That tick-tick-tick you're hearing is the clock, not a time bomb. So don't panic. There's still time to find great music for the loved ones on your Christmas list. Here's a look back at some of the best recordings of the year and a few tips on who's most likely to enjoy them.
People do still listen to CDs, right?
For the new folk freak: "The Harrow & The Harvest" by Gillian Welch. Like many of Welch's records, this one invades your consciousness through subtlety, not agresssion. It took eight years for Welch and guitarist David Rawlings to create this group of tracks. They weren't laboring in the studio all that time, though. The 10 tunes here are stripped down, stark and acoustic. At first, they sound may seem all too familiar -- as if we've heard this from Welch and Rawlings before. Eventually, "The Harrow & Harvest" breaks down resistance and carries listeners away to a time that's both more brutal and more beautiful than our own.
For the hip-hop hipster: "Relax" by Das Racist. Anyone weary of rap music's boring blasts of sexism and materialism should check out Das Racist. These guys aren't cleaning up hip-hop, they're just bringing back the weirdness. Critic Jim DeRogotis picked "Relax as one of his favorite albums of the year. "Wildly inventive, playfully psychedelic hip-hop that places these three Brooklynites as the proud inheritors of a tradition epitomized by De La Soul’s '3 Feet High and Rising' and the Beastie Boys’ 'Paul’s Boutique,' he wrote.
For the bluegrass addict: "Help My Brother" by The Gibson Brothers. Eric and Leigh Gibson have been recording for many years, but they struck all the right chords on this album, which blends originals and obscure oldies. Ricky Skaggs, Claire Lynch and Alison Brown contribute and Tim O'Brien contributes one of his songs, "Want vs. Need," to the mix. "All told, 'Help My Brother' did more things more impressively than any other bluegrass record of the year," wrote Steve Leftridge on the Popmatters.com website.
For the alt-rock explorer: "Whokill" tUnE-yArDs. Besides a love for wacky capitalization, singer Merrill Garbus shares a musical vision that's both freaky and fun. Drawing on African music, electronica and jazzy experimentalism, she creates soundscapes that are both unpredictable and catchy. Garbus' versatile, powerful voice is icing on the cake. Even the often irritable Pitchfork.com was seduced. "[The album's] 10 songs-of-self are testaments to the power of an idiosyncratic voice, and they're also reminders of the deceptively simple human demands that unite us," wrote the site's Lindsay Zoladz.
For the country boot scooter: "Hell on Heels" Pistol Annies. Move over Dixie Chicks, the Pistol Annies are ready to shoot up the place. The first album by the trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley created a stir in Nashville and beyond. While it didn't immediately yield a smash hit single, it did sell well enough to reach No. 5 on Billboard's albums list. It also was picked by a New York Times critic as one of the best albums of the year. "[It] turned out to be loose, wise, tough, well written, well sung and more in tune with the debt-stricken American moment than [Lambert's] own record this year," wrote Ben Ratliff.
For the metal doom consumer: "The Inside Room" 40 Watt Sun. London's 40 Watt Sun is a power trio led by singer-guitarist Pat Walker. His vocals put 40 Watt Sun is an unusual category among modern metal acts. Typically, he doesn't scream. He doesn't growl, snort or grunt. He actually sings, but that doesn't blunt the group's attack. On "The Inside Room," the band sounds fierce but also emotionally revealing. Some will say it's not abrasive enough to rate as true metal, but I disagree. Thom Jurek of Allmusic.com is on my side. "The Inside Room" is almost monstrously great even as it pushes doom metal to its margins and over them."
For the blues hound: "Revelator" Tedeschi Trucks Band. It's hard to top a one-two punch from a talented husband-and-wife team. Slide guitar ace Derek Trucks and his singing, guitar-playing wife Susan Tedeschi made a great, no-holds-barred record. "The chops and funky surge are first-rate; songs like the torrid 'Until You Remember' sound like history renewed," wrote Rolling Stone magazine, which picked the disc as one of the 50 best of the year.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times