It was a pretty quiet year, until the end, when I suddenly got tons of new music. And I’m just now getting around to writing about it. (I know, I know: 2014 was sooooo last year.) But it was worth the wait. Tons of groovy stuff.
Disclaimer: this is the best of what I obtained in 2014. Release year ain’t mean shit.
Album of the Year
Real EstateÂ â€“Â Atlas
On its face, a quick glance of each song seems a little unremarkable at first. But you play them all together, and itâ€™s just a great album for damn near everything. Going to the beach? Real Estate. Having pints? Real Estate. Running errands, tooling around, messing about the house. White noise, active listening, this album is such a go-to, it was on a constant once-a-week rotation for months in my car. Iâ€™ve included a few songs here in the playlist, but the whole album is worth it. Itâ€™s so understated, I hate to oversell it, but I canâ€™t stop going back to this album.
BestÂ New Artist
Like Allison Goldfrapp, Annie Clark is really good at changing it up. On one hand, I feel guilty for comparing her to â€œfemale artistsâ€ who rarely stray from their safe zone (whenâ€™s the last time Sarah McLachlan didnâ€™t sound like she was just adding songs to her Surfacing album in 1997?) Then again, male artists do the same thing. So fucking kudos to Annie Clark for just being a good goddamn artist.
Of the two I’ve heard, her albums tend to blend thematically, each song into the next, but album by album is definitely itâ€™s own piece. Add a helluva good singer to a killler guitarist, make her a really interesting composer, and thatâ€™s St. Vincent. My best comparison? The musical daughter of David Bowie and Goldfrapp. Strange Mercy has a bit of a sadcore vibe, but her latest self-titled album breaks into some fun pop-but-far-from-shit songs (not surprisingly influenced after working with David Byrne.) Keep an eye on this one: itâ€™ll be fun watching her evolve.
Best Live Album
Dido â€“ Live At Brixton Academy
I donâ€™t know if Dido is just completely overlooked or underrated or just ignored in whatever circles I happen to be in, but I think sheâ€™s really good and surprisingly consistent. My only bitch is I wish she would do an album closer in energy to what she did in concert at Brixton Academy. You may have an easier time finding the DVD of this than the CD (it only took me something like 8 years). Spotify doesnâ€™t have it. Fortunately YouTube has my two favorite tracks.
Three albums that seem to just play well together but stand alone as well.Â I donâ€™t want to belabor these, partially because each is hard enough to explain and give them justice. But thereâ€™s some great, interesting sound going on here. Give them each a listen.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers â€“ Hypnotic Eye
First, accept that there isnâ€™t that one killer â€œAmerican Girlâ€ / â€œRunninâ€™ Down a Dreamâ€ / â€œWildflowersâ€ Tom Petty single on this album. Itâ€™s just not there. To be fair, I completely missed the last couple albums from them, so maybe this isnâ€™t new. On the other hand, this album sounds like the whole band said, â€œFuck it, letâ€™s just make some blues and rock for us. If we like it, weâ€™ll call it an album.â€ And thatâ€™s a good thing. Itâ€™s kind of like they said, hey hereâ€™s what the Black Crowes would be doing if they werenâ€™t a bunch of burnt out twats. (For the record, I liked the Crowes, and still have a lot of respect for Rich Robinson.)
Wish There Was More
A couple albums that had more on promise than delivery. Not bad, not great, but some good tracks here and there.
The Divine Comedy
Bang Goes the Knighthood
The Art of McCartney
Like Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood is one of those artists whoâ€™s been everywhere but seemingly under the radar forever. Somehow, I started thinking about one of his songs from the 80â€™s. I donâ€™t know which one. But that lead me to realize he had this weird presence of overlooked hits that kind of blended into other peopleâ€™s sounds. Almost creamy enough to have that Bruce Hornsby thing (â€œBack in the High Life Againâ€), kind of that metallic brassy vocal of Robert Palmer (â€œThe Finer Thingsâ€) and that kind of synthetic R&B influence of Peter Gabrielâ€™s â€œSoâ€ (â€œHigher Loveâ€).