It’s time for my annual list of my favorite albums of 2014. I love finding new music and thanks to Spotify, iTunes Radio, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, it’s never been easier. I wasn’t blown away with very many albums this year. As with 2013, there were two 2014 releases that towered over all others. These two albums were on near-constant replay for me in 2014. In fact, it was hard to choose a favorite between the two. In another month, I might score the top two spots differently. But here’s this list:
The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream. I first fell in love with this album for obvious reasons: the music. Waves of classic rock guitar and swaths of 80s keyboard are layered upon a variety of ambient sounds (saxophone, Wurlitzer piano, harmonica, drum loops, arp string ensemble, lap steel) to create a record that is at once nostalgic and fresh. This transcendent Americana tone alone would be enough to land this album on many year-end best-of lists. But then I learned the backstory of how the record was made and I developed an even deeper appreciation for this album. Lost in the Dream is a record birthed out of anxiety, paranoia, depression, and fear — and you can hear such concerns at every turn throughout. More than anything, though, this record is about “dreaming of starting up again” (Burning). Adam Granduciel may have labored over the recording and post-production of Lost in the Dream, but the final product is a melancholy yet cathartic reflection on the universal themes of loneliness, doubt, and the redemptive power of love. On the album’s title track, Granduciel sings, “Love’s the key to the things that we see / And don’t mind chasing / Leave the light on in the yard for me.” There’s no indication that the recipient follows through, but that’s not the point. The point is that this kind of love — or at the very least, it’s pursuit — is something worth chasing in the first place. It’s a grown-up thesis, for sure, but such is the messaging of this stellar record. My favorite album of 2014. Download This: Red Eyes, An Ocean In Between The Waves, Eyes to the Wind, Burning, Lost in the Dream.
Augustines, Augustines. I discovered these Brooklyn rockers early in 2014 and I was instantly drawn to their arena-rock sound. They previously recorded under the name “We Are Augustines” but dropped the prefix on this most recent record. To sum it up, this is optimism rock. The sounds here are familiar: Springsteen, The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem…all are probably influential for these guys. But the theme is more hopeful than anything I’ve heard all year. Take the refrain of This Ain’t Me: “I can change, I can change, I can change.” Either he believes in the ability to turn over a new leaf or he’s hoping to talk himself into it. On Nothing to Lose but Your Head, hitting rock bottom is simply an opportunity to shine light in darkness. Walkabout, my favorite song of the year, depicts life as a walkabout with the anthemic call of a voice from beyond, “It’s been so long / Come on home.” This is a great, great rock album. Download This: Walkabout, Weary Eyes, Nothing to Lose But Your Head, Don’t Look Back, Now You Are Free.
- Crowder, Neon Steeple. I was pretty bummed when I heard that DCB was going to disband a few years ago. I still contend that A Collision is one of the best albums of the past decade. So I was excited to see the David Crowder is now recording under the moniker “Crowder.” No surprises here; Crowder continues to traffic in banjo / synth / piano Christian music. But these songs sound fresh and lively. Download This: My Beloved, Hands of Love, My Sweet Lord (featuring Emmylou Harris).
- Doug Paisley, Strong Feelings. As far as I know, he’s no relation to Brad. But his plainspoken singer-songwriter style really resonates with me. And, as you can tell from these song titles, he sings about love. A lot. Download This: Because I Love You, Our Love, Song My Love Can Sing.
- Coldplay, Ghost Stories. I don’t love this album as much as some other folks I know. But I can appreciate the evolving direction of the band’s sound (even if Radiohead did all of this earlier. And better.) My favorite moment on this record is the guitar outro on True Love. One of my favorite sounds in 2014. Download This: Ink, True Love, A Sky Full of Stars.
- Beck, Morning Phase. Beck returns to the countrified sounds of Sea Change. If I were him, I’d just stay in this lane a while longer, because it totally works. Download This: Blue Moon, Country Down.
- U2, Songs of Innocence. I really haven’t been able to get into this album. It just didn’t grab me at first. When the most interesting thing about your album is the way you chose to distribute it, that’s a problem. I’ll allow that this one might rise up the list a bit upon further listening, but much of this was just lost in the shuffle of other good music for me. Download This: Every Breaking Wave, Iris (Hold Me Close).
- Hozier, Hozier. This is another late entry to the list that might rise up the ranks after I give it a few more listens. Download This: Jackie and Wilson, Someone New.
- The Apache Relay, Apache Relay. Indie rockers are finally getting some buzz for this latest release. I suspect some day we’ll look back on this as their transition album. We’re an album or two away from their masterpiece. Download This: Katie Queen of Tennessee, Don’t Leave Me Now.
- Matthew Barber, Big Romance. I’ve been a big fan of this Canadian singer-songwriter for years. Barber specializes in honey-tinged ballads. Download This: Hold Me, If Our Timing Is True.
That’s my list. I’ll cover my favorite songs of 2014 in a later post. I’d love to hear some of your favorite music that you’ve listened to over the past year.