Ten Best Broward and Palm Beach County Albums of 2014

Ten Best Broward and Palm Beach County Albums of 2014
Rich Aroma

It's that time of year again folks, when all us music critics get on our little soapboxes and decide what music was relevant or "worth it" in the past year. We are tastemakers, after all (at least in our minds), so crafting these year end lists is why we make the big bucks (ah, we jest).

We sifted through endless bins of padded manilla envelopes and sorted through thousands of emails to discern which Broward and Palm Beach County acts put out the best EPs and LPs in the past year. We know we still probably missed that one underground band playing warehouses in Davie that stands to be the next incarnation of Hüsker Dü. And chances are, we probably snubbed your personal favorite band too. We know. But them's the breaks, kids.

After attending to our bleeding ears -- you know, from listening to so many tunes -- we gathered together our ten personal favorite efforts of the year. There were some New Times mainstays, artists that made our list once again, but there many pleasant surprises in 2014, as well. Check out our list of the ten best local albums of the year and add your own in the comments, if you wish.

10. Millionyoung - Materia

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Old Flame Records

Millionyoung's 2014 effort proved that the "chillwave" has not yet hit the shore. One of the pioneers of the downtempo, breezy electronica sound, Mike Diaz stuck to his dreamy guns on this EP, crafting an album that proved the ideal soundtrack to our South Florida summertime daze.

It has a mellow, mesmerizing flow, similar to his other efforts, but this time, Diaz explores a more organic approach. He reaches for an analog and nostalgic vibe, in the vein of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, that impresses and hypnotizes.

9. Rivers - S/T

After a brief hiatus, talented West Palm Beach native Danny Brunjes returned to the fold this year with a new project titled Rivers. Letting go of the introspective indie folk ways of his previous iteration, Under Every Green Tree, Brunjes teamed up with two former bandmates (Jon Wagner on drums, and Brent Ray on bass) and newcomer, guitarist Eric Blythe, to yield boozy, modulated rock and roll sweetness.

The group's eponymous debut EP is rousing and raucous, intimate and earnest, all at once. Tracks like "She Comes, She Goes" and "Greedy Love" hint at the rollicking nature of the Replacements and Guided By Voices.

 

8. Lavola - This Book Is My Cowardice

Jupiter native Julian Cires showed true grit and determination in putting out his group's debut long player, This Book is My Cowardice. Not only in the sonic ferocity that emanates from it, but more literally. During the year-and-a-half long recording process, dude endured three lineup changes and multiple producer switches (one of which is said to have lost part of the album on a hard drive).

The revised final Lavola lineup proved fortuitous and fruitful, however. Violinist Emily Dwyer provided yet another dimension to Lavola's already expansive sound. With the addition of the strings, and in the vein of early A Perfect Circle albums, TBIMC has an ethereal quality that gives its more aggressive moments an epic timbre.

7. Sweet Bronco - Morning Night

Camp Thunderbee Records

Seems like we have been waiting eons for Sweet Bronco mastermind and Fort Lauderdale native, Chris Horgan, to set his heavenly Roy Orbisonian croon and moody guitar work to wax. Our wishes came true earlier in the year when his band finally released its debut record, Morning Night, on Steve Rullman of PureHoney Magazine's new label Camp Thunderbee Records. And dammit if it wasn't worth the wait.

Four years in the making, and with countless lineup changes to boot, Horgan and company honed in on what it feels like to be both introverted and impassioned. The group rewarded us with ten tunes of sweeping melancholic majesty.

The magnum opus is "Crush Crush." It's delicately atmospheric with shimmering minor key licks, highlighted by Horgan's haunting vocals. This track is better than anything we've heard from Interpol in years.

6. Beach Day - Native Echoes

Kanine Records

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This is an idiom that rings true for Hollywood duo Beach Day's second effort, Native Echoes. Following up on its stellar 2013 debut, Trip Trap Attack, singer and guitarist Kimmy Drake and drummer Skyler Black dished out more surf-y, '60s girl-group-inspired rock that's made Beach Day a popular national touring act on the cusp of superstardom.

With the help of producer Jim Diamond (of the Sonics, the Dirtbombs, and White Stripes fame), Native Echoes, hits with a bit more heft than its predecessor. Standouts include hook-heavy numbers such as "Don't Call Me" and "BFFs" where Drake yields her sassy, honeyed vocals with a touch of garage rock snarl.

 

5. Gravel Kings - Arrows and Maps

Decades Records

Although roots rockers Gravel Kings hail from Fort Pierce (being the lone group on our list that doesn't reside in either Broward or Palm Beach counties), we felt inclined to include its debut full length, Arrows and Maps on this list for a few reasons. First off, the four-piece plays gigs in our parts all the time (more than most local bands we know). Secondly, it's signed to West Palm Beach label Decades Records. And thirdly, last we checked, the Treasure Coast doesn't have a proper alt weekly.

These guys' upbeat erstwhile indie folk album deserves to be lauded. Arrows and Maps is a little bit country, yeah, but with Gravel King lead singer Zack Jones' crisp Ryan Adams-esque cadence, there's enough intrigue here to attract the attention of all the skinny-jeaned rockers sucking down buck PBRs at Respectable Street's hip party Flaunt any given Thursday night.

4. Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesnackers - Book of Guinnesses

Going strong since 1999, and showing no signs of slowing down, Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers put out their fifth album this year, Book of Guinnesses. Yes, fifth. And let us tell you, it's a hot mess of a rocking good time.

Firmly placing the weird in Hollywierd, Florida, this troupe of seasoned veterans shelled out an album that covers every topic from cocaine to pill mills to tropical diseases to twerking. We'd say they surely covered all the South Florida bases here.

Love him or hate him, Mr. Entertainment demonstrates he's not fading away anytime soon, and this release proves he maintains quite the range, going from deadpan vocals, like in the loungey, irreverent "Pill Mills Kill," to gravelly catharsis in "The Amazing Flying Bags." By far one the year's most tounge-in-cheek albums, it will leave you scratching your head, thinking, "This may be silly, but I'll be damned if it's not catchy."

3. Phil Sebastien - Reservoir

Judging by the on-point slow burners on Reservoir, West Palm Beach by way of Queens rapper Phil Sebastien is not remaining an underground sensation for long.

With a jazzy sound in the vein of Digable Planets, mixed in with P-Funk flourishes, and experimental electro beats, this album was one of the most refreshingly unique hip-hop releases we heard this year, period. We got a contact high just listening to tracks like "Axis Practice," with its hypnotic loops and Sebastien's leisurely flow. Sebastien taps into the spacey feel of '90s trip-hop, but with an organic approach similar to the Roots. His fame is on its way.

 

2. Shark Valley Sisters - Shabbos at the Shack

This was the outcome of an intense, one day musical jaunt taken by Holy Terrors' guitarist/vocalist Rob Elba and drummer Fausto Figueredo of Load. Down at the Shack North, the legendary Hialeah recording studio of another local notable, Humbert's Ferny Coipel, the Shark Valley Sisters captured lightning in a bottle with Shabbos at the Shack.

On September 13, these two South Florida musical heroes decided to lock themselves in Coipel's studio for the day, hash out as much material as they could, and put it out as a release on Bandcamp that night. The outcome is a disemboweled, progressive punk three-song juggernaut that had every old school punk fan in the Tri-Country area writhing with glee.

1. Wake Up - Forever Home EP

A perennial sideman Evan Mui, who played bass with the Dewars and garnered success with Guy Harvey, stepped out into the spotlight with his newest endeavor, Wake Up. Taking the lead role for the firs time, Mui proved he's a formidable front man. Wake Up caught our attention right out of the gate.

Fully formed with chiming guitar work a la Built to Spill, Forever Home hones in on the best elements of '90s college rock but with a unique hook laden bend that's all the band's own. The title track is a prime example of Mui's brilliance, delivering a delicate harmony with just the slightest crackle that raises our hairs and reminds us of J Mascis' better days.

Honorable Mentions

Sandratz - Hard Work Never Killed Anybody

Everymen - Generations

Celebrator - Save Yourself

Luna Rex - All Kinds of Terrain

Que Lastima - Fever Dreams

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