The best things I’ve heard in 2014 (and the best of 2014 mix tape)
Pulling double duty with this post, as it’s my year end “Best things I’ve heard” post as well as the 2014 edition of the “Best of mix tape” project.
First up, it’s my artist of the year, Annie Clark, aka, St. Vincent. She put out one of my favorite records of the year, the cleverly titled St. Vincent, completely freaked out and confused national TV audiences with her appearances on Saturday Night Live and Letterman, and put on one of the best live shows I’ve seen in an awfully long time. Take a bow, Annie, you earned it. And be thankful there was no last minute Puddles Pity Party song to sneak in and steal your crown away, like last year.
I had a hard time choosing an album of the year, so I chickened out and am just sticking with 25 favorites below, in no particular order other than alphabetical. I can say for certain that Dancehall Domine by the New Pornographers is hands down my favorite song of the year, for what it’s worth.
(Lest you are worried that I cheated and cut and paste the awful Rolling Stone best of list, let me just assure you that Songs of Innocence is not the best album of the year.)
Against Me! – Transgender Disphoria Blues
alt-J – This Is All Yours
Beck – Morning Phase
Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
Bob Mould – Beauty & Rain
Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Death From Above 1979- The Physical World
Eagulls – Eagulls
Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
The Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams
Jack White – Lazaretto
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again
Michael Jackson – XSCAPE
Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Prince – ART OFFICIAL AGE
Run The Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want
St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Wig Out At Ragbags
tUnE-yArDs – nikki nack
TV On The Radio – Seeds
Ty Segall – Manipulator
The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dreams
A couple of things jump out from this year:
- The Run the Jewels album. Wow. And talk about something that’s socially relevant in addition to kicking serious tail.
- It feels weird that U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Johnny Marr could all put out records and none of them even get serious consideration for this list, but there you go. In fact, I thought longer about Taylor Swift’s record than I did any one of those.
- Prince, on the other hand, put out not one, but two amazing records and then melted faces on SNL for eight minutes. Score one for the old guys.
- Seriously, Dancehall Domine is awesome, as is the video.
Now on to the mix tape. Everything on here hails from one of the albums above, save for the epic Father John Misty single released recently. I’ll be handling this half decade a little differently than the previous entries, as I’m working backwards to 2010. Same general rules though: one song per artist, everything has to fit on one 60 minute Maxell tape, etc.
Transgender Disphoria Blues – Against Me!
Much like the Japandroids record of a couple of years back, this one just begs to be played loud. The lyrical content just makes for a really cool contrast, so pay attention.
Dancehall Domine – The New Pornographers
Have I mentioned how great this song is yet? Power pop bliss plus the perfect vehicle for the vocal harmonies of the lovely and talented Neko Case and Kathryn Calder.
Blue Moon – Beck
Even though I had a hard time narrowing down a favorite album from this year, I doubt there’s one I played or enjoyed more than Morning Phase. When Beck gets into singer/songwriter mode he has few peers.
Digital Witness – St. Vincent
I unequivocally love St. Vincent, in case I didn’t make that clear earlier. Her music is the amazing love child of PJ Harvey, Al Green, and Devo.
Violent Shiver – Benjamin Booker
A big, raw, nasty slice of blues rock, and it’s pretty glorious.
Coronus, The Terminator – Flying Lotus
FlyLo made an album all about death and mortality (and called it, You’re Dead!, even, complete with exclamation report), and it’s pretty glorious.
Early – Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels 2 hits you square in the jaw like a sledgehammer. Watch them flat out kill it on Letterman.
Hip hop with a Rickenbacker and Day of the Dead masks? Yes, more of this please.
Lariat – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
I’m always a sucker for some angular Malkmus guitar goodness, and this is a good one.
Red Eyes – The War on Drugs
Really enjoyed this album, even if I put it aside fairly quickly originally for some reason. It was good to get back to it when making this mix.
Water Fountain – tUnE yArDs
This song was fairly ubiquitous for a while, and there’s no denying it’s pretty great. Reminds me a lot of Battles’ Ice Cream from a few years back.
Now Hear In – Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings have made a couple of my favorite albums in recent years, and they keep getting better as their sound matures.
ART OFFICIAL CAGE – Prince
If I made a record this good in my fifth decade of making music, I’d probably write in SHOUTY ALL CAPS too.
End of the Summer – Joyce Manor
I’m a big fan of songs under two minutes, so if you write one this good you’re a pretty sure bet to wind up here.
Bored in the USA – Father John Misty
Even though the album this song is from doesn’t come out until early next year, I’m giving it a spot here, if for no other reason than it is so epic that it comes with its own laugh track.
Hey Mr. Grey – Bob Mould
Few people can work so well and so expansively within the confines of a two-minute rock song the way Bob can.
Love Never Felt So Good – Michael Jackson
So apparently the only person standing in the way of another great Michael Jackson record the past two decades was Michael himself. This tune approaches the giddy pop standard of Off the Wall.
Just One of the Guys – Jenny Lewis
This whole album sounds like the kind of records that Gram Parsons would be making post rehab if he’d lived to be older than 26. Just bask in its glow, until you get to the “lady without a baby” punchline.
So there you go, 17 of the best from the past year. Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure.
What was your favorite album/song/performance of the year? Which one of your favorites did I leave out?