The 10 Most Overlooked Albums of 2014
Down, seen here at Warehouse Live earlier this month, came back strong on the second half of their Down IV EP series.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Every year we all rush to start making our end-of-the-year bests lists, and inevitably, we miss a few. Usually the comments section will let us know how bad we fucked up by not including such and such record, usually one we didn't like to begin with, often by some forgotten '80s band nobody except the author cares about, but every now and then some legitimately great records will fall by the wayside.
Since most of us have turned in our year-end lists by now, it's time we turn our attention to those albums that nobody talked a lot about but that deserve every bit of the recognition all those Top 10 picks got. Here are the best, most overlooked releases of 2014 for your listening pleasure.
10. Warpaint, Warpaint Warpaint have been favorites here in Houston for a long time. The first two times I saw them, they put on killer performances alongside locals Buxton and Grandfather Child. They fit in so well, they could have been a local band themselves.
For some reason, though, the band has never managed to get the critical acclaim they deserve. Their second full-length steps up their songwriting and psychedelic atmosphere to craft one of the best dream-pop releases in many years.
9. Atmosphere, Southsiders Maybe it's because of their age, but Atmosphere just can't seem to grab attention these days. Everyone I know listens to them and loves them, but would be hard-pressed to notice any of their more recent releases. This is a huge shame because as Atmosphere has grown up, they've grown as songwriters beyond simply being rappers and DJs. Southsiders contains their best pure songcraft since 2007's When Life Gives You Lemons, and shows a revitalized Slug rapping about his own life in the most candid manner he's approached in a decade.
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8. Casualties of Cool, Casualties of Cool The big news on Devin Townsend this year was his return to his Ziltoid the Omniscient character. So exciting was Z2: Sky Blue to fans that metalheads largely overlooked Townsend's other project, Casualties of Cool. Featuring singer Ché Aimee Dorval, it's a stripped down, almost acoustic folk-jazz record that steps outside of any boundaries Townsend had ever established for himself. It's the perfect record for a cold winter night, so maybe its summer release damned it. Either way, it's worth grabbing now when the weather outside has finally caught up to the record's chilly vibe.
7. Ghostface Killah, 36 Seasons It's easy to see why nobody really noticed this one. First off, it was a December release, by which time everyone had already decided on their favorite records of the year. Secondly, it was released just a week after A Better Tomorrow, Wu-Tang Clan's comeback record. A new Wu-Tang record will always overshadow a Ghostface album.
That being said, Ghostface is one of the only members of the collective with his head on straight lately and he's producing some of the best rap music of his career these days. He's returned to the soul samples and the storybook lyrics that made him famous, and for that we applaud. If only RZA would take more cues from his brother here.
6. Down, Down IV Part II While it would have been preferable to receive all of Down's newest material at once in a full length, the conclusion of this two-part EP series is one of the best releases of the band's career. Through lineup changes, the band rediscovered their heaviness and their punch. Down has never been this sludgy, this crushing, or this powerful, and it's made for an exciting return for them. While no one was paying attention, Down reestablished themselves as one of the forerunners of stoner-metal in 2014.
5. Christopher Owens, A New Testament Since leaving Girls, Christopher Owens' output has been a mixed bag. While most indie-rock fans loved hearing the progression of his work with his first band, it was disappointing to hear him step back into the rootsy, folk-driven material of his slight solo debut, Lysandre.
With A New Testament, Owens has reoriented himself. He's still working within the confines of Americana but writing better songs, which is all that really matters. This is the strongest work Owens has done by himself to date, and hopefully fans will give him a second look.
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4. Enabler, La Fin Absolue Du Monde It's been sort of disappointing to see the way Enabler has developed in the public eye. They came out of the gate with much hype and acclaim, signing with Southern Lord mostly based on the fact that their drummer at the time was Andy Hurley, more famous for his work with Fall Out Boy.
What no one seemed to realize is that they were hearing the work of one of the best hardcore bands around today, with or without Hurley. Now that he's is back with Fall Out Boy, Enabler's public spotlight has faded, and yet they're writing their best material ever. La Fin Absolue Du Monde is by far their best album to date, and stands as one of the best hardcore releases of the year.
3. Kayo Dot, Coffins on Io Kayo Dot has never been a mainstream band, and they never will be. They actively avoid doing anything anyone would expect a normal band to do, and have changed their lineup and their sound more than one can count. Coffins on Io is nothing like any other Kayo Dot record, verging more into progressive post-punk and noise rock than the band's previous releases, yet that's to be expected with this band. It's one of their finest works yet, but given their restless nature, it's only a matter of time before they flip the script again.
2. Thurston Moore, The Best Day In the wake of public scandals and the breakup of Sonic Youth, one might expect Thurston Moore to lay low. Instead, over the last few years he's been hard at work on so many projects one can't even keep up. Going into The Best Day, you might have expected something closer to Moore's previous solo effort, Damaged Thoughts, a largely acoustic affair.
Instead, Moore took some pieces from Sonic Youth and his other band Chelsea Light Moving to produce a noise rock record that stands up against anything he's ever done in his career. This is the sort of record we always hoped Moore would be able to produce, even without his old bandmates, and it's refreshing to hear him go back to the blueprint that made him famous.
1. Volumes, No Sleep I'll admit, I was skeptical on this one at first. Volumes came out strong several years ago with their debut EP, The Concept of Dreaming, which gave us the hit single "Wormholes" and some very well-crafted djent and metalcore. But soon after, they started incorporating way too many melodic elements that distracted their focus. I lost hope, as they started sounding like a worse version of For the Fallen Dreams.
With the help of Periphery's bassist Adam "Nolly" Getgood, who produced the record, they've finally made those melodic elements work for them, combining with their metal and hip-hop influences to make the best metalcore album of the year. It's a shocking return, but the way they've finally figured out how to congeal all these sounds into one cohesive juggernaut is a feat in and of itself. That the songwriting is so powerful is a testament to this band's true talent. Welcome back, Volumes.
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