12/05 Strand of Oaks – The Ace Hotel
12/04 Strand of Oaks / Torres – Bowery Ballroom
11/23 Ryan Adams – Hammerstein Ballroom
11/21 TV on the Radio – Music Hall of Williamsburg
11/12 Ray LaMontagne – Beacon Theatre
11/05 Lucero – Bowery Ballroom
10/24 First Aid Kit – Hammerstein Ballroom
10/17 Drive-By Truckers – Beacon Theatre
10/16 Chet Faker – Webster Hall
10/14 Warpaint – Webster Hall
10/03 Augustines – Rough Trade
09/27 Hilltop Hoods – Brooklyn Bowl
09/26 Yacht Rock Revue – Irving Plaza
09/23 Shovels and Rope – Music Hall of Williamsburg
09/16 Lorde – United Palace
09/15 Strand of Oaks – Rough Trade
09/12 Trampled By Turtles / Hurray for the Riff Raff – Terminal 5
09/04 Bleachers – Webster Hall
08/24 Arcade Fire / Television – Barclays Center
08/16 Boyz II Men – Citi Field
08/05 HAIM / Sleigh Bells – Brooklyn Bridge Park
07/29 Conor Oberst / Dawes – Central Park Summerstage
07/23 Phosphorescent / Strand of Oaks – Tammany Hall
07/09 Sky Ferreira / DIIV – Music Hall of Williamsburg
06/26 Strand of Oaks – Mercury Lounge
06/24 Tegan and Sara – Hammerstein Ballroom
06/17 The National / Phosphorescent – Prospect Park Bandshell
06/15 The War on Drugs / Woods – 50 Kent
06/15 CHVRCHES – McCarren Park
06/13 Yacht Rock Revue – Brooklyn Bowl
06/12 Sharon Van Etten – Music Hall of Williamsburg
06/09 ASTR – Webster Hall
05/27 Phosphorescent – Webster Hall
05/19 Geographer – Glasslands Gallery
05/19 Built to Spill – Brooklyn Bowl
05/11 HAIM / Tennis – Terminal 5
05/07 Wye Oak – Webster Hall
05/02 Megafaun – Baby’s All Right
04/30 Broods – Music Hall of Williamsburg
04/28 Kevin Drew – Bowery Ballroom
04/10 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction – Barclays Center
03/27 Bleachers – Music Hall of Williamsburg
03/21 The War on Drugs – Music Hall of Williamsburg
03/20 Drive-By Truckers – Terminal 5
03/14 Yacht Rock Revue – Gramercy Theatre
03/10 Lorde – Roseland Ballroom
03/07 The Avett Brothers – Barclays Center
02/07 Lord Huron – Terminal 5
02/06 Blood Orange – Webster Hall
01/30 Jason Isbell – The Allen Room (Jazz at Lincoln Center)
01/29 Habibi – Baby’s All Right
01/16 ASTR – The Westway
01/04 AM Gold – B.B. King’s
I reserve the right to amend my list later, but 2014 seems to have already settled into an unassuming funk of a bunch of “good” albums, with only a few I would call great. Unless Bey drops another December album, or Charli XCX’s Sucker (out Dec. 16) is the album of the year (it won’t be), I’m good.
Beyoncé – BEYONCÉ
Key Tracks: “Flawless”, “Haunted”, “Drunk In Love”, “No Angel”, “Rocket”, “Mine”, “XO”, “Blue”
I had to come back and fix this injustice. The fact that this album dropped on December 13, 2013 means that it was absent on all of the 2013 best-of lists (save for Billboard) and won’t be present on most 2014 best-of lists. Jon Caramanica at the Times added it to his list for 2014, which made me rethink the whole year. There was no album like this album, and the accompanying music videos for every song were the boldest and most stunning effort of the last 12 months (+ 3 days).
Mrs. Carter collaborated with an unknown producer, Boots (9 crucial tracks), and some of the biggest names in music: Drake (and his main collaborator, Noah “40” Shebib, for “Mine”), Sia (“Pretty Hurts”), Justin Timberlake and Miguel (“Rocket”), Jay-Z (“Drunk in Love”), Justin Timberlake and Pharrell and Timbaland (“Blow”), Ryan Tedder (“XO”), and Frank Ocean (“Superpower”).
Who can forget the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie interlude on “Flawless”? If you have never watched all 16 videos from the album in a row, do it immediately: will blow your mind. BOW DOWN, BITCHES.
Bleachers – Strange Desire
Key Tracks: “Wild Heart”, “Rollercoaster”, “I Wanna Get Better”, “You’re Still a Mystery”
There was no album I listened to or enjoyed more in 2014. Key reason being: I never skip over any of the tracks. Jack Antonoff (he’s also a member of fun., and Lena Dunham’s boyfriend) found his voice as a producer – first, through Bleachers (whom I saw live twice), and second, as a producer of 3 tracks (“Out of the Woods”, “I Wish You Would”, plus bonus track, the underrated “You Are In Love”) on the biggest album of the year – Swift’s 1989.
Featuring tasteful guest spots from Grimes and Yoko Ono (!), Strange Desire is one cohesive aesthetic and packs more into 39 minutes than any other album this year. I would also venture that it makes more references to the Garden State Parkway than any album in history.
Strand of Oaks – HEAL
Key Tracks: “HEAL”, “Same Emotions”, “JM”, “Shut In”
By year’s end, I will have seen Tim Showalter perform at least 3 times in 2014 (including this Thursday at Bowery Ballroom) supporting the album of his life. HEAL tackles his struggles – love, death, sobriety, infidelity – in an honest and possessed manner. He remarked several times in NYC this year how grateful he was to have finally found an audience (“I have been playing New York for 10 years, to 3 of you…”), but with statements as gut-wrenching as “JM” (about the deceased Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia), his future is as bright as his songs of healing and redemption.
Chet Faker – Built on Glass
Key Tracks: “Talk is Cheap”, “Gold”, “1998”
Flume’s buddy, and fellow Aussie DJ Chet Faker, even performs like a producer. When I saw him at Webster Hall, he was regularly walking over to the monitors console to adjust his own stage mix. While I think he shines more on stage as a one-man band playing all of the synchronized synths, drum machines, and boards himself, his album captures his electronica-downtempo-soul exquisitely.
Chromeo – White Women
Key Tracks: “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)”, “Lost on the Way Home”, “Fall Back 2U”, “Old 45’s”
This was my album of the summer – a supremely underrated *indietronica* effort that even they sometimes describe as “Larry David funk”. So solid and danceable – this album reminds me of Escort, one of my favorite Brooklyn disco orchestras.
Warpaint – Warpaint
Key Tracks: “Keep It Healthy”, “Love Is To Die”, “Disco // Very”
One of the first albums released this year (and produced by the band and Flood), Warpaint was one of my immediate favorites. “Love is to Die” is indicative of the whole album, which reimagines early ’90s Radiohead, if Radiohead were 4 badass women from Los Angeles. I was especially glad to hear Lorde blasting this record before both of the shows I saw in New York. Live, I was most mesmerized by the drummer, Stella Mozgawa. “Disco // Very” was in heavy rotation for me all year.
FKA twigs – LP1
Key Tracks: “Two Weeks”, “Pendulum”, “Video Girl”
A dancer from London known as “twigs” for the way her joints crack, she became FKA when another artist of the same name called her to complain. If there is a female equivalent to The Weeknd, and a queen of PBR&B with a trip-hop back, she is it. Easily the most unique album in my list.
The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Key Tracks: “An Ocean Between the Waves”, “Red Eyes”, “Burning”
The first show I saw in 2014 that was for a 2014-released album that I though was big and important. Lost in the Dream is topping all sorts of year-end lists. I am perhaps spoiled: I was there for this same routine at the end of 2011 with their remarkable Slave Ambient. Another Philly band that has been slogging it out and playing New York for at least 10 years, The War on Drugs seem to have finally arrived.
Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
Key Tracks: “Cruel World”, “Ultraviolence”, “Brooklyn Baby”, “Money Power Glory”
It seems like everyone is recording in Nashville these days, and when they do, it’s with Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys). “Every criticism that I’d ever heard about her was proven wrong when I was in the studio with her,” he says. “From how great the songs were to how confident she is as a musician to her fucking singing every song live, with a handheld microphone and a seven-piece band. I mean, get the fuck out of here, who does that? Nobody does that, there hasn’t been a number one pop record that was recorded like that in forty, fifty years.”
First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
Key Tracks: “My Silver Lining”, “The Bell”, “Waitress Song”, “Cedar Lane”, “Stay Gold”
Mike Mogis (of Bright Eyes) produced this beautiful album by a duo composed of 2 Swedish sisters (he also produced 2010’s The Lion’s Roar). The fact that they were both born in the 1990s scares me, because their brand of country-influenced folk is just so damn good and performed flawlessly.
Lykke Li – I Never Learn
Key Tracks: “No Rest for the Wicked”, “Just Like a Dream”, “Never Gonna Love Again”
Described by her as “power ballads for the broken”, I Never Learn is a gorgeous piece of work following what she calls “the biggest breakup of her life”. Li says the title reflects how she felt “so lost as an artist, as a woman”, and that it “just came to me. I want to be lost. And then those words were there — ‘I don’t know and I never fucking learn.'”
Taylor Swift – 1989
Key Tracks: “Blank Space”, “Style”, “This Love”, “Clean”, “All You Had To Do Way Stay”
“Shake It Off” is one of the worst songs of recent past, save for Pharrell’s “Happy”. Its success disturbs me, but 1989 overall is pretty great (well, half of it). The clear standouts weren’t produced by Max Martin (he produced 7 of the 13 tracks on the album) – “This Love” was produced by the guy who originally produced all of TS’s records (Nathan Chapman), and “Clean” was a co-written/produced by Swift and Imogen Heap (who also performed almost all of the instruments on the cut). Ryan Tedder came along for the ride: the always-growing on me “Welcome to New York” and the forgettable “I Know Places.” Jack Antonoff’s tracks sound like Bleachers B-sides to me, although “Out of the Woods” is a highlight – I just cringe when I think about Harry Styles (it’s about them snowmobiling or something). If “Style” doesn’t directly reference him, good, because the track is great!
Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
Key Tracks: “Delorean Dynamite”, “Johnny and Mary”, “Oh Joy”
I only recently got into this record, even though it was suggested to me several times by people whose taste I generally trust. The combo of “Delorean Dynamite” > “Johnny and Mary (feat. Bryan Ferry)” is all it takes to appreciate this album. Whole albums by other artists don’t accomplish nearly as much is the same span of time.
Broods – Evergreen
Key Tracks: “Medicine”, “Four Walls”, “Everytime”, “Never Gonna Change”, “Bridges”
I have been following Broods since they exploded earlier this year with an EP released on Soundcloud. When I saw them at Music Hall of Williamsburg, they hadn’t even released a full-length album. Produced by Joel Little (the guy who made the music for Lorde), Evergreen adds some solid tracks to the repertoire of this bro-sis duo from New Zealand. “Medicine” is ethereal.
Caribou – Our Love
Key Tracks: “Can’t Do Without You”, “Our Love”, “Silver”, “All I Ever Need”
Slept hard on this one – The Guardian put it best: “Our Love ran far deeper than most dance records, exploring the complexities of adult relationships: new fatherhood, friends’ divorces and even death.”
Banks – Goddess
Key Tracks: “Drowning”, “Change”, “You Should Know Where I’m Coming From”
This album was a sleeper. Most of the footage I saw of Jillian Banks performing earlier this year didn’t do it for me, but I let the album wash over me through my headphones while I was working, and it eventually clicked in a good way. Featuring production from Tim Anderson, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, and Shlomo (amongst others), it’s a more subtle, Orange County version of PBR&B.