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Arts in Review

Top albums of 2014

Top 10 albums of 2014 as ranked and reviewed by contributors and staff.

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Print Edition: January 21, 2015

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After a four-year absence, Spoon returned in 2014 with They Want My Soul, one of their loosest recordings to date. Britt Daniels returns to Spoon with a new psychedelic groove along with new keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel. They Want My Soul feels more like a follow-up to 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. “Rent I Pay” and “Inside Out” open the album with a one-two punch, in classic Spoon fashion. They Want My Soul is deeply entrenched in Spoon’s signature organic sounding recording, with a warm bass, crisp drums, and crunchy guitars, with room for progress and innovation to make this album one of the year’s best. — TU


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The War On Drugs are today’s ultimate definition of Indie Americana.  After a decade together they’ve released their third album, Lost in the Dream. Continually progressing, this is their finest work, and, while a bold statement, one of the best albums of the decade. From beginning to end Lost in the Dream is consistent with its haunting chords and cool melancholic lyrics. This album yearns to connect with the listener and stir emotions. The track “Red Eyes” is very likely known to most who follow this genre, and even those who don’t. But other tracks are just as noteworthy such as “Under The Pressure” which, sitting at just less than nine minutes, is a transcendent, driving, masterpiece. — JJ


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When a major artist goes a decade without releasing new work, it gets pundits and critics and explainers searching for answers. The answer is pretty simple: musicians make music, they don’t always want to release a recording of it. D’Angelo saw, in 2014, a reason to give people his music again. A direct response to white-on-black murders across the US, it doesn’t emulate the revolutions of mediated images or mantra speeches, but offers, “collectively,” the gift of voicing something too-long silenced: “All we wanted was a chance to talk.” Other lines provide a space for hearing what pop and indie spheres alike tend to force to the margins: emotion with a political reason for existence. — MS


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Taylor Swift — 1989

1989 is Taylor Swift’s first pop album. “Wild Dreams” emphasizes the bad boy who leaves like in “Trouble,” but unlike “Trouble” there’s a sense of nostalgia and longing in lines like, “say you’ll see me again even if it’s just in your wildest dreams.” The song “You Are In Love” is my personal favourite, because it reminds me of Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden,” and the way Swift sings the lyrics is beautiful. Overall the album is well-paced with songs you can’t help to dance and sing to, and others that make you melt. — AM


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Jenny Lewis — The Voyager

In an era of music that has lost emphasis on the warm and rich blend of vocals and instrument, Jenny Lewis’ Voyager is a reprisal to her own generously sensitive sounds. While there are elements of current indie pop, there’s also ‘90s college rock and ‘70s folk rock. Each track on Voyager is a glimpse into a story. While all of that may present a fractured album for some artists, Lewis has the vocal talent and song-writing abilities that bring these different sides into a cohesive piece of work. Voyager represents everything Lewis needed to express and the stories she needed to tell. — JJ


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Run The Jewels — Run The Jewels 2

Run The Jewels 2 wasn’t meant to be a commercial hip-hop record. It wasn’t meant for radio, and it sure wasn’t crafted to sell millions of copies.  RTJ2 is simply the product of two good friends, both of which happen to be phenomenal lyricists, doing what they do best. RTJ2 was everything we expected it to be: gritty, passionate, and hard-hitting; an unapologetic synthesis of two rappers’ undeniable skill and high energy. If ever the term “overkill” was applicable to any one record, Run the Jewels 2 is that record. And we’re better off for it. Killer Mike and El-P walked in, did their thing, and left, not bothering to look over their shoulders at the chaos that ensued. —  MC


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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart — Days of Abandon

With two bright and bombastic records to his name, Pains frontman and sole-remaining original member Kip Berman turns down the reverb dial on Days of Abandon. Berman deals more with heartbreak and misfortune on Days of Abandon. When I saw Pains live in concert, Berman opened his set to almost no fanfare, simply walking out on stage alone and playing his acoustic guitar in the shadows, with most of the audience unsure of whether all the other members had been stopped at the Canadian border. Once the rest of the new lineup joined him onstage, it was clear: pains was evolving beyond shoegaze and was began the process of refinement instead of repetition. — TU


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Future Islands — Singles

In 2014, Future Islands received a payoff for their years of non-stop touring, starting with a killer performance on the David Letterman Show. Islands performed “Seasons (Waiting On You),” which quickly became the quintessential summer indie jam of 2014. The strength of the record comes not in the uniqueness or the complexity of the album, but in the rawness and realness. Despite the cosmetic and often multi-leveled electronic palette behind the vocals, the mashing drums and cutting bass combined with Samuel Herring’s vocal creates a very grounded feel. A very human album from a very human band. — JT


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Sun Kil Moon — Benji

Benji is a first-rate balancing act. On one hand, you have sex, rock n’ roll, and suicide — on the other hand, fried frog legs, crab cakes, and the Postal Service. It’s the most honest self-examination a songwriter has offered in years, where inanity is portrayed in equal measure to insanity. Mark Kozelek’s frankness can be unnerving, like when he recounts his teenage sexual encounters in “Dogs.” But fucking won’t hide the fact we’re fucked. Unresolved tragedies build, and there’s no ready answer that can resolve how cruel this world may be, so we busy ourselves with redundancies to forever avoid the hurt. Phew, time to bust out those crab cakes. — KC


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St. Vincent — St. Vincent

Annie Clark, AKA St. Vincent, has spoken in an episode of Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, podcast that her newest album is her turn towards extroversion. That claim permeates everything in her new self-titled album. The production’s a digital bubble bath of pop deliciousness. Though detractors might call the new album a step down from the more cerebral jams of Strange Mercy, the delightful digital brass romps “Digital Witness” and “Rattlesnake” prove damn good counterarguments. With her newest outing, accessibility and quality become synonymous terms, and St. Vincent lays the groundwork for a surprising venture into pop. — KC

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