Josh Antonuccio (photo: Attila Horvath)
Josh Antonuccio (photo: Attila Horvath)

Josh Antonuccio: My Top Albums of 2014

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This is the fourth in a series of year-end blog posts by WOUB staff, volunteers and contributors. Check out all of this year’s lists at this link.

Coming on the heels of numerous great releases from last year, 2014 proved to me once again that we are truly in the midst of a golden era of music.

Some of my all-time favorite music was released this year, across genres, interwoven between indie and major labels, from artists known and unknown, divided between females and males alike.

Outside of the albums and projects that I had the privilege of working on this year, here are the 51 albums that got the most attention from me in 2014.

1. The War on Drugs, Lost In The Dream

Adam Granduciel has received critical nods in years past with The War on Drugs, most notably with 2011’s gorgeous Slave Ambient. But with Lost In The Dream, Granduciel seemed to find a confident footing with his craft, running with a breakneck pace through this poignant album which consistently reveals more depth of insight upon repeated listens. Granduciel traverses the mire of heartache, loss and betrayal with both grace and disillusionment, emerging with a revelatory masterpiece.

Lost In The Dream mirrored the sprawling age of ’80s radio hits and borrowed heavily from the self-confessional reflections of Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. This became my quintessential album, on heavy rotation throughout the year, with numerous standout tracks including the melodic rocker “Red Eyes,” the guitar-driven “Under The Pressure” and the lush propulsion of “An Ocean In Between The Waves.”

As I talked with numerous musicians throughout the year, this album was a frequent topic of conversation. Sharon Van Etten noted to me that she and Adam had talked about how this album helped him to process the agony of a relationship lost. And it is in and through that process, from the depth of his despair, that the album finds palpable power and connection, or as Granduciel sings in “Burning,” “to redefine the way you listen in the dark.”

2. Sun Kil Moon, Benji

Mark Kozelek’s newest outing under the moniker Sun Kil Moon is a self-examining journey that finds no equal. Hemmed in by Kozelek’s subtle classical guitar and trademark understated vocal delivery, Benji unveils itself as a devastating collection of short stories told in the form of deceptively engaging songs, brutal in their transparency and inquisition.

Using Ohio as a frequent focal point (Kozelek is originally from Massillon, Ohio), these songs tie together multiple narratives on teenage lust, family loss, serial killers, old friends, mass shootings and parental relationships. Kozelek brilliantly weaves these stories into a unified whole with characters transcending between songs and the themes of his life, tethering the album together with threads of reflection and diary-like honesty.

Notable tracks include observations of sexual experience on “Dogs” and “I Watched The Film the Song Remains The Same” where Kozelek uses the Zeppelin concert film as a haunting vehicle to explore loss, depression and ghosts of the past and present.

3. Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Angel Olsen faced the infrastructure of a broken heart with a voice that both soars and sneers on her most coherent release to date. Veering between the howls of dejection and the fury of the scorned, Olsen wades through the loss of modern romance with tracks such as “Forgiven/Forgotten” and “Ioda.” As the title of the album suggests, Olsen searches for new life beyond the wreckage of losing her love. “Sometimes I think you’d like to see me lose my mind,” she croons on “Lights,” a sentiment that permeates the album and fuels this blistering collection of songs.

4. Real Estate, Atlas

After 2011’s critically acclaimed Days, Real Estate returns with this shimmering collection of refined pop songs harkening back to the foundations of college rock. Like a cross between the early eras of The Shins and R.E.M., Real Estate found a sound that is at once melancholic and thoroughly pop-driven. Sublime and seductive in its catchiness, Real Estate broke through in a convincing way with highlights that include the sparkling guitar interplay of “Talking Backwards” and the infectious opening track “Had To Hear.”

5. The Men, Tomorrow’s Hits

Beyond any other release this year, Brooklyn’s The Men hit listeners with one of the best first sides of any other album. Recorded and completed in a mere three days, Tomorrow’s Hits is wrought with epic rock songs that pull in shades of The Modern Lovers, Bruce Springsteen, early Elvis Costello and The Replacements. Highlights include the fist-raising power of “Different Days” and the unhinged “Pearly Gates.” The Men are labeled as “post-punk,” but that moniker doesn’t do justice to the sheer velocity of this album.

6. Cymbals Eat Guitars, LOSE

New York City band Cymbals Eat Guitars have impressed fans for years with their ability to turn out smart guitar-fueled albums. With 2014’s LOSE, the indie band produced a stunning collection of finely tuned rockers that are at both churning and atmospheric. Highlights include album opener “Jackson” and the methodical guitar and lyrical explorations of “Place Names.”

7. Courtney Barnett, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, with an intelligent mix of equal parts Lou Reed and Liz Phair, Barnett’s two EPs were combined for her American debut. The release garnered her widespread acclaim and even a spot on The Late Show with David Letterman, making her a darling in the indie music world and beyond. The standout track “Avant Gardener” alone makes this album worth the price of admission.

8. Damien Jurado, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son

Under the supervision of musician/producer Richard Swift, Damien Jurado reached new heights on this release with esoteric production, effects-drenched vocals and wide-angle lens lyricism. Jurado shines on tracks like the plodding and synth-driven “Return to Marqopa” and the Pink Floyd-inspired “Metallic Cloud.”

9. Saint Saviour, In The Seams

A gorgeous and hushed collection of landmark songs by Rebecca Jones, hemmed in by the symphonic flourishes of the Manchester Camerata Orchestra and produced by Bill Ryder-Jones. An indelible voice that is both angelic and childlike, Jones ascends on tracks like “Let It Go” and “Nobody Died.”

10. Beck, Morning Phase

Harkening back to his landmark album Sea Change, Beck produced his most orchestrated and lush album to date with material ranging from the transcendent arrangement of “Morning” to the epic crescendos of “Waking Light.” “Turn Away” may now be one of my favorite songs of Beck’s catalogue.

11. Ultimate Painting, Ultimate Painting

With deep shades of Loaded-era Velvet Underground and early ’70s radio pop, this gem of an album seemingly came out of nowhere, the product of the partnership between Jack Cooper of Mazes and James Hoare of Veronica Falls. Formed from a collection of home recordings done directly to tape, the duo hit understated pop glory on tracks like the self-titled track “Ultimate Painting” and “Ten Street.”

12. Steve Gunn, Way Out Weather

As a one-time member of Kurt Vile’s outfit The Violators, Steve Gunn has consistently released remarkable solo albums, culminating in this tightly-focused collection of songs with shades of Celtic influence, introspective mysticism and acoustic guitar prowess. Standout tracks include the nostalgic underpinnings of “Milly’s Garden” and the hazy blues explorations of “Shadow Brothers.”

13. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There Yet?

Once again, Sharon Van Etten delves deep into the dark corners of love lost and trust broken. The album is a fine display of her evocative songwriting and crooning voice, both of which are supported by her band’s refined arrangements. “Taking Chances” and “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” are standout tracks on this captivating record.

14. Flying Lotus, You’re Dead

The electronic and experimental producer Flying Lotus got help from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Herbie Hancock and Snoop Dogg on this latest album, featuring a mix of electronica, avant-garde and free jazz. You’re Dead is a thrill ride of musical chemistry that unapologetically journeys between multiple genres and fascinates in the process.

15. Saintseneca, Dark Arc

This Columbus, Ohio, band teamed up with Bright Eyes producer/member Mike Moogis and, with the help of Anti Records, established themselves as grandiose storytellers of the highest order, drawing comparisons to the much-revered Neutral Milk Hotel with their sprawling sound.

16. Lana Del Ray, Ultraviolence

Lana Del Ray became a media and critic’s target after her reinvention and rollout during Born To Die. However with Ultraviolence, Lana Del Ray tapped into a sensual dark pop ethos that mirrored the likes of The Doors and, with the help of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, unveiled this startling album. With the opener “Cruel World,” Del Ray comes out of the gates swinging, declaring with exuberant confidence with a chorus of “You’re f***ing crazy.”

17. The Antlers, Familiars

Melancholic and heavenly in the same breath, this NYC chamber-pop group builds on their trademark soundscapes to produce another album of compelling and breathtaking songs. Standout tracks include “Palace” and the gleaming guitars and horns of “Hotel.”

18. London Grammar, If You Wait

With comparisons to British darlings the xx, this trio, led by Hannah Reid, released one of the most anticipated albums of the year. London Grammar broke through with singles such as “Wasting My Young Years” and “Hey Now”, which put Reid’s distinctive vocals on full display. Though they did not explode into mainstream popularity as expected, the band left an indelible mark on 2014 with their unique blend of electronica and balladry.

19. Dean Wareham, Dean Wareham

With Jim James of My Morning Jacket in the producer’s chair, former Galaxie 500/Luna frontman Dean Wareham came out with his first full-length solo album, putting his observational songwriting and minimalist tendencies into a newly reframed and modern focus.

20. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal

Whatever you do, don’t call it slacker rock or Pavement-esque. Yet no matter how you describe Parquet Courts, it’s clear that, following 2012’s brilliant Light Up Gold, they are still full of sprawling and discombobulated rock dexterity.

21. Quilt, Held in Splendor

A worthwhile trip into harmony-laden ’60s pop pastiche with these Boston newcomers.

22. Jenny Lewis, Voyager

A gorgeous album from the acclaimed singer/songwriter and former frontwoman of Rilo Kiley.

23. The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Revelation

The iconic garage rock/’60s revivalists hit back hard on their newest album, a collection of recordings from 2012–2014 showcasing Anton Newcombe’s esoteric and volatile songwriting.

24. Hiss Golden Messenger, Lateness of Dancers

With arrangements reminiscent of The Band, this album is a stellar collection of nuanced Americana from M.C. Taylor, the former frontman for The Court and Spark.

25. Swans, To Be Kind

An album of hypnotic and distortion-ridden tracks that are sprawling, mind-bending, and terrifying in all the best ways possible.

26. St. Vincent, St. Vincent

Annie Clark delivers a captivating and angular album, showcasing her ability to seamlessly integrate progressive, pop, metal and funk ideals into engaging art pop.

27. Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else

Columbus, Ohio’s own Lydia Loveless put out some of her best songs to date on this release with sophisticated alt-country rockers and tear-jerking ballads.

28. Vashti Bunyan, Heartleap

A delicate and heavenly album, reportedly a farewell release by this intimate ’70s songstress. Bunyan shines with shades of Nick Drake and Nico.

29. Thee Oh Sees, Drop

The San Francisco garage rockers continued their prolific streak of barn-burning garage punk on the heels of last year’s Floating Coffin.

30. Jolie Holland, Wine Dark Sea

The Texas born songwriter and former Be Good Tanyas member came out with her first album in three years, featuring a mix of blues, folk, gospel and Tom Waits-esque arrangements.

31. Eagulls, Eagulls

32. Fucked Up, Glass Boys

33. Total Control, Typical System

34. Ariel Pink, pom pom

35. Run the Jewels, Run The Jewels 2

36. Hurray For The Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes

37. Mø, No Mythologies to Follow

38. Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots

39. Ava Luna, Electric Ballroom

40. Lykkie Li, I Never Learn

41. Strand of Oaks, Heal

42. alt-J, This is All Yours

43. Haunted Hearts, Initiation

44. Aphex Twin, Syro

45. The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers

46. Alcest, Shelter

47. Temples, Sun Structures

48. Wild Beasts, Present Tense

49. Perfect Pussy, Say Yes To Love

50. Grouper, Ruins

51. Tweens, Tweens

Josh Antonuccio is a Lecturer in the Music Production/Recording Industry program at the Ohio University School of Media Arts and Studies and owner/producer at 3 Elliott Studio. He can also be found around Athens, Ohio, performing with the band Scubadog.

These albums can be found locally at Haffa’s Records or listen to Josh’s 2014 Favorite Albums Playlist at Josh Antonuccio’s 51 Favorite Albums of 2014.