Apologies to D’Angelo. If he had released “Black Messiah” a few weeks earlier, it would have easily been in this list. Such a great record. Just the same, here are my top five records of 2014.
5. Elbow – “The Takeoff and Landing of Everything”
There is a sense of comfort I get in an Elbow song. I’m sure some of that has to do with Guy Garvey’s voice, but their music goes well beyond the vocals. With Elbow, you don’t know what lies around the next turn. In a time when so many songs are predictable, knowing what the chorus will be before you’ve even heard it, these guys are an oasis — and are even better than Oasis. They exercise that muscle even more in this latest LP, “The Takeoff and Landing of Everything,” due in large part to the way the writing was handled this time around, with members composing separately, then bringing in parts one by one. It’s a formula that ensured not even the band itself would know the next direction. Garvey used his own lyrical pallet to document his recent breakup from long-term girlfriend Emma Janes Unsworth, giving this record a weight and freshness that can be felt with every repeated listen.
4. Damien Rice – “My Favourite Faded Fantasy”
Want to stop someone dead in their tracks? Put on a Damien Rice song. You can feel the heartbreak, the searching and wonder, the self discovery, and sometimes the complete shame, in every single one of his songs. It’s easy to think of them as delicate little compositions, ready to fall apart at any time, but by the crack of the last note, usually a more definitive stare than when it all started, you get the feeling that this guy is going to be ok. Or he’s doomed to repeat. Rice had been off the scene for the last eight years, so this comeback had more than a few eyes and ears paying attention with many fans wondering if he still had it. From the falsetto of the opening title track to the grandeur of the closing “Long Long Way,” this album is as close to perfect as a songwriter can get. I wouldn’t recommend playing it on Valentines Day for your date, but if you’re singing a song for the dumped, this one soundtracks nicely on repeat.
3. My Brightest Diamond – “This Is My Hand”
Some musicians allow their song to get lost in the creativity, when it becomes art for art’s sake. Shara Worden doesn’t have that problem. While she breathes and projects art in every pulse, you can still hear her songs just as much in the realm of pop as anything avant garde. She’s an amazing craftsman who knows how to move the ball forward, progressing the formulas we hear time and time again by taking chances other artists don’t have the nerve for. Her recent infatuation with marching bands is worked into the opening number, a monster of a song, “Pressure.” From there you’re transported through a world of darkness and light as if you were on a mystical journey through sound itself.
2. Tune-Yards – “Nikki Nack”
I’ve said this before, but what really impresses me about Merrill Garbus is her ability to go out into the world, places like Haiti and parts of Africa, take in her surroundings and then transcribe them through music. But instead of thinking of it as something like Angelique Kidjo, try it more as a Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” though much more heavy on hip-hop style beats, abrasive vocal loops and lyrics that will have you guessing what the hell she’s talking about throughout. To put it simply, it’s the most fun you can have in 44 minutes with your clothes on.
1. St. Vincent – “St. Vincent”
For anyone who knows me, this is no surprise. I wore this record out. Annie Clark is a demon on the guitar, rivaling Prince for her futuristic riffs and ferocious solos. Her lyrics are pored over like a painting at MOMA, with lines about ambient-induced walkabouts, nude encounters with snakes and life in the social media age. Infusing punk, funk, electro, rock and dance, the whole piece comes across with a party-at-the-apocolypse attitude. There are hints of her work with Talking Heads’ David Byrne coupled with her love of classic Disney. When science fiction fans dreamed about how music would sound in 2014, this is pretty close to what they had in mind. All hail the new
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.