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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

The 10 Best Albums of 2014 So Far

LxL_TopTenThursdays_02_900x300Best Albums of 2014 So Far

This has been an odd year in music by all accounts. There have been nearly no big-time rap albums (except arguably Future’s Honest), it’s been a down year for electronic music (just months after I declared 2013 the year dance music became king), and rock music has made an unexpected comeback (with three albums on our list being unabashed guitar rock records). The albums on our list are also decidedly slower, and more relaxed, as I would say half the albums on this list are very melancholy albums (especially our top two). Without further ado, our top ten so far in this odd year of music.
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Sun Kil Moon Review: Benji

Sun Kil Moon

Benji

Sun Kil Moon Benji album cover art

Last week I wrote about a seasoned folk singer and the release of probably his best album to date, and this week I take on another folk journeyman in Mark Kozelek who is grabbing the critical ear with Sun Kil Moon’s Benji. The Ohio-born songwriter first arrived on the scene in 1992 as the distinctive voice behind Red House Painters, a band that established Kozelek’s style of beautifully somber and contemplative songs all played sweetly and delicately on acoustic guitar.  Kozelek continued into the 21st century with a new outfit in Sun Kil Moon, keeping many of the characteristics of Red House Painter with a little darker tint. Kozelek has also released a string of solo records since 2000, including last year’s solid Mark Kozelek & Desertshore. Now comes Benji, arguably Kozelek’s most deeply personal and emotionally fragile record, describing in great detail the lives and deaths of numerous people, both near and far to Kozelek’s life.
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LxListening: Hot Hot Heat

funny cartoon of sun and hot weather

No, this is not a playlist of all Hot Hot Heat songs – though I did consider it. Rather, with all the record-breaking highs of unforgivable heat, I thought it only appropriate to provide a 5 song playlist fit for this sort of whether. The following playlist is all themed around our ridiculous current weather.
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Top Ten Thursday: Best Covers Albums

cover album art for william hung inspiration

After the painful experience of reviewing Neil Young’s new cover album, Americana, we decided to go back to some of our old favorites, and create a list of the top ten cover albums.  It was surprisingly difficult to find a comprehensive list of cover albums that have even been released, so I am certain we are missing a couple of classics, but also was very happy with strength of the list we came up with.  Another couple items of note is that the album needed to be 75% covers to be considered and a lot of 1950’s and 60’s albums were not considered.  A lot of early Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc. albums were comprised mostly of covers because that’s just the way the music business was run back then.  Somebody would have a minor hit, then ten artists would cover it to bandwagon and try to copy its success. 

So what makes a great cover album?  There are a lot of opinions on that, but we firmly believe it is not enough to simply mimic already great songs.  What we like to see is an artist keep the feeling of the original but substantially change the arrangement.  Also great is when an artist manages to rescue a song from obscurity and make it completely their own.  There is not absolute formula to a great cover song or album, but as with most of our list the following selections hit us the hardest.  On to the list.

10. David Bowie – Pin Ups

album cover art for david bowie pin ups

Bowie’s lat album with The Spiders from Mars was a tribute album to some of his favorite tracks from the 60’s.  Pin Ups contains classic songs from The Who, a lesser known track from Pink Floyd’s most underrated era, a Kinks track for the ages, and some lesser-known bands that I probably would have never been turned onto otherwise such as The Pretty Things and The Easy Beats.  All of these things fused with the Bowie twist means it is a sure-fire instant eargasm.

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