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10 Philly bands that blew our minds in 2014

In a year that brought us incredible debuts, powerful returns from vets, countless miles toured and strange altercations, 2014 was surely a 12 months worth remembering for local bands. These are just a few who killed it this year.

In a year that brought us incredible debuts, powerful returns from vets, countless miles toured and strange altercations, 2014 was surely a 12 months worth remembering for local bands. These are just a few who killed it this year.


Sweet, punky dudes who made a strong showing at Made in America this year. They remind us of the times of our youth when Hollister played the best music, except CRUISR are way better.

After just wrapping up a tour with the brooding 1975, we have a feeling the name CRUISR will be a familiar one come this time next year, especially with their Vagrant Records full-length debut coming down the pipeline. In the meantime, their All Over EP will warm you up through the winter blues.

Catch them next at the Barbary on Jan. 15 with Cold Fronts and Needle Points. 

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Radiator Hospital

Surf rock transplants from Grand Rapids, MI who enlisted the help of Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee), Allison Crutchfield (Swearin') and Maryn Jones (All Dogs) — in which the two former have strong Philly ties — for their 2014 LP Torch Song.

"This is not a happy or idealistic album," Sam Cook-Parrot wrote on the band's website in July. Maybe we all need to be brought down a few notches emotionally and it truly takes a Philly band to do it.

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"I said to summer / I don't want to go / Just wanna live out in the undertow," Dom Angelella wistfully croons, begging for memories of this summer's past — though despite being released in the late fall, "Undertow," the fourth track on the band's sophomore full-length Baltimore Crush is unabashedly a summer jam — and already securing a spot on next year's beach trip playlists.

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Cave People

Sort of like the Front Bottoms, slowed down and possessing a more restrained kind of melancholy. A somber newcomer putting a more adult spin on new-wave emo. Scranton native Dave Tomaine released the first taste of Cave People tunes just this month in the form of a five-song EP that's just a little bit punk and just a little bit folksy and just a little bit indie.

This late-year debut sets the stage for Cave People to do big things in 2015, though for Tomaine, he'd just like to keep it authentic. "I think the most important thing is to make music you're proud of and get it out there," he said. "I never wanted a gimmick or a sales pitch or anything like that, it's just important to make the music you want to make and then get it places where people can hear it."

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St. James and the Apostles

A gospel-y, raise-your-hands-to-the-heavens soul jam band sent to save our souls from the '70s — or so it sounds. The trio crushed an April residency at Ortlieb's, begging for listeners to be taken to church way before Hozier made it a thing. Props for keeping a steady live showing in the area for much of the year.

Their sophomore album Via Dolorosa is laden with triumphant organ and will hold us over until their 2015 return at North Star Bar on Feb. 20.

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Sheer Mag

Four tracks of howling power-chord driven punk is all we have from a new musical addition. Angrily posing the question "What you want / What do you want me to do?" in between some shreds, we answer with a resounding "Make more music!"

A nice cross between the Screaming Females (whom they opened for in November at Johnny Brenda's) and the Alabama Shakes, we expect some bluesy garage-rock musical frustration when they support Parquet Courts at First Unitarian Church on Feb. 8



You could argue that this was the year of Cheerleader. From SXSW to Johnny Brenda's — where they last played to a welcoming hometown crowd — the fivesome brings their sun-tinged pop daze to pop addicts (or unbeknownst pop addicts) in Philly and beyond.

Just comparing this December to last, Chris Duran, guitars, notes the overwhelming turnaround:  "It's definitely super foreign to us," he said. "Joe and I just started making stuff in my mom's basement."

"When we first recorded our early demos, Chris did all the campaigning for us," front man Joe Haller added. "He would email the bloggers for us. It's definitely a completely experience."

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The Districts

The Districts are what everyone envisioned their high school bands turning into. A sound far more mature than their years (all members are under 21) have taken them all over the globe this year, playing festivals, secret shows and impressively sharing the bill with Temples and Dr. Dog to name a few.

They get their own headlining tour in 2015, playing Union Transfer on Feb. 14 — so bring a date! — in addition to a full length on Fat Possum Records produced by the guy who's worked on St. Vincent and Angel Olson albums, John Congleton.

Despite the hardships of losing an original member and having their band broken into twice, 2014 was surely just the beginning for these young musicians, a year that could be summed up as "being in a daze and doing lots of things — things I never thought I'd be able to do," said drummer Braden Lawrence before their show in October with Temples.

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Strand of Oaks

There's so much to be said about the latest Strand of Oaks record HEAL, but no amount of words can possibly do it justice. However we're willing to give it a shot: The emotive heaviness, unflinching honesty and technical prowess put forth by Timothy Showalter was not only received favorably across the board but landed the album on countless year-end best-of lists.

And it required some hard work. Strand of Oaks have toured internationally this year, made appearances on late night TV and radio alike and embraced audiences with warm hugs and good Philly vibes all the while. "I take a lot of pride in traveling the world and people know what's up with Philly," Showalter said when we spoke last month.

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The War on Drugs

Falling under the same category as Strand of Oaks as far as stellar albums that made waves this year, The War on Drugs have not only been included several times on the seemingly endless amount of 2014 best lists, but have topped quite a few including Spin, Amazon and Paste.

Lost in the Dream's grand, anthemic, all-encompassing arsenal of nostalgic rock immediately drew comparisons to the greats of the '80s — namely Springsteen, Petty, Henley — and garnered the attention of Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek in the now infamous, most insult-laden feud of the year. Staying classy about the whole deal and turning the "beer commercial" genre into one of our favorites, The War on Drugs had some pretty great Philly moments this year like playing secret shows at Boot and Saddle and Johnny Brenda's under the moniker Dead Greg and a tour kickoff at Union Transfer.

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Honorable mentions:

Like a breakup you can't seem to get over, we're still reeling over Creepoid's move from Philly to Savannah. We'll miss you.

Marian Hill
Dancey, electronic and soulful — a new welcome sound that we can't wait to hear expanded upon in 2015.