Hey people! Despite what Facebook told you, 2014 sucked ass in a lot of different ways. Particularly if you were black or are against using torture in an unjustified war. I had actually written something about how Facebook’s attempt to structure our collective memory as a series of individual successes is a dirty tactic used by those in power to distract us from the myriad failures that we’ve had as a culture and country. But honestly, it was too depressing, even for me.1 The good news is that 2014 was a pretty good year for music! One of my favorite things to do after Christmas is take a deep dive into the albums that I spent the most time with in 2014 and try to come up with a top 10 list. It was tough to come up with a top 10 list since there was a lot of exciting and new stuff that came out this year. I actually probably spent more time on this than I ever have in previous years, which is why I didn’t finish this until after the actual new year. Anyways, here is my usual disclaimer – this will probably be most interesting to those people who really are into music. If you just listen to radio or just listen to music as background music, which there is nothing wrong with, then chances are you’ve probably not even heard of half the people on the list and that’s totally ok. This is purely a navel gazing exercise for myself and my list is no more valid than yours.2 If anything, I just really like sharing music with people and you can consider this my mixtape gift to you. Anyways, happy new year and let’s hope that 2015 is as good as 2014 was musically.
Before we get started, let’s talk about some other interesting releases of 2014 that didn’t make my top 10 list.
Seriously, aren’t all of these artists kinduva the same thing? Why do the critics want me to think these are great albums when they all sound mopey and boring and completely devoid of any musicality?
- St. Vincent – St. Vincent: She’s kinda the queen of this type of white female song writer that the more pretentious critics love fawning over in an attempt to appear progressive on the gender front.3 Never mind that these artists all kind fit the indie version of the manic-pixie-dreamgirl archetype, with one big difference……their music is BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRIIIINGGGGGGG. But at least this album has some electric guitars unlike the next two…
- Sharon Van Etten – Are We There?: Seriously, would it kill these women to write one catchy melody?
- Angel Olson – Burn Your Fire for No Witness: Would it also kill them to shell out a little more money for some quality microphones so I don’t have to hear how breathy their voices are?
Fits into previous categorization but also has the distinction of being the worst album of 2014
- Lana Del Ray – Ultraviolence: If you think about it, Lana Del Ray and Iggy Azalea are two sides of the same coin.
Not the worst album per se (although it is pretty bad) but definitely the most disappointing album of the year, a.k.a. the when our heroes let us down award
Albums that I don’t know what to do with because sometimes they sound pretty kickass to me but other times I check out pretty quickly
- Alt J – This is all Yours: I feel like I should like this album in the same way that I feel like I should like Sufjan Stephens. But I don’t because it just sounds like a bunch of people who were band dorks in high school and then even though they probably should have been classical musicians, they ended up trying to make pop music. There are some interesting ideas on here, but it never really comes together for me.
- TV on the Radio – Seeds: On the one hand, this is their most accessible album. On the other hand, it sounds like they made a conscious effort to be more radio friendly and the results are kinda bland. This album doesn’t annoy me, but I almost think that they’re better when they’re being pretentious if that makes any sense. Kinda like yours truly.
Really good albums, but I took points off for being the exactly the same as another album that they put out:
- Beck – Morning Phase. Seriously, how is this different from Sea Change? Seriously, the opening tracks for both albums even use the same chords.
- tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack. Still eminently enjoyable but not much of a departure from the last album, W H O K I L L. I also took off points for the stupid aLtErNaTiNg CaPs thing.
Albums that weren’t released in 2014 but I got into them in a big way this year
- The National – Trouble Will Find Me: I really really really regret not including this on my top 10 list from last year. In retrospect, the inclusion of that Chvrcvhes album on that list seems pretty silly.
- Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac: I know everyone thinks that Rumours is their best album, but I think that what people really like was the back story of Rumours. The whole personal turmoil leads to superior art just makes more sense to us sometimes. But really if you think about it, wouldn’t it make more sense if good art, especially for a rock band, happens when everyone is in tune with each other? I think that song for song, Fleetwood Mac has catchier melodies, better lyrics, and is more cohesive as a song cycle.
Album that I spent a good part of the year liking and was going to put on my top 10 list until I realized the album sounded like the Freddy Jones Band/the BoDeans/Hootie and the Blowfish and other shitty Country-Rock bands that I thought I liked in college
- Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams: I hate it when I ruin albums for myself.
Album that in an alternate universe I place as my favorite album of 2014
- Taylor Swift – 1989: I may have converted to team T-Swizzle this year, but I’m still not brave enough to put this on my top 10 list. I don’t deserve her.
Albums that probably could have made it into my top 10 but my objectivity is compromised by the fact that I want to make babies with the artist/certain members of the band
- Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
My favorite single of 2014
- Teenage Wasteland – Wussy: I considered putting Attica!, the album that this song is from on my top 10 list on just the strength of this one song. If you want to really know who I am as a person, know that this song about discovering the music of the Who very often reduces me to tears.4
Album released in December that I kinda feel like I can’t include on this list since I really haven’t been able to spend too much time with, but…damn, it might be better than any of the albums in my top 10.
- D’angelo – Black Messiah: I wrote this facebook comment on one of my friend’s post asking to discuss the D’angelo album.
I feel bad for Maxwell. Remember when Maxwell did his unplugged thing and we started to really pay attention to him. Tons and tons of column inches were dedicated to talking about the beginnings of a new kind of soul music and that Urban Hang Suite was some kind of direct descendant of Stax records and James Brown and Earth Wind and Fire, and the cutting edge of the future of soul music. Then Voodoo came out a couple of years later and we were all like “Oops, remember all that stuff we said about Maxwell, we were actually talking about D’angelo.”
Fast forward to 2009 and BLACKsummersnight comes out and we were all like “Hey Maxwell is back! That is some damned fine soul music after all this time. Good Show Maxwell!” And we felt nostalgic and bestowed Maxwell with some accolades as being influential on the current neo soul sound. Now Black Messiah comes out and we’re like “sheeeeeeet, this is amazing.” And we don’t have to even bring nostalgia into this because Black Messiah is an uninterrupted straight line from Voodoo and somehow despite sounding a lot like Voodoo, it also sounds completely fresh and different and revolutionary in the same way Voodoo was back then. And even though it’s a little unfair to compare the two now in the same way we did back in the late nineties-early aughts, the symmetry of D’angelo’s comeback outshining Maxwell’s comeback is all too obvious. Time is a flat circle.
OK enough pretentious rambling! Onto organized and ranked pretention! Just a reminder that this list is limited to only those albums that I spent a significant amount of time with this year. So maybe that Sun Kil Moon album is really as good as the critics are saying5, but I wouldn’t know because I checked out after the first two songs and never returned to it.
10. Warpaint – Warpaint: Did you guys see that Sleater Kinney got back together and are putting out a new album. I liked them a little less then most indie hipsters. The main reason I could never really fully get into them is because man did they love that lo-fi sound. Like a good producer, someone to play bass full time, and some guitar overdubs would have done wonders for them. Anyways, Warpaint does all that and I’m fully into them.6
9. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso: I have finally given up my quest to understand electronic music. I mean the beats are fine and catchy, but I just do not connect on any emotional level. I just hear party music. Anyways, this is as close as I will get to liking EDM I think. Even though it’s not really EDM. So whatever, it’s a great headphone album. Amelia Meath’s voice carry this duo in the same way that Tracy Thorn’s voice carried Everything but the Girl’s foray into electronic music.
8. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream: Fun fact: in my 38+ years of being alive, I have somehow managed to never smoke pot. It’s not that I have any kind of moral aversion to it and I completely support the concept of chemically altering our state of mind to allow us to experience things we wouldn’t otherwise. No, rather, it’s just at some point in my mid twenties I realized that I hadn’t tried it yet, and it felt like my last bastion of innocence, so I’ve refrained since. Why do I tell you this? Because I imagine that this might be the reason that this album is not higher on my list like it seems to be on everyone else’s list. It’s the best stoner rock that I’ve heard since…well since ever. If you like Pink Floyd you will really like this album. If you like the Psychedelic Furs you will really like this album. And if you liked the movie Half Baked I think you might really like this album.
7. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker: This album really fills a gap in popular music in the US. It that accessible kind of music that serves as a bridge between current rock music and the blues from which it all rock music is based on. There are so few guitar riff based bands anymore and I think that’s a damn shame. There is so much going on in the album – Jack White, the Strokes, Sam Cooke, Bo Diddley, the Kinks – really good stuff.
6. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise: If La Roux had been around when I was in high school she would be mentioned with the greats of that era and synth pop genre: Duran Duran, the Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, Yaz, Ashes to Ashes era Bowie7. This is what fun smart pop music sounds like.
5. Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else: The more I read about Lydia Loveless and the more I listen to her lyrics, the more convinced I am that she probably has a substance abuse problem of some kind and probably suffers from some form of clinical depression. Those things in real life are probably a real bummer, but they sure do make great source material for a sophomore effort. If you like boozy country punk ballads about hard livin’ and bad relationships, you’ll love this album.
4. FKA Twigs – LP1: Everyone loves this album, and so do I. I hope that Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus are paying attention. This is how you writes songs about sex that are actually sexy.8
3. Kelis- Food: Did you know that the lady who did Milkshake has been churning out really great soul music since Milkshake hit? Well, now you do. This album is so great that even your parents will like it. Seriously, play it for them, they’ll dance with you and it will be hilarious.
2. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2: Did you know Killer Mike and El-P are older than I am? Well they are, and it really shows here, but in a good way. This album sounds exactly like two master artisans that have complete control of their craft. Everything is here – Humor, clever rhymes, political commentary, and top flight production. Your head will be bobbing the whole time you listen to this album and you’ll make that face that jazz musicians make when they hear one of their bandmates playing a sick solo. This album hit me on a visceral level that no other album this year did with the exception of ……
1. Against Me! – Transgender Dyphoria Blues: If you know me at all, this shouldn’t surprise you at all. It is everything a Bob’s favorite album should be. A album filled with catchy aggressive guitar riffs and kick ass drumming. It is also a touching chronicling of lead singer’s Laura Jane Grace’s transition from male to female. Gender and sexuality are the obvious themes here, but the genius of this album is that it can serve as an anthem for a wide array of social issues as the overarching message is to just treat each other better. And lord knows we needed a lot more of that in 2014. Let’s hope we take the message of this album to heart in 2015.
If you’re into Spotify, here is a playlist!
- If you want the gist of that essay, you can read my last blog entry. [↩]
- J/K, my list is totally more valid than yours. [↩]
- I actually have a theory about how the male dominated music critic field asserts it’s hegemonic masculinity by writing a lot more about female artists and what they “mean” than anything else. This is a direct response to the fact that straight white males make a lot less good music than they used to. [↩]
- Extremely honorable mention to No Flex Zone by Rae Sremmurd. I have no idea what is happening in this song but it cracks my shit up. Seriously, I cannot emphasize enough the pleasure to be derived from repeated listenings of this song. [↩]
- It’s not [↩]
- Yes I’m aware that I’m comparing one all female group to another all female group, but I swear, the comparison is actually valid in this case! [↩]
- Shout out to FOTC fans. [↩]
- I considered including Ariana Grande to this list, but since she still looks like she’s in middle school it kinda made me feel dirty so I took her out. [↩]