The Best Music of 2014

The Dilemma: Is this the year I officially turned into Rolling Stone? Am I David Fricke now? Because most of the music I really liked this year was from established acts. A couple legit old-timers, yes, but also indie/alternative bands with multiple albums under their belt that appeared to be on the downswing. In addition to those listed below, I enjoyed albums from the Old 97s, Jenny Lewis, The Both (Ted Leo and Aimee Mann), Ryan Adams, and others.
old-man-portrait-1920-1080-7973The Dilemma, ca. 2014

I have my limits, of course. My metamorphosis may have only just begun. Because I still couldn’t talk myself into the Hold Steady’s Teeth Dreams. And I certainly don’t consider Bruce Springsteen’s odds-and-sods collection, High Hopes, the 2nd best album of the year. I’m not all the way in angry, conservative baby boomer mode yet. But I feel it coming on. It doesn’t feel good. Nonetheless:

10. Run the Jewels/Run the Jewels 2

Even better than their first album, which almost made my top 10 itself. I don’t particularly love Killer Mike on his own, and I don’t dig El-P’s solo work much at all, but together, they’re magic. Throw in Zack de la Rocha, and we’re talking alchemy.

9. The War on Drugs/Lost in the Dream

I don’t see this album as the no-doubt breakout that others do, but more as the next step in War on Drugs’ progression. Featuring what might be the year’s best song, An Ocean In Between the Waves.

8. The Men/Tomorrow’s Hits

The Men can be frustrating at times, because their aesthetic and their pace of work can make it seem like they’re not really trying that hard. But who cares how hard they’re trying? If they can crank out an album every year with 8 songs like this, that’s all that matters.

7. Fucked Up/Glass Boys

David Comes to Life is a nigh-impossible act to follow, like The Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday. And While Fucked Up didn’t quite have a Boys and Girls in America in them, they nonetheless put out a worthy follow-up.

6. Bob Mould/Beauty & Ruin

Mould’s late-career renaissance is a beautiful thing to behold. The two albums he’s released in the last couple years could easily have been Sugar records in the early ’90s.

5. Twin Peaks/Wild Onion

Hey! A young band! But they don’t sound young: they’re self-assured and borrow liberally from the ’90s rock pantheon.

4. Ex Hex/Rips

…and here’s a band borrowing liberally from the ’80s rock pantheon. At least if you consider Pat Benatar and the Go-Gos pantheon level. It’s a shame Wild Flag had to die, but if that death gives us Ex Hex and a new Sleater-Kinney album, it will be a honorable way to go.

3. Counting Crows/Somewhere Under Wonderland

Somehow, the Counting Crows have only released six studio albums in their 20 years together. That sparsity is probably what’s saved them. Every time it seems like they might be done, or in trouble, they throw a gem at us (see also: Hard Candy). There’s nothing revolutionary here; it’s just a great Counting Crows record. (Although sprawling opener Palisades Park is a fun take on Wild & Innocent era Springsteen.)

2. U2/Songs of Innocence

That’s right, motherfuckers. U fucking 2 in the #2 spot. I don’t give a shit about the iTunes thing. And yes, there was an unfortunate choice of first single. But unlike No Line on the Horizon, when the single Get On Your Boots proved not to be an anomaly, the rest of Songs of Innocence is pretty close to spectacular. The production veers a bit to close to modern pop, but the songwriting is unimpeachable. This is their best album since Achtung Baby, and I’d argue it’s their 5th best overall.

1. Cloud Nothings/Here and Nowhere Else

Dylan Baldi can simply do no wrong right now. Only 8 tracks — along with the Men and Japandroids, Cloud Nothings seem to be ushering in an album of tight, compact albums — and all of them are essential. See this band live. Buy this album. Buy their last album too.

David Simon Cowell: Don’t have a whole lot of thoughts about music.  I know enough to know that we are squarely in the Jann Wenner zone at this point, and don’t want to embarrass myself by listing two albums that only serve to illustrate how far formerly great bands have fallen in the Top Three.  But here’s the Top Ten albums I’ve enjoyed in the past year, none of which I’ve enjoyed nearly as much as Shake It Off on repeat:

Ana Tijoux – Vengo

Alvvays – Alvvays
Archie Powell & The Exports – Back In Black
The Both – The Both
Caribou – Our Love
Ex Hex – Rips
Jack White – Lazaretto
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
St. Vincent – St. Vincent
The War On Drugs – Lost In A Dream

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Filed under David Simon Cowell, Music Has AIDS, The Dilemma, Uncategorized

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