Quirky white girl music faves in 2014

I can't make a complete top-whatever list. I don't listen to enough music or a wide enough variety of music. And since I mostly buy music from emusic.com, I'm missing some things like St. Vincent and Mary Timony's new band Ex Hex. But I think that what I did listen to is good stuff, and since many of these won't be on anyone's best-of-2014 list, this is my public service.

The order of this list is somewhat fluid. It's a general picture of how I feel right now, and that might change a bit over time. But I bet that's the same for the people who create numbered lists. For me, what pushes an album toward the top is the impact it has on me, musical and emotional, both on first listening and over time. I can get intellectual and technical about music, but mostly I'm interested in how it makes me feel.

I saw some great live shows this year as well, including several of the bands below as well as La Luz, Louise Burns, and the Pack a.d. For me, it was a good year for music listening, although a bit skimpy on music playing (hoping for better in 2015).

The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

The New Pornographers came back after several years away with an album of driving, shiny, gorgeous songs. This is Carl Newman and Dan Bejar at their songwriting best. The title song kickoff explodes the way "Mass Romantic" did 14 years ago. Neko Case soars on "Champions of Red Wine." Just try to get "Dancehall Domine" out of your brain, even if you have no idea what it means. Really the only song that I'm not crazy about is "Spyder." I liked the album right off the bat, and I still love it. We saw the first night of the tour, no Neko, band playing some of these songs in public for the first time, and it was absolutely brilliant.

PINS - Girls Like Us

I heard about Manchester band PINS from John Freeman, who writes for British online music publication The Quietus. Their debut album was worth waiting for. This is one of those rare albums that feels like a whole. It's also remarkably assured for a debut album by a fairly new band. I find that they don't always develop melody as much as they might, and that vocalist Faith goes for her yelp a bit too often. Still, those are pretty minor complaints. And when I saw PINS live, before all of two dozen people (you're going to regret that, Vancouver), they blew me away with their combination of self-assurance and playfulness. Despite the lack of audience, they seemed to be having a great deal of fun being on stage, which was infectious. I want to hear and see more of this band. Now.

White Lung - Deep Fantasy

Deep Fantasy is a breakthrough album for White Lung. They have lost none of the ferocity while adding melody and subtlety. Mish finds new range in her voice. There is wonderful interplay between her singing and Kenny Williams's guitar playing, while Anne-Marie Vassiliou's powerful drumming propels everything relentlessly forward. "Face Down" is a killer song. As I listened to "Just For You" I realized how well recorded this album is (by Jesse Gander, with whom I have worked as well, so I know he's a genius at the console), something you don't often find in albums as loud and noisy as this one. When I saw them play a few weeks ago, with Hether Fortune from Wax Idols on bass (be still, my heart!), they put on a powerful, fiery show while clearly having a great time.

Dum Dum Girls - Too True

This is the album I've been waiting for since the He Gets Me High EP. After releases that sounded pretty but generic, Dee Dee Penny is letting her sound be distinctive once again and singing better than ever. "Cult of Love" is one of my favourite Dum Dum Girls songs ever with its contrast between minor key verse and explosive major key chorus. I only wish the song weren't so short! The single "Rimbaud Eyes" is very simple emo pop, and it's gorgeous. Dee Dee still writes too many one-line refrains that feel very repetitive, but overall I love this record.

The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi

I have loved the Raveonettes for years, and I always anticipate new releases from them. The last couple were fine but didn't bore into my brain the way Lust Lust Lust and In and Out of Control had. But Pe'ahi feels more like the Raveonettes I know and love while also surprising and delighting me. From the moody "Endless Sleeper" to the closing "Summer Ends," with its chorus of "Go fuck yourself, I don't believe you," this album feels new to me while still sounding like the Raveonettes.

La Sera - Hour of the Dawn

I discovered the Vivian Girls only toward the end of their time as a band. They were totally my kind of thing. So naturally I wanted to know what each of the members was up to. Bassist Katy Goodman has done quite well, issuing three albums of post-punk girl group music as La Sera. I saw them do a short opening set (opening for King Tuff) at Fortune Sound club, and they were brilliant. And I love this album most of the three for it's excellent songwriting, singing, and playing. The only thing I could do with less of is the J. Macis guitar sound, but that's a minor quibble.

The Muffs - Whoop Dee Doo

You have to love that Muffs leader Kim Shattuck named this album, the band's first in over 10 years, after Charles (Black Francis) Thompson's comment when asked why the Pixies fired her as bassist. And I am so glad to have new, strong Muffs material! Shattuck has lost none of her ability to write great noisy pop songs. She can also still scream, but I wish she had dialled that back just a bit. Not only have I (and everyone) been waiting for this album; I have also wanted to see the Muffs perform, something that for many years they have mostly been doing only in California and occasionally on the East Coast. Heading to Seattle!

Alvvays - Alvvays

I'm glad I'm so late in writing this piece, because that allowed me to find Alvvays. More of the stuff I can't get enough of! Female vocal over off-centre reverb-soaked pop music.

Cold Beat - Over Me

Cold Beat is led by Hannah Lew, the bass player for Grass Widow. THey did a very good show at the Fox Cabaret opening for Frankie Rose, and I bought the CD there. I hear 1980s minimalism, dreamy vocals over driving beats, and maybe even a little of the Athens sound in the interplay between bass and guitar.

Ume - Monuments

I discovered Ume via She Shreds magazine, which is dedicated to female guitarists. The band hails from Austin, Texas, and is still regional as far as I know, but definitely should be more widely known. Lauren Lawson is the guitarist, vocalist, and leader. Lots of 1990s here, some shoegaze, and even acoustic. Sometimes it feels like Metric with more guitar and no synthesizer.

The Pixies - Indie Cindy

The Pixies are back? Much as I love them, I'm tempted to throw Charles's words back at him: "Whoop-Dee-Doo." OK, it's not that bad, but I like this mostly because it's new Pixies material, not because it's great Pixies material. Songs like "Blue Eyed Hexe" grab me, but much of the rest of the material sounds, well, uninspired? Or maybe just not inspired enough.

Mirah - Changing Light

This album makes me think of Feist's Metals for some reason. It's not as slick as that, but there's something about Mirah's voice and the tone of these songs that reminded me. I think this is indie pop that is enough off centre to be more indie than pop. Very good songs. Some spots are too quiet and mellow for me, but pretty.

Azar Swan - And Blow Us a Kiss

This is not really at the bottom of my list. I put it here only because it's so untypical for me—this year's Austra. Mish Way of White Lung gets the credit (again) for bringing an artist to my attention. And even though this is nothing like what I usually listen to, I find myself completely drawn in by this record and its sound. Imaginative, usually spare electronics with cool beats. Zohra Atash's voice haunts me! It actually took quite a bit of listening before I thought of Kate Bush, a comparison Atash is often stuck with. She is from Afghanistan, and I love hearing beat and sounds from her native land at various places in the songs.

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