29 December 2014

2014 Year End -- Favorite Albums of the Year

Well, it's always a tough task, but this year felt especially tough. Thanks to the magic of streaming, I listened to nearly 1000 2014 albums over the past 12 months and a lot of the music was superb... a lot of it was crap, too, but worth the digging to find the hidden treasures, that's for sure.

This listing may change tomorrow, but here's today's version of my favorite albums of 2014. Emphasis as always on my and favorite.

As is my custom, I'm cheating a bit and I'm grouping these together, but I think you get the idea.

(Here's a Spotify playlist with most of these albums: Neddy's 2014 faves)

My top 10 (in alphabetical order):

Sam Amidon -- Lily-O
My favorite "folk" album of the year was really a contemplative genre-bender as Amidon brought in essentially a top-flight jazz band to back his already enchanting sound. Bill Frisell and Shahzad Ismaily joined Sam in making a record that is pure magic.

Nicole Atkins -- Slow Phaser
This album came out early in the year, caught hold of me, and surprisingly, never let go. The title and the album art give off the feeling of something science fiction (not to mention, her origins in Neptune, NJ), and indeed, there are little hints of synth and such that give this indie rock album something a little otherworldly. But really, it's Atkins' voice and awesome songs that make this worth repeated listens.

Causa Sui -- Live at Freak Valley/Pewt’r Sessions Vol. 3
I usually don't include live albums in my lists, but with this one, I couldn't resist. Easily, the album I listened to the most in 2014 was the live album from these Danish jammers. Each time through revealed new secrets, but mostly, I just can't get enough of these sick instrumental jams. Then, later in the year, they came out with the 3rd in a series of EP's of pure studio improv. As anyone that follows me on Twitter or really comes within earshot of me knows, I am totally in this band's thrall. Join me.

Fly Golden Eagle -- Quartz
My favorite discovery of 2014 was Fly Golden Eagle who take frontman Ben Trimble's Detroit and Nashville roots and combine them into something that is quintessentially American. This is the rare double album debut that needed to be a double album: sprawling and epic in scope, it covers Motown soul, midwest rock, Brit-glam and just about everything else, impressive and habit-forming. If you're a fan of My Morning Jacket, J Roddy Walston or Dr. Dog, this is what's next.

Steve Gunn -- Way Out Weather
Gunn's 2013 release, Time Off was a revelation of guitar and hinted at greater things to come, but this one was still a bit of a surprise in its completeness. It's folk and it's rock and it's psych, and yet it's none of those things. A beautiful, hypnotic masterpiece.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks -- Wig Out At Jagbags
Possibly sacrilege to say so, but for me, at some point several years ago, in my estimation, Malkmus' Jicks material surpassed Pavement. Maybe it's just my personal aesthetic. His newest paradoxically moves away from the longer jams of the last couple while serving as a fairly explicit paean to the Grateful Dead. This is Malkmus at his best: literate, funny, melodic, weird, easy to love and yet plenty of depth.

Mark McGuire -- Along the Way/Noctilucence
Sublime, stunning, gorgeous, moving... I need to get my thesaurus out to describe the music Mark McGuire made in 2014. His LP came out of nowhere to knock around in my headspace for a while and I don't think I've been the same since. On one level, this is just solo guitar-meets-ambient-electronica, but there is an emotional openness to the music that would be almost cheesy and embarrassing if it wasn't so beautiful and penetrating.

Papir -- IIII
What's going on in Denmark? Papir is a Copenhagen three-piece on the same label as Causa Sui and if you like one, you'll probably dig the other. This is brain-drilling instrumental studio jams of the highest order; long exploratory movements that suck you in and have their way with you. It's hard to tell where composition ends and improvisation begins and I don't know which I'm more impressed with. Music so good, they don't even name the tracks.

Ty Segall -- Manipulator
I have to admit, I tried my best not to like this album, and the fact that it's not streaming on Spotify helped me avoid it for a while. But in the end, I failed miserably. This is a tour de force of psych-rock, although it's much more than that. This is powerful stuff, the music of a master at the top of his game. Although, scary to think, maybe not even close to the top quite yet.

Woods -- With Light and With Love
Every year there's an album that I just can't get enough of that I can't imagine other people not loving as much as I do... and then at the end of the year it's not on a single year-end list. This year the unloved award goes to Woods' With Light and With Love, which, as far as my taste's go, is 2014 perfection. Looking over the rest of my top 10, this one is the perfect balance of folk, psychedelic, songwriting, jamming. I love this album.

I also loved... (the rest of my top 25 in alphabetical order)
Beck -- Morning Phase
Stone Jack Jones -- Ancestor
Jungle By Night -- The Hunt
Damien Jurado -- Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
Little Barrie -- Shadow
Natural Child -- Dancin’ With Wolves
Prince Rupert’s Drops -- Climbing Light
The Soundcarriers -- Entropicalia
Jenny Scheinman -- The Littlest Prisoner
Spanish Gold -- South of Nowhere
Spoon -- They Want My Soul
Sun Kil Moon -- Benji
Thee Oh Sees -- Drop
The War on Drugs -- Lost in the Dream
Woodsman -- Woodsman/Teleseparation EP

Good shit (26-50 in alphabetical order)
The Budos Band -- Burnt Offering
D’Angelo -- The Black Messiah
Toumani Diabate/Sidiki Diabate -- Toumani & Sidiki
Robert Ellis -- The Lights from the Chemical Plant
Eno/Hyde -- High Life
Get the Blessing -- Lope and Antilope
Goat -- Commune
Jesca Hoop -- Undress
Hurray For the Riff Raff -- Small Town Heroes
Dawn Landes -- Bluebird
Jenny Lewis -- The Voyager
Mehliana -- Taming the Dragon
Kikagaku Moyo -- Forest of Lost Children
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard -- Oddments
New Electric Ride -- Balloon Age
Quilt -- Held in Splendor
Abram Shook -- Sun Marquee
Sturgill Simpson -- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Tinariwen -- Emmaar
Doug Tuttle -- Doug Tuttle
Tycho -- Awake
William Tyler -- Lost Colony/Blue Ash Montgomery
Stein Urheim -- Stein Urheim
Willie Watson -- Folk Singer Vol. 1
Jack White -- Lazaretto

Honorable Mention (51-100 in alphabetical order)
Axxa/Abraxas -- Axxa/Abraxas
The Bad Plus -- Inevitable Western
Big Boss Man -- Last Man on Earth
Black Market Karma -- Upside out Inside Down
Benjamin Booker -- Benjamin Booker
Brace/Choir -- Turning On Your Double
Pieta Brown -- Paradise Outlaw
Nels Cline Singers -- Macroscope
Neil Cowley Trio -- Touch and Flee
Steve Dawson -- Rattlesnake Cage
Kevin Drew -- Darlings
Fever the Ghost -- Crab in Honey (EP)
First Aid Kit -- Stay Gold
Erik Friedlander -- Nothing On Earth Soundtrack
Arch Garrison -- I Will Be A Pilgrim
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger -- Midnight Sun + Long Gone
Hiss Golden Messenger -- Lateness of Dancers
Hospitality -- Trouble
Lia Ices -- Ices
Jeffertitti’s Nile -- The Electric Hour
Joan As Police Woman -- The Classic
Fletcher C Johnson -- It Rained Something Wicked
Jouis -- Dojo
Wayne Krantz -- Good Piranha/Bad Piranha
Julian Lage/Chris Eldridge -- Avalon
Landlady -- Upright Behavior
Lapland -- Lapland
The Mattson 2 -- Agar (EP)
Mogwai -- Rave Tapes
Motorpsycho -- Behind the Sun
Phantom Family Halo -- Raven Town Witch
Real Estate -- Atlas
St. Paul & the Broken Bones -- Half the City
St. Vincent -- St. Vincent
Schnauser -- Protein for Everyone
Jakob Skott -- Amor Fati/Taurus Rising
Swans -- To Be Kind
Temples -- Sun Structures
Todd Terje -- It’s Album Time
Chris Thile/Edgar Meyer -- Bass & Mandolin
Toure-Raichel Collective -- The Paris Session
Tune-Yards -- nikki nack
Tweedy -- Sukierae
Sharon Van Etten -- Are We There
Juan Wauters -- North American Poetry
Dustin Wong/Takako Minekawa -- Savage Imagination
Xylouris White -- Goats
Zeus -- Classic Zeus

I'll stop there before I list my top 200 and lose you completely.

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