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The Best Albums of 2014

January 24, 2015

By John Corrado

Beck - Morning PhaseAlthough I mainly write about movies, I’m a writer first and foremost, and much of my work is done with headphones on and music playing in the background.  And because I spend so much time writing, I’m constantly listening to music, both old and new.

These are my picks for the best albums of 2014, mainly focused on the classic rock sounds that I have always gravitated towards, with a little folk music thrown in for good measure, and some shimmering examples of what I consider to be the best in adult contemporary music right now.

Maybe you won’t agree with all of my choices, but the one thing you can’t argue is that this list is completely personal unto myself.  Please come back tomorrow for my thoughts on the best documentaries of 2014, and on Monday for my rundown of the best movies of last year.  Enjoy!

#10: Whispers – Passenger: “I write songs that come from the heart, I don’t give a fuck if they get to the chart,” Passenger sings on his latest album Whispers, proving that even as his star rises, the British singer continues to embrace his wonderfully folky style.  This is a poignant collection of songs and stories that are affective in their honesty and catchy melodies, and “Scare Away the Dark” might just be the inspirational anthem we need for our increasingly dark times.

#9: In The Lonely Hour – Sam Smith: With his wonderful “Stay With Me” dominating the adult contemporary charts throughout the summer, Sam Smith was perhaps the best new artist of 2014, and his debut album In The Lonely Hour is among the finest of last year.  Like Adele’s masterful 21, this is a moving and emotionally reflective collection of breakup songs, carried by one of the best voices in current music.  The spectacular vocals and poignant lyrics of “Not in That Way” are positively gutting.

#8: Standing in the Breach – Jackson Browne: The fourteenth album from prolific singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, Standing in the Breach is a poetic and compassionate collection of songs, from an artist who is mature enough to fearlessly address some of the most pressing political and environmental problems of our time.  For example, “Which Side?” is an appropriately stirring protest anthem, and the fact that “The Birds of St. Marks” was written when he was seventeen, is just further proof of his immeasurable talents.

#7: Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey: After her masterful breakout Born to Die, Lana Del Rey returns with the excellent Ultraviolence.  Produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, this is a darkly seductive and highly cinematic album that is filled with haunting feeling, sometimes woozy and dreamlike, as Lana Del Rey’s highly emotive voice curls around each lyric and melody for maximum impact.  The singer also gets points for her mesmerizing cover of “Once Upon a Dream” in Maleficent, and the two excellent songs that she wrote for Big Eyes.  It’s been a good year for her.

#6: Turn Blue – The Black Keys: If The Black Keys hadn’t already cemented themselves as one of the best rock bands of this generation, you could easily mistake Turn Blue for a lost classic from the 1970s, and I mean this in the best possible way.  The down and dirty blues rockers have infused their sound with undertones of Pink Floyd-inspired psychedelia, and the exciting guitar riffs and layered instrumentals make this the perfect album to rock out to on the best pair of headphones you can find.  And this album rocks pretty damn hard.

#5: Hypnotic Eye – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Right from the stirring opening track “American Dream Plan B,” Hypnotic Eye feels like a comeback for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, while at the same time proving that they never really went away.  The classic rocker’s first album to reach number one on the charts, Hypnotic Eye is a potent and endlessly listenable collection of songs that perfectly reflect the changing face of the American Dream, giving voice to the working classic folks just trying to make ends meet in our post-recession era.

#4: High Hopes – Bruce Springsteen: The fact that Bruce Springsteen can still turn out one of the most sonically stirring and socially relevant albums of the year, just further cements his place as a rock legend and genuine American icon.  His eighteenth studio album, High Hopes brings together covers and previously unrecorded tracks, to deliver an outstanding collection of classic rock songs, infused with healthy doses of gospel and the blues.  Although first performed in 2000, “American Skin (41 Shots)” is still just as affective now, after a year of civil rights injustices.

#3: Lazaretto – Jack White: Jack White is in full command of every track on Lazaretto, with his hypnotizing guitar riffs and urgent lyrics making this an album that feels fresh and exciting with every subsequent listen.  Effortlessly mixing elements of blues, rock and folk music, this is an absolutely stunning collection of eleven flawlessly produced tracks, that touch on everything from modern greed to loneliness and maybe even mental illness.  An instant classic from the enigmatic musical genius.

#2: Songs of Innocence – U2: Although somewhat overshadowed by the choice to release the album for free to everyone with an iTunes account, Songs of Innocence is a blazing and surprisingly deep collection of rock songs, that only grow more resonant with each repeated play.  This also might just be the most personal album that Bono has ever recorded.  Revealing his tested faith during the conflicts in Ireland on the electric “Raised By Wolves,” and the profound affect of losing his mother at a young age with the poignant “Hold Me Close (Iris),” this is a stunning album that touches on themes of innocence lost, while also feeling like a rebirth for the band.

#1: Morning Phase – Beck: I loved all of these albums, but there was little doubt in my mind that Beck’s Morning Phase deserved my number one spot, a sort of spiritual sequel to his beloved 2002 standout Sea Change.  At times recalling the early sounds of Neil Young, this might just be Beck’s masterpiece, a luminous and transcendent collection of folk-rock songs that work just as well on their own as they do together.  There were many nights last year when Morning Phase was the only thing that helped me through, and that’s the very definition of a great album.

Some Honourable Mentions (Alphabetical Order): 1989 – Taylor Swift, Black Star Elephant – Nico & Vinz, Classics – She & Him, Gary Clark Jr. Live – Gary Clark Jr., Girl – Pharrell Williams, Mandatory Fun – “Weird Al” Yankovic, That’s Christmas To Me – Pentatonix, Where I Belong – Bobby Bazini, Yes! – Jason Mraz, X – Ed Sheeran.

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