The noteworthy albums of 2014
The year that was 2014 proved another great one for music. Several artists released noteworthy albums — far too many to mention — but here are my favorite albums of the year.
1. ‘St. Vincent’ by St. Vincent
While I’ll admit I waffled on some of the other picks on my list, this was an easy choice. I dare any music fan to find a catchier, more fearless album from 2014. Annie Clark, the musician better known as St. Vincent, has always boasted talent, especially on “Love This Giant,” the album with Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. But she attains new heights on her self-titled fourth album. I first played the album out of curiosity on a Sunday evening and ended up listening to it twice straight through. Many will call the sound eccentric or weird, but the best description is bold — and yes, fearless. It’s feverish, bizarre, heavily distorted, but overflowing with creativity.
2. ‘Seeds’ by TV on the Radio
“Seeds” may not have the pizzazz of TV on the Radio’s “Return to Cookie Mountain” and “Dear Science.” Still, this might be the band’s best collective effort. Listen to “Seeds” all the way through. In sequence, there’s something about the album TV on the Radio’s prior albums lack — mainly a certain level of openness and honesty. The band turns to a bright album that focuses on themes of love and relationships, which unifies the tracks into what stands as the one of the band’s best collective albums. However, the album doesn’t overdo the concept like some albums. It’s a mature turn for a band that’s comfortable enough to make something that sounds different from its catalog.
3. ‘Singles’ by Future Islands
Future Islands is one of those bands whose albums took a while to catch up with the energy of its live shows. With a heavy 1980s vibe, Future Islands finds a great balance on “Singles.” Singer Samuel Herring has perfected the softer sides of his husky vocals without sacrificing power. Herring starts out songs like “Spirit” in a husky whisper before expanding into his swaggering, almost over-the-top peaks. Herring showcases an expansive vocal range, but not necessarily in terms of hitting notes and reaching octaves. On “Seasons (Waiting On You)” he subdues his singing to throaty pop. His voice ranges from a croon — “A Dream of Me and You” — to a whisper to a growl to a shout — “Fall From Grace” — and all across the spectrum, often on a single song. “Singles” has propelled the band further into the limelight. Expect big things from the group in the future.
4. ‘Popular Problems’ by Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen has aged like a fine wine. At 80, Cohen may not have the voice he did in the 1960s, but he still boast more range than contemporaries like Bob Dylan. He pokes at the notion of his age with the first words of his 13th studio album, singing, “I’m slowing down the tomb; I never liked it fast.” As expected, Cohen brings his poetic touch, his musings on mortality and the spiritual reflection of a monk — yes, he was ordained in 1996 — to “Popular Problems.” “Almost Like the Blues” is one of Cohen’s best songs in years, and it’s already been printed in the “New Yorker” as poetry. It reads like a potent take on today’s world. After decades in the business, Cohen is still one of a kind.
5. ‘You’re Dead’ by Flying Lotus
Producer/musician Steven Ellison attains new heights in his concept album about passing on to the next life by blending jazz and prog with his electronic, beat-driven style. Ellison again proves why he’s one of the genre-drivers of electronic/beat music today. As one would guess from the title, “You’re Dead!” is a concept album about death. And yes, it can be pretty dark, as it’s focused on the moment of death. Ellison took a grand concept and a complex musical style and combined them into something that’s as — if not more — accessible than his prior albums. That’s no easy task.
Honorably mention: “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” by Thom Yorke, “Turn Blue” by the Black Keys and “Mandatory Fun” by Weird Al