Monday, December 22, 2014

Joel's 2014 Faves

My listening preferences this year were strange. Maybe not strange in the context of my lifelong listening habits, but definitely more focused in a few genres when it came to music released this past year.

Never in my life did I expect the year of my 30th birthday to include an emo revival, 80s girl-pop influenced hooks, or my friends from college releasing their first critically acclaimed records of their own original songs. In adding my picks to our critical compendium, 18 of the 30 albums I chose were new to the group.

That isn't to say that the other albums on the list weren't good. Mostly I'm saying I have no idea how good they are because there's just too much music being released over the course of a year to stay on top of every new album. Eric makes really good points and gives really good tips in his post on how to find new music.

For me, having access to every song ever (sort of) is the worst thing that could've happened for my ability to complete my responsibilities to this blog. There's too much. And I like my old music too much. I'd have to spend all day every day listening to just the new stuff in order to keep up with my colleagues here.

But I love music. I always have. And I think part of being a responsible music appreciator is giving yourself enough space to enjoy new music alongside your old favorites. That is why my list is more focused. I'm positive that is also why I was able to pull this list out at all. I also believe that one big part of this year's list is the amount of live music I was able to see here in Austin and the energetic effect it had on my listening and playing.

You should listen to this while you read on...

My favorites this year sit pretty squarely in four camps:
  2. Indie/Emo
  3. Electro-Pop
  4. Singer-songwriter pop
One of my own big surprises this year was the quality of Ryan Adams' self-titled record. I've been a Ryan Adams fan for a long time but he's definitely had a few misses during his career. I wasn't a big fan of Ashes and Fire — I mean, it was fine, just not up to Adams' normal quality — or of Easy Tiger, the last record he did under his own name alone. I was blown away, however, by how on-point this record was. And it was only knocked out of first place by a grouping of songs so well-crafted it created ambience and interest the entire length: The War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream.

But I found other really great and Americana records this year. Jamestown Revival's Utah seems under appreciated, and though its stance is very much in the realm of the Avett Brothers, the best thing Jamestown Revival has going for it is that, unlike the Avetts, Jonathan Clay's vocals sound like they belong with the type of music they are carrying. Desert Noises was a band I had never heard but their road-trippy Americana tunes have the same pushing tones as Paul Simon's Graceland and that created instant love from me.

We also got treated to a good bit of Americana with sugary-sweet pop melodies with the two Oh Honey EPs. My favorite of the two is With Love. The vocals might be pure saccharine but they weren't annoying in the ways the Jenny Lewis record that came out this year was (yeah, I loathe that record).

The second big surprise I got this year was from discovering the depths of the emo revival. A few old school bands released new records. The two that ranked high on the list for me were Taking Back Sunday's Happiness Is offering and Braid's new record No Coast. Some newbies I discovered included Gates (oh my gosh is that record good), Prawn, My Heart to Joy, and Dads.

Stemming from there, the new Damien Jurado record is great. Really great. All The Luck In the World's self-title record was also very good, combining great emo-style guitar parts with more solid melodies and vocals.

Then there's the smattering of more current pop and electro-pop albums from this year including Blondfire's incredibly catchy Young Heart. I was surprised by the familiarity of the Haerts record and knew I would love The Colourist's debut full-length based on seeing them live and their EP released last year.

This year I had friends release albums as well. Speak's Pedals album is great and I still maintain that Troupe has some of the best male vocals in the industry. RAC released his first collection of original material helped by talent from the many bands and groups he has remixed over the years.

There there were the great offerings from Young the Giant and Tokyo Police Club. And while some found Beck's record boring, I thought Morning Phase was moody and engaging, perfect for working and general contemplation.

And that's what I've got to say about my favorites from this year. Oh, and if you like any of these, please consider buying the album... either at your local record store or from iTunes or Amazon. Streaming music is great for our convenience but doesn't do much to help the artists keep making their livings from entertaining us.

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