2014 may have been the best year in music in 20 years. The fact Pink Floyd even released a new album, their first in 20 years, speaks for itself. U2 stirred up a frenzy by releasing a “free” album via Apple iTunes. Taylor Swift went full pop with the release of 1989 and proved she’s a better pop artist than 99% of the pop froth. Even Madonna made a last minute move by squeezing in an EP/preview of her upcoming Rebel Heart album.
Interestingly, rock and alternative acts seemed to reinvigorate music in 2014. Beck, Ryan Adams and Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) not only released their own albums, but also helped produce albums by Jenny Lewis and Lana Del Rey. The Smashing Pumpkins, TV On The Radio, Foo Fighters, Weezer and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke returned with new music. New bands Wolf Alice, Royal Blood, Vance Joy and Hozier are helping bring attention back to guitar-based music. As the dust of albums settled, one artist and guitar-maestro clearly stood above all others; that being Annie Clark.
No other artist had more successful 2014 than Annie Clark aka St. Vincent. She may also be the hardest working musician of 2014. Upon the release of her 4th solo album, St. Vincent, Clark hit the road and has toured at a frenetic pace – from playing slots on the Colbert Report, Live on Letterman, to fronting Nirvana at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and closing the 2013-14 season of Saturday Night Live. Her single, “Digital Witness” and accompanying video (released in January) are easily (of) the best of 2014. While her self-titled album has been highly touted yearlong, it is by no means St. Vincent’s masterwork. In fact, it’s our sneaking suspicion St. Vincent is merely a well-deserved catapult to her masterwork in the not-so-distant future.
Joe Stadele’s List
Bear’s Den – Islands
Beck – Morning Phase
The Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger – Midnight Sun
Phantogram – Voices
U2 – Songs of Innocence
Art Official Age was a pleasant surprise from the Purple Wonder. Prince sounds revived, reinspired and at peace on this cleverly titled collection of funky tracks. AOA is a quasi party album, ebbing and flowing smoothly beginning to end as Prince sings of affirmation and connection with others, lovers, spirituality, and ones self. Prince is at his best on the self-reflective “Way Back Home.”
Ryan Adams went for irony in 2014, releasing his most rocking album since 2003’s Rock-N-Roll with a self-titled album which strangely resembled the cover of Bryan Adams’ Reckless. Not only did Ryan embrace Bryan, with whom he also shares a birthday, he also went as far as covering the elder in concert. On his self-titled album, channeled the 70’s/80’s jukebox anthems in the vein of Tom Petty that packed a punch. The albums best moment is the haunting “Shadows.” With the addition of vinyl only singles and albums aside from this album, Adams continues to be one of the most prolific artists of his generation.
On their second album, Alt-J prove An Awesome Wave was only the beginning…and are a band to watch. This Is All Yours improves on their debut with a collection of voices and sounds builds oddly and beautifully arranged into magnificent nonsensical songs. There are many excellent tracks to choose from but the band is at their best, with assistance from a Miley Cyrus sample on “Hunger of the Pine.”
What other rock artists releases an instrumental as their lead single? White did just that with the infectious “High Ball Stepper.” While Blunderbuss was pastiche of musical styles and ideas, Lazaretto is much more cohesive from top to bottom…and live, Lazaretto sounds downright furious.
Lykke Li has grown with each album and I Never Learn is her best to date; beautiful, heart-wrenching and stripped. A perfect album for the brokenhearted; from the stripped acoustic intro of “I Never Learn” to the climax of “Gunshot” to the bare piano and weeping steel guitar of “Sleeping Alone.” All along, Li’s gorgeous, emotional and layered vocals are as sad as they are blissful.
Love her or perhaps — confused — by her, Lana Del Rey has finally made the album we had hoped for; many thanks to The Black Key’s Dan Auerbach. On Ultraviolence, Lana uses each song to play a different variation of a woman hopelessly seeking and mistaking love and ultimately left unfulfilled. The lyrics can be a bit challenging at times, but between Del Rey’s smoky vocals and Auercach’s incredible guitar flourishes the album largely succeeds. Funny enough, the album’s closing track “The Other Woman” oddly resembles the extra track off Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple — worth comparing.
In these latter years, Robert Plant has exceedingly made waves mixing genres without really leaving behind the ghost of Led Zeppelin. Lullaby And…The Ceaseless Roar is a mix of world music, Celtic textures, African drumming, folk and progressive rock; resulting in an album that is fresh, mystical and ultimately rewarding. “Embrace Another Fall” is my personal favorite.
Formerly known as — now known as — FKA Twigs, Tahliah Barnett, is an artist to watch. Using her vocals as her primary instrument of drawing the listener in, Twigs debut is pure seduction beginning to end. While there isn’t an extreme amount of musical variation in her songs, Twigs mixes longing vocals with near whispers (“Weak Spot”) which are purely hypnotic in the mix of percussion, keys and loops. For the uninitiated, start with “Two Weeks”…then play LP1 repeatedly.
On their final album, Pink Floyd say everything they want to say with barely saying a word. On this gorgeous epitaph, David Gilmour and Nick Mason paid tribute to their legacy and compadre keyboardist Richard Wright while simultaneously signed off as Pink Floyd. Gilmour and Mason sifted through hours upon hours of Wright’s instrument skeletons (written during pre/post Division Bell sessions). Over the last two years, the duo worked with producers to form a cohesive statement that is unmistaiably Pink Floyd, yet feels both fresh and haunting, perhaps mythical. With the exception of Steven Hawking’s dialogue on “Talkin’ Hawkin,” only “Louder Than Words” features vocals from Gilmour, whom intuitively bids farewell to Pink Floyd’s tremendous legacy. If only every band of their stature could go off into the ether so eloquently.
There was no other album in 2014 that’s as diverse, crazy, cohesive and as pleasantly catchy-weird as that of the magnificent Annie Clark. On her self-titled album, St. Vincent serves us a collection of self-assured songs that grew on listener, listen-by-listen. “Digital Witness” is the best song of year, plain-and simple. But not to dismiss the power of other tracks like the schizo “Birth In Reverse,” dadaist “Huey Newton,” marching “Bring Me Your Loves” aptly titled “Psychopath.” This album is not St. Vincent’s masterwork…but it is the master at work and I suspect it will serve as a pivotal album in a career leading to that masterpiece. 2014 was St. Vincent’s year.
Jeff Becker’s List
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Broken Bells – After The Disco
Dum Dum Girls – Too True
Tweedy – Sukierae
The Endless River is lower on my list for two reasons: Even though there’s no single track that etches itself into the best of the Floyd catalog the album is a beautiful tribute to the late keyboardist Rick Wright with David Gilmour hitting all the right notes. The perfect epilogue and finale for the band that carried the torch that the Beatles handed off in 1970.
The best album that no one knows about. Featuring the married couple of Dee Dee (Dum Dum Girls) and Brandon Welchez (Crocodiles) this dream-rock/pop delight truly shines from beginning to end – shying away from the lo-fi DNA that their early albums originated from. Nothing sounds better than the buoyant rocker “Up is Up and So is Down”. Tip: watch the video for it.
The opening track alone (“Gimme Something Good”) is perhaps the best straight-forward rock track of 2014. Add in another hour’s worth of Ryan Adams at his best and what you get is an album that should probably be higher on this list.
The most Beatles-esque tiny pop masterpiece of the year. Catchy, infectious short pop tunes that are a sign of potentially brilliant things to come. But don’t wait until then. Buy this now.
The most under-rated beautiful album of 2014. Many will consider their debut ‘Hospice’ as their masterpiece. Not anymore. This one is better.
It’s not that we weren’t expecting a good album, we just weren’t expecting a really great album. The opener sounds like Pink Floyd back when Gilmour and Waters could tolerate each other and the rest of the album is classic Keys.
The most interesting artist and album of 2014. One of the few artists where you listen to a great new album and you already can’t wait to hear the next one.
Released the same day as St. Vincent it’s almost the alter-ego to her great album, and one of the epic achievements of his catalog. You can’t just play this album once. It teases you into repeated listenings because it’s so perfectly beautiful. Calling it a followup to ‘Sea Change’ is both a compliment and a mark against it’s stand-alone greatness.
Could they be the most consistent band in rock over the past 15 years? Not a stinker in their catalog and once again they reveal new ways of sounding like Spoon, yet coming up with something completely new (“Inside Out”).
Don’t call it a comeback. She’s been here for years. But never quite this good – even when leading the indie hall of famers Rilo Kiley. The most consistently, damn near perfect album of 2014. It’s part classic-Fleetwood Mac mixed in with some Siamese Dream and the best of Rilo Kiley. Truly stellar from top to bottom. And the live show is equal to it.