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My Top Ten Music Albums of 2014
1. Killer Mike and El-P - Run The Jewels 2
Going into 2014, I didn't expect Run The Jewels II to be released like it did (by way of a spontaneous Twitter drop) and I certainly didn't expect it to be my number one album of the year. I Don’t get me wrong, though, I really enjoyed the first RTJ album and I had it at number 7 last year in my ratings. Not to mention that I've always generally liked Killer Mike and El-P, but not enough to have them at the absolute top of my list for the year. 2014 was different. In spite of the past, RTJ II blew away all of my expectations. The production, lyrics, beats, mixing, and unabashed sociopolitical commentary by Killer Mike and El-P are unprecedented. It’s impossible to listen to Blockbuster Night Part 1 or Oh Darling Don’t Cry without wanting to get up and punch a hole in the wall (which I didn't do but I was pretty tempted). I'd recommend some kind of vigorous physical activity if you listen to it, because you most certainly won't be sitting still for long.
2. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
There are very few albums that upon listening to can cause you to have some depressingly stark reflection on your family and the direction of your life. Benji is one of those albums, and it greets brutal honesty with a welcoming smile and a bearhug. ‘Carissa’ in particular is a song that brings depressed and confused America to life in beautifully tragic and terribly imaginative colors. I know I won’t ever forget ‘Carrisa’, ‘Jim Wise’, or ‘Pray for Newtown’. Those songs in particular are powerful experiences that may actually change you. The album, however, is a lot more than lyrical potency. Mark Kozelek and company deliver with top notch production and sound that gives us a strong view of what indie folk should sound like. Basically what I'm trying to say is that this music will stick to your ribs and will be something you don't forget, which is what I value most in music.
3. Saor - Aura
Saor is a relatively new atmospheric blackened folk metal band from Scotland. Aura, only their 2nd album, is an astonishingly wonderful new take on the subgenre; they go places with it I’d never considered possible. The clean vocals blend exceptionally well, the atmosphere is heavily elegant, and the usage of countless wind instruments make for an unforgettable experience. It's an excellent album for meditation or getting into a general peaceful mood.
4. Insomnium - Shadows Of The Dying Sun
Insomnium advanced melodic death by at least five years with this album. The juxtaposition of melody and aggression is done remarkably well and songs like ‘In Flames’ or ‘Lose To Night’ make you feel like you’re a druid unlocking a powerful hidden secret of the universe. The lyrics resonate deeply with individual life, such as "Dying doesn't make this world dead to us;
Breathing doesn't keep the flame alive in us." The overall feel indicates a radical realization that just going through the motions in life isn't living up to our own individual goals and pursuits. This album is all about self-discovery and the pursuit of individuality. If you like a lot of symphony in your metal, particularly in the vocal component, give Shadows Of The Dying Sun.
5. Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron
One of my initial impressions of ScHoolboy Q before Oxymoron was that he released one great song for every six mediocre songs. I went into Oxymoron ready to weed out the ‘bad’ songs and find the ‘There He Go’ or the ‘Hands On The Wheel’ of the album. After listening, I was pleasantly surprised to see Q deliver on every single song, backed up strongly by Kendrick, Jay Rock, Tyler, and 2 Chainz. I find myself going back to this whole album a good bit, rather than just a couple of hits. The production is insane, the beats are rich and diverse, and the collaboration is wide and gratifying.
6. The Earls Of Leicester - The Earls Of Leicester
Guess what? Bluegrass supergroups are still pretty amazing. Put Jerry Douglas together with Shawn Camp, Tim O’Brien, Charlie Cushman, Barry Bales, and Johnny Warren and you have bluegrass talent like no other group that is still with us. The album targets the direction of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs to, from Douglas himself, “introduce the present day bluegrass audience to a sound that has been missing from our musical landscape for over 30 years”
7. Badbadnotgood - III
This is the Canadian jazz-instrumental hip hop trio’s best work by a long shot. The speed walking bass lines and dextrous runs do not disappoint. ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Eyes Closed’ have immaculate atmospheres of chaos and magical ambience.
8. Animals As Leaders - Joy of Motion
I've been waiting a while for Animals As Leaders to get consistent. Well, it finally happened. Joy of Motion actually effectively blended all the technical metal with the electronica elements. AAL has always been an extremely talented group, but there was something missing with their previous album, Weightless. Joy of Motion blends everything together to create an experience that will punch you right in the gut with remarkable technicality and production.
9. The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream
The beef with Sun Kil Moon not withstanding, Lost In The Dream was a long anticipated album. One that delivered a grueling psychedelic indie rock masterpiece, fully capable of inducing some particularly vivid and relaxed daydreams.
10. Ne Obliviscaris - Citadel
Ne Obliviscaris are categorically distinct from most progressive metal bands. At times, the layers of classical, jazz, avant-garde, or flamenco overlap and become so prominent in a beautiful song that you forget it’s metal - even with black/melodic death themes blended in. Citadel doesn’t just make use of alternative instruments, it’s more of a work through them than with them.