Ten Best Albums of 2014 by Cameron Lee

By Cameron G. Lee

December 8, 2014

How to Dress Well – What Is This Heart?

What Is This Heart by How To Dress Well

Tom Krell AKA How to Dress Well once sampled telephone hold music from the mega-corporation Cisco Systems, turning the monotony of a society that is tyrannized by technology and networking into beautiful and artistic music. The song “Precious Love” put his lo-fi version of R&B music on the map. He sings serene, simple love songs with unique and inventive sounds that turn a boring genre into a refreshingly genuine new creation.

Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits 

Bad Self Portraits by Lake Street Dive

Occasionally you hear a voice and are instantly reminded of a simpler time. A time when you were less concerned with “likes” on social media and more concerned with if your childhood crush would be at the neighborhood pool on a sweltering hot summer day. With the robustly soothing and romantic voice of Rachael Price complimented by an instrumentally sound band, Lake Street Dive fabricate songs that sew the cloth of our youth through jazzy and soulful pop-rock styling. The Boston group has enchanted music enthusiasts across the country in 2014 with wonderful harmonies, classic jazz and soul instrumentation along with a little progressive rock flare.

Real Estate – Atlas 

Atlas by Real Estate

If the Beach Boys weren’t as successful in the 60s and limited to suburban cubicle jobs in the 70s, they might have sounded like New Jersey indie rock band Real Estate. I’m not sure if they even had cubicles in the 70s, but the lo-fi surf guitar riffs and subdued echoing vocals cast images of a melancholy surfer trapped in an environment of sorrowful compromise. As depressing as that may sound, Atlas is the type of album that may fit your mood perfectly on a somber rainy day, but may also give your more sanguine days meaningful purpose.

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 

Run The Jewels 2

I am not sure how you follow up a classic like last year’s Run the Jewels, an album that punched you in the face with hauntingly sharp, futuristic beats and refreshingly rebellious rapid-fire lyrics. Somehow they did it, this time with stiff jabs, hooks and more lyrical mind-fucking than devastating power punches. They brought Zach de la Rocha out of the woodwork with the mosh pit friendly, head-bobbin’ “Close Your Eyes” and featured Travis Barker on the up-tempo and viciously audacious track “All Due Respect.” There are small sonic details that seem to reveal themselves in the crevices of the album which make it more enjoyable with every listen.

The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream 

Lost In The Dream by The War On Drugs

I was having dinner with my dad one night and the song “Eyes to the Wind” was playing on my computer. He asked me, “Who is this? I really like it.” I hesitated before uttering “It’s a band called The War on Drugs.” He just stared at me for a minute with a blank face, perplexed. Lost in the Dream transcends generations and cultures of rock fans from the Dylan-style vocals with its abstract emotions, combined with musical styling reminiscent of 80s band Dire Straits. It’s easy to get lost in Adam Granduciel’s dream.

Future Islands – Singles 

Singles by Future Islands

Samuel T. Herring and Future Islands have come a long way since their days of relentlessly touring small rock clubs like Charlotte’s own Milestone, where Noisey captured their performance in 2010. Their new album Singles in collaborating with producer Chris Coady (Beach House, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear) has garnered a broader indie pop audience. Herring’s vocal and lyrical styling, which reminds me of Nick Cave meets Neil Diamond, had David Letterman in awe after their performance of “Seasons (Waiting on You)” earlier this year.

Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso 

Sylvan Esso

A unique brand of music was conceived when singer/songwriter Amelia Meath (Mountain Trio) and former Megafaun bassist/electronic producer Nick Sanborn came together to form Sylvan Esso. The Durham-based duo create a unique collection of jazzy electro-folk sounds with their debut self-titled album, and packages them into awkwardly catchy songs. The duo effortlessly spawns an original sub-genre of music that electro pop-rock bands like Phantogram and Disclosure should be envious of.

Shakey Graves – And the War Came 

And The War Came by Shakey Graves

When I discovered that Alejandro Rose-Garcia AKA Shakey Graves was an actor in such films as Spy Kids 3-D, Material Girls and Friday Night Lights, I walked into the sold-out Visulite Theatre show in October wanting to despise him. Some of the hobo-chic allure and down-home country charm loses its authenticity when you think of bright Hollywood sets and craft services. But there is nothing unauthentic about his sound, an original brand of folk-blues foot-stomping rock music, paired with his sultry and raspy voice. He is a true American star and his theatrical talents only enhance his mystique.

Sun Kil Moon – Benji 

Benji by Sun Kil Moon

Sedated and brutally honest stories of real Midwest middle-American life, sorrow, love, loss, pain and relationships. At first Mark Kozelek’s lyrics may sound depressing and dejected but his music indeed inspires a deeper value for life and makes you appreciate its complexities. The album plays like a theatrical film and his eerie sometimes over-dubbed vocals and harshly straightforward storytelling evoke vivid images. There are very few living human beings who can induce so much emotion through song.

Caribou – Our Love

Our Love by Caribou

One of my favorite electronic albums of 2013 was Nonfiction by producer The Range. Canadian composer and musician Dan Snaith AKA Caribou lifts the IDM genre to new heights. He takes you on a sonic journey that satisfies every audio sensation your ears can possibly absorb. The album has dreamy and psychedelic vocals mixed with a myriad of different instruments, noises and effects that cross a multitude of different genres, from hip hop, 80s synth rock, house, R&B and more.

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