2014 was the year I gave up on new music. Instead of trying to listen to every single album that was released and possibly in my tastes, I went back and listened to the music I loved. As such, I was really out of the loop with most album releases, relying incredibly on recommendations from my friends. The albums that I listened to this year though, I fell in love with. So, here's the top ten:
10. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again
To me, the title of the album is a play on the sound of the album. The whole 20 minutes of music sounds like an album recorded by a bunch of punks feeling a little bit poorly and slightly regretful the morning after a big night. Lyrically, apart from In the Army Now (and depending how you interpret Heated Swimming Pool), each song is about lost love. The tempo is a bit slower than most punk and is driven by very punchy bass riffs which speak to the bass nerd in me. But overall the song writing is top notch and you can’t help but find yourself singing along with a slight smile on your face to each song.
Certified club banger: Heart Tattoo
9. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World
A lot changes in ten years. Remember the first time you heard You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine? It was like being slapped in the face with a full-borne assault of sounds that could have come from any punk club or dance party that you wish you were invited to. That was then, this is now. It’s still that DFA sound that gets your feet moving, but it lacks that wake-up slap in the face quality that drew me in originally. It’s a bit slower, a bit more produced, but that’s no surprise after such a long break. There’s still glimpses of that raw, youthful energy in songs like Right On Frankenstein!, Gemini and The Physical World. But once you forget about making comparisons with the past, this album really stands out on its own. Much like 10 years ago I just want to get up on my feet, dance around and scream along to the lyrics.
Certified club banger: Right on Frankenstein!
8. Beck – Morning Phase
Beck is one heck of a musician, you just never know what he’s going to do next. I got into him largely due to Midnite Vultures, and as such his quirkier, over-the-top songs have always been the draw card for me. Morning Phase popped up early in the year and it didn’t hold my attention for long. That is until it kept playin on random and I was left wondering “who wrote these beautifully eerie acoustic tracks?!” When I finally realised it was Beck I went back, listened a few times and was sucked in. Sad Beck is the best Beck. These songs are so minimalistic and sombre, it seems to be that Beck is reflecting over his whole life, all the ups and downs. When he starts the song Blue Moon by wailing “I’m so tired of being alone” you can almost hear his voice crack with the emotion. Who, at one point in their life, has not felt this way? Morning Phase hits me right in the feels.
Certified club banger: Blue Moon
7. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
One of the long standing (and worthless) arguments in the punk community is which Against Me! album is better. And for anyone that regularly participates in the Axl Rose vs Eternal Cowboy debate, you’d hate this album. But that’s the beauty of Transgender Dysphoria Blues: given the changes in Laura’s life, this album is a growth out of that rowdy punk she grew up in and shows more depth in music than ever before. It’s a very well-produced album that strips off the punk roots but still pack a punch. When I first heard it, I could have sworn that the song Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ was a Kasabian track. That opening riff and bright guitar following the vocals is nothing Against Me! have really done before, but then a minute in and you still get Laura screaming out “YOU’RE GOING TO HANG!” Lyrically it’s what you always expect from Laura, exploring deep within herself and the current climate and letting it all out for us to feel and see. Overall, it’s probably the most radio friendly album (outside of the title “FuckMyLife666”) they’ve made, but that doesn’t stop it from being an amazing punk album.
Certified club banger: Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ
6. Shihad - FVEY
"I really like the new Shihad album" - were words that I never expected to say in 2014. I've always been a fan, but over the years since the Pacifier incident, they kind of faded off my radar. But then the opening riff of the album just sucked me in and was followed by the shouted lyrics of "Do you think we'll wake up?" This then launches into the assault that is the unrelenting drums, bass and riffs of FVEY. Shihad have always written some great riffs, but this album is just packed to the rafters with them. At some point over the last few years I just imagine Shihad all sitting around listening to bands like Mastodon, High on Fire and Baroness, because this album resembles more of a sludge style metal album. Musically each song hits a groove that resembles the march of an army in a rush, just hard, heavy and unstoppable. Lyrically the album hits some big political and social points, with the album title even being a play on the alliance of spy networks by countries including Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Put it together and it's already surpassed the General Electric, which is still an album I spin regularly after 15 years.
Certified club banger: FVEY
5. Swans - To Be Kind
2 hours. Do you have that much time to spend with an album? Swans aren't the kind of band to pander to anything, especially the modern concept of music. What you get with To Be Kind is 10 tracks over 2 discs, averaging about 12 minutes in each song. The sound scapes Michael Gira builds are just incredible. Over my numerous listening (often late at night in the dark leading to nightmares when I fall asleep) I can best describe it as an album that sounds like a belly dancer going through a nervous breakdown. The album opens with an almost Tool-like repetitive riff that you can just groove to (the belly dancer reference in my head) and then towards the end breaks down on songs like Oxygen, just riddled with moments of Gira screaming and barking into the microphone. At times its not comfortable, but whoever said Swans were?
Certified club banger: Bring The Sun / Toussaint L'Ouverture
4. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Dirty beats, slick rhymes and a cameo from the long recluse Zack De La Rocha. Why did I sleep on this for so long? Everything about this album appeals to me. Killer Mike and El-P’s vocals just blend effortlessly into the beats. Unlike a lot of other hip-hop, it’s not just one sample on loop for the verses and another for the chorus, but each song’s backing track evolves in a way that you could almost see them being a song without lyrics in an underground night club that you wish you got invited to. The lyrics themselves paint a bleak scene (mostly, there’s still the odd love/sex song), but given the current state of America’s racial issues, it’s not a surprise. The anger and lack of hope is even shown in their in-your-face style of delivery.
Certified club banger: Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
3. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Imagine a man deconstructing his life (mainly the traumatic events) on a psychiatrist’s couch, set to some beautiful stripped back acoustic guitar folk. That’s Benji. A lot of the songs deal with the deaths, whether close to him or at the hands of serial killers, and when you take the whole album into account it has a kill count resembling an Aliens vs Predator movie. Even songs not dealing with the death of people close to him reveal some deep trauma deep inside. The song Dogs is basically his entire sexual history mixed with a lifetime of rejection in love. It’s probably the most depressed album I’ve listened to in 2014, but the brutal raw honesty of it strikes me deep down inside.
Certified club banger: Dogs
2. United Nations – The Next Four Years
Not even 10 seconds into The Next Four Years and your ears are assaulted by a brutal wall of noise. What follows is 30 minutes of unrelenting powerviolence (screamo? Grindcore? I suck at genres but it’s fast and loud) that lyrically bounces between commentary of the state of modern man (Meanwhile on Main Street: “That's a sad way to get saved. You hedge bets existentially. You call it living? That's not living if the price fixed. Can we live with it?”), politics (Music For Changing Parties: “To go right Or go left Same old prism, different prisons”) and even some combining both in some comedy (Revolutions at Varying Speeds: “Q: What's the difference between infectious disease and our hope?
A: There's a cure for our hopes.
Q: What's the difference between the Real UN and these pigs you see on stage?
A: At least we can take a joke. Because that's what this is. This world.
Q: Which side are you on? The Left of the Right?
A: Is that a joke? Yeah, they're both the same.
Q: How many Feds does it take to screw in a lightbulb these days?
A: None. They're all out of work.”).
In amongst this brutal attack on your ears, there’s something that really speaks to me. Geoff Rickly (he of Thursday fame) is not afraid to push the boundaries. Lyrically and musically he just empties himself of all of his frustrations, a lot of which I also identify with. This isn’t noise for noise sake.
Certified club banger: Serious Business
1. Taylor Swift - 1989
Surely you know why this album is number 1 by now. If you don't, you've been living in a media free bubble for months. Enough people have written about this album, but it is one of the best pop albums recorded in the last decade. This time next year we'll still be talking about how many #1 hits came from this album. 2014 was the year people bemoaned the death of music, with the largest selling album (before 1989) being a movie soundtrack from 2013. It wasn't that music was dead, there just wasn't anyone that put out anything resembling a full album of pop music that appeals to a broad audience (I know a lot of you will fight me over Beyonce on this point). This though... Damn. She's thrown away the country image that held her back from a wider audience, become more comfortable with herself and her celebrity and put it all in a goddamn banger of an album. Her subject matter is still similar to her youth (just how unlucky can one girl be in love?!!) but it's from a different angle. I have a friend who's psychiatrist told them to listen to the song Shake It Off whenever times were tough, as the message she delivers in there is just one of letting it go and moving on, set to music that will rarely fail to lift your mood. Well done Tay Tay, 2015 will be the year of you.
Certified club banger: The whole goddamn album