Here are my top ten albums of 2014.
My professional career as a writer started with music a decade ago. Reviewing world music for the now defunct Global Rhythm magazine opened my ears to the world in delightful new ways. We can learn a lot more about the heart of a culture through its music than we can through the snippets of information we see on the news. The same goes for our own culture. It’s not being adequately represented on the news these days. Music however – well, that’s another story.
Whatever our musical tastes, that we explore and are opened up by music is what matters most. I remember writing for my school paper back in the 6th grade asking the boys to (please!) stop making fun of us girls who loved Duran Duran. We were entitled to our love for ‘80s New Wave snyth-pop, I wrote. We didn’t need to be harassed and made fun of for such a thing. After all, we can’t choose what we like, can we? Music just grips us, and if what we’re listening to doesn’t do that, then we’re not being honest with ourselves if we think we like something that doesn’t strike us deep. Hopefully whatever you listen to transports you to another world—that one deep inside that’s really only accessible through good music.
Top Ten Albums of 2014
10. Damien Jurado, “Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son” – If Jurado’s 11th album title doesn’t say it all already, don’t bother listening. His dreamy, ambient songs listen like good stories. His voice is full yet subtle, and musically, you hear the brilliant influence of Richard Swift’s production, which is fingerprinted all over this record, just like it was on Jurado’s last two. Maybe it’s the weight of winter that makes this record feel so perfectly suited, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s a worthy listen.
9. Warpaint, “Warpaint” – The sound of the Los Angeles-based female quartet can best be described (by this reviewer, anyway) as lush. There’s a distinct, unmistakable tone to Warpaint, like the scent of a rose or the taste of a ripe, juicy peach. Their overtly introverted sound is reflective, dreamy and while it doesn’t stretch too far from their last record, it stretches in all the right places.
8. Luluc, “Passerby”– Call it “indie folk” to put it in perspective, but it’s so much more. The much-anticipated follow-up to the band’s debut six years ago is brimming with mood and sentiment. It’s soft, almost eerie and slightly addictive. It flows like a pared down simple meal of steamed vegetables and toothsome grains, good because at its core it’s pure and delicious. To dress it up any more would ruin the meal.
7. Jack White, “Lazaretto” – Most Americans are raised on rock ‘n’ roll in one form or another and my childhood was no exception. There are some things I loved and some I’m still trying to figure out. Jack White always sounds like the music I loved from my childhood, no matter what he’s creating, and “Lazaretto” is no exception. It’s got a sturdy backbone, is rightfully rough around the edges and filled with heart. It serves a serious function in America today, because, you know, sometimes we just need a really, really good… ahem, rocking.
6. Angel Olsen, “Burn Your Fire for No Witness” — I think what’s so important about this record is that it sounds so lonely. As I type this review, I just got a text. Some ad windows keep popping up on the screen behind me, one with a running video I’m trying not to look at. We’re all so surrounded by information, people and stuff… so much stuff. “Burn Your Fire for No Witness” is appropriate anathema to all that. Its quietude is hyperbolic because it seems we need to, like the opening track title explains: “Unfucktheworld.” That’s not going to come as a result of bells and whistles, which, if I may say so, got us into this mess in the first place. We need raw emotion, harrowing lyrics and a little bit of silence so we can sort our shit out. While this record is a little less soft than Olsen’s previous work, it’s still replete with reductive vocals and guitars and a whole lot of heartbreak that we can only hope lets a little light in.
5. Tweedy, “Sukierae” — While I’ve been a long time fan of Wilco, Jeff Tweedy’s better known outfit, it wasn’t until I listened to “Sukierae,” which also features Tweedy’s son Spencer, that it suddenly hit me: Jeff Tweedy sounds and plays a lot like George Harrison, so it’s no wonder I’m such a fan. I love that stripped down yet always psychedelic sounding voice and guitar that made Harrison so amazing, and Tweedy’s offerings are just as alluring. The double album doesn’t disappoint. Songs like “I’ll Sing It” and “Low Key” are infectious and brilliant, poppy, light and perfectly right. Like Harrison, Tweedy comes off as polite, kind, like the last thing he wants is for his music to offend you. That’s a timeless quality, just like “Sukierae” is a timeless sound.
4. Sturgill Simpson, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” — Like most northerners I know, it took me a really long time to not dismiss country music the way those boys in middle school belittled my love for D2. I’m so glad I’ve come out the other side of that judgement. Want to get to the real heart of our culture? Listen no further than Sturgill Simpson’s second album. Even he had his own psychedelic/spiritual awakening (“Turtles All the Way Down”) that mirrors our nation’s growing up around country music (and other things). It’s a fantastic record you just don’t want to be over (especially for us ‘80s fans who might remember the 1988 post-New Wave hit “The Promise” by When in Rome that he covers). Simpson seems bent on redefining country music, or perhaps more accurately, redefining our perception of it. He’ll get no arguments from me.
3. FKA Twigs, “LP 1” — Tahliah Barnett, better known as FKA Twigs, is simply flawless on her full-length debut. The quirky Brit’s sound is all over the map—a little R&B, a little soul, a bit Tricky-esque trip-hop and something so brilliantly all her own. Her sound is curious and familiar, steady beats, lilting voice and raw lyrics that make you feel like you’re hearing something maybe you weren’t supposed to. “Video Girl” got stuck in my head this year more than any other song, and not once did I complain about it.
2. Tinariwen, “Emmaar” – If you haven’t yet heard of Tinariwen, your world is about to be blown open like the vast Sahara where the band got its start. These Tuareg musicians may seem out of place on a list like this, and I suspect, many other top album lists compiled by Westerners. But once you listen to “Emmaar” it’s easy to hear why they’re so welcomed around the world, even if the political situation makes returning to their home of Mali not soon a reality. Hopefully, they take as much refuge in their unimpeachable blues music as they do in wandering. The intensity of the four guitarists, unified vocals and beats are skillfully hypnotic, if not medicinal. Like with their other albums, you can’t help but feel the desert in every song, the spaciousness and the drifting and that longing for home.
1. St. Vincent, “St. Vincent” — I’m not precisely sure why it took me four records to become such a fan of St. Vincent (Annie Clark), but here I am, totally converted. As a longtime Kate Bush fan, the admiration should have come sooner, but better late than never, I suppose. What makes the self-titled record so damn good? I’ve honestly been trying to figure that out since its release back in February. For one, her guitar playing is not to be overlooked. It’s raw and a little bit spaztic, a la the ‘70s – enough so that she can easily be perceived as alienating. But she’s Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush quirky more than she’s any type of, say, Lady Gaga pretentious. From the album’s opener, “Rattlesnake,” through to eventual classics like “Digital Witness” and “Psychopath” all the way to “Severed Crossed Fingers,” the eerie, beautiful finale, Clark is committed to that ever-challenging task of self-identity. And while that’s a journey never really over, Clark reminds us that it is the journey after all that’s most important. And in this case, it’s one worth taking many times over.
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Related on EcoSalon