Matt Simon’s Top 10 Albums of 2014
#10: Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Recently Cloud Nothings have gained much deserved coverage and this album is another straightforward step in the right direction. Mix punk sensibilities with crunchy guitars and lyrics that keep you singing along, and you have a great continuation of 2012’s Attack on Memory.
#9: Jessica Lee Mayfield – Make My Head Sing…
Anyone who knows me knows my feelings toward JLM. They also may know how devastated I was when she got hitched recently. Broken hearts aside, this is a bold departure for her. While many listeners may miss the country laced melancholy songbird of Tell Me, the grunge infused Make My Head Sing. . . is some of her best work. She bravely departs into the unknown, and we are better for because of it, even if she does break countless hearts along the way.
#8: Young Oceans – I Must Find You
In a world of cringe worthy “worship” acts, Young Oceans are deconstructing a genre. The band makes beautiful music that destroys the horrors done by past well-intentioned Christian acts. Thoughtful lyrics and fantastic arrangements transport the listener into an entirely different sound environment, which is exactly what this genre is meant to do. As a skeptic, I was blown away from the first time I heard their sound. If you are “spiritual” or simply love beautiful art, do yourself a favor and listen.
#7: Sun Kill Moon – Benji
Sun Kill Moon is the latest project from the creative mind of Mark Kozelek. This album is a beautifully crafted stream of consciousness that touches on themes of mortality and family. What I love about it is how deeply vulnerable his lyrics are and how beautifully he crafts them into one album which every theme is connected. From learning to love his broken father in “I love My Dad”, to coming back home to Ohio for his second cousin’s funeral in “Carissa”, Mark is able to tell our stories by exploring his own. My personal favorite is “Ben’s My Friend” which is the little more upbeat and dare I say optimistic song that closes Benji and is about his relationship with Benjamin Gibbard. His anecdotes range from hilarious to heartbreaking and everywhere in between and will make you think deeper about your own experiences. This is more of an album to reflect upon than to jam to, so beware and enjoy.
#6: Greylag – Greylag
This Portland band is new on my radar but they have already made an indelible impression on me with their self-titled debut. Working with Phil Ek, the producer behind Band of Horses, Modest Mouse, and the Shins, many have compared their sound to the classic rock age and whether that interests you or not, you will love this band. They blend the vocals of Jeff Buckley with the rock of Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Not a throwback, Greylag is able to make modern music with a classic twist. “Yours to Shake” shows this perfectly. This is a perfect under the radar band and you would benefit by getting to know them.
#5: Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
Lydia has perfected the art of alt country rock this year. From the first listen, I was hooked to the tales of explicit laden heartbreak that she beautifully belts out. She had a huge year gaining attention from NPR and touring with acts like Justin Townes Earle. Telling the truth is no easy task in music but Lydia does it in a way that makes for some of the best songwriting this year. Being from the great state of Ohio does not hurt her place on my list either.
#4: Run River North – Run River North
This was one of those rare moments where you listen to an album and instantly know it will be a favorite for years to come. Perfectly blended harmonies and instrumental arrangements are only a small part of why this is a great album. This is purely a great indie folk infused mix of all that is great in the world. An absolutely solid debut from an absolutely solid group of musicians.
#3: Ray Lamontagne – Supernova
What an awesome change of pace for Ray in ’14. While his road traveled and bruised voice remains intact, “Supernova” departs from folk and heads in the direction of ‘60’s rock and soul under the production of Dan Auerbach. This is the essential summer album with the perfect mix of Southern California flower rock and New York City soul. At this point in his career, Ray can pretty much do whatever he wants to and listeners are better for this.
#2: Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
While many big name acts released albums this year with much fanfare, Bright Eyes mastermind Conor Oberst quietly unleashed an absolute gem. Always one for brilliant songwriting, Oberst does not disappoint. He writes with maturity and optimism that is refreshing for the usual dour artist.
#1: Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
The once prolific Ryan Adams has been eerily silent recently. Long gone are the days of two or more records a year being produced from him. After a year where he battled health issues and even twitter feuds with FOX on air personalities, it was great to see him doing what he does better than almost everyone else in the biz; make fantastic alt-country rock. In this Grammy nominated release, we find an album that sounds more like Tom Petty than it does the Ryan Adams of old. Opener “Gimme Something Good” shows a classic rock vibe while “My Wrecking Ball” is a brilliant reminder of his “Wonderwall” cover. Take all of this and add a few trademark F-words, and you have the artist the musical landscaped missed. It is a fun, confident, and rocking number one album.