Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Best albums 2014
1. BEYONCÉ - BEYONCÉ
I am cheating because this is my barely-updated blog, and I make the rules here. No, Beyonce's album didn't come out in 2014. It slipped in too close to the end of 2013 to be counted then, but I can't let it go unnoted. It defined my year. We did the "Drunk in Love" dance. We mimicked the way she said "surfbort." We pretended to rollerskate, careening along as she sang "Blow."
The older I get, the less abashed I feel. I love pop music. However manufactured it was, Beyonce's album always felt new and rule-breaking. The songs (particularly "Partition," "Mine" and "***Flawless") broke down and reassembled in new configurations. But they weren't disjointed. Like the Madonna and Michael Jackson records of the 1980s, these were pop hits that weren't just singles but part of a bigger album narrative.
These songs were the soundtrack to the few nights I stayed up past 11 p.m., and they were the sounds that anchored me back to some version of myself that felt young. 2013 was a year of big let-downs and big decisions -- all of which left me feeling rooted and regulated. "BEYONCÉ" was all bounce and thud, cusswords and catchphrases (I woke up like this!), and when we danced around this tiny house together, I felt back on the brink of a limitless future.
2. TOO MANY ZOOZ - F NOTE
Years ago, a friend and I danced dizzy around his Missouri home to old jazz records. We did the Peanuts. We did some version of the swing. We were a decade younger than everyone around us, and we drank enough beer to prove it. But our movements dissolved in the dramas of being 23 and on to the next thing. We reconnected this year, and he sent me this video near the beginning of our talking. This wasn't the jazz we listened to in Missouri. But it felt familiar. We wrote and listened, trying to close the gaps years leave. These bursts of brass were the perfect notes for regaining a friendship. I listened to these songs exclusively for weeks, thinking nothing is lost. In our 30s we can get back what we had.
As with the Beyonce album, I can't disconnect this one from the visuals -- a young baritone sax player grinding his way through the scales. By the time I saw that sax player grooving on a Portland stage this fall, the old friend had already retreated away again. The songs were so good I didn't even notice - I was dancing alone this time.
3. TAYLOR SWIFT - 1989
The post-30 metabolism is slow and droning. I can't eat ice cream the way I once could. I took up running this year, hoping to edge my way back down the scale. It's a miserable venture at first. My lungs hurt. My legs hurt. And worst of all: I was bored. That changed when "Serial" and this Taylor Swift album came out. I could stay on the treadmill for 45 minutes, listening to the murder mystery unwind or Taylor tell the story of the boy she lost. The drums and choruses here have the right kind of rhythm for powering through the miles.
Swift repeats themes, too. Her elusive boy is always driving reckless, crashing or recovering. She is wearing red lipstick, hoping he won't forget. The repetitions stick out because Swift is so good at painting a scene. Every song paints a tidy little portrait. Here they are moving the furniture to dance. Here they are somewhere before or after a breakup, terrified of monsters that turn out to be trees. They lyrics are all so specific yet universal enough that you can fill in your own stories. (I've got a blank space baby, and I'll write your name).
Best of all: This is an album made my someone super self aware of every criticism that has ever been lobbed her way. (Shake it off!) And she owns them all here. It's the kind of confidence you need to hear when taking up running for the first time at 31.
4. Sinkane - Mean Love
5. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
6. Spoon - They Want My Soul
7. Ages and Ages - Divisionary
8. Mac DeMarco - Salad Days
9. CunninLynguists - Strange Journey Vol. 3
10. J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive
11. St. Paul & The Broken Bones - Half the City
12. Hundred Waters - Morning Rang Like a Bell
13. Kindness - Otherness
14. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness
15. Beck - Morning Phase
* I'm not including D'Angelo here, even though it is the perfect album I have waited all of the 2000s for, because it didn't come out until so late in the year. I reserve the right to name it the best album of 2015.