How is it already 2015?! Truth be told, I feel like 2014 flew by way faster than I ever thought possible. I don’t mean that in a bad way – this year was the most stable, happy, productive year I’ve had in as long as I can remember. For whatever reason though, I really had to hunt for full albums that I connected with. Since I’m being honest, the music this year didn’t emotionally resonate with me in the same way of years past. Maybe I’m just getting older (ew), or maybe as time goes on I’ll look back on the records of 2014 much more fondly, as I did with the music of 2012. Anyways, here are the ten records that did strike a chord with me this year (really, no pun intended there)!
10. Jamestown Revival – Utah
iTunes recently declared Utah the Best Singer/Songwriter album of 2014, and I can absolutely see why. Childhood friends Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance brought Jamestown Revival to fast recognition after winning a contest for Rolling Stone a mere six months after they joined forces. Their “indie-rock with a Southern slant” sold out multiple shows in Los Angeles – I’m anxious to see them next time they perform in town! You can check them out here in this video.
Favorite tracks: “California (Cast Iron Soul) – Cabin Mix″, “Golden Age”, “Fur Coat Blues”
9. Hozier – Hozier
I’m only slightly horrified that Irish artist Andrew Hozier-Byrne, aka Hozier, isn’t even 25 yet. Such is the magic when a You Tube video goes viral…! This guy can sing, and his songs are so catchy. We’ve all heard “Take Me To Church” a million times, and I don’t know about you, but I’m still not sick of it. I was admittedly surprised to discover that this breakout artist’s first album is also chock full of creative gems. This guy is one to be watched! See his SNL performance here.
Favorite tracks: “Take Me To Church″, “Jackie and Wilson”, “Like Real People Do”
8. Bahamas– Bahamas is Afie
Last year I discovered the track “Lost In The Light” and basically had it on repeat all spring. I give Mike full credit for reviving my interest in Bahamas with the new tune “Can’t Take You With Me.” The album is quite literally titled since Bahamas is actually Canadian Afie Jurvanen, and it’s instantly appealing. You can get a sense for Afie’s awesome sense of humor in the “Stronger Than That” music video here. Fun fact: his favorite road food is a Whole Foods salad.
Favorite tracks: “Can’t Take You With Me″, “All The Time”, “Little Record Girl”
7. Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy
Back in 2007, Damien Rice’s music was in frequent rotation while I gallivanted across Europe during my semester abroad. As the years have gone on, I’ve jammed “9 Crimes” here and there, but I sort of assumed (along with the rest of the music community) that the Irish singer-songwriter might be done indefinitely. Wrong! Rice surprised everyone with the release of his third album, eight years since his last record. I’m a sucker for beautiful string arrangements and a long, slow-building brooding ballads – this album is full of them. Let’s hope Rice keeps surprising us in the years to come! See him in a very Icelandic setting here.
Favorite Tracks: “I Don’t Want to Change You”, “Colour Me In”, “The Box”
6. Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits
I had the incredible pleasure of seeing Lake Street Dive open for Josh Ritter last year and was immediately blown away by lead singer Rachael Price’s soulful, gorgeous voice (not to mention how I quickly developed a girl crush on this sophisticated beauty). The four members, Mike “McDuck” Olson, Bridget Kearney, Mike Calabrese, and Price, met while studying in Boston at the New England Conservatory of Music. They have created such a unique blend of jazz-soul-indie pop with their music – a modern take on a vintage sound. All four are incredibly talented musicians, but beyond that, they look like they’re having the best time on stage. Here’s their amazing cover of “I Want You Back”, and you can see them perform on David Letterman here.
Favorite tracks: “Stop Your Crying″, “You Go Down Smooth”, “Better Than”
5. The War On Drugs –Lost In The Dream
This is one of those albums I first heard and thought, “Yeah, it’s nice background music.” Then that magical thing happened where I listened to it more and more and suddenly couldn’t stop. The record is built on layers of unfolding sound, with long songs that are perfect for a nighttime drive through the desert or a plane ride above the clouds. While I’m usually not one for an 80s synth sound, it completely works for them, as does front man Adam Granduciel’s Dylan-esque voice. Do yourself a favor and play “In Reverse” by yourself in a quiet place. Just beautiful. Here’s the official video for “Red Eyes.”
Favorite Tracks: “In Reverse”, “Eyes To The Wind”, “Red Eyes”
4. Noah Gundersen – Ledges
There’s something about an A Cappella album opening that immediately hooks me in. Such is what happened with Noah Gundersen’s rendition of “Poor Man’s Son”, a harmonious collaboration with three of his younger siblings. Gundersen actually scrapped the original album and opted to self-produce to get precisely the sound he was looking for. The Seattle-based twenty-five year old singer-songwriter has an evocative voice that carries well beyond his years – I can’t listen to this track without getting goosebumps.
Favorite Tracks: “Cigarettes”, “Dying Now”, “Boathouse”
3. Beck – Morning Phase
My brother, Adam, urged me to listen to NPR’s First Listen of Morning Phase as soon as it was released. Placating him, I obliged, and must admit – he was right. This record is absolutely beautiful, and a lovely companion to Beck’s 2002 release, Sea Change. Unlike that classic breakup album though, this record has a more uplifting tone to it overall. It’s full of thoughtful orchestral arrangements, and the album flows together perfectly. “Turn Away” is my most-played song of 2014 – with its Simon & Garfunkel-like harmonies and moody string accompaniment, it’s no wonder why. Here’s his SNL performance of “Blue Moon” (I spy Father John Misty there in the background…)!
Favorite Tracks: ” “Morning”, “Turn Away”, “Blue Moon”, “Wave”
2. First Aid Kit –Stay Gold
The Swedish sister duo of Johanna and Klara Söderberg first caught public attention with their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” but I first discovered their pretty harmonies and sweet songwriting on the track “Emmylou.” Stay Gold is full of the same lovely singing that the sisters are known for, but introduces more instruments and drum beats. Their lyrics are incredibly visual and relatable – they call to mind a feeling of nostalgia and of something innocent that has been lost but not forgotten. I LOVE the video for “My Silver Lining”, which you can see here.
Favorite Tracks: “Stay Gold”, “Cedar Lane”, “A Long Time Ago”, “My Silver Lining”
1. Nickel Creek –A Dotted Line
Back in 2007 the bluegrass world was significantly disappointed with the news of Nickel Creek’s indefinite disbanding. The three virtuosos, with Chris Thile on the mandolin, Sara Watkins on the fiddle, and Sean Watkins on the acoustic guitar, had been playing together since they were pre-teens in Southern California and decided it was time to pursue other musical ventures. Fast forward seven years and they’re back and better than ever! I can’t even begin to express how much true talent these musicians possess. The album is such a beautiful mix of their skills, and they’ve done an incredible job of making bluegrass music more accessible for a modern audience. I had the incredible pleasure of seeing Nickel Creek up close and personal back in May, which you can read more about here. My fingers are crossed that these three continue making music together throughout their lifetime, because their combination of gifts really is such a rare find! Here’s their NPR Tiny Desk performance, which really shows off the raw beauty of their sound.
Favorite tracks: “Where is Love Now”, “Rest of My Life”, “Destination”, “Love of Mine”
Need a playlist? Here are my favorite songs from 2014 on Spotify, in no particular order. Full disclosure – there would definitely be some Taylor Swift on there if she hadn’t pulled everything from streaming. Just to be real with you.
What were some of your favorite albums from 2014??