Top 14 of 2014!
Well, well, well….here we are at the tail end of another fantastic year in music. I listened to over 500 albums while compiling this list and the vast majority of them are superb, so this list is far from complete. But these are the albums that, for one reason or another, totally blew me away this year. So, without further adieu…
Young The Giant: Mind Over Matter
On their second album, Young The Giant tightens the arrangements and slickens the production, delivering a record akin to Genesis’ Selling England By The Pound as performed by Biffy Clyro. Which is about as great a compliment as I can give. “Anagram” is totally where it’s at, but the rest of the album is pretty awesome too.
First Aid Kit: Stay Gold
The third album from this Swedish indie folk duo is a highly personal affair that find these sisters mining the sounds of 70s country and spaghetti western as much as the sound of the 60s folk troubadours, the writing just as sweet as their harmonies. The opener, “Silver Lining”, sets this album up perfectly while the title track could not be more addictive.
Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams
My generation’s most prolific songwriter produces himself and comes out with one of his best albums yet. There is a strong sense of homage on this record, from the Bryan Adams-inspired album cover to the Tom Petty vibe of songs like “Gimme Something Good” and “Am I Safe”, but it also feels like one of Ryan’s most honest offerings.
Foster The People: Supermodel
Mark Foster & company manages to transcend the debut-hit-single curse and avoid the sophomore slump altogether with this concept album about the pitfalls of the modern consumer world. “Are You What You Want To Be” channels Fela Kuti while “Ask Yourself” features an easily-relatable lyric and a killer bass line.
Future Islands: Singles
If you ever wondered what U2 might sound like 30 years from now, the answer might lie in the grooves of this album, the fourth offering from Future Islands, easily the best synth-pop album to come since the early 80s. “Seasons” was the big single from this album but “Sun In The Morning” is the song that was a staple of my summer this year.
The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger: Midnight Sun
Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp lay down their full-length debut, a mesmerizing slice of psychedelia that blends everything from Krautrock to Brooklyn Hipster to chamber pop to Revolver-era Beatles, with a nice dose of freak-folk thrown in. One of the most clever and refreshing releases of the year.
Sam Roberts Band: Lo-Fantasy
For album number five, Sam Roberts Band delivers a set of groovin’ tunes that are just as tasty in the car as on the dance floor. As with all their albums, there are no bad songs here, but anthems like “Shapeshifters”, “Angola”, and the fist-pumping single, “We’re All In This Together” make this album unforgettable.
Pendragon: Men Who Climb Mountains
Something changed with Pendragon during the last decade, taking a darker and more serious turn, resulting in dystopian masterpieces such as Pure (2008) and Passion (2011). The guitars got heavier, the arrangements more dense, but the hooks also got stronger. Their latest offering continues that progression, featuring the exquisite “Beautiful Soul” and the epic “Come Home Jack”.
The ever-democratic Sloan takes the next logical step on their 11th album, giving each member of the band one side of the double-album to do as he would. The result is four near-flawless mini-albums, featuring some of the band’s strongest material yet.
Yes: Heaven And Earth
Vocalist/songwriter Jon Davison makes his debut, continuing to prove that everyone in this band (save for Chris Squire) is expendable. Mini-epics like “Believe Again”, “Light Of The Ages” and “Subway Walls” sit alongside concise numbers that push the band into wild new directions, such as the slippery “In A World Of Our Own”, the folk-tinged “To Ascend”, and “The Game”, one of my favorite singles of the year.
Joan As Police Woman: The Classic
On her fifth solo album, Joan Wasser evokes the sound and spirit of vintage Carole King and other blue-eyed-soul girls and does it with such style as to render Adele pretty much moot. The opening trinity of “Witness”, “Holy City”, and the doo-wop-inspired title track is just about as good as music ever gets.
Anathema: Distant Satellites
25 years on, Anathema continues to be more creative and vital as ever. Their eleventh album features all the majesty they’re known for, while pushing the envelope ever forward, especially on the electro-tinged title track. The three-part “The Lost Song” is classic Anathema, as is the slow build of their namesake song, “Anathema”.
Red Wanting Blue: Little America
These heartland rockers deliver their tenth studio album, a brilliant slice of gritty, soulful country rock and bubbly Americana pop and continue to prove that they are a band worth seeking out. “Dumb Love” is one of my new favorite songs, and “The Rest Of Our Lives” is a brilliant anthem for keepin’ on.
U2: Songs Of Innocence
At the tail end of the summer, U2 surprised the world, and infuriated much of it as well, with the surprise release of their eleventh studio album. Revisiting their roots, while ever looking forward, songs like “Every Breaking Wave” and “Raised By Wolves” prove that U2 still have it.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. 2014 also featured outstanding releases by Phish, Novastar, Motorpsycho, Ex Hex, Ani Difranco, Black Prairie, Augustines, moe., Beck, Leonard Cohen, Honeyblood, String Cheese Incident, Old 97’s, two fantastic albums by Prince, a late period Smashing Pumpkins masterpiece, and solid sets from Syd Arthur, Hamilton Leithauser, Black Sumbarine, Crippled Black Phoenix, Delta Spirit, Drive-By Truckers, Hey Rosetta, IQ, Robert Plant, The Church, The Strypes, The Wilderness Of Manitoba, Umphrey’s McGee, Pink Floyd and too many more to name.
Hats off to a stellar 2014. Here’s to an even brighter 2015!