It’s been an interesting year for music. From Iggy Azalea’s Fancy blowing up on the radio, to a free record from U2 for every iTunes user in the world, to multiple bands breaking up and reuniting, 2014 draws to a close with some incredible tunes from a diverse mix of musical genres. The biggest story this year might belong to Taylor Swift though who earned the honor of the first platinum record for 2014. Critics and fans alike agreed it was one of her best to date, but there was a lot of music pre- and post Swift’s release worth a listen.
From experimental rock to indie folk, to mainstream pop to alternative hip-hop, this past year saw a slew of artists—new and old—deliver a lot of great music releases, proving that the LP is an important component to the avid music listener.
As we head into another year and get ready to ring in 2015, in no particular order, our staff shares an eclectic mix of their favorite albums from 2014 with readers. Did yours make the list?
Jenny Lewis: The Voyager
What I love about this album is that it’s Jenny Lewis, but it’s not the same Jenny Lewis we’ve come to expect both from her Rilo Kiley days and on the two albums after. It’s got dark lyrics bounced against fairly sunny music. It’s an album that sounds the way a movie feels and it’s nice to hear Lewis sounding really free for the first time since the end of Rilo Kiley. I love “The Voyager“—it’s also not the stand-out track most reviewers picked. I mean, “Just One of the Guys” is nice but I feel like “The Voyager” packs a better lyrical punch.
Cory Branan: The No-Hit Wonder
The easy answer for me would be The Hold Steady’s Teeth Dreams because they’re my favorite band, but the truthful answer is that my favorite record of the year is Cory Branan’s The No-Hit Wonder. Branan’s writing is always smart and relatable, and this year’s release is no different. His range really shows on this release from the upbeat title track to the bluesy “All I Got and Gone.” My favorite track is “The Only You,” with lyrics like “I got me another girl, she looks like you at twenty…three. While she sleeps I trace the places where your tattoos used to be.”
Sam Smith: In The Lonely Hour
I’ve listened to the album all the way through more times than I can count. It’s an album that I put on whenever I’m doing anything and before I know it, it’s done. It’s just the perfect album to listen and relax to. There’s a lot of “slower” songs on it, but Smith’s voice is so beautiful that I end up savoring every second of it. I think my favorite song on the album is “I’m Not The Only One“. The piano riff that it starts with just hooks me and the sadness and betrayal in Smith’s voice is just perfect.
Taylor Swift: 1989
I haven’t listened to a lot of albums this year, but I’d have to say that my favorite by far is Taylor Swift’s 1989. Just like everyone else, I wasn’t a huge Taylor fan until this album came out–and now I’m basically obsessed and I’ve already gotten tickets to her 1989 tour next year. The album is that good, you guys. 1989 marks the country darling’s first official pop album, and she has taken this chance to show off a bolder, more self-aware side of herself–on my favorite track off the album, “Blank Space,” Taylor paints a brilliant, satirical picture of the man-eating, over-emotional figure that the media makes her out to be.
TV On The Radio: Seeds
I’ll be honest, my first move was to see if Frozen‘s soundtrack came out in 2014 (it was November 2013—dammit!). But my close second for listening this year came courtesy of TV on The Radio’s album Seeds. They have a light style that’s easy to pick up and listen to, and that’s my style. Along with an album that deals with some heavy emotions (death of a recent band member, life, and so forth), this record helps make the music all the more passionate and ‘real’. The messages of ‘it’s all going to be okay’ that resonates through some tracks, like “Trouble” can be incredibly powerful for the listener.
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Guardians of the Galaxy – Awesome Mix Vol .1:
I can never resist a throwback soundtrack, and this one hits all the right notes. All the songs add depth to scenes in the movie, but are also independently fun to listen to (even “The Pina Colada Song“). It’s hard for me to pick a favorite song since I loved most of them separately beforehand, but I can’t help but smile whenever I hear “Come and Get Your Love” because it’s so catchy and I’m reminded of the hilarious opening scene from the movie. Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is unique and surprising, especially for a superhero movie soundtrack, and it made me fall in love again with so many songs that I remember listening to during my childhood, which is why it’s my favorite album from 2014.
From the “Let It Go“-led Frozen frenzy to Jennifer Lawrence’s singing debut (as Katniss Everdeen) in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, there’s no denying the dominance of the movies on the music industry in 2014. When it came time to select my top album of the year, a retro relic immediately sprang to mind—a mix tape. More specifically, “Awesome Mix, Volume 1″, the original soundtrack to Marvel’s summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. Given as a gift to the film’s main hero, Peter Quill, this impeccably curated and cosmically cool compilation of pop and rock songs from the 1970s and 1980s plays an integral role in the story, as the nostalgic songs are interwoven throughout Quill’s adventures in space. What I love about this soundtrack is how the selected tracks represent a wide spectrum of moods and vibes, from the swoon-worthy, romantic ballad, “Fooled Around And Fell In Love” to the amped-up ‘let’s go kick some ass!’ anthem, “Cherry Love“, along with how certain songs are now representative of memorable moments within the film. Who could forget Quill’s dance grooves to “Come And Get Your Love” and “O-O-H Child“? My personal favorite song is the ethereal-sounding, emotion-filled “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc. As the opener to Guardians, it’s a sonic experience that truly takes the listener out of this world. The music from “Awesome Mix, Volume 1” got me hooked on many feelings, one of which is the feeling that we will continue to see more fusions of the movies and music in 2015 and beyond.
First Aid Kit: Stay Gold
With the events that have taken place in my life this past year, Stay Gold is a record that has certainly spoken to me in so many ways. Highlighting love and the whirlwind that is life and the realities of it, I have so many favorites on this album because each speaks a different song to me and though the title track “Stay Gold” is one of the utmost relatable tracks of my year, I would have top narrow it down to “My Silver Lining.” The song plays around the balances of life and asks, can you be happy and sad at the same time? Be worried, but still full of hope? It’s a peculiar state of mind to be in, but that’s what makes it so relatable. With ideas of faith and disbelief, this is what life is all about and it’s a fantastic track. The song hints at the expectation that things will get better in the future. With the repeated lyrics, “I won’t take the easy road” or “keep on keeping on”, it feels like life is truly a long road that welcomes no stops. Though their lyrics feel old and world-weary at times, the Swedish duo’s fresh pipes complement the tone and feel of a record like this. The record contemplates love, commitment and realism. I love how Johanna and Klara (sisters, by the way) have very different voices but harmonize ever delicately on the record, especially in the sadder songs. It’s a beautiful record that unites traditional country with folk music, soft indie rock with 60’s sounds, but arranged into the Baroque pop theme of sorts.
Eric Church: The Outsiders
I’m not very musically inclined, so whenever I try to talk about why exactly I like a certain song or album I sound similar to Andy attempting to be a food or art critic. The one thing that I’ve been able to pinpoint as a deciding factor between me liking or me hating a song is if I can really hear a story being told through it, and if I can authentically feel that story coming across from the singer. Eric Church hit that out of the park for me on this album, with every single song. Country music is my favorite genre and this album is a perfect illustration of why—it’s completely authentic. And I believe every word that Church sings. My favorite song is “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young“. For someone who can rock so hard and be so loud, he can also make a statement with soft songs, which is exactly what this one is.
Alt-J: This Is All Yours
I had certainly heard of Alt-J in past conversations, due to a fairly stellar first album in 2012. However, it was not until 2014 that they fully got my attention with their second collection of works, This Is All Yours. I can still vividly remember the first time I heard the hit single “Hunger of the Pine,” which would go on to become my favorite track. This song was a great preview of the electro-rock journey that these 3 musicians would take us on with their complete album, but I believe that it still stands quite strong as an individual piece of work in its own right. Today, we’re constantly being tested with the blending of musical styles now considered to be traditional. I like rock music and I like techno music, but rarely (until now) had I fully appreciated what the two could be in combination. Run, don’t walk, to Alt-J if you’re new to their musical offerings.
Busdriver: Perfect Hair
A lot of cool things happened in the world of rap in the year of 2014. But the coolest thing was the new album from one of the weirder and grossly unappreciated figures in the world of Hip Hop. Busdriver is ‘That Dude’—he comes through differently on every release, but always in such a way that it doesn’t feel like he’s compromised artistic integrity for listens and page views. He’s just too smart and too talented to make two albums that sound very much alike one after the other. Perfect Hair has conscious raps, personal stuff, ballads, and just fun fun songs. My favorite track on the record is a hard thing to think about, but if I were forced to choose the track would be “Eat Rich“. The beat (by Kenny Segal) is filled with such whimsy that I have to move. The hook is such a great battle cry for any hungry creator. And the repeated cadence at the end of the song should be marched to on your way to successful obscurity. Overall, this album is yet another arrow in my quiver for when someone tells me they don’t like rap over the din of obnoxious bass at a football game. This record won’t deafen you with sine waves, but it will dizzy you with flow, experimental creativity, and joy of what 2015 is going to sound like.
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What was your favorite album from 2014? Let us know in the comments below.