(NOTE: If you missed it, you may also look at a list of what I feel are the Best Music Videos Of 2014.)
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”
Low Leaf – “AKASHAALAY”
Mårble – “Two Women & Tiger”
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.
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.
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.