If ever there was a year that refused tidy summations, it was 2014. Certainly it was a year of some contradiction—the kind of year when civic pride swelled and demanded its own #weloveATL hashtag, while at the same time our beloved WRAS was swallowed up by corporate interests. It was also a year of transitional flux that—from a musical perspective, anyway—refused to yield a leading narrative. On the global and national level, hip hop continued its undisputed reign of cultural dominance, although the rapid rise of new stars like iLoveMakonnen and the Awful Records crew proved that artists could break through to audiences in new and unique ways. (To be fair, established groups like Mastodon and Black Lips had solid years, but I don’t see any major media outlets putting together a 10-part series on the Atlanta rock scene.)
Meanwhile, here on the local level, artists continued to leap over and discard the dying embers of garage rock and scatter off into a multitude of different directions. A number of local fans and musicians have tried to convince me that the Atlanta scene, from a leading bands sense, has definitively entered into what can only be called an “experimental phase.” And while for my part I’m not yet ready to commit to that assessment, I will say that audiences this year seemed more eager to accept sounds previously dismissed as weird or quirky or unconventional. This, of course, is progress.
But running counter to that is the fact that local music also got a lot louder, more raw and potent in 2014. Hardcore and punk broke back in a big way with some of the city’s most powerful and electric songwriting coming from its noisiest and most abrasive racket-makers. Did more traditional pop, rock and folk artists have a role to play in shaping Atlanta music this year? Absolutely, and I think you’ll see that reflected in the list you’re about to see. But ultimately, it was this two-pronged duality, this co-mingling of the forward-thinking with the visceral, that made local music so exciting this year.
Before we proceed, there’s the usual caveats. This is a local music blog, focused almost exclusively on local bands. So while, yes, Run the Jewels went hard, and, yes, Mastodon cranked out some real crushers this year, no, you will not find them on this list. Fight me. Much more important to the matter at hand is the fact that for the first time ever I’ve had to close the border, so to speak, to Athens. It’s no secret that this is a predominantly Atlanta-based site and, frankly, there was so much great shit that came out from Athens—The Powder Room, Muuy Biien, Motherfucker, and Grand Vapids, just to name a few—that I didn’t know where I would put it all. Did I cheat a little on an artist or two? Perhaps, but I’m not interested in splitting hairs. Bottom line: These are the best songs I heard from Atlanta music this year. Let me know if you agree.