Staff Favorites of 2014 - Recorded music

Staff writers offer their favorite albums and songs released in 2014

"Antiphon" - Midlake

Doom-people felt it unlikely that this wonderful Denton, Texas, band could continue after the sudden departure of main songwriter/vocalist Tim Smith. In breathtaking fashion, though, guitarist/singer Eric Pulido stepped into the frontman role and Midlake collaborated on what is the best album of their career. It's haunting and pastoral, clever and unique and, with very few listens, "Antiphon" becomes an alchemical favorite - one of the best records by anyone in many years.

“The Old and the Young”

- Rick Koster

"Magnolia" - The Pineapple Thief

Like the musical equivalent of a maltshop blender, the Pineapple Thief has been remarkably adept at mixing disparate musical source material - luxuriant prog, faux industrial and heartbreak pop - into something delicious and unique. With "Magnolia," they add another twist: while there's plenty of arcane technical prowess and ideas, all the songs are delivered in concise, under-five-minute, radio-embracing fashion.

“Alone at Sea”

- Rick Koster

Postmodern Jukebox - Various

The hits just keep on coming from Scott Bradlee and his Postmodern Jukebox. They aren't necessarily his hits, but every modern hit song he re-makes - in various musical styles from ragtime and jazz to doo-wop and soul, hence the band name - gains a greater depth cast in his musical lens. Bradlee, a fantastic pianist, is the mainstay of the dynamic band, which features a rotating cast of singers and instrumentalists. A 2014 remake of Meghan Trainor's "All About that Bass" that features gifted (upright) bassist and jazz singer Kate Davis is particularly excellent. Ditto on PMJ and singer Hudson Thames' (with PMJ regular Robyn Adele Anderson on backing vocals) chilling cover of "Say Something" by A Great Big World Cover. Want to hear a mood-altering Motown version of Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off"? Head on over to www.postmodernjukebox.com and listen to Von Smith belt it out, along with more of this group's clever stylings. More videos are available on Youtube.

Songs get released online rapid-fire, right after they're recorded, but Bradlee offered four compilations (on Amazon and iTunes) in 2014: "Twist is the New Twerk," "A Very Postmodern Christmas," "Clubbin' with Grandpa," and "Historical Misappropriation," which has been hanging out on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart since its September release.

Sidenote: While they aren't 2014 releases, my absolute favorites are PMJ's doo-wop cover of Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" and a very unusual take on Lorde's "Royals."

Jazz Meghan Trainor Cover ft. Kate Davis “All About That [Upright] Bass”

- Marisa Nadolny

"Music for Insomniacs" - Matt Berry

Berry, indeed, is one of those unfortunate souls who has trouble sleeping. Literally in the dead of many nights, then, he composed this two-part, nearly 50-minute tone-scape of swirling space noises, seraph-choir vocals, lulling carnival-ride keyboards and tinkling electonics. It's as though he asked Mike Oldfield to drop by the Berry bedroom and personally craft the sort of lullaby that gradually induces pleasant-dream slumber.

“Music for Insomniacs” (full album)

- Rick Koster

"Morning Phase" - Beck

It's always interesting when, after perusing the year-end best-of lists from professional critics media outlets such as Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, the Village Voice and Spin, there are almost no overlaps with my own favorites. Not sure what that says. Nonetheless, a lot of us agree "Morning Phase" is a really good album. Spare, acoustic, thoughtful and lovely, "Morning Phase" resonates with a lot of folks in the context of his 2002 album, "Sea Change." For some reason, though, it hits me mightily in the same summery sense of XTC's "Skylarking."

“Blackbird Chain”

- Rick Koster

"Time, Tension & Intervention" - Synaesthasia

Multi-instrumentalist Adam Warne started writing this album when he was 16 - and so we hate him for his talent and vision. Released with a full band four years later, "Time, Tension & Intervention" includes sonic homage to Marillion and Camel while demonstrating that Warne is also a child of the modern age. Effortlessly listenable, it's a wonderful fusion of rock's past and future.

“Time, Tension & Intervention”

- Rick Koster

Platinum" - Miranda Lambert

This is Lambert's best album so far, a firecracker of a record sparking with strong country tune after strong country tune. When it comes to singing, Lambert shows she can express it all, from the heartache of "Hard Staying Sober" to the saucy kiss-off of "Little Red Wagon."

- Kristina Dorsey

FAVORITE SONGS

St.Vincent - "Rattlesnake"

The opening cut on St.Vincent's brilliant self-titled album is the perfect entrance to the wonderful musical world of Annie Clark. Every one of her songs is a potent cocktail, and "Rattlesnake" is a shot of robot-funk chased with mid-'90s PJ Harvey and early '80s-Talking Heads. You'll want another.

- Stephen Chupaska

The War on Drugs - "Red Eyes"

Yes, it came out in December 2013, but instead of being pedantic, let's instead celebrate the way "Red Eyes" grew to be a 2014 staple on the world's good radio stations. It's an expansive, sweeping song with an ebullient chorus and guitar swells that nevertheless creates a private, personal world inside your headphones.

- Stephen Chupaska

Parquet Courts - "Black and White"

There's some 1977 vintage New York City scuzz to "Black and White," but in spite of the Velvet Underground guitars and the Pac-Man in the bath with the toaster keyboard break, it's too vital to be a nostalgia trip. And the nervous energy is the perfect soundtrack for the fill-in-the-blank generation.

- Stephen Chupaska

Shabazz Palaces - "Forerunner Foray"

Named for a sci-fi novel, "Forerunner Foray" is the highlight of "Lese Majesty," the sophomore effort from acclaimed Seattle hip-hop duo Ishmael Butler - formerly known as Butterfly in Digable Planets - and Tendai Maraire.

Building off a sample from Last Poet Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, the duo eases into a laid-back beat with laser-gun synths and airtight rhymes such as "Every time I rock it's a tongue kiss/E.K. Starling, forerunners and a pump first."

- Stephen Chupaska

Perfume Genius - "Queen"

"Queen," the lead single and centerpiece off the exceptional "Too Bright," Perfume Genius - really songwriter Mike Hadreas - is a part satirical, but really a visceral portrayal of the power that's available to a gay man when they make someone uncomfortable. Rumbling guitars and klaxon keyboards set up the song's deft and funny key lyric - "No family is safe/ When I sashay."

- Stephen Chupaska

Royal Blood - "Figure it Out"

This song rocks hard; remnant of some of the fabulous noise made by the Black Keys, Royal Blood is the U.K.'s assurance that its punk-rock roots and anthemic legacy are well remembered. Found on this year's eponymous album, heavy guitar, a tumult of drums (courtesy of Ben Thatcher), and a rockin' hook this tune would work well in a movie with a well-directed car chase, barroom brawl, or amazing caper. It'll make you want to go out and cause trouble. Fight the urge, stay indoors, and turn up the volume. P.S. This band is a two-piece. YOU figure out how bassist and lead vocalist Mike Kerr makes his bass sound like street-fightin' guitar.

- Marisa Nadolny

3rdeyegirl (Prince) - "FunkNRoll"

His Royal Purpleness Prince never has been one to do things any other way than his. He'll take his sweet time on any project to retain artistic control, even if it means the fans have to wait years. It's diva behavior for sure, but when he comes back with the likes of "FunkNRoll," released under the banner of 3rdeyegirl, a band he created (and featuring mostly him on lyrics), one might forgive his shenanigans. Found on 3rdeyegirl's album "PLECTRUMELECTRUM," released in late September, "FunkNRoll" was a wise first release. It samples of everything under the sun, delivers lyrics with classic Prince attitude, groove, and features bass lines that wiggle the part of the brain that makes a body shake it. Just go with it and bow down to Prince once again.

- Marisa Nadolny

DOWNLOAD THESE, TOO

Angel Olsen - "White Fire"

Run The Jewels - "Blockbuster Part One"

Alvvays - "Archie, Marry Me"

Caribou - "Can't Do Without You"

Saintseneca - "Happy Alone"

- Stephen Chupaska

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments