The mastermind behind some of the most momentous and wondrous albums of the past decade such as the symphonical and whimsical Illinois and the electronic soaring Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens sheds all of that in Carrie and Lowell. Every song encompasses not much more than a simple piano chord progression or light acoustic fingerpicking. Not once is there a crescendo or something that breaks the song open. Instead of that, he uses his deepest thoughts and the barest tone to convey what he truly convey his deepest, ragged, dejected, and despondent thoughts.
Based around his relationship with his mother Carrie who left him multiple times as a child and her recent death of cancer, it is very personal. Carrie was a schizophrenic, drug abusing women who left Sufjan and his siblings just under the care the care of his father Lowell. Some of the glimmer of hopes within this album come from the five years he was with mother trekking through Oregon, for example, the slightly uplifting song “Eugene” and references to Spencer’s Butte and The Lost Blue Bucket Mine. It’s a wanting to be in those moments with her. It’s when he was truly happy. Sadly, those moments were few and fleeting compared to the ones of her absence, the main theme of the album.
Since his mother’s death, he tried reconciling with her by replicating the destructive behavior that destroyed his mother by drinking, excessive parting, drug use, and one night stands. He recounts this on songs like “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” (“Like a champion/ Get drunk to get laid/ I take one more hit before I go”) and “All of Me Wants All of You” (You checked your texts while I masturbated.”) Never more has he been so truthful. Sufjan brings out those secrets he hid under the floorboards in “John Wayne Gacy Jr” and lets them go like doves at a funeral, wanting the world to know of them. It is not just an allegory for his mother’s death but of his own. He declares himself dead in “John My Beloved.” He contemplates his own suicide in “The Only Thing” by talking about driving his car into a canyon and cutting his wrists open. You can feel the struggle to keep the seams of his life together and him begging to find an answer. The music around his falsetto can feel like death at times. The production creates beautiful floating images of slide guitars slowly ascending and a layering of his most delicate notes that bring out a blinding layer of beautiful light, one you’d imagine heaven produced. He lays bare and ragged beneath his sins and turmoil wondering if he’ll ever get into heaven and if his mother did. His cry of “Fuck me I’m falling apart” is the most emotional he gets and already one of the most emotional moments of the year in music. It’s haunting and unkempt mood will put the listener’s into its own state of isolation.
Stevens tries anything within his sadness to be closer with his mother so much he blames himself for not being close with her. “I should’ve wrote a letter” he sings in “Should’ve Known Better.” However, the apex of the album comes from “Fourth of July” in which he beautifully sings about his last conversation with Carrie and how she felt so sorry for not being in his life. “I forgive you mother” he finally proclaims knowing he will never fully get what he needed from her, but knowing her love was there the whole time and wishes now to just be with her and nothing less. He isn’t bitter but forgiving. You can feel it too. He sings about some truly uplifting things like how the existence of his niece is the single greatest thing in his life and even in his music you’ll hear soft uplifting piano melodies.
Sufjan Stevens doesn’t create a metaphor around a state or biblical reference to convey the themes and introspective thoughts of mankind on us. He doesn’t use the sweeping orchestrations but strips it down gorgeously to just transient guitars and banjos that are so striking. Instead of feeling like looking at a magnificent firework show like we felt on Illinois, it’s like looking at a clear lake so still, it would seem sinful to touch and disturb the flawless nature of it. Carrie and Lowell is Sufjan Stevens’ most thoughtful and enlightening album and it leaves us bare, but not wanting more, just satisfied in everything he gave us, ready to start anew.
Music blog Consequence of Sound has recently reported that music software company Pro Tools will offer their services for free for a limited amount of time soon.
However, Pro Tools First will not have the same amount of features as the more advanced version. Only four tracks will be able to be played and it cannot be exported. However, it will be a big step forward in advancement of the music software industry by making it widely available. It is big news for musicians who are not going to spend hundreds of dollars on regular software.
A date has not been released for when they will release the free version, but you can sign up here for updates and be one of the first to download it. http://apps.avid.com/ProToolsFirst/
2015 will bring some of the most anticipated albums. Artists from Adele to Tame Impala are expected to finally come back after their recent epic albums. In fact, a lot of big name artists are going to coming back with new music this year.
As the clock was winding down on 2014, Kanye West released the first song off his new unofficial album. The song “Only One” is a collaboration with none other than Beatles legend Paul McCartney. “Only One” is unlike any other Kanye song before. It’s not a rap or hip hop song but a quiet, emotional ballad with McCartney playing keyboard in the background. It’s reminiscent of his 808’s & Heartbreak album but even more stripped down. It seems to be in n entirely different direction than 2013’s Yeezus, but Kanye is known for his constant shifts in music. Kanye said himself that most of the record will be like that along with the collaboration with McCartney and even Ty Dolla $ign, who provided backup vocals on “Only One.” This might be Kanye’s most honest and strongest effort yet. Listen to “Only One” below.
Adele has been on a long hiatus after releasing one of the best albums of the decade so far, 21, and will hopefully release her long awaited follow up this year. Apparently she has been trying to write, record, master, and produce the entire album by herself. Hopefully that’s a good sign. The extraneous time it has been will hopefully make it her best record yet.
Radiohead is also said in the studio making their first new music since King of Limbs. Members have been busy though through this break. Thom Yorke just put out his solo album Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes recently and Johnny Greenwood has been directing score for a few movies. Hopefully, this will be a step up from the disappointment that was their last album.
People who have for sure announced albums and even release dates could make 2015 great just by themselves. Among those have been Modest Mouse, who will release Strangers to Ourselves March 3rd after an eight year long hiatus. So far, they have released the song “Lampshades on Fire” which is promising and sounds like a mix between the Pixies-type punk that made them indie rock stars such as The Lonesome Crowded West and the more polished and symphonic stuff that came out of Good News for People Who Love Bad News. We’ll see if Modest Mouse can pick up their streak.
Also releasing new albums in rock in 2015 are bands such as Band of Horses, who will release their first LP since 2010. According to frontman Ben Bridwell says it will be much different from their first two and much more emotional, which is surprising because Band of Horses are already pretty damn emotional. Tame Impala has quietly announced the other day that they will be releasing new stuff sometime this year as a follow up to smash hit Lonerism. Metal gods Metallica is apparently also releasing a new album which will probably be the dad-type metal they have resorted to lately. Death Cab for Cutie has an LP planned as well. However, the most exciting rock album to be announced is from the super group The Dead Weather. Jack White has slowly been releasing songs off his label Third Man Records the past year for the band such as “Buzzkill(er)” and “Rough Detective” which have sounded marvelous and sure to be big rock hits soon.
One thing I’m certain about 2015 in music is that hip-hop will have a huge year. Legends like Kanye, as previously mentioned, and Kendrick Lamar are planned to release new stuff. Lamar has been hard at work working on his new LP which seems to have great promise already. So far he has released the song “i” which is a soul bumping anthem that can be said to be some of his best work yet. Stunning performances on the Colbert Report and SNL have left critic reeling in his wake. Expect this to be even better than his classic good kid, m.A.A.d. city and one of the best hip hop albums this decade, up there with Kanye’s Dark Twisted Fantasy and Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE. Speaking of Frank Ocean, he has been awfully quiet since the release of his ground-breaking album. All he really has done has been put a mysterious two minute demo on his Tumblr account. He has hinted at possible collaborations with Tame Impala, Dr. Dre, Danger Mouse, and Lil B. Again, expect this to be as earth-shattering as his second album was. Run the Jewels will again return for the third year in a row with Run the Jewels 3. Hopefully, this will be as electrifying as their first two albums that left critics going crazy. They also win the award for strangest planned release with Meow the Jewels. It is a remix of their second album but made entirely with cat sounds. Yeah. Let that sink in. Even Killer Mike and El-P are cat lovers. Lil Wayne is set to release Tha Carter V which will be his last as he goes into retirement. Drake plans to release Views from the 6. Others include Rihanna, Chance the Rapper, and Pusha T.
On the folk side, the Decemberists are going to release What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World on January 20th, their first since 2011. Also, be prepared for the worldwide sensation that is Mumford and Sons. They have been awfully quiet after standing at the top of the music world and winning countless awards after the release of Babel. This year, they plan to return after a few health problems and long tours. Don’t worry, the hoopla will probably return as well. Marcus Mumford counterpart Laura Marling is planning to release Short Movie in Febuary which is said to incorporate electronic elements which will be an interesting genre crossover. PJ Harvey plans to record an entire album in front of a live audience which will be fun to listen to.
That’s just the artists we know. Who knows who will drop a surprise album and who will breakthrough with amazing music, just like 2014 played out. 2015 will have your head spinning.
2014 saw a bunch of music legends release albums such as Jack White, Beck, Foo Fighters, lots of comeback albums, and also a ton of new artists breakthrough not because of the labels they signed to but because of the great music they put out. The past year was definitely one of the best years in a while that put out a heavy stream of such great work. Let’s take a look eight of some of the best albums put out in 2014.
8. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
In music today, most artists are putting together carefully manufactured songs, and producing to a maximum. Benjamin Booker does the exact opposite of that. He brings back the fuzz and shaky recordings of blues and garage rock. His debut album is gritty, dirty, and rough as sandpaper. Booker’s music is a great combination of blues, punk, and boogie. The guitar rages through distortion and powerful chords, Booker’s vocals sound like a 60 year old chain smoker, and the drums will make you want to stand up and dance. He channels influences like Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, and Junior Kimbrough furiously and makes the record sound like something out of that era. From the anthems of “Violent Shiver” to the guitar explosions in “Have You Seen My Son?” to the ballads of “Slow Coming” and “Spoon Out My Eyeballs,” Booker crafts a wonderful, soulful album that rocks out more than any other album this year. With this being just his debut album, there is much room to build for the 22 year old rocker and expect to hear a lot more from him.
Highlight Tracks: “Violent Shiver” “Slow Coming” “Have You Seen My Son?”
7. My Favourite Faded Fantasy – Damien Rice
A bad breakup with fellow musician Lisa Hannigan took a toll on Damien Rice and caused him to fall away from the music community for over eight years. However, with his return in My Favourite FadedFantasy, he comes back a stronger songwriter than ever. Rice wears his pride on his sleeves in this album calling himself “the greatest bastard” and hits every emotion through his music. After a listen to this album, you feel like you’ve been through a tough breakup yourself and end up chalked full of emotion wanting something more. Also, we know exactly how Rice felt during this eight year hiatus as he pours emotion down our ears. As said earlier, his song writing and musician skills are stronger than ever. We see that in “My Favorite Faded Fantasy” as he pulls out some haunting falsetto and guitar. In “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man,” he assembles a demonic and melancholic symphony that reaches past nine minutes and the best way for me to describe it is something out of a horror musical. This album is full of chilling and epic moments, to the point where it gets old. It’s a deeply sad and melancholic, yet sort of heartening album that is Damien Rice’s best work yet.
Highlight Tracks: “My Favourite Faded Fantasy” “The Greatest Bastard” “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man”
6. Morning Phase – Beck
Another artist coming back from a long hiatus this year was the man no one can hate, Beck. This time he comes with the light-hearted and uplifting Morning Phase. This album can be seen as a counterpart to 2002’s Sea Change as Beck comes back with the similar soft sounds. This time it’s different though in the fact that it is truly inspirational and encouraging. Even in the midst of loneliness, he creates a sense of happiness and change. It’s appropriate to why it’s called Morning Phase, though dark and empty like the night, you wake up from this album feeling refreshed. Musically, the violins hit deep and the guitar is as simple as it gets mostly. The lyrics are close to poetic like. For example, one of my favorite parts in the album is when the “beat, beat, beat” in “Heart is a Drum.” Beck’s vocals are surprising and spectacular. He croons and wails notes higher than you would ever expect from Beck. “Waking Light,” the closer, is the only place where you will hear elements of the Guero type Beck with the electronic sounds at the beginning and then the long guitar sweep at the end that wakes you up and ends the album in spectacular fashion. The producing is probably the best you’ll hear all year and the best way to describe the music is 3-D. It feels as if you can pick out elements and manifest them around the room. Morning Phase is a forty-seven minute long chilling and mellow moment that resonates deep within the soul and exploits every emotion. It is a baptism of sensation and feeling.
Highlight Tracks: “Morning” “Heart is a Drum” “Waking Light”
5. Turn Blue – The Black Keys
With the new release of the Black Keys’ new album, I was worried what their direction was after El Camino which seemed like a sell out at points and pointing towards pop rock. After the release of the lead single, “Fever,” I was even more worried they went more toward that direction. In Turn Blue they did go a different direction, a much different direction. Producer Danger Mouse comes into play much more often on this record, it seems to the point you might list him as another member of the band. The record is finely touched, rounded out, and crisp with his help, completely different from their earlier records that were self-recorded, like Thickfreakness, that included tons of fuzz and garage rock. Swirling synths and prominent bass are some of the new elements that the Keys add. They take a hard left into psychedelic rock, soul, and R&B, leaving some blues behind. It seems very Isaac Hayes and Sly Stone inspired. However, the sudden twist of music is not the only thing impressive about this album. Dan Auerbach pours every bit of emotion and heartbreak from his recent nasty divorce. It is easy to call this his “divorce album” as it pulls out some extreme lyrics such as “I went from San Berdue to Kalamazoo just to get away from you” from “Gotta Get Away” and “The house it burned but nothing there was mine” from “In Our Prime” referencing how his ex-wife tried to burn their house down. The record is dripping with personal upset. The guitar work is exceptional on this album from the ear-splitting solo in “Weight of Love,” the best solo and maybe even song Auerbach has put together, to the emotion poured solo in “In Our Prime,” to the funk inspired guitar in “Turn Blue” and “Fever.” And don’t worry garage rock loving Keys’ fans, there is enough distortion guitar for you to be happy as in “Gotta Get Away” and “It’s Up to You Now.” Despite the direction change, the Black Keys’ show off their strengths and dynamic ability in one of their best albums to date.
Highlight Tracks: “Weight of Love” “In Our Prime” “It’s Up to You Now”
4. Syro – Aphex Twin
Robert D. James came back from a 13 year hiatus in spectacular fashion. The king of electronic music definitely showed off his skills in his return album Syro. The beats he creates are unlike any other person can create. The melodies and effects he puts forward are unlike anyone else can think of. James’ production skills are virtuoso and are best in this album. You can tell that he definitely has grown tremendously as a musician and producer over his break. However, this is more than just an exhibit of James’ skill and the amazing electronic music he can create and that is very clear with the color and mystique he crafts. You feel a lot of soul, jungle, sharpness, mellowness, alien, and even jazz in the music. The album then all culminates into a light hearted and quiet piano melody recorded with birds chirping in the background in “aisatsana .” It is then we know that James wants us to feel the beauty within this album and it is more than just music. Syro is a carefully crafted electronic masterpiece that only Robert D. James’ imagination could produce and the album that the electronic community waited 13 years for and it surely lived past expectations.
Hozier was definitely the biggest surprise to hit the top of the charts this year. “Take Me to Church” really did the job and threw Hozier into stardom. However, his great music doesn’t end at that song. The gospel, R&B, blues, Celtic, and indie rock is a perfect mix. Hozier bleeds out white boy soul in every note he belts out, from the echoing, chilling “Amen’s” in his hit single to the falsetto he sings back up on to Karen Cowley in “In a Week.” The album pours out beauty in every song through its Celtic screen and his vocals combined with the choirs, organs, mix of swaying and stuttering guitars, and pianos create a delicacy to elegant to stop listening to. Hozier puts out some of the most innocent and careless feeling songs such as “Jackie & Wilson” and “Someone New” but also put out profound and rooted songs that spawn themes of death, life, sex, coming-of-age, religion, and experience. With all that deeply rooted into the album it still maintains its sense of innocence and it affirms that in the closer “Cherry Wine” with it being recorded in a small, damp hotel room with birds chirping in the background and a quiet guitar and vocals. However, the album encompasses one theme and one theme only: love. Hozier provides us with some brilliant songwriting and metaphors such as “In a Week,” which describes a dead couple rotting away on a countryside in the most beautiful way possible, the charming “From Eden” which recounts him a snake, and of course in “Take Me to Church” in which he compares his lover to religion. The album paints itself as beautiful as an Irish landscape that Hozier illuminates dazzlingly. We now wonder if Hozier has set the bar too high for himself and if he can do better than this debut album, but with the mastery he has showed thus far, he will be back even better.
Highlight Tracks: “Take Me to Church” “From Eden” “In a Week” “Cherry Wine”
2. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Annie Clark gives us a glimpse into the future with her fourth album St. Vincent. The album gives off an outer-worldly atmosphere right from the beginning giving a very static and sticky beat on “Rattlesnake” and permeating all the way to the saxophone droned out synth on “Severed Crossed Fingers.” Clark gives a controlled yet alien feel to every single effect she delivers. It seems like she discovered a world and became a totalitarian queen of it. Take a look at the cover art, and that’s all you need to know about the mood of the music. Blank stared, gray, yet popping and intriguing. She even keeps this up in her robotic live performances. Annie Clark has come a long way from her musical beginnings at the Berklee School of Music and has made her own type of music that is clean and rounded out yet schizophrenic and fleeting. Clark gives us amazing guitar work (check out her live performances of “Rattlesnake,” full of crazy ass solos), beats that every DJ wishes they can make, fluttering synths, and comforting yet demanding vocals. Her compositions are as exquisite as anything put together this year, stopping and going and spluttering all over the place. The shell of her music is an electronic symphony that sounds magnificent, yet under it there a deep, deep feeling of craziness that manifests and will scare the living crap out of you. Annie Clark outdoes herself in this and becomes a master at creating a mystique that will be ever hard to replicate.
Highlight Tracks: “Rattlesnake” “Digital Witness” “Birth in Reverse”
1. Lost in the Dream – The War on Drugs
If Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan ever made an album together, this would be the closest thing to ever sound like it. The influences are present there all the time with Dylan-like vocals and instruments and a Springsteen vibe and lyrics, but The War on Drugs make a masterpiece of their own. Lost in the Dream is an hour long session of the mellowest music you’ll hear all year. However, this is more than just mellow music. It is a journey that encapsulates a ton of emotion thrown forward by front man Adam Granduciel. Through his themes of depression and rage, he is able to capture his sorrows perfectly. No matter how sad it gets, it is consoling and comforting to listen to. The most afraid you’ll ever feel is the shuttering at the very beginning but it soon disappears and gives way to the tranquilizing feel for the rest of the album. The guitar slices like a knife through butter and wails at the right moments creating epic occasions. The piano flows like a river and adds another layer of beauty that rests in between the splendor of a warming saxophone and bright synths. The drums don’t ever get louder than they have to and the vocals are as gentle as any other instrument. At times, Granduciel can get intense and protracted such as the final verse in “Under the Pressure” and the “Woo!’s” in “Red Eyes” that just blow the song wide open, but his voice also sometimes blurs together to the point it is near impossible to understand him and his voice just becomes another layer in the field of beauty created. At times, the music slows down enough that it leaves you basking and drawing out the deepest emotions inside you. The three minutes at the end of “Under the Pressure,” “The Haunting Idle” (appropriately named), and the beginning of “Burning” do this to the point where it consumes you. Most songs stretch out to six or seven minutes but they all have the energy to or willingness to use that time to manifest within itself to create an even deeper feeling of pleasure. The album is a flower that slowly blossoms into magnificence and every time you listen to it, it blossoms even more and grows its charm, not losing it. Granduciel is “a burning man, loosening his grip, trying not to crack under the pressure” and showcases his wonderful producing skills into something deeply consoling and fights the loneliness inside to the point he is bursting at the seams his depression created. Lost in the Dream is something that will be special to every listener and is the greatest piece of music to come out of this year.
Highlight Tracks: “Under the Pressure” “Eyes to The Wind” “Red Eyes” “Burning”
2014 was an amazing year for the songwriter. We saw a shift towards more artists putting carefully crafted songs together and a lot more experimentation. From Jack White’s booming tracks, to The War On Drugs soothing croons, to the simplistic writhes of Milky Chance, 2014 was a year full of amazing songs, and here is what I believe were the best.
**Disclaimer**- Some of these songs were released in 2013, but didn’t rise into the public’s and critic’s eyes until 2014. I know that. Also, this is my opinion. If you want to say yours, leave it in the comments.
13. Left Hand Free – Alt-J
When I first heard this song, it was surprising to hear the radio DJ say that it was Alt-J’s new song. Off their new album This Is All Yours, “Left Hand Free” is the least Alt-J song you will hear. It throws in elements of a lot more guitar, something not heard in previous Alt-J music. The guitar work is a very impressive. The main riff is groovy and grounded yet sparkling. There is not as much synth, but the quick solo that it provides is as strange and eccentric that Alt-J usually is. The background horns punish and deliver and the drums are rolling and pounding like a marching band. It’s one of the most fun and quirky songs of 2014. Alt-J also wrote this song in about 20 minutes. That just proves how impressive songwriters they are.
12. High Ball Stepper – Jack White
Jack White does it again. And again and again and again. Jack White has been one of the greatest songwriters and guitarists this century and he proves it again this time with his strangest song to date. A symphonic mix of high pitched, scratchy violins, stuttering piano, slide guitar, backward sounds, and of course the ear shattering guitar distortion. I’ve never heard a better use of guitar distortion. The violin sounds like it’s straight out of a horror movie and I guarantee it will make your hair stand up. The suspense with the piano is riveting, you don’t know when something is going to happen and you are scared to keep listening. And when the song explodes, it explodes. The solo goes from background fuzz to an explosion of guitar and fuzz, leading into a characteristic Jack White solo full of emotion. My favorite part of the song is the quick guitar strike during the main riff. Even the music video is just as strange. It feature non-newtonian fluids dancing on top of blasting speakers. It makes me want ask if I can have my pancakes mixed to Jack White next time I get breakfast at a restaurant. This song is a complete mess, but it is a beautiful, scorching, ear splitting song that only Jack White can put together and it totally rocks.
11. Habits (Stay High) – Tove Lo
Lots of different approaches to pop made their way to the top of the charts this year, from the gospel of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” to the alternative feels of Magic!’s “Rude” and Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong?” to the anthems of “Boom Clap” and “Fancy.” However, what I felt most shined in the genre in 2014 was Tove Lo’s “Habits.” In this song, Lo gives us a dark and very confessional song of break-up. She tells the tale of having to numb herself behind drinking, drugs, and sex with strangers. Quick snippets of indulging imagery hooks the audience, especially in the first verse. “I get home, I got the munchies/ Binge on all my Twinkies/ Throw up in the tub/ Then I go to sleep,” a quick sample of the deep confession that she brings out. I thought I heard disheartening break up songs before, but this one really hits you hard. Musically, it is very much like Ke$ha, but much much more depressing. Her vocals are excellent and shy away from any production help. Tove Lo doesn’t shy away from anything here and gives us the most raw and emotional song of 2014.
10. Figure It Out – Royal Blood
One of the newest rock bands that really bring out what rock is really about is the English duo Royal Blood. Consisting of just a bass guitar and drums, it’s really impressive that so much sound and energy is produced by these guys. “Figure It Out,” the lead single off their debut album is what really showcases how lively these guys can get. From the opening guitar delays to the Jack White type vocal attack and power chord use to the slowly progressing drums to the ascending guitar riffs to the explosive ending, Royal Blood makes this the head banger song of the year. Expect to see these guys with their superfluous distortion and guitars and their Rage Against the Machine-esque energy headlining festivals and releasing massive rock hits in the future.
9. Cigarette Daydreams – Cage the Elephant
Melophobia took Cage the Elephant into uncharted territory. “Cigarette Daydreams” is one of the songs that helped do that. The acoustic guitar is something that really hasn’t been heard before in their discography and they use it beautifully with a very simple and lovely chord progression. More elements such as the quiet piano and softly crying guitar solo make it a charm to listen to. What’s best though about the song is Matt Schultz’ vocals. He croons and pleads for his lover to come back and help fix what is lost and his voice is just heart-breaking to listen to. Some great songwriting from Cage on this song brought us one of their best songs to date.
8. It Take a Lot to Know a Man – Damien Rice
Over his eight year hiatus, Damien Rice became a great songwriter and really showed it to us in his song “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man.” The song plays out like what I would describe as something out of a horror musical. The song is as melancholic as it gets. The minor key is very prevalent and I don’t ever remember hearing a song so gloomy. Rice’s vocals are also scary. He sings the melody swiftly and moves the song along with it but as it gets to the middle part, the song becomes terrifying as he layers his voice over itself creating a schizophrenic feel. It then stops and only gives the fleeting sounds of a helicopter, dripping water, and a slow, soft piano melody that sounds straight out of a funeral. At this point, the song is even more terrifying than before. The song eventually moves on to a coda of sweeping violins, grisly choirs, and even an intense guitar solo in the background. At the end of this song, I couldn’t get a grasp on my emotions and I had to stop and think about it for a while. Nonetheless, this song shows what kind of musician Damien Rice has grown into the past eight years and it is one of the best and terrifying songs all year.
7. Team – Local H
This was an odd choice to put in my list considering it is a cover. It is even stranger who Local H is covering: Lorde. Now, how many people thought that a metal band would cover one of the hottest people in pop? However, this cover was astounding in all ways. The beginning is does a good job of creating suspense with the demonic drums and vocals. Then with just three cymbal hits, the song explodes. This song as a hard rock song really feels right and it brings out the angsty lyrics more to life. This is one of those covers where it does not ruin the original song, and I will even say it is better than it. Don’t kill me Lorde fans, but Local H makes every guitar chord and drum hit just feel right and creates an amazing rock song.
6. Violent Shiver – Benjamin Booker
In the age of EDM and house music, we forget what the original dance music was: rock and roll. Benjamin Booker brings that back in his song “Violent Shiver.” With his roots rock, Booker channels the long lost blues of Chuck Berry and the punk of Jack White. This song is fun from the beginning with bluesy lick and then it smoothly transitions to distorted power chords pulling the song along. Booker sounds like an old blues man from the Deep South rather than the 25 year old he is. You can’t understand much of what he is saying but his voice is just another element making the song flow. The build ups, quick pauses, and Max Norton’s drums make the song the electrifying song it is. “Violent Shiver” is dirty and grimy, but refreshing nonetheless. “Tearing it up” Booker croons and that what this song is about, a classic rock song in the new age that is bound to get anyone moving.
5. Stolen Dance – Milky Chance
Sometimes to make a great song, keeping it simple is the best way to do it, e.g. “We Will Rock You” or “Seven Nation Army.” In Milky Chance’s “Stolen Dance,” the soft beat and simple chord progression couldn’t represent the themes of loneliness any better. This song is depressing. Really depressing. The song begins with soft cymbal hits that slowly turn more and more flat. The song rolls on with soft fingerpicking and quiet verses with dismal lyrics. The lyrics are as heartbreaking as they get: “The only thing I feel is pain, caused by the absence of you.” It’s simple, yet painful. The chorus may seem more upbeat and joyful as he sings about dancing with his girl all night long, but it turns sour quick with the line, “We don’t talk about it.” The song ends with the acoustic guitar slowly morphing into an electric while fading away, leaving us in a state of bleak and loneliness. It’s extremely catchy but sorrowing to listen to. Even the music video is simplistic and sad. It’s just the lead singer playing guitar with a white backdrop as a projector shines images of happier times onto his emotionless face. Milky Chance gave us one of the saddest songs of 2014 and did it in a brilliantly simplistic way.
4. Seasons (Waiting on You) – Future Islands
When I heard the rave of Future Islands’ performance on the Letterman show, I had to check it out to see if it was all it was cracked up to be. After watching it, I couldn’t describe the emotions I was feeling. Samuel T. Herring runs through a flurry of emotions in the prodigious performance of “Seasons.” His way to encapsulate the audience through his movements and vocals is awe-inspiring. He wails about human nature of changing and waiting. “We want our performance to be a physical and emotional one,” says Herring in a recent interview. His soul and passion in this song take Future Islands to another level. To his corny dancing to the death metal growl, this performance will be one that sticks with the audience. With all the emotion that he pulls off, it grows with the sweeping violin notes at the end and inspire a sensation I wish that every song could pull off and this song succeeds at that.
3. Lazaretto – Jack White
There is a reason that two Jack White songs made it into this list: because Jack White is the best songwriter of our generation. If you want to argue that, name another musician that can put fiddle solos, electric pianos, distortion, punk vocals, funky guitar riffs, Spanish lyrics and electrifying guitar solos into a three and a half minute song. “Lazaretto” is a song that easily does all of that. In the first verse, White exclaims “Every single bone in my brain is electric,” which is what you accurately describe how you will feel during a listen to this song. Jack White does not let down in this song as it stops many times but demands to keep going. After the screeching and electrifying guitar solo, the song quiets but the guitar starts again with a gritty riff and then explodes with what can be compared to a “bass drop” without the bass but with a screeching electric piano and constant booming cymbal hits. Even the lyrics are genius as it describes White’s life struggles such as, “Even God Herself has fewer plans than me, but she never helps me out with my scams for free.” Also, just to put one last laugh in, he puts in a surprising fiddle solo at the end because why not? It goes in beautifully with the song and the drums that lead into it. This is one hell of an effort by White and probably one of the best songs he will ever produce.
2. Weight of Love – The Black Keys
The Black Keys couldn’t have returned with a better song on the opening track of their new album Turn Blue. Nearing seven minutes long, “Weight of Love” can be described as the Black Keys “Stairway to Heaven.” It is a song that slowly culminates into an epic, one where you just have to listen to it again. It starts off very psychedelic with alien noises and soft bells. Then it’s not long before the first guitar solo comes in. Even a bass solo after that. It isn’t until the two and a half minute mark before Dan Auerbach’s vocals come in. The song becomes funky and is very reminiscent of R&B songs of the 70’s, e.g. “Now nobody wanna protect ya/ They only wanna forget ya.” Then, even more solos that are rich with emotion and lyrics that are so true to human nature: “Dance all night because people don’t want to be lonely/ They don’t want to be an only.” It all comes together into an epic guitar solo for the ages. One that puts out ear-splitting note after another and will leave you in chills. After that you left to bask in a soft, yet eerie sounding outro. This song spurts out solo after solo filled ripe with passion. The drums and synthesizers are brilliant as well and put a shine over the song. “Weight of Love” is an extreme call-to-arms and without a doubt, the greatest thing to come out of the Black Keys discography.
Take Me to Church – Hozier
To round out this list, I bring you what I believe is the best song to come out of 2014 and that is the surprise number one hit from Hozier, “Take Me to Church.” Besides being an amazing song, it has a supreme message suitable for this time in history. It isn’t an attack on religion, but a love song. Its message is for people to love the ones they do and to not to be afraid of who they are because of what society thinks. It is brilliant songwriting and very thought-provoking comparing his lover to religion. The lyrics are as poetic as 2014 gets. There is so many great lines, I wish I could just copy and paste the entire song lyrics into here, but I’ll just stick with some of the best for now: “I was born sick but I love it/ Command me to be well” and also “There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin/ In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene/ Only then I am human/ Only then I am clean.” Hozier’s vocals are amazing in this as well. The “Amen’s” are spectacular and beautiful. Hozier is what gives this song a divine experience. The song is crafted gorgeously with strong piano, the gospel choir, the heavy bass, knowing when to pull back, and also knowing when to explode such as in the chorus. It’s haunting yet beautiful. A supreme love song with a supreme message. Hozier gives us a beautifully exquisite song that resonates through everyone listening and is worthy to call it the best song of 2014.
I’ve would have never really called myself a fan of electronic music. It seemed to center around bass drops and repeating on itself to get people to dance too much, The genre as a whole seemed to be creative yet superficial. The only electronic-type artists I felt comfortable listening to was the likes of Radiohead, Daft Punk, and Moby. However, the past year, artists like Squarepusher, Four Tet, Danger Mouse, and Phantogram have came to my attention and showed the real side of the genre and that some artists cared musically.
Earlier this year, there was a lot of hype around a new album from Aphex Twin, also known as Richard D. James. James is known as one of the most-influential electronic artists of all-time. He hasn’t released an album in thirteen years but hasn’t had reason to. So when the news broke of his new release, Syro, the music community couldn’t have been happier. And let me tell you, at the end of listening to Syro, I couldn’t have been happier.
James doesn’t try to build on trends of recent electronic music or try to build his own in Syro. It’s just music that is his, straight from his mastery. There’s no bass drops, no samples, just his music and imagination.
Syro is strange. You get that feeling before you even listen to the music just by looking at the song names which are jumbled messes of computer code. You hear what you think is an alien language graze across the entire album and the sound effects at time make you feel uncomfortable. However, just minutes in you can tell that this music is more than just strange, it’s beautiful. James puts together some great compositions, two of them being the first two, “minipops 67 [120.2][sourcefield mix]” and “XMAS_EVET10  [thanaton3 mix].” These two introduce amazing beats and bass but also add a layer of color and deepness with the synthesizers, sparkling high bells, and soulful piano. I think I even heard bongos at one point. It sets up the mellow, alien feel that permeates throughout the rest of the album.
What also doesn’t stop throughout the album is the genius level beats produced. It’s amazing the originality and how well put together and tight they are. The beats build up on themselves and bounce off each other. Its nothing like any other artist before. At points it seems like James is just showing off and taunting us such as in “4 bit 9d api+e+6 [126.26]” and “s950tx16wasr10 [163.97][earth portal mix].”
We see how much of a skilled musician James is by the melodies he produces. Some are childish, innocent, harsh, spacey, or even helpless. One of my favorites is on “180db_ ” where is it sharp but apt and keeps the entire song moving. You can hear the influence he brought to the electronic community as it brings back flashes of Daft Punk’s Discovery album. The highlight of this album is “CIRCLONT6A [141.98][syrobonkus mix]” where the melody is like a video game and childish but slowly grows into a mature sound and flows well despite the large amount of staccato. “PAPAT4 [pineal mix]” also shares an amazing melody with its bright synths and jungle feel.
This album is more than just a showcase of James’ skill in producing electronic music and that becomes very apparent in the closer “aisatsana .” In it it is just a very soft recording of a slow piano melody that slowly progresses as birds chirp in the background. It reminds me of a kid learning how to play piano. This shows us how beautiful and warm James wants the music to be. At the end of this album, the listener will feel a strange soul, emotional, mystique coming out.
The lesson I learned here is that you don’t have to be afraid of electronic music even if you are a hardcore “it must be played to be music” type person. Richard D. James shows that beauty and mystique, like the sound that came from Led Zeppelin, can come out of electronic music. Syro is a playground for the ears and the mind that every music lover should take a listen to. It changed my perspective on the electronic music community and I hope it will too to you after a listen.
Dave Grohl, the modern rock legend, is at it again. The Foo Fighters really got the whole world excited with the release of their eighth studio album Sonic Highways. Their advertising was prevalent, including appearances in YouTube commercials; it seemed like they were promoting the next coming of the Messiah. The Foo Fighters even landed a mini-series of the same name on HBO. However, the Foo Fighters did not live up to the hype they put out there in this album.
Dave Grohl has a weird obsession with the number eight, so he wanted to do something special with the release of the Foo Fighters eighth album. This album runs around the concept of the different sounds of rock across the nation. Each song was recorded in a different city and is supposed to represent the sound of the city. The sound of cities such as Chicago, D.C., New York, Nashville, Seattle, L.A., and Austin are expressed. Also, musicians that hail from each city guest star, such as Zac Brown for Nashville, or Gary Clark Jr. for Austin. It’s an interesting conception, but it fails to execute very well. The feel of the genre that is represented in each song seems to only come out a little. The Preservation Jazz Band’s only contribution on the track “In the Clear” is a background horn riff that if taken out, you would have no idea it was a “New Orleans song.” The only time I thought that it was a good representation of the city was the Joe Walsh closing solo in “Outside” or the quick Zac Brown devil picking in “Congregation.” This rock and roll road trip across America idea fell very short. I don’t think the Foo Fighters did a good job of trying to make their sound go in a different direction. Most songs sounded like a generic Foo Fighter’s song of the past, which isn’t bad thing.
All the songs had a good hard rock feel to them, what the Foo Fighters are known for, and I’m sure would sound great live. Dave Grohl definitely did a good job producing the sound and compositions. Solos seem to come in at the right time and the guitar work is very well done. Gary Clark Jr.’s solo in “What Did I Do?/ God as My Witness” is one of the highlights of the album and so is Joe Walsh’s in “Outside.” However, I feel that all the songs tend to be forgettable. After the first listen through, I forgot what most songs sounded like. This album was definitely a step down from 2011’s Wasting Light and a flop as a concept album.
I thought Damien Rice was retired and hiding out in some cabin in Ireland for the rest of his life before I heard he was releasing his new album My Favorite Faded Fantasy. It was 2006 when he last released an album and it was 2008 when he last played a live show. Led Zeppelin and N’Sync played more shows than him in the last 6 years. After a break up with fellow songwriter Lisa Hannigan, Rice fell off the map. In his return, however, he makes a statement. In this new LP, he returns with the most heart-breaking album since Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.
Rice shows off his great voice right from the gate in his falsetto, jumping from staccato to long seductive notes. “My Favorite Faded Fantasy,” the title track, starts off as a melancholy duo between Rice and a guitar and slowly progresses as the band chimes in to add to the atmosphere and slowly leads to Rice screaming “I’ve never loved!” The drums and guitar and do their job as they build up to an intense ending that leaves the listener knowing that Damien Rice is back and frustrated more than ever. The frustration piles over into “It Takes a Lot to Know a Man,” the album’s best composition. Lasting nine and a half minutes, it brings out multiple emotions. The beginning makes you feel as if you are at a funeral with menacing piano, and the melody and tone of Rice’s voice is wistful. The strings add to the feel of the song. You become scared as Rice starts to ask his past lover, “What are you so afraid of?” You become terrified as the whispers and many different voice layers combine together producing a schizophrenic and sinister feel. Then it all stops giving way to the sound of water splattering. The listener is in a dark, dark place right now but there is no leaving. The piano and strings beautifully hook up back into the rolling ominous feel. At the end, it makes the listener feel like they’ve just listened to something out of a horror musical. This is something we’ve never seen from Rice, but it is brilliant. This is probably what the album should have ended with, closing it out in complete agony, but luckily there is plenty left in the remaining six songs. “The Greatest Bastard” starts off with a happy guitar and we get to hear some major key, something we deserve after the first two tracks. However, this is short lived as Rice’s voice comes in and it sounds like he’ll break down and cry by the time the verse ends. The shaky, watery voice breaks into a theatrical yet soul-wrenching chorus as the strings come in at the exact right time and leaves you in chills. The three best songs come first, but the songs move together, keeping you in listening despite the moody feel that encompasses the rest of the album. Each song seems to break into an epic portion with lots of strings and preaching vocals, which sort of gets old after a while, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t get goosebumps every time it happened. The album throws in some bouts of feelings of innocence, especially in “Long Long Way” and “Colour Me In,” as you get lyrics that say “Come let me love you” and the closing to the album which sounds like a child learning to play the clarinet, slowly, quietly, and choppily. That’s how Rice wants to see himself now, innocent and unaffected by love, but as the final words echo in the background for over three minutes, “It’s not enough,” it shows that it haunts Rice and forever will.
In this we feel the heartbreak and torment that Rice has experienced over his hiatus and we realize why it took him eight years to come out with any new music. This comeback album is as soul-wrenching as it gets, but it is Damien Rice showing off his great story-telling and song-writing at its best.