Just like my posting I did last year, the biggest criteria for me, is it has to be an album that I regularly listen to start-to-finish. I’m an album oriented person. While I might have a few favorite singles from groups, a single doesn’t make an album. So, “based upon what I listened to”, here is my Top Ten List of albums actually released in 2014. One particular thing that stands out is the lack of male vocalists in what I’m listening to right now. I’m not seeing a whole lot of bands with album releases in 2014 that have any standout male singers.
1) Sia — 1000 Forms of Fear
Apparently, Sia has been around a few years and has composed several songs for artists. It wasn’t until I stumbled across her “Chandelier” video on YouTube. I absolutely fell in love with the video and the choreographic performance. I ranked this up there with Irene Cara’s “What A Feeling” from the Flashdance movie. I started listening to more of her new album and loved the whole thing. She has a unique vocal style, a lot of control, power and tinge of raspiness that reminds me of another singer, Lauren Little from Queen Caveat.
2) Queen Caveat — Manufactured Happiness
Speaking of Lauren Little, Queen Caveat released their followup to their 2012 Slap On The Wrist EP, Manufactured Happiness. This was a concerted push in effort by the band that really polished their studio sound. It also showed a little deeper influences in their musical style. It maintains the energy of their live sound and has carefully crafted and structured arrangements. “Brave Boy” is an amazing song that is tender and vulnerable tugging your emotions until building up to a goose bump inducing Fleetwood Mac-like dramatic jam by the whole band. “Breathe” is a very uplifting song that was also released as a beautiful video that highlighted what it’s like to be at a live Queen Caveat show. Lauren delivers both with authority and concession in this song. The clean and polished guitar work on this album reminds me a lot of some of The Guess Who, especially the opening of “Spine”. The EP closes with a never heard before song (by me), “Everyone We Know”, which is a great closer. This is where Jesse, the drummer, really created a Journey-like complicated arrangement. This EP also included previously released, and re-worked “Mr. California”. 2015 looks to see the band taking a new direction in their sound, and I’m excited to explore what more this great band has to offer on their next release.
3) Against Me! — Transgender Dysphoria Blues
This was quite a discovery for me this year in this band. I had never heard of this band before this release. What a story behind this band and this album. A borderline punk, emotionally charged sounding album tinged with moments of angst and desperation, but also assertion.
4) Ume — Monuments
Another band I just discovered this year. A very fast-paced guitar driven album with vocals from Lauren Larson that really reminds me of Karen O, but with much more powerful vocals, and guitar sound that reminds me of Jimmy Shaw from Metric. This album has really grown on me as this band also reminds me of Belly from the early ’90s. Hopefully, they’ll be on the festival circuit this year as they made an appearance at SXSW in 2014. My favorite track on the album is “Too Big World”, a creepy sounding intro and takes off and has several dramatic moments. “Chase It Down” also has a great combination of eerie, dark sounding guitars and gentle vocals.
5) Meg Myers — Make A Shadow EP
I discovered Meg Myers nearly 3 years ago through Nico Vega. I had been looking forward to this release, as it contained songs that had previously only been released as singles in 2013. The EP opens with “Desire”, which also had a very dramatic and sultry video release that really gets your attention. As opposed to the blatant, explicit sexuality in a lot of music videos this year, notably, J-Lo, Iggy, Miley and Nikki Minaj, Meg really pulls it off in this video, with the passion of Allanis Morrisette. Also on this album is the desperation fueled “Heart Heart Head”, which also had a dramatic video in 2013. The title track starts out with a subtly played guitar, which then erupts into what essentially makes her defining sound. “The Morning After” shows us that aside from the angry, passionate vocals she clearly shows, she delivers a very tender ballad that acts as a great closer to this EP.
6) AKW — To Be Alive EP
What a gift of an album by this band this year. I really didn’t think anything would top their 2013 Last Lines release. This band continues to grow and develop with every release topping the previous. The opening Little Jay clearly demonstrates a huge overall improvement in their studio sound, not to detract from their previous work, but what a difference. Sonically reminds me of a combination of The XX, Stars, and the sound that Metric had achieved with their 2012 Synthetica album. Alex Wisner’s vocals on Little Jay has moments that reminds me of Melanie and the CocoRosie sisters. “Desperate” really describes the theme I take from this album. “The Hunt” also really captures the theme of the album, indicative of a wounded heart and damaged goods soul, not worthy or deserving of being loved. The absolute disappointment and devastation “I’ve lost it again” followed by the slowly upbeat hints of hope gives you an anticipation that all is not really lost. “Waking Birds” has a really cool poetic feeling to it, taking you on an adventure.
7) Ida Maria — Accidental Happiness
I discovered Ida Maria purely by chance by the house music I had heard at The Verve in between sets of a show I had gone to. I immediately wanted to seek out more of her music, as she had this Fiona Apple and Aja Volkman (Nico Vega) sound to her voice. This album basically implores that you hang on tight for the ride as she takes you all kinds of places with the songs on this EP. The whole EP rocks, and I’d recommend checking out her other releases as well.
8) Nico Vega — Lead To Light
After a couple of EPs, Nico Vega finally released their long-awaited second full length album in 2014 following their 2009 self-titled debut. This album contained a lot of material that they had been playing live for a couple of years, so this was highly anticipated. This album really illustrates the growth this band has seen and is not just the raw, three piece sound of their first album. Aja’s soulful vocals tell of stories of passion, triumph and life lessons. They released a beautiful, playful video for “I Believe”.
9) St. Vincent — St. Vincent
I had heard about Annie Clark’s work with David Byrne, but really never checked it out at all, but when her band’s new album was released, I checked it out of curiosity more than anything. I was instantly impressed with this unconventional sounding album. Seeing her perform some of these tracks live on TV reminded me of a combo of Devo and Prince. I listened to this album over and over, probably with “Digital Witness” and “Birth in Reverse” being the highlights. I would really like to see her at Lollapalooza 2015 if it’s in the cards.
10) Betty Who — Take Me When You Go
This is purely a fun retro-’80s sounding pop album from Betty Who from Australia. I was glad when this was finally released as I’ve been a fan a little over a year now, and was super excited when they were added to the Lollapalooza lineup. This is a fun and upbeat album to listen through. “Runaways” has to be my favorite song on the album. “Somebody Loves You” really reminds me of something that Whitney Houston would have sung in the late ’80s.
- Honorable Mention
Pop Up Safety Baby — Livin’ Life With A Smashed Face
Phantogram — Voices
Chromeo — White Women
- Pleasant Surprises
Courtney Barnett — The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas
Bear Hands — Distraction
Kiven — Kiven
TV On The Radio — Seeds
- Biggest Disappointment
Karen O — Crush Songs
- Still Hasn’t Grown On Me
Foo Fighters — Sonic Highways