Music

The Best Albums of 2014

From Polish black metal to mind-blowing progressive R&B and electronic music, 2014's best albums certainly have something for everyone.

70 - 61

Artist: Hospitality

Album: Trouble

Label: Merge / Fire

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/h/hospitality-trouble-200x200.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 70

Display Width: 200

Hospitality
Trouble

Hospitality's follow-up to its excellent debut builds upon all that made that record so great, all while adding layers and growth to the band's sound. Trouble is just as immediately listenable as Hospitality's first album, but it also veers into more varied territory. Standouts like "Going Out" and "It's Not Serious" sound familiar in the best way, while "Last Words" surprises with its darker sound that leads into extended instrumentals, clocking in at over six minutes. At the center of Hospitality's sound is Amber Papini's voice. Her delivery runs the gamut between matter-of-fact and delicate, but it's always compelling. In addition, the band's musicianship always feels immediate and focused. There's an energy to Trouble that can be propulsive in a song like "I Miss Your Bones" and sparsely shimmering in the grower "Sullivan". There's a depth to this album that lends itself to further discovery through repeated listenings, despite how instantly appealing it is. Trouble takes all the promise of Hospitality's debut and proves it was no fluke or false hype, but rather a leap forward for the band. Jessica Suarez

 
Artist: Saint Saviour

Album: In the Seams

Label: Surface Area

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/s/saintsaviour_intheseams_albumart200.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 69

Display Width: 200

Saint Saviour
In the Seams

English singer-songwriter Becky Jones, aka Saint Saviour, rose to prominence through her dazzling collaborative work on Groove Armada's Grammy-nominated album Black Light. After parting ways with the group, she carved out a respectable solo career, releasing two sonically adventurous EPs and a genre-defying, electro-tinged pop album Union. For her sophomore effort In the Seams, she has eschewed the synths and drum machines for a sound that effortlessly flits between intimate folk and string-laden chamber pop. Accompanied by the Manchester Camerata Orchestra and featuring the deft production work of Bill Ryder-Jones, the former guitarist of The Corals, Jones delivers twelve exquisitely rendered songs that wax nostalgic about youth, loneliness, the search for pure love, and friendships that dissolved over time. From the plucked harp intimacy of "Intravenous" and the soaring strings of "Let It Go", to the playful finger-picking folkiness of "Devotion", Saint Saviour's latest collection of songs highlights the beauty of that remarkably versatile instrument. With stunning arrangements, emotionally fragile lyricism, and one of the most gorgeous voices in modern music, In the Seams is truly a sublime work of art. Ryan Lathan

 
Artist: Willie Nelson

Album: Band of Brothers

Label: Sony / Legacy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/w/willie-nelson-album-2014-band-of-brothers1.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 68

Display Width: 200

Willie Nelson
Band of Brothers

Willie Nelson has been making an album or two a year for more than half a century, so it makes sense that this is an album about the desire for closeness after death. That his voice is almost ruined adds a gravitas to the music, a sign that he refuses to quit laughing. He doesn't collapse into self-parody. I keep listening to this against the Rubinesque attempt at end career revivals that came after Cash's American Recordings: the last albums of Porter Wagoner, Jessi Colter, or Glen Campbell. They deserved the respect, but they were like negotiating with Charon, proving they deserved a place in the next world. Nelson knows that he doesn't know where he is going, and knows that he is still around -- so there are delicate descriptions of the problems of mortality ("The Git Go"), of his own history ("The Songwriters"), but also very songs that might be the best western comedy since Will Rogers ("Wives and Girlfriends"). Anthony Easton

 
Artist: The Hotelier

Album: Home, Like Noplace Is There

Label: Tiny Engines

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/thehotelier_homelikenoplaceisthere_albumart200.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 67

Display Width: 200

The Hotelier
Home, Like Noplace Is There

One of the truest and most troubling albums released this year, Home, Like Noplace Is There shows what pop punk is capable of. Framed around a friend's suicide, this cycle of nine songs slews back and forth from guilt to anger, compassion to confusion, bluster to blubber. Even though there is an arc to follow, from the stage-setting "An Introduction to the Album", to the screamo climax of "Life in Drag", to the troubling denouement of "Dendron", the experience is less like a concept album and more like a musical catharsis. Musically, the moments of bombast and silence seethe with equal meaning -- there is no wasted space. Lyrically, songwriter Christian Holden is unflinching in his chronicling the lead-up and aftermath to the suicide, tracing situations and characters with impeccable deftness and making observations that sting and linger long after the final track has faded out. Taylor Coe

 
Artist: Hamilton Leithauser

Album: Black Hours

Label: Ribbon

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/black_hours.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 66

Display Width: 200

Hamilton Leithauser
Black Hours

It's hard to sound elegant and gleeful at the same time. The new tuxedo has a certain stiffness that doesn't allow for giddy movement. Hamilton Leithauser isn't afraid to show off his tux that's frayed and muddied at the edges, he's having too much fun to care. Black Hours mixed the grand strolling tunes of Sinatra and classic Broadway with Leithauser's natural, wiry energy. He's got a goofy grin as he proclaims "I retired from my fight!" He's content to relax a little, play some beautiful piano ballads and take care of some lounge singer fantasies. Even when he does get serious (and does it ever get crushing on the stark "5 AM" and the wintery "Self Pity") his natural ear for immaculate composition lets the songs glide along to a gorgeous payoff. Nathan Stevens

 
Artist: Ambrose Akinmusire

Album: The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint

Label: Blue Note

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/akinmusire1.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 65

Display Width: 200

Ambrose Akinmusire
The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint

Any savior -- imagined or not -- might be much easier to paint than it is to actually embody, but what's it supposed to sound like? Trumpet phenom Ambrose Akinmusire answers that question with his second Blue Note set as he reshapes the perception and limits of contemporary jazz in equally thrilling and provocative ways. If 2011's When the Heart Emerges Glistening was supposed to be a coming out party, this set is an announcement of longevity.

Why? Because here, Akinmusire proves he isn't afraid to travel outside the parameters of conventionalism. Whether it be setting an ominously beautiful tone in the hook-y "As We Fight (Willie Penrose)", or breaking your heart in the spoken-word "Rollcall for Those Absent", or providing a landscape for meditation with the longing "The Beauty Of Dissolving Portraits", The Imagined Savior grabs hold of your tonal tendencies and never, ever lets go.

The most lasting side effect is "Our Basement (Ed)", a mesmerizing view of obsession that pulsates as much as it fascinates. Led by Becca Stevens' haunting vocals, the track's brilliance has a seemingly infinite amount of layers, Akinmusire conversing with his femme fatale via their most honest instruments. If anybody wants to tell you jazz is dead, play him this record and let it speak for how promising the medium's future looks. An imagined savior might be easier to paint, sure. But an album this exciting is proof that sometimes reality is even better than the dream. Colin McGuire

 
Artist: Panopticon

Album: Roads to the North

Label: Bindrune

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/p/panopticon_roadstothenorth_albumart200.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 64

Display Width: 200

Panopticon
Roads to the North

In 2012, Panopticon released the harrowing, bluegrass-infused Kentucky. Thematically centered on the struggles of coal miners, Kentucky represented one of the most daring and affecting takes on American black metal to date. Roads to the North doubles down on the considerable ambition shown in Kentucky and the result is nothing short of a masterpiece. Ardent, wrenching, and absolutely beautiful, Roads to the North blends traditional American folk music with black metal, crust, and death metal in a way that never seems jarring or forced. Austin Linn, Panopticon's sole member, takes the listener on a truly epic journey in which haunting campfire melodies, ripping bluegrass, and heartfelt black metal all coincide in one glorious vision. For those of you reading this who are not well versed in black metal and who may assume that black metal is just a bunch of Norwegian kids running around in the forest worshipping the devil, let Roads to the North convince you that black metal has come into its own as a mature, distinctive art form. Benjamin Hedge Olson

 
Artist: Real Estate

Album: Atlas

Label: Domino

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/atlas.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 63

Display Width: 200

Real Estate
Atlas

Real Estate has already produced a near-perfect indie jangle-pop record in Days (2011). Where to go from there? With Atlas, the band delivered a masterclass in furthering one's sound without sacrificing what made it special in the first place. The jangly guitars and winning hooks are still plentiful, but there is a newfound depth and richness. It may have been down to Martin Courtney's more strident singing coupled with lyrics that tempered the usual nostalgia with regret, or it could have been the addition of two full-time band members. But Atlas at times recalls the effortless melodic strides of the Stone Roses at their best. If making it sound easy is one of the hardest things to do, Atlas proves Real Estate is up to the task. John Bergstrom

 
Artist: The Roots

Album: ...and Then You Shoot Your Cousin

Label: Def Jam

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/t/the_roots_and_then_you_shoot_your_cousin.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 62

Display Width: 200

The Roots
...and Then You Shoot Your Cousin

It's funny: in 2014's spate of mortality-obsessed releases by everyone from Flying Lotus to Sun Kil Moon, the one that plunged darkest and deepest was by the house band for The Tonight Show, an act now perhaps better known for backing pop stars on kiddie instrument versions of their hits than for recording Things Fall Apart. This, in itself, carries a tinge of absurdism that Black Thought, ?uestlove, and their bandmates might appreciate, given the existential dead ends they find on …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin.

At just over a half hour, and even with three tracks devoted to well-chosen excerpts by Nina Simone, Mary Lou Williams and Michel Chion, Cousin is at once the tightest and weirdest album The Roots have ever released. Described by its makers as a satire on contemporary hip-hop, it plays only as such on the most basic level, its characters (Cousin is definitively character-driven, with little hint of autobiography) drinking, drugging, dealing, and fucking. These aren't mocked as mere tropes, but acknowledged as physical responses to spiritual crises, with conflicted music to match. "Understand" is inverted gospel where a frustrated God can only sigh at man's self-destructive streak, and the imposing chords on "The Dark (Trinity)" loom over three narrators who, in the absence of hope, counter despair with self-involvement and materialism. By the time the album brightens up with the (mock?) inspirational "Tomorrow", you may have already joined the Roots, their characters and God in some sane laughter at an insane world. Dave Bloom"

 
Artist: Wild Beasts

Album: Present Tense

Label: Domino

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/w/wild_beasts_present_tense.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 61

Display Width: 200

Wild Beasts
Present Tense

A band that began as a swashbuckling, operatic argument for letting unchecked libido swing rock music to dizzying heights, Wild Beasts has relocated its sexual pulse to a quieter place in its later years, somewhere between chest-rattling low-end and a pregnant pause. From heartstopping opener "Wanderlust", to the nailbiting tension of "A Dog's Life", to the gentle, aching beauty of "Palace", this iteration of Wild Beasts -- hinted at in 2011's Smother but perfected here -- finds strength in texture, power in nuance, force in restraint. Whether you prefer Hayden Thorpe's warbling croon or Tom Fleming's purring baritone, both songwriters know how to find your pressure points and squeeze. An album to fall in love with, and to fall in love to, and to be there for you when the dark, dangerous side of love rears its head? Present Tense will hold you tight, whether you're ready or not. Corey Beasley

Prev Page
Next Page

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image