It’s no secret that I’m an albums guy. One look at my extensive year-end “Top Albums” list, and it’s clear that I’m a purist at heart, almost always listening to an album from start to finish. However, there is the rare occasion where I’ll queue up a specific song to fit the mood or raise my spirits. The list below contains 25 of those songs that I found myself searching out (why 25? Because I couldn’t cut it down to 20). You will not find many songs from albums on my “Top Albums” list simply because if it’s a great album, I’m probably not going to skip tracks. Instead, you will mostly hear songs that were stand-outs on albums that didn’t quite make the grade. If you are expecting a list that is of the same caliber as my “Top Albums” run-down, you are about to be greatly disappointed. But if you’re up for checking out some of those songs that got multiple replays on my iPod in 2014, the following list should provide you with an entertaining mix.
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A few days ago I posted the first 20 in my “Top 40 Albums of 2014” list (check it out here). Below you will find this year’s edition of what I consider the top 20 albums of the year. You’ll find albums from varying genres and possibly a few albums that are new to you. I think it’s important to note what I define as a top caliber album. Great songs are always a plus, but more important to me is the ability of an artist to create a series of songs that tell a story, that convey an overall theme, that complement each other, and that make the listener think differently about the human experience. We are moving into an age where most consumers are more concerned with hit songs, which is why I feel compelled to highlight those musicians that have stayed honest to the age-old art of The Album and created something that’s about the whole and not a couple catchy songs.
We are almost to the mid-point of 2014, and there have already been some outstanding releases. With a promising second half of the year ahead of us, I’d like to take a moment to spotlight some of my favorite albums from the year so far. To try to keep some semblance of control, I’ve limited my list to albums released prior to June 1st.
In this episode we look at up-and-coming bands like Ausmuteants, Perfect Pussy, Antwon, Woods of Desolation, and Ought. We also check out new tracks from St. Vincent and Damon Albarn. And as always, the episode closes with a Bob Dylan song recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio.
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St. Vincent “I Prefer Your Love”
Perfect Pussy “Interference Fits”
Damon Albarn “Everyday Robots”
Antwon “Heavy Hearted Doldrums”
Woods of Desolation “This Autumn Light”
Bob Dylan “Pressing On”
I thought James Mercer could do no wrong. I thought he was a musical Jedi, untouchable, infallible. With his serene tenor voice and wry, imagery laced lyrics, he seemed to be unstoppable. Yes, the last Shin’s album “Wincing the Night Away” was their weakest to date, yet it still holds up and is filled with classic Mercer gems. Then he met the Senator Palpatine of the music industry, the villainous Danger Mouse, sucking the soul out of artists, one song at a time. And somehow, the indestructible Mercer gave in to the darkness, allowing the Mouse into his realm, tweaking and blurring anything that resembled Mercer’s music, slowly transforming them into a mangled mess of melodies.
If you haven’t figured out yet, the union of Mercer and Mouse via their musical project Broken Bells has left me angered and frustrated (“Bob Dylan Hates Danger Mouse Week” was created as a reaction to seeing another of my favorite artists allow this pest into their world). First Beck. Then Damon Albarn. Now Mercer? Enough is enough! This is like allowing a street artist to add some touch-ups to a Van Gogh! As a result, these artists are now all left as shells of their former selves, an army of musical zombies, marching to Danger Mouse’s choppy, repetitive drum loops.
The first track on Broken Bell’s debut album (let’s hope it’s their last) gives hope that maybe the Mouse didn’t hold Mercer’s sound up for ransom. Yes, it features the tinny drums and Mouse’s self-serving embellishments in the form of an annoying synth line, but Mercer’s voice is up front and center, belting out a catchy melody. On first listen, I began to wonder if Mercer’s incredible vocals were too powerful to succumb to the Mouse. Track two continues the vibe that all may still be well for James Then 30 seconds into the song Danger Mouse shoots his load right in your earhole, letting you know who’s boss. The sixties vibe that has become the producer’s staple bursts onto the scene, and that plodding bassline returns. I HATE Danger Mouse’s basslines. HATE. They are always mechanical, choppy, and simply sterile. This is the bassline that made Gnarl’s Barkley’s “Crazy” so unique at the time. Instead of being the soulful bass common in R&B, Danger Mouse switched the flip, making the backbone of the song sound nerdy. But you know what? It worked once. Stop going to the well of irritating basslines! This is also the same bassline that destroyed Beck’s “Modern Guilt”. And on Broken Bells, it once again resurfaces, and resurfaces…and resurfaces. Damn it!
From track two on you are taken on a disastrous journey that would make any Griswold cower in fear. With most of his other debacles, Danger Mouse at least finds a focus with his production. Not this time. Every song jumps from one style to the next, awkwardly moving from 80s dance to 60 psychedelia without any transition. It almost feels like the Mouse is trying to upstage Mercer, to battle him, to take him completely out of the mix. Often, Mercer is buried in reverb and filtered through distortion.
This is the biggest sin Danger Mouse has committed to date. Mercer’s best asset is his voice, yet you choose to mask it with so many effects that all that makes Mercer unique is completely erased. This is like having David Lee on your Fantasy Basketball team and opting to start Eddy Curry instead. You just don’t do it. You just don’t.