Honourable Mentions of 2014

The best of the rest, in alphabetical order:

band01Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble):
More and more musicians are coming out as transgendered, which is a wonderful thing, but no artist who has done so has come through with an album as triumphant and life-affirming as Laura Jane Grace has done. Not only is it Against Me!’s best album to date, but it’s a moving, poetic, and powerful statement about love, doubt, and acceptance. iTunes Spotify

band01Alcest, Shelter (Prophecy):
You knew Alcest had to wind up at this point sooner or later, where Stephane “Neige” Paut would muster up the courage to ditch the metal side of his band’s music once and for all. Teaming up with Sigur Ros producer Birgir Jón Birgisson Shelter might not have the impact that Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde had, but it similarly focuses on warmth and brightness, in keeping with Neige’s original vision of what this project should sound like. iTunes Spotify

band01Babymetal, Babymetal (Toy’s Factory):
Oh, did this J-pop/extreme metal hybrid ever meet with opposition in the metal crowd. But while scenesters were complaining about “authenticity”, everyone else was discovering one of the cleverest, most subversive metal albums in years. Deceptively complex, diverse, and daring, this immaculately crafted marriage of metal and manic Japanese pop music was a breath of fresh air in a genre that was getting woefully stale. iTunes Spotify

band01Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste (Prospect Park):
I was well aware of the hype surrounding Azealia Banks when “212” broke three years ago, but I had no idea her long, long-awaited debut album would be the zaniest, most joyfully schizophrenic album this side of Janelle Monae. Hip hop, pop, punk, house, Latin music all collide in one crazy, sometimes profane explosion of energy and hooks. This record is so ambitious it’s no surprise it’s sailed over mainstream listeners’ heads upon its release. iTunes Spotify

band01Steph Cameron, Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady (Pheromone):
Steph Cameron’s folk influences couldn’t be more obvious, but her delivery on this striking debut album leaves an immediate, lasting impression. With just her guitar and harmonica for accompaniment, Cameron’s timbre immediately hints at sweetness, but the more it goes on, the more a gritty sadness creeps into her singing, reflecting live on the road, and most crucially, the humbling sprawl of Canada. iTunes Spotify

band01Lana del Rey, Ultraviolence (Interscope/Polydor):
Instead of going on to be one of the strangest one-hit wonders in recent memory, Lana del Rey collaborated with Dan Auerback of the Black Keys and crafted a shockingly good, smart, dark and bleary-eyed second album. More monochrome than Technicolor, it wastes no time creating a very distinct atmosphere, del Rey’s modern torch songs sounding lugubrious, luxurious, and unforgettable. iTunes Spotify

band01Flying Lotus, You’re Dead! (Warp):
When a new Flying Lotus album comes out, you always know you’re in for a listening experience like no other, and Steven Ellison once again pulls the rug out from under his audience on this fifth album. Delving deeper into jazz than ever before, these 19 fragments ultimately mesh into a wondrous, playful suite that echoes Frank Zappa as much as John Coltrane. iTunes Spotify

band01Gazelle Twin, Unflesh (Last Gang): 
Much like Björk and Tanya Tagaq, Elizabeth Bernholz explores the possibilities of the human voice in unconventional song structures, and this harrowing, exciting second album does so while plumbing the depths of industrial music, her abstract compositions approaching the minimalist majesty of the Knife. Dark, challenging, unpredictable, Unflesh embodies much of what I look for in new music. iTunes Spotify

band01The Oath, The Oath (Rise Above):
After first winning me over with a demo single on Bandcamp in 2013, the duo of Swedish guitarist Linnéa Olsson and Berlin-based singer Johanna Sadonis came through with an accomplished debut full-length in 2014, exploring the occult rock sounds of the early-1970s, but with a sultry quality few bands have dared to attempt. Mysterious, moody, and relentlessly catchy, this excellent album made their sudden break-up in April sting even more. iTunes Spotify

band01Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore):
As good as Pallbearer’s much-acclaimed 2012 debut Sorrow & Extiction was, I knew there was so much more the band could pull off on record, and indeed, the follow-up shatters that album, bolstered by stronger production and more mature songwriting, the band exploring some of the most original vocal melodies I’ve heard from a metal band in a long time, doom metal coalescing with progressive rock. iTunes Spotify

band01Owen Pallett, In Conflict (Domino):
The innovative, imaginative Pallett creates art pop that, while never for a second short of ambition, is always mindful that all the experimentation is at the service of the song, which results in music whose easy accessibility will come as quite a revelation to listeners of more middle-of-the-road material. The more the album goes, the more brilliantly it shines, his florid arrangements making for a wildly original, beguiling pop experiment. iTunes Spotify

band01Perfect Pussy, Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks):
The curiously named Syracuse band first caught my attention via Bandcamp last year, and somewhere amidst the din and unintelligible vocals I sensed greatness, and this debut album takes a big step in that direction, with its searing punk rock and poetic, provocative lyrics by vocalist Meredith Graves. Just like a punk show, it’s 23 minutes long, ends before you want it to, leaving you wondering just what the heck you just heard. iTunes Spotify

band01Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal):
I made a more concerted effort to get back into hip hop this year, and the second album by the Killer Mike/El-P collaboration gave me exactly what I was looking for: edgy, hugely intense arrangements and bold, eloquent lyrics that venture far beyond the narcissism of Kanye and Drake. In a year that saw America continue its sad implosion, RTJ2 is an appropriately murky, politically aware soundtrack. iTunes Spotify

band01Sólstafir, Ótta (Season of Mist):
No band in the world sounds like Iceland’s Sólstafir, and more people are starting to catch on to just how special this band is. Capable of sprawling, aching beauty that reflects their country, this, much like Sigur Ros, takes an experimental rock hybrid and makes it not only accessible, but capable of moments so transcendent you can practically feel your heart burst. Ótta merely raises their already high bar. iTunes Spotify

band01Witch Mountain, Mobile of Angels (Profound Lore):
It was sad to see one of my favourite metal bands part ways with formidable singer Uta Plotkin, but not only did I get to see them play one final show together this fall, but they put out their best album to date, a smouldering collection of bluesy doom riffs and thoughtful, storytelling lyrics. The band will come out unscathed, of that I’m certain, but with Plotkin they created something special, somethnig they should be proud of. iTunes Spotify