The Black Keys – Turn Blue – Dan Auerbach’s mind might be the most absorbent sponge we have in mainstream music right now and Danger Mouse’s genius lies in being able to turn all that seeping excess into a profound statement of old school values churned out through a contemporary lens. It opens with a sprawling classic rock opus in the form of “Weight of Love,” but it’s the remaining cornucopia of rock, blues, fuzz and 1970s R&B that cements it as my favorite release of 2014.
Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition – Dark Night of the Soul – Hozier may have had the hit single, but Mathus is the one who really took us to church in 2014. He delivered a collection of poignant gems with a disheveled, hot-off-the-press urgency that is too often lacking in the mainstream artists of the day and, if you give it a chance, you’ll immediately be sucked in by its intensity and affinity for The Gospel According to Muscle Shoals.
Jackson Browne – Standing in the Breach – Browne doesn’t get a lot of press anymore, but his voice is always there and always striving to save the human race from its irreparable descent into apathy. Like Springsteen, he tends to wait until social conditions reach historically torrential proportions before dropping an album attempting to make sense of the chaos. The Second Amendment, racial injustice, and the widening economic disparity all play a role here as he employs a familiar cast of musicians to assist him in bringing his message to light in the only way he knows how.
You + Me – Rose Ave. – What I love about this record is that it doesn’t claim to be anything other than Dallas and Alecia having a meeting of the minds around the campfire. There’s no ego, no grandiloquent production value, or pretension of any kind, and they end up crafting the most hair-raising harmonies I’ve heard since The Civil Wars released Barton Hollow back in 2011.
Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes – Springsteen and Tom Morello are royally pissed off on this seminal protest record, but their collective dismay results in an indelible statement on these troubled American times. “American Skin (41 Shots),” “Down in the Hole,” and “Hunter of Invisible Game” are right up their with the best songs The Boss has ever laid down.
Opeth – Pale Communion – I’ve always been fascinated by Mikael Akerfeldt’s vision for what he wants Opeth to be, but it wasn’t until I heard this Steven Wilson-produced prog-metal masterpiece that his vision began to approach its true potential.
Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In the End – Rivers Cuomo took us all “back to the shack” on this ripping return to form and his efforts were enough to make me believe in Weezer as a vital rock band once again. “Let’s turn up the radio/Turn off those stupid singing shows” might be the line of the year.
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream – In a year when everyone appeared to making records as if it were 1986, Adam Granduciel’s shimmering collection of downbeat rhythms was easily the best of the bunch.
Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter – This album was one small step for man and one giant leap for Young the Giant’s credibility as an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with.
Lana Del Ray – Ultraviolence – Del Ray sings with such a carefree submissiveness throughout this record that I didn’t know what to think of it at first. The album plays like a soundtrack to a Bret Easton Ellis novel in which the children of the Beverly Hills elite throw a party for no other reason than to exercise their perceived socio-economic superiority over the have-nots from other schools, which might make it sound better than it has any right to be. Nevertheless, the dreary soundscapes combined with Del Ray’s detached attitude are irresistible at times.