It’s that time of year again when we look back on all the great album releases of the past 12 months and somehow narrow it down to the best handful of releases. I’ve been working on this list since October and it has changed many, MANY times since then. Albums appeared, were taken out, moved up and down the list and reemerged back on the list. While this is my favorite time of year, it’s also the most nerve-racking. I had to go Sophie’s Choice on a number of albums to finalize this list. Seriously.
So here you go. My Top 25 favorite albums of 2014. If you’re wondering where the Richmond bands are, they will be in their own separate RVA-focused list coming soon.
25. Lily Allen – Sheezus
I’ve always enjoyed British songbird Lily Allen, but on “Sheezus” – her first album in years – she cranks it up a notch and delivers an incredible collection of danceable tracks.
24. Wakey!Wakey! – Salvation
Richmond native and indie-pop singer Michael Grubbs, frontman-songwriter behind Wakey!Wakey!, was a welcome newcomer to my ears. “Salvation” is an entertaining romp that you just can’t help put perk up to and feel amazing.
23. St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Half the City
St. Paul and the Broken Bones is one group that needs to be experienced. After seeing them at Friday Cheers this summer, it was clear that this group’s album was worth listening to. The best part of “Half the City” is that it’s able to fully capture what that live experience was like. Expect to dance and be exhausted after playing this one.
22. Rob Cantor – Not A Trampoline
You may remember Rob Cantor’s viral video where he performed “Perfect” doing 29 celebrity impressions (which was FAKE, by the way), but his album “Not A Trampoline” is a fine set of upbeat, indie pop songs that was well worth the discovery by this viral stunt.
21. SKATERS – Manhattan
This was a surprise album recommended by a friend who knows good pop rock music. SKATERS’s album “Manhattan” comes in like a freight train with high energy rock and doesn’t let up until it’s over. This is an album that not many people knew about. And they really need to.
20. Future Islands – Singles
It’s easy to lost in the ambient waves of Future Islands’ newest record. It’s mellow, trippy and seriously enjoyable. The group expands what they’ve always been good at and manages to create something even better. Easily my favorite of their last few releases.
19. Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear
This way a last minute entry to the list. As of a week ago. I never gave Sia’s latest record a chance when it came out. I had heard “Chandelier” but didn’t give it any more thought after that. That was my mistake. While “1000 Forms of Fear” definitely goes in a new direction musically, it’s done an incredibly well-crafted way that shows off her vocal talents while experimenting. I’m glad I gave this album a more thorough look.
This Canadian indie-pop group caught my attention with 1) its incredible clever spelling (I don’t know why I find it as ingenious as I did, but I love it) and 2) the incredibly catchy “Archie, Marry Me.” Even better is the fact that the group’s self-titled debut features even more amazing tracks. I found myself loving this more than I imagined.
17. (TIE) Tom Goss – Wait | Matt Alber – Wind Sand Stars
We have a tie for this spot. I discovered both Tom Goss and Matt Alber’s albums around the same time and both were essential listening outlets when I was going through a really tough period of my life. Alber guests on Goss’ track “Breath and Sound” and the two have gone on tour together recently. So there’s no way I could rank one higher than the other. Both albums are extremely well-written and have their upbeat moments and somber melodies. Not going to lie, both albums had tracks that made me tear up a little.
16. Iggy Azalea – The New Classic
Just shut up. I’m standing by this choice. While “Fancy” may be overplayed, other tracks on the record are serious gems that need to shine. Songs like “Work,” “Walk the Line,” “Impossible is Nothing” and (my favorite) “New Bitch” are what I was playing over and over and ones that make this one excellent piece of work.
15. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
Ah, the golden boy who got into liking country music again. Sturgill Simpson’s excellent melodic country rock is nothing short of incredible. I listened to this album after I heard so many good things from friends and listening to this record reminded me that I have to listen to my friends’ music tastes more often.
14. (TIE) Greg Laswell – I Was Going to Be An Astronaut | Ingrid Michaelson – Lights Out
Another tie. I’ve been a fan of Greg Laswell for years and through him, I was introduced to his amazingly talented wife Ingrid Michaelson and both released albums this year. Laswell’s masterfully reworked renditions of his earlier songs tugged at my heartstrings more than the originals ever could. And Michaelson lifted my spirits up a bit with her powerful, yet extremely touching collection of indie pop songs. Laswell even guests on a beautiful track on “Lights Out” (Michaelson did her part on Laswell’s last release). I hope they don’t mind sharing this spot.
13. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of this record. From the upbeat opening chords of “My Silver Lining” to the somber “A Long Time Ago,” the Swedish folk duo brings musical sweetness to my ears.
12. Johnny Marr – Playland
The former guitarist for The Smiths turned out an amazing record this year. “Playland” starts off with a bang and doesn’t let up. This was another album that just came in at the last minute and this list into disarray. Songs like “Easy Money,” “Back in the Box” and “25 Hours” have been playing nonstop since I discovered this record.
11. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There
The Hotelier’s phenomenal release “Home, Like Noplace Is There” takes me back to the times when bands like Get Up Kids and Saves the Day were dominating my playlists. “Home…” is raw and emotional and doesn’t hold anything back.
10. Ok Go – Hungry Ghosts
While Ok Go is really known for their overly-elaborate music videos (Seriously. How the hell do they manage to pull these off so well?) and their entertaining live shows with enough confetti to fill the Titanic, the group manages to craft a fine album of entertaining songs that make you dance, let go of whatever your troubles are and just enjoy the ride.
9. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
God, is there anything Jenny Lewis can’t do? Her new album “The Voyager” is one to be experienced. Songs like “Head Underwater” and “She’s Not Me” get you up and moving.
8. Bleachers – Strange Desire
Honestly, I didn’t know what to make of this album. It’s so random. There were times where I thought I had switched to a different album – but NO! this is one album that goes all over the place but manages to do it extremely well. And Yoko Ono guests on here too!
There was no escaping “Take Me to Church” this year. That song was such a force in music this year, it’s very easy to overlook the rest of this album. Don’t. Every single song on this release is phenomenal. Every single song tells its own story. Every single song makes you feel a different feeling.
6. Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas – Secret Evil
Well, this album came completely out of left field. Miss Hernandez came barreling into my ears and into my music-loving heart like a freight train – and I am so glad she did. On the Detroit-based blues rock band’s debut, there’s plenty of energy behind Jessica’s voice and an attitude to match. The music of the Deltas is just as impressive because a powerhouse voice needs a powerhouse band.
5. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Against Me! has always been a go-to band for excessive fun punk rock music. After lead singer Laura Jane Grace publicly came out as transgender, I was blown away by the amount of support shown from bandmates to Against Me! fans to the mainstream punk rock community. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is an amazing concept album that’s not afraid to be a different kind of punk in a routine punk world.
4. Tiny Victories – Haunts
There were so many times I almost overlooked this album. But something about “Haunts” stuck with me. I would listen to it and then get sidetracked with other releases but would keep coming back to it. Every time I listened to it, I kept having a “Oh my God, this album is incredible!” moment. Tiny Victories’ debut album is full of electro-pop insanity that’s just screaming to be enjoyed.
3. Passenger – Whispers
Passenger, the alias of British singer/songwriter Mike Rosenberg, has always had a special place in my heart since his early days of “Wicked Man’s Rest.” A number of albums later, the world is finally taking notice of this insanely talented songsmith. Listen to “Scare Away the Dark” and “27” and feel uplifted while at the same time, cry your heart out during “Riding to New York.” This guy just keeps getting better.
2. Michael Jackson – Xscape
The King of Pop is gone but his legacy is not forgotten. “Xscape” is Michael Jackson’s 11th album released since his death in 2009. Full of songs that didn’t make the cut on various album recordings, this collection shows off why Michael is the best pop musician ever. There’s no stopping what he can do. Every song, from “Slave to the Rhythm” to “Love Never Felt So Good,” is upbeat and leaves you wanting to dance the moonwalk.
1. The Pierces – Creation
Hands down my favorite album of this year. I randomly stumbled upon “Kings” and proceeded to listen to that song 20 times a day for the next month. This new project from the Pierce sisters was the first album in recent memory that was I actually eagerly anticipating. I waited not-so-patiently for “Creation” to come out and was teased with snippets of new songs along the way. I found myself falling in love with this album and unable to put it down.
0. Guardians of the Galaxy – Awesome Mix Vol. 1
Even though it’s a collection of the best songs of the 70s, there’s no way this could NOT be on the best albums list this year. These songs made “Guardians of the Galaxy” the great movie that it was and “Awesome Mix” has reinvigorated my love of these old classics. I can’t wait to see what’s on “Awesome Mix – Vol. 2.”