Hey! It’s March. I am very late with this. I’m usually late, but never this late. I could blame it on my band Tempest Edge turning 10 and having an amazing anniversary show that I heavily promoted. I could blame it on going to a video game festival in prime writing season. I could blame it on the WWE Network for the hours of entertainment. I could blame it on a lot of things but I won’t. I dropped the ball and need to be held accountable for my laziness. So here we are in March and I’m just finishing this. Shame on me. I am a loser. But please read this. Please.
Let’s get right to the point here.
Hype was up for Logic going into 2014, he’s been slowly gaining traction with mixtapes over the past several years, peaking with 2013’s Welcome to Forever, a tape that showed Logic has the abilities and wherewithal to make it on the mainstream stage. Months later, Under Pressure was released,a debut LP daring enough to avoid guest verses completely. That’s ballsy. Unfortunately, Logic just fell into the ‘dope spitter’ category for me. He can rap. But he’s not doing anything more than that. It’s not the lack of features that bring this LP down, it’s the lack of identity. To me, Logic doesn’t stand out. He has a lot of room to grow and evolve, he just hasn’t gotten there yet.
Primus-Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble
Lineup-wise, Primus is a lot KISS, there are multiple variations over the decades, but there is one lineup that the fans recognize as the great lineup. For Primus, the Gene/Paul/Ace/Peter equivalent is Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and Tim Alexander. In 2014 this dream lineup got back together to release their first LP in 19 years. The end result is...a 40 minute tribute to the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. It’s messy to say the least. Multiple “Oompa loompa doopity doo” songs, weird interludes and downright awful grooves. As I type this I am trying very hard not to use ellipses to show how I am just sort of trailing off into confused and disappointed boredom. Primus, even though I don’t spend as much time with them as I did when I was younger, is an exciting and talented band. This album is not that. Their tongue in cheek call to arms has always been “Primus sucks!” And in regards to this atrocity, I agree with that.
I owe a lot to Atmosphere. Them, alongside k-Os, Aesop Rock and Kanye West (yeah odd quartet I know) pulled me from golden age hip-hop to the modern age. LP’s like Godlovesugly and When Life Gives You Lemons are among the most influential LP’s of my formative years as a hip-hop fan. But this. This is depressing. Slug’s edge is long gone and Ant is becoming a fossil of a producer. While someone like Aesop Rock continues to evolve and try new projects, Atmosphere is like a nostalgia act for 2000’s underground backpack rap. They were the true alternative to club rap like 50 Cent or Nelly back when 50 Cent or Nelly were relevant. Now they are just as irrelevant as those 2, just underground. Better luck next time guys.
Also the last Wu-Tang Clan album was a monstrous mess highlighted by one fantastic song. But we all saw that coming a mile away.
I’ll be a little less formal for this bit since I’m actually being nice and why be formal when you’re being nice right? There were a handful of bands that impressed me this year but just didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.
Hot off their buzzworthy David Letterman performance, Future Islands released their fourth LP Singles. A very fun and synthy LP filled with a ton of very outlandish vocals from frontman Samuel T. Herring. I don’t mean to be dismissive of the musicians when praising the vocalist because the screams and howls from Herring wouldn’t be as odd if the bass and synthesizer weren’t playing thumpy synthpop. I liked this LP, but feel as though it needs proper time to grow on the listener, and unfortunately I didn’t have the time to give it that.
In the pop realm, two LP’s that I thoroughly enjoyed were Charli XCX’s Sucker and La Roux’s Trouble in Paradise. While modern pop isn’t exactly my forte, I think both of these ladies did an excellent job making memorable and easy to return to albums. What’s keeping them off of the top list is a minor lack of identity. Not in character, but in the music. I feel like both of these singers are on the cusp of becoming great, they’re just not there yet. But again, not a huge pop guy. So why trust me in this case?
Rounding this whole shebang out is Compton rapper YG and his LP My Krazy Life. While he’s not as proficient lyrically as fellow CPT native Kendrick Lamar, YG managed to make a concept album that plays effectively from top to bottom. It took a few listens for it to sink, because YG does kind of fit that “dumb” rapper image that 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane and many, many more have popularized lately, but once it hits, My Krazy Life really does a great job telling a story. It’s a story I’ve heard before, and surely will hear again, but YG. Good on you man! Keep it up!
Now onto the top 20!
If there is one album that I can honestly say is the most unique listening experience I’ve had in 2014, it’s the abstract hip-hop trio clipping.’s second, almost self titled LP. I’m no expert on the subgenre, but compared to the other titans of experimental hip-hop, Death Grips, clipping. rides a fine line of accessible and just weird. The album starts with bizarre static and kicks into “Body & Blood” a track that tells the tale of a succubus type of woman. The thing that makes clipping. so unique is that lyrically this track would fit on a Big Sean or a Wale album, but musically this could be a Death Grips or a Yeezus beat. It’s that duality of beats and lyrics that make this trio so formidable. I mean they rap over an annoying all too familiar alarm clock buzz. That’s just wild. This LP is certainly not for the casual hip-hop fan, but for those that want a truly one of a kind sonic thrill ride, CLPPNG certainly can give you that ten fold.
19. Jukebox the Ghost-Jukebox the Ghost
I’ve been a fan of Jukebox the Ghost for a while thanks mostly to my brother pushing their debut LP Live and Let Ghosts on me six years ago. However, it wasn’t until their last LP, 2012’s Safe Travels, that I truly fell in love with what this band does. On the new self titled LP the Washington D.C. trio change their musical approach subtly enough to ease into mainstream ears without sacrificing their identity. The result means the music isn’t quite as punchy and immediately entertaining as Safe Travels or their prior works, but there is a lot to love on this album. The fact that there are three singers with three unique voices and approaches to lyric writing gives this band a identity of its own and the track “Hollywood” is the best example of how they can swoon and then kick into pop without blinking an eye. The future is bright for Jukebox the Ghost if their evolution continues upward. While this didn’t knock me down like Safe Travels, it’s a sweet LP that asks for multiple spins.
18. Ghostface Killah-36 Seasons
Last year Ghostface Killah teamed with composer Adrian Younge to deliver 12 Reasons To Die, an album that threw Ghostface back into the good graces of critics, following a string of inconsistent LP’s. The concept of that album was familiar turf for Ghost, a mafioso is killed and resurrected, and 36 Seasons follows similarly. Ghost portrays a Staten Island vigilante trying to keep his shattered community from falling apart even more. Easy Wu-Gambino stuff! What’s pretty interesting on this LP is that the featured artists play characters, just as Ghost himself is playing Tony Starks, a character long synonymous with his recording career. Kool G Rap, AZ and Shawn Wigs play characters as well. It’s as if this is a hip-hop opera in a sense. While Younge’s beats on 12 Reasons To Die sounded organic and old school, 36 Seasons sounds much more hip-hop at their core. Credit for that is due to longtime Wu collaborators The Revelations. Ghostface is one of the rare MC’s to maintain his sharpness lyrically and charismatically for over 20 years, and 36 Seasons is just another feather in his already colorful cap.
17. Lordi-Scare Force One
16. Lights-Little Machines
I really liked Lights’ debut LP The Listening. It felt like a fresher, less pretentious version of The Postal Service. But, much like The Postal Service, I found myself only visiting it when I was in a very specific mood, and thusly, Lights kind of disappeared off of my radar. I checked out her follow-up Siberia, but was turned off by the EDM influence. So, when Little Machines dropped I was hesitant to try it, but a lazy evening came about and I found myself pushing play and just smiling. Lights still makes really mellowed down synth pop, but this LP drives a little bit more. It’s no party album, but compared to what she’s done before the pace of Little Machines is refreshing and quite frankly surprising. Lights has a lot of potential, and her musical evolution on this LP is a promising reminder of why sleeping on talent isn’t something I should do.
15. ScHoolboy Q-Oxymoron
Oxymoron is my hip-hop banger of the year. Q is a rapper that might be under appreciated due to his association with the great Kendrick Lamar, but his charisma and ear for flow makes him a standout in his own right. I feel ridiculous repeating the phrase, but this LP is just a really fun and downright good banger (apologies for the repetition of the word, it just fits so perfectly). The beats kick and Q just owns the tracks. The theme is pretty par of the course for hip-hop, braggadocious gangsta rap. But Q is so good at it, and having beats from Pharrell, Mike Will Made It, The Alchemist and Tyler, The Creator, among others behind the boards really add to the young mans pros. I think ScHoolboy Q has a lot to offer hip-hop and this is still just the beginning for him.
14. Mastodon-Once More ‘Round The Sun
Mastodon is a band that just kicks ass. How many heavy metal bands can show up on the Monsters University soundtrack and not lose any credibility? On their sixth album, the guys continue forward with more of what has made them great. While I do understand the critics that have complained that since 2011’s The Hunter, Mastodon has become less progressive and more straightforward in their approach, I can’t help but just enjoy what they do. I don’t need multiple 10+ minute songs to appreciate the kind of music these guys make. The riffs here are phenomenal, the chemistry between all of the instrumentalists is through the rough, and the aesthetic these guys create is just enjoyable. While I’m no guru in the metal genre, I can’t help but say these guys continue to impress me with every release they put out.
13. J. Cole-2014 Forest Hills Drive
On this very blog I spoke out against Cole’s 2013 LP Born Sinner. I thought it was too easy of a follow-up to his memorable debut LP Cole World: The Sideline Story. I also didn’t like that he purposely released it the same day Kanye West released Yeezus, because I felt like it was a publicity stunt from an artist that didn’t need to rely on that kind of nonsense. So, when I heard Cole had released 2014 Forest Hills Drive without any real promotion or singles, I was shocked and humbled. And then the album was really good? Man. Color me surprised. Cole isn’t retreading any ground on this LP, he’s just being Cole. He’s lyrical in a sense like you’d be comfortable talking to him in a room. He’s not alienating or goofy, he just speaks from the heart. And unlike the Logic’s or the Atmosphere’s of the 2014 hip-hop landscape, he doesn’t feel like he’s doing something that’s been done a million times before. This dude is comfortable in his musical identity. Not too many young artists can really say that.
12. Gerard Way-Hesitant Alien
Hip-hop touts ‘supergroups’ all the time, but more often than not they just make you pine for the prime of the artists involved. The Firm? Wu Block? Dare I go on? But with PRhyme, the stars aligned in unusual fashion. Slaughterhouse and Bad Meets Evil MC Royce Da 5’9” teams up with super producer DJ Premier to craft the most lyrical and dare I successfully ‘old school’ LP’s of the year. This is the album that adheres to all of the principles put in place in the early days of the genre. Killer beats, sharp, poignant lyrics, and a desire to be recognized for executing those former two things successfully. Royce just spits. Premier just excels behind the boards. The features are fantastic too. Common, Jay Electronica, ScHoolboy Q, Killer Mike, Mac Miller and Slaughterhouse are only a few of the elite spitters brought on to make this an incredibly memorable half hour of hip-hop. It’s really impressive to see two veterans put out such a good product when so many of their peers are falling into the realm of irrelevance.
10. Todd Terje-It’s Album Time
There’s always room for jazzy nu-disco in my mind. It’s Album Time, the debut LP from Norwegian DJ Todd Terje is an impressive and eccentric listen. It’s equal parts retro and progressive. Even the cover suggests some sort of lounge element going on here. Terje composes pieces that vary in influence, length, excitement level...basically the guy is all over the map. But unlike so many artists who try to dabble in different genres, he does so smoothly and expertly. This is my go to ‘good’ party background music of 2014. It’s easy to just hang out over, but it’s always interesting enough to keep peoples feet tapping.
9. RiFF RAFF-Neon Icon
RiFF RAFF has been on the internets weird radar for a few years now, and although his tweets, vines and Instagram photos have been consistently bizarre and memorable, he used those outlets to promote an album that never seemed to come out. Thankfully, only two (long) delays later, Neon Icon dropped. And it is bizarre and memorable. If Todd Terje jumps from influence to influence with relative ease, then RiFF RAFF does so with the subtlety of a Family Guy joke. He’s ballsy, for a guy who is a glamorized Paul Wall a decade too late. The LP starts with silly surfer talk about just how weird RiFF RAFF is (and it is indeed RiFF RAFF providing the voices of these surfer dudes) before we get that insane flow that he’s become synonymous with over the past several years. Then we get a rock song about cocaine. Then there’s the cloud rap influence, the club R&B stuff, and the skits that just don’t make any sense. But at the end of the day a lot of this is straight up good. Even the rock song about cocaine is really catchy! So whether he’s the white Wesley Snipes, giving out VIP passes to his heart, or rapping over a dolphin and a tambourine, RiFF RAFF is in the game of making memorable songs. And he succeeds at that.
8. Masked Intruder-M.I.
My brother recommended this band to me. I couldn’t get over the fact that they wear colored ski masks and identify themselves as each color (Intruder Green, Intruder Blue, etc.) but upon some nudging, I gave M.I. a shot and I was not let down. Masked Intruder may not be reinventing the wheel of pop punk, but they are extremely talented and incredibly endearing. The theme of this LP is simple: they’re the guys breaking into a girls house, but they’re also in love with the girl. Easy enough. Musically there’s such a cohesiveness from the band, which is a great thing considering it makes them stand out above their silly schtick. They have a warmth about their sound, something that made me totally forget that they are indeed wearing colored ski masks while singing these songs. Then I chuckled because of the ski masks. It’s kind of a paradox. A good one though.
7. Mac DeMarco-Salad Days
Mac DeMarco looks like the guy at your local show in the mosh pit with a bloody nose and a grin on his face, maybe a tooth missing. His music on the other hand, is an odd breed of jangle, psychedelic and indie pop. DeMarco’s arrangements are wonderfully spacey and minimal. He has a firm control of the guitar and its relationship to the rest of the instruments, and his somewhat lazily delivered vocals. This album hits a mood that I’ve never quite gotten before. It’s simple yet intricately crafted, and manic yet relaxed. DeMarco is an impressive songwriter and has a great ear. I can see him becoming a household name within the next several years if he continues to innovate like he did on Salad Days.
6. Grieves- Winter and the Wolves
Grieves’ 2011 LP Together/Apart was my favorite of the year. As an MC he captured my imagination with his almost early-Atmosphere like honesty, and his producer Budo really did some imaginative things on the boards. I was pleasantly surprised with Winter and the Wolves, especially considering Grieves and pal B. Lewis were replacing Budo on the beats. Grieves still spits with passion and fire, and his beats reflect that. I was worried losing Budo would hurt the product, but nope! This album hits that emotionally potent and entirely self aware level that only a Rhymesayers artist could. Forget Macklemore, if there’s one Seattle based rapper that should be noted for his lyrical potency it’s Grieves.
5. Julian Casablancas + The Voidz-Tyranny
The Strokes have arguably been on a downward trend since 2006. There’s no denying their influence and immediate impact from their 2001 debut Is This It? and it’s follow-up Room on Fire. But starting with ‘06’s First Impressions of Earth all the way to 2013’s Comedown Machine, it felt like they just weren’t coming close to that level of quality and originality. I had heard that frontman Julian Casablancas’ solo work was good, but had never gotten into it prior to Tyranny. I was mad about subpar Strokes albums and that anger really got to be tiresome over the years. Perhaps it was that prolonged disdain towards his band that made me want to listen to Tyranny? Whatever the case, the album is just awesome. It’s experimental and refreshing. This sounds like Casablancas and The Voidz are trying desperately to shed any comparisons to The Strokes and it’s beautiful in that chaotic sense. A lot of the songs are drawn out and explorative, all within a certain blueprint holding things together. The rhythms are all kind of jarringly catchy. The LP is brash and rebellious and badass all the while sounding slightly poppy and, although grungily mixed, accessible. Definitely a worthwhile listen for anyone who has grown a certain hatred for that cookie cutter version of The Strokes we’ve had to endure for the past several years.
4. Neil Cicierega-Mouth Sounds/Mouth Silence
These two albums are the most experimental and downright creative musical works of the year. I’ll put that on record now. With that being said, the first of these two mash-up albums, Mouth Sounds is highlighted by frequent and wonderful use of Smash Mouth’s “All Star”. It’s mixed in with Modest Mouse’s “Float On”, John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the Full House theme and more for varying levels of humor and wonder. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Cicierega plays with samples in a way that is entirely unheard of. This in no way resembles the Girl Talks of the world, it’s a beast of it’s own. Both LPs may have their duds (mixing the Black Eyed Peas’ “Imma Be” with the Beatles “Let it Be”) but the inconsistency of the compositions are all timed to a tee. It’s as if Cicierega knows the heavy hitters need space, and makes the listener patiently endure some odd things to get to that wonderful, blissful hilarity. I can’t speak highly enough about these two albums. They were easily the most listened to of anything from this year, and there is no reality where I don’t return to “Full Mouth” when I’m in a bad mood after a long day at work. I never imagined a ‘comedy’ album would crack my top 5. But here we are. And I have no shame.
3. Run The Jewels-Run The Jewels 2
El-P and Killer Mike continue to creatively dominate hip-hop. Another year and another fantastic album. These guys just mesh together perfectly. El’s a visionary producer who needed the internet age to really get the credit he deserved and Mike was a great MC who hung around great MC’s that cast a shadow over him (and that’s no offense to the mighty Outkast). But these two together in 2014 are about as pure as hip-hop can be. The beats reek of sleaze and cigarette smoke and the verses, while oftentimes misogynistic and crude, are exciting and memorable. El-P and Mike create a kind of chemistry that overshadows many of the greatest hip-hop duos of our time. While some of the features are pointless (sorry Zack De La Rocha) when it’s just RTJ themselves, we see how bright the future is not just for this duo, but independent hip-hop as a whole. Run The Jewels have effectively placed the flag down on hip-hop and said “We’re the best. Bring it on.” I hope we see some legitimate challengers for them in 2015.
2. Chromeo-White Women
A good friend of mine recently said he could never really get into Chromeo beyond a passing level because they’re just “pop”. I was so offended by that statement I went on a 20 minute inebriated rant about how this album is a modern pop masterpiece that showcases influences and features impressive playing from multi-instrumentalists from Dave1 and P-Thugg. Chromeo, while certainly cheezy on many tracks, bring a plethora of influences to the table and after three albums of trying to find a sound that just works, have hit gold. They mix radio worthy pop with R&B, soul, funk, rock and more. The best part is they do it with ease. This is an album that not only solidifies Chromeo as great, but has been in constant rotation for me since it came out. I love what these guys do and I am glad they finally reached a level of a truly great LP.
1. Weezer-Everything Will Be Alright in the End
Weezer has been my favorite band since middle school, but I’m not going to lie and say they haven’t been subpar for the past decade. While I strongly stand by their ‘01 and ‘02 LP’s Weezer (The Green Album) and Maladroit, I can’t defend them from the criticisms that started with ‘05’s Make Believe. They lost ‘it’. It was infuriating to see people talk about their first 2 albums as perfect and the rest of their output as trash because I stood by them! I stood by them through the worst of it, and the payout on Everything Will Be Alright in the End was totally worth it. The album is downright great. While it’s hype started with the single “Back to the Shack” it must be noted that there is a glaring error in that song. In the chorus, frontman Rivers Cuomo belts that in going ‘back to the shack’ Weezer will be “Rocking out like it’s 94.” No. Weezer isn’t rocking out like it’s 1994 they are rocking out like it’s 2014. This album doesn’t resemble their eponymous debut (The Blue Album), it’s a beast of its own. This is an album by a band that’s been together for over 2 decades, a band that has endured critical and fan-driven shaming. These guys have been honest in their music only to be teared down by those that supported them. EWBAitE is them using that negativity and slighting as motivation to make the best power-pop they’ve made in well over a decade. The choruses are big and memorable, the guitar solos shred, and the band just clicks in a way that they haven’t for some time. So you know, maybe I owe the casual fans (or as I call them ‘haters’) an apology. You guys pushed Weezer to this. Thanks. Screw you for your decade of rudeness and doubt. But thanks.
So that’s it. Now that we’re in March I’m already knee deep in 2015 albums. Fall Out Boy, Mark Ronson, Big Sean, Wale, Kanye West...I don’t think I’m over 2014 yet and some of my favorites are already putting stuff out. This is unfair and amazing at the same time.