C.J. Becker’s Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2014

 

Hello there! My name is C.J. Becker, I host two shows on KSLU-Saint Louis University Radio. On Monday, I host the show ‘We Have Fun Here’ where each week, a different record label is explored and on Wednesday I host ‘DELICIOUS!’ in which I present a wide variety of flavors of music in one hour.  I am also the self-proclaimed “Greatest DJ in KSLU History.”  As the year comes to a close, the list of top tens start popping up from various blogs and publications.  This will be no different as I will be reviewing my top ten favorite albums of 2014.  The key word there is “favorite.”  This is not the list of the top ten BEST albums, but the ones I personally enjoyed the most.  With so albums this year that I enjoyed, it was to just showcase ten so before we begin with the count down, we’ll go over a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions:

Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right
Favorite track: “Scum, Rise”

Tonstartssbandht – Overseas
Favorite track: “Soap Shop Rock”

 Fanfarlo – Let’s Go Extinct
Favorite track: “Cell Song”

Liars – Mess
Favorite track: “Darkside”

Holy Wave – Relax
Favorite track: “Wet & Wild”

Alex G – DSU
Favorite track: “Serpent is Lord”

Behemoth – The Satanist
Favorite track: “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer”

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
Favorite track: “Moment of Hesitation”

Priscilla Ahn – This Is Where We Are
Favorite track: “Wedding March”

 Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron
Favorite track: “Fuck LA”

Nausicaa Sound (A Footwork Comp for #Ferguson)
Favorite track: DMY“Waitin’ to Die”

#10 Burzum – The Ways of Yore
One of the most infamous names in black metal history, Varg Vikernes has been putting out music under the name Burzum since 1988.  His has created some of the most historic black metal in history.  Unfortunately, his radical political views and the fact that in 1993, he murdered Euronymous who was the guitar player of black metal band Mayhem have understandably overshadowed his musical talent. Vikernes was in prison from 1994 to 2009.  While in prison, he continued to make music and release albums. On June 2nd 2014, Burzum released The Ways of Yore, a dark ambient, folk album.  This is very different from the style of music Burzum usually does. From start to finish, this album maintains a medieval style with spoken word vocals that make you feel like you’re in Game of Thrones.
Favorite track: “The Coming of Ettins”

#9 Lil B – Hoop Life
Okay, okay, before you completely discredit this list and my taste in music in general, just here me out! Lil B is arguably the most unique and interesting entity in hip-hop today. That doesn’t necessarily mean he is the most talented rapper in hip-hop today. He is entertaining, polarizing and ultra based. Hoop Life is my favorite Lil B release because I am a huge fan of over-the-top hip-hop and basketball.  This 33 track album is about Lil B’s drive to make it the NBA. This album has some deep NBA references that makes it feel like Lil B actually knows what he is talking about when it comes to basketball. I would love to hang out with Lil B and just talk about the NBA with him after listening to this. On top of that, this album has a Kevin Durant diss track. That is hilarious to me. Since this was released on June 1st, it has been one of my go-to listens. And just a little side-note, if you attend Saint Louis University, Lil B gives SLU’s basketball team (and many other college basketball teams) a shout-out in the first song “Pass the Ball.” Go Bills!
Favorite track: “Living my Life”

#8 SZA – Z
This debut of SZA as a part of Top Dawg Entertainment is one that does not disappoint.  SZA’s strong voice on top of these powerful, relaxing and sometimes sporadic beats is something that seems the seamlessly blend into each other.  It is easy to get lost and fall into a trance while listening to this album with it’s simplistic yet heart-wrenching progressions and compelling lyrical content.  This album is the prototypical sound of the rising “Anti-R&B” movement happening in pop music and is definitely an album to be picked up by anyone getting into that style of music, as well as the likes of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd.  This album has soul, fury and as one of the kids at a preschool I substituted at “it has punch.” (I use to play this album during nap time. It works like a charm.)
Favorite track: “Hiijack”

#7 Say Anything – Hebrews
The sixth album by Say Anything, in my opinion, is Max Bemis’ masterpiece. After the last two albums (Anarchy, My Dear & Say Anything) were concerned duds by fans of the band and critics.  With …Is A Real Boy and In Defense of the Genre as the predecessors to those albums, it seemed almost impossible for Max Bemis to top his previous releases.  Coming in with low expectations after being disappointed by the last two Say Anything albums, I was blown away.  With the musical arrangements, with the lyrics and how smooth and organized the album is. This album has all the things that made people Say Anything fans in the first place but is completely different from any other Say Anything release ever.  This isn’t your typical angsty pop-punk album. Max Bemis managed to put together a pop-punk album without using guitars. Instead the album features a cello, violin, viola, French horn, trumpet, tuba, upright bass and fiddle, creating a new sound and take on the genre.  This album may be the saving grace to a genre that is dying and saturated with copy-cat bands with nothing new to bring to the table.  This album also features many notable guest vocalists such as: Keith Buckley from Every Time I Die, Chris Conley from Saves the Day, Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra, Brian Sella of The Front Bottoms, Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou and Tom DeLonge from Blink-182, just to name of few. This album is full of treats and is guaranteed to put a smirk on your face at least once.
Favorite track: “Hebrews (featuring Brian Sella)”

#6 OFF! – Wasted Years
59 year old lead singer Keith Morris and OFF! put the new generation of punk bands to shame showing that they still know how to write raw, aggressive punk songs with the same amount of intensity of the music that made Morris a legend in punk rock in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s in bands Black Flag and Circle Jerks.  This album features 16 blistering tracks that continues to keep getting more and more intense as the last. Into his late 50’s, Keith Morris still has a lot to say and provides some of his best lyrics to date.  The music is faster than ever with three of the best musicians in punk rock history, Dimitri Coats, Steven McDonald and Mario Rubalcaba backing up Morris’ always crushing vocals. Morris could have stopped making music after Circle Jerks broke up and would have been still considered on off punks best frontmen but that’s not what it’s about.  Morris has proven he is not done being a prolific part of the punk scene.  Despite their older ages, they show more fire than most punk modern punk bands putting out music today. OFF! has not been a failed experience like other “punk bands” that feature members that were relevant in the 1980’s *cough* new Black Flag *cough.*  This album not only left me completely satisfied but had me wanting more from this group.
Favorite track: “Hypnotized”

#5 Death Grips – The Powers That B: Niggas on the Moon
Following the disappointing (in my opinion) release of the album Government Plates in late 2013, Death Grips came back with a vengeance with the first half of a double album, The Powers That B.  Despite being arguably the least intense release from Death Grips, it features new elements that shows that Death Grips is always looking for new ways of pushing the boundaries of experimental music.  Vocalist MC Ride showcases some of his best lyrics to date and evolving his flow to show that he not only has the ability to be a technical rapper, but a damn good one at that.  In every Death Grips release, MC Ride has shown his ability of unique word play and doesn’t disappoint on this release.  His lyrics always has an underlying theme that is up for interpretation by the listener.  MC Ride is not afraid to rap about dark subjects such as a depression while also criticizing society’s standards of how to live a life worth living. The production on this record shows a continued sense of urgency that has always been the backbone of Death Grips‘ innovative sound.  The sequencing of this album flows really smoothly and makes the albums feel like a whole unit.  It is also worth noting that every song features samples vocal samples from Bjork.  The Bjork samples are executed marvelously and is a part of the reason the album feels like a full unit.  The idea of completely sampling the vocals of one singer could easily back fire is not executed properly.   Even though Death Grips broke up shortly after releasing the first half of this double album, the second half of the album Jenny Death could be released at anytime. You never know with Death Grips.
Favorite track: “Have A Sad Cum”

 

#4 Spectral Lore – III
This masterpiece of an album took three years to complete and it makes sense why.  Spectral Lore is a one-man ambient black metal band from Greece.  Though the country of Greece is not known for their black metal, this album may just be one of the best black metal albums to be released in years.  This album takes the original lo-fi sound of early black metal and adds a multitude of elements that make it stand out.  When listening to this album in full, its amazing to know that everything was recorded by one person.  Not only does the man behind Spectral Lore, Ayloss, play the standard instruments, guitar, drums and bass, he also plays a wide range of classical instruments that, at times, makes it sound like a full orchestra has come together to make such ambitious music.  The shortest track on this album is 7:28.  The longest being 16:32.  With an average track length of 12 minutes 23 seconds, Ayloss wastes no time in creating tracks with some of the heaviest highs and some of the most beautiful and calming lows.  All together, there remains a dark theme in the instrumentation that truly brings out the creativity of one’s mind.  With parts of the album featuring sound clips from nature the sound of Spectral Lore continues to diversify and shows the evolution of black metal while remaining true to the roots of black metal.
Favorite track: “The Cold March towards Eternal Brightness”

#3 Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
Hip-hop super duo of Killer Mike and El-P has been leading a movement in hip-hop sense 2012.  The duo has been working together since Killer Mike’s 2012 album R.A.P. Game, which was completely produced by El-P. After coming together for R.A.P. Game, the two collaborated on their debut self-titled album Run The Jewels in 2013.  RTJ’s debut came with high praise and high expectations heading into their second album.  It’s safe to say that those expectations have been met and shattered with the release of Run The Jewels 2.  Killer Mike and El-P are both on top of their game right now and are easily the most exciting thing in hip-hop today. This album is as close to a perfect hip-hop record you can get.  The southern hip-hop style of Killer Mike and El-P’s traditional New York-style blend together perfect to create a sound that is fresh and unheard.  There is no weak link on this album.  Killer Mike is not kidding on the first track “Jeopardy” by stating “…history bein’ made” and that’s exactly what they have done.  Their sound is breaking boundaries of how people thought hip-hop should sound.  The sequencing of this album is something that should applauded.  The themes and stories told are culturally relevant and say things people wish they could say but they can’t.  It’s absolutely heartbreaking to hear Killer Mike rap about selling drugs to a pregnant woman in order to make ends meet and  his fear of being a black man in America right now and the fear he has of how his two sons will be treated by police.  This album will make you think, this album will make you want to make a change in the world and this album will make you want to move your feet.
Favorite track: “Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)”

#2 Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown
No album was listened to by me more than From Parts Unknown by Every Time I Die.  Now it is important to note that Every Time I Die is my favorite band of all-time, so I may be a little biased.  This album truly encompasses every Every Time I Die release to date while also continuing to more forward.  It has the speed and energy of Hot Damn!, the fun riffs and melodies of Gutter Phenomenon and The Big Dirty, the fully-packaged songwriting of New Junk Aesthetic and the dark themes of Ex Lives.  With all of that said, the band continues to evolve their sound.  Having the album produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou really shows on this record and you feel the members of Every Time I Die putting everything they have into this album.  This effort by Every Time I Die has some of the most honest and personal lyrics of any ETID album.  Especially on the song “Moor” where singer Keith Buckley talks about the story of his wife being beaten and robbed while Every Time I Die was on tour.  He writes about the guilt he has for not being there to protect her and the revenge he seeks on the man who did this to his wife.  The vocal performance on this album, especially the aforementioned song shows a genuine pain and intensity on Keith Buckley’s part.  The real shining spot of this album is Ryan Leger’s drumming on this album.  The man is an absolute machine behind his kit and joined the band after the release of New Junk Aesthetic and saved the band from the previous drummer’s digression as the rest of the band progressed.  He is the perfect fit for Every Time I Die and has been a huge reason their last two albums have been so fantastic.  The band finally has a stable lineup the knows how to churn out hard-hitting music while continuing to push themselves to go harder each and every time.
Favorite track: “Moor”

#1 Tacocat – NVM
Where do I even start with this record?  Now, though this album is not the most ground-breaking album in years, I did not have as much fun listening to an album like I did listening to NVM by Tacocat.  This album is poppy, sarcastic and raw all at the same time.  The Seattle-based group Tacocat is no stranger to having fun with their music and doing things they think are funny.  To start, the album is titled NVM, which is a nod at another Seattle-based band Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind.  And lyrically, singer Emily Nokes sings about the atrocious weather of Seattle and wanting to build a bridge to Hawaii and has many sarcastic and witty songs about getting stood up for a date, how she absolutely loves it when she gets cat-called walking down the street and a whole song dedicated to being on your period and how delightful that is. All of this is being sung over simple but catchy surf pop that makes you want to dance.  Everything about this album makes me happy.  This album has made me laugh numerous times and has also made me stand up dance like a fool even more times.  No doubt in my mind this is my favorite album of 2014.
Favorite track: “Crimson Wave”

CJ BeckerC.J. Becker’s Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2014