Thursday, January 01, 2015

Fourteen Albums for ‘14

Right from the start, it was clear that 2014 was going to be a remarkable year for music. I was astounded as great album after great album was released in the first few months of the year. Quite often the year starts out great and then sputters in the second half, but this year the hits just kept coming. I’ve spent the last month trying to catch up on all the great albums people have told me about and I’ve read about on “best of” lists. That type of listening spree normally doesn’t yield much quality listening, but I was able to cull out a few gems I would’ve otherwise missed. Without the time to really spend with that music, however, my list hasn’t changed much in the past few weeks. With another couple of months, I’m sure my list would look completely different except for a few that are undoubtedly my very favorite few albums of the year. So, these are my favorite albums of 2014… for the time being.

1. Lost in the Dream
Artist: The War on Drugs
Label: Secretly Canadian
Release date: Mar. 18, 2014

2. Run the Jewels 2
Artist: Run the Jewels
Label: Mass Appeal Records
Release date: Oct. 27, 2014

3. Sea When Absent
Artist: A Sunny Day in Glasgow
Label: Lefse Records
Release date: June 23, 2014

4. Turkish Leather
Artist: Ritual Howls
Label: Felte Records
Release date: Sept. 30, 2014

5. Along the Way
Artist: Mark McGuire
Label: Dead Oceans
Release date: Feb. 4, 2014

6. Piñata
Artist: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Label: Madlib Invazion
Release date: Mar. 18, 2014

7. Burn Your Fire for No Witness
Artist: Angel Olsen
Label: Jagjaguwar
Release date: Feb. 18, 2014

8. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Artist: Sturgill Simpson
Label: High Top Mountain Records
Release date: Mar. 18, 2014

9. Blank Project
Artist: Neneh Cherry
Label: Smalltown Supersound
Release date: Feb. 25, 2014

10. Morning Phase
Artist: Beck
Label: Capitol
Release date: Feb. 25, 2014

11. Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Artist: Hans Zimmer
Label: WaterTower Music
Release date: Nov. 17, 2014

12. It’s Album Time
Artist: Todd Terje
Label: Redeye Label
Release date: Apr. 8, 2014

13. Alvvays
Artist: Alvvays
Label: Polyvinyl Records
Release date: July 22, 2014

14. Warpaint
Artist: Warpaint
Label: Rough Trade
Release date: Jan. 21, 2014

Each year seems to bring more accessibility to format lengths beyond the standard LP or Double LP length. I’ve always been fond of the EP length. I’ve never been much of a singles listener. I always like more of an experience than just the one song. The EP and mini-LP lengths, however, allow for a complete listening experience without the commitment of an hour or so of listening time. With the advent of the streaming revolution, these shorter formats have become more easily accessible and more prominent part of an artist’s release arsenal. Ryan Adams had a particularly prolific year due to the shorter format, releasing not only a self-titled LP, but also four EPs, including a mini-LP he recorded in 1984. Anyway, for the first time ever, I consumed enough of these shorter format releases that I’ve compiled a top ten EP list.

1. The Other Side of Midnight
Artist: Johnny Jewel
Label: Italians Do It Better
Release date: Dec. 8, 2014
*Free download

2. Jacksonville
Artist: Ryan Adams
Label: Caroline
Release date: Sept. 16, 2014

3. Disco//Very
Artist: Warpaint
Label: Rough Trade
*An extensive search has yet to reveal any current availability of this EP.

4. Noctilucence
Artist: Mark McGuire
Label: Dead Oceans
Release date: Nov. 14, 2014

5. Frostbite
Artist: Kitty
Label: kitty
Release date: Nov. 18, 2014

6. American Beauty
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Label: Columbia
Release date: Apr. 22, 2014

7. Do You Laugh When You Lie?
Artist: Ryan Adams
Label: PaxAmericana
Release date: Dec. 9, 2014

8. Dissed and Dismissed
Artist: Tony Molina
Label: Slumberland Records
Release date: Mar. 25, 2014

9. The Eliminator EP
Artist: Ruby the Hatchet
Label: Tee Pee Records
Release date: Feb. 25, 2014

10. Knicks Remix
Artist: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Label: Madlib Medicine Show
Release date: Nov. 18, 2014

It is common among film festival competitions for judges to award Special Jury Prizes for films they can’t fit into the regular festival categories. I’ve made it a practice to include this tradition in my “best of” lists each year. Usually the SJP goes to a piece of art just as deserving as the others awarded, however, there just weren’t enough prizes to include it. Sometimes they are awarded to films that distinguish themselves in ways that make it stand out even if it isn’t the best among the field. This year’s Special Jury Album was not in the final consideration for my favorites of the year, although I do find myself coming back to it over and over again.

Pink Floyd made a career out of masterworks until tension within the group finally lead to the firing of primary songwriter Roger Waters in the early 80s. Since then, guitarist David Gilmore has put his own stamp on the group’s infrequent output. It has, however, lacked something without Waters’ biting lyrics and darker influence to anchor Gilmore’s sorrowful melodies. This year the group released “their final album” using unfinished pieces from their previous effort “The Division Bell” some 20 years hence. Gilmore incorporated a great deal of deceased keyboardist Rick Wright’s work for those sessions into this new piece.

Although I can see why those who might not be die-hard fans of Floyd might find this new, nearly lyricless album strange in its languorous soundscapes, I feel it is a remarkable work amongst all their efforts while simultaneously acting as tribute to their entire discography. The album is a celebration of the jam format that distinguishes the band from the other classic rock bands with which it’s always lumped. It also recalls impressions—never direct references— of their most memorable melodies throughout their entire body of work. As a Pink Floyd fan, I find “The Endless River” to be a fitting goodbye to one of the greatest rock bands of the ages.

Special Jury Album. The Endless River

Artist: The Pink Floyd

Label: Columbia

Release date: Nov. 10, 2014

All titles are available* for streaming on Spotify and for purchase at all fine music outlets.
*except where noted.

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