Billy L: Top Albums of 2014

Staten Island, NY

My list was shaping up nicely, and then D’Angelo went and pulled a Beyonce on us, releasing a mid-December surprise album of killer R&B. Picking up pretty much where Voodoo left off, Black Messiah is an outstanding record, filled with meticulously crafted vocal overdubs, razor-sharp horns, and a rhythm section that doesn’t quit, steady, then stuttering, then shifting, grooving all the while. But it just couldn’t top the album I returned to the most this year, The War on Drugs’ Lost in a Dream. Beginning an album with a track eight minutes and 51 seconds long is a bad decision for most bands, but these guys make it work beautifully, setting up some of the big sonic themes of the record — propulsive drums, a colorful haze of guitars and synths, Granduciel’s Dylan-esque way of sliding off the ends of his phrases. And there’s some Petty and Springsteen mixed in too, but just the good Petty and Springsteen. Saxophone and harmonica sneak in and out of the mix. Highway driving. Walking in the rain. A great American rock’n’roll record.

Aphex Twin delivered a quirky, trippy, beautiful record that only he could produce. Syro certainly makes for a strange morning commute. Beck and Spoon also turned in excellent records — among of the best of their careers. Jessie Ware’s Devotion was one of my favorite albums of 2012. This year, with a slightly higher profile, and some different producers and songwriting partners, she released Tough Love. She’s got sort of a Sade thing going on, with a lot of downtempo R&B-lite grooves that sometimes veer into Brothers Gibb disco territory (in a good way), and she has a absolutely lovely voice. She’s featured (though inexplicably uncredited) on the new Nicki Minaj album, so I hope that’s an indication her audience is growing.

I wasn’t aware of the Angel Olsen record until the NoiseNarcs nominations, and then I fell for it quickly. “White Fire” especially has this haunting, rootsy Americana sound that I love. As for St. Vincent: great art-pop with nasty guitar. The Antlers album boasts the 2nd best use of trumpet in 2014 (D’Angelo wins that one.) And Mac DeMarco rounds out the list with an understated set of catchy, lazy, slightly woozy tunes.

Sorry, Thom Yorke, I tried to love your new album. It does make for good background “wallpaper” music. And I know that Run the Jewels is probably on everyone’s list, and indeed it’s a hell of an album. But I just didn’t return to it that much. Am I too old for hip-hop these days? I don’t think so. I spun Kendrick Lamarr’s record from last year quite a bit. Maybe it’s just a bit too grating for my 2014 self? I dunno.

I wish the Royksopp and Robyn record was a full-length — I wanted more. I enjoyed the TV on the Radio album. And when it comes to country music, Sturgill Simpson is the real deal.

top ten albums

10Mac DeMarco: Salad Days

Standout Track(s): Chamber Of Reflection

09The Antlers: Familiars

Standout Track(s): Intruders

07Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Standout Track(s): White Fire

06Jessie Ware: Tough Love

Standout Track(s): Tough Love, Want Your Feeling

05Spoon: They Want My Soul

Standout Track(s): Do You, Knock Knock Knock

04Beck: Morning Phase

Standout Track(s): Blackbird Chain, Waking Light

03Aphex Twin: Syro

Standout Track(s): minipops 67, XMAS_EVET10, syro u473t8+e

02D’Angelo and The Vanguard: Black Messiah

Standout Track(s): Sugah Daddy, Really Love, 1000 Deaths

01The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream

Standout Track(s): Under the Pressure, Lost in the Dream, Disappearing

honorable mentions

Run the Jewels // Run the Jewels 2
Röyksopp and Robyn // Do It Again
TV on the Radio // Seeds
Sturgill Simpson // Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

similarity to overall top ten: 51.83%, 6 matches

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