It’s Part 2, and looking at this top 10, I feel like I really listened to and loved a lot of stuff that other writers didn’t. In what might’ve been the weakest year for music in the last decade, I suppose that’s to be expected. Hopefully this list will help you discover some gems you maybe hadn’t thought of as the Best of 2014, but will help ease the transition into what might be another phenomenal year of music in 2015. Enjoy.
10. Future Islands
Best Track: “Seasons(Waiting on You)”
I don’t even know what this record is, but I love the shit out of it. Sometimes you sit back and you think, “how did the band write these songs? Where did they come up with these ideas?” That’s not always a positive sign, but this is as strong of a collection of new-wave, indie pop whatevers in as long as I can remember and “Seasons” is the undisputed track of the year. The only reason I ranked this record is so low is it feels like it has the chance to be this year’s M83 record, where it sounds so great now and flames out spectacularly only a year or two down the road. (seriously, have you listened to that M83 record recently? Outside of “Midnight City”, I can’t remember a record that felt so vital upon its release feeling so stale so quickly.)
9. TV on the Radio
Best Track: “Trouble”
This is the first TVOTR album I have genuinely liked from start to finish, so it’s a bit strange to me that I liked it as much as I did, but here we are. I have liked individual songs from them in the past, but found their albums a bit too much to get through. With Seeds, they hit the chill button a little harder than they have previously, to what I feel is a great result. The album seems a lot more grounded into synths and electronic drums, giving the whole thing a chillwave type of vibe and finding constant rotation for me since its release.
8. Sharon van Etten
Are We There
Best Track: “Taking Chances”
This album is basically a giant kick in my emotions’ dick. It is rare that this type of confessional album is communicated with such honesty that it never feels cheesy, and Sharon van Etten somehow makes lines like “break my legs so I can’t run to you” feel empowering and not awful. The instrumentals should also not be without mention, as the album has a grungy-type feel that carries the weight of the tracks beautifully. It was an album I came to much later than its release date, and I’m glad I did.
7. Bry Webb
Best Track: “Let’s Get Through Today”
I am an unapologetic lover of the Constantines, and Bry Webb’s voice is something I have turned to many times, in response to many different emotions. While this is not Webb’s first foray into solo territory, this collection feels just a little bit more vital than his 2011 debut, Provider. Webb’s voice is raspy and emotive with the Cons, but he finds another level in this hushed setting, finding a beautiful timbre that gives each of his words extra weight, particularly on album standouts “Fletcher” and “Let’s Get Through Today”, the latter about the birth of his son. Not shy about using acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel, and drums to augment the sound, this was a record I turned to a lot during contemplative times this year, and is one I’m sure I’ll return to often, perhaps more than any other record released in 2014.
6. Majid Jordan
A Place Like This EP
Best Track: “A Place Like This”
From the complete opposite end of the Bry Webb/Sharon van Etten spectrum come Majid Jordan, frequent Drake collaborators(they provided the backing on last year’s song of the year, “Hold On We’re Going Home”) and a smooth-voiced pair of gentlemen(one named Majid and one Jordan) making delicious R&B music. After first being drawn in by the slinky “A Place Like This”, I was surprised at how effective these two were at creating R&B mood pieces, from the groovy “All I Do” to the slow jam “U”. While only 5 tracks deep, I listened to this EP a ton this year, blowing the cover off on many night-time drives. A full-length with a star-studded guest list would be one of my more anticipated releases in 2015.
5. Damien Jurado
Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
Best Track: “Silver Donna”
Damien Jurado’s “Saint Bartlett” is one of my favorite albums of the last decade, and ever since he began collaborating with infamous producer Richard Swift, he can do no wrong in my eyes. This album is no exception, capping a trilogy of albums with Swift by combining the ideas of the first two to create what might be the strongest of the three. “Saint Bartlett” was Jurado easing into the new direction Swift wanted—additional instrumentation, a focus on fleshing out songs in a way Jurado hadn’t before—but was ultimately still pretty quiet. “Maraqopa” was Jurado taking those Swift-ian ideas to their end, slamming every song full of psych-rock freak outs, Latin drumming, and whatever else he could think of, ending with a good record that was a bit overstuffed. This album feels like the perfect, tempered combination of those first two records, using those sounds to augment each track near perfectly, with “Silver Donna” ranking up among the best and most fleshed-out songs Jurado has written. A stunning album.
4. Tokyo Police Club
Best Track: “Argentina”
Every year, there is an album that I’m just not that enamoured with at first. Maybe I enjoy it, but just not as much as I’d hoped, or maybe I straight up dislike it. By the end of the year, usually that “grower” album of the year tends to be one of my favorites, as I felt like perhaps I struggled a bit more to get it into my brain. This record was that for me this year.
With this record, it wasn’t that I disliked it, it just wasn’t what I expected. Having ADORED TPC’s “Champ”, I was surprised that rather than following the more electronic direction that album seemed to be taking, they went full pop instead. But it’s really, really good and I’m glad they did. “Argentina” is a bonafide track of the year candidate, with tremendous guitar work from Josh Hook propelling the 8 minutes of the song into a musical rarity: a song over 5 minutes that never gets boring. “Hot Tonight” is something you would imagine the band could’ve retired off the royalties from if they gave it to Carly Rae Jepsen, and the rest of the album is accomplished pop that firmly establishes the band among the upper echelon of Canadian indie.
3. You Blew It!
Keep Doing What You’re Doing
Best Track: “House Address”
Earlier in this list, I alluded to the fact that for whatever reason, 2014 seemed to be the year of the punk revival. And not Black Flag/Minor Threat-type punk, of which a revival seems to occur every two years or so. We’re talking the late 90s/early 00s punk, the Warped Tour set gaining a whole host of new bands inexplicably, 10 years after they were relevant. Bands like Joyce Manor, Chumped, and The Hotelier all made a name for themselves this year, but for my money, none were even close to the brilliance of You Blew It! I remember playing the record for a friend in the car, and his first reaction was, “they still make music like this? I like it, but it almost feels weird listening to it.” It has a timeless feel that can’t be described, and I probably listened to this record more than any other in 2015.
Tight drumming and the interplay of three guitars created a phenomenal back drop for Tanner Jones’ lyrics, which read simultaneously like burnout teenage confessionals(“If I had my way/I’d play video games with you every single fucking day”, “The only thing that stays the same/is the way I never change”) and kiss-offs(“You can always consider me a friend/just strictly in the past tense”, “For every good thing I could say about you/there’s a great reason why I refuse to”). If this were released in 2002, it would’ve been a standout in the genre due to the exceptional songwriting, but in 2014, it’s not only a standout, but a refreshing change of pace.
The Take Off and Landing of Everything
Best Track: “My Sad Captains”
Elbow might very well be my favorite band, so this is possibly a slightly biased pick, but I don’t care. Their last album, build a rocket boys!, outside of the stunning “Lippy Kids”, may end up being Elbow’s weakest album as a band. I found it to be a collection of unfinished ideas, playing more like a Guy Garvey solo album than a fully formed Elbow record. Thankfully, they’ve returned to form here, combining their prog-rock sensibilities with their flair for sullen drama that no other band on the planet does better, save perhaps The National.
The album follows the pattern of all great Elbow records, a few rocking tracks(“Charge”, “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette”, the title track) nestling in beside the contemplative pieces(“My Sad Captains, “This Blue World”, “Real Life”) to create a phenomenal mix. It’s hard to believe that the band has been going this strong for almost 20 years, but here we are with yet another Elbow record that feels just as vital as their debut.
1. Wye Oak
Best Track: “Glory”
This is the second Wye Oak album to find the top of my list in a weaker musical year, as “Civilian” topped my list in 2011, and it’s hard to imagine a band changing more between two albums than Wye Oak did between Civilian and this record.
Wye Oak are a two-piece that work together to create a massive sound, with guitarist and lead singer Jenn Wasner being a standout in the genre. She combines a unique alto voice with tremendous guitar skills(girl can shred!) to give the band a unique sound in a crowded genre, and Civilian was one hell of a record. Then, with this effort, her and drummer Andy Stack threw that out the window, as Wasner decided she was bored with the guitar and picked up a bass and synthesizer instead. Somehow, it worked.
This album is proof that these two are better musicians than I might’ve originally thought, as it somehow sounds like a logical departure from their previous sound despite being so markedly different. From the plodding “The Tower” to the dance-y “Glory” to the gorgeous, must-listen-in-headphones layering of “I Know the Law”, each song sounds like a different idea, like the two felt somehow freed without the guitar and were willing to try a bunch of different sounds, song structures, and ideas to make it work. They virtually all work. It’s a wondrous piece of music that makes me excited for a future Wye Oak that exists in this realm, or a return to their guitar-based sound of albums past. It’s rare a band can so drastically shift their sound and be so successful, but Wye Oak have managed it here on what I think was 2014’s best record.