Friday, January 23, 2015

My Top Albums of 2014

It has been a very disappointing year in music ... and each year seems to be getting worse and worse as the music single becomes the ever-important "mark of success" for most musicians. This is all due to the workings of iTunes, which any music lover can buy a single song, without having to buy the entire album. Because of this aspect, musicians -- and their record companies -- don't worry about an entire album being a success, but, rather, just a few singles.  Nevertheless, I was able to find 10 albums which impressed me in 2014. And here they are ... in alphabetical order:

"Strange Desire"

From the opening track, "Wild Heart," one may think they're listening to a soundtrack from one of their favorite John Hughes 80s teen films. But the album "Strange Desire" is the band Bleachers' debut album. Using synth pop rock, some rollicking guitar riffs and catchy choruses, Bleachers has put out an entire album worth listening either in your car on a night out or in the privacy of your own home, breaking out some of the (in)famous 80s dance moves ... especially with the frenetic "I Wanna Get Better" and the percussion-riddled "Like a River Runs." But there is also a bit slower tempo mood to this album -- such as the track "Take Me Away," featuring Vancouver singer Grimes, and the closing track "Who I Want You to Love." So, while Bleachers has all the sounds of an Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (O.M.D.), Yaz (a.k.a. Yazoo), or 80s Echo & The Bunnymen, the band has the better songwriting to entice any 80s alternative music fan or someone looking for something new in an age of same-sounding rock-pop or dance pop.

Favorite Track - "Wild Heart"

"Favorite Waitress"
The Felice Brothers

When The Felice Brothers' self-titled fifth album -- and first major release -- was released in 2008, I named it one of the best of the year. Even though the band has released four albums since, they haven't come as close to a hit as they have with "Favorite Waitress." But don't go thinking this is some "Felice Brothers Part 2." This album has more jingle-jangle slower tempo songs than their self-titled album, even though lead singer Ian Felice still sounds like Bob Dylan but, this time, sounding more like his legendary album with The Band. "Favorite Waitress" sounds like music to get drunk to, but it's worth a listen any time of the day.

Favorite Track - "Cherry Licorice"

"Get Hurt"
The Gaslight Anthem

New Jersey's own The Gaslight Anthem has had a hit-or-miss career so far. Their debut album, "Sink or Swim," was more punk-rock and failed to get the attention they -- and the album -- so richly deserved at the time. Then came their sophomore album, "The '59 Sound," which proved there was no slump to be found. I consider "The '59 Sound" to be one of the best albums of all time! Then came "American Slang," which promised to be a more hard-sounding album -- in the vein of The Clash. While I did place that album on the 2010 Top Albums list, it barely made the cut ... with a majority of forgettable tracks. Then came 2012's amazing "Handwritten" album, which returned their sound to the likes of their hit album "The '59 Sound." This year, the band first released an album of their B-sides, which was good enough to hold off fans until their latest release, "Get Hurt." Although not as catchy as "Handwritten," "Get Hurt" captures more of the poignant, bittersweet emotions found in those previous albums and fills this whole album with them. And while the band still slightly channels sounds of Bruce Springsteen, they also touch upon sounds of Pearl Jam (especially in the second track "1,000 Years") and Alice in Chains (on the opening track "Stay Vicious"). For a band that tries out so many different influencing sounds, they never fail to disappoint.

Favorite Track - "Get Hurt"

"Twist is the New Twerk"
Postmodern Jukebox

Classically-trained jazz and classical musician Scott Bradlee decided to take contemporary songs by artists such as Pitbull ("Timber"), Miley Cyrus ("We Can't Stop"), Robin Thicke ("Blurred Lines"), Carly Rae Jepsen ("Call Me Maybe"), Lana Del Rey ("Young and Beautiful"), and Guns n' Roses ("Sweet Child O' Mine") -- just to name a few -- and adapt them into jazz, blues, doo wop, and ragtime standards. I love 'em all! Especially the 60s girl group adaptation of Ellie Goulding's "Burn," which is featured on the album "Clubbin' With Grandpa." Bradlee has had quite a year, releasing four albums -- three regular albums and one Christmas album. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Bradlee and his talented posse of musicians (which have featured guest appearances by Dave KozMorgan JamesAmerican Idol's Casey Abrams, and Marie Digby) have utilized social media to their advantage, recording and releasing a new song almost every other week. You don't have to like any of the songs or their original artists to fall in love with these songs. That is Bradlee's success.

Favorite Track - "Timber" and "Burn"

"Historical Misappropriation"
Postmodern Jukebox

Bradlee's third release, "Historical Misappropriation," had more favorites for me as opposed to the second release ("Clubbin' With Grandpa"). The song choices -- and their adaptations -- were all well done ... with remakes of songs by Britney Spears ("Womanizer"), Sam Smith ("Stay With Me"), Cyndi Lauper ("Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"), Radiohead ("Creep"), Meghan Trainor ("All About That Bass"), and Bon Jovi ("Livin' On A Prayer"). Postmodern Jukebox may not be for everyone, but, in an age of same-sounding pop, rock and rap, they're a welcome extravagance.

Favorite Track - "All About That Bass"

"They Want My Soul"

Out of all the albums I've heard released this year, I was most surprised by how much I liked this one. I've only really ever heard one Spoon song, which I love: "The Underdog" (off their 2007 album "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga"). "They Want My Soul" sounds like The Black Keys and sometimes early rockin' David Bowie (although, "New York Kiss" sounds like Elvis Costello!) -- with Spoon showing some noteworthy guitar riffs. While I was not impressed with The Black Keys' 2014 release ("Turn Blue"), Spoon put out one good album. Every song leads into the next quite nicely and it's nice to have a nice rock n' roll album to listen to in one sitting.

Favorite Track - "Rent I Pay"


"High Hopes"
Bruce Springsteen

This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who truly knows me. I'm a major Springsteen fan and it goes without saying that there's a major possibility of his albums making my top list of the year. While "High Hopes," in my opinion, is not the best contemporary Springsteen album (that goes to 2007's "Magic" and 2012's "Wrecking Ball"), it still has a lot of previously unreleased material and some real hidden, underrated gems -- such as the studio version of the previously released live song "American Skin (41 Shots)" (which is originally based on the 1999 police shooting death of Amadou Diallo, but has even more meaning now with the recent mass media coverage of police shootings), "Just Like Fire Would," "Hunter of Invisible Game" and "The Wall." Plus, the album is bookended by covers of under-the-radar songs, such as "High Hopes" (originally performed by The Havalinas) and "Dream Baby Dream" (originally performed by Suicide). Then there's my personal favorite on here -- "Frankie Fell in Love," which, if you listen to the lyrics, has so much going on and it all flows together with the music so seemingly effortlessly, it reminds me of his early songwriting. Springsteen proves with each release that he does have a certain sound but he can take that sound and make the songs something unique. While not as good as "Magic" or "Wrecking Ball," "High Hopes" betters "Working on a Dream." Add that along with his previous reissue of his first seven albums, remastered, and he's having one hell of a year!

Favorite Track - "Frankie Fell in Love"

"Rudderless Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"
Various Artists

Definitely one of the best films of the year! And the soundtrack follows suit. Featuring both the orchestral score by Eef Barzelay and the songs performed by the band Rudderless (Billy CrudupAnton YelchinBen Kweller, and Ryan Dean), this soundtrack has songs better than most anything found on the radio nowadays. My only complaint is that the songs aren't a bit longer but they work nicely. I prefer the band songs to the score, but the music -- as a whole -- is great! I can't recommend the soundtrack, or the movie, enough. If you're not into instrumental music, just download the band songs. Trust me. You'll be happy you did.

Favorite Track - "Stay With You"

"Everything Will Be Alright in the End"

When I listen to Weezer, I instantly think of the mid-1990s because that was when the band first hit the music scene, and I remember how integral they were to my high school experience. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of "The Sweater Song," but I loved their other hits and their sound just correlates to that time. Most critics and haters pan the group for sounding the same. And while a majority of the group's songs do have that quality, all I can ask is: Who cares? If you're a band who has a trademark sound and you produce great songs which that sound good and fun, then what does it really matter in the long run? I've heard bands in which I've loved a particular sound and then they tried something different and fell flat ... several times! Weezer returns to the alternative rock which made them famous with albums "The Blue Album" and "Pinkerton" (one of the best albums ever!). In this album, former The Cars frontman Ric Ocasek produces some great songs with guitar riffs heavily reminiscent of Queen's Brian May -- particularly in the track "I've Had it Up to Here." Other songs such as "Ain't Got Nobody," "Eulogy for a Rock Band," "Da Vinci," and "Cleopatra" are also impressive and will perk up the ears of any 90s Weezer fan. 

Favorite Track - "Foolish Father"

"rose ave."
You + Me

I just heard this folk-country-pop duo -- consisting of singer-songwriter Pink (a.k.a. Alecia Moore) and Canadian rocker Dallas Green (a.k.a. City and Colour) -- as they performed live recently on a cable music channel. And to say I was impressed is an understatement. Sure, some may think this is the same idea as actress Zooey Deschanel's and M. Ward's group She & Him, but the style of music couldn't be more different! You + Me are completely grassroots-folk-bordering-on-the-very-slightest-bit-of-contemporary-country. And you don't have to like country music in the slightest to enjoy this album -- especially since the sound is 99% folk ballad. The album's sound is very intimate and, at times, melancholy; the pairing of Pink's beautiful voice and Green's melodic voice work very well together. The album sounds like two best friends whose love transcends romantic love, just getting together one day and having a marathon jam session. I've always loved Pink -- especially her voice -- and she shines here! Plus, the discovery of Green makes me want to rush out and hear what he's all about. My favorite song on here is "Open Door," a song which hit me like a sledgehammer with its poignancy and reflection of close relationships and how they affect us. "rose ave." is one of the best surprises of the year!

Favorite Track - "Open Door"

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