It’s that time again where all your favorite music publications break down their favorite albums of the year.
Instead of reading all of them, just trust your favorite WSUM DJs!
RTJ2 by Run The Jewels – This one was a no-brainer for my top pick. In 2013, Killer Mike and El-P each released stellar solo albums and together they released RTJ, and all three were valid year-end picks. This year, they topped themselves by going bigger and harder with the sequel. El-P’s beats still have his trademark sci-fi dystopian vibe to them, but they are more focused and hit harder. In response, the two MCs pack a more powerful punch, tackling more issues while still coming up with better, more inventive ways to say “fuck you”. This is easily the best album of 2014. Recommended track: “Oh My Darling Don’t Dry”
Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! – As excited as I was for this album before it came out, I was also anxious. Their first album since leader Laura Jane Grace began her transition to living as a woman, I was afraid that the social importance of the album would eclipse the musical importance. I was wrong to be afraid. Every song (save for the darkly beautiful “Two Coffins”) is a blast of punk anger and energy that, despite the serious nature of the concepts, is immensely enjoyable to listen to (and see live). Even if you don’t directly identify with her struggles, you will still find yourself shout-singing along with every song. Recommended track: “Black Me Out”
Glass Boys by Fucked Up – I first put this on while driving home over the summer. All the songs were perfect for driving (fast and loud), but right as I hit Chicago traffic, “Echo Boomer” dropped. All the frustration melted away and I was just lost in the bliss of beautiful hardcore. Once the album was over, I went back and immediately listened to it again. Somehow loud, angry, and beautiful this album is just wholly enjoyable. Recommended track: “Echo Boomer”
The Physical World by Death From Above 1979 – I first learned of DFA1979 through their television debut on Conan way back in 2005 (the one where Max Weiberg streaked across the stage to man the drums). I became obsessed with their album You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. While World album isn’t quite up to the standards of those lofty heights, World does enough to warrant consideration. Not quite as frantic as its predecessor, it still marks DFA1979 as the kings of dance-punk. Recommended track: “Trainwreck 1979”
Singles by Future Islands – You might be one of those people that is only aware of Future Islands through their appearance on Letterman. If so, you might think that the only thing going for them is a frontman who dances like a madman. I feel sorry for anyone who believes this. All their albums are fantastic, with Singles being the pinnacle of their vaguely-goth symth-pop. Every song on Singles is great and worthy of the album’s name. Recommended track: “A Song For Our Grandfathers”
The 1975 by The 1975. Even though it was released in late-2013, this album caught fire early in 2014 and has subsequently caused this Manchester, England-based band to blow up worldwide behind the strength of its infectious debut single “Chocolate.” Recorded over the course of two years, The 1975 finds this new band mixing the use of drums, snyth-based guitars, saxophones, and pianos to create a new pop sound that is truly unique to The 1975. Recommended track: “Robbers”
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. The debut album of former Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin front man Andrew McMahon, this 10-track record is arguably the best thing McMahon has written since 2008’s The Glass Passenger. Choosing to forgo guitars on the entire album, pianos, synths, various percussion, and drums compose the beautiful landscape of this pop gem. Recommended track: “Maps for the Getaway”
What Matters Most by Forever Came Calling. Arguably the most underrated band in pop-punk, Pure Noise Record’s Forever Came Calling has unleashed a blistering rock record full of soaring power chords, pounding drums, and chugging bass. Easily the best record to come out of the independent record label scene, What Matters Most is the Golden Standard of how to do your second album. Recommended track: “Indebted”
Get Hurt by The Gaslight Anthem. Even though nothing will top 2008’s near-perfect Americana-rock album, The ’59 Sound, The Gaslight Anthem’s fifth-full length album comes close. Starting out with the rough “Stay Vicious,” the album finds front man Brian Fallon reflecting on the state of the blue collar man in America today and the idea of broken love. Recommended track: “Break Your Heart”
Strange Desire by Bleachers. The brainchild of .fun’s guitarist Jack Antonoff, Strange Desire is the result of two years worth of writing in tour buses and hotel rooms around the world. Led by the highly-infectious lead single “I Wanna Get Better,” the entire album from front to back contains no duds. Antonoff’s unique blend of indie pop, electronica, and straightforward rock has created the premier pop record of the year. Recommended track: “Like a River Runs.”
Time to Die by Electric Wizard – Recommended track: “I Am Nothing”
Once More Round the Sun by Mastodon – Recommended track: “The Motherload”
Ultima II Massage by Tobacco – Recommended track: “Lipstick Destroyer”
Dangerous Days by Perturbator – Recommended track: “Satanic Rites”
My Krazy Life by YG – Highlighted by “Who Do You Love?” and “My Ni**a,” YG’s 2014 debut barely beat out Schoolboy Q for my rap album of the year.
Xen by Arca – A standout in the experimental and electronic areas, Xen is one of the most unique albums I’ve heard in a while. While he may be known for collaborating with Kanye West, Arca has made his name stand out on its own with his second full length, official release.
Too Bright by Perfume Genius – An album that cuts straight to the heart. Perfume Genius gets my “most original take on R&B” award for 2014. Too Bright is a highly creative album spanning an array of genres and sounds that never lacks in quality.
In The Lonely Hour by Sam Smith – The best pop artist of 2014. Sam Smith has a voice that is unparalleled anywhere else in the universe and it is truly flexed on In The Lonely Hour. “Make It To Me,” “Lay Me Down,” and anything acoustic that he does is gorgeous. Even though it wasn’t highly touted right out of the gate, this will be a popular album for years to come.
This Is All Yours by Alt-J – There were a lot of good indie and alternative albums this year, but this was one of the only ones I was anticipating. Surprisingly, it delivered. A little more diverse than their “art rock” debut, This Is All Yours shows us that rock is not dead, even if it has to change forms in order to be relevant.
Never Hungover Again by Joyce Manor – After the slight misstep that was their sophomore LP Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, California punk/emo outfit Joyce Manor blast back with the most emotionally crippling yet simultaneously uplifting album you’ll hear all year. The best tracks see the band combining The Smiths and Descendants into one incredible package, and the fact that the whole clocks in at less than 20 minutes makes its impact that much greater. Recommended track: “The Jerk”
My Game Doesn’t Have a Name by A Pregnant Light – A Pregnant Light is a one-man project from Grand Rapids, Michigan musician Damian Master, and he defines the project as “purple metal.” It’s incredible how much this label fits, as Master’s debut LP under the A Pregnant Light name seamlessly mixes black metal with a heavy Morrissey and Kevin Shields influence. Master has his name on countless other releases throughout a myriad of projects, but this is easily his most fully-realized work of art to date. Recommended track: “Circle of Crying Women”
The Flesh Prevails by Fallujah – Fallujah’s older work was always a little too deathcore for my tastes, but The Flesh Prevails sees the San Francisco quintet moving into straight-up tech death territory. Don’t write them off as just another emotionless tech death band, though: the band somehow injects a ton of humanity into their music, and actually manages to make technical death metal emotional at times. That’s not to say that the brutality is gone, however, as this release sees Fallujah hitting harder and faster than ever. Recommended track: “Sapphire”
Aokigahara by Harakiri for the Sky – Austrian band Harakiri for the Sky melds DSBM (depressive suicidal black metal) and post-rock in such a spectacular fashion that I find it mind-blowing how many people slept on this LP this year. Vocalist J.J. is possibly the finest vocalist in DSBM today, and while the album is rather well-produced, his vocals still come as passionate and emotionally raw. Recommended track: “My Bones to the Sea”
Niggas on the Moon by Death Grips – While they may have broken up this year, we still managed to get a fantastic new album out of the Sacramento noise rap trio Death Grips, and this release sees the group at their most esoteric. If you’re looking for digestible hooks or beats you can nod your head too, you won’t find it here. What you will find are some of the most experimental and forward-thinking hip-hop songs you’ve ever heard, and all of them are backed up by various Björk samples. This may only be the first half of their final album, The Powers That B, but it’s amazing how well it stands on its own. Recommended track: “Billy Not Really”
Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry by Blut aus Nord – While Blut aus Nord’s 777 trilogy may have been a bit too industrial for some listeners, the French experimental black metal trio finally finish off their Memoria Vetusta trilogy in spectacular fashion. The album features some of the lush songwriting of the band’s career, and each song takes the listener on a journey through countless moods, movements, and soundscapes. This album is essential listening for black metal fans, and arguably a great place to start for newcomers to Blut aus Nord. Recommended track: “Paien”
Steady by Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad – Giant Panda absolutely nails it with this album, giving us rootsy, positive reggae with a modern jam-rock twist. Steady is well-produced and dubby, and it lives up to the excellence that Giant Panda conveys during their live shows. This album is incredible. Check it out! Recommended track: “Move”
A Long Way To The Beginning by Seun Kuti + Egypt 80 – Recommended Track: “Kalakuta Boy”
Salad Days by Mac Demarco – Recommended Track: “Salad Days”
Lost In The Dream by The War on Drugs – Recommended Track: “An Ocean In Between The Waves”
Down To Earth by Flight Facilities – Recommended Track: “Sunshine”
This Is All Yours by Alt-J – Recommended Track: “Nara”
Wolves Are Sheep EP by Count This Penny – DON’T MAKE ME DECIDE ON ONE FAVORITE TUNE! Seriously, how does CTP continue to release such gorgeous tunes? But if I MUST decide, fine…”Shoebox Scene” is that captivating mix of simplicity and beauty that I can only imagine so many musicians strive for.
Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey – Previously a hater, this album succeeded in changing my mind about Lana’s music. She’s no Michael Jackson, that’s for sure, yet “Florida Kilos” would suggest she might be slightly more fit for the rock star life than we all predicted.
A Better Tomorrow by Wu Tang Clan – This album might be one of the best things to come out since Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. “A Better Tomorrow” is a perfect example for anybody who wants to make a contribution to hip hop or a better world in general. In a time when discussing social issues is neither relevant nor fun, Wu Tang achieved it in addition to constructing heavy, feather-like beats.