Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Best Albums of 2014

2014 featured a wide range of wonderful new albums by older performers as well as a slew of newer artists.  The internet has made it so that an artist can be whatever he or she wants to be, without conforming to what record companies want.  As a result, there are countless definitions of what constitutes popular music, thereby enabling each of us to listen to what sounds and feels good to our own musical tastes.

As you know if you’ve read my list before, I generally favor alternative rock, R&B/soul, indie rock, singer-songwriters, and inventive pop music.  I tend to like music that is up-front, rather than hidden by layers of production.  This last point is important because a lot of the albums that reviewers are raving about this year have a “lush, haunting sound” that is generally achieved through overproduction.  As a result, those albums don’t appear on my list or are further down the list than other reviewers might place them. 

I want to point out that some of the songs on these albums have explicit lyrics.  That’s just part of rock & roll, but I apologize in advance for any offense you might take.  Also, keep in mind that I’m just a guy who likes music, and pays for it like everyone else.  Nobody pays me to do this, sends me free samples, or wants me to meet the artists.  As a result, my reviews are not colored by what the record companies or PR mavens want me to say.  It’s just my opinion, and I invite you to agree or disagree…that’s what’s so great about music.

I could only narrow this year’s list down to 123 albums (I know it’s a strange number, but those are the albums I really liked).  As such, I have  numbered and described the top 60 and listed the others as “Honorable Mention.”  The numbering is somewhat random, because on any given day, I might want to hear one album ahead of another, and each of the “Honorable Mention” albums were really good, and could easily have made the top 60. 

Here is my list in ascending order:

60.          Kina Grannis, Elements

The 2008 winner of the “Doritos Crash the Super Bowl” contest and 2011 winner of MTV’s award for “Best Web-Born Artist,” Grannis is from California.  On this, her second album, the music is straightforward, drawing on her elegant voice and strong guitar skills.  Songs include “Dear River,” “Forever Blue,” and “Sorry.”

59.          Hunter Hayes, Storyline

I don’t mind that teenage girls love this 22-year-old, Louisiana-based, country-pop, singer-songwriter.  The truth is that the kid has talent, which is on display on this, his second album, including “Storyline,” “You Think You Know Somebody,” and the poignant “Invisible.”

58.          Christina Perri, Head or Heart

I love Perri’s voice as well as her songwriting.  On her second album, she follows up last year’s “Lovestrong” with a set of songs including “Be My Forever,” “I Don't Wanna Break” and the beautiful ballad, “Human.”

57.          K. Michelle, Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart?

Atlanta-based Kimberly Michelle Pate, who performs as K. Michelle, released her first album last year, and followed it up with this excellent set of soul songs.  Her clear and powerful voice is best cherished on songs including “Love 'Em All,” “How Do You Know?” and “Maybe I Should Call.”

56.          Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye

Oddly enough, I think this is the first time Tom Petty has made one of my “best of” lists.  That’s not because I haven’t loved his songwriting skills or the excellent talents of the Heartbreakers, but this is the first of his albums since I started writing reviews that is more than just a collection of pop hits.  This is Petty’s 16th album, and the songs include “Fault Lines,” “U Get Me High,” and “American Dream Plan B.”

55.          The Soft White Sixties, Get Right.

This first album by this San Francisco-based, alternative rock group features a combination of power vocals and pure rock hooks.  Songs include “Up to the Light,” “Lemon Squeezer,” and “I Ain't Your Mother.”

54.          Shakey Graves, And the War Came

Alejandro Rose-Garcia performs under the name, Shakey Graves, and this debut album shows a depth of songwriting skills and musical sensibilities that will hopefully lead to a long career.  Songs include “Only Son” and two duets with Esme Patterson—“ Dearly Departed” and “Big Time Nashville Star.”

53.          Ed Sheeran, x

Maybe I like him because he’s from Framingham (England), but Ed Sheeran’s career has already taken off with just two solo albums.  His songs combine folk, pop, R&B, and an excellent tenor voice that accents the series of emotional songs he has written.  Those songs include “Bloodstream,” “Thinking Out Loud,” And the toe-tappingly infectious “Sing.”

52.          Hozier, Hozier

Andrew Hozier-Byrne is an Irish singer/songwriter who performs simply as Hozier.  This is his first, full-length album, and it shows off a very self-assured artist who combines rock, blues, and R&B into a terrific set of songs that includes “Take Me to Church,” “Jackie and Wilson,” “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene,” and “Work Song.”

51.          The GOASTT (The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger), Midnight Sun

After performing and recording in different forms for several years, Sean Lennon and his girlfriend, Charlotte Kemp Muhl, recorded their first full-length album under the name, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (or The GOASTT for short), based on a character from a short story by Muhl.  The album has a 60s, psychedelic feel to it that, when combined with Lennon’s voice, is reminiscent of later Beatles albums.  If you liked those albums, you’ll probably like this one, with songs including “Animals,” “Moth To a Flame,” and “Don't Look Back Orpheus.”

50.          Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways

The Foo Fighters’ eighth album, this accompanies a documentary, directed by Dave Grohl, on the roots of American music.  The band’s well-known musical prowess is on display throughout this album, which includes “Something From Nothing,” “Congregation,” and “What Did I Do? / God As My Witness.”

49.          Candice Glover, Music Speaks

Winner of the 2013 American Idol show, Candice Glover possesses a powerful and elegant, R&B voice.  That and her outstanding vocal runs make her a real presence in today’s pop market, and on this, her first album, she excels on songs like “Cried,” “I Am Beautiful,” and her adaptation of the Cure’s classic “Lovesong,” which her album lists as “Love Song.”

48.          David Guetta, Listen

Pierre David Guetta is a French music producer who dropped the Pierre for his recording career.  He and Calvin Harris are the best of the writer-producers who populate today’s music scene, and this is easily his best album, written and recorded after divorcing his wife of 20 years.  He enlists the vocal talents of several performers including Sam Martin, Emeli Sandé, The Script, John Legend, and Sia.  Songs include “What I Did For Love,” “Listen,” and “Bang My Head.”

47.          You+Me, rose ave.

An acoustic collaboration between Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) and Dallas Green (of City and Colour), this album is a rare chance to hear two artists in their prime, performing stripped-down songs that they wrote together.  Those songs include “Love Gone Wrong,” “You and Me,” and “Break the Cycle.”

46.          Jackson Browne, Standing in the Breach

This Jackson Browne’s 14th, full-length, studio album, and it’s his best in a long time.  It’s a true pleasure to hear this rock troubadour return to form in both writing and performing songs like “The Birds of St. Marks,” “The Long Way Around,” and “You Know the Night.”

45.          Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Nights Like This

Eli "Paperboy" Reed is really Eli Husock of Brookline, Massachusetts, who moved to Mississippi to immerse himself in Southern R&B.  This is his fourth studio album, and definitely his best, having added some polish and production to Reed’s signature raw edge.  I dare you to keep still while listening to song like “Grown Up,” “Nights Like This,” and “Shock To the System.”

44.          Original Cast Recording, Here Lies Love

Hold on while I describe this: an off-Broadway, rock musical written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, about the life of Imelda Marcos.  And it’s really good.  But you can judge for yourself with songs like “Child of the Philippines,” “Eleven Days,” and “God Draws Straight.”

43.          Aphex Twin, Syro

Jon Burke first introduced me to the music of British electronic guru Richard David James (aka Aphex Twin) several years ago.  This is his 6th album as Aphex Twin and his first in 13 years.  More polished and approachable than much of his previous work, it is musically excellent, with songs like “minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix],” “180db_ [130],” and “PAPAT4 [155] [pineal mix].”

42.          Say Anything, Hebrews

This band is the brainchild of Max Bemis, and its genre is often referred to as art rock, but here, on the band’s 6th full-length album, he diverges from previous albums with a scalding portrayal and self-examination of what it’s like to be Jewish and in the music industry today.  He also changes up everything you might expect from a rock album, drawing on the talents of artists from other bands, while replacing guitars with string arrangements.  The result is a very good, very unusual album with song like “Judas Decapitation,” “Hebrews,” and “Lost My Touch.”

41.          We Are The In Crowd, Weird Kids

Hailing from Poughkeepsie, New York, this quintet displays consistent rock musicianship, well-written songs, and outstanding vocals by lead singer Tay Jardine.  This is their second full-length album, and it includes “Manners,” “The Best Thing (That Never Happened),” and “Don't You Worry.”

40.          She & Him, Classics

This duet consists of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, and they have recorded five albums together, but this is the first time they have done a complete album of older music, accompanied by a scaled-down orchestra.  If you like interesting versions of classic songs, you’ll likely enjoy this album, featuring “This Girl's In Love With You,” “Time After Time,” and “Teach Me Tonight.”

39.          Weezer, Everything Will Be Alright In the End

Gavin first introduced me to Weezer in the late 90s, and they have been a consistently good rock band.  Rivers Cuomo always finds a way to write and deliver high quality music, and on this, the band’s 9th studio album, they go back to basics with great songwriting, singing, and guitar work.  Songs include “Back To the Shack,” “I've Had It Up To Here,” and “Go Away.”

38.          Larkin Poe, Kin

The Atlanta-based Lovell sisters (Rebecca and Megan) display an unusual brand of Southern-influenced folk-rock on this, their first full-length album.  Their music is outstanding as is their musicianship—all of the instruments, except bass and drums, are played by the sisters.  Songs include “Jailbreak,” “Crown of Fire,” and “We Intertwine.”

37.          Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour

This is one of those albums that is both popular and good, and it’s the debut of Sam Smith, a British singer-songwriter with an outstanding, melodic, tenor voice.  It’s likely you’ve already heard the hummable “Stay With Me,” but other songs of note include “Money On My Mind,” and “I'm Not the Only One.”

36.          The New Basement Tapes, Lost On the River

In 1967, Bob Dylan and The Band secluded themselves in a house in upstate New York and recorded the Basement Tapes, an amazing set of songs that signaled Dylan’s return from self-imposed exile.  Recently, a batch of song lyrics Dylan wrote at that time were discovered and verified.  While Dylan was not interested in completing the songs, T-Bone Burnett was, so he assembled a group of songwriter-performers including Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford (from Mumford & Sons), Jim James (from My Morning Jacket), Taylor Goldsmith (from Dawes), and Rhiannon Giddens (from the Carolina Chocolate Drops).  They added tunes they felt best suited the lyrics and recorded this artful set of songs including “Kansas City,” “Liberty Street,” and “When I Get My Hands On You.”

35.          Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence

Each of the previous two albums by Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, who perform as Lana Del Rey, appears on my annual list, and I probably would have rated this excellent set of songs higher were it not for the irritating overproduction by Dan Auerbach.  I know he intended to add a “haunting” quality to these darkly themed songs, but I find that it detracts from Del Rey’s outstanding voice.  Nevertheless, this is a very good album of well-written songs including “Shades of Cool,” “Brooklyn Baby,” and “West Coast.”

34.          Ingrid Michaelson, Lights Out

As you may know from previous years, I really like Ingrid Michaelson and her interesting brand of indie-pop.  This is her 6th album, and it continues her combination of complex tunes and inventive, introspective lyrics.  Songs include “Girls Chase Boys,” “Afterlife,” and “When I Go.”

33.          FKA Twigs, LP1

And now, for something completely different, welcome Tahliah Barnett, also known as FKA Twigs.  On the debut, full-length album for this English singer-songwriter, she challenges the listener to define her genre.  Better yet, just sit back and listen to this unusual and excellent set of songs including “Two Weeks” (with very explicit lyrics), “Pendulum,” and “Video Girl.”

32.          The Colourist, The Colourist

The debut full-length album by this California quartet with a singular name, The Colourist drives much of its direction from singer-drummer, Maya Tuttle, whose work helps to distinguish this band’s excellent pop sound.  Songs include “Little Games,” “We Won't Go Home,” and “Say You Need Me.”

31.          Hurray for the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes

Singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra was originally from the Bronx, but her music is more expressive of her current base in New Orleans.  With the outstanding fiddle of Yosi Perlstein and several other excellent back-up artists, Segarra is the force behind this band, which released five albums prior to this collection that includes “The Body Electric,” “End of the Line,” “No One Else,” and “I Know It's Wrong (But That's Alright).”

30.          Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirits

California-based Aloe Blacc began his recording career as a rap artist with Emanon, but has morphed into an outstanding soul singer with a deep baritone voice and an unusual take on soul-pop music.  If you’ve heard his radio-friendly song, “The Man,” you should take note that he shares writing credits with Elton John and Bernie Taupin for enabling him to use the line, “You can tell everybody.”  The album also includes “Wake Me Up,” “Ticking Bomb,” and “Lift Your Spirit.”

29.          Perfume Genius, Too Bright

Mike Hadreas performs under the name Perfume Genius, and until recently, he performed mostly at his piano.  His previous two albums were very good, but this one is a revelation, tackling homophobia and emotional distress while including a range of instruments and production techniques that drive home the excellent quality of songs like “Queen,” “Fool,” and “No Good.”

28.          Jenny Lewis, The Voyager

Chances are you’ve been watching and/or listening to Jenny Lewis for a long time, first as a child/teen actor in films such as “Troop Beverly Hills” and “Pleasantville,” as well as a slew of TV shows, or later, in her recording career as the lead singer of Rilo Kiley.  She’s also appeared as a guest artist on several other performers’ records and released three solo albums.  This effort continues her excellence of combining her songwriting craft and clear, bluesy voice on songs like “Head Underwater,” “She's Not Me,” “Just One of the Guys,” and “Late Bloomer.”

27.          Sarah McLachlan, Shine On

Canadian Sarah McLachlan has been known throughout her career, which includes eight albums, as a singer-songwriting with a lovely voice, but on this album, she has added an edge I’ve rarely heard from her before.  Maybe that’s because of the recent changes in her life—her father died, she got a divorce, and she changed managers and labels.  Whatever the reason, this may be my favorite of her albums, and it includes “In Your Shoes,” “Monsters,” “What's It Gonna Take,” and the introspective “Song For My Father.”

26.          The Pretty Reckless, Going to Hell

This is a rock band, in the truest sense of the word, and it’s fronted by actress Taylor Momsen (Gossip Girl).  It also happens to be very good.  On this, their second album, they play interesting songs with a style that combine polished musicianship and a raw edge.  Those songs include “Follow Me Down,” “Heaven Knows,” and “F**ked Up World.”

25.          The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Days of Abandon

This Brooklyn-based indie-pop quintet has been one of my favorites since their first album in 2009, and now, with their third album, they are duplicating the sound of 80s British pop, and doing it very effectively on songs like “Simple and Sure,” “Kelly,” and “Eurydice.”

24.          Milky Chance, Sadnecessary

Consider this: a German duo that combines folk, pop, reggae, and electronic music releases its first single, and it climbs to number 1 across Europe before breaking in with a US audience, beginning with the Jimmy Kimmel show.  That’s the unlikely story of Milky Chance, comprised of Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch.  The truth is that these guys are very talented, as displayed in songs like “Sadnecessary,” “Down By the River,” and the European mega-hit “Stolen Dance.”

23.          Gina Chavez, Up.Rooted

Austin-based Gina Chavez is another artist that defies genre definitions, combining pop, Latin, and rock rhythms into a unique sound, complemented by her excellent voice and ability to play a wide range of instruments.  This is her second album, and it displays her special talents on songs like “Gotta Get,” “Like An Animal,” and “Fire Water.”

22.          Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else

An alt country artist from Columbus, Ohio, Lydia Loveless writes very good songs and performs them with a talented backup band that complements her earthy, expressive voice.  This is her third album, and it’s the best statement yet of why she has to be in the conversation when discussing modern, country-oriented, female artists.

21.          Joan As Police Woman, The Classic

This is the fifth album by Joan Wasser, who performs under the name Joan As Police Woman and has a very interesting set of experiences.  Born to an unwed, teenage mother, she was adopted and raised in Norwalk, CT, eventually establishing herself with the Dambuilders as a premier rock violinist.  She was married to Jeff Buckley when he accidentally drowned in 1997, and after several years, landed on her feet and joined Rufus Wainwright’s band.  Since going solo in 2006, this is her most complete album, and it combines modern and retro approaches to songs including “Holy City,” “The Classic,” and “Your Song.”

20.          Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Laura Jane Grace, the band’s founder, lead singer, and songwriter, began life as a male, but soon had to deal with gender dysphoria, which she did not discuss openly until beginning her physical transition in 2012.  This album describes aspects of that dysphoria and transition, and it does so in a way that is open, honest, and in keeping with the rock talents that have marked each of the group’s six albums.  Songs include “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” “F**KMYLIFE666,” and “Black Me Out.”

19.          The Black Keys, Turn Blue

The Akron based duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney seem to improve a little with each of their eight albums.  Whereas I blasted Auerbach’s production on Lana Del Rey’s album, it seems to work perfectly here, and this album contains excellent vocals and musical craftsmanship on songs like “Weight of Love,” “Fever,” and “Gotta Get Away.”

18.          Cold War Kids, Hold My Home

This California quintet is one of my favorite bands, featuring excellent songwriting, musicianship, and rock harmonies.  Add to that their increasingly proficient production on this, their fifth album, and you have the kind of modern rock that draws you in and keeps you there.  Songs include “All This Could Be Yours,” “First,” “Hot Coals,” and “Hear My Baby Call.”

17.          Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots

Having already established himself as the driving force behind Blur and Gorillaz, this English singer-songwriter released his first solo album, and it displays an emotional intimacy not always on display in his band work, combined with a technical proficiency that few artists can match.  Songs include “Mr Tembo,” “Everyday Robots,” and “Lonely Press Play.”

16.          The Veronicas, The Veronicas

Australian twin sisters Lisa and Jessica Origliasso perform as The Veronicas.  On each of their three albums, they have continued to hone their craft and establish an identity as a pop-rock duo willing to think outside the box.  Songs include “Cruel,” “Line of Fire,” and the beautiful ballad, “You Ruin Me.”

15.          Beck, Morning Phase

What more can I say about Beck, who appeared many of my early “best of” lists but has not released an album in 6 years?  There are few people in the pantheon of modern music who know more about structure, melody, and rhythm, while being able to stretch the boundaries of each.  This album, his 12th, is generally warmer than some of his previous work, but occasionally snaps you out of your comfort zone to remind you that you’re hearing something different than what others dare to try.  Songs include “Heart Is a Drum,” “Blue Moon,” and “Waking Light.”

14.          Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions

Now that Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey are past their primes and Whitney Houston has passed, it leaves Mary J. Blige as the premier R&B singer-diva, and on this album, she demonstrates why.  After 11 previous albums, she decided to travel to London to change things up…British R&B has been going in different directions than much of what’s produced (or overproduced) in the US today.  When you can sing like she can, minimalism is the way to go, as is demonstrated in songs like “Therapy,” “Not Loving You,” “When You're Gone,” and “Worth My Time.”

13.          Mariachi El Bronx, Mariachi El Bronx (III)

“The Bronx” is not from the Bronx, but rather is a hard rock band from Los Angeles.  However, they have also recorded three albums of English-language, Mariachi-rock music, and this is the best to date.  It’s definitely more rock-oriented than traditional Mariachi music, but the songs generally adhere to the musical structure of that art form.  That’s what makes this album such an interesting hybrid, with songs like “New Beat,” “Wildfires,” and “Everything Twice.”

12.          American Authors, Oh, What a Life

The first album from this Brooklyn-based band was released early in the year, and I keep coming back to it.  It’s obvious by their songwriting and performing skills that these are students of music, and in truth, they met when attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music.  Many of the songs are solid demonstrations of how alternative rock should sound, including “Believer,” “Best Day of My Life,” “Luck,” and “Home.”

11.          Kelis, Food

As well as being an excellent singer-songwriter with six albums under her belt, Kelis Rogers is also a formally trained chef, which explains this album having several songs that live up to the album title—they are about food.  Hey why not use a passion as your inspiration, especially when it works as well as this album does?   But that’s just one thing that makes this album outstanding; another is the personal nature of each song by this New York-based artist,  Those songs include “Breakfast,” “Hooch,” “Bless the Telephone,” and “Rumble.”

10.          Charli XCX, Sucker

Last year was a breakout for Chari XCX (nee Charlotte Emma Aitchison); her second album, “True Romance,” was successful, and even more successful was her collaboration with Icona Pop on “I Love It.”  But this album establishes her as one of the top electro-pop artists today.  In a genre that can often be vapid, it adds substance in terms of songwriting, singing, and production.  Songs include “Break the Rules,” “Boom Clap,” “Famous,” and “Need Ur Luv.”

9.            Damien Rice, My Favourite Faded Fantasy

Few singer-songwriters on the scene today can capture the emotional artfulness of Damien Rice.  In 2003, he wrote and recorded the remarkable song, “The Blower’s Daughter.”  Unfortunately, he’s only recorded three albums, and this is the most complete from the Ireland-based Rice.  Each song has depth and character, but none more so than “The Box,” which is destined to be covered by many artists.  Other songs on this beautiful album are “My Favourite Faded Fantasy,” “It Takes a Lot To Know a Man,” and “I Don't Want To Change You.”

8.            Dirty Loops, Loopified

I love the sound of this Swedish trio and how they combine jazz riffs, electronic production, and Stevie Wonder-style vocals.  It comes honestly to these three young men, who were students together at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.  This is their first album, and I thoroughly look forward to the follow-up.  You will too after hearing songs like “Hit Me,” “The Way She Walks,” and a very interesting take on Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep.”

7.            Mary Lambert, Heart On My Sleeve

No one had heard of Mary Lambert before she performed with Macklemore on last year’s “Same Love,” but now that I’ve heard her, I want to keep hearing more.  After listening to this outstanding album by the Seattle-based singer-songwriter, you will too.  Songs include “Secrets,” “When You Sleep,” and the Rick Springfield classic, “Jessie’s Girl.”

6.            Lake Street Dive, Bad Self Portraits

When Joe Burke first introduced me to this Boston-based band a couple of years ago, I thought he was mispronouncing the name, but he was right about both the name and the band.  This is their second full-length, studio album, and it expands on the excellence of the first effort by these New England Conservatory-trained musicians and singers.   Their music combines jazz, pop, and rock into a whole that’s better than the sum of its parts.  Songs include “Bad Self Portraits,” “You Go Down Smooth,” and “Use Me Up.”
5.            Eno Hyde, Someday World

In 1976, Roland Barker introduced me to the techno-genius of Brian Eno, and throughout his 40-year career and 16 solo albums, Eno has changed the face of music, while influencing David Bowie, David Byrne, Pink Floyd, and thousands of other artists.  Here, he teams with Underworld’s Karl Hyde to create a thing of beauty—a collection of songs that brings Eno’s music more to the forefront than his “ambient” undertakings, while blending it with excellent vocals on songs like “The Satellites,” “Daddy’s Car,” and “To Us All.”

4.            U2, Songs of Innocence

Chances are you have this album.  After all, it was provided as a free download to anyone who wanted it, and to many who didn’t.  But lost in that altruistic approach is how good an album it is.  In truth, it is U2’s most emotional and immediate album in years, and it doesn’t deserve the plastering that some critics gave it.   This is the band’s 13th album, and it contains “Iris (Hold Me Close),” which is as good as many of the classic U2 ballads.  It also contains other excellent songs like “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” “Raised By Wolves,” and “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now.”

3.            Us The Duo, No Matter Where You Are

I kept thinking that I must be crazy putting the debut album from a relatively unknown duo this high on my list, and then I listen to the infectious songs by Michael and Carissa Alvarado and realize why I like them so much.  The sound is clean and straightforward, the singing is ebullient, the lyrics are upbeat, and the melodies are…well, melodic.   Maybe it isn’t so emotionally complex as other albums on the list, but occasionally, I like an album that just entertains me, and this is it, with songs like “No Matter Where You Are,” “Smile & Keep Your Head Up,” and “Make You Mine.”

2.            Jack White, Lazaretto

Gavin will never let me forget that I didn’t like the White Stripes, especially now that both of Jack White’s solo albums have made my list.  But the White Stripes never demonstrated the depth of musical brilliance that White has demonstrated on this album.  In fact, few albums combine this level of songwriting, production, and performance.  There’s no other way to say it…this is a great album that I like more every time I hear songs like “Three Women,” “Lazaretto,” “Alone In My Home,” and “I Think I Found The Culprit.”

1.            St. Vincent, St. Vincent

When I first heard this album, I thought, “What happened to Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent)?”  I had loved her previous three albums, which include songs like “Marry Me,” “Actor Out of Work,” and “Cruel,” and her hybrid of folk and rock, with varying degrees of electronic influence.  But this album was a completely different thing, and I wasn’t sure about it.  Then I listened to it, again and again, and eventually understood the evolution of this artist to someone who combines her musical prowess, outstanding voice, and superb songwriting skills, in conjunction with the modern production techniques of John Congleton, to make what is clearly the year’s best album.  Songs include “Rattlesnake,” “Birth In Reverse,” “Prince Johnny,” “Digital Witness,” and “Psychopath.”
The following are all excellent albums that deserve Honorable Mention (listed alphabetically by artist):

·                     Aer, Says She Loves Me
·                     Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
·                     Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness
·                     Angela Johnson, Naturally Me
·                     Angels & Airwaves, The Dream Walker
·                     Ani DiFranco, Allergic to Water
·                     Arc Iris, Arc Iris
·                     Ariana Grande, My Everything
·                     The Belle Brigade, Just Because
·                     Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker
·                     Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa, Live in Amsterdam
·                     Calvin Harris, Motion
·                     Chiodos, Devil
·                     Chrissie Hynde, Stockholm
·                     Chuck Ragan, Till Midnight
·                     Copeland, Ixora
·                     Deaf Havana, Old Souls
·                     Delain, The Human Contradiction
·                     Drowners, Drowners
·                     Eric Hutchinson, Pure Fiction
·                     The Family Crest, Beneath the Brine
·                     Frazey Ford, Indian Ocean
·                     Future Islands, Singles
·                     The Griswolds, Be Impressive
·                     Hard Working Americans, Hard Working Americans
·                     Interpol, El Pintor
·                     Jason Mraz, YES!
·                     Joe Bonamassa, Different Shades of Blue
·                     John Newman, Tribute
·                     Kat Edmonson, The Big Picture
·                     Lenny Kravitz, Strut
·                     Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems
·                     Lily Allen, Sheezus
·                     Liv Warfield, The Unexpected
·                     Long Arms, Constant Comment
·                     Mac Demarco, Salad Days
·                     Manchester Orchestra, Cope
·                     Marz Ferrer, Blur
·                     Matt Sorum's Fierce Joy, Stratosphere
·                     The Men, Tomorrow's Hits
·                     Miniature Tigers, Cruel Runnings
·                     MØ, No Mythologies to Follow
·                     Naughty Boy, Hotel Cabana
·                     Neneh Cherry, Blank Project
·                     Nicky Egan, The 45 Homestead Project
·                     O.A.R., The Rockville LP
·                     Paolo Nutini, Caustic Love
·                     Parquet Courts, Content Nausea
·                     Prince, ART OFFICIAL AGE
·                     Secondhand Serenade, Undefeated
·                     Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear
·                     Skrillex, Recess
·                     The Sons, Heading into Land
·                     Spoon, They Want My Soul
·                     Sun Kil Moon, Benji
·                     Tove Lo, Queen of the Clouds
·                     Tune-Yards, Nikki Nack
·                     TV on the Radio, Seeds
·                     Umphrey's McGee, Similar Skin
·                     WALK THE MOON, TALKING IS HARD
·                     We Are Scientists, TV en Français
·                     Yellow Ostrich, Cosmos
·                     Young & Sick, Young & Sick

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