Liz Pahl (photo: Kathy Straley)
Liz Pahl (photo: Kathy Straley)

Liz Pahl: My Top Albums of 2014

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This is the seventh 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.

In 2014 I’ve experienced more joy than sorrow, and for that I am supremely grateful.

My family has so much to celebrate: two beautiful, healthy daughters, loads of music, an amazing community, loving friends and family both near and far.

There certainly were big losses this year, some just happening within the past five weeks. However, my internal compass always agrees with Poe: “Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.”

And my blessed life would not be complete without a soundtrack. Here are the top seven musical events that shaped my year.

1. Beck, Morning Phase

Morning Phase has been my most-played album this year, serving as an important backdrop to my life. It’s been playing while renovating my house, walking to work, working at work and driving in my car.

As a hardcore Beck fan, I was suspicious that this was marketed as the Sea Change “sequel.” But boy, does this album deliver. If Sea Change is Beck’s break-up album, then Morning Phase is his domesticated bliss album. It is truly the most content and hopeful of his works.

Even though the majority of the songs have a melancholy tone, there is a hefty feeling of tranquil optimism that is hypnotizing. The track “Morning” is sort of the sister version of “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” in the best way.

The exceptional songwriting, beautiful string arrangements, mystically nuanced track-layering and trademark reverb on Mr. Hansen’s voice all have me sold that this is the #1 album of 2014.

Favorite tracks (for the time being): “Turn Away,” “Country Down” and “Waking Light”

2. Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Angel Olsen’s voice is the obvious star of her sophomore effort. It’s sweet, yet manipulative. Soulful, yet wispy. She’s the woman Roy Orbison and Leonard Cohen wish they could have been.

However, after a million listens I’ve pinpointed what I love most about this album. It’s that we are listening to THE moments when a singer-songwriter finds the right band. Taking her soft acoustic songs, making them rough, charged, alive.

It’s an intense moment if you’ve ever taken your sweet little ditties to a group of musicians who electrify them and blow your mind by helping to create an entirely different world, both vocally and sonically. All of that is happening within Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

Favorite tracks: “Lights Out,” “High-Five” and “Windows.”

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

My friend Kelly Cooke said that Courtney Barnett is the new Liz Phair. I get that vibe. Courtney has really catchy tunes, and with lyrics like “I don’t want no 9-to-5, telling me that I’m alive” and “My friends play in bands, they are better than anything on radio,” she’s clearly got a hold on speaking the truth.

It’s refreshing. Her Australian accent doesn’t hurt, either.

Favorite tracks: “Don’t Apply Compression Gently,” “Are You Looking After Yourself” and “Avant Gardener.”

4. Matt Box, The Vunderling

This unreleased set of songs by my good friend Matt Box is really quite beautiful. The 12 songs were hand-picked from three separate albums he has quietly written over the years. Every song is lush, thoughtful and organic.

Matt performs all of the instrument parts. His voice sounds like a Cherokee warrior cry, sailing along the tenor winds of Mother Earth herself.

The best part about being a fan and friend of a songwriter is that you can pick their brain about what each song is about. Finding out what inspired them or what they were feeling around the time they were writing. It makes the musical experience so much richer when you have access to the author and origins of the songs.

Favorite tracks: “Outremer,” “End of Days,” “Stone” and “Malmesbury.”

5. Supernobody, Old Strange Power

You are doing yourself a huge disservice if you do not own any albums by Athens’ own Mike Elliott. His band’s latest release, Old Strange Power, continues to prove that Mike is one of the best songwriters Ohio has raised.

Mike’s songs have a haunting, comforting feel to them. Insightful, well-crafted lyrics are the skeleton to his body of work. Supernobody’s all-star cast sets up Old Strange Power with a driving uptempo beat, and they knock these songs out of the park.

Favorite tracks: “Hangar 18,” “New Bum in Town,” “Old Strange Power”

6. Marley (2012 documentary)

While this musical event was neither released in 2014, nor is an album, per se, it is a film I watched this year. Marley is an exceptional documentary of Bob Marley’s life. It opened my eyes to his perseverance, stubbornness and genius.

The film conveyed Bob’s intrinsic belief that there is a sincere bridge between music and the attainability of peace. It’s a great film, featuring rare interviews from people very close to him, including family and former band mates.

One interesting theme of the film (that enthuses my own personal research on parenting and being an artist) is that his children’s perspective of his fame and life is a very somber side of the story that often goes untold.

7. 2014 Nelsonville Music Festival

Gah. The Nelsonville Music Festival continues year-after-year to exceed my expectations of what an amazing weekend of music can entail. This year was no exception.

The 10th anniversary of NMF was astounding. Incredible performances by Lucius, The Avett Brothers, Shovels and Rope (and more!) proved to audiences near and far that Stuart’s Opera House can throw one heck of a party. And the world is noticing. Buzzfeed recently listed NMF as #13 in its article “21 Reasons Ohio is the Very Best of the Midwest.”

Liz Pahl is an Athens, Ohio-based singer-songwriter and frontwoman for The Summoners. Liz works as the program director for the Athens Foundation, and is author of the website, which focuses on parenting and being an artist.