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MetalGF’s Top Ten Non-Metal Albums of 2014

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young METALGFSome of you may wonder annually, “Who is this MetalGF? Why does she get to write a year-end list and I do not? Is that really fair? Whats the deal with her and Vince anyway? Are they married? Do they have an open marriage? If so, can I, the loyal reader, sleep with Vince? What is MetalGF’s favorite kind of sandwich? What are her hopes and dreams? Why does she listen to this terrible music? Is it only to bother us? Remember when she put Miley Cyrus on her list last year? Is MetalGF a figment of my imagination? Is Axl really MetalGF or am I just being paranoid? Where do I end and where does MetalGF begin? What is reality?”

I actually feel like you guys have warmed up to me over the years. In the early days, I would get comments like “Go back to the kitchen,” which is original comedy at its best, and gemstones like “break up with her…no meshuggah.,” but in more recent years, I’ve gotten comments as sweet as “Guessed your number one before I clicked. Most of this stuff is great!” and “Does Metal GF write for Pitchfork?” I feel like we’ve come to some understanding. We are different, yes, but we can still be friends. If Paula Abdul taught us anything, it’s that opposites do attract after all. In fact, her album Forever Your Girl was my #1 in 1992, but instead of writing about it on a website, as the internet did not yet exist, I lip synced to it in my living room. We should all lip sync our top lists, should we not? Here is what I’ve been lip syncing to, literally and metaphorically, this year: 

BeyonceImportant note/10. Beyoncé – Beyoncé (Columbia)

On December 3, 2013, my 2013 year end list was posted on this website. Asked to think of fifteen albums, I found myself unable, and posted fourteen albums. It was as if I knew on some level that something was going to happen in ten days, something amazing and unexpected that would change the year for millions of women and gay men everywhere, for Americans, for ex-pats and for the world at large; for my friends, for myself. Beyoncé’s self-titled album appeared as if from nowhere on December 13, 2013, disregarding all regular forms of publicity and advertising because it was truly above and beyond all of that, the album and all its videos dropping all at once overnight as if Santa/Jesus Himself was blessing each and every one of us. This album blew my mind with sounds and words I had never heard before, and I listened to it compulsively for the following 3-5 months, still in awe today of the beauty and innovation that Beyoncé created. Just one year ago today, neither the word “Surfbort” nor the phrase “I woke up like this” even existed. Think on that. So although it is 2014 now and I was unable to put this on my 2013 list, I want to mention it today with love, wonder and admiration in my heart and mind.

Listen: “Drunk in Love”

1400609202_5009. The Echo Friendly – Love Panic (YEBO music)

So often in life, you have to pretend to like your friend’s band, but sometimes your friend’s band is actually cool and there is no pretending involved. The Echo Friendly is a romantic couple; a man and a woman, tortured by love, their own love, and you get all the details in what feels like real time, or at least later that same night. It’s a voyeuristic musical experience and it fits well with the modern world in which we see each other’s relationships in social media all around us all the time until we think we know the couple, but do we really?  With the Echo Friendly, you can tell their hearts are entirely in it and this is really, truly happening to them and they are feeling it all intensely and that intensity is contagious. It’s like your two romantically involved friends are singing to you the details of their relationship hardships; The Echo Friendly opens up and lets you in and you are happy to be there with them, listening and maybe dancing. They play all over NYC all the time and other places, too. They are great live, it’s almost like a play, watching them dramatically act out their passions, singing the story of them while you watch, sometimes unsure if they’d rather be alone but unable to look away. Their biggest hit and probably my fave anyway is “Same Mistakes.”

Listen: “Same Mistakes”

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 10.25.23 AM8Whitney Houston – Live: Her Greatest Performances (RCA)

Of all the celebrities’ deaths I have experienced, save the King of Pop himself, Whitney hurt the most. Her life was tragic in so many ways, and it all ended accidentally in a hotel bathtub. Whitney is a force of nature. Before auto-tune or American Idol, there was Whitney singing her heart and lungs out like she was channeling another world. I listened to her debut self-titled album that came out when I was 5 probably every day until I was at least 10 and her voice formed what I think the best of the best should sound like. This live album takes you back to some of her best moments, from the day she was introduced to the world on the Merv Griffin Show to her breathtaking performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991. I can’t watch this enough times. She looks so healthy, young and full of life; before Bobby, before crack cocaine, before smothering fame, when she was just still a girl from Newark with gospel roots and a lifted, infectious spirit. Watch her, learn from her, and honor our lady Whitney forever and always.

Listen: “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Taylor_Swift_-_19897. Taylor Swift – 1989 (Big Machine Records)

I know what you guys are thinking!! What is this album doing all the down here at #7? Why?? Don’t you love Taylor Swift, MetalGF? What happened? Do we even know you anymore? The truth is I was disappointed by this album. After Red and Fearless, albums that made me dance and cry and fall in love with this country-singing blonde gal from a Christmas Tree farm, I was counting down the days for the release of 1989. I woke up on October 27, ran to my computer still in my PJs, and downloaded it. I probably haven’t purchased an album in over a year as I now pay for Spotify (God bless them), but I could not wait one more moment to hear my girl tell it like it is with all her sweet enthusiasm.  This is the hold she has on me. And this album is very good. I listen to a lot and I have bought tickets to see her this summer in concert. She still has something extremely special and it’s something no one else can even touch or get near. She is just too big a phenomenon to ignore or disregard. Have you ever seen this woman dance at award shows? It exhibits perfectly her reckless appreciation for music and life itself, and this perhaps naïve enthusiasm is why I love her. 1989 showcases this eager zeal. Taylor is welcoming you to New York, as if she has ever ridden the subway; Taylor is dramatically telling you about her last relationship, even though you can’t imagine it lasted longer than a few months. She wants you to know it all, everything she is feeling and experiencing in the way only a 23-year-old person can.  She’s like your little sister who has just gotten home after her freshman year of college and thinks she might be the first person on the planet to smoke pot, live in a dorm, make out with a rando and stay up all night with her new and thrilling friends. She is high on her independence, and I want to sit on the couch and hear all about it even though all my friends and I have all done the same exact thing. There is something about hearing someone live it all for the first time. And I am just happy to see Taylor growing up. I support her transition to pop or wherever she wants to go artistically, and hoping and praying she stays true to herself and this world never gets her down. Here is “Welcome to New York,” because it’s Vince’s favorite (don’t tell him I told you that) and because it’s just a solid pop song that will outlast all her naysayers and possibly the city itself:

Listen: “Welcome to New York”  

71gq5VIP8XL._SL1500_6. Ray LaMontagne – Supernova (RCA Records)

The first time I heard this tall drink of water from New Hampshire, I was sure I was listening to an older black woman. Is there a higher compliment to give a singer? Not that I know of.  Ray is an unusual man and you don’t have to listen too carefully to hear how deeply he is feeling things. I saw him a few weeks ago at the Beacon Theater and I wasn’t that impressed and my theory about that is that he can only get to that profound place he tends to go in the quiet solitude of his studio. He seemed shy on stage. It is not his natural habitat, he is not a rock star and the person you hear in his recorded music feels more authentic and true. On his albums, he sounds as if he is expelling something from his person, removing the regret and pleasure from his body and putting it out into the world with each song, each note, and each heartfelt lyric.  This may be because he sings from his gut, rather than his nose, or it could also be because he is a reserved person and this is where he flourishes as his true self. Whatever it is, he is weird and amazing and Supernova is different enough from his previous albums to feel new and changed… and yet he can’t cover or suppress who he is, even for a moment, and this makes everything he creates distinct, exceptional and unique to Ray. Here’s the title track:

Listen: “Supernova” 

CO-CD-coverwebsite5. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain (Nonesuch)

I don’t want to be predictable here but as I am writing it, it just feels so obvious. Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes has been my favorite guy/band since late college. I think he is the greatest poet of our time. His music is actually secondary to how good a writer he is and it is still so good.  His voice yodels, yells, pleads, rings and yes whines; it is an opera of emotion. Between his solo work and his band, Oberst is prolific releasing albums in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and this year. I keep thinking he will slow down, fail or weaken but each album is strong and excellent with new poetry, new melodies and a new style with each album. Especially now that his devastating personal and public nightmare seems to be behind him, I do believe and always have that Conor Oberst is a living legend, a genius and a gift to the world of indie music! He is easily at Bob Dylan level of song writing and I do not say that lightly. Upside Down Mountain just shows he’s still got it and he is going strong creatively. Conor Oberst is a feminist, a gifted imagination and a great American artist. Here is “Hundred of Ways”:

Listen: “Hundreds of Ways”

Vance_Joy_Dream_Your_Life_Away4. Vance Joy – Dream Your Life Away (Atlantic)

I think I found out about Vance Joy because Spotify suggested him to me. It was pretty much love at first listen. It’s right up my alley, designed for listeners just like me, which the Spotify formula can easily figure out. As if to hammer this point further, Vance is opening for Taylor Swift when I go see her this summer. I want to act like this is a big coincidence, but I know in my heart that this is all by design and I fit perfectly into something the music industry has created and I’m fine with it. Vance is the sweetest. He is a young Australian with a soft, honeyed voice that Vince tends to confuse with every other indie guy/band he’s ever heard. He’s new on the scene and it’s nice to have some new blood doing something that feels kind of newfangled, even if his music is derivative at times.  That doesn’t bother me. Vance is still his own man creating something meaningful and beautiful.  This album is great and I love listening to it and that’s what it’s all about in the end. Here is a gorgeous song he wrote called “Georgia”:

Listen: “Georgia” 

the-voyager-extralarge_14005249766393. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager (Warner Brothers)

I have loved Jenny Lewis since she was the child star of the hit film Troop Beverly Hills. The male metalsucks audience may recall her better from that Fred Savage video game movie entitled “The Wizard.” I’ve always found it hard to believe that a child star of the 80s could become such an authentic and creative indie artist but Jenny has done just that, for decades now. She has been hurt a lot, damaged by her mother and early stardom, and this gives her this sorrowful, detached authority that only increases her appeal. I fell in love with her first solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat, in 2006 and prior to that she was in the band Riley Kilo, which she has fronted since 1998. I saw her live during her Rabbit Fur Coat tour and she is just truly the most casually cool, most beautiful and talented woman I could imagine.  The audience fell in love with her, mesmerized by her natural charm and relaxed but electric stage presence. You can learn more about her here,  or you can listen to her newest album, The Voyager, which is just SO good. Her lyrics are so sad and true and the album is deep and easy. The star-studded video for “Just One of the Guys” should start off your Jenny Lewis journey with a bang: 

Listen: “Just One of the Guys”

10299100-576709759114405-8967171133444390332-n-14049332232. Bleachers – Strange Desire (RCA)

Vince and I listened to Jack Antonoff speak for over an hour to Marc Maron on WTF this summer probably a week before this album came out and I knew this was the guy for me. Never met a neurotic Jew I didn’t like! Jack comes from Fun., the pop band that took over your radio last year but he’s also behind the scenes writing huge hit songs for everyone from Taylor Swift to Sara Bareilles (he co-wrote “Brave” which is used in like every commercial). Jack Antonoff is a natural talent with an obsessive compulsive work ethic, an ideal combination for success. He’s like that nerd in high school who spends all his afternoons in his room playing his guitar with spells of extreme depression who grows up to be rich and famous while you thought you were super cool for not being depressed and playing team sports. This album is exciting and feels like he is truly adding something new to the accumulation of the artists he’s loved growing up in the New Jersey suburbs and by which he is clearly inspired (Queen and Bruce Springsteen to name a couple). The first single was startling and different with a wacky video directed by his girlfriend, Lena Dunham. Enjoy “I Wanna Get Better” and think about how easily it could be your motivating theme song for the commute to therapy:

Listen: “I Wanna Get Better”

1. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold (Columbia)First-Aid-Kit-Stay-Gold

I mentioned these Stockholm sisters last year in my list and you guys got really mad because the album had actually come out in 2012. So touchy! Well, this year (2014!!), First Aid Kit came out with a new album that I really can’t say enough good things about. It’s my favorite ever. They are just the greatest and I don’t want to sell them to you, I just want you to listen to this album and enjoy it! I want the best for you, dear reader. And they are indeed the best. I enjoyed their live performance this October at the Hammerstein Ballroom with my best friend. It seems like one sister is older and more serious, perhaps the one who writes the songs or, as my bff said, “the brains of the operation,” and the other sister is model-beautiful and the picture of fun onstage, clapping and dancing around. The two of them lit up the stage and had us all rapt attention. At one point they sang to a HUGE room with no microphones or instrument completely silencing a couple thousand previously rowdy people by their stage presence and pure aptitude. As I am writing this and researching them further on Wikipedia, I am realizing that they  sang on six tracks of Conor Oberst’s album this year (on this list) as well as Jenny Lewis’s album (on this list as well) so it seems like those I adore, adore each other which is always nice to hear. 

Listen

And there it is, another year gone by, another list of gems. And yet for all we know, Michael Jackson could release a previously unheard and secret album that he recorded in 1992 on December 17, 2014, and this all loses its fleeting meaning

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