The 20 best and most-anticipated releases of 2014 

CL music scribes call out their summer soundtrack

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Gold-Bears: Dalliance (Slumberland Records)

Dalliance, Gold-Bears' second album, takes songwriter Jeremy Underwood's unstoppable pop sensibility and shreds it to pieces, exposing his heart for all to see. Lyrically, that's a good thing; it means we get to hear how Underwood really feels about a relationship gone bad, rather than the veiled references on 2011's Are You Falling in Love? Musically, we get a heaping helping of the band's punkier side. From start to finish, Dalliance finds the band spiking its cuddly indie-pop with crashing cymbals, feedback squalls, and plenty of furious punk fuzz. The results are bracing and bittersweet. — Ben Salmon

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Mastodon: Once More 'Round the Sun (Warner Bros.)

After the prog thunder of Mastodon's first four albums, 2011's more accessible The Hunter left many sludge lovers speculating whether the band's next record would return to old-school form or continue down the heavy-pop road. The answer? Both! Once More 'Round the Sun (out June 24) is packed with monstrous hooks, like the soaring chorus of "High Road" and every sleek minute of "The Motherload," which sounds shipped in from the '70s. Other songs such as "Chimes at Midnight" and "Asleep in the Deep" are darker and more labyrinthine. Don't worry, headbangers: Mastodon brings the riffs. Hard. — BS

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HAWKS: Self-titled LP (Rejuvenation Records)

HAWKS returned from a five-country European trek in May with just a handful of their self-titled tour LPs left over. And that's a damn shame! HAWKS captures our fair city's true-school noise-rock reps cranking out some of the most perfectly caustic and well-produced jams of their entire discography. Eleven songs total include five brand-new numbers and six previously released cuts that have been rerecorded to fit in with their 2014 repertoire. The telltale and oft-championed trademarks are there: pure vitriol and perfectly rendered melodies weaving Mike Keenan's throaty bellow with the group's grumbling plod. But the song selection here, and the songwriting itself, is a snapshot of HAWKS at peak performance. Each song unfolds impeccably while projecting a heavy blast of antagonism and man-rage. If you want the LP, start looking now. You can always find it on the Internet. — Chad Radford

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Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (Suicide Squeeze)

Though it's a time of transition for the Coathangers, now performing as a trio, the group continues improving with each album. Suck My Shirt highlights — such as "Shut Up," driven by Meredith Franco's infectious bass lines, and the haunting "I Wait" — embody the latest evolution of the band's signature sound. On both, the Coathangers sounds less like the cheeky party-punk band heard on its 2007 debut and more like seasoned composers of damaged art-punk, comparable to the latter-day Minutemen. — Bobby Moore

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Dasher: "Go Rambo" b/w "Time Flies" (Die Slaughterhaus Records)

Dasher's sound is hard to define, as it often comes off as a mishmash of post-punk, noise, and Patti Smith worship. The latter is especially true on A-side shredder "Go Rambo," which is what drummer and vocalist Kylee Kimbrough used to think Smith was saying instead of "go Rimbaud" in the song "Land." With at least one Suicide Squeeze 7-inch forthcoming, it's likely that both tracks on this record are a sign of furious and poetic things to come. — BM

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Rod Hamdallah: Think About It (self-released)

For his debut EP, guitarist and vocalist Rod Hamdallah added some contemporary influences to the mix without watering down his appeal as a traditional blues musician. For example, he teams up with one of his Legendary Shack Shakers bandmates on the title track, as frontman Col. J.D. Wilkes plays Wurlitzer piano and banjo on this gritty country rock stomper. EP highlight "Heartbeat" strays the farthest from Hamdallah's blues roots, though its accordion intro gives it a traveling gypsy feel. — BM

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The Difference Machine: Clocks EP (Psych Army Intergalactic)

The Difference Machine rolled out the Clocks EP in June, offering up seven new numbers all driven by the stylistically trippy patchwork of samples, slow rhythms, and dense hip-hop atmosphere that culminated with last year's The Psychedelic Sounds of the Difference Machine LP. Some of these cuts feel like outtakes from the LP sessions because they are. "So Heavy" is a staple of the Difference Machine's live show that comes together here with a little less aural clutter now that it's been properly recorded. It's no less hallucinatory, though. "Clocks" is an especially strong number — one of the group's finest offerings so far. Turn on, tune in, freak out. — CR

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Shantih Shantih: "Ruby" b/w "Something Else to Drink" (self-released)

Shantih Shantih may have the most upside of any relatively new Atlanta band, as evidenced by its must-hear debut 7-inch. The group features four capable vocalists, the experience of local fixture Anna Kramer (the Lost Cause) on lead guitar and vocals, and another seasoned frontwoman in Italian guitarist Anna Barattin (Vermillion Sands). The band's experience, potential, and talent are evident on haunting, atmospheric garage cut "Ruby" and the more pop but just as potent anthem "Something Else to Drink." — BM

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