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Favorite Albums of 2014

I always look forward to the beginning of December because I get to start putting together my favorite albums of the year. Just like every year I can’t wait to hear your comments and complaints. Let me know what albums should have made the list and what albums obviously shouldn’t have been there. And I always like to point out that I purposefully used the word “favorite” instead of “best” because I can’t really argue the latter. As usual, I’ll have some videos for you to watch and listen to and the titles of each album are links to iTunes if you’re interested in purchasing the music. Alright, let’s do it:

10. Jason Mraz – YES!

So let’s start the list off with an old favorite of mine, Jason Mraz. I’ve been a fan of his since the beginning and I always enjoy his albums. Each one is different than the last without losing the Mraz sound and YES! is no exception. What makes this record different is the change in backing musicians. YES! was recorded with an all-female band named Raising Jane playing everything except for Jason’s parts. And on the tour (that Halie and I was lucky enough to attend) Raising Jane opened and played with Jason. They had a great chemistry amongst themselves and between them and Jason and the night was filled with an incredibly positive vibe and enjoyable music. As always, Jason’s voice is still one of the strongest in the business even if he doesn’t use it to it’s full potential all the time. Let’s listen to “Hello, You Beautiful Thing” so you can get a feel for the album:


9. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with St. Vincent (stage name of Annie Clark) but she’s really, really good. She started as a member of The Polyphonic Spree and moved on to be part of Sufjan Steven’s touring band. Finally she started her own band under the name St. Vincent and has been making infectious music ever since. This self-titled album is actually her fourth and you can hear the expertise and experience in every note played. She’s an inventive guitar player even though she doesn’t force her guitar into the forefront of her music. With that said, seeing her live consisted of her relying much heavier on the her guitar which created a completely different vibe than her album has. And both are great. Anyways, here’s “Digital Witness:”


8. Lily Allen – Sheezus

Speaking of odd women. This lady makes some really great pop music. And her lyrics are hilarious, thought-provoking, inappropriate, and everything else you’d ever want from words. There are so many things about this album that make me love it. First, the name. As far as I know, she got the name from Kanye West’s album Yeezus. In the song “Sheezus” she sings about all the female pop singers and how awesome they are but she ends the chorus with “Give me that crown, bitch, I wanna be Sheezus.” My next favorite thing about her album is the humor and wit she puts into every song. One of the funniest tracks is “URL Badman” in which she mocks all the online commentators that have only horrible things to say on every youtube video, especially for female artist. But Lily Allen also has the beautiful on her record. There are numerous love songs about her, her husband, and her children. She speaks candidly about the great and the mundane when it comes to marriage and having children. And within all of these, she continues to make feministic statements that really question society’s views on what women artist should and should not talk about. I guess the best way to introduce this album would be to let her tell you about being “Sheezus:”


7. Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love

So when I was in college I regularly would get the iTunes free single of the week. For some reason I forget to do that now but over the years I’ve come across a lot of great music because of this. One example: Paolo Nutini and his first single “New Shoes.” I’ve followed his career since that first single in 2007 and have always jammed whatever he releases. His newest album, Caustic Love, has everything I love about Paolo Nutini: incredibly strong vocals, upbeat funky jams, slow soulful crooners, a great backing band, and music that continuously surprises you about where it’s going next. This year at ACL I finally got to see him perform live (and I was front row). He put on a great performance and I can’t wait to see him again. Listen to “Scream (Funk My Life Up)” to hear what he can do vocally and musically:


6. TUNE-YARDS – Nikki Nack

Now let’s get to a really odd woman. Merrill Garbus, the lead singer of TUNE-YARDS (or tUnE-yArDs), creates percussively bombastic pop music. Her vocal range is anywhere between a manly growl to some of the sweetest high notes you’ve ever heard. Her lyrics can go from nonsensical to depressing in one verse. Her stage performance is a sight to see with most members on stage playing some type of percussive instrument while interweaving intricate harmonies and layering it all over a funky bass line. Which brings us to her new album, Nikki Nack. From “Water Fountains” infectiously funky beat to the smooth vocals all over “Wait for a Minute,” the album gives us an unpredictable landscape of what pop music can be. I want you to listen to “Real Thing” to really hear the range in her vocals and what she can do with pop music:


5. Spoon – They Want my Soul

So if you’ve paid attention to my favorite albums list for the past few years, you’ve might have noticed less and less rock bands show up. And I’ll tell you why. Over time rock music has become bland and boring to me. I just feel like hearing a four-piece rock band play the same few chords has been driven into the ground. That said, there are exceptions. Bands doing something unique, creative, or just so damned well you can’t not like them. I’d say Austin rock band Spoon meets all these exceptional standards. They consistently make great, minimalistic, funky rock music. Every record doesn’t disappoint. And their newest, They Want my Soul, is no different. Here’s the opening track, “Rent I Pay:”


4. A Great Big World – Is There Anybody Out There?

Every once in a while I’ll use iTunes radio’s First Play to listen to an album from a band I’ve never heard just to see if anything good is slipping through my fingers. One day I decided to play this album. And it starts. Piano pop. Almost punk vocals and harmonies. Then it starts sounding like a musical. I almost feel like I’m listening to a Glee soundtrack. Later into the album there’s some incredible piano ballads. A few great lyrics slip into my ear. Then a few hilarious songs. And by the end I’m confused. Then I listen to the whole thing again. And again. And then I pre-order the album. And it’s been on repeat pretty regularly ever since it’s release. You almost need to hear the whole album to appreciate this band. Each song only shows one facet of this larger picture of a great, almost perfect, pop band. They have a few music videos you can look up on youtube but here’s the audio from the first track, “Rockstar,” so you can hear what I heard first:


3. Pharrell Williams – G I R L

Now speaking of pop music, Pharrell Williams. Every freaking popular song over this past summer either was written by, produced by, or featuring Pharrell. And then he released his full album, G I R L, and that was it. That was all the music anybody needed for the summer. One killer jam after another. Upbeat, sexy, and incredibly fun. From beginning to end. It never got old because you wanted to dance to the record over and over. Of course everybody knows (and some hate) his single “Happy” but you can’t judge him off that one song, even though it’s a great song albeit overplayed. But there are plenty of more great songs on the record. And as an ode to all women, how can you hate it? Anyways, I guess we’ll continue with the opening tracks of each. Here’s “Marilyn Monroe:”


2. Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

So these next two albums are from bands that have taken long hiatuses (announced and unannounced) and have finally released new music. First we have Damien Rice, the musical love of my later high school years. He pretty much disappeared from the spotlight until this past year and released My Favourite Faded Fantasy after a long (and difficult for fans) 8 years. The album is everything I wanted it to be. All the emotion, raw power, and inappropriateness of his earlier work brought up to today with Rick Rubin’s clean and lushly orchestrated production. Even with only 8 tracks, each song gives us so much. His vocal performance is as great as ever, his lyrical genius still shining through. This is the only official video released so far for the album, “I Don’t Want to Change You:”


1. Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line

And finally we have number one. Nickel Creek. Playing their first show in 1989 with the oldest member being 12, they started releasing incredible bluegrass albums with folk, country, pop, and rock influences during the early 2000s. Their last album was released in 2005, a hiatus announced in 2007. And finally, we have a new album: A Dotted Line. If you don’t know anything about Nickel Creek, I’m not really sure how to explain the music to you without letting you listen. If you are familiar with them, get this new record. It’s all the goodness of the last few albums blended in with more drive, more emotion, and more creativity than they’ve ever shown together. I say “together” because during their hiatus all the members have been creating incredible solo work or work with other musicians, my favorite being Chris Thile’s band Punch Brothers. Anyways, Nickel Creek has three members who all sing. So let’s try to get a track for each of them. Here’s violinist Sara Watkins leading “Destination:”


Next we have the oddest track from the record, “Hayloft.” Although Sara sings the chorus, mandolinist Chris Thile sings most of the song:


And last but not least we have the slightly more traditional bluegrass track “21st of May.” Really listen to these lyrics because they crack me up. If you can pick it up, he’s singing from the perspective of Pastor Harold Camping wrongly predicting the rapture on the 21st of May:


And if you can’t get enough of all this awesomeness, here’s their incredible performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. Although two of the above tracks are repeated, it’s worth watching them play it all live to really drive home their musical and storytelling abilities:


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There you go. That’s all of them. Until next year.
Oh, yeah, let me do the honorable mentions. 5 artist (in no particular order) that released really good albums this year that almost made my list: Coldplay, Heath McNease, Elizabeth & The Catapult, Jack White, and Kimbra.

Okay, hit me with your comments. What albums did I miss? Which ones am I completely crazy for having on here? Why am I an idiot?

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Music, Music Review

 

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Favorite Albums of 2011

Here’s my list for 2011. Notice the title says “Favorite” and not “Best.” I don’t think I (or anybody) can make that much of a statement about something as subjective as music. I also think albums being “better” than others doesn’t always mean they’ll be more of a favorite of mine. My definition of favorite is how hard an album is to take out of the CD player (or off the iPod). This year, I’m adding a music video for each album. Hope you enjoy. Without further ado, my 10 favorite albums of 2011:

10. Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials

Florence Welch might have one of the most haunting voices that just soars all over the place. Loved the bands debut record and really enjoyed this one. This record wasn’t as digestible (in a radio-friendly way) as the debut but that didn’t bother me any. I love their use of piano. I love the orchestral-styled percussion. Solid record. Here’s Shake it Out:

9. tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l

Want to hear a really weird record? Check this one out. This girl, Merrill Garbus, can do incredible, wacky things with her voice. Sometimes she sounds like a girl, sometimes a guy. Sometimes she sounds like a songbird, sometimes she’s screaming at you. And it’s all infectiously amazing. I didn’t pick this record up until recently; I was tired of seeing it on other top albums list and not knowing what it was. Imagine St. Vincent ate Paul Simon and joined Vampire Weekend…then ate them, too. Just listen to Bizness:

8. The Roots, undun

A hip-hop concept album based on a Sufjan Stevens song with plenty of rock, jazz, and freak-out infused into it. What else is there to say? Listen to The OtherSide:

7. Feist, Metals

I’d describe this record (and Feist) as mid-tempo, introspective pop music with some bluesy guitar riffs and dark tones. I love it. I also love her voice. You never know where she’ll go melodically or dynamically. She added a lot of interesting instrumentation on this record that she hasn’t had in the past and I really like what they do the music. Check out How Come You Never Go There:

6. Wilco, The Whole Love

Many people see the record as Wilco returning to form. I guess I agree. The only thing is when they say that, they’re actually saying this is their first good record in years. I totally disagree. But this isn’t about past records, this is about The Whole Love. Jeff Tweedy is an incredible lyricist and songwriter (as always). Glenn Kotche (drums) gets some breathing room to jam on the record. Nels Cline (guitar) is always at the top of his game. The last track, One Sunday Morning, might just be one of the longest, most beautiful, and most boring song ever written. It’s great. Yet, there’s not a music video for that song so you get to listen to Born Alone:

5. MUTEMATH, Odd Soul

This is one of my favorite bands. They ARE my favorite band to see live. If you get a chance, do it. No excuses. Anyways, after the difficult process of recording their last record, MUTEMATH’s guitarist quit on them. So they decided to hole themselves up and record a record sans guitar player. Ironically, the album that came out is the most guitar-driven record they have. This album is very heavy on blues-rock. Paul Meany leaves the Rhodes (with a few exceptions) to rock out on the B3 organ. Oh, and does he. It’s some great keyboard work. Here’s Blood Pressure:

4. Adele, 21

There’s really not much to say that you haven’t heard about Adele. Amazing vocals. Simple instrumentation. Soulful songs. Catchy melodies. Heartfelt lyrics. And she’s only 22. How do you top that? I saw a picture going around on twitter (which I can’t locate now) that showed the number of tracks on her single, Someone Like You. How many tracks? 6. SIX! If you know anything about modern recording…pick your jaw up off the ground, please. Here’s the song:

3. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne

After getting out of my comfort zone and into rap last year, I’ve been really digging Kanye’s discography and his work with Jay-Z. So when I heard about this record, I was excited. During the album, Kanye calls them “luxury rap.” And they do rap a lot about money and possessions. Yet, he doesn’t give them enough credit. There is great commentary on African American social issues. Also, this album was released before Beyonce announced she was pregnant but we should have known because Jay-Z has some great raps about his fears of being a father. It’s very touching. Anyways, let’s go back to the luxury rap and listen to Otis:

2. Civil Wars, Barton Hollow

The greatest songwriting duo this decade (in my humble opinion). Joy Williams and John Paul White’s voices blend together and leap around each other like they’re long lost twins separated at birth. The album weighs heavily on their voices and White’s guitar. Frankly, they don’t need anything else to blow our minds. Here’s their haunting track, Poison and Wine:

1. Lisa Hannigan, Passengers

I’ve had a major crush on Lisa ever since I discovered Damien Rice and her beautiful harmonies she sang with him. She stopped performing with him (which crushed me) and started a solo career (which scared me {beautiful voice does not equal great artist}). Her debut album, Sea Saw, was great. Seeing her live was magical. Seeing her perform “Lucky” with Jason Mraz blew me away. Well, this year she released Passengers and I can’t stop listening to it. Her voice whispers in your ear than suddenly exerts power. She does some yodeling with incredibly inventive melodies. Her lyrics are beautiful. But what I really love is her instrumentation and what she does with it. Not only does she have an eclectic mix of instruments but she puts melodies on what you would think are the wrong instrument. It sounds like the fiddle is playing the guitar part and the ukelele is playing the fiddle part. Just go grab the album. In Knots, Lisa combines an upbeat ukelele song with a disgusting amount of paint thrown on her. All done in one take:

And here’s Lisa in a bathtub singing Little Bird. Again, in one take:

Well, there’s my list. If you disagree, tell me what I missed in the comments. I love listening to new stuff.

Oh, here’s your honorable mentions: Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay, Strange Mercy by St. Vincent, Vice Verses by Switchfoot, King of Limbs by Radiohead, I’m With You by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Headfirst by Jillian Edwards, The Reckoning by Needtobreathe, Sweeter by Gavin DeGraw, and Lasers by Lupe Fiasco.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Lists

 

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