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SMR’s and Stranger’s Top 5 Music Albums of 2014 So Far
Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s blog. In the fall of last year, fellow GIO user Stranger, and myself made a “year in review” type music blog, recapping our favorite albums of that year. We liked how that blog turned out, so we decided to do a similar type blog this year, but instead, we are doing it at the halfway point of the year. We have a decent amount of similarities and differences in our tastes in music, so hopefully this list will provide a good balance of genres, and will give some good albums for you to check out. With that being said, each of us have 5 picks towards what albums we think were exceptional thus far this year, and we’ll explain our picks as well. Without further ado, here’s Stranger’s list:
5. Sonata Arctica - Pariah's Child
One of the albums I was most looking forward to this year, considering the expectations I put on it Pariah's Child was a huge disappointment in that regard. I was hoping for a song on the caliber of the Wildfire sequels from their previous offering. What I got instead was a couple fairly good songs, quite a few mediocre songs, a couple bad songs, and a single song I'd consider higher than decent. Cloud Factory is the one outlier here, it's a tune that's a ton of fun to sing along with with quality lyrical themes about being a slave to motonous work. It also has a melody almost reminiscent of an irish drinking song. Other than that, I can count the amount of times I've revisited any of the other songs on this album on a single hand since its release. It's a good album, don't get me wrong, it just feel far short of my expectations and I was left bitterly disappointed when all was said and done.
Notable songs: The Wolves Die Young, Take One Breath, Cloud Factory, Half A Marathon Man
4. Sabaton - Heroes
There's no songs on Heroes that I would call "great". There's not really any outstanding tunes here, none that I would go back to over any others. Instead, the entire freaking album is just a lot of fun from beginning to ending, and filled with all the hammy historical power metal you could ever want in one go. Based on various "heroes" from World War II, each track tells the story of a different person or regiment that deserves this label, be they on the Allied or Axis powers. It's a powerful lyrical theme that adds a sense of colossal weight to the album. It's probably the most "classic" metal amongst the various releases on this list, and thus the most accessible. Definitely give this one a whirl.
Notable songs: Night Witche...actually, you know what, listen to the entire thing. It's 37 minutes long and enjoyable from start to finish.
3. Epica - The Quantum Enigma
There's not really a lot I can say about this album, as quite frankly I haven't listened to the entire thing yet due to repeatedly being distracted by other things. From what I've heard however it has the possibility to be Epica's finest album yet. The combination of Mark Jansen and Simone Simons continues to work extremely well on vocals, with everything from growls (I'm assuming they'll be there due to past experiences) to soaring operatic lyrics. And behind it all is some truly amazing symphonic metal. If any of this type of stuff interests you at all definitely give this album a shot. You'll be more than glad you did.
Notable songs: Unchain Utopia, The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom Of Heaven Pt. II)
2. Iced Earth - Plagues Of Babylon
This album actually almost won out the top spot against Within Temptation until I remembered a couple missteps it made, good as it is. If there's one band on this list that deserves to be called "heavy" metal, Iced Earth definitely earns the top spot. The crushing sounds of the guitars, the bass and drums assaulting your soul, and the aggressive vocals of Stu Block all come together to deliver an extremely agressive and yet pleasant assault on your eardrums. Plagues Of Babylon is a great opener, filled with a lot of varied moments that makes its length seem negligible. Unfortunately the rest of the songs in the "Something Wicked" arc of the album tend to suffer from a lack of variety. The tracks are good, they just all sound much the same. Halfway through the record however you get into the stand-alone tracks highlighted by Iced Earth's magnum opus "Cthulhu". It tells the tale of the Old One rising from his home beneath the seas to bring the apocalypse to the human race. The rest of the album is extremely solid, and one of the best of 2014. The only other thing I have to nitpick about is Hansi Kursch is a guest on this album. Normally this would be a good thing, but listen through the record. If you don't notice him, I don't blame you. Iced Earth couldn't have possibly used him any less than they actually did, and that's an unforgivable crime. Despite that however it's a great listen.
Notable songs: Plagues Of Babylon, Among The Living Dead, Cthulhu
1. Within Temptation - Hydra
Now, I have a confession to make. Before this album I barely listened to Within Temptation. Fortunately, there's no better album to get into from them than Hydra. While listening to this album with a friend we noticed something. For most of the duration of the recording, every other track is amazing. Dangerous freaking has a metalcore singer on it of all things, and yet despite this Howard Jones delivers such an impressive vocal performance it actually inspired us to give Killswitch Engage a whirl (though that didn't go quite so well, to say the least). Paradise is filled with soaring aural ecstacy courtesy of Tarja Turunen of Nightwish fame as well as Sharon den Adel. Silver Moonlight seems to start off as a peaceful, relaxing ballad before going into a crushing wall of distorted sound that makes you realize you're not listening to stereotypical fare. Dog Days has a simple chorus that never fails to get stuck in my head whenever I listen to the song, and it feels like the rest of the song is a buildup to these moments of fantastic clarity. The other songs are admittedly forgettable, but there isn't anything I would call bad on here.
Notable songs; Dangerous, Paradise (What About Us?), Silver Moonlight, Dog Days
Persuader - The Fiction Maze
While it may not be that memorable or anything, it sort of scratches my itch for Blind Guardian-esque power metal while we have yet to hear any news from the band regarding their 2014 album. With vocals reminiscent of Hansi Kursch and powerful driving metal behind the lyrics it helps to sate my hunger.
Notable songs: Deep In The Dark
Darren Korb - Transistor Soundtrack
If you noticed my review of Transistor in the reviews section, you probably realize that I really loved the soundtrack to this game. I mean cmon, it was created by Darren Korb, a man who I consider to be one of the best in the business. It's full of all kinds of bluesy, melodic singing that is not only perfectly suited to the game in which it belongs, but also great to put on whenever you're doing something else. One of the best game OST's of all time already.
Notable songs: The Spine, In Circles, We All Become
Akuma no Riddle OST
To sum up the soundtrack to this show about lesbian schoolgirl assassins in one word: badass. To get it out of the way first the Maaya Uchida-sung Soushou Innocence is my favorite OP to come out of the Spring anime season. It has the perfect amount of energy and intensity to suit all the wanton stabbings and cheesy lines that you could ever want. As for the endings for the series, here's the part that amazes me the most. Each ED is sung by a different seiyuu (voice actress) for the show, as there are thirteen main characters in all. From the hard-hitting bass of Mayonaka no Toubou to the emotionally powerful duet of Poison Me the EDs for this series manage to cover a wide range of styles while never making a misstep. There's also a background track I absolutely love in the show though I can't identify it until the OST is released. Long story short I'm having a lot of fun with the music in this show.
Notable songs; Soushou Innocence, Dotte Kotonai Sympathy, Poison Me, Mayonaka no Toubou
Mekaku City Actors OST
This is an entire anime whose original source material was a series of songs called the Kagerou Project. As such you might imagine music is pretty heavily ingrained into this show, and you would indeed be correct. From Headphone Actor to Kisaragi Attention, there's a ton of different tunes in here that progress the story with their lyrics. But there's no song more entwined with the identity of Mekakucity Actors than Daze. It has an extremely interesting rhythm and unique vocal delivery that makes me disappointed as hell on the weeks that they opt not to include the intro in the show. I mean for Haruhi's sake I know someone who's listened to it several hundred times since I introduced it to him. If that isn't a testament to its quality than I don't know what is.
Notable songs: Daze, Headphone Actors, Kisaragi Attention
Looking forward to:
Apparently they were supposed to be done with this by the end of May. Hopefully we hear some release news soon. As a followup for At The Edge Of Time I'm extremely optimistic.
Queens Of The Stone Age:
They're apparently recording this after their tour is over later this year, so it should just barely squeak into 2014. Good luck trying to top Like Clockwork.
Red Hot Chili Peppers:
I know nothing about this, but Nabil mentioned it and now I want it. The Peppers are cool stuff.
ITS BEEN EIGHT YEARS YOU CHODEBURGLERS. GIVE ME MY WINGS. (Editors note: I saw this on the upcoming album schedule for 2014, and figured this was what Stranger would say about it.)
10: Graffiti 6: “The Bridge”: 7.5 out of 10
Graffiti 6’s debut album came out in 2010, and was one of my favorite albums of that year. The duo can put together some awesome pop/soul songs, with singer Jaime Scott’s voice being an obvious standout of the band. While this album isn’t as good as I would hope it would be, it slides into the #10 spot on a weak year for music so far. “You Got the Sunshine” and “The Bridge” are standout tracks on the album. The main weakness of this album is mainly the lack of standout tracks. But it’s a solid listen.
9: Beck: “Morning Phase”: 7.5 out of 10
I’m not a huge Beck fan, but I do believe that he’s one of the more creative musicians out there. I liked his first few albums, and I had a ton of respect for what he did a few years ago, which was essentially a “make it yourself” album. This album follows a much more traditional album, but is a solid listen nonetheless. Garnering critical acclaim from several publications, this is a great album for fans of folk-rock. Standout tracks on the album include “Blue Moon” and “Blackbird Chain”.
8: Young the Giant: “Mind Over Matter”: 7.5 out of 10
Young the Giants’ second album “Mind over Matter,” is a solid follow up to their 2011 debut album. It’s fairly week lyrically and towards the end, but there are some tracks that are true earworms, just like with the debut album. “Anagram” the 2nd track on the album, is an infectious jam that is one of my favorite songs of the year. That song alone makes the album worth a listen.
7: Aloe Blacc: “Lift Your Spirit”: 7.75 out of 10
I’m a huge Aloe Blacc fan, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want this album, or expect this album to score higher. His first few releases were all great, balancing soul and dance, Spanish, and English music. As with Aloe Blacc, his voice is a high point of every song, but unfortunately, the only standouts on this album are songs that were previously released. Nonetheless, they carry this album to the rating it gets. Standout songs include “Love is the Answer” and “Can You Do This?”
6: Phantogram: “Voices”: 7.75 out of 10
I had only listened to a little bit of Phantogram before this album, but I loved their guest work in various songs, including “CPU” by Big Boi. The electro-indie band from NY comes out with a solid 3rd release. The album is solid throughout, even if the only standout track is the infectious single “Fall in Love.”
5: Schoolboy Q: “Oxymoron”: 7.75 out of 10
Now to the top 5. In the 5th spot is the Schoolboy Q album “Oxymoron.” Coming into this album, I had no idea what to expect from it. Hailing from LA, Schoolboy Q was a bit of an enigma to me, as he is fairly overshadowed by fellow LA rapper Kendrick Lamar. The album itself has some up and down moments, such as “Collard Greens” which features Lamar, and “Break the Bank” a frighteningly fun anthem. The album’s themes are repetitive, but Q makes no intent to hide them. Sex, weed, and the police are all topics of discussion throughout, even if the discussion is one-sided statements set to massive, thumping beats. This is an album that gives you one thing, and does it well.
4: The Black Keys: “Turn Blue”: 8.75 out of 10
Really one of 4 true contenders for album of the year, “Turn Blue” by the Black Keys was released just a few weeks ago, even if it’s overplayed hit single “Fever” was released before that. Fever is a good song, and a great summer jam, but it suffers from radio fatigue. The album however is strong from start to bottom, and got solid, if somewhat mixed, reviews. It reminds me of the Black Keys trying to imitate Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” and it does so very, very well. If you are a fan of the band, you’ll love this album, if not, I recommend starting on a different album, as some of the overproduction on the songs is a turn-off.
3: Ratking: “So it Goes”: 8.75 out of 10
Ah. This album was a revelation to me a few months ago. I immediately fell in love with it. Ratking is a hip-hop group out of New York City, and embody the gritty, street sounds of NYC perfectly. “Canal”, “So Sick Stories” and “Puerto Rican Judo” are all excellent tracks off of the album, and are good starting points to dive into with this album. Fans of East Coast hip-hop will love this album, while “So Sick Stories” featuring the UK’s King Krule is a great single that many will become enchanted by.
2: Atmosphere: “Southsiders”: 9 out of 10
Atmosphere is a hip-hop group that is near and dear to my heart. The hip-hop group out of Minneapolis has been a band I’ve listened to for most of my childhood, and many of their references in this album are all places that are very familiar to me, and hold a lot of nostalgia. I bring this up because the whole album is an homage to the place that got them their start, the South Side of Minneapolis. While it may seem that I am quite biased towards this album, it truly is one of their very best albums, behind 1 or maybe 2 others. It’s a nice turnaround from what was a few disappointing albums in a row, and by far the winner of my “pleasant surprise” of the year award. The album is very long, logging in at 95 minutes or so, but is strong throughout. It can lose focus half-way through, and is a bit weak in the beginning, but beyond that, you are getting 16 out of 20 songs on the album that easily are worthy of being radio singles. The album is just a well-produced masterpiece, and what will be hard to take down as the hip-hop album of the year. It is the yin to Ratking’s yang, and a great hip-hop album for fans of the genre. Radio single “Bitter” which wasn’t a favorite of mine, fits very nicely in the middle of the album, and is an example of this album being one that truly shines from front to back.
1: Kaiser Chiefs: “Education, Education, Education, and War”: 9.5 out of 10
I have to say, this album was a total surprise for me. I love the Kaiser Chiefs, but I will be the first to admit that their albums are very hit or miss. I usually listen to 4 or 5 songs off of each album, and pretty quickly skip their other ones. However, this one just has some sort of magic to it that gets me to listen to it over and over. The vocals on this track have enough oomph in them to keep you interested, and the sound of the songs vary enough to keep this album afloat. I will admit, this album very, very easily could have been a 7 out of 10, because the songs have a generic feel to them, but somehow Kaiser Chiefs just perform and produce them excellently. Like other Kaiser Chiefs albums, the themes on the album are interesting, and get you to think as well. Standout tracks on this include the opener “The Factory Gates” and the closing ballad “Roses.”
Disappointment(s) of the year:
Tokyo Police Club: “Forcefield”: 7 out of 10
This album is the Metroid “Other M” of music albums for me. I like this album, but goodness is it disappointing. You get a collection of very different, and very pop-sounding songs that are a complete 180 from the kick-butt punk sound of “A Lesson in Crime.” The album pretty much wrapped the band’s energy in bubble wrap, and put it in a high chair with safety locks on it. The albums lead singles, “Tunnel Vision” and “Hot Tonight” are basically Disney tracks, and the album is very boring, if decent sounding throughout. So why does it score a 7 and not a middling 5? Well, I didn’t think it was possible, but my biggest disappointment of the year album wise somehow produced my favorite song of the year so far. “Beaches” is a song that occurs later in the year, and shows a good direction of musical and artistic growth for the band. It takes the bands new, softer sound, adds some synth elements, and spins it into a relaxing, somewhat sexy summer song that can be replayed over and over and over again. Beaches is an excellent song, but it isn’t enough to keep this album from disappointing.
The War on Drugs: “Lost in the Dream”: 7.25 out of 10
The War on Drugs is a Philadelphia folk and psychedelic rock band that sounds like Tom Petty fronting an indie band. It’s very dreamy, and usually a nice casual listen. This album, the follow up to 2011’s excellent album, “Slave Ambient” is quite boring however. Many publications love the album for its relaxed sound, but to me, it’s just a snoozefest throughout. This could be a balance of preference with regards to their sound, but I think this just lacks the light, road-trippy energy that their other releases had.
Foster the People: “Supermodel”: 6.25 out of 10
Foster the People’s debut album, “Torches” was one of my favorite releases of 2011, a 10 song album with plenty of pop power. Their debut album Supermodel however, wanders and flounders, lacking a clear direction, like a B-list actor trying to turn their career around. The album really could have used some key singles, but lacked any standout songs to garner interest. I’ve seen reviews on this album generally range from 4 out of 10 to 7.5 out of 10, which is sad, considering I really wanted to see this band do well.
Albums I’m looking forward to:
Jack White: “Lazaretto”: June 10th, 2014
This album comes out tomorrow, and is one that I’m very excited about. The single “Lazaretto” gives an insight to what the album will look like, and so far, it’s looking as crazy and energetic as Jack White’s 2012 release, “Blunderbuss.”
Imagine Dragons: Untitled: TBA
I’m just hoping this is more like the band’s first EP’s than it is like the recent stuff they have released. The band is quickly going from a lovable alt-rock group to a loud, obnoxious pop band. But maybe I’m just bitter that they were featured in a Michael Bay movie, screaming vocals and all (excuse me while I go cry at how good this band used to be and how bleh they are now.)
Queens of the Stone Age: Untitled: Winter 2014
Like Stranger said, this is expected this winter, but I’m psyched for it. Honestly, I highly, highly doubt this release will doubt Like Clockwork, but it doesn’t need to. This band has proven itself for the next 10 years with that release. All it needs to do now is release a few strong singles to keep fans held over for a while. This is a nice surprise, and any good songs from it is a bonus.
Last Dinosaurs: Untitled: Summer 2014
This is the release under the most scrutiny from me and my friends. Their debut album “In a Million Years” was released a few years ago, and it is one of a handful of albums that I would give a 10 out of 10. It’s a masterpiece of alt-rock, and is my 2nd favorite album of all time. The album currently holds a 91% score on metacritic, and is amazing. This release was delayed from a fall 2013 release due to the lead singer’s guitar getting stolen, but now, it’s back on track for release. The band is usually quite secretive, and it’s no different with this album, with no singles being released yet. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect with this album, and I’m just trying my hardest not to hype this thing up, because I’m expecting a letdown.
The Wombats: Untitled: Winter 2014
The Wombats have a history of solid albums every few years, and this is looking like another, after the release of the single “Your Body is a Weapon.” I’m excited.
Wacka Flocka Flame: Flockaveli 2: Winter 2014
I listen to Wacka jokingly, just like with 2 Chainz, but hey, there could easily be some “it’s so bad it’s good” songs, just like in Flockaveli. We’ll see.
U2: Untitled: Winter 2014
I like U2. Moving on.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Untitled: Winter 2014
I love RHCP, and I’m hoping that this is a strong album, that solidifies the band in the realm of “all-time favorite” status, akin to “Like Clockwork” from QOTSA. While I don’t think it’ll be amazing, I’m expecting some solid singles like “Rain Dance Maggie” from their previous release.
Raekwon: Fly International Luxurious Art: Fall 2014
This is a stupid name for an album, but I like Raekwon. This should be good. I’m expecting an 8 out of 10.
Faded Paper Figures: Relics: Summer 2014
I love Faded Paper Figures, and the lead single from this album, “Breathing” has been my most played song of the summer thus far. The band nails a techno-alt sound, and has very, very brilliant lyrics. I highly recommend this band to any fan of alt-techno, and I have high expectations for this album.
Lil’ Wayne: Tha Carter V: Winter 2014
I wasn’t excited for this at all, but there have been some good singles floating around from this, and it’s been enough to renew interest in Weezy’s exploits.
Kanye West: Untitled: Winter 2014
The follow-up to Yeezus. I have no idea what direction Kanye will go, but it should be interesting.
Frank Ocean: Untitled: TBA
With anything Frank Ocean, this should be interesting.
Emeli Sande: Who Needs the World: Fall 2014
I like Emeli Sande, and this should be a solid fall release. It might sneak into my best of the year list at the end too.
Adele: Untitled: TBA
Adele is a singer I have a ton of respect for, even if it means another round of radio domination.
Foo Fighters: Untitled: November 2014
Surprised to see another Foo Fighters album. I’m just hoping for another single or two. Anything more is a bonus.
Kendrick Lamar: Untitled: September 2014
The follow up to “Good Kid MAAD City” this album has been quietly buzzed about, and should garner a ton of hype after the summer. Can’t wait.
Maroon 5: Untitled: September 2nd 2014
The band has stated that this is a return to the band’s roots with this album, which has me super excited. I loved the first 3 albums from them, so I’m hoping this is like those, and not like the more recent ones.
Interpol: “El Pintor”: September 8th 2014
I’m a pretty big Interpol fan, so I’m curious to see how this turns out. It’s been in the works for a while now.
Air Dubai: “Be Calm”: July 2014
Air Dubai is a hip-hop group out of Denver, and their 3rd album “Be Calm” has been in the works for a few years now. This album features all of the “Warning” EP, plus some new songs. I’m excited to see how this album goes.
That marks all of the notable music we could find to talk about for the half-way point of the year. Thanks for sticking around and reading the blog. Did you agree with our choices? Disagree? Find any new bands that you like? What are you excited for? As always, feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll get back as soon as I can. Thanks for reading!