D'Angelo_-_Black_Messiah_Album_Cover

As my best albums list is the “Best Albums I Listened To” as opposed to just the “Best Albums,” it is more pointedly subjective than my other best of lists. I usually do not listen to enough albums each year to really be able to definitively say which are the absolute greatest. Thus, this year, instead of focusing on objective critical analysis, I have decided to write about my own personal experiences with each of these entries.

1. D’Angelo & the Vanguard – Black Messiah – D’Angelo was always to me that ripped naked guy in that music video that featured some very interesting close-ups. I had some vague sense that he was also critically acclaimed. Then he started to be known as that reclusive guy who kept always teasing the possibility of new music. Black Messiah was appropriately a surprise release. It was quickly declared a masterpiece. Thus, I had to have it right away. From the first second of the first track, I knew it was my favorite album of the year.

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2. St. Vincent – St. Vincent – St. Vincent is probably my favorite contemporary musician, so her self-titled fourth album was my most anticipated release in years. It did not quite match her previous effort, Strange Mercy, but that is one of my favorite albums of all time. Still, she is so multifaceted and doing so much with music that nobody else is doing that I only love her more every day.

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3. Aphex Twin – Syro – This album, whose tracks have esoteric or just nonsensical titles, strikes me as the exemplar of “bloops and bleeps” – not meant mockingly in any way. It has proven to be an ideal soundtrack for a productive afternoon.

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4. The Black Keys – Turn Blue – The Black Keys have been making solid garage rock for a decade, but they were getting to a point where they were doing the same thing over and over. They were still doing it well, but they needed to do something different to keep me excited. When I first heard “Fever,” I knew they were going to deliver. “Weight of Love” and “Waiting on Words” were also quite the transportative experiences. “Gotta Get Away” is still a ridiculous road rock song, though.

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5. Charli XCX – Sucker – When I became aware of the full extent of Charli XCX’s influences (punk, synthpop, girl power), December 15, 2014, could not come fast enough. I expected, and welcomed, the feisty attitude that defined most of Sucker, but I was not prepared for how the vulnerability of the last track (“Need Ur Luv”) would stick with me the most.

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6. Lana del Rey – Ultraviolence – I eagerly await every new release from Ms. Del Rey, and there are just no two ways about it. She gives off a vibe that, let’s just say, a lot of people find it difficult to latch onto. I don’t like any other artists who are quite like her. I don’t think there are any other artists quite like her. But I do know that she somehow manages to create cinematic soundscapes that I just have to experience. With her debut, Born to Die, she conveyed that feeling, but it wasn’t fully cohesive (although subsequent listens have improved my opinion). This follow-up tightly and nicely brought it all together.

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7. Beck – Morning Phase – Beck is probably the most reliable contemporary musician on my iTunes. Normally, I do not voluntarily listen to too much mellow music. But Morning Phase actually feels rather hopeful.

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8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Original film soundtracks are a bit of a lost art, so it is always gratifying to see one as carefully curated as Mockingjay Pt. 1’s. All the artists here that I recognized – Lorde, Charli XCX, Bat For Lashes – lived up to all that I could have expected of them. But the really notable one is disco survivor Grace Jones, whose name I knew, but her work: not so much. I thought she might provide something thrillingly avant-garde; there wasn’t any way to prepare for how much “Original Beast” succeeded in that regard.

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9. Taylor Swift – 1989 – I have never really had a problem with T-Swizzle always singing about her love life. Plenty of others have done the same, and she was writing from experience after all. What I did have a problem with was that her lyrics were so simplistic and her music not particularly interesting. “Shake It Off” was something different, and it was also hard to resist. But it didn’t really indicate what 1989 was all about. She’s still singing almost exclusively about romance, but now’s she just a whole lot better at it. The first four tracks especially (“Welcome to New York,” “Blank Space,” “Style,” and “Out of the Woods”) have given me hours of bliss.

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10. Weird Al Yankovic – Mandatory Fun – “Weird Al” deployed a relentless release strategy of saturation for Mandatory Fun, debuting eight music videos in eight days. And I followed every minute of it. There are not many 55-year-olds that can read and dominate the pulse of pop culture. There are not many people at all who can do that in a fractured mainstream music world. Al has convinced me that he is not just unfailingly funny; he is also unfailingly a great musician, but not just that, either. He is, furthermore, unfailingly relevant.

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