By Matthew Gundrum —
2014 was an exciting year for music. Here are my personal picks for this year’s best releases.
1.) “To Be Kind” by Swans
The act of listening to “To Be Kind” is a process. There is no listening to a couple tracks here and there or throwing it on while walking to class. Barely clocking in at two hours, it truly is an album that you must dedicate your time to. Swans is an experimental rock band that has been performing on and off since 1982. Like frontman Michael Gira has said, their sound is best described by the band name itself: majestic and beautiful but with an ugly temperament. This ideology is exquisitely preserved behind their newest record and, arguably, their magnum opus. This album is without a doubt the most gargantuan release of 2014 and listening to it—front-to-back in one sitting—is an experience like no other.
2.) “Piñata” by Madlib & Freddie Gibbs
Madlib is the most prolific producer in the gritty world of underground hip-hop. His style is instantly recognizable: utilizing samples from obscure records combined with old school drum loops and the occasional murky bass line. “Piñata” gets much of its praise on production alone. Madlib masterfully blends different elements of jazz and funk into a buttery-smooth lineup of beats. However, his production is only one half of the appeal on “Piñata.” Although active since 2003, Gibbs began making a name for himself in the 2010’s with a handful of solid mixtapes. It is on this album, however, that we see Gibbs at his peak. He showcases an impeccable flow and proves to be a formidable wordsmith. Together, Gibbs and Madlib have put out the greatest rap record of 2014.
3.) “Lost in the Dream” by The War on Drugs
The first thirty seconds of “Lost in the Dream” are strangely iconic: a reverberating hit-hat swirling with a dreamy guitar passage. The song kicks into full swing when this intro breaks into a driving piano melody accompanied by an 80’s-like drumbeat. The moment is perfectly crafted and borderline euphoric. The reverb-happy production techniques on this song and most of the others give this record a spacious atmosphere. However, the guitar work and Adam Granduciel’s vocals are warm enough to pair this spacious atmosphere with a friendly disposition. One song after another, The War on Drugs consistently pleases the soul with their undeniable melodies. Look no further for a solid rock album.
4.) “LP1” by FKA Twigs
Contemporary R&B is on the rise. Frank Ocean, How to Dress Well, Autre Ne Veut, The Weeknd and Jhené Aiko are all artists who fit the PBR&B (a term coined by music journalists to describe the new wave of “hipster” R&B music) bill. All of whom have been active within the past couple years. England-native FKA Twigs is the newest face in this R&B subgenre. Twigs gained traction with her Extended Plays (cleverly titled “EP1” and “EP2”) in 2012 and 2013, respectively. These releases showed that she could seamlessly fuse trip hop and indietronica while still sounding incredibly melodic. Her newest release is in the same vein as her EP’s, but infinitely more refined. Each sound is perfectly arranged. The electronic nuances compliment the hip-hop inspired drums. Her saccharine sweet voice often swimming in thick, bubbling synths. “LP1” is ear candy with depth; plain and simple.
5.) “The Satanist” by Behemoth
Metal fans, do not fret! You are not forgotten! If you enjoy metal music and you have yet to hear this record, I suggest you stop reading immediately and change that. No, seriously, I’ll wait. You back? Ok, good, because this is the greatest metal release of 2014 and, dare I say it, the past couple years. Behemoth are veterans in the death-metal scene. “The Satanist” is their 10th album release and is a physical exemplification of the phrase practice makes perfect because they have truly perfected their craft. “The Satanist” is the epitome of quality death metal: technical instrumentation, pristine vocals and dark lyrics filled with occult imagery. The production is top notch here as well. Thusly, Nergal’s vocals and the instruments themselves are so crisp and so clear to where they project this wildly visceral aggression unlike anything this else heard in metal this year. Don’t miss this sinfully good record.