I hear those sleigh bells ringling, ting ting ting-a-ling tooooo... It's that time of year, so here's a roundup of all my favorite tracks from 2014 on Spotify: http://open.spotify.com/user/markmulvey/playlist/2XuETi2CfL1m7jPx4aHKAF
And for you traditionalists who appreciate an old fashioned start-to-finish LP... My Top 12 Favorite Albums of 2014 (listed alphabetically, and with notes because the why matters):
- The Antlers, 'Familiars' (http://open.spotify.com/album/4USPYTOPAjoCPrSwRmQlPN
): Sustained horns, delicate falsettos, and layered textures make this entire album a consistently beautiful piece of work, with mysterious hints of Spain and soul. Completely unlike everything the band has ever done before.
- Banks - 'Goddess' (http://open.spotify.com/album/59t3tVp5bRZJXvuyccxVfJ
): She stormed 2014 like a couture Lorde--just as confident but a bit more sexy. Turns out her album had more depth and grit than I saw coming.
Ben Howard - 'I Forget How We Were' (http://open.spotify.com/user/markmulvey/playlist/3LKYFZEePlapD7IP3VSFkS
): This guy was one of my favorites back in 2012, but this album has him scraping at deeper, darker, more melancholy source material. A stylistic continuation of his Burgh Island EP from 2013.
- Damien Rice - 'My Favourite Faded Fantasy' (http://open.spotify.com/album/7gqvBbOGDfAvjweUqnn5xg
): I've never fully dug into Rice's work before, but this recorded-in-Iceland re-emergence still caught my eye. I decided to give this a shot and am really glad I did. It's got tight lyrics that balance sensitivity with quiet defiance. Long songs full of unexpected transitions and instrumentations.
- Damon Albarn - 'Everyday Robots' (http://open.spotify.com/album/5SzhltQSSi1HUMi5cveZIZ
): This Blur-turned-Gorillaz frontman is one of our more adventurous musicians these days, and this album is a dystopian look at our smartphony cyborg-ish path to depravity. The album is interesting, ambitious, and beautifully unsettling.
- D'Angelo - 'Black Messiah' (http://open.spotify.com/album/5Hfbag0SsHxafx1SySFSX6
): D'Angelo came out of nowhere on December 15th and threw an unannounced haymaker at the world. His first album in nearly 15 years was never intended to drop in 2014, but he rushed to release it in the midst of the controversial protests surrounding a series of police killings of unarmed black men. The album itself is funky, soulful, and experimental. (check the whistles and folky guitar strum of "The Drum.").
- Got A Girl - 'I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now' (http://open.spotify.com/album/59t3tVp5bRZJXvuyccxVfJ
): This album, a collaboration between music producer Dan the Automator and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, really works well and quietly defies categorization. Winstead shines, and the songs are twinkly, relaxed gems.
- Misterwives - 'Reflections' (http://open.spotify.com/album/5xM6nKztgu6QNXj8ciiUEg
): This is the most unabashedly pop-forward album I have on here. (Technically it's an EP, but I don't care because it's my list.) I've caught them live twice and they are the real deal. Singer Mandy Lee has a voice that is distinctive and powerful, the entire band exudes fun and energy, and the songs are catchy as hell.
- MØ - 'No Mythologies To Follow' (http://open.spotify.com/album/13xRSfodlL3UtG3xSyL8u2
): I've been an early believer in this ponytailed Danish wizard since her only song was only on YouTube, and this album is a killer payoff. Her whole style is just so cool and fierce, but she's got rock-solid electro-pop instincts.
- The Preatures - 'Blue Planet Eyes' (http://open.spotify.com/album/2bxPYefpgel4G7dVksKokD
): This is one of my favorite bands ("Is This How You Feel" is perfection), inside or outside of Australia. Their debut album is a little uneven and the pop quotient is high, but there's no doubting the sheer rock & roll charisma going on. I've looped it far more times than I can remember.
- Ryan Adams - 'Ryan Adams' (http://open.spotify.com/album/5FV8d3DhSoArvwr0Qqgzq3
): Ryan Adams is one of the last holdouts of old-fashioned rock going on right now. To my ears, his series of completely admirable releases spanning four labels since the 90's were just prelude to this one. Confident, sincere, raw, soulful, and radio-ready without being shiny and polished. This guy is all kinds of great.
- Sharon Van Etten - 'Are We There' (http://open.spotify.com/album/0F1pMhF8Vy74nKkQeLBfrd
): I can't explain why, but this album hit me hard. It reaches a level of honesty that pierces you like a jagged blade. The closing track aches its way toward bearing all, and the same can be said of the entire album. Tremendous.