And now, finally, it’s time to get started with the Proper Top 100 list! A lot of truly excellent music came out in the 2010s, to the point where narrowing it down to the most deserving albums required a mental refresher on well over 200 albums that I had enjoyed during the last ten years. It’s taken me longer than expected to get this list off to a proper start, due to a bit of a counting mishap when I was choosing my finalists, resulting in some painful last-minute cuts when I realized that I had put more than 20 albums in my lowest tier out of the 100. But that’s all settled now, and I’ve got my list broken into 5 parts, during which I’ll take a look back at 20 great albums per installment.
Everything in this first section of the list would score a B+ if I reviewed it today, so it’ll be a little ways up the list before we get to the truly amazing stuff. But even within this initial batch of 20 albums, there are tons of fond memories that I get from going back and revisiting the vast majority of the tracks on each of these – and in a few cases, new memories still being formed, as I discovered a few of these albums for the first time during a huge back catalogue binge I embarked on last year.
As always, I’m closing the year out with a summary of my favorite records from the year gone by. The only qualifying factors to make this list are that they must be full-length albums consisting of new material (I have a separate section for EPs and collections of previously released material), with a release date in 2014. Everything I really enjoyed this year that falls outside of those boundaries still gets a mention, just not a ranking.
It was really hard to pick a clear #1 this year. I love the top four albums on this list just about equally. Two are more “baroque” pop records that lean toward the electronic and experimental, and two are more in-your-face rock records. They’re the only “A grades” that I gave out this year. Which one is my favorite among them changes based on my mood, so I basically gave the #1 slot to the one I’ve enjoyed for the largest chunk of the year. I can’t imagine very many other people who would ever actually listen to all four of them, let alone like them all, but they all come with my highest recommendations for anyone into the types of music these individual artists are making.
It’s that time of year again, when I arbitrarily sort through the list of songs I’ve been obsessed with over the past 12 months, and try to whittle it down to a semi-reasonable list of 100 favorites. A lot of these were released in 2013, and a few even in 2012, but as usual, I was late to the party.
Music videos and some live performances are embedded for most of the Top 30. I didn’t want to go too far beyond that, for fear of crashing your browser. I’ve also created a Spotify playlist that explores a number of these favorites, more or less chronologically in the order that I discovered them.
The last two times I saw Nickel Creek were at the exact same venue where I was fortunate enough to see them perform earlier this week, on the final evening of their reunion tour. I realized just as I was typing that sentence that I’m incredibly spoiled.
Artist: Nickel Creek Album: A Dotted Line Year: 2014 Grade: B+
In Brief: Nickel Creek is back after a 7-year hiatus with a new album which covers a lot of ground in only 10 tracks, re-establishing them as an instrumental, vocal, and lyrical force to be reckoned with.
I really wasn’t sure last night whether we were going to a Fiction Family show with Sara Watkins opening, or a Sara Watkins show with Fiction Family opening. I get the idea that they’ve been switching up lead roles on this tour, likely to the chagrin of venues who want to be able to tell their patrons exactly when each act will be performing. I got tickets just knowing Fiction Family would be there, and considered Sara Watkins to be a bonus. She ended up performing first, though Sean pulled double duty in both bands, as well as Fiction Family’s bass/keyboard guy, Tyler Chester, and Sara hopped up on stage several times during Fiction Family’s set to contribute fiddle and vocals. All in all, it felt like a family atmosphere, and I’ve rarely seen two siblings with such musical chemistry as the two Watkins – they’re nigh-inseparable. Sean’s fictional bro Jon Foreman seems like the odd man out in that scenario, but the enthusiasm he brings even to small club shows is infectious. He can play a goofy country song to a small crowd with the same level of excitement he brings to Switchfoot playing one of their biggest hits in a large amphitheater. That, and an overall band chemistry that makes the live shows easily supersede the recordings, is what makes both FF and Sara Watkins great acts to see live if you ever get the chance.