Top CDs of 2014

2014 offered no knock-out CD like Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” or Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” As I began to narrow my favorites down to a top 20, I was interested to see some other lists. I was surprised when Rolling Stone put the new ones by U2 and Bruce Springsteen at No. 1 and 2. When they came out, I thought the U2 was pretty good (better than their last few by a long shot) but not worthy of the top pick. The Springsteen album didn’t seem worthy of consideration; the only work of his from the last 25 years I can listen to is his Pete Seeger tribute.

I listened and relistened to the contenders. Some moved up the list and some moved down. Some years have a disc that feels transformative (Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” for example). But most years, my No. 1 pick ends up being the one that I keep listening to again and again, one that’s sturdy from start to finish. As good as it is, “Lost in the Dream” by the War on Drugs didn’t pass that test. “Somewhere Else” by Lydia Loveless came close.

Kind of to my surprise, U2’s “Songs of Innocence” was the one that passed the test.

Now, consider this for a moment. U2’s first album was released in 1980. How many bands that have been around for 30 years have put out something this good? Not the Stones. Not the Who. Not Pink Floyd.

The Top Ten:

1. “Songs of Innocence” by U2 – Not iconic, like “The Joshua Tree,” or a major makeover, like “Achtung Baby,” just solid U2. There’s plenty of Edge-y guitar and Bono shows some restraint. The songs sound like they were meant to be heard with headphones and not in a huge arena (although some will translate just fine).

2. “Somewhere Else” by Lydia Loveless – An alt-country singer whose catchy songs have enough stylistic variety

3. “Food” by Kelis – Producer Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio helps the R&B singer up the oddness level on the “Milkshake” singer’s latest.

4. “Lost in the Dream” by the War on Drugs – Here’s what you’d get if Wilco tried to sound like Tom Petty.

5. “The Hum” by Hookworms – Here’s what you’d get if Sonic Youth tried to sound like the Velvet Underground.

6. “Blank Project” by Neneh Cherry – She had a dance club hit in 1989 with “Buffalo Stance” and a college radio hit in 1992 when she teamed up with Michael Stipe on “Trout.” This disc of tense, jagged R&B sounds nothing like either of those songs.

7. “Black Messiah” by D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Producer Questlove of the Roots can’t restrain the oddness level on the “Voodoo” man’s latest.

8. “Cosmos” by Yellow Ostrich — Here’s what you’d get if Radiohead tried to sound like a top 40 band.

9. “Manipulator” by Ty Segall – The garage rock album of the year (and there were a bunch of contenders).

10. “Loom” by Fear of Men – Kind of like the Cranberries but in a good way.

Honorable mention:

“LP1” by FKA Twigs, “Give My Love to London” by Marianne Faithfull, “English Oceans” by Drive-By Truckers, “Black Rat” by DZ Deathrays, “Lift Your Spirit” by Aloe Blacc, “Sun Structures” by Temples and “Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records: 1986-1997” – by various artists.

The best songs:

“Head” by Lydia Loveless – Because this is an irresistible mix of lust and fury.

The rest of the top 10 (alphabetically):

“All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor – Because I ought to be sick of this one by now, but I’m not.

“Archie, Marry Me” by Alvvays – Because this is a lovely little love song.

“Bury Our Friends” by Sleater-Kinney – Because this fierce blast from the past is an intriguing preview of a new CD (coming in January) by the reunited S-K.

“Gina Works at Hearts” by DZ Deathrays – Because we need a good thrashy punk song now and then.

“Little Maggie” by Robert Plant – Because Led Zep’s singer keeps finding ways to reinvent himself.

“Made Up English Oceans” by Drive-By Truckers – Because this band is incapable of putting out a CD that doesn’t have at least a song or two I love.

“The River” by Son Little – Because this is one funky bit of blues.

“Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon – Because it’s kind of fun to shout along.

“Yes Yes Yes” -by Boyz II Men – Because who doesn’t hunger for an ode to pretzel buns.



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