Favorite Albums of 2014

Below are the twenty albums released in 2014 that grabbed my attention and kept it. Some of them will sooth the soul, and some will rustle your jimmies. Scroll down for the countdown (and click the art to hear a track off the album).


20. Timbre Timbre
Hot Dreams

[Spaced-out blues-tinged cabin jams from some other decade. The perfect way to kick off this list....]

19. Logic
Under Pressure

[This one steals a lot as well -- too much, really -- from Kendrick's GKMC and ATCQ's Midnight Maraders. But I can't think of two better albums to imitate. Plus he imitates them well and the result is very enjoyable.]

18. Future Islands

[These guys have been slowly growing on me over the past several years. Like many others I caught their Letterman performance earlier this year and finally saw the man behind that growl. His charisma fully won me over that day.]

17. Simone Felice

[The latest from the man who left his brothers while they continue doing their thing as The Felice Brothers. Simone has gone on to create some amazing roots music of his own and Strangers is his best yet.]

16. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Singer's Grave A Sea of Tongues

[Will Oldham is tough to keep up with. If you look away for a couple of months, you might miss an album release or two. But he always rewards his followers -- and this new one is no different. The songs on Singer's Grave are mostly culled from his 2011 release Wolfroy Goes to Town and reworked with the best Nashville has to offer.]

15. Caribou
Our Love

[Dan Snaith won me over 11 years ago as Manitoba with his album Up in Flames. For some reason, I made the mistake of completely sleeping on his output under the moniker Caribou, though. No longer! This is electronic music made for humans. Daft Punk, take notice.]

14. Angel Olsen
Burn Your Fire For No Witness

[Will Oldham's prolific output doesn't come without the help of a band of merry men and women. Angel Olsen has been involved in his work and toured with his band, but now she has stepped out on her own. Her last effort was a beginning, but this is a big leap forward as her first release under Jagjaguwar. The directions that she chooses to take her melodies, as well as her decision to plug in and turn the amp up have put her on the list of the many female songwriters who killed it this year.]

13. Beck
Morning Phase

[When the swelling strings of "Cycle" faded into the acoustic strumming of "Morning" on my first listen, my heart leaped. But when the bass slid in and the drums hit a few seconds later, I felt my whole body floating. I was in high school again, hearing the opening of Sea Change. The territory may be well tread, but that is fine by me.]

12. Wye Oak

[Wye Oak win this year's out-of-left-field award. I did NOT expect this kind of music from these two. Jenn Wasner was a guitar-slinging badass on the previous album. To be honest, I was a little bit disappointed when I heard the first notes of Shriek, but my disappointment quickly faded into head-bobbing enjoyment. It seems like the synth-heavy music has afforded Wasner more space to play with melody and she kills it. I told you the ladies killed it this year.]

11. Grouper

[Liz Harris has put me to sleep many many times over the past 6 years. Let me be clear, that is a good thing. The sleep did not come from boredom, but from the intense relaxation her music brings. Her hazy, reverb-heavy music comes in a slightly different package this year. She traveled to Portugal to be an artist in residence and brought her 4-track recorder along with her. Most of the album is just her and the piano, synching her vocal melody to that of the piano and lulling us into her dream world. And killing it.]

10. Isaiah Rashad
Cilvia Demo

[Top Dawg Entertainment have firmly established themselves as the best hip hop production facility around. Their newest signee, Isaiah Rashad, hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee. His debut EP shows that he can keep up with the best: his label-mates Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock (who are featured on the album version of this track). I can't wait for a collaboration with Kendrick. It also shows that he can give us a cohesive collection of tracks longer than most LPs.]

9. Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams

[Here's another prolific songwriter who is even harder to keep up with than Will Oldham. Many critics like to say that Ryan needs an editor. Well, they can't complain with this one. All of these tracks are keepers. To be clear, though, I love all the toss-aways that he's given us over the years. It is his unfiltered creations that make him my absolute favorite artist. Here, though, he is efficient and succinct. He's mostly shed the singer-songwriter feel of Ashes & Fire for a full-band approach yielding songs that feel like they've been around for years.]

8. Swans
To Be Kind

[This is a monster of an album. It is a behemoth. It is a monolith. It is intimidating and very hard to break. Fortunately, I had to write a research paper about the propaganda films of the Third Reich for a class this semester, so I had about 9 straight hours to absorb this thing while I researched and wrote. The pairing worked oddly well. Michael Gira wants to be an artist -- that is his main concern. Well, he's created some fine art again with To Be Kind.]

7. Jennifer Castle
Pink City

[I honestly don't know much of anything about this album other than how beautiful it is. I think the mystery adds to the allure a little bit, but these tracks stand on their own and don't need a story to prop them up. It sounds straight out of the late 60s/early 70s folk-rock scene, but with a modern twist. Another lady killed it -- that's all I really know.  ---Edit: Owen Pallett composed the string arrangements. I should have known.... that is the "modern twist" I'm hearing.]

6. Sam Amidon

[Sam Amidon has been quietly creating some of my favorite music for the past 7 years. He is a Vermont-native who grew up with musician parents who steeped him in the traditions of Appalachian music. Most of his own output has been beautifully-inventive reworkings of some of those traditions. He has since moved to London and married the English singer-songwriter Beth Orton, but he has not left behind his Appalachian palette.]

5. St. Vincent
St. Vincent

[Annie Clark is the total package. She is a treasure. She is a beautiful indie angel flown down to earth to bestow us with her gift of rock. Her newest gift might be her weirdest and most rocking yet.]

4. Flying Lotus
You're Dead!

[Progressive jazz/hip hop/electronica at it's very finest. If you haven't heard something to tickle your fancy yet, just wait a few seconds and Steven Ellison will throw something else at you. I like to think this is the music that Miles Davis would be making if he were still with us.]

3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

[This hip hop effort stood miles above the rest for me this year. Madlib delivers maybe the best beats of his career. That's right, it maaaaybe better than Madvilliany. I'm not sure about that, but I do know that Piñata hits hard. The pairing of Madlib with MC Freddie Gibbs works very well, too. Gibb's technique as a rapper may not match the best of his peers, but it works with the music. Those beats need room to breathe and soak in. This album was on repeat for the better part of the summer.]

2. Sharon Van Etten
Are We There

[I don't mean to be sexist by pointing out the gender of all these ladies, it's just that I grew up with a majority of dudes in my CD case and iPod. And it's not like it's surprising for a lady to put out a killer record or anything, but the sheer amount of high-quality music put out by women this year is something I noticed. And of all the ladies, Sharon Van Etten killed it the most. This album is nearly flawless -- the cover puts out the perfect vibe you need to have going in. I can't wait for warmer weather so I can join her with my windows down as I blast Are We There all day.]

1. The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream

[And finally, the one album I could not get enough of this year. It has not left heavy rotation status since I bought it back in March. Adam Granduciel has created a masterpiece. I've read all the criticisms of it's length or of it's boring stretches, and I've listened to an old man call it beer commercial rock, but I still love it to pieces. 2014 was the year of Lost in the Dream for me. And it was a good year.]


way said...

So there's the artists I had never even heard of (Logic, Jennifer Castle, Isaiah Rashad)...

...the artists I've heard of but never listened to (Flying Lotus)...

...the artists who I've heard a good deal of but did not realize they had a new album out (James Vincent McMorrow, Simone Felice, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy)...

...and then there's the albums I spun this year that you liked and I didn't really seem to (Caribou, Wye Oak, Swans).... but I'll have to give these more listens. I definitely admired Swans but I didn't connect with it on my first listen. I am glad you liked Beck more than everyone else seemed to. It got quite a bit of love, but I still felt like it got too much slack for being so similar to Sea Change. I feel like it has enough differences to be a completely new thing. I love it. And I have since listened to Logic and totally dug it. Great album. Dude can spit it out, if you know what I mean.

way said...

Yea Swans is really good. I don't think I had listened to more than one song before. So I don't know what I was talking about. Like you said, it is very intimidating.

benjamin said...

Dude, Swans is incredibly intimidating. I never did listen to Seer for that very reason. It just took taking a scary plunge and taking the two+ hours to soak the whole thing in.

Caribou had to grow on me. It just finally clicked recently when Tim and I were brewing beer together and he put it on.

Wye Oak really surprised me. Especially since you had mentioned you didn't like it. I loved it immediately. Different strokes, I guess.

I think you'd really like BPB's new one. Check it out, for sure. And Simone Felice for that matter. And Jennifer Castle. I think you'd like her album. Although it isn't on Spotify, I don't think. Maybe I can burn it for you.

As for Logic, yea man, he definitely has great flow. His stuff isn't very original (some of the songs are straight rip-offs of Kendrick), but I still really enjoyed listening to it. Dude's super young, too. Hopefully he'll only get better.

FlyLo ijs worth listening to if not just to see where Kendrick is getting his inspiration from. I have a feeling his new record will be heavily influenced from his time working with FlyLo.

way said...

Yea I like Swans. I for some reason thought I had listened to it and I maybe was thinking of something else? I don't know. When you jump around through so many records, band names sometimes kinda start blending together in a weird way.

I listend to Caribou yesterday and liked it. It's infectious. I can see how it would click more if I was listening to it with someone else, rather than by myself in my little office.

And I'll have to listen to Wye Oak again. I only listened to it once.

Bonnie hasn't been my favorite artist in the past. Certain songs I like. And I definitely have an appreciation for him. I've just never really connected with him like you have. I'll have to listen to his new one.

As for Jennifer Castle, yea not on Spotify. I was able to listen to 2 of her songs online. And yea, soo good. Really like her. I tried to find the rest of her record, because I knew if I listened to the rest, it would've made my list. She has an incredible voice.

So excited for new Kendrick. His Colbert performance. His SNL performance. The "i" music video. His Power 106 freestyle (which I recommend if you haven't seen it). Even the Reebok commercial as weird as that might sound.

benjamin said...

Yeah man - when Swans came back onto the scene a few years ago, I had never heard of them. I had no idea they had been making music for 30 years. I just heard the band name and thought: "Oh that's one of those indie bands from Canada with an animal name, right? Yeah, no thanks." But I'm glad I gave them a chance even if I'm not in the mood to listen to it often, when I do, I love it.

I can understand why people wouldn't like Caribou. It's repetitive electronic music. It just happen to click with me for some reason. Those first two tracks are killer, though.

As for BPB, yeah he's up there near Ryan Adams, Jeff Tweedy, and Neil Young for me. He's second tier for sure, but he's close. He puts out so much music and it's all consistently good (to me). Some of his stuff is very melancholy and somber, but it's all beautiful. He's so wonderfully weird, too. But his new one is a little more upbeat and accessible.

I remembered where I had heard of Jennifer Castle, btw. Devendra. I read somewhere of him liking her a lot. I can't find a link, but that is definitely what turned me on to her.

And definitely try Shriek out again when you're in the mood. I think it's really good, but I can totally understand why you might not like it.