Best Music of the Year 2014

An outstanding year for music. Dear Music Fans, our cups runneth over....

Best Singer-Songwriter Albums

Joe Henry The Invisible Hour
Joe Henry - Invisible Hour

This is, by my reckoning, the best singer / songwriter album of 2014. I'm sure it's the most musically elegant and the most knowing when it comes to the human condition in general, and long-term relationships in particular. Invisible Hour harkens back to Joe Henry's early 90's Folk / Americana albums. (Like those early albums, there's lots of guitar and banjo / mandolin.) There's a similar simplicity and directness. There are rousing melodies and deeply articulate lyrics. But with Invisible Hour there's an even deeper understanding of our complicated, fractured, mostly honorable attempts to love and be understood. Throughout the album there are dozens of exquisite moments--horns, backing vocals, various musical flourishes. The production is crisp and clear and never overwhelms the song—it just makes you catch your breath and marvel at the perfect musical choice, the perfect insight, the perfect lyrical phrasing all coming together.

Points of Reference: Van Morrison, Bob Dylan

Standout tracks: Invisible Hour, Grave Angles, Plainspeak, Sign, Lead me On, Alice

Beck Morning Phase
Beck - Morning Phase

This is an unequivocally gorgeous record, and it washes over the listener in waves of sounds, swells of sound, layer upon layer of sound. Most of the songs here are, at their core, simple and catchy. But they've lovingly fussed over and layered with swelling guitar and keyboard. (It's an unlikely combination of top-notch Americana and the sweeping soundscape of Icelandic band Sigur Ros.) The miracle here is that instead of feeling overproduced, the songs on Morning Phase feel sweeping and alive.

Points of Reference: Sigur Ros, Wilco

Standout tracks: Heart is a Drum, Blue Moon, Morning

Damien Jurado Brother and Sisters of the Eternal Son
Damien Jurado - Brother and Sisters of the Eternal Son

This is a lovely, intimate, nicely odd, and wonderfully evocative record. Damien Juardo has always been good at crafting intimate guitar songs, but Brother and Sisters of the Eternal Son has an expanded musical range. There's even a Beach Boy's like closing track that's one of the best pop songs of the year.

Points of Reference: Neil Young, Elliot Smith

Standout tracks: Silver Timothy, Metallic Cloud, Suns in Our Minds

Best Rock Album

Spoon They Want My Soul
Spoon - They Want My Soul

They Want My Soul feels like a Spoon retrospective: Ten great songs that could have been plucked from any of the last six Spoon albums (Especially Girls Can Tell and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga). But they're originals, which is to say they're feisty and joyous new rock and roll creations. And with the song Inside Out there are new strains of prettiness. This album continues Spoon's extraordinary streak of excellent records.

Point of reference: Elvis Costello, The Pixies

Standout Tracks: Inside Out, They Want My Soul, Knock, Knock, Knock

Future Islands Singles
Future Islands - Singles

I have to admire a band that manages to capture our collective attention because of their rock and roll conviction. Future Islands sound as if they have something utterly truthful to say. Then you track down the lyrics to a song like Seasons (Waiting on You) and find out that the message their bringing you isn't as compelling or coherent as you thought. That should be a deal breaker, especially for music lovers (myself included) who believe in the power and expressive range of what a song lyric can do. But the songs on Singles strut their passion and conviction and persuade you anyway.

Points of reference: David Bowie, Roxy Music, Interpol

Standout Tracks: Like The Moon, Spirit, Seasons

© 2010-2012, John Dalton

Photo of cabin used in illustration by StormeTX

Others used in illustration by Katharine Roberds

Site design by