By Jason. When 2014 began, I had no idea who J.J. Cale was. But thanks to Clapton’s tribute album, his work became my favorite of 2014. Despite spending the year listening to a wide range of artists outside my usual listening habits, I kept coming back to this album. Cale’s “Tulsa Sound” is so smooth and effortless. Plus you have Willie Nelson and a more interesting Tom Petty than you get on Hypnotic Eye. After spending almost 20 years listening to more face-melting guitar than any person should, I’ve come to enjoy a well-honed rhythm and the perfectly placed lead.
1. Eric Clapton – The Breeze: An Appreciation Of JJ Cale
2. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
3. Noah Gundersen – Ledges
4. Glass Animals – ZABA
5. Slaves – Through Art We Are All Equals
6. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
7. Circa Survive – Descensus
8. Real Estate – Atlas
9. Animals As Leaders – The Joy Of Motion
10. Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life
Other than The Breeze, Ryan Adams was the album I listened to most this year, nearly always from start to finish. Much has been said on S&N about this album, so I won’t go on. For me, although it’s probably not his best album, Adams seems so comfortable with this material that it sucks me in and I go for the ride every time.
Ledges is incredible. Thanks to Spencer, I was introduced to Gundersen late in the year—and I am hugely grateful. I first listened to Ledges on a solo drive home from D.C. to Pennsylvania. “Poor Man’s Son” caught me totally off guard in a good way, but it was the depth of guilt and desire that came through in “Isaiah”’s “Honey, what am I doing? / How did I get this far?” that revealed this album was going to be a unique experience. I wasn’t wrong.
Moving in a totally different direction, I enjoyed the hell out of Glass Animals’s ZABA. Although much of this album is bizarre, its groovy/jazzy/hip-hop sound is so deeply layered that I feel like I experience a different album each time. In its own way, this was the most complete, yet complex, album I heard all year.
I may have put J.J. Cale in my number one slot, but I couldn’t let the top five go by without at least one metal selection. Slaves’s debut is easily the most interesting metal album of the year because of its attempt to break across genres, incorporating a significant amount of soul. Heavily influenced by Circa Survive, the band is at its best with tracks like “The Fire Down Below” and “This Is You Throwing In The Towel.” The worst are close encounters with R&B and a Linkin Park-style rap verse in “The King And The Army That Stands Behind Him.” Still, I haven’t heard anything this ambitious from a metal band in quite a while and I appreciated the experiment.
Lost In The Dream is the first album from The War On Drugs I’ve ever listened to. After seeing it on so many mid-year lists, I gave it a shot and was not disappointed. I like the tension in these tracks, all clouded in a haze from the 1980s.
My final four are a wild mix. Circa Survive wooed me a few years ago at the 9:30 Club and I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since. Descensus continues their familiar sound, and I have no complaints. Real Estate’s Atlas is a fantastic early morning driving album. I only wish they did more tracks like “How Might I Live,” which drops the heavy vocal reverb.
Rounding out the top ten, I was blown away by The Joy Of Motion from prog rock instrumentalists, Animals As Leaders. The lead guitar work on this album is outrageous in the most fantastic way. Lastly, there’s the Dio tribute album—a great bookend to this list. If you can listen to the entirely of Killswitch Engage’s cover of “Holy Diver” without turning the volume all the way up, then what the hell are you doing listening to a Ronnie James Dio tribute album?!
To hear some of Jason’s favorites, download S&N Mix 11: Jason’s Best Of 2014.