The year is over, the Christmas decorations are down and it’s time to review the best albums of 2014. If you read all of this you’ll be my hero. If you feel like yelling or telling me I’m wrong, hey I welcome that too. After all, what’s the Internet for? Getting right to it, here’s my top 10 for the year.
10. OFF! – Wasted Years
Combining members of Redd Kross, Rocket from the Crypt and Burning Brides, OFF! creates a style of music that has more in common with Minor Threat than anything else. With the album clocking in at about 30 minutes, Keith Morris doesn’t need more than a few minutes to get his point across. Like an ADD preacher, Morris rants and raves at his congregation in short bursts before moving onto the next sermon. If you are a fan of 80’s hardcore or punk, this will definitely be your cup of tea. OFF! continues to be the standard bearer of punk in the 21st century. Also, how could you not love a band that casts Dave Foley and Brian Posehn as Nazis in their music video?
9. Got A Girl – I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now
I never thought I’d get to say this, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Dan “The Automator” Nakamura made an album this year. Their collaboration, Got A Girl, takes inspiration from Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin and a lot of the electronic lounge music of 90’s. I’m always a bit wary of someone in acting releasing a record, but for every Bruce Willis and Scarlett Johansson we get a Mary Elizabeth Winstead. To get an idea of the feel of this record, if you’re writing a sci-fi-noir-romantic-comedy then I think you’ve found your soundtrack. If you’re not writing a sci-fi-noir-romantic-comedy, that’s fairly understandable. Listen to it anyways.
8. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Laura Jane Grace’s album is great in so many ways. She came out in 2012 as transgender after leaving Sire Records, had an awkward hug with her band and watched them walk out the door. Creating a record to talk about her struggles, she began writing tracks for Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a concept album about a transgender prostitute. Not all of the songs directly reflect Grace’s journey but they offer a window into the mind of someone experiencing gender dysphoria. The music isn’t particularly daring, but each of the tracks are lined with hooks. I dare you to listen to “True Trans Soul Rebel” without getting it stuck in your head. I’ll wait. It’s good isn’t it? You’re welcome.
7. Old 97’s – Most Messed Up
The Old 97’s aren’t going to crack open the universe with lyrics like “I am the most messed up motherfucker in this town.” Still, the humor, wit and passion that power this band cannot be denied. “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” is a celebration of making it 21 years as a band, while looking back and going “how the fuck did we make it this far?” I’m pretty sure they mention whiskey in every song but the entire album definitely plays like a band just having fun. When the band offers you the option to “drink whiskey and do it all night long,” you hope the party never ends.
6. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold was my favorite album last year and this year they turned out another sterling effort in Animal. Combining the best parts of Pavement and the Replacements, they make a record that seems as effortless as it is amazing. You can hear the time between recordings on this record. By that, I mean the arrangements (if Parquet Courts even does arrangements) are more complex. “Bodies” explodes in hailstorm of distortion and cymbals at the end and then collapses back into itself. “Ducking and Dodging” bobs and weaves as Adam Savage coils various guitar lines around it. From back to front there is not a bad track on this record. Though the comparisons may be lofty, Parquet Courts are trying to life themselves in the echelon of Pavement, The Replacements, The Velvet Underground and the Talking Heads. Those are definitely premature comparisons, but if Parquet Courts continues to grow, the may not be far away.
5. Kelis – Jerk Ribs
Does anyone remember what happened to Kelis after “Milkshake?” Well, for one she trained at Le Cordon Bleu and became a part time saucier. I can totally understand that, I love food. Everybody loves food. Food is a huge component of this album, with a majority of tracks being food-related. Kelis sounds so self-assured with an eclectic mix of soul, R&B, jazz, funk and even takes a break for an acoustic ballad “God Bless Telephone.” Kelis strikes that perfect balance between incorporating the new and respecting the old. She brings elements of the Stax sound, 90’s soul and New Orleans percussion. It is definitely a three star Michelin three-course meal for your ears. Ok, I’m sorry. I promised myself I wasn’t going to make in food puns in my description. That wasn’t really even a food pun, I just made a vague reference to a thing in food. Look the point about this is that the album is just really good. I could go on and on about why I like it, but it’s just good. If the last time you heard Kelis was “Milkshake,” another food-related song, then this deserves your attention.
4. Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right
One of the reasons I love Protomartyr is because Joe Casey’s lyrics seem to have a gallows humor to them. Like the Savages album last year, nothing is particularly cheery or uplifting about Protomartyr’s particular brand of post-punk. The album is driving and gritty while pulling no punches in its stark imagery. The album’s lyrics read like a group of Cormac McCarthy short stories that were never released. “Scum, Rise!” features a vengeful son killing of a pack of barfly dads. “Violent” features a husband poisoning his wife and a bandit about to kill a man for snoring to loud. Alex Casey delivers the entire album with a straight face, which may accentuate the starkness of the album as well as the humor. Sometimes depression turns into comedy and sometimes depression turns into more depression. Either way I think I’ve sufficiently sold you on this Protomartyr record.
3. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
D’Angelo’s career has a lot in common with Brigadoon. Since his release ofVoodoo in 2000, D’Angelo has remained mostly silent for the past 14 years. Sure there was a guest spot here and a feature there. But D’Angelo still hadn’t given the world a proper album. As the gap between albums grew at the end of each year, many wondered if the next D’Angelo album would begin to attain aChinese Democracy mythos. In the waning days of December, D’Angelo released Black Messiah on Spotify completely unannounced. He apparently wanted to release this earlier because he thought this album was needed in the wake of the anger and outrage surrounding Ferguson. Indeed, this album speaks to the mood and emotions around race in America. That is exemplified in the lyric “All we wanted was a chance to talk/’Stead we just got outlined in chalk.” The album forces us all to look at the world around and stand up for the change we believe in.
In addition, the album deals in the kind of sounds that made Voodoo so great. The music continues to push the envelope with gritty guitar sounds, electronic flair and straight up soul. Black Messiah isn’t just an album, it’s a call for change both musically and socially. It does both. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 14 years for a D’Angelo album.
2. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
In all honesty, I wasn’t a big fan of this album when it came out. I enjoyedStrange Mercy and Actor but her collaboration with David Byrne wasn’t my favorite. I that album indicated that Annie Clark was going down a path where I couldn’t follow. Now this was my mistake because over the course of the year this album had a chance to grow on me. The album cover is appropriate because St. Vincent truly does sit on a throne of her own design. Her guitar playing is simple but inventive. In truth, I don’t think her guitar actually sounds like a guitar for maybe one song on here. The rest of the album features the guitar as a synthesizer, making any number of electronic sounds.
There’s also an extraordinary amount of humor on this album. The opening line of “Birth In Reverse” said, “Oh what an ordinary day/Take out the garbage, masturbate.” Granted the humor may be a little dry for some, but it’s there. The true brilliance of this record is that Clark attains an organic but angular electronic record. Clark continues to impress and follow a path all her own. It’s weird but I like weird.
1.Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
El-P and Killer Mike are a team on the level of May & Nichols, Simon & Garfunkel or Lennon & McCartney. Both are talented rappers in their own right but as soon as they get together the music is on another level. El-P produces and raps on this record while Killer Mike plays the role of designated MC. The production plays right into their hands, with muscular synthesizer bass lines and glitchy electronics orchestrating a symphony behind them. Killer Mike is and El-P are both in masterful lyrical form, with timely songs addressing police brutality like “Early.”
One of the things I love about this album is the Killer Mike one-liners. “Top of the morning, my fist to your face is fucking Folgers,” “I read the books and did the math/don’t need a preacher preaching on my behalf” and “I beat you to a pulp no fiction/Tarantino flow, new Jules (Jewels) and Vincent.” The collaborations, when you say them out loud, don’t exactly make a lot of sense. If I told you the features on this record were Travis Barker, Zach de la Rocha, Diane Coffee, Boots and Akinyele Black, you would probably say that the ones that you knew were weird choices. Zach de la Rocha absolutely kills it on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” and Travis Barker’s drumming drives “All Due Respect” toward perfection. In Run the Jewels we trust.
For the record, here is also my friend’s much better put together album list. He also has 20 albums because he’s not lazy. Anyways, look it up. It’s pretty great.