End of the Year 2014: Top 10 Albums
Zack Baker, Editorial Director
1. Best Witches - Wishes [Self-Released]
Absolutely nothing else released this year comes close to the love I have for this record. When I die, I want to be buried with this album. It's fun, in your face, smart, all the typical bullshit buzzwords that music writers use to desscribe a great record are checked off here, but it's something beyond that. Wishes is technical without sounding pretentious, emotionally and instrumentally raw while still having seriously stellar production and every single song is a banger. I could (and have in the past) go on and on about how much I love this album, how sadly overlooked it is, why a song that basically just jacks the concepts from Pirates of The Caribbean is actually incredible ("Me & Hawkins"), why it's like if At The Drive-In listened to more Snowing but also not like that at all, but I won't. Just listen to it. Please.
2. The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace Is There [Tiny Engines]
I can't think of any album that came out this year (or any year really) that surprised me as much as Home did. I had never heard of The Hotelier before, I kind of thought it would be the whiny kind of pop-punk that I despise when reviews started to come out, but then I gave it a chance. I realized that Home is probably the single most cohesive and well-constructed albums I've ever heard and that I was a giant idiot for writing it off. The record is the single most emotional and cathartic album of this year, and this year was a year where I needed that. I have no idea how The Hotelier can possibly follow this album up, but something tells me I'll be just as enamored with that record as I am with Home.
3. Cymbals Eat Guitars - LOSE [Barsuk]
Nobody really knew what to expect out of Cymbals Eat Guitars' 3rd LP. After the charming guitar driven indie-rock of Why There Are Mountains and the hazy prog-indulgence of Lenses Alien, the band kind of felt like they didn't really have an identity. LOSE was the declaration the band needed. Crammed with straightforward, absolutely killer guitar rock music, LOSE blew me away. The production is huge, every song stands out as a hit, the band really pulled off the intermingling of its punkier in-your-face side with its affinity for quiet moments to balance the noise and even managed to tighten up the jammier tendencies from Lenses Alien. I have a thing for albums that feel intricately constructed to take the listener on a journey and Cymbals Eat Guitars did just that, not to mention writing some fucking stellar songs in the process.
4. Saintseneca - Dark Arc [Anti]
Dark Arc was pretty much the only album I listened to in the spring, most of the summer, a lot of the fall and I guess winter. Folk isn't generally my go-to genre (and this album is more rock than folk, but genres are all just bullshit anyway) so for this to grab me as strongly as it did kind of shocked me. The production absolutely nails the band's live vibe, making you feel like you're just sitting in on the world's tightest jam session. It's intimate and massive at the same time, songs that would feel equally at home in a basement or a sold-out theatre. Plus, Dark Arc helped me discover the band's older material which only made me question why they weren't already the biggest band in the world by this point. (Oh, and they're from Columbus. Shout out Ohio.)
5. Radiator Hospital - Torch Song [Salinas]
I didn't like this album when I first listened to it. It was too clean, too produced. This wasn't my Radiator Hospital, the one who won my heart with last year's rough, heartfelt Something Wild. Eventually, I stopped being a stupid idiot and realized that Torch Song is Sam Cook-Parrot and the crew at their absolute best. Sure, it's tighter and cleaner than Something Wild, but artists have to grow. This album is everything I loved about Radiator Hospital before but so much better. Sam's writing feels more honest and descriptive (which I didn't think was possible), there's more going on instrumentally and even the "deep cuts" are catchy enough to get me singing along every time.
6. LVL UP - Hoodwink'd [Double Double Whammy]
LVL UP had always sat on the fringe of my "music radar." As a sort of spiritual successor to Spook Houses (RIP, gone too soon, never forgotten), I listened to 2011's Space Brothers and dug it enough but it wasn't the sequel to Spook Houses American that I had hoped for. I listened to last year's stellar Extra Worlds and loved it, but it still wasn't enough to cement LVL UP as one of my favorite bands–a world-renowned honor. Hoodwink'd did it. Everything I liked about the band's older stuff was still there, finally fleshed out into something that made me realize "Holy shit, this band is fucking incredible." The rotating assignment of vocal duties gives the album variety, but nothing feels out of place. Hoodwink'd's knack for turning the mundane twentysomething experience into hulking jams of massive importance is something no one does quite like LVL UP.
7. Alex G - DSU [Orchid Tapes]
Alex G is the golden child of "bedroom pop" right now, but the album he put out to gain all that attention doesn't have anything "bedroomy" about it. DSU is intricate, beautifully produced, endlessly creative and has some of the most outrageous and innovative uses of guitar on any album that came out this year. Alex has been quietly putting out absolutely incredible releases for quite a while now, and DSU finally made people pay attention.
8. Cloud Nothings - Here And Nowhere Else [Carpark]
When this album came out, I was positive that it would be my album of the year. It was loud, catchy, everything I wanted out of a follow up to Attack On Memory and the drums are still the best of any record that came out this year. As time went on, that initial infatuation faded but I feel like that's kind of the point of the record. It's an album that has no pretention about what it is: a self-destructive guitar rock record that wants you to play it as loud as possible. I love it for that, but it lost my attention to other records that beg for repeat listens.
9. Mitski - Bury Me At Makeout Creek [Double Double Whammy]
This album is gorgeous. This album is dirty. This album is gentle. This album wants to make your ears bleed. I haven't ever heard anything quite like Bury Me At Makeout Creek, an album whose orchestrator is equally at home spinning love songs about doomed but beautiful romances and designing militant sonic "fuck you"s to the world that end in a hellstorm of noise and screeching. It shouldn't make any sense, but it does and it's absolutely incredible.
10. Beach Slang - Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street/Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? [Tiny Engines/Dead Broke]
I never expected to love punk music written by a 40-year-old dude quite as much as I adore these two EPs. Frontman James Snyder writes punk songs about punk music, which sounds like it would end up endlessly narcissistic and self-indulgent but his lyricism captures the energy and excitement of being a "punk" kid impeccably. There are lines that would normally make me cringe coming from any other band, but for whatever reason I find myself shouting along when they come from Snyder. I don't understand it, but I love it.
Honorable Mentions: Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2, Foxes In Fiction - Ontario Gothic, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata, John Galm - Sky of No Stars, Perfume Genius - Too Bright
Album That Would Be In My Top 10 If I Could Figure Out If It Qualifies As A 2014 Release: Julia Brown - An Abundance of Strawberries
Megan Fair, General Manager & Copy Chief
1. FKA twigs - LP1 [Young Turks]
FKA twigs has this indescribable something that keeps me coming back over and over again. What makes LP1 so addictive? If I had to guess, it has something to do with the incredibly precise composition and production, the empowering (and hella sensual) lyrics and twigs’ distinct and chill-inducing vocal performance. From front to back, every track is painstakingly constructed so that each minimalist ingredient weaves delicately into the others. This wizardry births tracks so huge that you can’t do much besides lose yourself in their immersive, seductive soundscapes. Whether they be haunting or warm, the waves of this album are absolutely unforgettable, and FKA twigs has the power to reinvent the pop game entirely. Her artistic prowess, raw talent and exceptional craftsmanship have created an intimate album that is an empowering tale of a woman who is in command of her sexuality while being vulnerable too. Art at its finest.
2. The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace Is There [Tiny Engines]
From the very moment this album begins, there is an incredibly intimate connection made between the listener and artist. The raw lyrics over a warm and nostalgic riff and birds chirping call forth an emotional nostalgia introduce the incredible outfit of The Hotelier as vocalist Christian Holden paints a picture and tale of hope and defeat, and the intensity from track burns all the way to its end. The lyrics on Home, Like Noplace Is There is top notch, and the music expresses every single emotion that lyrics may not. Simultaneously catchy and gut-wrenching, the crossover appeal that The Hotelier has mastered with their riffs and song construction and undeniable melodies is stunning. Listen to this record. Burn away the pain through screaming your lungs out.
3. PUNCH - They Don’t Have To Believe [Deathwish]
Any power violence act that derives their album name from a Kathleen Hanna quote is surely on a path to my heart. Now, when that band creates some of the hardest, most real music and slams some of the best vocals and hardest feminist lyrics of 2014, you have a real recipe for one of the best records of 2014. The first track alone slays, with vocalist Meghan O’Neil screaming, “Our lives, our bodies are none of your fucking business / We don’t exist for you to appraise / Not a compliment, no fucking thanks.” Relentless, brutal and fast from front to back, the folks of PUNCH have crafted a hardcore album that remains diverse enough to stay interesting while being fast as hell and bursting with crushing honesty. The title track is five seconds long: It doesn’t get anymore punk than that. The perfect soundtrack to killing your local rapist.
4. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2 [Mass Appeal]
This is the best rap album of 2014, in my humble opinion. Killer Mike and El-P spit some of the most raw, socially conscious, goofy and savage verses on this record. With amazing verses settled upon explorative and abrasive production of all shapes and styles, Run the Jewels 2 is both challenging and inviting. Production is nearly flawless, and the presence of abrasive noise is a really nice touch. Tracks like “Early [ft. Boots] and “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) [ft. Zack de la Rocha]” are timely and raw, with “Early” speaking of rampant police brutality and “Close Your Eyes” using torture as a way to get back at law enforcement (who incidentally have just gotten some bad press for their own use of torture.) Dope features sprinkle this album with a little spice (Gangsta Boo’s raunchy as fuck verse being probably my favorite), and the yin and yang of playful and real as hell makes for a well-rounded experience worthy of endless praise. Any record that disses misogynists, corrupt government and fuckboys in a package that induces riotous dancing is a record I’m going to listen to entirely too much.
5. St. Vincent - St. Vincent [Republic]
Annie Clark is an unstoppable force of major technical talent, artistic vision and wizardry. From Marry Me to St. Vincent, Clark has been refining her sound and style, molding and growing while managing to put out nearly flawless, St. Vincent is an incredible example of this. From heartfelt, dreamy ballads like “I Prefer Your Love” to dystopian dance jams like “Digital Witness,” Clark delivers a well-rounded effort that shows off her creativity and unbelievable skill. The riff at the end of “Huey Newton” is so grimy that I feel like I need to take a bath after listening to it—I mean this in the best way. If this album were a building, it would be the Guggenheim, only this Guggenheim could lift off into space and explore the vast universe. Listening to this album is an absolute must for anyone who loves challenging pop and is experiencing an existential crisis about the Internet Age.
6. Code Orange - I Am King [Deathwish]
For a band whose members average age makes them barely old enough to drink, Code Orange is causing quite a stir within the hardcore/metal community. I Am King is a cohesive, experimental journey through eerie minor harmonies, straightforward lyrics, ridiculously meticulous production and sludgy goodness. This record manages to induce fear while making you want to punch everyone around you and knock over a really expensive vase. Each track flexes a different creative muscle, but the band shines on tracks like “I Am King” where the noise and complexity creates something brutally fast and thrashy. These Pittsburgh-ers are somewhat notorious for having a bit of an ego, but at this point, who can blame them? I’d be cocky too if I put out one of the best heavy records in recent memory.
7. Tweens - Tweens [Frenchkiss]
This outfit calls itself trash pop. As a piece of human garbage who loves dancing around to catchy melodies, this recipe cannot be beat. Ranging from very surf-punk to nearly doo-wop, Tweens has a distinct style, marked especially by vocalist =Bridget Battle’s incredible vocal ferocity and the bands’ undeniable spunk. Tweens self-titled effort oozes juvenile delinquency and angst; It makes me want to wear red lipstick and leather and pout like Wanda Woodward in Cry-Baby. Let down your hair, put on some polka-dots and shake it out to this incredible record, and pray to your Tweens shrine that they put out some fiery new tracks as soon as humanly possible.
8. Cayetana - Nervous Like Me [Tiny Engines]
Bittersweet and honest lyrics, big arrangement and undeniably distinct vocals make Cayetana’s album Nervous Like Me such a stand out for me. I’m continuously impressed with three-pieces who put out albums that sound so huge. The record itself is produced with a fun lo-fi and sometimes beach-y reverb twist, which makes it even more fun. Additionally, these tracks would be riotously fun to bop around to while whipping your hair around in a live setting, or just in your bedroom. I’m not saying that I dance around to this when I’m getting ready, but I’m not saying I don’t either. Don’t sleep on Cayetana, you’ll be hearing about them rather soon.
9. Frankie Cosmos - Zentropy [Double Double Whammy]
Frankie Cosmos provides for lucky listeners a candid account of sadness, love and loss and the undying affection for a pet in a saccharine package laced with untouchable harmonies and quickly fleeting tracks. This album was the perfect soundtrack to my summer of riding busses and spending a great deal of time with my own thoughts. Anthemic tunes like “School,” “Birthday Song” and “Buses Splash With Rain” really highlight what makes Frankie Cosmos so hard to quit. Sweetly self-deprecating, expertly crafted and infectious, Zentropy characterizes hazy summer days and highlights that it is a-okay to be a sad girl, especially if you put that energy into making one of the best records of 2014.
10. Radiator Hospital - Torch Song [Salinas]
Wowza, what a record. At times blisteringly fast, at others so delicate and fragile, Torch Song expresses a wide range of complex human emotions, all delivered by unique vocals and distinct guitar tones and wicked percussion. “Cut Your Bangs” is so irresistible that anytime anyone even mentions getting a haircut, I feel as if at least four of us begin singing the song, and both “Fireworks” and “Fireworks - Reprise” are beautiful, bittersweet bookends that suit the ache of longing for distant lovers and even fond times and places. Much like Frankie Cosmos, Radiator Hospital has quite the knack for harmonies. Torch Song manages to be a lovely half hour of consistent musical goodness.
Eric Perzanowski, Programming Director & Contributor
1. Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails [Unique Leader]
There was not much question that this would end up as my favorite album of 2014. This just seemed like the most complete album. All of the songs flow together impeccably, and the atmosphere created throughout the album is amazing.
2. Black Crown Initiate – The Wreckage of Stars [E1 Entertainment]
This is an outstanding debut full-length album. I love the shifts that occur in many of the songs between the growling vocals and the melodic clean vocals. The Wreckage of Stars also probably has some of my favorite lyrics of 2014, as there has been many times I have found myself reading along to the lyrics, thinking and trying to interpret the ideas presented on this album.
3. Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds [Nuclear Blast]
It was obviously gonna be tough for Machine Head to top 2011’s Unto The Locust, an album that I love dearly. Time will tell if Bloodstone & Diamonds did so, but as it stands, this is still a great album that incorporates elements from all over the band’s existence, and only gets better upon repeated listens.
4. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun [Reprise]
Everything Mastodon has done up to this point in its career has been great in my opinion. Once More ‘Round The Sun continues and builds on the sound and style that The Hunter has, which may be more “mainstream” sounding, but it’s still highly substantial material. I’m also really glad that this album expanded the amount of vocal work from drummer Brann Dailor.
5. Behemoth – The Satanist [Metal Blade]
Behemoth is a masterful band that has an outstanding craft for making blasphemous, evil extreme metal. The band has been through a lot in the five years in between albums, and that seemed to translate into a powerful album.
6. Allegaeon – Elements of the Infinite [Metal Blade]
Allegaeon has a wonderful mix of technicality and great songwriting abilities, and that’s put on display with this album. I love the addition of orchestral elements on several of the album’s tracks.
7. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden [Profound Lore]
I’m not typically one for doom metal, mostly because I just have never gotten around to really get into it. That being said, Foundations of Burden is a massive album that creates a haunting, sorrowful atmosphere. I have been wanting to check out a lot more doom metal upon hearing this album.
8. Anaal Nathrakh – Desideratum [Metal Blade]
Anaal Nathrakh’s Desideratum is one of the most unique metal albums I’ve heard in a while. The incorporation of industrial, and almost EDM-like stylings into the band’s usual extreme metal turned out surprisingly well, and made me reconsider whether or not this type of electronic music has a place in metal (I believe it does after hearing this).
9. At The Gates – At War With Reality [Century Media]
After 19 years away, At The Gates returned triumphantly. This album is chockfull of infectious riffs and hooks.
10. Iced Earth – Plagues of Babylon [Century Media]
This album has the ability to bring back memories of 2014 unlike any other, as it was essentially my soundtrack to the winter/early-spring months. Vocalist Stu Block has been a fantastic addition over the past several albums, as his voice fits the epic sound from the rest of the band.
Honorable Mentions: Revocation - Deathless, Mutilation Rites – Harbinger, The Acacia Strain – Coma Witch, Trap Them – Blissfucker, Within The Ruins – Phenomena
Xavier Veccia, PR Director & Managing Editor
Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2 [Mass Appeal]
These top three albums were basically tied, but RTJ earns the top spot for how powerful their album has become. There may be anger, rage and raw bile on this 11-track masterpiece, but when Killer Mike held back tears just miles away from Ferguson just minutes after the Darren Wilson verdict, it became clear that this album was more than just hot-headed hymns, but the unlikely soundtrack to whatever the hell is happening right now across the country.
Flying Lotus - You’re Dead! [Warp]
What makes FlyLo’s newest release stand out against the next album is the sheer variety of it all. You’re Dead! goes from jazz to hip-hop to EDM so seamlessly that it gives the listener the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the existential excellence encased in this 40-minute journey. Plus, it sounds super tight on vinyl.
FKA twigs - LP1 [Young Turks]
What’s so insane about this release is that, while it is proof how quickly the ex-dancer has mastered her voice, it also shows the massive amounts of untapped of potential twigs still has. It’s still a fantastic album, but with a couple more years, twigs could be releasing classics.
Perfume Genius- Too Bright [Matador]
While 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It was powerful in it’s own right, the biggest question that arose from it was “If this is how good Mike Hadreas sounds with minimal production, just how great could he be if his production matched his voice?” Well, Too Bright bluntly answers, “Pretty freaking awesome.”
Isaiah Rashad - Cilvia Demo EP [Top Dawg Entertainment]
I wrote 600 words on this album in January and I could write 600 more, but I’ll keep it short here. I’m just going to say it’s pretty insane how this little-known Southern MC’s debut was supposed to be the appetizer for TDE’s mammoth year, but ended up being the best course by far.
Big K.R.I.T. - Cadillactica [Def Jam]
K.R.I.T.’s always been an intelligent lyricist who was capable of putting together a nice mixtape. But Cadillacticta gave K.R.I.T. his biggest platform to date, and he filled the imaginary theatre he writes about with creative choices without veering too far away from his grimy Southern flow.
Future Islands - Singles [4AD]
This was a late addition, but Future Islands deserves it. Singles is exactly that, a collection of catchy pop hooks meant more for the 20-somethings that care a bit too much than the tweens who don’t care enough.
Alt-J - This is All Yours [Infectious]
I was probably at least half a point too high on my review of this album, but no matter my actual rating, I really liked this album. While maybe not as good as An Awesome Wave, This is All Yours still felt like a mature step for Alt-J, especially within the “Nara” trilogy.
Mac DeMarco - Salad Days [Captured Tracks]
Mac DeMarco is currently in the lead for “Next Morissey” for his performance on Salad Days. In typical Morissey fashion, DeMarco uses as little words as possible to bring as many tears to your eyes as possible.
YG - My Krazy Life [Pu$haz Ink]
I tried to leave this album off my top 10. I really did. But how could I with banger after banger littered throughout the album? How could I forget YG’s surprising maturation on My Krazy Life. Simple, I couldn’t.
Alexa Smith, News Editor
I feel as though I approach music in a way fairly different than most. I rarely seek out new tunage unless my dearest and closest artistic companions have released their latest work for my ears to make love to. Usually I just wait for the music to come to me, either through loved ones or by strange coincidence. This year was a slow one, one with little musical love, but enough to get me through. These five few were the pleasant findings that kept me at peace these past 350-some days. And they all came to me.
1. Michael Cera - true that [Self-Released]
It was a great surprise to find this boy (I call him a boy because I still see Paulie Bleeker every time I think of the chap) leaving his comfort zone. This album is full of mellow bliss, a cozy feeling of being surrounded by people who adore you, and you, them. It’s a warm hug, the perfect blanket or a smile from a stranger. It’s very, very good.
2. Ought - More Than Any Other Day [Constellation]
I only discovered these lads just a few weeks ago. My best friend introduced them to me, like he does very often. Without him, I’d still be listening to the same stuff that I did years ago. Ought could be described as a freak, a real strange bunch of hoodlums looking to cause a ruckus with their sound. You can sense the emotion they possess, and feel it in your gut. Can you dig it?
3. Frankie Cosmos - Zentropy [Double Double Whammy]
I never was taken in by all the fuss that went with the name Frankie Cosmos. I knew they were supposed to be good, but I don’t know if I just wasn’t convinced or lazy or what, but I didn’t give them a chance until about two weeks ago. It was a Sunday and I was trying to get my mattress to fit in my tent so I could make a study tent for finals week. It was a fitting soundtrack. Short, sweet and lovely.
4. The Flaming Lips- With A Little Help From My Fwends [Warner Bros.]
Wow. Like, what the flipping flip. Jesus.
5. Mac DeMarco- Salad Days
I listened to Mac DeMarco for the first time less than a week ago. This should tell you how lackadaisical of a year it was for me. But he’s a real chill dude, real chill. I’d like to hang the fuck out with that guy and soak up some of his good vibes. This album is meant for a summer full of carelessness and sunburn. I was a little late in the game, but it was a nice reminder.
Abbie Doyle, Reviews Editor
(In no particular order)
LVL UP – Hoodwink'd [Double Double Whammy]
I’m a big fan of music that excites without overwhelming and is comfortable without being forgettable. This album is a lo-fi groove into which I sunk on numerous occasions, particularly when casual liveliness was required. Casual liveliness is what I’m all about, and I find an everyday auditory accompaniment in this album.
Warpaint – Warpaint [Rough Trade]
This album took a while to grow on me, but its infectiousness is something I find myself craving regularly as 2014 comes to an end. Those basslines, that exceedingly charming drumming mistake in “Intro,” the teasing play of vocal harmonies throughout...! “Disco//Very” is Warpaint epitomized—fierce, feminine and hot. All around, a huge study in the band’s growth and development.
The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits [Sacred Bones]
A perfect blend of rowdy and homey as Brooklyn punk converges with Americana boisterousness. Every song demands to be danced to and the closing track’s viciously sweet piano riffs grabbed ahold of my heart and have not let go.
Adult Jazz – Gist Is [Spare Thought]
Behold the album that carried me through a lackluster summer and a challenging semester. Easily the album I listened to most this year, Adult Jazz’s beautiful, hauntingly captivating debut album is almost beyond words--probably because I’m still deciphering some stanzas. The music on this album is a language unto itself and hasn’t failed to seize my attention on one single, countless listen.
John Frusciante – Enclosure [Record Collection]
I bluntly admit that John Frusciante is one of the loves of my life, a man and musician I will always admire (and low-key worship). He is entirely off the beaten path with his latest LP, a wacky cross-stitch of electronic beats, stylistic guitar and zig-zagging time signatures. Although I definitely don’t know where the hell Fru is going, I am 100% down for the ride.
Ought – Today More Than Any Other Day [Constellation]
Canadian post-punk!! Well done Canadian post punk!! Scathing lyrics dripping with well-placed sarcasm in combination with Television-esque instrumentation is all I need to be smitten. Seriously, that social commentary is the highlight of my 2014 musical experience.
Alex G – DSU [Orchid Tapes]
I did not become acquainted with this gem of an album until I saw Alex G play in a kitchen, and oh my god was it great. Watching the snarky, spunky personality of Alex seep through his live performance was all I needed to think, “I should probably listen to the studio version of this,” which was a great decision on my part.
Girlpool – Girlpool [Wichita Recordings]
I am supremely jealous of this band. Why can’t this be my life? These girls are barely younger than me and the sharpness of their social observations is something my 13-year-old self would have benefitted from enormously. There’s nothing that makes me happier than intelligent, vocal ladies (especially when their music waves a middle finger in society’s face).
Creepoid – Creepoid [No Idea]
This album makes me want to be a scummy creature of the night, one that slinks around dark alleys and gets drunk in dark rooms amid thrumming bass. Of all the mucky, grungy, dingy and dirty shoegaze albums this year, this one really oozed under my skin and stayed there.
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 [Mass Appeal]
Holy shit, this album gets me amped. I’m not going to act like El-P is on the same spitting level of Killer Mike, but his production is superb and every track has an individual quality that really shows how dedicated its creators were. Instead of sexist or derogatory comments, there’s politics, social comments and brutal honesty. It’s beautiful.
Garrett Bower, Staff Writer
1. FKA twigs - LP1 [Young Turks]
Nothing this year has topped the razor-sharp experimental R&B full-length debut of Tahliah Barnett. LP1 delivers incredibly fresh arrangements throughout, managing to utilize not only the big, overt hooks but also the jarring builds and breaks as well. At the heart of this is Barnett who demonstrates an unparalleled talent through empowered sexuality but also honesty and vulnerability with her incredibly ranged vocal work and lyricsm. Barnett’s ability as a performer and vocalist demonstrate a command and intelligence that is likely to leave you scratching your head as to how she is not everywhere by now. Rest assured, with LP1 as a strong indicator, it is only a matter of time until that question has a very definitive answer.
2. Tigers Jaw - Charmer [Run For Cover]
For a boy who always goes into these things with hope that next year he’ll be writing about a life changing fifth Brand New album, Charmer is the closest I’ve gotten to how that glorious day will feel. Listening to the record is the sort of sadness you only get to wallow in alone in your childhood bedroom. Even the production (which has gotten some hate) sounds at times indifferent to all the emotion and bite packed into Charmer, which only deepens the fascinating dichotomy between what Tigers Jaw is trying to get across and how clean and pleasant the whole thing can feel. It’s a record about being trapped and feeling a terrifying indifference to that entrapment.
3. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2 [Fool’s Gold]
In short, Run The Jewels 2 is pure fury. What separates it from most other hip-hop albums is that El-P and Killer Mike make good on every self-aggrandizing line on the album by the end. It’s fun but it’s also chock full of talent and passion, and there’s at least one moment (rarely just one) in each track where I can’t help but say a mental, “Oh shit!” at a line, beat or sample.
4. Cayetana - Nervous Like Me [Tiny Engines]
I really fucked up. I was finally turned on to this album about a week before writing this list so my reasoning is less formulated here. What I can say is from the first play through; I fell in love with the earnest voice cracks and so much fuzzy bass. Nervous Like Me is honest and heartfelt not to mention really fucking fun.
5. Radiator Hospital - Torch Song [Salinas]
I didn’t get Radiator Hospital. I didn’t get them when friends raved, I didn’t get (but still enjoyed) them when I saw them in Columbus earlier this year. It took me sitting in my dorm room alone one crisp afternoon listening to “Fireworks” for my heart to shatter and for me to fall head over heels for Radiator Hospital and especially this album.
6. Code Orange - I Am King [Deathwish]
I Am King is the first hardcore album I’ve really given much thought to and it’s opened my eyes to a whole new genre of music I want to punch kids to. The album itself is a so well put together it’s baffling, with the group using a steady hand to make the really heavy hitting moments that much harder and the softer ones eerie and foreboding.
7. Perfect Pussy - Say Yes to Love [Captured Tracks]
This beautiful album plays like a meteor exploding across the sky, leaving a trail of furious warbly distortion in its wake. Frontwoman Meredith Graves accents catchy riffs and heartfelt lyricism with enough sludgy cacophony to make the heads of the unprepared explode. Also, they did a run of this record with Grave’s own blood in clear vinyl and I will be goddamned if that isn’t the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of.
8. Saintseneca - Dark Arc [Anti]
Ohio natives Saintseneca could easily be overlooked as another band looking to cash in on the quirky folk band wave if it wasn’t for their intelligence and genuine nature. Dark Arc is assembled with a beautiful attention to detail that makes it feel like a true thing of heart and character, full of rich earthy textures. Complimenting this is some of the most beautiful lyricism of the year with songs ranging from jangly tales of past lives to more intimate tales of lost connections accented with the beautiful cracks and intonations of Maryn Jones.*
*Jones also fronts All Dogs who I am eternally heartbroken over because their EP came out late last year and deserves so much praise
9. Pharmakon - Bestial Burden [Sacred Bones]
Pharmakon is another artist that has served as a wonderful gateway into a genre I had not previously considered. When I first heard “Body Betrays Itself” released late in the summer. I was enthralled by the fury of it, the intensity and emotion Margaret Chardiet could invoke with such abrasive and unbridled noise. On top of that, Chardiet herself sounded truly unhinged, her wails calling out a very animal sort of fear. Upon the full album release, I was even more captivated with Pharmakon. The result of Chardiet’s exploration of the relationship between body and mind is fascinating and unsettling, and ultimately very enriching.
10. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness [Jagjaguar]
This is an album that I had listened to when it was first released and put back on a mental shelf because it was too much. Olsen’s anguish throughout the record is so wrought that it is impossible not to empathize. The instrumentation is mostly sparse, allowing Olsen’s voice to billow out and tell her fears of loss & time in all its forms.
Travis Boswell, Staff Writer
1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 [Mass Appeal]
Run The Jewels 2 is the best work of Killer Mike and El-P's careers. The beats are furious and menacing, matching their rightful anger from a year of witnessing too many abuses of power by the law. But they're still having fun, finishing each other's dirty jokes and trying to outrap each other. Run The Jewels 2 would be a great album regardless when it was released, but releasing it in response to such a screwed up year raises it to a much higher level.
2. SZA – Z [Top Dawg Entertainment]
SZA's third EP is completely different than her last. Her quiet yet powerful vocals are still here, but the vibe is more classic R&B than trap. Each song has lush production and is lyrically meaningful in a way that S only hinted at. This is an album I will push on anyone who has the slightest interest in good R&B.
3. 2NE1 – Crush [YG Entertainment]
2NE1 just keeps getting better. They were already my favorite pop group by a wide margin, but Crush is more than I expected. The raps are fiercer, the singing is even better, and the production on each track feels enormous. I was constantly surprised as the songs transitioned between reggae, trap, R&B, and pop so seamlessly. There isn't a single bad song on Crush, and most of them are still embedded into my brain.
4. Sir Michael Rocks – Banco [6 Cell Phones]
No other rapper would dare cover the topics Sir Michael Rocks does. On Banco, he rocks Yu Yu Hakusho suits, buys Akuma's beads from Street Fighter and flees a lethal Pokemon battle. The combination of pop culture and street-savvy swagger makes this one of the most endearing albums of the year.
5. Lakutis – 3 Seashells [Greedhead Music]
Lakutis has been releasing music for a while, but the unconventional 3 Seashells is his finest work yet. Songs have an almost random structure, as Lakutis enters songs when he feels like it and exits when he gets bored. It's a disjointed, weird and frequently hilarious listen. In that way, it captures the personality of Lakutis perfectly.
Eli Schoop, Contributor
1. Aphex Twin - Syro [Warp]
Richard D. James didn't get the most recent electronic music wave. Or the last one. Or the one before that. What he does get is a knack for making inventive, alive music that is as every bit respectful as it is biting of his previous, ground-breaking work. Syro is just the latest in a long line of albums that is top of the line in their genre, and it speaks volumes about the legend he is.
2. Mac Demarco – Salad Days [Captured Tracks]
It's so easy for him at this point. Call it repetitive, call it boring, but there's one thing Mac Demarco knows how to do, and that's make amazing pop songs. For such a little change in sound, it's wondrous the way Mac and co. cram infectious melodies into each track. The songs themselves never get old either, and for his sake, let's hope they never do.
3. Migos – No Label 2 [Self-Released]
The most talented trio in Atlanta, Migos made trap rap an artform on No Label 2. On an album as long as it, the skill displayed by Offset, Quavo and Takeoff is exceptional in making each track gigantic and fun as possible. The rhythms and ad-libs cooked up are nonsensical and hilarious, and every beat bangs with fervor.
4. Ricky Eat Acid – Sun Over Hills [Self-Released]
The most unexpected release of the year, who would have thought Sam Ray would put out a footwork/break/electronic smorgasbord that is unlike anything he's ever done? Par for the course for this young wizard, his output before has been unreal, but on this short, 5-song EP, the emotion and drive compiled into each track is overwhelming and beautful. Ray created three albums this year all worthy of my top 10, but Sun Over Hills stands as the most affective and poetic while still maintaining a heady musical presence.
5. Todd Terje – It's Album Time [Olsen]
It's Album Time!!!!!! Relive your greatest moments featuring these 12 tracks of pure euphoria. There is no pain or suffering where Todd Terje lives, only blissful recollection and the most cheesy motifs known to man. Better be happy in jest than seriously sad, anyway. Italian disco will never die but you will.
6. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 [Mass Appeal]
It's been said that too much of a good thing will ruin it for you. Whoever said that never met El-P and Killer Mike. Drawing from their rage at racial injustice, love for beautiful women and a general dissatisfaction for anyone who they don't mess with, Run The Jewels 2 is as good of a sequel as you could possibly hope for from these titans of rap.
7. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent [Lefse]
A genre not exactly brimming with creativity and innovation, A Sunny Day In Glasgow put out the best record in shoegaze without much of a contest. Aggressive and unfiltered, every track takes on an atmosphere of their own, and angelic ambiance abounds in a massive attempt at creating something genuine and new in what has been dominated by more reclusive releases. The end result doesn't disappoint in the slightest.
8. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata [Madlib Invazion]
Another dynamic duo, this time with a more nuanced take on the tag-team perspective. Freddie Gibbs does the rapping, Madlib the producing, everyone goes home happy and full of Harold's chicken. But not only do the references to a retro thug lifestyle and being moderately sensitive without compromising your masculinity work, they seem effortless. Madlib's two for two on collaboration projects
9. Sun Kil Moon – Benji [Caldo Verde]
Mark Kozelek is a very strange man. From the recent outbursts at The War On Drugs to his response song and subsequent single about a possum, his behavior knows no bounds. Judging by this, Benji's irreverence and stream-of-consciousness ramblings aren't extraordinary for a normal dude from Ohio. And yet he still makes them poignant and deeply moving whilst coming off as a total prick. Imagine that, you can separate the artist from their work.
10. Alex G - DSU [Orchid Tapes]
The most heartfelt acoustic artist in music today, Alex Giannascoli is no stranger to discomfort. The way he describes situations in the most intimate, meticulous fashion is devastating, and it's no wonder his brand of pop was on the rise throughout the year. A soul wracked with ennui yet not content to rest on his laurels, DSU is a record without parallel in 2014.
Tony Cardwell, Contributor
1. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream [Secretly Canadian]
This album is everything I could have ever wanted from The War On Drugs. Topping their debut LP Slave Ambient, which is pretty damn good, Lost In The Dream perfectly embodies electric americana; beautiful lyrics, reaching vocals, and a perfect blend of old and new instrumentation. This album sounds old yet continues to surprise me with something new every listen. There isn’t much more I can say about this record except do yourself a favor and fall for this record’s charm and character. A true masterpiece.
2. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again [Epitaph]
Never Hungover Again basically describes everything I feel about life at this point. This is the perfect “freshman in college” album. The songs are all pretty damn accessible and flow so well together. The sentiments in the lyrics really resonate with me, especially the tracks “Christmas Card” and “Heated Swimming Pool” and songs like “Victoria” and “Heart Tattoo” are just so much fun. The years best pure pop punk record.
3. Alt-J – This Is All Yours [Infectious]
If the end of year list was solely based off of listens This Is All Yours would fall directly under The War On Drugs. I listened to this album SO many times that my roommate even asked me if I was okay when I finally took it off my turntable. So soft, sexy and fantastic.
4. Run The Jewels – RTJ2 [Mass Appeal]
The best hip-hop album of the year by a mile. The duo of Killer Mike and El-P will go down in history as one of the best MC/Producer duos ever. Killer Mike has emerged as one of my favorite MCs currently working, but not to take credit from El-P as a performer, he delivers flows that even the most accomplished rappers cannot decipher. Rough, abrasive, and totally crass, holy shit do I love this record.
5. Sun Kil Moon – Benji [Caldo Verde]
I’ve never experienced music like a book, but that’s the best way to describe Sun Kil Moon’s Benji. Mark Kozelek doesn’t really even sing on this record, just talking over fantastic acoustics, but boy does he describe everything to a T. This album is tragically morose, painstakingly honest, and altogether beautiful.
6. Clipping. – CLPPNG [Sub Pop]
Clipping., man. For one thing they use dentistry tools in their beats and mention sucking bone marrow. But as experimental as they are when it comes to beat production, clipping brings some great social commentary to the table. Not to mention rapper Daveed Diggs has some serious chops as an MC, like the best MC I’ve heard this year. And Gangsta Boo’s on this. I love Gangsta Boo. She’s the best.
7. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! [Warp]
This record is perfectly assembled from beginning to end. When the clouds open up to the almost angelic “Never Catch Me (ft. Kendrick Lamar)” I almost had a conniption. In fact I did have a conniption one night. This record combines everything I love about FlyLo’s past production but with some crazy jazz influences. This album is a supreme joy.
8. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata [Madlib Invazion]
I’ve never really been into “Gangsta” Gibbs, his flow has always put me off and his content always seemed to be a bit fake to me. But boy, when Gibbs hopped on with Madlib on this new project he finally hit his sweet spot. With amazing features from Danny Brown, Domo Genesis, and a great verse from Raekwon. I really hope his pairing doesn’t fall by the wayside like Madvillian because Madgibbs may just be better.
9. Ariel Pink – Pom Pom [4AD]
I don’t entirely get this album but that’s okay. Pom Pom is weird, but I can’t stop listening to it. There are influences from 70’s easy listening, 80’s electronic pop, crazy Black Sabbath-esque guitar riffs, all culminating in pure entertainment. Songs like “Plastic Raincoats In The Pink Parade” deliver some real pertinent questions on human nature while completely silly songs like “Jell-o” which as far as I can tell, is just about jell-o tickle that funny bone. Whether from nostalgia or humor I had a smile on my face the entire time and that’s not something I could say about any other record this year.
10. Mick Jenkins – The Water(s) [Cinematic/Free Music Group]
It was a pretty phenomenal year for hip-hop, all things considered, and my favorite new-comer has to be Mick Jenkins. He completely blew me away with his newest mixtape The Water(s) and I am waiting with bated breath on his next project. The level of mastery for someone so new is unparalleled and just the whole concept of “water” to go along with this record was CRAZY.
Honorable Mentions: Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait, Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All, Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams, Big K.R.I.T. – Cadilactica, Cymbals Eat Guitars - LOSE
Eric Bishop, Guest Contributor
1. Sun Kil Moon – Benji [Caldo Verde]
I had a weird semi-unhealthy connection to this record this summer. It really helped me process a handful of relationships I was dealing with and trying to move on with in relation to my life at the time and I’m thankful that music can help you deal with that sad bullshit. I was first drawn in by Mark’s beautiful voice and then I made sense of the lyrics. They were so autobiographical and read like a diary. All the pop culture & Ohio references, tragic family losses, sentimental thoughts, and black humor lines sprinkled throughout the album intrigued me more and more with each listen. I spent a lot of time gardening and processing this record this summer and so because it was so personal to me I would call it my AOTY. Blue Crab Cakes.
2. Best Witches – Wishes [Self-Released]
This record is so tight and it is a shame it hasn’t gotten a tenth of the attention it deserves. Wishes puts a lot of “emo revival” releases of recent times to shame because of how it disregards the current bandwagon, all the while maintaining that true and virtuous twinkly emo-riff-oriented-sweaty-punk-basement-jam sound that I can really get behind. It’s totally unique and I wish I got to see them before they went RIP on me.
3. Saintseneca – Dark Arc [Anti]
Also spent a lot of time gardening at my home while listening to this record this summer. I would alternate between Dark Arc and Benji for about five hours until I needed something different and resolved to The Best of GBV. I love how organic the string arrangements sound with the overdriven, reverby bass sound behind it. This album is a craft. I was super impressed with the flawless production on this album. It’s so pretty and deep and colorful. Really great people too. Yay, Ohio.
4. Alex G – DSU [Orchid Tapes]
Oh man, what can I say about this boy wonder? Well he’s wonderful first off. Second off, “Harvey” is the song of the year. Love how Alex just does whatever he wants with his records. I hope that aspect of him doesn’t change. Never contrived. Thanks for the recommendation Mitch.
5. Radiator Hospital – Torch Song [Salinas]
Another criminally underrated album from 2014. This was my to-and-from class go-to record of late fall, 2014. Super catchy, sweet, fast pop-punk jams. Forever trying to play drums in a band like this. It’s like an amped up Paul Baribeau. Gotta love it.
6. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There [Tiny Engines]
7. The Spirit of the Beehive – LP [Self-Released]
8. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness [Jagjaguwar]
9. Spencer Radcliffe - Keeper [Self-Released]
10. Mac Demarco - Salad Days [Captured Tracks]
Charlie Walden, Guest Contributor
Alex G - DSU [Orchid Tapes]
Alex G has so much good material out there and this record just adds to that hell yeah.
Best Witches - Wishes [Self-Released]
This was my favorite record that came out this year. It will take over your life.
Cayetana - Nervous Like Me [Tiny Engines]
What a neat little record I'm into it
Heart Attack Man - Acid Rain [Self-Released]
Heart Attack Man rules. They're my favorite and I miss them.
The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace is There [Tiny Engines]
So many hot tracks on here dang
LVL UP - Hoodwink'd [Double Double Whammy]
I'm all about ripping beers and blasting this record
Nai Harvest - Hold Open My Head [Topshelf]
This is one of two EPs on this list. A great little release for cruising.
Prawn - Kingfisher [Topshelf]
I like Prawn this record rules live
Radiator Hospital - Torch Song [Salinas]
I'm way into Radiator Hospital and this record
Spencer Radcliffe & RL Kelly - Brown Horse [Orchid Tapes]
This is probably my favorite full length split ever. Spencer rules. RL Kelly rules.