Best, Worst and Everything Else of 2014

2014

2014 was surely a year. I heard a lot of great albums, I missed a lot more. Really, I missed a ton of albums this year, guys, really didn’t do my one job right. Over on the Filtered Lens I compiled two “official” reviewer’s Top 10 Songs and Albums lists, but here I’m going stretch out, take off my tie and be totally personal. Here’s the crap I liked:

Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year:

10. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Christmas Island” (Review)
9. Tinashe – “Aquarius” (Review)
8. Future – “Honest” (Review)
7. Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels 2”
6. Pharmakon – “Bestial Burden” (Review)
5. Modern Baseball – “You’re Gonna Miss It All” (Review)
4. Interpol – “El Pintor” (Review)
3. the Menzingers – “Rented World” (Review)
2. White Lung – “Deep Fantasy” (Review)
1. St. Vincent – “St. Vincent” (Review)

(Honorable mentions: Lana Del Ray’s “Ultraviolence,” Parquet Courts’ “Sunbathing Animal,” Perfect Pussy’s “Say Yes to Love,” Lakutis’ “Three Seashells” and The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s “Broken Bodies,” which originally sat at #7 until I decided an EP in a list of LP’s didn’t fit)

And now for tonight’s main event, my totally subjective, completely personal 30 Best Songs of the Year, regardless if they were singles or not:

30. FKA twigs – “Video Girl”
29. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Temple Grandin”
28. Run the Jewels – “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck) [feat. Zack de la Rocha]”
27. Parquet Courts – “Sunbathing Animal” (Album Review)
26. Prince – “FUNKNROLL” (Album Review)
25. Foxygen – “How Can You Really” (Album Review)
24. Courtney Barnett – “Avant Gardener”
23. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Children of God”
22. Lakutis – “Too Ill For the Law” (Album Review)
21. Jeremih, YG – “Don’t Tell ‘Em”
20. The Creeping Ivies – “The Creeps” (Album Review)
19. White Lung – “I Believe You”
18. MisterWives – “Reflections” (EP Review)
17. Jessie J/Ariana Grande/Nicki Minaj – “Bang Bang”
16. Pharmakon – “Bestial Burden”
15. Beck – “Wave” (Album Review)
14. the Menzingers – “In Remission”
13. Phantogram – “Fall in Love”
12. Tinashe – “2 On (feat. ScHoolboy Q)”
11. Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”
10. Sia – “Chandelier”
9. the Menzingers – “Rodent”
8. Interpol – “All the Rage Back Home”
7. St. Vincent – “Rattlesnake”
6. Bruce Springsteen – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
5. White Lung – “Drown With the Monster”
4. Phantogram – “Black Out Days”
3. Grimes – “Go (feat. Blood Diamonds)”
2. Future – “Move That Dope (feat. Pusha T, Pharrell, Casino)”
1. St. Vincent – “Birth in Reverse”

Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist of 29 of these songs (the Lakutis album “Three Seashells,” which has song #22, is not on Spotify)

And here’s thirty more songs I loved (but not enough to rank), in alphabetical order, by artist:

Aphex Twin – “180db_[130]”
Iggy Azalea – “Black Widow” (god, I’m sorry)
Beyonce/Jay-Z – “Drunk in Love”
Big Data – “Dangerous”
Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better”
Cardinal Cardinal – “When I’m Not Alone”
Clean Bandit/Jess Glynne – “Rather Be”
DJ Snake/Lil’ Jon – “Turn Down For What”
Drake – “0 to 100/The Catch Up”
Foxygen – “Can’t Contextualize My Mind”
Ariana Grande/Iggy Azalea – “Problem”
Maroon 5 – “Maps”
the Menzingers – “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore”
Milky Chance – “Stolen Dance”
Modern Baseball – “Fine, Great”
Bob Mould – “I Don’t Know You Anymore”
the Orwells – “Who Needs You”
Parquet Courts – “Ducking & Dodging”
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “American Dream Plan B”
Shakira/Rihanna – “Can’t Remember to Forget You”
Sleeper Agent – “Waves”
St. Vincent – “Bring Me Your Loves”
Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”
Tove Lo – “Habits (Stay High)”
the World is a Beautiful Place and so on and so on – “If and When I Die”
You Blew It! – “Surf Wax America” (Weezer cover)

Superlatives:

Best guest spot: 1) YG on Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em”
2) ScHoolboy Q on Tinashe’s “2 On”
3) Pusha T, Pharrell and Casino on Future’s “Move That Dope”

Worst guest spot: Eat the cake, anime

Best cover song: “Surf Wax America” – You Blew It!

Best two bands that are great but I still have a little trouble telling apart – You Blew It! and Modern Baseball

Most Irritating Song of the Year: 1) “Lazaretto” – Jack White
2) “Rude” – Magic! (sorry, I know that’s a big blow to the Canadian reggae scene)
3) “Animals” – Maroon 5

Best Person to Wish He Were Born in a Different Generation and For Us to All Agree: Jack White!

Best Jack White Album: The Black Keys – Turn Blue! Fight me.

Best Free U2 album: an illegally downloaded copy of “The Joshua Tree”

Best Classic Rock Album Overshadowed by U2: Tom Petty & the Heatbreaker’s “Hypnotic Eye.” Sorry, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and Bruce.

Best Prince: “Art Official Age”

Worst Prince: “Plectrumelectrum”

Best Death Grips Album: “Run the Jewels 2”

Worst Death Grips Album: “N****s on the Moon”

Best Unplugged Performance: Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Super Bowl

Worst Unplugged Performance: Probably any other Red Hot Chili Peppers performance

Best “Chinese Democracy”: Pink Floyd’s “The Endless River”

Best Adjective Mike: Killer Mike

Worst Adjective Mike: Fat Mike

Best Album That Made Most Reviewer’s Top 10 Lists That I Didn’t Listen to Because Ariel Pink is a Shithead: “pom pom” – Ariel Pink

Most Intentionally Terrifying Song: “Bestial Burden” – Pharmakon

Most Unintenionally Terrifying Song: “Lock the Door” – Robin Thicke

Best/Worst Song Titles: Aphex Twin

Best Band Name: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

Worst Band Name: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

A song that I would like to let you know exists: “Got Me Runnin’ Round,” a collaboration between Nickelback and Flo Rida. Seriously.

Potential albums to look forward to in 2015: Sleater-Kinney – “No Cities to Love” (1/20)
Two Gallants – “We Are Undone” (2/3)
Father John Misty – “I Love You, Honeybear” (2/10)
Hot Sugar – “God’s Hand” (2/24)
Heems – “Eat Pray Thug” (3/3) (solo debut from the Das Racist frontman – keep an eye out for this one)
Modest Mouse – “Strangers to Ourselves” (3/3)
Madonna – “Rebel Heart” (3/10)
Wale – “The Album About Nothing” (3/31) (Yes, the collaborative album with Jerry Seinfeld)
Chance the Rapper – “Surf”
Death Grips – “the powers that b”
Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels 3” and “Meow the Jewels,” the cat version of “Run the Jewels 2”
2015 also might hold new albums from Kendrick Lamar, Sky Ferreira, Beyonce, Adele, Drake, Metz, Radiohead, Rihanna, Kanye, Deafheaven, Frank Ocean, Waxahatchee, and Giorgio Moroder’s first album since 1992, if we’re lucky.

See you with even more cynicisms next year!

-Andrew McNally

(PS – this is, by sheer coincidence, this blog’s 200th post!)

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Sigur Ros – “Kveikur”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Grade: B+

Key Track: “Brennisteinn,” “Hrafntinna”

Prolific and critically-acclaimed Icelandic alternative band Sigur Ros’s seventh album is a tad darker and more abrasive than their previous works, and it retains the band’s minimalistic qualities in its engrossing songs. I cannot speak to the lyrics of the album, as I know absolutely no Icelandic, but the vocals behind the lyrics fit amongst the band’s haunting music.

The band has always approached their music with a minimalist approach, consistently churning out music that builds upon itself, like a moderately more accessible Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Although they have always taken this approach, and continue to do so many years later, “Kveikur” has a slightly darker tone. The album’s opening track (and longest), “Brennisteinn,” begins with a pounding synthesizer rumble that sets the tone for what is a darker experience than the rest of their albums.

Sigur Ros have never been ones to seem comfortable with fame, and their ever-growing popularity might be a cause for the darker tone. “Kveikur” might serve as a response to all of the critics and musicians that cite Sigur Ros as inspirations and jumping-off points. The album might also be reflective of the loss of keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson, who left the band last year. This is only their second album without Sveinsson since their debut, “Von,” in 1997.

“Kveikur” is a dense album, with a lot of winding music. It requires some participation from the listener, which is deserved. Sigur Ros are getting a little darker and they expect their core audience to follow. Thankfully, they provide no reason why we shouldn’t. The album builds and builds, and totally engrosses the listener. At points, it is repetitive, but this is Sigur Ros. We should all be on-board with what they’re offering.

-By Andrew McNally

Kanye West – “Yeezus”

Photo Credit: E!

Photo Credit: E!

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “I Am a God,” “New Slaves”

(Note: This and a few other of my reviews will be featured weekly on The Filtered Lens)

Kanye might be one to constantly reinvent himself, but “Yeezus” will still be a mark in his discography, the moment where his music truly hit revolutionary ground. “Yeezus” is an eclectic work, resulting in what has to be the first ever industrial rock / hip-hop pairing. This is the result of Daft Punk, Rick Rubin and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon all showing up with writing and producing credits.

Musically, “Yeezus” is a sonic experience. West’s rapping is mixed over blends of house and industrial music, with dramatic tonal shifts at any moment. “I Am a God” switches from rapping to ambient screaming at one point. The music lands anywhere from personal to terrifying, in a way that flows throughout the whole album. It feels minimalistic, too, despite the genre blending and the originality. Rubin was brought in to make a more stripped-down sound. West released no singles for the album, because hearing a track on the radio would diminish its feeling of placement as musically, the album can only be appreciated as a whole.

West’s lyrics lack any sort of flow, providing a surprising disappointment for the album. They are effective on every song, but there is no zeitgeist, no general theme. Songs like “I Am a God” and “New Slaves” aim to make some serious notes on culture, while “I’m In It” is nothing more than a crude song about sex. With no flow, the statement songs are less effective because they sound like rants, even if they’re well-written and well-performed. Each track, individually, has great lyrics, but not the album as a whole. Still, “Yeezus” is a powerhouse of originality, worthy of all the attention it is receiving.

-By Andrew McNally

Deafheaven – “Sunbather”

www.neogaf.com

Photo credit: http://www.neogaf.com

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Vertigo,” “Dream House”

“Sunbather,” a seven track, full-length record, is largely unclassifiable. Deafheaven have been both widely acclaimed in the critic world, and occasionally scorned in the metal world for their blending of genres. The band is currently being labeled as “black metal,” but there is a distinct shoegaze element to their music as well. To put it simply, Deafheaven sounds like a couple guys who wanted to start a metal band but listened almost exclusively to My Bloody Valentine. And there is nothing wrong with that.

This is a brutally heavy record. A majority of the tracks stretch close to or well over ten minutes, allowing the band ample time to stretch their wings and experiment. The songs build up upon themselves, twisting and growing, not unlike God Speed! You Black Emperor. In fact, if it wasn’t for the traditionally growly black metal vocals, Deafheaven would probably be pegged as a very heavy alternative/shoegaze band. But the vocals, as often inaudible as they are, add to the intensity, leaving Deafheaven declaring themselves as a metal band.

“Sunbather” is truly one of the most original and interesting albums I have heard in a long time. I do not have much of an affinity for most subgenres of metal, yet I could do nothing but gasp and let myself be wholly entranced by the band’s originality. Bands are finding it tougher and tougher to make volume equate intensity, but Deafheaven does it ceaselessly. Fans of heavier alternative bands might be able to transition over genres and appreciate what this band is doing. Nearly every track on this album, from the lengthy, abrasively loud songs, to the shorter and quieter interlude pieces, borders on perfection. Only the album’s closer, “The Pecan Tree,” is disappointing, solely because it ends anti-climatically, and this album needs a more proper climax. Give this album a few listens; it might just be one of the most original of the year.

If you like this, try: “Allejuah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

-By Andrew McNally

Camera Obscura – “Desire Lines”

Photo credit: Spin Magazine

Photo credit: Spin Magazine

Grade: C

Key Tracks: “I Missed Your Party,” “Troublemaker”

Indie-folk bands like Camera Obscura are generally not known for being adventurous and playing around with genres and ideas. Any fan or casual listener of the genre pretty much knows what he or she is getting into when a new album by a band like Camera Obscura comes out. But “Desire Lines,” the band’s fifth album and first in four years, is seriously lacking something. The album is almost minimalistic, relying on only key instruments in a majority of the songs. It adds a certain consistency to the record, that helps it to flow without any rough transitions between ideas. It also, however, starts to feel like one long, run-on song that was not very interesting to start with.

The album, as a whole, feels like an unfinished idea. Indeed, the final track, “Desire Lines,” ends like a normal song. On both listens I found myself checking to see if my Internet had crashed, not realizing I had hit the album’s end. Lyrically, there is little original going on. Some of the more stand out tracks, like “I Missed Your Party” and “William’s Heart” have boring and uninspired lyrics. They are presented, too, by pretty and rhythmic vocals, but singer Tracyanne Campbell does not sound like she believes in her own lyrics.

Musically, the album is largely devoid of any detail. Every song is dominated by conventional rock instruments. Most of the songs seem to take the same relative tempo, with only “Cri Du Coeur”‘s wickedly-slow (and ultimately exceedingly dull) tempo providing a switch. “I Missed Your Party” has a nice addition of horns, which does bring a listener back in towards the album’s close.

“Desire Lines” is a moderately enjoyable listen, to someone who likes indie-folk acts like Rilo Kiley. Once it ends, though, it is immediately forgettable. It is innocent and fun pop, but never tries to be remarkable or original. “Desire Lines” is a low point for the usually great Camera Obscura.

-By Andrew McNally

Queens of the Stone Age – “…Like Clockwork”

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “I Sat By the Ocean,” “Fairweather Friends”

“…Like Clockwork,” the long-teased and longer awaited new album from hard rock heroes Queens of the Stone Age, should be listened to with “Songs For the Dead” in mind, their behemoth, Grammy-winning album from 2002. “…Like Clockwork” is similar to “Songs” in three ways. The first is the re-introduction of former contributors Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan, as well as ousted bassist and founding member Nick Oliveri (who only shows up in background vocals on two songs, but it is still a re-introduction). The other two similarities are thematic. “Songs” was a concept album, imagining a radio playing on a drive in southwestern America, and featured many Christian references. “Clockwork,” too, seems to feature a number of Christian references, if nothing more than metaphors. (Compare 2002′s “God Is in the Radio” to 2013′s “My God is the Sun”) Casual listeners might equate Josh Homme’s lyrics to those of the religiously-tortured soul of Dave Gahan, but Homme frankly chooses to sing about whatever he wants to.

The third similarity is the idea of conventional radio rock. “Songs” had a running theme of QOTSA’s songs playing on every station, in an attempt to solidify themselves as the kings of conventional rock radio. It worked, oddly enough, and they reflect that on “Clockwork.” Every one of the ten tracks feels significantly more conventional and regular than anything they’ve done before, with musical build-ups in slow songs and catchy guitar rhythms in the faster ones. Homme’s vocal melodies are incredibly catchy, even radio-friendly (particularly on the track “If I Had a Tail”). The album is still heavy, of course, but this is a side of QOTSA that has always stayed subtle. It is the band’s shortest album, and has only three songs over five minutes, a departure from the five on “Songs.” Homme likes to throw the audience loops and keep things fresh, which is tough to do for a rock band. “Clockwork” is almost a bit of a joke, in a way, that the original thing about it is its unoriginality. One almost has to wonder if the almost-optimistic sound is a response to Homme’s brush with death, or whether it is more of QOTSA’s relentlessly great tongue-in-cheek humor.

This does lead to some problems, however. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” the opener, never hits the intensity it thinks it does, and although the hauntingly-rhythmic “I Sat By the Ocean” follows it up, the tepid and unnecessary “The Vampyre of Time and Money” sits right after. And having this feeling of ‘Is this a joke or not?’ is a little iffy given that people have been waiting six years for a new album. The album grows stronger as it proceeds though, bolstered by barely audible but still appealing guest spots from Trent Reznor, Alex Turner and Sir Elton John (which was a surprise to come across). Homme is still heroically egotistical at times, which is when QOTSA is at their best. The album lacks at some points, falling too far into the unoriginality, but it is yet another great entry from the band overall.

-By Andrew McNally