Best and Worst musical moments of 2014 by @chrisdigsmusic

By @chrisdigsmusic

2014 was a rather interesting year for music, to say the least. So much so, that it’s pretty difficult to do a coherent list containing the “bests” and “worsts” of the year. Instead, I would much prefer to hand out a bunch of awards for some of the best (and worst) musical moments of 2014:

Best Debut Album: Banks’ “Goddess”

From the same ether that spawned both Massive Attack and Lorde’s down-tempo dreamy sound comes Jillian Banks (going by Banks for short) and her rather brooding first release. Known for her collaborations with The Weekend, Banks’ confessional lyrics are carried with an effortless air that causes visceral flashbacks to the likes of PJ Harvey. Though initially murky and a bit scattered, “Goddess” is an impressive first effort from an act that promises to take the dark pop popularized by acts like Lorde and Lykke Li and shape it into something truly impressive.

Worst Debut Album: Bleachers’ “Strange Desire”

Riding on the coattails of fun.’s unexpected rise to fame, guitarist Jack Antonoff decided that it was a proper time to try his hand at a solo project. Despite a relatively fun (pun intended) and polished single, Bleachers’ “Strange Desire” fails to take off beyond the hilariously blatant homage to Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.” Sadly, Mr. Antonoff lacks the verbal and lyrical chops that made fun. so catchy, and the seemingly forced hipster attitude of the album makes the half hour of music play out a bit more like a Portlandia skit than a true solo effort.

Best Collaboration: Sunn 0))) and Scott Walker’s “Soused”

Calling Scott Walker a living legend is an understatement at best. His work with The Walker Brothers set the stage for some of the greatest baroque pop albums of all time, and Scott’s melancholic croon is the reason why David Bowie sings in the manner that he does. In recent years, Scott has gone down a dark path and has released (arguably) the scariest albums of all time. Though serving as a cathartic release of Scott’s overwhelming anxieties and tortured past, the last three albums released by him are surprisingly beautiful in their structure and composition. This being said, this doesn’t mean that one should take a stroll through the mind of Mr. Walker haphazardly. Enter drone pioneers Sunn 0))). Known for their overwhelming sonic assaults and excessive tube amps, any and all bands that experiment with overwhelming drone owe their entire careers to them. If there is any band that could keep up with Scott Walker’s overwhelmingly aggressive and tortured writing, it’s totally Sunn 0))). “Soused” is a perfect meld of sound and story that paints a rather visceral portrait of an artist who, despite his age, is still standing strong. Though not for the faint of heart and for casual listeners, “Soused” stands alone when it comes to the genre of nightmarish-but-beautiful collaborations (a genre surprisingly thin).

Worst Collaboration: Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s “Cheek To Cheek”

It’s been only six years since Lady Gaga has released her first album, and yet it’s painfully clear she’s fighting to retain relevancy in the ever-evolving pop scene. Her bizarre antics have become somewhat common-place nowadays, and try as she might to push the envelope, someone pushes it a bit further.  So, instead of pushing against the tide, Lady Gaga took a step back and decided to stick to the classics. Now, Gaga and the iconic Tony Bennett have worked together in the past. In fact, their version of “The Lady Is a Tramp” was quite fun and intriguing (in the whole David Bowie/Bing Crosby sense). However, an entire album of standards done in the same predictable format causes the novelty of this weird duo to wear off quickly, making “Cheek To Cheek” little more than a novelty stocking stuffer of an album.

Best Comeback: Aphex Twin's "Syro”

Richard D. James is, undeniably, the most important figure in the electronic music scene. Virtually all the albums crafted by him are permanent fixtures on every electronic best-of list, and the replay value his work has is unmatched. This being said, the last name he released under the Aphex Twin monicker was over a decade ago, and many thought he took his final bow. Then, a strange blimp bearing his logo appeared over several cities this year. After a suspicious website appeared on the deep web using the same logo, it was clear that he wasn't quite done yet. "Syro" picked up immediately where he left off musically, and he proves yet again that he has quite literally nothing to prove. His effortless brilliance has only improved over the past thirteen years, and the prospect of not having to wait another decade for another Aphex Twin album only adds to the perfection.

Best Single: Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk"

English DJ/producer/musician/all-around cool dude Mark Ronson is no stranger to taking the back seat when it comes to fame. His work with Adele and Amy Winehouse is remarkable, and his ability to bend his talents with collaborators is impressive. Bruno Mars was quite an intriguing choice when it came to "Uptown Funk," but man, it works so well. His bubbly and tongue-in-cheek lyrics flow flawlessly through a funky sea of perfectly arranged horns and a thumping bassline that would make George Cliton jealous. At times, it's hard to differentiate between "Uptown Funk" and some other classic funk tunes, and the sheer nostalgia factor this provides makes it not only a memorable throwback, but also provides a bit of hope for Bruno and Ronson's future together. 

Worst Single: Jason Derulo's "Trumpets"

There are few things more obnoxious than watching a movie or a television show that is filled to the brim with references and product placement. There's a very small capsizing point where a movie becomes less of a movie and more of a platform run by it's contents. This is less of a problem in the music industry seeing that most tunes that contain an overwhelming amount of references are most likely commercial jingles to begin with. And then there's "Trumpets." The premise behind the song is that it's a song he wrote for a girl after thinking about said girl. This, of course, is nothing to knew in music history. However, the way that Mr. Derulo does it is on a COMPLETELY different level. The entire song is based around comparing different parts of this girl's body to specific musician's work... In the exact same sentence format... The whole entire song... "Is it weird that your _____ reminds me of a _____ song?" Over. And. Over. Again. 

Yes Jason. It is weird that her eyes remind you of a Coldplay song, and that her ass reminds you of a Kanye West song. Please stop. This, combined with horribly over-autotuned synths makes this song virtually unlistenable. Listen if you dare. 

Local Album of The Year: Fishing The Sky's "For You"

Rob Hughes’ labor of love, Fishing the Sky, has been evolving for years. Defining a proper genre is difficult because of how effortlessly he blends influences. The sound he makes bounds from melancholic ambience to instrumental ferocity within mere moments, and is all the more prominent in "For You." Instead of continuing where he left off, Rob's latest effort bounds forward and creates an atmosphere of curiosity and proficiency that grips you from the beginning and carries you through the end. Featuring easily some of the best songs featured on a Fishing The Sky album, "For You" can and will restore and justify your faith in the local music scene. 

Local Artist of The Year: Molly Pinto Madigan

If you've been remotely close to the downtown Salem area, there's no doubt that you've seen the name Molly Pinto Madigan. "Busy" doesn't even begin to describe Molly and her artistic tendencies. As she diligently works on her new album, Molly is also rather busy playing shows across the state on an almost daily basis. The Celtic folk flare of her music channels the likes likes of legendary artists including Nick Drake and Linda Thompson that, despite any possible comparisons, stands alone. Molly also recently received the 2014 Big Red Recognition for best female singer songwriter. Despite the fact that her new album isn't quite out yet, the tireless effort she puts into the craft certainly makes the wait almost unbearable. This is certainly not the last you'll hear of Molly Pinto Madigan. Not by a longshot. 

Best Album of the Year: D'Angelo's "Black Messiah."

The recent rise in social activism and protests spawned by racial tensions boiling over is impossible to ignore. The social media coverage of these events adds a light to them that was absent decades ago, and creates a different atmosphere around them. Because of the rapid pace of these incidents and the ever-changing emotions surrounding them, many artists have struggled to find the words to best put things into perspective. Earlier in December, with literally 72 hours notice, 90's R&B icon D'Angelo not only announced the end of his fifteen year hiatus, but also that his new album was complete and heading to stores. "Black Messiah" was pushed to completion in light of the nationwide protests and unrest, and provides an incredible grounding and summation of any and all feelings surrounding these events. "Black Messiah" feels like it's creation used every single of those fifteen years was meticulously, and any imperfections are hard to find. The lyrics weave the feelings of rage and disgust with feelings of love and peace, to the point where the meaning of the album is as ambiguous as the anonymous protest featured on the album's artwork. Instrumentally, the sound is as new and risky as it is timeless. The proto-funk vibe makes Prince's two new albums look embarrassing, while the electronic sampling and tone make it feel futuristic. Comparable to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" in it's immediate longevity and the perfect artistic portrait it paints, "Black Messiah" is a triumph not only for D'Angelo, but for those who need an album that understands listener as well as the listener themselves. 

Worst Album of The Year: Robin Thicke's "Paula."

It feels like just last year that Robin Thicke's rather disturbing mysoginistic anthem "Blurred Lines" was at the top of the charts. It feels like just last year when he dressed in that Beetlejuice-looking suit while doing a risqué dance with Miley Cyrus. Man. What a difference a year makes, huh?
After some time and some rather incriminating evidence, Robin's wife Paula left him. What is the proper thing to do in this situation? Do you pull a "Say Anything" and play Peter Gabriel outside of her window? Do you admit defeat and move on? Do you rush an album bearing her name filled with begging and pleading, but balance it out awkwardly with name calling? Did you say the last option was a bad idea? If so, you've got a better grasp over things than Robin Thicke. "Paula" made headlines for selling only a few thousand copies in America and only a few hundred in England. The album is an incredibly uncomfortable exploration in the mind of a man who doesn't really understand how to say "sorry" for the bad things he has done, and acts as a creepy swan song that is baffling beyond belief. At points, he talks about how much love mattered, at points he talks about how he's a free man now, and, overall, the album serves as a perfect reason to *not* get back together with Robin Thicke. It's creepy, it's offensive, it's unnecessary, and it's not even worth thinking about.