Virghost — GHOSTS (self-released)
One of the most gifted wordsmiths in Memphis' underground rap scene, Virghost dropped a monumental project in September: GHOSTS. Similar to Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City or Big K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica, GHOSTS is a concept album. Through 16 tracks, Virghost reflects on a three-year period of his life that's haunted him incessantly. GHOSTS is set during Virghost's days at the University of Memphis (2005-2008), and showcases spitting, candid, heartfelt lyrics accompanied by solid production. The album is unquestionably worth checking out if you're a fan of Memphis-bred underground hip-hop or storytelling through the form of raw lyricism.
— Louis Goggans
Lukah Luciano — Bad Guy x Good Fella (self-released)
A criminally under-looked rap album from one of the best unsigned MCs in Memphis. This album has it all: incredible production, creative samples, and thoughtful lyrics from a rapper whose knowledge of organized crime may make you wonder where the line between fact and fiction is drawn. An amazing release from one of the best kept secrets in Memphis, though he probably won't be underground for much longer.
— Chris Shaw
Aquarian Blood — Demo Cassette
The first offering from Aquarian Blood came in the form of a demo limited to 100 copies, but that didn't stop critics from WMFU and Pitchfork from praising this Memphis super group. Forming out of the remains of Moving Finger, Aquarian Blood is a band to pay attention to in 2015, which should be easy given their fantastic live show and the amount of live appearances the band schedules. — CS
Dutch Masters — All in the Wires (Spacecase Records)
Amazing downer vibes pumped through a garage-rock filter, complete with screeching guitar solos, crashing drums, and howling vocals. Dutch Masters broke up in 2010, but that didn't stop Spacecase from releasing this compilation featuring unreleased material in addition to the band's recorded works for Goner. A once-missing piece of the Memphis garage-rock puzzle. — CS
Nots — We Are Nots
Eleven songs spanning 26 minutes, Nots' bare-boned, bass-driven, and synth-charged debut never falls short. Take into consideration that it's the band's debut LP, and it's all the more impressive. Nots doesn't come across as a band that just dropped their first album. They seem more seasoned than that. We Are Nots with its howling vocals and forefronted, often dizzying synth, has an unmistakable sound that will leave you wondering what else Nots has up their sleeve.
— Joshua Cannon
The Star Killers/Little Moses split
(self-released) A band's first album inevitably lives as a statement to which their later work will be compared. Because of this, many bands release a four- or five-track EP before embarking on a full-length. But the Star Killers operate in reverse. Last year, they released their first full-length album American Blues.
In July, they released a split with Atlanta-bred Little Moses. Here, the Star Killers get it just right. "Black Poppy Wine" rests heavily on the band's blues influence before roaring guitars and pounding drums carry harmonizing vocals to the end of the song. Frontwoman Julien Baker's lyrics are vulnerable, and her soft but powerful voice guides "Esau" to its conclusion. Sometimes less is more. The Star Killers find that in these songs. — JC
Dead Soldiers — High Anxiety
Dead Soldiers captures a depth and sincerity that are lacking in today's country music. The widespread influences shine through on each track of High Anxiety. Each song's polished production lets an arsenal of strings, horns, and steel guitars to peak in and out of the mix. High Anxiety has many moments reminiscent of John Prine and Townes Van Zandt, but "Ironclad" pulls more influence from Tom Waits. — JC
September 4th: Nik Turner's Hawkwind at the Hi-Tone.
Hands down the best show I saw all year, complete with a light show, backup dancers, and enough flute solos to make Ian Anderson proud. Even at 74, Nik Turner led the captivated Hi-Tone audience on an insane trip through many shades of psychedelic rock. A life-changing experience. — CS
July 13th: Black Flag and Black Oak Arkansas at the Young Avenue Deli.
For obvious reasons, this show wins the WTF? Award of 2014. The pairing of Black Oak Arkansas and Black Flag had hundreds of Memphians scratching their heads, but that didn't stop a raucous crowd from piling into the Young Avenue Deli to get a taste of the action. Both bands delivered, especially Black Oak Arkansas who cranked out hit after hit in between amazing stage banter from Jim Dandy.
December 6th: Nights Like These and Gimp Teeth at Carcosa House.
Who needs a venue when you can throw concerts in your living room? This show was my first time at Carcosa, which could easily be compared to the house venue The Dairy (a midtown show space that closed four years ago). Gimp Teeth brought their A game, ripping through new material before Nights Like These put the neighbors' patience to test with their extremely loud brand of heavy metal. House shows used to be a staple of the Memphis music scene, and it's always a good sign when a new home decides to pick up the slack. — CS
February 28th: Da Mafia 6ix at the New Daisy Theater.
DJ Paul got the band back together and gave us one of the best Three 6 Mafia spin-offs since the "Tear Da Club Up Thugs" with Da Mafia 6ix. Featuring classic members of Three 6 Mafia like Crunchy Black and Gangsta Boo, Da Mafia 6ix immediately gained a loyal following, and their show at the New Daisy proved that the group was still capable of bringing the heat to a packed-out venue. Memphis legends Kingpin Skinny Pimp and DJ Zirk were also in attendance, making this one of the craziest local rap shows of the year.
Three Good Things 1. The Jay Reatard mural on the corner of Main and Vance is a long-overdue celebration of one of the most prolific musicians to come out of Memphis in the past 25 years. Jay might have left us years ago, but thanks to this awesome mural by local artist Lance Turner, his memory lives on.
2. Bar DKDC really ramped up its live shows in 2014, with local and touring acts playing almost every night. The tiny bar in Cooper Young provided plenty of great shows this year, and also gave numerous local bands a chance to play in front of a diverse crowd.
3. You might not always like the bands playing at the Hi-Tone, but the BBQ by Pit Master Richard never disappoints. The best food at a local venue, hands down. — CS