By Cait Brennan, Dec. 18, 2014.
This year was overflowing with great albums by legends, rising stars and Valley bands. From celebrating the tide of equality to weaving tales of personal experience, these 15 artists gave us some of the 2014’s best music.
St. Vincent | St. Vincent
Fearless, merciless, a monster guitarist, a digital goddess, a lyrical genius –Annie Clark aka is all of this and more. Her fifth album is a mashup of dancetronica beats, chunky rock hooks, sludge-funk horns and the edgiest commentary on modern life, from the selfie-spoof “Digital Witness” to extolling the everyday virtues of masturbation on “Birth In Reverse.” An instant classic.
The Love Me Nots | Sucker
The glorious garage-rock trashiness of the Valley’s own Love Me Nots returns in full bloom on Sucker. The band returned to its original line-up, with the always-brilliant Bob Hoag producing (and joining in). Frontwoman Nicole Laurenne is a dynamo – don’t miss them live.
Against Me! | Transgender Dysphoria Blues
On the 10 blazing-fast tracks on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Laura Jane Grace combines Against Me!’s trademark politically savvy pop-punk edge with ferocious courage and searingly personal lyrics that speak directly to her experience being trans in America today.
Joe Stevens | Last Man Standing
The Coyote Grace singer-songwriter’s solo debut is a marvel of economical storytelling and raw emotional power. From the brooding and evocative “Buenaventura” to the tender, yearning “Waiting For Spring,” this “roots music for the rootless” is a welcome companion on any journey.
Meghan Trainor | Title
Trainor’s full-length debut isn’t even here yet, but “All About That Bass” owned our summer, and her EP Title was full of fun, from laying down the law to potential future Mister Trainors in “Dear Future Husband” to the friendzone-rejecting title track. Expect big things from her in 2015.
Sam Smith | In The Lonely Hour
Passionate torch songs, a huge delivery and an even bigger heart: it’s no wonder 22-year-old UK sensation Sam Smith is taking the world by storm. Smith sings the truth of his experience in every note, and with the massive success of hits including “Stay With Me” it’s safe to say this is likely just the beginning.
Mary Lambert | Heart On My Sleeve
The power behind Macklemore’s “Same Love” strikes out on her own with a nakedly honest debut collection of confessional pop produced by Eric Rosse, who produced Tori Amos’ debut Little Earthquakes. Her songs are breathtaking and her take on Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” is the year’s best cover.
Nicole Atkins | Slow Phaser
For her third album, Nicole Atkins promised to make “a beautifully dark desert disco record.” She succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, combining Twin Peaks disco beats, prog-rock synths, and big-screen storytelling. Don’t miss the danceable and hilarious “Girl You Look Amazing.”
The Both | The Both
Indie singer-songwriter Aimee Mann cornered the market on thoughtful, cool pop songcraft. Ted Leo is a pop-punk veteran not known for his rueful downtempo ballads. Can these two different songwriters share a band without driving each other crazy? As The Both, they make it work with brilliant results.
Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers | Yeah Yeah Yeah
Powerhouse Arizona rockers Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers take up the mantle of Tempe’s faded glory days and aims for the stadium seats with 12 songs that capture the hooks, energy and winning appeal of their sing-a-long festival shows.
Leonard Cohen | Popular Problems
At 80, Cohen sounds more vital than most men half his age, and Popular Problems is a work of rare beauty, a seductive, bluesy tale from a man who’s seen it all … and one who might even whisper it to you, if the mood strikes.
LP | Forever For Now
New York-born, LA-based singer-songwriter LP wrote hits for Rhianna and Xtina before striking out on her own; her debut is loaded with hits, charm and swagger. Don’t miss “Into The Wild,” and especially in this year of marriage equality breakthroughs, “Free To Love.”
Marshall Holland | And The Etceteras
The San Francisco-based indie singer songwriter brought us some of the most tuneful, harmony-soaked sunshine pop songs of the year in a one-man band tour de force. Brian Wilson would be proud.
Mary J. Blige | The London Sessions
Hailed as a future legend since her 1992 debut, Blige has played it safe lately. With The London Sessions, though, she breaks out of the box and breaks new ground, with house and electro soul sounds and hot UK collaborators, including Sam Smith, Disclosure, Naughty Boy and Emeli Sande. It’s an exciting record and one of her finest.
Jeremy Messersmith | Heart Murmurs
His songs sometimes linger around the graveyard, but Messersmith could not be more adorable; boyishly handsome, dressed to the nines in the finest nerd chic. With a heart as big as his native Minnesota, Messersmith crafts joyously spooky, whip-smart pop epics that take flight with symphonic wings.