My Music Picks for 2014

Posted: January 1, 2015 in Reviews

It’s been an odd year for music. Few albums have stood out beyond the first couple on my list. Many albums were added after listening to them again over the past weeks and saying to myself, “I didn’t remember it as being that good.” Then it fades back into obscurity. Whether that’s the quality or nature of the music, the sheer volume of material that is now available, or my aging memory, I couldn’t tell you.

Anyway, for those who care, here are the picks for 2014.  (Starting with #1 and working down the list.  WordPress doesn’t like numbers…)

Conner Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
One of the few albums of the list with solid, catchy tunes all the way through, not just a couple here and there. There’s not one song on the album that I don’t love. It is one of the few albums and artists where the lyrics stand out on their own in a meaningful way.

 

St. Vincent – (Self Titled)
I have to say that my love of this album probably has a lot to do with the fact that I found the Dundas Square concert back in June to be one of the best concerts I’ve been to. The talent and originality made it a great concert, and those same qualities are on the album, with kind of a Lori Anderson meets Joan Jet (more in the live experience) feel to it.

 

Kongos – Lunatic
A group of South African brothers who grew up in London and went to high school in Phoenix, sons of John Kongos, a well known singer songwriter himself. Catchy tunes. This is one of those albums that’s great to listen to, but not all that memorable. Some songs bring back memories of The Refreshments.

 

Hozier – (Self Titled)
Again, catchy and original tunes with some interesting and ambitious arrangements. Clearly the work of an artist that is trying to stretch his talent. Many of the lesser known songs delve into his Celtic roots, which I think is what adds a nice spice to his music in general.

 

Alt J – This Is All Yours
This album is an original mixture of strong tunes and ambient music, sometimes wandering too far into the latter. However, when it is strong it is very strong.

 

Spoon – They Want My Soul
A consistently solid album of great songs. “Inside Out” and “Do You” are the key tracks, but all of the others are well worth a listen.

 

Ryan Adams – (Self Titled)
This prolific songwriter keeps getting better and better. The new album is a soft rock venture that still has some teeth and usually avoids the country territory that Adams sometimes explores, thankfully.

 

Great Big World – Is There Anybody Out There?
Pure Alt-Pop. The strength of this album is the pure accessibility of its songs. Great tunes, lyrics and simple arrangements. Simple, clean and catchy.

 

FKA Twigs – LP1
Kate Bush has had a bit of a comeback this year, deservedly. FKA Twigs comes off as a spacey Kate Bush, and, while it takes a while to warm up to it, it works and becomes very listenable.

 

War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
This album and the Alt-J album could make a nice music set as they kind of have the same vibe and themes. This one is a little more concrete (less abstract) than Alt-J, but still. Again, well done in many places, but tends to drift away in places.

 

Future Islands – Singles
Don’t get me wrong, I like the sound of the album, but can anybody tell me what 80s band this is ripping off?? It’s right on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t place it. So familiar though.

 

Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes
This ranked really high on the Rolling Stone list, as you would expect, but t would be just another tired Springsteen album if not for the work of Tom Morello. Makes all the difference and kicks it up a notch to noteworthy status.

 

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Albarn is one of the prodigies of the past decade or two, having given us Blur, Gorrilaz and several other gems. This is a very sedate album, but has lots of character. Good late evening listening, with a glass of wine and a plate of Peek-Freans.

 

Elbow– The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
Good stuff, but you’ll need more wine and cookies.

 

Some Honorable mentions:

Damien Rice : A little pretentious, but an interesting, full bodied listen.
Black Keys : What you’d expect, which is OK.
Lenny Kravitz : Nicely produced but not too original.
Liam Finn : the Nihilist lives up to its name.
Lana Del Ray : More of the same, which is, again, OK.
Boy & Bear : Reminds me a bit of Hothouse Flowers, which should be regarded as a compliment.
Walk The Moon : Too new to really have gotten into it, but it will probably grow on me.

And a special mention to my favorite discovery of the year, although their album more correctly belongs on a 2013 list. WLAK OFF THE EARTH is, hands down, a great band. Their REVO album speaks well for them, but their true strength is in the versatility and originality of the covers they’ve published on their talented YouTube videos. This is a band that I’d go out of my way to see live.

 

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