I listened to a lot of music this year. According to last.fm I’ve listened to around 30,000 tracks, or an average of about 84 a day, in 2014. A whole lot of those listens weren’t close listens and a lot of them were songs released prior to 2014, but a good number of them were released in the past year. So while I certainly haven’t heard everything released this year, I’ve heard quite a bit of it and the below list is what I believe is the best. Unlike most of the writers here at MiG I don’t focus my listening on one or two genres (unless you want to define my listening habits as “blog pop,” which is kind of accurate), so there should be something for most people here. The blurbs about each album only scratch the surface of them, but I’m hopeful they will lead the reader to explore a couple of them more fully and that you find something you enjoy. Happy holidays, and here’s to an even better 2015 (Sleater-Kinney is back, so that’s a good start).
Unfortunately, Lana Del Rey has been a victim of narrative up til now. Led by excellent singles “West Coast” and “Brooklyn Baby”, however, Del Rey has built upon the good parts of Born to Die (singer/songwriter lyrics with hip hop/r&b beats) for Ultraviolence, and hopefully the great results will move everyone beyond that narrative.
Under Color of Official Right is an interesting combination of light and darkness. I suppose it would be filed under post punk, but it alternates between heavy post punk riffs and sunny surf rock guitars with pulsating drums and gnarled vocals (Joe Casey’s voice is definitely post punk) always driving the tracks forward.
With Atlas, Real Estate has continued to make lovely indie rock with a bit of a surf rock attitude. There’s nothing magnificent about this album, but there’s nothing less than good either. It’s the type of album you can put on in any situation with any group of people and no one will be disappointed.
New wave inspired indie pop with a bit of a garage feel and female voiced, Too True is simply a fun album. Every song is chock full of hooks and feels like MTV would have played the ever loving crap out of videos for them in the early to mid-80s. In fact, I’m not convinced they didn’t show “Lost Boys & Girls Club” 30 years ago.
Loud, fast, and angry, Say Yes to Love is exactly what you’d expect from a hardcore band, at least until you listen to the lyrics. In the male dominated world of hardcore, it is refreshing to here a female voice taking a man to task for his mistreatment of her, and boy does Meredith Graves take him to task.
Black Moon Spell is fuzzed out garage rock with a little bit of T. Rex thrown in for good measure. The album fits in perfectly with the recent garage revival from folks like Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall (Segall actually plays drums on the title track), and the other Burger Records bands.
Surprisingly the only mixtape to make my list this year, Tha Tour, Part 1 brings the best out of two of the top young rappers in the game: Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan (Birdman is there too). It’s amazing how well their truly original flows blend together and hearing them trade verses here is a ton of fun.
It can occasionally be difficult to decipher them, but Wild Beasts’ lyrics have always been overtly sexual. On Present Tense, however, the band has switched things up with most songs being about everyday feelings. It’s quite the change, but fits well with the band’s orchestral sound and dual vocals.
At its best, southern hip hop is languid, spacey, and the perfect compliment to a humid summer evening on the porch. Cadillactica is grade A southern hip hop with rural Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia absolutely oozing from every bar.
The Men do not stand still. In three years they’ve gone from the noise punk of Leave Home to emulating the rock bands of the 70s on Tomorrow’s Hits. No matter the genre, though, the music always rocks, and led by “Pearly Gates” and its horn section that is no different here.
This one snuck up on me. I wasn’t really a fan of YG’s mixtapes, so I wasn’t expecting much, but he really turned it up for his debut. The album can be boiled down to Compton gangsta rap meets trap, and it’s a great addition to the recent West Coast gangsta rap resurgence.
Merchandise used to be a trio who utilized a drum machine to back them on tiny shows around Florida. Then they signed to 4AD for this album and basically reinvented themselves. Now a quintet with a massive post punk sound, After the End is an album that fits perfectly with their new label’s back catalog in both sound and quality.
Noise pop verging on full blown punk Here and Nowhere Else is made up of guitar hooks and screaming vocals. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the album, though, is the drumming. Drummer Jayson Gerycz is absolutely unstoppable throughout this album, and puts in one of the best individual musician performances of 2014.
If there is a current analog for The Modern Lovers, it’s Parquet Courts (lead singer Andrew Savage even sounds a bit like Jonathan Richman). The band makes punk rock stripped to the point of almost being proto punk, and with tracks like the title track, “Black and White” and “Instant Disassembly”, Sunbathing Animal is an excellent example.
The Future’s Void is noise pop for, and grappling with, the 21st century. That’s an Oculus Rift she’s wearing on the cover art, “3jane” is about finding an unauthorized video of yourself on the internet, “Neuromancer” discusses the narcissism of “makin a living off of takin selfies,” and “Dead Celebrity” is about feeling like we know celebrities in the internet age. In the end, the album doesn’t seem to be against technology, but it is most certainly a warning.
For New Music Tuesday, I said, “Grouper is a singer/songwriter project that often gets classified as ambient or drone due to substantial use of effects. Ruins, however, does away with the effects leaving the pure beauty of a woman’s voice and piano accompaniment.” That’s all still the case. This album is gorgeous.
Mike Hadreas’ Perfume Genius usually gets filed under singer/songwriter, and ordinarily that’s appropriate. Most of his music is heart felt, confessional, and just his voice over piano. Too Bright, however, is at its best when he breaks beyond those boundaries. “Grid”, “Longpig”, and especially the magnificent “Queen” fill out the instrumentation and simply bowl the listener over.
It was a bummer that Wild Flag broke up after only one album, but it does allow the band members to do their own thing, and Mary Timony’s formation of Ex Hex was a master stroke. Rips is punk trio through and through. Quick bursts of guitar, bass, and drums with harmonized beach vocals. It doesn’t get much more fun than this.
Somewhere between indie rock and slowcore is where The Antlers reside, and Familiars is their best album yet. Highlighted by “Palace” and “Hotel”, Familiars swoops and soars creating an atmosphere that envelopes the listener in a feeling that is somehow comfortable and soothing while also evoking a feeling of loneliness. It’s a beautiful feeling.
Danceable Sun Ra mixed with a hip hop flavor, You’re Dead is like nothing else being made right now. The album as a whole is supposed to be about the unknown that happens when the album title occurs, but really this album is about sounds. Jazzy, funky, and occasionally eerie sounds that suck the listener into FlyLo’s world.
Deep Fantasy is an absolute rager of a punk album. Mish Way’s ferocious vocals get most of the attention, but the whole band sounds like they’d shatter their instruments if they played them any harder. Ordinarily, this kind of anger and volume would cause the songs to descend into pure noise. In this case, though, hooks and melody still find a way through the madness and create a great album.
Is LP1 r&b? Trip hop? Dream pop? Experimental pop? All of the above? All I can say for sure is what it strives to be (and succeeds at): Art. As demonstrated by the album cover, her performance on The Tonight Show, and basically everything she does, twigs is a true artist. The fact she created one of the single best songs of 2014 in “Two Weeks” is just icing.
December releases almost never make my lists because I don’t feel like I’ve spent enough time with them. That’s no issue here, because this album is just that good. Funky, smooth, sexy, political, hip hop infused, glorious neo soul. Listening to Black Messiah is an absolute joy and makes the 15 year wait worthwhile.
There’s really no reason to sugarcoat it, Lost in the Dream is the best guitar rock album so far this decade. Critically acclaimed music hasn’t heard guitar solos like this in years and everything else the album brings (Adam Granduciel’s vocals, atmospheric synths, a baritone sax!) is magnificent. Lost in the Dream is perfection.
What does it take to beat out perfection? Killer Mike and El-P made a great rap record with the original Run the Jewels. The sequel, though, is a stone cold monster. “Blockbuster Night Part 1” and “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” are two of the year’s best songs regardless of genre, but somehow the rest of the album stands tall next to those two songs. I honestly have no idea how they are going to top this one.
An author and editor at MiG, Craig lives in Minnesota with his wife and son and is an attorney in his real life. Once upon a time Craig played the trumpet and spent four years in the Hawkeye Marching Band and pep band. These days Craig finds himself most often listening to experimental rock, hip hop, and post punk, but you can see everything he's listening to at: www.last.fm/user/cafreema Craig is not ashamed to admit the first concert he ever attended was New Kids on the Block.
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