Wouldn’t it make sense if all Best-Of lists were done deep into the following year? It would give the author time to reflect on the year as a whole and include December as valid month for artists to create. The answer is, of course, no. No one wants to work in December, artists and authors included, and by the time January comes around people have moved on to try and do something that will make someone’s best-of-the-year lists.
This is my annual list of my top 30 albums of the year ranked by iTunes play count. I play at least a portion of one of the songs on the piano simply because I can. A surprisingly early baby delayed it more than usual, but in the most beautiful way possible of course. My target audience (me) said it was fine to hand it in late.
1) Weird Al Yankovic “Mandatory Fun”
2014 was a big year for parody and novelty albums with Steel Panther, Weird Al, Paul & Storm and Brentalfloss. I mean those terms in the most endearing way.
Weird Al’s album was really the only chance for overlap with the Rolling Stones list (it didn’t make it). It takes the top spot on my list partially because I put so much time into learning the epic 9-minute closing track “Jackson Park Express” on the piano. It’s paid off since as of this writing (6/12/2015) it has nearly 700 views. That’s around 2 per day!
Per usual, my favorite songs are originals, style covers and the obligatory polka. The parodies are fine but get tiresome quickly. It’s my conceited belief that true Weird Al fans stay for his original work, and he just does the parodies to help pay for his songwriting hobby.
2) Transatlantic “Kaleidoscope”
2014 was the year of Prog Cruises (1 cruise). Listening to albums from the bands on the cruise brought back memories of rum, 80 degree weather in February, infinite salad/soft serve, and keyboard solos. For the aforementioned reasons, these albums got a lot of play this year. Transatlantic albums never disappoint and I’m happy to wait a few years between releases to keep the quality up.
3) Within Temptation “Hydra”
This was easily-digestible pop-metal to start off the year. For some reason I’m more forgiving of pop-metal when it’s led by a female vocalist.
What made this album interesting was the guest vocalists. Tarja Turunen was an obvious choice being a fellow corseted female metal vocalist. Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum was a less predictable choice but fit well. I can only imagine that they both just ran into each other having booked the studio at the same time and figured they mine as well do a song together. Xzibit rapping on “As We Run” reminded me that I enjoy rap when it’s used to balance out a non-rap song. It’s only when a song is entirely rap that it becomes boring. If it’s used in place of a bridge or guitar solo it can add interesting dynamics to any song.
4) Big Elf “Into the Maelstrom”
I enjoyed Big Elf’s first album after constant endorsement from Mike Portnoy. It wasn’t until I saw them on the Prog Cruise that I really got into them, including the first album and this strong follow-up.
5) If/Then Soundtrack
Quality musicals in this style are hard to come by. We get about one per year at most. I can only imagine the work that goes into these before the average person gets a chance to listen.
6) Old Crow Medicine Show “Remedy”
Another strong release that grows on you the longer you listen. “Shit Creek” is such a perfect title to a bluegrass song that it’s almost embarrassing that it took this long for it to happen.
7) John Gorka “Bright Side of Down”
Gorka will always be music to clean the house to. You’d think my house would be cleaner with this getting the #7 spot.
8) The Duhks “Beyond the Blue”
To me The Duhks will always be Leonard Podolak, Jessee Havey, Tania Elizabeth, Scott Senior and Jordan McConnell. I had the pleasure to see this line-up at the Burren in Somerville in February of 2014. I don’t think I realized how special the show was and that it may be the last time I see them with this line-up. After an energetic instrumental Tania looks at Jordan with the biggest smile and says “that was fun”. She meant it. They weren’t going through the motions and playing these songs for the millionth time. They were having fun in their original band knowing that many of their members were going on to bigger things.
The album by itself is a good enough album, but falls short of their classic albums (with Jessee). With the death of liner notes I’m not even sure Tania plays on this album. Her harmony vocals are certainly missed.
9) Tuomas Holopainen “Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge”
The album title almost reads as a joke, especially since it’s coming from the guitarist of a symphonic metal band. The entire album plays like the intro track to most other symphonic metal albums, but that’s a complement here. I hear bits of Yanni and David Arkenstone and didn’t miss the vocals at all.
10) Opeth “Pale Communication”
I’ve made my point about how the beauty of Opeth had always been the merger of clean and death vocals. Opeth has moved on and so shall I, and I can’t fault them for moving forward. I don’t expect another “Still Life”.