The Best Music of 2014: An Introduction


I don’t think I ever had a year that alternated so wildly between frustration and excitement. On the glass-half-empty side 2014 was very much a dumb year, especially when it comes to the music I cover for a living, which I will get into in much greater detail when I post my metal albums list after Boxing Day. Work-wise, despite being as busy as I’ve ever been with the writing, it’s been a brutal struggle finding work that paid, and in some cases, paid reliably. As a result I’ve come to the realization that if I want to keep writing about music, it’ll have to be on the side, as a hobby, because full-time freelancing is a near impossibility now. Which means I have to find real work if I want to keep traveling and slowly building this life that’s weirdly started to take shape lately.

On the bright side, however, I was again afforded some pretty darn ridiculous opportunities this past year. I attended the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise again – and will be once more in January 2015! – I made it back to Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands for the third year in a row, and in the craziest twist, spent 12 wonderful days in Montreal, put up in a luxury hotel covering both the Osheaga Festival and Heavy Montreal. Which, of course, meant that I saw my fair share of incredible live music performances. The highlights included an astonishing P!nk concert here in Saskatoon, fun performances on The Boat (Raven, Freedom Call, Obituary, Death to All, Swallow the Sun), a fun Children of Bodom/Death Angel/Tyr triple bill back home, Against Me! (twice!); Triptykon, YOB, Circle, and many, many more at Roadburn, a rejuvenated Black Sabbath the day I got back from Europe, local faves Shooting Guns playing the loudest set I ever heard them do while being fed fancy hors d’ouevres at The Hollows, Anciients and Black Wizard, a glorious Bessborough Gardens set by St. Vincent at the Jazz Festival, SubRosa at a tiny venue in Montreal, a wonderful night with Fucked Up and Alvvays, Sonata Arctica and Delain in Regina, a joyous show by Hawkwind and Witch Mountain, an Amon Amarth/Sabaton concert that I don’t think I will ever forget for many reasons, and last but definitely not least, an incredible show by The Pixies.

Osheaga was madness, a surreal mix of some of the worst music you could possibly hear with some of the very best. Among the best: Outkast (WOW!), Nick Cave (wow again!), the brilliant Haim, The Replacements, Lykke Li (first time seeing her in six and a half years), Chvrches, Lorde. The same went for Heavy Montreal, which had some very distinct highlights for me: a spectacular headlining set by Metallica in front of 40,000 people, my first time seeing the guys in a decade; my first ever time seeing longtime faves Twisted Sister; plus Slayer, Bad Religion, Body Count, Lamb of God, Exodus, Epica, Babymetal, and Voivod.

Toss in a wonderful, quiet side trip to Paris, getting to explore the beautiful city of Montreal in great depth at long last, returning to my beloved Vancouver to do the same, and capping the year off with my annual Toronto business trip-slash-getaway (the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the TIFF was one of the great thrills of my life), and once again I have to say I’m a very lucky fella. I just need to get the whole earning actual money for this work thing back on track.

Before I get going with the year-end countdown into high gear, which starts for real tomorrow, this is traditionally the place where I mention albums from the previous year that I didn’t get around to hearing until this year, which might have had a good chance at placing in my top ten or 20. To be honest there isn’t anything from 2013 I might have missed, but there are albums from 2013 that have only gotten better with age. Beastmilk’s Climax is probably my most-played 2013 album of 2014, its metallic take on Joy Division-style gothic post-punk winning me over even more than it did a year ago. Other albums that have grown on me mightily include Carcass’s Surgical Steel (I have no problem declaring it a classic heavy metal album), Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt (it would be a top 5 album if I re-did my list today), and Haim’s Days Are Gone, which after having seen them perform live really hammered home how talented these three sisters are. As for music I discovered for the first time, although I was a big fan of Serge Gainsbourg already, purchasing the 14-album L’Essentiel des Albums Studio proved to be illuminating.

A huge turning point for me this year was actually the fact that Spotify finally, finally came to Canada. I was mildly satisfied with Rdio as a streaming music option, but having used Spotify on the desktop via proxies going back to 2009, I knew that was the streaming music platform of choice, and it was a long, long wait to get it legally here. I still remember getting my invite; I’d signed up for an invitation to Spotify Canada years ago, around 2011, so I got my access code in early August, on the day I was hiking atop Mount Royal on a very hot day in Montreal. It’s now my music-listening method of choice, and have no complaints. My only gripes are toward famous, wealthy artists like Taylor Swift, who foolishly pull their music from Spotify, claiming it’s because they support artists being “properly” compensated, when it’s anything but. In this day and age, it’s the absolute best option for music consumption for the listener. Sure, it’ll pay smaller artists pennies unfortunately, but the days of labels throwing money at bands willy-nilly are over. The best you can hope for is good exposure, and Spotify does just that. I sill crave the physical product, that side of me will never die, but my CD/vinyl spending has gone way down. I have too many CDs already, and no space for any more, so the only ones I now buy are by bands I’m a total fan of, and in some cases the albums I know will rank among my absolute favourites of the year. Of my top 20 albums, I own 12 physical copies, so old habits do die hard.

Anyway, it’s been a weird, interesting year for new music, and my list leans a little more away from the metal genre than recent years. There’s been plenty of strong material from the metal side, as my metal list will attest, but as for my own personal listening habits, there are fewer than usual heavy releases that I’d deem “elite”. It’s a typically eccentric, eclectic mix, and the top 20 albums is a lot of fun. Unlike last year, my decision for Album of the Year didn’t happen until November, but it was not a November release, rather one that had grown on me a great deal over time. You’ll find out on Christmas Eve, or if you know me well, sooner, by the power of deduction! I can be pretty bleedin’ obvious sometimes.

I’m delighted to share some of my favorite music from the past year with you again. The format has not changed a lick (what, me, change?!), starting with the countdown of reissues, honourable mentions, my top 20 albums and singles, and culminating in my Album of the Year named on Christmas Eve. My gigantic Top 50 Metal Albums list will follow on the 27th, and will conclude on New Year’s Eve. From the beginning, back in 1986, I’ve done these lists for myself, and this blog has never been about the page views. But if you’re a regular reader of my writing or happened to stumble across my blog, I hope you enjoy. If I turn you on to one new favourite record in the next few weeks, then I’ve done my job.

My top ten albums of 2013:

  1. Paramore – Paramore
  2. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
  3. In Solitude – Sister
  4. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
  5. Carcass – Surgical Steel
  6. Shining – One One One
  7. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
  8. SubRosa – More Constant Than the Gods
  9. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
  10. Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats – Mind Control

Past albums of the year (uh, please bear in mind I was sixteen when I started this):

1986: Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time
1987: Def Leppard – Hysteria
1988: Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
1989: Voivod – Nothingface
1990: Megadeth – Rust In Peace, Led Zeppelin Box Set (tie)
1991: Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
1992: R.E.M. – Automatic For The People
1993: Nirvana – In Utero
1994: Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
1995: Elastica – Elastica
1996: Pulp – Different Class
1997: Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind
1998: Monster Magnet – Powertrip
1999: Metallica – S & M
2000: Yo La Tengo – …And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
2001: Bob Dylan – Love And Theft, The Langley Schools Music Project – Innocence & Despair (tie)
2002: The Streets – Original Pirate Material
2003: Manitoba – Up in Flames
2004: Arcade Fire – Funeral
2005: Opeth – Ghost Reveries
2006: Mastodon – Blood Mountain
2007: Alcest – Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde
2008: Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life
2009: Fever Ray – Fever Ray
2010: Best Coast – Crazy For You
2011: Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
2012: Rush – Clockwork Angels
2013: Paramore – Paramore