This album came out in March, and from the day it was first available to stream online, it was my #1. As the year went on, I tried and tried to second guess myself where I could, but nothing could make this budge. No other collection of songs felt like this complete of an idea, or felt so familiar while still feeling like something brand new. I listened to it at work, while driving, while running, in my living room. No amount of critical introspection was able to take away the head nod that happens every time I hear it playing in a record store (which still occurs frequently), and no amount of fame and blowing up of these guys can take away the fact that this album defines 2014 to me more than any other. My album (and show, and song of the year) go to The War On Drugs.
My Favorite Albums of 2014
Note: There's a full year end recap HERE with more room for the long descriptions and an easier to read format. This is just the shorthand.
Note to folks who don't know me trying to decide if we like the same things: I like melodic instrumental post rock, interesting or just pleasant singer / songwriter (usually with a folk / country twist), most of the same indie bands we've all liked for the last 10 years, organic sounding electronica, and the occasional heavy thrasher. And a little bit of art rap.
1. War On Drugs- Lost In The Dream
2. Doug Paisley- Strong Feelings
I sort of saw Doug Paisley at my first Pickathon, and left in the middle of his set to go take a nap. It was a 100 degree day in the barn, and his music was too melancholy and heartbreaking to casually enjoy in that context. I regret leaving, now more than ever as without question he is my most listened to artist of 2014. In a time where I am mostly only listening to the current year's releases, he actually got me to seek out past records, of which I bought 3 and played into the ground. I don't think there's a skippable song in his whole discography. He got me through my darkest moments this year, most explicitly hours 16-19 of a 25 hour travel day from Bangkok back to Portland in July. Trapped in a Chinese plane over the Bearing Sea, I was finally able to slow my mind down and lose my sorrows in his. This latest record is much warmer- a lot more love than loss, but the craft stays true and I will not miss him the next time he comes to town.
Not on Spotify, unfortunately. Buy his records.
3. Bahamas- Bahamas is Afie
Bahamas is Afie. The title, like the album, is understated and boring on the outside. But there's something weird too- it's a weird sentence, and Afie is a weird name. Afie Jurvanen is a strange cat, a Canadian folk dude with slicked back hair, a denim jacket, and an ability to craft surprising songs that feel original even if they follow the most traditional of formats. His past albums are pleasant and inoffensive, but something in this one takes it to another level. One of a handful of albums that I went and bought the first week I heard it.
4. Asgeir- In The Silence
There's something in the water in Iceland. It doesn't seem like a country so small could create so much unique pop music, but Asgeir is the latest and arguably greatest sensation from the dark north. First recorded in Icelandic (the biggest domestic album ever there), he re-recorded in English and is quickly spreading like wildfire. And deservedly so. It's gorgeous, dancy, and uplifting. He's in his early 20's, and if he can write another album this consistent, he'll be a legend.
5. Hiss Golden Messenger- Lateness of Dancers
After at least one failed attempt to get into this guy, and a designation of "if the timing works out" on my Pickathon viewing schedule, I'm surprised to find this so high in the list. I think it took seeing him live and an album with full instrumentation for me to "get" it, but this is an amazing piece of folk / americana. Where a lot of the better albums of this genre are traditional and predictable with small jolts of originality, this one feels like it spends more of it's time in the "other", only casually drifting into the expected and safe. It's all pleasing to the ear, but the strain in his voice and the tone of his lyrics are captivating in a way that few other things are. I find myself listening to this on Sunday mornings often, almost as a fitting substitute for a spirituality of sorts.
6. Hospitality- Trouble
This was the first album this year to make my #1, and it stayed there until March. A few singles grabbed me on first listen, and then after repeat hearings the rest kept filling in in the background. I had a note about their previous release from 2012 that it was surprisingly interesting for the genre (feels like we're still getting a lot of "dreamy pop"), and I think that this album embodies that sentiment even more. Something this ethereal shouldn't be so grounded, but they worked hooks and beats into there somehow that tie it all together. The only band in my top 10 I didn't see live this year, and only because they were in town during January's snowmageddon.
7. Barr Brothers- Sleeping Operator
Are you getting tired of me using the phrase "experimental folk"? You could tune out for this one, but you'd be wrong to do so. Harp, slide guitar, strange open tunings and custom percussion instruments abound, but what makes this album is the craft of the songs and the awareness of how to use all of those things. It's more even than the last album, but still fills all of the same slots: toe tapping, building love songs; stomping slide guitar blues dirges; pleasant harp yearners. They take a lot of things that by all estimation should not work together, and end up with something that almost sounds traditional. Please, please see them live.
8. Ages and Ages- Divisionary
The best album to come out of Portland this year. I picked up the record in April, solidified my affection at Pickathon, but really went hook line and sinker after seeing them live at Mississipi Studios in November. Take the Shins, remove the whine, add really well crafted group harmonies and kick it up a notch. Every song on this album is catchy as hell without being repetitive, and I will not miss another release from them.
9. Woods- With Light and With Love
Woods are slowly emerging from their lo-fi psych-folk roots into something more concrete and polished, but you won't hear me complain. They've still got 7 minute noodly jams, sing-along choruses, and some of the best modern folk around. Even as they come a little closer to "normal", they are still in a league of their own, and a league they created themselves.
10. Strand of Oaks- Heal
This is the boldest and most personal album of the year. Until 2014, Strand of Oaks has been a largely folky affair, with only the slightest tinge of synthesizer. But something snapped in Tim Showalter, and being afraid to write more of the same and continue with the depression he'd been battling for years he decided to make this raw, emotional beast of a catharsis, and called it HEAL. This is the album he was trying to make, and you can tell. He puts everything in, and the result is awesome. Intense, but awesome.
11. St. Even- St. Even
A local dude with a very full orchestral folk sound and killer songwriting instincts. This is something that probably isn't even released on a national level, but I played it so much and it really connected with me.
12. Milo- A Toothpaste Suburb
Open Mike Eagle opened the door to Milo for me, and Milo was all I listened to for a month. One of my biggest musical infatuations of the year. Nerdy, anxious, self-aware art rap with a calm near-spoken delivery style reminiscent to me of Saul Williams (but more lighthearted). Went back through his whole discography and will be the first to get anything new he puts out.
13. Kevin Morby- Still Life
An apt follow-up to last year's "Harlem River"- a joyride through 1960's New York filtered through 2010's New York. A little melancholy but perfectly classic, with more warmth than I expected.
14. Saintseneca- Dark Arc
Heart on the sleeve folk that moves. It takes a lot of character and strongwriting strength to rise above the genre-ripoffs currently all doing this same thing, but by god this album has it.
15. Zammuto- Anchor
More organic and less all over the place than the last album, which at first I wasn't sure about but it is definitely a grower. One of the grooviest live shows I saw this year, and the proggier elements show a maturity that the last album lacked. A winter album.
16. Ought- More Than Any Other Day
A little prickly, but I can't stop listening to it. Capturing a post-punk freneticness reminiscent of the Talking Heads, but so self aware and earnest and cyncial and open at the same time. Feels like some of the most honest songwriting I've heard in a while.
17. Sylvan Esso- Sylvan Esso
A victim of me discovering it so late in the year- impossible to say if it's higher or lower than it should be, but right now I can't stop listening to it. It's electronic (but mildly folky) smoothness out of North Carolina (not unlike the previous album of the year from 2012 from the Bowerbirds), but the comparisons stop there. Maybe closer to the XX at times, but way warmer. My current obsession at time of writing.
18. Mac DeMarco- Salad Days
Took me a while to come around on ol' Mac, but this is good for a breezy summer day. He's off kilter but pop-smart, like Ween was at their finest, but doesn't feel like he's intentially putting you off over (like Ween was at their worst), and knows how to perfectly capture a saturday BBQ feel.
19. Wake Owl- Private World of Paradise
Brilliant and classic and poppy and groovin. It's missing something that might otherwise have it at the top of this list, but it's so well crafted that I can't figure out what that might be.
20. The Antlers- Familiars
I saw a review refer to this album as "stunning", and now I can't think of it any other way. Disarmingly stunning. It's gorgeous, and the vocals are hauntingly spectacular and so full of emotion without being too much. Brilliant.
21. Leif Vollebekk- North Americana
Somwehere betwen Devendra and Lone Bellow- just perfect rootsy meandering folk songs. The guy has supreme control and awareness of his voice and guitar skills, and pairs them perfectly.
22. Tycho- Awake
Instrumental- walks the line between electronic and organic, good enough to not just be background music.
23. Christopher Denny- If the Roses Don't Kill Us
Super sweet and earnest rootsy country, with one of the more unique voices out there. A lot of fun, if not a lot of depth.
24. The Gloaming- The Gloaming
Classical, traditional, innovative, beautiful Irish folk music.
25. Sun Kil Moon- Benji
Lyrically and sonically haunting storytelling songs, but still beautiful. Probably the most heartbreaking album of the year, which you would think doesn't lend itself to repeat listens, but I found myself continually going back to it.
26. Sturgill Simpson- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
A surprisingly traditional yet psychadelic country jam. Reminiscent of Merle, and all of the other outlaw kings, but a lot of heart and songwriting for days.
27. Caribou- Our Love
Classic Caribou- a little dancy, a little trancy, a little fancy. The songs are not compact pop hits- they flow in and out and take you on a ride of their choosing, but you'll nod your head more than a few times.
28. Inventions- Inventions
Side project of Explosions in the Sky / Elluvium- doesn't reach the building highs of EITS, but is way more captivating than a lot of the instrumental music I heard this year. Worth a listen if you like anything like that.
29. Woods of Desolation- As The Stars
Brilliant melodic punishing black metal. It's lo-fi, but it soars higher than Deafheaven and feels like it's going to stick with me longer than Sunbather did. Still figuring out my relationship with the genre, but this album is a fantastic stepping stone into stuff I like.
30. The Donkeys- Ride The Black Wave
These guys were a surprise favorite at Pickathon this year, and the album is a sleeper hit for me. Lazy but warm so-cal beach folk-rock (occasionally with sitar!), and a few songs that will not leave your head for days.
31. Angel Olsen- Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Is there a word for all of this rocking / country / folk female singer songwriter stuff coming out now? Yes: awesome.
32. King Tuff- Black Moon Spell
A little longer and broader in range than the last one, but still that snotty spark and pop hooks. More than anything, it proves he's not a one trick pony and that he's going to be shredding his way through our dreams for years to come.
33. A Winged Victory For The Sullen- Atomos
Probably the #1 album I listened to while working this year, and certainly one of the only ones that I let play through multiple times in a row. But that doesn't mean it's just background music- really compelling "neo-classical" violin, piano, and drone arrangements that give you a focused way to zone out for a while. Put on your headphones.
34. Open Mike Eagle- Dark Comedy
Open Mike Eagle is responsible for helping me get back into hip hop, and this was the first shot fired this year. It's nerdy, arty, funny (guest verse from Hannibal Buress?!), and above all moving and engaging.
35. Kishi Bashi- Lighght
You probably heard him in a car commercial last year- but don't let that take you out of it. Semi-experimental looping violin pop with fantastic vocals and hooks for days. At first I didn't like this as much as the last one, but after seeing it live its every bit as engaging and uplifting.
36. Cloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else
Aggressive indie that's more melody than noise and good for a summer day or a road trip.
37. Timber Timbre- Hot Dreams
This is dark, off kilter, and a little creepy, but oh so smooth. Emily said it reminds her of Mike Patton, who I never really gave a rip about, but sometimes it's fun to settle into a little creepy darkness.
38. Future Islands- Singles
A bandwagon worth jumping on, at least for a while. You all saw the video and love the song, but this album has depth and I think is deserving of the praise it got this year.
39. The Men- Tomorrow's Hits
More hooks than their last album- sure it's a little noisy, but it's mostly just rock and roll. Don't expect the world and let these guys take you on a fun ride, sometimes with saxophones.
40. Shakey Graves- And The War Came
The hype around this guy put me off for a while, but damn it if it isn't somewhat deserved. This album has been criticized for its spectrum, but apparently it sums up his styles pretty well. Feels like a unique take on foot stomping country folk to me, and at times his voice feels like John Mellencamp at his peak.
41. Beck- Morning Phase
I've never been huge into Beck, but this is the closest I've gotten. Calm, orchestral, folky without being too folksy. I keep wanting the songs to break into something, but am not dissatisfied when they don't.
42. Run The Jewels- RTJ2
Simulaneously one of the most frivolous and most serious albums on this list, this is an abrasive but impeccably crafted masterpiece that I just have limited contexts in which to listen. More of a dig on me than RTJ.
43. Kevin Drew- Darlings
Solo project from Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene- the lyrics get a bit much for me at times, but this is an album full of great hooks that transcend the weaker moments.
44. Perfume Genius- Too Bright
This caught me off guard- mostly heartfelt piano ballady pop that gets surprisingly grooving at times. No question about it's beauty, worth a listen if you want to feel something.
45. RX Bandits- Gemini, Her Majesty
Guilty pleasure isn't the right word- I have no guilt here- but I'll admit that this would not be on anyone else's list that might overlap mine. A favorite band from 10 years ago, we evolved in different directions but I can't help and check back in from time to time. They've settled into full on prog mode, but this is the most stripped down they've been since The Resignation. And probably one of their best since.
46. Andrew Bird- Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of
Is there anything more pleasant than Andrew Bird? He's soundtracked every BBQ and dinner party for years now, and I'm sure my guests are starting to get sick of him, but I haven't. This has all of the pleasantness of past work, but due to the nature (an album of covers of Handsome Family songs), less experimentation. I don't know much about the Handsome Family, but this album may be an argument to check them out.
47. Spoon- They Want My Soul
I have a complicated relationship with Spoon, which is complicated for no apparent reason other than the fact that they never got their hooks into me. The hooks always seem too angular- like if you took all of the "pop" out of Dr. Dog, but I can't deny that they make a solid rock and roll album.
48. Amen Dunes- Love
This is a really nice album that doesn't get sickly sweet or anything, just steady and jangly.
49. Sinkane- Mean Love
Funky Soul / Country via Sudan by way of Columbus Ohio. Covers a broad spectrum, but lots worth listening to here.
50. Dntel- Human Voice
I need warmth in my electronica- it can be glitchy and frenetic, but it has to have some heart to captivate me (sorry, new Aphex Twin). Jimmy Tamborello succeeds here- if you're only familiar with him as 1/2 of the Postal Service, you might consider checking some of this out. You might not dance, but it won't put you to sleep.
51. The Notwist- Close To The Glass
Indie Electro German stuff, one brilliant song that sounds like Yo La Tengo and some general pleasantry.
52. Sharon Van Etten- Are We There
It's moody. A few songs that really stick in my head, but the rest are quality too.
53. Against Me!- Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Their best in a decade, resurrecting a fading nostalgia and putting new energy into it.
54. Warpaint- Warpaint
Heavy groovin ladies kind of in a Polica vein, but more organic instrumentation wise. Thick.
55. Sondre Lerche- Please
Totally cool grooving pop out of Norway. Good for a rainy day house party or something like that. Sondre Lerche – Please
56. Freeman- Freeman
I find this more satisfying than his last solo effort, and only slightly less satisfying than a Ween album. Good to see him getting better.
57. Marco Benevento- Swift
Probably more captivating in a live context, but I can't help but smile and nod my head listening to this semi experimental piano dance jam. Marco Benevento – Swift
58. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! - Only Run
I checked out for their last two albums, but this is really fun and interesting. They still have energy and are trying new things and most of them worked! Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Only Run
59. Justin Townes Earle- Single Mothers
At it's most upbeat moments it is pretty traditional country, but a unique take and strong songwriting keep it interesting. Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers
60. Israel Nash Gripka- Rain Plains
Hazy slightly spacy americana, good for a long drive through the desert.
61. Sohn- Tremors
Really smooth blend between electronic, r&b, and something that is really his own.
62. Hundred Waters- The Moon Rang Like A Bell
Very cool mix of folk, jazz, chamber pop, and electronica. I like the folkier end better but some of it is kind of Bjorky.
63. Hooray For Earth- Racy
A thick sound, pretty fuzzy but not without pop charm. Always hard to find that blend between synth and organic rock, but they do it well.
64. The Bots- Pink Palms
Somehow producing more two man rock and roll without feeling like a Black Keys ripoff- these guys are young and raw and lots of fun.
65. J. Mascis- Tied To A Star
A little more melancholy than recent Dinosaur Jr. efforts, but the guitar skills do translate to the acoustic and some great songs here.
66. Wooden Wand- Farmer's Corner
A little more awake than the last album, which at first I thought was detrimental but I've moved on. Serious folk that that grooves.
67. Kindness- Otherness
Dancy, folky, pleasantness. At first listen I wasn't sure, but it holds up!
68. Hamilton Leithauser- Black Hours
Piano driven pop from the dude from the Walkmen. I think I like this better than their last one.
69. Porter Robinson- Worlds
EDM not really my thing- but this is crossover and dancy and feels like M83 or Passion Pit on crack. (or Molly)
70. Ghost To Falco- Soft Shield
Earnest but not too noisy rock and roll.
71. Real Estate- Atlas
Dreamy sunday gaze- nothing sticks in your head but nothing to skip either.
72. Botanist- VI: Flora
Lo-Fi "Black Metal" that heavily features dulcimer and vocals pretty low in the mix. Very melodic at times, the perfect around of "metal" in my black metal.
73. Wampire- Bazaar
This is a fun glammy rock n roll affair that reminds me of The Sweet at times.
74. Tweedy- Sukierae
Despite its sprawling length, better than not having an album from him this year.
75. Adult Jazz- Gist Is
Offbeat but not too out there- kind of like a little less weird Dirty Projectors? Totally cool.
76. Braid- No Coast
This reminds me of the good ol days, but isn't just nostaliga. Solid hooks and a good summertime driving around album.
77. Yellow Ostrich- Cosmos
Slightly spacy (and space themed?) indie that reminds me a little bit of the Slip. Verrry light on the psych.
78. Chad VanGaalen- Shrink Dust
Often pleasant folk with more than a little weird streak. Keeps it interesting!
79. Ty Segall- Manipulator
I still don't quite feel it, but this is an undeniable jam. Closer to last years "Sleeper" than earlier stuff I'd say, but refined, polished, and rockin.
Not On Spotify
80. Protomartyr- Under Cover of Offical Right
Serious and heavy and heavy and serious. Didn't think I'd like it but I do appreciate the earnestness.
81. St. Vincent- St. Vincent
As focused as anything I've heard from her- an album I appreciate and tried very hard to love but only liked.
82. A Sunny Day in Glasgow- Sea When Absent
Reviews of this album made it sound like a perfect album for my tastes, but it didn't hook me on an emotional level. Kind of poppy bright shoegaze?
83. Shabazz Palaces- Lese Majesty
It's weird, but that doesn't mean it can't groove. Arty experimental hip hop.
84. Flying Lotus- You're Dead
This album is all over the place and weird but a fun mind trip to go on.
85. Field Report- Marigolden
Very pretty. Thought it was going to be more than it was after track one, but a nice thing to listen to.
86. Wye Oak- Shriek
Slightly less captivating than the last album, but still has some of that same magic.
87. Foxygen- ...And Star Power
I can't call this album consistent, but the highs are very high and these guys are certainly doing their own take on 70's glam rock and roll.
88. Death Vessel- Island Intervals
If you can come to terms with the singer's voice, you should dig this. Produced by Jonsi from Sigur Ros (and featuring him on a track), finds some of the same moody and pleasant mix.
89. Francois & The Atlas Mountans- Piano Ombre
French pop with some rhythm. Pleasant and fun.
90. Agalloch- Serpent and the Sphere
Brutal metal album with great instrumentation and vocals.
91. Sam Amidon- Lily-O
Consistently darker than his last album, to its detriment, but still not a lot like this being created right now. Experimental traditional folk.
92. The Orwells- Disgraceland
Agressive, and fun. Don't overthink it.
93. Jolie Holland- Wine Dark Sea
One of those voices where you don't care if it sounds like she's trying too hard to be original.
94. Ryan Adams- Ryan Adams
Songwriting craft abounds but it stays within too tight of a window to really shine.
95. TV On The Radio- Seeds
Accessible and poppy, maybe too much so for them but it feels like a mature album if nothing else.
96. New Pornographers- Brill Bruisers
An above average NP album- lacks bite but bite ain't always worth much.
97. Busdriver- Perfect Hair
This guy is doing something original, and while his delivery can be off-putting to me sometimes, certainly worth checking out.
98. Mr. Twin Sister- Mr. Twin Sister
Kind of electro, pretty sparse and good for a rainy day drive in the city.
99. Bing & Ruth- Tomorrow Was The Golden Age
A pleasant instrumental piano affair.
Not on Spotify.
100. Mogwai- Rave Tapes
Meets Mogwai standards. Mostly instrumental, heavy without being unlistenable, captivating yet also good background music.
101. James Vincent McMorrow- Post Tropical
Yes, it is more indie white dude R&B. Yes, he kind of sounds like Bon Iver and James Blake. It's smooth.
102. Tom Brosseau- Grass Punks
First song is a real winner, and generally just some great singer/songwriter jams.
103. Hold Steady- Teeth Dreams
I still haven't quite figured these guys out, but this has undeniable quality.
104. Quilt- Held In Splendor
Fun psych-folk rock. Woods-y vibe, but a little more clasic.
105. Thee Silver Mt. Zion..- Fuck Off Get Free...
I admire this band, and wish I liked this album more. It's scathing and earnest in such a great Godspeed-y way, but ultimately the singing gets to me.