On this New Year’s Eve, it is time to cover the best 10 albums that graced store shelves and Spotify servers during the past 12 months. Here is the best of what this year had to offer, from comeback albums to brand new artists.
10. The Glitch Mob – Love Death Immortality
Los Angeles’ own electronic trio Glitch Mob put out their first album in four years, eclipsing their debut album by miles with Love Death Immortality. The anthems start heavy with the first track and never stop until the disc ends. Their tour with The M Machine and various festival sets helped re-cement them as a force in the genre and hopefully it won’t take another half-decade for their third output. Standout tracks include opener “Mind of a Beast” and “Can’t Kill Us,’ both heavily featured in movie trailers and videogames throughout the year, helping to amplify any situation with their wonderfully layered approach at build-ups and avoidance of tired EDM hooks.
9. Dinosaur Feathers – Control
If this Brooklyn-based band doesn’t get you up and dancing by the time Control is a few songs in, get your pulse checked. Their first album had all the makings of a stellar debut, but this follow-up ditched some of those prog hooks and insterad instituted the kind of percussion and rhythm that made Janet Jackson albums popular in the 80’s. This isn’t a knock, as their blend of modern poppy rock (ala Vampire Weekend) and soulful vocals is a unique approach to making a record in 2014. Their gamble paid off, as tracks like “Zeitgeist” just speak to a part of your musical soul that most artists wouldn’t dare approach, using horns and a jaunty bass line in sync with sparse synths to create something truly awesome. They may just be the best kept secret in 2014.
8. Bassnectar – Noise vs Beauty
Senor Lorin did it again. The prolific producer with the longest hair this side of Cousin It put out another stellar offering, embracing the hip-hop angle that helped elevate some of his best bass music to date. Simply put, you cannot touch “Noise,” a ridiculously addictive track that is so purely Bassnectar that nobody else could have imagined it. “Lost in the Crowd” brings out that West Coast bend, “You & Me” shows his emotional side, and the entire package is another bass classic from the grandmaster himself. This guy has the genre so deadset in the palm of his hand, that just about any move he makes help push the industry forward. This is beyond a can’t miss album of the year.
7. Darren Korb – Transistor OST
Every few years, a videogame comes around that threatens to show the world how deep the medium’s art can really be. This year, Darren Korb did just that with the score and soundtrack to Transistor, a brilliant strategy game for PS4 and PC. Korb is a master of his craft, creating the perfect mood for this fantastical worlds. The instrumental aspect of the album infuses futuristic tones with solid guitar work, often throwing in some drum and bass for good measure. This is a very particular vision of the future, one where technology has reached a Blade Runner-esque pitch. Where Korb truly shines is when he brings in singer Ashley Barrett, one of the premiere songstresses nobody knows. Her five tracks on this collection surpass the majority of female pop and rock for the year, but largely goes unnoticed because it is from a videogame. “Paper Boats” is potentially the most beautiful song of the year and even the most stalwart detractors of all things gaming can appreciate this masterpiece.
6. Weird Al Yankovic – Mandatory Fun
In the past, Weird Al lived only on the fringe of pop culture. He wrote the kind of parodies that your parents might semi-remember, but an armada of hardcore fans prayed at the alter of Al every few years. But Mandatory Fun put Weird AL center stage in American music, parodying the exact right songs in the exact right way, bringing levity to a somewhat lackluster year of pop music. The media blitz that surrounded the album, seeing the release of nearly a dozen videos, helped push Yankovic to #1 on the Billboard charts. Even his original material (a sore spot with non-fans) was some of his best in years. The best you can say for a parody album is that you’d rather listen to his versions than the original, and that is true for the majority of this album.
5. Alt-J – This Is All Yours
In a perfect world, this would be #1 without a doubt. Their debut album An Awesome Wave was so stellar that expectations for this follow-up ran blisteringly hot. The three singles put out well ahead of the album’s September release felt promising, but turned out to be the best three songs on the disc. Their songwriting is still gorgeous, singer Joe Newman’s voice is still angelic, and the highs of this album are very high, but without a central concept or musical through-line, it feels more like a regular awesome album instead of a transcendent one. “Every Other Freckle” and “Hunger of the Pine” are the strongest tracks, but “Nara” feels the most like the band that made waves two years prior.
4. Slow Magic – How To Run Away
Slow Magic wears a light-up fox mask on stage, often jumps into the crowd within the first three songs, and plays a percussion-fueled blend of dance music that nobody else is really trying. His production work echoes some of the best in recent years (Porter Robinson, RL Grime) while bringing something purely new to the table. This album spans the emotional spectrum, giving you plenty to dance to, as long as you’re ready to reflect on the nature of life, love, and the universe itself on the next track. He accomplishes that depth without any lyrics, save for a few repeated phrases here or there, but the vocalizations that are there will be stuck in your head for weeks. Give this album a shot if you think EDM is just a bunch of aggressive garbage, or need something perfect to help you study, as its exploratory qualities make it something special.
3. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
Run The Jewels really broke onto the scene this year, even if their debut last year is arguably the better album. This year’s follow-up put the spotlight directly on El-P and Killer Mike, an untouchable lyrical duo unseen in an era of GQ musicians and radio-friendly hip-hop. Both push one another to lyrical highs, relying less on the guest stars (although thank god we heard Zach de La Rocha for the first time in years) and instead focused their verbal attacks like a death ray, pointed directly at anyone that does not take them seriously. This is straight-up rage-fueled lyricism, the purest form of the darker side of the genre, giving both members plenty of time to run their mouths and boast about how they can back it up. The beats here are impressive, bouncing from the super chirpy “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”‘ to the 80’s Halloween bass-heavy “Blockbuster Night Part 1,” creating the perfect rhythmic bed for these two to just go off. Even if rap isn’t your thing, give Run The Jewels a chance, as you might find something you like within the killer lyrics and excellent musicality.
2. Aphex Twin – Syro
Coming from seemingly out of nowhere, Aphex Twin blessed the world with a new album, one that rivals some of his best work to date. Richard James is in a new stage of life, bringing the pressures of fatherhood, celebrity, and making money to his songwriting, themes and production in a way that a younger, more chaotic man did not have to deal with. Instead of letting those things get in the way of genius, he of course incorporated them to make his music even better, as he uses some vocal samplings of his family members on different tracks. It’s hard to even describe what makes this album so good, as breaking it down track by track doesn’t really do the package justice. The track lengths vary from one minute to 10, the styles cover the entire spectrum of his eclectic career, and the quintessential Aphex sound is present within them all. From the kill-switch-esque breakbeats to warbled magic and drum and bass he loves so much, nothing about this album sounds like anything you’ve heard before. This isn’t an album you put on in your car to impress a friend, or play during a party to get a conversation going: this is a personal project best suited for a pair of great headphones and an open mind.
1. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
This might a controversial pick, as this follow-up to their debut album a decade ago isn’t up to the levels of that classic album. But just like You’re a Woman, I’m A Machine, Death From Above 1979 has once again made an album that is perfect for its time. Yes, it is very weird to hear their music used in sports commercials or for movie trailers, as its mass appeal pissed off the fans that have elevated their legacy to godlike status over the past ten years, but this duo has still accomplished more with these 11 songs and two instruments than most bands can hope to achieve in a career. “Right On, Frankenstein” is the perfect reintroduction to the band and would have fit perfectly on an EP ten years ago, although the higher production values of this album help bring Sebastien Grainger’s vocals to the forefront much better than before. The highlight of the album might be “The Physical World,” the bulldozer that closes this album, as the duo spends the album’s waning moments jamming their hearts out. It harkens back to the pure anarchy that was this band in its prior incarnation while still proving that they haven’t lost their edge, just because they broke up, grew up, and made up over the past 10 years. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the fact that this album even exists is a miracle, and it being so good is a testament to the talent and work ethic of these Canadian rockers.