Chuck Arnold and Raha Lewis
April 14, 2014 12:00 PM

CHUCK’S PICKS

The 10 Best Albums of 2014 (so far)

1. LO-FANG

Blue Film

On a debut that plays like the sexy-hip soundtrack to the movie in his mind, the classically trained musician imbues these electro-orchestral settings with a director’s vision.

BEST TRACK: “Animal Urges”

2. JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW

Post Tropical

Another mesmerizing mood piece from the Bon Iver/James Blake school of atmospherics, this is falsetto-blessed gorgeousness.

BEST TRACK: “Cavalier”

3. NOAH GUNDERSEN

Ledges

With echoes of Damien Rice, Ryan Adams and Fleet Foxes, setting personal lyrics to intimate arrangements, this singer-songwriter’s first solo album is a rustic revelation.

BEST TRACK: “Ledges”

4. JUANES

Loco de Amor

The title of the multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winner’s latest means “Crazy in Love” in Spanish, and that’s exactly how you will feel about this muy caliente affair.

BEST TRACK: “La Luz”

5. BECK

Morning Phase

The dreamy acoustic beauty of this sort-of sequel to 2002’s Sea Change makes it shimmer like mellow gold. The cycle gradually, gracefully unfolds like the sweetest of sunrises.

BEST TRACK: “Morning”

6. ERIC CHURCH

The Outsiders

This rebel-rocking country album thinks outside the box with electric-guitar-charged rave-ups (the title cut) while also turning inward with reflective ballads (“Dark Side”).

BEST TRACK: “Cold One”

7. FOSTER THE PEOPLE

Supermodel

From dance-rock grooves to psychedelic-tinged trips, the kids with the “Pumped Up Kicks” come up with the model for alterna-bliss.

BEST TRACK: “Are You What You Want to Be?”

8. ALOE BLACC

Lift Your Spirit

This righteous retro-soul man, with shades of Bill Withers, delivers music to take you higher.

BEST TRACK: “The Man”

9. BROKEN BELLS

After the Disco

The second joint album from the Shins’ James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse is a smooth cocktail of cool grooves, Brit pop and ’60s psychedelia.

BEST TRACK: “Holding on for Life”

10. JENNIFER NETTLES

That Girl

Sugarland’s frontlady spices up her Rick Rubin-produced solo debut with fresh flavors of folk, blues and soul.

BEST TRACK: “That Girl”

SHAKIRA

Shakira |

POP

Shakira‘s first album since becoming a coach on The Voice last year reminds you that she possesses an innate quirkiness that gives her vocal delivery more character than you’d ever find from most contestants on a singing competition. It’s a quality that adds real personality to this eponymous English-language effort. No one else can sing a Shakira song like Shakira. That certainly helps when the tunes—whether it’s the reggae-pop vibes of “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” a Rihanna collaboration that’s more Ri-Ri than Shaki, or the calculated country move of “Medicine,” a duet with, you guessed it, Voice mate Blake Shelton – aren’t as distinctive as those pipes. Shakira doesn’t need any guest stars on highlights like the Alanis-ish power ballad “Empire,” the folkie beauty “23” and the rock-edged stomper “Spotlight,” which put the shine right where it belongs.

JOHNNY CASH

Out Among the Stars |

COUNTRY

This lost Johnny Cash album – recorded in 1981 and 1984 but not discovered until 2012, nine years after the country legend’s death – is not quite the gift from heaven you want it to be. A good number of these 12 studio tracks – including duets with wife June Carter Cash and Waylon Jennings – wouldn’t have been missed if they hadn’t seen the light of day. “If I Told You Who It Was” certainly does its best to tarnish his legacy. Still, Stars, coproduced by son John Carter Cash, has its bright spots, from two Cash originals – “Call Your Mother” and “I Came to Believe” – to the macabre “I Drove Her Out of My Mind.”

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