Emertainment Monthly’s Top 10 Indie Rock Debut Albums of 2014

Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

We’ll just go ahead and say it. The year 2014 was a great year to be an indie rock fan, regardless of your preferred subgenre. Whether you lean towards post-punk, emo, indie pop, etc. chances are you’ve found at least a handful albums from this year that proved an excellent listen. That said, this year also gave rise to a slew of new acts with stellar debuts, especially from such bands who’d grown popular through relentless touring and solid EP releases and finally gave their fans the long sought-after full length. However, since there were plenty of established acts with just as great, if not superior releases you probably won’t see a lot of these new bands on too many EOTY lists, which is a shame. Experience does not always equal quality, and these are all incredibly talented fresh faces on the indie rock scene, who have more than earned the acknowledgement for accomplishing so much on only their first full-length. Their albums are more than enough evidence to prove they can keep up with their elders and then some, so we decided to give them the recognition they deserve in a list tailored specifically for these new acts. Spanning the near-full range of indie and punk rock, these are our top ten debut albums from 2014 indie scene.

  1. Free Throw – Those Days are Gone


Nashville, TN’s Free Throw have carved a reputation for themselves over the past couple of years as one of the foremost emo bands in the Deep South alongside the likes of You Blew It!, Dikembe, and Turnover, and are rapidly gaining ground nationally in the wake of their debut LP Those Days are Gone, released through midwestern emo safe house Count Your Lucky Stars Records. Known for taking the simple upbeat energy of pop-punk and molding it around a more math-rock influenced sound in the vein of This Town Needs Guns and Tera Melos, this album finds them straddling the line between the two almost down the middle where prior releases saw them favor the distortion a little more. There are still plenty of faster, pop-punkish choruses and frontman Cory Castro still hollers at every dynamic above “quiet,” but much like their sound has grown up a little to match their mentality. There’s hardly any distortion on the entire record, but instead of losing energy they make the focus of the song on melody over aggression, articulation over pure emotion. Drummer Tim Casey is just as hyperactive as ever, and the softer tonal approach opens up guitarists Lawrence Warner and Wesley Winslett’s sound so their jazzier passages have more room to breathe. The lyrics have evolved too, with Castro finding ways to express his heartbreak beyond spewing expletives at the top of his lungs (though he still indulges the habit) while also acknowledging his own self-destructive behaviors as he struggles to pick his back up. Equal parts catchy and cerebral, Those Days are Gone presents an evolved form of the Free Throw fans have come to love, one that hopefully will only draw in even more listeners as the bands rises to the national stage. If nothing else, we can always appreciate their professed obsession with Pokemon.

  1. Eagulls – S/T

You ever listen to a newer band and think to yourself, “Man, these guys sound a lot like these older bands I listened to back in the day, only way better!” Eagulls, a neophyte post-punk quintet from Leeds, UK, is that band, if the older bands you’re referring are old school UK post-punk acts like Gang of Four, Killing Joke, and The Stone Roses (all of whom they’ve covered). Released via Partisan Records Eagulls’ self-titled debut gets most of its energy and momentum through buzzsaw guitars, a thick, punchy, relentless rhythm section, and the trademark howl of frontman George Mitchell, who sounds more frantic than ever on this release. Ironically, the music is the most controlled they’ve ever sounded, with drummer Henry Ruddel and bassist Tom Kelly reigning in each song with precise yet pounding undercurrents. Where many punk rhythm sections pride themselves on their ability to switch tempos in the blink of an eye, Ruddel and Kelly keep the whole band at a consistent pace for the whole record, providing the frame on standout tracks like “Nerve Endings,” “Tough Luck,” and “Possesed” from which the rest of the band can spew their pent up aggression without ever sounding droll or repetitive. Mitchell’s tortured voice fits the congested, buzzy tone established by guitarists Liam Matthews and Mark Goldsworthy almost perfectly, as he recounts in mournful yelps life in shady neighborhoods, addiction, violence, and general psychological and emotional decay. With a sound as searing as the torched car on their album art, Eagulls’ self-titled debut is one of the most deceptively ferocious releases of the year, and proof that even after all this time, British post-punk is still as urgent and in-your-face as ever.

  1. Nothing – Guilty of Everything

Relapse Records has traditionally been a metal-centric indie label, and as a result there are probably still loads of diehard metalheads expressing feelings of immense butthurt at Relapse releasing shoegaze-heavy post-hardcore act Nothing’s debut LP, Guilty of Everything. However, one need only look at the lyrics of frontman Dominic Palermo to understand why Relapse was so keen on adding the Philadelphia quartet to their roster. The most musically upbeat track “Bent Nail” begins with the lines, “I’m built to bleed / Plan my ruin guiltlessly” which are, aside from being the most metal lyrics we’ve heard in quite some time, completely and utterly reflective of the somber, near fatalistic tone of the whole LP. Such an atmosphere is hardly surprising given Palermo spent time in prison prior to forming Nothing, but that doesn’t alleviate the shock surrounding Guilty of Everything’s unusually ghostly allure. Even if you never quite deciphered the lyrics amidst Nothing’s soaring guitars and Palermo’s faded whisper, the darkened, watery fuzz overflowing from the guitars is all the indication you need that this is an especially heavy record. They also utilize the contrast between clean and dirty tones well, creating a sense of abrasion in songs like “Dig” as they insert glimmers of distortion in their more atmospheric passages. As with many releases with a shoegaze aesthetic, the pace can be jarringly slow at times, but fortunately the punkier sections in songs like “Bent Nail,” “Get Well,” and “Beat Around the Bush” prevent the album from losing too much momentum in its slower, headier passages. Exploring grave ennui comparable to the figurative confines of both modern suburban life and the literal confines of prison, Guilty of Everything is one of the most intriguing post-hardcore releases to date, as well as one of the most tonally and thematically chilling. Someone should give those the guys a hug. After telling them their record is awesome, of course.

  1. Frameworks – Loom

As we’ve mentioned before, Frameworks is a band that thrives in sounds of utter chaos. The Gainesville, FL quintet cram a myriad of influences including traditional hardcore, new wave/post-punk, dream-pop, and everything in between throughout their songs, making each listen an erratic, sometimes jarring experience. Loom, their debut LP released through Boston’s Topshelf Records, is the culmination of all their frantic energy, and when title track “Loom” kicks into gear, it feels like nothing short of impending doom. Drummer Matt Horner sounds like he’s slowly losing his mind, turning in his most frenetic parts yet with only Wyatt McDonald’s subdued walking bass to keep him grounded. The guitar work from Cory Fischer and Andrew Nicholl is just as schizophrenic and complex as ever, but the pair take care to make their duality more melodic in nature this time around. This emphasis on countermelody is a large part of what marks Loom a giant step forward musically for Frameworks, especially on songs like “Mutual Collision,” “Rosie,” and “Splinters” that feature softer surf-esque passages but with the same momentum as their more unhinged sections. Where prior releases saw Fischer and Nicholl trading off the lead part, this record has them navigating guitar lines that directly bounce off each other, an impressive feat within such a violently kinetic atmosphere. Frontman Luke Pate’s vocals sound like he spontaneously combusted mid-recording, but if you go to the band’s website, you’ll find his lyrics are actually quite beautiful in a “poetry of the doomed” kind of way, though singing along may prove difficult. Loom is an album that will ricochet through your brain liked a possessed pinball as you try to keep up, a stellar debut for Frameworks, and undoubtedly one of the most energized post-hardcore released in quite some time.

  1. PUP – S/T

Not since Fucked Up and Japandroids has a Canadian indie/punk band conveyed such raw, unfiltered emotion while demonstrating prowess for incredibly catchy songwriting. Like many of their peers on SideOneDummy Records, this quartet from Toronto, ON keep their tone as dirty as possible on their self-titled debut, with even bassist Nestor Chumak giving off a deep, punchy fuzz that would bring the likes of Rozwell Kid and Gold-Bears to tears. Much of their aesthetic seems to derive from 90s-era Weezer, with guitarist Steve Sladkowski frequently leaps out from the distortion curtain to deliver guitar solos that sound like direct parodies of those from The Blue Album or Pinkerton. And yet, PUP are far from mere 90s punk rehashers. Frontman Stefan Babcock, besides having the most badass name this side of the Atlantic, sounds like someone who would beat up Rivers Cuomo for looking at him weird, his voice leaking exasperation as he greets the listener on opening track “Guilt Trip” by snarling, “How many times must you lie to my face?” His voice hardly even pretends to have a singing range throughout the album, but his hoarse yelps are strangely endearing and certainly fit the mood of the album much better than actual singing could, especially in conjunction with his cohorts’ penchant for gang vocals. So unkempt is this record’s mean streak that not even Zack Mykula’s deliberately off-kilter drumming seems to be completely in control half the time, preferring to drum with the flow of the music than direct it himself. Yet, even with all the raucous, dirty guitars, crashing guitars, and pained yelping vocals, it’s hard not to scream along, which is proof that PUP have much more on their minds than being angry and loud. A fine collection of catchy, in-your-face punk jams, PUP’s debut LP may leave you exhausted, but their buzzsaw hooks and sore-throat sing-a-longs are sure to keep you coming back for more.  

  1. Moose Blood – I’ll Keep You in Mind, from Time to Time

The other big new act on this list from the UK, Canterbury’s Moose Blood seem hell-bent on becoming the definitive British emo band, and their debut LP I’ll Keep You in Mind, from Time to Time (released via No Sleep Records) is certainly a step forward on that path. This quartet’s take on emo/punk sounds like The Cure if they’d suddenly gotten into 90s pop-punk, though the general mood of this album is much warmer than you might expect. As with many, many, many pop-punk tinged emo releases, there’s quite a bit of talk of heartbreak, but frontman Eddy Brewerton sounds more like he’s reflecting on past errors than dwelling on them. Despite titling the closer “I Hope You’re Miserable,” the refrain comes off as more of an admittance of his own feelings than lashing out at someone who wronged him. His voice is significantly mellower than his peers in The Menzingers, Citizen, or fellow emo Brits Basement, and he seldom leaves an accusatory impression, even in the more energized sections. The music follows Brewerton’s lead, with the guitars emitting a bright, sonic sheen as opposed to the more rash, distorted tone popular among many bands of late. The drumming is pretty laid back as well, maintaining excitement and complexity while staying firmly in the background. Nostalgia proves a major recurring theme in the lyrics too, with Brewerton recalling better times before his father’s alcoholism (“Pups”), or nights spent discussing music with a girl from his past that he could never open up to emotionally (“Swim Down”). Sometimes it feels slightly overused, but overall it drives home the retrospective element of I’ll Keep You in Mind, the feeling of knowing you’ve made plenty of mistakes in the past but there are plenty of good times worth remembering as well. Slightly more positive but equally emotionally charged, I’ll Keep You in Mind, from Time to Time shows Moose Blood stepping out of the emo pack and forming a sound all their own. Basement better watch their backs.

  1. Chumped – Teenage Retirement

We’ve already talked about Chumped’s amazing debut at length, so here’s a quick recap. The Brooklyn quartet specializes in 90s-inspired LoFi pop-punk with just the slightest hints of emo and indie rock, which has definitely been done frequently this year (see: Joyce Manor, Little Big League, Cloud Nothings, etc.) . So what makes Teenage Retirement (released via Anchorless Records) stand out from releases by their contemporaries is not necessarily their originality, but their raw talent for clever songwriting and heartfelt, meaningful lyricism. Frontwoman Anika Pyle bears an emotional maturity above and beyond most of her peers, despite much of the album dealing with the idea of not quite reaching internal adulthood when you once expected (i.e. you’re in your 20s and you still have no idea how life really works). She finds herself constantly flip-flopping between desperately trying to re-live the hedonism of her younger years (“Name That Thing”) and realizing these scenarios only end in heartbreak for her (“Hot 97 Summer Jam”), and the album’s overall air of uncertainty about how to proceed near perfectly captures the spirit of the post-modern 20-something. Wise enough not to fall into the trappings of her teenage years but still too insecure to completely embrace the responsibilities of adulthood, Teenage Retirement gives a name to the transitory state-of-being Pyle has found herself in, and with a debut full of bright, Superchunk-esque melodies over a collection of insanely catchy LoFi pop-punk jams, Chumped is definitely growing up as a band, if not as people. They may fidget too much to sit at the grown-ups table right now, but you’ll can be they’ll be playing their hearts out from the kids’ chairs until further notice. 

  1. Somos – Temple of Plenty

With Boston, MA indie/emo quartet Somos, it’s pretty easy to pick out the two most distinctive strengths the band has over their competition, especially on their debut LP Temple of Plenty (released via Tiny Engines). One, Somos have a much more angular approach to songwriting, completely with bend-and-release melodies, sudden tempo shifts and weird drum fills courtesy of Evan Deges, and the occasional mathy guitar riff. Two, bassist/vocalist Michael Fiorentino has a much lower toll to his voice that just barely escapes being labelled a Morrissey ripoff, but his somber low-range vocals are much more grounded than the mid-range wails of his peers, and therefore his lyrics can carry much more weight without sounding forced or campy. That’s why Somos can drop lines like, “Empire and a crown of thorns / Today you get two for one / And the rope around your neck we’ll call a halo when you’re gone” in breakout single “Dead Wrong” and be taken completely seriously. Further avoiding the trends of the day, Somos is more lyrically focused on the crushing ennui of modern life and the growing disconnection between people, as the title Temple of Plenty is a joke on our society’s insane worship of consumerism over interpersonal relationships. Guitarists Phil Haggerty and Justin Hahn shift their sound depending on the part, usually focusing new wave-esque clean drive on their melodic passages and then laying on the crunch full blast when they get to the hook, giving the listener the best of both worlds while still feeling seamless together. But deep down, they still function like an indie/emo band, albeit one with more serious-minded lyricism and playfully disjointed songwriting, but that what makes their version of emotive indie/punk so appealing. Completely and utterly averse to the trends of most emo bands of this era, Temple of Plenty is one of the most intriguing punk releases of the year, and a fine start for one of the most unique bands to surface in quite some time.

  1. Cayetana – Nervous Like Me

We’ve touched briefly on the power pack of awesomeness that is Philadelphia, PA’s Cayetana before, but here we are again because they deserve it. Released through Tiny Engines (yes, them again), the all-female post-punk trio’s debut LP Nervous Like Me is a collection of deceptively unassuming, no-frills indie/punk songs that hide scathing social commentary behind frontwoman Augusta Koch’s powerful yet pained vocals. Her deep twang could be an intimidating and off-putting presence on such a stripped down, raw record, but the periodic quivers and cracks in her voice serve to remind us that while she’s far from a meek voice in a crowd, she’s still human. It reflects her own emotions eerily well, such as the exasperation in her refrain of “You won’t change your ways!” at the end of opening track “Serious Things are Stupid” displaying her frustrations at a past relationship continuing to haunt her. In all these songs, Koch struggles between venting her own frustrations and overwhelming the listener with her own grief, and her endearingly imperfect voice reminds us that we all sound like that at some point in our lives. Basically, we’re all just NERVOUS LIKE HER (get it?). Regarding the music, Alegra Anka is the star of the show, punching out some of the sickest bass lines of the year and usurping the melody whenever she sees fit, and Koch is more than willing to keep her buzzsaw guitar restrained in the background along with Kelly Olsen’s excellent drumming. Complete with some of the most heartfelt vocals of any indie/punk band in a number of years and killer post-punk tunes, Nervous Like Me provides a nuanced perspective on the mishaps of young adult life and all the female empowerment of bitch-slapping Todd Akin with a crowbar, and hopefully for Cayetana, this is only the beginning of something even better.

  1. The Hotelier – Home, Like No Place is There

Once upon a time (circa 2011), there was a pretty decent pop-punk band from Worcester, MA called The Hotel Year. Three years, lineup changes, a label dispute, and a total creative overhaul later, that band was reborn as indie/emo quartet The Hotelier, freshly signed to Tiny Engines (*insert sarcastic surprise here*) at the dawn of 2014, ready to take on the universe. With all that in mind, Home, Like No Place is There is less of a debut for them and more of an unveiling of their reformation, and it’s no coincidence that the first two tracks are “An Introduction to the Album” and “The Scope of All This Rebuilding.” Lyrically, the album matches the band’s mentality almost perfectly. Frontman Christian Holden’s Ben Gibbard-esque lament recalling his own need to rebuild his life in the face of self destructive loved ones and his own perceived helplessness in watching them kill themselves, be it from suicidal depression (“Your Deep Rest”), continued emotional abuse (“Housebroken”), identity crisis (“Life in Drag”), or even mental illness (“Discomfort Revisited”). Musically, The Hotelier incorporates certain pop-punk sensibilities into the sound template of traditional 90s indie rock, giving even the darker songs a catchier feel and a pleasant melody.. There isn’t a song on this record that can’t be bellowed from the front of the mosh pit or hummed on the subway to work, which is a rare treat on a record so emotionally and lyrically submerged in torment. But despite the number of moments that remind of Third Eye Blind and The Promise Ring, the record sounds fresh from start to finish, aware of what’s preceded but firmly gazing forward through its progressive subject matter and urgent musicianship. Home, Like No Place is There is a superb reboot for The Hotelier, and with it as their foundation as they head into 2015, they have the potential to build something truly beautiful in the future.

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