“The Top 5” – Best Albums of 2014

1. Closure in Moscow – Pink Lemonade (10/10)

Pink Lemonade is a concept album built around the most hallucenogenic ideas I have encountered on a record (akin to The Mars Volta, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd). This record brings to the table ingenuitive ideas, trippy effects, impenetrably complex lyrics, and vocals that sound as if from the “Brahmatron” itself. More or less, Pink Lemonade dresses like a classic-rock album, yet somehow Closure in Moscow breaks that mold and comes across with incredible driving force and energy. No two songs feel the same, yet all flow into one another seamlessly. This record is a perfect example of what experimentation and musicianship can do when properly combined. The worst thing about Pink Lemonade is the fact that it took (literally) five years to make it into my mailbox. It was worth the wait. Favorite Track: “Church of the Technochrist”

2. Hail the Sun – Wake (10/10)

A very close contender for the number one spot this year, Hail the Sun’s first full-length, Wake, blew fans out of the water. Until about this year, Hail the Sun had been a rather esoteric Reddit-only-club kind of band. Their sounds derives itself from too many possible angles to wrap up into a generalization; they can be compared to anybody from The Fall of Troy, to Circa Survive, and to anyone in between. Wake has some amazing instrumentals, driven by Donovan Melero the drummer/singer (wtf, how does he do it?) and has lyrical concepts far deeper than meets the eye. Speaking of Reddit, check out their AMA from a few weeks back to get a broader scope of what kind of songs HTS were trying to produce on this record. Wake might have made it to number one if it had come out earlier this year and allowed time to marinate my feels some more. Favorite Track: “Disappearing Syndrome”

3. Artifex Pereo – Time in Place (9/10)

Artifex Pereo, since Ailments & Antidotes, have lost their original vocalist, and a lot of time on hiatus. Having fallen in love with their craft, I picked up Time in Place expecting a sloppier, more radio-friendly release. Let’s just say I was slapped in the face the second I put the CD in my car. This record packs one hell of an articulate punch. Artifex, as a unit, somehow blends the softest jams in with post-hardcore that, if released maybe 5 years back, would have changed the future of music as we know it today. This record gets a little too soft and angsty towards the end for my tastes (“Weep & You Weep Alone” and “Overview”) but, on the other hand, it’s nice to finally see Jeremiah Brinkworth get some solo time as keyboardist. Artifex are at their best when all instruments are involved, particularly blending heaviness & ambience within a single track–I’m not asking for breakdowns, just less loftiness. That aside, these are extremely technical songwriters who blend together some jams that very few bands ever have the ability to accomplish. Favorite Track: “The Golden Age”

4. Icarus the Owl – Icarus the Owl (9/10)

Though Icarus the Owl hasn’t chosen to experiment too much over the years, they somehow never fail to impress the listener. Icarus are so catchy–almost pop music–yet they remain completely, unintelligibly inventive and dynamic. This self-titled release is full of many jams that will refuse to leave you alone even when you aren’t listening to it. Their mathy movements and tap/sweep guitars dominate the background, whilst the playful drums and loose vocals kill the fore. I am still of the opinion that their previous release, Love always, Leviathan is one of the top ten records I’ve ever heard, so this record had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Icarus the Owl has not disappointed. However, there are occasional overlapping moments I’ve noticed in their song/lyrical themes, which is a symptom of owning all their records in addition to previous musical endeavors (Kill Your Ex). Not sure why this record warrants self-titling in particular; they’re only getting better as musicians. Favorite Track: “Lily Trotter”

5. Tides of Man – Young and Courageous (8/10)

This list would be amiss without this beautiful, experimental honorable mention. I was heartbroken when Tilian Peterson (Tides of Man’s previous vocalist) left to join Dance Gavin Dance, another favorite of mine. Still, when Young and Courageous came out in the spring, my pre-order arrived and I was hooked instantly. Tides of Man might resist the label, “Post-rock,” but it seems the most fitting way to describe the way this band has transitioned. No longer are their jams heavy and technical; they are simple, loopy, trippy, and free. Young and Courageous takes flight in many movements that old fans will (hopefully) still love and grow to appreciate. I’m sure I’m not the only one with bated breath, hoping for Tilian to return, but even if that weren’t the case, Tides of Man can kill it instrumentally. And their live show is…let’s just say, unforgettable. Favorite Track: “Drift”

Aside from this “Top 5” list and a handful of records that slipped through the cracks (Lights, Young the Giant, So Much Light, to name a few), this year in music has been particularly disappointing. Here are my “Bottom 5” list of flop-releases from 2014 which, while they aren’t terrible, do not live up to the caliber of the bands I have known previously: Chiodos – Devil, Emarosa – Versus, Manchester Orchestra – Cope, Memphis May Fire – Unconditional, Set it Off – Duality. Each of these records has maybe two or three redeemable tracks, but universally fail to build on their past groundworks.

Here’s to hoping 2015 has more low-hanging fruits.

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