Okay, so I’m a week late, but hey, better late than never, right? It was once my all-time dream to write for SPIN Magazine and be the female Chuck Klosterman (okay, it still is my dream) but sometimes I realize that when I write about music, I am anything but objective. I’m usually emotional and my own feelings stem into the songs I love the most, so I guess what I’m really getting at is that if you’re looking for an unbiased report of the “best albums in 2014” you might want to click away. Below is the list of tracks that I loved, unashamedly, and probably obsessively talked my friends’ ears off about while they politely nodded.
Anyway, let’s get to the good stuff! Because I was raised in the everyone-gets-a-trophy generation, I have to start by saying that there were a few albums that just missed my countdown, and are as such, “honorable mentions” of my year. In no particular order, they are:
- Dan Croll, Sweet Disarray
- Phantogram, Voices
- Parker Millsap, Parker Millsap
- Ed Sheeran, X
- Jenny Lewis, The Voyager
- Nikki Lane, All Or Nothin’
- Ray LaMontagne, Supernova
All were excellent, and yes, all are linked to Spotify for your listening pleasure- but remember, vinyl is best!
What really went into permanent rotation and obsession in 2014? To the countdown!
These are the kids who were actually successful music majors and had fun while they were at it. Play this album at a dinner party, play this album in the car, but mostly play this album when you’re alone, because your attempts to singalong to Rachel Price and try to master her smooth, incredible voice might be in vain, but it’s still an amazing mix of songs to make you feel like you’re living in your own personal modern jazz club. (But seriously, when do I get to sound like her?)
Key Tracks: You Go Down Smooth, Seventeen, Bad Self Portraits, Rabid Animal
Take the best things about the 80s- power rock, singalongs, John Hughes-esque scores, Yoko Ono, and whoa-whoa’s- and put them with the sharpest indie songwriter producer on the block currently and you’ll get Jack Antonoff’s baby: this album. Just reread that sentence, say yes, and play it.
Key Tracks: Wild Heart, Rollercoaster, I Wanna Get Better, You’re Still A Mystery
There’s a reason this girl can do whatever she wants and is at the top of her game, and that’s song selection and vocal range. Miranda can do twang mixed with powerhouse guitars mixed with major harmonies and it all comes out perfect. Her clever songwriting has only gotten better, too, and I’m forever a fan.
Key Tracks: Platinum, Priscilla, Bathroom Sink, Old Sh!t, All That’s Left, Hard Staying Sober
A little local Austin love that’s going to be big this year. I can’t wait to see how 2015 treats him. You know that artist that weird indie kids who go to art school and your Dad’s best classic-rock-inclined friends both love? Oh, you don’t? Put on this album and find out.
Key Tracks: Only Son, Dearly Departed, The Perfect Parts, Hard Wired
Hello country music and a woman- two things I have desperately missed out on seeing together in the same sentence. Lately the genre hasn’t put many women at the forefront, but Lee Ann Womack is leading the charge without even campaigning- just on the laurels of this album alone. If nothing else, I am convinced that she has the hands-down best voice in country music and that she is also a vocal angel sent here to save us all. Moreso, this album lets her take us to church (more on that metaphor later, though) with bluegrass-y goodness and sassy lyrics. What a lady.
Key Tracks: Chances Are, The Way I’m Livin’, Tomorrow Night in Baltimore
Warning: you might cry. This may not be the soundtrack to any sunny days, but when it rains it pours, and Ledges is a good flood to be caught in. Noah Gundersen writes honest songs that cut deep, but isn’t that why we love music? To help us express things, or at the very least, give us the means to say, “me too” to any revealing lyric? I hope so. Crack open a bottle of whiskey before you start this one, but don’t make any immediate plans, because you’ll need to digest feelings of love lost, worn childhood, addiction and bleak hope. Also, maybe turn your phone off to avoid that temptation to text your ex.
Key Tracks: Ledges, First Defeat, Liberator, Cigarettes
It’s so hard for me to find women songwriters that I love, but when I do, I love them with the ferocity of a mother lion protecting her cubs, since I feel like the music industry doesn’t do a good job keeping them around. Fiercely so, Lydia Loveless earns her place in my heart and in this list as an all around badass. She and I are the same age, and for better or worse, her lyrics feel like I could have come out of my own journal, so for that fact I love her like she’s my own personal, darker and more relevant Taylor Swift (although, I have to admit that even though I’ve never been a T.S. kind gal, I actually liked 1989.) Regardless, hooray girl power! She’s the type of girl who’ll shoot a gun (and some whiskey) with you. She’s the type of girl with a killer record collection. She’s the type of girl who can make a song about drunkenly calling your ex sound almost romantic, and for that, I applaud her (and also realize drunk texts/calls are becoming a theme in this list? Oops.)
Key Tracks: Really Wanna See You, Wine Lips, To Love Somebody, Head, Somewhere Else
If you didn’t know better, someone might try to tell you that Eric Church was a major country star. While that’s partially true, he’s also apparently a fan of every other genre, as he mixes them in this gem of an album. There’s nods of Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC and yes, even some Hank Williams Jr in these tracks, but mostly, there’s a man who just loves music and songwriting and can’t stay in one place, and trust me when I say that I’m so thankful he doesn’t.
Key Tracks: Cold One, Talladega, Broke Record, That’s Damn Rock & Roll, Give Me Back My Hometown
Get ready for your ears to be rocked and taken back to a time when vocals and horns married together for a big-band-whoa-is-this-real-music-or-what moment that lasted. I dare you to not be blown away by the raw vocal talent of Paul Janeway (like how he completely nailed this Otis Redding cover!) Oh, and when his band joins in? Mm. HMM. You just go ahead and try not feel something. You feel it, don’t you? Feel it in your soul? That’s what this album does. Every song is a ride of funk mixed with fun that hits you in the insides. SPATBB mix lighthearted flirting in Call Me with pure, tear-me-in-half heartache on Broken Bones and Pocket Change, and you’ll thank them for both. You’ll love this album, your Mom and Dad will love this album, and anyone nearby while you play it might just start dancing, so be warned. Oh, and seeing them live? You’re not even prepared.
Key Tracks: Like A Mighty River, Call Me, Broken Bones & Pocket Change, I’m Torn Up
If you don’t know, you might think this married couple has an entire backing band, but it’s just the two of them, consistently making music that’ll knock your socks off. This album is an instant classic (along with their 2012 release O’ Be Joyful) mostly because they mix the love of Johnny and June with the unhinged nature of Sid and Nancy, and the result is music that makes me so happy we don’t have to pick one genre. Go ahead and have em all: swamp, americana, rock, country, singer-songwriter, comical, sincere, and just simply, Shovels and Rope, preferable banging on drums and guitars all day long.
Key Tracks: The Devil Is All Around, Evil, After The Storm, Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan, Coping Mechanism
If you know me at all, it’s that I’m tired of apologizing for my love of country music, and I’ll be damned if this album didn’t help me overcome that. This album (literally) sounds like Waylon is living inside of every song, so of course I love it, but it’s the way that Sturgill just did the whole thing- big labels be damned and released it independently. It sounds like old mixed with new, from lyrics about drug trips to You don’t have to work on a farm to be authentic to the style, but the truth’s in the delivery and the sentiment, and Sturgill’s songwriting and musicianship proudly seal him with the title of “country” – a word that’s been tarnished and stepped on and redefined all the time. This new title is one that he won’t apologize for and I think it fits pretty damn well (not to mention the fact that it’s also a kickass album musically and his voice is a near-perfect gravel to tell you about the hard life he’s lived.)
Key Tracks: Turtles All The Way Down, Life of Sin, Living The Dream, Long White Line, The Promise
If you’ve loved Ryan Adams even a little, then this album is for you (and since I love him like a lot, I’m still preaching on its perfection). He’s struck several chords between rock and roll to Americana to sad-drunk-guy-serenading you and this album has all of them mixed together. I finally got the chance to see him live this year, too, so hearing these on stage mixed with “My Winding Wheel” and “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and “Magnolia Mountain” along with his sincerity and excitement to be playing in Austin also makes this album a sentimental pick. But more than that, it’s always amazing to see someone who’s been around so long still make consistently great music, and this collection of tracks makes me just as excited for whatever he puts out next. Plus, ask any fan of Tom Petty and/or sound-engineer friend you have and they’ll rave about this one for a while. (Oh, you didn’t know all sound engineers loved Tom Petty or you don’t have sound engineer friends who talk about gear all day? Lucky you.)
Key Tracks: Kim, Shadows, My Wrecking Ball, Feels Like Fire
Ahh yes. For 8 years, 8 LONG YEARS, I have waited for this day. I have blogged multiple times (embarrassingly) about how much I wanted a new Damien Rice album to happen. I have set @damienrice’s tweets to be delivered to my phone in case he announced anything new, partly in fact that I am overcoming a 9th grade fangirl love of him, and partly because his old albums meant so much to me that I could hardly imagine a new one, and this one….well, sigh. It wasn’t the same—but that’s what made it even more perfect! It was Damien 8 years later, broken up with his longtime collaborator Lisa Hannigan, and I was me 8 years later, also having broken up with a few people and habits since he last gave me an album to love in 2006. This album was new for both of us, short but sweet, packing honest-to-a-fault lyrics with sweeping instrumentals and gorgeous vocals and sentiments that put him on the map in the first place. You feel like you could crush the sincerity of this album with its delicate moments, but at the same time, it’s so comfortable to fall back into his emotionally-charged world that you might not leave. Maybe someday I’ll stop loving sad music, but probably not.
Key Tracks: ALL OF IT! But, if you make me choose: The Greatest Bastard, I Don’t Want To Change You, Colour Me In, It Takes A Lot To Know A Man
It takes a lot of soul and goosebumps-inducing sounds to steal the top spot as a new artist from all my other favorites, but this album did it in a huge way. Besides my obvious crush on Hozier, his voice and his man bun, these tracks all hit me right in my heart and ears and didn’t leave. Before the world caught on to Take Me To Church (and yes, I admitedly sound totally hipster with that sentence) I was living in Nashville and uncomfortable with my life, relationships and job, and I remember the local radio station started playing this amazing song that bowled me over the first time I heard it, driving down 8th avenue to work at 4 AM. It swelled and it felt emotional and it felt like something brand new, and has stuck with me since. There’s a joy in getting wrapped up in an album and this one did it for me from start to finish, and well into all the live performance videos I researched on Youtube, too. Hozier’s the real deal, putting everything into live performances while also making artful albums with both rock and soul, and I have a feeling 2015 is going to be good to him and to my new obsession with him. Speaking of, if any of you know of any cute single guys with man buns and guitars, well…
Key Tracks: NO, SERIOUSLY, ALL OF IT. but if you make me pick: Jackie and Wilson, Someone New, Work Song, To Be Alone
Whew! Since you made it this far- 2 things:
1. Here’s a playlist of my key tracks as a reward:
2. I want to hear from you! Surely I can’t be alone in my music snobbery! What were your favorite albums of 2014?