Archive | January 2015

14 Favourite Albums from 2014

Happy 2015 everybody!  I meant to publish this a little earlier, but hopefully you all got swept up in Christmas festivities like I did, and wouldn’t have had the time to listen through the great albums of 2014 anyway.  I am not going to lie, I do not think 2014 was a stand-out year for albums.  It was a year of great singles, and surprisingly, there are very few common artists between this list and the list of songs I published last weekend.  Like I mentioned there, Beyoncé was really the album that will categorize this year for me, but since she reigned at the supreme spot for my 2013 list, I still managed to come up with 14 other albums that stuck out to me over the last 12 months.  Enjoy!

14.  GODDESS – BANKS

goddessThis album unfortunately didn’t quite live up to its hype, and has been critiqued rather harshly for being boring, but I have found it one of my favourite records to chill out to.  In case you are unfamiliar, Jillian Banks is a crazy-talented R&B singer-songwriter that has the ability to stop you in your tracks, and also sing you to sleep with relaxed beats.  I’m hopeful that this album will be the beginning of many more to come from Banks.

13.  PIÑATA – FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB

pinataIf you had a conversation about music with me before, you probably have an idea already of how I feel about jazz and hip hop, and rap as a modern form of jazz.  Piñata is a fantastic example of the relationship between these two genres.  Madlib, who brought us Shades of Blue in 2003, has only become better at integrating old jazz samples with hip hop beats and rhymes, which on Piñata allows Freddie Gibbs a film-quality soundtrack over which he tells his stories.

12.  THE LONDON SESSIONS – MARY J. BLIGE

londonsessionsIs anyone else a bit weirded out by how similar Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith sound?  It becomes even more prevalent when she sings Smith-penned tracks.  In The London Sessions, MJB teams up with her British friends (along with Sam Smith, she works with Disclosure and Emeli Sandé) to make a record that strikes a balance between classic R&B grooves and up-tempo electronic dance tunes.  The album comes just in time to remind us of her well-earned soul royalty.

11.  TOUGH LOVE – JESSIE WARE

toughloveJessie Ware’s is a voice I haven’t heard much from since I first put her on my list in 2012, but as soon as I heard she’d released her second album this year, I knew it would be a contender.  She seems to have focused and matured her sound to demand more attention than on Devotion, and she works with some great collaborators as well, like Dev Hynes (who also worked with FKA Twigs on my next pick), Miguel and Ed Sheeran.  I have no doubt it will be an album I regularly return to in 2015.

10.  LP1 – FKA TWIGS

lp1As her title suggests, this is FKA Twigs’ very first full length album after gaining a sizeable fan-base through her two EP’s (appropriately titled EP1 and EP2) and super creepy and mesmerizing music videos like the one I shared in my top songs blog.  R&B out of the UK seems to be a bit of a theme lately, and this might be the sexiest and most interesting stuff coming from across the pond.  She has often been compared to The Weeknd, which is an accurate comparison in musical style, lyrical content and in strange memorable image.  At least FKA Twigs doesn’t have 3 gross dreads.

9.  IN THE LONELY HOUR – SAM SMITH

lonelyhourThis is one of those albums that is full to the brim with radio-friendly singles.  Literally every song could be top 40.  From the first moment I heard/saw Smith on SNL, I was mesmerized and so curious.  I’ve been regularly describing him as a male-Adele, with a voice so clear and controlled, and with so many of his best emotional moments inspired by a failed relationship.  Sometimes the melodrama is a bit over the top for me, but if I’m not paying too much attention to the emotion, this album can be just right.

8.  IN THE SILENCE – ASGEIR

asgeirAsgeir is the best thing out of Iceland since Sigur Ros or Bjork.  This record came out last January, but I didn’t start listening to it until the summer, when Beth’s sister Rachel gave us some new music to accompany us on our roadtrip from Vancouver to Toronto.  Somewhere in the vast prairies, In the Silence became one of our favourite soundtracks for driving in the early mornings and late evenings.

7.  ARE WE THERE – SHARON VAN ETTEN

VanEttenI am a latecomer to the fandom of Sharon Van Etten.  Apparently Are We There is supposed to be her last album, but at least she has plenty of earlier music for me to listen to next.  What I love about this album is that it has the raw and emotional honesty reminiscent of Laura Marling, but with a bit more of an edge.  Also, that cover art just makes me want to crank this album in a car while I drive for three days straight in search of warmer weather.

6.  YOU’RE DEAD! – FLYING LOTUS

flyinglotusOye.  Now we’re really getting into the good stuff.  You’re Dead! is a work of genius, blending free jazz and hip hop into a seamless record.  Songs transition into one another as if the album is one long symphony made up of movements.  And of course there’s the Kendrick Lamar appearance that is one of my favourite things to happen in music this year.

5.  HOZIER – HOZIER

hozierAndrew Hozier-Byrne grew massively this year, and I have to admit, though it took me a few months, he grew on me too.  I was not sure I could handle a whole album of Hozier’s unique low voice, but I knew I had to buy it for my wife who was a fan from day one.  From the first complete listen, I repented, and Hozier became a regular play in our house while cooking dinner.

4.  NIKKI NACK – TUNE-YARDS

nikkinackThis is the only album that came out in 2014 that I have bought on vinyl (so far).  Merrill Garbus has created an eternal fan in me.  Not only is this record impossibly fun and dance-able, it thoughtfully critiques our consumerist and wasteful culture with a sense of humour.  There are certainly some bizarre moments, but always surrounded by the quirky charm of Garbus’ low, dynamic vocals and fun rhythmic beats.

3.  BLACK MESSIAH – D’ANGELO

d'angeloSo, in case you were asleep or dead at the time, Black Messiah became the new Beyoncé.  Released mid-december, it completely changed the music landscape of this year, and in the process, ruined many writers’ pre-written 2014 lists of albums and songs.  Once again, I am thankful for putting out my own list a little later than most!  In only two weeks I have given Black Messiah more complete listens than any of the others on this list, including my top two.  After staying silent for 14 years, D’Angelo released a record as if it was no big deal, and simultaneously picked up where he left off while also launching us into a new era of neo-soul.  Frick frack.

2.  ST. VINCENT – ST. VINCENT

stvincentI have loved St. Vincent from her Marry Me and Actor days, and even though her self-titled record is not a brand new image or sound, it does seem to represent the persona and music that Annie Clark has been building towards ever since she picked up a guitar.  The self-titled album is legitimate rock-and-roll pushing forward in a world of EDM and Hip Hop.  Her videos, and even her live performances, tell futuristic dystopian tales in that ideal sci-fi way that prods the deeper meaning of the world we currently live in.  And she’s just so badass.

1.  1989 – TAYLOR SWIFT

1989No one is more surprised about this than I am.  If you had told me even four months ago that I would make a Taylor Swift album my pick of the year, I would have at least considered punching you in the face.  Although I can rationally argue with myself that so many of the other albums represented on this list are “better” or “more important” or more deserving of this #1 spot for one reason or another, it’s just not how I feel.  1989 is not perfect.  Here are the most blatant flaws: (1) every time Taylor talk-sings, like in the Shake It Off bridge, and (2) when she sounds like a weird imitation of Lana Del Ray on Wildest Dreams.  But, from the moment she welcomes us to New York (aka, welcoming us to a full-on pop record, devoid of any country swag), this record is so solid.  I considered Style, Blank Space and the chorus of Out of the Woods for my favourite songs, but the truth is, if I want to listen to these songs, I am most likely to put on all of 1989.  So there you have it.

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