As 2014 comes to a close, we here at Sparksradio.com must chime in, of course, with our picks for top albums of the past twelve months. There was much internal bickering, swearing and death threats, which is why instead of a top 10 or ranked list, we are simply listing–in no particular order–every album we loved! The staff provided their two cents on certain albums, as they see fit, expressing why you shouldn’t miss out on a single record on this list.
RUN THE JEWELS 2
Photo Source: Hiphop
West: When it comes to hip hop, I’m not that well-versed. I’m definitely more of a rock guy. However, this Run the Jewels 2 album is sick as fuck. Killer Mike and EL-P rip through 11 tracks in the blink of an eye and leave the listener glued to the repeat button. Between Killer Mike’s politically charged rhymes and EL-P’s own fantastic lyrics/production, this is an album that should be in everyone’s car as they get ready to go out on Friday night.
Photo Source: Revolver
West: Frontman of Deftones, Chino Moreno, heads up this musical trio’s lineup, accompanied by Shaun Lopez (guitarist in the band, Far) and Chuck Doom. It’s surprisingly not that close to the sound of any of the Deftones records, opting more for subtle, spooky sounds and understated guitars and drums. It’s a great album to take a drive through the night. It’s even more haunting and beautiful with a decent pair of headphones. Fans of Chino and people that just want something refreshing and different needn’t look further.
Sparks: First let me say that I’m a huge Chino fan boy. I’ve put the man in an Ivory tower and nobody else is allowed in. So, when I first heard that Chino from the Deftones was coming out with a new side project I was excited. This album is smooth, melodic, and every bit as edgy as everything else he’s done. Don’t go in thinking it’s Deftones, but you’ll hear a bit of influence. Until Deftones put out a new album in 2015, this will you just right. Well done boys!
MASTODON- ONCE MORE ‘ROUND THE SUN
PHOTO SOURCE: DIYMAG
West: Mastodon gave us their sixth studio album this year and, while it weaves its twisted, dark and heavy path through my brain for 55 minutes, it still doesn’t quite meet the heights of their previous two albums for me, “The Hunter,” and, “Crack the Skye.” Still, this album is solid. Plus, just look at the god damn artwork on that cover. It captures the vivid insanity of the music perfectly. Try not to bob your head to the song, “Aunt Lisa.”
Paul: I have to admit when I heard of “Once More Around The Sun” I was a little apprehensive. I hate being one of those fans that says, “Man they’re older stuff is so much better” but I feel it’s true in this case. To me Leviathan, Blood Mountain, and Crack The Skye are the heights of this band, with the latter being their greatest effort. I will admit that “Once More..” is better than their previous release “The Hunter” which to me was almost too friendly and approachable, however that’s like saying Twix Right is better than Twix Left. Same shit, different wrapper.
ICED EARTH- PLAGUES OF BABYLON
Photo Source: koshermetal
West: This is the 11th Studio album by the American heavy metal band, and the vocalist, Stu Block’s, second studio album with the band. If you don’t like power metal, or when you hear that phrase you think of really strong beams that hold a building up, just skip over this and go to the next album on this list. In my experience you either love or hate power metal. This is a solid album with great song writing, soaring vocals and thunderous guitar riffs. I almost forgot about it, since it was released at the very beginning of the year.
Paul: So as a Spotify subscriber I was recently offered to view my year in music, and was not surprised at all that Iced Earth was my most listened to artist for the year. In fact the title track for this record was my most played track of 2014. I’ve been a fan now for a number of years, and I’d disagree with West in saying this is power metal. To me Power Metal is guys in loin cloths singing about dragons and medieval Scotland. This album is American Heavy Metal, with heavy riffs, and lots of attitude. There have been complaints on the production of this record (but in this day every album gets that), but to me this album is probably this bands strongest offering since 2001’s “Horror Show”.
West: Paul, I listened to most of this album while wearing only a loin cloth, so I think the term applies.
ALT-J- THIS IS ALL YOURS
West: Wow, what an album! It’s got twists and turns like you wouldn’t believe! It melds the unpredictable nature of their first CD with a more chill vibe that’s carrying through the entire listening experience. Try not to dance and smile during “Left Hand Free.” Music fans looking for something unique and refreshing, should have spun this record yesterday.
Sparks: I didn’t know what to expect with the new Alt-J album. They lost a member, Gwil Sainsbury, who decided the the music industry was a bunch of horse shit. He was a large part of the 4 piece, so I was worried. Worried for nothing as it turns out. They’re weird in all the best ways. But this album shows growth and development without abandoning who they are at their core. This sophomore album hit no slump.
Mike: Atmosphere is one of the most interesting and introspective rap groups of this generation. But like fellow storytellers Dylan or Cash, rapper Slug and producer Ant have gone through a period of forgettable albums. Unlike, Dylan or Cash, the duo managed to rebound from the doldrums and create a beautifully honest and memorable mix that is arguably their best album to date. From the downtempo tour reflections of “Camera Thief” to the passionate-bordering-on-angry love song, “Kanye West,” each song on “Southsiders” deserves a listen. Listeners searching for a remake of Lucy Ford will be disappointed, but if you’re searching for a refreshingly new take on love and loss, “Southsiders” is it.
West: This album made it onto to a truck ton of playlists–do people still make those?–this year. When “My Lady Got Two Men” comes on, I can’t help but feel like Slug is channeling Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” in the background. It’s soothing, smile-inducing and head bobbing fun, all spun together for one giant eargasm! This is good stuff and steps beyond the genre. It’s the sort of record that allows one to make multiple interpretations of lyrics, on each subsequent play through. That’s just how I like it.
Sparks: Has there ever been a bad Atmosphere album? No. No there hasn’t. But this album seems different. It seems like there was just a bit more love and consideration put into it. More like a “God Loves Ugly” than a “You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having”. Give it a go when you’re on a long drive, you’ll dig the shit out of this one.
Nomi: Royal Blood came out with their self titled album on August 22nd 2014. Two guys from Britain making a loud garage rock band. They said in a interview one time that they look up to bands like Queens of the Stone, Foo Fighters etc. Even though they’re only a two man band, they try to make the band sound huge. Royal Blood loves the big band sound and that’s what inspires them.
Royal Blood has been talked about SO much in the rock world that they will be touring this Summer (2015) with the Foo Fighters. Opening up for the band on tour, click here for the list of tour spots.
Royal Blood is different from other alternative rock bands hitting the scene right now. Bands like Fun, Bastille, Foster the People all have a similar electronic 80’s feel, which is fine. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen them all live and they do a great job and they sound great… But what the alt world is missing is the garage rock. I think that’s why people get excited hearing new music from The Black Keys, Foo Fighters, Broken Bells, etc. Because you get the rock without the electronic noise included. You get the feeling of hard rock, garage band feel that you’re craving. Royal Blood is a new band with new, classic sound.
If you haven’t heard the album, I highly recommend it.
Sparks: At first listen, you wouldn’t think that there were only two dudes in the band. Let alone it’s only a bass guitar and drums! It’s like they put themselves into a box and instead of feeling confined and limited, it open of pandora’s creative box. check out songs like figure it out or out of the black and you’ll get a feel for what two dudes, a couple of instruments and shit ton of talent can do. this is the current sound of rock and roll…and I like where it’s going.
Photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979- THE PHYSICAL WORLD
Photo Source: consequence of sound
Nomi:Trainwreck 1979, another great different band coming BACK to the alt world. This band has been around for a while… Actually since 2001, they were quite for a short period of time till this last album! The album is, ‘The Physical World’, was released this last September. I consider this album the B-Side of releases this year. It was one of the best albums this year and yet didn’t get the attention it deserved. I personally think it’s their best work they’ve put out.
BLACK LABEL SOCIETY – CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN
Picture Source: ecover
Paul: Everyone’s favorite biker band (proud member of the BLS Ohio Chapter) put out a helluva record this year. While most hear the name Black Label Society and think Metal or Ozzy’s guitarist, this record (the bands 9th) to me is the greatest Rock record of the year. In fact, much to everyone’s surprise, this record went to #1 on the Billboard Rock Charts (the first BLS album to achieve this status), and once you hear it, it’s obvious why. The riffs will have you raising a fist in the air, the melodies will have you singing along, and the overall song writing is some of Zakk Wylde’s best. Some reviewers tote “My Dying Time” as the best Rock song of the year, but to me the strongest song in these 44 minutes is “Empty Promises”. Try to not sing that hook after listening to it. You’ll thank me later.
West: Yeah, this is a pretty good album. I must say I was caught off guard by just how good, as they weren’t even on my radar this year. One listen to the song, “Believe,” while driving through South Dakota’s Badlands, will send shivers down spines and drive fists in the air. Hell, you don’t even have to be driving through South Dakota when the song comes on but, for some reason, I was doing just that, and I’m all the more thankful for it. There are occasional annoyances for me, as with most Black Label Society albums, there are just one too many “soft” acoustic tracks–even one acoustic track would be too much for me, now that you mention it. Overall, a solid release.
CHEVELLE– LA GARGOLA
Photo Source: Amazon
Paul: Again, like Mastodon, this is a band I had kind of moved away from. I liked their first few albums (Wonder What’s Next, and This Type Of Thinking), but eventually I feel I outgrew them in a way. They went in a direction and I wasn’t along for the ride. This album however, I got behind early. “Take Out The Gunman”, “Hunter Eats Hunter” and “Twinge” are all stand-out tracks for me. To me this was really a step back to those earlier albums I really liked, and this album got significant play in my car.
West: GREAT ALBUM! I had the privilege of seeing them perform quite a few of the tunes off this one live, and I must say…it works! Standouts include “The Choking Game,” and punch-you-in-the-face opener, “Ouija Board.” Not to mention, the album artwork is killer. Nothing like putting an album out that has a dude with a plague mask on the front cover.
Sparks: People who say that “ROCK IS DEAD” are full of shit. Slap that person in the face with their nancy gloves and put this album on. La Gargola is not only the best Chevelle album to date, but it’s the best Hard Rock album of the year. EVERY. FUCKING. SONG. IS. GREAT. (all caps to show you that I’m serious) This is what a Hard Rock album should sound like. The fan base isn’t dying. Rock isn’t dying. This album is proof positive.
SANTUARY– THE YEAR THE SUN DIED
Photo Source: angrymetalguy
Paul: Sanctuary was a prog-metal act from the late 80’s and lasted till the early 90’s when members of the band left to form the progressive metal act, Nevermore. When Nevermore disbanded a few years back, the members of Sanctuary reunited to write their first album in 25 years. What we got was 2014’s “The Year The Sun Died”. While I do enjoy this record, I think it might be for the wrong reasons. As a huge fan of Nevermore, this Sanctuary effort sounds a bit like a watered down Nevermore offering, and left some Sanctuary fans scratching their heads as to where the Sanctuary part would start. Still a good album, but might be a bit of a departure from what they intended to write.
Photo Source: conqueringdystopia
Paul: This is probably the strangest album of my selection. Conquering Dystopia is a band comprised of members of Cannibal Corpse, Nevermore, and The Faceless but features no singing. It has become popular for Jeff Loomis (ex-Nevermore) to release instrumental guitar records over the past few years. Conquering Dystopia was funded through donations from fans, and is an amazing show of talent from the members. I just find myself losing interest or becoming bored after the 5th or 6th instrumental track of sweeping solos and “mindless guitar work”. I’d love to hear this album with some amazing vocal melodies. Think of this record as metal karaoke, and you get to make up the lyrics!
West: I echo the sentiment of this being the “strangest album,” on your list, Paul. Are they playing the songs in a basement but setting the microphones up two bedrooms away behind a huge piece of plywood?