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50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1

30. The Antlers – Familiars

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Stream: “Intruders” (5:25)

By now, everyone knows what to expect from a record by The Antlers, and Familiars sees the American indie rock/dream pop outfit choosing not to buck that trend by tunneling even deeper into the niche that they’ve been carving for themselves since 2006’s Uprooted. That being said, if results continue to be as good as this, few will complain. “Palace”, Familiars‘ opening track and lead single, is a ringing endorsement of the band’s default setting, with its multifaceted arrangements and striking lyrical play (“Now he hangs your mirrors separately/So one can’t show you what the other reflects,” whispers vocalist Peter Silberman at one point) finding a precise balance between melancholy and erstwhile nostalgia. Elsewhere, “Intruders” is a masterclass of the dramatic musical narrative: “Well this is my house/So fuck your doubts and your cute battalion,” intones Silberman poisonously over a bed of swelling strings. For a group of artists who have always specialized in the art of being subtle, these are a couple of surprisingly loud statements of intent, and only serve to bode well for the future. –Irving Tan

29. Mekong Delta – In a Mirror Darkly

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Stream: “The Armageddon Machine” (6:38)

When Germany’s Mekong Delta were reactivated in 2005, metal fans with a serious penchant for essential tech metal rejoiced, as the band were a major player in the field during the ’80s and up until the mid ’90s. Lurking Fear made a hell of an entrance back in 2007, but the follow-up album, Wanderer at the Edge of Time, somewhat blurred the picture. In what may be regarded as an action to ameliorate the situation, band mastermind Ralph Hubert “coached” the newly assembled Mekong Delta line-up through the band’s “’80s to ’90s” legacy material in the Intersections compilation. The fruits of the said deliberation are readily available in this year’s affair In a Mirror Darkly, where the mind-bending tech thrash metal of the ’80s meets progressive rock and classical music, on par with the excellent Mekong Delta albums that appeared during the not-so-distant ’90s. –Voivod

28. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

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Stream: “Down in Luxor” (3:57)

I get lost about ten minutes into Shabazz Palaces’ second album. The beginning suite of Lese Majesty is fairly structured – its inner architecture of its three songs is clearly defined, but the feeling they give off is cloudy and vaporous, the whole thing an aural equivalent to a funhouse filled with smoke and mirrors. “Solemn Spells” marks the moment this phase meets its end, catapulting the album into an enumeration of abstract ideas – few of them pass the three-minute mark. An album like this doesn’t stand out much for its erratic structure in a genre like hip hop, especially after Madvillainy made the idea as acceptable as it is today. But Black Up was a much more clearly defined album, and that supreme leap makes Shabazz Palaces even more of a fascinating group. While I may get less out of listening to Lese Majesty all the way through, I can tell it’s clearly an album Shabazz Palaces needed to make. And if anything, the ambitious aesthetics of this record promise that this group – former Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler and accompanying multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire – is going someplace special with their own take on this thing we call rap. –Jacob Royal

27. Grouper – Ruins

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Stream: “Clearing” (4:41)

Pain is an indelible part of life. It’s normal to feel completely shattered, as if you’ve been broken into so many pieces that you could never possibly be whole again. If you’re lucky, you’ll only feel this way a few times – but for those moments, there’s Ruins. This album plays like a musical still frame, as if all of Liz Harris’ melancholy got bottled up into a singular moment in time. When she doesn’t sound entirely consumed by the rawness of her emotions, she seems to be full of thought and wonder…like someone who is trying to come to terms with what they’re experiencing because they can’t fathom its sheer magnitude. The oddest thing about all of this is that amid the soft melodies and haunting classical piano, it’s often barely even enough to break the silence. There’s this palpable, empty room sort of tension…like you’re just waiting for Harris to lose her shit and completely break down, but she never does. It’s a testament to both her skills as a musician and her self-control as a human being. Perhaps Ruins had no choice but to be minimal because there’s no tangible way to express the pain that lies within. It’s an emotionally acerbic record whose blade has been purposely dulled, perhaps for our own protection. –SowingSeason

26. Spoon – They Want My Soul

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Stream: “Rainy Taxi” (3:58)

Experiencing the new Spoon record is a bit like waking up and finding out that an old friend whom you haven’t seen since grade school has just turned up unannounced on your doorstep. Four years can be a fairly long time in rock and roll, but furious exchanges of emotions, accolades, and the unexpected resuscitation of long-dormant memories have a certain way of making entire periods of quiescence disappear in an instant. But while some of the more assiduous lyrical spelunkers among us will note that several lines on They Want My Soul could easily be read as a satirical take on the band’s decision to return from their self-imposed sabbatical (“I got nothing I want to say to ’em/They got nothing left that I want!” is definitely the first to spring to mind), it should also be noted that the American rock outfit have never hidden their desire to always be the ones in charge of their destiny. Indeed, as our very own Rudy K noted in his similarly excellent review, “The only narrative Spoon own is the one they create themselves.” And so it goes: They Want My Soul resolutely refuses to be an immediately engaging and direct listen, but once the record hits home – and believe me it will – the rewards start to flow thick and fast. Songs like “Knock Knock Knock” and “They Want My Soul” are the sort of gnarly, irreverent, and abrasive yet totally human compositions that fans of Spoon will know and love, while the pacey “Rainy Taxi” is probably one of the best songs anyone has put out this year. Ignore this album at your own peril. –Irving Tan

25. Swans – To Be Kind

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Stream: “Oxygen” (7:59)

Since The Seer was such a landmark in Swans’ career, the follow-up was highly sought after by every fan and music critic around the world. Michael Gira & Co. released such a massive and blistering work, there was no turning back. Instead, they were stimulated to stretch out even more than before. Still, To Be Kind is a completely different entity that, even though it shares the same mesmerizing riffs, it rarely bursts into the hellish noise that characterized a vast majority of The Seer. Here we have sick grooves, moody segments and more subdued layers of instruments which help create a constantly tensed atmosphere. Gira’s vocals range from faint whispers to demented screams, pushing the twisted tunes further into oblivion. “Just A Little Boy”, “Oxygen”, or “Screen Shot” are the best examples of really good, hypnotizing melodies that let the vocals take them to a whole different level.

Although a very demanding record, To Be Kind feels quite airy and relies on a lot of improvisation. Maintaining what seems to be the most exciting line-up in Swans’ history, Gira keeps exploring new territories with very unexpected yet amazing results. There’s an entire world to immerse in here and you’ll enjoy every second of it. –Raul Stanciu

24. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

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Stream: “Strandbar” (4:28)

2014 was a banner year for the thinking person’s electronic music. Inigo Kennedy, Answer Code Request, Aphex Twin, Andy Stott, Gesolten Cirkel and Lee Gamble made penetrating, dense records that challenged listeners as much as they got feet moving. But when considering records that truly have staying power, it was the most fun record that won out in a landslide. That record is It’s Album Time. Todd Terje’s minimalist nu-disco was exactly what every party needed — from midnight apartment ragers to big budget festival stages. His leisure suit approach to Studio 54’s glory days, Terje took everything that failed on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and flipped it into a rousing success of throwback dance grooves. Every track on It’s Album Time resonated with a beautiful unremembered nostalgia (the best kind of nostalgia for hip kid twenty- and thirty-somethings by the way!) for the cocaine dusted floors of the ’70s. With It’s Album Time, Todd Terje took dance music’s most indulgent era and turned it into an indulgence for modern ears. –Adam Thomas

23. Jessie Ware – Tough Love

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Stream: “Want Your Feeling” (4:21)

On “Say You Love Me,” Jessie Ware takes on the hammiest, cheesiest song she’s ever had in her catalog, complete with a gospel choir and a call and response final chorus that ascends and ascends to the presumable conclusion of Ware marching on the gates of heaven and casting them asunder with the power of her voice. It’s a really good fucking song! Yet it succeeds because Ware is able to sell it so well: when she belts, “I want to feel burning flame when you say my name,” the syllables bending under her passion, the “you” almost furious in its punch, the heat is palpable. Where 2012’s Devotion was a slow burn, finding more insidious ways to sneak past your emotional defenses and destroy you, Tough Love fits its namesake: it smashes through the doors and torches everything to the ground.

It’s a testament to Ware’s versatility and her flawless curating skills that “Say You Love Me,” the most traditional song here, is far and away the outlier with respect to the rest of Tough Love. As an album, Tough Love is very much a statement from an artist growing comfortable in her own skin, and confident in her own power. The bubbling sensuality of “Sweetest Song” takes equal bites from the xx and Sade; “Pieces” swoops and soars over gloriously dramatic, cinematic strings, while “Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe” takes that same rising and diving melody and turns it inwards, falling into a delicious 8-bit sex jam that unfurls languid and drowsy over a few cups of wine. That’s not even getting into the resistance-is-futile beat of “Want Your Feeling,” a vein-tapping bit of nu-disco that worms not into your ear but your spine. Tough Love is the kind of juicy, multifaceted pop record that pulls from a tastefully diverse selection of producers and writers yet never overshadows the voice at its center – mainly because Ware refuses to let anything of the sort happen. Like the relationships Ware has become better and better at coloring in, Tough Love is messy and true, emotionally naked and unflinching in its portraits. Despite all this, one spin of the record makes it clear the title is a winking one: there wasn’t an easier listen all year. –Rudy K.

22. Darkspace – Dark Space III I

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Stream: “Darkspace 4.20 (Edit)” (6:59)

III I is unlike any album Darkspace has ever made. That is not to say that the cacophony of swirling guitars, drums, and vocals are suddenly absent from their sound, but instead it is as if Darkspace decided to take an already detached, atmospheric sound to a level even further removed from the personal attitude a lot of music decides to embrace. III I is so huge, so indescribably massive that it makes listeners feel utterly insignificant; no longer an active participant in what is going on but rather just along for the ride as a silent observer to a cosmic performance that is beyond understanding, let alone control. So Darkspace have always been, but the increased use of spacey keyboards lingering in the background helps to realize a certain attitude that the unrelenting ferocity of their past work could not quite achieve. Still present are the raging chords and endless tremolo-picked riffs that string the three 18-plus minute tracks together amidst several stretches of bleak, piercing ambiance, and still prevalent is the abrasive production, but underneath it all there is a breakthrough. It is as if the swirling black hole that Darkspace have woven over the years has finally spun us helplessly down to the singularity, and all III I is here to do is to help us peek through the door at what lies beyond what we cannot see or comprehend. –Kyle Ward

21. Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun

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Stream: “While We Sleep” (6:20)

Despite its apocalyptic title, Shadows of the Dying Sun is anything but submissive. The lyrics on the title track may proclaim that we’re nothing more than shadows, destined to fade away into nothingness, but not before reminding us that we’re also “vessels for a surging power” and “glimmers of hope against a black sky.” Expressing a firm onwards and upwards ideal throughout, you can find plenty of motivational lines littered across the entire album, backed by powerful, constantly surging music. As expected, Shadows of the Dying Sun is thoroughly new-school Insomnium, lacking the moody doominess found on the band’s earlier records, instead featuring a higher paced, sweeping melodic death metal sound (just as on the preceding One For Sorrow). It’s a sound the band absolutely owns though, proving they are plain great at composing music, regardless of which tempo or stylistic approach they opt for.

There is a more unified theme running throughout this particular Insomnium album, weaving every song into a creative whole whilst retaining their individual playability, which is the real cherry on top. Shadows of the Dying Sun starts as strong as it finishes, featuring all the important aesthetics that make melodic metal as good as it is in between. Ambition paired with emotion, musical integrity intertwined with accessibility. Unlike the lyrics sung on the eponymous title track, the album doesn’t grow tall and fade away; it grows tall, and maintains its presence for and during repeated listenings. Not only does it challenge us to be the best we can be this very moment via its lyrics, Shadows of the Dying Sun is a fantastic piece of heavy music even when all underlying ideas are brushed aside and only the sounds themselves are left to do the talking. But you don’t want, and you definitely don’t need to exclude the lyrics, or the ideas present to prove a point, since everything on Insomnium’s sixth full-length album works exactly as it is supposed to, in unison – no deductions or inclusions are necessary, for Shadows of the Dying Sun is a skyscraping record written to weather the passing of both seasons and generations, until all that’s left are indeed shadows. –Magnus Altküla

20. Spectral Lore – III

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Stream: “The Spiral Fountain” (10:46)

It is without doubt that Spectral Lore has crafted a magnum opus with III, a record which rises above the unwavering nihilism that takes root deep in the core of black metal’s very identity. Instead, the record is an artistic expression of the evolution of meaning and human worth in the minds of those who seek it, rising above the pessimistic roar that the guitars blast us with at the record’s beginning and into the synthetic instrumental closer “Cosmic Significance” that personifies spiritual awakening through a massive electronic buildup that unleashes its energy into a swirling mass of harmonious guitar riffs. III is a double LP that takes us on a journey between those extremes – pessimism and optimism, a life of no meaning and a life of pure meaning. The progressive black metal that Spectral Lore’s mastermind Ayloss wrote to drive the weight of the album’s concept is full of complex, weaving compositions that seek to drive us from the dark beginnings to the harmonious end. III’s mood shifts distinctly with each passing song, and by the time the last three tracks erupt the guitars are churning out tremolo-picked melodies in volume, with each one being more breathtaking than the last, creating pieces that are in constant evolution and yet completely devoid of self-indulgent pretentiousness. III is a record that is more than just black metal, more than just another collection of tracks meant to simply entertain us – it is music that, during its many benign moments, makes you think and, during its thundering heaviness and clawing buildups, makes you feel. Each song in and of itself is brilliant, and when taken together as a single cohesive, progressing unit there is just no other way to put it: III is Spectral Lore’s masterwork, and without doubt one of the crowning conceptual achievements of the black metal genre. –Kyle Ward

19. Have a Nice Life – The Unnatural World

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Stream: “Defenestration” (6:02)

There’s a point a few minutes into “Emptiness Will Eat the Witch,” amid the solemn, sparse plucking of the guitar and the haunting organ, at which The Unnatural World finally takes shape and begins to make sense. Though the dead chorus of a dozen voices that envelops the song is just as suffocating as the rest of the album, the track itself soft and deliberate – halcyon, a slow burn that reveals itself to be every bit the antithesis to the crushing movements that perpetuate Have a Nice Life’s damned ballet. It’s the point at which Dan and Tim prove that Have a Nice Life is worth far more than the sum of its parts – that the group is capable of taking the gorgeous and ambitious one-off successes that peppered their debut and build around them. The Unnatural World is an impenitent exercise in agony, sure, but it’s the invariable cohesion of the record that makes it such an outstanding work, a cohesion that’s indebted to the beautifully stark contrast finally illuminated by “Emptiness”. It’s the perfect closer to an album riddled with coarse undertows of distortion, deluges of panic, and ruthless, unremitting noise – without itself ever indulging in any of them, and it caps off one of the year’s most shining achievements poetically. –Aziz

18. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

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Stream: “Digital Witness” (3:22)

St. Vincent’s fourth album may also be the best one yet. Annie Clark, who operates under the aforementioned moniker, had already delivered three consecutive winners in Marry Me, Actor, and Strange Mercy. Her eponymous fourth release is the culmination of seven years’ worth of traversing the more artistic realms of pop, which means that sometimes it can sound downright wacky. I mean, what kind of album doesn’t discuss rattlesnakes and masturbation? Her off-the-wall lyricism is matched by the vibrant and unpredictable nature of her music. Throughout St. Vincent, there is this abrupt, borderline panicky progression that is constantly unstable yet never chaotic. Just listen to the way that “Huey Newton” does a complete one-eighty from lush balladry to reverberated, distorted cynicism. It’s not like the song gradually evolves or builds to a logical transition, but it’s still perfect in a way that only the talented Clark (and her producer) could pull off. “Digital Witness” is an even more obvious case-in-point, highlighting St. Vincent‘s flavor for punchy, off-beat rhythms while throwing in an unexpectedly heavy horn presence that ends up being the life of the party. It’s unlike anything you’ll listen to this year, and while it is undoubtedly one of the better songs on the record, it still doesn’t overshadow this collection of risky, artsy pop tunes. Even the more predictable moments are wholly satisfying, like the 1980s-splashed “Severed Crossed Fingers”. Moments like these prove that St. Vincent also possesses depth and unraveling beauty. Even though Clark yanks us around from time to time with unprecedented tempo shifts and stylistic changes, there’s this fundamental level of vocal skill and artistic prowess that allows her to make fully grounded, human sounding tracks as well. It’s this blend of future-leaning, unpredictable cynicism and down-to-earth poignancy that makes St. Vincent the new measuring stick by which we will judge all future Annie Clark compositions. –Taylor Swift’s Paramour

17. Musk Ox – Woodfall

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Stream: “Part II: Windswept” (10:44)

Instrumental neofolk is a perilous game. Much like having to act a Shakespearian drama without so much as uttering a single phrase, the kind of epic sought by Nathanaël Larochette must inspire through movement and speak without words. The story told by the strings is a melancholy one, but it is often the saddest tales that invoke the most emotions within us, and indeed this is the case with Woodfall. Until now, Musk Ox has been a bit of an enigma, a work of obvious passion for Larochette that up to the release of Woodfall felt as if it were tugging at the heels of something much larger than the project’s current state. The balance of the compositions on Woodfall and the way in which they show precise ebb and flow makes the more amateurish iterations of Musk Ox’s string-driven arrangements seem like another band entirely, for it is on Woodfall that an identity is found, and that is not just a reference to the band and its mastermind. There is a world to discover in the harrowing movements of the record, and between the nylon-strung acoustic guitars thumbing their peaceful rhythms there are bold violins to wrench at the heart, while at the same time inspiring hope as they clash against the moroseness of the bellowing cello.

At its core, Woodfall is an entirely human piece; a place comforting to all because it conveys emotions that are true and are real to each and every one of us. From its storming beginning to its blissful end, the record is a story of the human condition – not in the macro use of the word, but in the way it reflects on the microcosms that are our own individual lives. That is how this kind of instrumental folk speaks: subconsciously, to our own hearts and our own minds, because within the rising buildups or the simple, warm plucking of the guitar Musk Ox is something different to each and every listener. It is because of the fact that we are to rely on a voiceless soundscape to conjure atmosphere that we find ourselves projecting our own voice onto this canvas, making the record uniquely our own. More than any other neofolk record of the past few years, I feel that Woodfall achieves this exceedingly rare quality, one that not only tells the story that Nathanaël Larochette is giving us, but allows us to tell our own. –Kyle Ward

16. Behemoth – The Satanist

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Stream: “Messe Noire” (4:05)

With the advances in modern medicine and society’s instant gratification complex, I often wonder if many people have ever given credence to confronting their own mortality. For Behemoth’s Nergal, a leukemia diagnosis in 2010 might have been a death knell in more ways than one, so for The Satanist to see the light of day is an astonishing achievement. The record is the Polish blackened death metal band’s tenth full offering and first since Nergal’s terrifying health scare, and he does not sound weak or tired: Nergal is as sinister and caustic as we would expect, lashing out against conforming to societal protocol in a powerfully vivid manner. The album’s production is masterfully crafted; of note, Orion’s bass rumble – especially in the album’s latter half – is stunning. Truthfully, it’s as if there wasn’t a half-decade gap in between studio albums.

What makes The Satanist most appealing is how the band have veered back to their black metal roots from the ’90s, with some death metal embellishments added to the mix (whereas, in contrast, the scales were previously tilting more towards death metal with black metal flourishes — an important distinction). This is arguably as hard a left turn as Behemoth could make given their progession and discography, and it’s an emphatic success. Throughout The Satanist, the atmosphere is almost operatic in nature, even when juxtaposed with crushing riffs in songs like “Amen”, “Oro Pro Nobis Lucifer”, and “Furor Divinus”. The album’s bookends – especially closer “O Father O Satan O Sun”, where the record definitively reaches its zenith – are superbly arranged. My favorite track is “Messe Noire”, highlighted by the album’s most ferocious solo, but The Satanist‘s unrestrained emotion and musicianship makes this record as welcome a “return to form” as any for Behemoth. The DVD accompaniment, containing a 70-minute concert filmed in Russia and a “making-of” featurette, is a satisfying bonus. Recommended: “Messe Noire”, “O God O Satan O Sun”, “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer”. –Jom

15. Gates – Bloom & Breathe

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Stream: “Persist in Delusion” (3:39)

Thrice disciples, come hither. Post-rock fans, gather ’round. This Gates debut, elegantly titled Bloom and Breathe, seamlessly welds together the passionate, purpose-driven vocal style of a singer like Dustin Kensrue with the beautiful flow and grace of a band like Maybeshewill. In fact, there’s songs on Bloom and Breathe that could have easily fit in on Major/Minor or Fair Youth – which is a high compliment in itself. However, Gates proves to be more versatile than either of those bands, combining aspects of post-hardcore and post-rock with their own unique brand of stunning production – which somehow manages to be gritty and wholly accessible at the same time. Lead vocalist Kevin Dye fades in and out of the forefront, knowing when to deliver a loud, knock-out chorus as well as exactly when to fall back and essentially become another instrument. The atmosphere, which is full of sparkling, pristine guitar work and ambient pianos, subtly underscore Dye’s aggressive edge. The contrast allows tracks to glide into one another smoothly and effortlessly, serving to build towards the sweeping, powerful climaxes that are every bit of what you’d expect from a seasoned post-rock band. It’s perfect songwriting, basically, and when you inject it with a high dose of vision and creativity like Gates does here, it’s easy to see why it is resting so comfortably within our top twenty albums of the year. –SowingSeason

14. Ben Frost – A U R O R A

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Stream: “Venter” (6:45)

Nearly 7 months on from its release, Ben Frost’s A U R O R A still hangs over 2014 like some mystical monolithic object. Propulsive, moody, drenched in sweat – its sound is the collision of giant objects pulled towards their demise by the weight of their own gravity. In Frost’s own words he “created a monster“. And A U R O R A is exactly that – a lumbering behemoth, full of sound and fury. Conceived in intense heat yet raised in the empty vastness of space, there’s been few albums this year that have exerted such an influence, provided such a visceral and violent exercise in dictated chaos as this. It doesn’t aim for the jugular so much as it preys upon our own innate fear of the unknown, twisting the inherent dread into jagged blasts of noise and sweltering crescendos of bludgeoning percussion. A U R O R A will be remembered for a number of things, but perhaps its truly lasting testament will be its prestigious achievement in sound design. Utterly foreign and vividly unpredictable, Ben Frost’s latest is a masterclass in suspense and foreboding uneasiness. –Deviant.

13. Kimbra – The Golden Echo

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Stream: “Carolina” (4:13)

How do you feel about “ambitious” art-pop? Sounds horrible, no? Contrived? Disingenuous? Mismatched ideas? Disjointed themes? Haphazard, half-baked hooks? The funny thing about ambition is that it’s inevitably constrained by unforeseen limitations of expression (vis-a-vis connecting with an audience): limitations that, by their very existence, handicap ambition to a certain degree.

I am not going to argue that these are not valid criticisms to put forth when discussing popular music (although I will confess that I hate reading them). I’m also not going to say that I don’t understand these sorts of things being flung at Kimbra’s The Golden Echo, a beautiful fucking tornado of mismatched ideas.

The Golden Echo is an asteroid. It’s what we call a global killer. Nothing short of an extinction level event. If the viscera of pop is a tightly-crafted mixture of attitude, musicianship, and marketing, then this album is unapologetically not a pop album. It is an experience in genre-bending, ’90s-throwback, teen heat. Whatever the opposite of “an exercise in restraint” is, The Golden Echo is it. It makes it abundantly clear that, every now and then, a bit of overkill goes a long way. –The Academy

12. Banks – Goddess

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Stream: “This is What It Feels Like” (5:02)

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Stream: “Brain” (4:42)

I discovered Banks the same way I discover all cool music: she was playing on the TVs at a Target I had stopped into to buy some Diet Dew. This had to be fate, too, because it was only by chance that I was even in the electronics section, chasing after my four-year-old cousin. Like somebody flipped a switch, I found myself locked in a trance that I could not vibe myself out of. I watched until the promo ended and immediately bought the album (from Amazon, on my phone). By this point, my cousin had fully unboxed a Captain America toy shield that shot little Nerf darts, so I bought that, too (full disclosure: totally worth it).

Goddess is the kind of album that just bleeds into your life. You hear the title track playing in an overpriced NoHo bar. Your new roommate is playing “Beggin’ for Thread” when you first meet her, and you demonstrate that you know the song and dig the album, but pretend to not know every word (although you do) while you also struggle to not seem out of breath from carrying your bags up six flights of stairs.

Goddess, if you listen to it enough (and I have) begins to refashion the people you meet and the places you go into rapid rushes of blood here and there. The record is undoubtedly one of the strongest debuts in recent years. Powerfully balanced between attitude and vulnerability, Banks stretches her legs comfortably in the realm between R&B, downtempo, and trip-hop, and she does so with the poise of someone who has been making music for decades. –The Academy

11. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Pinata

[Official Site] // [Spotify] // [Facebook 1 & 2]

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Stream: “Thuggin'” (3:46)

Just over a month ago Freddie Gibbs got shot at, possibly by Dipset adherents who caught feelings when Freddie questioned Jim Jones’ gangsta a couple days before the shooting on social media. Two of his crew caught slugs and were transported to ebola hotbed Bellevue Hospital in New York, but Gibbs walked away unscathed. And when questioned about it, Freddie Gibbs unflinchingly did as Freddie Gibbs does: he steeled his mug and compared himself to Tupac.

Stylistically, Gibbs is every bit a disciple of the school of Pac, sometimes invoking the poetic candor (“Deeper”) that his idol mastered, and oftentimes detailing, through a frigid, deadened sneer the evils that have toughened his streetwise psyche. His flows are immaculate and charismatic, his vicious honesty remarkable, and his gruff voice is right at home atop the Beat Konducta’s lush and jazzy backdrops. “Uno” sees Gibbs at his most acrobatic atop Madlib’s haunting, desolate back alley atmosphere. “Real” finds Freddie, fangs bared, spitting noxious slurs at former boss Young Jeezy (he ends the fuckin’ song by calling himself ‘Snowman Killer’), and “Thuggin'”, a bona fide heater, ranks among the many apotheoses of gangsta rap. Cocaine Piñata was never going to be Madvillainy Pt. II, and in time it may prove to be a modern day classic in its own right, but for now it’s merely an electrifying achievement in rap, a paragon of hip hop among the languor of MadGibbs’ peers. –Aziz

PreviousNext





Willie
12.16.14
I think this is my favorite year-end list of any that I've been a part of.

ChoccyPhilly
12.16.14
Descriptions are what make these end of year lists dude. Looking forward to the top 10

Artuma
12.16.14
damn kimbra was the black horse in my top 10 predictions, wasn't too far away from it

Archelirion
12.16.14
This has severely damaged my top 10 guess chances. Love the lists though, seem to be nicely varied with some genuine surprises!

SharkTooth
12.16.14
didn't even bother with the predictions, only one I knew was gonna be there anyway was Trophy Scars, rest I was pretty much blank on

Pangea
12.16.14
Great list. I expected St. Vincent and Banks(it was close, though) in the top 10

emester
12.16.14
Swans not in the top 10?

Consider me surprised

tempest--
12.16.14
WOW that Mekong Delta seems awfully high! didn't think everyone dug it that much! but yay Jessie Ware and yay St. Vincent and yay Kimbra and yay Banks!

Artuma
12.16.14
i'm still 100% sure flylo and war on drugs take the top 2 spots

AmericanFlagAsh
12.16.14
Really enjoyed the St. Vincent paragraph
Great list guys

McMegaMountain
12.16.14
I'm disappointed that Swans came out in May to overwhelmingly positive reviews, but is now being relegated to the 40-20 spots. Albums brutal, deserves to be in every top 10.

tempest--
12.16.14
not if, in the span of June to December, 30 odd albums came out with overwhelminglier positive reviews.

Keyblade
12.16.14
This is actually pretty awesome. Seriously, great list and write-ups. Grouper, Darkspace and Spectral Lore in the top 20? Damn. Surprised not to see Banks in the top 10 tho

Toondude10
12.16.14
Wow, Swans at 25?

Prepare for the riots

Thibs
12.16.14
spectral lore and mekong fuckin m/

Toondude10
12.16.14
I just hope Trophy Scars is in the top 10

Jom
12.16.14
Are people surprised about Swans? 'The Seer' was our AOTY [EDIT: two years ago - hat-tip, Keyblade]. I can't envision the shitstorm we would get from users, colleagues, and the public at large if we had Swans at #1 [within a three year window]. Swansnikmusic.

adr
12.16.14
hope new DC is in the top 10 aswell, this year staff's top is surprisingly good so far.

Keyblade
12.16.14
Jom The Seer was actually 2 years ago now dude lol. Time fuckin flies eh

Artuma
12.16.14
actually the seer was 2012, last year was julia holter if i remember right. that was a huge surprise considering the majority of the site didn't even know about it before the staff list

Toondude10
12.16.14
Casualties of Cool is probably going to be on the top ten as well, maybe even No 1. if lucky.

Sniff
12.16.14
Which was sweet cos that Holter record is pretty awesome!

dimsim3478
12.16.14
Crazy that "To Be Kind" didn't make top 10. I'm thinking we got Trophy Scars, The Hotelier, The War on Drugs, Sharon Van Etten and FlyLo in there and maybe Against Me!, Cloud Nothings or Weezer as well but probably not. Mitski and The Smith Street Band for top 10 would have been a dream.

Toondude10
12.16.14
I'm not 100% sure if Weezer is going to make the list but if it does I wouldn't be surprised.

dimsim3478
12.16.14
I really think it could happen considering it hasn't turned up at all in the top 50 yet...it's absolutely not top 10 material but it's easily #50 at least if not #40 or #30.

Jom
12.16.14
>> Jom The Seer was actually 2 years ago now dude lol. Time fuckin flies eh

*WHOOSH*. My fault - thanks for the correction!

My brain's been a bit scrambled between work, the holidays, and working on this.

Toondude10
12.16.14
Well it is that time of year...

Jom
12.16.14
I really enjoy all the updating-in-real-time speculation from Toondude, by the way. All the double-talk is making me have a giggle fit, thank you!

Are you studying journalism, Toondude? CNN or ESPN would hire you on the spot -- it's like you're straight out of the School of John Madden Commentating.

SharkTooth
12.16.14
Toondude official color commentator for Staff 2014 list

theacademy
12.16.14
Taylor Swift's Paramore

Athom
12.16.14
What is this LUNACY LUNACY LUNACY lunacy lunacy. Ok. I'm done now. Love the layout. 😁😁😁

Toondude10
12.16.14
@Jom, not gonna lie, probably going to be my second career choice if the one I'm going for doesn't work for me :P

greg84
12.16.14
Great write-ups, everybody. Taylor Swift's Paramore ftw!

Artuma
12.16.14
this still looks pretty good for my predictions even though i was sure behemoth and swans would make it in the top 10. flylo, war on drugs, the hotelier, sharon van etten, trophy scars and casualties of cool are yet to come

Zantera
12.16.14
Swans is about 24 positions too low considering To Be Kind manages to top The Seer

Artuma
12.16.14
but this year as a whole > 2012

Sniff
12.16.14
If Taylor Swift's in top 10 we have to take back Sowings staff status.

AtomicWaste
12.16.14
No one will ever guess that xSPONGExCOREx topped the list.

GreyShadow
12.16.14
The only favorites I have that have a chance of getting in the top 10 are Damien Rice and Trophy Scars. I'd be pretty pumped if Trophy Scars was 1.

Crysis
12.16.14
Agreed with Willie, absolutely loved how the list turned out this year.

Jom
12.16.14
2014 Word of the Year: MULTIPLIER

>> Toondude official color commentator for Staff 2014 list

You're very much the play-by-play man yourself, so

>> @Jom, not gonna lie, probably going to be my second career choice if the one I'm going for doesn't work for me :P

Awesome! Keep up the good work, then. I took a couple media broadcasting courses for electives at uni and they were enjoyable experiences.

Crysis
12.16.14
The word "multiplier" now gives me Vietnam-esque PTSD flashbacks

greg84
12.16.14
Ah. Multiplier - I absolutely hate this word. ;)

Willie
12.16.14
The end result was worth the pain ;)

FromDaHood
12.16.14
Wow Alvvays made the top 10 nice nice

Tyrael
12.16.14
Swans isnt #1 waaaat

PitchforkArms
12.16.14
no locktender is rustling my jimmies

kris.
12.16.14
hotelier probably in the top 10 yesssssssss

Atari
12.16.14
great work guys. definitely some of my favorites of the year on this list. Musk Ox and Spectral Lore

Curse.
12.16.14
I can think of like 15 albums that could be top ten which means 5 of those albums didn't make the top 50 and that is crazy

sapient
12.16.14
still waiting for Chenille's La Gargle, but probably won't happen

ZombicidalMan
12.16.14
hopefully they don't forget about The Twilight Sad

wacknizzle
12.16.14
Glad to see Freddie Gibbs here

Insurrection
12.16.14
lots of fantastic blurbs here. also very happy to see swans didnt make the top 10 (sorry lakes!)

TheCrocodile
12.16.14
List is dope as fuck, great job everyone!

SowingSeason
12.16.14
The real end-of-year contest is guessing who wrote #18! ; )

Excellent job again, Wom, Jillie.

I think this 30-11 section will end up being my favorite album-wise.

AmericanFlagAsh
12.16.14
St. Vincent is my numbah oneee

Insurrection
12.16.14
im gonna go out on a limb and say chan wrote 18

klap
12.16.14
^sowing can't even believe you right now

AtomicWaste
12.16.14
Sowing haha.

Whenever I play pinball, I will now have fits of shock, but I agree with everyone, it came out really great.

ExplosiveOranges
12.16.14
"Taylor Swift’s Paramour"

ily sowing

Some really fantastic stuff on here. Really glad to see Dev and Aziz pop in for a quick blurb this time around. Big props to Willie for getting this whole thing together.

treeqt.
12.16.14
is this the year 2014 that's not yet over we're referring to

klap
12.16.14
yes

ComeToDaddy
12.16.14
This section is full of phenomenal albums, wasn't expecting Darkspace and Spectral Lore to pick up so much steam. Can't see 10-1 overtaking this as my favorite section, but expecting a few surprises given some of the albums on here ; )

ComeToDaddy
12.16.14
Really great writeups here too, from all the staff involved

Cygnatti
12.16.14
7/20, ok pretty good list i guess

PappyMason
12.16.14
Yeah, definitely agree.
Great write-ups.

Rowan5215
12.16.14
Just stopping by to say Antlers should be higher (I blame Sowing) and these writeups are the bomb, especially acad's. Please send thru pics of the Capt. America toy ASAP

SputnikSweetheart
12.16.14
so far this list lacks a surprisingly high amount of metal haha :)

ShadowRemains
12.16.14
banks #12 sweet

Green Baron
12.16.14
Forgot to send in picks, oh well. But yeah, surprised Swans isn't in top 10.

Masthews
12.16.14
I'm curious as to whether or not Sun Kil Moon will be in the top ten or not. Hegghhhh. Also hoping to see Pallbearer somewhere but I'm not holding my breath.

Snake.
12.16.14
i honestly didn't expect gates to be higher than swans


thank you based sputnik staff

VheissuCrisis
12.16.14
Damn, was hoping Ben Howard would sneak a top #50 slot. Not a single one of my top 10 has made an appearance yet, Trophy Scars will see to that though.

Keyblade
12.16.14
"Forgot to send in picks, oh well. But yeah, surprised Swans isn't in top 10."

This is the staff list

amanwithahammer
12.16.14
Hope that This Will Destroy You makes it into this list

hogan900
12.17.14
I fucking love you guys for putting Bloom and Breathe at number 15, and swans at 25?? Holy shit this list keeps getting better. Can't wait to see the top ten.

Tunaboy45
12.17.14
10 made me hard

RogueNine
12.17.14
YES an acad write-up.

OwMySnauze
12.17.14
I'm ready to see Language in the top 10!

SowingSeason
12.17.14
We had to ensure that Taylor Swift was in some way mentioned in this list.

psandy
12.17.14
Ted Nugent #1

psandy
12.17.14
The layout is very pretty, by the way. :-)

Markedspain
12.17.14
I agree with McMegaMountain. Swans deserves top 10.

someguest
12.17.14
staff is at their poppiest of all time here and that's a bit disheartening

theacademy
12.17.14
dude it is an off-cycle year for the good mallcore bands... like what did we have to work with

someguest
12.17.14
Kimbra and Banks any spot above Swans is top 10 material for the most laughable things I've seen this year.

theacademy
12.17.14
you've known me for like 7 years why r u coming to me with swans bro


theacademy
12.17.14
now if u wanna talk ZWAN...

deathschool
12.17.14
How much input did theacademy have in this list?

Skoj
12.17.14
lots of surprises here, Banks makes the list high and I'm stoked

theacademy
12.17.14
"How much input did theacademy have in this list?"

only got 3 alts in this year..

laughingman22
12.17.14
banks and st vincent above swans ... sweet

Brostep
12.17.14
yeah sorry for those of you looking forward to a nail-biting top 10 finish, we collectively decided that Knife Party's Abandon Ship was such a mind-bogglingly excellent album that it should be given all 10 top-10 spots or something

deathschool
12.17.14
Oh, I'm laughing, man.

NorthernSkylark
12.17.14
no, you're not.

someguest
12.17.14
thanks Brostep aka Deviant lite

deathschool
12.17.14
;,'',(

deathschool
12.17.14
If anything, Brostep is Deviant with extra MSG.

klap
12.17.14
pop or die

Rowan5215
12.17.14
^^^

ArmandoExchange
12.17.14
This list is actually shocking so far.

TalonsOfFire
12.17.14
Great list and love the descriptions

scottpilgrim10
12.17.14
fantastic list so far. I should probably check 23 out sometime.

"I'm curious as to whether or not Sun Kil Moon will be in the top ten or not."
[2]

dimsim3478
12.17.14
heh MAYBE

NorthernSkylark
12.17.14
sun kil moon vs. the war on drugs

Keyblade
12.17.14
pop or die [∞]

Voivod
12.17.14
Excellent job everybody once again, can't wait for the top ten.

MrMatt767
12.17.14
Nice list, wish FKA twigs made it though

Cygnatti
12.17.14
"pop or die [∞]"

forreal

wacknizzle
12.17.14
I have some hope for the user list. Not much, but some. List is pleb as can be

wacknizzle
12.17.14
I can definitely jam "Miracle" for days on end. Kimbra m/

wacknizzle
12.17.14
song of the year for sure

wacknizzle
12.17.14
You too. Life good bud?

tempest--
12.17.14
that's what I've been saying wack!!

wacknizzle
12.17.14
Yay! Glad you know good jams too

Hovse
12.17.14
heard like 10 of 2014 albums...only liked 3 of them

wacknizzle
12.17.14
Well, if they were these, yeah look someplace else. It was a decent year. Pretty sure the atmosphere is shitting the bed though. Black metal season should be in full effect

Avagantamos
12.17.14
morbus chron top 10

wacknizzle
12.17.14
Dude, I hope. I'm not perfect.

Keyblade
12.17.14
"I have some hope for the user list. Not much, but some. List is pleb as can be"

Dude if you think this is pleb you're gonna be hugely disappointed by the user list

Relinquished
12.17.14
123

trackbytrackreviews
12.17.14
why do I feel like 1989 is gonna be in the top 10

SowingSeason
12.17.14
^How did that information leak?

Voivod
12.17.14
"why do I feel like 1989 is gonna be in the top 10"

Sputnik authorities do not confirm nor deny this information.

ShadowRemains
12.17.14
"Kimbra and Banks any spot above Swans is top 10 material for the most laughable things I've seen this year."

someguest i like you and all but hear me this time when i say shut the fuck up

trackbytrackreviews
12.17.14
...seriously?

Flugmorph
12.17.14
haha no one expected behemoth and insomnium ahead of swans

Faraudo
12.17.14
I'll be a really happy man if I see Circa Survive and Interpol in the top 10.

RadicalEd
12.17.14
yay for 26 and 30. 25 is a tad low. If interpol or circa survive is in the top ten I'll be surprised/disappointed.

I think top ten will be something like: War on Drugs, Casualties of Cool, Trophy scars, Smith Street Band, Sun Kil Moon, Taylor Swift, Hotelier, dunno... maybe animals as leaders and Everytime I die? Maybe White Suns?

RadicalEd
12.17.14
Also Pinata so far above Run the Jewels 2 is pretty ridiculous.

wwf
12.17.14
for real swans needs to be way higher

good list though, really.

Rowan5215
12.17.14
yeah nah it's fine where it is

RadicalEd
12.17.14
I would have liked to see it above the likes of 13-11. But it's not like it needs to be waaaaay higher.

Voivod
12.17.14
@trackbytrackreviews

I was just kidding.

wwf
12.17.14
'yeah nah it's fine where it is'

fair point but I still feel it should be higher, on account that I want it to be.

Rowan5215
12.17.14
And I would've liked it to not be on here at all but here it is on the spot that it is on so we may just have to come to terms with that fellas

RadicalEd
12.17.14
Yeah sure I'm not bitching, but comments on the the staff list would be pointless, if every comment would just be: "Well that's how the list turned out to be, and we ain't changing it"

Typhoner
12.17.14
List is very good so far

johnnyblaze
12.17.14
really great list. i'm surprised, i was almost certain St. Vincent and Banks would make Top 10. pretty sure Smith Street will be top 10 though and that would be nice.

trackbytrackreviews
12.17.14
Trophy Scars #1

Pajolero
12.17.14
Surprised there's no Shellac, Dude Incredible was fantastic.
Pretty sure The Hotelier will make the top 10 as well.

hamid95
12.17.14
I swear, if you put Taylor Swift and no Trophy Scars in the top 10 I'm gonna smh so hard.

Otherwise, the list is very good this far. Didn't expect Ben Frost all up here.

Emyay
12.17.14
Guilty of Everything in the top 10?

RVAHC13
12.17.14
Yeah new Mekong Delta is where I hoped it would be

trackbytrackreviews
12.17.14
New ETID is probably gonna be in the top 10

Relinquished
12.17.14
it's not

trackbytrackreviews
12.17.14
ah shit, really?

Relinquished
12.17.14
you can actually see it now if you want

Shuyin
12.17.14
let there be lantlos

Flugmorph
12.17.14
where can u see it?

trackbytrackreviews
12.17.14
what's n1? I'm seriously putting my money on trophy scars

Flugmorph
12.17.14
haha its out already.

Relinquished
12.17.14
close but nope

deathofasalesman
12.17.14
No Swansnikmusic. :(

OwMySnauze
12.17.14
The Contortionist's new album will be in the top 10. Calling it now.

Atari
12.17.14
how can you guys not see the top 10 was already posted lol

EyesWideShut
12.17.14
GANGSTA GIBBS!!

Surprised Swans aint number 1 doe

zaruyache
12.18.14
Where's the top 10 posted?

zaruyache
12.18.14
nvm it's just not linked on this page for some odd reason. I never use the sput blog omg

JonEthan
12.18.14
Really hoping for the Hotelier in the top 10. That album is just too good.

SpiritCrusher2
12.18.14
oh ffs http://www.sputnikmusic.com/blog/2014/12/17/staffs-top-50-albums-of-2014-10-1/

Hopelust
12.18.14
Lantlos & hotelier fo shoooooooooooo

TooManyFriends
12.18.14
fuck yeah Banks

barcafan21
01.07.15
taylor swift's paramour made me lol

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