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Music 2014

I listen to most of my music via Spotify these days, though I will buy mp3 albums when the price is decent and I have some spare cash. That means I'm able to listen to way more albums than I used to and I'm able to try new artists that I never would have gotten around to in the old days. There was a lot of great music in 2014 and here are 10 albums that I loved...

1. Spoon/They Want My Soul - This is Spoon's sixth straight fantastic album and might actually be my favorite. That's hard to do 8 albums into a career. I don't know if the 4 years off the band had in between albums or if maybe Britt Daniel's time in Divine Fits contributed to the greatness of these 10 songs but something did. From the opening rock of "Rent I Pay" to the spacey, synth sound of "Inside Out" to the sunny sounding "Do You" to the whistling on "Knock Knock Knock," there is so much to be found here. In fact, I'm playing this album while I write this post.

2. Ryan Adams/Ryan Adams - I was a big fan of Adams in the early 2000s but somewhere along the line I lost the thread. He was quite prolific in those days and I just couldn't keep up with the sheer volume of his music. Fast forward to this year and this album and I had to go back and listen to what I'd left behind. Why? This album is so good I realized I might have been missing out. There are echoes of Tom Petty ("Gimme Something Good") and Bruce Springsteen ("I Just Might") but mostly it sounds like prime Ryan Adams ("Trouble" and "My Wrecking Ball").

3. The Both/The Both - I love Aimee Mann, so I was naturally going to give this project a try. Fortunately, I also like Ted Leo, who makes up the other half of this band. The result is an album that sounds halfway between the two; or, like literate power pop and rock that is full of great lines, great slabs of Leo's guitar, and solid bass work from Mann. In addition, they have been perfectly charming on all their podcast appearances this year. It's an album I like so much that I bought it for my cousin without him having heard it; I was that confident he would love it. He says he did too.

4. First Aid Kit/Stay Gold - The gold here is in the sister's harmonies and the great batch of folk pop songs. I liked their previous album but wasn't prepared for how much I love this one. Seriously, it's one song that gets stuck in your head after another. They also did some cool covers this year, like Simon & Garfunkel's "America" and R.E.M.'s "Walk Unafraid."

5. Ex Hex/Rips - The obvious line here is that this album definitely does rip; the fact that it's true makes that obviousness less obtrusive. Huh? Ahem. What this album delivers is 12 great rock songs in under 36 minutes. Short, sharp, and punchy songs that make you want to play all the air instruments at once. Mary Timony was in Wild Flag, who made a great album a couple years ago. I think I like this one even more.

6. Real Estate/Atlas - I'd heard of Real Estate before this year but I'd only heard one or two of their songs in passing. After hearing this record once or twice, I realized I'd been missing out. I consider this to be jangle pop of the highest order, with ringing, chiming guitars providing a base for really good songs. "Talking Backwards" was on my first mix this year and I could easily have used 3 or 4 other songs in its place. I still haven't dipped into their back catalogue because I can't stop listening to this one, even after 9 months.

7. Strand of Oaks/HEAL - Here is another artist I only had a passing familiarity with before this year. From what I understood, Strand of Oaks was a folky band that seemed solid enough. This album, however, is another thing entirely. From the storming rock of opener "Goshen '97" to the driving synths of "Same Emotions" to the stately grandeur of "Woke Up To The Light" to the cathartic rock of "JM," this album delivers emotional music that packs a serious musical punch. A revelation.

8. Lydia Loveless/Somewhere Else - A third artist I only vaguely knew before the year in my top ten. Funny how that happens when I can listen to music before committing to purchase. I suppose you could consider Loveless country but it's country in the best way possible (with a lot of rock in the mix). These songs are smart and easy to sing along to. The middle of the album brings the ache of "Hurts So Bad," the raging "Head" (as in don't stop giving me some), and the sexy doom of "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud." The songs around those ain't too shabby either.

9. Nude Beach/77 - I'd at least listened to some Nude Beach before this year, as their video for "Some Kinda Love" off their last album caught my interest. This is a classic power pop band and as I've said many time, I love power pop. This is a double album with 18 songs but it isn't just a collection of songs. I think the collective power of these songs and how they work in context with each other make sthe whole album sing. Speaking of singing, this is a great record for singing along with, as well as for playing air guitar or drums. If you like Matthew Sweet or Badfinger or Tom Petty, I think you'd love this record.

10. The New Pornographers/Brill Bruisers - I have to have another old favorite in here, don't I? The critical consensus was that their last two albums weren't as strong as the previous three. That may or may not be but I found plenty to like in both records. This one feels like it has some extra power pop bounce to it and it adds synthesizers and some harmonica to the mix, as well as some vocal tricks. In the end, it's all about the songs and you can't argue with the title track or "War on the East Coast" or "Backstairs" or "Marching Orders" or "Spidyr." So, don't argue and just listen.

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