Well, 2014 has came and went; musically this has been one of the most interesting and varied years ever for me. The year has been good to me both in terms of music-listening and life-living, and I wanted to cap it off by compiling a huge list of what I have come across and enjoyed. This ended up being a huge project, and it’s intensely gratifying to know that all of my hard work and dedication will (hopefully!) bring some attention to some worthy bands and individuals. Be sure to let me know what your thoughts are on this list, and let me know what I missed here!
50. Insain – Enlightening the Unknown
Insain have given brutal death metal listeners one of the genre’s strongest offerings this year with Enlightening the Unknown. I was genuinely surprised at how much I have enjoyed this one, as Insain aren’t afraid to use melodic guitar lines sometimes in addition to incredibly interesting solos. When they aren’t destroying everything in their sonic path, they are using atmosphere and theatrics to keep the dark undercurrent consistent throughout the album. The machine-like technicality doesn’t take away from the obvious passion in Enlightening the Unknown, and it is certainly unfortunate that they have broken up and are releasing this after the fact.
49. The Amity Affliction – Let The Ocean Take Me
The Amity Affliction have undeniably created a passionate album with Let The Ocean Take Me. The post hardcore genre is saturated as ever, but armed with the soaring cleans of Ahren Stringer and personal lyricism they are a notch above most that crowd the genre. The boys choir in penultimate track “Pittsburgh” is nothing if not affecting, and it’s that catharsis that ends up making this an enjoyable listen.
48. Crosses – Crosses
On paper, this should be Chino Moreno’s most enjoyable side project for me. Lush electronics mesh with his ever-changing croon, and though it falters as a full album, Crosses provides some of the best songs of the year. “This is a Trick” matches a Deftones-esque chorus with dark electronics, and “Bitches Brew” is possibly the best Moreno output in the past five years, period. There are plenty of gems to be found here, so let Crosses keep things dark and catchy for you.
47. Essence Beyond – Carnivalism
Essence Beyond has provided death metal lovers with a walloping, kickass little EP. Carnivalism is evil, dense, and technical, bringing Decapitated in their prime to mind. The songwriting prowess displayed is definitely a sign of great things to come, as the gurgling vocals and impressive bass are just a few standouts.
46. Ringworm – Hammer of the Witch
Ringworm have been around the block, but Hammer of the Witch is incredibly inspired and their best release by far. The thrash elements combined with Human Furnace’s screams make for a dynamic listen, and the old-school hardcore feel allow for fans of the older material to enjoy what is present here. To be around for twenty years and still kick this much ass is something only a band like Ringworm could do, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
45. Best Wishes – Best Wishes
The blend of shoegaze, folk, and indie is superbly done on this release. It is apparent from the get-go that Best Wishes have plenty of experience under their collective belt, if only for the fact that this EP is excellently done. The psychedelic feel of “Riverwild” is both meandering and interesting throughout its six minute runtime. The closer “Friendship” encapsulates everything that Best Wishes has to offer, and points to an excellent full-length in the future. Sorrow has never sounded so happy before.
44. Oxford Drama – Oxford Drama
Oxford Drama is giving us more of what we have been seeing in pop music recently. The genre is being expanded, and now gorgeous female vocals are not constrained to tired pop cliches. The electronic leanings allow for this duo to sound ethereal while still being incredibly catchy. Oxford Drama is a precursor to what will certainly be a fruitful career in electro-pop.
43. Pathology – Throne of Reign
At this point in time, it would be foolhardy for any Pathology fan to expect a huge deviation in style. Deep, gurgling vocals are matched up against inhuman drumming and lightning fast solos, and Throne of Reign is simply the next chapter of the same story for the band. That’s obviously a good or bad thing, depending on what you are expecting. Fans of brutal death metal in general will find much to enjoy here, as this is one of Pathology’s strongest offerings to date. The album is filled to the brim with absolutely gargantuan riffs and earth-shattering grooves, and the brevity here is one of the saving graces of Throne of Reign. It seems as though the band has perfected their craft and have no intention of branching out; whether that is a positive or negative is entirely up how much you enjoy brutal death metal.
42. Quarterbacks – Quarterboy
Quarterboy is just one of those releases that is nostalgia personified. When life was a little simpler, you might spend your days agonizing over girls with your friends; that was a few summers of my life quite a long time ago (longer ago than I care to remember, honestly). It’s trivial looking back at it now, but what this album provides is 16 minutes of gentle, inoffensive twee pop. The quick compositions and tongue-in-cheek lyrics make this quite the listenable little gem; although to that end, it comes and goes without any real highlights. Quarterbacks crafted a full-length that left me interested enough to follow their progress to see how they mature in the coming years, because the potential is certainly there.
41. Architects – Lost Forever // Lost Together
Lost Forever // Lost Together does everything that is expected of Architects at this point, but they haven’t done it this well in quite some time. The renewed vigor shines through the entire album, most notably in standouts “Gravedigger” and “Broken Cross”, but the album in general is a step in the right direction. The improved melodic vocals and pervading atmosphere give more depth to the album as a whole, and this is my pleasant surprise of 2014.
40. I Killed the Prom Queen – Beloved
Metalcore veterans I Killed the Prom Queen are back this year with a new LP, and they certainly haven’t lost any steps during the time that they were inactive. New vocalist Jamie Hope (ex-The Red Shore) fills the big shoes, and the music is considerably more spacious and grandiose than on previous releases, boasting some orchestral sections (“Kjærlighet”) and more melody than you can shake a stick at (“Beginning of the End”). The punishing breakdowns are still present, and the melodic leads are everywhere, so it’s certainly no question that this is the best version of the band that we have seen yet.
39. Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto
Aborted have shown quite a bit of progression throughout their career; they have adopted many different tempos and styles into their gore-laden approach. The Necrotic Manifesto feels like a culmination of their entire illustrious career; vocalist Sven has never sounded more varied and the music is technical but never sacrifices that for the heaviness of the record. The drums are absolutely inhuman, especially in tracks like “Coffin Upon Coffin” and “The Extripation Agenda”, and the band is also not afraid to adopt a doomier approach as evidenced by passages in “Cenobites”. If this album is any indication, Aborted not only have plenty left in the tank, but are also only getting better with age.
38. Kool A.D. – Word O.K.
Throughout Word O.K. Kool A.D. makes a habit of stating that he is the best rapper in the world. It’s closer to an ironic statement on the braggadocio that infects the genre as a whole than it is him truly believing it, but he has released one of the best and most diverse hip-hop albums of the year. Whether it’s the chilled-out vibe of “I’m On A Plane” or the fiery way that he spits through the six-plus minutes of “Special Forces”, Kool is taking you through every facet of hip-hop in a way that is inexplicably his own.
37. Slaves – Through Art We Are All Equals
Through Art We Are All Equals is certainly Jonny Craig’s project through and through. It ends up being a question of how much you enjoy his vocals, because instrumentally speaking there simply isn’t much going on here that we haven’t heard before. Most of what is going on here has a second-rate Emarosa feel to it, but the good news is the lyrics on here are much more honest and revealing than on past projects. Vocally we haven’t seen Craig this good in awhile, and this album seems the stepping stone that was necessary in order for him to release a truly genre-defining album in the future.
36. Kitty – Impatiens
It’s easy to write off Kitty for multiple reasons; the frothy and cutesy aesthetic could turn off a ton of potential fans. Impatiens is more than meets the eye, however. With excellent productions, original beats, and a hip-hop/pop hybrid to boot, she certainly knows what she’s doing here. The trance-like “m0rgan stop” boasts a slow-burning beat that perfectly compliments the murky lyrics, and the dream pop of “brb” is quietly one of the best songs of 2014. This will be the guilty pleasure of every metalhead that gives this a chance, mark my words.
35. The Hotelier – Home, Like NoPlace There Is
It’s strange; this album took a very long time to grow on me, and I really don’t know why I listened to it so much when I didn’t care for it initially. It’s passionate and gritty, honest and revelatory. It possesses an identity amongst a gluttony of bands that don’t dare to be so strikingly personal. The lyricism paints a picture that is easy to understand, and it almost seems like you’re just listening to a friend recount a difficult time in his life where nothing made sense and everything was an uphill battle. Musically speaking, it is almost painfully average. With that being said, this is an album that will mean quite a bit to so many music lovers out there, and that cannot be taken away no matter what. I would advise anyone who is into pop punk and emo to check this one out, as it is incredibly affecting.
34. Hutcher – Hauntpop
Hauntpop takes some of the less inventive music of the mainstream (Lady GaGa, Linkin Park), slows it down, and just plain messes with it until they all sound like completely different songs. More than that, Hutcher seems to give the vapid selections more meaning in his creepy renditions, adding a much more-you guessed it-haunting atmosphere in these tracks. What may sound like a joke on paper ends up being a very worthy endeavor, especially given the success of the EP in general. Ultimately, Hauntpop is a great idea that is delivered on in the best way imaginable. While it may not appeal to everyone, there is an interesting dichotomy present here in that there are both catchy melodies and multi-layered ambient soundscapes present. Just check the excellent reinterpretation of Adele’s “Someone Like You”; the haunting and poignant tracks leaves one simply wanting more.
33. Hexis – Abalam
As innocuous as the album cover may be, Abalam is pure evil from start to finish. Hailing from Denmark, this band mixes hardcore, black metal, and sludge to create an aural assault that is as brutal as it is varied. The shorter song structure works in Hexis’ favor, as tracks never overstay their welcome. This is especially important, given how oppressive the heaviness can be on the album. If you (like me) were disappointed in Trap Them’s 2014 release, this will slake the thirst. It’s grimy, sludgy, and seemingly impossibly heavy.
32. Columns – Please Explode
With ex-members of Wretched, Glass Casket, and Vehemence, my expectations were very high for Please Explode. This grindcore/death metal behemoth definitely does not disappoint with sixteen tracks of punch-to-the-face heaviness. The stop-start shifts and impressive vocal range keep things interesting from beginning to end, and even if grindcore isn’t generally something that you find yourself interested in, the death metal influence sprinkled in will impress most heavy music fans. As songs like “Punching Nancy Grace” and “The God Clause” prove, this is undoubtedly the underrated album of the year.
31. Forevermore – Telos
Forevermore employ a style reminiscent of metalcore titans August Burns Red, and though it’s nothing new in the grand scheme of things, they deliver a compelling record with plenty of replay value. The serpentine leads and impassioned screams of vocalist Kramer Lowe are the highlights here, but the band hardly makes a misstep. The progressive element of their music is intriguing, and it’s clear from Telos that they intend on continuing down that path.
30. Panopticon – Roads to the North
Roads to the North was a pleasant surprise for me. I haven’t heard much in the way of Panopticon before this year, and their latest release mixes black metal with bluegrass in a way that is both cinematic and invigorating. The meshing of different influences should be stark and off-putting on paper, but this album ends up being a journey from beginning to end. It embodies everything you would expect from a record like this and more, giving a metric ton of melody and atmosphere to the affair. After listening to the album front to back, it’s worth noting that Roads to the North is a full-on experience. There is a lack of highlights because the entire damned thing is the highlight. If you’ve somehow missed this and enjoy any of the genres that this incorporates, do yourself a favor and put aside an hour and a half for this beautiful beast.
29. Wovenwar – Wovenwar
With Tim Lambesis’ departure from As I Lay Dying leaving the band without a frontman, it was easy to speculate what direction they were going to head in. Wovenwar is not what many would expect, as Jordan Mancino and company elected to use the talents of Shane Blay (clean vocalist/guitarist of Oh, Sleeper). The soaring cleans present here are quite a far cry from the visceral roars of the past band, but it was precisely the reinterpretation needed in order to breathe new life into the songwriting formula for these musicians. There is a homogeneous quality that cannot be denied here, but the most redeeming part of that is the high quality of the songs present is easily identifiable. “The Mason” boasts some of the album’s best riffs and also transitions to an epic buildup with one of the album’s only screaming sections. As it stands, Wovenwar is set to make their own imprint in the metalcore world.
28. Behemoth – The Satanist
Never mind that The Satanist is Behemoth’s best record as of late, this album rules on its own accord regardless. After vocalist/guitarist Nergal’s bout and by all accounts extremely close call with leukemia, it was fair to assume that this record would be a bit different. It definitely is different, but only slightly so. The changes are minimal and inconsequential given the fact that the main reason the album works so well is because it integrates everything one would expect from Behemoth in the best way possible. The dark atmosphere helps to make The Satanist more listenable than any other Behemoth record for me personally, and songs like “In The Absence ov Light” and the title track show just how diverse their sound can be.
27. Comeback Kid – Die Knowing
Comeback Kid haven’t lost a step since they were a young, hungry band; rather, they have upped the passion and aggression in their music. Die Knowing is the perfect combination of their punishing breakdowns and catchy vocal lines. The true spirit of hardcore bleeds through with gang shouts aplenty (“Wasted Arrows”), while not being afraid to be infectious as well (“Unconditional”, “Didn’t Even Mind”). It’s not a crazy departure from their previous releases, but rather the band taking all of the interesting aspects of past releases and mashing them together. Die Knowing is a not-so-gentle reminder that the electronic-laden, overly-polished hardcore will never fully replace the passionate grit that came before it, and for that I am thankful.
26. Hour of Penance – Regicide
Hour of Penance pummel their way through all of Regicide. That should be fairly obvious even without listening to the album if you’re a fan of them, and honestly this one is no different than prior releases. The only real difference is that Hour of Penance have honed their songwriting to a fine point, and little flourishes like the beginning of “Resurgence of the Empire” are what make it so memorable. Hour of Penance were underrated as it is, but now that Regicide exists it’s even more glaring. Bask in the blatant mocking of organized religion and headbang in the name of Satan, HoP commands you.
25. Incantation – Dirges of Elysium
Incantation will always be one of my favorite death metal bands. There is just something about their sound that is so deeply malevolent; their production even sounds as if the albums are recorded in the depths of Hell. Dirges of Elysium is no different here, and it’s obvious that Incantation put their best foot forward when they are simply recreating what they’ve done for 25 years.
24. The Grouch x Eligh x CunninLynguists – The Winterfire EP
The Winterfire EP is one of the most exciting collaborations of the year, as these artists have incredible chemistry with one another. It doesn’t sound like hip-hop artists working together, but rather a well-oiled machine that has been pumping out solid tunes for years. The different flows and styles help to keep the verses both interesting and varied. The beat in “Only the Past” is nostalgic and lends to the wistful lyricism present. This is simply a situation where everyone involved simply caught lightning in a bottle; everything works and has its own place in The Winterfire EP.
23. Carcass – Surgical Remission/Surplus Steel
I didn’t fully appreciate Carcass until I saw them live earlier this year. After listening to them blast through decades of incredible material, I remember getting home and excitedly re-listening to their discography. The fact that they constantly reinvented themselves and gave a middle finger to expectations is admirable. These five songs are simply just Carcass proving once more that they will never really fade into obscurity (or for that matter, release a bad album). The slow, larger-than-life riff in the beginning of “Intensive Battery Brooding” and the nostalgic value of “1985 (Reprise)” are just a few highlights in one of the best EPs of the year.
22. Within the Ruins – Phenomena
Upon repeated listens of Phenomena, it’s fairly safe to say that this is the band’s best work to date. There are plenty of chugs and breakdowns in this album, but I’ll damned if this isn’t the catchiest metalcore release of the year. “Gods Amongst Men” starts the album off as one of WtR’s best songs, and it becomes obvious after a few listens that there is zero filler on this album. The vocals are better than they ever have been in the past, and the tight interplay between all instruments show a band that has become very comfortable in its collective skin. Both instrumental tracks rank as some of the strongest songs, with “Enigma” boasting guitar licks very reminiscent of both Mario Bros and Inspector Gadget. The fun that Within the Ruins had making this one is translated well on the record, and the band have not sounded tighter in their playing than they do now.
21. A Slow Descent – Utopias
One man group A Slow Descent creates icy, vast soundscapes that are both experimental and captivating. Concept-wise, A Slow Descent focuses this time on a group of machines that rise up and destroy mankind, forming a utopia in the wake of the destruction. He pulls this delightfully weighty concept by using everything from screaming synth sounds to crashing distortion, and if you’re even a little interested in sci-fi, you owe to yourself to check this piece of art out. Utopias is foreboding, intricate, and thought-provoking. Sit back, close your eyes, and allow this album to tell you a story that is somber and entertaining at the same time.
20. Yoma – Approaching Silence
Yoma play an amalgamation of meandering post rock and driving post metal, with their minimalist attitude being the most memorable thing about them. Instead of the valleys-and-peaks songwriting formula present on many post rock acts, the band opts for a much more subdued, introspective approach most of the time. Approaching Silence is an album that was enjoyable from the beginning, but upon repeated listens it really began to reveal itself to me as a listener. The anguish in the guitars in “To The Fall” and the downtrodden feeling that you get from the beginning from “Tides” are just a few examples of how well Yoma did injecting the album with unrestrained emotions. The time that you invest with this one will be equal to what you get out of it, and it is certainly worth your time.
19. Morning Effort – I heard you the first time, it just wasn’t funny
Morning Effort’s most recent EP is certainly charming, but the 11-minute release is more than that. It’s the perfect combination of sloppily endearing instrumentals, shout-along lyrics, and self-referential humor (a song called “***ty kinsella rip-off” can attest to that). I heard you the first time, it just wasn’t funny is catchy, wry, and exactly what it needs to be in order to differentiate itself from the pack. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, which makes highlights such as “Midwestern Self-Depreciation” all the more sweet. The jaunty beginning to “All-nightr” shows the perfect transitioning of the low-key emo stylings into a more energetic pop punk feel. “For Tabasco Use Only” apes Your Favorite Weapon‘s vocals a bit more aggressively while having a fun stop-start rhythm that keeps its identity despite the vocal similarities. Much like the kid who is the first to make fun of himself stops the other children from picking on him, Morning Effort lay their quirkiness out in the open which allows the listener to enjoy all aspects of the music, including the negatives such as poor production quality and at times sophomoric lyrics. I heard you the first time, it just wasn’t funny is the surprise of the year, and boasts of great things for the future of the band.
18. Job For a Cowboy – Sun Eater
Sun Eater is massive in scope, and the album that Job For a Cowboy have been aiming to make for years now. The progression that the band has underwent is staggering; they are a long way from the Doom-era deathcore that they began with. This album’s biggest strength is the way that the band takes their time crafting the compositions (many of the songs are six-plus minutes), incorporating doom metal passages that segue into ripping guitars and the demonic roars of vocalist Jonny Davy. What it boils down to is that Sun Eater works in every aspect, and fans that have been defending them for years have reason to rejoice. This is the band confidently etching out their niche in the extreme metal scene, and it’s certainly well-deserved after all these years.
17. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun
Mastodon can seemingly do no wrong; no matter what genres they decide to utilize, they succeed to a head-scratching degree. Once More ‘Round The Sun is probably the catchiest Mastodon record yet. Tracks like “Tread Lightly” and “The Motherload” are melodic and riff-tastic from start to finish. Though there are fans mostly likely pining for the band of past releases, it’s certain from this album that they will continue in their trend of releasing whatever they want and still gaining critical acclaim. It’s well-deserved because…well, because it’s Mastodon.
16. Jakob – Sines
Sines is incredible. Everything about it just screams adjectives that I love to associate with post-rock. Moody, ethereal, and cinematic come to mind, but that seems to not quite do this album justice. By the time that “Blind Them With Science” ends and you realize that you still have six more tracks to experience, “Emergent” comes gently floating into your headphones. The genius of Jakob on this record is shown through the fact that every track utilizes different textures and moods to achieve a truly unique listening experience. While this wasn’t an album that I was anticipating, it became the album that I listened to whenever I had the time alone needed to digest it. If Sines is any indication, Jakob are on their way to creating an absolute classic.
15. lovechild – “In Heaven, Everything Is Fine”
This band is just perfect; pissed off hardcore punk songs that aren’t afraid to be mid-tempo even with short lengths. For those that enjoyed the band Cerces, this is the same band except with a new (male) vocalist. Though it’s a little different than the previous band, the trademarks that make them so listenable are still there. The vocals are sneering and the lyrics are somehow satirical and impassioned at the same time. In-your-face feedback and spastic drums greet you from the beginning and never let up in the less than fifteen minutes of material present. The replay value for these guys is incredible, and they are sure to make a name for themselves if they stick around.
14. Aspherium – The Fall of Therenia
The Fall of Therenia was one of those albums that I simply stumbled across, and the album cover left me dubious at best. As soon as first track “The Fall of Therenia” kicked in, I was hooked until the end. Aspherium have created melodic death metal that sprinkle in bits of black metal, progressive metal, and any other spacey element you could possibly imagine in order to create something that is both natural and multi-faceted. When you can listen to a song that is over ten minutes (“The Revenant”) and not have it drag at any point, it points to quality songwriting and enough experimentation to keep things dynamic.
13. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestite
Though it’s hard to determine if this ambient album is the new direction for Wolves in the Throne Room or simply an experiment, this much is certain: Celestite is absolutely engaging. It’s ethereal with crystalline production, and the compositions are masterful. For a genre that is notoriously slow-moving, Wolves in the Throne room seem to have no problems conveying feelings of despair and gloom one moment (the end of “Turning Ever Towards the Sun”) and then scoring what sounds like an alien version of The Odyssey the next (“Initiation at Neudeg Alm”). Celestite may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly a must-listen for fans of spacey ambient music.
12. Mac Miller – Faces
Mac Miller has been progressing at an impressive level. His lyricism is getting better but the production is amazing as always; however, that doesn’t stop Faces from being startlingly honest at times. It’s interesting to watch Mac work backwards from most hip-hop stars, in that the shitty mainstream aspect of his music came first and he has progressively gotten weirder (in a good way). The production and attention to detail on some of these beats are astounding, and he sets himself up with some very impressive features spanning from Rick Ross to Vince Staples. “Polo Jeans” sees Miller and Earl Sweatshirt spitting fiery verses over an intricate beat and samples of kids cursing. “Rap Diablo” alone is enough to prove how far Mac has come as he tackles his own insecurities and thoughts of suicide, but it is more esoteric than it sounds. He has these moments of depressive clarity amongst his drugged-out pop culture references. As he continues down the path of addiction and depression, he will continue to be more interesting. I have this pervading notion that he will end up being one of the best, and Faces begins to solidify this idea. This is easily the most overlooked hip-hop album of the year.
11. Pet the Preacher – The Cave & The Sunlight
Pet the Preacher have struck gold with the formula present on The Cave & The Sunlight. Soulful vocals are matched with a riff-rock/blues sound, retaining a classic sound without sacrificing originality. It’s hard to label a band as retro without also damning them as a band that isn’t forward thinking, but “Let Your Dragon Fly” shuts up would-be critics of the sound with its heavy riffs and infectious vocals. This is the type of record that would generally remind you that you haven’t re-listened to Black Sabbath’s self-titled in a couple of months, but they do it better than most present-day bands and this trio from Denmark prove that this type of music can still be relevant and enjoyable.
10. Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You
A lot has been made of Pianos Become The Teeth’s decision to go from gut-wrenching, passionate screaming to a clean vocal delivery. It’s certainly unexpected, but that doesn’t mean that Pianos have sacrificed any of their emotional impact. Vocalist Kyle Durfey has always been focused on delivering personal lyrics, but they are far more reflective and focused than they have ever been before. Keep You is quieter than previous endeavors, but it’s also a fuller and richer-sounding record. This change in sound has allowed the band to flesh out the deep, painful crevice that they occupy. The gently picked guitars in “Repine” help Durfey’s hushed, emotive vocals perfectly frame the excellent lyrics; by the time the drums come in, it’s clear that this is a band that is on the same page. This simply isn’t a band that knows any other way than being authentic, and the painful truths behind the lyrics are far more hard-hitting than any chaotic scream or discordant guitar. Keep You is the sound of a band following their trajectory, and doing it brilliantly.
9. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again
I remember the first time that I listened to Joyce Manor, and I recall marginally enjoying them. It was several hours later when I was humming “Beach Community” (off of their self-titled debut) to myself while doing the dishes that I realized they were onto to something here. Their blend of pop punk and emo amongst other influences is both relatable and catchy.The construction of the songs on Never Hungover Again is a bit like a sampler platter, as it displays the gamut of everything that Joyce Manor can do, and it does so in less than twenty minutes. For a genre that can seem so one-dimensional at times, Joyce Manor expertly inject just enough influences to sound completely different than any other band in the genre. “Heart Tattoo” shows the heart-on-sleeve, upbeat pop punk side to them, but the closer “Heated Swimming Pool” leans more toward emo tendencies with jangling guitars and a more subdued approach. The vocals of Barry Johnson are endlessly listenable here, as he goes from a plaintive yearning to a passionate yell within seconds naturally. While not necessarily carrying the dramatic weight of some recent pop punk bands, Joyce Manor keep it emotional but not bleeding heart and are all the better for it.
8. Sunn 0))) and Ulver – Terrestrials
This monster of a full-length is really difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t heard it before. The whole affair has an intense and paranoid feel to it, and it is constantly building to a resolution that is unknown to the listener. The beauty of ambient music (if you could be bothered to call this ambient) is that you can associate your own images and storyline in your head as the music develops. This is a slow-moving behemoth of an album, but the small details are what make this an engaging listen. The bits of what sound like a sitar, the forlorn sounds of a violin, and the dramatic and effective vocals courtesy of Krystoffer Rygg in “Eternal Return” all help to build an intriguing and expansive sound. It’s everything fans of both projects should have expected and more, and this is one that I will be revisiting quite a bit.
7. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
Barring opener “Stay Vicious”, I haven’t skipped one track off Get Hurt one time. Keep in mind that I have listened to this many times over the course of this year. There just aren’t any tracks that I feel are weak links at all. Penultimate track “Get Hurt” is solemn and confessional while still carrying one of the best choruses of the year. The lyrics deal with heartbreak in a way that is both personal and universal, and the glut of songwriting influences have made this their most diverse record by far. They have found a way to meld Springsteen-esque rock, modern day pop punk, and catchy alternative rock into something that is wholly The Gaslight Anthem. Brian Fallon’s weathered and worn croon is still the best thing about this band, and Get Hurt is chock-full of snarling verses and heart-on-sleeve choruses. This is certainly an album that will stay with me long after 2014 ends.
6. Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown
To say that Every Time I Die have been around the block would be a gross understatement at this point; these good ol’ boys have been providing excellent offerings of chaotic yet groovy metalcore for the better part of fifteen years. The most interesting part of Every Time I Die’s consistency is that it has been unerringly forward progress with every release. Keith Buckley and company have somehow been able to present their music in a fresh way every album while still retaining the trademark characteristics that have always made them so endearing. “The Great Secret” is a blistering opener that features furious drumming and an extremely memorable guitar riff, while “Decayin’ With The Boys” features the all-too-familiar southern rock influence complete with a cleanly-sung chorus. From Parts Unknown has easily skipped its way to the forefront of the better Every Time I Die albums, further expounding on the spastic and extremely (at least for the genre) aggressive sound that has dominated the past two excellent releases.
5. Musk Ox – Woodfall
Woodfall, like many other releases I enjoyed this year, was not something that I knew of before it was released. Five tracks of instrumental folk metal that span the length of over an hour sounds like the very essence of inaccessible, but it simply isn’t the case. The transitions are both epic and smooth, and each section doesn’t overstay its welcome. “Part 1 – Earthrise” acquaints the listener early on with the beautiful coupling of violin and acoustic guitar, sounding like a fleshed out (and better, obviously) version of a Coheed and Cambria intro. For such a specific sound, Musk Ox expertly navigate around the dangers of repetition and release one of the best albums of the year.
4. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
While Lost in the Dream is potentially one of the most immediately accessible albums of the year thus far, it is also the one that stays in your head long after the last song fades out. It exemplifies the understated strength of simple songwriting and layers upon layers of reverb, allowing listeners to get lost in the hazy atmosphere and get brought back to reality with harsh but to the point lyricism. Lead vocalist/guitarist Adam Granduciel is the driving force behind the album, combining dreamy compositions with sometimes cracked and wounded proclamations, other times soft-spoken ruminations. “An Ocean in Between the Waves” keeps a brisk pace throughout its seven-minute runtime, throwing a smoother and shoegaze-ier (if you will) vibe with an Americana sound that just engages the listener the entire time. The songs seem to lazily float by, but Lost in the Dream has efficiently and dexterously been created as an original and gripping listen.
3. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
I’ll be honest-I almost wanted this release to disappoint me. Many friends had a countdown going for the release date, and I soon became tired of hearing about the album before I even heard the first song released. However, the good news with Run the Jewels 2 is that the chemistry between Killer Mike and El-P has only gotten better this time around. Truly what it comes down to is that these two bring the best out of each other whether they’re introspectively rapping over a subtle beat on “Jeopardy”, or simply slinging their patented creative braggadocio on tracks like “Blockbuster Part 1″ or “All My Life”. The Zach de la Rocha-featured track “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” should have stood out like a sore thumb on this release, given the fact that his style couldn’t be further from Killer Mike’s syrupy Southern delivery and El-P’s quick-draw precision. It ends up not only being a strong standout, but it left me wistfully hoping that the dynamic duo would soon be allowing a third into Run the Jewels due to the natural collaborative effort. Killer Mike and El-P have waited a long time for their time in the limelight, and they obviously have a death grip on it now. We might as well enjoy the ride.
2. Fireworks – Oh, Common Life
It’s difficult describing exactly how hard Oh, Common Life hit me. It was subtle at first; only after the first few listens did it begin to resonate with me. I consistently look for albums that speak to me about the difficult emotional journeys that we all go through; that personal connection to an album that just makes you want to curl into a ball and leave the rest of the world behind. Oh, Common Life came to me at a time when I needed it desperately, and it was something that I didn’t even know I was missing. Vocalist Dave Mackinder lost his father prior to the recording of the album, and it truly shows in the honest lyricism present on the album. When he isn’t utilizing his unique vocals to recall heartbreakingly fond memories of his father, he’s providing lyrical gems about fighting depression and fears of getting older. The lyrics often feel more like internal dialogue turned poetic than things anyone would feel comfortable spewing out through a microphone. And that is what makes this record so special; Mackinder is letting the listener into his world in a very personal way. The music switches from a jaunty pop punk sound to an energetic indie rock that swings from one end to the other to complement the vocals perfectly. Whether it’s the insanely catchy qualities of “Flies On Tape” or the morose lyrics of “Woods”, there is something here for any listener willing to open themselves up as well. Oh, Common Life ripped open a personal wound of mine that I had simply put a band-aid on, and I am all the better for it. It forced me to look at a life-changing event that happened over five years ago and dissect how painful it still is to me. Fireworks provided me a soundtrack that will allow me to grieve whenever I need to. Common life, indeed.
1. Manners – Pale Blue Light
Manners have created something that is depression personified; from the desperate howls of the lead vocalist to the startlingly black metal-influenced guitar sections, the mood of this release is as varied as it is emotionally impacting. Album opener “Boiling Point” starts off with gorgeous guitar melodies and then veers into a mid-paced example of what can be expected throughout the album; raspy, screamed vocals with lyrics ripped straight from a personal journal entry. The thunderous double bass that rears it head on “Wallflower” is matched in intensity only by the plaintive screams of, “I don’t want to be faceless, nameless/But I can’t stand to change this/So I guess I’ll remain this/The haunted and wasted”. The real culmination of the album is on the track “Rent”. The anguished screams coalesce with the one of the most gut-wrenching lyrical displays I have ever heard. As the last seconds of “Living Will” fade out, I can’t help but compare the feeling I am left with to the equivalent of getting to the end of your favorite book. You read through the book multiple times, not because the story within changes, but rather because different emotions and ideas can be taken from the same pages. This is not a perfect album in any critical sense, and many people will state that this is just another excellent melodic hardcore release. Its imperfections are what speak to me in a way that an album has not spoken to me in a very long time. Pale Blue Light is nothing and everything all at once; a not-so-gentle reminder that not only is life difficult, but that you are not alone.