As I did last year, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite albums from 2014. I’m fortunate to be able to listen to a lot of music and after putting it off for a few weeks, I’ve finally narrowed this list to ten or so albums that have really stuck with me. As always, it isn’t a set ranking of any kind, just a group of solid albums to check out.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Benji is an exhausting album. As Sun Kil Moon, Mark Kozelek hits you with a lyrical hammer. The album is a series of gut punches. “Carissa” is about Kozelek’s cousin dying at 35 in a freak accident. “Jim Wise” tells the story of a man who mercy killed his wife, but couldn’t commit suicide and is heading to jail. Read that sentence again, no one’s writing songs like this. Benji remains just as moving now as it was when it was released. Take some time to sit down and just listen to the album. You’ll get lost in it in no time.
Recommended Songs: Carissa, Jim Wise, Ben’s My Friend
D’Angelo – Black Messiah
Sure the album was released days before 2014 ended, but when D’Angelo decides to release music, you can rest assured that it’s going to be some of the best you’ll hear. After 14 years of false starts, Black Messiah finally arrived as a fresh take on funk, R&B and rock that makes the wait worth it. There are a thousand different think-pieces out there on this album, so I’ll spare you any more. The best advice I can give is to simply listen to the music, the man only spent 14 years making it for you.
Recommended Songs: Ain’t That Easy, 1000 Deaths, Back to the Future (Part I)
Strand of Oaks – HEAL
The instant “Goshen ’97” starts you can tell you’re in for something special. HEAL was possibly my favorite album of the year, thanks in large part to songs like “Goshen.” It’s an unlikely anthem about growing up, being so damn earnest you can’t help but feel empowered after listening. “Shut In” sees Timothy Showalter losing his faith people, while trying in his own way to get better. “JM” is a touching seven minute tribute to Jason Molina, that positively smolders until Showalter unleashes at the end of the song. HEAL is part autobiography, part therapy session, that Showalter invites us in on, and it’s required listening.
Recommended Songs: Goshen ’97, Shut In, JM
Chromeo – White Women
Chromeo has been honing it’s mix of 70’s and 80’s pop for quite some time now, but everything broke right for the Funk Lordz on White Women. “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” has a driving bass line and crafty synth work that makes it a perfect party song. The album has a great list of features from Toro Y Moi, Solange and the always excellent Ezra Koenig. “Old 45’s” might have been one of the most under-appreciated songs of the year, but it would have fit perfectly in the pop scene in 1983 (which is a good thing!), while “Frequent Flyer” could have been a Prince song. The duo has spent years crafting their pop sound, with White Women being their most accessible album to date.
Recommended Songs: Jealous (I Ain’t With It), Old 45’s, Frequent Flyer
Cherub – Year of the Caprese
Cherub has long been a Just A Guy favorite, and 2014 proved to be a breakthrough year for the duo. Not a mature sounding as Chromeo, Cherub nonetheless employs a brand of electro-pop that is as catchy as it is good. Year of the Caprese starts with the aptly titled “Simple,” before breaking down into a dance party with “Disco Shit.” If you can’t enjoy Cherub, then you probably don’t like pop music at all. “Doses & Mimosas,” the band’s smash hit, makes it’s third consecutive appearance on a Cherub release, but that’s fine, a song that good deserves to be rereleased. If you like having a good time, or need a soundtrack to a party, you should default to Cherub.
Recommended Songs: Doses & Mimosas, <3, Lifesaver