Favorite Albums of 2014
10. Barukh Surf
Christian Rap meets Surf Rock? Yep. But, not, like, for the whole thing. In fact, the surf rock thing only lasts for a few tracks. The rest are just good bangers ’bout the Lord.
9. Foster the People Supermodel
With their debut album, Torches, Foster the People loaded their song’s sound waves with heavy synth licks that ranged from catchy to completely bonkers, like a box of Acme Looney Tunes sound effects tossed down a flight of stairs. On their sophomore LP the trio has grown to nearly twice the size live and have created a mellower project that utilizes the electric guitar for its heavy instrumentation. The change yields songs that will have more shelf-life and capture a sound that The Killers were trying to re-ignite on their Battle Born album.
8. Nickel Creek A Dotted Line
Okay, so when Chris Thile ever does anything I will probably like it. Or love it. Or, in this year’s case, beg for a longer project. Nickel Creek was my first, and really only, experience in contemporary blue grass music and Thile’s mandolin magic has captured my fascination. I almost bought one this year. Anyway, A Dotted Line serves as a community garden where each member gets to plant their own solo work and watch the seeds develop through each other’s high quality musicianship. There is no weak link in this trio in song writing, playing, or singing, and this LP is a great reminder that they’re all still out there making music and that we should all be playing much closer attention. And, holy crap, “Hayloft” is probably the best song I’ve heard this year. It’s a cover, so I’m not sure it is allowed to end up on my end-of-year-list (who makes those rules, by the way? I have questions).
7. Run the Jewels RTJ2
Rappers El-P and Killer Mike can have so much fun while speaking to very heavy subject matters. The beats here are outlandish and chaotic and are met with equal force by the two men’s delivery. Killer Mike, especially, has the kind of voice that commands attention and will let you go when he’s good and ready to. Who knew last year’s first Run the Jewels project would lead to something like this? Don’t try to play this in a public area. You must blast it and then proceed to rage dance and/or flip over tables. You might be asked to leave. You’ve been warned.
6. Alvvays S/T
Alvvays is an album clearly meant to be released in the mid 2000’s during the heyday of Peter, Bjorn and John and their ilk of indy pop bands who have been filling track lists of cute indie movies through present day. There’s a lot of dream pop tunes on here which pulls on the nostalgia heart strings even more. Fuzzy guitars and gooey pop song structures keep this album a popular contender for repeated listens.
5. “Weird” Al Yankovic Mandatory Fun
Rolling his way into its fourth decade, “Weird” Al’s career has shown little signs of slowing down. The parody king’s work continues to call the music industry’s bluffs and has inspired other comedy musicians to up their game. Mandatory Fun is Yankovic’s strongest album since Running with Scissors (my personal favorite). Although, in an interview ran a few years ago, Yankovic has discovered through an informal survey that people’s opinion of which album is best is completely based on which album was released closest to their twelfth birthday…which proves to be fairly close in my case. This album, then, is comedic gold to our current 5th and 6th graders out there.
4. Clipping CLPPNG
Noise Rap got a huge boost of interest during and after Death Grips career. Exmilitary exploded onto the internet and then came the highly acclaimed The Money Store. After their abrupt breakup announcement, other Noise Rap groups have a shot at filling the void. Clipping has been more than ready to receive some notoriety. The “beat” production challenges the listener not to turn down the speakers, but rapper Daveed Diggs begs you not to with his quick and creative delivery.
3. Sylvan Esso S/T
Singer-Songwriter Amelia Meath and electronic producer Nick Sanborn (AKA Made of Oak) team up to create a unique project: folky electronica. Think Lorde-esque production with vocals akin to Ingrid Michaelson. And like Lorde, the power comes from the steep juxtaposition between ethereal, sweet vocals with dark and thumping beats. This project is beautiful, catchy, and of the current era.
2. Andy Mineo Neverland
After his solid debut LP release Heroes for Sale, Christian Rapper Andy Mineo released his Saturday Morning Car Tunes project and then this…ep? album? mixtape? Something. The production is not as erratic as the album, and the tracks flow much more naturally. Andy is gaining a larger audience and this project is a professional-level introduction to the man who may help bridge the religious and secular worlds of hip hop.
1. Sam Smith In the Lonely Hour
I question whether I would even care to listen to In the Lonely Hour if Sam Smith was 40 years old. Or older. The soapy string instrumentation and consistent, borderline redundant theme of heartbreak are hard pills to swallow, and if an old, classic crooner like Manalow or Rod Stewart or whomever is a top seller at Target these days were behind the music I’d be hard-pressed to even give it a chance. Sam Smith, I think, is younger than I and has been stamped with that “old soul” descriptor given to, apparently, brit pop stars who sing sad songs (Winehouse and Adele). The album is held solely, but substantially, by Smith’s vocal performance. And every song is at least solid and at most transformative.
So that’s it for 2014! Happy New Years everybody!