My annual disclaimer: I reserve the right, because no one is making you read this, to get really long-winded and listy. They say that the world's geniuses have always been listmakers, though the same is true of hoarders and serial kiillers, so take that whichever direction best suits you. It might not be ranked. It probably won't be chronological. And it won’t even necessarily be interesting. But it's my list—genius, killer, both, or none of the above.
MY TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2014, half-heartedly ranked
1. St Vincent // self-titled
I had known I was "supposed" to like Annie Clark's music for a long time. I had listened to albums here and there, watched her episode of Austin City Limits, and it still hadn't registered like folks said it would. Then, this year, much like my reversal on Vampire Weekend last year (who I previously and erroneously had tagged as OVERRATED), it all clicked. An incredible guitar player who understands groove. A smart, poetic lyricist that knows how much the right melody can help. Just the right amount of weird in all the right places. There was not an album I came back to more, craving even, than this one this year. My favoritesa are "Regret" and "Rattlesnake" but it seems like "Digital Witness" is what the kids like?
2. Hiss Golden Messenger // The Lateness of Dancers
I don't know what to say about this record that says any more than "hits the spot." Something special is happening down in North Carolina with HGM and Megafaun and Sylvan Esso. You can feel the love and ease in each of these songs. I had been a fan of HGM's previous project The Court & Spark since opening for them in 2006 and had NO IDEA that this had the same principal songwriter, which is embarrassing for someone like me who feels (inflatedly) like he has a grasp on the family tree of the music he listens to. "Day O Day" and "Lucia" and "Mahogany Dread" are all great. But so is the rest of it. The version of "Southern Grammar" that the band played on Letterman makes me so happy. LISTEN TO IT!
3. John Fullbright // Songs
Was there a better song that "She Knows" in 2014? If so, it might very well be "Until You Were Gone", also by John Fullbright. A guy I'd love to template, from the writing right down to the scratchy soulful singing and piano playing.
4. The New Pornographers // Brill Bruisers
The surprise of the list. A huge fan of their album The Electric Version and a handful of awesome songs since then, I had unjustly diminished my expectations of this melodic supergroup. This album kept clamoring for my attention and getting it. The intro of "Brill Bruisers" alone would land this in my Top 5 of the year, but song after song kept sneaking into my ears. I love AC Newman, Dan Bejar, Neko Case, & friends for kicking my melodic butt with crazy hooks and sparkling production.
5. Sylvan Esso // self-titled
6. Field Report // Marigolden
7. (tie) Luluc // Passerby and The War On Drugs // Lost In The Dream
8. Sturgill Simpson // Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
9. Joe Henry // Invisible Hour
10. Secret Sisters // Put Your Needle Down
THE NEXT 10, in no order
Sun Kil Moon // Benji (in spite of the War On Drugs crap)
Jenny Lewis // The Voyager
Tweedy // Sukirae
Doug Paisley // Strong Feelings
Tycho // Awake
Nickel Creek // A Dotted Line
Beck // Waking Light
Sharon Van Etten // Are We There
Blake Mills // Heigh Ho
Lori McKenna // Numbered Doors (quickly maneuvering to be my favorite songwriter)
ALBUMS I LOVED BUT FEEL WEIRD ABOUT INCLUDING BECAUSE EITHER I PLAYED ON THEM OR THEY ARE GOOD FRIENDS OR BOTH, BUT YOU REALLY SHOULD HAVE THESE ALBUMS BECAUSE THEY WOULD CRACK THE LIST FOR SURE, BUT I AM WEIRD AND FEEL A NEED TO MAKE SURE EVERYBODY KNOWS I AM AN OVERTHINKING FREAK, SO YEAH...
Ryan Tanner // Together Is Where We Belong
"Black Heart Painted Red" is one of the best songs I've heard in years. Getting to sit in on these sessions in Nashville was a highlight of the year.
Jay Henderson // Hymns To My Amnesia
As is "I Won't Beg."
Sarah Sample & Edie Carey // Til The Morning
And not just because they covered "I'm On Your Side," also a highlight of my year. Beautiful record.
The Souvenirs // I Ain't Happy Yet
Harmony for days.
SONGS I LOVED SO MUCH (AND SO MANY)
Regret/Rattlesnake/Digital Witness/Prince Johnny- St. Vincent
She Knows/Until You Were Gone- John Fullbright
Completely Not Me/Just One of the Guys- Jenny Lewis
I Won't Beg/Persephone- Jay Henderson
Black Heart Painted Red/Desolation Waltz/Peaceful Mind/Days To Think of You- Ryan Tanner
Teach Me- The Souvenirs
Brill Bruisers/Wide Eyes/Dancehall Domine- The New Pornographers
Lead Me On- Joe Henry
Lucia/Day O Day/Chapter & Verse/Mahogany Dread- Hiss Golden Messenger
Home (Leave the Lights On)/Wings- Field Report
Numbered Doors- Lori McKenna
Red Eyes- War on Drugs
Winter Is Passing/Without A Face- Luluc
Coffee/Uncantena- Sylvan Esso
Mother & Father- Broods
Even The Stars Are Sleeping- Dan Wilson
Destination- Nickel Creek
Night Vision- Tennis
Turtles All The Way Down- Sturgill Simpson
Archie, Marry Me- Alvvays
Small Town Heroes- Hurray For The Rif Raff
Iuka/Bad Habit- The Secret Sisters
Before- Wye Oak
Taking Chances/Tarifa/I Know- Sharon Van Etten
These Things/Sweet Sweet Dreams- Sarah Sample/Edie Carey
Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone- Lykke Li
I'm On Fire- Low
Famous Last Words of A Fool In Love- Rodney Crowell
You Got Me Singing- Leonard Cohen
Now You Know- Anais Mitchell
Flowering/I'll Sing It- Tweedy
Madman- Sean Rowe
Wild Animals- Trampled By Turtles
Shelter Song- Temples
Sweet Amarillo- Old Crow Medicine Show
Make You Better- The Decemberists
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mistaken For Strangers
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Lego Movie
BOOKS I READ IN 2014, with and without my kids
Assisted by John Stockton
The BFG/Charlie & The Chocolate Factory/Charlie & The Glass Elevator/The Giraffe, the Pelly, & Me/The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl
Turn Around Bright Eyes by Rob Sheffield
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Harry Potter (the first one?) by JK Rowling
Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
A Hologram for The King by Dave Eggers
Sailing Alone Around The Room by Billy Collins
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
CONCERTS I LOVED
Nickel Creek with The Secret Sisters—when Sara Watkins sang "Tomorrow Is A Long Time" I'm pretty sure time stopped
SUMMERTIME BLUES: THE SONGS OF WOODSTOCK—this is cheating because I helped put this show together, but COME ON! Hendrix, The Who, Sly & The Family Stone, The Band all played and sung by the best this great state of Utah has to offer. And I got to sing "Don't Do It" with a horn section! And "The Weight" with a metric ton of talent who also happen to be friends. And that's glossing over getting to hear my friends detonate "You Can Make It If You Try" and "WIth A Little Help From My Friends" and "Fire" and "My Generation" and, come on, Dylan Schorer and Dustin Christensen and Nate Pyfer and Scott Shepard putting a stake through the heart of a widowmaker like "Suite Judy Blue Eyes." You can't plan a night like this, but you can sure try...
Temple of the Dog—my annual pilgrimage to Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit Concert fulfilled a 20+ year dream to get to hear Temple of the Dog perform, which they did because Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were both on the bill.
The Lower Lights Christmas Concerts—every night brought the chills, but a couple memories stand out, like getting to sing "Nero's Song" with one of my heroes Jamen Brooks and putting together a rootsier version of "The Zombie Song" with another songwriting hero Stephanie Mabey, belting harmony out on "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder" with Ryan Tanner, playing keyboards in the back with Brian Hardy, singing "Baby, Please Come Home" with Scott Wiley, back-to-backing it like a boss with Ryan Shupe, "Mary's Boy Child" with Dominic Moore, Debra Fotheringham, and Jay Henderson, jumping out in the crowd to sing with Sarah Sample, Dan Buehner, Kiki Buehner, Corinne Gentry, and so many more.
2014 was filled with so many heart-opening moments for me—the birth of twin babies; reconnecting with my deceased grandparents in Montana through my kids' eyes, a roaring fireplace, a freezing lake, and a canister of Pero that was probably 20 years old; playing the State Room for an incredible audience with The Carbon Leaf; hiking Millcreek Canyon with my family; making music with friends; so much more. Thanks to everyone.
My resolution (because, come on, you made it to the end): A NEW ALBUM OUT IN 2015. You read it here first. It's happening.