Year-end lists. Love by some and despised by many. I have grown to love these lists for the simple fact that they always bring to light something I missed. There’s a plethora of music out there these days so to find the cream of the crop is sometimes a challenge. These lists help tremendously. I had forgotten about some of these releases so it was a nice surprise even for myself.
I refuse to rank these releases. The ranking would depend on my mood and today, it isn’t that great as I’m a Chicago Bears fan and their despicable season is coming to an end as I type this. This list is primarily releases which I haven’t seen much press on but I feel deserve your attention. It should also be noted that I paid for all of these albums. None of my choices were based on a pushy publicist or a free copy from a label. Lets get to it!
Artists: Acid Witch / Nunslaughter
Release: Spooky (Split 7″)
Label: Hell’s Headbangers
This EP sounds like it was recorded in a moldy basement (which is a compliment). Great riffs, distorted vocals, organ, and filth. Everything you’ve come to love from these bands and label all in one cool package which comes in black or red/green/blue versions.
Release: The Serpent & the Sphere
Label: Profound Lore
Sometimes I go back and listen to my Agalloch records and think to myself, “They can never top this one”. Thankfully every few years, they prove me wrong. The one, two, three punch of “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation”, “(Serpens Caput)”, and “The Astral Dialogue” are perfect. The acoustic interludes provided by Musk Ox throughout the album are a nice touch and even though some critics felt this album wasn’t up to par with past releases, I beg to differ.
Quite frankly, many trve metal fans do not like Alcest due to their change in direction which leans more to the dare I say ‘pop’ side of music. The choruses on this album are so syrupy, your girlfriend who hates metal will even be singing along. Make no mistake, there’s still plenty of guitar, but it takes a backseat to dreamy vocals and hooky riffs. Pure bliss.
Release: Distant Satellites
If you haven’t noticed, this list is going in alphabetical order. However, this release has a lot in common with Shelter by Alcest. This is the sound of a band taking a 180 degree turn from their death metal roots and performing it perfectly. The album starts with dream-like songs and ends with a few songs which lean into the electronic realm. Put this on back to back with Alcest on a nice fall day, lay down, and float away.
Artist: Ashen Horde
A one-man band that doesn’t suck. This isn’t your lonely-guy-in-his-mom’s-basement metal. This rips! Trevor Portz does it all and he does it quite well. This is blackened thrash metal with a touch of prog played brilliantly. Do yourself a favor and download Obcisus and after you pick your jaw up off the floor, check out past releases Sanguinum Vindicta and Ad Initio. You won’t be disappointed.
Artist: Chuck E. Weiss
Release: Red Beans and Weiss
If I misled you into thinking this was going to be only metal, I apologize. I listen to anything and everything. I’m a huge Tom Waits fan. I remember him speaking of Chuck E. Weiss in his tunes, but didn’t know the man was actually a musician. I picked this up on a whim and I’m glad I did. Bluesy and quirk songs mixed with lyrics which are howled, barked, and spoken as another instrument. No deep meaning here, just a good time. This was produced by Tom Waits and Johnny Depp for added measure. If you listen to “Willy’s in the Pee Pee House” again and don’t sing it for days on end, you’re not alive.
Artist: Chuck Mead
Release: Free State Serenade
Miss the good old days of country music? Me too. Chuck Mead’s roots are in Nashville and he’s been at it for decades. If there were any justice in the world, Chuck’s songs would be on every cuntry radio station right now. Soulful with brilliant songwriting and touching lyrics, this is how country was meant to be played. If you think Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, and Jason Aldean are country, think again.
Label: Sub Pop
Not known for their rap releases, Sub Pop put out of the best rap albums of the year. Tired of people in the rap game spilling the same non-sense over lame beats? Check out Clipping. This three-piece rap group out of California started by taking a capella raps and adding their own twisted beats and noise over the prose to make the song take on a whole new meaning. Songs like “Work Work” will appeal to those looking for a nice flow over a straightforward beat, while “Get Up” is spit over what is an annoying alarm clock in the morning, but it works.
Label: Profound Lore
Coffinworm are a band which received SOME praise, but not enough. Hailing from Indianapolis, these boys have consistently put out great music and IV.I.VIII is their finest outing yet. The production is top notch and captures the vibe of their live show. Pummeling, relentless, and unforgiving. Turn out the lights, put this on 10, and exorcise your inner demons.
Release: Earth Diver
Worth the price of admission just for the cover art (get it on vinyl when it comes out), these guys play a blend of black metal with a small hint of 70’s rock and all the melody you can handle. Some of these riffs would not be out of place on an Ensalved or Immortal album. Black metal played by guys who forego the face paint and let the music speak for itself.
Release: Light Through Dead Glass
Label: Crucial Blast
I didn’t see this one on any year-end list which is quite a shame. Black metal laced with avant-garde elements which works perfectly. Blast beats work along side post-rock riffs and horns. It’s all blended to create a truly unique piece of work. You won’t hear another band like Epistasis.
Artist: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Label: Madlib Invazion
This was a good year for rap. Freddie Gibbs partnered up with Madlib to create a throwback album of sorts. Songs like “Deeper” and “Harold’s” take me back to a time when rap had actual flow and laid back beats and actual story telling. Top notch.
Artist: Helms Alee
Release: Sleepwalking Sailors
Label: Sargent House
Why oh why has this album not been talked about more? This is an album which some call a ‘grower’ but the growing starts right away. Every time I listen to this beautiful and emotional album, I find something new. Intricate but familiar riffs with good cop/bad cop vocals done right. Brilliant.
Artist: Iron Reagan
Release: The Tyrrany of Will
Do you miss the good old days when crossover first exploded? DRI, Void, and COC led the pack with their blend of metal and punk. There are bands who have been successful with the formula over the year, but none quite like Iron Reagan. Made of members of Municipal Waste, Cannabis Corpse, and Darkest Hour, this album contains songs that are primarily around the one minute mark and rip. Song after song of skate punk that will have you banging your head like it’s the 80’s all over again. Every song is a winner with repeat listens aplenty.
Release: Esoteric Warfare
Label: Season of Mist
You can Google Mayhem’s controversial past, but I prefer to focus on the actual music. They’ve been at it since 1984 and while they’ve had a hiccup or two along along the way (I didn’t care for Order to Chaos), Esoteric Warfare is Mayhem in top form. Attila sounds as pissed as ever and the rest of the band (check out Hellhammer on drums!) sounding like a well-oiled death metal machine.
Artist: Nader Sadek
Release: The Malefic: Chapter III EP
This EP was free to those who subscribe to Decibel Magazine in the USA (other magazines in the UK as well) and is now out digitally. Typically when an artist release something for free it’s a dud and a marketing tool for the entity putting out the music. While I’m sure this helped Decibel garner a few more subscriptions, this EP is far from a dud. Adding to this album are Rune Eriksen (of multiple acts; most notably Mayhem) and Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation. If you enjoy Hate Eternal and straight up solid, clean-sounding death metal, this is in your wheelhouse. I couldn’t find a full stream of this album, but here’s a stream to one of the songs on YouTube which will take you to the others.
Release: Wasted Years
I’m not really sure what to think of Vice having a record label, but if they keep putting out solid punk records like this, who am I to judge? Miss the glory days of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and REAL punk rock? Look no further. No pop nonsense to be found here. Enjoy!
Artist: Old Crow Medicine Show
Bluegrass was around long before a lot of us were born. Much like metal, there’s always a generation rediscovering great music from time’s past. These guys busked on the streets of NC for money before they were discovered. And you thought touring in a van was rough? They’ve garnered the respect of their peers and refuse to change their sound to be played on modern country radio. Songs like “Sweet Amarillo” and “O Cumberland River” will have you stomping your feet and clapping your hands while “The Warden” may be one of the most heartbreaking ballads I’ve ever heard. Top notch songwriting and musicianship are on full display here making this the best bluegrass/country album of the year.
Release: So It Goes
Label: XL Recordings
Either I haven’t been paying close attention the last decade, or rap is enjoying a new revival. It never went away, but the quality was sub par. Bands like Clipping, Run the Jewels, and Ratking and breathing new life into the scene. Solid raps that actually tell a story used to be few and far between. Rapping about bitches, big butts, and blunts was all the rage. The storytelling is coming back. Giving the current state of Ferguson, NYC, and other locations, the song “Remove Ya” hits hard (and it was written before these events occurred). Other tunes like the title track and “Bug Fights” mix samples with laid back beats and rhymes that will have you hitting repeat to pick up every word. Excellent.
Release: Hammer of the Witch
If you liked Ringworm before, this album won’t disappoint. If you didn’t like them before, this album won’t change your mind. Pissed of vocals, hardcore song structures, and brutal riffs coupled with song titles like “Exit Life”, “One of Us is Going to Have to Die”, and “Die Like a Pig”. Simple yet effective.
Artist: Run the Jewels
Release: Run the Jewels, Vol. 2
Label: Fool’s Gold
Other than the intro track “Jeopardy”, this album is flawless. El-P and Killer Mike are both great on their own, but when they combine forces, they’re unstoppable. El-P and Killer Mike play well off of each other effortlessly. This is their 2nd album (their debut was excellent as well) full of cockiness but in a good way. It’s more about a rap battle of sorts than what type of cars they may or may not own. Solid.
Artist: Share Jones & the Dap-Kings
Release: Give the People What They Want
Time for some soul and funk! The glory days of Motown are gone, but Share Jones and the Dap-Kings will take you straight back to 1960. Soulful songs of happiness, sorrow, and love are all here and each song is damn near perfect. The lead track “Retreat!” is so good that it’s worth the price of admission alone. Songs like “We Get Along” with it’s slow groove and “Making Up and Break Up (And Making Up and Breaking Up)” will have you cutting a rug even if you don’t know how!
Artist: Sick of it All
Release: Last Act of Defiance
Label: Century Media
They’ve been at it for around 25 years and sound as pissed off now as they did when they started. The best hardcore band ever in my opinion. Songs of ‘losing’, ‘waiting’, and ‘fighting’ in a positive manner are all here. Hell, the title of the band says it all. The politics, wars, and corruption are enough to piss us all of. SOIA help us relive that stress and anger. If there’s ever a revolution, SOIA’s entire catalog will serve as the soundtrack.
Artist: Sturgill Simpson
Release: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Label: High Top Mountain
I often hear a lot of folks complain about modern country (myself included). The complaints fall on deaf ears (relatives, radio stations, etc.). Thanks to various artists like Sturgill playing real country music and folks taking notice, they’re almost been forced to give him the accolades he deserves. He’s only two albums in and has drawn comparisons to Waylon and Merle with is authentic country twang. Songs “Living the Dream” about life of playing honky tonks and “Long White Line” about the road are exactly what hillbilly doctor ordered. Toss in a cover of When in Rome’s “The Promise” and you have a modern day country classic.
Release: To Be Kind
Label: Young God
I won’t pretend to ever hearing about Swans until The Sear came out two years ago. I heard the name off and on but never checked them out. Good part of that is I have a whole body of work to catch up on from a great band. They have the ability to take a riff, noise, or anything really, play it over and over, and it works. While I often get tired of doom and hearing the same riff over and over, Swans find that part of your brain that will accept the repetitiveness of their sound and sucks you right in. Not only will you listen to an eight minute song like “Screen Shot”, you’ll do it again and again and again. This album invokes a feeling of calm and feeling that all is right with the world (even when it’s not).
Release: Melana Chasmata
Label: Century Media
Tom G. Warrior started Celtic Frost in 1984. The fact that he has (for the most part) stayed the path of music this heavy over all these years is simply amazing. I actually prefer Triptykon over Celtic Frost. Some overuse the word ‘heavy’ when describing metal, but in this case it is warranted. After listening to this album, you feel dirty and rightfully so. It has been reported that Mr. Warrior put his inner most disturbing personal thoughts to paper on this one. His past is one you can look up yourself, but Melana Chasmata is the sound of a man looking at his past straight in the eye with disgust and letting it all go through the lyrics and music. Another classic.
Release: Taang! Records the First 10 Singled
I know some folks prefer to put EP’s, LP’s, box sets, etc. in separate categories. I prefer to lay it all out there and let you decide. We compartmentalize music enough already. This was a Record Store Day release which I was fortunate to pick up at my local record store. This special edition 7″ / CD box set includes Taang! Records first 10 singles originally released between 1984 & 1988. All selections are also found on the CD included in the set. Some of the bands included are Gang Green and Last Rights. Great Boston-type hardcore punk. Also features a 20 page book with rare photos and liner notes by label founder Curtis Casella. If you’re a fan of old hardcore punk or need a history lesson, pick this up. It can still be found for around $40 which is a steal for ten 7″ records and a CD. The stream of Gang Green’s “Sold Out” is below:
Artist: Young and In the Way
Release: When Life Comes to Death
I really wasn’t sure what to expected with this one. If you’re in a the Christmas spirit and in a great mood, don’t put this one on. The album opens with the song “Betrayed By Light” and the opening line is the title of the album which is spit with venom and hate. The music is a mix of blast beats and hardcore and with song titles like “Fuck This Life” and “We Are Nothing”, the message is loud and clear. If Watain went hardcore, they’d sound like YAITW.
Artist: Young Widows
Release: Easy Pain
Label: Temporary Residence
If there were justice in the music business, these guys would be the darlings of music fans as opposed to (insert hipster band name here). I have struggled to describe this release other than it being ‘loud’. It’s hardcore, noise rock, shoegaze, loud, and obnoxious (in a good way). There’s no riff that catches your attention in these songs. There are noises which twist and turn that make the songs breathe and those. If feels as if each second and each note all have a purpose in building the overall mood and flow of this album. The album sucks you in with a Jesus Lizard-type song in “Godman” which flows right into “Cool Night” which is the best and most infectious song on this album. Starting with a slow, brooding single-string bending riff it builds to strange melodies and yet another great single-string bent riff at the end. These songs are like driving on a curved road. You know something is coming but have no idea what is next which makes this a fun listen and ranks right at the top of my favorite releases of 2014.
The following is a list I have purchased but didn’t dive into fully yet. They caught my attention and I liked the little bit I heard:
Nightfell – The Living Ever Mourn
Swallowed – Lunarterial
Ellorsith – 1959
Pissed Jeans – Shallowed
Scott Walker / Sunn O))) – Soused
Execration – Morbid Dimensions
J. Mascis – Tied to a Star
Scott H. Biram – Nothin’ But Blood
Coffin Birth – Necrotic Liquefaction
YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend