With 2014 about halfway over, I thought I would take some time to look back at the year that has been. From The Black Keys, to Jack White and even ScHoolboy Q, this year has seen some great albums, and some disappointments (Yes Beck and Broken Bells, I am looking at you). But there have also been some incredible breakout albums this year. 2014 has not been the most amazing year so far for Rap fans, but anyone who loves Alternative music or just plain Rock should have had no trouble at all finding some amazing new music to listen to. Featured is my own personal list of the top 20 albums of 2014… so far. This is not an end all be all list, in fact some of these may be left off of the best of the year list come December, and some that didn’t find there way on the list could make a strong comeback. But this is what I have thought to be the best of the best… so far. Also note that this is just new music, so reissues/ remasters and even concert albums will not be included on the list, however, Mixtapes are in the running. Another note, this list was compiled on June 17, so all albums released after that time are not forgotten, just I have not listened to them yet. And now without further adieu, here is the list:
20) Fucked Up – Glass Boys
Let me preface this album by saying that this type of music is not my favorite at all, like I said about Deafheaven I just can’t seem to vibe music where I can barely understand what the singer is saying, but that should never take away from the talents of the band. To truly understand the greatness and impact of Fuck Up, there is a great ten minute documentary (shown below) about the band and how how respected they are in the music industry. All that hype aside, the band knows how to create good music. With guitar riffs that evoke some of the best alternative rock bands combined with fierce vocals that mix together in a way that is both abrasive and pleasing, even sporting a song that has a similar sound to O.A.R. Fucked Up put together an album that is simple in its brilliance.
Key Tracks: “The Great Divide” & “Det”
19) 2 Chainz – FreeBase
Alright, 2 Chainz has seemed to have become almost a punch line in the rap community, mostly by the general public, and I don’t really know why maybe cause he feels the need to remind us whenever he is in a song (“2 Chaaiiinnnnzzzzz”) or maybe because all he wants for his birthday is a “Big booty hoe.” But his albums have always seemed to be lacking something, maybe it lacked heart, maybe it was over-produced, I am not really sure how to put a finger on it, but for everyone that seems to have broken out of the “Mercy” craze that G.O.O.D Music created, 2 Chainz seems to be the most polarizing. But Freebase, his most recent FREE album, is fantastic. He seems to be taking himself more seriously (for the most part) and he seems to be trying to really solidify himself up there with A$AP Rocky and Rick Ross. Speaking of Rocky and Ross, they both appear on the album, and really help to take it to the next level. 2 Chainz will never be as socially conscious as Common or Mos Def, or know how to subtely brag about living in a life of luxury like Kanye, but he is really starting to find his place in the rap world, which I love, cause who doesn’t love to scream “2 Chaaaaainnnnzzzzz!!!!”
Key Tracks: “Crib In My Closet (feat. A$AP Rocky & Rick Ross)” & “Flexin’ On My Baby Mama”
18) Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love
Much like Fucked Up, Perfect Pussy has me getting into music that I generally do not listen to on a regular basis. First off, let me say that the name of the band is amazing, especially since they do have a female lead singer, it is just some sort of combination of cocky and ironic at the same time, I don’t know, I just really like the name. There sound is almost classic garage rock/ punk. Simple repeating riffs, and angry vocals. Everything makes you want to get up and mosh around. The album flows together almost seamlessly. Its so crass and unapologetic in its sound in such a perfect way that makes me really enjoy the direction and potential of this young band. Also the fact that they include live versions of the songs on the album really help you get a deeper look into the band. Its just a great Punk/ Garage Rock album, and for 2014 a really progressive sound, that steps in a direction that is so unlike anything on the radio right now.
Key Tracks: “Interference Fits” & “VII”
17) Kid Cudi – Kid Cudi presents: SATELLITE FLIGHT: The journey to mother moon
Ah Kid Cudi, Solo Dolo, Mr. Rager, whatever name you wish to call him, he is the lonely stoner who had us all on “The Pursuit of Happiness” with his instant classic Man On the Moon. Cudi has not really matched the greatness of that album since, he has been trying to change his sound in many different ways, and even taking some time off to take care of his daughter, Scott Mescudi really is trying to find himself. Some people may not have liked his last venture into the experimental, see basically any review of WZRD, but his last album Indicud was amazing (making my list of the best of 2013) Cudi seems to have gotten back into his groove. As an album that is teasing us for the inevitable Man on the Moon III, this album is just plain cool. With samples from moon launches and some of the spaciest beats I have heard in a long time, Cudi does take us on a journey to Outer Space, and you know what Space is freaking cool. For a hot minute I was starting to give up on Cudi based on the direction he was going, but after his last two albums, I am more than convinced that his next album will be his best yet.
Key Tracks: “Satellite Flight” & “Internal Bleeding”
16) Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Once again, I am indeed picking an indie female singer for the best of the year, so far. Angel Olsen is a fantastic musician, and her sound is so simple and just what I love about “Indie” music; acoustic guitar and great vocals. But her sound isn’t limited to that, she knows how to get grungy and tap into a great garage rock sound. For some reason, 2014 seems to be the year for new old sounding music. Her voice is so ethereal and distant that is mixes so well with the guitars and drums, that you want to come back for more. Since she is signed to the same label as Bon Iver expect more of the spacey vocals.
Key Tracks: “Unfucktheworld” & “White Fire”
15) St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Lately St. Vincent seems to be getting the spotlight and the attention that she has been so close to for so long, that it is really a long time coming. A woman with the fantastic combination of fashion, style, a great voice, and an ice cool personality. St. Vincent seems to be the poster child for Indie/ Alternative Singers. Having just recently collaborated with David Byrne and even more recently with Nirvana, she seems to be hooking up with the right people to help her improve her sound. This album, which is by all accounts different from her previous solo records, takes her vocals to another level. She adds in some techno elements and beats (see “Digital Witness”) and singing some of the best lyrics of the year. St. Vincent has lyrics that talk about the mundane and everyday and just puts some of your thoughts into words that are exactly what you were thinking, just in a more poetic way. The whole album gets better with each listen; and if you have the chance try and check out her visually stunning music videos.
Key Tracks: “Birth in Reverse” & “Regret”
14) Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
I may have been a little late to the whole Mac DeMarco party, but when I heard the buzz that Salad Days was getting, I couldn’t just sit back and not listen to it. It was nothing that I expected it to be. Looking at the man, I would have guessed that he was a hard rocker or some sort of really really experimental musician, not this Ariel Pink alt rocker. His songs are all so mellow and have a really nice rhythm to them, that it is infectious. It’s one of those albums that you kind of nod your head to the beat and tap your toes as you sit on your porch swing. The album has this retro feel to it, which is great, it isn’t trying to create a new sound. DeMarco is relying on a system and sound that works, and his voice balances off nicely with the simple guitar riffs.
Key Tracks: “Blue Boy” & “Let My Baby”
13) Skrillex – Recess
I know, I know, I know, SKRILLEX, how could the master of the DUBUBUBUB WUBUBUB make a great album? Well he did and its pretty darn good. With guests like Diplo and Chance the Rapper, Skrillex put together an album, that despite the lack of vocals, at times, creates a cohesive sound that really flows together and sounds like it belongs in an album format, and not just some mixes in a club. The album starts off strong, and much like Kid Cudi he samples in some space jargon samples. The whole album has this amazing space age feel, you feel like you are in the future when you listen to it. I may hate dubstep, and most of the time the thought of it makes me cringe, but this album is incredible, and I am willing to put all of my feelings for the genre aside and just enjoy the album.
Key Tracks: “Coast Is Clear (feat. Chance the Rapper & The Social Experiment)” & “Dirty Vibe (feat. Diplo, G-Dragon & CL)”
12) YG – My Krazy Life
For a young rapper to be included in XXL’s Freshman Class, is truly an honor, and considering who they have had on their list in the past is a true testament to how good XXL is at spotting rising talent (Past Freshmen have included Mac Miller, Macklemore, Iggy Azalea, and Kendirck Lamar to name a few). YG is no exception to the amazing rising talent that XXL has picked out. Like any classic rap album, YG includes audio segments from his past, so listeners can see where he has come from. But he comes in so strong and captures the feel of the early 2000s rap music, part Eminem and part 50 Cent and part Diddy, YG has a little bit of everyone in his sound and style. And not to mention the fact that he is from Compton helps to add to his infamy. With some pretty great guests as well, YG makes an album that is both fun and also gets serious.
Key Tracks: “My N***a (feat. Jeezy & Rich Homie Quan)” & “Sorry Momma (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)”
11) EMA – The Future’s Void
About three years ago, EMA came onto my radar with “California” and I really haven’t thought of them much since. The song was good, but nothing to make me get up and want to go get their record. Then The Future’s Void came out, and the buzz and praise that the album was getting, I just couldn’t ignore it. So I decided to give it a listen. I will be honest, the first time I heard the album, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, and then I gave it one last chance; and was really amazed at how much I missed in the album from my first listen. The vocals, the harsh beats, everything just comes together in a way that makes you reassess the whole electronic music scene. It takes from so many different sources that you really can’t place a genre of the album. One song is dark and brooding, and the next is in your face and high energy; this shows the incredible range of EMA and everything they are working toward artistically. But that is just the sound, the lyrics, my god the lyrics, they are deep and heavy. EMA’s lyrics hit like a sucker punch at times; just so deep and powerful. You can hear the meaning in her voice when she sings. The whole album comes together for something great.
Key Tracks: “Smoulder” & “100 Years”
10) Damon Alburn – Everyday Robots
Damon Alburn, or as you probably know him as the lead singer of Blur or maybe you know him as the lead singer of the Gorillaz, or better yet as the lead singer of The Good, The Bad, and the Queen. No matter how you know him, his sound is very distinct, but changes ever so slightly with each project he is working on, kind of like Jack White. But this album has all the makings of a fantastic Alburn album, thoughtful lyrics, mesmerizing melodies, and an eclectic use of instruments. The album has this feel of a worldly album, like Alburn consciously borrowed from the sounds of different countries and threw them together in this album, in sort of like a United Nations of sound. Most of the album is very slow in tempo and just a nice calming sound, this is not a bad thing, unless you can only listen to System of a Down or some other high energy band. But the sound is just so nice and welcoming that the slowness makes you so at ease and calm. Alburn knows well how to make an amazing album, and his track record isn’t tarnished with his “first” “solo” record.
Key Tracks: “Lonely Press Play” & “Mr. Tembo”
09) Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Never before has an album had such an impact on me lyrically like Benji has. For me, it takes about three to four listens of a song for the lyrics and meaning of the song to really sink in. But this album, I felt it right away. The opening song is about his cousin who died in a fire, like “Wow that’s deep shit.” The thing is the album doesn’t get lighter or less intense, much like those who watch Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead they know that darkness and sadness waits around every turn, and Benji is no different. I will be honest musically, this album is nothing special, just a simple guitar, I am not even sure that drums appear on this album. But like I mentioned earlier the lyrics are where the album shines. It is just such a beautiful album that will melt your heart with each listen.
Key Tracks: “I Love My Dad” & “Pray For Newton”
08) O.A.R. – The Rockville LP
I will be honest, O.A.R. is kind of a homer pick for me, they hold a very special place in my heart, their live album Rain or Shine, is in my opinion, one of the best live albums ever. Their studio albums have always seemed to have been a set up for a live album, until recently. They have decided to give their studio albums a fuller, richer sound, and you can start to hear that in King but there just seemed to be an emotion lacking in King, but with The Rockville LP O.A.R. seemed to have gotten back to the soul of their older albums, and added the higher quality sound of King. For those who are O.A.R. fans, their sound on this album is definitely different from what you have come to love from the band, but that is not a bad thing in the least. They maintain their support for the troops, and really seem to capture the feeling of love and everyday love, not this overly romanticized Hollywood love that so many artists sing about. The Rockville LP seems to be a combination of everything I have come to love about O.A.R. and more. “Favorite Song” is filled with so many references to other songs and artists that its almost a game to see how many you can pick up on, and the audiophile in me was so happy to hear all those references. The album has a rich full sound that makes me want more. I will just have to wait for the next live album.
Key Tracks: “Favorite Song” & “Peace”
07) Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Gainsville Punk rockers Against Me! have had their struggles over the last couple of years, with lead singer Thomas Gabel dealing with an identity crisis, and coming out as a transgender, even getting a sex change. Gabel is now Laura Jane Grace, and with the new identity for the frontman/woman (this is not supposed to be derogatory, but to suggest the change from a man to a woman as the lead singer) came some changes with the rest of the band, with the new members. Against Me! comes in deep, hard and angry, but what else would you expect from a band named Against Me!. Now I will be honest, when I heard that Gabel was getting a sex change, and still going to make music with Against Me! I was very confused, for me, what made the band so fantastic is the deep, dark anger from Gabel’s voice, and you hear this so clearly on their AMAZING acoustic EP. But from the opening lines of the first song, my confusion was put to rest and I realized that this was the same band that sang about girls with track marks on their arms, now they are just a few octaves higher. And yes, you guessed it, the album, is very socially charged. Dealing with the issues Grace/Gabel faces as being a transgender, and those issues are met head on in the first song. And as I listen to the album while I type this summary, I realize how well I have it as a white male in the United States, Grace will always have that stigma as “The first transgender rocker” and that sucks, and I know many many people will stay away from this album because of that fact, and if you like rock, you would be crazy to ignore such a monumental rock album.
Key Tracks: “FuckMyLife666″ & “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
06) Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
When “Stoned and Starving” was released last year with their album Light Up Gold I was blown away by the funny and classic New York Garage rock sound of the song. The last thing I was expecting from the band was another album, yet alone another amazing album. What Sunbathing Animal does for the band is really help to solidify them as the fantastic indie rockers that they are. Listening to the album you realize how much a retro feel makes a band stand out with other rockers trying to be innovative and experimental. The classic New York sound that Parquet Courts brings to the stage is just so awesome, the album has this feel of familiarity to it that makes listening to it on the first time around joyful instead of painful like most first listens. The songs vary in their tone so much, that makes listening to it and picking out favorite songs so easy to do. The riffs and the vocals just play off of each other in such a way that screams classic rock.
Key Tracks: “Instant Disassembly” & “Dear Ramona”
05) ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron
TDE, Top Dawg Entertainment, has really seemed to have made a name for itself recently, with the signing of Kendrick Lamar, Isaiah Rashad and SZA to name a few, but the one that is the most interesting is the bucket hat wearing ScHoolboy Q. Oxymoron is his breakout album, his last album was great, and had some amazing songs on it, but Oxymoron is where you see how fantastic Q really is. From the first song to the last song, the beats, his voice, and the lyrics all come together in such a way that is fierce and just incredible to listen to. When I first got the album I listened to it and immediately put it back on. “Gangsta” is amazing, and Q has some great verses. Then “Los Awesome” is incredibly catchy and fun, but at the same time there are songs that are very dark and personal for Q. The song that features Tyler, the Creator has Tyler’s fingerprint all over it, and sounds like it could have been apart of the Wolf trilogy, and it feels a little disjointed from the album, but it is still a great song. This is the best rap album of the year so far, and really sets the bar high for the rest of the rap albums that come out this year. It may have come out early, but I know that I will still be listening to this album come December.
Key Tracks: “Man of the Year” & “Break the Bank”
04) The Black Keys – Turn Blue
Ahhhhh The Black Keys, the band that has revitalized Rock and Roll, their album Brothers may be one of the best in this decade, and their songs seem to be inescapable, when “Lonely Boy” was released it seemed that every commercial and movie trailer had the song in it, and then “Gold On the Ceiling” took its place. Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney have been busy in the last two years or so besides making the album, Auerbach got divorced from his wife and Carney told off Justin Bieber on Twitter. Bieber aside, their personal lives seem to really affect the tone and lyrics of the album, like any good rock artists would. As I have talked about to others who have not enjoyed this album, I look at it this way, The Black Keys are changing their sound to evolve and they may not release another album quite like Brothers but thats okay because the other albums can still be good, and Turn Blue is just that. It has that great blues sound that The Keys are known for, and it also has some more modern sounding songs like the album closer “Gotta Get Away,” a song so unlike anything The Black Keys have done and its such a great song that I am glad that they got out of their comfort zone and made something that was different and made sure that they didn’t rest on their laurels.
Key Tracks: “Gotta Get Away” & “It’s Up to You Now”
03) Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Cloud Nothings broke out in 2012 with their incredible Attack On Memory, but it had been awhile since I had heard anything from them since then, but all of a sudden in the beginning of 2014, they released a new album, and let me tell you it rocks, like hard core rocks. If you are familiar with the “Stay Useless” rockers, you know their sound, and this album only improves on the fast guitar riffs and the wicked drums. Baldi’s voice is so great, and the raspyness of it mixed with the backing tracks works on so many levels, because, lets face it sometimes the music does not always compliment the voice. Did I mention that this album rocks, cause it does, from the first note to the last, Cloud Nothings rock out and shred away. One of the best rock albums of the year and it will be hard not to see this at the end of the year top 10 list.
Key Tracks: “Psychic Trauma” & “I’m Not Part of Me”
02) Real Estate – Atlas
Almost a complete 180 from Cloud Nothings, Realy Estate capture the sounds of the beach and relaxing so well, they can best be described as the perfect summer band (see also Dick Dale and Best Coast for other perfect summer bands). Ever since I hear “Green Aisles” I have been hooked on the band, their bass and the guitar and spacey vocals just evoke something in me that I love when I listen to them. This album is more of the same sound from the band, but like most of the others on the list who have seemed to keep their same sound, they have taken what they have learned from the first album and made it better. Atlas is a complete album and its hard to think of songs that stand out, they all do a great job of just flowing into each other. Real Estate may drop down on my list come December, but that is only because its not Summer, and they don’t evoke the same feeling when I am shivering in the cold.
Key Tracks: “Talking Backwards” & “April’s Song”
01) Jack White – Lazaretto
Much like a few of these bands on this list, Jack White and the White Stripes hold a place near and dear to my heart. The White Stripes’ Elephant was one of the first albums I ever bought, and I have been hooked on their sound ever since. I have followed Jack White down every alley that he has ventured in, from the bluesy Raconteurs to the hard rock Dead Weather, and even now to his “solo” career. With each project he also seems to change his sound a little, but as a solo artist he seems to be uninhibited with what he can’t do. For god sake’s look into what he did for the vinyl of this record. The album has a little bit of a blues feel to it, a bit of a country feel, and at most times a hard rock tone. As to expect with Jack White, the guitar work is so innovative and wild, that on the first time it may seem crass and undigestible. The single “Lazaretto” is kind of the perfect song for a man that has been so polarizing and honest with the media, referring to a colony of lepers, White can at times make himself a leper with his words or even his music. But at the end of the day people will read what he has to say and chant along to “Seven Nation Army” because he really is that good. The album has such a sweeping set of sounds in a cohesive way that makes it so amazing, and you can see where White’s collaborations have influenced him, and it has made him a better musician. I know many people may dismiss White’s music since he is not part of The White Stripes, or because he seems like kind of a dick, but read his Rolling Stone interview, and give the album a listen and you might find your opinions change.
Key Tracks: “Three Women” & “Just One Drink”
Well, there you have it, my list of the top albums of 2014, so far. Like I said before this has no bearing on the end of the year list, but kind of like a checking in with what is really good right now. There have been other great albums that were not included in this list, and they are included in my honorable mention list. Here is that list, in no particular order:
Pharrell – G I R L
Karmin – Pulses
Foster the People – Supermodel
Beck – Morning Phase
Trash Talk – No Peace
Rick Ross – Mastermind
Le1f – Hey – EP
Mark McGuire - Along the Way
Mac Miller – Faces