10. Rush – Clockwork Angels
Rush’s latest musical endeavor was without a doubt one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. Clockwork Angels, at its core, is a reflection of both the trio’s past artistic accomplishments as well as their latest aspirations. It’s a musical collage of both old and new characteristics, formulating yet another captivating release from the biggest name in Progressive Rock today. Clockwork Angels shows Rush returning yet again to a conceptual theme, one that revolves around a young man’s quest through a world consumed by chaos. We, as the listeners, journey along with him, encountering pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, as well as discovering lost cities and everything else that inhabits this peculiar realm of sci-fi fantasy. As for the instrumental aspect of the album, we continue to find Rush steering further away from the lengthy compositional epics, but while still managing to retain the same level of artistry. Instead of having us dwell into elongated voyages of elaborate musicianship, Rush have compressed all of their eclectic range of influences into a more accessible collection of dynamic hard rock songs. Clockwork Angels tends to have its foot in a lot of musical territories once explored by Rush, with each song exhibiting an array of stylistic variations that incorporates everything from their typical Progressive and metal sounds, to Fusion-esque solo passages, and spacey atmospheres. It’s rather comforting to see that Rush have yet to lose their touch, and even though its been 38 years since their initial debut, Rush are still able to return with an effort that shows everyone why they will always be regarded as one of the biggest names in Progressive Rock. – PaperbackWriter
Stream ‘Headlong Flight’ here.
9. Death Grips – The Money Store
You either love it or hate it. I for one, love it. I’ll ask the same question I posed in my review of the album: has anyone ever taken into consideration just how scarce of a sub-genre industrial hip hop is? That’s not to say that The Money Store is automatically good just because it’s unique, but it’s undeniably unlike anything else. Indeed, there’s really nothing quite like The Money Store, it takes the blistering punk-paced fury of Atari Teenage Riot’s digital hardcore music, and then sticks a dirty, used heroin needle in it and injects it with so many samples, experimental mannerisms, and industrial noise that it practically reinvents alternative hip hop from the ground up, and creates a morbid and disturbing portrait of an unstable psyche and inhumanely cold emotion in the process. Think Throbbing Gristle as a hip hop outfit. Hip hop has never been this nonsensically aggressive, unintelligibly unhinged, and just plain violent; and beats have rarely owed this much to raw noise music. MC Ride’s lyrics are barely comprehensible and are breathlessly delivered straight out of his strained throat in nearly schizophrenic behavior, but in a way, it doesn’t take itself too seriously or delve into the underlying emotion too much, making all the blind rage in MC Ride’s cryptic chants catchy and hooky fun. Since concentration is primarily on Ride’s flow and not so much his lyrics, Death Grips kind of resemble a rock band in this way as well. It’s hard to get into, it can even be viewed as detrimental by some, but this is a rare example of music that can be despised for the same exact reasons it can be adored, and that’s a really noteworthy case. – breakingthefragile
Stream ‘The Fever (Aye Aye)’ here.
8. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
It’s kind of funny to think of just how far Frank Ocean has come thus far. Let’s face it, R&B – especially that which receives ample radio attention – is almost always abysmal, and Tyler, the Creator was supposed to be the big breakout artist from the Odd Future collective, seemingly overshadowing the others. Given that I’m not partial to the genre and I pretty much detest most members of said collective, Frank Ocean being my cup of tea seemed dubious at best. Luckily, Channel Orange lays any disbelief to rest and firmly cements Ocean’s position as one of the most important artists in the genre.
Channel Orange sees Ocean find the perfect dichotomy between experimentation and accessibility, making it seem like a logical progression from 2011’s Nostalgia, Ultra, an album whose best songs borrowed from other established artists to yield a new aesthetic meaning (‘Strawberry Swing’, ‘Nature Feels’). This time around, Ocean presents us with a much fuller product – one that greatly rewards repeat listens. This is largely because of Ocean’s greatest asset (besides the obvious): his ability to employ literary devices through an engaging and insightful narrative. Instead of asserting sexuality and objectifying women as many of his contemporaries are wont to do, Ocean hones in on unrequited love, addresses issues regarding class disparity, and dabbles in existentialism. It’s an evocative collection of short stories, but Channel Orange isn’t just a platform for Ocean’s lyrical prowess. His idiosyncratic styling doesn’t overstep his ability to turn a ridiculously infectious hook: ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’ and ‘Monks’ recall Usher’s heydey material as Ocean suavely croons over hauntingly beautiful melodies.
Honestly, I could go on and on, but most of you know how incredible this album is. It really doesn’t matter what music you’re into, there’s undoubtedly something here for everyone. Channel Orange is the product of great dedication and attention to detail, and upon closer examination, Ocean appears more experienced and worldly than his contemporaries. Despite a few very minor inconsistencies here and there, Ocean seems to have created an opus in his first proper album. He’s witty, outspoken, and culturally and economically conscious; in ‘Super Rich Kids’ he speaks of economic inequality in a scathing and humorous way: “The maid comes around too much / Parents ain’t around enough / Too many joy rides in daddy’s jaguar / Too many white lies – and white lines”. Easily a contender for album of the year. – Gyromania
Stream ‘Pyramids’ here.
7. The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
When you hear There’s No Leaving Now, you’re not only hearing art from the same Kristian Matsson who crafted 2010’s masterpiece, The Wild Hunt, you’re also hearing the same delicate soul summarising the human condition’s fragility; its strengths and weaknesses; its most unpredictable of aspects, beyond some of even the most revered of story tellers history has offered. It’s a divine feeling, really, to experience this tender, forgotten art, where music and lyrics carry weight well beyond what their material forms (sounds and words) could possibly ever desire. Matsson’s ten, diverse little pieces here—from gorgeous piano balladry, to balmy acoustic upstrokes with flashes of electricity—are fragmentary thoughts open for interpretation, penned from the elementary realms of songwriting. Like floating abstract shards meandering their way through our consciousness before passively disappearing, they require no effort to appreciate their delicate nature or their covert subtleties that grow from repeated listens. In just over thirty minutes, Matsson’s greatest gift is perhaps in convincing us that his candidly authentic and thoughtful approach to the man vs. guitar dynamic requires no alteration from its current familiar form; at this point, it is quite simply untouchable. Beautiful. The future remains bright. – Taylormemer
Stream ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ here.
6. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is The Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
While numerous contemporary art pop artists heavily rely on excess and elaborate arrangements, Fiona Apple opts for unorthodox minimalism on her first album in seven years. The Idler Wheel… is all about subtle piano balladry, and this approach to songcraft works wonders for Apple whose eccentric, if vulnerable personality is now at the forefront, perfectly bare and not muddled by any unnecessary studio tricks. That’s the reason why The Idler Wheel… is so profoundly personal, tackling Apple’s neurotic tendencies and fears with raw intensity. It also makes complete sense that the artist’s vivid voice and trusty piano playing are supplemented with Charley Drayton’s equally important percussion work, that gives the record an eerie, often idiosyncratic vibe. Even in its most rhythmically non-conventional moments though, The Idler Wheel… revolves around alluring melodies which, along with Fiona’s truly unique vision, largely make for its resounding triumph. – greg84
Stream ‘Hot Knife’ here.
5. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m A.A. d city
Year-end writeups provide a perfect climate for polemicism, and so I say: the speed-of-light canonization of this album was and continues to be some straight bullshit. It’s not that the album isn’t good enough to be considered a classic–it is, very much so–but I think there are some problematic implications attached to such a label, and I so love Kendrick Lamar’s first studio album that it would pain me to see it crumble under the shadow of its own misdirected hype. A “classic” album is often one you need to hear, its towering legacy a shamefully empty checkmark in your bucket list until that fateful moment you choose to grapple with the beast. The term connotes, of course, a great work, but more than that it’s just plain work. It’s Ulysses, or The Wall, or Fanny and Alexander.
None of this is meant to cast aspersions upon those works, but good kid, m.A.A.d city is something entirely different. I find it rather akin to something like The Catcher in the Rye (let me finish), its status as a “classic” contending with its complete lack of obedience in fitting into that label. For a solid month I wasn’t sure I liked this masterful album because it didn’t seem serious enough. Kendrick’s now oft-quoted “ya bish” chorus to ‘Money Trees’ is subversively catchy and funny but it seems perhaps like a gesture of non-commitment to the momentous thrust of the album’s bildungsroman-esque narrative structure. ‘m.A.A.d city’ too: its beat going supremely dumb, Lamar breathless, the whole thing a little ridiculous.
What’s beautiful about this album, then, is that it doesn’t draw those unnecessary lines in the sand between the “highbrow” and the “lowbrow”. ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’ is, as you all should know, the best song of the year, but it’s also the perfect (sorta-)closer, bathing even that chorus to ‘Backseat Freestyle’ in its golden light. By the time ‘Compton’ rolls around, I recall Kendrick rapping about Sherane texting him lewd pictures while he drives his mom’s car around, and it feels like gospel. It’s Kanye West that might have summed up this feeling most coherently in ‘Clique’: “Maybe they get money, buy a business / I’d rather buy 80 gold chains and go ign’ant.” Holden Caulfield just wanted to catch the kids in the rye. Kendrick just wants to sing about you. Fuck your canon: this is not at all what a classic album sounds like, but it’s the one true classic to come out this year. – Robertsona
Stream ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst’ here.
4. Swans – The Seer
Gargantuan, monolithic, colossal, whatever words you use to describe it, The Seer is a humongous album, and it’s better for it. Despite being one minute shy of a two hour running time, The Seer never feels bloated or draining, it immediately engulfs listeners and casts them into its unsettling nightmare universe; maintaining an immerse stranglehold on listeners throughout. Shedding most of their industrial layers for post-rock composition methods, The Seer is a frighteningly effective album that proves Swans are still making music at the apex of their talent thirty years into their career.
Fans debate about how Swans crafted much “better” albums than this back in their heyday, but the main reason why The Seer is so impressive is because it’s a different beast entirely from their earlier masterpieces like Soundtracks for the Blind and White Light from the Mouth of Infinity. The fact that this band can completely reinvent themselves and their sound this late into their career by accumulating all of what has gone into their ever-evolving sound over the course of thirty years, and then still manage to produce something out of it that’s new and changes their direction, while retaining a core identity and sacrificing none of their power, is a truly remarkable achievement. Especially for a group that is only on their second album after a 13 year hiatus. – breakingthefragile
Stream ‘The Seer’ here.
3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
To say this year’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s release came out of nowhere would be the most extreme form of understatement. After all, the post-rock group has, throughout their career, carved the very definition of what it means to be a post-rock group in the first place. If ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! had been traditionally marketed to us music connoiseurs, we’d have milked the excitement out of the release after just a few hours, inevitably hyping it up to F#A# status out of sheer euphoria. So while it was initially puzzling that Godspeed didn’t even hint towards its incoming release, the decision makes much more sense ever since the dust has settled. Because ‘Allelujah appeared out of nowhere, flashing onto music blogs across the globe, seasoned Godspeed fans were able to forego the anticipation and jump right back into yet another atmospheric daze.
Even though ‘Allelujah was presented to us in such an abrupt manner, it’s clear the post-rock titans have been planning the affair methodically, and with the utmost precision. Godspeed You! Black Emperor has crafted some of their most rewarding tracks yet, by conjuring the proper imagery and then letting the music come patiently. My personal experience with Godspeed arrived this past October, and it put all the pieces of the group’s puzzle into perspective. The flashing film reels, the words scrawled onto the projector screen – all the ingredients accompanied the music so remarkably well. And this was my first experience with ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, a glimpse into the desolate imagery Godspeed’s latest release encapsulates.
Things aren’t always so grim here, though, and that’s why the album’s one drone track ‘Their Helicopters’ Sing’ is unforgettable. The movement steps out of the album’s ever-bending musical agenda for one moment to capture, strikingly, the feeling of relief. Sure, it’s relief sandwiched between two pieces of musical destruction and then construction, respectively (it’s astonishing, really, how astutely ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’ answers the questions regarding chaos posed in ‘Mladic’,) but the respite from the restless nature this album possesses resolves any doubts as to whether Godspeed are capable of pushing post-rock boundaries even further. Perhaps it was silly to even have questioned Godspeed in the first place, because in one breath the group has exceeded all our expectations, and has left the world wholly satisfied. – OmahaStylee94
Stream ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’ here.
2. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind
Converge… A strong word, it is used to describe the efficiency of mathematical algorithms, processes or groups of people in coming about an optimal solution to a real-world problem, in view of the available resources. Since 1990, the punk/hardcore circuit has been quoting the same term for the description of essential metallic punk/hardcore. Initially self-proclaimed as “hardcore kids with leftover Slayer riffs”, the crew from Salem, Massachusetts, released three awesome albums between 1996 and 2001 and ranked among the elite of the scene. The ferociously bleak vocals of Jacob Bannon, along with the unmatched technical proficiency found in the “out of this world” rhythm section of Newton/Koller and the dissonant guitars of Kurt Ballou, helped in creating and perfecting a frantic blend of tech punk/hardcore that stood above any given competition.
The music itself, however, would feel as rather “incomplete”, if it wasn’t complemented with the profoundly symbolic album art and lyrics of vocalist Jacob Bannon. Going through all their album art layouts, titles and song lyrics, one cannot help but see that Converge revolve perpetually around the sense of failure and loss and their ongoing impact over the human flesh and mentality. The band’s new effort All We Love We Leave Behind is no exception. Converge further suppressed the experimentation and diversity that made their three previous albums so special in the first place, for the sake of the all out fury and madness of their days of old, and succeeded anew. The lyrics are as bitter as before, yet they are probably the best the band had ever had to work with. Regardless of the type of music everyone is deeply fond of, Converge turn out to be our collective scream against the shadows that darken our lifetimes; a scream that most of us tend to suppress within our guts, when forever comes crushing. – Voivod
Stream ‘Aimless Arrow’ here.
1. Deftones – Koi No Yokan
It might come as a forgone conclusion for some that Koi No Yokan would easily top this list strictly because the album had been enormously hyped long before its release date. The outcome could have been totally different though if the seventh Deftones album wouldn’t have fulfilled the high expectations of their fans. Even though Koi No Yokan won’t probably have the same impact as Around the Fur and White Pony that basically defined nu-metal in the time of its glory, the record’s universal allure is hardly disputable.
Koi No Yokan ideally encapsulates the quintet’s signature sound which contrasts wistful melodies and ethereal atmospherics with relentlessly heavy arrangements. With a regained passion for creating music, Deftones are more concerned about consistent songwriting than innovation, and that attitude paradoxically has turned out to be extremely rewarding for them. The album feels more expansive than their previous three releases delivering songs that feel both familiar and adventurous enough to impress even their strongest detractors. On top of that are Chino Moreno’s versatile vocals that seem more passionate and emotionally wrenching than ever before. Koi No Yokan glitters with supreme melodies as much as crushes with massive riffs showcasing the band’s most accomplished material in over a decade. – greg84
Stream ‘Tempest’ here.