By: Evan "The Real Concert King" Harrison
It's that time of year again, everyone is coming up with their list of what they feel are the best albums of the year. I always think it's a fun exercise to make a list of my own, it gives me a chance to revisit some albums I haven't listened to for a while, and check out some others that I may have missed. So this is my list of what I think were the best albums released in 2014, it reflects my own opinions and biases.Obviously, there are many albums I haven't listened to yet, and plenty that I haven't listened to enough times to get a proper grasp of them. I only have so much time, so it can get difficult giving everything a fair chance. If I made this list again in a few weeks or months, I'm sure I would be very different but this is how I feel at the moment.
I know most people do a top 10 list, but I find that too constricting and I want to expose people to some music they may not be that familiar with so I am doing a top 20. There were also simply so many great albums, I have difficulty choosing between them. I've selected a song from each album to check out to hopefully make it a little easier to discover some new artists. Please give those songs a listen if you are up for it. If you like what you hear, make sure to help support the artists and buy the album if you can.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order):
Devin Townsend Project - "Z²" Spotify
From Indian Lakes - "Absent Sounds" Spotify
Fallujah - "The Flesh Prevails" Spotify
Taylor Swift - "1989" Spotif-oh, right.
Goatwhore - "Constricting Rage of the Merciless" Spotify
Set It Off - "Duality" Spotify
The Top 20 Albums of 2014
I feel like saying a few things about some of the albums, but I don't want to make the mistake of reviewing every album like I did a few years ago.
20. Copeland - "Ixora"
- Copeland is finally back to please our earholes with their beautiful melodies. I am so glad they reunited, and this album is anything but a letdown.
19. Gerard Way - "Hesitant Alien"
- The frontman of My Chemical Romance's debut solo album is a stylized throwback to '70s and '80s punk and glam.
18. Nick Thomas - "Shadowars"
- The frontman of The Spill Canvas' first official solo album. It's not drastically different from TSC, but that's a good thing.
17. Amaranthe - "Massive Addictive"
- Epic melodic metal with electronic elements from Sweden.
16. I Fight Dragons - "The Near Future"
- A year and a half ago, I Fight Dragons ended their very successful Kickstarter campaign to raise money for this crazy idea of theirs. They wanted to create a new album with the only physical copies being vinyl and one side of it is a futuristic rock opera. After many setbacks and delays, the album was released. To fully appreciate The Near Future piece, you have to either read along and look at the artwork in the booklet, or watch the well made motion-comic-y videos they posted on their YouTube channel. The first 22 minutes tells the story of an ordinary kid who encounters a girl and aliens, mayhem later ensues. The recurring musical theme is fantastic, and I love how they played around with it and used different interpretations of it throughout the piece. The highlights of side 1 for me are the instrumental track III. Battle and VII. Time to Fly. Side 2 of the album is five more non-story songs which are all great on their own. This album is a must listen for anyone that digs concept albums and story-driven music.
As a side-note, you can download IFD's last album Kaboom! for free on their website.
15. Cynic - "Kindly Bent to Free Us"
14. Mastodon - "Once More 'Round the Sun"
13. Alexz Johnson - "Let 'em Eat Cake"
12. Ed Sheeran - "X"
- I used to not be that big of a fan of Ed Sheeran, I felt like he squandered his talent on his first album, +, which had some great songs but seemed too inconsistent for me. X is a much stronger effort overall, showcasing his remarkable abilities. Aside from the lead single Sing, I can't really think of a song I'm not all that crazy about. The songwriting seems much stronger and more mature than a lot of the songs on +. X also includes as a bonus track a song that I believe is one of the best songs released in a long time. I'm talking about, of course, I See Fire from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I think it perfectly encompasses everything great about Ed Sheeran, the emotion, the rawness, the passion, the voice, the incredible talent. It's a perfectly written song and builds up to a satisfying crescendo. The song did come out in 2013 and was featured on film's soundtrack, but it was included on the deluxe edition of X, so I can talk about it here. The fact that it wasn't even nominated for an Academy Award, let alone win, is astounding and embarrassing.
11. Animals as Leaders - "Joy of Motion"
- Instrumental prog metal behemoths Animals as Leaders make their glorious return after 2011's Weightless. Joy of Motion is instantly recognizable as AAL while still sounding fresh.
10. Eric Hutchinson - "Pure Fiction"
- This album took a little time to grow on me, but I absolutely love it now. Eric is a masterful songwriter and that really shines through on Pure Fiction. What I've always loved about him as an artist was that he is more influenced by old school R&B, soul, blues, and pop artists than any contemporary trends or acts. This album leans a little more into '80s pop territory than his previous work, especially with the use of electronic drums. With Pure Fiction, Eric Hutchinson has proven once again that he is one of the biggest talents in pop music today.
9. Bayside - "Cult"
8. Circa Survive - "Descensus"
7. Foo Fighters - "Sonic Highways"
- I have to admit after my first listen, I wasn't totally sold on this album. But after a couple more listens and watching the companion HBO documentary series (a must watch for any music fan, by the way), I came around on Sonic Highways. I won't go into the unique circumstances that went into creating the album, there's an 8-hour documentary for that. Some songs are stronger than others, and ultimately it's the two weaker songs that dropped the album further down my list than it could have been had it been a stronger overall record. That's not to say those songs are bad, but I have high standards for Foo Fighters.
6. The Pretty Reckless - "Going to Hell"
5. Everybody Knows - "Voyager"
- San Diego rock band Everybody Knows' first effort is definitely a memorable one. Drawing influences from bands like Thrice, Brand New, Russian Circles, Tides of Man and The Life and Times, EK has created an album that seems more and more rare in today's music scene. Blending elements hard rock, progressive, post-rock and alternative to craft something that feels like it has a weight and purpose. All of the songs have a depth to them so when you crank up the volume, the music really fills up the space. Don't sleep on this band, give them a shot and check out Voyager.
4. Buckethead - 2014 works
- This year alone, the guitar virtuoso released a staggering 59 full-length (yes, FIFTY-NINE) albums. You would think with that degree of proliferation that the quality would be shoddy. That was definitely not the case, as Buckethead continued to push the boundaries of his talent and released some of the most stunning music of his career. Not every album and track was a winner, but a truly astounding amount of it was phenomenal. Some of my favorite albums include Claymation Courtyard, Backwards Chimney, Monument Valley, Leave the Light On, Passageways, Pike 43 (Untitled), Pitch Dark, Northern Lights, Celery and the touching tribute Hold Me Forever (In Memory of My Mom Nancy York Carroll). The standout tracks from other albums include The Light in the Fog (from Polar Trench), Coaster Coat (from Coaster Coat), The Cape of Good Hope (from City of Ferris Wheels), and one of his finest tracks ever The Coats of Claude (from The Coats of Claude). I don't know how he does it, but I continue to be amazed at the frequency he releases mind-blowing music.
Check out: The Coats of Claude (epic shredding)
Monument Valley (mellow-ish/ambient)
The Light in the Fog (mellow/epic)
er (Finale of the tribute to his mother, the tracks are titled N Y C 4 EV ER)
Preview one song from each album and buy: Bandcamp
3. Stars In Stereo - "Leave Your Mark"
- SinS' followup to their fantastic 2013 self-titled debut. Leave Your Mark feels heavier and more focused. Most of the songs are very catchy, in a good way. They somehow managed to capture both a raw and polished sound at the same time, that's probably helped by the personal and emotional lyrics from vocalist Bec Hollcraft.
Check out: Wasted (Until I'm Gone) (Live performance because the studio version isn't on YouTube)
2. Opeth - "Pale Communion"
- The Swedish prog metal legends are back with a vengeance. Following up the remarkable Heritage with another throwback to the classic progressive rock sound, while staying true to the tone and vibe that makes them the greatest band of all time.
UPDATE: Due to the "Year" category not being filled in on the album info in my iTunes library; when I originally wrote this list, I completely forgot this album was released in 2014. It just slipped my mind. Instead of re-ordering everything and bumping something off, I'm just going to cheat and add it in here. It's my list, I can do whatever I want.
2a. Anberlin - "Lowborn"
- The farewell album from one of my favorite bands. Very early in 2014, Anberlin released a video stating that it would be the last year for the band. That they were going to record one last album, tour the world one last time and then go out on their own terms. It took me a while to accept it, to believe it was true. The album is a fine work befitting a band the caliber of Anberlin. When you listen to it knowing that they went in with the knowledge that they were crafting their final album, you can sense the weight of that task. It is just like every other Anberlin album in that it runs the gamut of emotions and musical styles, from the urgent, scathing and in-your-face We Are Destroyer to the more soulful and appreciative Atonement, in which vocalist/lyricist Stephen Christian thanks the fans for all of their love and support throughout the years and reassures them that the decision to end the band was not a negative one. Ultimately the album culminates with the song Harbinger, and one of the final lines is "We'll live forever." A line that Stephen repeated at the end of the live performance of *fin which they used as the primary closer on their Final Tour. The emotion of that line really hit home during those performances, and the feelings still flood back to me when I think about it. To get a little bit away from Lowborn specifically, I just want to say thank you to Anberlin for all the years of great music and companionship they provided to myself and all of the people who have cared so deeply for what they have created. Even though some of the songs are written from a religious perspective, it has never gotten in the way of the relatablility of the lyrics, allowing me to attribute my own importance into the songs. Anberlin will always hold a special place in my heart, as they are a band that I grew with to a certain degree. I am sad that there are no more albums or tours to look forward to, at least in the foreseeable future, but I am happy that they were afforded the opportunity to choose their own terms on which to go out on. Instead of going out disliking each other, or fading out, they chose to go out with love and celebration. To say goodbye to as many fans as they could, playing some of the best shows of their careers. You did it all the right way. Thank you, Anberlin.
1. Tides of Man - "Young and Courageous"
- Tides of Man is a somewhat unusual case. They are an instrumental band, but haven't always been. A few years ago their vocalist, Tilian Pearson, left the band and instead of replacing him, they decided to shift gears slightly and become an instrumental band. After a successful Indiegogo campaign, they went into the studio to create this album by themselves. After they posted a video with a tease of the title track, I knew this was going to be a special album. It's not only the best album released in 2014, I believe it's one of the best albums released in several years. Every song is captivating and tells it's own story. It's also quite varied but it never loses sight of the overall tone. From the heavier, more driving pieces like Drift to the gorgeous, flowing and contemplative Eyes Like Strange Sins. Words cannot do this masterpiece justice, please do yourself a favor and just sit down and listen to the album without any distractions. Clear your mind and let the music take you on a journey for about an hour. Whether or not you're a fan of instrumental music, just give it a try. With Young and Courageous, Tides of Man have created something remarkable and special, something that is going to be remembered for a long time. If you enjoy the music, please support them and help them to continue making the world a better place by sharing their tremendous talents with us.
Check out: Drift
Young and Courageous
Well that does it for my Top Albums of 2014 list! Thank you for taking the time to check it out and hopefully you've discovered a new artist or two. If you agree or disagree please feel free to comment and let me know. If I missed your favorite album, leave a comment and I'll check it out if I haven't already.
And of course a huge thanks to my friends at Pew Pew Podcast for letting me do this.