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Darkocean's Best Of 2014

Well, it?s that time of year again. Cue the many pop culture year-end lists that show up all over print and web publications at around the beginning of December (yes, I realize these things start earlier than they should, bear with me). Also cue the many pop-culture year-end think pieces that describe why year-end list-making is a time-honored critical and social tradition that should be upheld. Although I mostly appreciate the in-depth analysis of pop-culture goings-on, it does tend to get samey year after year. My point with this list in particular is to help you, the reader, discover a great piece of music that you otherwise may have missed in the thousands of albums that are released in a given year. I also hope to avoid the groupthink that occurs when multiple publications shower the same critical accolades on the same group of albums that may not really deserve it. My music taste covers both popular and more esoteric music from a variety of genres, so I hope that you will find this list useful. Without further ado, here are my top records of the year, ranked from 1 to 20! (I have also added way too many honorable mentions from this year, some of which could have even made the Top 20 had I spent more time with them. Near the bottom are albums I meant to hear this year, but never got around to.)
1Gazelle Twin

While no record this year was an insta-classic (5 out of 5) in my eyes, this one came
insanely close. Note to the easily freaked out: this is some of the craziest, weirdest,
creepiest electronica I have ever heard. Working with co-producer Benge, Gazelle Twin
(aka Elizabeth Bernholz) creates soundscapes that fill the listener with a palpable sense
of awe and dread? in the best possible way. Not only that, but the album?s music and
lyrics are permeated with stark social commentary. Comparing the record thematically to
Radiohead?s Kid A, PopMatters reviewer Guy Mankowski observes that ?on both albums,
doubts about technology, particularly with regards to the suppression of natural
processes, are portrayed musically?. My personal Album of the Year.
Pale Communion

Much has been made of this band?s leap out of the progressive death metal genre they
helped establish, and into straight-up 70?s-style progressive rock. You?ll find many an
Opeth fan in 2014 shaking their head at the band?s new direction, and in particular, the
lack of frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt?s famous death metal growls on their two most recent
albums. While I can understand the criticism that Opeth are no longer making music
that?s original to them, when the results are this good, it nearly doesn?t matter. The
musical curveballs thrown at the listener on Pale Communion are just as filled with the
same songwriting prowess and invention as their previous albums. Complimenting the
natural flow of the album is an absolutely stellar production job from engineer Tom
Dalgety (Royal Blood?s self-titled album) and mix engineer Steven Wilson of Porcupine
Tree, and as PT fans know, nearly everything Wilson touches is audiophile ear candy;
this may be his best mix yet. If you consider yourself a fan of emotionally poignant and
technically audacious rock music of any kind, take a listen to this (especially if you?ve
got a great sound system to showcase it).
3Closure in Moscow
Pink Lemonade

A definite out-of-left-field surprise to anyone who considered themselves a fan of the
band?s post-hardcore-styled psychedelic cult jam First Temple, Closure in Moscow throw
their previous rulebook completely out the window and construct a semi-concept album
filled with theatrical prog tendencies, R&B/soul influences, psychedelic excess and even
a chiptune track tacked on to the very end to tie it all up. For daring to alienate their
previous audience and the band?s wacky ambition, Pink Lemonade becomes the
definition of ?glorious mess?.
4Nothing More
Nothing More

Modern alternative rock with an edge came back this year with a large vengeance.
Starset?s Transmissions, Icarus the Owl?s self-titled record, and, to take a more
prominent example, Linkin Park?s The Hunting Party each proved that ?radio rock? can
be made with solid songwriting, technical skill and emotional heart. No album excelled in
this vein more this year than Nothing More?s self-titled musical journey, which, in
guitarist Mark Vollelunga?s words, represents ?the journey from the ?ocean floor? to a
?funeral pyre?. ?As you go through the songs, there?s this ?letting go? process that
happens,? and I couldn?t agree more. Featuring the dynamically explosive Jonny Hawkins
on vocals, Nothing More covers topics from religion (?Christ Copyright?), the media (?Mr.
MTV?) and more personal lyrics dealing with the death of the lead singer?s mother to
cancer (?God Went North?). All in all, when the genre of rock itself is floundering in the
Top 40 mainstream, bands like Nothing More do a great job of keeping it alive and

Industrial hip-hop as a genre is really nothing new. Though it?s become typified in the
last few years by albums like Death Grips? The Money Store and brought to mainstream
attention by none other than Kanye West?s Yeezus, its origins as a genre go all the way
back to at least the 1980?s. The new style of mixing hard-edged and noise-influenced
beats with the boom-bap stylistic traits and lyrical wordplay of hip-hop has only really
come to prominence recently because the aforementioned artists in question have added
a more pop-influenced approach to writing hooks and verses. Add clipping. to the small
number of artists who not only do it well, but chart new territory in the genre?s
development. One of the select hip-hop acts to be recently signed to prominent indie
label Sub Pop (along with Shabazz Palaces), clipping. impress with a mix of grimy and
unsettling beats (?Body & Blood?), musical ingenuity (?Get Up?), and extremely
impressive turns of phrase that prove the group is here to stay.
Kill the Power

One of the few bands that could be considered ?nu-metal? that consistently put out
quality work is Skindred. Their cross-genre experiments in metal and reggae in addition
to hip-hop, pop, electronica and, increasingly, dubstep, means an album of pure fun,
dancy and headbanging tunes that you can enjoy equally blasting in the car or with
7Flying Lotus
You're Dead!

After the interesting detour but slightly unfulfilling Until the Quiet Comes, FlyLo returns
with a stunning statement about life, death and the metaphysical spaces in between.
Hosting a variety of collaborators including Kendrick Lamar, Herbie Hancock, Snoop
Dogg and Kimbra, You?re Dead! demands repeat listens to catch all the nuances and
crazy textures going on beneath the surface of Flying Lotus? musical vision.
8The Quitters
Contributing to Erosion

I don?t always care for modern punk bands, but when I do, they surprise me with their
accessible yet gracefully executed songwriting, clever lyrics and old-school punk
attitude. The Quitters has become one of those bands.
9Jack White

Jack White needs no introduction. And whatever you may think of his offhand comments
regarding bands that try to copy his style, the fact remains that he reaffirmed his place
among rock?s top pantheon with songs that reflected his blues, psychedelic and old-
school rock-n?-roll heritage. Plus, White?s production skills remain top-notch, and the CD
competes with Opeth for greatest dynamic-range mastering in music this year. An aural,
musical and lyrical treasure to behold.
10St. Vincent
St. Vincent

Whether or not Annie Clark?s self-titled fourth album is as good as her standout third
album, Strange Mercy, released a few years back, is irrelevant. The fact is that Clark
remains a singular musical presence, expanding the boundaries of what we say when we
talk about ?pop music?. Singles ?Digital Witness? and ?Birth in Reverse? are just two of
the many morsels of joyful eccentricity the listener finds on St. Vincent.
once more 'round the sun

After their 2011 offering The Hunter, some fans left disappointed by that album were left
wondering whether the ?don could recreate the heights of 2009?s Crack the Skye ever
again. Their new album, Once More ?Round the Sun, proves the sludge metal veterans
deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with the words ?metal greats?.
Combining the progressive approach of Skye with the more pop-leaning tendencies of
Hunter, Mastodon craft perhaps their most pleasingly accessible body of work to date.
12Animals as Leaders
The Joy of Motion

Much like Mastodon, AaL had somewhat of a crisis moment with their last album, 2011?s
technically brilliant but slightly disappointing Weightless, especially after their 2007 self-
titled debut record lit a fire under the entire progressive so-called ?djent? movement of
metal that we find ourselves in today. However, The Joy of Motion more than makes up
for any losses in relevance by featuring frontman/primary songwriter Tosin Abasi at his
most instrumentally and emotionally evocative. A few moments on the new record equal
or even surpass moments on the self-titled. If you want to get into modern heavy metal,
but don?t like obnoxious screamed vocals clouding up the musical prowess of the
individual members, definitely give these guys a listen.
13Damien Rice
My Favourite Faded Fantasy

A contender for one of the most heartbreaking and beautiful records of 2014, Damien
Rice returns with a stunning collection of progressive-inspired folk songs that feel perfect
for those warm winter days where the sun is peaking out above the clouds and the snow
is just melting off the roof of the cabin. It also features Rick Rubin?s most dynamic-
production in more than a decade, which is more than can be said for some of his recent
14Mekong Delta
In a Mirror Darkly

If you?re a fan of Master of Puppets and ?And Justice for All-era Metallica, or even if you
know about the existence of bands like Dark Angel, you nearly bound to love Mekong
Delta. Progressive thrash metal is one of my favorite strains of metal, and Mekong Delta
live up to the promise of their genre. High-pitched vocals, crazy drumming and riff after
riff after riff keep me coming back to this album again and again. Plus, just when you
think it couldn?t get any more awesome, they throw in a massive instrumental, ?Inside
the Outside of the Inside?.
Get Olde Second Wind

Pop/rock? Ehh, well, it could be good. Mixing it with 8-bit video game/chiptune
synthesizers? You have my attention. Not to mention painfully honest lyricism from
frontwoman Elaiza Santos. It all adds up to an experience that, far from making you cry,
will make you smile.
16The Green Seed

My pick for best throwback old-school rap album of 2014. ?Nuff said.
17Alpine Decline
Go Big Shadow City

Hailing all the way from a little town called Beijing, China, I?ve played these guys on my
and co-host John Park?s radio show (Castles in the Sky) and they definitely deserve the
hype. Hazy and shoegaze-y but with crystal clear production so everything packs that
much more of a wallop, Alpine Decline conjure up mental images of the ?land of the
rising smog? with aplomb (at least, that?s what they called their home nation in the radio
liner they sent us).
18Slough Feg
Digital Resistance

Fears about how much technology is permeating our everyday lives have made many a
great album, like the aforementioned Kid A and Unflesh. But many bands don?t seem to
have the panache or class to write a great concept album about ?the way we live?
without writing actual tunes in the process. Cult metallers Slough Feg are here to do just
that. With a mix of Deep Purple and Iron Maiden-esque guitar licks and a clean, analog
production from frontman Mike Scalzi and engineer Justin Weis, Slough Feg lead the
digital resistance in the face of all the technology that gives us joy, yet isolates us at the
same time.
19Shabazz Palaces
Lese Majesty

Much like clipping., Shabazz Palaces are a new Sub Pop signee who put the experimental
back in ?experimental hip-hop?. Off-kilter beats, offbeat lyrics and off-the-chain
messages decrying the current state of mainstream hip-hop make this a hip-hop album
to remember.
Massive Addictive

The last album on this list is one of the cheesiest; yet, I have always dug Amaranthe?s
mix of power metal, melodeath, and buckets of electronic synthesizers and keyboards,
not to mention their super-clean production courtesy of producer/engineer Jacob
Hansen. Even with a new harsh vocalist, the band never lets up on their sugary sweet
style of metal. Recommended for fans of Japanese band Blood Stain Child (and if you
don?t know who they are, look them up, too!).
21Bo Ningen
22School of Language
Old Fears
24Jenny Lewis
The Voyager
26My Brightest Diamond
This Is My Hand
27Emma Donovan & the PutBacks
Moments of Matter
Calm Down
30 El May
The Other Person Is You
32The Menzingers
Rented World
34The Amity Affliction
Let the Ocean Take Me
35The Birthday Massacre
No Coast
37Brian Eno and Karl Hyde
Someday World
38Death From Above 1979
The Physical World
39 Epica
The Quantum Engima
40Every Time I Die
From Parts Unknown
41 Exodus
Blood In Blood Out
42The Fresh & Onlys
House of Spirits
43How to Dress Well
What Is This Heart?
44White Fence
For the Recently Found Innocent
45 I Am Giant
Science & Survival
46John Frusciante
47Julian Casablancas and The Voidz
48Killer Be Killed
Killer Be Killed
49Kishi Bashi
50La Dispute
Rooms of the House
51La Roux
Trouble in Paradise
The Amanuensis
54Rings of Saturn
Lugal Ki En
56Sage Francis
Copper Gone
57Say Anything
58Son of Aurelius
Under a Western Sun
59 the Soil & the Sun
They Want My Soul
Broken Pieces
62Syd Arthur
Sound Mirror
63Trap Them
64The Unicorns
Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?

66We All Die (Laughing)
67White Sea
In Cold Blood
68Wings Denied
Mirrors for a Prince
My Krazy Life
In Humor and Sadness
73Marketa Irglova
74Flake Music
When You Land Here, It's Time to Return

75Little Boots
Business Pleasure EP
76Neil Young
The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets

Fuck you wwba
79Rabbit Junk
Pop That Pretty Thirty

Records I've acquired that I still haven't heard
80Schizoid Lloyd
The Last Note in God's Magnum Opus
81The Smashing Pumpkins
Monuments to an Elegy
82The Used
Imaginary Enemy
83John Powell
How to Train Your Dragon 2
84Alexandre Desplat
85Hans Zimmer
86FKA twigs
87Foo Fighters
Sonic Highways
88 Circa Survive
89Casualties of Cool
Casualties of Cool
90The Hotelier
Home, Like Noplace Is There

Staff's #2 album can't be wrong, right?
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