As we begin wrapping up this emotional and absurd year, it’s nice to turn your brain off from the news and wrap it around the amazing music 2014 created, instead.
Whittling what I considered the top albums of the year down to 10 wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, especially after Run the Jewels dropped their phenom of a sophomore LP in October. Some of the albums, like Lost in the Dream and Sunbathing Animal, were surprise additions, especially since I couldn’t get fully into the former until about a month ago, but it just reminds me every recording needs at least a handful of listens before they’re written off.
But here they are – the albums and musicians who settled themselves into my mind the best this year. Be sure to let me know what you think! There’s clearly nothing I like more than hearing what everyone else has been listening to. 🙂
10. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Definitely the road trip record of the year, Lost in the Dream does a great job of pushing you forward. There’s plenty of steady, uptempo beats in there to keep you going, and it’s lush with savory rhythm. But these instrumentals, combined with frontman Adam Granduciel’s everyman vocals, also inspire you to take pause and really invest yourself in the songs. So keep your eyes on the road and just let this lovely album complement everything you’re passing by.
9. Amen Dunes – Love
This terrific LP is equal parts airy/solid as a rock. Damon McMahon brought in collaborators on piano, guitar and drums to craft a truly pretty album that is gorgeous without the lipstick and hairspray and high heels. Rather, it’s an au naturel work that flourishes where it should and is the essential soundtrack to a rainy Sunday afternoon.
8. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
These Brooklyn boys just landed themselves the title of SPIN’s Band of the Year, and after seeing their electric, smart and energetic set at last spring’s Sasquatch!, it makes plenty of sense. They did release another album, Content Nausea, just six months after Sunbathing Animal, but it’s their first of 2014 that really established the group for me. It’s one that mirrors early Magazine or Talking Heads, with a polished yet slightly more rockin’ edge.
7. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste
Oh sweet Azealia, how we’ve missed you so. Her firecracker attitude meshes just fine with her darling vocals and lightning fast delivery on this long-awaited debut, and she’s got it all backed with lusciously danceable beats. She had me at “212”, of course, and did a fantastic job of building around that song with plenty of tracks that rival it.
6. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
While my thoughts on modern country music remain the same, I was still FLOORED when I learned of Sturgill Simpson and his old school country ways. The man embodies outlaw country much as Waylon, Merle, Kris and Johnny did back in the ’70s, and he clearly does it without effort. It’s refreshing as hell to hear someone bringing back the original meaning of country music to the genre.
5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
St. Vincent may have merely remained on the outskirts of my radar with her first four albums, even though one of these was with mastermind David Byrne, but there was no way to deny her my time once she released this self-titled gem. Rightfully quirky and captivating, St. Vincent is a marvel of a record that challenges all musicians to step up their game and embrace sounds of the future.
4. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
Talk about an introduction. On his self-titled debut, Benjamin Booker paid no apology to anyone and just went about creating an explosive album all his own. Dripping with beautiful punk and blues and soul, this LP told tales of sadness and reinvention. A truly impressive piece of work sung through Booker’s appealing yet scraggly vocals.
3. TV on the Radio – Seeds
Never has TV on the Radio done me wrong with an album, and it’s remarkable they remain as innovative from each one to the next as they have, time and again. Seeds is just as uniquely catchy as anything TVOTR has ever done, but it’s got heart, and reads like the mindset of any driven human being out there. In essence, this album leaves you feeling it was written as the score for your every day, and won’t stop from you bursting out of your chair and launching into dance whenever the music so inspires you.
2. Ty Segall – Manipulator
No surprise Ty made the list, and not just because I love him so. Manipulator is the garage rock virtuoso’s most refined to date, and is chock full of delicious reworks of all kinds of ’70s rock. Segall shines best on this release as he reinvents glam, melding it nicely with the kind of sounds invented by The Kinks.
1. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Allow me to be so bold as to say RTJ2 is the definition of rap. Not of the many variations today’s rap holds, nor of yesterday’s and all its innovation, but of where the genre should be, following decades of development. Killer Mike and El-P cover all the bases with this intelligent record, delivering their rhymes with genius consideration and propping them up with style of every flavor. Their collaborations were jaw-dropping (Zack de la Rocha, Travis Barker, etc.), and the inclusion of extreme talent such as Gangsta Boo was brilliant. I applaud these guys for just about every second this album is made of.
Honorable Mention: The Growlers – Chinese Fountain; Woods – With Light and With Love