A new year may be upon us, but there’s still plenty of time to revisit 2014 and all it had to offer. While I opined recently that it may have been been one of the worst years ever for popular music, it was actually a pretty fantastic year for good music.
A lot of big names released new albums, namely U2, the Foo Fighters and Weezer, but a lot of artists also emerged this year thanks to a great release, and those are the ones that deserve special recognition.
So here is my personal list of the best albums of 2014. Since my year-end movie lists (look for that sometime next month) are a Top 12, I’ll stick with that same format.
Let’s get on with it.
Strand of Oaks
This album contains a nice mix of big-sounding power ballads and slower, smoother more poignant anthems. A rock project of Timothy Showalter, his booming voice draws similarities to that of Bruce Springsteen or the Gaslight Anthem. It all jives together to form a terrific album and definitely helped put him on the map in 2014.
This veteran group’s popularity was boosted by a surreal performance on David Letterman’s show earlier this year, but this album is so consistently good with energetic, dance floor-worthy hit after hit. If you like one song on the album, you like all of them.
Jack White’s sound has definitely diverted from that of the White Stripes, but he’s still just as vivacious and innovate as ever with Lazaretto. While the album’s title track is an in-your-face, guitar heavy rock jam, more folksy songs like “Alone in My Home” are surprisingly sentimental. It’s really a nice mix and a great addition to White’s already masterful catalog.
I have to give some love to my girl. 1989 represented a noticeable change for the pop icon, whose past albums are full of country-pop crossover tracks, many of which offered an introspective, somber look on love. With this release, it’s all optimistic and upbeat, and most of all — fun. Her songwriting abilities continue to evolve and the number of albums sold only proves that Taylor Swift continues to be a tour de force.
Speaking of exceptional singer-song writers, the former Rilo Kiley lead singer’s third studio album is one great track after another. Jenny Lewis has an extraordinary ability to feel like she’s telling you a story when she sings, and each song has its own catchy, distinct appeal.
Burn Your Fire for No Witness
It doesn’t get more raw than the new album by folk up-and-comer Angel Olsen, in her second release, who leaves everything out in the open in Burn Your Fire for No Witness. With some tracks, she serenades us with her haunting yet angelic voice, while others lean more towards a bigger indie-rock sound, providing a nice touch of diversity.
My Favourite Faded Fantasy
This album might seem intimidating on the surface, with all but one track being longer than five minutes, but not listening to it for that reason would be doing yourself a great injustice. In his first release in eight years, Damien Rice reminds us why he might be the best male singer-songwriter working today. No one in my mind captures the mood associated with love and heartbreak better than Rice, and that’s exactly what every second of this album feels like. It’s chilling.
First Aid Kit
The ability of these Swedish sisters to harmonize is a real treat for the ears, and they take their talents to a whole new level with Stay Gold. The songs are so smooth and pleasant and it makes for a really soothing experience. Since their genre leans more towards folk, they’ll probably never be mainstream, but I’m sure their fans don’t mind.
The New Pornographers’ sixth album is an absolute triumph of indie pop. The band has never really confined itself to one particular sound, and Brill Bruisers is flawless evidence of that. it contains such an eclectic mix of hits, it’s startling. Each successive song sounds nothing like the last, and yet, the quality never lessens.
Annie Clark does her own thing. But it’s her unique artistry that’s sometimes polarized listeners, even if she has always been met with critical acclaim. Her eponymous release is by far her most accessible, pop-oriented album, and it helped catapult her to mainstream stardom this year. The album is so good, and still holds firm to St. Vincent’s roots in experimental, psychedelic pop that will greatly appeal to the singer’s longtime fans.
Ryan Adams makes music as commonly as a regular person brushes their teeth. But it’s clear that he took a different approach and poured his soul into this year’s self-titled release. The result is a reflective, intimate and emotionally raw album that can’t help but speak directly to the listener’s heart.
My favorite type of music is when it’s melancholy and optimistic at the same time. And that’s exactly how I view Beck’s Morning Phase, which I have no problem labeling as a masterpiece. Listening to it evokes the type of emotion that makes you say, “The world can be a really trying place at times, but there’s no where else I’d rather be.” Each song, starting with the first note of the first track, is a kick to the gut in the best possible way. It’s somber and vibrant at the same time, and that’s what makes it the best album of 2014.