|Spoiler alert: St. Vincent is not in my Top 10. Sorry hipsters. Maybe next year.|
Well, here we are. Another year in the books and another Top 10 list of albums you've probably never heard of. There are only so many directions you can go in an introduction to one of these lists, and I feel like I've already exhausted them all, so I'll try to keep it brief. If you know me at all, then you know my list is usually dominated by heavy metal, and this list is no exception.
This year, I decided to included the points I allotted each album on my ballot for this year's Village Voice Pazz + Jop poll. Voters get 100 points to distribute amongst their top 10, with no album receiving more than 30 points or less than five. The Pazz + Jop poll is a stat geek's wet dream. You can peruse voters' individual ballots or sort albums, singles and voters by a wide array of criteria. Here are a few (debatably) interesting facts about my top 10 list:
- Eight of my top 10 albums are metal albums. Shocking, I know.
- Only half of the albums on my list received votes from any of the 611 other voters. Two of those five received exactly one other mention.
- None of my top 10 made the cumulative top 10. Only two made the top 100.
- Six of my top 10 albums came from the dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of digital promos sent to me by various band and label publicists throughout the year. I'm not sure if that indicates a bias on my part, but I admit to feeling a certain obligation to give at least a cursory listen to any album that was emailed to me in advance of its release. It's entirely possible that I might have never even heard of those bands otherwise. I guess the moral of the story is, even in an era when virtually every album ever recorded is just a few keystrokes away and every schmuck with a blog and a Spotify account qualifies as a "music critic," there's still value in the traditional journalist/publicist relationship.
And now, on with the countdown.
10. Skull Fist - Chasing the Dream [5 points]
If you sense a trend developing already, you're not wrong. Like Enforcer, my No. 10 pick last year, Skull Fist is part of the NWOTHM that hearkens back to a time in the late '70s and early '80s when heavy metal was just that: heavy metal. It was a time of relative innocence, before every metal band had to be pigeonholed into one specific style on a continuously expanding spectrum of increasingly restrictive metal subgenres. It's hard to imagine any metal fan disliking Skull Fist. There's not a hint of irony in their straightforward approach to classic metal.
9. Job for a Cowboy - Sun Eater [5 points]
If I handed out an award for most improved band of the year, Job for a Cowboy would win in a landslide. Six or seven years ago, this group of then-teenage West Valley "scene kids" were cranking out some of the more obnoxious deathcore in an annoyingly burgeoning genre. Since they were local kids, I always kind of rooted for them, but I never expected much out of them after such an inauspicious debut. If you had told me back then that they'd eventually be capable of something as mature, intelligent and out-and-out progressive as Sun Eater, I'd have laughed in your face. Yet here they sit in my year-end top 10, and I have to say, I've never been happier to have been proven wrong. Well played, sirs. It's also worth noting, if for no other reason than I'm a bassist myself, that this album has some of the best metal bass work since Master of Puppets.
8. Saturn - Ascending (Live in Space) [5 points]
On its surface, a question like "What's the best album Judas Priest ever recorded?" might seem pretty subjective. Priest is an iconic band, and they've released enough classic albums to at least fuel a hearty debate. But for my money, there is absolutely a right answer, and that album is Sad Wings of Destiny. You don't need to hear much more than a minute or two of Saturn's debut album, Ascending (Live in Space) to figure out that they're in firm agreement with me. That's not to say they're a mere clone of early Priest. Tracks like the blues-drenched "Over the Influence" and the acoustic, Zeppelin-esque closer "Moonstone" prove that Saturn is more than just a one-trick pony.
7. Lo-Pan - Colossus [5 points]
Let's be honest. Sometimes you don't necessarily want to be intellectually challenged by the music you're listening to. Sometimes you just want to get on the freeway, drive fast and rock the fuck out. That, my friends, is where the fine gentlemen in Lo-Pan come in. On Colossus, Lo-Pan aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. They seem content to simply make whatever (previously-invented) wheels you have underneath you move quite a bit faster. Whenever a band begins a song with the sound of an engine firing up, their motives seem pretty obvious. This is stoner rock at its finest: fuzzy blues riffs, powerful vocals and catchy-as-all-hell hooks.
6. Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden [10 points]
Yay! It's the metal band all the non-metalheads are allowed to like! No, not Deafheaven, silly. That was last year. This year's most popular metal album among Pitchfork-worshipping hipsters arrives via our old doom metal friends from Little Rock, Ark., Pallbearer. Their sophomore release, Foundations of Burden, mines a similar vein as their heralded 2012 debut, Sorrow and Extinction, but ups the ante on nearly every level. The riffs are catchier, the vocal harmonies are prettier and the songs are more memorable, yet the enveloping sense of gloominess remains steadfastly intact. Pallbearer seem to have finally figured out a way to bring doom metal to the masses without compromising the genre's integrity or their own.
5. Sharon Van Etten - Are We There [10 points]
Okay, so even metalheads have their soft spots. Me? I have a thing for chicks who sing sad songs about dudes who have dicked them over or otherwise done them wrong. I own every Portishead album. I had a crush on Fiona Apple way before the "Criminal" video. I named my cat Tori, ferchrissakes. So it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that I love Sharon Van Etten's latest album. It makes me want to hug her and assure her that everything will be alright. But I wouldn't want her to believe it, or else we might not get any more albums as poignant and heart-wrenching as Are We There.
4. Eyehategod - Eyehategod [10 points]
There were a few worthy contenders for comeback of the year, with bands like At The Gates, Obituary, Exodus (once again featuring Steve "Zetro" Souza on vocals) and even the legendary Godflesh releasing quality albums this year. The most welcome return, however, was that of New Orleans sludge masters Eyehategod. The bands seemingly hasn't lost a step in the 14 years since 2000's Confederacy of Ruined Lives, and it's wonderful to have them back in all their misanthropic glory.
3. The Flight of Sleipnir - V. [13 points]
The Flight of Sleipnir is one of those bands I was referring to in the intro that I might have never had the pleasure of listening to if not for their fifth album, V., landing in my inbox a couple months ago. This relatively unheralded duo from Arvada, Colo. incorporate a variety of styles into their unique sound, including folk metal, black metal, stoner/doom and post-rock. Their sound is sufficiently epic, without ever veering into pretension. The entire album is a fantastic listen, but the closing track, "Beacon in Black Horizon," encapsulates everything they do so well and is easily the best song released this year.
2. Moodie Black - Nausea [13 points]
Nausea, Moodie Black's first full-length album for Fake Four Inc., was the only album I could be bothered to write a proper review for last year, so it's probably no surprise to see them high on my list. Chris Martinez and company continue to push the boundaries of hip-hop in strange new directions, and it's a joy to experience.
1. Trap Them - Blissfucker [24 points]
As I mentioned in the intro, I get a lot of promos sent to me via email. The majority of said promos are hosted on a streaming platform called Haulix, which serves as a sort of middleman between publicists and music journalists and has all but eliminated the cost and hassle of sending physical promo CDs through the mail. The only reason I'm boring you with this behind-the-scenes minutiae is because before I received the digital promo for Trap Them's mind-blowing album Blissfucker, I had no idea there was a limit to the amount of times you could stream a promo on Haulix. I was so enamored with this album from the first time that I listened to it that I actually used up all my streams before it was even officially released. Ever since, I've been telling literally anyone who'll listen how great this album is. It's the perfect combination of hardcore and metal, an impeccably paced and sequenced record that transitions seamlessly from raw punk rock aggression to primal metal sludge. Blissfucker is not for everyone, and it's certainly not for the faint of heart, but for serious metalheads who like their music loud, angry and nihilistic as all hell, 2014 didn't produce a better release.