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Ann Powers' Top 15 Albums Of 2014

Mary J. Blige's The London Sessions is one of Ann Powers' favorite albums of 2014. (Courtesy of the artist)closemore
Mary J. Blige's The London Sessions is one of Ann Powers' favorite albums of 2014. (Courtesy of the artist)

I have to be honest: Every time I've sat down to make a list of the year's best albums, I have walked away from my desk. Like many people I know, I've often felt lost during the final burning days of 2014 — overwhelmed by recent events, rendered inarticulate in the face of so many important truths being spoken by so many voices, and unsure how to go on with daily life when much more pressing matters are at hand. I wonder if anything is worth thinking about beyond the most obviously serious questions. I worry that the ability to agonize is itself a luxury. And music — music gives so much, I know it changes hearts and sustains lives. But what can I hear in the songs I love, with so much else filling my ear? Should every song be a protest song?

People turn to music in times of crisis — I do — but even as it brings happiness and helps process deep feeling, it can feel like something extra. There's an urge to repurpose it, to figure out how it can serve a higher cause. I've lately recognized that impulse in myself. I've been tempted to narrow my listening to suit some self-constructed higher mandate. But then I realize that I'm being a fool to think that's how music works.

People always need the extra thing that they love, through which they live. I need it. If my house caught fire, I'd come running out the door, clutching tchotchkes in my hands. Why? Not because the extra thing is somehow quantifiably important, but because it makes room for something. It connects me with something extra within: a buried emotion, an urge to be better, a reckoning with pain, even just a rush. Music, taking up time and spreading a feeling of abundance, opens me up to ways of knowing that may have suppressed or not yet cultivated. The connection turns out to be expansive, not extraneous.

This list, in alphabetical order, honors albums that created room for thought and feeling in my life throughout 2014. In the course of any given day I would put one on in the car or while walking or cooking or laying on the floor. Soon, I'd have access to something I might have been ignoring because life is so busy and sometimes feels so heavy and close. A moment of pleasure; a better self to pursue; a way to cope. Each of these these twelve albums gave me something I needed this year, whether I knew it or not, could name it or not. They are my latest favorite extra things.

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