I’ve been doing an annual “middle-aged teenager picks his best music of the year” post for a while now. It’s always been a list, though I haven’t ranked my choices and the number of albums I picked varied. It wasn’t that I like lists so much — I don’t — but because lists are easy. Not just easy for the writer, but also easy for readers, who can quickly scan a list looking for the albums (or movies or books or whatever) that match their picks–and the ones that don’t, but sound worth checking out. Now, though, there’s a backlash against lists, which is a good thing, especially for the people who have to work in what New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum calls “the journalistic list mines.” Here, then, are some thoughts on what I loved listening to in 2014. (The links will take you to a song from the album on YouTube.)
When I first heard Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs in March, I was convinced it would be my favourite album of the year. After all, it was the best album I’d heard in ages. And, sure enough, nothing else came close as month after month came and went. The album sounds fresh and inventive, yet owes so much to the past, to its many influences. Every time I talk to someone or read something about this album, I hear about different influences, mostly from the ’80s, from Roxy Music to Springsteen to Talk Talk and lots in between. I love listening to it.
So, yeah, I devoted a lot of time to that album and when I wasn’t listening to it, I listened to a lot of women, which is always a good thing. St. Vincent’s St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There, Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness are three albums that a lot of people talked about. But I was surprised that Lucinda Williams’s Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone didn’t receive more year-end praise. I think it’s an impressive return to form and her best in at least a decade. Meanwhile, Alvvays made an delightful debut with the poppy Alvvays, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings gave the people what they want with Give the People What They Want and Mirah, who I discovered when she made an album with Thao a few years ago, put out a fine solo record, Changing Light. Three albums by women or bands with female leaders were initially a bit disappointing — perhaps because I didn’t think they were as strong as their previous offerings (though in each case that may have been an unfair standard). But the more I listened to Stay Gold by First Aid Kit, Too True by the Dum Dum Girls and We Come from the Same Place by Allo Darlin’, the more I discovered their charms. (I see that some people added Courtney Barnett’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas to their 2014 list and I’d add it to mine except that it made my 2013 list.)
As for the guys, I have to admit I hadn’t listened to much Beck in recent years but people I respect were raving about Morning Phase so I checked it out. Turns out I respect the people I respect for good reasons. Leonard Cohen kept chugging along with Popular Problems. Now an octogenarian, he’s still in his salad days. Speaking of which, Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days was also excellent. Half the City from St. Paul & The Broken Bones gave me great pleasure while Spoon ought to change its name to Consistency because the band did it again with They Want My Soul. And speaking of ought, Montreal’s Ought put out a really fun debut album called More than Any Other Day.
There were others, of course, but I hope you find something new in these ones.