The Best Music of 2014

2014

Well Planet Earth, I know I’m a little late, but it’s time to reflect on the awesomeness of last year in regards to rocking tuneskies. I can’t say it was the best year in recent memory, with a lot of highly anticipated releases not making the top list. Yet as always, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find some gems, so overall, 2014 definitely didn’t disappoint. Way to go year!

Biggest Disappointments

black keys

We’ll go from worst to ass-kicking. Let me just say that none of these albums were bad by any means, they just didn’t live up to their potential. Wow, I sound like their mom giving them a lecture to get better grades. Slackers!

6. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits

Fortunately The Men consistently kick out an album a year, but this time around, the Classic Rock inspired sound just didn’t work. Without the wild insanity of their previous releases, this one just misses the mark. Like when I try to dunk and really miss the mark. That’s like seriously impossible.

5. EMA – The Future’s Void

Past Life Martyred Saints took the music world by storm back in 2011, and for good reason. Her new album isn’t a bad listen at all, but it certainly lacks the fire and intensity of her previous release. Side note: Playing with fire is really fun.

4. Black Lips – Underneath the Rainbow

I was pretty excited about the new Black Lips release, but after one listen, all I could say was, “Meh.” Then after many more listens, all I could still say was, “Meh.”

3. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden

Their debut was easily the best Metal album of 2012. This one was sadly just so-so. Cut them a little slack though, they are from Arkansas, that just can’t be too fun at all.

2. Foxygen – …And Star Power

I mean, the album has 24 tracks and clocks in at almost an hour and a half. So I’ll give them points for ambition. The problem is, it’s just not, um, very good. Their last album was killer, and judging by their live performances, they’re a hot or cold band. Hopefully their next release will be hotter than a Hot Pocket.

1. The Black Keys – Turn Blue

The new release from the gritty Blues band turned Arena Rockers got a lot of good press. People and critics were raving about their new direction and sound. Not me. I thought this album was a piece of s**t. Okay, that’s a little harsh, there are some good moments on the album. But I mean come on, listen to their take on Disco with Fever” and try to take the album seriously. Considering The Black Keys are (0r were) one of my favorite current bands, that’s a real bummer, man.

Most Anticipated

tvotr

This was a big year for well known bands dropping fresh tunes. While they didn’t all make the top list, they sure got me and my fellow music nerds all twitterpated. 

6. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

Lana Del Rey was the it music figure in 2012. Her album had it’s highs and lows, but overall I thought it was overproduced in an attempt to make it a big commercial success. I had no interest in listening to her new release this year until I heard that Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys was at the producer’s seat. Even though he failed with his own band (see above), that dude made what could have been a mediocre album sound pretty darn tootin’.

5. Warpaint – Warpaint

I sure loved The Fool and was super stoked to have a new Warpaint album after waiting four years. It was a crisp and straightforward sounding album, but definitely lacked the depth and darkness of their last release. Mmmm, crisp apple stuff.

4. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

This album is a weird one. It’s a concept album about dying. It leans heavily on hip hop. Yet it also has a lot of Jazz influencel. Steven Ellison is getting out of his comfort zone, and that’s pretty cool. Sometimes you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone, you know, like not wearing sweatpants everyday despite the greatness of sweatpants.

3. Spoon – They Want My Soul

There’s been a lot of buzz about this album and people have definitely been digging it all year long. To me, it’s not their best release, but it’s also really hard not to like. It rocks hard, yet still is inventive and interesting enough to throw new things out at you with each listen.

2. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

Annie Clark is pretty crazy. But super cool. Though she’s really weird. Kinda all over the place. Whelp, just summed up her fourth album under the moniker St. Vincent.

1. TV on the Radio – Seeds

It’s hard not to get excited for a new release from the ever-changing experimental rockers from Brooklyn. After the first few listens, I was just plain bored. Then it kind of clicked for me, and I realized the straightforward sound of the album worked really well. It lacks the wild experimentation of their first couple albums, but for the most part, they never disappoint.

Most Jammed

wovenhand

Sometimes an album doesn’t make the cut as the best of the year, but that doesn’t stop me from jamming to it over and over. Thanks technology for making it so easy to get my jamz on!

6. Wolfmother – New Crown

I remember randomly thinking, “I wonder what ever happened to Wolfmother?” Then, just like that, surprise release, boom. I wouldn’t consider any of their work “best of” or anything like that, it’s just straight up Hard Rock. For a surprise release out of nowhere, you can’t beat that.

5. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

Another surprise release from Radiohead frontman/genius dude Thom Yorke. It was a pretty subdued album, but still had its shining moments. By the way, why is he talking about boxes? I hope he recycles them, that’s all I’ve got to say.

4. Radio Moscow – Magical Dirt

The Psychedelic cover with a big ol’ shroom and some crazy ass colors says it all. This thing is a 60’s throwback. But why, oh why has no one ever heard of Parker Griggs and his killer band? Dude is one of the foremost ax shredders these days. If you want to be transported back in time and utterly destroy your eardrums, get to listening to Radio Moscow. PS: To continue the theme of the post, the first Radio Moscow album was produced by Dan Auerbach.

3. Star Death and White Dwarfs – Wastoid

So the band is lead by the nephew of The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. So there’s that. I mean, that’s about all you need to know. They sound like a more Psychedelic version of the Flaming Lips. But you know, that’s kinda cool. Rock on dudes!

2. Twin Peaks – Wild Onion

Well now who are these young fellows kicking out the Psych jams? I don’t know about you all, but I sure am liking it. Pretty authentic sounding 60’s style stuff, but with the ballsiness of the more recent Garage Rock you hear these days. Okay, I can dig that, now play it again!

1. Wovenhand – Refractory Obdurate

David Eugene Edwards is awesome. Dudes been bringing out monster tunes from my hometown of Denver for years with 16 Horsepower back in the day and Wovenhand as of late. His 2010 album The Threshingfloor ended up being my favorite of the year and this time around, I just couldn’t stop listening. The sound on this album was darker and grittier, taking on an almost Metal sound. Definitely worth a listen, and while you’re at it, I’d recommend digging up some 16 Horsepower too.

Honorable Mention

tuff

So close, yet so far. These are the albums that didn’t make the top list, but were still good. They were like the ones that weren’t chosen last to be on the kickball team, but also not first. They were chosen like in the middle. Go get ’em tigers!

6. Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell

After one listen, I thought this was the perfect Indie Rock album. I’m not sure what that means, but it just sounded like something music nerds around the world would high-five each other over. I mean, this album bleeds plaid, beards, and PBR. And now with Hundred Waters gaining a ton of clout in the Indie Rock scene, maybe my first inclination was right.

5. alt-j – This Is All Yours

These English fellows really know what they’re doing. They’ve been compared to Radiohead, and even though I don’t want to go that far, they sure seem to be getting better. By the way, they’re called alt-j because that’s the keyboard combo on a Mac to get the delta symbol. Seriously nerdy, I know.

4. Lost in the Trees – Past Life

They ditched their orchestral heavy sound for a more straightforward Indie Rock sound and I’ll be damned, it worked out quite nicely. For some reason I always feel smarter after listening to a Lost in the Trees album, so that’s pretty cool.

3. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – CSNY 1974

I’ve never put an old release up as a best of, but man, this album is good. I’m talking like smothered in green chile good. Recorded during the summer of their reconciliation and the massive tour that followed, the three CD set shows all four of the band members at their absolute peak, nailing every bit of material. Whether its a tender ballad like “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” or a rocker like “Black Queen,” this thing is a monster from start to finish, all three and a half hours of it.

2. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Not to be confused with the hilarious family-friendly comedy staring Ice Cube entitled Are We There Yet? Let’s just say this broad doesn’t put out bad albums. This one is just as good as her last buzzworthy release Tramp and shows the singer/songwriter just keeps getting better.

1. King Tuff – Black Moon Spell

Well okay, hold on now. That weird dude Kyle Thomas released a new album under the moniker King Tuff. But wait a minute, it starts off with a fuzzed out rocker and it sure is loud. Hold on now, it keeps rocking. Dude sounds like Mark Bolan for, well, the whole album. Seriously, start to finish, this thing doesn’t slow down or let up, and for that, we thank you Mr. Tuff.

The Top 14 of 2014

benji

And now it’s time to crown the best of the best in 2014. They came from different genres with all unique sounds, but one thing tied them all together: All of these albums rocked.

14. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

Dylan Baldi and co released an absolute monster in 2012 with Attack on Memory. This time around they haven’t gotten any quieter, slower, or softer, they’ve just gotten a little sharper. It’s still its own wild version of Punk with a unique sound that can’t be replicated, but always can be blasted as loud as humanly possible.

13. The Budos Band – Burnt Offering

It’s been four years since the instrumental Afro-Funk band’s last release, and boy was it worth the wait. Usually one of their albums would land on my Most Jammed list. This year, they released one of the best albums of the year. Somehow they made their signature funk sound stronger and grittier, making this one of the loudest Funk albums I’ve ever heard, all without any vocalist speaking one word. Well done to all eight of them, even cowbell dude.

12. Jack White – Lazaretto

Jack White is God. Fact. Dude spit out what I’m thinking is the best track of the year with “High Ball Stepper.” Toss in some reimagined Blues numbers, some folky Nashville twang, and introspective songs fit for a singer/songwriter and you have his newest album. Is it as good as Blunderbuss? What about as good as some of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, or The Dead Weather albums? Trick question, they’re all awesome.

11. Ty Segall – Manipulator

Being a Ty Segall fan is great. Not only does he release one to three albums a year, but they’re all good. Seriously, every single one. Manipulator was larger in scope then most, leaning heavily on the Psychedelic front, and was overall as bitchin’ as it could get.

10. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

So, the 80’s called, they want their sound back. Somehow an album about isolation and loneliness was set to the tune of 80’s Pop ballads and, um, it worked really well.

9. Beck – Morning Phase

The ever changing Beck Hansen never puts out two records that sound alike. This year’s release was no different, with the somber and moody release living up to its name. It really sounds like what waking up at sunset feels like, or something metaphorical like that. By the way, waking up that early is really uncool, not recommended.

8. Pink Floyd – The Endless River

I don’t know many people that liked this album and I’m also surprised I liked it so much. You see, I don’t like when bands reunite after many years to release new music since it usually turns out lame. I also don’t like when they dig through the vaults and release stuff that they never intended to share because they thought it was too lame in the first place. So I guess The Endless River is an exception, because to me, it’s the perfect swan song to one of the greatest bands of all time. It’s moody and subdued, so it’s not a real song heavy album. Yet the main thing it does is highlight the talents of one of my favorite guitarists, David Gillmour, and the late great keyboardist Rick Wright.

7. White Lung – Deep Fantasy

Whoa. I mean seriously, whoa. This puppy only clocks in at about a half hour, but it doesn’t let up for a second. I’m talking about one big wild burst of Punk energy. It seriously doesn’t get much better than that.

6. The Antlers – Familiars

There are a few rare bands these days that literally never slip up. I keep expecting that one super lame album, yet time and time again, every release is epic. The Antlers are such a band. From their concept album (Hospice) to a little EP (Undersea) to damn near perfection (Burst Apart), this band simply can’t miss. With Familiars, they stretched their instrumental muscle, bringing in lots of new timbres and creating a bevy of new sounds. Bada-bada-bing.

5. Ariel Pink – pom pom

I’m thinking Ariel Pink is the Avante-Garde king of modern music. Along with Kim Fowley helping out with some songs, Ariel Rosenberg created the strangest, wildest, and most captivating album of the year. I can’t even begin to list the amount of genres it covers. If you listen to it once and it sounds weird, you’re just not getting it. Listen to it again. It will come young grasshopper, it will come.

4. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Somehow Mike Hadreas was able to blend his signature intimate piano driven songs with Industrial noise, haunting melodies, and Psychedelic freak outs. Not only has he released his masterpiece, but he dropped one of the most compelling albums of the year.

3. Swans – To Be Kind

When Michael Gira released The Seer in 2012, that thing blew my mind and easily took the top spot as my favorite album of the year. To Be Kind didn’t grab me at first, because I felt like it was missing the expansive scope and conceptual cohesiveness of The Seer. Yet I kept listening to it, and realized that this album is a monster in it’s own right. To Be Kind is louder and more abrasive then any of his other work. And as always, it’s exhausting to listen to a Swans album, but oh so worth it.

2. Goat – Commune

I’d never heard of this Swedish band before, but I’ll be damned, they put out quite the album this year. Somehow they found the perfect mix of trancy Synthpop and fuzzed out Psych Rock with a monster delivery. Sometimes quiet and droning, but at other times exploding out of the speakers, Commune absolutely kills from start to finish. Way to go Sweden, you have something cool other than Ikea!

1. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

My favorite albums the last two years were mostly instrumental. This year it ended up being the very wordy and all acoustic album from singer/songrwriter Mark Kozelek. The album floored me from the very first listen. The reason being is that one of my defining characteristics of great music is honesty. Music that is honest is true to the songwriter and comes out in the final product. It’s what made John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band so amazing, because he was singing real songs about his issues and feelings. Now tons of singers/songwriters create honest and personal albums. But nothing like this. By focusing on death, friends, family, and current news, Kozelek displays an album of his honest thoughts. Mix in some rambling stream of conscience details of the world around him and his interactions with the people in his songs, you’re left with a brutally honest and surprisingly original gem of an album.

What did I miss? Or did this list just dominate the entire planet? Let me know HERE

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent list. I don’t know if you’ve heard these but if you haven’t, you should. Mirel Wagner’s chilling “When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day” and Agalloch’s exceptional “The Serpent & The Sphere”.

    Reply
    • Haven’t heard of either of those, but I’m always up for awesome new tunes so I’ll get right on it!

      Reply

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