Monday, December 22, 2014

Andy's favorite albums of 2014

I began 2014 with High Hopes, the 18th studio album by Bruce Springsteen (with or without the E Street Band). That album dropped way back in January and was one of my first listens of the new year. As an album, High Hopes was a disappointment (as has much of Springsteen’s work since The Rising). But it was also a harbinger for what was to come in the music world of 2014.

I listened to a lot of music this year, as I do most years. I enjoyed much of what I heard. But 2014 was not a transformative year for music. There were no brilliant, breakthrough albums, and I’ll probably forget much of what I heard in a year or so. Before I do, here are my favorites for 2014:

Beck - Morning Phase

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.

The rest


Jack White - Lazaretto

La Sera - Hour of the Dawn
Robert Plant - Lullaby And … The Ceaseless Roar
Drive-By Truckers - English Oceans
Keb’ Mo’ - BluesAmericana
U2 - Songs of Innocence
Benjamin Booker - Benjamin Booker
Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams
Strand of Oaks - HEAL
The New Basement Tapes - Lost on the River


St. Paul & the Broken Bones - Half the City

Justin Townes Earle - Single Mothers
John Mellencamp - Plain Spoken
Spoon - They Want My Soul
Puss N Boots - No Fools, No Fun
Hurray for the Riff Raff - Small Town Heroes
The Fauntleroys - Below the Pink Pony (EP)
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye
Chrissie Hynde - Stockholm
Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes


Foster the People - Supermodel

Vance Joy - Dream Your Life Away
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - Give the People What They Want
John Doe - Best of John Doe, This Far
Shovels & Rope - Swimmin’ Time
Real Estate - Atlas
Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else
Dum Dum Girls - Too True
Ingrid Michaelson - Lights Out
Tycho - Awake


Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal
Delta Spirit - Into the Wide
White Lung - Deep Fantasy
The Raveonettes - Pe`ahi
La Roux - Trouble In Paradise
Lucinda Williams - Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
Kongos - Lunatic
The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams
First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

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