Even though I’m a teacher, part of my job requires me to analyze school data. Being a History/English guy, music allows me to deal with numbers. Thanks to Spotify (will talk about my feelings — good and bad — about Spotify in another blog), I listened to plenty of albums. This year, I listened to around 75 albums that were released in 2014. I would probably add another 100 to that list of albums that I discovered in 2014 but had been released before. Add old favorites, the list probably goes over 300.
In short, I’m an album person. It’s why I collect records and have a premium Spotify account. I try to buy as many albums as I can afford. I rarely buy single songs.
I decided to do a top twenty list of the albums that I heard this year. I didn’t hear every album released. Even the internet’s business music nerd did not listen to every album this year. I haven’t heard the releases from Taylor Swift, Ariel Pink, Schoolboy Q or Coldplay. I have no problem with pop music if the album isn’t full of filler. The only genre that I don’t really give the time of day to is mainstream country. However, alt-country or Americana (or whatever we are calling it this year) is one of my favorite genres. Yes, this might be hipster post to some in that a lot of the bands will not be familiar to my friends. However, while I have favorite bands, there is too much good music out there to not try new albums.
Before I start the top twenty, I want to give some praise to some albums that did not make the cut. I know if I did a reevaluation in 2015 a few of these albums could make the top twenty and quite a few of the top twenty would shuffle. In fact, my number one was the only one I was certain of…the moment I heard it for the first time.
The Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace is There is one of the best rock albums of this year. It has a timeless sound. The songs feel lived-in. They come from that part of the body that no producer can reach.
Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for Me is one of those albums that I listened to at work. Then I became instantly unproductive. I switched to something else and saved it for a headphone listen at night. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful album.
Tweedy is a side project from Wilco’s frontman Jeff Tweedy. The other member of the group is his son Spencer. Wilco’s best music comes from when Jeff is pushed by a great musician who is full of ideas. He has found that with Spencer. The album is a little too long which is the only reason why it’s not in the top twenty.
Swans To Be Kind is the only album on here that I can’t recommend to just anyone. It’s a hard listen requiring the listener to be willing to go on a grueling journey. But it is a rewarding journey who are willing to take it. In fact, I need to re-listen to this one soon.
The Old 97’s are like old friends. You haven’t heard them in a while, and then you put them on and it’s like you just pickup where you last left off. This is the type of album you put on when you walk in the door from work and sit down to relax. You get yourself a beer or a bourbon or both. You grab your wife by the hand and dance in the living room. Most Messed Up that album. In fact, if you are a fan of country music and you haven’t heard them, take a listen. Go back in their catalog, and give a listen. You shouldn’t be disappointed.
Stephen Malkmus and Jicks’ Wig Out at the Jagbags is surprisingly the album I had the most fun listening to. Both mindless and deeply intellectual at the same time, this is Malkmus’s finest work since Pavement.
The Hold Steady’s Teeth Dreams is a grower of an album. It requires lots of listens to understand all the intricacies of the lyrics. Craig Finn is a storyteller. I heard a few songs before the album was released and they were even better live.
The most surprising album of the year was The Smashing Pumpkins’ Monuments to an Elegy. No songs are over 4 minutes except for one and that is only by a few seconds. Tommy Lee — yes that Tommy Lee – provides Corgan’s music the best drumming it’s had since Jimmy Chamberlin’s playing on Mellon Collie. It sound instantly like the Smashing Pumpkins and not like them. The lyrics are a bit cheesy but that’s true of all Corgan’s lyrics. In fact, I have always contended that the real story is in the guitar leads. This time they are leads and not solos. If it has been a while since you have heard the Pumpkins, give them another shot. It’s not a masterpiece, but it reminds you Corgan still probably has one in him.