Showbams’ Top 50 albums of 2014

Best-albums-2014-coverBy Mike Frash, Josh Herwitt, Molly Kish, Steve Wandrey & Kevin Quandt //

Showbams presents the Top 50 albums released in 2014 (yes, all of 2014) that we just can’t stop listening to.

These are the albums that made us double-take upon first listen, while also being auditory art pieces that we continue to spin as we head into 2015. They are the bundles of songs that innovated and inspired us more than the rest, signifying musical progression, defining our time with a soundtrack that challenges traditional expectations, while boldly trekking into new frontiers of pop music.

Because as music continues to become more accessible, the bridge between independent and mainstream gets shorter each year.

The 25 Best Live Music Acts of 2014
Showbams’ Top 50 Albums of 2014

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2014:


1. Run the JewelsRun the Jewels 2

run-the-jewelsSo often sequels don’t deliver, but ascending hip-hop stars Killer Mike and El-P have simply progressed their brilliance as Run The Jewels one year removed from their first official collaboration. From the top of RTJ2, Michael Render manages to set a higher bar for pumped-up aggression, there’s more social activism laced throughout, more special guests that only add to the fuck boy-crushing populist mentality. And compared to RTJ1, there are more stand-alone gems that are primed for remixing and cultural integration. The sequencing is superb, and El and Mike are having more fun than ever as they tour the world and snowball momentum with their brand of hardcore, yet intricate rap that contains shades of weird. Like a championship baseball team, the songs in the two hole through cleanup hitter offer the biggest impact, wreaking instant classics upon us with masterful experimental production from El-P that emits new, subtle surprises the more you listen. As the album unfolds, tales of police brutality (“Early”), introspection and personal improvement (“Crown”), along with over the top raunch (“Love Again”) prove RTJ2 shines in every moment in a variety of ways through multiple lanes of success. -Mike Frash


2. The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

war-on-drugs-lost-in-dream-album-coverWhen a truly inspired artist borrows from the past while looking to the future, the outcome can be something fully new and exciting, which is what we have here. The brilliance of Adam Granduciel lies in his delivery, both musically and lyrically, crooning about the sometimes-not-so-simple intricacies of existence. Life, love and everything else in between can be tricky, yet Granduciel calmly assures us that things can work out.

Granduciel knows how to structure albums with the best of them — this acutely demonstrated via the nine-minute, sprawling opener “Under the Pressure”. First single “Red Eyes” keeps on a similar path as we sink deeper in, bobbing along to the pounding drum machine that has been a constant over the years for the Philly-based band. “Disappearing” takes us soaring above the clouds as we hear new, thrilling piano instrumentation with warm bass lines, creating a sense of weightlessness and flight. An extremely strong finishing track, “In Reverse” perfectly captures the fleeting minutes on this release before jarring us back into a slightly crueler reality. The long play of this record is so rewarding, and it grows with hopes that more can be brought into the light. Oh, and that the state rock ‘n’ roll is just fine. -Kevin Quandt


3. D’Angelo and the VanguardBlack Messiah

dangelo-black-messiahThere’s an intentional off-kilter spontaneity and cohesive force at the center of D’Angelo’s first album in 15 years, Black Messiah. The percussive and vocal syncopation here makes the off-beat feel natural — layered vocals get treated with filters and are multi-tracked to lend an unfamiliar presence to the back-and-forth vocal pitch shifts D’Angelo employs from line to line.

The end product is a record that possesses its own musical language, telling stories that are incredibly meaningful, but achieve balance between serious and playful, while always being sexy. The confusing, driving funk of the first two cuts give way to “The Charade”, which manages to hit a rare aural sweat spot of ultra-pleasurability. But then “Sugah Daddy” follows as an unplanned Sunday in the park, with vocal scats skipping along to the breezy song’s pacing. D’Angelo arguably can now join the ranks of the all-time great R&B/soul artists with the delivery of his long-awaited third record. -MF


4. Future IslandsSingles

Future IslandSingles jumps right out of the gates, showing its cards early, presenting the listener with Future Island’s trademark new-school, new-wave sound. Samuel Herring’s vocals are stunning as he pitches and growls through tales of the tougher side of love. It’s pretty, gripping and powerful while also holding certain pop sentiments, lending to an overall lightness while being arresting. “Seasons (Waiting On You)” is a quintessential slice of the emotion this band has become well known for both onstage and in the studio. “Doves” balances all the elements nicely, shining a light on the top-notch production featured on Singles. -KQ


5. Aphex TwinSyro

FINAL MASTER SYRO DIGIPAK.inddRichard D. James has been practically an enigma for the last decade plus, hiding out in a small Scottish village of 300 and releasing no new music as Aphex Twin since 2006. But the long layoff hasn’t changed the fact that he remains one of the most unique and influential electronic producers in the game today. Some of James’ best material on Syro comes early on, from his club-oriented mixes like “minipops 67 [120.2]” to the techno funk ­he crafts on the ensuing “XMAS_EVET10 [120]” and “produk 29 [101].” These aren’t beats designed to make you sweat your ass off — if anything, the cerebral nature of James’ work makes him the ultimate antithesis of the current EDM scene. -Josh Herwitt


6. Flying LotusYou’re Dead!

Flylo_youre_deadOn Flying Lotus’s latest record You’re Dead!, the Los Angeles producer forgoes the acid kool-aide test for a cyanide kool-aide dive straight into a fourth dimensional confrontation with the afterlife. You’re Dead masterfully trips through the journey of the soul into the next episode with sun-scorched psychedelia, 8-bit snapshots of g-funk and gorgeously redemptive jazz. The cold transition between the frantic jazz freak out of Kendrick Lamar featuring “Never Catch Me” and the cooled-out West Coast bounce of Snoop Dogg and FlyLo alter-ego Captain Murphy’s “Dead Man’s Tetris” highlights the producer’s prolific ability to craft varying hip-hop textures. FlyLo fully buries his new album’s death aesthetic through ecstatic, free-form layers of acid jazz and sprawling EDM planes of sound. -John Venanzi, Community Review


7. St. VincentSt. Vincent

St. VincentAnnie Clark ups the electronic ante on her fourth studio album. Branching out of her experimental indie-pop compositions, she embraces more cohesive arrangements that ironically focus her creativity on deconstructed production and sound obstruction. Both equally impressive in sound quality and sass, the opening tracks “Rattlesnake” and “Birth in Reverse” set the tone for the rest of the records’ exciting stylistic shifts and the intriguing unveiling of Clark’s gritty rock goddess persona. “Digital Witness” is a spot-on snapshot of our brave new 21st century day-to-day reality. Unapologetic, raw and sonically genius, St. Vincent is Clark’s breakthrough moment, and she appears to be doing it all with ease. -Molly Kish


8. Mac DeMarcoSalad Days

Mac DemarcoMac DeMarco’s signature style is here. It’s still fresh and in ways stronger than ever; it’s more pointed, focused and accessible. DeMarco is able to write in a way that allows the listener to easily empathize with him, as he turns his issues into ones that most of us have dealt with at some point. In “Chamber of Reflection”, it’s easy to really feel a sense of solitude. “Goodbye Weekend” sounds like a stoney Sunday afternoon coming to a soothing end. Every track has a personality of its own while holding up the overall ethos of the album. This album is lighthearted enough for multiples listens in a row with its breezy beach vibe, but also easily induces deep thoughts with its many lyrical gems. -Steve Wandrey


9. CaribouOur Love

our-loveWhat we have here is one of the most addictive albums of 2014. Our Love keeps deep house in its front pocket with steady beats per minute and an introspective mantra-centric lyrical conceit, but it’s also exploratory in nature, finding success in consistently building toward intense, euphoric plateaus. A steady flow of pleasant sounds ascend into impacting transcendence with “Can’t Do Without You”, “Silver” and “Your Love Will Set You Free”, and you must give Snaith extra credit for the masterful pacing and song-to-song flow — there is never a “skip ahead” moment. Like many classic albums, it opens up if you give it more time to radiate around your head, and listening to it becomes more pleasurable over time, even though it is mostly presented in poetic simplicity. -MF


10. Sun Kil MoonBenji

Sun Kil MoonBenji must be interpreted as a concept album about death, but more importantly, it’s about the importance details related to memory. For example, the title is taken from what seems like a throw-away line toward the end of the breathtaking “Micheline”. It’s powerful, visceral storytelling that is self-reflexive and biographical, yet so relatable that it compels personal introspection from the listener’s own experiences. Mark Kozelek’s lyrics are the centerpiece of the listening experience — they are so deep and resonant that the instrumentals and production are absorbed secondarily, although the stripped-down approach is intentional and noteworthy. Built around obsessing about the state of human demise — and the randomness of it — it’s easy to join Kozelek’s dire state of mind hours or days after listening. -MF


11. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
12. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
13. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
14. Spoon – They Want My Soul
15. Ariel Pink – pom pom
16. Beck – Morning Phase
17. Jack White – Lazaretto
18. The Black Keys – Turn Blue
19. Tycho — Awake
20. TV on the Radio – Seeds

21. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
22. Tweedy – Sukierae
23. Jungle – Jungle
24. Temples – Sun Structures
25. tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack
26. Death from Above 1979 – The Physical World
27. Ty Segall – Manipulator
28. The Antlers – Familiars
29. Real Estate – Atlas
30. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

31. Cold War Kids – Hold My Home
32. Interpol – El Pintor
33. Alt-J – This Is All Yours
34. Swans – To Be Kind
35. Strand of Oaks – HEAL
36. White Fence – For the Recently Found Innocent
37. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
38. Phantogram – Voices
39. Broken Bells – After the Disco
40. SOHN – Tremors

41. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
42. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
43. Karen O — Crush Songs
44. Chet Faker – Built on Glass
45. Woods – With Light and with Love
46. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
47. Kishi Bashi – Lighght
48. Mark McGuire – Along The Way
49. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
50. Adult Jazz – Gist Is

Run-the-Jewels4

The-War-on-Drugs5

10.future-islands

4.st-vincent

12.Ryan Adams

Sharon-Van-Etten_post

Spoon

Tycho

TVOTR

Temples

8.tune-yards

Real-Estate

Interpol

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New Music Tuesday: Bombay Bicycle Club • Broken Bells • Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang • Gardens & Villa

Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow
Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.


Bombay Bicycle ClubSo Long, See You Tomorrow

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Feel”
“So Long, See You Tomorrow”
“Carry Me”

Album Highlights: Bombay Bicycle Club’s fourth full length finds the English indie group dabbling with a wider sphere of world music influences, yet the output is still pretty damn catchy. The big strength with So Long, See You Tomorrow is how it thrives on pop arrangements that are both diverse and understated. Earnest without being overbearing, it’s an album that’s bombastic in its spectrum of sound yet relatively subtle lyrically. The world music influence in “Feel” does wonders, helping to build a song that does a good job following through on it’s title. More of the record could have benefitted by following style and vibe of this track. Final track “So Long, See You Tomorrow” ends the album with a fitting big opus, a song that shines as bright as any on the record.

Album Lowlight: The first half of the album takes a while to gain steam — it doesn’t really pick up until the second half. “Whenever, Wherever” sounds interesting and slightly innovative at first, but upon repeat listens, it turns into some kind of twisted Millennial anthem. Also “It’s Alright Now” is an angst-filled slow-builder without the bite. Where’s the fun in that?

Takeaway: Demonstrating a greater focus on world music influences and female vocals has benefitted Bombay Bicycle Club nicely. The production is anything but formulaic, and So Long, See You Tomorrow flourishes the further it plays out — maybe it’s intentional sequencing, but the album certainly peaks on a high note. For many, it might also take half an album’s worth of listening to adapt to Bombay Bicycle Club’s understated, yet catchy, tunes.

-Mike Frash


Broken BellsAfter the Disco

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Perfect World”
“Medicine”
“Control”

Album Highlights: James Mercer and Danger Mouse follow up their 2010 collaborative debut as Broken Bells with an ambitious and divergent sophomore effort in After the Disco. Their signature sound remains imbedded in the group’s funky basslines, audio production and Mercer’s incomparable talent as one of this decade’s most distinguishable singer songwriters. Yet, it’s their expansion into larger soundscapes with the inclusion of orchestral and big band elements, that sets this album apart from its predecessor in a positively encompassing manner. Branching out from their stylistically simplistic debut, the group incorporates hard hitting disco rudiments, space rock synths and jazzy lounge percussion components that give the record a vintage appeal while remaining on point with current modern pop trends.

Album Lowlight: A generally mid-tempo album, the pace of the record remains consistent except for the final tracks which unfortunately close out the otherwise dance worthy compilation awkwardly. Both songs are beautiful in their own right, but unfortunately don’t get the attention they deserve due to their arrangement on the record. Instead of ending on a high note, the band closes out a predominately new wave and disco themed track list with their two most dramatic songs back to back. Which may have been a premeditated move creatively, but ultimately falls flat against the alternatively up beat album structure.

Takeaway: Following suit with the current thematic shift in pop music, Broken Bells embraces the best aspects of late seventies disco, capturing the final moments of the genre’s crossover into early eighties nu-wave, while maintaining a modern flair. With both members bringing their equally influential tastes to the table, James Mercer and Danger Mouse devise an intriguing tribute to an era of music that achieves effortless resuscitation through their unique integration of modern production and musical skillsets.

~Molly Kish


Les Claypool’s Duo De TwangFour Foot Shack

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Man in the Box”
“Pipe Line”
“Boonville Stomp”

Album Highlights: Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang make their studio debut with a stompin’ album that pays homage to a variety of classic tunes and puts a new spin on some Claypool staples. Consisting of Les Claypool on vocals and acoustic bass and Bryan Kehoe on guitar, Four Foot Shack offers stripped-down versions of songs that span Claypool’s career such as “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.” As wonderful as these Claypool classics are, it is the covers on this album that really shine. Of the 6 cover tracks, the Twang interpretation of Alice in Chain’s “Man in a Box” alone is worth the price of admission. The Duo de Twang also tackle the Bee Gees disco anthem “Stayin’ Alive” and the surf rock masterpiece “Pipe Line” originally by The Chantays. Like every song the Duo De Twang covers, they put their own magic into it.

Album Lowlight: It’s tough to say anything bad about this album. Four Foot Shack has a very live feel to it, and was likely recorded in single takes with mild overdubbing of vocals and other effects. I really would’ve loved to have gotten an album full of covers. The Claypool originals are great, but not much new ground is broken with the Duo De Twang version. The covers are just so unique and interesting that an entire album of them would not disappoint me. Tough to complain about anything though, this album features vintage Claypool at his finest.

Takeaway: Four Foot Shack has a very distinct sound to it. Claypools signature slap and tap of the bass, albeit acoustic, mixed with his whacky vocal delivery and the twangy guitar of Bryan Kehoe make this album a foot-stomper. The sounds and rhythm Les Claypool creates with his bass are astounding and nothing is lost despite trading in the electric bass for an acoustic. If you’ve ever been a fan of anything Claypool has been apart of you will be much obliged to listen to this record.

-Kevin Raos


Gardens & VillaDunes

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Domino”
“Chrysanthemums”
“Echosassy”

Album Highlights: With the help of DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy, Gardens & Villa have crafted an enjoyable slice of synth-rock while establishing their own sound on this sophomore release. This Santa Barbara-bred act burst onto the scene with an impressive debut with some seriously catchy numbers, and have followed it up with a slightly more sonically in-depth batch of varied sounding songs.

The pace and tempo of Dunes is one of it’s strong suits as Gardens & Villa expand beyond the more upbeat/tempo songs which open the album. Tracks like “Chrysanthemums” slow things down nicely with a piano-driven ballad with just the right amount of minimal effects to allow the songwriting, and Chris Lynch’s vocals, to shine through. On the other hand, the next track “Echosassy” shifts the band’s sound towards a contemporized New Wave breakdown. Fans of Miike Snow are sure to gobble up this batch of poppy dance-rock songs full of hooks, post-punk beats and swirling synths.

Album Lowlights: Similar to their previous self-titled release, Dunes is a solid release. They are not earth-shattering or breaking much new ground, unfortunately. Gardens & Villa do squarely have command of their sound and style, but there are times when a little more is desired from them. “Bullet Train” was oddly one of the first announced singles off of Dunes, and is a bit of a muddled mess of falsetto singing, flute effects and slightly cheesy 80’s synth flourishes which simply don’t add up to anything you need to play on repeat.

Takeaway: Fan’s of Gardens & Villa’s first release are sure to eat up this grouping of new tracks and play this album well through the warm summer months. Dunes does lack a bit of the ‘star fire power’ of their self-titled album, but solidifies their unique style of layered dance-rock that has launched similar acts like Cut Copy, who has been produced by Goldsworthy. There is a flavor for all current music fans to find enjoyable in this release, it’s just a matter of how memorable that taste turns out to be for each individual.

-Kevin Quandt