I’m going back to alphabetical order this year. There’s so much genre spread here that I don’t really feel like trying to figure out whether I like insane satanic death metal more or less than Beyonce.
Behemoth – The Satanist
I hadn’t ever listened to Behemoth before this album; there are now some reissues of their earlier material out on Metal Blade, if you’re interested. Grayson Currin gave The Satanist an 8.2 in February, but I didn’t actually hear it until November. It’s phenomenal, and it epitomizes everything I’m loving in metal right now – thoroughly raspy Satanic vocals, pulsating speed, and the occasional oldschool guitar-solo flourish.
Beyonce – Beyonce
Sure, this technically came out in December of 2013, but I didn’t hear it until 2014, and based on the press coverage and general popular attention, I think that’s true of most people as well. Given the coverage since then, I don’t think I need to say much here, other than that it’s still amazing, a year later.
Blursome – Heavy Resting
2014 was the year that local indie/weirdo electronic acts multiplied like crazy. We had debuts from Doom Asylum and Faster Detail, and a great leap forward for VVAQRT, all on Hot Releases, and new music from Zeke Graves’s long-running Datahata project, on Grovl. My favorite of the bunch, though, was this debut EP from Raleigh’s Blursome. Spooky nighttime nervous ambient unease music:
LR06 HEAVY RESTING by BLURSOME
Body Games – “Perfume”
Still waiting for Dax to release more than one song a year. But when the songs are this good, I can’t really complain too hard.
D’Angelo – Black Messiah
Is this a brilliant album? Sort of. Is it as good as Voodoo was? Not exactly – but I don’t think it’s trying to be what Voodoo was. It sounds so skittish and erratic and overthought (it took 14 years to make, so yeah). I find it fascinating & really enjoyable to listen to, but more as a document of a particular Sly/Prince style obsessive aesthetic, rather than beautiful music to sink into & simply enjoy.
Demon Eye – Leave the Light
Straight-up no-pretensions old-fashioned heavy Sabbathy blooz-metal out of Raleigh. These guys are so clearly having a great time, and guitarist Erik Sugg seems to be a bottomless well of perfect riffs.
Leave The Light by Demon Eye
Ex Hex – Rips
I was kind of nervous about this album before I heard it, because I’ve seen Ex Hex a few times now, and they’ve never really clicked for me. I’ve really wanted to love them, but so far onstage they’ve just seemed a little too thin-sounding, or something. I’m always wishing for a second guitarist.
There is no such problem with this album. It’s tight and fast and stripped-down and riff-laden and lacks absolutely nothing. What a great pop guitar album.
Stream it here.
Horseback – Piedmont Apocrypha
I’m an unabashed Horseback fan, but I’ll also freely admit that I “appreciate” some Horseback more than I outright enjoy it.
This one, though, is pure crystalline enjoyment from start to finish. It distills the breadth of the Horseback project into a handful of songs, while continuing to push things further & further away from any sort of “metal” center.
Piedmont Apocrypha by Horseback
Last Year’s Men – Underwhelmed
It has been a few years since Last Year’s Men made their splashy debut, back when drummer Ian Rose was still in high school. They played garage rock, sure, but there was a ‘50s purity and a not-so-hidden undercurrent of country about it, which was even more surreal given that the average age of the band was around 19.
This new album further hones & clarifies those tendencies, and it equals or exceeds their first album in every way. It’s something of a mystery that nobody was leaping to release this thing (and that nobody has yet stepped up to do a physical release of it since its digital-only release in September). Not too late!
Underwhelmed by Last Year’s Men
Lord Mantis – Death Mask
I listened to a lot of metal this year, but most of it didn’t hook me. I was at least moderately disappointed by several albums I had been eagerly awaiting, and maybe that threw my general expectations off. Or maybe it was just ear fatigue.
Whatever the reason, the only metal that I really got into was mostly from the “hellish ritual soundtracks” camp, and this album is pretty much Exhibit A.
Death Mask by LORD MANTIS
Lud – Defenestration Boulevard
Lud are my favorite North Carolina band, and this album is as good as anything they have ever done. These are everyday middle-aged people with day-jobs, making extraordinary heartfelt music about stuff that really matters, like the importance of actually giving a shit about our fellow human beings. Never mawkish or easily sentimental; rather, Kirk Ross brings his reporter’s eyes & ears to bear on the world around him, and just tells it like it is. If this list were in numeric order, this album would be at the top of it.
Mannequin Pussy – Gypsy Pervert
This band came through town, and I was compiling show listings the week before the show, I was curious enough about them to check them out on Bandcamp. I don’t recall the specifics, but knowing me, I probably downloaded the record, barely listened to it, missed the show, and then realized later what an idiot I had been.
I mean, I know I missed the show, and I know I’m an idiot. This is a great record.
GYPSY PERVERT by MANNEQUIN PUSSY
Museum Mouth – Alex I Am Nothing
These guys are from Southport, NC, but they play around the Triangle a LOT. It took me way too long to actually get around to hearing them or seeing them – they are a frenzy of nervous energy & this album is the best pop-punk unrequited love album ever.
Alex I Am Nothing by Museum Mouth
No Love – Tape #2
Raleigh Hardcore is pretty dude-heavy and pretty serious nowadays, but No Love are neither, and that makes them The Best.
Tape #2 by No Love
See Gulls – “Don’t Write Me Love Songs”
The undeniable runaway smash hit of Hopscotch 2014. I really thought we’d have the full album by now, but it’s gonna be spring before it arrives, apparently. I’m perfectly capable of listening to nothing but this on repeat until then:
Don’t Write Me Love Songs by See Gulls
Soft Pink Truth – Why Do the Heathen Rage?
There are a handful of metal albums on this list, but none of them gave me as much pleasure as this queer electronic re-imagining of black metal classics by Matmos’s Drew Daniel. So profane & so beautiful.
Solar Halos – Solar Halos
The thing I love about Solar Halos is that they sound exactly like what the combination of Nora Rogers, Eddie Sanchez and John Crouch ought to sound like. You can hear the layers of their other bands (Curtains of Night, Fin Fang Foom, Caltrop), and you realize that they were always meant to be layered in exactly this way. Intensely heavy, but always moving ever upward.
Solar Halos by Solar Halos
Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
Who knew? Well, near as I could tell, Nick and Amelia knew, and they were just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. All of the local bands on this list deserve the kind of attention this album got, but few of them have worked as hard or in as focused a manner to make it happen.
T0W3RS – TL;DR
It has been fun watching T0W3RS evolve, from a huge sprawling band getting over on vibe and energy, to a recording outfit that was still figuring out, over the course of a couple of EPs, what worked & what didn’t work. And then to Derek, himself, sans band, hunkered down & inventing this stunner of an album more or less on his own.
TL;DR by T0W3RS
Teitanblood – Death
Straight fukkin insane blackened death from Spain. It’s just an endless pummelling onslaught. I particularly love the vintage Hanneman/King style guitar solos that come spurting up periodically from within the maelstrom.
The Tender Fruit – The Darkness Comes
It took Christy Smith four years to record & release this, her second album. She told me that, much like some other folks I know, she learned that she’s a better & more prolific writer when she’s going through some hard times. Hard times are inevitable, but I’m not one to wish them on anyone, so I’m fine with listening to this gorgeous album for the next howevermany years it takes for the next one to happen.
The Darkness Comes by The Tender Fruit
The Tills – Howlin’
The garage-rock “revival” is endless and bottomless and meaningless, pretty much, but I know a great song when I hear one, and this EP is loaded with them.
Howlin’ by The Tills
White Lung – Deep Fantasy
I got pissed at these folks at Hopscotch because there were a half-dozen asshole mosh-pit crowd-surfing fist-swinging dudes at their show, and the band didn’t do or say anything to try to stop it. I kind of expect more from punk bands with women in them. Didn’t keep me from enjoying the hell out of this album, though.
Wye Oak – Shriek
Wye Oak put on one of the two or three best sets at this summer’s Merge 25 anniversary celebration, and it was due in large part to how much fun Jenn Wasner was clearly having playing bass & keyboards, instead of guitar, on the songs from this album. She looked ecstatic, and it came through in the music as well. Comes through on the album, too. This is next-level stuff.
Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend
I had listened to plenty of Yob before, but they never quite clicked for me until this amazing, sprawling, epic album. So heavy, so gorgeous, so sad & yet so optimistic. It fills me with hope in a way that nothing else on this list can do.