Random blurb to start the future blurb-age:
My favorite albums from this year came on like an absolute head rush. This list is packed with surprises of all kinds for me: the obligatory half dozen artists I’d never heard of; albums I never thought I’d get to hear; complete gems from bands that I’d all but written off…it’s all below, soundtracking the last 12 months (albums #15-11 at least).
If you’re looking for new tunes, I included links to some representative tracks at the end of each write-up. Albums #10-1 coming soon, and I’m also hopefully writing about some songs that meant a lot to me in a future post.
15. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
RTJ2 opens with thirteen seconds of rapper Killer Mike screaming to psych himself up. It sets the tone immediately for 2014’s best rap album: jarringly abrasive, obscenely funny, and unfuckwittably focused. What follows those 13 seconds? 39 minutes of dark, skittering beats and neck-breaking bars, courtesy of perhaps the most ferocious rap duo of all time. El-P and Killer Mike return from what I thought was a one-off collaboration of shit talk running circles around the entire game. And as anyone who’s caught their non-musical appearances this year can attest, they’ve got a message beyond the machismo this time around.
14. D.J. Higgins – Subject To Change
You won’t find this album on any other list, because as far as I’m aware, I’m the only person to ever hear it. My friend Daniel James Higgins went through/is going through some weird life changes this year, and he stitched together an album that’s every bit as unwilling to settle as he is. Subject To Change bounces from Bon Iver-esque falsetto harmonizing to monotone rap to early morning blues, incorporating samples from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Brand New, and President John F. Kennedy along the way. It’s completely schizophrenic, and I might be the only one who connects with it due to some of the specificity on tracks like the numbed “Living The Dream, Dying Alive”. It’s also made me cry more than a few times. God bless, Higgs.
13. Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
You might know Andrew McMahon as the voice behind Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. He’s got at least one stone-cold classic album under his belt (2005’s Everything In Transit), and though I always listen to new projects, none hit me with the immediacy of those decade-old tunes. But I’m so glad I kept listening: the first effort from Andrew’s newly-christened “Wilderness” explores some of the more autumnal tones that he’s been tinkering with for years while showing off the same ear for inescapable melodies that hooked me in the first place.
12. Coldplay – Ghost Stories
I’ve already written about this one pretty extensively, but in a sentence: someone’s got to write the line “late night watching TV, used to be you here beside me” and mean it. Chris Martin’s gotten so good at crafting anthems out of sweeping generalizations–“I don’t want anybody else but you”; “Tell me you love me, and if you don’t then lie”; “I will try to fix you”–that it’s become too easy to categorize the latest Coldplay set as cliché and move on. In a year when U2 tried to command the zeitgeist with their most “personal” album ever (and generated more noise with the way they announced it than with the music itself), Chris Martin & Co. managed that same feat with an astounding amount of grace. On Ghost Stories, the biggest band in the world finds a sound that somehow enters entirely new territory while bringing the band full circle.
11. Augustana – Life Imitating Life
If the band name Augustana registers for you at all, chances are you’re thinking of the music video on VH1 where that dude plays piano in the sea. It’s completely understandable to have that reaction (side note: whatever happened to Jamie Collum?), but in the process you’ve missed one of the most rewarding evolutions in pop music, as the band took their straight piano-rock sound deep into folk territory without sacrificing a lick of songwriting chops. With the rest of the band gone, Life Imitating Life is essentially a solo record from frontman Daniel Layus, and even without hearing him talk about it you can feel how much it took out of him. Moments when his voice occasionally breaks or a bass drum hits just a half-beat late add extra character to songs that might otherwise sound too pristine…it’s a heart-filling combination.