Best Albums of 2014: # 2 and # 1

future islands singles

2. Future Islands – SINGLES

It restores my faith in humanity a bit that a heretofore unknown (I certainly hadn’t heard of them) synth pop trio fronted by Samuel T. Herring, who sounds almost like a crazed Roland Gift and looks like a younger Bob Hoskins can achieve instant fame after a fervent performance on David Letterman. The song they played, “Seasons (Waiting On You)”, is easily my favorite track of the year—the part where he sings “But the winter will craaaave what is gone,” still gives me chills—but for some, it has overshadowed the rest of their fourth album. I’m not going to argue anything here is better than “Seasons”, but I suspect the title has less to do with the dating scene and is more about the commercial potential of damn near every last track. Giving in to their love of New Order (dig that bass up front), AVALON and ‘80s teen movie anthems, Future Islands would seem like a throwback if not for the care put into these pop songs and of course Herring, whose impassioned, decisive growl is a thing of beauty whether he’s crooning or suddenly shifting to a full-on cathartic scream.

Favorite tracks: “Seasons (Waiting On You)”, “Doves”, “Back In The Tall Grass”, “Fall From Grace”, “A Dream Of You And Me”

dottie's charms

1.  Jill Sobule – DOTTIE’S CHARMS

Chiefly known for her novelty hit “I Kissed A Girl” (not the Katy Perry abomination of the same name) from her 1995 self-titled album, Jill Sobule has quietly built up a neat little discography since then: her winsome, wry persona ever present, each subsequent effort contains at least one or two gems as fully-formed as her hit (check out “Rainy Day Parade”, “Cinnamon Park” or “San Francisco”, for starters). Sobule’s latest is her first concept album, inspired by an odd charm bracelet given as a gift from a friend who purchased it off eBay. It consisted of a dozen or so charms in the shapes of various objects (such as a piano, a Canadian penny and a jet plane) with the name Dorothy inscribed on it. Obsessed with the bracelet, Sobule decided to make an album that would tell Dorothy’s imagined life story with each song inspired by one of the charms.

What’s differentiates DOTTIE’S CHARMS from Sobule’s previous work is that instead of writing the lyrics herself, she asked a group of her favorite writers to provide them, including Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, David Hajdu, Vendela Vida and six others. While Sobule herself is no slouch as a lyricist, this collaboration allows her to focus more on the music, which is the strongest and most stylistically varied of her career. In addition to whimsical orchestrated pop (“My Chair”), Marty Robbins-inspired country-and-western (“I Hate Horses”) and protest folk (“Women of Industry”), there’s a new reliance on piano rather than guitar, making for such lovely ballads as “Statue of Liberty” and “Wedding Ring” (the latter sounding exactly like classic early ‘70s Elton John, of all things). Throughout, despite the numerous lyricists, Sobule’s puckish, affable voice remains a constant presence. DOTTIE’S CHARMS has slowly traveled up my mental list of the year’s favorite releases since I first heard it in May; it’s the great album I always knew she had in her.

Favorite tracks: “My Chair”, “Statue of Liberty”, “I Swear I Saw Christopher Reeve”, “O Canada”, “Wedding Ring”