THE BLOG
12/16/2014 02:08 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2015

Music Picks for 2014

For the last 11 years, I've released an annual list of my favorite albums, intended primarily for those who want to hear new music but have a hard time sorting through the hundreds of new titles that are released each year. I added often pithy descriptions of the music, probably inspired by too many nights reading lengthy Rolling Stone album reviews in the '70s and '80s.

Like many others, I don't listen to music in the same way as I have in the past. I listen to more songs and fewer albums. I hear and share new music on an almost daily basis through Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud, Satellite Radio, CDs and more. So why share the best stuff only once a year? Going forward, I will frequently post a playlist of my favorite new songs on Spotify so you can hear new music on a regular basis. As in the past, I will not include the artists that you hear everywhere (say Taylor Swift) or artists that are a little inaccessible to the harried 21st century listener. And I'll still do an annual list at the end of the year with the top picks that I'll email and distribute more broadly.

Here is a link to the Spotify playlist where you can play all the songs below:

Cliff's Picks

Click the "Follow" button on the playlist and you'll hear the new songs that I add throughout the year.

I heard dozens of truly compelling songs this year, songs that I go back to frequently and songs that I will listen to for a long time. I can listen to them everywhere and on nearly any device. During a trip in the car over this past Thanksgiving, we shared songs with each other and heard and experienced music in a way that would have been unfathomable 20 years ago. It was quite a contrast to a long lost summer in the 20th century when my brother and I drove cross country and back with 15 cassette tapes and Darkness On The Edge of Town and My Aim is True playing repeatedly in every state from Ohio to California. With the exception of those few albums and the occasional tune coming through our often shaky radio signal, that was our music for 6 weeks and 6000 miles. While lack of access to lots of music certainly intensified our relationship to individual albums, I wouldn't trade it for the accessibility to music that we have today.

What follows are my favorite songs of 2014. I placed an asterisk next to the songs that come from albums that I really liked. If there is no asterisk, it doesn't mean that I don't like the album. It is more likely that I didn't get to spend much time with the album.

Thanks, have a great holiday - Cliff

The first group features mostly contemporary rock acts that released strong new albums in 2014. While the Foo Fighters new album Sonic Highways is not as astounding as 2011's Wasting Light, I am very grateful for the new album from Mr. Grohl and company.

*Foo Fighters - Something From Nothing
Jenny Lewis - Just One of The Guys
Ray LaMontagne - Supernova
*Jack White - Would You Fight For My Love
Foster The People - Coming of Age
*Ryan Adams - Gimme Something Good
*Spoon - Rent I Pay

The next group is mostly moodier, more lyrical, maybe a little deeper but still very musical. If you're looking for a little angst and tension, you might find it here. The War on Drugs' Lost In The Dream is an exceptional album.

*First Aid Kit - My Silver Lining
*Boy & Bear - Harlequin Dream
*The War On Drugs - Burning
Leonard Cohen - Almost Like the Blues
Beck - Say Goodbye
Sharon Van Etten - Your Love is Killing Me
Ages and Ages - Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)
Angel Olsen - Lights Out
The Decemberists - Make You Better

I find most of today's pure pop music to be well produced, well crafted and fairly generic and uninspiring. The following pop songs feel a little more original and long-lasting than much of what I heard on the radio. As far as albums go, the standout on this list is John Newman's Tribute, a livelier alternative to the new Sam Smith album.

Tove Lo - Habits (Stay High)
Viceroy - The Life (feat. Penguin Prison)
*John Newman - Love Me Again
Jungle - Busy Earnin'
Big Data - Dangerous (feat. Joywave)
Echosmith - Cool Kids

There is lots of good country flavored music that is not slick and not played on country radio. Check these folks out below including Lera Lynn, whose The Avenues is sweet, clear-eyed Americana.

*Lera Lynn - La Di Da
*Robert Ellis - Chemical Plant
Parker Millsap - Truck Stop Gospel
Sturgill Simpson - Life of Sin
Austin Plaine - Never Come Back Again

Here are great songs from three women who didn't get the love they deserved this year. Joan Osborne's Love and Hate is lush, beautiful and conceptual, with little connection to the more rootsy music on which she built her career.

Macy Gray - I Miss the Sex
*Chrissie Hynde - Dark Sunglasses
*Joan Osborne - Where We Start

The next group features artists who manage to sound fresh but tap into sounds you've heard before -from pyschedlica to garage to r&b. Retro without guilt.

*Curtis Harding - Next Time
The Black Keys - Fever
Trigger Hippy - Turpentine
Counting Crows - Scarecrow
*Lydia Loveless - Really Wanna See You
Lake Street Dive - You Go Down Smooth
Morgan Delt - Barbarian Kings
Nude Beach - See My Way
Temples - Shelter Song

Finally, a bunch of smart, listenable, melodic songs that I guess you'd call indie rock.

Alvvays - Archie, Marry Me
Foxygen - San Francisco
The Fresh & Onlys - Animal of One
Hospitality - Going Out
J Mascis - Every Morning
Birds Of Tokyo - Lanterns
Real Estate - Had To Hear
Reigning Sound - Never Coming Home
Sylvan Esso -- Coffee

Cliff's Picks

HAVE A GREAT 2015