presents the Best Albums Of 2014

(NOTE: If you missed it, you may also look at a list of what I feel are the Best Music Videos Of 2014.)

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After a year of incredibly solid music, we are now at the point where I’m able to list what I feel are the Best Albums Of 2014. After I compile a list at the end of year, I wonder if the following year can get better. That’s my way of hoping there will be better but do I want an actual “better”? No, I simply hope that the music of the future will be as solid, powerful, and moving as it was that I listened to. There are countless articles about the demise of the music industry, how modern pop music is killing the true spirit of great music but while what passes as American pop may be a bit iffy to my ears, have you heard what is coming from England or Australia as of late? Much of the music released there may not get as much attention or publicity as One Direction but they are not in shortage of the goods.

Hip-hop is in a decline? Again? The media has been saying that for over 25 years, as if Run-DMC was the beginning and end of what makes the music so good. If Run-DMC weren’t on the cover of Rolling Stone, it’s not worth your time, remember those days? Maybe major labels are, in the words of Frank Zappa, only in it for the money but when has that been any different? Regardless of the budget, good music is still being made. We are all on the internet (unless someone printed this article at Kinko’s and you’re reading it at a dorm and if so, thank you), you’ve come to my website and decided to read this article. You made a decision to do so, which means you’re also able to find something to like. The choices are overwhelming but you can listen, pick and choose. The internet is the greatest “listening booth” in the world, there is absolutely no reason for you to not find something.

There’s not enough of certain genres on my list, including country. Yes, there was a time when I didn’t like country but in time I had a change of heart, listened to it with an open mind and ears and I now salute the temple of Buck Owens. I enjoy hearing people like Jennifer Nettles or Little Big Town but it’s not something I actively listen to, so perhaps I need to in the new year. There could be some country-tinged songs within this list but for the most part, no country albums found within, apologies.

As much as I do love music, I don’t want people to think that I am making an attempt to fit in anything and everything. As I have said for years, diversity is the key and that’s part of my norm, I don’t know any other day. If I want to listen to some disgusting death metal and bow down to Lord Satana at the end, I will. If I find something with some rich gospel, I’m here. Do I want to hear some punk or hardcore that will make me wear weird T-shirts and slam into a pit at Wal-Mart? Sure, why not. My point is, there’s enough music available and these are albums that I enjoyed a lot. Please keep in mind that I’m sure I may have missed a few albums along the way. I did not and can’t listen to every album released in 2014, no one has the time. The list is very much a representation of my likes and interests. You are able to click on the title to get to my review for each one posted throughout the year. Something makes you curious? Click a link and find out more.

Now let’s get to the list.

Analog – “Arrow Of God”
As We Draw – “Mirages”
Brownstudy – “Life Well Lived”
Casual Strangers – s/t
Clipping. – “CLPPNG”
Colleens – “Wild Dreams”
Constant Lovers – “Experience Feelings”
Deadkill – “No, Never!”
Diamond District – “March On Washington”
Direct Effect – “Sunburn”
DJ Q-Bert – “GalaXXXian”
Eyehategod – s/t
Jessie Frye – “Obsidian”
The Ghost Wolves – “Man, Woman, Beast”
Goatwhore – “Constricting Rage Of The Merciless”
Golden Donna – “II”
Hoax Hunters – “Comfort & Safety”
Hot Victory – s/t
Ibrahim Electric – “Rumors From Outer Space”
Andrew Judah – “Monster”
Jeff & Susanne Kelly – “By Reckless Moonlight”
King Buzzo – “This Machine Kills Artists”
Mårble – “Two Women & Tiger”
Pete Marriott-#REALHIPHOP
Gigi Masin – “Talk To The Sea”
Megafauna – “Maximalist”
Melvins – “Hold It In”
Mimicking Birds – “Eons”
Hedvig Mollestad Trio – “Enfant Terrible”
OOIOO – “Gamel”
Oscillator Bug – “Bursts Of The Million”
The Roots – “…and then you shoot your cousin”
Sizzla – “Radical”
Sleepmakeswaves – “Love Of Cartography”
Two Knights – “Shut Up”
Jess Williamson – “Native State”

By the 4th quarter of the year (October/November/December), I had a sense of what albums would be at the top of the list. After years of putting together “Best Of” wrap-ups, I realized that there shouldn’t be an absolute top pick. Then as I’m doing the write-up, I think “eh, this will be my absolute favorite.” This year was a rough one because the Top 3 I had was going with me to the finish line. It then lead to an absolute Top 2, and those top 2 choices were hard to decide on.

Then D’Angelo surprised everyone by releasing his long awaited third album. This was the week Nicki Minaj is supposed to release something new, this was her time in the spotlight but Michael Archer stole the shine without even trying. Then again, it had taken 15 years of trying, struggling, writing, recording, and approving an album many fans have been waiting for. I’m someone who likes to do these “Best Of” lists in the second half of December so in case someone throws out a surprise, I would be ready. Fortunately, I was ready. A look at my absolute Top 4 albums of 2014.

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  • After being introduced to her by a friend, I couldn’t get enough of the music of Low Leaf. I can say everything from how she is “spiritual” and “magical” but she comes off as someone who knows how to create, loves what and how to play and isn’t afraid of how to express herself. I feel that. A part of me also feels there is a, dare I say it, sisterly groove to it, one that I can sense but don’t particularly know in full, and don’t want to. She did an interview where she said people used to think she was Hawaiian, and as a Hawaiian I can completely understand that. As someone who is Filipino as well, the music sounds comfortable. It sounds like music to share with people but also a private music where you’re in a room with nothing but a keyboard or (in her case) a harp and communicating with the sound and yourself. Low Leaf sounds like a search for freedom, or knowing and understanding that freedom can be obtained in whatever manner you want, regardless of public “standards”.
  • The moment I heard clipping. were signed to Sub Pop Records, I couldn’t believe it. Sub Pop is just down the I-90 highway away from me, 200 miles, four hours, Sub Pop was once the label that anyone within the Pacific Northwest wanted to be on, work at, or simply see. I once visited the Sub Pop offices in 1991 or 1992, where I saw The Fastbacks’ Kim Warnick at the front desk and the guys in Seaweed working around. I had been there to talk with publicist Jennie Boddy, who requested a bribe as the only thing it would take for me to talk with her. I went to Uwajimaya and bought a box of Hawaiian Host chocolate covered macadamia nuts and went to First Avenue, only to discover that Boddy was allegedly not there. Did she miss my appointment on purpose or did she think I bought something other than candy? I’ll never know but what I did see was a great record label where the front office was a mess, complete with an old Bruce Lee movie poster from Asia (Vietnam?) made on canvas. At the time, grunge rock was at an all time high not only at the label but throughout Seattle. Hip-hop was perhaps the last thing you’d ever hear on Sub Pop but in time the label would change and develop, not unlike Bruce Pavitt’s own Sub Pop fanzine and column that he printed himself and eventually got in each issue of The Rocket, a Seattle magazine I eventually wrote for in 1991. Sub Pop began to have artists no one would ever think would have a release from but in time they signed clipping., whose album I had really liked last year, turned it into my favorite of 2013. Could the group equal it? At first I thought “wow, there is a different approach to what they’re doing” but as I listened to it more, the shifts were deliberate. Short version: I ended up loving it.
  • In the late afternoon on Sunday, December 14th, I began posting my first reaction to D’Angelo’s Black Messiah. I wanted to hear it, I had waited like everyone else but the listening experience was far beyond what I expected. The album was very much in the vein of Voodoo but it wasn’t a Voodoo copy-cat album. I began hearing a sense of longing and hope, a spiritual side that has always been a part of his music but also a plea, a need for something that is discussed but never expressed directly. It wasn’t an “I need you, you need me” tale, but it was something that was created to show why people have been waiting, why people were patience for something new, and why he loves to sing, play, and write in the first place. The music was also a reflection of his influences and what I was sensing was not only the spirit of 1974, but almost asking indirectly for people to return to the innocence of 1974, perhaps not as an adult but maybe 2 year old Michael Archer being in his living room, watching cartoons or hearing his parents records and feeling everything that made him want to become an artist. Maybe it’s impossible to go back to that time of innocence but we can remember what that felt like and keep it going. There’s a reason people are fond of that music, because it captures a time and place. If it was the concept of “neo soul” that made the media in 1995 embrace him, he was going to do it again but take it back even further. It sounded not just like the old records underneath the phonograph, it’s that jam session you heard your parents playing in the living room or at a party, where you’re young and can’t believe the clock says 3:37am but it sounds good and want to hear it, even if you end up only hearing a few minutes. It’s a celebration of the music, the feeling, the warmth, the vibe, and the people who created the music and why they do it. “There was a time when there was no need to make divisions but now there are, let’s find the reason for it/us to get back together” seems to be part of the desire heard.
  • What I liked about The Roots’ …and then you shoot your cousin was not only the music and how it was put together, but how the reaction to it was immediately mixed. Some liked it while others were confused as to what they were saying, as if it was a De La Soul interlude put into 2014 mode. Everything from “I don’t get it” to “this is confusing” or “how come Black Thought doesn’t get enough recognition, isn’t he the main voice of The Roots?” but as someone who has been a fan of The Roots for 20 years, when have the groove ever remained normal? When have they followed a trend and stayed there? Sure, it may have been easier for them to go down a certain route and bring in the hits and royalty checks, who wouldn’t want that? There is no law to say an artist needs to do this or that, which is why they are bold enough to stick with “other”. Plus, in the last twenty years, hip-hop albums have grown from a nice cassette length (50 to 55 minutes) to CD length (74-80 minutes) and double CD’s (120-160 minutes). No one needs an album with five hits and 42 interludes. The Roots did very well and as long as the group continues to make new music, they’re in a very good place, figuratively and literally.

    If I had to pick an absolute Top 3, it would be between Low Leaf, The Roots, and clipping. If I had to go down to an absolute Top 2, then it’s between D’Angelo and clipping. Even as I write this, it is a struggle to pick my absolute Best Album Of 2014 because why should I settle with just one? Why not the two, three, or four? Hell, if I were to make a Top 5, then I would have to include Enfant Terrible by the Hedvig Mollestad Trio. I could spend a paragraph or two debating other albums I would’ve placed here. Rather than pick an absolute top, let me tell you what I had intended in making my choice as the Best Album of 2014.

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    I love it when hip-hop is direct, I still love when hip-hop conveys a message, I don’t want to listen to something that is a waste of my time and energy. I also love it when someone “ruins” the concept of what hip-hop is supposed to be and with their love of adding in noise, experimental textures, and chaos in their music, I love clipping. because what they’re doing is not what is today’s hip-hop standard. What I hear is what the Jungle Brothers did in 1993, what Divine Styler did in 1992, and maybe what Hawd Gankstuh Rappuhs Emsees Wid Ghatz did in 2001. Hip-hop is meant to be a direct message and what clipping. did is take a few pages, burn it, and throw the ashes into your eyes. It’s the same hip-hop but done in a slightly different outfit. That is why I loved the album, and that is why I had made it my favorite of the year.

    However, four albums are high on the list, I may turn around tomorrow and say “do you know what I now feel about Low Leaf?” I will leave it at that. All of the albums released this year were incredible and I am certain this will continue in the new year that will be 2015. Show support by buying their albums, going to their shows, or signing up to their mailing lists, Facebook pages or follow them on Twitter.

  • REVIEW: Oswald’s “Ride” (EP)

     photo Oswald_cover_zpsd8d655ee.jpg Upon first listen, the rapping style of Oswald reminded me a lot of Fort Minor’s Mike Shinoda, and I mean more on the Fort Minor side and not so much what he’s known for in Linkin Park, despite being the exact same person. The Ride EP has music that has a slight futuristic feel, or that it may sound like the kind of music influenced by a good share of sci-fi motion pictures. The song I found a liking to the most was the closing track, “Alive”, for the synths are reminiscent of a classic groove. “Figure You Out” is nothing more than a rapper doing his thing over an acoustic guitar but the arrangement sounds very pop/punk, so if someone covered this song, it might sound really good. “Kid” and “Sea Full Of Sharks” both share background vocals from a lady and it may help bring in more listeners to what Oswald is about but I think he stands out on his own without the aid of need. The background vocals are just an added ingredient and I hope he’ll continue to do more EP’s in the years to come.

    REVIEW: Arabrot’s “I Modi” (EP)

     photo Arabrot_cover_zpsf1486510.jpg The music of Arabrot’s I Modi EP (Fysisk Format) sounds protein enriched, and that because the gaping qualities are muscular, think, and strong. It pulls from different influences so immediately I may have heard things I’ve heard before done by Marilyn Manson and White Zombie, but then it even goes back to the Alice Cooper Band’s first few albums where things may not match together at first, but it doesn’t have to. The swagger comes through in the way the attitude is given and shared, which means Arabrot offer a character into their sounds that I approve up, a willingness to open but remain controlled for the sake of being/maintaining the/that character.

    REVIEW: Sizzla’s “Born A King”

    Sizzla photo SizzlaBAK_cover_zpsf32d2b3b.jpg Considering how much music Sizzla Kalonji has recorded and released in the last 15 years, it almost doesn’t matter what he does but Sizzla finds himself in a very good place with the release of Born A King (Muti Music). He knows how to balance the romantic songs along with songs that may require a political or social stance, and he never reaches the level of being slack the way he used to. This means it’s family friendly music, good enough for those who care when he speaks out but pleases those who enjoy it when Sizzla is a gentlemen, perhaps why he calls himself a king for this effort. “Give Jah Praise” will definitely make people happy who enjoy it when he gets into a deep roots vibe. What people will also find a joy is hearing two acoustic versions of songs that have fuller versions earlier in the album, for “I’m Living” and “Got What It Takes”. He continues to go through his different methods of singing, including brief excursions into Auto-Tune but they’re not as heavy as they were about eight to ten years ago. How Sizzla will mature in the coming years is unknown but as long as there are fans showing him support, he is sure to continue his passion for many years. Perhaps seven new albums by this time next year? We’ll see.

    REVIEW: Holly Johnson’s “Europa”

     photo HollyJ_cover_zps7c0bb03d.jpg While people know him as the vocalist for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, people know him as someone who has had a very solid solo career in the last 25 years. While lacking any hits in the United States, Johnson shows he can still pull things up beautifully. Not bad for someone who hasn’t released any new music in 15 years but he has returned with Europa, pulling off an album that sounds very much now as it would have in 1999, if not 1989. In fact, if people are willing to give Johnson and this album a shot, it will become timeless, which may surprise those who didn’t think Johnson still had it in him. Most of the songs are about love and good times, celebrations and feeling good although with tracks like “Lonesome Town”, Johnson shows that a song needs to develop and construct itself before it reaches its morals. “Follow Your Heart” is an excellent song that goes beyond the three-minute pop limits and becomes something close to anthemic, or at least it doesn’t leave the listener wondering what will happen next or suddenly fading out before it begins to gain momentum, it’s a bit reflective of songs from the 70’s or 80’s where it was all about going beyond five minutes and seeing how far you choose to take yourself and the music.

    Johnson proves that his singing is stronger than it ever was, not bad for someone who has been making music for 35 years but forget going back into history. Europa has Johnson showing himself very much in the now so if you liked all the different styles he has dabbled in over the years, you are sure to find this an excellent treat.

    REVIEW: MoE’s “3”

     photo MoE_cover_zpsf6a852b6.jpg For this Norway trio, MoE say their music should not be considered metal. If so, then their brand of sludgy rock could easily be the kind of punk bands like Melvins and Buzzoven are famous for, where they did deep into the crevice and continue to infect wounds as they go as deep as they can. 3 is their third album and before I go on, I should say that MoE should not be confused with the New York band Moe. Two completely different beasts. For the 3 album, they show that they’re not only a group that know how to plod in a slow way, they know how to speed things up and go in for a major car race as they do in songs like “Tephra” or a track like “Let Them Dance” which, true to its title, packs a mean groove that may surprise those who enjoy way these guys and lady love to grind. What appeals to me is how when they do change the way they play, it’s not just a faster version of the grind or just a funkier version of the dirge, there’s more to it than that. One of the songs may sound like Megadeth reaching under themselves while another song may have a D.R.I. or Poison Idea crunch. If MoE aren’t careful, they could develop into a much bigger monster than they are right now.

    REVIEW: Cherry Boop & The Sound Makers’ “The Way I Am”

     photo CherryBoop_cover_zpsac607e45.jpg While people are happy to revive the sound of 60’s soul and perhaps the Northern Soul, is it still welcome or are people tired of it? Or does it have to do with the material, the style of singing, or a combination of both? For Cherry Boop The Sound Makers, the material itself hold up solidly throughout The Way I Am, so the songs are not a problem. To be honest, there isn’t much of a problem. While Boop’s voice is not about maintaining pure perfection, it’s nice to hear someone who sings strong throughout and not being afraid to keep in the mistakes that may happen every now and then. Then again, I’m not a trained vocalist so maybe my ears or mind are at fault. She’s joined by a male vocalist in “I Want To Give You My Everything” who sounds close to Cee-Lo Green except he doesn’t always reach his correct notes. I’m thinking to myself “is this supposed to sound this way or is this record warped, even though I’m listening to this in digital?” Then I realize it’s William Hart of The Delfonics, and I’m disappointed.

    Boop herself is a very nice singer but I would like to hear her do more than just sound like a chanteuse from the 1960’s. I’m sure I’ll be able to find other works elsewhere but if she continues to follow trends and not stretch herself to do a bit more than just this, her next project will end up being called The Way I Was.

    REVIEW: Brighter Death Now’s “With Promises Of Death”

     photo BrighterDeathNow_cover_zpse4ee4509.jpg If you’re going to name your album With Promises Of Death, it better bring to mind the kind of thoughts the title is owed, correct? Brighter Death Now is an album Roger Karmanik has made 25 years into his career as someone who takes industrial music into a darker and disturbing level, enough to where what he does has a new genre name, “power electronics”. The album sounds like someone who just finds a certain distinct sound, turn it up to 11 but then raise it up 500 percent in order to make a point. The actual point doesn’t matter, for what you’re hearing is something that is simply beyond anything you may have heard, especially when it can get unexpectedly rhythmic. The music isn’t painful, what I also liked were songs that may sound like the most distorted part of finding a radio station, coming across something at may sound like a melody but you keep trying to get there but never being able to find clarity. What I also like are the parts of this album that do not sound like music, you just take it for what it is, leave it to your interpretation/imagination and go from there.

    REVIEW: Nicole Scherzinger’s “Big Fat Lie (Deluxe)”

     photo NicoleS_cover_zpsdef9cd29.jpg Nicole Scherzinger has not had much luck with success since she left the Pussycat Dolls. It’s sad that people are willing to listen to her as a Pussycat Doll more than they do under her own name, and it makes me wonder if it’s an issue of hype and promotion or if her music isn’t as good as the machine who made the Pussycat Dolls workable. I wanted to hear Big Fat Lie and see what was up.

    I will say this off the head: these songs are not as strong as what they had come out with before, specifically the “Supervillan” song that came out seven years ago. The problem with that song is that it was constructed wrong, the emphasis for certain elements were placed in the wrong spots. As for her new album, what makes this not work? Not much. The songs are constructed well and what I really like is when the grooves, beats, and rhythm sections will switch up in the same song. You don’t expect it and it feels good because it’s as if it’s a real band and not something pre-programmed. I wished more people were into the changes in a song so that it could carry her to the higher end of the charts. As for her singing and voice, it continues to be sharp, but I don’t know if people are truly listening or only placing an emphasis on her looks.

    If there’s anything that’s bad, it’s the type of material she performs. She deserves to have the same type of songs that someone like Jessie J has received and in fact, if Scherzinger had songs on the level of Jessie J, we might have a surprise hit on our hands. I realize that these days, artists and songs are all powered by key producers so why hasn’t someone like Diplo or Kanye West worked for her yet? Not enough of a budget? These guys not willing to work for/with her? I don’t know. What makes Big Fat Lie not work as a good album 100% is that it left me hanging, wanting more, maybe much more, and maybe that could lead to wanting too much. Sure, there is that culture aspect that I sometimes like to feel for artists who are what I am, but that’s a bit of culture pride too and I do go beyond that. She has the talent and I know she’s capable of doing some powerful songs, plus the ballads on this album show that if she kept herself doing the slow songs, she could pull in more fans. The album works for what it is but again, I’m left wondering how much longer she’ll have to do this before she decides to give up.

    REVIEW: Typesetter’s “Wild’s End”

     photo Typesetter_cover_zps8c5667fe.jpg There were two ways I listened to this album. The first was listen to it but a bit negatively. Did I like it? Sure, but not as much as I had hoped. It sounds like everything else I’ve heard before, and better. Could they do better in the future, or is a better way to say “could they do better with age?” It’s up to them but it all depends on them, if they’re willing to challenge themselves.

    Now a good perspective. Typesetter’s Wild’s End sound like a courageous band who love punk and pop, border on hardcore a number times but do it in a way where they understand the construction of a song, from start to finish and definitely make listeners want to hear everything in the middle. They have the potential to make hit songs and at this point, making a hit in 2014/2015 is not about how good or great teh songs are, but if the company owning the radio stations have pulled enough money from the labels as a way to benefit their advertising budget. Forget that, it’s a hit song and these guys have the kind of energy that could bring people down on the floors and want to slam each other until there are serious accidents. They may get into some accidents when the closing song, the title track, pulls into home and you wish the album was a bit longer, which is a good reason to want to experience it again.

    In terms of being formulaic, sure, they take from their influences and pull it off well but they have enough of their own inspirations to carry this somewhere else. I’m hopeful that Wild’s End will not be the last thing they have to say.