Anthony Dean-Harris’ Favorite Non-Jazz Releases of 2014

I must admit, there’s a lot of music this year,even music that I may be praising in this very list, that I may forget some time later. Next year, or two years from now. There’s just so much to keep track of nowadays. But for now, in this moment at the end of the year, I would like to feel confident saying that I enjoyed these albums the most.

Honorable Mention. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah (RCA)
Far be it for me to complain that the album the world has spent over a decade waiting for would disrupt year-end lists when ballots have already been sent, votes, tallied, and blurbs assigned. Yet when one of the best known artistic hermits of our day finally deigns to speak quick fast and in a hurry because the time was right and the streets are uneasy, in league with the notion of this just protest, the disruption was necessary. Yet what resulted feels like what naturally would come from D’Angelo, like hardly any time has passed. The vocals are just as smooth, the grooves from bassist Pino Palladino are just as present, the drums from ?uestlove and Chris “Daddy” Dave” pop, but D’Angelo also sets his hand to playing many of the instruments as well and he’s proved himself just as great at these new crafts as on the ones he had before, and on those he’s still just as great.

10. Interpol – El Pintor (Matador)
Something interesting happened in 2014. It’s not exactly clear how it happened but somewhere along the way of Paul Banks going astray on his own and a few lackluster albums, Interpol remembered what made them so great to listen to, making some of the most exciting music they’ve made since Antics.

9. Spoon – They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
Back in the summer, Grantland music writer Steven Hyden wrote a feature/review of this album arguing that Spoon is an unsung hero of rock because they’re so consistently great that they hardly make waves. It’s a pretty strong argument but it’s also important to note that this album is indeed so good that it rocked its fair share of boats. Spoon continually satisfies, album after album, and They Want My Soul is no exception. It’s so good, you want to make a note of it so you don’t forget how good it is, and then you’re glad you remembered.

8. Landlady – Upright Behavior (Hometapes)
Adam Schatz is one of my favorite weirdos in the whole wide world. I’m on record saying this. The energy and positivity he exudes in all his various endeavors is infectious, yet in 2014, none of this was more clear than in his indie rock group, Landlady. This group of musicians have made complex, but extremely accessible music that’s a delight to hear live and recorded, sure to squirrel its way into your head via Schatz’ chirping voice and Ian Chang’s snappy drumming.

7. Taylor McFerrin – Early Riser (Brainfeeder)
Taylor McFerrin, son of Bobby McFerrin, spent years on this album.Whenever he would show up live, jamming with the late Austin Peralta for example, he always dazzled, having folks wonder when he’d shine all his own. This year, McFerrin finally did, declaring his statement as a melder of talents and a maker of grooves.To do so, he recruited Hiatus Kaitoye’s Nai Palm, Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Marcus Gilmore, and even his dad to put together an exceptional album and a clear indicator that some good work takes time.

6. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! (Warp)
Did you ever wish Flying Lotus would have taken the last song of Cosmogramma, “Galaxy in Janaki”, and expanded that vibe into a whole album? This may be as close to such a work as we’re going to get, but mixing a mostly jazz fusion album with a bevy of legit jazz musicians, most prominently Herbie Hancock and the constant collaborator Thundercat on bass, with his rap alter ego Captain Murphy, ambient vibes, and numerous other influences in what is ultimately Steve Ellison’s contemplations about the moment and transition into death makes for a jam-packed almost 40 minutes that, as typical for a FlyLo album, is stronger as the the sum of its parts but works as individual songs in lush, mindbending ways that are as introspective as they are head nodding.

5. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)
The press swept me up, I admit it. So many music journalists and folks I respected, people of good taste, were all about this album and dad gum it if they didn’t end up all being right. Adam Granduciel has made a rocket to the moon powered by a thousand horses weaned on nothing but Marlboro cigarettes and determination (yes, the horses were fed determination). It’s a modern rock record that sounds both modern and rock.

4. Teebs – E S T A R A (Brainfeeder)
Mtendere Mandowa doesn’t just have a signature sound, or a signature trope in his visual art — most recently with his numerous paintings over album covers, Ante Vos, which he debuted around the same time as this album’s release — Teebs has a signature essence. The colorful swirls so frequent in his paints seem to find their way into his music. E S T A R A, his sophomore album if we’re not counting 2011’s Collections 01, takes this superchill blended musical hibiscus into an electronic album that gels so smoothly.

3. Real Estate – Atlas (Domino)
The word “pleasant” has an uneasy sheen to it, the ultimate of coin flips between the interesting and the banal. Pleasant can be so unassuming that it’s ultimately forgettable. Yet sometimes, pleasant can mean so darn nice, breezy, and catchy that you want to revisit it over and over again because they’re just so pleasant you can’t deny them. Ridgewood, New Jersey’s Real Estate strongly encapsulate either sides of this notion for most people, and in their latest album, they’ve only proved this notion even stronger than before.

2. Mndsgn – Yawn Zen (Stones Throw)
It’s hard not to hear some song off Yawn Zen and not want to dive even deeper into the album. In his latest release, Ringgo Ancheta has made what is essentially an electronic R&B album. the beats are charming and hypnotic, and Ancheta’s vocals are a smooth baritone that lilt throughout his songs exactly where needed. It’s not hard to love Mndsgn, and with Yawn Zen, that was kind of the point.

1. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal/Parkay Quarts – Content Nausea (What’s Your Rupture?)
Something about this band feels anachronistic. They’re stealing from older rock conventions but doing so better than anyone else right now. They’re expressive in their instruments like jazz when they want, or short and sweet like punk. Even their one-offs are gems worth considering in the same breath. Parquet Courts, through being so adept at not just how rock music works but simply at how music works, have released the most interesting, satisfying, ensnaring, enjoyable music this year.