Best Albums of 2014 – Version Rossi.0

In direct opposition to my 2013 list, 2014 was a year of highly anticipated albums that for the most part, I thought, delivered on their anticipation.

Anticipating upcoming albums is a funny thing. If it’s a band you have followed for some time, you are generally looking forward to something similar to their old stuff. Something welcoming and familiar. Many times, however, that’s not quite what you get. If it’s a new band, there are multiple ways you might have come to your place of anticipation – word of mouth, good early publicity, etc. Or maybe it’s a band you’ve known about, dabbled in but could never quite get into, but have reason to believe this new offering will be different. Three of the albums in my top 10, in particular, were highly anticipated, at least by me.

However, some came out of nowhere. There were albums that hooked me from the first listen, while still others that grew with time. I started putting a tentative list together about a month ago, and the way it has shifted since that initial list is testament, I believe, more to my wide range in tastes than anything else.

So, without further ado, below is my top 10 albums of 2014. Please, tell what I missed, why I’m wrong, and what you also loved this year!

1. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream

From a personal standpoint, the most highly anticipated album of 2014. And man, did it ever deliver. I was a bit late to the War on Drugs game, only having really started to appreciate the work of Adam Granduciel with their 2011 release, Slave Ambient. But that album was enough to get me excited for what came next. Lost in a Dream feels is deep. It’s the only way I know how to describe it. With every listen – which is likely now going on 100 for me – I hear/feel/experience something different. But I think the greatest compliment I can pay to this album is that EVERY time I listen in, it feels as if Granduciel is right next to me, playing the song for the first time. It’s that real.

2. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is back, and in a big way. It’s evident not just in how this album is everything that every Ryan Adams fan had hoped for in his return from “retirement,” but it how he’s come back into the spotlight the only way he knows how – unapologetically. From covering whatever the hell he feels like (see here, here, and here) to chastising a fan for a camera flash that set off his Ménière’s disease. Ryan Adams toured hard this fall (and I was there), including the late night talk show circuit with Jenny Lewis. And why not – this album deserves to be heard far and wide.

3. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, has been on my radar for about three years – after his debut LP Learning but before encore Put Your Back N 2 It. His first two albums were personal, dark and haunting. You felt as if you were watching him play each song behind a one-way mirror, with him unaware that anyone was listening or watching – a personal window into his soul. Too Bright, on the other hand, is Hadreas’ coming out party. Subdued opener I Decline lures you into the belief that you are in for the same ol’ same ol’. But that’s quickly rejected as in-your-face single Queen breaks out singing “No family is safe, when I sashay,” followed by grunts coupled with a catchy electronic hook. Hadreas’ previous albums saw him coupling the topics of sexuality and depression, as if there were intrinsically linked. But Too Bright has Hadreas breaking out from behind the glass, comfortable with who he is and exclaiming he is here to stay, in a big way.

4. Future Islands – Singles

The biggest missed live-performance regret of my year come by way of Baltimore-based Future Islands. For the first half of 2014, the band was playing domestic and international shows at known but not large or iconic venues. But that all changes in the second half of the year, as Singles gained in popularity, and word of their electric live shows spread across the indie music scene. That meteoric rise in popularity culminated in a much-talked-about performance on Letterman. My fear is that small, intimate venues won’t be on the tour circuit for Future Islands for the foreseeable future. Good for them.

5. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

One of the strongest albums of the year burst onto the scene in its first month. Speaking of highly anticipated albums, the first album from Against Me! since lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in a Rolling Stone article in 2012 fits snugly into that category. Admittedly, the album title that leaked some six months prior to release led to much of that anticipation, but this album delivered in a big way. From the first track to the last, Grace’s vocals and lyrics come across as raw, personal, tortured, unapologetic, and in-your-face. Remember when punk rock was overtly political? This is a throw back to the heyday.

6. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

I love the Gaslight Anthem. They have become entrenched into a list of a dozen or so bands that carry loftier status for me. Get Hurt is what it is, and it’s not what it’s not. Brilliant, right? What it is is an attempt by Brian Fallon and company to be taken more seriously as a band, to come out of the shadows of cult-status and announce themselves to a wider audience as a “serious rock band!” This is apparent, not only in the album itself, but also in the marketing campaign that surrounded its release. Hell, Fallon himself declared Pearl Jam to be the album’s biggest inspiration. What Get Hurt is not is the same ‘ol heart-on-sleeve, teenage-angst-filled combo of dance-alongs and ballads thats permeated their previous albums. This new way works, too.

7. G-Eazy – These Things Happen

Every year, one rap album is able to crack my top 10. This year’s entrant – G-Eazy – comes from the same lyric school as 2012’s representative, Kendrick Lamar (unofficially, at least). Though G-Eazy hails from almost 400 miles north on I-5, the beat style and themes covered are very similar. They include dealing with newfound success, sacrifice, and staying true to self. But the theme throughout this album that resonated the most with me is Gerald Earl Gillum’s apparent internal struggle between living in the now and an obsession with dying young. This is something everyone has dealt with at some point, but G-Eazy verbalizes it better than most.

8. Copeland – Ixora

Copeland is back doing what it does best, writing songs that combine relatively simple piano or guitar chords with deep lyrics and the haunting voice of Aaron Marsh. I was skeptical Copeland’s music could still resonate with me, but that skepticism was misguided. This is a strong album from front to back that gets better with every listen.

9. Lana Del Ray – Ultraviolence

Another highly anticipated album, following up on 2012’s strong LP Born to Die and mini-album Paradise, Ultraviolence beat back Del Ray’s haters by featuring moody songs that stuck with you long after they ended. Del Ray’s unlikely (or, maybe more accurately, “self-constructed”) path to fame is well-pronounced, but for all the hate, you have to give her credit for the staying power.

10. The Antlers – Familiars

This album doesn’t ebb and flow, doesn’t have climaxes or songs that are better than others, or even many catchy beats. What it is is steady, strong from the beginning to the end. This might not be an album I listen to much in a year, or even remember in 5 years. But I enjoyed it this year as a background soundtrack of sorts, able to be played while reading, writing, or working.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. How To Dress Well – What is this Heart?
  2. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
  3. Matthew Ryan – Boxers
  4. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
  5. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
  6. Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
  7. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

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