My best-of-2014 albums list was nearly complete, with only the ordering of the last 25 or so on it remaining to be done, when D’Angelo threw a wrench into the process with his unexpected release last week of an album that was slated to arrive in 2015. While his Black Messiah LP necessitated multiple listenings in the past week and then a reworking at the top of the list, it was worth it.
Until then I had Sturgill Simpson’s outstanding Metamodern Sounds in Country Music — the best real country album in the past 10 years by anyone under 40 not named Jamey Johnson – atop my list. Had it just ahead of Run The Jewels 2, the second side-project album by Atlanta’s Killer Mike and Run The Jewels bandmate El-P, which surpasses their first album and can at least be mentioned in the same sentence as Killer Mike’s sublime 2012 album R.A.P. Music.
Then D’Angelo and the Vanguard entered the fray.
Black Messiah is an instant classic. It’s on a par with, and perhaps even better, than Voodoo, D’Angelo’s last studio album, which came out a full decade-and-a-half ago. (Hey, if you’re only going to crank out one album every 15 years, might as well make it a stunner, huh?)
Beautiful, brilliant, timely, socially conscious … and so very, very funky. Put this disc in the player, or the needle on the record, or however you young folks listen to tunes, and sit back. Let it wash over you. Start to finish. It’s best appreciated through that kind of listening experience. Preferably wearing headphones with the volume way up. This is the real deal, people.
One minute it reminds you of vintage Sly & The Family Stone. Then a song like “Charade” comes on and sounds like a lost track from Prince’s Sign O’ The Times. (To be honest, this sounds more like the Prince album that a lot of us hardcore Prince fans have been holding out hope to get from the Purple One for the past 20 years.) This is seriously transcendant R&B/soul, and it also rocks like early Funkadelic in spots. That’s lofty company.
Besides Prince, nobody has combined all of these particular influences and styles into one heady brew quite as adroitly as D’Angelo, who is backed on this album by a superb band that features Roots drummer Questlove on several tracks (he also gets co-songwriting credit on a few songs).
Sturgill’s album would’ve probably been No. 1 on my list in at least three of the previous five years. If I did the list again tomorrow, it might be No. 1 this year. It was that close a race, in my opinion. But right now, I’ve got it a close second. Looking at the top 10, including Sun Kil Moon’s remarkably personal Benji at No. 4 and Lucinda Williams’ best album in a decade, I’d have to say this is probably the deepest top 10 since I started doing this list.
As usual, I had no rules regarding genre of music. I like what I like, and chose only from albums/CDs that I have in my possession, all but one of which I bought (the exception: a friend sent me a copy of one album on the list). No “cheating” by sampling of albums off the internet and then putting them in my list. Had to have it, and had to have listened to it multiple times.
Again, I excluded live albums – Whitey Morgan’s recently released live LP is superb – as well as greatest hits, various-artist compilations (The Soul of Designer Records set: Grade A), outtakes compilations (i.e., Dylan & The Band’s Basement Tapes Raw and Wilco’s Alpha Mike Foxtrot, both terrific — and multi-artist soundtracks.
Hope you find a few you like and perhaps weren’t familiar with, either by checking them out on Spotify or YouTube or wherever you go to peruse new tunes. And here’s my best advice this year: Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of soul/funk or traditional country, do yourself a favor and try the top albums on the list. I bet you might be surprised to find you dig ‘em.
- D’Angelo: Black Messiah
- Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
- Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2
- Sun Kil Moon: Benji
- Spoon: They Want My Soul
- Lucinda Williams: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
- Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers
- Rosanne Cash: The River & The Thread
- Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness
- The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream
- St. Vincent: St. Vincent
- Steve Gunn: Way Out Weather
- Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems
- Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica
- Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty
- Simone Felice: Strangers
- Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else
- Swans: To Be Kind
- Matthew Ryan: Boxers
- Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast
- Tami Neilson: Dynamite
- Strand of Oaks: Heal
- Woods: With Light and With Love
- Mary Gauthier: Trouble & Love
- Joe Henry: Invisible Hour
- Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin: Common Ground
- Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait
- Sharon Van Etten: Are We There
- Drive-By Truckers: English Oceans
- Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right
- Ought: More Than Any Other Day
- The Delines: Colfax
- Statik Selektah: What Goes Around
- Mark Lanegan Band: Phantom Radio
- Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal
- Beck: Morning Phase
- Bob Mould: Beauty & Ruin
- Jenny Lewis: The Voyager
- Wild Beasts: Present Tense
- Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Pinata
- Benjamin Booker: Benjamin Booker
- Jack White: Lazarreto
- Thurston Moore: The Best Day
- YG: My Krazy Life
- Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class
- The Antlers: Familiars
- Future: Honest
- Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else
- Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires: Dereconstructed
- Ty Segall: Manipulator
Honorable mention (alphabetical): Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams; Alvvays: Alvvays; Black Lips: Underneath the Rainbow; Centro-matic: Take Pride in Your Long Odds; Rodney Crowell: Tarpaper Sky; Cymbals Eat Guitars: Lose; First Aid Kit: Stay Gold; F***ed Up: Glass Boys; Hard Working Americans: Hard Working Americans; Interpol: El Pintor; Miranda Lambert: Platinum; Nikki Lane: All or Nothin’; Mastodon: Once More ‘Round the Sun; Robert Plant: Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar; Nothing: Guilty of Everything; Schoolboy Q: Oxymoron; ; Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth; Shovels & Rope: Swimmin’ Time; Tweedy: Sukierae; Don Williams: Reflections; White Lung: Deep Fantasy; Holly Williams: The Highway; YOB: Clearing the Path to Ascend