2014 was a slow year for music from the start. Around mid-year, those in the loop looked around and whispered to one another, “Is it just me, or does 2014’s new music kind of… suck?” Luckily things got a bit more interesting toward the end of the year, when Grammy contenders and young talent flourished. Saving the best for last, music industry? Well, two can play at that game. Here are our favorite albums of 2014, from least best to very best.
On the surface, you wouldn’t worry about Jenny Lewis on her latest album, The Voyager. Bordering on bubblegum, the perky, good-natured spirit of tunes like “Head Underwater” outshine the deep, dark depth of the lyrics. But they are seriously dark. “I’ve been wearing all black since the day it started/When I stopped and looked back as my mind departed/I’ve been losing sleep and I cannot sit still/I’m not the same woman that you were used to.” It’s been six years since Lewis’ last release, and it kind of makes you wonder what happened in that time. Whatever it was, it turned into one hell of an album.
Part lo-fi, part country, Angel Olsen has become a full-fledged indie goddess with Burn Your Fire for No Witness. Besides an overarching theme of melancholy and sadness, there was little stringing the album together, but luckily Olsen’s heartbreakingly achy lyrics and moans make up for a lack of real continuity. If you’re looking for a rainy day soundtrack, Burn Your Fire for No Witness is it.
How cheesy could Jeff Tweedy get? The Wilco front man gave his son a healthy dose of nepotism when he released the 20-song ode to family with his 20-year-old son, Spencer. As it turns out, when you grow up with the dad rock musician of all dad rock musicians, you wind up being talented too. As much as we sort of resent him for it, together, Tweedy turns cliché into classic—a sort of aural photo book for the rest of the world to interpret. And it’s way better than any family slideshow we’ve ever seen.
Metronomy’s 2014 effort has been divisive in the wake of their 2011 hit The English Riviera. Risking their electronic pop reputation, the band reduced instrumentation and increased experimentation with this year’s Love Letters. Part “Let the Sunshine in” and part weepy ‘80s love ballads, all mixed up and sifted through the perspective of modern electronic pop, Love Letters gets an A for effort. Metronomy’s future is so bright, they can’t even see the haters.
Following up their smash hit “Breezeblocks” on 2012’s An Awesome Wave, Alt-J continues alienating people who just don’t “get” it on 2014’s This is All Yours. Lead singer Joe Newman’s frog-throated voice is still creating enemies and fans, but This is All Yours is shockingly far from a sophomore slump. Evolving their sound while keeping all of their trademarks in place, Alt-J went a little tribal, a little funk, a little gospel and churned out a cohesive record that requires several spins to sink in. Once you get it, you “get” it.
Beck has been one of pop culture’s most consistent artists since he broke onto the scene with “Loser” in 1994. And he’s gone through many incarnations and phases. His latest is his Morning Phase (*chortle*), which sees him back in true form after a six year hiatus. It’s melancholic in tone and unabashedly Beck with ornate lyrics and the perspective of an older, wiser songwriter that’s weathered over the last six years.
Although he hasn’t seen the sun in the last decade, Jack White is healthier in other ways—namely in sweet guitar licks and in an abundance of attractive ladies in his band. Now at 39, White based the record around poems, short stories and plays he wrote 20 years ago, long before he was famous and his perspective was clear, if not a little naive. Even if he had to venture to the past to keep fresh, Jack White keeps his innovative perspective going on Lazaretto, combining country twang with a punk rock heart. It’s just all so Jack White.
Sneaking into the number three spot is Spoon with their sexy, slowed-down new sound that strays from the guitar-driven tracks fans are familiar with and strips them down to bombastic, shape-shifting ditties that switch from sweet love ballad to rock n’ roll anthem at the drop of a hat. “Inside Out” creeps up on you after They Want My Soul kicks off with “The Rent I Pay,” which is more in line with the Spoon we’re familiar with, if a little slow. “Inside Out” is easily the stand-out song on the record, but each has their moment in a cohesive, interesting, but not exactly groundbreaking album.
The last two albums on our list are aptly self-titled records, both of which seemingly encapsulate the artist they represent. And is there anyone cooler than St. Vincent’s Annie Clark? Few artists continue to reinvent their music while still keeping true to themselves. Following her 2011 breakout album Strange Mercy, Clark follows it up with a snarky, biting and all around edgy track list of consistently awesome songs. Contorting happy melodies into a bizarro funhouse of songs, St. Vincent is probably the most innovative album on this list and crowns Clark as the undeniable queen of modern rock n’ roll.
Ryan Adams has been much-hyped since he released his self-titled album in September. Adams has been a prolific, if not overexposed presence, venturing from genre to genre, including rock, alternative, country, metal and more. Stepping away from the limelight for three years, Adams came barreling out with Ryan Adams, which perfectly oozes his essence sans backing band The Cardinals. Filled with painfully tragic songs (“My Wrecking Ball”) and bittersweet love letters (“Am I Safe”), it’s his most emotionally honest solo record since Heartbreaker.