Best Albums of 2014

Best Albums of 2014

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD6upBLkbj8

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y34mQzomgFw

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UVIeV94o4I

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbFp1Q_Z8mM

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv2ZZcJQjNg

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVsQwJfWzoI

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAdARF4rGcQ

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuWQyfGa1yI

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.

http://becomingmainstream.com/

Cheers,

Zak.

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Top Albums of 2012

It’s that time of the year again. When everyone starts posting their best of lists for 2012. For me these are the 10 best albums of 2012. I’ve also posted YouTube videos of my favorite cuts from the albums.

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10. John K. Samson-Provincial

I’m going to be frank. I love the Weakerthans. I’ve been waiting with baited breath for a new Weakerthans album since 2007. If this John K. Samson solo release is as close as we come for the next 5 years, I will be perfectly happy. In fact this album would probably be farther up my list if Samson didn’t cop a few songs from earlier EPs, but that said it actually flushes the songs out a bit better. Provincial is inspired by the various roads that weave through his Canadian home in the province of Manitoba. The characters that populate Samson’s album are not prone to dramatic flair but rather quiet brooding and reflection on their life. “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” could be an anthem for everyone who talks about accomplishing any large project only to find themselves playing video games. “Heart of the Continent” takes you on another tour of Samson’s hometown of Winnipeg and could almost be a companion piece to “One Great City!” from Reconstruction SiteProvincial is for those quiet moments in our lives where we are not quite sure where we are going. And that sometimes you don’t need to. My one request of Mr. Samson would be to make another album, but have it come out sooner than 2017.

Best Cuts: “Cruise Night”, “When I Write My Master’s Thesis”, “Heart of the Continent”, “Stop Error”.

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9. Neneh Cherry & The Thing-The Cherry Thing

Neneh Cherry & The Thing are a completely new band to me. I first heard about them through the Sound Opinions podcast and got their album. The album, sadly, sat on my computer for the better part of a month before I finally sat down with it. You could call The Cherry Thing a jazz album and you wouldn’t be wrong but it almost glosses over the elements that are at play here. There a various parts of R&B, jazz, hip-hop, doo-wop, and just plain bonkers. Although these are mostly covers, they don’t sound like old jazz standards. Neneh Cherry tears into every corner of these songs with the fervor of a zealot. One struggles to really figure out where the covers end and the originals begin. The Thing, Cherry’s band, are in terrific form on this album. However, the secret weapon on this album is Mats Gustafsson, who is an outstanding saxophone player. He is all over this album and on tracks like “Too Tough To Die” he brings the roof, the windows, and the rest of the building down. Yes its jazz, but its also everything else.

Best Cuts: “Too Tough To Die”, “Dream Baby Dream”, “Golden Heart”, “Dirt”.

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8. EL-P-Cancer 4 Cure

EL-P actually has the distinction of being involved of two of my choices on this list. Cancer 4 Cure takes EL-P’s claustrophobic robotic beats and places his machine-gun style flow over top of them. He fits more words per verse than any rapper has a right to, while talking about a host of topics including robots hunting people in Brooklyn, helping his upstairs neighbor kill her abusive husband, and all manner of politics. Ultimately it’s his mastery of the producer board and his broad subject matter that make Cancer 4 Cure such an fascinating and interesting listen.

Best Cuts: “Drones Over BKLYN”, “For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums The Word)”,”Sign Here”, “Tougher Colder Killer”.

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7. Bats for Lashes-The Haunted Man

If I was just giving out the award based on album covers, Bats for Lashes would have been the out and out winner. Bats for Lashes is the project of British singer/songwriter Natasha Khan, who gained prominence with her two earlier albums Fur and Gold and Two Suns. The Haunted Man finds Khan recovering from an intense bout of writer’s block. After Two Suns she was having such difficulty writing songs that she called Thom Yorke and asked him “What do you do when you feel like you’re going to die because you can’t write anything?” Thankfully for everybody, The Haunted Man is a great return to form Khan. The album is at times rhythmic, brooding, sensual, or even downright creepy. Sometimes even within the same song. This album sounds like something Kate Bush would have written after watching too much Werner Herzog. Regardles, Bats for Lashes is back. Let us rejoice.

Best Cuts: “All Your Gold”, “A Wall”, “Laura”, “Deep Sea Diver”.

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6. Grimes-Visions

Please don’t be afraid of the way this album looks. It is not in fact a death metal album, but one of the best electronic releases of the year. Grimes (a.k.a. Claire Boucher) is an artist, musician, and music video director from Vancouver B.C. While being danceable, her music doesn’t sacrifice any of that danceability for artistry. With titles like “Genesis” and “Visions” you kind of get the idea that maybe you should pay attention instead of just dance. The grooves, however, are so infectious that you can’t help but move to the music. There are also some very insidious undertones to some of the music, which is probably why I like it so much. This album is what I hope most dance music will be, but it sadly never is. Let’s hope Grimes keeps it going in the new year.

Best Cuts: “Genesis”, “Visions”, “Visiting Statue”, “Eight”.

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5. Screaming Females-Ugly
 
New Jersey has recently been creating bands that I absolutely love. The Screaming Females are the latest (and possibly greatest) of these bands to come out of the Garden State. Marissa Paternoster is Patti Smith, Corin Tucker, and Carrie Brownstein all in one. Screaming Females started out as a pure DIY punk band. They booked their own shows and made their first album in their drummer’s room. After their first four releases, Ugly is far and away their best. I really don’t have anything else to say about this album. Just listen to it. Let it pick up your heart and thrash it around the room. Cause that is what good music is supposed to do.
 
Best Cuts: “It All Means Nothing”, “Rotten Apple”, “Red Hand”, “Crow’s Nest”.
 
 
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4. Cloud Nothings-Attack On Memory

Really, Attack On Memory is a 90’s record. It’s has all of the lo-fi bedroom feel that recalls Pavements, Jawbreaker, and maybe even PJ Harvey. Also it was produced by Steve Albini. Dylan Baldi plays around a lot with pacing on this album. He makes a very brave choice by starting the album off with the slow rocker “No Future/No Past” and then follows it up with the eight minute rocker “Wasted Days.” The Cloud Nothings prove to be retro without actually sounding repetitive. Attack On Memory truly is just a balls to wall guitar rock record, which is one of the many reasons its great.

Best Cuts: “Wasted Days”, “Stay Useless”, “Fall In”, “No Sentiment.”

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3. Frank Ocean-Channel Orange

Everyone has been talking about Channel Orange in reference to Ocean’s sexuality. I just happen to think that Channel Orange is one of the best R&B albums in a while. The music takes pieces of soul, electro-pop, and psychedelic rock and jumbles them around. You know, what from here on out each of the top three doesn’t need a Best Cuts. “Thinkin Bout You” is classic soul, “Pyramids” is an awesome experiment that works, and “White” features John Mayer. Channel Orange is an inventive album with songs that are beyond the years of the artist they were written by. That makes 2013 all the more promising.

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2. Killer Mike-R.A.P. Music

EL-P produced Killer Mike’s 2012 release and the symbiosis is perfect. The beats sound like they were meant for Killer Mike to rap over. The first single “Reagan” takes down the last 16 years of government in four minutes. Nothing on this album is sugar coated, Killer Mike just shows you the hard truth. “Don’t Die” is R.A.P. Music’s answer to “Fuck Tha Police.” Really, it’s just nice to hear a rap album that talks about the issues and not about women or ice. The album also looks at where hip-hop is really at (see “R.A.P. Music”). Killer Mike could earn the moniker of “the CNN of hip-hop” but that would be wrong. Killer Mike is way more fun than CNN.

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1. Japandroids-Celebration Rock

So this is it? This is my number one album. Japandroids deserve this for a host of reasons. One being that they manage to sound like a quartet while they are, in fact, a duo. Brian King and David Prowse have outdone themselves on this album. This album makes you want to take a swig of beer and sing along. The guitars create a wall of sound while the drums spur the song along. This album plays like a pure party album but also has one eye on the idea “what happens when the party is over?” This gives Celebration Rock a certain balance that not every album of this type has. The songs are great, the music is great, and they are probably one of the best live bands I have ever seen. I don’t think Japandroids can top Celebration Rock but I’m really looking forward to seeing them try.

Honorable Mentions:

Kelly Hogan-I Like To Keep Myself In Pain

Tame Impala-Lonerism

Dr. John-Locked Down

Future of the Left-The Plot Against Common Sense

Kendrick Lamar-good kid, m.A.A.d. city

Aimee Mann-Charmer

Nick Waterhouse-Time’s All Gone

Titus Andronicus-Local Business