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Shawn Campbell writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2014: Shawn Campbell

CHIRP Radio Best of 2014

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2014. Our next list is from CHIRP Radio's Founder and General Manager Shawn Campbell.

Here's what I liked this year. I don't pretend it's a list of the most important records of the year, I'm not trying to make any type of overarching statement -- these were just truly the records that hit me the hardest in 2014, the ones that got the regular spins and that I kept coming back to over the course of the year (or in the case of D'Angelo, expect to keep returning to in coming months). Thanks for listening.

Alvvays by Alvvays (Polyvinyl)
Alvvays AlvvaysBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Nothing more or less than a perfectly executed, breezy summertime record full of fuzzy, guitar-driven pop songs with sweet female vocals. This one flies by, at which point you just turn over the record and start it again - repeatedly.

Somewhere Else by Lydia Loveless (Bloodshot)
Lydia Loveless Somewhere ElseBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Lydia Loveless' career trajectory seems similar to erstwhile labelmate Neko Case -- three albums in, a lot of people still think, "country artist," but Loveless is all about speaking her mind and breaking boundaries, and her freewheeling attitude -- not to mention her ability to rock out -- owes as much to acts like the Replacements as anyone who has played the Opry. And her lyrical frankness makes the Exile in Guyville comparisons feel legit as well.

Black Messiah by D'Angelo & the Vanguard (RCA)
D'Angelo & the Vanguard Black MessiahBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Ah, the benefits of waiting until the last minute to assemble your best-of list. The unexpected release of this soulful, funky, endlessly interesting record made the usually dull release month of December buzz with excitement. Pure, analog, and real, and something increasingly rare these days -- an album meant to be listened to as an album, not a collection of singles and filler.

Courting Strong by Martha (Salinas)
Martha Courting StrongBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Every year needs a youthful poppy punk record, and Martha's 'Courting Strong' fit the bill in 2014. Bouncy, catchy songs courtesy of straight edge vegan kids from Durham, England. Melodic guitars, snotty vocals, energy to spare, and a teenaged diary worth of angst, anxiety, anger, and enthusiasm. While you have no interest in going back there yourself, it's fun to eavesdrop for a bit, pogoing all the while.

Spin-O-Rama by The Primitives (Elefant)
The Primitives Spin-O-RamaBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Long written off as a one-hit wonder for their shimmering 1988 single, "Crash," the Primitives began mounting their comeback a couple of years ago, and saw their retro-pop vision come to full flower with this year's 'Spin-O-Rama,' their first album of all-new material in 22 years, a perfectly-crafted mix of Byrdsy jangle and C86 fuzz. Tracy Tracy's voice hasn't aged a day, and overall, the album sounds like it could be the follow-up to 'Lovely,' the album that delivered the big hit.

Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs (Secretly Canadian)
The War on Drugs Lost in the DreamBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Sprawling and majestic, a big rock record when big rock records are supposed to be passe, 'Lost in the Dream' shines with influences from Dylan to U2. I'd never gotten the hype about The War on Drugs prior to this album, but this one made me a believer. Their soaring set this fall at the Hideout Block Party sealed the deal.

Blank Project by Neneh Cherry (Smalltown Supersound)
Neneh Cherry Blank ProjectBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Previously an artist who might take a decade or more between albums, Neneh Cherry's delivery of her second record in just three years was a real treat for fans, sweetened further by her appearance at Pitchfork this July -- her first US live set since 1992. 'Blank Project' is simultaneously minimalist and subtly funky, reminding the listener of her post-punk bona fides. Not always an easy listen, but a rewarding one.

Days of Abandon by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Yebo)
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Days of AbandonBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart may have abandoned some of the hazy, fuzzy production that made their first releases so charming, but they still know their way around a great pop song. The sharper production assures that the hooks are crystal clear and the vocals aren't buried in the mix. The sound of an indie pop band maturing without disavowing their roots. I'm on board.

Home Now by Gerald Dowd (self-released)
Gerald Dowd Home NowBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Longtime drummer about town Gerald Dowd finally steps out from behind the kit with this soulful country record, showing a lot of love for The Band (he holds down the Levon Helm role in a great Band cover outfit, Electric Dirt, that plays regularly at Simon's), as well as some commonalities with acts like Old 97s and early Ryan Adams - artists who clearly love country music, but also know how to rock.

We Come From the Same Place by Allo Darlin (Slumberland)
Allo Darlin We Come From the Same PlaceBUY: Reckless / Permanent / iTunes / Insound / Amazon

Allo Darlin's previous album, 'Europe,' is one of my favorite records of the 2000s, and while this one doesn't soar to its predecessor's heights, it still holds plenty of pleasures. Elizabeth Morris' sweet vocals with hybrid Aussie/London accent never fail to charm, and her evocative lyrics paint a distinctively early-21st century picture of loving, losing, and moving on. As usual, there are hooks to spare, and Morris contributes just the right amount of ukelele.

Honorable Mentions:

Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens - Cold World (Daptone)

Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain)

Gold-Bears - Dalliance (Slumberland)

St. Paul and the Broken Bones - Half the City (Single Lock)

King Tuff - Black Moon Spell (Sub Pop)

Withered Hand - New Gods (Slumberland)


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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2014

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