Maximus Frank’s Top 10 Non-Metal Albums of 2014

What a year for Non-Metal. Fantastic records came out across a broad spectrum of popular music – rap, electronic, pop, rock, and everything in between – that gave metal’s heavy hitters a serious run for their [jewels] money. As music fans, we dug a whole swath of releases, and are excited to share some of our favorites with you. Keep on rockin’ in the free world!

10) Thomas Giles – Modern Noise

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this album, and was really pleasantly surprised. Giles does some pretty cool stuff with really familiar concepts (rock songs, catchy choruses, etc etc), and cranked out a batch of neat tunes. For a fuller picture, read our interview with Tommy about the writing and recording of this record here.

9) Rival Sons – Great Western Valkyrie

Rival Sons are a such a cool band. These are dudes who go in the studio with no material written, but always manage to come out with an albums worth of great songs. They’re so in tune with each other,  they’re so committed to a group artistic mission, and they are all completely comfortable with themselves as players. Great Western Valkyrie of course doesn’t re-write the wheel of rock, but its certainly a breath of fresh, raw, real human musical air in a genre populated by retrofuturists who get the look right, but not the feel. Pop bands sounds like pop bands. Great musicians have feel. Rival Sons have feel.

8) The Bad Plus – Inevitable Western

Avant-garde jazz giants The Bad Plus put out not only one but two records this year (this, as well as a recording of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for trio). The group, consisting of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King, have made a name for themselves outside of the jazz world with their twisted compositions and covers of well known rock songs – a surefire way to most rock critics’ hearts. While I don’t always love this type of jazz, Iverson & co. won me over during a gig several years ago with legendary jazz drummer Paul Motion at the Village Vanguard in New York, and I’ve since kept tabs on the band as well as Iverson’s music theory web site, Do the Math.

I greatly enjoyed Inevitable Western, and think that it is an album that metal fans – particularly prog-metal fans – regardless of how familiar they are with jazz, would really be able to get into.

7) Aphex Twin – Syro

Morning fog in green activities in East London, the famous sky sailing ship logo Alpha General Richard D James prokatki.Dirizhabl lime and one of the most interesting character in the service muzyke.Albom E, was released from prison and humid, still cost the Aphex Twin’s money, do not reinvent the wheel, and “wheel better, we have for many years (perhaps to tease spray Goodyear) Minipops, Produkt 29 CIRCLONT14 (Shrymoming Mix) – produced the album all convincing, unlike Listenable and imagination to know what has been published RDJ but once plugged in (credit yashika). think of it as keeping your head in the hole in the past, but will definitely keep your feet anchored in mid-2010.

6) Death Grips – niggas on the moon (the powers that b part 1)

I assume most of our readers know about this band, but if not, well, IDK what to say about Death Grips other than they are probably the heaviest rap outfit “out there.” Don’t be tricked that the Hip Rags like these guys. They’re pretty great. Visceral rhythms from drummer Zach Hill (Hella, Mick Barr, Marnie Stern, etc etc etc), aggressive and insane raps from MC Ride, etc etc. Bjork sent these guys a bunch of vocal samples for their new album and they turned them into weird percussives. Super stoked for part 2, Jenny Death, out hopefully at some point before one of them gets arrested.

5) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

This is the second album from the rap collaboration pitting New York producer El-p with Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, and honestly, its as heavy, if not heavier, than most metal albums I heard that came out this year. 4chan people call this “meme rap,” I call it great entertainment – aggressive and interesting beats, vivid imagery, emotive peformances. What an insane album. Like on this track, where Killer Mike guffaws at you to “run backwards through a field of dicks.” Fuck yeah.

4) Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool

The story goes that, after the success of his big PledgeMusic campaign to help fund his weird space-country album as well as the new Ziltoid the Omniscient album, Devin Townsend sat and wrote down one word to go with a big, ambitious piece, a piece that he felt at first was out of place on such a stripped-down, personal album. The word was to be sung by a grand chorus. The word that popped into his head, he claims, he did not know, had not heard before and did not understand. It was an improvisational reaction, which contained a feeling, about the love, faith, and support his audience had shown in him. That word, I think, summarizes the heart, the humor, and the strange importance of Devin Townsend in 2014.

That word was “YOLO.”

3) Swans – To Be Kind

We were lucky enough to catch Swans play in a gigantic barn in the middle of nowhere, upstate New York, during the Pitchfork-curated Basilica Soundscape. They capped off a weekend of a mixture of mediocre-to-weird-enough indie-alt rock and vaporwhave (including P4k favorites Deafheaven), and just completely showed all of the kids how its done. They played a blistering 3-hour set (like wtf! who else does that??) that I think is the closest I’ll ever come to seeing Zeppelin in 1976. To Be Kind is a tripper of an album, jaunting between more straightforward Bonzo-swag like “A Little God In My Hands” to psychotic punk like “Oxygen” and shit that just straight up Bakes you, like “Bring the Sun.” Same as above, don’t be tricked that the Hip Rags like Swans now that Swans first album is like 40 years old. To Be Kind rocks.

2) Flying Lotus – You’re Dead

People are always complaining that our generation produces no original talent, that all art sucks, that hipsters rule everything, and then a record like You’re Dead comes out and ethers all those naysayers. Producer, songwriter, rapper, deathtripper, Flying Lotus, nee Steven Ellison, a.K.a. nephew to Alice Coltrane (the dude is literally of one of the greatest musical bloodlines of all time), steps into a new arena with his fifth record You’re Dead, a dynamic and varied album with all sorts of crazy shit going on that people are calling his version of Bitches Brew. Although there’s so much to explore and love about this album, what excites me most is the use of live instruments and voices, played by incredible musicians like Herbie Hancock, Thundercat, Brendon Small (!), Kimbra, Deantoni Parks, and Kendrick Lamar.

1) Kimbra – The Golden Echo

In an musical era full of bland copycats – across all genres, from metal to indie to pop to everything in between – it is so cool to see someone as unique, talented, and weird as Kimbra making music and getting attention for it. And in her sophomore effort The Golden Echo, she has not only made a near-masterpiece, but also placed herself in a position to grow in a way that artists rarely do these days.

The Golden Echo makes me feel the way great records do. The way Quincy Jones, Elton John, and Led Zeppelin albums do. It has a progression, it’s tuneful, it’s weird, it’s catchy, it’s exciting, it’s uplifting. It has real variety, not only in it’s songs, but in it’s performances and production, too. It’s not trying to be anything it’s not, and plenty of critics and music consumers will shy away from it for that reason. There’s not really an easy way to define this music – despite what the Rock Music Press might feel – particularly because so much of what makes it great is the most unquantifiable asset that great music has: melody. This is a gorgeous collection of beautiful melodies and songs, compiled by an artist with a real vision, and a knack for realizing that vision.

The Golden Echo is performed like a classic album too – and not just in its namesakes’ performance, which is spectacular. Kimbra went above and beyond this go-round, enlisting a who’s-who of classic and modern musicians to perform her songs, including Thundercat, the Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, veteran studio drummer John JR Robinson (Michael Jackson, Daft Punk, Quincy Jones, Madonna, etc etc etc), John Legend, the Dillinger Escape Plan’s Ben Weinman, and more, including members of Muse, Foster the People, and Queens of the Stone Age.

I wish more music made today was like this album.

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Max is managing editor of Gear Gods.