After spending the past five or six years on numerous side projects, including sheet music, Beck returned with an album that took many by surprise. Touted as a follow up to Sea Change, Morning Phase is melodic, laid back, acoustic and mellow. It was a perfect summer album for 2014.
The Orwells - Disgraceland
These guys are getting some recognition nowadays, thanks to the new Apple ad for the iPad Air 2, which features a track from Disgraceland. In contrast to my No. 1 pick of the year, which met my need for mellow, contemplative and stripped-down sound, Disgraceland fueled my need for amped up garageness.
St. Vincent - St. Vincent
I love the quirkiness and unexpected turns on every track of this album. St. Vincent the musician (Annie Clark) previously worked with former Talking Heads front man David Byrne, and that influence is apparent in St. Vincent the album. A fun jumble of unpredictable tunes.
Old 97s - Most Messed Up
“We’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive,” drones Old 97s lead singer Rhett Miller on the opening track of this enjoyable record. Most Messed Up is a celebration of the Texas band’s 20-plus years in the business, and like most of their previous releases, it’s a raucous, southern-fried party of music about boozing, carousing and life on the road. By far the year’s best songs of the south.
The Black Keys - Turn Blue
With all the production work Dan Auerbach is doing with other musicians these days, its a wonder he and Patrick Carney have time to do anything as the Black Keys. While Turn Blue turned off some of the band’s diehard fans of their traditional blues-based garage-grunge, I like the pop-infused sound of this album. It was a refreshing sound from a band that should be constantly evolving.
The Both - The Both
The Both is my choice for Most Unlikely Duet of the Year Award. Who would have thought that Aimee Mann and Ted Leo would make such great music together? (Then again, last year’s folkie-grass collaboration by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell kind of set the stage for unusual pairings.) Hat tip to fellow higher ed music critic Mason Dyer for tipping me off to this album.
Conor Oberst - Upside Down Mountain
I’m not supposed to like Conor Oberst. But dammit, I can’t help myself. Quavering voice aside, this man can flat write cutting lyrics. On Upside Down Mountain, Oberst gets personal in a hurry and never lets up. The result is a thought-provoking, soul-searching work that is worth several listens.
The War On Drugs - Lost in the Dream
This album has been talked about on countless forums, and for good reason. With Lost in the Dream, the War On Drugs has hit their stride. A flowing album of dreamlike tunes.
The Pixies - Indie Cindy
Frank Black and company are now without former bassist and singer Kim Deal, who contributed much to that distinctive Pixies sound and provided a coolant counterbalance to Black’s white-hot shrieks and riffs. But even without Deal, Indie Cindy is a good album.
Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds of Country Music
Sturgill Simpson is a throwback to the “hard” country styles of Merle Haggard, but with a honky-tonk rock-and-roll twist. Hands down, this was the best country album I listened to in 2014.
Jack White - Lazaretto
St. Paul & the Broken Bones - Half the City
Foster the People - Supermodel
Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence