It’s the final day of our coverage of Earbuddy’s favorite albums of 2014, and this means that we will unveil our Top 10 onto EVERYONE. Our writers are calling this our best list yet, and I tend to agree. Know what else I’m agreeing with? That slick take on Swans’ To Be Kind cover art that we’ve dubbed ‘Ear Be Kind’. Will Swans make the Top 10…uh, yeah! Read up on our picks from 100 through 41 HERE, 40 – 31 HERE, 30 – 21 HERE, and 20 – 11 HERE. Without further ado, here’s our Top 10 Best Albums of 2014.
Ryan Rogers (Senior Writer):
A Ph.D. is a requirement that would be way out of the question when producing dance music, but for Dan Snaith, his overly focused approach to music is what Our Love so entrancing. Snaith’s insatiable obsession of psychedelic pop samples, chilly electronic flourishes and the human voice makes Our Love the most addicting dance album of the year. Diving off the efforts of 2010’s Swim, Our Love is Snaith’s leanest collection of tracks that will get your fist pumping with “Can’t Do Without You” or mind awe-stricken in progressive synth-based glory with “Julia Brightly”. Snaith sustains The Beatles’ philosophy of the need for love in the globalizing and technology-driven 21st century in less than an hour.
Beyoncé was very intentionally crafted to be a defining career statement from the self-titled name to the accompanying 17 music videos released along with the music. It’s not only the most ambitious offering of Beyoncé’s career, it’s also the most personal. In addition to Beyoncé’s patented brand of anthem-ready powerful R&B mixed with hip hop, Beyoncé pushes the boundaries of the prevailing norms regarding pop songs by including several spoken word verses, suites, pauses, and meandering falsetto streams of consciousness. She takes a few tricks from the Justin Timberlake playbook regarding song structure (he was a contributing writer and Timberland also a contributing producer), and several songs make it over the six minute mark.The surprising manner of Beyoncé’s release created a tsunami of buzz, but its the music that will be remembered. Bow down bitches.
John Downey (Senior Writer, Own It or Disown It):
This is a measured folk rock album that tells almost as much story through its music as its lyrics. “Carissa” fakes out ending halfway through before resuming chugging along, as we must. The drubs on “Dogs” are another earned element, an element that might have lacked power if it wasn’t the first song here to rely on them. “Pray for Newtown” builds on itself as Kozelek builds on his sentiments, resulting in a tune that is far more effective than it might sound on paper. The contemplative “I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same” feels less than half of its ten minutes. This isn’t even getting into the stories told, arguably Benji’s strong suit. “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” is, yes, an ode to his mother, but it is delivered as though Kozelek has already accepted his mother’s death. “I’ll miss our slow easy walks,” he sings as though he hasn’t walked with her in some time. “Pray for Newtown”’s title suggests it would be the first dud here. Instead, it begins with dedication towards brushing off all sorts of needless violent acts, only for Kozelek to pause and take action when Newtown, well, happens. “Micheline” explores how others react to illness, beginning with a special needs girl being taken advantage of and ending with his grandmother being cared for by her children. Whether these are “good” stories will be up to the individual, but it is easy to become absorbed in the material. Kozelek’s tendency to overshare comes across as his making sure the audience has the complete picture, and what comes across is a hopeful wish that, for all of the ridiculous things life throws at you, people just want to be remembered. It’s the most thoughtful album I’ve ever heard from someone who has no qualms of telling others to fellate him.
Constantino Costa Christou (Contributor):
With a discography as strong as Annie Clark’s, there was never any doubt in my mind that St. Vincent would be yet another solid offering from the reigning queen of art rock. Despite technically being her major label debut, St. Vincent is her most experimental solo record to date lyrically, melodically and not to mention imagery-wise. This album is every bit as cohesive and fluid as its predecessor, yet each track is unique and presents its own set of ideas; from the ridged indie rock of “Birth In Reverse”, the off-kilter pop of “Bring Me Your Loves” and the sheer euphoria of “Psychopath”, every second is something to be taken in and savored. Best of all is its pop sensibility. If you cut past the muffled (and sometimes blazing) guitar riffs, you’ll see the gooey pop center, and like every accomplished pop record, St. Vincent goes out in a blaze of glory in the form of the deceptively sweet “Severed Crossed Fingers”, a career highlight.
Chris Foster (Senior Writer):
Mike Hadreas has always been somewhat of a solo prodigy. As Perfume Genius, he previously released two delicately dangerous LPs, Learning and Put Your Back N 2 It. Beautiful albums, but almost too precious and passive to make an impact on music as a whole — Hadreas’ persona was similarly so fragile that it seemed he had something to say, but was a little too scared to say it at full volume.
With the arrival of Too Bright and the in-your-face single, “Queen”, Hadreas kicked down the closet door and stared haters right in the eye. The lyrics are almost confrontational at times — particularly on “Queen”, “My Body”, and “All Along” — while seeming so weary and worn out at others (“I Decline” and “Don’t Let Them In”). Meanwhile, Too Bright has the sort of sparse production and simple, industrial beats that a musician could only pull off if they’re in full, confident control of their art — the video for “Queen” gives a clear visual reference. While his live show is still a delicate balancing act, Too Bright is the sort of powerful album that needs to be made and adds vivid color to the musical landscape.
Ryan Rogers (Senior Writer):
Ten years removed from the stoner-rap magnum opus Madvillainy, Madlib found something special in Midwest rapper Freddie Gibbs. Gibbs is similar to many rappers today in that he copes with life’s stresses with drugs, six-piece wing with mild sauce and the ladies; but the combination of Madlib’s Kubrick-esque handle of cinematic beat-making propelled Gibb’s gangsta persona way past his predicted potential. “Thuggin”, “Shitsville” and “Deeper” gave Gibb’s the chance to tell his trials and tribulations in an equally delightful and melancholy filter aided by Madlib’s inane attention to detail and rhythm. Pinata also elevated young bloods from Odd Future and Flatbush Zombies that relied on flashy misogynist language in years previous on the excellent titular closing track. The collaboration of Gibbs and Madlib was definitely the one to top this year where rap took a bit of a hit in terms of quality releases.
Chris Foster (Senior Writer):
2014 had no shortage of beautiful work from nu-folk songstresses. Sharon Van Etten released the popular and stirring Are We There; Luluc released the less-popular, Simon-and-Garfunkel-y gem, Passerby. But this year’s clear queen of melancholy chanteuses is Angel Olsen and her gorgeously diverse LP, Burn Your Fire For No Witness.
Olsen channels the quivering vocal style of Édith Piaf (most notably in “Unfucktheworld”), lyric-checks Hank Williams Sr. (in the Elvis-country-tinged “Hi-Five”), and softly haunts the recesses of this album like a young Fiona Apple (with tracks like “Windows”). None of these qualities seem to have any apparent connection, but that’s the point. Burn Your Fire For No Witness‘ stylistic variety is stunning, but the strength of each track is what makes it a top five champ. It works in parts. It works as a whole. Burn Your Fire For No Witness runs the entire spectrum of human emotion and holds the maximum amount of intensity throughout. This is the kind of music Jenny Lewis probably wishes she could still make.
John Downey (Senior Writer, Own It or Disown It):
Art is supposed to be this thing that is completely separate from the sciences, and for the most part, I heavily discourage treating music as something to be measured out and packaged. That said, let’s run the numbers. RTJ2 has maybe one or two songs that our staff don’t necessarily care for, which is a huge increase when compared to the fucking zero bad songs on the first album, Earbuddy’s pick for the best album of 2013. If we’re talking averages based on grading individual songs and failures and whatever, fine, first album wins right there, but let’s keep going. RTJ2 is at least 25% deeper and 35% more cohesive. The bangers are at least 5% bigger and more infectious. The rapping contains at least 15% more quotables, no easy task considering I’m still quoting that first album, and Zack De La Rocha sounds more alive here than at any point in the past fifteen years, and I’d like to think that’s worth something. What I’m getting at is that RTJ2=(RTJx1.25×1.35×1.05+Z)-a, where a equals the value lost with one or two bad songs and Z equals the power of Zack De La Rocha. One might say that there are too many abstract variables to properly assess the quality of this album from just that equation. I’m inclined to agree, which is why I keep this album on blast so that no one breaks their brains trying to input values. That it’s also the best hip-hop album in a year full of incredible releases is a lovely bonus.
Entrancing. Ominous. Unapologetically Sexual. Empowering yet self-loathing. Avant-Pop. All are adjectives that apply to FKA Twigs rightfully lauded debut album, LP1. Creating boundary pushing and complex music that is also still accessible and can be appreciated on a purely base level is something few artists can master much less put forth so confidently in their debut album. Yet the rather boringly titled LP1 is all of those things and more. It can be appreciated as background vibe music. As “get it on” music. As weird trippy art music. It’s music that challenges your senses yet doesn’t assault them. Twigs has a very carefully crafted persona and aesthetic, no doubt rooted in her background as a dancer and performer — yet her persona never overwhelms the music. So often avant garde artists produce art that is gimmicky and about the artist rather than art that can be enjoyed for what it actually is. But LP1 is fundamentally about the music. The quaking bass and interjection of “found” sounds fuse with her voice, at times waif-like and whispered and then sung like Twigs is Cleopatra at her most glorious. LP1 is not to be missed. Give it time. But be assured that it is worth it.
Nick Krenn (Owner/Founder):
Well, we’ve winded down to the very end, and really seeing Swans’ sprawling epic To Be Kind as our number one album isn’t a surprise to me. Really, 2014 for me and some of our other writers, the year was DEFINED by two albums – Swans’ To Be Kind and Sun Kil Moon’s Benji. Personally, I picked Benji as my number one and To Be Kind as my number two. Each album received three votes of number one apiece, but To Be Kind was loved more overall while Benji’s darker, more literal tone probably killed its impact for some of our writers. To Be Kind was no less dark, but the songwriting was more abstract with Michael Gira seemingly touching on all aspects of human life from birth, the struggles of adulthood, and finally death. To Be Kind feels more like a statement of being human — ‘kind’ meaning ‘mankind’ rather than referring to nice. On a musical scale alone, nothing could touch To Be Kind in terms of its sheer, volatile instrumentation that subdues listeners with equal moments of quiet mystery and booming intensity. The total album clocks in over one hour and 20 minutes long; the fourth song on the album, “Bring the Sun” / “Toussaint L’Ouverture”, could be one album itself — it runs for more than 34 minutes. As such, To Be Kind is intended for the most patient listeners, but trust us when we say it’s very rewarding.
And now a look at the FULL list…
100. Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather
99. Trust – Joyland
98. Lewis & Clarke – Triumvirate
97. The Orwells – Disgraceland
96. Volage – Heart Healing
95. Siinai – Supermarket
94. LVL UP – Hoodwink’d
93. Smoke Fairies – Smoke Fairies
92. Moon Honey – Hand-Painted Dream Photographs
91. White Arrows – In Bardo
90. Tomorrows Tulips – When
89. Be Forest – Earthbeat
88. Meatbodies – Meatbodies
87. Wax Fang – The Astronaut
86. Vessel – Punish, Honey
85. Curtis Harding – Soul Power
84. Doug Keith – Pony
83. United Nations – The Next Four Years
82. Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin
81. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
80. Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy
79. Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon – Break Line The Musical
78. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags
77. Actress – Ghettoville
76. Celestial Shore – Enter Ghost
75. Single Mothers – Negative Qualities
74. Lost In The Trees – Past Life
73. Dawn Landes – Bluebird
72. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
71. Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood
70. Naomi Punk – Television Man
69. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation
68. Army Navy – The Wilderness Inside
67. Tobacco – Ultima Massage II
66. Jesca Hoop – Undress
65. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
64. Linnea Olsson – Ah!
63. Wye Oak – Shriek
62. Hooray for Earth – Racy
61. Uncommon Nasa – New York Telephone
60. White Hinterland – Baby
59. Interpol – El Pintor
58. Tycho – Awake
57. Dum Dum Girls – Too True
56. Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell
55. Jack White – Lazaretto
54. Rustie – Green Language
53. Alt-J – This Is All Yours
52. Fear of Men – Loom
51. Lone – Reality Testing
50. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
49. Iceage – Plowing Into The Field of Love
48. Ought – More Than Any Other Day
47. Ben Frost – A U R O R A
46. Alvvays – Alvvays
45. Fennesz – Bécs
44. The Bug – Angels & Devils
43. ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron
42. Makthaverskan – II
41. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
40. The Antlers – Familiars
39. Glass Animals – ZABA
38. Pharmakon – Bestial Burden
37. Signor Benedick the Moor – El Negro
36. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
35. Arca – Xen
34. BADBADNOTGOOD – (III)
33. Grouper – Ruins
32. Lykke Li – I Never Learn
31. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
30. Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
29. Ava Luna – Electric Balloon
28. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise
27. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
26. White Lung – Deep Fantasy
25. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
24. Wild Beasts – Present Tense
23. Ty Segall – Manipulator
22. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent
21. clipping. – CLPPNG
20. How To Dress Well – “What Is This Heart?”
19. Spoon – They Want My Soul
18. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
17. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
16. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
15. Phantogram – Voicesb>
14. EMA – The Future’s Void
13. Ariel Pink – pom pom
12. Future Islands – Singles
11. Aphex Twin – Syro
10. Caribou – Our Love
9. Beyoncé – Beyoncé
8. Sun Kil Moon – Benji
7. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
6. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
5. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Pinata
4. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
3. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
2. FKA Twigs – LP1
1. Swans – To Be Kind
And that is a wrap for 2014. We hope you’ll take the time to discover these albums for yourselves if you haven’t done so already. Earbuddy is set to carve out another list of 100 albums worth hearing in 2015; be sure to check out our reviews throughout 2015 to see what we’re digging.