With my last article devoted to Louisville’s best music of 2014, the next two pieces focus on the national scene. When I look back at my top 10 lists from previous years, there is always a thread — a mood that dominated my listening. Last year was a big rock year for me, and the year before that leaned on electronic. This year, for me, was all about avant-pop. Supremely catchy songs that didn’t fit the usual mold, skewing toward weirder sounds while supplying a sing-along chorus. To put it simply, 2014 sounded like the future finally arriving.
10. Paolo Nutini – “Caustic Love”
I’m as surprised as you are, that is if you’re surprised. I was an ok enough fan of the Scottish songwriter with the Italian name who sounds Jamaican. His first album was pretty good, the second not as much. When this third LP arrived, his first in five years, it wasn’t really on my radar. Even when I heard the first single, “Let Me Down Easy,” I may have glanced up once or twice, but nothing major. Then I saw him live in what I’ll consider one of my favorite shows of the year. Sometimes it takes that extra something for everything to make sense, and seeing Nutini on stage with his 10-piece band, I was suddenly transported to a time of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding packing a smoke-filled room while completely owning the sweatiest dance floor for miles. Further down the track list, “Iron Sky” is the best peace anthem of the year.
9. Damien Jurado – “Brothers & Sisters of the Eternal Sun”
One of the greatest songwriters of our generation continues to make music for himself, regardless if we can follow or not. Lucky for us, this thematic album about an epic dream Jurado once had is not only easy to swallow, but it’s also completely beautiful and fun to decipher. His angelic falsetto floats over 70s-inspired psychedelia to tell the story of a man who leaves everything behind on an uncertain journey. You can listen to it as a novel just as much as an album.
8. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “Only Run”
Alec Ounsworth, the creative mastermind behind Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, has had a hard time overcoming the stigma as one of the very first artists whose career owes a lot to, what at the time was brand new, music blogs. Wipe all of that away and what you have is expert songwriting that rarely plays it safe or by the book. His fourth album also finds him shaking many of the original band members, bringing on guests like Matt Berninger from The National and Kid Koala to add extra textures. Synth also plays a stronger character than in the past, which coupled with the spaz-tastic beats, take the overall mood into Radiohead Land. I’m hoping Ounsworth explores the whole direction further.
7. Sabina – “Toujours”
Sabina Sciubba came to fame last decade as the singer for the NYC-based Brazilian Girls. Her background growing up in Germany, France and Italy gave the band a great sound that was impossible to categorize, jumping from punk to trip-hop to Serge Gainsbourg-ish in the span of 10 minutes. For her first solo album, she keeps that pace and delivers something at once quirky and uniquely original. Standout tracks “Viva L’amour” and the title track are an excellent exercise in French New Wave, while “Long Distance Love” is ripped straight from the Juliana Hatfield guitar-rage of the 90s.
6. The Both – “The Both”
I never would have thought to pair Aimee Mann up with Ted Leo, but boy do they sound great together. Mann, the former lead singer of ‘Til Tuesday in the 80s, has spent the majority of her career as a solo artist, an architect of some of the most gut-wrenching songs of the last 20 years (See: “Wise Up” from the “Magnolia” soundtrack). Leo on the other hand comes from a punk background as the leader of Ted Leo & The Pharmacists. While their respective backgrounds don’t have a lot of overlap, they do have a shared sense of comedy that plays nicely into songs like “Milwaukee.” But, all in all, it’s really about how well the two vocals sit together. I really hope this isn’t just a one-time thing, as both of their careers could benefit from an ongoing musical relationship.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.