Music. In 2014. God, how can I even begin?
2014 wasn't even a year of music for me, it was a year of growth with Rachel and starting a whole new chapter in my life. The marriage was what consumed the entire year, with everything else just a blur in the background.
Yet the music of this year is what accompanied me along the way towards saying my blessed vows. It was the music, and the story of how the music came into my life, that gave this year its depth and color. How could I have known that my first dance song would be from my top album of 2014? (I suppose that it shouldn't be that much of a surprise.)
There was a lot of music in 2014. Looking back at everything that flittered through my ear canals in the past year somewhat astonished me - there was a lot of good stuff released. Some albums held me for months on end, listening to each track in sequence on repeat until every song was etched into the recesses of my brain. Some albums were spiked with a couple outstanding tracks amidst limp ones, preventing me from enjoying the album from beginning to end.
When I sat down and sorted through what albums would make it onto this top ten list I wasn't shocked at the ones that bubbled to the surface. Yet the albums that didn't make it onto the list deserve mention too. Every album listed on this post holds a dear place in my heart, as it helped shape this year into one of the best of my life. Without them I'd have gone through the year in silence, and god what a boring thing that would have been.
- Her Soundtrack
- Beck, Morning Phase
- Banks, Goddess
- Caribou, Our Love
- Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots
- Hamilton Leithauser, Black Hours
- Jessie Ware, Tough Love
- Porter Robinson, Worlds
- SBTRKT, Wonder Where We Land
- Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso
- TV on the Radio, Seeds
10. alt-J, This Is All Yours
When alt-J first came onto the music scene in 2012 they brought with them a sound that no one had quite heard before. It was eerie, atmospheric, moody, and insanely catchy. It was decidedly alternative, but surprisingly very popular.
The question then becomes, can they do it again? With their sophomore album they proved they can.
In many ways weirder than their first album, This Is All Yours retained the same trademark alt-J sound, delivering some new songs with hooks, and some new ones that showed them exploring more of their weirder side. Although not as immediately accessible as their first album, this follow-up grew on me and became one of my go-to albums to listen to when I went out running.
9. The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
Three years since their previous release, this new album ended the hard drought of new material. It caught me by surprise as I had completely forgotten that The Decemberists were working on new material. I wasn't expecting it, but dear lord was I happy when it arrived.
Their previous album left me wanting as I found it completely inaccessible, whereas What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World immediately reminded me of their sound from their first two albums (which I completely adore).
I didn't know that this is what I wanted, but as soon as I started listening I knew it was long overdue. This album is such a welcome and triumphant return to form. Every track is packed with all the reasons you originally fell in love with The Decemberists. Far from nostalgia, it's a collection of tracks that perfectly show how they initially became popular.
8. Hoodie Allen, People Keep Talking
I have a soft spot in my heart for Hoodie Allen. He's an artist who bucks the stereotypical path of musicians. He lives outside of the music industry machine, having remained independent his entire career, never signing a contract with a major record label.
People Keep Talking is Hoodie Allen's first full-length studio album and it's some of his strongest work to date. The album flows from start to finish, with wonderful interludes that nicely bridge the transition from one track to the next. Every song is catchy and packed with hooks that you'll find yourself repeating throughout the day.
It's a happy album, one that'll put a swagger in your step as you ride along with Hoodie as he takes you on a joy-filled ride through his musical canvas.
7. Inside Llewyn Davis Soundtrack
If you haven't seen the movie yet, I implore you to watch Inside Llewyn Davis before listening to the album. One of my favorite things about music is how it can elevate life into a realm that's beyond reality. Inside Llewyn Davis and the music that accompanies it is a perfect examples of this phenomena.
The mood cast from this album is almost tangible. Every song is oozing with emotion. The melancholy tunes of yearning clutch at my heart as I get to feel the heartache and pain that was put into the song.
Even though there's a couple of tracks on this album that are nails on a chalkboard, the rest of the album completely makes up for it and eases the pain.
The emotion on this album is incredible and it's something I found myself returning to again and again.
6. Taylor Swift, 1989
2014 was the year I found myself giving up my pre-conceived notions of pop and the artists that create it. Taylor Swift's 1989 was one of the albums that benefited from my new open-mindedness (she really has my number three album to thank for opening this door).
To be fair, I don't think I could have avoided 1989if I had tried. It completely took the world by storm and for a good reason: the album is great. And I mean, truly, honestly, no bull-shit, great. It's unabashedly pop (thankfully not country) and every track is immaculately constructed.
Yet despite the micro-management of working every track to perfection, the album comes across as honest and authentic. That's its true drawing power. While the songs are great and know every pop trick in the book, its delivery ad presentation include a note of authenticity that allows the album to come without pretension.
Perhaps that was calculated too, but at this point I just have to put paranoia aside and enjoy the pop-perfection that is 1989.
5. Spoon, They Want My Soul
Spoon is an incredible band that makes incredible music. They're unafraid to take risks with their sound, yet even while experimenting their music retains the trademark Spoon sound.
They Want My Soul is another incredible album from Spoon, where literally every track is a winner. There are no duds and nothing on the album that caused even the slightest of winces. While some tracks could be considered experimental, for Spoon it's just a continuation of their already strong musical foundation.
I listened to this album ad nauseam. On my way into work, while I went running, while working. They Want My Soul consumed my soul for an entire month and I'm so glad that it did.
4. Nick Mulvey, First Mind
Nick Mulvey came into my world by way of the Mercury Prize. Every year when the Mercury Prize announces their short list for albums of the year I pour through it to make sure I didn't miss anything from the past year. Thank god I did so, as Nick Mulvey would have been missed.
A singer-songwriter, First Mind is Mulvey's debut album and it quickly became one of my favorite albums of the year. Wonderful lo-fi and serene, the tracks showcase Mulvey singing along with his guitar, crafting such wonderful and calming folky tunes that proved an excellent back-drop to the rush and bustle of NYC.
Each track flows into the next, creating an album that is wonderful to listen to from start to finish. The worst part of the album is its end. Yet I found a trick to side-step this issue: hit play again.
3. Ed Sheeran, X
Ed Sheeran is the guy who got me out of my bubble of beliefs that pop wasn't worth my time and the people who made it are sub-par musicians. My ridiculous immature knee-jerk reaction against popularity was getting in the way of finding good music and I'm incredibly glad that Ed Sheeran's X showed me that there's a reason some artists are incredibly popular: because they make really good music.
While X has many great moments of Ed Sheeran wailing over his guitar, it's also filled with his trademark rapping that adds such a delightful twist to the album. The mood and ambiance of the album sway easily from introspective and insecure to uplifting and wondering.
X is filled with pop-standouts but it's also an album with heart. It's the heart that grounds every track and makes it such a pleasure to listen to.
2. Chet Faker, Built On Glass
The only electronic album on my list this year lands at number two. Introduced to me by my wife, Chet Faker is a lovely mix of electronic and singer-songwriter simplicity. While the production is entirely electronic, its Chet Faker singing along with the music that gives his sound the heart and depth that electronic music sometimes lacks.
The album is relaxed and free-flowing, with catchy beats and refrains that guarantees you'll be bobbing your head and singing along. In many ways the album reminds me of the Kings Of Convenience album Versus, however Built On Glass diverges in a welcome way. Built On Glassleans away from delving too deeply into its electronic soundscape, instead focusing on crafting catchy tunes and melodies that get their sound from electronic instruments.
I listened to Built On Glass on repeat for many weeks. The songs don't tire - they remain just as catchy and addicting as the first listen.
1. Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour
And we arrive at my number one album of 2014, Sam Smith's debut album In The Lonely Hour. In some ways its unfair to say that 2014 was Sam Smith's debut year, as he had such a big presence in 2013 thanks to his lending his voice to Disclosure's breakout debut record Settle.
And while I won't say that In The Lonely Hour overshadows Sam Smith in 2013, it is in many ways the logical and welcome progression of Sam Smith's career.
Yes we first got to know this man while he crooned over dance tunes, yet seeing him fully express himself and his sound through his own album was completely welcome. We got to know the music that Sam Smith would create, free of collaboration with other artists. And we found out that he creates some soul-crushingly beautiful music.
There isn't enough that can be said of Sam Smith's voice. He croons so beautifully, with soul and honesty that causes your own heart to reach out and touch his. He can howl without breaking a sweat and whisper a lyric so beautiful it causes you to tear.
Many a night were spent with Sam Smith lulling me to rest, singing me down to a level of calm from the rush of the day. As the sun set Sam Smith sang and welcomed the night with his beautiful music.
My wife and I chose his rendition of Latch to be the music we used for our first dance at our wedding. I'll never forget the moment, holding her close, smiling deeply, as we danced as best we could on the dance floor, as Sam Smith crooned:
You lift my heart up when the rest of me is down
You, you enchant me even when you're not around
If there are boundaries, I will try to knock them down
I’m latching on, babe, now I know what I have found
Care to easily listen to the albums listed above? My friend Tom took the time to compile a Spotify playlist for your easy use. Thanks Tom!