According to Last.fm, these are the artists I listened to most frequently in 2014:
1. Whiskeytown (352 plays)
2. The Front Bottoms (349)
3. Ryan Adams (313)
4. Future Islands (239)
5. John Coltrane (223)
6. Sean Hayes (217)
7. Bon Iver (211)
8. Nat King Cole (191)
9. TIE Mulatu Astatke and the George Wallington Quintet (188 each)
I've been using Last.fm to track my listening habits since May 2005, and as of today it's captured 105,170 plays. It covers iTunes plays at home, as well as iPod plays from my car and workouts. It doesn't cover Pandora plays at home, which we listen to often, so there's certainly plenty of data not being captured. That said, Amy usually puts on Pandora, and I usually put on iTunes, so the Last.fm data is a reasonably accurate reflection of my personal listening habits.
Coltrane (1,207 plays and #4 on my overall Last.fm list) is obviously one of my favorite artists ever, the man most responsible for my love of jazz, and I listened to him even more than usual in 2014 after discovering The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings. If I had to listen to just one box set for all time, this would be it.
Bon Iver (1,069, #6) is also an all-time favorite, but in a very different way. Miles Davis is #1 on my all time list (1,378 plays), but I also have 130 songs of his in my iTunes collection, while I only have 26 Bon Iver songs. Almost every one of them is a gem that holds deep personal meaning for me. I thought I'd tire of Bon Iver after a few years, as I do with most pop artists, but it hasn't happened yet.
Sean Hayes (717, #12) is sneaking into this bracket. He's hard to categorize--which is probably one reason why he's fairly obscure--but he sings about relationships, sex and the struggles of adulthood in a way that's both heartening and heartbreaking. (2012's Before We Turn to Dust is a great introduction to his work.)
And then there are the artists I become intensely infatuated with who rise to the top of an annual list like this but probably won't be here next year, like the Front Bottoms (360, #76) and Future Islands (239, #124). They're very different bands. The Front Bottoms make slightly nerdy, bouncy guitar pop that occasionally has a harder edge. This January 2014 concert on Long Island shows them at their best, with a joyous crowd singing along to every track and stage divers being careful not to hurt anyone (unlike the knuckleheads at the punk shows of my youth.) I'm too old to actually go to a show like this these days, but it's nice to know that they still take place. (This acoustic NPR set from 2013 makes it easier to absorb the lyrics.)
Future Islands makes new-wavey synth pop that relies heavily on the unexpected charisma of frontman Samuel T. Herring. He looks like a suburban middle manager who got lost on his way to the office park and wound up onstage. Then he starts singing and dancing, and it's like Richard Burton imitating Pee Wee Herman fronting New Order, with occasional death metal growls for added emphasis. They broke out in 2014 with this amazing performance of Seasons (Waiting on You) on Letterman. This short set in-studio at KEXP in Seattle is also great, and here they are on Austin City Limits.
I'm not sure what to make of last year's interest in Whiskeytown (483 plays, #38 all-time) and Ryan Adams (316, #91). I'm in love with almost everything the late, great Whiskeytown recorded, and Everything I Do (Miss You), is guaranteed to reduce me to a puddle, especially if Amy's around. Adams led Whiskeytown, of course, but his solo work is more varied as he's stretched himself as an artist. Some of it I love, some not so much.
Nat King Cole (191, #156 all-time) is primarily remembered today as a smooth singer, but we really got into him last year after Amy discovered how gifted he was as a pianist on 1956's After Midnight and the Instrumental Classics compilation. I respect Cole's singing, although I'm not passionate about it, but I expect I'll keep listening to his instrumental work.
When I saw Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers years ago I was so entranced by the music that I bought the soundtrack immediately. It's a great collection overall, but the standouts are four Ethiopian jazz-pop songs, three by Mulatu Astatke and one by Dengue Fever. Visiting my brother Matt last year I learned that there's an entire series of discs dedicated to that music, Éthiopiques. I picked up Volume 4, which focuses on Mulatu Astatke, as well as a compilation, The Very Best of Éthiopiques. Unreal. I may not listen to it as intensely as I did in 2014, but there are days when I can just put this music on and listen to it over and over again.
And George Wallington (312, #95 overall) was an Italian (born Giacinto Figlia) who came to the U.S. with his family as an infant and became one of the greatest bop pianists of the 1940s and '50s. (In 1960 he suddently stopped playing music and moved to Florida to work in his family's air-conditioning business. He began playing again 24 years later and recorded one more album in 1985 before he died in 1993 at age 68.) I've listened to him for years--I first got interested in him when I learned that Donald Byrd was in his quintet--but I really got into him in 2014 after discovering The Prestidigitator and especially the Complete Live at the Cafe Bohemia set. Late '50s/early '60s bop is probably the music I listen to most often at home, and Wallington is a master of the form.
I haven't seen Sandra Bernhard in years, but I ran across a reference to her today and was reminded of how much I loved her as a high-school kid and college student. Smart, irreverent, occasionally unhinged and always herself, she was something of a role model to me. I always assumed that she got a lot of shit growing up in Arizona and getting started in show biz, and I admired her for her courage and determination. And she made an art form of the Letterman interview--no one ever did it better.
Half a lifetime ago John Waite was a big deal. An actual rock star. (Of the sensitive '80s variety, but still.)
More recently, he's been playing acoustic sets at places like a Borders in Cincinnati. And he brings it.
I didn't like John Waite when he was all over MTV in the early '80s. But I have a lot of respect for a guy who does his best even when the bright lights are far, far away.