#LongPlayLove – The 2014 Edition: Celebrating the Year’s 10 Best New Albums by Justin Chadwick @justin_chadwick

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Each December, as Thanksgiving blurs into the rearview and the new year beckons, my music geekdom catches serious fire, and I find myself daydreaming about the LPs that I’ve been most thankful for during the year past.

So today’s Long Play Love article is a bit of a nuanced one, as it celebrates not the classic albums that were released in years past, but rather my ten favorite albums that have been unveiled in the past 11 months or so. Plus another twenty noteworthy albums that narrowly missed the cut, but warrant recognition nevertheless.  And as with all “year-end best-of” lists, the one that follows admittedly and unapologetically reflects the very subjective sentiments of its author.

Read on at your own risk, understanding that the following post is heavily biased toward the particular tastes of yours truly. Nevertheless, I suspect you’ll discover something here that will tickle your ears or make a great holiday gift for someone special, even if that someone special is you.

Without further ado, my favorite albums of 2014…

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1. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

A beautifully somber and ruminative first solo album from the former Blur frontman and co-founder of Gorillaz. When considered among the rest of his ever-evolving, impossible-to-pigeonhole output throughout his prolific career, Everyday Robots cements Albarn as one of the greatest musical adventurists and most masterful songwriters of our time. In a year of so many lovely new LPs, my most beloved of the bunch.

My Favorite Song: “Lonely Press Play”

BUY Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots


 

2. Gemma Hayes – Bones + Longing

Twelve years after Gemma Hayes’ critically lauded debut Night on My Side, with a handful of LPs and EPs released since then, the Irish singer-songwriter has blessed the world with her most enchanting set of songs yet. A criminally underappreciated lyricist on this side of the Atlantic, Hayes is at her most introspective and inspired here, the shoegaze-indebted sonics and haunting melodies combining to supply the perfect sonic atmosphere for her softly bewitching voice, which possesses a penchant for stirring even the most stoic of souls.

My Favorite Song: “Making My Way Back”

BUY Gemma Hayes – Bones + Longing


 

3. Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything

A sublime collection of life-affirming anthems, united thematically around the quest to reconcile – and ultimately embrace – the vicissitudes and conflicts one encounters as he navigates turning 40. And while the songwriting of charismatic frontman Guy Garvey is at its most cerebral, witty and confessional here, his words never overshadow the gorgeous and varied compositions that propel the album along at just the right pace. Aging gracefully and wistfully has never sounded so wonderful.

My Favorite Song: “Real Life (Angel)”

BUY Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything


 

4. Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband

Swedish electro-soul group Little Dragon continue their impressive musical evolution with this, their fourth and most accomplished LP to date. Dynamic lead single “Klapp Klapp” signaled a whole new level of maturity for the band, and the album that followed more than delivers on that promise. Singer Yukimi Nagano’s majestic voice is still the centerpiece of the whole affair, but the stellar production ripe with hypnotic melodies and crunchy beats make this an irresistibly memorable album, one that sticks in your dome well after the first listen.

My Favorite Song: “Underbart”

BUY Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband


 

5. Jessie Ware – Tough Love

London born-and-bred songstress Jessie Ware took the music world – at least in Europe, if not as profoundly here in the States – by storm two years ago with her remarkable Mercury Prize-nominated debut album, Devotion (unequivocally, my favorite album of 2012). More understated, sophisticated and emotive than its predecessor, Tough Love reinforces just how adept Ware is at effortlessly flexing her vocal chops across both pure ballads and more uptempo, beat-heavy fare. If her first two LPs are any indication, Ware has only scratched the surface of what’s destined to be an enduring and rewarding songmaking career.

My Favorite Song: “Tough Love”

BUY Jesse Ware – Tough Love


 

6. Meshell Ndegeocello – Comet, Come to Me

Twenty-one years and ten albums since her breakthrough 1993 neo-soul debut Plantation Lullabies, Meshell Ndegeocello has crafted her masterpiece. An impassioned songwriter and bassist who has always defied genre categorization, Ndegeocello’s musical multidimensionality has never been on more glorious display than it is here, an album that rides comfortably and compellingly along guitar-driven soul, reggae, rock, and electronic inspired sonic palettes. If you haven’t given Ndegeocello’s material a good listen for awhile, the filler-free Comet, Come to Me is the perfect reason to revisit and rediscover her greatness.

My Favorite Song: “Good Day Bad”

BUY Meshell Ndegeocello – Comet, Come to Me


 

7. Souls of Mischief – There Is Only Now

In this contemporary age when much of hip-hop is dominated by shallow, uninspired businessmen masquerading as artists, it’s comforting to know that groups like Souls of Mischief are devoted to keeping the flame of rap’s more vibrant and intelligent golden era ablaze. And my fellow Oakland brethren achieve this with aplomb on their sixth long player, a multi-narrative concept album expertly produced by Adrian Younge that features support appearances by Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Busta Rhymes and Snoop Dogg, among others. Another superb addition to the distinguished Hieroglyphics recording canon and the vital, yet criminally underappreciated legacy of Bay Area hip-hop.

My Favorite Song: “All You Got is Your Word”

BUY Souls of Mischief – There Is Only Now


 

8. Banks – Goddess

The strongest debut album of 2014, in my book, from one of the most exciting talents to emerge this year. The raw intensity of Banks’ songwriting, seductive charm of her versatile vocal range, and top-notch production combine for one of the more unique and addictive listening experiences in recent past. Even when Banks’ lyrics revolve around the weakness and vulnerability of the heart, there’s a confident swagger to the songs that surprisingly never feels incongruous, considering the subject matter. Can’t wait to hear what she does next, but in the meantime, Goddess is sure to wear out the needle on my turntable.

My Favorite Song: “Warm Water”

BUY Banks – Goddess


 

9. Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

Another stunner of a debut album, and one that has achieved far greater ubiquity and commercial acclaim than the one mentioned above. As I suspect most people have, I discovered 22 year-old Sam Smith’s precocious vocal prowess upon first hearing the skin-tingling, instant-classic single “Latch” by Disclosure two years ago. After those initial goosebumps subsided, I recall wondering “who is this guy singing, and where in the world can I find more of his songs.” The immediate answer was the acoustic version of “Latch” that, more than the original version, allows Smith’s amazing voice to rise to the forefront. That was it. I was hooked. Thankfully, Smith rewarded my (and all of our) patience by releasing his first proper long player this past spring. Full of sweeping ballads and a few solid uptempo stompers sprinkled in for good measure, this catchy-as-all-hell album has deservedly earned six – count ‘em, six – Grammy nominations for Smith, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Here’s to a Sam Smith sweep.

My Favorite Song: “Stay With Me”

BUY Sam Smith – In The Lonely Hour


 

10. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

I’ve always been a sucker for that warm, AOR sound endemic to California and made famous by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Being force-fed Rumours while still in the womb and growing up in the Golden State may have something to do with it. So no great surprise then that Jenny Lewis’ third album, awash in that same breezy California sound coupled with an unabashedly pop sheen, resonates so much with me. I’ve been a fan of Lewis’ music since she fronted the now-defunct indie pop band Rilo Kiley, and The Voyager sure does sound like her career peak to date. Ultimately, it’s the intriguing juxtaposition of Lewis’ lyrics that largely center around tales of heartbreak, despair and regret with the more upbeat and buoyant soundscapes provided by producer Ryan Adams (and Beck on “Just One of the Guys”) that makes The Voyager such a fun and thoroughly engaging effort.

My Favorite Song: “Head Underwater”

BUY Jenny Lewis – The Voyager


 

The Best of the Rest (Very Honorable Mentions):

Basement Jaxx – Junto BUY
Beck – Morning Phase BUY
Caribou – Our Love BUY
Coldplay – Ghost Stories BUY
D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah BUY
Diamond D – The Diam Piece BUY
Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans BUY
Elephant – Sky Swimming BUY
First Aid Kit – Stay Gold BUY
José James – While You Were Sleeping BUY
La Roux – Trouble in Paradise BUY
Mary J. Blige – The London Sessions BUY
Neneh Cherry – Blank Project BUY
Nina Persson – Animal Heart BUY
Pharoahe Monch – PTSD BUY
Real Estate – Atlas BUY
Royksopp – The Inevitable End BUY
Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams BUY
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There BUY
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream BUY

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