Posted by: tdennis2011 | January 2, 2015

The Best and Worst of 2014

It’s over! It’s finally over! After listening to hundreds of songs and ranking them, I have narrowed down my favorites and my least favorites. Here are the results of a month’s worth of hard laborious work.

As always, this is just one man’s opinion. You have every right to disagree with me. I strongly advise you seek out these songs and albums and decide for yourself whether or not they are worthy of your time. You don’t have to take my word for it.

Let’s begin with my picks for the best albums of 2014.

THE 25 BEST ALBUMS:

  1. Lazaretto – Jack White

The former White Stripe has scored another hit. I liked his last solo effort, and although this was not quite as good, it’s still a decent mix of songs. White’s eclecticism bleeds through here more than ever before in his career and it makes for a pretty entertaining record that keeps your interest.

  1. Are We There – Sharon Van Etten

Woeful, depressing, and frightening…in a good way. Are We There is interesting because it forces you to focus on the lyrics while the brooding music serves as a background. Usually it’s the other way around. The highlight is “Your Love is Killing Me”, which sums up most of the album. It’s definitely worth at least 1 listen.

  1. This is All Yours – alt-J

They’ve been dubbed “the new Radiohead”, and this album proves it. This young band uses the same un-radio-friendly techniques that Radiohead perfected with the legendary Kid A album. The difference is alt-J doesn’t bother to polish up their sound, allowing for tons of experimentation. This is All Yours is quite an achievement.

  1. Midnight Sun – The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger

There is no doubt Sean Lennon is John Lennon’s son. This album sounded like something John would have done if he were alive today. I think he would be proud. It’s pretty odd, but it’s worth a taste.

  1. Everything Will Be Alright in the End – Weezer

In 2014 the impossible happened: Weezer made Weezer music again! No more experimenting, just solid, fun rock. Rivers Cuomo feels comfortable being the goofy guy again, too. Here’s hoping Everything Will Be Alright in the End is the start to a massive comeback.

  1. Somewhere Under Wonderland – Counting Crows

Another good, smart collection of songs from one of my favorite bands. I know it sounds kind of like their previous work, but I think that was the intention. A word of warning to Counting Crows newcomers: the poetic lyrics may not be for everybody.

  1. Sparks – Imogen Heap

Another good, smart collection of songs from one of my favorite artists. I’m a big fan of Imogen Heap because of her unique singing style and atmospheric production. Sparks is a very exciting concept album that takes random, everyday sounds and arranges them into pieces of music that somehow manage to sound great. Sparks was well worth the 5 year wait.

  1. They Want My Soul – Spoon

I’ll admit, I know next to nothing about this band. Sorry. Luckily this was a nice introduction album. Really all I can say about it is it was a well-made record with very little to complain about. Probably not a classic, but who cares?

  1. LP1 – FKA twigs

Now THIS is electronic music! Take a careful listen to LP1. It features none of the formulaic, tired, repetitive, lousy, stupid, ugly, idiotic, manufactured, nightclub crap that pop radio plays to death. I was impressed. Will you be?

  1. Between the Stars – Flyleaf

Yet another solid album from one of my favorite bands. I, like everyone else, was concerned about whether or not Kristen May would be a good enough replacement for Lacey Sturm. She is. For you Flyleaf fans who were too worried to take a listen, take a listen. Now. You will love it.

  1. The Voyager – Jenny Lewis

The Voyager is relaxed, alternative, pop music that is remarkably easy to listen to. That’s pretty much all there is to say about it.

  1. Turn Blue – The Black Keys

The masters of fuzz box rock came back with a throwback album to the 70s. I wasn’t a fan of every song, but as a whole it was one of the best of the year. It’s very encouraging to know The Black Keys are already carrying the torch for the next generation of rock and roll.

  1. Salad Days – Mac Demarco

Interesting sound and interesting production. I appreciated the minimalism of Salad Days, perhaps more than the actual songs. It’s good, but the only complaint I have is it’s pretty forgettable. Take my advice and listen to it more than once.

  1. Lost in the Dream – The War on Drugs

Carefully crafted, guitar-driven alternative music is very tough to find nowadays. The War on Drugs made a successful album that way in 2014, proving you don’t need a lot of feedback to produce good rock. The only thing that kept this lower on the list is Adam Granduciel’s pretentious singing style.

  1. Too True – Dum Dum Girls

This is my kind of pop. Too True was an absolute blast to listen to. The best part was its beautiful, overwhelming atmosphere. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I adore atmosphere. The Dum Dum Girls somehow managed to keep the proper mood going without it turning into noise. Take a listen and hear for yourself.

  1. Run the Jewels 2 – Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels is one of the best hip-hop artists since Public Enemy. El-P and Killer Mike have paid tribute to the early days of rap, telling gritty stories of street life with pure, unabashed aggression in the most fun way possible. I always appreciate when rappers focus on real life instead of money and girls.

  1. You’re Dead! – Flying Lotus

I’ll make the bold prediction here and now that You’re Dead! will be remembered as one of the most innovative albums in music history. I have never heard anything like this in my life. Be warned: it’s a very strange album and it may take a few listens to understand everything, but it is more than worth your time.

  1. Ritual in Repeat – Tennis

A modern sound with a nod to classic rock is the best way to describe this album. I’ve heard Tennis be compared with Fleetwood Mac, not for their style, but for their approach to vocal harmonies even though there is only one singer.

  1. Brimstone Coven – Brimstone Coven

When you hear Brimstone Coven you immediately think Black Sabbath reincarnated. I absolutely loved this album. It keeps you riveted from the first note to the last. Another reason I love these guys is because they come from my home state of West Virginia! Seriously. If you don’t think good metal could possibly come from Appalachia, listen for yourself. You’ll be proven wrong.

  1. Shine On – Sarah McLachlan

Yet another good, solid album from one of my favorite artists. Sarah McLachlan is well-known for her feminist approach to music. Women love her for it, but us guys can appreciate her, too, because she is a fantastic artist. Shine On is yet another female empowerment album from McLachlan that never comes across as condescending or dumbed-down, unlike some modern artists (I’m talking to you, Katy Perry).

  1. Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey

I would like to formally apologize to Lana Del Rey. I used to hate you, and I have no idea why. I was very unfair in my criticism of you and I now realize how stupid I’ve been. All I had to do was listen to Ultraviolence and be blown away by its sound, lyrical topics, and moody production values to understand that you’re not just another poser; you’re the genuine article.

  1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

Creativity in music was in full-swing this year and this album was the crown jewel. St. Vincent’s self-titled effort was one of the most refreshing albums to emerge in 2014. St. Vincent is a nice balance between wacky and serious, much like Annie Clark herself. I think she picked the right songs to use as singles. Turn on Sirius XMU and you’ll probably hear one of those songs right now. You’ll agree that St. Vincent was one of the year’s very best without hearing the entire thing.

These last 3 albums were the absolute best of 2014. These are the ones I recommended more than any of the 35 albums I heard. These next albums belong in you music collection.

  1. Platinum – Miranda Lambert

Thank God! Real country music! Miranda Lambert is one of the best country artists working today because she tells it how it is. She isn’t the least bit shy to express herself through well-made music that touches on a wide variety of topics, such as overdependence on technology and how aggravating getting older can be. Platinum contains very little to complain about and I’m so happy we have people like Lambert to remind us that country music can still be good.

  1. Wig Out at Jagbags – Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

This one was the magical result of smart musicians coming together to make a fun, listenable catalog of songs. Malkmus took what he learned from his Pavement years and made some quality stuff with special attention to craftsmanship. You won’t be disappointed. Listen and be amazed.

  1. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music – Sturgill Simpson

Again, THANK GOD! REAL COUNTRY MUSIC! This was hands down the greatest album of 2014. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was the only album this year that blew me away. Sturgill Simpson paid tribute to the original country music legends with a retro sound and an awesome voice to match. Simpson improved the old country formula by introducing off-the-wall lyrics about philosophy and nutty concepts. What other country song do you know of that mentions reptilian aliens? I’m confident this will become a classic within the next decade.

THE 50 BEST SONGS:

  1. Happy Idiot – TV on the Radio
  2. Prince Johnny – St. Vincent
  3. Rimbaud Eyes – Dum Dum Girls
  4. Lake Song – The Decemberists
  5. Vying – Brimstone Coven
  6. Sleeping with a Friend – Neon Trees
  7. The Grave – Brimstone Coven
  8. Turtles All the Way Down – Sturgill Simpson
  9. Burning – The War on Drugs
  10. Somethin’ Bad – Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood
  11. Brill Bruisers – The New Pornographers
  12. Magic – Coldplay
  13. The Heart Wants What it Wants – Selena Gomez
  14. Careful You – TV on the Radio
  15. Weight of Love – The Black Keys
  16. Close Your Eyes (And Count to F***) – Run the Jewels & Zack de la Rocha
  17. West Coast – Lana Del Rey
  18. Inside Out – Spoon
  19. In Your Shoes – Sarah McLachlan
  20. Lazaretto – Jack White
  21. Turn Blue – The Black Keys
  22. Behold, the Anunnaki – Brimstone Coven
  23. Never Work for Free – Tennis
  24. Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth – Parquet Courts
  25. Keep it Healthy – Warpaint
  26. So Blonde – EMA
  27. Cruel World – Lana Del Rey
  28. After the Disco – Broken Bells
  29. Night Vision – Tennis
  30. Chartjunk – Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
  31. Living the Dream – Sturgill Simpson
  32. Don’t – Ed Sheeran
  33. Black Mambo – Glass Animals
  34. The Futurescope Trilogy: I. The Waste Land – Weezer
  35. Rude – MAGIC!
  36. Digital Witness – St. Vincent
  37. Rather Be – Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne
  38. Nara – alt-J
  39. Me the Machine – Imogen Heap
  40. Come With Me Now – KONGOS
  41. Jealous – Nick Jonas
  42. Something for Nothing – Foo Fighters
  43. I Just Don’t Understand – Spoon
  44. Sweet Amarillo – Old Crow Medicine Show
  45. The Haunting Idle – The War on Drugs
  46. Your Love is Killing Me – Sharon Van Etten
  47. Love Me Harder – Ariana Grande & The Weeknd
  48. American Kids – Kenny Chesney
  49. Traitor – Flyleaf
  50. Chandelier – Sia

THE 10 BEST HIT SONGS:

  1. Happy – Pharrell Williams

It’s amazing how this song escaped everyone’s radar in 2013. “Happy” is, without a doubt, the best hit song of 2014. In my opinion, it is also the greatest song of the decade so far. Pharrell has found his niche as a throwback 70s soul singer. I can’t wait to hear what he has in store next.

  1. Not a Bad Thing – Justin Timberlake

This is one of the few JT songs that is not overproduced. For once he put out a song that does not have Timbaland’s fingerprints all over it. “Not a Bad Thing” is a great example of the quality music Justin Timberlake is capable of.

  1. Somethin’ Bad – Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood

A fun collaboration between two of the biggest country stars of this generation. The Thelma & Louise reference was a nice touch, since that’s what we all thought when we heard the song. Sadly, this song did not get the exposure it deserved, leaving it hovering around the bottom of Billboard’s year-end list. That’s why I put out lists like these. You’re welcome.

  1. Counting Stars – OneRepublic

I still think this is OneRepublic’s best song. I talked enough about it last year, so go back and take a look at that review.

  1. Ain’t it Fun – Paramore

I sort of ignored this one last year and forgot about it. That was a big mistake. I should have ranked it higher last time. I’m making up for it here. This was a highlight of Paramore’s 2013 album that defined what the band is like now: fun and not afraid to try new things.

  1. Royals – Lorde

It made the list last year, it made it again this year. See my 2013 review for more.

  1. Cool Kids – Echosmith

This is another song that became popular a year after its existence. I liked the depth of the song and how it focused on the depressing side of American youth. All too often pop songs celebrate materialism and having a good time, when in reality life is very different. Life for this generation is closer to “Cool Kids”, which is probably why it became an unexpected hit. I’m glad it did.

  1. Don’t – Ed Sheeran

This is the first Ed Sheeran song that I fell in love with because it tells a story. “Don’t” is a love tragedy that begins as a casual encounter and turns into a legitimate relationship only to have it crumble after the narrator’s lover admits to being unfaithful. And it’s all set to a bouncy Justin Timberlake sort of beat. Sheeran’s voice floats on top nicely, making “Don’t” an easy pill to swallow.

  1. Rude – MAGIC!

I should hate this song, but it’s done well enough that I liked it. It’s kind of funny, too. If your girlfriend’s father refused a blessing for the two of you to get married, you wouldn’t respond with “Why you gotta be so rude?” Somehow it works here.

  1. Rather Be – Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne

This is the purest pop song to come out in years. There is no unnecessary noise, no repetitive beat, and no empty lyrics. Its only purpose is to make you feel good. You aren’t compelled to get up and jump around or go out and buy the latest fashions. All “Rather Be” asks is that you enjoy the relationship you’re in. It’s admirable and I liked it a lot.

Unfortunately with all the good music that came out this year, there was also plenty of bad music. We all thought last year was bad, but wait ‘til you hear these.

THE 2 WORST ALBUMS:

  1. Alvvays – Alvvays

The critics seemed to like it, so I had to have a listen. I thought it was kinda lousy. For days I’ve tried to put my finger on why critics liked Alvvays. I think it has to do with its fuzz box style. I’m getting tired of fuzz box. People today seem to think if you have analog equipment and plenty of feedback noise you are making retro rock. That’s only true if you’re paying homage to a style from decades ago. Too much fuzz is never good, especially if you’re lead singer can’t sing.

  1. Sweet Talker – Jessie J

I knew it would probably be a mistake to listen to it, but I’m not too bright. My curiosity got the better of me and I suffered for it. Sweet Talker was the only flat out terrible album I listened to in 2014. All I did was shake my head in disappointment for 45 minutes. Jessie J is capable of making good music (“Price Tag”), but for now the evil, corporate, pop industry has her firmly in its clutches. I feel so sorry for her.

THE 10 WORST HIT SONGS

  1. Hot Boy – Bobby Shmurda

There was absolutely nothing good about this song. It offered nothing new. “Hot Boy” is painfully lousy rap set to boring music. For me there was nothing worse than this song.

  1. 23 – Mike WiLL Made-It, Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa, & Juicy J

Just seeing Miley Cyrus and Wiz Khalifa together on the same song should send shivers of terror up your spine. Add two boring rappers and you get a horrendous party song that is a sad remix of itself.

  1. Anaconda – Nicki Minaj

I fought long and hard with myself to name this the worst hit song, but it didn’t happen. I hate how popular it’s become just because it samples “Baby Got Back”. The sampling, by the way, is terrible. “Anaconda” is obnoxiously idiotic to say the least.

  1. Trumpets – Jason Derulo

I HATE, nay, DESPISE Jason Derulo. Not only is he ignorant and stupid, but he can’t sing. There is no reason why this vile excuse for a human should be popular. He has no talent. None. This song puts his lack of brains on full display for stupid people to gobble up and make him millions of dollars. Jason Derulo is a massive, oozing boil on the face of pop music that needs to be lanced immediately.

  1. Timber – Pitbull & Ke$ha

For “Timber”, Pitbull and Ke$ha team up for a pseudo-country club song that is about as worthless as dirt with equally dumb lyrics, just like ever other song Pitbull has made. I’m sick of these two artists, if you can call them that.

  1. Wiggle – Jason Derulo & Snoop Dogg

See number 4.

  1. Shower – Becky G

An irritating voice alongside irritating production. If this is our first taste of Becky G, she will probably never amount to much and will be lost to history as a terrible mistake that should never have existed.

  1. Animals – Martin Garrix

This is a great example of bad electronic music. Even Calvin Harris (who I also hate) has some idea of how to make electronic pop. Martin Garrix has no clue how to make a song. “Animals” is a strange mish-mash of noise with nothing whatsoever to redeem it.

  1. Lifestyle – Rich Gang, Young Thug, & Rich Homie Quan

Again, boring rap with bad production. Nothing more, nothing less. I hate what rap music has become. The music world would be better off without rappers like these.

  1. Stay the Night – Zedd & Hayley Williams

How is it physically possible to make Hayley Williams sound boring? “Stay the Night” is yet another pointless, unoriginal club song in a decade that seems to be crammed full of them.

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