Album Reviews

With the all of the hype and success surrounding writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s recent indie horror sensation It Follows, filmgoers have emphatically suggested to the industry, via their wallets, that they are tired of “found-footage”-style horror films typified by the Paranormal Activity and V/H/S series, and willing to see Hollywood progress into making more atmospheric, jump-scare-free spookshows. Unfortunately, the now-derided genre finds itself adding a legitimately frightening tale to its pantheon, just when audiences are abandoning it.

When the Unfriended trailer premiered earlier this year in January, it made the film seem like just another rote found-footage flick with laughable dialogue and bad acting. Count this as a prime example of bad marketing. As the film plays out, the concept and acting turn out to be the most positive features of the whole endeavor.

Our main protagonist, Blaire (Shelley Hennig), is your typical 21st-century high-school teenager who hangs out with her boyfriend and classmates constantly from her laptop on a variety of social media platforms, like Facebook, Skype, etc. When she receives a private message from a person she knew previously thought to be dead, her and her friends slowly get drawn into a web (ha!) of betrayal, lies and deceit which will pit them against each other in literally life-or-death situations.

Without spoiling the plot, the film is essentially a supernatural revenge flick with only slight moments of shocking gore and imagery here and there. But most importantly, it is also a treatise on the phenomenon of cyberbullying, lending Unfriended a social commentary edge that most horror films dare not aspire to. Director Levan Gabriadze (pronounced gab-ree-add-zee) had personal experience being bullied whlie growing up in Soviet Georgia and being in the Army, lending his film an authentic flair.

Unfriended‘s main conceit (some would say “gimmick”, though I wouldn’t be that cynical) is that it takes place entirely on Blaire’s computer screen. In real time, no less. The whole film is viewed through the lens of what Blaire is looking at on her laptop. It’s like watching someone on a computer instead of being at the computer yourself. What’s amazing about how the film is executed is that it’s not boring, it’s fascinating. Or more accurately, it’s fascinating because it’s boring.

unfriended still

That’s real life, though. Looking at a screen for hours at a time is one of the most boring things modern existence has brought us (indeed, I’m bored just typing this sentence!). In this way, the film not only comments on cyberbullying, but on our technology-addled society and how much more time we could be spending in the presence of others.

One other thing about Unfriended that you may not notice even after seeing the film: the entire thing was filmed in one take. According to a Slashfilm article covering the WonderCon 2015 cinema convention, the filmmakers revealed that “each actor was in their own room with a computer and they shot the entire movie in a single 80 minute take.” The article mentions that certain elements were added and changed in post-production to the shots (most likely including the true-to-life glitched-out video effects that cover the film every time events come to a head; it’s even over the Universal logo at the beginning!), but most of what the viewer sees consists of that one take. This fact raises Unfriended from a pretty interesting horror premise to a must-see movie.

Lest readers think I am being too hyperbolic, the film is not perfect and completely without its flaws. During moments when the tension starts to ramp-up, an obvious sound design element in the form of escalating white noise alerts you to the fact that SOMETHING BIG IS ABOUT TO GO DOWN AND YOU SHOULD BE SCARED. Honestly, the film would function much better without this unnecessary ploy at playing to the audience, just like how most space movies are better off being silent during scenes in space. Also, the story itself will depend on whether or not the viewer accepts the possibility of supernatural events in this otherwise “real” film world (the film’s ending will definitely hinge on this acceptance).

Still, these are minor complaints. Most of the time, Unfriended has a sense of depth and space that recent studio fare like The Lazarus Effect suffer severely from. The fact that both films share a production company that has made quite a name for itself in financing and acquiring micro-budget films that pay dividends at the box office is beside the point. If you give it the time to play out and sink in, Unfriended may end up becoming one of your friends after all.

unfriended poster

Rating: 3.5 out of 4

Film Facebook Link

Director and Writer Interview

Formed in Stockholm in 1972 ABBA was and still is the biggest hit band to ever come from Sweden. They had many successes together in their years. One of the biggest competitions was the  Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 which they won. It was held at the Dome in Brighton, UK. This was the first time a musical group from Sweden had ever won the contest. Their winning song at the contest was Waterloo.

This past year K-Pop fans were delighted to experience the solo career debuts of many high profile artists, including Taemi (SHINee), CL (2NE1), and even Jonghyun (SHINee). Now, three months into the new year, another artist joins the ranks of solo artist before her, as Amber of f(x) became the first of her group to make her solo debut with the release of her new album Beautiful.

I am super excited to say that the Featured Artist for the month of March is none other than Brent Walsh. The lead singer for the progressive indie alt band, I the Mighty, has recently released his debut solo album 7 and let me just say that this album is hands down one of my favorites. I have listened to it so many times and just cannot get enough of it.

Let me first start off by saying that discovering Brent Walsh was one of the best music discoveries that happened to me in the past couple of years. His voice is one of the most captivating singing voices I’ve heard in a long time. Brent has the ability to transition from his rough and regal sound to high notes that would blow your mind. Each song on his album just proves how strong and powerful his vocal dynamics are. It is so easy to be lost within his songs and his intoxicating voice. What you hear on this album is exactly what you’ll hear live.

Walsh’s album 7 has such an amazing flow from song to song. The album is perfect in showing of Brent’s musicality. His song “Typical Blues Song” is definitely not typical. The blues song not only shows off Brent’s amazing guitar skills, but also captures you. It’s one of those songs that makes you close your eyes and really listen to the music.

My favorite song on his album is hands down “Default World” and I am not lying when I say that I have to listen to it at least twice a day. The song is just that good. It’s perfect in getting my feet tapping and my day going. The song’s chorus is just one of those chorus where you just want to sing at the top of you lungs. The fast strumming of the guitar sets this pace that gets you going and wishing that the song could play on forever. Which is exactly what I wished he had done when I saw him play it live at The Crux, where he absolutely killed it.

Make sure to check Brent Walsh out and purchase his debut album !

You can follow everything happening with Brent Walsh here :

 

Falling in Reverse’s new album, Just Like You, dropped with the tenacity of a sonic boom this last week.  Breaking into iTunes’s top 50 charts and with their top song reaching well over half a million viewers on YouTube, this may be their biggest hit yet.

Falling in Reverse is a post-metal core band out of Las Vegas, Nevada who got their start in 2010.  After the lead singer, Ronnie Radke, had left his prior band Escape the Fate, due to personal complications, he immediately looked to start a new one.  He gathered some guys and by 2011 Falling In Reverse’s first album titled, The Drug In Me Is You, was released with the support of Epitath Records.  Within the first week of its release it had sold over 18,000 copies ranking them 13th on the Billboard top 100 bands list.

The band sky rocketed right from the beginning and with the use of this new album, they have only managed to climb up the totem pole.  This new album consists of 14 new songs which many alternative rock magazines are considering to be some of the best work to be put out into the genre. Among these 14 songs, the ones gaining the most popularity consist of God if you are above and Just Like You.  These songs are not your classic FIR tunes.  They both have a unique twist on their bridges which adds to the feel of the song’s ending.  Falling In reverse has always stuffed a variety of unique ideas and ornamentation into a their music but they accomplished a new feat by with putting out this album.

As a fan of this band from their start, I have had the advantage of  having seen their development and how their music has changed; however, even if you are new to listening to this band or even just curious about their sound they are a truly talented band and deserve all the credit they have received.  They will most likely be making an appearance at this year’s Vans Warped Tour so if you get the chance to go I would recommend putting them on the list of bands you plan to see.

For many of us here at the Pulse, 2005 was the year we were trudging through middle or junior high school, just starting to get exposed to new ideas and especially new forms of music. These albums helped us along the way. We look back 10 years ago…

Bloc Party – Silent Alarm

Back in 2004, I was 11 years old and beginning my music collection. Silent Alarm was one of two albums that I was introduced to by an older brother of a friend. I came from a heavily influenced classic rock background and this was far from that. Initially, I didn’t like it, but as I listened, it grew on me. Silent Alarm became one of the first albums that I listened to 20 times over. It seemed perfectly normal back then, but now I rarely get the chance. Here is my favorite song from Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm, “Helicopter”. – Michael

The Mars Volta – Frances the Mute

Probably my favorite Mars Volta album. You will either love this or hate this for its proggy excess (in fact, this album practically defines the term “proggy excess”). No track here times out under 5 minutes, and the most epic track here, the eight-part “Cassandra Gemini” runs for over an astounding 30 minutes. You could write this off immediately right then and there if the band didn’t make things so interesting and full of crazy Latin-flavored energy. – Ryan

Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams

Maybe it was just me and my particular group of friends, but I feel like everyone had a Jack Johnson phase. Especially after In Between Dreams came out. His music is simple and to-the-point, perfect for road trips and Sunday afternoon homework sessions. Or, in the event that there is a beach near you, spending time there. Here is my favorite tune from the album. – Michael

Beck – Guero

Working with production duo The Dust Brothers again after their famous collaboration with Beck in the 90’s with Odelay, Guero doesn’t necessarily sound like that album, but applies a similar aesthetic touch in its white-boy rap beats, rawk n’ roll noise and obscure samples. Accordingly, the album proved to be Beck’s most commercially successful album since Odelay itself. – Ryan

Limp Bizkit – The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1)

Yeah, yeah, I know, Fred Durst and all that. Actually, this is possibly the band’s most underrated work. Twisty guitar and bass lines, high-energy drums and eerie soundscapes typify the band’s instrumental work here, while Durst goes lyrically serious for a change and covers topics like politics and Catholic sex abuse scandals. Granted, his lyrics are still a little goofy and cringe-worthy at times, but the best tracks here, like “The Truth”, signify a new direction for a band unfairly pigeonholed as all that was wrong with nu-metal. – Ryan

Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth

Although this may rank as my least favorite NIN album, it’s still got its fair share of rock-solid tunes.  Apart from singles “Only”, “Every Day Is Exactly the Same” and “The Hand that Feeds”, which introduced Reznor’s songcraft to a new generation of industrial rockers, tracks like “All the Love in the World” have choruses that will be stuck in your head for months at a time, and melancholy album closer “Right Where It Belongs” ranks as one of the band’s most tender moments. – Ryan

System of a Down – Hypnotize

This was my first System album, and I bought it when it came out around my 12th birthday in November ’05. Ironically enough, after years of listening to the rest of System’s discography, this turns out to be my least favorite of the group’s. However, as with NIN, System have never made a truly bad album, and Hypnotize contains some of the band’s finest moments, including “Holy Mountains”, an impassioned track about the Armenian genocide that System have always tried to raise awareness of. “Vicinity of Obscenity”, on the opposite side of the serious spectrum, is simply a fun track to sing along to (Banana-banana terracotta PIE!). – Ryan

Gorillaz – Demon Days

Demon Days was the second album that my friend’s older brother introduced me to. “Feel Good Inc.” is still one of my favorite tunes ever. And “Dirty Harry”, what a song. This album was simply amazing; unique and ahead of its time. Gorillaz have secured a spot in my music library for a long time to come. Much electronic music comes and goes, making the timelessness of this album even more impressive. Although it was the most popular song on the album, I will still go ahead and share “Feel Good Inc.”, a great tune indeed. – Michael

Coldplay – X&Y

AKA, when Coldplay’s critical backlash started to set in. Which, in my opinion, was always unfair, seeing as how X&Y is an important step in the band’s evolution from writing piano-based rockers to developing more electronic and ethereal art-rock textures on their next two or three albums. Of course, “Fix You” is the one everybody knows, but the title track might be my favorite, with its swaying orchestral sweep that really feels like the listener is “drifting into outer space” or “floating on a tidal wave”. – Ryan

Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil

The album that catapulted them into mainstream attention, with “Bat Country” and “Seize the Day” constantly played on rock radio ever since. “Beast and the Harlot” ranks up there as one of A7X’s best openers, while the entire second half of the record is one long, winding metal epic after another. While I personally prefer Waking the Fallen to this one in terms of the band’s “classic” era, I cannot deny the musicianship and prowess A7X displays here. – Ryan

The All-American Rejects – Move Along

One of my first and only pop-punk albums I ever bought, I initially wanted this for the singles and only the singles (the title track, “Dirty Little Secret” and “It Ends Tonight”), but found a plethora of jamz (with a z!) on the rest of the album when I sat down and heard it front to back. Move Along still remains the Rejects’ most successful effort, and the sales are justified by how much the songs here instantly transport me back to 6th grade. – Ryan

Paramore – All We Know Is Falling

Girl power! Before Paramore’s All We Know Is Falling, I didn’t care about girl-fronted bands at all. I was a terrible 12 year old who thought those groups or bands were silly. After hearing “Pressure” on Fuse.Tv for the first time, I knew that I was wrong. I immediately wanted to be Hayley Williams. I wanted to dye my hair, wear skinny jeans and sing in a band. The whole album is an anthem for girls like me in this era. The album is straight pop-rock but with Williams’ voice, it became a staple album of every (cool) 12-16 year old in 2005. – Alisha

Jason Mraz – Mr. A-Z

I know, I know – you’re probably thinking “what was Jason Mraz doing in 2005?? Was he even doing anything?!” Well, he was. Mr. A-Z is such a rad, low-key album. It’s poppy, filled with great vocals, white-boy rapping, and songs that made me swoon every time I listened to it. This album is nothing like any of his singles that you may know him by now (“I’m Yours”, “I Won’t Give Up”). This album is sexy and silly all at the same time. If you are a fan of him (or not!), you should take some time to listen to this album. These were his origins and it’s a great 2nd album. Take a listen to “Plane”, “O. Lover” and “Please Don’t Tell Her”, or to one of his sillier songs, “Wordplay”, which is below. – Alisha

30 Seconds to Mars – A Beautiful Lie

A Beautiful Lie was one of the first albums I ever bought by myself. I had a huge crush on the band and loved everything the band did. The album was “mainstream” enough to have videos on Fuse.Tv and MTV, but had parts where the lead singer screamed (GASP) and felt like a progressive alternative rock album. There was mystery behind everything the band did and that always caught my attention. What I like best about this album is that it almost plays out like a novel. Jared Leto still has some of the best vocals in music today. Listen to “The Kill” and “The Fantasy” (my favorite off the album). – Alisha

Disturbed – Ten Thousand Fists

When artists make their third album, oftentimes the end result can be described as a combination of their first two efforts. Muse’s proggy tendencies on their major-label debut Origin of Symmetry and more straightforward alternative/hard rock songwriting on Absolution resulted in a nice balance between the two on Black Holes and Revelations; likewise, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral could be said to mix the synthpop of Pretty Hate Machine and the industrial metal of the Broken EP. Disturbed followed suit, mashing the industrial-tinged alt-metal of The Sickness and the straight-up groove metal of Believe into Ten Thousand Fists. Non-fans of the band may not be converted by this album, but for the faithful, it offers up some of David Draiman and co.’s best songs to date, including single “Stricken”, “Just Stop” and “Sacred Lie”. – Ryan

Panic! at the Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out

This is one of those albums that people always talked about when it came out when I was younger, but that I never got into until more recently. The structure of this album is pretty genius; the first half is devoted to uptempo tracks that combine the emo pop-punk of the era and electronic synths and beats, then transitions into a quirky, orchestral pop-rock record with mostly acoustic instruments. On paper, it sounds a little funny, but in execution, it’s hugely enjoyable. – Ryan

I remember seeing the video for “Lying is the Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off” on Fuse.Tv and listening to the lyrics of this video right when it came out. The song was SO DIRTY. And I loved it. I was only 12 at the time, so when I heard the lyrics “I’ve got more wit, a better kiss, a hotter touch, a better fuck than any boy you’ll ever meet”, my 12 year old self was hooked and intrigued. The album was so nice and poppy but so dirty! I loved it! I remember listening to this album at my friend’s house because I wasn’t allowed to at home. This whole album is still catchy, dirty and overall fun. I love re-visiting this album and singing along to every song. – Alisha

Wolfmother – Wolfmother (US Edition)

Like many people, I liked “Woman” enough to check out the rest of the album, and boy, was I not disappointed. Hard rocker after hard rocker, Wolfmother’s self-titled debut became a mainstay on my boombox for some time. While nowadays I feel like the album’s sequencing could be improved and some musical moments are too heavily reminiscent of their garage-rock peers, it’s still nice to jam out to this record with my air guitar raised high. – Ryan

Madonna – Confessions on a Dance Floor

First licensed ABBA sample in a lead single that blew up the dance charts across the globe? Must be Madge. Famously structured like a DJ set, Confessions is a trip through the lightest, and then, darkest recesses of the dance floor. “Forbidden Love” may be the most sensual song here, while “Sorry” may be the grooviest. – Ryan

Fort Minor – The Rising Tied

Cue epic string orchestra and much weightlifting. Just like that, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park’s hip-hop side project begins with one of the go-to sports anthems of the decade, “Remember the Name”. Throughout the album, Shinoda touches on topics from urban life to hip-hop radio and music critics writing off his main band. The most stunning tune here, though, has to be “Kenji”, a harrowing and emotional tale of a Japanese-American citizen and his family being taken to a WWII internment camp, loosely based on Shinoda’s own grandfather’s experiences. The Rising Tied is not quite a classic, and some of the aspects of the record, like LP bandmate Mr. Hahn’s guest feature on “Slip Out the Back”, feel woefully underutilized, but as a start to Shinoda’s rap career, it’s pretty great. Still waiting on a new album, Mike; get on it! – Ryan

Armor for Sleep – What to Do When You Are Dead

Emo concept album about death, ghosts and suicide? Sounds pretty awful, but Armor for Sleep’s What to Do When You Are Dead is one of my favorite albums. It was the first concept album I had ever consciously listened to (OBSESSIVELY). Oddly enough, I got a random iPod from a pawn shop in Boise when I turned 13 from my parents. There was still 100+ songs on this thing and this album was on it. I listened to it over and over again on the drive home and didn’t stop the rest of that year. This album pulls at your heart strings with every song describing this person’s journey in the afterlife and his notes back home to the people he left behind. “The Truth About Heaven” is a perfect song to showcase this; “don’t believe that the weather is perfect the day that you die.” - Alisha

Japanese band ONE OK ROCK is no stranger to the J-Rock scene, having been around since they formed straight out of high school in 2005. This February 11 marked the release of their newest album, 35XXXV, and after releasing a few teaser videos had fans eagerly awaiting its release. Stick around after the break to see just what to expect from one of the largest J-Rock releases of this year.

Michael_Jackson_-_Thriller

Every top 20 spot on this list is Thriller. Every year Thriller. Always Thriller. But I digress…

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!

1. Gazelle Twin – Unflesh

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.

2. Opeth – 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).

3. Closure 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”.

4. Nothing 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 relevant.

5. clipping. – CLPPNG

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.

6. Skindred – 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 headphones.

7. Flying 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.

8. The 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.

9. Jack White – Lazaretto

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.

10. St. 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.

11. Mastodon – 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.

12. Animals 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.

13. Damien 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 records.

14. Mekong 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” (skip to 26:02 in the video).

15. Crying – 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.

16. The Green Seed – Drapetomania

My pick for best throwback old-school rap album of 2014. ‘Nuff said.

17. Alpine 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 how they called their home nation in the radio liner they sent us).

18. Slough 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.

19. Shabazz 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.

20. Amaranthe – 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!).

What were some of your favorite albums from this year? Let us know in the comments! (Unless you say Run the Jewels 2, because you’re oh so unique in that regard ;) )