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Across all genres, 2014 was a stupendous year for music, and there are a handful of albums worthy of recognition. Here we present them to you; this is mxdwn’s top 40 albums of 2014.
40. The Bots – Pink Palms
Barely out of their teens, California born The Bots made a huge splash in the music world this year with the release of their newest record Pink Palms. Combining pop, punk, and raw garage rock, Pink Palms is guaranteed to please any music listener.
39. Blueprint – Respect the Architect
Respect the Architect by Blueprint shows what a talented mc and producer can do in the studio and compress it into a mere 8 tracks. Not a wasted moment present.
38. Septicflesh – Titan
What makes Titan great is the expertise behind its arrangements. The Greek metal band fully utilize their orchestral palette while also mastering their dynamics. The result is an aural feast.
37. The Glitch Mob – Love Death Immortality
With their sophomore album, The Glitch Mob has just begun to make their mark on electronic music. Expect much more from the group with upcoming releases.
36. Skindred – Kill the Power
Catchy, reggae infused nu-metal that somehow is still surviving, Kill the Power is probably the catchiest metal song of the year. Using a Public Enemy and Kanye West sample to get it going , Skindred prove once again that they somehow write hooky metal songs and they don’t care what you think.
35. EMA – The Future’s Void
Rarely is pop music so menacing as when fashioned by Erika Anderson, the deadliest thing to come out of the Dakotas since cultural essayist Chuck Klosterman.
34. Hospitality – Trouble
Brooklyn trio Hospitality’s release, Trouble, lives in a pop and rock mixed area with a driving bass and beat under a slightly distorted guitar and the sure vocals of its leads singer.
33. Ty Segall – Manipulator
Ty Segall’s blend of garage rock and guitar fuzz, along with his attention to detail, is what makes this 17-song double-album—by far the longest of Segall’s seven albums—easily one of indie rock’s best albums of 2014.
32. Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line
Nickel Creek reunites with a record that gives us what we’ve been missing; peak songwriting with some interesting musical turns. Check out Hayloft for new flavors of bluegrass on tap.
31. Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless
The longtime New Orleans metallers have unleashed an album that balances pummeling fury with thoughtful, diverse songwriting and healthy helpings of NOLA’s distinctive southern sludge. This is heavy metal done right.
30. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Damon Albarn’s solo debut album Everyday Robots recalls the existential dread of 2005’s Demon Days, but in a more beautiful, folktronic way. If only we would get off our phones and listen…
29. Cibo Matto – Hotel Valentine
The Japanese duo of Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori stopped making music under Cibo Matto in 2002, but reunited after nine years in 2011. Now, three years later, they’ve released an album that’s reminiscent of their international-pop days in the 90’s, but with slick production that clicks on all cylinders. Hotel Valentine, released on Valentine’s Day, is a record worth your time.
28. Bonobo – The North Borders Tour. – Live
The North Borders Tour. — Live was a seminal release for Bonobo’s Simon Green. The eleven tracks, lifted from his releases The North Borders, Days to Come, and Black Sands, serve as a noble retrospective for Green’s career thus far.
27. Joseph Arthur – Lou
Most high-profile tributes to recently deceased musicians are gaudily maximalist, but Joseph Arthur’s Lou finds a more tasteful approach to the passing of Lou Reed. Arthur’s soulful baritone accompanied by minimal piano and acoustic guitar conveys the meaning behind Reed’s lyricism, while remaining both beautiful and sincere.
26. Antemasque – Antemasque
Formed by members of At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, and with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea on bass, Antemasque has talent in spades. This supergroup project had one of the most highly-anticipated albums of the year, and they delivered with a catchy, straightforward rock record.
25. Angel Olson – Burn Your Fire for No Witness
Singer-songwriter Angel Olson’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness presents a complex, rewarding musical experience. Whether its a stripped, vulnerable vocal and acoustic guitar track, or a grungier rock tune, Olson’s distinct voice, solid lyrics and wide range of genres and sounds make Burn Your Fire For No Witness great listening.
24. Tim Bowness – Abandoned Dancehall Dreams
With his second solo effort, No-Man singer proved that he could do the remarkable; he made an album that was both filled with loneliness and positivity and great lyrics and musicianship. All of which, is held together by his breathy vocals. Abandoned Dancehall Dreams is all about longing for the past, you will long to hear it again and again.
23. TEEN – The Way and Color
mxdwn favorites TEEN wisely and powerfully expanded on their atmospheric garage rock with a psychedelic twist on The Way and Color, blending in lead singer Teeny Lieberson’s long-running affinity for R&B hooks. The psych flourishes are still present in just right the amount, adding delicate flavor to each number. Every song here is a winner.
22. Johnny Cash – Out Among the Stars
Out Among the Stars captures unreleased 1981 Johnny Cash songs mixed with more recent recordings for a combination of primetime Cash and the best modern studio work has to offer.. Representing the best of classic country and Cash in his prime, Out Among the Stars presents emotional lyrics, Americana essence and classic Cash.
21. How To Dress Well – “What Is This Heart?”
“What Is This Heart?” is the perfect album that demonstrates Tom Kroll’s ambient sound. Krell opens up his heart on this album, and merges his feelings with melodic beats. The humbleness of the album tied in with Krell’s raw emotion makes for a very dark cohesive work. The way the album is constructed lyrically and harmoniously suggest that Krell himself is trying to decode his own heart – hence the album title.
20. Brody Dalle – Diploid Love
Brody Dalle’s vocals today are no less powerful than they were in her days fronting. The Distillers. Her first solo album contains that sexy, raspy voice we all love and of course plenty of bass and guitar. This is the most personal and mature we’ve heard her yet.
19. Chromeo – White Women
This Canadian electronic duo has been making music together for 12 years now and White Women showcases their maturity and growth. The opening track, “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” gets stuck in your head all day long just after one listen. Another album highlight is “Lost On The Way Home” featuring Beyonce’s sister Solange Knowles, who is also known as an indie darling. Along with catchy beats, Chromeo is known for the silly and playful lyrics that they feature. The songs “Sexy Socialite” and “Frequent Flyer” are lighthearted and some ideal tracks to sing along with.
18. Guano Padano – Americana
Americana, released on Mike Patton’s Ipecac by Guano Padano is a beautiful, soulful, and deep album. Truly deserving of praise, this album experiments with the concepts of a deep and meaningful venture through the desserts of the American southwest, and through the styles of southwest and western American music, with a feeling that can’t quite be spoken about and only truly experienced through the listening process. This album is the grandest of Western adventures, providing all the soul needs to cherish. If there’s one album that’s listened to this year, it must be Guano Padano’s Americana.
17. Dum Dum Girls – Too True
Too True sounds like an ethereal orchestra of 90’s pop with 21st century edge. The song is an immaculate feat of the lo-fi, dream pop persuasion, making apparent font woman Dee Dee’s inherent knack for song writing. In fact Too True might have one of the best hooks of 2014, with a circulating melodic tension that sticks in the memory like a souvenir. Its power lies in its uncompromising mellowness that boils over with a nostalgic tang. Despite being only released in January, “Too True” holds the sort of familiarity seemingly reserved for the classics.
16. Marichi El Bronx – Mariachi El Bronx III
The Bronx has been an innovative and talented punk band for many years, but in 2007 they announced that they’d be pushing their musical boundaries by starting to release mariachi music as well as their usual albums, under the name Mariachi El Bronx. Their newest mariachi record, Mariachi El Bronx (III) came out this year and proved to the music world that they are no novelty. Effortlessly blending their long beloved hard rock sound with fun mariachi influenced music, Mariachi El Bronx (III) was a shoe-in for album of the year. The Bronx will hopefully also continue to release their straight-ahead punk albums, but if they also put out records like this, there will be no reason to complain.
15. Allegaenon – Elements of the Infinite
With a new drummer and a new guitarist, Allegaeon take a drastic step forward with Elements of the Infinite. Forging complex compositions that contain elements of melodic death, tech-death, black metal, djent, symphonic metal and more, the band carries listeners on an ambitious thrill ride through vast soundscapes of texture and emotion. But it’s not all grandiose concepts and neo-classical sweeps – Allegaeon also know how to pulverize, particularly when vocalist Ezra Haynes fully unleashes his guttural screams and growls. Elements of the Infinite is dense and relentless, but never tiring, as the band deftly manage to keep their songs on the pathways of satisfying musical progression.
14. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
Mention the name Flying Lotus, and half of the music world is already on board. Throw in collaborators like Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar, Ennio Morricone, and Snoop Dogg – now the rest of the music world is running to catch up. You’re Dead! is part free jazz, part hip-hop, and all incredible. Here, meandering bass solos ooze over discordant piano melodies and breathless drum lines. Later, we descend into grimy hip-hop in a collage of sampling and live verse. The ghosts of Lotus’ many musical influences haunt this album, producing a kind of strange eulogy that turns out to be as dynamic and exciting as almost any record in rotation this year. It’s a good time to be alive.
13. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
For her third album, Lana Del Rey ditches her hip-hop inspired beats for the delicate guitar and producer stylings of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. She has also replaced her pretense of playing the victim and the other woman: On “Brooklyn Baby,” she boats that she “gets down to beat poetry,” her “jazz collection’s rare” and her boyfriend’s cool but not as cool as her, while on “The Other Woman,” she details the drawbacks of being a mistress instead of a wife. The only thing that does stay the same is Del Rey’s moody contralto voice. From the compression and the sitar inspired guitar on the first track, you know this is going to be a cinematic ride.
12. Cross My Heart Hope to Die – Vita e Morte
With the release of Vita E Morte, Cross My Heart Hope to Die, the eccentric and eclectic trio of Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs, producer Andrew Kline, and singer Brevi have hit with another four songs steeped in creepy beats and samples, and lyrics which reflect a life lived on the seedier side. Each of Morte’s tracks unfold with beats which move the songs along at a molasses pace, as they are injected here and there with tinny pipe organ and haunting church bells, and electric guitar. Though its Brevi’s careless and darkly whispered, trance-like lyrics that render you powerless to stop listening,
11. Got a Girl – I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now
Or him for that matter. The unlikely duo of Dan the Automator and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead works in a quirky kind of way. From the opening track “Did We Live Too Fast” and all the way to the end with “Heavenly,” Got A Girl mixes the old style of Winstead’s vocals with Dan the Automator’s numerous musical interests (he’s produced a wide range of hip-hop and pop/rock acts) in a sleek 60s influenced album. The last tracks on the album include the final electronic kick that brings the album full circle.
10. alt-J – This Is All Yours
Alt-J’s 2014 release faced the immense challenges of a) closely following their critically lauded debut album and b) the departure founding member Gwill Sainsbury. Despite these considerably stacked odds, the Leeds trio delivers another modernist amalgamation of echoing guitars, oscillating sythns and nasal crooning with This is All Yours, a giant mess of staggering intimacy. The group’s second LP is notably more six string-centered and consciously thematic with the sprawling “Nara” Suite. Alt-J channel their English rock forefathers to widen their stylistic range, from the earthbound bluesy raunch of “Left Hand Free” to the progressive, pastoral delicacy of “Warm Foothills”. The frail ambient alt-rock weirdness that filled out An Awesome Wave still resonates tracks like “Choice Kingdom”, however, leaving the listener to believe that hypnotic bass thrum that carried “Breezeblocks” and “Bloodflood” (a track that gets its very own sequel in This is All Yours) never fully faded out.
9. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – Midnight Sun
Sean Lennon, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and his lover Charlotte Kemp Muhl have created one of the best indie albums of the year: Midnight Sun. Monikered as The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, this dynamic duo makes the ghost of Lennon proud combining pop, rock, electronic and experimental melodies to create a pop styled album that anyone can dance and relax to. Sean Lennon’s vocals throughout the album resemble his fathers’ and present a nice sense of nostalgia to those folks’ who grew up with The Beatles.
Muhl’s vocals also compliment the album in a lovely duet more than reminiscent of Ono and Lennon’s bed sessions. Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger’s Midnight Sun is a unique, but reminiscent approach to the indie pop world. Bringing the modern indie approach of electronics to the classic approach of beautiful guitar solos complimented by Lennon and Muhl’s vocals, this album is a throwback into a time when music was always unique, beautiful, and especially full of love.
8. Nicole Atkins – Slow Phaser
Nicole Atkins has come a long way since the debut of her first album Neptune City. Her confident attitude reflects onto the album and shows her control over her work. Her funky psychedelic pop sound, various instrumentation and distinctive vocals show how she’s not afraid to push her limit. The leading single off of the album “Girl You Look Amazing” balances both the disco rock vibe and her spicy attitude perfectly. The musical content of this album really brightens up the dark undertone that this work truly carries. Even in one of the albums catchiest songs “Cool People,” she admits to “naked in my mind/trying to reconcile with a towering dark side/the only dress I wear/is my shadow on the wall.” The 70s disco impression this album possess fills in the empty void of happiness that the album was initially lacking. Her dominant voice, captivating attitude, and bass tunes throughout the album string together to create this one striking album.
7. The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River
The Basement Tapes, you’ve heard of them. And if you haven’t, you need to get your priorities straight. In short, they are the product of Bob Dylan and The Band in their prime. Well now we have The New Basement Tapes, a super group that has produced a record so exciting that more than a few fans of all musicians involved have surely wept with delight. Take a newly discovered trove of lyrics penned by Dylan during the original sessions, hand them off to Elvis Costello, bring in Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and T-Bone Burnett as producer, then add a dash of Johnny Depp, and you have pure magic. Each member has taken turns writing music, even producing multiple versions of the same lyrics. Let the tears of happiness flow.
6. Aphex Twin – Syro
Aphex Twin’s first album in 13 years recalls that famous axiom about the weather in Florida; if you don’t like it, wait a few minutes. It salvages Richard D. James’ waning relevance by recalling (if not borrowing heavily from) the bass and bass-synth workouts of Squarepusher and Dam-Funk, as well as wildly fluctuating technopop artistes like Mouse on Mars and Dan Deacon. Syro is a fluid, constantly shifting collection of music, and we really mean music, not the anti-music of his world-eating ambience or his frenetic drill’n’bass attempts. But what really sets Syro apart from the rest of the Aphex Twin catalog? The sense that all of his skittish activity and electro tinkering is, for once, driven by unbridled joy and relentless fun.
5. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
In January, longtime punk favorites Against Me! released Transgender Dysphoria Blues, a powerful, introspective album that addresses the experiences of singer Laura Jane Grace after she publicly came out as a transgender woman in 2012. Transgender Dysphoria Blues shows how Laura Jane Grace and the rest of Against Me! have matured as musicians and songwriters. Fans of Against Me! were treated to a look at how the band has grown during their nearly 20 years as a band, and it surely drew in many new listeners. Much heavier than their folk punk roots, this record shows how hard the members of Against Me! can rock, while still staying true to the sound that so many punks fell in love with back in the late 1990s.
4. Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed
The Dillinger Escape Plan, Sepultura and Mastodon are all bands that have shaped heavy metal in meaningful ways with their respective works. With Greg Puciato, Troy Sanders and Max Calavera combining their respective chops, the results are bound to be interesting. Add drummer David Elitch, who has lent his impeccable rhythms to everyone from the Mars Volta to M83 to Miley Cyrus, and you have a spectacle in the making.
Despite the deep specializations of each musician, Killer Be Killed is an accessible album – using its relative star power and immaculate production for the sake of inclusion. With a melding of aggressive styles that couch from each of the members’ specialties, the Killer Be Killed stays fresh and unpredictable, morphing constantly to showcase melodic and rhythmic ideas from the assembled luminaries. The vocals alone are worth the price of admission, as the experience of hearing Calavera’s barks intertwining with Puciato’s screams and Sanders’ gruff croons is one of a kind.
Heavy, vocally catchy, and enriched with ideas from several diverse corners of heavy music, Killer Be Killed is a supergroup album that actually lives up to the designation. Here’s hoping that this self-titled release is not the group’s last
3. Warpaint – Warpaint
Warpaint’s second full-length is an at-times brooding exploration into post-party depression, mulling over the chaos of the collective within the safety of solitude. Functionally it is an effective accompaniment to a late-night wind-down. But to call it background music is not an insult. It is the perfect soundtrack for checking out with whatever poison you prefer, be it a bong, a bottle, or a sketchpad, lights low, alone with wandering thoughts and away from chattering crowds and the eyejuice-sucking glow of screens and headlights. Sonically unified by the mix-mastery of Flood and Nigel Godrich, Warpaint’s characteristic rhythmic jams evolve almost imperceptibly, the instruments morphing and replacing each other as sleeping pill harmonies cast a witching, and at-times demon-summoning spell that floats over the eardrums and seeps right into the gray matter. Clocking at just over fifty minutes it is an event, with four songs hovering at the five minute mark, giving the grooving repetitiveness just enough space to gain meaning without giving way to boredom. The final track, “Son,” opens like a Thom Yorke piano ballad, and with rolling snare and reflective vocals it creates a redeeming moment of clarity at the end of a strange trip through a multi-colored fog.
2. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
On the opening track Jeopardy on Run the Jewels 2, Killer Mike makes a bold statement that RTJ is the “top tag team for two summers,” and that’s just not a cocky proclamation, it’s the truth. Since Killer Mike and El-P joined forces they have been unstoppable. These two kindred souls styles not only compliment each other perfectly, in the music you can tell they are having fun with what they are doing, and that’s something that’s missing in a lot of music today. Every song on RTJ2 enters your ear canal and just sits on your ear drum. These tracks aren’t leaving your head anytime soon. “Blockbuster Night Part 1,” “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” and “Crown” are instant classics. RTJ2 shows how much these two have learned to work off each others talents. EL-P cooks up some dope beats for him and Mike to destroy, and that they do. RTJ are going to go down as one of the best duo in hip hop, and they deserve it. Both individuals have paid there dues and it’s about time they get the accolades they deserve. Mike and El-P already announced that RTJ3 is happening now all we have to do is wait.
1. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
When we last heard from St. Vincent (nee Annie Clark) she quite frankly blew us away. Her Strange Mercy album from 2011 bowled us over with its thick atmospheric tunes. Songs drenched in layers of fuzzed-out chorus effects, she chose to contemplatively wade through her emotions as if lost in a colorful haze. The result was that each song gave the instrumentation ample room to breathe, nothing choked off the melody and bringing the idea home correctly was more important than rushing to the point. We loved every last note of it. Loved it so much we dubbed it our #1 Album of the Year on our annual year-end tally. It’s no surprise that Ms. Clark’s self-titled follow-up was an instant smash and a triumphant statement of music’s next credible female superstar.
Transformative in terms of sound and appearance, St. Vincent here returned presented as a robotic queen from a dystopic alien future. Like Strange Mercy, the album uses guitars sparingly, peppering the mix with angular riffs or only brief chord progressions. “Huey Newton” for example relies mostly on its syncopated drum patterns and a distorted bassline. “Digital Witness” darts predominantly around its sampled horn melody. Here, Clark coos playfully “People turn the TV on it looks just like a window” along a song that mutates as fluidly as one of Faith No More’s greatest songs. All of this is especially impressive considering that first and foremost she’s a guitarist. And not just any guitarist, she’s an exceptional guitarist. Annie Clark being un-concerned about flooding her album with guitar licks is like Andre 3000 generally not wanting to rap on his music anymore. It’s bizarre, but works in every way imaginable.
For those unfamiliar, this is St. Vincent’s moment. She’s hit the sweet spot of progressive artistry and accessible fun. Here’s your next new champion America, the unequaled St. Vincent.