Here we are again, for the 8th time.
I bought a lot less music this year than in previous years. Wait, scratch that. I bought a lot less "released this year" new music this year than in previous years. In 2011, I bought 88 albums from 2011; in 2012, 82 albums; and in 2013, 63 albums. This year, I've only bought 39 new albums. I'll admit, this was a bit of surprise for me, because this year seems like it contained just as much good new music as previous years. Maybe I'm getting picky in my old age. ;)
When she burst onto the scene, Tori Amos was unrelenting and unrepentant. Little Earthquakes remains to this day one of my favorite alternative albums of all time. 'll admit that she had fallen by the wayside for me, as the last album of hers that really gripped me was 2001's Strange Little Girls. I happened across a track from the new album when getting this year's HD Tracks Sampler, and I am certainly glad to have her back in the rotation. The music is mostly stripped back down to basics, which is when Tori is at her best.
The new album from Scottish mega-star DJ Calvin Harris is a massive collaborative effort featuring songs from just about every sub-genre of pop and electronic music. For that reason, it's hard to pick a favorite, so I'm going to cheat and pick two: the up-tempo pop song Outside (with vocals by Ellie Goulding) and the throbbing house instrumental Slow Acid. Warm up your sub-woofer.
A dub-step inspired Crystal Method song is the last place I would've expected to find folk singer Dia Frampton (runner up from the first season of The Voice), but the song actually works well with her voice. Just a fair warning that the video might be unsafe for work. :)
A new deadmau5 album is always cause for celebration, and this double album more than delivered. The collaborations with Trent Reznor (both as Nine Inch Nails and as How To Destroy Angels) are both highlights of the album, but my hands down favorite is My Pet Coelacanth features only a single lyric, occasionally shouted, with one of the best beats (and bridge) he's ever put down.
Most acts on The Sing Off (an a capela singing contest) have many people, so when Pentatonix showed up with just 5, it was an astonishing thing to watch. They vaulted their 3rd season victory into massive YouTube success -- three quarters of a billion video views -- and then a full fledged touring and album-releasing career.
I'll be honest: this is the first Skillex album that I didn't mostly hate. It has a couple songs on it that I'm not too fond of, but there are some really great songs in there. I don't know if you'd attribute that to his growth as an artist, or just a simple shift onto my radar, but it makes me happy either way. :)
Insanely is the single best adverb for Animals as Leaders: insanely talented, insanely complex, and insanely entertaining. The instrumental wunderkinds are back again, and listening to their creations makes me... insanely happy.
Their transition to straight-up progressive rock band began in earnest with 2011's Heritage, which saw them shed the death metal vocals in favor of pure clean vocals from lead singer and mastermind Mikael Åkerfeldt. Whereas Heritage still held onto the metal edges from their past, there's no way to hide the fact that Pale Communion is like a love letter to 1970's prog bands (the song Goblin sounds like it could've been written by the band of the same name).
Let me be clear: this is a top 10 progressive rock album; of all time, not just 2014. I put it up there with Rush's 2112, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, King Crimson's In The Court of the Crimson King, Genesis' Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, or anything from modern bands like Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater. For that reason, you get two tracks.
The masters of atmosphere black metal released what is my favorite album of their since 2005's The Mantle. The mostly muted vocals just add to the creepy, ethereal effect on Celestial Effigy.
Colorado natives Allegaeon are a band that can do no wrong in my mind. In the short time they've been together (their first full length album was released just 4 years ago), they have absolutely become one of my favorite death metal bands of all time. Their technical style is amazing, and I'm convinced their drummer Brandon Park is part cyborg. The video for 1.618 pokes fun at themselves, first and foremost, and also at the obsession of metal fans to minutely categorize all forms of metal music. CRABCORE 4 LIFE!
I almost missed this release this year, but it arrived at my house just in time. I've been a huge fan of Ghost Brigade after my first listen to "Until Fear No Longer Defines Us". Their blend of melodies with both brutal and harmonized vocals is just something special. The new album was not a disappointment: an exquisite blend of everything that makes them great.
Stu Block joined Iced Earth for 2011's Dystopia, replacing on-again off-again vocalist Matt Barlow (who moved on to Ashes of Ares). Interestingly, Stu's voice is capable of giving good rendition to both Barlow's baritone and Tim Owens' high-reaching tenor, so he has an incredible range (in addition to being able to perform almost all of their back catalog live in concert). Whereas Dystopia felt a little disjointed, Babylon feels like Stu has been really solidly integrated into the writing process. My favorite track is Among the Living Dead, featuring long time collaborator and Blind Guardian lead singer Hansi Kürsch.
Role-playing with grandma? LARPing with strangers in the park? There's no way this video wasn't being part of the collection this year. :)
Swedish melodic death metal masters Scar Symmetry are known for telling sci-fi stories of far future, post-apocalyptic humanity. This year they announced they would be releasing a trilogy of albums call The Singularity, focused on the subject of transhumanism, and that the first phase album Neohumanity would be released before the end of the year. Using a word like transcendent to describe the album sounds like hyperbole, but this is far and away the best work they've done. I can't wait for the next two albums.
I always found As I Lay Dying to be a band whose sound fatigued me: not quite enough melody, too much repetition, and vocals that were primarily undifferentiated screaming. When AILD's lead singer was arrested, the band decided to move on with a new singer and a new name. Wovenwar's slight tweaking of the AILD formula really turned this on its head for me, and the result is an extremely enjoyable, straight ahead American-style heavy metal album.