LxL’s 20 Best Albums of 2014

best albums of the year 2014

Here it is. Arguably our favorite list every year. A year’s worth of listening all distilled into one list. 2014 was a surprisingly weak year for hip hop (minus the colossal RTJ2), a wonderful year for triumphant returns (Beck, Jenny Lewis, D’Angelo), and a showcase of how important honesty is in music with some beautifully vulnerable records (Perfume Genius, Sun Kil Moon, Damon Albarn). Who knows what 2015 holds, but for now we can reflect on all the greatness their was in 2014. Now onto the list.

 

20. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

sturgill

Sturgill Simpson is the 21st century country outlaw, with the same rebellion and classic sound of his country forefathers with a post-modern, existential spin to wrap your head around. Sturgill will have trouble beating his 2014 release, an instant country classic in Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.

19. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

first-aid-kit

The Soderberg sisters that make up First Aid Kit have some of the purest harmonies in years, and Stay Gold was a huge step forward for the Swedish duo that sounds like they are from the Carolinas.

18. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

burn-your-fire2

Angel Olsen’s 2012 debut Half Way Home was a beautifully promising first step, but Burn Your Fire For No Witness is a giant leap forward, thanks to 11 tightly written songs and some dynamic production from John Congleton, undoubtedly our producer of the year since he’s responsible for the new St. Vincent, Strand of Oaks, and Angel Olsen.

17. Strand of Oaks – HEAL

strand-of-oaks-heal

Goshen, Indiana’s own Timothy Showalter releases titanic rock songs as Strand of Oaks, and HEAL is the big ambitious rock album that was missing from mainstream rock this year. For more on Strand of Oaks, read my breakdown of his perfect tribute song in “JM”.

16. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

Sun Kil Moon Benji album cover art

Like Perfume Genius, Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon releases music as brutally honest and open as a high school diary. While it may come out clumsy at times, after over 20 years of music, Benji is no doubt Kozelek’s masterpiece.

15. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

the voyager

Jenny Lewis releases music only every few years, but it’s an absolute treat when she does. The Voyager is her first album in six years and succeeds thanks to some surprisingly great production work from Ryan Adams and Beck.

14. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

Flying Lotus You're Dead album cover art

There are few artists as singular and sophisticated as Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus, making some truly one-of-a-kind electronic music. You’re Dead, a concept record about death and mortality, brings some heavy hitter guests like Herbie Hancock, Ennio Morricone, Kendrick Lamar, and Thundercat.

13. Ty Segall – Manipulator

Ty Segall Manipulator album cover art

Ty Segall is as prolific at releasing music as Taco Bell is at releasing new menu items, but Ty Segall is actually good. Manipulator might be the garage rock youngster’s best album yet, filled with monster riffs, tons of attitude, and even better melodies.

12. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

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Sylvan Esso released musical Pop Rocks with their debut, a sparkling electro-pop album for the ages.

11. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

damon-albarn

Damon Albarn has headed up Blur, Gorillaz, and the Good, Bad, and the Queen, so it’s interesting that he finally releases an album under his own name over 20 years into his career. Everyday Robots is a dark-night-of-the-soul album for the 21st century, speaking to how we use technology to shield are loneliness.

10. TV On The Radio – Seeds

TV On The Radio album cover art

Coming off the death of their bassist Gerard Smith, TV On The Radio regroup and make their most immediate and catchy album in Seeds.

9. Courtney Barnett – The Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas

barnett

Our favorite new artist of 2014 is witty Aussie Courtney Barnett, whose combined EPs from 2013 was released in 2014 as one of the best albums of the year. Her guitar work, sense of humor, and song craft has us excited for much more.

8. Jack White – Lazaretto

Jack_White_-_Lazaretto

Beyond releasing one of the greatest instrumental songs of all time in “High Ball Stepper” and putting on our favorite live show of 2014, there is nothing Mr. White can’t do. Lazaretto is yet another great release from a living legend.

7. Run the Jewels – RTJ2

Run-The-Jewels-RTJ2

Usually super groups never deliver on their promise, but El-P and Killer Mike are the undisputed rap champs of the year with RTJ2. Never has Killer Mike sounded so vicious, and never have El-P’s production sounded so urgent.

6. Beck – Morning Phase

beck-morning-phase-album cover, cover art

Beck’s long-awaited (and completely unexpected) sequel to his acoustic change-up Sea Change was a perfect record for the quietness of winter. Unfortunately as the year has went on, Morning Phase fell a little ways down on our list from it’s number #1 spot midway through the year, but still deserved to be up here with the best.

5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

st-vincent

Guitar goddess St. Vincent has truly become fully formed on her self-titled fourth album, her most confident and unique album to date.

4. The Antlers – Familiars

The Antlers Familiars Review

Another one of our favorites just keeps churning out quiet but beautiful masterworks. Familiars is the trio’s third album, and while it’s their least immediate, it also blossoms more and more with each listen.

3. Spoon – They Want My Soul

spoon

Back from a minor hiatus and sounding as rejuvenated as ever thanks to the sonic stylings of producer Dave Fridmann, Texas indie giants Spoon prove why they are one of the ten best bands in the past ten years with They Want My Soul.

2. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah

dangelo

After a 15 year hiatus following his R&B masterpiece Voodoo, D’Angelo proves some things are worth waiting for, releasing the perfect R&B album at the perfect time, looking to restore the racial divide that has torn apart the U.S. in 2014.

1. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Perfume Genius Too Bright Review

Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius releases nakedly honest ballads, but with his third album, he has combined beautiful vulnerability with creative ambition to make his best album yet and our best album of 2014. It’s a once of a lifetime album from Hadreas.

Just Missed:

Wes – Lykke Li – I Never Learn

i-never-learn

Power ballads are usually left to AM radio and bad 80’s rock compilations, but Lykke Li has mastered the art of them on I Never Learn: triumphant love songs you can reflect on quietly or belt out to the sky.

Todd – Sharon Van Etten – Are We There?

Sharon Van Etten Are We There Review

 

Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is undoubtedly beautiful and a real lift to Todd’s soul.

Austin – Taylor Swift – 1989

Taylor_Swift_-_1989

 

Some pop music just can’t be denied, as is the case with Taylor Swift’s 1989, her full-on conversion from pop and country darling to full-on pop superstar.

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The 10 Breakout Artists of 2014

best-of

benb

It’s that time to take a look at one of my favorite lists we do every year, the best new artists of the year. It’s really just like looking at children: young and full of so much potential, before they flame out, drop out of college, and live in their parent’s basement. But for now we can just enjoy the wonderful potential of these new artists.

One adjustment to this year’s list: we decided to go with the title of best breakout artists instead of new artists. In the past, we have stuck to only letting people on if they were releasing their debut, but we thought it was better to include all that really broke onto the scene, even if they had released an album before. So on with the show.

10.   Ex Hex

ex-hex

Female power trio Ex Hex is led by the seasoned Mary Timony, and their debut Rips is punchy punk rock songs that absolutely soar. No song has any excess fat on it, distilled down to its purest pop form.

9. Lydia Loveless

lydia-loveless

Another young Midwestern songwriter, Lydia Loveless releases alt-country as brilliant and seasoned as someone twice her age. While this may be her third album, I do feel like this is the year she finally broke out to a wider audience on the strength of her songwriting on Somewhere Else.

8. Strand of Oaks

strand-of-oaks

Timothy Showalter aka Strand of Oaks quietly released one of the best rock records of the year in HEAL, one that channels Springsteen, Neil Young, and Magnolia Electric Co in thrilling new ways.  I wrote about how his song “JM” really makes the perfect tribute song.

7. FKA Twigs

FKA twigs

With the help of producer experimental producer Arca, Tahliah Debrett Barnett aka FKA Twigs has helped reimagine R&B music starting with her debut LP1. Her hypnotic, distorted take on R&B is sure to shake up the genre going forward.

6. Perfect Pussy

perfect-pussy

Perfect Pussy (named for the animal not anatomy) really experiment with punk music in new and exciting ways, and also thrash as quickly and hard as anyone these days live, as we witnessed at Pitchfork this year.

5. The Orwells

orwells

Elmhurst, IL’s own the Orwells are by far the youngest on this list, as they just graduated high school and catapulted to stardom with the most memorable live TV performance all year (see below). They known for their wild stage antics and who-cares attitude, well-tread territory in rock music for certain, but it’s still thrilling after all these years.

4. Benjamin Booker

ben-booker

Benjamin Booker combines blues and punk into a potent, raw mix. The 25-year-old New Orleans rocker got a huge spotlight this year opening up or Jack White, and his self-titled debut showed he was worthy of such a stage.

3. Sturgill Simpson

sturgill-simpson

Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore breakout, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, was Simpson’s coming out party as a new breed of country singer: the postmodern country outlaw. Simpson wields an old school country sound with a 21st century rock ‘n’ roll mindset, a refreshing new voice.

2. Sylvan Esso

sylvan-esso

No debut album was as instantly lovable as Sylvan Esso’s eponymous debut. It’s like musical Pop Rocks – it’s sweet and full of crackling surprises. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn are both from other indie projects previously (Mountain Man and Megafaun respectively), but I have the feeling they will stick together after having struck gold with their debut.

1. Courtney Barnett

courtney-barnett

No young songwriter is as promising as Aussie Courtney Barnett, who released The Double EP: Sea of Split Peas, a re-release of her two EPs from last year as an LP. Barnett has wit, heart, and personality in spades, and at just age 26, we can’t wait to see what she does next.

Austin – Sam Smith

sam-smith

Brit soul singer Sam Smith sprung up last year on Disclosure’s dance hit “Latch”, but really exploded this year with his debut, In the Lonely Hour. Austin just can’t get enough of that sweet, soulful voice.

Todd – Arca

arca

The FKA Twigs producer Arca, Alejandro Ghersi’s moniker, released an album of his own in Xen, which pushes the electronic genre along with scratchy, spooky electronic music.

Wes – Protomartyr

protomartyr

Detroit post-punk band Protomartyr put out one of my favorite rock albums of the year, Under Color of Official Right, highlighted by the raw vocal performance of everyman Joe Casey.

Weak List Wednesday: 5 Best Live Shows of 2014

bonnaroo-2014-jack-white

I don’t think it was the most prolific year in music for any of us.  Wes bought a house.  Todd spent six weeks in Thailand Muay Thai fighting.  And I Rip Van Winkled myself, sleeping most the year.  Nevertheless, we all were able to catch some good live music.  Let us know what your favorite show was this year.
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Top Ten Thursday: Best Movies of 2013

Best Movies of 2013

Year-end lists always allows us an opportunity to stray away from music for a bit to spotlight some of our favorite movies and TV shows of the year. Our final 2013 list, our 10 favorite films, comes to you a little later than the rest, partially because the lion’s share of great movies are always released in late December for Oscar consideration. I thought this year was a dynamite movie year, one I might even call the best since 2007 (the year of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood). For a year that was touted so much on the small screen (with more great TV shows than we could handle), it was great to see the big screen rise to the occasion as well.

10. About Time

About Time

Sure it might seem funny that three bros put a romantic comedy in their top 10, but About Time is consistently hilarious and alarmingly charming. With a Weasley as the lead, Rachel McAdams attempting to look 15 years younger, and the always loveable Bill Nighy as the movie’s emotional core, About Time is a delight.

9. Kings of Summer

Kings of Summer

2013 was the year of the coming-of-age film renaissance, with several worthwhile movies focused on adolescence (Mud, Spectacular Now, The Way Way Back), all of which either made our list or were quite close. Kings of Summer was not only the funniest of the bunch, but it stayed away from some of the obnoxious high school clichés that so many coming-of-age movies fall into. Also, any time you add Ron Swanson to your movie, you can count me in.

8. Gravity

Gravity

2/3rds of us loved Gravity, for being the sort of groundbreaking movie-going spectacle that so rarely comes along. The one that didn’t love it, Austin, didn’t see it in the theater, which is maybe why he wasn’t taken away by the movie, but rather focused on its rather typical script, which is admittedly the movie’s weak point.

7. Philomena

Philomena

 

This is the one movie in our top ten I haven’t seen, but I do trust Austin that it is great, since it stars the always great Steve Coogan and a seemingly eccentric Judy Dench performance.

6. Nebraska

Nebraska

Alexander Payne’s last film, The Descendants, was one of my favorite films of 2011, and Nebraska taps into the same magic that film had.  Beside maybe David O’Russell, Payne is delivering some of the most interesting and cutting family dramas around.

5. Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

This movie was probably the most pleasant surprise to me this year. I haven’t liked Paul Greengrass’s movies, but the extent that Greengrass went to to make this movie as authentic as possible, mixed with the amazing amateur Somali actors’ performances and the best Tom Hanks performance in at least a decade, it’s hard not to be taken by Captain Phillips.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

I am the only one at LxL that has seen Inside Llewyn Davis, but having just seen it this evening, it’s probably my favorite film of the year beside our #1 choice. Hollywood is always giving us the story of the artist that persevered and succeeded, but the Coen Brothers’ depiction of a failing folk musician based on the life of Dave Von Ronk provides far more insight into what makes a person a success or failure more than any success story ever will. Oscar Isaac is sure to get snubbed on the Oscar nominees, but I think he should absolutely not be dismissed for this performance.

3. Mud

Mud

Plain and simple, they don’t make movies like this anymore. Jeff Nichols, who has to be one of the most exciting up-and-coming directors, delivers a wonderful Southern coming-of-age film combining the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Stand By Me. Matthew McConaughey started his absolutely dynamite year here, and it was his greatest height in a year of them.

2. The Wolf on Wall Street

The Wolf On Wall Street

Probably the most polarizing film of the award season, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s book about his rock ‘n’ roll Wall Street years is one of the most entertaining yet disturbing films I have ever seen. Leonardo DiCaprio will likely lose the Best Actor Oscar to Wolf co-star Matthew McConaughey for his role Dallas Buyer’s Club, but I think DiCaprio no doubt deserves it, combining rollercoaster emotional range with a physical comedic performance in the vein of Jim Carrey.

1. 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

Few movies in the history of film are as powerful and emotionally gripping as 12 Years. Director Steve McQueen tortures and captivates his audience by lingering on painful images, and gets help from tour-de-force performances from Chiwetel  Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o.

Austin – Prisoners

Prisoners

 

Prisoners takes what appears on many levels to be an ordinary crime thriller, but by taking an all-star cast and a handful of interesting twists, Prisoners stands out as one of the bigger surprises of the year.

Todd – Springbreakers

Springbreakers

Springbreakers is no doubt one-of-a-kind, which no matter what you think of this absolutely nutso movie, you can’t deny its originality – or its Britney Spears ballad.

Wes – Short Term 12

Short Term 12

I kept going back and forth between Terrence Malick’s beautiful To The Wonder and Short Term 12 as my miss, but I decided to go with the newcomer hear to raise its profile. Short Term 12 is a movie about a foster care center of troubled teens run by several twenty-somethings who have been touched by the foster care system in their own lives one way or another, and it’s realistic depiction of life in social work, troubled teens, and the importance of giving grace above all, made this film resonate with me as much as any this year.

 

 

 

Top Ten Thursday: Top Ten TV Shows of 2013

vampire diaries

By all accounts, we are in the midst of a golden age in television.  In past years we have done a top 5 list for best television shows, when we could have easily done a top ten list.  This year, we are doing a top ten list when we could have easily done a top 20 list.  Just look at some of the shows that didn’t make the cut like Brooklyn Nine Nine, New Girl, Justified, Parks and Rec, Black Mirror, and Suits.  All quality television.  There is simply too much good TV; it is impossible to watch it all.  With all that being said, we did our best to give a well balanced list of the best TV shows of 2013.  Let us know what we missed, and as always enjoy the list.

10.  Veep

veep

Veep built on an uneven first season with a superb second season, proving ensemble comedy, rather than a single-star vehicle, is the way to go, Veep further developed its deep roster of characters.  Among others, it is great to see Matt Walsh finally get a chance to shine as a go to supporting character.
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Personal Best of 2013 Lists

Vampire Weekend best of 2013

We gave you are collective Top 30 songs and Top 20 albums of 2013 last week, but here are our separate lists. Because all our number #1 albums are Vampire Weekend’s wonderful third album, I have pictured each of our second favorite albums below.
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Best 20 Albums of 2013

greatest, favorite, best, albums of 2013

As Austin noted in our introduction to our favorite songs of 2013 list yesterday, it is much more difficult to list a years worth of favorites than one might think. 2013 was quite an interesting year in music. Many big names (or at least big expectations) left a disappointing taste in fans’ mouths (Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, The Strokes, Jay-Z, etc.). This left the door wide open for smaller, and sometimes even unheard artists to really pave the way to a brighter future, and in some cases, all-out overnight stardom (Lorde, Savages, CHVRCHES, etc). This also left a lot of room for controversy. Who is worth the listen, and who is just going through the motions while filling our ear buds with noise? Well the controversy was not absent in making this list. With all three of us at LxL listing out our top 20 albums separately and then combining them into a normalized list, there was bound to be some peoples favorites left off. Mean things were said, blood was spilled, and opinions hotly thwarted. Nonetheless, the list must go on. Here is what we considered to be our favorite albums of 2013:

20. AlunaGeorge – Body Music
alunageorge body music album-cover art
Last year, Alunageorge’s “Your Drums, Your Love” ranked in at #20 on our favorite songs of 2012. This year, the soulful pop R&B duo returned with a full LP to support the single, as well as a grip of other ripe-for-the-shaggin’ type of tunes. The duo now garnered another #20 slot, but this time on our albums list with Body Music.
Continue reading “Best 20 Albums of 2013”