This marks the first of our 2014 year-end best-of coverage. In the coming days you can expect best-of lists covering punk/HC, rap/hip-hop, reissues, and cassettes. If you've been around here for a while now you know this is primarily stuff Nathan has written for other outlets that we just re-post here. As well, we'll be tossing in some random odds 'n' ends of notable things from the past 12 months. So please stay tuned for all of that. In the meantime, here's a collective list of our 25 favorite full-length albums from 2014.
1. Watery Love – Decorative Feeding (In The Red)
Much like fellow Pennsylvanians Pissed Jeans, Watery Love play loud, heavy punk that's driven by an unsettling vocalist (formerly of Clockcleaner) who screams the type of scathing admonitions that dig their way deep into your brain matter and set up shop. On "Face The Door" Richie Charles repeats the line, "unlike you dickheads, I welcome death" so many times that by the end of the song you're like, "yeah me too!"
2. Run The Jewels (El-P & Killer Mike) – Run The Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
There's a common misconception that Kim Kardasian and her bare naked cosmetically enhanced buttocks broke the Internet. But that's impossible because the Internet was already broken by Run The Jewels 2. El-P, for all his titled cap buffoonery takes hip-hop very, very seriously. And Killer Mike, well he just goes hard. One of the things that makes Run The Jewels work so well is the personality that that pair have cultivated as a duo. While their music is tough-as-nails hip-hop, their outwardly appearance is a satirical caricature-like ode to a much more dangerous time in rap music.
3. The Murder City Devils – The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again (Murder City Devils)
Off-stage Spencer Moody is a quiet, awkward if not unassuming man. But when he takes center stage for The Murder City Devils he transforms into a rascally, howling maniac. On this album, the Seattle-based band's first full-length since 2000, he's more hoarse-throated and irate than ever before. The White Ghost, in all it's eerie, emotive garage punk glory, is quintessential Murder City Devils.
4. Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron (Top Dawg Ent. / Interscope)
Oxymoron is the first album out of the TDE/Black Hippy camp since good kid, m.A.A.d city catapulted Kendrick Lamar to stardom. And with its arrival, Schoolboy Q has emerged much in the same way: a conflicted individual whose rhyme scheme and subject matter is as varied as his beat selection.
5. Padkarosda – Szabadulásom Művészete (Wake Up And Live)
Hungarian band that plays a ’80s-influenced style of punk. They use vocal effects and dissonant guitars to push the sound beyond the confines of simple genre tags like ‘raw punk’ or ‘hardcore.’ I’m not real familiar with the old Hungarian bands these guys claim to be influenced by but I hear discernible bits of other international hardcore acts in there; like Italy’s Stinky Rats, Finland’s Riistetyt, and Spain’s Glam. This is a cassette-only version for release in the US. It’s really nice packaging, all done in various shades of purple, which really adds to the aura of the music contained therein. The bass is distorted and subbed to death, which I love, while the drumming is both frantic and on point. But it’s the uniquely atmospheric guitar effects at play here that standout as the band’s defining sound.
6. Apollo Brown & Rass Kass – Blasphemy (Mello Music Group)
If you've heard one Apollo Brown loop you've heard them all. And that's a compliment. Dude is so consistent it should be illegal. Paired with D.I.T.C. legend OC and fellow Detroiter Guilty Simpson, he's made some of the best hip-hop in recent memory. This year he teamed up with veteran Cali emcee Rass Kass and the results are no different. Rass Kass been in the game for a minute—with releases dating back to ’96—and is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence thanks to Blasphemy. The synergy between the two is irrefutable; recalling rap history’s most revered deejay & emcee combos.
7. Dark Blue – Pure Reality (Jade Tree)
This Philadelphian trio traverse in the dark-punk/post-punk/gothic style that's risen in popularity in the last few years. John Sharkey III nails the Ian Curtis/Andrew Eldritch harrowing baritone style in a way that will make you forget a band like Interpol ever existed.
So if I understand this right, this dude John moved his family from Philly all the way across the world to Australia where he worked as a night watchman on a college campus. It was cool kinda cool. After two years he moved them back to Philly where he hates his neighborhood and his life, which is not cool. Somewhere in the midst of all of this he wrote this really fabulous album about it.
8. Dilated Peoples – Directors of Photography (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
Continuing the revitalization that began with 2011's Cats & Dogs on through to Lord Steppington, his Step Brothers collaboration with Alchemist earlier this year, Evidence regroups with fellow emcee Rakaa Iriscience and deejay DJ Babu for the first Dilated Peoples album since 2006. The result hearkens back to those early underground backpack days: hard beats, record scratching, and slick dual emcee interplay.
9. White Lung – Deep Fantasy (Domino)
Word is singer Mish Way doesn't like when you compare her band to a certain other now-defunct PNW-based band, which is weird because it's pretty much undeniable and usually meant as a compliment of the highest regard.
If there's one album from this year who's songs I walk around humming even when it's not on it's been this one. This is this Vancouver punk’s third and most spirited album to date. Chock full of anthemic melodies and pulse-manipulating guitar work that sticks with you long after the tone arm has returned to its resting position.
10. Has-Lo & Castle – Live Like You're Dead (Mello Music Group)
Two relatively unknown emcees coming together to create an album that is rooted in boom-bap but has a fair amount of experimental parts interwoven throughout it. Live Like You're Dead recalls Native Tongues legends like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest in a way that sounds unmistakably current.
11. Ex-Cult – Midnight Passenger (Goner)
Like the majority of the bands on this list, this Memphis crew—led by Chris Shaw of Vile Nation on vocals—understand that the best punk is a result of mashing a whole bunch of styles together to create something uniquely original. They take Krautrock, post-punk, psych, anarcho-punk and whole bunch of other stuff and throw it all in a blender. Then they pour it in a turkey baster, jam it in your ear, and force it deep into the recesses of your brain. You’re totally fucked but you feel kind of tough. Like a lanky punk walking down the street in the dead of winter, smoking a cigarette and wearing an open leather jacket with no shirt underneath.
12. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (Madlib Invazion)
Piñata is straight-up gangster rap. Madlib’s beats, which are culled from old-school soul, funk, and blaxploitation, are the backdrop to Gangsta Gibbs signature misogyny, drug dealing, and pistol play. He’ll give the listener a glimpse of his softer side but he always holds back just enough as to not compromise his rugged ghetto-hardened exterior.
13. Lumpy & The Dumpers – Collection (Space Ritual)
These St. Louis dirtbags have had a prolific couple of years. Thanks to a handful of slimy demos and singles and noteworthy live shows they've caught the attention of purest-of-heart punks and taste-making culture vulture media conglomerates alike.
This LP brings together all of their recorded material to date, including the Total Punk 7", which features the punk song of the year, “Gnats in the Pisser." It's hard for me to continue talking about this band without using the F word multiple times a sentence, so I'll fucking quit right the fuck now.
14. Ratking – So It Goes (HXC / XL)
Ratking is a group of youngsters from NYC made up of rappers Wiki and Hak and producer Sporting Life. They mix an alluring cocktail of post-everything/no-nothing (punk, wave, EDM, graffiti culture, whatever) noise that is strangely and undeniably hip-hop. So It Goes is their debut full-length LP.
15. Boston Strangler – Fire (Boston Strangler)
One of the more anticipated albums of the year that nobody knew about. And by nobody I mean me, until I heard about it on Twitter, at which point I began anticipating it being sold out everywhere.
All the angry, punishing hardcore mosh from Primitive is still intact, but they've expanded their sound somewhat. These songs are more melodic (think Blood For Blood) and there's even a touch of Oi! in there, which is likely the result of being from the same area as legendary groups like The Bruisers. This is tough guy stuff but not in a shoving-kids-in-lockers-y way.
Good luck finding this one. Maybe sell plasma or something so you can pay collector scum prices on Discogs.
16. Meyhem Lauren & Buckwild – Silk Pyramids (Thrice Great LLC)
Meyhem Lauren, the man responsible for the standout mixtapes Respect the Fly Shit and Mandatory Brunch Meetings, returns with an official album alongside legendary D.I.T.C. beatsmith Buckshot. And as expected from these two New Yorkers the result is straight boom to the bap. Silk Pyramids is the perfect soundtrack for a transit commute through the city, which is a great way to judge a rap record's worth.
17. The Estranged – Self Titled LP (Sabotage)
The Estranged’s members are associated with crusty hardcore acts like Hellshock, From Ashes Rise, Lebenden Toten, and Remains of the Day so it might come as a surprise that they play post-punk, death-rock, and other subgenres that require hyphenated descriptors that sounds textured, un-cold, and, well, fun.
18. Iron Hand – Injected Fear (Safety Meeting)
D-beat hardcore that swims in the Scandinavian / Portland epic crust end of the pool; in the instrumentation at least. The vocals lend it some tough-guy-metal-core vibes, but not in a way that conjures up images of varsity logos, sXe calf tattoos, and Nike Cortez’s. Nike Cortez’s are dope though.
19. Eastlink – Self Titled (In The Red)
Featuring members of Total Control, UV Race and other Melbourne acts, these guys bring fuzzed-out, droning punk weirdness to the forefront and then slather it in laborious riffs and monochromatic dual vocals for maximum LSD brain burn.
20. Creative Adult – Psychic Mess (Run For Cover)
Moody, reverb-heavy post-punk/post-hardcore with flourishes of goth and garage rock. Underneath everything lays a pulsing rhythm that allows them to hop in and out of genres while maintaining a cohesive tone.
21. Nots – We Are Nots (Goner)
I'm kind of sick of the term "weird punk" because punk by nature is supposed to be weird. That being said, Nots is weird punk (i.e., they have a keyboard player). Also, I predict Nots will blow up and become a band that's not supposed to be cool to punks anymore. And oh boy will that ever be a shame for those silly punks.
22. Brain F≠ – Empty Set (Grave Mistake / Sorry State)
Angst-y, bouncy punk rock. Melodic male-female vocal tradeoff gives it a sense of charm that’s hard to ignore. Close your eyes and let the fuzzy basslines, driving drums, and spirited guitar transport you to some damp basement party in 1993. Also, the cocaine guy just showed up.
23. Teledrome – Self Titled (FDH / P.Trash)
How many hardcore bands screaming about “until the day we die” can you take, am I right? When some super ’80s style digi-punk comes along, it gives my eardrums a boner and my actual boner a hard-on. Dark, moody, and synth-heavy one man gig out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
24. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – I'm Your Mind Fuzz (Heavenly / Castle Face / Flightless)
I'm not exactly sure what it is that I like about this so much. Maybe because it reminds me of watching the original Woodstock movie with my dad. Or maybe because it reminds me of driving to Woodstock '94 with my dad. Or maybe because it reminds me of getting really high my freshman year of college and listening to my friend Matt's Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cassettes in the dorms. Especially the one that had the song "Woodstock" on it. I wanna call this hippie shit, or, maybe, hipster shit, but it's not totally either. Kind of like a combo of both but with punk tendencies and awash in psychedelic burnout vibes galore. In short, I'm not at all surprised that this came out on Castle Face. I'm only surprised that I like it.
25. Merchandise / Destruction Unit / Milk Music – USA '13 (540 Records)
A three-way vinyl split commemorating the tour these bands did together back in 2013. Merchandise and Destruction Unit both contribute two songs, while Milk Music goes the extra mile and does three. I think this marks the third release that "Thrashing Into the Unknown" is on. Honestly could do without the Merchandise songs on any other day but they work really well here alongside Destruction Unit's psychedelic sunburn and Milk Music's guitar-for-guitar's-sake Mascis/nu-grunge vibes. Some heavy drone and groove throughout the whole thing here. Listening to this reminds me of reading Nuts! fanzine, however that works.
So, what do you think? Any glaring omissions? Are we full of shit? We want to know. Let's hammer this out, ya'll! Also, we were serious before; we do really want to know how you're doing. Comment below, Tweet, or email. Thanks, and Happy New Year!