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My favorite 10 albums of 2014

by on December 26, 2014


There have been several times when I found myself struggling to come up with 10 albums for a year-end list, even when these sorts of lists are basically meaningless. But in 2014, I’m happy to report it was a genuine challenge to whittle down the list of releases I liked to just 10. As always, these are merely the 10 albums I listened to the most while I drove around, or toiled at work, or simply sat and wallowed in glorious sounds and lyrics. Lots of old favorites hitting new career peaks, along with a couple of relative newbies who I’m excited to follow as they mature.

Here ya go:

10. Ex Hex, RipsThis band seems genetically engineered for my personal enjoyment. A power-pop trio with punky riffs and attitude led by former Helium and Wild Flag singer/guitarist Mary Timony, this album blows by in a blink, in a most enjoyable way.

9. The New Pornographers, Brill BruisersI had lost a little of my enthusiasm for New Pornographers a bit over their past couple albums, preferring the solo work of members Neko Case, AC Newman and Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer). Brill Bruisers got me right back to the obsession I had when I heard their debut.

8. Spoon, They Want My SoulThese guys are 20+ years into their career, and I still feel like they Austin crew’s brand of groovy rock is underappreciated. Like New Pornographers, I’d cooled a bit on Britt Daniel and Co., but came back around with this album, one that’s solid top to bottom.

7. Run The Jewels, Run The Jewels 2. For the second year in a row, Killer Mike and El-P put out my favorite hip-hop album of the year (and via free download again, too!). The real-world racial strife that overcame the American news this year only emphasized their socially conscious lyrics all the more, and the slammin’ fun tracks just rule.

6. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Hypnotic EyeI hadn’t really been sucked in to a new Tom Petty album since Wildflowers, but this collection recorded with the Heartbreakers touches on everything he and the band do well, from garage-rock stompers to some beautiful balladry.

5. Afghan Whigs, Do The Beast. This album was probably the most pleasant surprise of the year for me. Long ago disbanded and left for dead as singer/lyricist extraordinaire Greg Dulli moved on with Twilight Singers, the Afghan Whigs returned with a vibrant set of songs just a bit more complex than their early-years work, both musically and emotionally.

4. St. Vincent, St. VincentA jaw-dropping evolution from someone who was already pretty great. St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) turned into an art-rock force in 2014 with songs that pulsed with life–and Clark’s jarringly shred-friendly guitar work.

3. Drive-By Truckers, English Oceans. More Cooley! That’s something a lot of us Truckers fans have wanted for a long time–more songs from guitarist Mike Cooley in the mix alongside acknowledged workhorse Patterson Hood. English Oceans is split about evenly between the two writers, and that makes for the best Truckers’ album since A Blessing and a Curse.

2. Lydia Loveless, Somewhere ElseThe third album from the Ohio-based Loveless scratched my roots-rock itch in all the right ways. Only 23 when she wrote and recorded these songs, Loveless created a collection of country and rock that marks her as a natural progression from folks like Lucinda Williams while still boasting a youthful edge that makes me excited to see what she does next.

1. Jenny Lewis: The Voyager. Lewis’ music lands at the nexus of indie-rock, classic country and sunny retro-pop, and she easily avoids the danger of coming off too precious with biting lyrics that are set in a darker, uneasy present than her rainbow suits and glammy L.A. background might suggest. Her third solo album comes on sonically like an easy-listening soundtrack to a summer convertible cruise (Beck and Ryan Adams are both on board as producers), but Lewis is excavating deep feelings about old breakups, family deaths and the reality of facing down 40 — issues that make it easy for young and old, male and female, to relate to where she’s coming from.

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