Our Favorite Local Rock Records of 2014

Lists! Who doesn't love lists? Well, this writer, for one. As I wrote in this week's issue, there's something inherently ridiculous about year-end lists that claim to pick a supposed king of all records. Taking someone else's opinions to heart on the subject of which music is better than other music requires ignoring everything we know to be true about the meaninglessness of hierarchy in art, not to mention the limits of genre, and the vastly uneven playing field of branding, internet marketing, streaming services, and hype on which bands now must attempt to make their music heard.

With that in mind: We have some lists for you, duh. Here some of SF Weekly's favorite rock records from the past calendar year. Want to support the local music scene? Go straight to these bands' websites and buy the actual records. (And go here and here for lists of the hip-hop and electro-ish variety.)

[jump] Sun Kil Moon Benji
It's not right that Mark Kozelek made more headlines this year for talking shit about The War on Drugs than for his sixth solo record, but from the depths of his trolling the past few months (see: releasing an actual song called “War On Drugs: Suck My Cock”), that's maybe what he was going for. Which is damn shame, because Benji, a gorgeously difficult and deeply personal opus even from a man known for his personal songwriting, is undoubtedly the former Red House Painters' frontman's best work. Between a precise account of his sexual history and stories of family members' untimely deaths, we get snippets of grumpy-about-aging Kozelek, trying to park near the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, or eating ramen as he hears the news that James Gandolfini died. In an overwhelmingly dark record, beauty is in the mundane on Benji, and we only wish Kozelek would let it do more of the talking. Emma Silvers

tUnE-yArDsnikki nack
Oakland’s Merrill Garbus has made quite the name for herself in the indie-music scene. Critically-acclaimed, she’s also one of the most incredible live performers in the bizness, mesmerizing crowds with live loops of instruments and her signature banshee-like voice. On her third LP, nikki nack, she continues to tinker with the “tUnE-yArDs concept” of complex arrangements of layered sounds. The single “Water Fountain” got serious play as one of the top singles of the year. But for me, this album’s crowning moment came on “Wait For A Minute.” It’s a seemingly effortless production of Garbus not trying to get too intricate with the loops and layers. It’s a simple drum beat and Garbus just letting loose and showcasing her divine voice. Moments like these, where Garbus doesn’t seem as concerned with the normal twists and turns of her arrangements, allow us to experience the rawest product of tUnE-yArDs and the talents of one of indie’s most unique voices. Adrian Spinelli

Ty SegallManipulator
Ty Segall is nothing if not prolific: Fans of his work over the past eight years can count on a new project, with a distinctly different feel from a seemingly completely different decade from one release to the next — which wouldn’t be that impressive if he didn’t tend to release three or more records per year. Manipulator, Segall’s longest album yet at 56 minutes, represents a departure from that breakneck pace — it took him 14 months to complete — and the payoff is immeasurably satisfying, with an immersive, ‘70s psych-tinged mood that swells over the course of its 17 tracks. We’re generally game for whatever Segall has up his sleeve, but if this is a sign of things to come, we’re excited to watch him keep maturing as a songwriter and guitar player, and we hope he keeps taking his time. (P.S. Segall wrote this record in the months before leaving for L.A., and recorded it a SOMA apartment. So yeah, we’re still claiming it as ours.) ES

Cold BeatOver Me
The resurgence of post-punk in the Bay Area music scene could be portrayed as old hat for some. Enter San Francisco’s Cold Beat: a band led by Hannah Lew of Grass Widow fame. This year the band released its debut album, Over Me, on Crime on The Moon (Lew’s label) and brought a little more life to the forlorn sub-genre. With the airy and fragile vocals some have come to expect from Lew amid punchy, perfectly orchestrated instrumentals, the album serves as post-punk guide for catharsis. Lew’s lyrics take you on a ride through loss, anxiety, love, and identity. And shining tracks such as “UV” and “Mirror” are excellent pit stops on that insecurity-ridden ride. Over Me is one of this year’s better post-punk albums, and it can be hard for any unsuspecting person who listens to this album to get over. Erin Dage
Chuck Prophet Night Surfer
If Prophet’s 2012 release, the restrained-yet-sweeping Temple Beautiful served as an elegy for a lost San Francisco, Night Surfer, which the ever-articulate singer-songwriter released this past fall, is a wary-yet-hopeful eye to the future: With songs like “Countrified Inner City Technological Man,” Prophet takes a piss out of the toy-filled world around him, while the presence of chunky, arena-ready guitar hooks (courtesy of REM’s Peter Buck) and ‘70s Rolling Stones-esque riffs and backing vocals make it very clear he’s having too much fun for the record to be intended as straight social commentary. Prophet’s pseudo-spoken lyrical style, too, is ripening as he ages; while there have always been Petty-ish undertones, Night Surfer has him sounding like an alternate member of the Traveling Wilburys. Which is to say, timeless. A changing San Francisco couldn’t ask for a better musical documentarian. ES 

Happy DivingBig World
A year ago the East Bay’s Happy Diving was just a gleam in the collective band’s eye. And, over the past year, the band has garnered attention from media outlets to the likes of Pitchfork, and of course, SF Weekly. Which brings us to the subject at hand: Happy Diving’s first full-length, Big World, on Father/Daughter Records, on which the band delivers 10 delightfully noisy and sludgy pop tracks rife with typical rite of passage topics such as angst and heartbreak. Armed with Dinosaur Jr-like guitar flourishes, a more than healthy amount of distortion, and a few lyrical hooks up their sleeves, Happy Diving has made a coming-of-age album unparalleled by the droves of young bands yearning to achieve that fuzzy ‘90s slacker-rock sound. Seldom can one listen to an album from beginning to end and want to hear more. ED

Bob Mould Beauty and Ruin

The former Husker Du and Sugar frontman — who's called the Castro home for the last half-decade — has always been something of an intellectual's rock star. He's so meticulously thoughtful and well-spoken in interviews, in fact, that it's sometimes tough to reconcile his current demeanor with that seemingly perpetually furious, closeted hardcore kid who once took St. Paul, Minn. by storm. The cathartic and surprisingly upbeat Beauty and Ruin, which Mould penned this year partly in response to his father's death, helps bridge the gap: Divided into four key themes — loss, reflection, acceptance, and moving on toward the future — it's a serious, theatrically written record, but when Mould starts to sing (his voice sounding perhaps stronger than ever) and wail at the guitar (no qualifier necessary), there's no question about whether that punk kid's still in there. Lucky us. ES
Goodnight, TexasUncle John Farquhar
If you were to bury a time capsule of the past decade in music, future generations might be slightly confused about what, exactly, brought on a wave of young men in metropolitan centers across America donning 19th-century instruments and singing songs full of charming, pastoral squalor about life on the farm, or down at the watering hole, petticoats and wagon wheels. We’ll leave the sociology of the trend to the scholars for now, so suffice it to say: S.F. band Goodnight, Texas’ songwriting brings them so far above the banjo-toting masses that I don’t really care; I just want to hit “play” again. The tracks on this, the band’s sophomore effort, are story-songs in the best possible sense, party anthems and love ballads and darker commentary on Prohibition and Civil War themes alike. Songwriter-vocalists Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf take turns at the mic to craft an inviting, dynamic, at times goofy world that you’ll want to stay in long after the last foot stomp and guitar twang. ES

Everyone Is DirtyDying Is Fun
For someone with such a sweet voice, there’s something excitingly unsettling about the way singer-violinist Sivan Gur-Arieh commands attention at the helm of this Oakland art-rock quartet, whose shot-straight-from-a-cannon debut LP sounds, well, nothing like a debut LP. There are strains of the grunge goddesses of yesteryear — Courtney Love, the sisters Deal — but with a more understated power; the drama on tracks like the eminently listenable “Mama, No!!” owes as much to the sparseness of its buildup as to the ear-pleasing surprise of a delicate string instrument rocking fantastically hard over layered guitar as all systems go on the chorus. The band signed to local label Tricycle Records for this long-awaited release and the ensuing tour; one can only hope they’ll get back into the studio soon. ES

CocktailsAdult Life
We were hooked on this sweetly compact debut LP from Cocktails, whose playful, chunky, guitar-driven power-pop brings to mind the Cars — if the Cars got stoned a little more often and hung out at the beach. There's some Moog, and there are plenty of echo-y '70s effects on Patrick Clos' California drawl, but what makes Cocktails stand out from S.F.'s current crop of retro-garage dude bands is all in the attitude: They didn't need to slap a melting ice cream cone on the record cover to let you know they don't take themselves terribly seriously, and the result is a breeze of an album that plays perfectly while driving on a hot summer day, or, you know, any time you need to pretend that's what you're doing. Just don't be surprised when those hooks have more earworm-y sticking power than you first think. ES
Honorable mentions: 

WatersIt All Might Be OK

Christopher OwensA New Testament

The Family CrestBeneath the Brine

Terry MaltsInsides

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