Real Gone’s end of year round up, 2014

Given the position Real Gone finds itself in at the end of our fifth year online, it might seemed clichéd to say it, but ever year seems to get better and better.  It’s been another brilliant year for discovering new music – particularly releases from underground and DIY bands, but also for discs from a couple of old favourites.  Culled from hundreds of albums to grace our stereo this year, presented below is a quick look at ten of our favourite releases, as well as a round-up of the more notable of the rest.

BLACK MOTH – Condemned to Hope
This beauty appeared in September, although we had the privilege of hearing it a couple of months early.  Right from the first spin, ‘Condemned to Hope’ is one of those albums that entertains and really grabs the listener.  Sabbathy riffs, a few alternative rock chops and some great vocals went some way to making this Real Gone’s album of the year.  Almost six months after the first hearing, we still love it – an absolute corker of a record.  [Full review here] [Free unreleased live mp3 here]

MARMOZETS – The Weird & Wonderful Marmozets
This narrowly missed out on the top spot.  Rarely do debut albums come as exciting as this one – in fact the Rage Against the Machine release from twenty two years earlier was the closest we came to remembering something so exhilarating from a hitherto unknown band.  Crunchy metal riffs, quirky math rock touches and an unhinged vocal performance from Becca McIntyre are just three of the reasons this album is a real face-melter.  There are a few punky and emo touches too – in an alternative rock sense, it’s a release that covers a frightening amount of ground.  We have a sneaky feeling they may be religious…but have tried to not let that spoil our enjoyment of what’s essentially a brilliant record.  Let’s see if they can follow it with something equally sharp. [Full review here]

ROXIE 77 – Ameriswede
Ryan Roxie is a well-known face on the glam and power pop scenes and has given us some great music in the past (who remembers Dad’s Porno Mag?!), but nothing as immediately catchy as this set of songs.  ‘Idiots and Idols’ in particular is one of those tunes that’ll rattle around your head for days on end.   Like Cheap Trick?  You need this.  [Full review here] [Free mp3 of ‘Idiots and Idols’ here]

It may not be fashionable, but AOR has always been important to us at Real Gone.  This second release from Sweden’s State of Salazar was by far and away the best AOR record of 2014.  Like fellow Swedes State Cows had shown an obsession with westcoast sounds a few years previously, these guys flaunt their love of Toto with absolutely superb results.  [Full review here]

On their third release Philly’s St James and The Apostles flaunt a love of garage rock with an almost gospel flair and intensity.  Strong vocals, great riffs and intense organ swirls make this old-school rocker a rollercoaster ride worth taking.  Groovy…and then some.  [Full review and stream here]

Over the last few years Frank Turner has gained a lot of great press for his solo work, often finding the singer-songwriter in a folk-punk stance and dishing out personal, confessional and sometimes political lyrics.   This debut release from Mongol Horde revisits his noisier past as he fronts a trio who make a relentless hardcore punk/metal racket.  It’s the kind of album that grabs the listener by the balls and refuses to let go.  Energy, obtuse lyrics and great hordecore tunes equals superb results all round.  [Full review here]

NORTHERN OAK – Of Roots & Flesh
Undoubtedly the most surprising inclusion in our top ten of the year, as previously this might have been a little outside of our listening preferences.  However, Northern Oak won us over with a sophisticated collision of black metal and folk metal and some superb playing.  If you’re curious about either black or folk metal, this independently released disc is well worth checking out.  An amazingly professional release.  [Full review here] [Free mp3 of ‘Gaia’ here]

WITCH CHARMER – The Great Depression
With classy releases from Black Moth, Witch Mountain and various others, 2014 was a good year for a doom metal crop.  This second offering from Witch Charmer finds the Sunderland riffers in good form.  If you like doom metal, this does exactly what it says on the tin.  Heavy drawn-out riffs and a great vocal performance give this independently released disc a fine send off.  [Full review and stream here] [Free mp3 of ‘Suffer’ here]

We’ll make no secret of the fact we’ve enjoyed a lot of metal this year – it’s been a great year for heavier bands.  Despite line-up changes, this second record from Taunton’s Engraved Disillusion was a huge step forward for the band.  With the help of renowned producer Karl Groom, they dropped an independent release that truly raised the bar.  Metalcore at its finest (with a smidgeon of prog metal creeping in) across a near faultless collection of songs…this one will be tough for them to beat.  [Full review here] [Free mp3 of ‘The Eternal Rest’ here]

¡VAMANOS! – s/t
Described as their label boss as “disgusting”, Brooklyn’s ¡Vamanos! make very raw garage rock noise.  Two men, enough noise for six.  This debut release matches Jon Spencer’s Heavy Trash for ugliness and includes one of the best versions of ‘Death Letter’ you’ll ever hear.  [Full review and stream here] [Free mp3 of ‘Low Speed Car Chase’ here]

We’ve also seen another great release from prog rock stalwarts Yes, whose ‘Heaven & Earth’ got panned by most fans for not being ‘Relayer II’ – some fans even came to Real Gone to moan at us for actually liking it [review here] – and a long overdue solo album from the legendary David Crosby.  His ‘Croz’ marked a real return to form and is arguably his second best work without Stephen Stills in tow.    Returning to the metal world, Slipknot’s big comeback ‘5: The Gray Chapter’ was brimming with thoughtful lyrics mourning the loss of a close friend; their best work since ‘Iowa’ in 2001.  Such a shame Judas Priest couldn’t step up to the mantle… Despite some good reviews, their ‘Redeemer of Souls’ was a poorly recorded and rather tired collection, it’s three good songs sounding like lazy retreads of previous material.  The sound of metal gods more than ready to hand over the crown.

In the poppier sphere, the mighty Deacon Blue invited us to their ‘New House’, their second release since the full return in 2010.  2012’s ‘The Hipsters’ was great, but some of ‘A New House’ is outstanding, proving Ricky Ross and co are classy songwriters and there’s probably a fair bit more mileage in the band yet.  The 1957 Tail-Fin Fiasco, Essex’s answer to Steely Dan, reissued the bulk of their recordings on an unmissable compilation disc ‘Private Jet Flashback (Mile High Version)’.  It is a disc that needs to be heard ASAP if you haven’t yet done so [review here].  We’ve long been vocal supporters of this retro-pop outfit and are looking forward to more from them next year.   Meanwhile, Maryland’s answer to Nick Lowe, Edward O’Connell released an unexpected second album, ‘Vanishing Act’, a mature and thoughtful work with some great melodies that should be sought out by anyone with a liking of rootsy pop sounds [review here] [free mp3 of ‘Every Precious Day’ here]

On a sad note, we’ve said a final goodbye to Carter USM [a few thoughts here]; other bands have broken up too but few will leave a gap as notable as that left by Jim Bob and Fruitbat. In the wake of the departed, we’ve discovered more new bands this year than ever before.  …And it’s not all about Royal Blood either, regardless of what the music media may want you to think.  Frankly, these are exciting times and we all have access to more music than ever.  Anyone who claims that music scenes are dying or that nobody makes music as good as they used to can just shut up.  It’s just not true.

We’d like to offer a huge thank you to all the bands and labels who’ve found us this year, or continued supporting us.  Thanks for sending out review materials and for badgering us to write about you, it’s been a pleasure to spread the word.   A special shout out to Colin S. – thanks for ongoing technical assistance – and to Greg Hanson, David Horton and Sarah Jones for unconditional support, sharing links and helping spread the word throughout 2014.  Big thanks also to the guys at New Heavy Sounds for going the extra mile with one of this year’s samplers.   Here’s to 2015, everyone!  Bring it on – we’re ready!

December 2014