It's unclear, but highly doubtful, whether fewer great records were released in 2014 than in years previous. But it seemed to be easier to narrow my own list down to ten favorite records than in 2013. You'll likely think I'm crazy, however, when one (or all) of the albums you cherished in the last twelve months I fail to mention.
There may be no theme that runs throughout the songs and records mentioned below other than they are my favorite. More than ever, my favorites were the ones that got the most playing time. Whether at home, in the car, or leaking through my headphones as they blared on the metro, this is what I listened to with the greatest frequency. They were played on repeat and revisited. Even when shelved for weeks leading to months, my adoration for my favorites never waned, and in some instances, grew exponentially.
The music that I liked a lot in 2014, I truly loved.
My Favorite Songs
It's logical that one's favorite songs would be found on his or her favorite albums. Despite this sensible line of reasoning, I've realized it's not always the case. A great single may emerge from a less-than-stellar pop album or a record you loved at the beginning of the year my fade in wake of stronger alternatives, but your favorite song or two remain at the forefront of your mind.
That didn't happen to me this year. Each of these five are represented in my top ten records of the year. I kept it to five songs, because without missing a beat when asked which tracks were my favorites of the year, I was able to rattle off these without hesitation or seeking reference.
5.) "Design Within Reach" by Priests
"Design Within Reach" like Priests' other best tracks are confrontational without ever being condescending -- just a healthy dose of self-aware constructive criticism.
4.) "White Fire" by Angel Olsen
On a stirringly emotional album, "White Fire" stands apart as the most heartbreaking of the bunch.
3.) "Severed Crossed Fingers" by St. Vincent
"I sang that in one fucking take, cried my eyes out, and the song was done."
2.) "Blue Gown" by Radiator Hospital
Katie Crutchfield's entrance on "Blue Gown" is my favorite moment in recorded music this year.
1.) "Interference Fits" by Perfect Pussy
A coming of age story worthy of Salinger and Plath, "Interference Fits" is deeply personal, while remaining universally applicable.
Top 150 Songs of 2014
I try and organize my musical thoughts as the year progresses and have found that Spotify is the best resource for such a task. When I heard a song released this year that grabbed me, I'd drop it in a playlist. It's imperfect for a litany of reasons almost too long to count, or at least to lengthy to name right now. These 150 (one per artist) released in 2014 are missing notable choices, not least of which is, of course is "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift.
Side note: If anyone is going to make money from music, and they should, it should be those who perform and write the songs.
My Favorite Records
10.) Dark Arc by Saintseneca
While Saintseneca is clearly still Zac Little's band, what started as a solo project has evolved to a fully realized group. This isn't to say that other players and singers haven't left lasting impacts on Saintseneca's previous efforts; but the cohesiveness of Dark Arc, which is exhibited most clearly in its irresistible harmonies, allows Saintseneca to soar to heights not yet reached.
9.) Benji by Sun Kil Moon
Benji is a collection of stories of death as only Mark Kozelek can tell. There's plainspoken tragedy in nearly every word and figuratively in every song. Horrific events live side-by-side with life's more mundane moments. The juxtaposition causes the listener to both slouch in agony, while moving to the edge of one's seat to not miss a single word. And true to form, Kozelek's song titles are second-to-none. Nothing says "life is unfair," quite like "Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes."
Sidenote: I did not listen to a single note of Thurston Moore's or Ariel Pink's 2014 efforts. Call it hypocrisy, but not even Kozelek's more than unappealing public persona could ruin this one for me.
8.) DSU by Alex G
For a small subset of music fans, DSU was the most anticipated record of the year. Meeting Orchid Tapes' exceedingly high standard of excellence, Alex G did not disappoint. Forget the mentions of "bedroom production" and "lo-fi." No pejorative intended, DSU is the most interesting and introspective straight-ahead pop-rock record of the year.
7.) Commune by Goat
A far off distant time and place by way of Sweden, Goat are masters of seemingly tribal mesmerization. While trance inducing, on Commune, Goat is clearly not satisfied to simply hide in the percussive pocket. To listen to Goat is to experience a range of unearthly, but entirely irresistible sounds. The last, and best, track of the album gets as close to explaining Commune most accurately as possible: "Gathering of Ancient Tribes."
6.) Silent Treatment by Highasakite
It's possible that if I told you that Silent Treatment is melodic, orchestral pop music created by the Norwegian band Highasakite whose strongest component is the voice of their singer Ingrid Håvik, you may come close to understanding this album before hearing a single note. The influences, however, are not confined to Scandinavia. There are pop elements that will leave you practically bouncing, allowing the band to coast elegantly without allowing any of the more compositionally bombastic moments to suffer from melodrama.
5.) Bodies and Control and Money and Power by Priests
Daniele Daniele hits the drums the hardest. GL Jaguar spins the tightest of guitar grooves. Taylor Mulitz's bass growls, dances, and plows forward. All the while, singer Katie Alice Greer maneuvers in between and over the top of these agitated sounds to create a serious, but entirely fun, force. True to its name, Bodies and Control and Money and Power is as much a public service announcement as it is a personal manifesto.
Sidenote: Bodies and Control... is an EP. For what it's worth, I liked it enough to change my title from favorite "albums" to "records."
4.) Say Yes To Love by Perfect Pussy
Say Yes To Love is a kickstart in every direction. The songs are not bipolar; they simply send you on the necessary path. Up or down, happy or sad, Perfect Pussy is emotionally affirming. Whether you can identify with the lyrics or even if you haven't spent the time to decipher them, the brutal honesty in both the words and the music exists as if to confirm that whatever you're feeling at any given moment is right as long as it is real.
3.) Torch Song by Radiator Hospital
Without the benefit of their guest stars, Radiator Hospital delivers one of the most irresistibly catchy rock records in recent memory. With Allison Crutchfield (Swearin'), Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee), and Maryn Jones (Saintseneca/All Dogs), Torch Song resembles the flawless narrative of Springsteen's Nebraska or the Mountain Goats' Tallahassee.
Sidenote: Torch Song is the album I listened to most this year -- an argument for the cassette...and still having a car with a tape player.
2.) St. Vincent by St. Vincent
Before the release of her self-titled album, Annie Clark had become one of my favorite guitar players. And then all of a sudden, her guitar didn't necessarily sound like guitar. The notes were more angular, even more precise, and a lot more electronic. I didn't know what to do, let alone think. I liked the album, but I was entirely uncertain as to whether I loved it. Then I listened again, and again, and again. St. Vincent hadn't changed; I just needed to catch up.
1.) Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen
Admittedly, I declared in February that Burn Your Fire... would be my favorite album of the year. I resisted more rational friends who reminded me that we had ten months to go. More specifically, I refused to listen and shouted expletives about how I didn't care. This was the most cogent and accessible effort from Angel Olsen yet. The music was sparse only to magnify the searing truth in every last word. Stubborn? Sure. Right? Absolutely.