Nothing like living in the past, I guess. And now you’re probably thinking, “this girl has the nerve to put out a, ‘Best of 2014’ in 2015?! Well, we’re all here and we all probably have some time to read this. C’mon, 2015 has barely even started yet. And plus, my lists are actually pretty good. I’m honest, there will be some swearing involved, and more importantly, I get right to the point. Basically, this is the stuff that was fantastic from 2014 and if you haven’t listened to this music already, now’s the time to do so… like… NOW!
#10. Strand of Oaks – HEAL
Welcome to the most relatable and honest album to come out of 2014. Well, Lykke Li’s post-breakup album was rather brutally honest in the most depressing kind of way. But HEAL is so very relatable to that whole growing up process we go through (unless you’re Benjamin Button, and in that case, I’m on to you). It’s pretty much a narrative of Timothy Showalter’s life. Months ago, I read somewhere that Showalter thought that this album would be difficult for listeners, since it was so very personal. But he was wrong. The exact opposite happens when listening to this record. We are opening a portal into the intimate details of his life growing up, that’s certain. But instead of finding them odd and strange, we find everything to be very familiar and communal. The topics he discusses include; music changing his life, alienating friends, being a loner, boredom, mistakes, relationships gone bad, being selfish, and in general just being disappointed in the future. I guarantee that all of you can relate to one, if not all of these topics on this record. But what makes this album great, is that it does show a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. All that crap makes us who we are, but we can change the outcome to something better and something we want it to be. Don’t let Timothy Showalter fool you, he’s actually a pretty happy and positive dude, who just so happens to love giving out awesome hugs. So now thanks to Strand of Oaks, aka Timothy Showalter, I have his sweet tunes to play for myself.
#9. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
2014 is the year Annie Clark went from a wonderfully talented musical artist, to full blown superhuman. I don’t know what happened when she worked with David Byrne on their album, Love This Giant, but she gained a tremendous amount of confidence that carried over to her own solo work. I think more than anything, it helped give her the push she needed as an artist. Instead of waiting around after making that album with David Byrne and touring with him, she dove right into creating her next album. I think this is key to its success. The production is impeccable, the lyrics are witty and intelligent, and the guitar work is outstanding. There’s not too much emotion in her voice, so she leaves all the distorted, jaded guitar sounds let you feel everything in the music. It’s so delicate and yet has such a gnarly bite to it. This is where Annie Clark shines. This is her masterpiece.
#8. Spoon – They Want My Soul
This is Spoon’s best album. Which is quite a compliment, but if you think about it, can you even name a lousy Spoon album? I can’t. Throughout their entire career, they’ve managed to make nothing but great music. I’m not even sure how that’s possible. How can one artist consistently put out satisfactory music? And more importantly, does it actually hinder them? I mean, think about it. If all their music is pleasing, then what do we really have to compare it to? Where’s that one weird album that everyone questioned and critics hated? I feel that artists actually need this. They need a low point. Out of that, you can then say, this is truly a comeback, or an artist’s finest work. Here’s the thing, though… Spoon somehow bypasses all of these preconceived standards. They haven’t produced horrible music and it doesn’t look like they’re going to crank out a flop anytime soon. So I really don’t even have much evidence to back up the claim, that this is Spoon’s best album. But that’s fine. To me, it is. Every song is excellent. Every song is catchy. Every song has great lyrics and great production. My ONLY complaint is that it ends way too fast. And that’s it. That’s all I got. Just enjoy the record, my friends.
#7. The Afghan Whigs – Do to the Beast
Don’t call it a comeback, they’ve been here for years! I don’t know what it is about 2014, but 90’s bands came back to the scene in a BIG way. But out of all those bands, no one was more impressive to me than The Afghan Whigs (sorry Failure, but lets get some new music out for2015). The thing that’s crazy about me liking The Afghan Whigs so much and in particular, this album, is that I actually had never heard of them before 2014. Like, I was completely unfamiliar with their darker music from oh so many years ago. So what’s kind of amazingly brilliant, is that they can put out a new album in 2014 and captivate my attention as a novice Afghan Whigs listener. That is quite an impressive feat. They’re not just holding onto old fans, but they’ve created such great work with, Do to the Beast, that they’ve managed to make a whole lot of new fans. Do to the Beast features some 2014’s most exceptional lyrics, in my opinion. Greg Dulli has a captivating way with words. It’s poetry laced with even more stunning music. Another feature I love about this album, is the way the songs are able to blend into each other. And we’re talking about songs with completely different tempos, construction, lyrics, and themes. Yet, one flows into the next with such eloquence. So I guess, one of my greatest discoveries of the year just so happened to be a band from the 1990’s. With music this enchanting, I am completely okay with this.
#6. FKA twigs – LP1
Ready to be put under FKA twigs’ spell? I SAID, are you ready to be put under the most beautiful, sensual, and empowering spell that Tahliah Debrett Barnett has to offer? Well, okay then. Let’s do this. I must say that FKA twigs put out quite an impressive debut record. It was well thought out and brilliantly planned, down to every last detail. The vocals are delicate and bewildering. The backing music was carefully chosen to portray just the right kind of emotion. This also enhances the details of every last beat and word sung. This is the kind of album you want your headphones on for, so that you don’t miss a thing. But don’t get me wrong, when “Two Weeks” and “Video Girl” come on, I like to blast that shit. Barnett is a hands on kind of artist. Her vision isn’t compromised in any way. So when she’s talking about love, sex, cheating, betrayal, and even masturbation, I believe every word she says, and appreciate how fascinating she portrays these themes. The only thing I’ll even complain about, is how her spell doesn’t give us the power to obtain her amazing dance moves. But I guess she can’t give away all her secrets..
#5. Run The Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
It wasn’t a great year for hip-hop/rap music. It was a rather dull year, in fact. But there was a shining beacon that managed to pop out in 2014, and that is Run The Jewels. And they didn’t just have a great year, they had a fucking phenomenal year. Both Killer Mike and El-P are seasoned veterans in the industry. Maybe that’s why it almost seems easy or even effortless for them, and this album they created. They know what they’re doing. No lessons, no coaching. They simply know how to make good music, how to produce it, and how to package it. The beats and the rhymes are so fresh and different. The music is like a non-stop party. It’s loud and in your face. It grabs your attention when a lot of other artists couldn’t do so. What was really exceptional to me though, is the love and connection of El-P and Killer Mike. These two dudes genuinely like and respect each other. It shows in their live performances and is also transferable on this album. Something that’s not always doable. Just ask Outkast and what should’ve been their breakout year for reuniting. Instead, there was weird interviews of regret, disinterest, and live performances that showed how disconnected Big Boi and Andre 3000 have become. Where Outkast failed, Run The Jewels picked up, spun that shit around, and showed us how it’s done.
#4. Swans – To Be Kind
If you don’t get Swans, then I feel sorry for you. Why? Because what Michael Gira & co have created here, is a fucking masterpiece.They explore sounds, explore space and timing, explore almost another world (almost). This album makes you feel like you’re joining a cult and our leader (lord) is the brilliant, Michael Gira. He generates chants for his followers, maybe nonsensical chants perhaps? But who said cults ever had to make sense? For 2 hours, we are taken to the Church of Gira, and he gives us all the goods. Swans challenge what we’re accustomed to. Our ears are opened to new, wonderful, and complex sounds. But this is how music should be. We should be challenged. But to be challenged, we might have to go to extreme lengths to find someone or something up to the task. Enter; Swans’ To Be Kind. So uh, did I just join a cult? What just happened? Dammit, Gira!
#3. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Did Dana Rose really just pick a country artist for her top ten album list? AND it made it all the way to the top five of the year?? What on earth is going on here? Well everyone can just calm down. I did indeed put this country album in my #3 spot, and for a damn good reason. This album is beyond country music, it is beyond a red solo cup and jesus taking the wheel… err, something like that. This is country music I can get behind. This is music that hones in on the good old days of country, where it actually meant something, and wasn’t just moronic lyrics that anyone could come up with. This is giving a nod to the likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams. What makes this album even more outstanding is the sound it actually delves into. What starts off as something country-sounding, turns into some psychedelic/other world experience. Then you start paying attention to the lyrics and you dive into some deep shit. This is a country artist talking about drugs, drinking, LSD, weed, and sleeping around. Holy hell, where has this dude been all my life? It’s just so out of the norm, it’s flawless. The more and more I listened to this album, the more it crept into a higher spot on my list. I mean, we’re talking about starting at the #10 spot right after the first listen, and then getting all the way to #3 after many more listens. I was even slightly fearful The War on Drugs would be defeated. But that is how damn good this album is, and how completely infatuated I am with it. So please, put any preconceived country music notions aside and give this baby a try. You’ll fall in love, just like I did. Then we can go get some cowboy boots and drink some beers together, okay? Okay.
#2. Future Islands – Singles
This is by far the funnest record of 2014. It is also by far my most listened to album of 2014. Spotify told so. (They know all my deep dark secrets.) It’s hard to contain the energy that Future Islands possesses, onto a record. If you’ve seen them live or even just seen a video of them perform, then you know that they can absolutely tear the house down. So that kind of magnetic, vibrant, and emotion filled demeanor might be hard for some artists to translate to a studio recording. Future Islands does a damn near perfect job doing so on Singles. It has all the fiery energy and then some. Their sound is of course is heavily influenced by the 1980’s. I mean, those synths and poppy beats just scream that era. But it’s so darn catchy. Every single song is literally like it could be its own single. The album title matches the vibe, completely. So then what really makes Future Islands and Singles stand out? Samuel T. Herring. He is the powerhouse behind all of this. His vocals and natural enthusiasm is so rare and so alluring. He makes you feel every word with such positive mastery. He makes you an absolute believer. I wasn’t expecting this. Was anyone ever expecting this? They pulled off one hell of a surprise album, here.
#1. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
When I first heard this album, I knew it was going to be my favorite for the year. I knew this because it was the exact same feeling I had when Daft Punk came out with “Random Access Memories”, last year. So it then became a waiting period to see if anyone could knock, Lost in the Dream off the throne. While few came close, it really wasn’t close at all.
If you read my post on the “Best Songs of 2014” and more specifically my take on The War on Drugs’ song, ‘Red Eyes’, you will recall I compared it to a Bruce Springsteen-like anthem. I could actually make this comparison with every song off of Lost in the Dream, with splashes of Dylan in it, as well. Not only does every song feel like an anthem, it’s more of an anthem to a story. Hear me out. Each song is very similar to one another, so I can make the same assessment for all. They start off by building up a character, then we see the protagonist face some sort of challenge. This is their defining moment and when each song is most climatic. The character of course defeats whatever obstacle there was, and we’re left with a happy conclusion, as the song fades out into the distance. Much like a valiant cowboy riding off into the sunset. So you see, it’s a victorious anthem to each song. The good guy is going to win.
What I also love about this album is simply it’s audial patterns. Forget the anthem and the story. If you don’t agree with me on that, then you can at least agree that the sound The War on Drugs is making on this album, is absolutely astounding. It’s like an ambient dream. We become enraptured in all of this. The story is the music and the music is the dream, and we really do get lost in it. You see how I tied that all together there? 😉