The Best of 2014 Pt. 2

Favorite Albums of 2014

10. Barukh Surf

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Christian Rap meets Surf Rock? Yep. But, not, like, for the whole thing. In fact, the surf rock thing only lasts for a few tracks. The rest are just good bangers ’bout the Lord.

Standout Tracks: “Wipeout”, “Lifeguard”, “Forever” “Wrecked”

9. Foster the People Supermodel

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With their debut album, Torches, Foster the People loaded their song’s sound waves with heavy synth licks that ranged from catchy to completely bonkers, like a box of Acme Looney Tunes sound effects tossed down a flight of stairs. On their sophomore LP the trio has grown to nearly twice the size live and have created a mellower project that utilizes the electric guitar for its heavy instrumentation. The change yields songs that will have more shelf-life and capture a sound that The Killers were trying to re-ignite on their Battle Born album.

Standout Tracks: “Best Friends”, “Coming of Age” “Pseudologica Fantastica”

8. Nickel Creek A Dotted Line

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Okay, so when Chris Thile ever does anything I will probably like it. Or love it. Or, in this year’s case, beg for a longer project. Nickel Creek was my first, and really only, experience in contemporary blue grass music and Thile’s mandolin magic has captured my fascination. I almost bought one this year. Anyway, A Dotted Line serves as a community garden where each member gets to plant their own solo work and watch the seeds develop through each other’s high quality musicianship. There is no weak link in this trio in song writing, playing, or singing, and this LP is a great reminder that they’re all still out there making music and that we should all be playing much closer attention. And, holy crap, “Hayloft” is probably the best song I’ve heard this year. It’s a cover, so I’m not sure it is allowed to end up on my end-of-year-list (who makes those rules, by the way? I have questions).

Standout Tracks: “21st of May”, “Destination”, “Hayloft”

7.  Run the Jewels RTJ2

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Rappers El-P and Killer Mike can have so much fun while speaking to very heavy subject matters. The beats here are outlandish and chaotic and are met with equal force by the two men’s delivery. Killer Mike, especially, has the kind of voice that commands attention and will let you go when he’s good and ready to. Who knew last year’s first Run the Jewels project would lead to something like this? Don’t try to play this in a public area. You must blast it and then proceed to rage dance and/or flip over tables. You might be asked to leave. You’ve been warned.

Standout Tracks: “Blockbuster Night Part 1”, “Close Your Eyes (And Count to ****)”, “Crown”

6. Alvvays S/T

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Alvvays is an album clearly meant to be released in the mid 2000’s during the heyday of Peter, Bjorn and John and their ilk of indy pop bands who have been filling track lists of cute indie movies through present day. There’s a lot of dream pop tunes on here which pulls on the nostalgia heart strings even more. Fuzzy guitars and gooey pop song structures keep this album a popular contender for repeated listens.

Standout Tracks: “Archie, Marry Me” , “Adult Diversion”“Next of Kin”

5.  “Weird” Al Yankovic Mandatory Fun

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Rolling his way into its fourth decade, “Weird” Al’s career has shown little signs of slowing down. The parody king’s work continues to call the music industry’s bluffs and has inspired other comedy musicians to up their game. Mandatory Fun is Yankovic’s strongest album since Running with Scissors (my personal favorite). Although, in an interview ran a few years ago, Yankovic has discovered through an informal survey that people’s opinion of which album is best is completely based on which album was released closest to their twelfth birthday…which proves to be fairly close in my case. This album, then, is comedic gold to our current 5th and 6th graders out there.

Standout Tracks: “Jackson Park Express”, “Sports Song”, “Word Crimes”

4. Clipping CLPPNG

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Noise Rap got a huge boost of interest during and after Death Grips career. Exmilitary exploded onto the internet and then came the highly acclaimed The Money Store. After their abrupt breakup announcement, other Noise Rap groups have a shot at filling the void. Clipping has been more than ready to receive some notoriety. The “beat” production challenges the listener not to turn down the speakers, but rapper Daveed Diggs begs you not to with his quick and creative delivery.

Standout Tracks: “Intro”, “Work Work”, “Inside Out”

3. Sylvan Esso S/T

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Singer-Songwriter Amelia Meath and electronic producer Nick Sanborn (AKA Made of Oak) team up to create a unique project: folky electronica. Think Lorde-esque production with vocals akin to Ingrid Michaelson. And like Lorde, the power comes from the steep juxtaposition between ethereal, sweet vocals with dark and thumping beats. This project is beautiful, catchy, and of the current era.

Standout Tracks: “Coffee”, “Hey Mami” “Dreamy Bruises”

2. Andy Mineo Neverland

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After his solid debut LP release Heroes for Sale, Christian Rapper Andy Mineo released his Saturday Morning Car Tunes project and then this…ep? album? mixtape? Something. The production is not as erratic as the album, and the tracks flow much more naturally. Andy is gaining a larger audience and this project is a professional-level introduction to the man who may help bridge the religious and secular worlds of hip hop.

Standout Tracks: “Neverland”, “Paisano’s Wylin'”, “Paganini”

1. Sam Smith In the Lonely Hour

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I question whether I would even care to listen to In the Lonely Hour if Sam Smith was 40 years old. Or older. The soapy string instrumentation and consistent, borderline redundant theme of heartbreak are hard pills to swallow, and if an old, classic crooner like Manalow or Rod Stewart or whomever is a top seller at Target these days were behind the music I’d be hard-pressed to even give it a chance. Sam Smith, I think, is younger than I and has been stamped with that “old soul” descriptor given to, apparently, brit pop stars who sing sad songs (Winehouse and Adele). The album is held solely, but substantially, by Smith’s vocal performance. And every song is at least solid and at most transformative.

Standout Tracks: “Money on my Mind”, “Stay With Me”, “Like I Can”

So that’s it for 2014! Happy New Years everybody!

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The Best of 2014 Pt. 1

Favorite New Artist:

Too Many Zooz

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Performing in the New York subways, three-piece brass house Too Many Zooz blew up in 2014 after lots of youtube videos gone viral. They’ve been the best-selling band on bandcamp.com for three of their releases this year and have gotten enough support to tour full-time around the U.S.. With the mainstream media embrassing electronic music, it seems that instrumental music is gaining a greater audience as well (which was witnessed with the rise of the hip hop jazz trio BadBadNotGood). Plus, Too Many Zooz has nourished listeners with yet another strong use of the saxophone.

2014 Releases: F Note, Fanimals, Brasshouse Vol. 1: Survival of the Flyest.

Top Ten Favorite Songs (Outside of my favorite albums):

For me and my ears, 2014 marked the best year for Top 40 radio. Looking at my list of favorite tracks I’ve compiled, a staggering amount were primarily digested through my car, driving to and from work. I have amassed a pile of CDs to avoid the radio, but this year I found it to be an extremely diverse source of catchy music. Sure, there’s the same pile of thoughtless, empty tracks, but I felt that this year I did not find diamonds in the rough, but rather discovered a gold rush. But, like the gold rush, it will end shortly. Alas…

10. Lecrae “Dirty Water”

Lecrae’s new album hit #1 on the Billboard charts, but, in a year where the charts were officially acknowledged by Billboard themselves that the system was way out-of-date, the title now seems more trite than ever. What was perhaps more surprising was Lecrae’s takeover of the iTunes homepage and his sit-in with The Roots on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The album is not great, but “Dirty Water” is a sucker punch to the gut, which is entirely thanks to Derek Minor who produced the track. Added bonus: seeing this performed live and actually getting knocked back by sound pressure.

9. Rustie “Velcro”

“do do do do do do do do do do do do do do

whap whap whap whap whap whap

bleeeee blee bleeeeeeeeee blee bleeeeeeeeee blee blee blee blee”

8. Naughty Boy “La La La” (feat. Sam Smith)

Male falsetto voices can get a little annoying, even if it comes off as fun and refreshing at first (I’m looking at you, MIKA). Sam Smith’s pipes handle the falsetto with power and confidence, along with every other note Smith chooses. Naughty Boy’s Hotel Cabana project was a little too ambitious in its theme, but it holds some great tracks. The combination of Smith’s vocals and Naughty Boy’s production makes a great pairing, too sweet not to indulge.

7. Taking Back Sunday “Flicker, Fade”

I had a phase this year where I listened to a lot of emo-rock, post-punk, and their ilk to psyche myself up for a new band I’ve started. I reintroduced myself to My Chemical Romance and early The Mars Volta (or late At the Drive-In), plus a number of these bands released new material this year. The best of the lot is Taking Back Sunday’s Happiness Is…, and the best of that lot is “Flicker, Fade”.

6. Becky G “Shower”

Back in high school, there was a span of about ten seconds from when I first kissed my then-girlfriend to when I made it back to my car parked on the curb. During the last five seconds, I could not help but dance. This song bottles those five seconds and lasts three and a half minutes.

5. Bleachers “I Want to Get Better”

Jack Antonoff spins his notoriety from the success of fun. into an opportunity to show his band-fronting skills with the group Bleachers. There are some similarities with style and sound, but here the arrangements are more traditional in song structure and the vocals more weighty. The greatness of this song lies in two parts: the cut-and-paste piano samples pounding away and the anthemic vocals in the chorus.

4. Bizzle “One Way” (Remix) feat. Transparent & John Givez

Bizzle’s new album Well Wishes is a little frustrating to listen to if only for the repeated “God Over Money” label shout outs. It’s in every track. Awesome. Anyway, because of the tag and the sample-heavy, simplistic beats the project feels more like a mixtape than an album. Regardless, one of the two bonus tracks is “One Way” and, boy, is it a banger. A dead ringer for Sage the Gemini’s more famous work, this tune soars above thanks to John Givez’s killer guest verse. Update: The original “One Way” by Transparent is from 2013 and the production is almost identical.

3. Tove Lo “Habits (Stay High)”

Breaking up with someone is hard. Some look to self-destructive activities to cope with the sense of loss and sadness. Tove Lo walks us through a bender to end all benders in hopes it will help forget the former lover. And every time I hear the song and I almost wish for someone to break up with me so I can revel in the song’s woeful demeanor.

2. Arianna Grande “Problem” (feat. Iggy Azalea)

The Saxophone has been given a renaissance in pop music over the last few years. There was the jazzy (and cheesy) solos in M83’s “Midnight City” and Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)” and then the reed instrument took a front seat in songs like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” and Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” Again the horn blasts through the hook of “Problems” but the song’s high point is Arianna Grande’s vocals as she belts from the bedlam and sings at par with the best pop divas today. Hats off to the new member of the female pop elite.

1. Hozier “Take Me to Church”

Hozier wrote “Take Me to Church” as a response to the Russian government’s suppression of the LGBT community and their rights to protest for themselves in public. This song tops other popular love-is-love equality songs like Macklemore’s “Same Love” because of it’s powerful musical arrangement, Andrew’s voice, and the best song lyrics penned in 2014.

For a list of all of my favorite songs from 2014, check out my Spotify playlist here

Favorite Music Video of 2014

Queens rapper Action Bronson is a funny guy. His guest verses are seldom without food references, and he even has his own online cooking/food appreciation show called “F*** That’s Delicious.” Here, Action displays his comic chops in a narrative where all he wants is to play his Les Paul guitar. Lots of drugs are digested. Honorable Mentions: Sia’s “Chandalier”, “Turn Down for What”, Chromeo’s “Jealous  (I Ain’t With It)” , OK Go’s “I Wont Let You Down” , Armin van Buuren’s “Ping Pong” and all of my monthly highlights.

Watch for Part 2 coming shortly!!

December Highlights

1. J Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive

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Mainstream rapper J Cole has been trying to break out from the Kanye shadow since his debut The Sideline Story, but he keeps releasing projects right when Yeezus is. Finally, J Cole catches a window and releases the very matter-of-fact and personal 2014 Forest Hills Drive. He delivers some very honest narratives about losing his virginity on “Wet Dreamz” to a plea for equality on “Be Free” from which he gave a great performance on Letterman.

Standout Track: “Be Free”

2. Nikki Minaj – The Pinkprint

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“Pills N Potions” hinted that The Prinkprint was going to be another pop album. “Anaconda” promised that the new record would be just as zany as its predecessors. “Only” showed us that, maybe, it was going to be mediocre. The Pinkprint turns out to be a more quietly angry and subdued project where the three singles rest as outliers in a sea of solo tracks where Minaj raps with her heart on her sleeve.

Standout Track: “Pills n Potions”

 

Christmas Bonus: a 40 minute posse track featuring 36 rappers!

Favorite Music Video:

November Highlights

1. Hail Mary Mallon – Bestiary

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This is the second collaboration album from the two-man poet team of Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic. Unlike the more popular collaborative rap record this year, RTJ2, this record’s beats are merely background tempo markers that leave room for Aesop’s booming voice and Sonic’s clever retorts.

Standout Track: “Jonathan”

2. Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

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It’s been 8 years since Rice’s last LP, and 12 years since his debut/magnum opus O. Releasing an album on the backside of a crazy flurry of folk/singer-songwriter releases helmed by Mumford and Sons and the Once Broadway production reminds the listener of what kind of simplicity can be reached when artists spend less time shouting chorus and more time arranging songs. Like his other records, this once is beautiful and intricate without being showy.

Standout Track: “I Don’t Want to Change You”

3. Big K.R.I.T. – Cadallactica

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Southern Rapper (with emphasis on Southern) Big K.R.I.T has been pumping out trunk-bumping southern rap for a few years now and his second official LP does nothing to dissuade his fans from looking for another southern king. K.R.I.T does excel at storytelling and paints clear pictures of his narratives and the beats ooze southern rap front-to-back. Plus, any LP that has E-40 on a track is instantly worthy of a listen.

Standout Track: “Saturdays = Celebration”

4. Exit Verse – Exit Verse

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I know next to nothing about Exit Verse; It seems to be a band of folks who were formerly in other bands, none of with which I am familiar. The garage rock group is filled with clear guitar chord progressions and a mix that sounds endearingly low in production value. It is simple and sweet and occasionally the tunes get catchy.

Standout Track: “Pull Out the Nails”

 

Music Video of the Month: