Joe’s Top 20 Albums of 2014

****UPDATE****

In honor of The Grammys last night I’m reposting my top 20 albums of 2014 list with an extra 10 albums (in random order) for good measure! Beck’s latest album won rock album of the year (not to mention ALBUM of the year!) and this confuses me to no end. I love me some Beck but Morning Phase bored the shit out of me. Also I’m a fan of what Sam Smith is doing and I’m glad he won a bunch of Grammys but he also didn’t make my list.

****DISCLAIMER****

Beginning on the first Tuesday of the year and continuing for the next 51 Tuesdays, I’ve been going to iTunes and spending a good 20 minutes pouring through new albums to whittle down the major (and minor) releases into my annual year end “best of” list. I’ve been doing this for about 6 years now and this year was certainly no exception. I really don’t know what compels me to do this every year but it’s something that is constantly on my mind year round and I put the same level of thought and importance into it as I would if I worked for Rolling Stone. Spoiler Alert: I don’t work for Rolling Stone. I also don’t work for Pitchfork or Spin or Metacritic or any of the million websites that have a whole team of people way more hip and qualified to compile a list than I am. This is important to remember when yelling at my list (as I imagine some of you might do) or passing any judgement beyond personal opinion because this is very much MY list and I’m in no way saying these albums are the best albums of the year over everything else that came out. These are the albums that not only made it on my iPhone but stayed on there in heavy rotation all year and will likely hold a spot on there for some time to come. That’s the criteria for a good album as far as I’m concerned, repeat listen ability and lasting emotional effect. All of these albums either spoke to me on some deep level or moved me physically with their well crafted songs or overall vibe. Most importantly they all held a firm place in scoring my experience of what 2014 was to me. This is also a list of top ALBUMS which I realize is becoming somewhat of a lost art form in terms of listening experience, so while I may have felt certain albums had several great songs on them (Jack White, Alt J, Future Islands, Bahamas, etc) I’m only including albums that I love listening to front to back with little to no exceptions. Again, it’s all subjective, so “grain of salt” and all that.

I’d also like to thank all of the suggestions I’ve gotten from various people throughout the year and even though a lot of highly acclaimed albums didn’t make my list (Caribou, Sam Smith, Mounties, The War On Drugs, Taylor Swift) it’s not because I thought they weren’t good enough it’s just that these albums hit me harder and feel more at home under my name…for the moment anyway.

Now, with that paranoid disclaimer out of the way, here’s what made my list for 2014. Enjoy!

***Only the Top Ten entries have explanations and download suggestions because, you know, laziness.***

20. Charlie XCX – Sucker

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19. Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End

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18. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World

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17. Mother Mother – Very Good Bad Thing

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16. Tune-Yards – Nikki Nack

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15. Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

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14. Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits

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13. Nico Vega – Lead To Light

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12. Sturgill Simson – Metamodern Country Music

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11. Hey Rosetta! – Second Sight

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10. Hozier – Hozier

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7857.jpgBy now, you’ve most likely heard Hozier whether you know it or not. His breakthrough single “Take Me To Church” had been on TV shows, in your doctor’s office, on SNL, and even soundtracking Lebron James returning home in that headphone commercial. If you haven’t, you probably will eventually and this is a good thing because he’s definitely not a one hit wonder. His debut self titled album is full of soulful bluesy folk pop gold and I have a feeling certain gold phonograph statues might be on the horizon for this talented Brit. The fact that he isn’t from the Deep South, (or anywhere in America for that matter) is initially jarring giving the copious amounts of authentic Americana and southern blues present on pretty much every track, but this is a compliment rather than an insult because it never once feels forced or out of place. If anything Hozier is simply carrying on a grand tradition of British musicians taking southern american sounds and making them their own (see Rolling Stones and everybody else) and the results are fantastic.

BOTTOM LINE – Hozier put out a stellar first record that should feel at home in any music lover’s collection

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
Take Me To Church, Angel Of The Small Death And The Codeine Scene, Work Song

9. The New Basement Tapes – Lost On The River

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7858.jpgWhen T Bone Burnet came in contact with a plethora of Bob Dylan lyrics from 1967, a lot of terrible things could have come from it. This is not the case with The New Basement Tapes. With full blessing from Bobby D himself, a supergroup of talent was formed. Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Rhiannon Giddens and Elvis Costello, were all brought in on this project to take Bob Dylan’s lyrics and turn them into music. Everyone went off on their own, independent of each other and the results are astounding. Some songs have duplicate versions on the album because of this tactic but more importantly all songs have Dylan soul and this is the overriding theme in all of this. The songs are great and the individual voices are apparent but Dylan is front and center regardless of the vehicle. Whether it’s Rhiannon crooning away in Hidee Hidee Ho or Marcus Mumford breaking character on Kansas City, this collection of songs is one of the greatest things to happen to folk rock since The Band and if you haven’t heard it yet you really should.

BOTTOM LINE – Unheard Bob Dylan lyrics brought to life by great artists. What’s not to love.

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
When I Get My Hands On You, Spanish Mary, Quick Like A Flash, Kansas City

8. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7859.pngI’ll be the first to admit that I used to think Lana Del Rey was something completely different. I didn’t get it. I thought she was boring and overhyped and I used to get angry when people would praise her. So needless to say, I was not excited about her new release when it first came out but after hearing the first single (West Coast) I was intrigued enough to finally give her a fair shot and thank god I did. Lana Del Ray’s Ultraviolence is what I imagine heroine would sound like if it was a real person scoring Juliet Lewis in Natural Born Killers. It’s a haunting, moody album that borrows from Portishead as much as 90s grunge and Enya. It’s full of sex and pain and privilege and it all works on some strange excellent level. Even if I don’t consciously want to, I can’t help but be drawn deep into Lana’s sultry opium landscape and I find myself constantly revisiting it time and time again. This is an album to get completely lost in and the disorientation is intoxicating.

BOTTOM LINE – If you’re the type of person who regularly finds yourself walking alone in the rain or laying on your bed awake for hours, this record really is for you. Throw it on next time the mood hits you. Lana gets it.

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
Shades Of Cool, West Coast, Brooklyn Baby

7. Shakey Graves – And The War Came

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7860.jpgI’m currently obsessed with Shakey Graves and I want everyone else to be too. Anyone who has ever seen his one man (generally) live show knows what I’m talking about and now finally there is a full length album to help sell Shakey Graves to the masses. It’s hard to put into words exactly what sets him apart from other solo artists but impeccable songwriting skills, an honest voice with an underlying sense of urgency and endless replay value isn’t a bad place to start. Evoking old country ethics mixed with American folk sensibility, every song somehow sounds timeless and completely fresh all at the same time. Not to mention Shakey Graves is also a somewhat established actor and manages to live in both worlds separately which I of course always admire. Great stuff all around.

BOTTOM LINE – An amazing first record with lots of great songs. I want to be Shakey Graves when I grow up.

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
Dearly Departed, Hard Wired, If Not For You

6. Spoon – They Want My Soul

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7861.jpgI have never been a Spoon fan. I never listened to them growing up and I wasn’t even aware they existed until way too recently. I was so unaware of Spoon in fact that when I formed my first band in the mid nighties, we actually called ourselves Spoon for a good 5 months and only changed it later because we wanted a new name and not because it was already taken by a wildly successful indie rock band (Cape Breton was pretty sheltered pre Internet). So needless to say when the band revealed they would be releasing a follow up to 2010’s Transference, I was underwealmed…if that’s a word. I know it’s not cause I looked it up. It’s one of those skills that I learned in my school. (Sloan ladies and gentlemen). I digress but appropriately another influential band from the 90’s makes my list because they put out an exceptional album that is both brilliant now and brilliant in nostalgia land. Spoon represents an era pre social media while still managing to sit firmly in the now with biting commentary about life as we know it without sounding preachy and out of touch. Songs like Rent I Pay and Knock Knock Knock, speak to an aging youth generation without sounding jaded and uninspired while songs like Inside Out prove that Spoon has their fingers firmly on the pulse of humanity in a way that never betrays their age. Front to back, this is a great record and it especially deserves to be on every devise owned by anyone who came up in the 90’s.

BOTTOM LINE – Solid record by a solid band coming into their prime later in the game.

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
Inside Out, Rainy Taxi, Knock Knock Knock

5. Sia – 1000 Forms Of Fear

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7862.pngSo we’ve all seen the Chandelier video right? Cute little girl interpretive dancing in the platinum blond wig that’s been showcased on Ellen and parodied by Jimmy Kimmel AND Jim Carrey? If somehow you’ve missed it, go watch it now. I’ll wait. Great, right? Well if you liked that song even a little bit, you’ll probably love Sia’s latest full length record. If there’s one thing Sia knows how to do, it’s how to write a damn good pop song, which she’s proven time and time again penning countless songs for artists like Rhianna and Katy Perry, and 1000 Forms Of Fear (Sia’s fourth full length album) is chalk full of them. As much success as SIA has received seeing other people sing her songs, hearing the emotion and sometimes desperation come from her own incredible voice somehow makes all her songs that much better. It’s easy to imagine a song like Big Girls Cry or Elastic Heart gaining more attention if they were sung by more famous artists but after a full listen to this album it will be near impossible to detach Sia’s voice cracking effortless emotion from any of the twelve excellent songs, nor should you want to. It may have been a long time coming but Sia has finally put together a collection of songs that are not only all her own but also far surpass most of her contemporaries.

BOTTOM LINE – Sia put out the best pop record of the year. Period. Sorry T Swift fans. I need a little darkness in my pop.

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
Chandelier, Free The Animal, Plastic Heart, Eye Of The Needle

4. Band Of Skulls – Himalayan

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7863.jpgI’m starting to get suspicious and a little bit angry as to why Band Of Skulls aren’t a household name yet making millions of dollars. Ever since their excellent debut album Baby Darling Doll Face Honey in 2008, they’ve been consistently touring (I’ve seen them 4 times and they were always amazing), selling songs to countless TV shows and commercials and putting out full length albums that somehow managed to each be better than the last. Himalayan is no exception. The British trio pick up pretty much where 2012’s Sweet Sour left off and in this case the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” policy not only works but just helps strengthen their already large catalog of stadium ready rock anthems. The band benefits from trading off lead vocal duties between bassist Emma Richardson and guitarist Russell Marsden which allows them to explore a larger spectrum of perspectives and adds an extra layer to an already deeply layered sound.

BOTTOM LINE – As far as new rock records go any Band Of Skulls is a must own and Himalayan is a fine place to start.

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
Hootchie Cootchie, Asleep At The Wheel, I Guess I Know You Fairly Well

3. Royal Blood – Royal Blood

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7864.jpgI first found Royal Blood simply browsing iTunes and had absolutely no idea who they were or what they sounded like. After listening to a couple seconds of the first track Out Of The Black, I let out an audible “holy shit!” alone in my apartment and immediately downloaded the entire album. I’m happy to report that it’s all “holy shit” all day long. Royal Blood is what Jack White and Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age) would sound like if they were in a Muse cover band in an alternate universe. It’s hard, it’s catchy, it grooves and the fact that something this big and brash is coming from a duo (Bass and drums only) is nothing short of amazing. In fact I refused to believe they were only a bass and drum duo until I saw them live, which I did and they are. This album is a refreshing reminder that rock is not dead, it’s alive and well and living in London.

BOTTOM LINE – If you like Queens of The Stone Age or Band Of Skulls, you’ll probably like this too.

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
Out Of The Black, Loose Change, Little Monster

2. Sloan – Commonwealth

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7865.jpgFull disclosure; I’ve been a die hard Sloan fan since I was 15 (which was many moons ago in the 1990s) so my endorsement of their latest effort may seem bias. I assure you it’s not. As much as I love Canada’s Fab Four from the east coast, they haven’t put out a record in the past 10 years so good it couldn’t be ignored…until now. Commonwealth is not only the greatest Sloan record since Navy Blues, it just must be the greatest Sloan record of all time. Sure it’ll never be as immediately satisfying as Twice Removed or as commercially successful as One Chord To Another but Commonwealth might just be the ultimate representation of who Sloan is as a band. This double album is broken up into four parts with each member getting roughly 18 minutes to express themselves. Each member brings their talent to the table, from Jay Ferguson’s pop sensible catchy opening to Andrew Scott’s Brian Willson inspired finale, and it all works perfectly. If you’ve never cared about Sloan before, now is the time to start.

BOTTOM LINE – If you have ever claimed to like Sloan (or The Beatles for that matter) listen to this record front to back. It won’t disappoint.

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
Concept albums are meant to be heard as a whole so just go ahead and download everything.

1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/24f/19774835/files/2015/01/img_7866.jpgAnnie Clark (St Vincent) has been well known to anyone with their musical finger anywhere near the pulse of popular indie music (or anyone who reads Pitchfork) for years now but it wasn’t until the success of her self titled 4th full length album that she’s become a part of the mainstream conversation and she deserves every bit of praise she receives. Emulating everyone from Prince to Sinead O’conner, St Vincent managed to weave a near perfect 40 minutes of art music that never once feels pretentious or inaccessible. Songs like Digital Witness allow her to muse about our overdosing social media culture accompanied by a funky horn section, while Birth In Reverse allows her to showcase some of her not so subtle guitar skills. It’s fitting that Miss Clark sits atop a throne on the cover of this album because she is absolutely the Queen of indie art music. Long live St Vincent!

BOTTOM LINE – St Vincent should be on everyone’s iPhone, Galaxy, iPod, record collection, tape deck, zoon, whatever. Get it now. Period.

TRACKS TO DOWNLOAD:
Digital Witness, Birth In Reverse, Bring Me Your Loves

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There you have it! Another year in the books. Let the commenting frenzy commence!

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