There are several reasons why 2014 was not the greatest year in music or media. First off, Robin Williams died. Rest in peace to one of comedy's all time greats. Secondly, a metric ton of my favorite electro-pop bands either split up or went into extended hiatus. Nicolas Jarr's ambient guitar synth project Darkside fired the first shot by releasing an ambiguously worded statement that they were disbanding but left open the possibility to a future reunion. Electro-freaks The Knife called it quits, Alice Glass left the future of Crystal Castles in doubt by declaring her departure from the group, and all-time greats Orbital decided to hang up for the second (and presumably last) time. In the span of a few months, four of my favorite groups in the genre were no more.
Secondly, it just wasn't as good a year for music than what we've become accustomed to. When you think about it, who really had a big year? I suppose you could nominate War on Drugs. Lost in the Dream catapulted them from being random Pitchfork Best New Music act to 80s rock and roll enthusiasts' wet dream, but would their rise to stardom be as recognizable to the random joe on the street as that of Yeezus? Or Vampy Weekend? Or half a dozen others from the last few years? When the tale of these years are penned, they're liable to be best remembered for a six minute folk diss track than anything else. Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozalek had possibly his biggest moment yet, then managed to squander almost all his goodwill overnight with his stirring rendition of "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock." Foos were a good candidate for awhile. Their Sonic Highways HBO series gave a thought provoking look into the musical legends behind eight U.S. cities, and their ticket controversy at Ryman Auditorium on Halloween night attracted just enough any press is good press controversy to bolster their status as a major story, but then the album actually dropped and everybody realized: oh wait, it's yet another fucking Foo Fighters album. Swans already had their moment with The Seer. Aphex Twin, observing the success of comeback attempts by Neutral Milk Hotel, Nine Inch Nails, Outkast, and tons of others, decided to step out of the limelight himself but forgot that it doesn't really work the same way without the live act.
So here we are, at the end of another year, and I guess it could have been worse. If nothing else, this may stand as the year to reaffirm our faith in guitar based rock music. Cloud Nothings, Swans, St. Vincent, Ty Segall, Rodrigo y Gabriela, The War on Drugs, Spoon, Jack White, and Tom Petty all put out excellent albums, not to mention the fact that metal had a banner year. Electronic music had a slow start but recovered in the second half with strong releases from Caribou, Aphex Twin, and Iamamiwhoami. Rap, as mentioned before, decided to take the year off.
So if I don't seem that enthusiastic about this year, well, just think that with all the technological advancements we have now, coupled with all the musical breakthroughs of the past 60 or 70 so years, I know we can do better. And we will. But for now, let's get this out of the way so we can move on to the (hopefully) far superior 2015.
10. Badbadnotgood - III
9. Swans - To Be Kind
8. Thee Silver Mt. Zion - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
7. Behemoth - The Satanist
6. Rodrigo y Gabriela - 9 Dead Alive
5. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
The mainstream publications may have focused on her zany image, but this album, maybe more so than any album this year, is a triumph of allowing us to see its creator as human and vulnerable.
4. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold
3. Caribou - Our Love
2. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else
1. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2
One of the biggest areas in which music this year lacked was that there wasn't anything with much of a message. War on Drugs might have wowed listeners with waves of reverb, and Swans sure as hell developed some intense experimental soundscapes, but when you boil it all down it's all just music, and nothing more. Run the Jewels 2 was one of the few notable albums this year that actually attempted to say something relevant to its time. Now, I'm not going to try to tell you this is The Times They Are A-Changin' or anything, but a hell of a lot happened in 2014 that didn't involve our headphones and this sums it up as well as anything else. "Early" presented a depiction of police violence and a summation of our society's response to it. In a year in which violent protest dominated our headlines, it's enough to rank Run the Jewels 2 among the year's most socially conscious records.
Of course, the album is great for many reasons other than that. Emcees Killer Mike and El-P talk about some very real themes but don't shove it down your throat. They mix great production with mostly intense hardcore lyrics and then slip the themes in here and there. It's very intense in every sense of the word, from the beats and overall sound of the album all the way down the to lyrics and presentation. They laid down basically what they wanted to do with RTJ1, but this one fixed all of its problems. The beats are better, they cut the shit, cut out all the weak watered down hooks, and tightened everything up.