The Top 12 Albums of 2014!

Where have I been for the past several months?

Well, you know, life and stuff. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime. But I’ve got business to take care of right now. And while I realize that I am about three weeks late for this, I just wouldn’t feel good about myself unless I got this list done.

If you are new to my list, here’s the skinny: I’ve always done a top 12. It’s weird, but deal with it. The album had to be released in 2014 to be considered, and it had to be an album of newly recorded material, which usually eliminates most soundtracks. I comprise the list solely based on my opinion. These are MY favorites. I don’t listen to every album that comes out because nobody does that. I also don’t listen to as many records as I used to because, as I mentioned before, life and stuff. But I try. Because I love it. Also, this list is likely to change as the years go by, because that’s how subjectivity works.

Before we start, I will say that this year, more than most, was really hard to land at a number one. I usually have three or four records that separate themselves from the pack, but the separation from one to twelve felt much smaller this year. But, I accept the challenge and humbly offer you my result.

My list of the top 12 albums of 2014! Let’s count ’em down backwards, just like Casey Kasem and Dick Clark taught us to do!

12. Nick Waterhouse, Holly

This was such an easy album to put on in the background while doing just about anything. And you could also turn it up and dance to it, which I actually dreamed about this year. Seriously. I was on the deck of a beach house with a handful of random people I don’t know, sunbathing, when this album came on and we all got up and started shuffling in the coolest, hipster-beware way ever known. The retro surf-soul sound is a pillar of The Meeting’s musical foundation. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “This Is A Game”, “It No. 3”, “Sleeping Pills”, “Holly”

11. The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream

If you make a record that sounds like it could have come out in the early to mid 1980’s, you will get my attention. Especially if you also remain anchored in the present. This album accomplished this to great affect. The synth-drenched songs can be pulsing, brooding, and tense, but this album is not a downer. It is bright and hopeful, even when the lyrics don’e seem to be conveying that. It actually gets better with each listen. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Burning”, “Under The Pressure”, “Eyes To The Wind”, “Red Eyes”

10. The Men, Tomorrow’s Hits

I wouldn’t say The Men have polished up their sound on Tomorrow’s Hits as much as just used their shirt sleeve to wipe off some of the grime.  But it works beautifully, and I quickly fell in love with this early 2014 release. The band moves seamlessly through sounds of punk, country, pop, americana, and straight-up rock & roll. I’ll bet these guys sound great in a bar. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Settle Me Down”, “Get What You Give”, “Another Night”, “Different Days”

9. U2, Songs of Innocence

Once you’ve stripped away all of positive and negative hyperbole surrounding the release of this album, what you are left with is actually a pretty great record. No, it’s not U2’s best, but every album can’t be legendary. And what prevents this from being talked about in those terms is it’s lack of stop-you-in-your-tracks tunes. But what lifts this from being mediocre is that there is not a single clunker in the pack. Everything here starts at solid and elevates from there. You just might have to cut your way through the media hype and backlash to find it. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “California (There Is No End To Love)”, “The Troubles”, “Cedarwood Road”, “Every Breaking Wave”

8. Slow Club, Complete Surrender

This English duo of Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor have created a fascinating and beautiful album of, oh, let’s call it roots-pop. Watson’s voice often conveys a kind of weary earthiness, while Taylor is often seductive and torchy. But the combination works beautifully. And I found myself having a different listening experience each time I went through this. I eventually stopped trying to pin this thing down, and just did what the album title suggests. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Everything Is New”, “Suffering You, Suffering Me”, “Complete Surrender”, “Dependable People and Things That I’m Sure Of”

7. Eels, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett

I am a complete sucker for the quiet and introspective side of a man called E. Everett has never been afraid wear his heart on his sleeve and then transcribe said heart right into his music. I’ve loved following his journey. And while much of this album seems to live in the realm of personal regret, Mr. E still manages to salvage the hope in his beautiful blues and makes sure that we feel it, too. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Parallels”, “Agatha Chang”, “Series of Misunderstandings”, “Where I’m Going” (and if you have the deluxe version, “Good Morning Bright Eyes”)

6. Neil Diamond, Melody Road

The last ten years have been a bit of a renaissance period for Mr. Diamond, especially with his three albums of original material. Stop laughing, I’m serious! Melody Road is a simple and gorgeous effort, brighter than his two efforts with Rick Reuben, but maintaining the spirit of his earlier (and more critically acclaimed) work. Neil (I think I can call him “Neil”) writes a love song with the simplicity and depth that draw from all of his 73 years. The production team of Don Was and Jacknife Lee do a great job of breathing sonic life into the tunes, as well. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Something Blue”, “Seongah and Jimmy”, “Alone At the Ball”, “The Art of Love”, “(ooh) Do I Wanna Be Yours”

5. Alvvays, Alvvays

I came to this very late in the year. I had been aware of it, but put off actually listening to it. Then, when I dd – magic! Wow! How did I not hear this sooner! Why does this record make punctuate all of my questions with exclamation points! But that’s how it makes me feel. And yet, because I only just recently found this magical piece of low-fi, sugar-pop, I can’t be sure whether or not to completely trust it. Will I tire of it quickly? Or will it continue to grow on me? As such, I stuck it at number five, knowing that in five years, I may raise or lower its placement dramatically. Regardless, very worth a listen. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Adult Diversion”, “Archie, Marry Me”, “Next of Kin”, “The Agency Group”

4. Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes

This isn’t a traditional kind of Springsteen album, in that it’s a hodge-podge of unreleased songs from the past ten or so years, culled together and re-recorded with his current (E Street) band of touring musicians. Additionally, there are two covers included, and a couple of previously released, but now re-recorded Springsteen tracks. In fact, the title track is a re-recorded version of a previously released cover song. And now my brain hurts. Regardless, this is a great collection of songs, regardless of whether they are thematically connected (though I must say, “Harry’s Place is a bit of a musical clunker, sounding like something Glen Frey would have recorded for Miami Vice).  Tom Morello’s guitar is present for most of the album, and he even shares lead vocals on a spectacular version of The Boss’s “Ghost of Tom Joad”. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Frankie Fell In Love”, “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, “Just Like Fire Would”, “Down In The Hole”

3. Dry The River, Alarms in the Heart

Dry The River deliver alt-rock anthems that dabble just enough into prog-rock territory to entice those who enjoy such things, while not alienating those (read: me) who often find the genre tiresome and off-putting. But off-putting this record is not. Rather, it embraces me like a warm blanket of power and introspection. I had not been previously aware of this band, so Alarms In The Heart serves as my introduction. It’s a pleasure to meet these guys and there journey through an apparent personal/spiritual crisis/enlightenment, which has produced some richly satisfying art. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Med School”, “Alarms in the Heart”, “Gethsemane”, “Everlasting Light”

2. Ray LaMontagne, Supernova

I really wrestled with the thought of making this number one. It was close. While I generally like LaMongagne, this is the first time that I have LOVED LaMontagne. Supernova is a hippy-trip into some retro psychedelia so groovy sounding, you might just swear he recorded this album 40 plus year ago, while he was still in diapers. What is fantastic is that these songs work great individually, but the cohesive album experience is even better. Throughout the year, my favorite song has changed so much that it is almost impossible to recommend just a few. But…BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Lavender”, “Airwaves”, “Drive-in Movies”, “Ojai”, “Supernova”

1. Beck, Morning Phase

For about three months, early in 2014, this was almost all I was listening to. It’s a great Winter record. But, true to its title, it works best in the early hours, regardless of season. This is not a singles record. Its highest value is found in its whole, rather than the sum of its parts. Even when I thought I was tired of it, I could instantly be pulled back in simply by selecting “play”. In a year that saw me pretty much disappear from my blog, this was the only full album I actually wrote about. It’s quiet, moody, and oddly uplifting. I love this record, and can already hear a timeless quality in it. If you haven’t yet, make sure you check this one out. But do it on a quiet, early morning. BE SURE TO CHECK OUT: “Morning”, “Heart is a Drum”, “Turn Away”, “Waking Light”

Yes, there were other albums I considered for this list. Here are the ones that fought hardest to be included, and I had to wrestle out to keep it at 12:

Chrissie Hynde, Stockholm

Coldplay, Ghost Stories

The Hold Steady, Teeth Dreams

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Give the People What They Want

Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

And here are a few more that I also really enjoyed in 2014…

LP, Forever for Now

Jukebox the Ghost, Jukebox the Ghost

Nicole Atkins, Slow Phaser

The Paul & John, Inner Sunset

Hamilton Leithauser, Black Hours

Crowder, Neon Steeple

Augustines, Augustines

Sean Nicholas Savage, Bermuda Waterfall

Morgan James, Hunter

Also, I created a list of 50 great songs from 2015. You can listen to that list here: 

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~ by themattmorrisshow on January 15, 2015.

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