It’s that time of year! No, I don’t celebrate with tinsel, mistletoe, or even a Christmas tree. I don’t wear ugly sweaters though I do enjoy brandy with a splash of eggnog. You might catch me singing a carol every so often, but usually it’s a complete accident. I swear, I’m a proud Grinch. BUT! This time of year means every dork in the world is putting together their BEST OF lists for 2014 and I couldn’t wait another two weeks to post mine, so here you have it. I needed a lot of cheering up this year (2014 hasn’t gone much better than 2013, I’ll admit), so this year is very POP heavy. My very sarcastic apologies to anyone I offend with my unabashedly 14-year-old taste in music. My favorite albums of 2014:
Honorable mentions to Bruce Springsteen, Globalization (Pit Bull), the soundtrack and score from Guardians of the Galaxy, and V by Maroon Five.
#10 — the soundtrack to Vampire Academy. I loved this movie, I loved these books, I don’t care what the box office numbers say – it was the shit. And the music? The first time I watched it I kept thinking to myself “this is totally going onto the list of iconic high school movie soundtracks of all time, right?” Maybe I was being optimistic. Considering how few people saw the movie and how fewer still even remember it? I doubt it. But still. The soundtrack is great. It’s almost like if you were to find a NOW! That’s what I call Music from the 90’s and were momentarily transported back in your own mind. I imagine this album will do that for 2014 for me. Favorite tracks: Boys Don’t Cry – Natalia Kills, Bela Lugosi’s Dead – CHVRCHES, Think About It – Naughty Boy.
#9 — Four (One Direction). I’ve never liked a single thing about One Direction. None of their songs, none of their fandom, none of their style. And then I heard that they’d basically sampled my favorite Journey song of all time (“Faithfully”) and had to check it out. I was pleasantly surprised at how such a simple, fun, completely pop album could be so good. It’s production at its finest, in my opinion. With throwbacks and familiarity to those of us who are “too old” for boy bands, but with an accessibility and fun that makes it fresh. That makes it such a smart album to me. I’m impressed. There were times on my first listen that I couldn’t help but smile along with them, so much of it sounds like One Direction is having the time of their lives. This might have been my biggest musical surprise moment of the year if not for #’s 4 and 3.
#8 — The Pinkprint (Nicki Minaj). Nicki Minaj has made my top music list every year since she hit the mainstream, and with her already released singles and all the extra-curricular work she did this year, the inevitable is obvious. “Bang Bang” (featuring Ms. Minaj) is also one of my favorite singles of the year, so she’s got that. “Pills n Potions” made me cry the first time I heard it and “Bed of Lies” proves once again that Minaj cannot be put in a box. She broke out huge with dance and new disco and spit fire rap and came back this year with straight up pop (“Bang Bang”), old school hip hop (“Anaconda”) and ballads that make you think and your heart ache. I can’t wait to see what she does next. The full album hasn’t even come out yet and I’m fully confident making it my #8.
#7 — Original Score: Outlander (Bear McCreary). McCreary is the best composer working today. His style is distinct without being cartoonish (looking at you Danny Elfman), he’s experimental without being inaccessible, and his rich love of musical and cultural history comes through in everything he touches. When I learned he’d be working with Ron McMoore again (the two brought the world the sights and sounds of Battlestar Galactica, for which I will forever be grateful), I was floored with anticipation. The score to Outlander (on Starz) has not disappointed and find myself wanting more of the television show as much for the music as the gorgeous direction (perhaps even more so).
#6 — mi Mandela (Idris Elba). OH GOD THIS ALUBM. THIS MAN. JUST, OH GOD. True story: I was listening to Macy Gray and heard a duet that wasn’t listed as a duet. I liked the song, loved the male vocal, so I looked it up. It was Idris Elba. He of Luther, Pacifc Rim, & the most perfect combination of face/brains/voice/humor/everything else that there ever was. I immediately looked up more music by him and learned that his portrayal of Mandela inspired him to write and produce this album (working with some of the best artists out there). Each song is unique and they come together to tell a beautiful, weighty story that a lot of musicians arent quite capable of conveying in today’s market. Check it out here.
#5 — Ryan Adams (Ryan Adams). Spencer at Shadows & Noise said it best: “These songs just don’t get old for me. Adams does nothing here that I would say is artistically adventurous—but dammit, it’s just too much fun to care. The Ryan Adams discography dwarfs everyone not named Dylan or Corgan at this point, but if anyone ever asks me to recommend just one Ryan Adams album as an introduction… well, I’d still go with Heartbreaker or Gold. But this one’s very much in the conversation. And to achieve something like that thirteen albums into your career is a rare accomplishment.” (Note from Tina: I’d go with Heartbreaker).
#4 — Nick Jonas (Nick Jonas). There is something about this album, about every single track on it. I can’t put my finger on it. But it’s hot. It’s music that makes me stop and listen. At first I just couldn’t believe it was a Jonas brother (a boy band I never listened to but vaguely equate with Hanson as far as being completely lacking in sex appeal because they’re children and that’s it). But really, listen to him on “Jealous” or “Chains” or “Push” or “I Want You” or “Avalanche” – it just gets under your skin in the way only really soulful good blues and sexy sexiness can, as disturbing as that is. I can’t even list my favorite tracks because they all are and I had them all on repeat for most of November.
#3 — 1989 (Taylor Swift). There’s not much I can say about this album that hasn’t already been said buy much smarter, much more musically inclined people than me, but I do want to point out how incredibly, unbelievably surprised I am that this is my #3 best album of the year. I’ve never been a huge fan of Taylor Swift. There were a few songs over the years that I liked but I never would have said “Yeah, I like Taylor Swift.” And then Best Friend and Fellow Blogger Kat made me listen to “Shake it Off” and it made me laugh out loud with joy. And then “Blank Space” came out and it wasn’t a teenager singing pop-country anymore but a sassy, confident businesswoman (who also happens to be a killer song writer) giving the world that made her famous a big ol’ middle finger. She’s making fun of herself, making fun of everyone who ever had something nasty to say, and she’s doing it with infectious pop music. We are so in love with Taylor Swift of the 1989-sort that Kat and I have already bought tickets for her show at Gillette Stadium for my 31st birthday next JULY. Favorite tracks: Blank Space, Welcome to New York, How You Get the Girl, All You Had to Do Was Stay, Wonderland.
#2 — X (Ed Sheeran) – Sheeran has been on my tracklist for the last two years straight. He can do no wrong (he even made me like a pre-1989 Taylor Swift song). When Sheerna’s Plus (+) came out, I put aside the fact that he was a ginger haired, teenage white rapper from the UK because the music was just so gloriously crafted and so soulfully executed that I couldn’t deny it. When X came out, I wasn’t so sold. On my first listening I asked myself “Huh. Do I like this? I mean, do I actually like it or am I just listening because it’s Sheeran?” And so I set aside for a day or so and let myself not think about Sheeran at all (I listened to a lot of Passenger and OneRepublic instead) and then came back to it and really paid attention. That’s when it hit me. I loved it, but the reason it took me a moment to understand that is because it’s so good. X is complicated. It’s difficult. It tells family histories and bridges genres and Sheeran works for every note and every syllable and expects us to do the same. It’s not a flawless album, and there are times you can still feel Sheeran growing as a songwriter, performer, and man, but damn is it fascinating to watch (and listen to).
#1 — IN THE LONELY HOUR (SAM SMITH). My ability to analyze or speak intelligently about this album is long gone… I want Sam Smith to win all the Grammys, which is really weird for me because he’s up against Ed Sheeran and I love Ed Sheeran, but as much as I loved X and love Ed Sheeran, I really just feel that In the Lonely Hour is better. Smith’s the latest artist, in a line that’s included The Civil Wars and Ed Sheeran in the years I first found them, who’s music I can just listen to on repeat for hours on end, for months, and absolutely still want more. I don’t know that I’ve gone a day since it’s release without listening to In the Lonely Hour – his voice, the vulnerability, the relatability, the stories he tells in simple, beautiful language. It’s so perfect. It’s my favorite. I am unable to explain why I love it so much, but if you haven’t heard it (what rock have you been living under?) go listen now. Sam Smith (hopefully) is going to be around for a long time, and his version of soul/pop will be inescapable.