Listening: The Top 5 Albums of 2014

  1. St. Vincent: St. Vincent
St. Vincent: St. Vincent

St. Vincent: St. Vincent

St. Vincent’s guitar playing sounds both well thought out and completely improvised at the same time. For me, it’s the highlight of this year’s release.  It reminds me of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s work on Marquee Moon.  “Rattlesnake,” “Birth in Reverse,” and “Digital Witness” are three of the finest songs on this nearly flawless album. My only criticism is that it is not as good as Strange Mercy, her previous album. In other words, the only competition Annie Clark has these days is basically herself.

PS. Am I the only one that looks at her four album covers and sees a planned out story?

  1. D’Angelo: Black Messiah. 

This only came out three weeks ago. I’ve already listened to it 6 times. And I want to listen to it again now.

  1. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2

Run the Jewels has studied the best. 39- year olds, Killer Mike and El-P’s latest takes the best political elements from Public Enemy, exhibits the hardness of NWA, and uplifts the crudeness of 2 Live Crew. The beats by El-P are also on point and stand up right next to those first two bands that I mentioned. The somewhat fictional verse by Killer Mike about feeling remorse from selling drugs is jaw-droppingly good. His anger in this album will help more people understand some current events more than any other media. Also, any album that reminds you that Zachary de la Rocha still has the best angriest voice is a great album.

  1. The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers
The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers

The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers

I was never a fan of the New Pornographers until a friend mentioned we should go see them at the Civic Theater in New Orleans. The show was cheap enough to give them a chance. So, I listened to Brill Bruisers. Repeatedly. Then I listened to their entire back catalog. Repeatedly. The album is just what a great pop album should be. Dan Bejar’s “War on the East Coast” and “Born With a Sound” are two of his finest songs. In fact, War is my favorite song of the year and Born would be in the top ten. “Champions of Red Wine” written by AC Newman and sung by Neko Case is my second favorite song of the year. This is probably the most accessible album on my list.

  1. Sun Kil Moon: Benji
Sun Kil Moon: Benji

Sun Kil Moon: Benji

I was doing grad school work when I first decided to give this album a listen. I didn’t accomplish any work. The first song is the story of his second cousin “Carissa.” In the song, Carissa dies from an aerosol can exploding in the trash. Her father died in a simlar accident, which is the subject of “Truck Driver.” I was moved as if I saw this happen to a friend in real life. In fact, every song is about death in someway. Yet, it’s one of the most positive, life-affirming albums you will hear. Mark Kozelek, who uses the name Sun Kil Moon, uses these stories to process what has happened to him and his loved ones. In fact, it is a memoir in album form. Family makes a major theme with not only the aforementioned songs as well as one about his mom and another for his dad. In their Best of List, Pitchfork beat me to discussing one of the other major images of this album – Panera Bread. Not that it’s all that important to the album, but the normalness of the chain restaurant is. It’s a place we go to without thinking (because if we were thinking we go to a better restaurant). It’s a place we go with people we are familiar with and care about. We go there to talk without pressure or distraction, especially from the food. It’s an album about dealing with past sexual episodes from an honest not sure what he was doing way (“Dogs” named after the Pink Floyd Song not the attractiveness of the girls ), his dad’s friend that helped teach him how to converse with men about nothing (“Jim Wise”), his reaction to a tragedy (“Prayer for Newtown”), how something odd on the news can make someone take stock of their own life (“Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes”), to being jealous of a member of Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service (“Ben is My Friend”). This is an uncoverable album. It is too tied to Kozelek. Yet by being so specific and using his words and his music to process it, he makes an album for anyone.   This is the rare album that deserves the title masterpiece.

Yes I will get around to listening to Taylor Swift and Coldplay. What are albums that aren’t my list that I should listen to? I’m constantly in search for new sounds, new thoughts, new ways to help shed light on my life. Isn’t that what great music should do.

7 thoughts on “Listening: The Top 5 Albums of 2014

  1. I very rarely comment on “best of lists.” After all, all art is autobiographical. All meaning is brought by the viewer, listener or reader. Together that makes the artistic experience very personal. And, as Neil Young once wrote “Numbers add up to nuthin’.” Anyway… most of the bottom four were way over too produced for my our tastes. Then we got to Sun Kil Moon. Ouch. If you really and truly think that’s the best this year, well — just be careful. 🙂 I had to go to something more uplifting like Townes Van Zant. And, if you know anything about Van Zant you know he can be pretty bleak. At least he writes melodies that you can your hat on.

    You asked what should you be listening to… I dunno. From what era? I go back a long way. My musical miss not so much, but deeper.

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    • I havent liked anything by Mark before Benji. The Red House Painters were the musical equivalent of listing to, um, paint dry. However, I never found Benji boring or depressing. The themes are dark but they are dealt with so to me its an uplifting album. Ill take recommendations from any era, but this list was only 2014. If it was an all time list im not sure there would be much else but Beatles, Cure and Replacements albums.

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      • Hi. I gotta be honest. Listening to Benji was painful. I suppose the issues are dealt with simply be the act of saying them out loud. For 2014, what about Jason Isabel, Roseanne Cash, Brian Blade and for fun, altho it’s mostly covers, Puss n Boots? As far as the past goes, when you talk about the kind of pop you are discussing, there really are The Beatles and everybody else. They played just about every genre of music somewhere along the line. I suppose you could add The Clash, and the master coverer of the Beatles catalogue, Joe Cocker, especially when he played with that rag tag band Mad Dogs and Englishmen. And, never forget Johnny Cash — especially his last five albums when he plumbed those deep, dark depths as well. Good convo…:)

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  2. I’m in the process of putting up a top 15 albums of the year blog post. Wasn’t going to, but was asked for an albums of the year list to put up in Leeds major independent record store. Then did a mix for a radio station with tracks from that list, so I thought, why not blog it too? You’ve convinced me its worth doing, hope to get some comments on it like you have. Enjoyed your lists. Thanks

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