So a year happened again. In that year, the world got a decidedly more grim place to be, and trying to be cheery about it got harder. In certain ways, my own life has become, let’s just say entangled for now. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that needs ironing out. Eh. Luckily, music is always an entity that makes life infinitely more enjoyable and in terms of what I encountered over those 12 months, it was an absolute cracker at times. My rules are that I don’t have year restrictions on when songs came out, otherwise this list would be damn boring, as from an overseer perspective, I can’t really count too many bands or albums from this year I enjoyed that much really. There are some, but not enough to fill a 20 song list. And on that note, I would go into honourable mentions, but there are really far too many to count or write words for. If you would like to listen to these songs however without my commentary, you may do so by clicking here: Top 20 Songs of 2014 (does require Spotify, I think.)
Right, best get on with it then.
20. Aero Chord – Chord Splitter
Part trap fashion statement, which if you check the expiry date on, is soon to be over (I actually like some trap music, but I personally think it’s the next EDM trend on its way out, can you say moombahton?) and part bass blasting BPM escalator, it only introduces the countdown for one particular part of the song. That second drop. What I basically describe what happiness to me sounds like, all the encompassing joy in the world flows directly into a pseudo-happy hardcore pulse and a stuttering but luminously bright synth hook that lasts all of about 20 seconds, but left me constantly sliding back to precisely a minute and 22 seconds in the song. One of EDM’s only rays of sunshine this year.
19. The .invalid – Blind Myself
Just sneaking its way into this list, is one man Scottish producer extraordinaire Seamus Bradd, who provides both clean vocals and the growls that dominate modern metal like the plague, onto a beautifully atmospheric EBM soundtrack. The fusion between the modern day metal scene and a scene that has never really changed came as one of my year’s biggest surprises, and towards the end of the album is this absolute gem. An emotionally charged stomper with gorgeous chords and a chorus that superglues itself into your memory, like all the best electronic dance tunes should be. Almost practically unknown, and incredibly talented, I will be making a lot more noise about this man.
18. Devil Sold His Soul – VIII
Although my love for this song picked up at the very tail end of last year (being 2013), it missed out on a place in my list. I’ve rectified this, by putting it on this one as I still play this a fair amount in the right mind set. Pure unbridled rage not so much flows, but submerges this track and it is staggering how colossal the whole thing sounds. The melodic vocals pre-chorus meld so well with the anarchy surrounding it before plummeting into that unbelievable down-toned, two note wrecking ball. Nothing I’ve ever heard can match that. Insane. About the only word to describe it.
17. Rishloo – The Water Is Fine
The resurrection of this band is one of my highlights of 2014, no question. While their fourth long-player has fallen into 2015, which I have no qualms with as it will be amazing no doubt, it’s this number from their first album which has made repeated plays this year. Sitting right at home in Aenima-era Tool’s arsenal, it is singer Drew’s sultry vocals, that switch to impassioned cries layered atop a satisfyingly rugged riff attack that make this so compelling. Whilst it shows signs of the atmosphere to come from the later records, the distilled nature found here suits it down to the ground, settling for just adrift of Tool levels of genius. An excellent starting point, from an excellent band.
16. Bad Sign – Drones
If Devil Sold His Soul is late, then this is from the wrong century in comparison. An anthem for those stuck in the rat race called modern day society, the brilliance of this quiet-loud masterstroke has only been felt since falling into the aforementioned situation. The song moves like a three step plot, first resigning to what there is for the current, second to triumphantly declare that there is a way out and thirdly, bursting out of the mould in riot-like fashion. The instrumentation is precision perfect for each step, capturing the mood and essence of the lyrics in a manner that makes it ridiculously hard to forget. 2015 is these guys’ year, and if they don’t make it, there is no justice.
15. RXYZXYR – We Dominate
Your guess is as good as mine as to how to pronounce that. Same as the row as to whether we should classify djent as a genre or not. But while both of those things are silly arguments, what isn’t silly is the prowess of this worldwide collective of tech metal magicians. We Dominate also contains some of my favourite lyrics of this year by far, many times I’ve thought about getting an ink-to-skin memento of it. But between excellent lyrics and some impressive clean-growl vocal switch-ups, lies a progressive nugget of bruising riffs, mechanically precise drum work and bass that shakes down to the Earth’s core. Tech metal at its captivating best: impactful, impressive and inescapably brilliant.
14. Life Of Agony – Weeds
We all have those moments where you’re hunting for a song you heard ages and ages ago, and the end of that quest is one of the most satisfying moments imaginable. This is my case in point, Weeds by Life Of Agony. This band appears to have been given new life by the internet (because the old one was agony apparently), as they seemingly pop up at European festivals every year, but when you can write pandemic-levels of infectious punk numbers like this, it all makes sense. A grunge sensibility running deep in its veins, and a half decent guitar solo to boot, Weeds is an all straight-up, best suit on statement of the modern condition, and one that will leave you humming it forever.
13. Noisia – Stamp Out
You just knew there had to be some drum ‘n’ bass on here at some point didn’t you? Noisia aren’t my favourite producers in music for no reason whatsoever. It’s because they continue to create mind-meltingly excellent, electronic monsters of dancefloor devastation. Stamp Out is no exception to the rule. Unquantifiably more bouncy than anything they’ve ever produced, and taking some cues from darker shades of jump-up drum ‘n’ bass, the build up wastes very little time and blasts you with dramatic but punchy synths and drums with power of pneumatic drills. Challenge yourself to not move to this, I guarantee this is so life-affirming, you’ll find it impossible.
12. Frankee – Gully
And if Noisia was bouncy, this is the bounciest. The beauty is in the simplicity of this one. You get warnings signs, like a clarion call for the approaching assault about to happen, and with the sample words of ‘I’m going to break you,’ you’re hit in the face. Repeatedly. Relentlessly. All it is just drums, expertly woven and vacuum tight drums admittedly, and a siren, warped and twisted into a distressing bird call if I’ve ever heard one. Yet there’s so much energy behind it, it becomes addictive. If listening to this song was a boxing match, you’d be fighting a piston-powered printing press. With boxing gloves on. Perfect workout music, killer dancefloor tune.
11. Hybris – Night Boss
A true case of substance over style, Night Boss is so finely tuned, car designers may as well be reduced to quivering wrecks in the corners of their workshops. An atmosphere does lurk behind the minimal amount of synths and drums here, but it’s the beat here that seeps deep, deep into you before you realise your floor is shaking from that sizeable sub-bass below. While not an obscene bass snarling goliath like most drum ‘n’ bass I like, there is so much going on from a production standpoint, even if at face value it doesn’t sound like it. That’s why this is my drum ‘n’ bass tune of the year, Hybris makes electronic music like no one else on the planet and is one of the genre’s greatest innovators around right now.
10. Shining – Fisheye
Masters of the surprised saxophone solo and possibly the only band that really does make metal sound jazzy, Shining (the Norwegian band, not the Swedish one) pride themselves having invented a genre of their own called ‘blackjazz,’ and frankly, it’s incredibly accurate. Fisheye is a dark, descent into madness, with lyrics transcending the tarot card of the same name, sinisterly whispered, frenetic keyboard stabs heightening tension at exactly the right moments, building up into absolute chaos, of which whispers become grizzled shouts and drums become blastbeats. Shouting just four numbers has never sounded so urgent, so desperate, so possessed and so god damn good.
9. Necro Facility – Cuts
My biggest surprise of this year, without a shadow of a doubt. Having a cool as hell name for a group doesn’t always guarantee brilliance, but this industrial/coldwave collective have a pop leaning that sinks its hooks in and doesn’t let get go. It sounds as mechanical and harsh as you would expect any industrial or EBM to be, however, there’s a mist that surrounds this track and it plays host to a dialect between a delightfully bright synth line and the visceral refrain of ‘JUST LET IT GO.’ Their album Wintermute is absolutely rammed with these moments: atmospheric, jagged and so catchy you’d have to be quarantined from a 5 mile radius.
8. El Caco – Cosmic
This album is utterly, utterly fantastic. A long standing contender for my album of the year. 2014 has seen the year that my stoner rock addiction has took flight tenfold, not just musically, but that I now wouldn’t have a degree without it. I have Norway’s El Caco to partially thank for that, and Cosmic is just one of an abundance of fuzz-soaked, groove heavy masterclasses. Why it’s my favourite lies in the soul-charged chorus, crying out to the universe beyond, whilst the guitar underlay gets heavier. All throughout, a journey, whether through the desert or transcending the cosmos, you can envision through just the majesty of three instruments. You don’t need marijuana for that, you need to be an excellent musician instead.
7. Aesthetic Perfection – The Siren
Another addiction of mine which is steadily going out of control is building a perfect industrial/EBM set. The cornerstone of these sets usually involves this surprisingly evil stomper from Aesthetic Perfection, a stalwart of the modern scene. Musically, it pumps hard, the decision for live drums faring better than a programmed drum computer would and the synths switch between a dark factory of mass production and shrill cries, rattling cells of an asylum. But what steals the show is the vocals, where partially projected in growls as per convention, there’s spoken word and even pop-styled harmonising, all encapsulated into a glorious narration of a metaphorical encounter with the titular creature of the song.
6. Infant Annihilator – Cuntcrusher
Oh boy. I’m gonna have some fun explaining this one. Just from that title alone, you can assume an incredibly vile, disturbing cultural artefact, and it’s not far from the truth. Normally, I’d run a mile before considering listening to something that can be distinguished as pure noise pollution, but what makes Infant Annihilator an exception, is their unbelievable musicianship. While officially just a two-man outfit, which even in itself is immensely impressive, watching them at work is even more so. If you could define brutal in the dictionary, Infant Annihilator is a serious contender for that definition. Visceral and uncompromising, never has anything so savage, so nihilistic, so utterly dehumanising, become so enjoyable. 1:38 to 2:42 is probably my favourite musical passage this year.
5. Mongol Horde – Stillborn Unicorn
Why I love this lies with Frank Turner’s ability to be such a compelling storyteller. Mongol Horde is wonderfully silly hardcore nonsense, which is exactly what hardcore needs, being so serious Batman looks sarcastic in comparison. Stillborn Unicorn is a tongue-in-cheek, yet equally gruesome account of what happens when a horse and a rhino have sex, and the aftermath, interspersed between blasts of raw, razor-sharp chords and an anthemic chorus that you can’t help but yell at the top of your lungs. My favourite pick of another my favourite albums of this year (actually released this year, it might be my favourite).
4. Mangoo – Deathmint
I’m just gonna quote myself on this one, I did a better job there than I will now:
Deathmint, from second album, Neverland, comes across as the theme song for a last stand: ominous, haunting but utterly captivating to its very end. The first half is reminiscent of Kyuss: bluesy grooves with an astoundingly catchy chorus, but then a seismic shift into foundation-altering chords, ratcheting tension up with touches of strings and a bell that could signal the end of days, completely fulfilling that apocalyptic feel. This band is a little bit special, and well worth your investment.
3. Captain, We’re Sinking – Montreal
There’s a tinge of melancholy and sorrow that makes this inescapably good. Depending on your musical knowledge, this is what emo should’ve sounded like, before all that 2007 label-spreading bullshit happened. At its heart, Montreal is a slightly downbeat, poppy punk kind of number, filled with some emotionally tugging vocal lines and the kind of chorus that stadiums dream of hearing. Far too short for its own good, it requires multiple revisits, purely to appreciate how remarkable every single element sounds. Recounting a social situation we’ve all been in is something that you’ll seldom seen illustrated and captured in such a memorable, passionate and energetic manner.
2. Deadly Circus Fire – Nothing
My runner-up this year is this monster from the dark mind of progressive metal’s brightest hopes. Although I’m tardy to this dance, Nothing is a lecture on the ills of this world that we aren’t combating effectively, and I’ve joined at a particularly crucial point in time as society slowly descends further into paranoia and chaos. Not that this is why this song is here. An onslaught of riffs, rage and an earworm about civilisation’s quandary hurled into a bag and left to fester, is why this has clambered to the foothold of my list. These gentlemen are indescribably good musicians, fantastic songwriters and an exclamation point as why metal needs new life breathed into it.
1. Temple of Thieves – Umbilical
There was never any doubt in my mind that after I’d got hooked on Species by this group, and I kept playing them over and over again into the dying moments of this year, that the top song was to be by this pseudo-A Perfect Circle collective. Much like them however, they write simply flawless alternative rock songs. Pacing, guitar solos where appropriate, aching vocal deliveries, lyrics the common man can relate to, an unforgettable musical experience: everything you could possibly want from a four piece band on their debut record is lovingly handmade and performed with a devotion that cannot be faulted. Umbilical wins as the best song because it is the epitome of broadcasting feelings through a rich, powerful medium and making it into a time bubble you’ll constantly want to re-enter again and again to marvel at the due care and love poured into it. A stunningly beautiful masterpiece.