Top Albums | Brett Berliner

runthejewels 75The top 30 albums of 2014

 

  1. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal) | I’ve been a fan of both Killer Mike and El-P individually since before they teamed up, but I could never have predicted how perfectly they would mesh. I don’t think anyone could have guessed they had the ability to make an album this great. The group is so good together that you don’t even mind the vulgar Akinyele homage, and it actually feels funny instead of forced. They’re so good that they can even revive Zack de la Rocha and fit him in without taking you out of their work. The only downside to Run the Jewels 2 is that once you start playing it, you won’t have room for much of anything else.
  2. St. Vincent: s/t (Loma Vista/Republic) | By now, any album Annie Clark releases is probably going to have a place on in my top 10. St. Vincent has the uncanny ability to reinvent herself with each album and still release incredible, cohesive masterpieces. This is her catchiest and most up-tempo album to date, a great work that sounds even better live.
  3. Spoon: They Want My Soul (Loma Vista/Republic) | While Spoon has released some really great records in the past, nothing of theirs is even close to They Want My Soul. The band has taken a giant step, failing to lose its playful, great melodies, but now surrounding them with more depth and better progression, both within each song and on the album as a whole.
  4. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian) | Like Spoon, The War on Drugs really stepped up their game in 2014, releasing their most complete effort to date. They’ve always had albums filled with quality tracks, but they haven’t put it together quite like they did on Lost in the Dream, as they produced a series of the best hazy pop-rock songs in recent memory.
  5. Future Islands: Singles (4AD) | If you’ve been waiting to check out this album but were worried there isn’t any depth behind the amazing single “Seasons,” don’t worry. Islands is a great representation of a band that brings a very fresh sound, fronted by the talented Samuel Herring. Herring continually shows that he is a true rock star as he flips back and forth between pained-with-rage shouts and crooning beautiful melodies, backed by some of 2014’s most gorgeous tracks.
  6. Parkay Quarts: Content Nausea (What’s Your Rupture) | If you don’t like Parquet Courts, this isn’t going to be different from their normal albums that it would be worth your time. Although Content Nausea is a side project from the two minds behind Parquet Courts, they stay relatively in their comfort zone. However, it’s a tighter and more focused effort than anything they’ve previously done, so while a little of the charm is lost, for many, it works even better.
  7. Ty Segall: Manipulator (Drag City) | With each new record, Ty Segall proudly displays his influences and his uncanny ability to build on them, creating homages that also move in radical new directions. At the beginning of Manipulator, it seems like Segall is creating an homage to T. Rex, but just as it starts to find its groove, he takes it off the rails. Multiple genres are at play on every track, and where Segall really shines is when he makes pop songs out of tracks that have no business being ones.
  8. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What’s Your Rupture) | Again, following 2014’s main theme of growth, Parquet Courts’ first release can best be described as pure energy. I’ve always enjoyed their music, but I wasn’t sure they were capable of putting out anything quite this good, as Sunbathing Animal rocks from start to finish.
  9. Mac Demarco: Salad Days (Captured Tracks) | If you want to find the most original album of the year, Salad Days is where you should start. I hate that there isn’t a good description of this album, and I can’t exactly write one, either. Many use the term “slacker rock,” which perhaps fits. I prefer to describe it as unique and engrossing with a surprising amount of catchiness, seemingly lazy but actually well planned and intricate.
  10. Real Estate: Atlas (Domino) | Although Atlas lacks the singles of Real Estate’s previous releases, it benefits from note-perfect musicianship and absolutely wonderful vocals from Martin Courtney. This is one of those albums that grows and grows on you until you can’t remember a time you weren’t in love with it.
  11. Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast (Sub Pop) | Although most of the original members of the band have moved on, Greg Dulli still keeps in line with the previous releases to record an album that sounds both uniquely home in 1964 and 2014. His R&B influences are evident and are sprinkled in through this album. It fits nicely as an epilogue for the Whigs’ discography, but hopefully, is actually the start of a new chapter.
  12. Aphex Twin: Syro (Warp) | I would have laughed at you a year ago if you told me there would be new Afghan Whigs, D’Angelo, and Aphex Twin albums in 2014, but not only did we get them, they were all excellent. There was definitely some concern that, after such a long layoff, Richard D. James would have lost some steam, but he’s evolved just enough to stay relevant. This album definitely features the slick dance music we are used to, but also Aphex Twin’s trademark song evolution that keeps listeners on their toes, whether it’s the first or hundredth time you listen.
  13. tUnE-yArDs: Nikki Nack (4AD) | Although some of the charm of w h o k I l l is missing, this is a tighter and more professional album, even though it contains more long-form breakdowns and jam sessions. Nikki Nack is one of the catchiest albums of the year, and a release that hopefully shows the improvement that tUnE-yArDs will continue to make.
  14. Pharoahe Monch: P.T.S.D. – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Ingrooves) | With every release, Pharoahe Monch impresses more and more. For a nearly 50-minute-long album, there are no wasted songs as even the few skits mark the sections of the album, which explains an incredibly loose theme to the record. Monch uses his wordplay and storytelling abilities in combination perfectly, and the two guest appearances (from Talib Kweli and Black Thought) are incredibly strong verses that work perfectly.
  15. FKA Twigs: LP1 (XL Recordings) | LP1 is another record that is hard to explain. It’s a very raw, strong, and pulsing album. It’s honest, sad, and sexy, one of those albums that sits firmly in the outskirts of pop music. It would be a good record to hand to someone who is looking for something brand new and groundbreaking.
  16. Jack White: Lazaretto (Columbia) | The reception to this album probably was hurt by the fact it does seem a bit like Blunderbuss II. White does show some growth here; it’s less of the blues influence he usually brings, but it’s still a Jack White album. Listeners who aren’t already fans of White won’t have their mind changed.
  17. D’Angelo and the Vanguard| Black Messiah (RCA) | Hard to believe that D’Angelo sat on the bench for 14 years, barely producing any music until this unannounced release. The addition of the Vanguard as a backup band makes this a more lively and varied album than Voodoo. Black Messiah is a great listen even for someone who (like myself) isn’t an enthusiast of the R&B genre.
  18. Ghostface Killah: 36 Seasons (Tommy Boy) | Trying to recreate the success of his last release, Twelve Reasons to Die, Ghostface has gone back to the concept album well, creating an urban epic that relies on the guests a little too much. However, when they do show up, they are excellent, especially Kool G Rap, AZ, and Pharoahe Monch. Although the concept can be a bit limiting, each track on this album is outstanding on its own, and makes you wonder how strong it could have been if Ghostface left the concept on the drawing board.
  19. Mogwai: Rave Tapes (Sub Pop) | This is the very definition of a headphones album, at least until you reach the bizarre “Mogwai Fear Satan.” Rave Tapes features mostly great, intricate instrumentals.
  20. Beck: Morning Phase (Capitol/Universal) | Sometimes growing up sucks. We all want another Odelay, but it’s not happening, as Beck has grown exponentially since then. What he has is grown into a pure musician, and his voice has never sounded better. Morning Phase can be a bit sleepy at times, but at its best, it’s beautiful and haunting sounds stay with you.
  21. Thom Yorke: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (s/r) | This surprise release is a step up from the disappointing Atoms for Peace record and a true electronic album from the Radiohead frontman. It’s strikingly well produced and, as always, Yorke has a great ear for little tiny melodies that serve to build up to a bigger finish. It’s exciting to see him go this far into electronic, but of course, watch the next Radiohead album go back in the other direction all the way toward The Bends.
  22. Black Lips: Underneath the Rainbow (Vice) | The last Black Lips album, Arabia Mountain, is so good that even a great album like Underneath the Rainbow was always going to be a bit of a disappointment. Fortunately, it’s not too far off the pace, as although it lacks a set of standout tracks like its predecessor, this release does improve in a few ways. Underneath the Rainbow benefits from being tighter and shorter, and as a result can compete for listens with their past catalog.
  23. Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark) | After a little bit of radio success with Attack on Memory, Cloud Nothings could have continued to build on their singles like “Stay Useless” and try to gain more popularity. However, this is actually a step in the opposite direction as many found it more difficult to get into. Here and Nowhere Else builds on the heavier parts of its predecessor and creates an album that can only excite for the band’s future.
  24. Warpaint: s/t (Rough Trade) | This is a very difficult album to describe; some have labeled it “chick rock,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. It could possibly fall in psychedelic rock or even a little shoegaze, but there’s enough here that defies classification. Warpaint is definitely worth a shot as its complexity offers something for nearly everyone.
  25. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata (Madlib Invazion) | I wasn’t that familiar with Gibbs before this, but it definitely caused me to go look up his records. Madlib always is a talented producer who can work with any rapper, tailoring his style to meet theirs. Considering Gibbs’ unique flow and dark lyrics (at least in 2014, where we’ve lost some of the gangsta), Gibbs’ benefits from great production, but more than holds his own.
  26. The Roots: …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (Def Jam) | The edge of the previous Def Jam releases by the Roots takes over here as it’s a bit depressing, both sonically and lyrically. Although everything is good here, it seems very technical for a Roots album, which have always been so free. Of course, Black Thought never fails to disappoint as his lyrics are as on point as ever.
  27. Schoolboy Q: Oxymoron (Interscope) | It’s not embarrassing to be the lesser-talented half of Black Hippy, as Kendrick Lamar is so hot that it allows Schoolboy Q to slide in under the radar. And just because good Kid, m.A.A.d City was so good, it doesn’t mean Oxymoron isn’t. Q has created a great West Coast hip-hop album that is definitely more straightforward than Kendrick’s, but still belongs in the same conversation.
  28. Dum Dum Girls: Too True (Sub Pop) | This is an impeccably produced and written album, pure indie-pop at its core. Every track feels very fresh but rooted in enough pop sensibilities to seem very familiar. Too True is not the deepest album, but it is one of 2014’s catchiest and most enjoyable.
  29. Brody Dalle: Diploid Love (Caroline) | It’s nice to see that being married to Josh Homme and releasing your first solo album hasn’t taken the edge off. This under-the-radar release packed a major punk, as Dalle stays true to her roots while mixing in several other genres effectively. Diploid Love is at its heart a punk album, but the former front woman of the Distillers mixes in a few ballads and a bit of electronic to create a very fresh sound.
  30. Sun Kil Moon: Benji (Calo Verde) | Benji can be a bit torturous to listen to, as its depressing lyrics and downbeat tracks sometimes hide its true beauty. In fact, I found myself overwhelmed a few times while trying to get through it, and often had to put it down. That was a mistake, as together, Sun Kil Moon has released a hauntingly gorgeous album, hampered only by the fact this is true mood music. Unfortunately, that mood isn’t the most positive one and that limits the amount of times I’ve wanted to listen to Benji. But each time, by the end, I’m glad I did. | Brett Berliner

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