2014: Ben's Top Ten

by Benjamin Ray



10. Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments To An Elegy

Although the Pumpkins name is all but defunct, Billy Corgan, guitarist Jeff Schroeder (around since 2007’s Zeitgeist), and Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee craft an album that no longer diminishes the band name. At only half an hour, the eight songs show restraint, featuring the usual layers of guitar but allowing the melodies, insistent rhythm sections, and sense of fun to shine through. Tight, hooky, and mostly free of the usual Corgan BS, it’s a darn good time.

Download: “One And All,” “Anaise!,” “Anti-Hero.”


9. Beck - Morning Phase

Beck’s first disc in six years is a moody, introspective album that glistens with the weight of the world and the dawn of a new day, finding hope in the melancholy.

Download: “Wave,” “Turn Away.”

8. Live - The Turn

Veteran alt-rockers return after a long hiatus without singer/songwriter Ed Kowalczyk, and the addition of Chris Shinn breathes new life into what had become a stale concept. The band’s post-grunge is still loud and driving, but with renewed vigor, dramatic tension, and soaring melodies.

Download: “Don’t Run To Wait,” “The Only Way Around Is Through.”

7. St. Vincent - St. Vincent:

Smart, funny, nearly poetic and edgy, with some stellar guitar work to boot. Her best yet.

Download: “Birth In Reverse,” “Regret.”


6. Pixies - Indie Cindy

The legendary alternative band, minus bassist/singer Kim Deal, cut two EPs this year and one last year; this album collects those 12 songs and shuffles the order into a logical playlist. Sounding somewhat like a follow-up to Trompe Le Monde and Teenager Of The Year but with 23 years of life and experience, this is easily one of the best albums of the year, no matter what Pixies fans stuck on Doolittle say.

Download: “What Goes Boom,” “Magdalena 318,” “Blue-Eyed Hexe.”


5. Big Wreck -, Ghosts:

Classicist jam band hard rock, with comparisons to Dave Matthews Band and Soundgarden, that melds riffs and rhythm in beautiful, pounding harmony. The songwriting is dense and slightly prog-rock, revealing more with each listen and offering unexpected twists even with the familiar sound.

Download: “I Digress,” “Friends.”


4. Opeth - Pale Communion

The band continued its metamorphosis into progressive rock with this dense, twisty hard rock offering; it may draw from much older source material as inspiration, but it is thoroughly modern and takes a lot of welcome, necessary detours from the standard Opeth sound. Intricate and unexpected, this is how modern progressive rock should sound.

Download: “Cusp of Eternity,” “Voice of Treason.”

3. Black Keys - Turn Blue

Dan and Pat dispense with their usual gritty blues-rock grunge for a spacier, longer, more pensive album that still keeps one foot in the murk. Inspired by Neil Young and Pink Floyd while possessing the same musical spirit, identity and ambition that characterizes all of the duo’s work.  

Download: “Weight Of Love,” “Gotta Get Away,” “Turn Blue.”


2. Foster The People - Supermodel

Blending studio craft with a newfound live arena-rock capability, this indie band took a sonic leap forward and put to rest any lingering bad feelings from the irritating “Pumped Up Kicks.” The choruses will get stuck in your head and the layered, echo-laden production will transport you elsewhere, but the lyrics are worthwhile, too, focusing on our society’s obsession with image, digital and personal.

Download: “Best Friend,” “Nevermind,” “Are You What You Want To Be?”


1. U2 - Songs of Innocence

There was nothing innocent about how this album was marketed and distributed, but when the furor over that died down, these 11 tracks proved to be among the band’s most personal and autobiographical. The straightforward, honest lyrics are about specific moments in Bono, etc.’s lives but also are relatable to everyone, from the first love to the strife of childhood to discovering the music that truly transports you to the loss and yearning for the love of a parent. Musically, the album draws from all periods of the band’s storied history, even reaching back to War to find new twists on their signature sound. Truly excellent.

Download: “Volcano,” “Raised By Wolves,” “Cedarwood Road.”


Honorable Mention

Future Islands - Singles

Uses New Wave and pop as a basis, then infiltrates with modern electro-pop and ties it together with Samuel Herring’s stellar vocal work.

Download: “Like The Moon”

Real Estate -

A good, melancholy album for a thoughtful summer evening spent in the backyard by yourself with a beer and a grill, the Jersey band’s third effort gets a bit predictable in the music department but rises above lyrically, tackling relatable themes of growing older and looking backward with poise and strength.

Download: “Had To Hear,” “Talking Backwards”

Magic Numbers - Alias

This lovely, downbeat disc from the dual sibling duos captures the spaces of gray that fill in our everyday world. An appealing blend of Fleetwood Mac’s sound and spirit, ‘90s alt-rock and modern indie-pop shoegaze, the vocal harmonies soar above with melancholy beauty.

Download: “Thought I Wasn’t Ready,” “Shot In The Dark.”

The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams

New guitarist Steve Selvidge makes a huge mark on this band’s latest effort, turning it into a louder, smarter, and more streamlined affair than before.

Download: “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” “Oaks”

Afghan Whigs:
Do To The Beast

Lost ‘90s band reunites with two original members (and sans the original guitar player) and turns in a dark, heavy groove-centric alt rock affair with only hints of the old sound.

Download: “Parked Outside,” “Can Rova”

Gary Clark Jr., Live

If you’re not familiar with Clark, hop to it. Along with Joe Bonamassa, he is one of the best modern blues-rock guitarists working.

Download: “Catfish Blues,” “Ain’t Messin’ Round.”

Drive-By Truckers -
English Oceans

The timeless soundtrack to our everyday lives, great for putting on in the background during a warmish summer day while grilling in the backyard.

The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream

Full of dreamy yet weighty post-punk and ‘80s era classic rock-inspired musical sculptures, it is easy to get lost in this all-encompassing album.

Download: “Under The Pressure”

Eric Church - “The Outsiders”

The outsider position is desired in country music, and with this song Church not only nailed the spirit of the Southern outcast but set it to an intoxicating blend of country rock, classic rock and an edge that is missing from the genre.

Spoon - "Outlier"

The band returns after a brief hiatus with a fine album (They Want My Soul) blending old alternative and modern indie rock with flair and energy, shucking off the restraints of the genre with a shrug and a loud snare drum. "Outlier" is one of the highlights, incorporating elements of late-90s electronica and a swirling, happening rhythm section. 

Ryan Adams - "Gimme Something Good"

Great blues rock from an artist who took a detour with his eponymous 2014 album, and if the rest of the disc isn't as immediate, it's easy to get lost in the smoky vibe of this song.

Phish - “Waiting All Night”

Fuego was inconsistent, a modern Phish record that treaded water (albeit pleasantly), but this song was the best by a mile. Trey Anastasio’s voice moves from sleepy questioning to melancholy yearning as the sunny jam band groove shifts and squirms behind him.


Notable Misses

Pink Floyd - The Endless River

A great surprise in theory but a tepid affair, using leftover 1994 outtakes and grafting on new guitar and drum parts as needed. The short instrumental songs recall older, better Floyd tracks and never reach the emotional heights that the band’s music is capable of. Best heard as a sendoff for the band, the exit music over the credits.

Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways

A grand concept of recording eight songs in eight rock-centric cities, thinking up lyrics on the spot and filming it all for HBO turned into just another modern Foo Fighters album. It’s good music, of course, just not quite at the level of what a concept like that demands.

Neil Young -

A double disc, one of solo Neil and one of the same songs recorded in front of a big band or orchestra. The songs are standard solo pieces for Young, making the appearance of the big band somewhat of a gimmick that doesn’t really help the compositions. Not bad, but like the Foo Fighters album, the songs have to rise to the level of what the concept requires.

Weezer - Everything’s Going to Be Alright In the End

The band’s best album in at least a decade, still self-referential but catchy, energetic and with some attitude. The songs don’t stick around, but the fire has returned, and it was missed.

Worst Albums

Flaming Lips - With A Little Help From My Fwends

Simply awful. Don’t even bother.

John Frusciante - Enclosure

The former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist should know better. Nearly unlistentable.

Robin Thicke - Paula

Like peering into the bedroom of a fighting married couple, this was Thicke’s public apology and plea to his estranged wife Paula Patton. It’s a little creepy and the music isn’t memorable – although it returns to Thicke’s older Marvin Gaye-inspired sound – and it was both a public and personal bomb. Patton filed for divorce soon after it came out. Ouch.

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