Best Albums of 2014: # 5, 4, 3


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”


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”

Imagine It Was Us

What a week. To keep things fizzy and light, I wanted to post “Live Like Legends”, one of two new songs from Emm Gryner’s Best of album released late last year. In the uptempo spirit of her previous (and best) album Northern Gospel, it’s one of her most jubilant, ecstatic songs ever. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything more than a sound clip online. As an alternative, here’s a new song from Jessie Ware. Her debut album Devotion cracked my top ten list last year; this week, it finally received a stateside release with this song as an added bonus track. “Imagine It Was Us” exposes the disco diva previously hidden within Ware’s moody, Sade-influenced dreamy splendor; I can’t wait to hear what she does next.

My Favorite Music of 2012


Martha Wainwright

The Best Tracks of 2012 in two Spotify playlists:

Volume 1: Someone Who Looks Smashing In Athletic Wear

1. Saint Etienne, “Tonight” / 2. Tanlines, “All Of Me” / 3. The Magnetic Fields, “Andrew In Drag” / 4. Diamond Rings, “Runaway Love” / 5. Stars, “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” / 6. Jens Lekman, “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder” / 7. Jessie Ware, “Wildest Moments” / 8. Of Monsters And Men, “Mountain Sound” / 9. Hot Chip, “Let Me Be Him” / 10. Rufus Wainwright, “Bitter Tears” / 11. Sinead O’Connor, “Queen Of Denmark” / 12. The Ting Tings, “Guggenheim” / 13. Aimee Mann, “Labrador” / 14. Imperial Teen, “Out From Inside” / 15. Miike Snow, “The Wave” / 16. Twin Shadow, “Run My Heart” / 17. Martha Wainwright, “Proserpina” / 18. Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife” / 19. A.C. Newman, “They Should Have Shut Down The Streets”

Volume 2: You Enjoy Sucking On Dreams

1. Metric, “The Void” / 2. Calexico, “Splitter” / 3. Sharon Van Etten, “Serpents” / 4. Regina Spektor, “All The Rowboat” / 5. Dr. John, “Revolution” / 6. The Gaslight Anthem, “Here Comes My Man” / 7. Deep Sea Arcade, “Girls” / 8. Keane, “On The Road” / 9. Bat For Lashes, “Laura” / 10. The xx, “Chained” / 11. Emm Gryner, “She’s Gone” / 12. Paul Brill, “Breezy” / 13. Patti Smith, “April Fool” / 14. Andrew Bird, “Lusitania” / 15. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, “Man On Fire” / 16. The Shins, “No Way Down” / 17. Ben Folds Five, “Away When You Were Here” / 18. A Fine Frenzy, “Now Is The Start” / 19. Goldfrapp, “Melancholy Sky” / 20. Field Music, “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing” / 21. Beth Orton, “Mystery”

Top Ten Albums:

1. Jens Lekman – I KNOW WHAT LOVE ISN’T
2. Fiona Apple – THE IDLER WHEEL…
4. Hot Chip – IN OUR HEADS
5. Rufus Wainwright – OUT OF THE GAME
6. Martha Wainwright – COME HOME TO MAMA
8. Imperial Teen – FEEL THE SOUND
9. Stars – THE NORTH
10. Jessie Ware – DEVOTION

Also Recommended:

Often, I struggle to find enough worthy albums to fill out a top ten. This year, I could have easily done a top 15. Here are a few worthy candidates, along with favorite tracks in parentheses.

Far more focused than his second solo album, slightly less convincing than his first, and preferable to the last two New Pornographers records. (“They Should Have Shut Down The Streets”, “Hostages”, “You Could Get Lost Out Here”)

After seeing him perform most of this material in concert two years ago, I diagnose him with a case of Ani DiFranco Syndrome—the studio recordings can’t quite match the live renditions, but at least he cut out the filler that marred Noble Beast. (“Lusitania”, “Eyeoneye”, “Near Death Experience Experience”)

Bat For Lashes – THE HAUNTED MAN
She’s an artist in transition, still finding her voice. For all the studio wizardry on display here, she’s most effective when she places her vocals and melodies front-and-center. (“Laura”, “All Your Gold”)

Ever confident and insanely catchy, but it breaks little new ground. Nonetheless, a solid follow-up to Fantasies so competent that grumpy old man Lou Reed doesn’t even embarrass himself in a cameo. (“The Void”, “Clone”, “Breathing Underwater”)

Miike Snow – HAPPY TO YOU
A strange but not unbecoming mixture of top 40 dance music with an indie rock sensibility: martial drum rolls, house music pianos and campfire whistling never sounded so good together. (“The Wave”, “Paddling Out”, “Bavarian # 1 (Say You Will)”)

Patti Smith – BANGA
She must have got something out of her system with that awful documentary about her from a few years back (or perhaps you can just blame its director); in her stunning memoir and now this, she’s rarely projected so much lucidity and warmth. (“April Fool”, “This Is The Girl”)

Still a perpetual Hot Mess, but better that than a boring one. Easily her best since I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, “Queen of Denmark” proves her gift for interpretation hasn’t diminished. (“The Wolf Is Getting Married”, “Queen of Denmark”, “Reason With Me”)

After only a few spins, it’s now my favorite modern Christmas album and a testament to her continued relevance that the two originals are highlights. (“Tinsel and Lights”, “Joy”, “Taking Down The Tree”)

Top Ten Albums of 2012: # 10

jessie ware

10. Jessie Ware – DEVOTION

In other eras, some would categorize this Londoner’s sound as quiet storm, alternative R&B or trip-hop. In 2012, she doesn’t neatly fit in to any of those subgenres, which is why she remains a critical favorite (like Adele was a few years ago). Her unique, clarion tone reminds me of what Stephin Merritt once said about Sarah Cracknell: “She makes the instruments sound as if they were wrapped around her voice, rather than against her voice.” This is merely a promising debut, but when she hits one out of the park, as on the stirring, Sade-meets-Massive Attack anthem “Wildest Moments”, you fully sense her rare potential.

Favorite tracks: “Wildest Moments”, “Taking In Water”, “Running”

Video for “Wildest Moments”: