I am tremendously impressed with the music offerings in 2014. After years of being underwhelmed by rock and roll and inundated with candy coated pop songs and icky boy bands, there were some really incredible rock albums and some interesting soul and R&B available for your listening pleasure. As for me- I kept it to twenty albums, though I could recommend another twenty easily. Enjoy the music below.
20. maNga Isiklari Söndürseler Bile
My obsession with this Turkish nu-metal band with classical chops and a fondness for the rhythms and tones found in Anatolian folk music remain unabated, and they returned in 2014 with their third studio album. They don’t mess with the formula, turning out anthemic guitar rock with a middle eastern flair. They are a firm case of don’t mess with what isn’t broken, and I am eternally grateful for the consistency.
19. Aphex Twin Syro
Emerging from whatever hidey hole he has observed us from, Richard D. James remains the creepiest dude alive turning out some of the most random and complex EDM around. He is still, after all these years, completely enigmatic and unique. His music also remains complex and texturally interesting. No one will ever top what this man can do in a studio.
18. Paolo Nutini Caustic Love
The Scottish troubadour who sounds like he eats gravel for breakfast produces a charming set of musings about love, sex, and the sweet sounds of Motown. An underrated gem with little North American following, Nutini continues to grow as a storyteller and a songsmith. A soulful record that deserves way more love.
17. Kiesza Sound of a Woman
Whether it’s the laconic groove of “Hideaway” or the reinvention of the 90s dance classic “What is Love?” as an anguish plea, Calgary native Kiesza, who is clearly the most interesting woman alive if Wikipedia is to be believed, shows that some pretty dance songs can make for one very fulfilling album. She will be one I will be watching closely as the years go by. The videos for “Hideaway” and “Giant in My Heart” are two of my favourite clips of 2014.
16. Manic Street Preachers Futurology
Another band to whom I am completely an utterly devoted to, the Manics followed up 2013’s great Rewind the Film with some of their most cohesive and tuneful writing since the late 1990s. A return to form from the Welsh road warriors. I wish the Holy Bible shows were playing in Canada.
15. FKA Twigs LP1
The quirky, breathy vocals can be somewhat disconcerting, by the dreamy electronic beats FKA Twigs lays down are beautiful. A sexy record, a sex record, a phenom of style and atmosphere, this album will be debated for years to come by music nerds the world ever. Babies will be made to this album, I guarantee that.
14. Yusuf/Cat Stevens Tell ‘Em I’m Gone
With a mix of recent writings and classic blues, the recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and legendary folk singer shows us that taking time to take care of one’s spiritual needs and raising a family need not dim one’s brilliance. Nor does it affect one’s voice. His take on the stodgy “You Are My Sunshine” revitalised the song. A welcome addition to his legacy.
13. Alt-J This is All Yours
The Merucry prize-winning Alt-J returned with an ambitious album, pulling from folk, prog, and on the song “Left Hand Free”, Americana bluesy alt-country, to create an interesting and beautiful album full of mystique and sonic loveliness. This band will continue to surprise me and I am excited for it.
12. Royal Blood Royal Blood
The band who will be opening on several dates for the Foo Fighters in 2015 ( I’ll be seeing that show), the (literal) drum and bass duo smashed on the scene with a number one (U.K.) album and a Mercury prize finalist placing. They pull classic rock elements and feed them through some QOTSA inspired noise.
11. Lykke Li I Never Learn
The melancholic Swede with the pretty voice and the ability to take your heart and shred it with her words and tears returned with a breakup album that is even more emotionally devastating than her earlier records. Okay, I might be the only person who can’t get over the quirk and melodies and general heartbreak Lykke causes me at the best of times, but this album just wiped me out.
10. Young Fathers Dead
Was I the only one that felt that hip hop in 2014 was somewhat dull and dreary? I mean, Young Fathers are the only hip hop act on my list, and no one had heard of them until they won the Mercury prize late in 2014. But man, what a record. Their inherent Scottishness permeates the themes and sonic landscape of the album, and they sound fresh and forward thinking in a time where their genre seems to have stopped growing like it used to.
9. Death From Above 1979 The Physical World
I am so grateful that they came back and gave me a great record. “Romantic Rights” is one of my favourite songs. But the band that mashed punk rock with dance music back in the early Oughties came back triumphantly with a strong set of songs that may not reinvent the wheel, but remains satisfying and yes, comforting. They may be wiser, but at least they haven’t moved too far along.
8. Ice Age Plowing Into the Field of Love
I love my Danish neo-punk nihilists who created two albums of compact Scandinavian punk rock. Their third album expands and breathes as they continue to mature into the band that will keep punk rock relevant well into the 21st century. A rich collection of songs full of interesting musical choices.
7. Jack White Lazaretto
It is becoming clear that Jack will never stop genre hopping, and in the process of hopping he will never suck at any of it.
6. Spoon They Want My Soul
The band was birthed as grunge was dying, and Britt Daniel remains one incredible frontman twenty years into his career. Along with band co-founder/other heart and soul of Spoon, drummer Jim Eno, Daniel loosens the middle age tie and the band explodes on They Want My Soul.
5. Future Island Singles
The feel good band story of 2014 was Future Islands. Samuel T. Herring and his dancing on Letterman became legendary. A band from a smaller city came from nowhere and overnight-via-a-decade-of-touring-and-independent-releases made an impact. “Seasons (Waiting on You)” is an amazing single, and the record is filled with glorious, lush seventies inspired melodies.Wonderful, energizing, and God, what a single to lead with. I am in love with this record.
4. Caribou Our Love
Caribou isn’t like the David Guettas and Aviciis of the world. The somewhat soulless popular electrodance music of the last half decade has it’s purpose in this world, but it makes me glad when a Caribou record, with its strings and quirky wharrbbles and garbles, comes along. Less mechanical, more organic, and richer for it.
3. Kelis Food
If Kelis is only remembered only for the boobage celebration that is “Milkshake”, it would make me sad. “Milkshake” is a perfect neo-soul gem, one of the best singles of the Oughties. But that would mean people wouldn’t think of Food, a rich collection of food inspired song from the classically trained chef Kelis. Homey, warm and fulfilling, it is worth the caloric intake.
2. Against Me! Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Against Me! were part of the new wave of punks that sprung out of the wake of the Offspring and Green Day influenced bands of the late nineties and early oughties. They were fine- they weren’t as dynamic as Rise Against, so I was pretty oblivious to them. Then Laura Jane Grace created waves when she announced that she was transitioning, and then I thought that I now got why I was so disconnected from the band. The emotional connection of the songs on this album is soul crushing, fearless, and ultimately hopeful. She doesn’t hold back, and I am glad this album exists.
1. St. Vincent St. Vincent
Annie Clarke, singer, songwriter, guitarist, brilliance personified. I had always felt her albums could be very uneven, but was wowed by her ability to play and write. Her self-titled album is a miracle of song- complex melodies, rich emotional songwriting, interesting conversations and themes. It’s creative, a masterful work of art in a genre that is filled with masterful works of art. Rarely has an album captured my imagination and kept it for so long.