

In a world that is constantly changing, and as likely to disappoint as often as it pleases, we’ll always be able to count on Spoon, the Austin indie rock band that continues to give up the goods on their 9th studio album Hot Thoughts. There’s a recognizable shift in sound away from guitars and toward a bolder keyboard presence, but that Spoon swagger was left intact. Like an old friend with a reputation for consistency, Spoon is a band that will always find a warm welcome. Hot Thoughts unique take on keyboard pop and disco from their unique place in the alternative rock universe, is a solid addition to the Spoon catalog.

Spoon: Hot Thoughts [Fire Note Review 3/20/17]

#36

Sorority Noise
You’re Not As_____As You Think
Triple Crown Records [2017]

Ever-evolving emo rockers Sorority Noise fully come into their own on their third full length, deftly blending anguish, wisdom and their trademark massive guitars to produce a mature, extremely well-balanced record. You’re Not As______As You Think is Sorority Noise at their absolute best and most mature record to date. With the band’s tension and contradictions proudly on full display, and enough reflective content to connect with thousands of new fans, this record raises the exact questions Sorority Noise ought to be raising at this point in their career. Is it possible to have this much fun while feeling this sad? Is it possible to feel this alive while so consumed with death? On You’re Not As ______ As You Think, the only answer is “Of course.”

Sorority Noise: You’re Not As_____As You Think [Fire Note Review 5/4/17]

#35

R. Ring
Ignite The Rest
SofaBurn Records [2017]

Kelley Deal (Breeders) and Mike Montgomery (Ampline) joined forces as R. Ring and finally released their debut LP. Ignite the Rest is a stunning debut that helped people stop whining about wanting another Breeders record as R. Ring delivered 12 tracks with great cohesion. The band clearly has their own voice but Deal’s vocals give it an indie edge that had us wanting more. Her singing just draws you into each song and keeps you hanging on each lyric. Hopefully, after the Breeders storm the scene in 2018 we will hear more R. Ring soon!

R. Ring: Ignite The Rest [Fire Note Review 6/15/17]

#34

Fascinating
Picture This
Quality Time/Jurassic Pop Records [2017]

Fascinating is one of our favorite Ohio “slop-pop” groups that is fronted by Quality Time Records main man Ricky Hamilton. They play a delightfully fuzzed up lo-fi post-punk that is gritty, determined and quick.
Picture This followed last year’s solid Dice Game structure but tightens the pop madness bolts and rolls out an even more grooving distorted ride. Simple and to the point but right on key are why Fascinating stay in your head. If you are looking for a buzz band that will fill your speakers with a sing-along wall of distortion then Picture This is a release you need to hear and Fascinating is a band you should know.

Fascinating: Picture This [Fire Note Review 6/8/17]

#33

Alvvays
Antisocialites
Polyvinyl Records [2017]

Alvvays’s sophomore album Antisocialites is an indie pop delight. The Toronto band made a splash three years ago with their self-titled debut and their jangle pop is still both interesting and fun. Listening to Antisocialites, it sounds like Camera Obscura and Best Coast have passed on the torch of cheery-but-not-really jangle pop to Alvvays. This band continues to evolve and now that they have avoided a sophomore slump they will for sure be a bright spot with each new release. TFN is excited to see them grow.

Alvvays: Antisocialites [Fire Note Review 10/17/17]

#32

Father John Misty
Pure Comedy
Sub Pop Records [2017]

Pure Comedy will no doubt provoke numerous think pieces, and it’s difficult to resist the urge to join the fray. However, Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman) has already done all the work; you just have to listen. His lyrics have always been the reason to listen to Father John Misty and on this album, he is proclaiming himself to be a secular prophet, warning us about the traps and failings of modern life. With soft moments, lots of piano, acoustic guitar, and orchestral accompaniments, Pure Comedy takes you on a sonic adventure. The album is painfully confessional and extremely compelling. Take an hour to think and reflect about what Father John Misty has to say and you’ll walk away understanding him and his way of thinking much better. You also will probably hum along!

Father John Misty: Pure Comedy [Fire Note Review 4/6/17]

#31

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit
The Nashville Sound
Southeastern Records [2017]

Jason Isbell first gained national attention as a member of Drive-By Truckers, where he played with them from 2001 to ’07. In 2015, Isbell’s fifth solo album, Something More Than Free, was his biggest commercial success and he picked up Grammy awards that year for Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song. His newest album with his band The 400 Unit, is a classic in its own right, rooted in phenomenal songwriting and spirited performances. On the whole, when Isbell lets The 400 Unit loose they rock hard and well, more intense than most everything on Something More Than Free, living up to their name. With his wife Amanda Shires on fiddle, Drivin’ N Cryin’ guitarist Sadler Vaden, and Derry DeBorja (formerly of Son Volt) on keyboards, it’s worth mentioning that they offer elegant and satisfying contributions to even on the quieter material, playing with artful restraint and melodic clarity. We have gladly watched Jason Isbell receive the exposure his work deserves and The Nashville Sound shows no signs of him slowing down.

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound [Fire Note Review 7/7/17]

#30

LCD Soundsystem
American Dream
DFA/Columbia Records [2017]

It would be easy to write off LCD Soundsystem, even convenient when you consider that on the surface some of their electronic dance tracks can feel repetitive and often run well past five minutes. There’s a dark, often ironic yet literate narrative, at work in James Murphy’s flowing lyrical storytelling, which can feel poignant and prescient even as it chronicles what could very well be a personal, inner dialogue. And it works without dragging one down, because the music is energetic and effervescent. LCD Soundsystem’s take on the American Dream is far more realistic and delivers on its promises.

LCD Soundsytem: American Dream [Fire Note Review 10/11/17]

#29

Curtis Harding
Face Your Fear
ANTI- [2017]

With the recent passing of the “Screaming Eagle of Soul,” Charles Bradley, Sonny Knight in June and Sharon Jones last year, the retro soul movement has taken a serious blow. Their talents are irreplaceable but with Curtis Harding’s new record, Face Your Fear, you will hear that the genre still thrives. Face Your Fear shows that Harding can hold a groove with the best, and this record was produced with his friends Sam Cohen and Danger Mouse, so you know all the ends were polished to perfection. Face Your Fear is a career defining type of album that should pave the future for Curtis Harding. Maybe not right away or today but definitely for the future because Harding’s pure talent will continue to grow and we will eagerly await his next step.

Curtis Harding: Face Your Fear [Fire Note Review 11/2/17]

#28

The National
Sleep Well Beast
4AD Records [2017]

Sleep Well Beast is one of the most expansive sounding albums The National has released. It is their seventh studio album in four years and right out of the gate, you knew it was another solid crafted record. Probably the biggest surprise on Sleep Well Beast was The National’s use of electronics. The electronic beat backdrops expanded the band’s depth and gave the record a far reaching and boundary crossing electricity. Sleep Well Beast once again, offered something different from The National while sounding so familiar. This release surpasses Trouble Will Find Me and comes close to High Violet if I were to place them in order. The National show that the time away and involvement in multiple other projects has only made them more interesting, complete and complex because Sleep Well Beast is a solid ride.

The National: Sleep Well Beast [Fire Note Review 9/17/17]

#27

Broken Social Scene
Hug Of Thunder
Arts & Crafts [2017]

For a band with as many members as Broken Social Scene (15 to be exact), an album can go one of two ways. It could be a messy cacophony that never manages to have a unified sound or vibe. Or it could take the assets of each member and bring them together to exceed the sum of its parts. The former option is more likely while the latter is really difficult to pull off. And Broken Social Scene pulled it off here because for those of you who like depth to your music, you’ll revel in Hug of Thunder.

Broken Social Scene: Hug Of Thunder [Fire Note Review 8/24/17]

#26

CFM
Dichotomy Desaturated
In The Red Records [2017]

Dichotomy Desaturated is a bit of a departure from Charles Moothart’s past work with Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin and Fuzz. The album was just loaded with psychedelic rock magic similar to contemporaries Meatbodies and Wand but also shares some loose, lo-fi jangle rock vibes that remind TFN of Sebadoh III. Each track on Dichotomy Desaturated is a twisted, ever-shifting tale. Moothart is not afraid to test the bounds of musical structure and ends up creating a very pleasing album via a less than conventional approach to how to rock your socks off.

CFM: Dichotomy Desaturated [Fire Note Review 6/5/17]

#25

Feral Ohms
Feral Ohms
Silver Current Records [2017]

Feral Ohms hail from Oakland, California and released their much-anticipated self-titled studio debut this year. There is no other way to describe it but as a full-on rock assault. Feral Ohms leans more towards the Comets venom and combines elements of old school punk like The Stooges, Black Flag and MC5 but also contains this super power hard rock of an early Soundgarden to their overall delivery that increases the speaker shaking qualities. High octane flows continuously from song to song and makes this 26 minutes from Feral Ohms very hard to forget. Feral Ohms is a true new face on the rock scene and their self-titled debut should not be dismissed – it should be turned up to the max!

Feral Ohms: Feral Ohms [Fire Note Review 3/21/17]

#24

The Rubs
Impossible Dream
HoZac Records [2017]

Impossible Dream is a solid power pop album from Chicago’s The Rubs that has classic recording vibes that will remind you of Big Star while singer Joey Rubbish floats out some Elvis Costello type chops. The modern roll of this group has both the gritty rock of The Strokes and the lo-fi jam of Connections. Impossible Dream was full of raw emotion and where it lacks in perfect studio sonics, the album makes up for it with its imperfect harmonies. This is a record that just gets more infectious with every spin and makes The Rubs new release one of the best surprises of 2017.

The Rubs: Impossible Dream [Fire Note Review 6/14/17]

#23

Protomartyr
Relatives In Descent
Domino Records [2017]

If Nick Cave fronted a modern era post punk band with a refined edge and a spoken word style that is like The Hold Steady you would find yourself with Protomartyr. The underlining intensity of Protomartyr’s fourth long player, Relatives In Descent, is where the band captures your ear and you follow every line singer Joe Casey delivers. This is a record that sits with the world’s current skepticism and how finding the bright spots have become harder and harder. Relatives In Descent is one of the better thought provoking slow burner rock albums you will hear this year. Its grind is its triumph, its peaking explosive moments are its strength and Casey’s leadership style will have you following anywhere.

Protomartyr: Relatives In Descent [Fire Note Review 11/15/17]

#22

Washer
All Aboard
Exploding in Sound Records [2017]

All Aboard builds off Washer’s solid debut and ended up being one of the best post-grunge albums of 2017. Washer’s sound fits in comfortably on Exploding in Sound’s current roster of incredible bands. It can be twisting and bending, it can be cataclysmic and edgy angst but most of all Washer brings the 90’s-era grunge/punk in their sound. It makes All Aboard a wonderfully catchy rocker that should not be ignored.

Washer: All Aboard [Fire Note Review 10/2/17]

#21

Japanese Breakfast
Soft Sounds From Another Planet
Dead Oceans [2017]

Soft Sounds From Another Planet comforts and caresses like a nice warm blanket. This sophomore album contains smooth crescendos of beautiful choruses and a weightless music that’s light effort with maximum impact. Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet is a beautiful and tight introspective on how vocalist and creator Michelle Zauner views life, love, and the strange. It’s an album that grows on you with every listen and you always hear something new with every spin. Japanese Breakfast will be an artist to consistently watch from here on out.

Japanese Breakfast: Soft Sounds From Another Planet [Fire Note Review 11/20/17]

#20

Rick Rude
Make Mine Tuesday
TinyRadars/Sophomore Lounge Records [2017]

New Hampshire’s Rick Rude make a lasting impression with Make Mine Tuesday and represent the type of band TFN loves to introduce to our readers. Make Mine Tuesday was released back in January of this year, so it was easy to miss but if you want to hear a LP that keeps you on your toes and is not afraid to drift between Built to Spill and Heartless Bastards indie rock guitar moments but also hit you with some power-pop riffs right out of a Weezer or Pixies playbook, give Rick Rude a chance.

Rick Rude: Make Mine Tuesday [Fire Note Review 11/30/17]

#19

Jay Som
Everybody Works
Polyvinyl Records [2017]

Jay Som was doing her own DIY thing posting music online when Polyvinyl officially released her first batch of songs last year with the excellent introduction album Turn Into. The fresh spirited Bay Area-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Melina Duterte (aka Jay Som) then released her proper debut, Everybody Works, which completely held up to expectations. Jay Som is the modern Liz Phair which fits neatly into today’s instant now attitude and other recent similar stand outs like Vagabon and Frankie Cosmos. Everybody Works is a freewheeling indie affair that hopefully sets a path of success for Jay Som as it definitely sounds like the beginning to something great still to come!

Jay Some: Everybody Works [Fire Note Review 3/10/17]

#18

Oh Sees
Orc
Castle Face Records [2017]

For John Dwyer, it doesn’t seem to matter much as his OCS/The Oh Sees/Thee Oh Sees/Oh Sees project continues to morph its 20-year psychedelic garage rock arc and it just keeps getting more interesting. Orc is Oh Sees 19th record and feels as fresh and new as anything the band has released to date. Orc sounded like a natural progression for the band that can shred off your speaker covers with its intense and fringe metal moments but also can give off a classic meets post-punk rock vibe. Orc holds no limits and sounded as free as anything the Oh Sees have put out. Its magic comes from the focal direction of the tracks – it never feels like it is going completely off the rails but as a listener you never know where you are going and have the sense that it could. That type of built-in anticipation is TFN kind of record!

Oh Sees: Orc [Fire Note Review 8/25/17]

#17

Richard Edwards
Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset
Joyful Noise Recordings [2017]

Margot and the Nuclear So and So‘s Richard Edwards debut solo album probably had to be the surprise release of the year. It still remains under the radar in many circles but its autobiographical nature makes Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset feel like more than an assemblage of songs. The vulnerabilities expressed are gripping and catchy, hateful yet beautiful, and it has endings and beginnings. Edwards is now unhindered, out in the open and it shows. This rawness and honesty drives Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset and made it one of the most gorgeous sounding albums of the year.

Richard Edwards: Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset [Fire Note Review 3/30/17]

#16

Pile
A Hairshirt Of Purpose
Exploding In Sound Records [2017]

Boston-based Pile pulled off another stunning effort with A Hairshirt Of Purpose as it is an album that takes more time to reveal its charm. With time you grasp the entire narrative of A Hairshirt of Purpose and enjoy it as body of music, as an album, and not just as a set of singles with some filler material. These 13 tracks have a purpose as Pile’s loud-quiet-loud approach takes a much more of a mellow approach to get its point across. It feels more melancholic and lonely, but the songs are just so memorable. Each note has become iconic as Pile have made an indie record to cherish.

Pile: A Hairshirt Of Purpose [Fire Note Review 5/22/17]

#15

Guided By Voices
August By Cake
GBV, Inc. [2017]

“Ladies and gentleman – I present to you – August By Cake.” That is the introduction Robert Pollard gives on his 100th album which had it all. It was a double album, it featured a hungry and raucous band that contributed their songwriting and vocal talents, and there was a sense of effortless joy at play throughout its 32 tracks. A sense that maybe, just maybe, the restless muse of Pollard found his perfect expression. With August By Cake we have all been given a reminder that guitar rock is not dead. Thank you, Robert Pollard and company, we are all better because of your efforts!

Guided By Voices: August By Cake [Fire Note Review 4/4/17]

#14

Ty Segall
Ty Segall
Drag City Records [2017]

Opening with the thunderous guitar riff of “Break a Guitar” it was immediately obvious that Ty Segall’s latest was going to be a pretty special album. Ty changed some things this record and assembled his band along with Cairo Gang’s Emmett Kelly, and headed to the studio to record as a band (with Steve Albini engineering), and not just by himself which has been his normal modus operandi. The results of this collaboration on Ty Segall were flat out staggering. Ty Segall is an adventurous album; it’s not a full-blown garage psych freak-out like Slaughterhouse was, though it certainly has moments that could be characterized as such. Ty Segall is another in a long line of truly remarkable albums from Ty, just when you think the guy might be slowing down he hits another one out of the park.

Ty Segall: Ty Segall [Fire Note Review 6/2/17]

#13

Kevin Morby
City Music
Dead Oceans [2017]

Kevin Morby broke out last year with his fantastic third LP, Singing Saw. City Music, builds on that confidence and now becomes his biggest musical outing to date. Singing Saw was all about the solitude of Morby’s quiet recording area so with that concept in mind, City Music is a much busier record that contains all the hustle and bustle you can imagine when the city never sleeps. City Music is an album that, just like the city, has plenty going on. From a Germs cover to the memorable and moving songs that you instantly remember Kevin Morby accomplishes taking his career to a new level. Where Dylan has been a good comparison for his earlier work, City Music finds his inner Lou Reed. It is this singer/songwriter swagger of confidence that sets Kevin Morby apart as he has a bright future – and that is truly exciting where he goes next!

Kevin Morby: City Music [Fire Note Review 6/16/17]

#12

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Four Albums
Flightless/ATO Records [2017]

I think everyone chuckled a bit when they heard that Australian upstarts, King Gizzard were going to release five albums this year. Well, the year is not over and they officially have released four LPs. Each had a different flavor while still maintaining the King Gizzard core which included psychedelia, a chaptered concept album, a jazzy collaboration and one they just gave away for anyone to download and release. Lumping these together is sort of a cop-out but all four records were strong and close in competition for being the best. For the record, TFN rank order is 1) Murder Of The Universe, 2) Polygondwanaland, 3) Sketches Of Brunswick East and 4) Flying Microtonal Banana if you wanted to know. We can’t wait for number 5 and 2018 as King Gizzard continues to be one of the best new artists releasing music today.

King Gizzard: Flying Microtonal Banana [Fire Note Review 2/23/17]
King Gizzard: Murder Of The Universe [Fire Note Review 6/22/17]
King Gizzard: Sketches Of Brunswick East [Fire Note Review 8/22/17]
King Gizzard: Polygondwanaland [Fire Note Review 12/6/17]

#11

Waxahatchee
Out In The Storm
Merge Records [2017]

If you don’t know the names Waxahatchee or Katie Crutchfield now is the time as her third album,
Out In The Storm, is a fantastic introduction. Her songs are full of the imagery of millennial youth: loss and hope, desperation and exhilaration. Unlike many of her contemporaries though, Crutchfield doesn’t let you all the way in. Her words are not torn from the pages of a diary and in that she may be a template for the millions of kids out there sharing every part of their lives (and bodies) on Snapchat. And although her shy nature colors most of her work, this time there’s a bit of swagger. Perhaps a little more confident in herself and her musical worth Out In The Storm represents a resounding bounce back after her dreamy and uneven sophomore effort Ivy Tripp. Katie Crutchfield continues to impress TFN with this tight and inspired set which was hard to put down.

Waxahatchee: Out In The Storm [Fire Note Review 7/26/17]

#10

Fleet Foxes
Crack-Up
Nonesuch Records [2017]

Although it’s been 6 years since the last record by Fleet Foxes, in some ways Robin Pecknold & Co. were able to come back to the place where the band left off. There was still a significant change of focus musically on Crack-Up as Fleet Foxes stretched out beyond any chance of predictable patterns and formulas of previous outings. Crack-Up was a record that took all year to absorb and with each successive listen it moved up our list. There are so many little moments on Crack-Up that just emphasize what a fantastic band Fleet Foxes represent. Let’s hope they don’t stay away so long before their next LP.

Fleet Foxes: Crack-Up [Fire Note Review 6/20/17]

#9

Shagg
Shagg
Quality Time/Greenway Records [2017]

Right now, you are scratching your head because you have not heard or seen anything on Shagg unless of course you read TFN. This Cleveland band should be on your radar because they will rock the crap out of you for this entire just over 14-minute record. Their arrangements are chaotic, the music is messy and they can blow your speakers out with just Nat Cherry’s scorching vocals. Shagg give you an in your face hi speed rock that is energizing and unrelenting, while their cover of the Wipers “Return Of The Rat” is spot on.

Shagg: Shagg [Fire Note Review 10/4/17]

#8

King Krule
The OOZ
True Panther/XL Recordings [2017]

We really didn’t expect this record to be this good and it took TFN by surprise. King Krule has a unique sound that blends multiple styles of jazz, garage, psychedelic, blues, trippy beats and indie rock that is guided by London’s Archy Marshall’s veteran Paul Weller, Nick Cave and Tom Waits type voice with a Mac DeMarco, Ariel Pink and Girls style. There are so many styles going on here The OOZ should be a mess but instead it offered something new for you every time you played it. That is the fantastic part about this record because it is fresh, timeless and entertaining.

King Krule: The OOZ [Fire Note Review 10/27/17]

#7

The War On Drugs
A Deeper Understanding
Atlantic Records [2017]

A Deeper Understanding is the War On Drugs fourth full-length album, and it is also one of their most accessible. There are a lot of influences on this album and it’s not news to compare The War on Drugs to Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young but Adam Granduciel nails that classic vibe while being his own artist. With only a few radio-ready songs but with no compromises is where A Deeper Understanding wins. There are ten tracks that clock in at over an hour so War On Drugs asks you to be patient with it as it builds. If you stay, A Deeper Understanding rewards you every single time.

War On Drugs: A Deeper Understanding [Fire Note Review 10/27/17]

#6

Vagabon
Infinite Worlds
Father/Daughter Records [2017]

Rarely anymore does a debut album get TFN revved up but that is exactly what happened the first time we heard the songs of Cameroon-born artist Laetitia Tamko, aka Vagabond. Infinite Worlds is an album of finding herself with no musical boundaries and that is the beauty here. At times, Infinite Worlds oozes confidence while around other corners it offers that uneasy feeling you get when you don’t know what is on the other side of the door but you need to walk through anyway. Vagabon offers different moods and styles with each track and the record flexes its muscles and crashes into you like a wave over and over. Her shaky confidence that is guarded but forward shines and it is ultimately why Vagabon has released the strongest debut of 2017.

Vagabon: Infinite Worlds [Fire Note Review 2/22/17]

#5

Julien Baker
Turn Out The Lights
6131/Matador Records [2017]

When we first heard Julien Baker on her 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle, you had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last from the young Memphis artist. Her delicate recording showed a raw vulnerability and a mature composure that well exceeded her then age of 19. Fast forward to her sophomore outing, Turn Out The Lights, and you will hear the phenomenal talent of the now 21-year-old Baker bursting out of every song on this record. Turn Out The Lights is the perfect balance of a stylish DIY and the backing of a major indie like Matador. Julien Baker tells her stories, composes heartfelt track after heartfelt track and not only do you instantly want to hear Turn Out The Lights again – you pull for Baker to get through to the other side every step of the way! This is truly one of the better records of 2017.

Julien Baker: Turn Out The Lights [Fire Note Review 10/30/17]

#4

The Afghan Whigs
In Spades
Sub Pop Records [2017]

Thank goodness, we have the return of The Afghan Whigs to help rock still have a voice in today’s scene. The Afghan Whigs’ returned with a more compositionally rich and textured musical approach that echoed classical musical themes which run in tension with the demanding drums, guitars and Greg Dulli’s compelling vocal howl. The end result gives an energized, and compelling mix of sounds to match the equally dark and emotionally dense images in Dulli’s lyrics, which continue to suggest the brutal, often painful realities of existence. There are too many pop bands, commercial rock and country artists who are succumbing to lowest common denominators as it’s both exciting and encouraging to have an artful rocker of Dulli’s and The Afghan Whigs pedigree continue to stretch musical boundaries with their singular artistic vision. More of this, please!

The Afghan Whigs: In Spades [Fire Note Review 5/5/17]

#3

Slowdive
Slowdive
Dead Oceans [2017]

22 years is a crazy long time to be away and for Slowdive it feels even longer. Today Slowdive fall into the dream pop genre with the likes of Beach House and Low but they are better known for their shoegazing 90’s and will be brought up along with classic acts such as Ride and/or My Bloody Valentine. Slowdive’s return is an appropriately aged record that sounds complete from a veteran group as its warmth hits you with such a delicate wave that you forget to hold onto something and get washed away. Their instrumentation is perfectly balanced from Neil Halstead’s smooth vocals to the backdrop riff and backing voices that ripple just below the surface. The 2017 version of Slowdive not only is a confident display of their past but truly relevant for today’s sometimes brutal and depthless indie scene. It is a comeback album for Slowdive that not only secures their place in music history but has now started a spectacular new chapter!

Slowdive: Slowdive [Fire Note Review 5/11/17]

#2

(Sandy) Alex G
Rocket
Domino Records [2017]

The bedroom pop of Alexander Giannascoli aka (Sandy) Alex G has grown substantially since we first stumbled upon his 2014 record DSU on DIY label Orchid Tapes. Rocket is the example of why you don’t give up or like many people today using Spotify – simply forget about an artist, because (Sandy) Alex G hits a home run here. Rocket embraces new angles with his bedroom pop wrapped in a dusty folk but he also includes his weirder side with an Auto-Tune number or noise filled songs that reminded us of some earlier Beck tracks. All the songs here from (Sandy) Alex G are different but not out of place. That is the gorgeous cohesion of Rocket and why it landed at #2.

(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket [Fire Note Review 11/29/17]

#1

Guided By Voices
How Do You Spell Heaven
GBV, Inc. [2017]

You can be forgiven for missing some of Robert Pollard’s output – the discography is indeed deep and daunting. With that said, there are no excuses for skipping How Do You Spell Heaven. With one of the most solid lineups GBV has seen that includes Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr on guitars, Mark Shue on bass and Kevin March behind the kit, Guided By Voices delivered one of the most straight-forward GbV records to date. From the four-minute instrumental T-Rex kind of jam in “Pearly Gates Smoke Machine” to the classic rock and jangly power pop of other tracks GBV was able to boil down everything that made the double record, August By Cake such a thrill ride into a single, easily digestible LP. There is never a bad time to get onboard with Guided By Voices but you couldn’t pick a better time than now as How Do You Spell Heaven is our pick for the best album of 2017!

Guided By Voices: How Do You Spell Heaven [Fire Note Review 8/9/17]

The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2016

blazing top 50

#50

M Ross Perkins
M Ross Perkins
SofaBurn Records [2016]

It was a good year for Dayton, Ohio native M. Ross Perkins. He had a track premiered by the High Times website, an album feature/stream on AllMusic, and recorded both his own solo album and a record with fellow Daytonians Me Time. His self-titled record pulls from a well of influences that include the obvious (The Beatles, CSNY, The Beach Boys) and not-so-obvious (Harry Nilsson, Todd Rundgren, “Lola”-era Kinks). M. Ross Perkins’ debut LP shows that sometimes all you need to make a great record is yourself.

M Ross Perkins: M Ross Perkins [Fire Note Review 11/21/16]

#49

cymbals-eat-guitars-pretty-years Cymbals Eat Guitars
Pretty Years
Sinderlyn [2016]

It would have been easy to write off Cymbals Eat Guitars with the rotating band members but Pretty Years has the main drive of original member singer D’Agostino which is still full of fresh steps. With more synthesizers roaming in the background the band’s foundation of guitars, drums and bass are still well intact. Cymbals Eat Guitars separates themselves from the so-called dying indie genre and reinvented their music for 2016. Pretty Years was another solid album in their catalog.

Cymbals Eat Guitars: Pretty Years [Fire Note Review 11/17/16]

#48

alejandro-escovedo-burn-something-beautiful Alejandro Escovedo
Burn Something Beautiful
Fantasy [2016]

Supported by Decemberist drummer John Moen, guitarist Kurt Bloch (The Fastbacks), Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin on baritone sax and strong vocal performances by Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) and Kelly Hogan (Neko Case and Minus 5), Escovedo’s long fascination with Mott the Hoople style glam rock shines through crunchy rock tracks on his 12th overall album and first in four years. This no holds bar fire keeps Burn Something Beautiful moving as Escovedo celebrates the noisy possibilities of our existential crisis.

Alejandro Escovedo: Burn Something Beautiful [Fire Note Review 11/7/16]

#47

martha-blisters-pit-my-heart Martha
Blisters In The Pit On My Heart
Dirtnap Records [2016]

Martha is the first UK band that Dirtnap Records has worked with and you can hear how their sophomore record fits in the with the label’s pop punk vibe. The band has a nice balance of pop and punk as their songs can rip and bounce at the same moment. Martha is an English band with a political agenda which gives them substance and drive. Once you wrap it up in songs you can sing along with really loud it completely worked and is volume knob heaven.

Martha: Blisters In The Pit On My Heart [Fire Note Review 11/30/16]

#46

OLE-1090-SteveGunn_EyesOnTheLines-copy Steve Gunn
Eyes On The Lines
Matador Records [2016]

Gunn’s Matador debut is full of masterful psychedelic guitar groovers. Eyes On The Lines feels like summer, it feels like hanging out with your friends and having your favorite album on while you’re drinking some beers. It has a comfortable, confident vibe, and then suddenly you realize that it’s been twenty minutes and you haven’t said a word to anybody because you got lost in the guitar grooves that Steve Gunn has been laying down. That is what landed this record in the Top 50.

Steve Gunn: Eyes On The Lines [Fire Note Review 6/22/16]

#45

charles-bradley-changes Charles Bradley
Changes
Dunham/Daptone Records [2016]

They don’t call Charles Bradley the screaming eagle of soul with a heart of gold for nothing. Changes housed some of his truest confessions of love and soul this year. Bradley’s delivery is heartfelt, consistent and a straight shot that plays to his honest strengths. If you are looking for just a complete honest performance, Bradley is your man because he has nothing to hide and lays all of his card on the table.


Charles Bradley: Changes [Fire Note Review 5/3/16]

#44

TIM111-OMNI-Deluxe_1600x1600 OMNI
Deluxe
Trouble In Mind Records [2016]

Atlanta’s OMNI plays a low-fi indie rock that has the similar post-punk vein of Parquet Courts but with a bit more laid back mood like Spoon. OMNI keep a consistent vocal, guitar, drum and bass but shake it up with an undertone of hooks and running riffs. There is no fire here, there is no last breath, and there are no exploding moments but OMNI make up for it with little treasures that sneak up on you again and again. Deluxe was a true indie sleeper.


OMNI: Deluxe [Fire Note Review 8/11/16]

#43

thejulieruin-lp1 The Julie Ruin
Hit Reset
Hardly Art Records [2016]

Kathleen Hanna is all you need to say here as her resume includes Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. The Julie Ruin’s new album, Hit Reset, was smart, snappy and sassy. It is full of tight songs that let Hanna just run wild and also allows her to state her world views, teach younger artists a lesson and it highlighted how well written punk songs can go a long way!

Julie Ruin: Hit Reset [Fire Note Review 7/21/16]

#42

tim-easton-american-fork Tim Easton
American Fork
Last Chance Records [2016]

Tim Easton is the singer/songwriter that you just can’t stop from delivering a pure heartfelt record. His eleventh, yes eleventh, record American Fork feels and sounds like an artist at the top of his game which has no care in the world except providing the absolute best sonic effort for your ears. Tim Easton is one of the best under the radar songwriters out there and American Fork once again backs it up with quality writing, singing and production. When you add drummer Jon Radford (Justin Townes Earle, Steelism), bassist Michael Rinne (Rodney Crowell), the pedal steel playing of Russ Pahl (Ray Lamontagne, John Hiatt), and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Crowell (Deertick, Turbo Fruits) to the equation, American Fork absolutely could not fail.

Tim Easton: American Fork [Fire Note Review 9/9/16]

#41

weezer-white-album Weezer
Weezer (White Album)
Crush/Atlantic Records [2016]

On this tenth studio album (and the fourth with eponymous title), Weezer returned to it’s LA/Southern California roots with a host of songs that played around in territory covered by the Beach Boys. Guess what? It was catchy good! Cuomo & Co. are not just having fun with the music (although clearly they are), lyrically they turned the Beach Boy summer fantasy clichés on their ears, and make obscure references to Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos islands on the ship. It was a summer sing along record that still holds some of that classic Weezer magic today.

Weezer: Weezer (White Album) [Fire Note Review 4/25/16]

#40

guided-by-voices-please-be-honest Guided By Voices
Please Be Honest
Guided By Voices Inc. [2016]

Guided by Voices returned as a one-man band this go around as Robert Pollard was responsible for playing every instrument. Please Be Honest is a little rough around the edges and is one of those records that takes a few listens to fully appreciate: its hooks aren’t as immediately apparent, and its melodies aren’t as instantly catchy. But, Please Be Honest contains the sprawling “My Zodiac Companion,” which featured one of Pollard’s most effortless melodies in recent memory, so even though this was not the most consistent GBV effort, it did capture that indefinable GBV spirit. That spirit is why it is still Top 50 material.

Guided By Voices: Please Be Honest [Fire Note Review 4/26/16]

#39

wcr070votaries-psychometry-coverimage Votaries
Psychometry
Wharf Cat Records [2016]

There is a good chance this record would be higher up on the list if we heard it earlier in the year. Votaries is Jackson Scott’s new project, which has now released their first LP, Psychometry, and it is a rather stunning collection of psychedelic drone-rock. Psychometry exceeded expectations with its blend of My Bloody Valentine drone, slithering vocals and psychedelic flourishes that will remind you of artists like Wand and Mac DeMarco. This is truly a grower of an album but once you get bit by the Votaries bug – it is really hard to turn down or turn away!

Votaries: Psychometry [Fire Note Review 11/29/16]

#38

nada-surf-you-know-who-you-are Nada Surf
You Know Who You Are
Barsuk Records [2016]

Nada Surf returned with their first batch of new tunes since 2012 as You Know Who You Are was the group’s eighth LP and marked its first as an official quartet with the addition of the super talented guitarist Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices, Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde). Sometimes it takes time to absorb an album and our intial score on this record was a bit too harsh. With more time and perspective, the album’s bursting moments sound bigger, its angular driving sections are more intense and it really does represent the Nada Surf formula that is hard to replicate. Nada Surf haven’t changed much over the last four years and You Know Who You Are is not only ultra-catchy but just kept getting better and better everytime we put it on.

Nada Surf: You Know Who You Are [Fire Note Review 3/8/16]

#37

white-lung-paradise White Lung
Paradise
Domino Records [2016]

White Lung have to be one of the more under the radar great female fronted rock bands currently on the scene today. Deep Fantasy (2014) was great and with Paradise they showed that it was no fluke. White Lung is full of piss and vinegar with a touch of melody and memborable hooks. The result was a 29-minute record that blows you away with frontwoman Mish Barber-Way’s commanding vocals and a tight guitar-drum-bass combo roll that never allows breaks. It is harder and harder to find this sound as Paradise is full of essential rock elements. This record is full speed and made cranking up the volume a given!

White Lung: Paradise [Fire Note Review 5/24/16]

#36

kyle-craft-dolls-of-highland Kyle Craft
Dolls Of Highland
Sub Pop Records [2016]

The debut from singer/songwriter Kyle Craft will be one of the more interesting and entertaining records you will hear this year. I really thought Craft would break out more but that was not Dolls Of Highland’s fault. His floating tenor and talented musicianship is uniquely addicting with great storytelling, a 70’s folk/glam sound and surprising song shifts. Kyle Craft is a new artist that is completely worth the hype and Dolls of Highland is a record that deserves your ear! Be on the watch because you probably have not heard the last of him.

Kyle Craft: Dolls Of Highland [Fire Note Review 5/5/16]

#35

sleepies Sleepies
Natural Selection
Mirror Universe Tapes [2016]

Wake up people! Sleepies third album needs your attention. This band has a knack for crafting quirky, off-kilter and unpredictable rock. Just when you think you know where a song is going, these guys pull the rug out from underneath you and hit you with something unexpected. Natural Selection finds Sleepies evolving their sound into a hybrid of power-pop-punk mash-up with occasional flourishes of psych-rock. They have a nervous edge to them that has bits of Pixies, Parquet Courts, and McLusky which is just one more reason the Sleepies ended up in the Top 50.

Sleepies: Natural Selection [Fire Note Review 9/7/16]

#34

fascinating-dice-game Fascinating
Dice Game
Quality Time Records [2016]

Fascinating is a trio out of Cleveland, Ohio that is one of many projects from Quality Time Records’ Ricky Hamilton. Fascinating comes at you 100mph with their lower fi post punk that sounds like you are in the best sounding basement in the world. This debut has it all with a raw laid back delivery, roughed up edges and strategically gives a crap when it creates its own little sing along moments with choruses that stick. Dice Game is a 21-minute blast that earned its way onto the list as Fascinating is the real rock n roll deal!

Fascinating: Dice Game [Fire Note Review 10/25/16]

#33

danny_cover_for_pre-order_1024x1024 Danny & The Darleans
Bug Out
In The Red Records [2016]

Danny (Dan Kroha) was a founding member of the legendary Gories so their second LP, Bug Out, seemed like a must to check out. The best thing about the record is that Kroha returns to his garage rock Detroit roots and plays from the hip with hard hitting Rn’B style jams. Bug Out’s raw and un-filtered sound is exactly what you want from this record and Danny & The Darleans deliver. Bug Out was one of the best garage rock albums you could pick up this year!

Danny & The Darleans: Bug Out [Fire Note Review 12/7/16]

#32

wilco-schmilco Wilco
Schmilco
ANTI-/dBpm Records [2016]

The quick return of Wilco was a surprising addtion to the music releases last year. After the louder Star Wars, it was no surprise that Schmilco took a more stripped down approach this time out. In fact, Schmilco would have made a great second record in the set. It was easier to forget about this one because of its style but repeated listenings revealed that this music is not as simple as it first sounds. It took longer to get into Schmilco but still offered all of the Wilco rewards in the end.

Wilco: Schmilco [Fire Note Review 9/6/16]

#31

tuns TUNS
TUNS
Royal Mountain Records [2016]

TUNS was Canadian power pop heaven. The band consists of Sloan’s Chris Murphy, The Inbreds’ Mike O’Neil, and Super Friendz’s Matt Murphy. All 90’s veterans of the Northern scene and without even trying, TUNS soars with its upbeat harmonic indie pop that is most closely related to Sloan’s style. The surprise here was that TUNS was a much more cohesive record than other recent “supergroup” projects you can think of. The backing falsettos, the sharp lyrics and the multitude of memorable choruses makes TUNS one of our more fun listens this year!

TUNS: TUNS [Fire Note Review 10/12/16]

#30

WussyAlbumArt_lores Wussy
Forever Sounds
Shake It Records [2016]

This Wussy record came out in March, so I believe it was a little forgotten but should be pulled back out. At this stage in their career, you must give a standing ovation to Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker for Wussy’s growth. Forever Sounds is their sixth full length and is a testament to their longevity. For Weaver, this is his second shot at stardom, as his Ass Ponys were part of the 90’s alt-rock explosion that many of us still hold near to our listening heart. All of this experience, that includes Mark Messerly, Joe Klug, and John Erhardt can be heard on Forever Sounds as it goes down many different rabbit holes such as hope, heartbreak, and the supernatural. The sharing of songwriting duties, trading lead vocals, and harmonizing together still existed on Forever Sounds and seemed effortless which of course made this album one of their best yet.

Wussy: Forever Sounds [Fire Note Review 3/4/16]

#29

frank-ocean-blonde-album-cover-628x628 Frank Ocean
Blonde
Self-Released [2016]

It’s easy to automatically reject Frank Ocean here because he is outside our normal music coverage. With that said, that is why Blonde succeeds because it has much to offer for all fans of music. So, why was Blonde so good? There are so many moments that demand your attention, like big choruses, chilling harmonies, power ballads and a spectaculer gospel side that worked. Blonde deserves all of the praise it has recieved from all and if you give it a chance, we think you will hear its uniqueness as well.

Frank Ocean: Blonde [Fire Note Review 9/13/16]

#28

Mitski
Puberty 2
Dead Oceans [2016]

Here is a record that just missed us. We scrambled to get a review for it becuase it was worthy of this Top 50 spot. TFN described Mitski’s sound as PJ Harvey meets Angel Olsen croon, electronic drum machines meets Pixies-ish style guitars, while quiet moments can become feverish mayhem on a turn of a dime. If that doesn’t get you a little bit excited than I am not sure what would because Puberty 2 was a refreshing listen with its diversity. Just when we think we have heard it all, a record like this comes along and you can hear how different it is. Mitski’s voice soars, her compositions are energizing and Puberty 2 would just keep climbing the chart if we spent more time with it.

Mitski: Puberty 2 [Fire Note Review 12/12/16]

#27

told-slant-going-by Told Slant
Going By
Double Double Whammy [2016]

How about a cross between Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens and Hayden? That is exactly what we heard on the new engagingly addicting sophomore record from Told Slant. It is a slower moving album, so I think some listeners were lost with it but if you kept going you found yourself hanging your ear on every lyric, every strum and every music transition. Told Slant created a fantastic space out of the real space between notes. Going By sucks you in with this quiet intensity and we believe it took many of us by surprise.

Told Slant: Going By [Fire Note Review 7/1/16]

#26

big-eyes-stake-my-claim Big Eyes
Stake My Claim
Don Giovanni Records [2016]

The music scene needs Big Eyes more than ever. This 10 song 24-minute rocker titled Stake My Claim is a great combo of classic rock riffs and pop punk hooks that has swagger and attitude just busting out from all of its edges. This brashness starts from lead singer Kait Eldridge and her slightly roughed out Joan Jett vocals which take command of each song. Stake My Claim is catchy, strong and memorable as it had a very high replay value. Its balance of pop, punk and rock is well blended till the end as Kait Eldridge is clearly a new force on scene to be reckoned with. TFN thinks that this record is just the spectacular beginning for Big Eyes!

Big Eyes: Stake My Claim [Fire Note Review 8/16/16]

#25

nick-cave-skeleton Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Skeleton Tree
Bad Seed LTD. [2016]

Although Skeleton Tree may be the least accessible of Nick Cave’s works, he has never tried to soften the blows of life in creating music for his listeners. Filled with pure, unbridled pain, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds once again exorcised their demons and delivered an album that looks death in the face, and doesn’t look away. In a year when we have lost such luminaries as Bowie, Prince, and others, this music offers a final sense of release that allows the mourner to look up and begin to live again. It wasn’t an easy record to listen to nor your favorite put on play album but Skeleton Tree was an important listen even if it was only once.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree [Fire Note Review 9/19/16]

#24

ultimate-painting-dusk Ultimate Painting
Dusk
Trouble In Mind Records [2016]

Jack Cooper and James Hoare, better known as Ultimate Painting, came back with their third album, Dusk, which contained 10 tracks of some of the finest guitar pop you are going to hear this year. Comparable to bands like Television, Yo La Tengo, and Luna, and influenced by the majestic third lp from The Velvet Underground, Ultimate Painting hit all the right notes with their jangly guitars as they spiraled around and weaved in and out of their strong melodies. Dusk was easily their best release to date and is honestly a record that just gets better everytime we revisit Ultimate Painting’s world.

Ultimate Painting: Dusk [Fire Note Review 10/24/16]

#23

thee-oh-sees-weird Thee Oh Sees
A Weird Exits
Castle Face Records [2016]

Thee Oh Sees are one of TFN favorite bands right now and upon first take we were a bit harsh on A Weird Exits. It was a record of muscular pulse and experiement, which are very easy to get lost in but every time you combined the garage rock with its guitar chug we became more addicted. A Weird Exits was very comfortable in spots for fans but when it changed directions is when the diverse front man John Dwyer excells. He wants to keep things fresh and challege his audience. We were not with every oddity that showed up here but as a whole, it made A Weird Exits one of the better albums of the year that we truly enjoyed.

Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits [Fire Note Review 9/28/16]

#22

thao-a-man-alive Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
A Man Alive
Ribbon Music [2016]

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down have been putting out quirky indie rock since their 2008 debut We Brave Bee Stings and All. Bandleader Thao Nguyen continues to get stronger with her presence and on the band’s fourth long player, A Man Alive, you can hear her in full control. We really liked Thao’s last album, We The Common [2013] but with repeat listens, A Man Alive stands tall and competes for title of best album in her catalog. A Man Alive made this list because of its fun side and timeless appeal that never lets down.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down [Fire Note Review 5/11/16]

#21

drive-by-american-band Drive-By Truckers
American Band
ATO Records [2016]

I really don’t think that the Drive-By Truckers could make a bad record. It is more about how good their album is. With American Band, the group really seems to have found a new energy and is firing on all cylinders once again from previous lineup changes that plagued some past releases. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley now seem on an equal platform and American Band is better becuase of it. They really push each other, which in turn pushes the entire band to a higer level. American Band is not only one of the finest albums of the year; it’s also one of the most important with its political charge.

Drive-By Truckers: American Band [Fire Note Review 12/9/16]

#20

goggs GØGGS
GØGGS
In The Red Recordings [2016]

Ty Segall has his hands in several projects but GØGGS may require stitches after it takes you for a blitzed out pounding. With Fuzz bandmate Charles Moothart, and frontman Chris Shaw of Ex-Cult, this trio is a loaded army of buzzsaws that never slows down. GØGGS style in 2016 felt fresh because their in your face approach was a salute to the hardcore 80’s LA punk scene that brought back the sweat and energy of Black Flag or T.S.O.L. It comes at you with no excuses, and no apologies. There were just not many records released this year that compare to GØGGS sound, as it easily earned its spot at number 20.

GØGGS: GØGGS [Fire Note Review 7/6/16]

#19

sturgill-sailor Sturgill Simpson
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Atlantic Records [2016]

With A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, Sturgill Simpson expanded the boundaries of country music employing strings, horns and some big jazzy blues. You might think his roots were lost but that is just it – Simpson still is bona fide country. It was easy to get all wrapped up in his excellent cover of Kurt Cobain’s “In Bloom,” but musically, A Sailor’s Guide is a pure delight, taking full advantage of the fine musicians Simpson brought together for the experience, while taking country music into areas previously assumed as off limits.

Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor’s Guide To Earth [Fire Note Review 6/2/16]

#18

whitney-light-upon-lake Whitney
Light Upon The Lake
Secretly Canadian [2016]

When the Smith Westerns called it quits we really thought we would be talking about frontman Cullen Omori’s solo release here but instead Westerns’ guitarist Max Kakacek and singing drummer Julien Ehrlich (also in Unknown Mortal Orchestra), released the superb Light Upon The Lake under the new moniker Whitney. This new group features the same type of whimsical warm indie rock but keeps things more simple and low key with included brass and plenty of swaying moments. Light Upon The Lake has plenty of cool jazzy undertones which gave the album another depth, while Ehrlich’s quiet vocal inflections pull you into the albums core. Whitney’s debut was a strong statement and we can’t wait to hear what comes next.

Whitney: Light Upon The Lake [Fire Note Review 6/14/16]

#17

honey-radar-blank-cartoon Honey Radar
Blank Cartoon
What’s Your Rupture? [2016]

I don’t know why more lo-fi fans have not found Honey Radar. Blank Cartoon is a wonderful patchwork of songs that bring to mind an early era of Guided by Voices. At 18 tracks long, there is zero filler on Blank Cartoon and most tracks are under 3 minutes long, so Honey Radar delivers just the right dose. We feel Honey Radar is a group that should be bigger than our small corner of the music world and we couldn’t feel any stronger about Blank Cartoon landing at number 17. If that is not a statement about their quality, we are not sure what else we can do!

Honey Radar: Blank Cartoon [Fire Note Review 7/1/16]

#16

pinegrove-cardinal Pinegrove
Cardinal
Run For Cover Records [2016]

The honest voice of Evan Stephens Hall here is the initial attraction to Pinegrove with his ever so slightly weathered vocal and complete sincerity. The group has solitude like Elvis Depressedly and Bright Eyes, can rock like Car Seat Headrest or early Wilco and would be fine opening for Ryan Adams or Built To Spill. Cardinal took some time to click but when it did it really clicked. It is an emotional rollercoaster of an album that is indie rock with a country tweak that lyrically deals with its demons but comes through fine on the other side. It has a youthful flow to it that makes each track unique and a clear spotlight in 2016.

Pinegrove: Cardinal [Fire Note Review 12/1/16]

#15

leithauser-rostam-i-had-dream Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Glassnote Records [2016]

The Walkman’s frontman Hamilton Leithauser has one of those instantly recognizable voices so I never doubted that he could do well in a solo setting. His 2014 debut was OK but after he teamed up full time with former Vampire Weekend producer/instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij they created one to remember. Leithauser and Rostam are excellent story tellers and each song here could catch you with its lyrics and different intricate musical pieces that brought on new discoveries with each repeat listen. I Had A Dream That You Were Mine from Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam is the best collaborative album this year and overall one of the true highlights in 2016.

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had A Dream That You Were Mine [Fire Note Review 10/27/16]

#14

frankie-cosmos-next-thing Frankie Cosmos
Next Thing
Bayonet Records [2016]

Next Thing is that special record for creator/singer Greta Kline’s Frankie Cosmos, as it is that moment she goes from being known by a few to being known by many. The record is a short and interesting perspective of spoken word except that it is accompanied by the catchiest of jangles. This is the mix that makes Frankie Cosmos so damn enjoyable as her sophomore album Next Thing was made for a bigger audience but also retained what makes Kline great in the first place. The songs are still personal, the music still gives you shivers and the closeness of her sound makes you feel like the only fan on this earth.

Frankie Cosmos: Next Thing [Fire Note Review 4/6/16]

#13

esp-ohio-recordsESP Ohio
Starting Point Of The Royal Cyclopean
GBV, Inc. [2016]

ESP Ohio was the third Robert Pollard release this year and because of the lineup, the most exciting. The new project reunited him with guitarist Doug Gillard (Nada Surf, Guided By Voices) which has historically yielded some great indie pop moments, then he added current GBV bassist Mark Shue and drummer Travis Harrison (Lifeguards producer). This record had everything you want if you are a Pollard fan, such as riff rockers, hook filled jams and then of course the jangly carefree songwriting. ESP Ohio also brought horns to the party which was a new twist that worked. This project really works because it’s being allowed the freedom to be whatever it wants to be. The songs move to their own internal compass and the band sounds energized and tight as hell. We really hope that ESP Ohio will back for another run soon!

ESP Ohio: Starting Point Of The Royal Cyclopean [Fire Note Review 11/14/16]

#12

jeff-rosenstock-worry Jeff Rosenstock
WORRY.
SideOneDummy Records [2016]

Punk has been taking a backseat for some time now so it was ear opening to play Jeff Rosenstock’s new album WORRY. This record moves Rosenstock lightyears ahead of his catalog as this album collects all of his ideas in one place and harnesses a powerful and explorative record that has peaks, valleys, gut punches, rip shit up moments and cry in a corner times that all equate a thrill ride from beginning to end. WORRY. was the best punk release for 2016 and has no problem sitting this high on the list.

Jeff Rosenstock: WORRY. [Fire Note Review 10/12/16]

#11

bon-iver-22-million Bon Iver
22, A Million
Jagjaguwar [2016]

I never thought that Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon would stay contained to one style, sound or genre but the turn he took on his third record 22, A Million was not expected. It was a perplexing shift but if you stuck with it, Bon Iver captured the same engagement here as previously praised releases. This album has its spacey and ethereal moments that were highlighted by synthesizers, electronic beeps and well-placed beats. What makes this record exciting and one of the better releases of the year is that Vernon’s artistic inclusion of “quiet” space was held by isolated instruments like saxophone, metal drum, and trumpet while using samples at moments you don’t expect. Artistry won us over big on this one.

Bon Iver: 22, A Million [Fire Note Review 10/6/16]

#10

connections-midnight-run Connections
Midnight Run
Anyway Records [2016]

The sound found on Midnight Run was not new for Connections but it was perfected. Midnight Run, highlights that they know exactly what they are doing at this point with their brand of lo-fi fuzz guitar rock that soars with melodies, stands up with guitar solos and is just weird and disjointed enough in parts to keep the record interesting. This album translates on your headphones and will easily play loud on the stage. Connections already have three solid records in their arsenal but Midnight Run took their talent to the next level!

Connections: Midnight Run [Fire Note Review 7/20/16]

#9

parquet-courts-human-performance Parquet Courts
Human Performance
Rough Trade Records [2016]

It has to be hard to keep cranking out top notch releases and nobody has done it better over the years than Parquet Courts. Their quick shift changes circulated throughout Human Performance as the record looked to take chances. There was intricate conga play, psychedelic movements for a different realm and much more time spent on the creative process to arrive with this final result. Human Performance has a slacker meets swagger attitude which was infectious and most certainly helped propel the record upwards to number 9.

Parquet Courts: Human Performance [Fire Note Review 4/12/16]

#8

king-gizzard-nonagon King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Nonagon Infinity
ATO Records [2016]

If you have read TFN long enough, you know that we have been telling you about Australia’s King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard for some time now. Nonagon Infinity was the eighth studio album by the psych rock group and it is an infinite loop, with every song flowing into one another, including the closing and opening track. Nonagon was much heavier than previous records, which gave it a special edge as it even won the Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal album at the ARIA Music Awards of 2016. It really does not fit that category but I think it just shows that this record was the most in your face album the group has produced and we loved it!

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Nonagon Infinity [Fire Note Review 4/28/16]

#7

radiohead-moon-shaped-pool Radiohead
A Moon Shaped Pool
XL Recordings [2016]

Radiohead anymore just seems to be at a different level. Some people still don’t get it but Radiohead are truly a great band. A Moon Shaped Pool isn’t catchy. It’s actually almost terrifying in a certain way but that was one of its greatest strengths because it doesn’t have to be catchy – beauty, art, and poignancy are what it is all about and it really sinks in the more you listen. You walk away from this album feeling like you just had an experience. That is something many artists will never achieve – Radiohead seem to do it time and time again.

Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool [Fire Note Review 5/12/16]

#6

JAG285 Dinosaur Jr.
Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
Jagjaguwar [2016]

At this point, the reunited classic Dinosaur Jr. lineup has now recorded more albums than they did on their first go round. I don’t think any of us ever saw this coming when they announced they were reforming over a decade ago. They band that could only keep it together for a few short years originally has now held it together for over a decade. This is showcased in the music on Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not because it is one of their finest moments. With plenty of classic Dino barn burners, smoking riffs, throbbing bass, and thunderous drums, Dinosaur Jr. not only returned but they showed everyone how band driven indie rock still exists.

Dinosaur Jr.: Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not [Fire Note Review 8/9/16]

#5

angel-olsen-my-woman Angel Olsen
My Woman
Jagjaguwar [2016]

Initial impressions of a reviewer don’t always hold the collective view of others and we feel that way on Angel Olsen’s third record My Woman. Not only was My Woman her best album to date, it is easily one of the best records this year. The remarkable single “Shut Up Kiss Me,” started the campaign for this record as My Woman finds Olsen hitting the big time with production, confidence and swagger. Tempos absolutely didn’t matter here as each song would get in your head and never leave. That staying power is exactly why My Woman is number 5. Expect to see plenty more of Angel Olsen moving forward as she has crossed over into a new level of artistry.

Angel Olsen: My Woman [Fire Note Review 9/18/16]

#4

cover (1)The Hotelier
Goodness
Tiny Engines [2016]

The Hotelier evolved on their 2014 breakout LP, Home, Like No Place Is There, but Goodness found them elevating their game even higher. It is thrilling to witness a band at the very peak of their creative prowess, when they believe that they can do anything. Goodness is that moment for The Hotelier. The music is cerebral, it’s emo, it’s quiet, it’s loud, it’s thoughtful and it’s direct. Not sure where The Hotelier go from here but right now Goodness is the bar!

The Hotelier: Goodness [Fire Note Review 6/20/16]

#3

kevin-morby-singing-saw Kevin Morby
Singing Saw
Dead Oceans [2016]

From the surreal instrumentation to a voice that at times sounds like a young Dylan, Kevin Morby hits all the right notes on his third full length Singing Saw. His first two solo records were on Woodsist so Singing Saw not only finds Morby moving to a bigger label but also features his biggest sound. The growth is incredible here, which is why it is so engaging. On Singing Saw, he connects with his LA surroundings and notices the abstract about the city which is lonely but yet comfortable. The closing line of the final track “Water,” is the perfect conclusion to the record as Morby exclaims with a heightened sincerity “If you find water / Please call my name / Put me out like a fire / Cover me in rain.” Kevin Morby is an emerging artist that no matter how much he wants his flame to simmer, the beauty and freedom on Singing Saw turns into an uncontrollable wild fire and lands it at number 3!

Kevin Morby: Singing Saw [Fire Note Review 7/13/16]

#2

david-bowie-blackstar David Bowie
Blackstar
Columbia Records [2016]

I really don’t think that words can even do justice here. Nobody, execpt Bowie knew that he was going to die very soon. That very piece of information is why Blackstar is such a compelling listen. It is a mature, calculated performance, in a genre that stretches beyond anything we’ve previously heard from Bowie. In the title track he sings of a “solitary candle in the center of it all,” a fitting image of his unique artistic path. As a sonic eulogy, Blackstar haunts the listener, and demands to be heard again and again.

David Bowie: Blackstar [Fire Note Review 1/13/16]

#1

car-seat-headrest-teens-of-denial Car Seat Headrest
Teens Of Denial
Matador Records [2016]

I am so tired hearing about the death of indie rock. It died 3 years ago, it died last year, 2016 was the final death of indie rock – we have heard it all. Then you get an artist like Will Toledo’s Car Seat Headrest. Just a young dude making music and releasing it for free on Bandcamp. Then Matador Records picks it up and puts out a reworked greatest tracks last year and builds some buzz. Fastforward to Car Seat Headrest’s debut of all new material, Teens Of Denial, and after you hear the opening line “I’m so sick of – fill in the blank,” out of founder and singer/songwriter Will Toledo’s creative brain you just proved the haters wrong. Its sonic boom and attack represents the first real song Car Seat Headrest has released with a full band recorded in a real studio and gives you an early glimpse of the cleaver wordplay that fills the album and the indie rock that soars throughout. Teens of Denial is challenging, not afraid to push limits and boundaries and most certainly is not scared to have you turn up the volume. This record is a win for indie rock and we can only predict that this is a true beginning for Car Seat Headrest’s next stage that hopefully will produce more exciting music in years to come. You should get onboard now, as Teens Of Denial is our pick for the best album of 2016!

Car Seat Headrest: Teens Of Denial [Fire Note Review 5/19/16]

The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2015

blazing top 50

#50

radioactivity-silent-kill Radioactivity
Silent Kill
Dirtnap Records [2015]

Punk rock has been getting a bad rap over the last decade or so for not being creative, fresh or even fun. What once was a thriving genre, especially on college radio, is now one of the harder styles to find reliable information on. I like to think TFN still can steer you to the punk promise land from time to time and today it is all about the sophomore album from Radioactivity. Regardless of your punk rock experience, I think you will like Radioactivity if you are into the garage indie scene. Silent Kill breaks the mold of what “punk rock” is supposed to sound like and it is completely fresh for 2015!

Radioactivity: Silent Kills [Fire Note Review 7/2/15]

#49

decemberists-what-a-terrible-world The Decemberists
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
Capitol Records [2015]

Lighter and a bit brighter, The Decemberists brought a greater focus on their 7th studio record. By now, fans of The Decemberists are used to Colin Meloy’s tendency to look back at some darker historic moments to create songs in the great narrative folk song traditions of the British Isles, a la Fairport Convention. That strong literary story-telling sensibility can be felt here, but Meloy & Co. have embraced their inner pop star sensibility with renewed passion in the four years since The King Is Dead. Coming out in January it was almost easy to forget but I think it plays better today then it did eleven months ago.

The Decemberists: What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World [Fire Note Review 1/20/15]

#48

mourn-mourn Mourn
Mourn
Captured Tracks [2015]

Mourn did not release the best debut nor the best record of 2015 but its 24-minute running time breaths youthful vigor, armor proof confidence and an energy that can only be created from the bond of a young band. With an average age of 17.25, Mourn exceed expectation with their Ramones meets Sleater-Kinney rock that will only get better!

Mourn: Mourn [Fire Note Review 2/16/15]

#47

smpp-the-death-of-cool Surfin’ Mutants Pizza Party
The Death Of Cool
Fleeting Youth Records [2015]

Surfin’ Mutants Pizza Party is the one-man bedroom project of 21-year-old Julien Maltais. SMPP relies on California surf punk, sci-fi flicks, comics, video games, and skateboarding for motivation on his gritty punk rock that sounds more fit for the basement and will rock you out as the Replacements meet Wavves.

Surfin’ Mutants Pizza Party: The Death Of Cool [Fire Note Review 6/23/15]

#46

elvis-depress Elvis Depressedly
New Alhambra
Run For Cover Records [2015]

Technically a side project of Mathew Lee Cothran’s Coma Cinema, Elvis has really now stepped to the forefront as New Alhambra is his first official full length and it represents his most straightforward studio sound to date. It rocks but not really and that is the cool part of this record.


Elvis Depressedly: New Alhambra [Fire Note Review 7/29/15]

#45

EZTV-calling-out EZTV
Calling Out
Captured Tracks [2015]

Soft hook filled guitar pop has always had its place on the indie scene. Brooklyn’s EZTV created memorable tunes with ease and it reminds me of the 90’s when The Judybats, Ocean Blue and Teenage Fanclub were all over the college airwaves.


EZTV: Calling Out [Fire Note Review 7/20/15]

#44

wolf-alice-my-love-is-cool Wolf Alice
My Love Is Cool
RCA Records [2015]

This London band had quite the buzz before My Love is Cool was released and they back it up with an album full of soaring moments from their dynamic lead singer Ellie Rowsell, which has some serious chops. Wolf Alice has made a guitar rock record that traces its influences back to the best of 90’s rock. If you’re a fan of that era (and even if you’re not) give this album a listen.


Wolf Alice: My Love Is Cool [Fire Note Review 7/3/15]

#43

tobias-jesso-jr-goon Tobias Jesso Jr.
Goon
True Panther Sounds [2015]

Long before he was known for writing an Adele track, Jesso Jr. released the piano driven Goon. It is a timeless record that feels fresh in the current sea of noise we call today’s music scene. Its tracks have a familiar factor to them as you will hear keys of “Imagine” in “Without You” or the theme from Cheers on “Can We Still Be Friends?” and even some Fleet Foxes on the closing “Tell The Truth.” Jesso Jr.’s record is a different album that brings back the golden era of the performing singer/songwriter and for that reason alone – Goon soars.

Tobias Jesso Jr.: Goon [Fire Note Review 3/18/15]

#42

warm-soda-symbolic-dream Warm Soda
Symbolic Dream
Castle Face Records [2015]

If you like lo-fi then Warm Soda’s newest should be on a must listen list. Symbolic Dream is a rush of lo-fi power pop, full of crunchy guitars, upbeat melodies, and fast tempos. If you like your power pop with a soft sugary center but with some dirty garage rock on the exterior, then Warm Soda is a band for you! Warm Soda have delivered on the power pop record of the summer. Symbolic Dream has a high replay value and only gets better the more you listen to it, go seek it out!

Warm Soda: Symbolic Dream [Fire Note Review 6/8/15]

#41

albert-hammond-jr-momentary-masters Albert Hammond Jr.
Momentary Masters
Vagrant Records [2015]

This confident new solo record from The Strokes guitarist was a pleasant surprise and continues his artistic rebirth! The songs don’t feel like overdone studio creations at all, they are sharp and vibrant and there is a spontaneity to them that injects the album with life and makes you want to keep coming back to it. Momentary Masters is full of the tight guitar riffs that became part of the signature sound of The Strokes, and is once again full of great songwriting, unquestionably his strongest batch of songs since his debut solo album. Momentary Masters is a confident return and one definitely worth checking out.

Albert Hammond Jr.: Momentary Masters [Fire Note Review 8/21/15]

#40

FUZZ-II FUZZ
II
In The Red Recordings [2015]

With their debut self-titled album, high school friends Ty Segall (Drums, Vocals), Charles Mootheart (Guitar), and Roland Cosio (Bass) poured hot and heavy distortion with their worship of bands such as King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer, and Black Sabbath. II follows it up with more heart pounding music of the same which turned out to be one of the harder hitting indie records of the year. FUZZ created an album that felt truly huge with its progressive riffs, bigger sound, and intensity. While it can feel like an experiment at times II helped solidify FUZZ as more than just a side project.

FUZZ: II [Fire Note Review 10/26/15]

#39

girl-band-holding-hands-with-jamie Girl Band
Holding Hands With Jamie
Rough Trade Records [2015]

Holding Hands with Jamie is a stunning debut from Dublin’s Girl Band. It is a jarring and uncompromising record with blasts of My Bloody Valentine distortion and a lot of hardcore rage. It also had some kind dangerous beauty lurking in all that noise with something catchy and exciting in every track. Girl Band’s delivery is something special. It may be harsh, but Holding Hands With Jamie is a worthwhile and unique listen.

Girl Band: Holding Hands With Jamie [Fire Note Review 9/23/15]

#38

new-swears-junktime New Swears
Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever
Dirt Cult Records [2015]

This record has all of the hooks, crunch and swagger of New Swears’ last album, but ups the ante on the songwriting and arrangements, which shows, dare I say growth. I challenge each and every one of you out there to buy or download this album, and then play it around your friends. Don’t say anything just put it on and watch their reaction. This is THAT record, the one that will impress your friends that you discovered this record and turned them on to it. You’re welcome.

New Swears: Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever [Fire Note Review 11/5/15]

#37

speedy-ortiz-foil-deer Speedy Ortiz
Foil Deer
Carpark Records [2015]

Massachusetts quartet Speedy Ortiz began life as a solo project for poetry professor Sadie Dupuis and her decidedly nineties take on indie rock. Becoming a full band, Speedy Ortiz went on to release an EP and then, BAM!!!, along came 2013’s surprise hit Major Arcana. Foil Deer was not as good as Major Arcana but it is a solid record nonetheless. After a pounding 90 second introductory tune, “Raising The Skate” sounds like the bastard son of Built To Spill and Pavement – that is until Dupuis starts singing and that voice will carry you all the way till the end.

Speedy Ortiz: Foil Deer [Fire Note Review 4/21/15]

#36

beach-slang Beach Slang
The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us
Polyvinyl Records [2015]

Beach Slang is for everyone that wants to rock. In the spirit of The Replacements, early Goo Goo Dolls, Jawbreaker, The Gaslight Anthem and Superchunk, the Philadelphia band is the next to raise their torch in this elite club of no frills rock that has attitude, heart and plenty of big guitar moments. The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is a fast record. You get 10 songs in 27 minutes. The album never slows down and powers through you and anything you are doing. It is a great first chapter for Beach Slang which should be around for more records to come.

Beach Slang: The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us [Fire Note Review 11/5/15]

#35

wand-golem Wand
Golem
In The Red Recordings [2015]

Wand has returned from their last record less than a year later with new tricks up their sleeves. This time around Wand have adapted to their new roots at In The Red; Golem blends more seamlessly with the label’s other acts like Endless Bummer, Ty Segall Band, Meatbodies, Thee Oh Sees, Zig Zags, and FUZZ. Golem Is an odd hotbed of spacy flavors while still maintaining the psych-pop categorization. It is a record that puts Wand in the top echelon of this genre which should start getting them the attention they deserve.

Wand: Golem [Fire Note Review 3/20/15]

#34

king-gizzard-lizard-wizard-quarters King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Quarters
Castle Face Records [2015]

So here is a crazy idea. How about make a record with only 4 tracks that each runs a total time of 10 minutes and 10 seconds and then name it Quarters?! Oh yeah – that is exactly what our favorite Aussie psychedelic group King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard pulled off. Quarters is a psychedelic rock opus that incorporates jazz, psychedelic, garage, surf and plain rock into 4 well-crafted movements that keep you guessing. King Gizzard never make the same record twice, as evidenced by their 2nd release this year, Paper Mâché Dream Balloon, which makes Quarters just that more special.

King Gizzard & Lizard Wizard: Quarters [Fire Note Review 6/1/15]

#33

jason-isbell-something-more-than-freee Jason Isbell
Something More Than Free
Southeastern Records [2015]

After years of flirting with gaining a wider audience, Jason Isbell finally broke big on his excellent fourth album, 2013’s Southeastern. While that album was his most intimate affair both musically and lyrically, Isbell’s newest album, Something More Than Free, straddled the line of having both the intimate and a more band oriented sound similar to his earlier albums. His growth as an artist has been remarkable to follow and we are looking to many years of great releases from him as Something More Than Free is just the beginning.

Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free [Fire Note Review 7/20/15]

#32

bully-feels-like Bully
Feels Like
StarTime Intl./Columbia Records [2015]

Bully brings out the ghosts of Blake Babies, early Weezer and The Breeders. are everywhere. Bully seem like they’ve been around since the era they so lovingly adore. If this debut is any hint of what’s to come they may, in fact, be around long enough to witness the next time this sound gets trendy. And if not, Feel Like can stand on its own, free of comparisons. And that’s a neat trick in and of itself.

Bully: Feels Like [Fire Note Review 8/14/15]

#31

beach-house-depression-cherry Beach House
Depression Cherry
Sub Pop Records [2015]

Beach House (Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally) returned with their fifth studio album, Depression Cherry which turned out to be the first of two albums this year. The band pulled off the neat trick of both delivering on expectations and adding to their previous output. It’s hard to think of an artist who has such a defined role/expectations in what they create and execute it so well. That balancing act pays off big with Depression Cherry and continues the excellent career of Beach House.

Beach House: Depression Cherry [Fire Note Review 9/28/15]

#30

lou-barlow-brace-the-wave Lou Barlow
Brace The Wave
Joyful Noise Recordings [2015]

Lou Barlow may never be a household name based on his solo work but with a resume that includes Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, Brace The Wave is the perfect outlet for his thoughts, emotion and individual skills. These nine songs give you intensity without being intense, give you folk stylings without being folk and could give you a reason to cry even though you won’t! If you are a fan, Brace The Wave is the perfect “put on and play” type of album that quietly snuck into the Top 50.

Lou Barlow: Brace The Wave [Fire Note Review 9/3/15]

#29

la-luz-weirdo-shrine La Luz
Weirdo Shrine
Hardly Art Records [2015]

La Luz easily have the best surf sounding record of 2015. Every track has a rolling sound and for 32 minutes it takes you somewhere else. That is its strength, as La Luz show their growth around every corner. Ty Segall definitely was the right choice to produce for this album, as his influence can be heard right down to having his buddy Mikal Cronin step in and play sax on a track. In other areas, La Luz take steps forward here, and if you have been a fan, this record is going to wow you. For newcomers, Weirdo Shrine is one of those albums that won’t necessarily grab you on the first spin because you don’t know what to expect. It is a journey that is truly filled with riches but only if you ride the wave all the way in!

La Luz: Weirdo Shrine [Fire Note Review 8/10/15]

#28

trans-charger-metropolis Trans Charger Metropolis
Haunted House Birds
Self-Released [2015]

Trans Charger Metropolis is a New Jersey group that you can tell have some lo-fi Guided By Voices blood in their veins as the sophomore album Haunted House Birds rocks, swags and rolls during its tight 16 song package. They have an indie rock edge to their music that melds a Times New Viking and Thermals sound which keeps pushing Haunted House Birds forward and if you like your raw indie rock there is no question that this is a record you should discover!

Trans Charger Metropolis: Haunted House Birds [Fire Note Review 10/20/15]

#27

deafheaven-new-bermuda Deafheaven
New Bermuda
ANTI- Records [2015]

With only five tracks totaling a little over forty-six minutes, New Bermuda is shorter and tighter than its mighty predecessor Sunbathers (2013). In toning down the shoegaze and throwing in everything else it also feels somewhat unsure as to what it is. This is something to be admired. New Bermuda is a thrilling document of a band willing to do exactly what it wants – regardless of how many metal purists scoff. Like it or not, Deafheaven is the real deal and New Bermuda is just more proof.

Deafheaven: New Bermuda [Fire Note Review 10/7/15]

#26

viet-cong Viet Cong
Viet Cong
Jagjaguwar Records [2015]

Viet Cong’s self-titled debut could easily be described as powerful and driving, savage and beautiful, unrelenting and striking. If this is a template for new acts in the year of 2015 Viet Cong have done a great job of driving purpose over pretension. Sure their name caused some controversy which will be changed for their next outing but there was no issue with the music as it was a record that kept growing on us over the year after its January release.

Viet Cong: Viet Cong [Fire Note Review 1/26/15]

#25

motel-beds-mind-glitter Motel Beds
Mind Glitter
Anyway Records [2015]

I guarantee not enough people have heard this record. Motel Beds have an old sound which is really hard to describe because it doesn’t fit a current mold in the indie scene today. That is what makes this group, and record, so addictive because by embracing a retro formula the Motel Beds actually have spawned something much more unique. Mind Glitter hits the sweet spot for kids that want something new, adults that want to maintain some sense of their youth and every person out there that just wants a touch of that late 60’s harmonic gold!

Motel Beds: Mind Glitter [Fire Note Review 8/15/15]

#24

girlpool-before-the-world Girlpool
Before The World Was Big
Wichita Recordings [2015]

This two piece, made up of Cleo Tucker (Guitar) and Harmony Tividad (Bass), never move beyond playing several chords and barely turn up the tempo or volume at any point on their debut Before The World Was Big. It is a careful record that builds momentum within its tracks by having plenty of harmonies that vocally accomplish moving the tempo. With catchy lyrics and a 25-minute running time Before The World Was Big turns out one of the more surprising and solid indie albums of the year!

Girlpool: Before The World Was Big [Fire Note Review 12/11/15]

#23

bigdick Big Dick
Disappointment
Dirt Cult Records [2015]

The guys in Big Dick, Johnny O and Dave Secretary, need to be hailed as geniuses and recognized for this powerful work. Not only is the lyrical content dark and moving, but the playing is incredible, and the singing is top notch as well. Disappointment is a step up in every single way from their excellent debut album, and should find a spot on your turntable as soon as possible. At 15 songs and less than 30 minutes in length the album begs to be played over and over again.

Big Dick: Disappointment [Fire Note Review 3/3/15]

#22

destroyer-poison-season Destroyer
Poison Season
Merge Records [2015]

Nothing was off limits on Destroyer’s latest record Poison Season. This was obvious from the album’s whispery opener to the strings, piano and sax that plays throughout. Founder/singer/songwriter Dan Bejar has found a balance on Poison Season which made it a refreshing listen that made you think. Even the straight-up pop songs can’t escape destruction here as Bejar will keep you on your toes. Poison Season was not the go to record for a sunny day but it is an album built on excellence and worthy of its spot in the Top 50.

Destroyer: Poison Season [Fire Note Review 8/27/15]

#21

majical-cloudz-are-you-alone Majical Cloudz
Are You Alone?
Matador Records [2015]

Are You Alone? was an album that searched for sincerity in a space that has been salted with cliché, as it built an immersive world around love and loneliness. The arrangements are so sparse, so economic, that when Majical Cloudz breaks their march to hold a note over the soft fissures and pops of the production, you experience a sense of freefall. It is just that type of record.

Majical Cloudz: Are You Alone? [Fire Note Review 11/5/15]

#20

pile-youre-better-than-this Pile
You’re Better Than This
Exploding In Sound Records [2015]

Pile, a quartet from Boston, continued their precision guitar attacks and disjointed arrangements on their third release. They have that “loud-quiet-loud” Pixies vibe, and vocals that can turn on a dime and become guttural with roars of rage and anguish. Pile are innovative and a refreshing reminder that rock music has something to say and can say it in a way that you have not quite heard yet. 10 years from now, new indie bands could easily be name dropping Pile as their main influence.

Pile: You’re Better Than This [Fire Note Review 3/23/15]

#19

ryan-adams-1989 Ryan Adams
1989
PAX-AM Records [2015]

Taking a popular pop star’s record and recording a new track by track redo sounds like a terrible idea. It sounds like a terrible idea unless you are the talented Ryan Adams and the record turns out to be well written like Taylor Swift’s 1989. The great thing about Adams’ 1989 is that it doesn’t matter if you know Swift’s version or not because Ryan excellently made this his own and it works. A Ryan Adams spin that takes these 13 tracks to a different level and honestly will have a more timeless staying power than its 2014 template.

Ryan Adams: 1989 [Fire Note Review 9/24/15]

#18

libertines-anthems-for-doomed-youth The Libertines
Anthems For Doomed Youth
Harvest Records [2015]

Let’s be honest, this album could have been an absolute disaster, but instead it was the surprise comeback of the year. This one has all of the classic Libertines trademarks: the gang style vocals, the shifting gears in tempos, and the HUGE chorus. Not surprisingly, the album is full of themes of love, reconciliation, recovery, and of course being a fuckup, but searching for redemption. Anthems For Doomed Youth is as good as you hoped and better than you honestly expected.

The Libertines: Anthems For Doomed Youth [Fire Note Review 9/28/15]

#17

waxahatchee-ivy-tripp Waxahatchee
Ivy Tripp
Merge Records [2015]

It’s a tricky thing creating the follow-up to your breakout LP. Many musicians have wilted under the pressure of increased critical scrutiny and fan expectations but Katie Crutchfield, better known as Waxahatchee, had no problem as evidenced by Ivy Tripp. The increased presence of keyboards shouldn’t be a shock as the record still has Waxahatchee doing what she does best – lyrics and style. The early Liz Phair meets Robert Pollard garage grunge is her wheelhouse and she knows it. There’s a lot of this kind of personal but vague detailing in her songs and Ivy Tripp is better for it. This was an album that just got better with each spin and with each spin moved up on this list to land at #17.

Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp [Fire Note Review 4/7/15]

#16

brother-o-brother-show-pony Brother O’ Brother
Show Pony
Fonoflo Records [2015]

Indianapolis’ Brother O’ Brother is one of those bands that more people should hear but I assume have been somewhat dismissed with their take on the garage-blues rock genre because their template is right out of The Black Keys early playbook, which does not stop with their sound but includes their duo status and a small salute with their name. I will proudly report that there was not one new thing to be found on Show Pony. It is a blues garage rock record that wears everything on its sleeve and leaves it all at your speakers’ woofers. The key is that Brother O’ Brother never lets up off the pedal and Show Pony was the summer ride you should have taken. There is still time to let these Indiana boys in.< /br>
Brother O’ Brother: Show Pony [Fire Note Review 8/13/15]

#15

hop-along Hop Along
Painted Shut
Saddle Creek Records [2015]

This was one of the biggest surprise records of 2015. With an irresistible voice from Frances Quinlan that absolutely soars Hop Along’s sophomore record Painted Shut brought big booming guitars as they told their stories of desperation. Their angular indie rock has the 90’s alternative edge to it which works well and just pulled you in. Painted Shut was recorded and mixed by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth), which was the perfect choice. Hop Along put fresh air into an old genre and Painted Shut never looked back.

Hop Along: Painted Shut [Fire Note Review 7/7/15]

#14

baroness-purple Baroness
Purple
Abraxan Hymns [2015]

Nothing like releasing a record so late in the year that it misses the critical accolades it deserves. Purple roared back with a hard rock style that has the pulse of survival after all that Baroness has been through, both physically and mentally, as each track had its point of excellence. This bigger than life sound pulled you in and Baroness will remind you of why a really good rock record is all you need and something you have been missing!

Baroness: Purple [Fire Note Review 12/16/15]

#13

wilco-star-wars Wilco
Star Wars
ANTI-/dBpm Records [2015]

Nothing like a free record from Wilco to make 2015 a solid year in music. Even better when the record is Top 50 material. Star Wars loose and fluid approach is why Wilco is so highly respected, as they have continually earned their spot in the top echelon of rock. Wilco is a career band that has used each record as a canvas to create their art. Star Wars was no different and highlights that their core fire is still strong. At 34 minutes, Star Wars was the best musical surprise we have had in a while and after even more listens, it solidly lands this high on the list.

Wilco: Star Wars [Fire Note Review 7/21/15]

#12

mikal-cronin-mciii Mikal Cronin
MCIII
Merge Records [2015]

To say that expectations were high for the new Mikal Cronin LP at Fire Note Headquarters is a massive understatement. Cronin’s last album, MCII, came in at #1 in our 2013 Top 50. MCIII can be divided into two distinct halves, Side A was made up of 5 pop gems that run the gamut of styles, from intricate chamber pop, to rock, to indie pop while Side B was a mini concept album of sorts. The result is a record that works the more you spin it. MCIII shows growth, highlights Cronin’s musical talent (he plays just about all the instruments), and firmly sets the bar higher as his solo career trajectory continues to climb!

Mikal Cronin: MCIII [Fire Note Review 5/13/15]

#11

deerhunter-fading-frontier Deerhunter
Fading Frontier
4AD [2015]

Bradford Cox, aka Deerhunter, posted a “concept map” prior to Fading Frontier’s release which cited the many influences he felt made an impact on his writing. The artists included such acts as INXS, REM and Tom Petty. What those artists all share is a desire to succeed commercially while retaining their integrity. Deerhunter accomplish the integrity part with Fading Frontier and based on its strength there is no reason that it couldn’t bring the mainstream to them. We didn’t feel there was a different direction here on Fading Frontier but what made the album so strong is that it brings the same confidence and consistency we have come to expect from Cox.

Deerhunter: Fading Frontier [Fire Note Review 10/16/15]

#10

SPORTS-all-of-something SPORTS
All Of Something
Father/Daughter Records [2015]

SPORTS is a basement rock band, started in 2012 at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. The group has had all the normal up and downs of beginning young bands but on its sophomore album, All of Something, SPORTS has nailed their sound. It is a free for all, spirited, laid back, honest, quick and catchy thriller of an indie record. SPORTS remind me of some of the great female fronted indie groups from the 90’s with their sharp wit and tight guitar but when the current day Millennials blend in their laid back attitude, All of Something becomes truly memorable!

SPORTS: All Of Something [Fire Note Review 11/3/15]

#9

courtney-barnett-sometimes-I-sit-think Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Mom + Pop / Milk! Records [2015]

Australia’s Courtney Barnett made a big splash with her debut that put her daily thoughts to record. Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is an interesting album because I swear we have heard it all before but Barnett’s delivery was infectious and made this record more unique. There is just enough grind in the songs to give them swagger and enough diversity on the record to keep you guessing. The album tells a story that everyone can relate to and will make you wonder if you put your thoughts to music – would they sound this good?!

Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit [Fire Note Review 3/30/15]

#8

paul-orwell-blowing-your-mind-away Paul Orwell
Blowing Your Mind Away
Heavy Soul Records [2015]

Paul Orwell’s Blowing Your Mind Away was one of the best debuts in 2015. The London area singer/songwriter steamrolled you with his retro energy and if you didn’t know any better you would think this was the solo project from a member in Small Faces or The Animals. The young brash lad flipped that sound and released one of the best sounding ‘60s beat British Invasion records in 2015 with plenty of distorted guitars, mood pacing organ, and hooks that will keep you coming back for more. This one was only released on vinyl, which not only made Orwell a more underground name but also highlighted Blowing Your Mind Away as a great obscure find!

Paul Orwell: Blowing Your Mind Away [Fire Note Review 12/3/15]

#7

car-seat-headrest-teens-of-style Car Seat Headrest
Teens Of Style
Matador Records [2015]

Car Seat Headrest, aka 22-year-old Will Toledo, has already recorded 11 albums which he’s released on Bandcamp over the last 4 years and has produced, written, recorded and played every song on there. Teens of Style represents re-recorded songs culled from his extensive discography and it is an excellent overview that will hook you from the beginning. Teens of Style sounds like if The Strokes were lo-fi pop with a 60’s British Invasion undertone. The record sounds and feels complete while also setting up Teens of Denial, which is an album of all new songs set for an early 2016 release.

Car Seat Headrest: Teens Of Style [Fire Note Review 10/28/15]

#6

kurt-vile-blieve-goin-down Kurt Vile
b’lieve i’m goin’ (deep) down…
Matador Records [2015]

Kurt Vile may not have the best voice or musicianship in the business but damn he can tell a story. Kurt Vile puts an exclamation mark on the idea with his sixth outing, b’lieve i’m goin’ (deep) down…. It won’t matter which version of this album you pick up because either package is worth a high rating. The bonus material on Deep is like an extra topping. For longtime fans, this record adds in a bit of banjo and more piano and a little less reverb as well but also continues Vile’s strong songwriting. b’lieve i’m goin’ (deep) down… is a marathon not a sprint with Vile and for those whom choose to partake – great things await.

Kurt Vile: b’lieve i’m goin’ (deep) down… [Fire Note Review 9/30/15]

#5

tame-impala-currents Tame Impala
Currents
Interscope Records [2015]

Tame Impala’s Currents is a true grower in every sense of the word. There are a lot of people I know that can’t get onboard with this album as frontman Kevin Parker took everyone on a trip. The band incorporated a synthesizer presence as they also mow you over with a catchy heavy funk. I respect that the band is not afraid of sounding like a modern ELO and pushing their sound in different directions but the key piece that is highlighted on Currents is that Tame Impala also did not give up any ground on their rising status in the rock world. With repeat listens throughout the year we determined that this is one review that was little low on the rating – coming in at #5 here should correct that error!

Tame Impala: Currents [Fire Note Review 7/15/15]

#4

ricked-wicky-swimmer Ricked Wicky
Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair/King Heavy Metal/I Sell The Circus
Guided By Voices Inc. [2015]

Big surprise – Robert Pollard released three records under the Ricked Wicky moniker with long tome Pollard collaborators Todd Tobias (Circus Devils), Kevin March (GbV) and Dayton lifer Nick (no relation to Mitch) Mitchell. All three were great, so we just thought it was best to blend all three efforts into one big rock opus record landing at #4. There is just something about Pollard fronting a band. We love his solo work as well but with Guided By Voices fading back into the briefcase, it was great to see Ricked Wicky step up and hold the torch high for Pollard rock – you can’t go wrong with any of these 2015 releases.

Ricked Wicky: Swimmer To A Liquid Armchair [Fire Note Review 10/1/15]
Ricked Wicky: King Heavy Metal [Fire Note Review 7/23/15]
Ricked Wicky: I Sell The Circus [Fire Note Review 1/30/15]

#3

sleater-kinney-no-cities-to-love Sleater-Kinney
No Cities To Love
Sub Pop Records [2015]

No Cities To Love not only marks the return of Sleater-Kinney but also gives a strong kick to the current indie music scene. Time to up everyone’s game because right out of the 2015 gate, Sleater-Kinney released one of the best albums of the year. This record never gives you a reason to doubt Sleater-Kinney’s bond, commitment or even believe that they were really idle for 10 years. As combinations of lyrics with sing along moments fill No Cities To Love with memorable line after memorable line you just couldn’t forget about this powerhouse of an album. We not only welcome Sleater-Kinney back with open ears but hope they are not going anywhere soon!

Sleater-Kinney: No Cities To Love [Fire Note Review 1/21/15]

#2

father-john-misty-i-love-you-honeybear Father John Misty
I Love You, Honeybear
Sub Pop Records [2015]

Everything on I Love You, Honeybear felt and sounded bigger compared to FJM’s debut Fear Fun. The emotions, the instruments, the highs, the lows, the skepticism, the sarcasm, the pain, the truth and the impact all were heighted as Josh Tillman let you take a walk in his shoes. Every track on this album gives Tillman a large canvas for his addicting and catchy vocals that go well beyond his own being, hence the need for Father John Misty. Where his moniker goes from this point is anyone’s guess but the power of words and the music are on full display here. I Love You, Honeybear is an album which is meant to be heard the old fashioned physical way from beginning to end. When you give Father John Misty a complete 45 minutes, I guarantee you will feel it too – I Love You, Honeybear was easily one of the best records we heard in 2015.

Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear [Fire Note Review 2/10/15]

#1

sufjan-stevens-carrie-lowell Sufjan Stevens
Carrie & Lowell
Asthmatic Kitty Records [2015]

How many times do you really hear an artist return to a past sound? I would say not that many. So many times in reviews we find ourselves critiquing an artist for not growing enough, not taking enough risks, and giving us more of the same but with less passion. Not only in my own work but I have read these complaints time and time again. Are they legit in some cases – sure, but now take Sufjan Stevens and his seventh long player Carrie & Lowell. Sufjan not only created his most personal record to date but also one of his best that went back to the basics that made him an indie household name. Sufjan Stevens hid behind nothing on Carrie & Lowell and allowed his art seamlessly to unite with his life. That stand out piece on this record can not only bring tears during certain lines but also relief. Carrie & Lowell can feel uncomfortable at times but its precision playing, irresistible vocals and heartfelt delivery is something you cannot turn away from making it the best record released this year.

Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell [Fire Note Review 3/27/15]

The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2014

blazing top 50

#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]

#49

kishi-bashi-lighght Kishi Bashi
Lighght
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]

#48

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]

#47

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]

#46

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]

#45

meatbodies 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]

#44

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]

#42

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]

#41

circus-devils-escape Circus Devils
Escape
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]

#40

jack-white-album Jack White
Lazaretto
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]

#39

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]

#38

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]

#37

wussy-attica Wussy
Attica!
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]

#36

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]

#35

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]

#34

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]

#33

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]

#32

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]

#31

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]

#30

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]

#29

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]

#28

amen-dunes-love Amen Dunes
Love
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]

#27

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]

#26

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]

#25

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]

#24

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]

#23

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]

#22

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]

#21

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]

#20

strand-of-oaks-heal Strand Of Oaks
HEAL
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]

#19

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]

#18

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]

#17

real-estate-atlas Real Estate
Atlas
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]

#16

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]

#15

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]

#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]

#13

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]

#12

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]

#11

tv-on-the-radio-seeds TV On The Radio
Seeds
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]

#10

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]

#9

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]

#8

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]

#7

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]

#6

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]

#5

10_404_404_525_exhex_rips_2500px Ex Hex
Rips
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]

#4

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]

#3

sun-kil-moon-benji Sun Kil Moon
Benji
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]

#2

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]

#1

ty-segall-manipulator Ty Segall
Manipulator
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]

The Fire Note Honorable Mention Albums of 2014

blazing top 50 honorable mention
We will admit that we are only human. 2014 flew by and as always there were plenty of albums that never hit our review page that should have been included in our upcoming Blazing Top 50 but missed the mark for some reason. There are several reasons (excuses) for records not making the final cut such as reissued albums, live records and just several albums that never hit the review page due to understaffing! With that said, here are ten releases that came out in 2014 that are worthy of your ear!

#10

cleaners-from-venus-volume-3 The Cleaners From Venus
Volume 3 (Box Set)
Captured Tracks [2014]

It is no secret that Captured Tracks remains one of The Fire Note’s favorite labels. Sure they have grown up some over the last several years but their attention to detail on reissues should be praised. Their strategic reissue of legendary lo-fi 80s popsters the Cleaners From Venus has been worth every dime you own. If there is one band that is worth discovery, it is here with all three Cleaners From Venus Box Sets, but number three showed exactly why this band is so highly regarded.



The Cleaners From Venus: Volume 3 (Box Set) [Fire Note Review 7/2/14]

#9

pallbearer Pallbearer
Foundations Of Burden
Profound Lore [2014]

I will admit that many of us at The Fire Note are not into the metal scene but Pallbearer is one of those bands that feels like a modern day Black Sabbath and has a crossover capability. With tracks that reach beyond the 10 minute mark, Pallbearer knows how to bring the heavy. This record would have most likely landed in the Blazing Top 50 but we never reviewed it!


#8

modern-baseball-youre-gonna-miss-it-all Modern Baseball
You’re Gonna Miss It All
Run For Cover Records [2013]

This record reminds me of some of the great Get Up Kids albums. Its pop tongue in cheek delivery is infectious and honest. The record is a quick 12 songs in 20 minutes and should appeal to the youth with its laid back approach to dealing with common 20-something problems – ah to be young again. Modern Baseball will take you back there if those times have long past you – We should have reviewed this one!

#7

motel-beds-these-are-the-days-gone-by Motel Beds
These Are The Days Gone By
Misra Records [2014]

Hype means nothing if you cannot back it up. The good news is – the Motel Beds have no problem bringing the indie goods and you will hear it right from the opening title track on this compilation These Are The Days Gone By. This album is the perfect collection of older tracks to get you hooked on the Motel Beds while the record also provides several previously unreleased songs. Look for a new album in 2015 from this up and coming group!



Motel Beds: These Are The Days Gone By [Fire Note Review 2/10/14]

#6

mozes_and_the_firstborn_-_mozes_and_the_firstborn_sm Mozes And The Firstborn
Mozes And The Firstborn
Burger Records [2014]

Mozes and the Firstborn’s debut brings an excellent mix of garage rock from the Netherlands to your speakers! It was originally released in 2013 but Burger Records brought it to the States in February. The group keeps one foot in the garage genre and feels out different areas with the other, which is not only the record’s strength but why it ended up on this list!



Mozes And The Firstborn: Mozes And The Firstborn [Fire Note Review 2/21/14]

#5

blank-pages Blank Pages
Blank Pages
Dirt Cult Records [2014]

Dirt Cult is another label that we adore here at The Fire Note and this year’s release of Blank Pages 2013 self-titled record is a perfect example why. The songs here flow seamlessly into one another, always rocking, yet always melodic as hell. It has a high sing along and fist pump factor which seems harder and harder to find these days – look no further!



Blank Pages: Blank Pages [Fire Note Review 8/1/14]

#4

gary-cark-jr-live Gary Clark Jr.
Live
Warner Bros. Records [2014]

For me, a live record needs to be special in order to make the Blazing Top 50 but the talented Gary Clark Jr. was close and most certainly deserves an honorable mention spot. Usually the recording of a live album happens late in one’s career, but Clark is pursuing very different goals. This could have been a huge bland mark in his catalog but he alters each track just enough to make them fresh and really spotlights his scorching guitar work and supreme backing band.



Gary Clark Jr.: Live [Fire Note Review 11/11/14]

#3

swans-to-be-kind Swans
To Be Kind
Young God Records [2014]

A Swans record is typically an experience and To Be Kind was no different. The record is a full two hours long with one track clocking in at 34:04. It’s that kind of record. Band leader Michael Gira again proves to be one of the most intriguing frontmen on the indie scene as this album takes you on a journey. Unfortunately, To Be Kind never made our review pages or else you would be seeing it in the Blazing Top 50.


#2

tony-molina-dissed-and-dismissed Tony Molina
Dissed And Dismissed
Melters/Slumberland Records [2013/2014]

I can’t say enough positive things about Tony Molina. Dissed And Dismissed had a very limited release last year so we were glad to see Slumberland put it out to the masses in 2014. It is an infectious power pop record, while disguising all of its pieces with lo-fi production, short songs and plenty of guitars. You can’t go wrong here and Molina’s new full length is already on our most anticipated albums list of 2015.



Tony Molina: Dissed And Dismissed [Fire Note Review 3/24/14]

#1

angel-olsen-burn-your-fire-for-no-witness Angel Olsen
Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Jagjaguwar Records [2014]

Interesting voice, thought provoking lyrics, and plenty of emotional tripwires made Angel Olsen’s record one of the best singer/songwriter albums released this year. If you have not picked up this record yet I would suggest checking out the recently released deluxe edition that contains 5 more truly personal tracks. As to why we didn’t review this one – no excuse – we should have!


The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2013

blazing albums 2013 2

#50

joanna-gruesome-weird-sister-cover Joanna Gruesome
Weird Sister
Slumberland Records [2013]

Boy/girl vocals, teenage angst, noise pop, loud guitars, high energy, feedback and double time drums are just some of the great rock n roll moments you will hear on the debut from the Cardiff-based five piece named Joanna Gruesome. It is this type of effort that makes Weird Sister such an engaging record as Joanna Gruesome gives you a solid 28 minutes of diverse music that should easily appeal to indie rock fans.



Joanna Gruesome: Weird Sister [Fire Note Review 9/13/13]

#49

unknown-mortal-orchestra-ii-cover-art Unknown Mortal Orchestra
II
Jagjaguwar Records [2013]

No sophomore slump here as Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s II incorporated more and kept it fresh! Unknown Mortal Orchestra didn’t create the perfect record but they did create one hell of a follow up. Keeping the weird but also trading it for beauty, introducing funk and retro-soul into the mix and focusing on some pretty interesting themes nicely differentiates II from their self-titled debut.



Unknown Mortal Orchestra: II [Fire Note Review 2/01/13]

#48

iron-wine-ghost-on-ghost Iron & Wine
Ghost On Ghost
Nonesuch Records [2013]

Sam Beam has always been an indie favorite and Ghost on Ghost’s jazzier feel was a new direction. Iron & Wine may no longer be whispering homespun bedroom folk into a hissy tape recorder, but Beam still knows how to write a great song.



Iron & Wine: Ghost On Ghost [Fire Note Review 4/16/13]

#47

grouper-man-who-died-his-boat Grouper
The Man Who Died In His Boat
Kranky Records [2013]

If you want to talk atmospheric minimalism then look no further than Liz Harris’ Grouper. An album packed with weird depth, The Man Who Died In His Boat showcased a sultry, arty, and druggy affair that’s sure to lure anyone who dares to listen.



Grouper: The Man Who Died In His Boat [Fire Note Review 2/14/13]

#46

biffy-clyro-opposites-cover Biffy Clyro
Opposites
Warner Bros. Records [2013]

Opposites is a double album and to its credit does not feel filled with fluff. The album is very accessible and diverse enough to keep your interest over 78 minutes. If you enjoyed 80′s and 90′s alternative music you will find yourself right at home with Biffy Clyro and this massive UK rock record.



Biffy Clyro: Opposites [Fire Note Review 4/10/13]

#45

wavves-afraid-heights-cover-art Wavves
Afraid Of Heights
Mom + Pop Music [2013]

Now a two-piece act (Nathan Williams is again joined by Stephan Pope) Afraid Of Heights makes no bones about its influence. Nevermind, Dookie, The Blue Album all loom very large. Accessible punk rock that definitely begs for a big audience. Leaving the garage band sound of earlier recordings this more rock focused album fits with Williams smoking, surfer/slacker world-view.



Wavves: Afraid Of Heights [Fire Note Review 3/27/13]

#44

beach-fossils-clash-truth-album-art Beach Fossils
Clash The Truth
Captured Tracks [2013]

Beach Fossils changed up the sonic output this time around but retained the quality on their sophomore album! They took a risk and moved away from the lo-fi pop of their debut and still came out on top with a record which had a more organic band vibe and steady live feeling bounce. This is one of those albums that got better with each spin.



Beach Fossils: Clash The Truth [Fire Note Review 2/21/13]

#43

robert-pollard-blazing-gentlemen Robert Pollard
Blazing Gentlemen
Guided By Voices Inc. [2013]

Pollard ended the year by bringing the rock on his second solo record of 2013. It is an album that highlights Pollard’s new writing process and like all Pollard albums, has its own flavor. Some may prefer its bigger rock moments over the earlier released Honey Locust but there is no question that it belongs in the Top 50 and honestly if it would have been released earlier this year it might have even landed higher in the countdown!



Robert Pollard: Blazing Gentlemen [Fire Note Review 12/6/13]

#42

white-fence-live-in-san-fran-cover White Fence
Live In San Francisco
Castle Face Records [2013]

White Fence had an incredible year with two great releases that included the solid studio album Cyclops Reap (TFN Review). Cyclops was great but what landed Live In San Francisco in the Top 50 was that White Fence is a full on rock machine in a live setting. You will easily find a bigger respect for White Fence after hearing this and will be waiting for more.



White Fence: Live In San Francisco [Fire Note Review 11/13/13]

#41

nick-cave-push-sky-cover-art Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Push The Sky Away
Bad Seed Ltd. [2013]

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds were all business on the sophisticated and brooding Push The Sky Away. This album never breaks out of its slower tempo and that is the beauty. It was a grower. Nick Cave will be remembered as one of the great troubadours and Push The Sky Away is one more example of why we feel that way!



Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away [Fire Note Review 2/19/13]

#40

Volcano Choir
Repave
Jagjaguwar Records [2013]

Repave found Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon kicking back and having fun. This album is not a one man show and it thrives because of it, although you still need to be a fan of Vernon’s voice. With that said, his vocals shine louder here than on any other recording he has released. That not only helps give Volcano Choir its own voice but engages Repave quicker with listeners for a memorable listen.



Volcano Choir: Repave [Fire Note Review 9/6/13]

#39

head-heart-cover The Head And The Heart
Let’s Be Still
Sub Pop Records [2013]

The Head And The Heart’s sophomore release is less raw, more refined and polished, without moving too far from their original sound. The new sound does not betray the band’s roots and their familiar story-like lyrics as catchy melodies can be heard throughout the new album. The band has definitely grown from their almost three years on the road as they’ve released another set of songs worthy of a Top 50 placement.



The Head And The Heart: Let’s Be Still [Fire Note Review 10/15/13]

#38

local-natives-hummingbird-cover Local Natives
Hummingbird
Frenchkiss Records [2013]

Hummingbird was no sophomore slump for the Local Natives. Hummingbird is a great album throughout and should both please existing fans and garner Local Natives new listeners. The band took the influence of Afropop and made it accessible with their unique brand of harmony and hooks. This band continues to be on the edge a bigger breakout.



Local Natives: Hummingbird [Fire Note Review 2/18/13]

#37

sebadoh-defend-yourself-cover Sebadoh
Defend Yourself
Joyful Noise Recordings [2013]

Defend Yourself was not a perfect album from the returning Sebadoh but after 14 years, Lou Barlow and the guys took elements of their classic sound and created something entirely new. Defend Yourself sounds like no other record in their discography. And they, in turn, sound like no one else, never have.



Holograms: Sebadoh: Defend Yourself [Fire Note Review 9/16/13]

#36

fuzz-fuzz-cover FUZZ
FUZZ
In The Red Records[2013]

The goal of Ty Segall’s FUZZ and their self-titled debut was never to be innovative. But this debut showed they are good at writing an infectious hook laced with destructive desire. For grimy fans of FUZZ there are plenty of reasons to light up this album again and again because this album just keeps grooving.



FUZZ: FUZZ [Fire Note Review 10/3/13]

#35

youth-lagoon-wondrous-bughouse-cover-art Youth Lagoon
Wondrous Bughouse
Fat Possum Records [2013]

Youth Lagoon not only avoid the sophomore slump on Wondrous Bughouse but once again have released one of the better albums of the year. The 23 year old Trevor Powers comes into Wondrous Bughouse with a bigger explosion of sounds that was more amplified and had a very blended track to track flow. It is progressive, sophisticated and maybe even a bit perplexing but at the end of the journey Wondrous Bughouse totally satisfies your indie ear.



Youth Lagoon: Wondrous Bughouse [Fire Note Review 3/6/13]

#34

franz-ferdinand-right-thoughts-cover Franz Ferdinand
Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
Domino Records [2013]

Franz Ferdinand’s fourth LP surprisingly did not disappoint. Franz Ferdinand is at their best when they’re creating danceable rock songs and here they go all out. Sure there were some new directions but this album was focused without sounding like it. More than anything it’s great to hear Franz Ferdinand continue to have fun as they evolve as a band.



Franz Ferdinand: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action [Fire Note Review 9/3/13]

#33

neko-case-the-worse-things-get-cover Neko Case
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
ANTI- Records [2013]

This album followed an extremely difficult time in Case’s life as she battled depression that just kept building with a series of deaths in the family. This album was her way back and the songs embed in your conscious. It only took one listen to catch on to the choruses and combine that with one of the best voices on the indie scene equaled a great record.



Neko Case: The Worse Things Get [Fire Note Review 9/4/13]

#32

rose-windows-sun-dogs-dog Rose Windows
The Sun Dogs
Sub Pop Records [2013]

Rose Windows debut was an album with great production dynamics, honed focuses on mood and atmosphere, and narcotic heavy grooves. The Sun Dogs coaxed a distinct newness out of old classics with a dash of Doors-like organ patterns, some Sabbath style riffs, and cultural/musical influences of Native Americans, Persians, and Eastern Europeans. It is a big sounding record and is the reason it made the Top 50.



Rose Windows: The Sun Dogs [Fire Note Review 6/21/13]

#31

tim-easton-not-cool-cover Tim Easton
Not Cool
Campfire Propaganda [2013]

Singer/songwriter Tim Easton had a new vibe on the entertaining Not Cool. He is a Fire Note favorite and on his tenth studio record he was inspired by his local surroundings that included honky tonk and classic Tennessee Three type of arrangements with upright bass, guitar and drums. Combine this vintage vibe with Easton’s smart songwriting and rock n roll heart and Not Cool turns into a record much opposite of what the title might suggest.



Tim Easton: Not Cool [Fire Note Review 8/16/13]

#30

big-dick-cover-art Big Dick
Big Dick
Dirt Cult Records [2013]

If you like post punk, you are going to love Canada’s Big Dick. We almost passed on this record without giving it a listen. How can a band named Big Dick be any good? Turns out, Big Dick is actually a kick ass drum and bass who bring the post punk noise in a big way. It’s loud, it’s aggressive, it’s complex, and it has tunes you can shout along too. Enough said about this Big Dick!



Big Dick: Big Dick [Fire Note Review 2/15/13]

#29

yellow-red-sparks-album-cover-art Yellow Red Sparks
Yellow Red Sparks
Org Music [2013]

The eleven songs here on Yellow Red Sparks indie folk debut consistently hit emotional chords, strike out with memorable harmonies and have stylistic arrangements that only add to the band’s strength. The album has everything that we liked in a solid debut – great songwriting, honest emotion and songs that just got better after every spin.



Yellow Red Sparks: Yellow Red Sparks [Fire Note Review 1/29/13]

#28

deafheaven-sunbather-cover Deafheaven
Sunbather
Deathwish Inc. [2013]

The most hyped metal album in years lived up to its over-sized ambition. This is a very good record by any standard with its huge, dark, personal slabs of nearly impenetrable noise rock made palatable by the infusion of melody and creative song structure. Not sure if it was the best metal album of the decade like some were saying but it is an artistic scorcher and worthy of number 28!



Deafheaven: Sunbather [Fire Note Review 7/5/13]

#27

scott-charlene-wedding-any-port-in-a-storm-cover Scott & Charlene’s Wedding
Any Port In A Storm
Fire Records [2013]

Scott & Charlene’s Wedding’s have a mutant cross between The Clean and Pavement that helps perfect their art of jangle pop. Lyrically this was pretty heavy stuff for a “pop” album and was coolly detached, a little paranoid, but always catchy. It is an album that was completely unique and stood out because like a Pavement record, Any Port In A Storm grabbed you with its awkward eloquence.



Scott & Charlene’s Wedding: Any Port In A Storm [Fire Note Review 8/9/13]

#26

guided-by-voices-english-little-league-cover Guided By Voices
English Little League
Guided By Voices Inc. [2013]

After three roaring full lengths last year from Guided By Voices, the classic lineup returned with album number four. The record is probably the least immediate album of the four recent GBV records but that didn’t stop it from being great as it contained some of the strongest Tobin Sprout songs to date. ELL continued the creative output of GBV as fans can all safely say that it has been one hell of a fun ride so far – right down to the final rocking note!



Guided By Voices: English Little League [Fire Note Review 4/26/13]

#25

Leeroy-Stagger-Truth-Be-sold Leeroy Stagger
Truth Be Sold
Gold Lake Records [2013]

Canadian singer/songwriter Leeroy Stagger’s Truth Be Sold is one of the better Americana records you will hear this year! His honest Americana approach always shines and now with his eighth full length the roots rock here is all about lyrics, tempo shifts and quality musicianship. Stagger is a good example of a career artist that keeps perfecting his craft with one solid album after another. Truth Be Sold is one of his best.



Leeroy Stagger: Truth Be Sold [Fire Note Review 9/19/13]

#24

mutual-benefit-love-crushing-diamond Mutual Benefit
Love’s Crushing Diamond
Fat Possum Records [2013]

Here was a record that does not break new ground nor create a new genre but it excels at the basics; songwriting, melody, orchestration and patience. It comes at you like a gentle breeze but carries you away with the force of a storm. Mutual Benefit creates loose and sweeping harmonies that simply show up out of nowhere again and again which made Love’s Crushing Diamond one of the better records this year.



Mutual Benefit: Love’s Crushing Diamond [Fire Note Review 11/5/13]

#23

ty-segall-sleeper-cover Ty Segall
Sleeper
Drag City Records [2013]

A hauntingly gorgeous acoustic record from perhaps the last artist you would expect it from. Ty Segall is full of surprises and his solo release, Sleeper, showed another new side to this talented artist. There isn’t a weak track on this record and is full of simple pleasures, the kind that are becoming all too rare these days, so bask in them whenever you can.



Ty Segall: Sleeper [Fire Note Review 8/19/13]

#22

superchunk-i-hate-music-cover Superchunk
I Hate Music
Merge Records [2013]

Superchunk returned with an energetic and thought stirring tenth record. If you have been a Superchunk fan for a long time, I Hate Music will appeal to you on several levels. Not only will the music catch your ear and sound pleasantly familiar but the lyrics will surely resonate with your own feelings of getting older.



Superchunk: I Hate Music [Fire Note Review 8/20/13]

#21

connections-body-language-cover Connections
Body Language
Anyway Records [2013]

Columbus, Ohio’s Connections released their debut and this sophomore effort all in 2013. Body Language follows a similar path that Connections already established on their debut by embracing their lo-fi roots but has slightly longer songs and a bigger presence of guitarist Dave Capaldi’s J. Mascis sounding leads. This combo has quickly established Connections in the upper tier of this genre as Body Language easily lands at #21.



Connections: Body Language [Fire Note Review 11/6/13]

#20

jus post-bellum-cover Jus Post Bellum
Oh July
Self-Released [2013]

If you are looking for an excellent folk album to just let play, Oh July from Brooklyn’s Jus Post Bellum is that album. Every song on this record has the power to connect and remains memorable with its layered harmonies. The record not only has a musical elegance from both its vocals and instruments but also has a lyrical depth that will impress you with its songs that have been inspired by events in American History.



Jus Post Bellum: Oh July [Fire Note Review 11/12/13]

#19

roomrunner-ideal-cities-cover Roomrunner
Ideal Cities
Fan Death Records [2013]

Yes, as a matter of fact Baltimore’s Roomrunner do sound like a grunge band, and yes, they do call to mind Nirvana sonically. But it’s not just grunge, its bands like The Jesus Lizard, and Girls Against Boys, and Shellac, and any other number of great noise bands, all rolled into one giant ball of kickass rock and roll. That is why it is #19.



Roomrunner: Ideal Cities [Fire Note Review 5/13/13]

#18

david-bowie-next-day-album-cover David Bowie
The Next Day
Columbia Records [2013]

The Next Day marks the thrilling return of The Thin White Duke. The release of this record was one of the big surprises in 2013. The Next Day is a triumphant artistic achievement. While it has many throwbacks to classic era Bowie, The Next Day sounds both classic and modern at the same time. Bowie created an album that exists in its own time and its own plan for a solid landing at #18.



David Bowie: The Next Day [Fire Note Review 3/12/13]

#17

queens-of-stone-age-like-clockwork-cover Queens Of The Stone Age
…Like Clockwork
Matador Records [2013]

All in all …Like Clockwork proves that QOTSA can make a focused riff-oriented record and do it thoughtfully as well. These songs on …Like Clockwork have a sense of purpose that comes forward more prominently then their past works and maybe even conveys a different identity. The identity is a mature and heavy QOTSA that released the best “rock” record of the year.



Queens Of The Stone Age: …Like Clockwork [Fire Note Review 5/31/13]

#16

thao-get-down-stay-down-we-common-cover-art Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
We The Common
Ribbon Music [2013]

We the Common from Thao & The Get Down Stay Down just kept creeping into the playlist and became better after every spin. This is a big sounding quirky record, and incredibly well constructed! We the Common is the sound of a talented band and artist coming together with an incredible producer to make the best album of their career to date, delivering completely on the promise of earlier works!



Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: We The Common [Fire Note Review 2/6/13]

#15

kanye-west-yeezus-cover Kanye West
Yeezus
Def Jam Recordings [2013]

Here is an album that The Fire Note almost didn’t cover. Kanye’s SNL performance made us take notice and it turned out that Yeezus was a 90 mph ride. Yeezus is a record that will strike a nerve one way or another because it is abrasive, cocky, fierce and to be honest down right catchy and mesmerizing in multiple sections. Not only was this record’s strength a surprise but I would have never predicted #15 but it earned it.



Kanye West: Yeezus [Fire Note Review 6/20/13]

#14

national-trouble-will-find-me-cover The National
Trouble Will Find Me
4AD Records [2013]

The National are a band at the top of their craft doing what they do best! Trouble Will Find Me is another brooding album from the band that sinks into your head with repeat listens. The record has seamless song transitions and seeps confidence with its simmering pace. It is an easy record to dismiss but it is also a record that reveals its complex self with a pair of headphones and a relaxing chair.



The National: Trouble Will Find Me [Fire Note Review 5/17/13]

#13

savages-silence-yourself-cover Savages
Silence Yourself
Matador Records [2013]

Female quartet Savages released a debut that rekindled a different era of post-punk that is dark, edgy and full of power. Silence Yourself sounds timeless and didn’t seem to fit in the scene today. That was a good thing as Silence Yourself is a debut that most bands only dream of making.

Savages: Silence Yourself [Fire Note Review 5/9/13]

#12

speedy-ortiz-major-arcana-cover Speedy Ortiz
Major Arcana
Carpark Records [2013]

Massachusetts band Speedy Ortiz released an album of surprising depth with an early nineties indie rock obsession. Lead singer Sadie Dupuis voice harkens back to early Liz Phair or, better still, Pod era Kim Deal. That alone is win for The Fire Note but don’t mistake Major Arcana as a nostalgia piece, because that would be a mistake due to the strong songwriting on these 10 tracks. We can’t wait to see what this band does next.



Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana [Fire Note Review 7/30/13]

#11

yo-la-tengo-fade-album-cover-art Yo La Tengo
Fade
Matador Records [2013]

Fade is probably the strongest record that Yo La Tengo has made since 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. They still sound like a cross between Sonic Youth, The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground, but they have added more depth to the production on this record which allows their songs to shine even more than they normally do. You won’t hear many better records this year.



Yo La Tengo: Fade [Fire Note Review 1/14/13]

#10

deerhunter-monomania-cover Deerhunter
Monomania
4AD Records [2013]

I like the feeling when your high expectations actually meet head on with the final product. That is exactly the case here as the new Deerhunter, Monomania, satisfies on many levels by sounding fresh and innovative while still bringing along past components that made their previous albums such a success.

Deerhunter: Monomania [Fire Note Review 5/8/13]

#9

black-joe-lewis-electric-slave-cover Black Joe Lewis
Electric Slave
Vagrant Records [2013]

In our interview with Joe Lewis he stated that his third full length, Electric Slave, represents a new beginning for himself and the band. He was not kidding as Black Joe Lewis unleashes a rip roaring rock party on this third LP. His honest raw rock approach is the appeal here and Joe sings it best when he says “Come To My Party!”



Black Joe Lewis: Electric Slave [Fire Note Review 8/26/13]

#8

kurt-vile-wakin-pretty-daze-cover Kurt Vile
Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Matador Records [2013]

Kurt Vile’s fifth long player, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, is easily his boldest and most confident release to date. The 69-minute double album is timeless, breathtaking, mesmerizing, expansive and a true musical marathon. Each track is its own story, its own complex perspective, and its own summer breeze that all combine for a record that allows the listener to drift off with its swooning guitars and relaxed vocals.

Kurt Vile: Wakin On A Pretty Daze [Fire Note Review 4/8/13]

#7

my-bloody-valentine-mbv-cover-art My Bloody Valentine
m b v
Self-Released [2013]

22 Years later, My Bloody Valentine release m b v and it seems like this noise wall is only built on strength as their veteran status is now secured. The combining sounds of old and new on m b v made a very interesting noise cocoon. In the digital age today, it is really hard to make a timeless classic as our perception of art is always expanding. My Bloody Valentine defy the odds and almost do it every time.



My Bloody Valentine: m b v [Fire Note Review 2/4/13]

#6

waxahatchee-cerulean-salt-cover-art Waxahatchee
Cerulean Salt
Don Giovanni Records [2013]

Katie Crutchfield came back on the indie scene with a stunning second album as Waxahatchee. The record has a crude minimalism at work with rudimentary percussion and fuzzed out guitar soloing. The simple song structures and chord progressions give Waxahatchee a lot of space to emote as the album succeeds with simple, effective, and haunting songs.



Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt [Fire Note Review 3/18/13]

#5

arcade-fire-reflektor-cover Arcade Fire
Reflektor
Merge Records [2013]

Arcade Fire have created a massive art-rock record with Reflektor that is grandiose in every superb way! The group can be perceived as pretentious but this is an album that has no boundaries, no borders and no limitations. This is the greatness of Reflektor and why it sounds timeless, meaningful and rich. TFN likes bands that go for it all and Arcade Fire not only went all in but they have never looked back!



Arcade Fire: Reflektor [Fire Note Review 10/28/13]

#4

robert-pollard-honey-locust-honky-tonk Robert Pollard
Honey Locust Honky Tonk
Guided By Voices Inc. [2013]

We all know that Robert Pollard can write a song but Honey Locust Honky Tonk’s 17 tracks showed a different side of the craftsman. Instead of the abstract or a revisit to the past these tracks give an emotional snapshot of where Pollard is today. HLHT is a rare glimpse into this area as it stayed consistent across the album. Without a doubt, I think Honey Locust Honky Tonk ranks very high in Pollard’s solo catalog while also landing here at number 4.



Robert Pollard: Honey Locust Honky Tonk [Fire Note Review 7/8/13]

#3

vampire-weekend-modern-vampires-city-cover Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires Of The City
XL Recordings [2013]

It would have been easy for Vampire Weekend to go through the motions and put out album number three with more of the same – although probably great – also potentially stale and so 2008. The band truly found themselves moving from being an extreme hype of the moment to career artists as Modern Vampires Of The City is full of energy, confidence and style that just gets better after each spin. This album is a defining moment for Vampire Weekend.

Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires Of The City [Fire Note Review 5/10/13]

#2

jason-isbell-southeastern-cover Jason Isbell
Southeastern
Southeastern Records [2013]

Right now, Isbell is at the absolute pinnacle of his career. He has sobered up, grown up, and settled down. This album didn’t start out being so highly praised but over the year it just kept going up the chart with its sincere delivery and memorable tracks. It is unquestionably Isbell’s best record up to this point, and is a well-earned number 2!



Jason Isbell: Southeastern [Fire Note Review 6/20/13]

#1

mikal-cronin-mcii-cover Mikal Cronin
MCII
Merge Records [2013]

Mikal Cronin is best known as the bass player for the Ty Segall band. The upbeat and catchy harmonies are heavily influenced by The Beach Boys and the songs have that sunshine psych vibe that differentiates them from his earlier material. MCII is the best of pop, rock, indie, lo-fi and hi-fi all together and hits every sweet spot I can talk about. Clearly MCII is The Fire Note’s Blazing Album of the Year!



Mikal Cronin: MCII [Fire Note Review 5/6/13]

The Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2012

#50

Nada Surf
The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
Barsuk Records [2012]




The combining of Nada Surf’s focus with their high spirits made The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy one of the most optimistic records the band has released to date. The same confidence that has been with band over the years felt even stronger here as the group seems to be at peace with their indie rock status. “When I Was Young” was a track that received lots of play around the office and the entire album was boosted by the added guitar of Doug Gillard (Cobra Verde, Guided By Voices). This gave The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy an extra depth to the record that only got better after every spin and landed it right at number 50.

Nada Surf: The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy [Fire Note Review 1/20/12]

#49

John The Conqueror
John The Conqueror
Alive Natural Sound Records [2012]





Philadelphia’s John The Conqueror brought a very familiar sounding dirty blues rock right at you full throttle on their self-titled debut. The trio’s Black Keys vibe had some critics dismissing them for not bringing anything new to the table but I thought that was exactly the point – why change up a winning formula. John The Conqueror did not recreate the wheel here on their debut but instead made a record that was dependable, solid and timeless!

John The Conqueror: John The Conqueror [Fire Note Review 10/30/12]

#48

Allo Darlin’
Europe
Slumberland Records [2012]





Allo Darlin’ are a London-based four piece that is fronted by the silky smooth pop vocals of Australian Elizabeth Morris. The sophistication of their album did not stop at its infectious singles as Europe is a record that when you hear it, you believe in everything track that comes at you. There was no over singing, no gimmicks, no pure sugar – just plain and simple solid indie pop with a purpose. It was easily one of the top releases in the genre and firmly lands at number 48 overall.

Allo Darlin’: Europe [Fire Note Review 5/2/12]

#47

Heartless Bastards
Arrow
Partisan Records [2012]





Erika Wennerstrom and her strong soulful vocals returned with the release of the Heartless Bastards fourth album Arrow. With memorable riffs around every corner Arrow raged, ebbed and flowed rock n roll. There were both T. Rex inspired tracks and more acoustic numbers that kept a diversity to Arrow in its 10 powerful songs over a whopping 52 minute running time. In many ways Arrow was a fresh start for the Heartless Bastards and it turned out to be the perfect starting point for anyone wanting to get onboard.

Heartless Bastards: Arrow [Fire Note Review 2/10/12]

#46

Cat Power
Sun
Matador Records [2012]





Sun hailed the return of Chan Marshall and her moniker Cat Power as it had been six long years since she last released a record of original material. One big difference on Sun, compared to her previous work, was that she wrote, played, recorded and produced the entirety of the record by herself. This helped push Sun to the next level as Chan performed under her new instruments and arrangements with a new found confidence. Sun does not represent the Cat Power of the past but the here and now Chan Marshall, which freely shared her strength on each and every track making Sun one of the better releases this year!

Cat Power: Sun [Fire Note Review 9/4/12]

#45

The Fresh & Onlys
Long Slow Dance
Mexican Summer Records [2012]





Right from the supporting rolling piano keys on album opener,”20 Days And 20 Nights”, The Fresh & Onlys once again shifted their ever evolving sound on Long Slow Dance. For this outing the band had an undertone of 80’s style college rock which had plenty of pep and gave Long Slow Dance a retro feel while still being completely 2012. All of the new angles here blended with The Fresh & Onlys past musical outings and made it easy for fans to connect the dots. Long Slow Dance is one of The Fresh & Onlys best records to date and there is no reason that the band will not just keep climbing up from here!

The Fresh & Onlys: Long Slow Dance [Fire Note Review 9/6/12]

#44

Fiona Apple
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Epic Records [2012]



It has always been about the voice with the piano being a close second when it comes to Fiona Apple. Fast-forward 16 years and now Fiona Apple resurfaced again with just her fourth long player The Idler Wheel (insert crazy long title here). The beauty of this new album was that it all came back to the voice and piano again! It was a record that you instantly respected and just sat back in awe on how Apple can move so graceful but yet be so forceful. It was a true return to form on The Idler Wheel which quite possibly will become even stronger with age but definitely deserves its place on the Top 50.

Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel… [Fire Note Review 6/19/12]

#43

The Men
Open Your Heart
Sacred Bones Records [2012]





The Men already proved to be one of the harder hitting post-punk groups out there after last year’s thrilling Leave Home record took everyone that listened by surprise. The Brooklyn band then came right back with Open Your Heart and it surpassed last year’s performance. Open Your Heart embraced all of the quartet’s musical influences and explored their own style of surf riffs, country twang, psychedelic, guitar solos and of course punk rock. The record had an un-assuming and un-cocky attitude which made Open Your Heart completely engaging. The Men were not afraid of taking some risks that worked and Open Your absolutely did not take long to get into but was impossible to put away!

The Men: Open Your Heart [Fire Note Review 3/6/12]

#42

Lord Huron
Lonesome Dreams
IAMSOUND Records [2012]





Lord Huron’s first full-length album was a well-balanced work of beauty and humility, focused on both the simplest things and the grand view. Lonesome Dreams was both lush and energetic while successfully cherry-picking the essence of past and present folk-inflected rock groups. There was not a weak song on the album and a complete balance, focus and scope which made for a rewarding album that deserved its spot on the Top 50 and made Lord Huron an artist to watch in the coming years!

Lord Huron: Lonesome Dreams [Fire Note Review 10/8/12]

#41

Thee Oh Sees
Putrifiers II
In The Red Records [2012]





Thee Oh Sees have released a significant amount of music over their time together, which is why Putrifiers II excited and delighted with each spin. One moment the record was a fire breathing fuzz wonderland, the next it was a slow pace think piece. Thee Oh Sees included their signature style here as well as introduced some nice, new touches from the best of sunshine psych, garage growls, and dreamy ballads. This enabled Putrifiers II a spot on the Top 50 and really helped separate Thee Oh Sees from the pack.

Thee Oh Sees: Putrifiers II [Fire Note Review 10/3/12]

#40

Archie Powell & The Exports
Great Ideas In Action
Good Land Records [2012]





Sometimes it is best to not change a thing when you have a winning formula and that is exactly the way we felt about the sophomore outing from Chicago’s Archie Powell & The Exports titled Great Ideas In Action. Great Ideas In Action came at you with a batch of modern day Elvis Costello that was tighter and more focused than their debut. Archie Powell & The Exports perfected their verse chorus verse approach here and made for an entertaining listen front to back which is exactly why it landed in the Top 50!

Archie Powell & The Exports: Great Ideas In Action [Fire Note Review 5/29/12]

#39

Twin Shadow
Confess
4AD Records [2012]





Confess is an album full of songs about Love, Lust, not being in Love, maybe hoping George Lewis aka Twin Shadow could find love, maybe hoping you could love him. He’s a mess, and he lays it all out for us to hear which is exactly why this record turned out to be one of the best albums of the year. Confess is full of sampled beats, synths, and more guitar than Twin Shadow had previously used which made for a very dense record sonically that grabbed hold of you. Ultimately this portrait of an artist going through an intense inner turmoil and laying it all out for listeners to share with him made for such a brutally honest record that it made it hard to turn off and an automatic for our Top 50.

Twin Shadow: Confess [Fire Note Review 7/12/12]

#38

Chromatics
Kill For Love
Italians Do It Better Records [2012]





Right from the opening cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” you had a good idea that the new Chromatics album Kill For Love was going to challenge, reward and challenge your ear again right up to its conclusion. Kill For Love is a record that you needed time to inhale and just sit with. The Chromatics formed more than a decade ago and Kill For Love was five years in the making so this record was a true labor of love that could be heard on every song. The emerging retro-synth genre got a huge boost from the Chromatics as Kill For Love had plenty of highlights and is a solid listen all the way through!

Chromatics: Kill For Love [Fire Note Review 4/9/12]

#37

Holograms
Holograms
Captured Tracks Records [2012]





Stockholm’s Holograms were not messing around and their post-punk self-titled debut was loud, punchy and downright addicting. It is the type of modern gritty album that gets under your skin in a good way, makes your blood pump quickly and instantly has you wanting more. With sure-fire sing-a-longs, guitar solos and up in your face vocals Holograms released a working man’s album. Every song here sounds like it might be the bands last and possesses an intensity that keeps the listener on the edge. Holograms never became dull or tiresome with their solid execution and their straightforward no-nonsense approach is exactly why they landed at #37.

Holograms: Holograms [Fire Note Review 7/13/12]

#36

Bob Mould
Silver Age
Merge Records [2012]





I am not sure if there were any expectations for Bob Mould’s new full length, Silver Age, but I guarantee it still will surprise a lot of fans with its pedal to the floor rock attitude. The Sugar/Hüsker Dü founder has always went back n forth with his styles when it comes to his solo material, but I think that Silver Age’s turned up amps is one of his best. The record benefited from the addition of Bob’s live band in the recording studio as each track was rich and spontaneously full of energy. Silver Age is exactly the Bob Mould I wanted to hear and rightfully earned its place on our Top 50!

Bob Mould: Silver Age [Fire Note Review 8/31/12]

#35

Titus Andronicus
Local Business
XL Recordings [2012]





Titus Andronicus delivered on their third record, Local Business, with older familiar themes while remaining fun and fresh the whole time. The album was not full of the most uplifting premise as most of the time Titus Andronicus discussed how everything is inherently worthless but with big bar stomping anthems, thundering slow building movements and over eight minute theatrics Local Business had plenty of replay value. Titus Andronicus’ Local Business was the most fun loathing record that we heard in 2012 and its strength easily retained the band’s strong indie cred and place in our best of the year.

Titus Andronicus: Local Business [Fire Note Review 10/25/12]

#34

METZ
METZ
Sub Pop Records [2012]





Right from the opening pounding drums on first track “Headache” you just know that the Canadian outfit METZ is totally going to kick your ass! The noise rock band’s self-titled debut was some of the best 30 minutes of controlled chaos we heard in 2012 as their post-punk style is both ferocious and addicting. METZ are in fact a post-punk band to the core and this record was not for humming along to in the car, playing on date night or using to impress your jam band friends. Instead METZ provided a record that will shake every aggressive bone out of your body, get you in the mood for going out and is perfect for testing out your maximum speaker volume. It is not a record that you will play all of the time but its memorable timeless quality is solid and perfect at #34!

METZ: METZ [Fire Note Review 10/5/12]

#33

Perfume Genius
Put Your Back N 2 It
Matador Records [2012]





I don’t believe that most people think of albums as sequels but that was exactly the way to categorize Perfume Genius’s sophomore record Put Your Back N 2 It. This album was not just a progression in lyric content but also in production as their debut’s lo-fi sound was replaced with a superior instrument clarity and memorable hush like vocal melodies that supplied the album with depth, warmth and an irresistible draw. Put Your Back N 2 It played even better upon repeat listens and truly became stronger every time you heard it. Perfume Genius created a record that is a mesmerizing listen and easily was placed on our Top 50 list!

Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It [Fire Note Review 2/28/12]

#32

Daphni
Jialong
Merge Records [2012]





From start to finish, Dan Snaith—the lone ranger behind both Daphni and Caribou—delivered beat-heavy perfection on Jiaolong (pronounced JOW-long). It is an album that did not have any unnecessary tracks and there were no missteps. It’s sweaty, it’s pulsing, it’s moist and holds two conflicting ideas in mind with perfect equilibrium. Dan Snaith is a madman; Dan Snaith is a genius. And Dan Snaith may have found his ideal creative outlet in Daphni while releasing one of the best albums of the year.

Daphni: Jialong [Fire Note Review 10/23/12]

#31

Audra Mae And The Almighty Sound
Audra Mae And The Almighty Sound
SideOneDummy Records [2012]





Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound was a fun roots romp all the way through its eleven tracks that successfully harnessed its talent right into the music. The self-titled sophomore record from Mae was an album that you picked up with little expectations and left with quite possibly one of your favorites this year! With Mae’s backing band, The Almighty Sound, added to the billing the temperature instantly shot through the roof. Mae took command of your ear and never let it go with a new found attitude and swagger that not only infected every song on the record but made the album one of the surprising releases in 2012!

Audra Mae And The Almighty Sound: Audra Mae And The Almighty Sound [Fire Note Review 2/14/12]

#30

The Shins
Port Of Morrow
Columbia Records [2012]





Five years is a lifetime in the music scene but that is exactly how long it has been since the release of The Shins last record Wincing The Night Away [2007]. The band of course changed as The Shins are mostly James Mercer now but the music remained whole. With the help of talented guests Port Of Morrow moved into a more sonic and layered depth direction that still had a trademark jangle to it but also had a touch of classic rock vibe going on which gave the record a timeless appeal and a solid new found structure for The Shins. This new energy made for a great listen and a solid number 30 on our list for 2012.

The Shins: Port Of Morrow [Fire Note Review 3/23/12]

#29

Grizzly Bear
Shields
Warp Records [2012]





Grizzly Bear’s last record, Veckatimest [2009], topped the chart and was number one in our 2009 Blazing Top 50 year end countdown so the pressure was on for Shields. From its intricate musical craftsmanship and memorable harmonies Shields had all the pieces but you could hear that Grizzly Bear took everything out a step farther. Upon first few listens Shields was not as easy to get into which was reflected in our review but it was after multiple spins and discussion that Grizzly Bear shot into the chart. Shields is full of grand ideas with an expansive canvas that did not take hold immediately but when it finally clicked; it rightfully slid into spot 29 on our Top 50 this year.

Grizzly Bear: Shields [Fire Note Review 9/19/12]

#28

How To Dress Well
Total Loss
Acephale Records [2012]





Tom Krell’s How to Dress Well has one of those falsettos that are hard to get out of your head. On their sophomore album, Total Loss, the emotion just resonated from every track as its R&B flavored pieces made for a sophisticated mix. What we liked about Total Loss was that the listener didn’t feel a need to dive into the lyrics and extract their meaning – their meaning is evident in how the song is sung and produced. This alone made the album worth every minute and secured its position at #28.

How To Dress Well: Total Loss [Fire Note Review 9/20/12]

#27

Sharon Van Etten
Tramp
Jagjaguwar Records [2012]





If there is ever an artist that seems to be on the verge of breaking out I would say that Brooklyn singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten is close to the top of the list. Her confident siren vocals were the instant focal point on her new record Tramp but her lyrics that covered loneliness, cautiousness around others and an overall sense of uneasiness gave the record its depth, cohesiveness and staying power. All of this made for an excellent listen and even if Van Etten is not a household name yet, Tramp has a superb replay value and most certainly has everything moving her in the right direction for a bigger audience.

Sharon Van Etten: Tramp [Fire Note Review 2/9/12]

#26

Redd Kross
Researching The Blues
Merge Records [2012]





It has been 15 years since Redd Kross last had a record on the shelves with Show World [1997] so it was really anybody’s guess for what this outing was going to bring. I am not even sure if the younger generation can appreciate a new Redd Kross record like Researching The Blues but for anyone that was around for the heyday of their 90’s material this album hit every power pop chord in your body – and that was a good thing. The power pop gem “Stay Away From Downtown” sticks in your head and with only a total album running time of 32 minutes there was absolutely no filler. Redd Kross brought their 70’s power chords back in all their glory throughout Researching The Blues while once again making their style of power pop very modern. This not only made for a fun listen but it made Researching The Blues one of the best records released this year!

Redd Kross: Researching The Blues [Fire Note Review 8/6/12]

#25

Best Coast
The Only Place
Mexican Summer Records [2012]





The Only Place left Best Coast’s lo-fi output in the dust and came at its fans shooting for the moon with its much brighter and polished sound. We initially thought the missing lo-fi pop was a huge mistake but The Only Place won us over in exactly 2 minutes and 43 seconds, on the first single and opening title track. The record still featured Cosentino taking on all songwriting, vocal and rhythm guitar duties while Bobb Bruno is on lead guitar, bass and drums but now placed Cosentino’s vocals right out front and guess what – she really can sing! The album is a tidy 34 minutes and only gets more addictive with repeat spins. Not only did The Only Place turn out to be one of the catchier records we have heard this year but Cosentino will keep us coming back for more and we can’t wait to hear what she does next!

Best Coast: The Only Place [Fire Note Review 5/14/12]

#24

Dirty Projectors
Swing Lo Magellan
Domino Records [2012]





Is it possible for a record to be both avant garde and accessible at the same time, to be both simple and complex? If the record is Swing Lo Magellan, the new album from Dirty Projectors, the answer is most definitely YES! Its success was simple: the music was not as dense and all over the map which seemed to open the band up to a new audience but it was still weird enough to please long-time fans. Swing Lo Magellan was loaded with multiple layers; from the production, to the songwriting, to the playing, and the singing. It was a remarkably rich listening experience that brought something new each time you played it and with that said certainly earned its spot in TFN Top 50!

Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan [Fire Note Review 7/27/12]

#23

Pinback
Information Retrieved
Temporary Residence LTD. [2012]





It has been 5 years since Pinback released their last studio album, Autumn of the Seraphs [2007], and you absolutely wouldn’t know it after taking in the sonic adventure that was their new outing Information Retrieved. The duo of vocalist/guitarist Rob Crow and bassist/vocalist Zach Smith once again came out of the gate with their trademarked layered harmonies, soaring melodies and quick shifting rhythms. Information Retrieved was not a return to form – it is Pinback’s form. The album never hit you in the face as it just slowly took you over with its little catchy nuances. For all of these little pieces working together and a strong return to form, Information Retrieved ranks up there with Pinback’s best and found its self properly placing at number 23.

Pinback: Information Retrieved [Fire Note Review 10/16/12]

#22

King Tuff
King Tuff
Sub Pop Records [2012]





I think it goes without saying that sometimes we really like odd music. Not in the sense that it is crazy or freaky if you would hear it but just that you might scratch your head and think to yourself “I don’t get it”. King Tuff was one of those records that might fall into the above mentioned category but its carefree rock n roll had elements of lo-fi, punk and garage all wrapped into its satisfying 40 minute running time and clearly stood out from the album stacks immediately. King Tuff had a focused progression that could be in the form of a ballad, Southern rockabilly or just straight up punk. Everything from the album cover, the somewhat nasally delivery of leader Kyle Thomas to the furious two weeks of recording in Detroit, King Tuff screams caution but it only takes one listen to the bigger rock sound to hook you with its simple sincerity. It made for a great time each moment it hit our speakers and easily glided into our Top 50!

King Tuff: King Tuff [Fire Note Review 5/30/12]

#21

Spiritualized
Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Fat Possum Records [2012]





15 years is a long time to hit all the right keys but I feel the seventh long player from Spiritualized accomplished just that as Sweet Heart Sweet Light is Jason Pierce’s best record since his unforgettable Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space [1997]. This might come to some fans surprise as Sweet Heart took over eight months to just mix. All of the pieces here worked together and drove Sweet Heart Sweet Light to its spectacular listening point. The bottom line on Sweet Heart Sweet Light is that it was well worth the wait and once again placed Spiritualized up into the elite category of artists that consistently meets the high expectations!

Spiritualized: Sweet Heart Sweet Light [Fire Note Review 4/19/12]

#20

Beach House
Bloom
Sub Pop Records [2012]





Indie dream pop group Beach House once again created a record that stays in its lane of expectations but swells up and beyond any type of ceiling you may think exists. Bloom was the group’s fourth long player and it was another atmospheric pop journey. Bloom was very much from the same template as Beach House’s earlier efforts but it is filled with a brighter outlook collection of tracks that set it apart. This band continues to grow vocally, musically and lyrically and Bloom rightfully takes its place at #20.

Beach House: Bloom [Fire Note Review 5/11/12]

#19

Trapper Schoepp & The Shades
Run, Engine, Run
SideOneDummy Records [2012]





Southern flavored music from a Milwaukee band on a typically punk label? That does not necessarily sound like a recipe for success but Trapper Schoepp & The Shades third album Run, Engine, Run is an excellent listen all the way through and they nailed all the components that create a solid slice of Americana rock. Kudos goes out to SideOneDummy for releasing this album as I do believe it was independently available in 2011 but was given the complete overhaul for its national September debut. Given this fact Trapper and band ranked in a bit lower but it does not change the details that Run, Engine, Run offers well written songs, excellent musicianship, memorable hooks and a full length that you just put on and drive! The exciting part is that Trapper Schoepp is very young and we can’t wait to hear what is next but given that this album always finds its way back to the Fire Note speakers makes it a no brainer for our 2012 Top 50.

Trapper Schoepp & The Shades: Run, Engine, Run [Fire Note Review 11/14/12]

#18

Frankie Rose
Interstellar
Slumberland Records [2012]





Frankie Rose already has a superb indie resume as a member of the Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts plus an excellent solo debut released in 2010 so it was no surprise that Interstellar landed at number 18. At just a little over 30 minutes Interstellar moves by quickly, spikes different moods and sucks you into its swirling and warm song depths. It is a record that you may initially dismiss but after the opening track you will be hooked and then keep going back to as Frankie Rose is a true talent that only sounds like she is getting started here and I can’t wait to see where she goes from this excellent outing!

Frankie Rose: Interstellar [Fire Note Review 2/23/12]

#17

The Avett Brothers
The Carpenter
American/Universal Records [2012]





Here is a record that changed position as we went back n forth, up and down and higher and lower. The Avett Brothers seventh album, The Carpenter, which once again reunited them with producer Rick Rubin and engineer Ryan Hewitt ended up here at number 17 as the group pushed their classic neo-folk sound forward and completely focused in on each and every component that makes their music so engaging. This fine tuning covered everything from songwriting to their memorable harmonies and at times created a warm 70’s vibe that is gorgeously timeless. The Carpenter shined because of small refinements and its personal nature that covered life, death and the personal accounts that surround those experiences. The Carpenter was a career changer in the sense for The Avett Brothers as they now seem to be on a musical path that has no limits.

The Avett Brothers: The Carpenter [Fire Note Review 9/7/12]

#16

DIIV
Oshin
Captured Tracks Records [2012]





DIIV, the new band from Beach Fossils touring guitarist Zachary Cole Smith, released a mesmerizing debut in Oshin as each song had an effortless flow of focused and intense guitar work that in a split second pushed to the next level with its integrated lyrics that ever so slightly hovered above the instruments. The simplistic magic of DIIV is that they truly don’t try to win you over with crazy deep lyrics but still can make you think while their musical structure becomes addictive. Oshin is a record that you might hear once and sort of shrug your shoulders but another spin gets you moving along with its rhythm, a third listen brings the lyrics forward and by the fourth play the stars align and Oshin is one of the best records this year!

DIIV: Oshin [Fire Note Review 6/29/12]

#15

Woods
Bend Beyond
Woodsist Records [2012]





A new Woods lp is quickly becoming a reason to celebrate each year. With Bend Beyond, you can add one more classic to their resume. Bend Beyond found Woods refining their sound and their songwriting process while subtracting the long instrumental jam pieces of their past outings. The result was a flawless record in Bend Beyond that is well played, well sung, well written and holds up well to repeated listens. I am not sure where Woods will go from here but one thing is for sure, wherever they go, we are following along!

Woods: Bend Beyond [Fire Note Review 10/2/12]

#14

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Constellation Records [2012]





Here’s the thing about instrumental post rock, you almost always know what you are going to get before you put the record on. What separates the elite bands from the rest of the post rock pack is that they have the ability to make the listener connect with the music on another level entirely. Legendary Montreal band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor did just that with Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! GYBE did not play by the rules of post rock with Allelujah, as you had an opening 20 minute track followed by a 6 minute song of drone and then they repeated the process. This was an easy record to fall in love with as it is expertly played, superbly sequenced, and thought provoking. This is more than just a comeback record, it’s is a landmark.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! [Fire Note Review 10/17/12]

#13

Motel Beds
Dumb Gold
No More Fake Labels [2012]





It may have surprised some people when last year’s Motel Beds release, Tango Boys, made our Top 50 after only being out several days but with the release of their brand new full length, Dumb Gold, you will realize we were spot on. This record not only carries forward the same energy of Tango but made their tight song structures and execution even tighter. The Motel Beds blended style of British Invasion hi-fi meets Midwestern lo-fi works throughout Dumb Gold and not only made this record their best release to date but landed them on our year end list again – only this time for a solid number 13!

Motel Beds: Dumb Gold [Fire Note Review 11/2/12]

#12

The Walkmen
Heaven
Fat Possum Records [2012]





One could say that The Walkmen have hit their stride but we believe this top end streak started about 4 years ago and has never halted evidenced by the excellent You & Me [2008], Libson [2010] and now the six studio full length Heaven. It does not really feel like it but The Walkmen have been in existence for 10 years now but their veteran status has never felt stronger than on Heaven’s 47 minutes. There were plenty of tracks that represented their old style here with several upbeat foot tappers but Heaven showed a new side of singer Hamilton Leithauser as he hovered his vocals over guitar lines and showed off a new vulnerability to the band that has not necessarily been explored before. For this lasting combination Heaven soared up our list and secured its place near the top of 2012!

The Walkmen: Heaven [Fire Note Review 5/29/12]

#11

Father John Misty
Fear Fun
Sub Pop Records [2012]





Father John Misty is the new band from ex-Fleet Foxes drummer and solo singer/songwriter Josh Tillman. Fear Fun was his debut record under this moniker but Tillman has around seven solo records under his belt so he is an indie veteran that took full advantage of this new direction. This is an album that was engaging from the beginning but just kept getting better every time we had it on. From the warm carefree musical approach to upbeat memorable numbers that stayed in your head Father John Misty had just the right amount of styling to grab your interest and enough special moments and 70’s folk pop influences to make Fear Fun unique and worth every minute you gave it!

Father John Misty: Fear Fun [Fire Note Review 5/3/12]

#10

Red River Dialect
“awellupontheway”
Self-Released [2012]





We told you back in August about this totally under the radar psych-folk record from Red River Dialect should easily land high on our Top 50 and I would say number 10 is nails it. The Cornwall, England based band debut full length “awellupontheway” is a stunning 8 song, 47 minute experience that has an exuberant amount of energy stored up within its song structures and like any skilled artist has the ability to inject these moments piece by piece into the listener with artistic precision. What made this record so great was how Red River Dialect was able to provide an experience that became more memorable with every spin. “awellupontheway” was both intense and reserved, fierce and gentle, and grandiose yet simple. This internal battle combined with the stellar vocals of lead singer David Morris not only put Red River Dialect on the radar but easily make it one of the best records we heard this year!

Red River Dialect: “awellupontheway” [Fire Note Review 8/2/12]

#9

Cloud Nothings
Attack On Memory
Carpark Records [2012]





It is always cool to see a January released record hold the test of an almost full year and still land in the top 10. Cloud Nothings did just that as the band followed up a really good self-titled debut record released last January with the even better Attack On Memory. The once basement self-recorded project of Dylan Baldi progressed past just getting in the studio with a producer to making Cloud Nothings a full-fledged band and recording with Steve Albini in Chicago. The result was an engaging balance of rock with injected catchy and memorable harmonies. Attack On Memory will easily be the bar from which Cloud Nothings will now be measured as it is a rock thrill ride from beginning to end. It is a record that never lost steam at any time it was played all year and for that it has a well-deserved place at number 9.

Cloud Nothings: Attack On Memory [Fire Note Review 1/25/12]

#8

Tame Impala
Lonerism
Modular Records [2012]





If Tame Impala’s first album Innerspeaker [2010] was like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band then Lonerism is their Dark Side of the Moon. The expectations were already high for this follow up and Tame Impala delivered with drum driven powerhouses, blossoming guitars and keys, crashing waves of wah and synth while floating the listener along with their stylistic hazy vocals. Lonerism’s psychedelic dream pop methodology is a fantastic view on how music should be made as nothing felt out of place, no note was over played, no trick over tried. Tame Impala once again created a timeless record that can be played both loud and soft with equal results which positively made Lonerism one of the best releases 2012 had to offer!

Tame Impala: Lonerism [Fire Note Review 10/15/12]

#7

Murder By Death
Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
Bloodshot Records [2012]





We love it when an album takes hold from the very first track and never lets go. This is the experience that Murder By Death’s sixth full length Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon offered on the first key. Singer Adam Turla’s unique voice, which sounds like a combination of The National’s Matt Berninger and the legend Johnny Cash instantly draws you into Murder By Death’s world. The album found the band battling darkness and struggling to get out within its own lyrics which supplied Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon with an emotional punch that propelled it to the next level. Turla continually tries to convince the listener that he is not an eloquent man during the record but after the album concludes you just know he was totally lying as Murder By Death released one of their most articulate and powerful records to date!

Murder By Death: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon [Fire Note Review 9/26/12]

#6

Jack White
Blunderbuss
Third Man/Columbia Records [2012]





Right from the opening Rhodes piano playing you just had a sense that one of the true sides of Jack White was just unleashed to the masses on his solo debut Blunderbuss. The album not only had one of the best rock tracks this year with “Sixteen Saltines” but used a dynamic combination of instruments that gave Blunderbuss its free spirit and likability. What made Blunderbuss a success was its expertise refinement because it would have been easy for White to give everyone a full rocked out record like the Stripes but here Jack made each track smolder with his confidence, instrument swagger and solid song structures. Blunderbuss is a record that maybe did not immediately awe fans but it had tremendous staying power. Jack White made an album that played well all year, will play well next year and the years after that which is exactly why this release is essential and firmly planting at number 6 on the 2012 Top 50!

Jack White: Blunderbuss [Fire Note Review 6/29/12]

#5

Kishi Bashi
151a
Joyful Noise Recordings [2012]





A soaring indie pop record primarily written on a violin might scare you a bit but that is exactly the creative process behind the debut, 151a, from Kishi Bashi. Of course, Kishi Bashi expanded on 151a and incorporated a full array of instruments that blended with the record’s Brian Wilson/ELO type harmonies. Kishi Bashi still had the ability to work his violin into the tracks but never dominated the overall sound as he used different tempos, effects and vocal interplay. 151a was an album that only got better with repeat listens and was one of those unique records that sneaks up on you and then turns out to be one of the most entertaining, artistic, quirky, memorable and down-right catchy albums that you have heard in 2012!

Kishi Bashi: 151a [Fire Note Review 4/11/12]

#4

Lotus Plaza
Spooky Action At A Distance
Kranky Records [2012]





Lotus Plaza is the solo project of musician Lockett Pundt, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist of Atlanta-based indie group Deerhunter. Spooky Action At A Distance is his sophomore album and easily now his finest work. The album found Pundt stepping up front and center vocally as songs would crescendo into layered vocals and creatively combine with a consistent guitar base. Lotus Plaza has a laid back ability to create tracks that instantly soared again and again on Spooky Action At A Distance. Lotus Plaza not only released their best record to date but Spooky Action At A Distance rivals the best work from Deerhunter as it is a great indie album that is timeless, memorable and something you should not miss!

Lotus Plaza: Spooky Action At A Distance [Fire Note Review 4/5/12]

#3

Guided By Voices
*Let’s Go Eat The Factory
*Class Clown Spots A UFO
*The Bears For Lunch
Guided By Voices Inc. [2012]



Guided By Voices made a triumphant return in 2012 with a trilogy of releases that featured the “classic line up”. This is the same group which was responsible for the highly praised Bee Thousand [1994] and Alien Lanes [1995] so after a 15 year absence the anticipation for greatness was quite high. Well GBV made up for lost time and delivered a consistent rock experience with each release that musically all had a different vibe but were 100% Guided By Voices. This description of course means different things to different people but for The Fire Note it meant big rock tracks, short memorable numbers, catchy indie pop melodies and plenty of replay value. Some critics complained that the band could have just made one focused record instead of three but they missed the point. All three records shined in the right places, relied on their selected track sequencing and gave the fans what they wanted. The return of Guided By Voices definitely boosted the 2012 indie music scene and rightfully so earned all three records a collective spot at number 3!

Guided By Voices: The Bears For Lunch [Fire Note Review 11/1/12]
Guided By Voices: Class Clown Spots A UFO [Fire Note Review 6/5/12]
Guided By Voices: Let’s Go Eat The Factory [Fire Note Review 12/9/11]

#2

Ty Segall
Twins
Drag City Records [2012]





Ty Segall is walking in rarified air these days. There aren’t many artists who can put out three excellent albums in a year. Segall has already hit big this year with his collaborative album with Tim Presley of White Fence, entitled Hair, and his full band album, Slaughterhouse. Twins actually upped the ante and is not only Segall’s best album of the year, but it’s easily the finest, most fully realized album of his career to this point. The album is full of 12 great pop songs, disguised as garage rock and honestly if it was released 20 years ago, it could have been Nevermind. That’s how good Twins is. There isn’t a single song here that is less than excellent, each track is a highlight. For that reason alone Twins is an easy number 2 of the year and already has us excited for what Segall touches next!

Ty Segall: Twins [Fire Note Review 10/12/12]

#1

Japandroids
Celebration Rock
Polyvinyl Records [2012]





Japnadroids sophomore record Celebration Rock couldn’t have hit the nail on the head any better with its title. I truly suggest you take a deep breath right before you put on this album because it is an excellent 35 minutes of indie rock that expands the groups songwriting and is better than their solid debut Post-Nothing [2009]. What made Celebration Rock so good is that the original winning formula from singer/guitar player Brian King and drummer David Prowse stays completely intact as each song here is loud, fast, fun and sonically crisp. Japandroids have succeeded in what every band wants in a sophomore record which is to avoid the slump, grow as songwriters, build your fan base and still be able to rock the hell out of your audience. Japandroids do it all here and at the same time have released the best record this year!

Japandroids: Celebration Rock [Fire Note Review 6/1/12]

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