As I spent most of 2014 traveling abroad, I was able to experience music as a form of memory, a canvas for my other senses. More than any other year in my life I was immersed in the feeling described by this poem I wrote many years ago:
We rewrite our lives in our favorite music.
We let moving lyrics resonate in our hearts
And then we replace them with our own words,
So that in time, these songs become the pages
Filled with our memories and experiences
And so, by way of narrative list, I offer my favorite music of 2014, much of which made its way into my Eurotrip film (still a work in progress).
1. Ásgeir – In the Silence
I got Ásgeir’s In the Silence at the same time as the next album in Berlin, while hanging out at the Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek in Kreuzberg. Still to this day if I hear any song from the album I can feel the winter cold, the snow on my fingers, the rumble of the S-bahn as it crosses a frozen river. In a way Berlin became our Iceland, and although Sigur Ros is still the more masterful artist, Ásgeir has had a greater emotional impact, and Dylan and I listened to this album on repeat for the remainder of our trip. I ended up using one of my favorites from the album, “On This Day,” for a section of our film about the Berlin-Grunewald Gleis 17 memorial.
2. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
I first started listening to Sun Kil Moon in 2013 and fell in love with one song in particular, “Glenn Tipton,” which had an oddly powerful mix of soothing acoustics and the mournful thoughts of a serial killer. It’s this tragic irony which I love about Benji, where nearly every song is about the death of real people in Mark Kozelek’s life. It’s really depressing stuff to listen to, but it formed a backdrop for a lot of reflection during our trip. Especially after a friend of mine passed away in May. Later on, when I was in Malmo, Sweden, I returned to his album devotedly to immerse myself in my favorite song from the album, also the most tragic:
And I got on my train in Malmo
And looked out at the snow feeling somewhere between happy and sad
In October I got to see Mark Kozelek play at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and when he did this song I was nearly brought to tears. Sure, he’s an asshole, but when you’ve listened to this album as many times as I have, it’s both understandable and forgivable.
3. Beck – Morning Phase
I started listening to this album in March, by which point we had left Germany and were on our way to the Balkans. It’s a beautiful region which has none of the danger or grit that I had expected from word of mouth. The landscapes are gorgeous, especially along the Croatian coastline, and I spent much of it fading in and out of sleep on the 6-8 hour long bus rides with Morning Phase playing on repeat. Perhaps that is why Beck brings back the Balkans the way Ásgeir brings back Berlin. I remember that moment of blur as I woke to a sunrise over Dubrovnik, hearing Beck’s songs of morning. Returning back through all the discography I had missed since his first hit single, “Loser,” I discovered that Sea Change and this album are the only two that I think really show Beck at his best, his acoustic orchestration and rough baritone front and center. Listen to “Heart is a Drum” over footage of Dubrovnik in my film (7:54).
4. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
February really was the best month of music this year. While St. Vincent is not something I listen to everyday, nor do I like every song on her eponymous St. Vincent, the songs that do work for me work like masterpieces. It’s really a sound unlike any other, and proves to me that Annie Clark is one of the best musicians out there today. Besides “Digital Witness,” I absolutely love “Prince Johnny,” (used in my film at 10:31) “I Prefer Your Love,” and “Severed Crossed Fingers.”
5. Real Estate – Atlas
In March I also found a nearly perfect driving album, Real Estate’s Atlas. Their previous Days was pretty good, but this album is essentially flawless. I used one of my favorites, “Talking Backwards,” as the background for the Alps skiing part of my film (6:15). But my favorite song from the album changes almost once a month — at first it was “Primitive,” then later it was “How Might I Live,” and right now it might be “On the Bend.” I often leave the vinyl running, and while it doesn’t remind me of any specific point in my travels it brings back the feeling of moving, and of watching trees and power lines go by.
6. Wye Oak – Shriek
Wye Oak’s sophomore effort Shriek was quite a surprise and was our soundtrack through a specific leg of the Balkan trip, specifically from Tirana, Albania, to Prizren, Kosovo. It’s great to hear such good musicians take on a completely different sound from one album to another, and this is certainly a direction I love. Hear “Logic of Color” over Zagreb at 15:30.
7. Sylvan Esso
Another duo working in much the same vein, was by far the grooviest breakout artist of the year. Sylvan Esso’s eponymous debut is quite simply the coolest beats of 2014, especially “Hey Mami” (used for Sarajevo at 4:15) and “Coffee.”
8. Connor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain
Just when I needed something to move me through the dreary month in London, Connor Oberst reentered my life with his solo album Upside Down Mountain. Oberst remains one of the best songwriters of the indie music scene, and I really think this album is his best work to date. The lines in songs like “Time Forgot” and “Common Knowledge” are to die for. I got to see him play at Hardly Strictly and it was a nice treat to the end of the year.
9. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
Another album I listened to like crazy in London was First Aid Kit’s second album, Stay Gold. It’s just slightly better than the first but that’s saying a lot. “Shattered & Hollow” is an incredible song, and it’s so easy to listen to the whole album over and over again.
10. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
The best album of 2014. Thanks to Adam Pearson for showing this to me. Been listening to it obsessively since August in Austria. Not much to say besides it’s like Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles reborn for our time.