Best Albums of 2014: # 5, 4, 3

Jessie_Ware_Tough_Love

5. Jessie Ware – TOUGH LOVE

Ware has such a distinct voice and tone that in a worst-case scenario, she’s nothing more than that. Fortunately, she avoids that trap on her second album, and not without taking some risks. “Say You Love Me”, “You and I (Forever)” and “Want Your Feeling” all aim for more immediacy and directness than anything on her debut, making no apologies for their blatant crossover aspirations. However, I end up responding as positively to them as the title track, which I could listen to on repeat for both its disarming melody and enigmatic allure, or the effervescent “Champagne Kisses”, a gentle yet euphoric hymn I’d gladly purchase in bulk if it could be bottled. She may have already solidly established her persona, but a long career awaits if she continues to explore all the possibilities it can contain.

Favorite tracks: “Tough Love”, “You and I (Forever)”, “Want Your Feeling”, “Champagne Kisses”

st vincent

4. St. Vincent – ST. VINCENT

Initially dismissing her fourth album as more of the same following the impenetrable STRANGE MERCY, a few months and many spins later, it finally clicked: she’s figured out how to write catchy pop songs that are often a world apart from any other catchy pop song you ever heard. Also, she’s taken a cue from former collaborator David Byrne and has forged an entirely original persona where she’s as alien and freaky as she cares to be and yet, it all connects on the strength of her musicianship and, more importantly, her vision. Not as visionary as Kate Bush’s fourth album, of course, but the more I listen to it (and the more I hear in it), I’m convinced she’s up there with Bush, Tori Amos and Bjork as one of our great female eccentrics.

Favorite tracks: “Rattlesnake”, “Digital Witness”, “I Prefer Your Love”, “Psychopath”

the-new-pornographers-brill-bruisers

3. The New Pornographers – BRILL BRUISERS

Perhaps all they needed was the four-year break. After two albums of diminishing returns, I figured this Canadian supergroup had nothing left to offer at the level of their now-classic first three efforts, and I’m ecstatic to be proven wrong. Newman, Neko and Bejar all sound refreshed and recharged, which each one providing career near-highlights: respectively, the ELO-worthy “Backstairs”, the shimmering “Champions of Red Wine” and new wave pastiche/manifesto “War On The East Coast”. But wait! There’s also the one where Neko sings, “They say we can’t make this stuff up / but what else could we make?”, the title track’s immense “ba, ba, ba’s,” the alternate-universe radio standard “Dancehall Domine” and a closer as stirring as anything they’ve ever done. A very good album that also serves as an argument for waiting to make a record until all participants are sufficiently inspired.

Favorite tracks: “Champions of Red Wine”, “War On The East Coast”, “Backstairs”, “Marching Orders”, “Dancehall Domine”

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