Best Albums of 2014: # 8, 7, 6


8. Emm Gryner – TORRENTIAL

Following her glorious NORTHERN GOSPEL, this feels a bit all over the place musically: it opens with a folksy stomper that bears some influence from her side project Trent Severn and closes on a grand, emotional power ballad that may hint at where she’s heading next. Elsewhere, she’s gleefully profane (“Purge”), she’s clever without being arch (“Math Wiz”), she duets with astronaut Chris Hadfield (“So Easy”) and even flirts with disco-divadom (“Bright Spot”). What holds it all together are sustained themes of independence, self-awareness and self-preservation. Call this another chapter in the keen body of work she’s been dutifully building since deciding to stay independent fifteen years ago.

Favorite tracks: “Excess Baggage”, “Purge”, “End Of Me”



Reunions after decade-plus absences are usually dicey propositions, but when I saw this kooky late ‘90s Japanese-American female duo in concert in 2011, I had reason to feel confident about the forthcoming “new album” they announced. Finally arriving three years later, it’s not only good but actually on par with their old stuff, which either means they were ahead of their time or that the long break kept them fresh. Only Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda could conceive of a concept album about a hotel for ghosts, but what’s almost startling is how devoted they are to seeing it through: at a tight ten tracks and 37 minutes, they conceive an entirely unique but accessible world and keep their weirdness intact.

Favorite tracks: “Deja Vu”, “10th Floor Ghost Girl”, “Empty Pool”


6. Lykke Li – I NEVER LEARN

I admit I wasn’t impressed on the first or second listen of Li’s long-awaited third release: it all sounded too samey, one heartbroken lament after another. Then I heard the propulsive “Gunshot” in isolation, gave the whole thing another chance, and gradually saw the light. This isn’t too far removed from WOUNDED RHYMES, but it’s more cohesive and Li’s more assured even as most of these songs are about falling apart. She’s also both unflinching and vulnerable, often shifting everywhere between those two states in the space of one line. And while you can detect the torch song lineage in “Just Like A Dream” and “Heart of Steel” all the way back to the Ronettes, her persona feels more contemporary than classical and thus, the songs all crucially pulsate with life.

Favorite tracks: “No Rest For The Wicked”, “Gunshot”, “Heart of Steel”

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.