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Ex Hex | Photo by Jonah Takagi

Year-End Mania is the Key’s survey of the things below the surface that made 2014 awesome. In this installment, XPN host Eric Schuman shares his favorite debuts of the year.

That’s how it starts.

Perhaps the best way to survey a year’s overall wealth of discovery is to look at the bands who released their very first record in those 12 months. Though plenty of veteran and contemporary acts made some of the best albums of their careers in 2014, let’s take a look at some up-and-comers who made their mark this year.

AlvvaysAlvvays

Listening to the self-titled debut from the Toronto-based quintet might lead you to declare that you’re certain you’ve heard this band before. Not because Alvvays tread over long-worn musical territories, but because they take timeless touchstones (youthful romance, heartsick longing) and make them sound fresh. Check out “Archie, Marry Me” and “Party Police.”

Ex HexRips

It seems hardly fair to refer to Mary Timony as a newcomer. After all, she’s been part of various cities’ underground punk scenes for about two decades. Her latest band, the ferocious power trio Ex Hex – which shares a name with Timony’s fantastic 2005 solo LP – made their full-length debut with a taut collection of breathless rockers. Don’t miss “Waterfall” and “Hot And Cold.”

FlowersDo What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do

This one’s a personal favorite of mine. The UK trio might not have gotten such widespread attention this year, but their first album is nonetheless a winner. Produced by Britpop mainstay Bernard Butler, Flowers make music that hearkens back to the late ’80s and early ’90s of British indie pop. Singer/bassist Rachel Kenedy has one of those soaring voices that commands each and every song. Start with “Forget The Fall” and “Lonely.”

JungleJungle

Despite the cloud of purposeful misinformation that surrounds the band, British funk collective Jungle made quite a memorable impression with their 2014 debut. Combining bright ’70s brass with squiggly ’80s synths and brash ’90s attitude, Jungle succeed in letting the music be their primary identifier. Dig into “Busy Earnin'” and “Time.”

OughtMore Than Any Other Day

When the young Montreal-based art rockers in Ought take the stage, a nervous energy fills the room. Jagged guitar lines punctuate jittery, mantra-like lyrics. There’s a little bit of Talking Heads, a little Violent Femmes and a dash of The Fall in there somewhere, but Ought’s debut album (whose follow-up might be here sooner than you think) is a refreshingly original dose of book-smart punk. Have a listen to “Today More Than Any Other Day” and “The Weather Song.”

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