Following up on last year's theme, I continued to dig in vinyl bins this year for much of my music, and a lot of it was more than 20 years old (like the Nick Lowe I'm listening to right now). But still, 2014 was another banner year for new music, from old favorites to new discoveries. As usual, this is not a best of list--this is merely the 25 albums that I listened to this year that I liked the most. So here's the list. I'll reserve commentary for my absolute favorites, because, let's face it, I'm a little late and you are probably sick to death of year-end lists by now. First, 25 - 11:
25. The Pains of Being Pure of Heart – Days of Abandon
24. Iceage – Plowing Into the Field of Love
23. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
22. AJ Davila – Terror Amor
21. Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours
20. The Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams
19. Lykke LI – I Never Learn
18. Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin
17. Lykke Li – I Never Learn
16. Ex Hex – Rips
15. Ty Seagall – Manipulator
14. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Mended with Gold
13. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
12. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
11. Real Estate – Atlas
Now for my personal top 10:
10. Spoon – They Want My Soul
What a return to form after a bit of a hiatus, and what for me was a disappointing album in Transference. And by return to form, I mean rock solid, metronomic rock and roll. Not a note is misplaced, but unlike their last effort, I connect with these songs a lot. Stand out tracks for me are "Do You" and "New York Kiss". Welcome back guys, not that I wouldn't mind more Divine Fits music too. (If you're coming from Facebook--fooled ya!)
9. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
I could almost cut and paste what I said about the Spoon album right here (and the Hold Steady above for that matter). A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar, and Neko Case came roaring back with a classic-sounding New Pornos album. From the excellent title track to "Champions of Red Wine" to "Dancehall Domine", there wasn't anything to complain about with this album, and I haven't been able to say that about one of their albums since Twin Cinema.
8. TV On the Radio – Seeds
This is starting to sound a bit like a mini version of XMU's old-school show all of a sudden, but take heart (mostly), we're getting to music a lot less like 2008 in a minute. After teasing us all last year with a couple of new singles, notably "Mercy", TV on the Radio gave us a whole album worth of new music this year, without either of last year's singles even. This album sounds a bit more expansive than their previous efforts, but it works. This is seriously my go to driving music right now. "Happy Idiot", "Lazerray", and "Could You" are my stand out tracks on this one.
7. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits
Has it really been two years since the last album form these guys? It sure doesn't seem like it, since I've been listening to Open Your Heart as much in the interval as I did in 2012 (sadly still not a cover). But what we have here is another brief, tight album of just fun music from "Get What You Give", which has a real Kinks vibe to me, to "Different Days" and "Pearly Gates", which is kind of garage-y.
6. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Another can't-believe-it's-been-two-years kind of thing. This release didn't catch me nearly as much by surprise as Attack on Memory, but in many ways, this is a much more satisfying record than that. The sound it still there, but the angst has been reduced by a lot. It reminds me of the big step Japandroids made between their last two albums. Stand out tracks for me include "Now Hear In", "Pattern Walks", and "I'm Not Part of Me".
5. Strand of Oaks – Heal
This band and album seemingly came out of nowhere for me this year. I'm not sure how I missed their earlier EP, but when I first heard "Goshen '97" on the radio it hit me like a bolt. Seriously, my wife has asked me three times who sings that song when it comes on. Sadly, it's not Goshen, VA. But seriously, the quality doesn't end there. Every song is solid, as you'd expect for an album scoring this high in so many lists this year, this humble one included.
4. The Orwells – Disgraceland
While The Orwells didn't come out of nowhere from me--I had heard a couple of songs from them last year, even on NPR I think--I wasn't prepared to love this album as much as I did. From "Dirty Sheets" to "Let It Burn", this record doesn't stop rocking from start to finish. I can't find any dates or anything, but I remember them as being super young. If that's the case, I look forward to many more releases from these guys.
3. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Sharon Van Etten has emerged over the last couple of years as one of my favorite artists. Putting out two of my favorite albums of the last few years hasn't hurt that a bit. I don't know what else to say. If you can listen to "Taking Chances" or"Your Love is Killing Me", without immediately needing to hear more, I just don't understand. She made the leap from being on the list, to probably being top of it on any other year.
2. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
A lot of ink was spilled over the War on Drugs this year for all the wrong reasons. For some reason, Mark Kozalek decided to start some sort of social feud with them. While I liked his album as Sun Kil Moon (Benji) a lot, and just didn't have time to fully consider it for this list, don't let his braying fool you. Are there some Henley-esque sounds in there? Yes. Does it matter? No. It's all mixed together and awesome from the anthemic "wooos" in "Red Eyes" to the more mellow, Kurt Vile-sh "Under the Pressure". A solid album from start to end.
Wait for it....
Anyone that has known me long enough should have seen this one coming like Omar Sharif through the sands of the desert in Lawrence of Arabia. A new album from one of my three or four favorite acts ever, it just has to be here. The minute I listened to it, and it didn't suck, it got placed at number one on this list sometime around April. Not only did it not suck, it genuinely deserves to be on many lists beyond mine. And despite the awesome music above, it never budged. And talk about a return to form. Those guys before this have nothing on these guys. The fact that they came back after well over a decade and still brought the heat (and added a damn fine curve) only cemented it. If you don't have this one. Buy it now. If you don't own their back catalog. Buy that now too. This was easily my most listened too, favorite album of the year, by a Cincinnati mile. Welcome back fellas. Can we have more?
1. The Afghan Whigs – Do to the Beast