Welcome back to another installment of “LT’s Top 5’s.” I realize it’s been quite some time since my last post and that you’ve probably done nothing but stare at your computer screen or Twitter feed in anticipation of my latest musings, but alas, better late than never. I apologize for the delay.
Moving on, as you well know it’s that time of year where all the cool kids release their “best of” lists, as we take a stroll down memory lane and look back on the year that was. Movies, sporting moments, video games and more all make for great year end lists, but it’s music that brings us together today – and more specifically my top five albums of 2014.
2014 was kind of all over the map musically for me, with my taste for different styles vying for my time, affection, and, more importantly, my money (yes, I still pay for my music). As such, you’ll see a range of different artists instead of just strictly the heavy metal one’s that have dominated other top five’s that I’ve written.
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And one more bit of housekeeping before I start the show, I would ask you to keep in mind that I’m no musician. In fact, I probably don’t even have one musical bone in my body. I’m afraid killing it at Guitar Hero is about the extent of my abilities. With that in mind, for my reviews I have no deep sense of arrangements, time signatures, or any other fancy schmancy musical happenings. All I have to go on is what does or doesn’t sound good in these earholes.
Enough mumbo jumbo, let’s get started.
5. “Stereolithic” – 311
Release Date: Mach 11th (3/11, get it?)
Favorite Song: “Five of Everything”
311 is one of those bands incapable of putting out bad music. However, even though I’ve enjoyed their last few albums, they’ve paled in comparison to the days of “Transistor”, the self titled or “Blue” album, and of course their debut “Music”. Needless to say, when word got out that they would be returning to their indie roots for Stereolithic, I jumped for joy and expectations soared for their 11th studio album. And the boys from Nebraska didn’t disappoint.
The “nod your head to this” jams are back in full force. Nick and “SA” spit hot fire, Tim (and Nick) lay down some incredible guitar work, the rhythm section of “P-Nut” and Chad Sexton is out-of-control, and the result is an album that I have no hesitation in putting up against any of their earlier work.
4. “The Joy of Motion” – Animals As Leaders
Release Date: March 25th
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Favorite Song: “Tooth and Claw”
It never ceases to amaze me the sound that this trio can conjure up, especially considering they do it without vocals. These prog metalers have emerged from surprising new kids on the block to a genuine modern metal powerhouse, as they’ve now produced three jaw-dropping albums. After the success of their first two albums, lead guitar player (guitar god is more like it) and frontman, Tosin Abassi, changed his approach for “The Joy of Motion”, feeling he no longer needed to show off, thus allowing his true songwriting skills to shine. Fear not, though, because even though he feels he’s not showing off, it sure doesn’t come off that way.
You know about Tosin, but rhythm guitar player (that’s right, no bass) Javier Reyes does his part with some bone crunching riffs on his 8-string face-melter. This album also marks the first with new drummer Matt Garstka’s, who absolutely punishes the skins.
3. “Cult” – Bayside
Release Date: February 18th
Favorite Song: “Pigsty”
I’m relatively new to these New York rockers, but after seeing them at Warped Tour this past summer I was instantly hooked and have since gone back and got up to speed on their back catalog. “Cult” is their sixth studio album, and from what I can gather it definitely might be their finest work to date.
What I love most about this band is they don’t sacrifice musicianship to create catchy songs. That is clearly evident on this album as nearly every song could be a sing-a-long, but yet Anthony Raneri delivers some amazing and poignant lyrics, while Jack O’Shea continues to melt my face.
2. “One More ‘Round The Sun” – Mastodon
Release Date: April 17th
Favorite Song: “The Motherload”
I’ve long been a fan of these prog metal heavyweights, but I’ve especially enjoyed the direction they’ve gone with their last two albums, “The Hunter” and this most recent gem, “One More ‘Round the Sun”. Of course the musicianship is through the roof, but they’ve managed to tighten the screws and have made a big shift from the long, dramatic 10-minute epics to a more concentrated four or five minutes. They’ve also managed to add in more harmonies, and have done so without sacrificing what makes the band so brutal.
Each member is a world class musician, but when I throw on a Mastodon album it begins and ends with drummer Brann Dailor. I won’t be able to properly articulate how I feel about his drumming, but I will say, for me, he’s on the level of a Mike Portnoy, Danny Carey, or, dare I say, even Neil Peart himself.
1. “Lowborn” – Anberlin
Release Date: July 22nd
Favorite Song: “Stranger Ways”
There are some bands who, when it’s announced that they’ll be releasing an album that year, are almost automatically guaranteed a number one spot in my album rankings for that year. And when that band announces that said album will be their final one, well then carve yourselves a pine box, because no one follows a killer. Such was the case when Anberlin announced that “Lowborn” would be their seventh and final album as a band.
I can’t say it’s my favorite the group has ever done (I go back and forth between “Never Take Friendship Personal” and “Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place”), but I’m not sure the boys could’ve said goodbye with a better album. It’s simply classic Anberlin: catchy but meaningful lyrics, jangling guitars, punishing drums, and Stephen Christian’s majestic voice. The album does have quite a bit more electronics than previous releases, but it doesn’t detract from the work of art that is Lowborn. Whenever I listen to the album’s final song, “Harbinger”, I’m instantly transported in my mind back to a packed auditorium with every hand raised and fingers crossed as the band said goodbye to Denver on their final tour.
Well there you have it, my top five albums of 2014. For the record, Slipknot’s “.5 The Grey Chapter” just missed and would be my number six. I think it’s easily their best since “Iowa”.