#1 Rozwell Kid- Too Shabby:
A fantastic romp through the modern age of punk, Rozwell Kid’s “Too Shabby” is an album that could easily be a modern 17 year old’s formative introduction to the punk world or a sweaty alcoholic 28 year old’s anthem for his crusade against Pitchfork and Taylor Swift. Simple concepts are executed perfectly by Rozwell Kid in this album that seems like it could have easily come out right alongside a Pavement or Jawbreaker album in the 90’s and whatever DIY label they were on would have been thrilled about it. It seems that Rozwell Kids classic sound may be why this album has been passed over this year by many critics but if one is being honest with themselves, “Too Shabby” reiterates just enough Weezer without going too far down that rabbit hole while bringing just enough Archer’s of Loaf to the table without being insanely corny. Rozwell Kid does 90’s rock better than 90’s rock did it and somehow seems incredibly fresh in the process, there’s genius in that and “Too Shabby” is a perfect expression of that genius.
2. Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels 2
I talk about Hip Hop constantly. Discussing the future of a fairly new art form that has expressed the genius of several incredibly interesting personalities over the course of thirty years has proven incredibly interesting. This has been a terrible year for hip hop. While there are two albums that came out this year that have easily set new precedence for the landscape of the art form and progressed it further than I had ever hoped for, the amount of quality records in the genre have been close to nil when compared with years previous.
All of this is said is not to qualify the best rap album of the year, to be honest it is all in a reeling reaction to a contrast of a year when Good Kid M.A.A.D. City came out and a year when it did not. Kendrick changed everything that rap music should ever be about and I knew when I finished listening to that album I would never hear rap music in the same way again. It’s not that every rapper needs to stand up to Kendrick’s genius, it’s just that the face of the rap scene, in my opinion, needed to change. The impossibility of this scenario hit me immediately and I knew I would be disappointed with 2014’s rap scene.
So Run the Jewels 2 is an amazing album. It showcases how well El-P and Killer Mike gel, dynamics between rappers are hard to find these days as most aren’t willing to work together in any meaningful way other than being featured. The political commentary coming from both rappers is striking and cutting and displayed in a way that keeps one engaged in the slight of hand style storytelling they keep up throughout the album. El-P’s classic semi humorous word play is ever prevalent in RTJ2 and both of the rappers classic stylings are given plenty of room to shine throughout this excellent album.
3. Joyce Manor- Never Hungover Again
Hey you guys, stage diving is ridiculous. To be honest I’ve been guilty of some jumping off of stages into people who may or may not have been ready to receive me, but Joyce Manor does not appreciate it and I a can appreciate their stance, it’s stupid and pointless. I’m sure that most of this amazing band’s notoriety has come from that bit of logic but they are much more than that bit of faux controversy drummed up by indie music websites as click bait.
“Never Hungover Again”, is a beautiful little piece of punk artistry. Joyce Manor deftly navigates from late wave emo territory and old punk tropes to create a fresh little sound that can produce anthem worthy pop punk songs throughout their album. The band seems to have an uncanny ability to pull songs back from the brink of being absolutely Blink 182esque and take us into a territory of Joyce Manor’s own design. “Never Hung Over”‘s second half gives off a distinct 80’s alternative vibe with very distinct Smith’s and The Cure influences running throughout. Joyce Manor has shown some true diversity and flashes of genius with this album.
#4 D’angelo- Black Messiah
An unexpected incredible release by one of neosouls most influential artists, “Black Messiah” has heaps of political influences running deep through it’s funk riffs but if released in any political climate, D’angelo’s first album in almost fifteen years would have probably still been just as impactful. “Black Messiah” is the most Prince like albums released in recent memory. The jazz, funk, pop fusion and balance of each on this album are positively unmatched, it shows both a fortitude of artistry and unique sense of self awareness for all of the genre tropes displayed throughout the album that is unmatched in any of the respective scenes.
D’Angelo shows such grace and wanton abandon on an album that many had already wrote off as a ploy to remove himself from debt that if this piece of art was truly only produced to get him out of a bind that it makes it even more incredible, because in that case, he just created some piece of terribly consumable art, simply to prove he can and that he could make some serious cash on it. Either way, D’Angelo deserves all the credit in the world and “Black Messiah” comes at just the right time as to make it the soundtrack of whatever mediocre revolution our society is still able to muster.
#5 Crying- Get Olde/ Second Wind
As much as video games are a part of my every day existence, I never thought that I would ever actually enjoy a band that used 8 bit stylization predominately in their music, much less come to love a band that used it. Crying is not what you would expect from it’s name, most people I suggest the band to think that it will be some super twinkly, self indulgent shit. The reality of Crying is a band that exists on it’s own merits separate from it’s influences. Yes they have 8 bit aspects, yes they have 90’s indie aspects, but they stand far apart from any implications that those statements might brand them with. Crying is a band that stands on it’s own merits, and while this two ep combo (one of which came out last year), may not revolutionize the face of music it certainly pushes aesthetics of rock in weird and interesting directions that it may never have explored without Crying.
6 Hightide Hotel- Naturally
Hightide Hotel is a band that started out in a fairly strong place. They are somewhere between Snowing, Brand New, and Algernon Cadwallader that place them in their own specific niche within a specific niche of music. Bringing along with them and the music that they choose to make are all the horrible connotations that come with making an album that you can easily call “Emo” with a capital “E.” Breaking out of this norm is difficult, however reaching a broader audience of people, like those who like rock music for the art of it, is becoming much easier as the stigma behind genre defining words becomes softer and softer as the years go by and members of the music elite come to accept “Emo” or “Twinkle” or “Skramz” or “Emocore” or “Emotive Hardcore” as something we should all listen to and consider legitimate music. Hightide Hotel is one of those bands that I feel I can easily point to as one that I can introduce music lovers to the world of twinkley madness with and Naturally is significantly their strongest album to date.
#7 PUP- PUP
PUP makes maybe the strongest punk debut of all time with their self titled album. PUP is a gorgeous arrangement of perfectly crafted punk songs that are filled to the brim with energy while maintaining an air of apathy, the perfect blend of which, is a difficult find in the atmosphere developed in the age in which we exist. PUP is a perfect amalgamation of what makes pop punk beautiful, hardcore punk disturbing, and emo catchy. PUP showcases a perfect sense of the art of downplaying key moments and going overboard in others in order to create an insatiable sensibility for song crafting one can usually only find in the finest pop artists. To call PUP a new Nirvana might be going a bit too far and also slightly insulting for PUP at the same time. This is an incredibly interesting band with an even more interesting aesthetic to them. To call this the strongest debut of the year barely gives the record it’s due.
#8 Alt J- This Is All Yours
Alt J brings a unique artsy style to every song on this record. His unconventional and conventional wisdom collide in a way that brings absolute joy to the listener and challenges one to think about music in different ways. Alt J is an incredibly deft hand at saying a mountains worth of things without actually saying them out loud, he creates a space for us to live in with a song and then further carves it with a velvety voice that broadcasts a deep feeling within ones heart that can only be expressed as ephemeral. While keeping his art on the highbrow level of things he has still been able to create songs that could easily be placed on pop radio with little fight from the leather seated executives.
#9 FKA Twigs- LP1
I don’t know whether to call this girl neo soul or deeply funky electronica or some kind of chill wave hybrid but I do know that her album is a wonderful mess of beats and vocal stylings that will be hard for anyone to outwit. FKA has placed several potential sleeper hits on LP1 and I don’t think that we have heard the last of this brilliant artist by any means.
#10 Pears- Go To Prison
If you want the best hardcore punk of the year look no farther than “Go To Prison.” It’s incredibly hard to find albums within this genre that have any speck of originality anymore but “Go To Prison” holds the most sonically interesting moments of hardcore in the past 10 years and should be a staple on the vinyl shelf of punks around the world for years to come.
11. Spoon- They Want My Soul
12. Caddywhompus- Feathering a Nest
13. True Neutral Crew- #POPPUNK