Nightsounds' Favorite Albums Of 2014

Jan 4, 2015

Credit Todd Gehman (flickr.com/pugetive)

Elbow
The Take Off and Landing of Everything »

A breakthrough of sorts stateside for Guy Garvey and the boys from Manchester UK. Lyrically obtuse and affecting simultaneously, the chiming guitars, processed vocals and open songs make for an excellent collection start to finish. Prior to this release, which hit the top of British charts, Elbow were best known for playing during the London Olympic ceremonies. From the blushing cosmopolitan fawning of “New York Morning” (“everyone owns the great idea, and it feels like there's a big one round the corner”), to the shuffling clucky-chunking bass anchoring “Fly Boy Blue”, this is mature and detailed song craft with wicked wordplay and a spacious, yet human-scaled sound. Elbow favor octave run guitars over electronic metronomes and the occasional string overture. Sample lyrics: “She and I were for a Burton Taylor made”...... Hope for even better things to come from Elbow.

Jenny Lewis
The Voyager »

Everyone's favorite indie-diva/mother hipster; former child-star, Lewis emerges from a five-year hiatus with an intimate and rollicking document. Hollow and brooding; chiming and rockingly anthemic; there is an aging resignation throughout, and yet Lewis sounds more hopeful than ever with this record. It is personal and intimate in its impact. But this is tuneful, catchy pop-rock with the innocent jangle and smooth production belying the soul searching material. Opener “Head Under Water” clicks along with the controlled elation of “there still sand in the hourglass”. and “Late Bloomer” deceptively glides along urging all of us to respond to our inner explorer. The chiming acoustic guitars and supple pop arrangements pull you in. Add Ryan Adams, Beck Hansen and duo First Aid Kit in guest roles and you have a pop-folk masterpiece.

Lucinda Williams
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone 
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The elder, woozy stateswoman of alt-country singer–songwriters. Williams matured fast, and her image-rich, poetic story-songs have always been cross-generational classics. Mining her trademark not quite self-loathing, hardscrabble characters, these are parables of self-doubt, torn souls and yet partially (and surprisingly) upbeat personal affirmations. In “When I Look at the World”, despite the constant regret and rejection, she is receptive to measured glory. And throughout the double-disc are prayers for compassion and thankfulness. Her band is an amalgam of crunching and churning electric guitars and the springy and barbed-wire fret work of Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz add a much needed six-string rocking and coiling heft to her narratives. The late great Faces keyboardist takes a delightful Wurlitzer turn on “One More Day”. Two full records of Williams two-pack a day, gargled vocals can be withering, but the lyrics are spare, direct and she is relaxed and less mumbly. For ruminations of aging and the confounding world that are spot on, this CD will hit you where the spirit meets the bone.

Beck
Morning Phase 
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This more than another breakup album from Mr. Hansen. Beck suffered a spinal injury in 2008 and this his first new recording in six years bears dolorous wounds and is at time mournful. This infinite chiming, yet sombre affair finds Beck honing a clangorous and echoing palette of sighing viola and folk resignation. This album is a swelling string-driven apostulary journey of regret and loss, yet some warm toned comfort and not despair.. For its echoing forlorn tone, it gets high marks. “Blackbird Chain” haunts with a floating chorus and stinging lyrics “We could come to understand what's wrong is right as rain; at rock bottom of a hollowed ground, we stake your claim.”. “Turn Away” is a simply plucky acoustic guitar figure floating with his disembodied voice on his father David Campbell's lush and silky string arrangement.

Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams 
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One critic has already picked up the Tom Petty template and soundscape of Adams latest – cross-checking acoustic and electric guitars and rock steady arrangements. Maybe its the participation of Petty's keyboard wiz Benmont Tench, but this is the grittier album Tom Petty never made. Ryan has an aching alto and can cry with the best and this is a compact, outstanding short set of crunching guitars pop rock gems. “Am I Safe” should be pumping from open car windows and “Tired of Giving Up” is an insistent folk-rocker simply stated and powerfully told. “My Wrecking Ball” hearkens back to Adams' alt country acoustic Heartbreaker-era. Cleaner and less gnarly than past output, but mature assured songcraft.

Rosanne Cash
The River & the Thread 
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This album has not appeared on one year end list despite its accomplished tone and catalog of superior songs and adult examinations of life. Albums so clean, smooth and well-produced tend to be overlooked as too facile or simplistic. With husband John Leventhal's ultra tasteful production and glinting guitar accompaniment, “River and Thread”, a project partially fomented after her participation in the restoration of her famous dad's boyhood home, it is coast to coast engaging and modern, yet steeped in the country folk history of Cash's back catalog. The Civil War backdrop of surrendered love, “When the Master Calls the Roll”, co-penned with Rodney Crowell, and “Etta's Tune”, a tribute to a member of Johnny Cash's band, cut deep. Ms. Cash has become poet laureate of adult Americana

Sturgill Simpson
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music 
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Beyond category, though ostensibly a country record, Simpson achieves multiple orbits on this messy, sprawling opus. Behold the folk-psychedelia confoundment of “Turtles all the Way Down” to aching balladry on “The Promise”, Simpson has unlocked some treasure chest of country music tropes, sincere, not maudlin presentation , and otherworldly guitar effects and soundscapes for the years most ambitious, perplexing and just plain lovely collection. Nary a weak song in the bunch. Twang y, retro-futuristic country fun.

The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream 
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Ambient soft rock from this Philadelphia quartet. You get wisps of mid-era Dire Straits to U2 to curdled ambient Pink Floyd, the group employs ring-modulated chiming guitars, staccato back beats a-la 80's synth/guitar pop. Lead singer Adam Granduciel has a Dylan-lite delivery; burst of words hover over the music as opposed to hugging the melodies. The spacey, spooky arrangements are simple; deceptively so. Opener “Under Pressure” repeats a manic two-chord figure yet manages to suck you in to its funneling sound. “Red Eyes” and “An Ocean in Between the Waves” augur that mature, racing, reflective singer-songwriter rock of the mid-1970's. The title track has a Mark Knopfleresque placid lope and the whole enterprise seeps in as opposed to mowing you down...even with the most propulsive of arrangements. Despite a surfeit of musical references, the album is of a whole; one sonic palette and muse.

Lowder & Manning
Next Time Around 
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A shout out to local musical stalwarts Jaigh Lowder and Jill Manning for their 2014 release. These two have achieved a lifes-lessons-learned simpatico with warm intertwining guitars and vocals. This is assured, acoustic folk, with a rich, clean resonance and simple, heartfelt compositions. “Road of Life” is a ruminative country lope, and “Moon Keeps Making Memories” is a sweet nearly Tin Pan Alley knockoff. Manning's lite rasp and Lowder's warm tenor blend effortlessly. And the guitars gleam with Jaigh's trademark recording prowess; ringing electric and plucked acoustics front and center. Sit on your front porch rockin' chair and fire this one up.