Best 10 Local Albums of 2014 

The top 10 albums to come out of Utah this year

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The past year was a fantastic one for local music—so much so that trying to select only 10 albums for this list was a difficult task indeed. The scene is full of trailblazers who deserve to have their work recognized, but a few albums released this year had a certain undeniable magic about them. And as I went back and attempted to re-experience the huge variety of local music that 2014 brought with it in order to compile this list, these albums clearly stood out from the rest. If there is an album on here that you've never heard before, you owe it to yourself to check it out; you—like me—might wonder how you got along without it.

10. Color Animal, Bubble Gum
Bubble Gum, the title of the second full-length released by Color Animal, is misleading, but in a way that's a pleasant surprise. Any suspicions that this is simply a "bubble-gum pop" record are immediately dispelled with the opening track, "Watermelon," the listener's first taste of the ear-catching juxtaposition that's at work on Bubble Gum. The record is indeed often catchy and beautiful, but there's usually a thread of melancholy underlying the shimmering guitar and upbeat percussion—like a day where the sun is shining, but there's just enough cloud cover to make the light slightly gloomy. And that tension gives songs like "Back to the Universe" and "Under the Colored Lights" remarkable depth, the sort that warrants giving Bubble Gum multiple spins.

9. Westward the Tide, Sorry Soul
The debut full-length album from Salt Lake City indie-rock five-piece Westward the Tide has such electric live energy that you can't help feeling like you're standing at the center of the studio, surrounded by the members of the band as they play their instruments—and that's a very, very good thing. Every organ wail and tambourine jingle is that much more immediate, and every heart-swelling group harmony glows all the brighter. But though Sorry Soul sounds great, it's not too perfect; it has some rough edges that really seem to fit with the darker aesthetic that, with this first foray into a longer album format, Westward the Tide is finally getting free rein to explore, heard especially on the moody, Western-tinged track "Friction."

8. Secret Abilities, Music to Break Up By
Love can be a scary thing, so it's fitting that Salt Lake City pop-rock/punk band Secret Abilities filled their latest album, Music to Break Up By, with monsters and demons. The record's spooky and lighthearted feel is a perfect match for Secret Abilities' ragged, goofy, infectiously fun punk sound, but it's also a surprisingly effective foil for the heavy subject matter found on Music to Break Up By. The suckiness of being cheated on, being heartbroken and not being able to let go are virtually universal pains, but there's a strange healing power in songs about a two-timing ex perishing in a fiery explosion and a lovesick person keeping their paramour's heart in a jar (literally).

7. Porch Lights, Caverns
It's uncommon that two musicians can hit the mark on their debut album, let alone two musicians who came together by chance and have been calling themselves a band for less than a year. But that's exactly what Provo indie-folk duo Corey Crellin and Emily Brown did with Caverns, which is, in a word, magical. Crellin's hushed croon is the perfect match for Brown's ethereal soprano, and the duo seem to be reading one another's minds as they harmonize. And the album's instrumentation couldn't be more fitting: Delicate piano, banjo, lap steel, guitar and the slightest touches of trumpet combine for a dreamy sound that transports the listener to lofty heights, deep forests and cloud-bound seas. Caverns' highlights are many, but the build-up to the climax of "County Carnival" gives me a shiver from my toes to the top of my head.

6. The Souvenirs, I Ain't Happy Yet
Despite their nostalgic name, The Souvenirs—the harmonizing trio of Marie Bradshaw, Kiki Sieger and Corinne Gentry—don't take only the golden parts of the past and immortalize them in a box like a pretty diorama, untouchable and irrelevant. Their classic Americana/country sound does have a strong throwback feel, and the album includes a few traditional country/blues covers, but The Souvenirs have a way of bringing the past forward to present day, making the themes in their lyrics relatable. And, as befitting the title I Ain't Happy Yet, those lyrics are unflinchingly honest in their depiction of the times that happen between the happy times: the confusing, restless, miserable and question-filled times. From the description of the addicted woman on "Paper Bag" to the quietly earth-shattering revelation of the line "Thought I knew just what I wanted from you/ but I don't" from "I Ain't Happy Yet," The Souvenirs' songwriting cuts to the core.

5. Donnie Bonelli, Shakeface
Besides being an insanely entertaining, stick-in-your-head rap album, Shakeface walks a number of tightropes with finesse. It's got dorky geek pride as well as unabashed braggadocio, old-school boom-bap alongside polished electronic beats, sobering emotional subject matter and silly humor, soul-baring honesty and jet-setting fantasy, all perfectly balanced. Donnie Bonelli of rap crew House of Lewis delivers his inventive, funny and moving lyrics with nearly as much variety; he can spit tongue-tying bars with swagger on tracks like crowning album highlight "Shakeface" and "Too Hot," then turn around and showcase a solid singing voice on the seductive "In Town." As his official debut, Shakeface is an impressive effort, one that sets a high bar for local rap.

4. The Lower Lights, A Hymn Revival: Volume 3
When this ex-Mormon found The Lower Lights, I felt like a huge void in my heart had been filled, and I felt that again when listening to the group's latest collection of folksy gospel covers, A Hymn Revival: Volume 3. Featuring more ridiculously talented musicians than can be listed here, The Lower Lights work such magic with hymns and spiritual songs that A Hymn Revival: Volume 3 almost doesn't feel like a cover album. The arrangements are fresh and engaging, full of masterful artistic touches that enhance the subject matter—the usually staid "Be Still, My Soul," for example, is utterly transformed with three solo vocalists—but still achingly familiar. The Lower Lights do more than create incredible music; they create a haven where everyone, believers and non-believers alike, are welcome.

3. Ryan Tanner, Together Is Where We Belong
Utah native and singer-songwriter Ryan Tanner now lives in Nashville, Tenn., but he maintains strong ties with his home scene and recruits many local musicians for his work. But even if Together Is Where We Belong were made by Tanner singing alone into a mic, it would still easily be one of the most striking albums of the year. With its rootsy folk/country vibe and Tanner's timeless voice, Together Is Where We Belong sounds like a classic—"Bluebird, Blue," especially. And Tanner has a hell of a way with words; there's no better symbol for someone who isn't ready to take the plunge and fall in love than in his line "black heart painted red." He discusses regret, loneliness and the end of love in vivid, relatable detail, such as the line "I was dead the moment that you said/ 'Baby, I don't love you anymore.'" Whatever cracks are in your own heart, you'll find a song to describe the hurt on Together Is Where We Belong.

2. Salazar, Saudade
There are good albums, and then there are stop-you-in-your-tracks albums, and the debut from dream-pop/folk group Salazar is one of the latter. A testament to the high-caliber talent of Salazar frontman Alexander Woods, who wrote, recorded and mixed the music, Saudade pulls the listener in and doesn't let go. It's richly crafted with gorgeous acoustic guitar, woodsy strings, Woods' arresting voice, misty atmosphere and various bits of sonic ephemera (people talking, water), which take turns rising to the fore then falling back into obscurity like the pieces of a long-past memory. Woods' ability to paint a scene is especially effective on the profoundly beautiful "Saudade," an intoxicating dreamscape of enveloping ocean waves.

1. Jay William Henderson, Hymns to My Amnesia
Singer-songwriter Jay William Henderson might split his time between hometown Salt Lake City and Nashville, Tenn., these days, but the Utah scene will continue claiming him as its own, and this album is one of the reasons why. Henderson's stunning voice is clear and resonant but has a quiet power that pierces the heart, and is filled with hard-won wisdom. Moments of melancholy beauty are innumerable on Hymns to My Amnesia: The simple chorus of "I Won't Beg"—"Oh, my god/ I won't beg no more"—makes me want to weep every time I hear it, and "Heart & Hand" is a haunting, unforgettable jewel. With thorny, visceral lyrics about heartbreak and confronting one's past, Hymns to My Amnesia isn't easy to get through. But listening to the entire album is ultimately a cathartic, life-changing experience; you'll come out a different person on the other side.

Honorable Mentions

Cat Fever
Mountain EP

Koala Temple
Blue Milk

Henry Wade
Meet Your Creature

The Circulars

Desert Noises
27 Ways

Black Tides

Baby Ghosts
Maybe Ghosts


Edie Carey & Sarah Sample
‘Til the Morning: Lullabies & Songs of Comfort

Bat Manors
Literally Weird

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