Best Albums of 2014: # 14, 13, 12


14. Mac DeMarco – SALAD DAYS

This 24-year-old Canadian’s “slacker rock” is like something John Lennon and Harry Nilsson would’ve cooked up together forty years ago if they never made it to the bar and holed up in their hotel rooms, strung out on pot more than booze. The opener/title track is nearly worthy of Lennon even as it exudes wisdom while half-wearing a shit-eating grin. The instrumentation abruptly switches over from guitars to old-sounding synths on the album’s second half, but the songwriting rarely wavers. SALAD DAYS ain’t a “great” LP, but it’s inspiring enough you suspect DeMarco will make one sooner rather than later.

Favorite tracks: “Salad Days”, “Passing Out Pieces”, “Chamber of Reflection”


13. Neneh Cherry – BLANK PROJECT

Best known for “Buffalo Stance” twenty-five years ago, Cherry’s flash-in-the-pan status is unearned. On her first domestic solo release in over two decades, as the title suggests, she opts for a sparse palette: percussion, vocals, subtle electronics. Not quite drums n’ bass nor trip-hop in the Portishead sense, these ten minimalist queries place Cherry, who sounds as urgent and personable as she ever did, front and center. Even a high-profile guest such as Robyn doesn’t obscure that, in the most heartfelt since, this is Cherry’s project: solid enough to make up for the time she’s been away and distinct enough to hope this is just the start of a great second act.

Favorite tracks: “Naked”, “Spit Three Times”, “Out of The Black”


12. Sun Kil Moon – BENJI

Whether you find Mark Kozelek’s shenanigans boorish or amusing, they don’t distract from the compellingly raw confessionals on his latest album. His recent shift from character sketches to autobiographical narratives has left some longtime fans scratching their heads, but it’s what moved me to pay more attention to him. His occasional bouts of self-deprecating humor are also something I hadn’t previously noticed in his work (of which I’ve heard only a small fraction of, admittedly), but it renders his often rambling tunes bearable and likable—it also enables him to pull off the breezy lounge pop of “Ben’s My Friend” without seeming like a total cheeseball.

Favorite tracks: “Carissa”, “I Love My Dad”, “Ben’s My Friend”

Many Happy Returns

Should I worry that my three favorite new albums of the year are all by artists returning after exceedingly long hiatuses? First up is Cibo Matto, the Japanese-American female duo who broke up after their second album in 1999 but reunited for a tour in 2011. I saw them then at the Brighton Music Hall, where they teased a few tracks from “their new album”. 2+ years later, Hotel Valentine has finally arrived and I’m liking it almost as much as their classic debut, Viva! La Woman. Whereas that was a loose concept album about food, the new one’s a (somewhat less) loose concept album about a hotel for ghosts. It’s pretty wonderful, unmistakably Cibo Matto but also fresh and unique, not at all stuck in a late ’90s time capsule. “10th Floor Ghost Girl” is the immediate standout, a catchy, loopy dance floor fixture with a guitar riff swiped straight from Talking Heads’ Remain in Light.

After putting out four discs of re-recorded versions of her old songs, Suzanne Vega has finally crafted a true follow-up to 2007’s Beauty and Crime. Despite its unwieldy, pretentious title Tales From The Realm of The Queen of Pentacles, it ranks with her best, most lucid work; oddly enough, it’s also possibly her hardest rocking effort to date, and if you scoff at the idea of describing Vega that way, give “I Never Wear White” a spin and get back to me.

Finally, Neneh Cherry, of all people, has a new album out. Apart from her recent collaboration with avant-jazz group The Thing, she hasn’t put out anything in 18 years, and that last record, Man, was never officially released here. Remarkably, she doesn’t sound a day older than she did on 1992’s Homebrew. I only just listened to Blank Project for the first time yesterday, but its minimalist grooves already seem both up-to-the-minute and timeless. “Out of the Black” is a sharp collaboration with Robyn, whom I hope doesn’t wait too much longer to release a follow-up to her own last LP, 2010’s Body Talk.