Music Monday: My Favorite Albums of 2014

For the first Music Monday of 2015, here's a look back at a few of my favorite albums of 2014. In no particular order (because the rankings change depending on what day it is):

Ledges - Noah Gundersen

When it comes to folk music, it’s best to just keep it simple. Noah Gundersen has all the right components to good folk—a good voice, pretty harmonies (sung by his siblings, and family is always a plus in folk music), simple string instrumentation, solid lyrics about struggles, doubts and faith. He’s not re-inventing the wheel—but it’s a solid ride, nonetheless.

Favorite Tracks: “Ledges,” “Poor man’s son”

Anomaly - Lecrae

Before this year I had read and heard a lot about Lecrae, but I hadn't really listened to his music. I have tremendous respect for the work he's doing in the music industry. As the head of Reach Records, he's providing a platform for other artists and personally mentoring them. And after we did a feature on him in RELEVANT, I finally listened to his music and found I really enjoyed it (I haven't liked rap in the past, but it's grown on me this year). With Anomaly, Lecrae made an album that extends beyond Christian crowds (it reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, only the fifth Christian album to do so). The album touches on all sorts of important issues—the American Dream, racism, charity—without being preachy. 

Favorite Tracks: "All I Need Is You," "Say I Won't"

Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams

It's hard for me to define what exactly it is that makes me keep coming back to this album. It's just good, solid, straight-forward rock and roll. I hadn't listened to Ryan Adams before I heard it, and this kind of rock isn't my usual cup of tea, but I checked it out and was immediately hooked.

Favorite Tracks: "Gimme Something Good," "Am I Safe"

And the War Came - Shakey Graves 

I first heard Shakey Graves back in February when he opened for Shovels & Rope, and I enjoyed his set just as much as the main act. Graves (the stage name of Alejandro Rose-Garcia) is a fantastic performer. A one-man-band of sorts, he came on stage with just a battered guitar and suitcase kick-drum. But the thing that grabbed me was his voice, which varied between almost whispering and shouting, jumping octaves and never quite singing the melody the exact same way twice. On And the War Came, he's added harmony to his act, which just makes things more interesting. 

Favorite Tracks: "Dearly Departed," "Hard Wired"

Brutal Romantic - Brooke Fraser

The last I heard of Brooke Fraser, she was singing worship music (she's the one that penned worship hits like "Hosanna" and "Lead Me to the Cross"). So I was a little confused when I heard she was making a mainstream pop album. However, the results are phenomenal. She's been in the game for about a decade, but with Brutal Romantic, she has totally re-invented herself, using effects and electronic elements to her advantage. It’s catchy, danceable, uplifting and irresistible. 

Favorite Tracks: "Kings and Queens," "Thunder"

Sylvan Esso - Sylvan Esso

The first track I heard off this album was “Hey Mami," and thought it was something utterly fresh. Singer Amelia Meath (from Mountain Man) and producer Nick Sanborn had taken catcalls and formed them into a ballad via loop pedal. I was fascinated, then the hook dropped and I was sold. I listened to the entire album about three times a day for several weeks, and I never got sick of it.

Favorite Tracks: "Hey Mami," "H.S.K.T."

Lost in the Dream - The War on Drugs

Like with Sylvan Esso, I made my way into this album via the single, which I randomly found on a music site early in the year. But unlike with Sylvan Esso, it took me a while to warm up to the rest of the album. "Red Eyes," the single I'd heard, was upbeat and catchy. The rest of the album took more time to digest—with long, drawn-out tracks soaked in synths and reverb. It's the kind of thing that takes some patience to listen to, but is ultimately more rewarding for it—like taking the time to read a good book instead of just skimming an Internet listicle. For example, the last track, "In Reverse," which takes almost 2 minutes to even get to Adam Granduciel's vocals, but then offers rich layers of sound and lyrical meaning.

Favorite Tracks: "In Reverse," "Red Eyes"

Other Albums I Enjoyed:

Atlas - Real Estate 

Stay Gold - First Aid Kit

So Long, See You Tomorrow - Bombay Bicycle Club

A Dotted Line - Nickel Creek

Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son - Damien Jurado

Bad Self Portraits - Lake Street Dive

St. Vincent - St. Vincent

Favorite EPs:

Seinabo Sey - For Madeleine EP

Odessa - Odessa EP

Favorite Song to Sing: “Not the Only One” by Sam Smith

Favorite Music Video: “Never Gonna Catch Me” by Flying Lotus

This album was insane, and I really enjoyed it. I saw this music video and immediately had to watch it like three more times.

Guilty Pleasure: "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift

I don't want to like a Taylor Swift song, but I can't get this one out of my head.