The ranking of albums at the end of year is a time-honored tradition celebrated by many websites and blogs. Formulate Infinity stepped into the fray last year with a list that was relatively safe (Formulate Infinity’s Favorite Albums of 2013!). It was so safe that a separate list was needed to include all the albums that were missed throughout the year (Formulate Infinity’s Missed Music List of 2013!). Suffice it to say, that is not the case this year. A big thank you goes out to all the family and friends that make it their living to share the very best music (I am talking about you Brotha B and Jan!).
Album of the Year Goes To They Want My Soul By Spoon
Spoon has always performed at a high level. So much so that many rock critics are baffled by Spoon’s status as the most under-appreciate band in rock. They Want My Soul is full of great tracks from the punch-punch-punch of “Do You” to the trippy drip drop of “Inside Out.” They Want My Soul plays to the ears first and the crowd second. Needless to say, this album has everything. In a year when U2 pandered to the masses and gave away an album that sent many recoiling from the corporate tie me up tie-in of online music commerce, it is heartening to hear rock and roll that is un-compromised by the quick cash grab. Spoon refuses to become a parody of their success. Instead, Spoon’s below the radar greatness has allowed them to build a rock legacy that will last.
This year’s Best Album Consolation Prize goes to D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Black Messiah. This album has appeared at the 11th hour of 2014 but is well worth the listen. I was taken aback by the albums inventive and mesmerizing musicality. Each track is an experience unto itself. D’Angelo and the Vanguard peel back soul music for the 21st Century and put all the soul sucking fakers on notice. This is music that attacks the heart, soul, and mind simultaneously. Simply put, Black Messiah is high stakes R & B art.
Rounding out the top five:
Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music plays like a space outlaw’s metaphysical phone call to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. This album also includes Formulate Infinity’s Song of the Year, “Turtles All the Way Down.” Turtles stands as a mind bending affront to all things pop country. Take that Darius Rucker! Eat the Document Taylor Swift!
St. Vincent’s self-titled masterpiece, St. Vincent, rams full throttle into the listener’s brain. The music pops, pounds, grinds and pours out with every guitar chop and synth stomp. The albums electicity is future forward without being pretentious. It is by far the most adventurous album of the year.
Tweedy’s Sukierae turns musical experimentation into a family business. Never has a father-son pairing sounded so inspiring. The combo has me looking forward and backwards as I raise my own family. The music is daring and Jeff Tweedy’s son Spenser is a fantatstic drummer in his own right. The music is fantastic!
In addition Sturgill Simpson gave one of the Best NPR Music Interviews of the Year: God, Drugs And Lizard Aliens: Yep, It’s Country Music
Best Live Album Goes to Gary Clark Jr’s Gary Clark Jr. Live
“For most rock acts, the live double album is breathing space between studio shots. This rising Texan’s two-CD set is his defining moment, a generous blast of prowess that backs up the future-of-blues-guitar promises made in Gary Clark Jr.’s name since his bust-out performance at Eric Clapton’s 2010 Crossroads festival.” – David Frick, Rolling Stone
Best Reissue Goes to Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes Complete
“The Basement Tapes Raw, like the original ’75 release, blends brilliant performances with pure curiosities. What’s remarkable, though, are how many beautiful, emotionally daunting moments came into being during these rather informal sessions.” – Matt Melis, Consequences of Sound
Honorable Mentions: The following albums got heavy rotation from my car to my Apple TV to my late night headphone land.
Conor Oberst, Upside Down Mountain
“All of Mr. Oberst’s gifts align on Upside Down Mountain: his empathy, his unassumingly natural melodies, the quavery sincerity in his voice, the plain-spoken but telling lyrics that he’s now careful to deliver clearly.” – Jon Pareles, New York Times
Hurray for Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes
“Their faultless fifth album pays homage to a variety of roots forms. There are easy-going country laments here, harmonicas, a blues or three and even a doo-wop number, all doffing hats to tradition. Segarra’s caramel voice goes down spectacularly easily, and the effortless swing of these songs suggest she was born and bred under a bandstand south of the Mason-Dixon line (spoiler alert: she wasn’t).” – Kitty Empire, The Guardian
Beck, Morning Phase
“Whether his melancholy morning is a phase or part of a larger cycle to which he may return in the future (the latter is more likely), Beck proves once again here that he’s a tremendously versatile artist, capable of excelling throughout the musical spectrum.” – Jordan Mainser, MusicOMH
Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There
“Are We There offers an artist in full command of her voice and her instrument, a woman who knows exactly what she wants to offer listeners and who isn’t afraid to accompany the barest streaks of sunlight with thousands of clouds.” – Todd Van Der Werff , A.V. Club
Jack White, Lazaretto
“You suspect that getting on the wrong side of White would be inadvisable. Thankfully, he has channelled his demons in Lazaretto to create one of the great break-up albums of recent years.” – James Hall, The Telegraph
Beyond the Top Ten: These albums also qualify as Honorable Mentions. Each of them, in their own way, enriched the cinematic soundtrack of my everyday charmed life.
Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems “At the age of 80, Leonard Cohen has created a masterpiece. It’s a smoky, late-night concoction delivered with a deceptively light touch that masks deep seriousness. Opening” – Neil McCormick, The Telegraph
Old Crow Medicine Show, Remedy “Old Crow Medicine Show is so consistent, so unfailingly and solidly good at what they do, it’s tough to get exercised about a new record. So here I am admitting a stupid thing. I wasn’t excited about this, and yet here it is, one of the best Americana records of the year.” – Stuart Henderson, Exclaim
Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots ” The 12 songs that comprise Albarn’s first proper recording under his own name serve as a quintessential cumulation of the amalgam of moods reflected in his post-Blur output—the English moodiness of The Good, The Bad and The Queen, the polyrhythmic sway of Rocket Juice and the Moon—in the form of this most intimate and illuminating collection.” – Ron Hart, Blurt Magazine