This is brutal. Almost exactly a year ago, in my post about my favorite albums of 2013, I joked I would never come back and edit the list. Now I’m kind of tempted. The last year was a big one for me, I mean I graduated (again), got a real job, bought my first car, and moved to Seattle all in about a six month span. I also spent less time working on the blog, as I got comfortable being the podcast host guy and felt less compelled to work on my post count. That, coupled with the fact that I no longer had bus rides to school during which I could listen to music, meant I took music a lot less seriously this year. So when I sat down to write my list, I realized I had four albums I really loved (mostly from the first half of the year when I was still in school) and about 20 that I thought definitely deserved a spot on my list below them.
I don’t know if that means it was a great year or an OK one, I should have paid more attention, I guess. But here are some albums that very narrowly missed my list: High Life, the Brian Eno and Karl Hyde collaboration, which has some awesome 9 minute songs on it. The latest Gaslight Anthem album, Get Hurt, which is a pretty great return to form for them. Salad Days by Mac DeMarco, which I hope will make John’s list at least. Warpaint’s self-titled album, which you should listen to right now. And a few albums that I think might have made my list if I listened to them more: The Moon Rang Like a Bell by Hundred Waters, Rave Tapes by Mogwai, Blue Planet Eyes by Preatures, and Sea When Absent by A Sunny Day in Glasgow.
Honorable Mentions (albums Colin already wrote enough about)
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lose
Lykke Li – I Never Learn
The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Colin mentioned he wanted more young rock band that just go for it, may I introduce you to The Cheatahs? Maybe you’ve already met. They tell me this is like an album out of time; that Nineties indie rock gem that never made it out, the great shoegaze album we’ve been waiting for – and I believe them but still don’t really understand what shoegaze means. What I can tell you is that this is an album that rocks from beginning to end and that still means something to me, OK? It’s not 100% girl rock and beeps and boops. Actually, there are a lot of dudes on my list this year. Who knew?
Beck basically made a sequel to an album he made 12 years and several records ago. Like any good sequel it brings back some elements from the last one that still work today, while bringing a new perspective and fun ideas to the table. If I have any major grievance with Morning Phase, it’s that it doesn’t include some of the awesome songs Beck put out between this and Modern Guilt. At least “I Won’t Be Long” came out as a single, but what about those songs he did for that video game? They were so good! Damnit Beck, why do you keep putting out fantastic music in bizarre ways?
I continue to be impressed with The Antlers, whose last three albums have made my annual favorites lists. I know now that they’re just too slow, too atmospheric, too pretty for everyone else to get in on this, but whatever. I’m still all in. Familiars probably isn’t as good as Burst Apart and is definitely not as good as Hospice but that’s a negative way at looking at things. It does have the song “Director” on it. It is more Antlers. It is really good.
I’ve wanted to really like something by Owen Pallett for a long time. He’s one of Arcade Fire’s go-to people, and was a big part of their score for Her. I liked his last album, Heartland, and really loved the song “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” from it, but that’s been about it. Until In Conflict came out, that is. Finally, Canada’s favorite violinist had found a way to make an electronic pop album that stands on its own. Not that this is dance music or anything like that, there’s more of an emotional punch to In Conflict than you might expect. No, if I were to compare this album to any artist, it would probably be Sufjan Stevens, someone who also has put an album out since 2010.
Holy shit, Swim, Caribou’s last album also came out in April 2010?! I can’t believe it took more than four years another album from Dan Snaith, I mean, who even remember’s what the world was like in 2010? That was just enough time for me to kind of forget what Caribou sounds like, even though it was my seventh favorite album that year. Well, Our Love is even cooler than that album, and hopefully this time I’ll actually have the strength of character to remember how much I love this weird Canadian electronic music and keep listening to it as I march on into the future.
There’s a simple charm to Atlas, Real Estate’s third album. It feels like an album designed around the idea that it’s really nice to listen to a guitar, and everything else kind of gets out of the way. So when you get to the purely instrumental track, “April’s Song,” it feels like it belongs instead of some weird break for the lead singer. I don’t really know why the album resonates with me so much, but let’s just say it felt really appropriate in the late spring when I was staring down graduation and the possibility of another stretch of unemployment. Some how, tonally, it fit.
Annie Clark remade herself as some sort of super villain in 2014, complete with crazy hair and her own throne. This was probably done because her latest album is a bit harder than her last few, with some chunky songs like “Rattlesnake” and “Digital Witness.” More than anything else, it’s a reminder that this lady can fucking shred a guitar. I got to see some really great performances live last year, but no one impressed me, both in their musicianship and showmanship, like St. Vincent did. She’s just the greatest.
One of my Christmas traditions is trying to find a song my family likes on our drive down to Portland. It has gone very badly before – everyone remembers the Sigur Ros incident of 2007 – but in 2014, I was ready. It was getting to be time for us to pull over and grab lunch (Red Lobster) and I took my chance by interrupting our Christmas playlist and dropping in my good friend, Spoon’s “Do You” off of their new album, They Want My Soul. It was a smashing success, as both my brother Alex asked for info about the song so that he might play it himself at a later date, and my mother remarked “usually I don’t like the stuff you play, but this is really good.” Thank you Spoon, you saved Christmas.
The War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream is the kind of album you can put on and say “damnit, you are going to like this or we have a problem.” Whether you are the kind of person who prefers the slightly ethereal, dreamy stuff of “Under the Pressure” or the tighter guitar rock of “Red Eyes” if you make it through those first two songs, you’re going to be hooked and the remaining eight won’t let you down. I have tested this.
The first time I listened to Against Me!’s latest album, I knew nothing about it at all. I had never heard anything by the band, I didn’t know that the lead singer was transgender herself, I didn’t even really know it was going to be a punk album. I’m pretty sure all I saw was a positive review score somewhere, so I added it to my Rdio queue. It would go on to easily be my most listened to record of the whole year.
Because I’m not super smart, it took me a little while to put the whole thing together. I don’t pay too much attention to lyrics, especially on my first few listens of an album. So what I noticed at first was that this album really rocks. A lot of punk music is off-putting to me – I’m not really looking for music to start a fight to. Transgender Dysphoria Blues doesn’t spend too much time in the pure anger zone, and I would put at least three songs from it among the best rockers of the year.
Eventually I took the time to pay attention to the lyrics, and not just the ones that jump out like “you’ve got no cunt in your strut / you’ve got no ass to shake” but the overall story of this album. I understand being uncomfortable in your own skin, but the idea that your body is wrong, that you are not who you appear to be, that’s on a whole other level from anything I’ve ever experienced. I think it is the objective of most music to get you to empathize with people or think about society in a different way, and no album got closer to that goal for me than Transgender Dysphoria Blues.