My Five Favorite Non-Country Albums of 2014

Here at Country Perspective we talk about country music of course. We review it, analyze it, present it and listen to it. Except today we make an exception. I’m going to talk about what I considered the best outside of country music. Contrarian person: “But this is country blog! I don’t care about non-country music!” Okay that’s cool. Don’t read this. If you’re still here thank you. Now let me ask you a question: Do you only eat one type of pie? No you don’t because that’s stupid. I enjoy eating a variety of different pies. Chocolate, apple, cherry you name it. Even though I love country music, I would go insane if I just listened to one type of music. I listen to all types and I’m not exaggerating. Now keep in mind too my “rules” for country music aren’t the same for other genres. For example, vulgarity is a much bigger part of hip-hop than other genres. But one universal rule for all genres in order to have good music: great lyrics with meaning and depth. So without further ado my five favorite non-country albums of 2014.

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

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Where has this hip-hop duo been all of my life? I never heard their first album and still haven’t. I heard a lot of hype about them on social media, so out of the blue I gave their album a listen. From the first listen I was absolutely blown away. This album hits you in the face from the first song and keeps throwing flurries in your face until the album ends. After all the album starts out with the ear grabbing shout of, “I’m going to bang this bitch the fuck out!” It’s vulgar, offensive, controversial and I absolutely love it. It’s definitely NSFW. El-P and Killer Mike were meant to make music together. My favorite track on the album would have to be “Blockbuster Night Part 1” because everything in this song works perfectly together. The final lyrics of the song really put an exclamation point on it.

This is really an album you have to hear for yourself because there is just so much to breakdown in it. This album tied with two other albums as my favorite of the year (the next album I’m getting ready to talk about and the other one you’ll know on Monday). Not only that, but this is probably my favorite hip-hop album I’ve ever listened to. It’s a damn shame this wasn’t nominated for a Grammy because it’s better than all of the Grammy nominations for Best Rap album.

The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream

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The Philadelphia-based band composed of lead singer Adam Granduciel, David Hartley, Robbie Bennett, Charlie Hall, Joe Natchez and Anthony LaMarca have dazzled critics and fans everywhere with this album. Unless your name is Mark Kozelek, then you’ll probably love this album. Granduciel shows that he’s a musical genius with such a deep and complex album like Lost In The Dream. I mean who starts an album off with a nearly nine minute song? Most of the songs on this album are over five minutes long. It’s going to take you a while to listen to it, but trust me it is well worth it. Don’t listen to it in chunks either because this album is a journey and is meant to be listened to in full from start to finish.

As for my favorite track, it would be a toss-up between “Red Eyes” and “An Ocean in Between The Waves.” It really depends on my mood. I will say though my favorite line is in “An Ocean in Between The Waves.” It’s the brilliant line of “In my finest hour, can I be more than just a fool?” It’s such a simple line, yet it means so much. I will admit it can be hard to pay attention to the lyrics at times because the instrumentation is just so damn good. The amount of detail and thought behind each sound is unbelievable. This is the kind of album you put on right before you go for a long drive.

Rival Sons – Great Western Valkyrie 

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Along with The War on Drugs, Rival Sons proved to me that rock music isn’t dead. Behind country music, I would say rock music is my favorite. But in recent years I drifted away from the genre just like I did with country music. When I came across this group’s album and listened to it, they made me believe in rock music again. They also taught me that you can’t rely on the mainstream to guide you to the best rock music (just like country music). Great Western Valkyrie is the perfect blend of the classic rock throwback sound and modern rock influences. The album opens hot with “Electric Man” and really sets the tone for this album. There are several highlights on this album, from the loud and in your face “Open My Eyes” to the more subdued and tender “Belle Star.”

I was really surprised that very few “best of” albums list didn’t mention this because to me it’s easily one of the best rock albums I’ve heard in the last five years. This album was also shorted by the Grammys, but hey the Grammys suck most years and at least they stayed consistent. I know I appreciate Rival Sons’ Great Western Valkyrie and many other do too. Thank you Rival Sons for also restoring my faith in rock!

Weird Al Yankovic – Mandatory Fun

If you don’t like Weird Al Yankovic, you don’t like to laugh. In a world full of too much political correctness and super serious people, Weird Al is here to remind us it’s okay to laugh while listening to music. I not only got plenty of laughs from Mandatory Fun, but I was impressed by Weird Al’s lyrics and style choices. He also took a unique approach in promoting the album, as he released eight music videos over eight days all in different places the week he released the album. The music videos make the songs even better of course. One song in particular where the video makes it even better is “Foil,” which goes from talking about keeping food fresh to conspiracy theorists and aliens (that reminds me that Sturgill Simpson and Weird Al should make a song together).

My two favorites though on the album are “Word Crimes” and “Jackson Park Express.” The first, “Word Crimes,” is a song the world didn’t know it needed until they heard it. It blows the song it parodies, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” out of the water in terms of lyrics and content. It sends a message that many people need (how to write like a human being) and it also takes a nice little jab at prima donna Prince. “Jackson Park Express” is a nine-minute, bizarre journey on a bus (sounds like an episode of Seinfeld) where a man goes from irrational to just plain creepy with his thoughts about a woman sitting across from him. It’s one of Weird Al’s best original songs ever.

Who would’ve thought when Weird Al started his musical career in 1976 that we would still making music after all these years? Keeping being awesome Weird Al and congrats on your first #1 album!

Pentatonix – PTX, Vol. III

A capella music! I told you I listen to everything. When I discovered Pentatonix last year I was enamored by them. How could they be so damn good while using zero instruments? Keep this in mind when listening to their music. If you had some unknown person off the street who had never heard this group’s music before they would have no idea there is no instrumentation involved because they do such a great job replicating the sounds with their mouths. And when they bring in instruments (usually the great Lindsey Stirling with her violin), they still knock it out of the park.

I usually like their covers of songs even better than the original versions of those songs. That’s the case again with their covers of “La La Latch” and “Rather Be” on PTX, Vol. III. The harmonies on “Rather Be” really blow me away, as you’ll find after listening to their music that harmonies are their biggest strength. Their original music doesn’t impress me as much as their covers yet, but they’re slowing getting there I think. My favorite original song off the album is “Standing By,” which shows off the group’s softer side. I think this A capella group will only get better with time.

Honorable Mentions:

Lindsey Stirling – Shatter Me 

The Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 

Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron

(12/23) Late Addition: Hozier’s Self-Titled Debut Album 

12 thoughts on “My Five Favorite Non-Country Albums of 2014

  1. Kevin Davis December 19, 2014 / 2:04 pm

    Run the Jewels is not nearly so clever as to deserve the label of “soundtrack for social unrest,” as one recent reviewer put it. But I’ve been put off by an endless stream of Pitchfork reading hipsters who acclaim anything that’s vulgar as “unmasking” the powers that be, or whatever. So, respectfully, I dissent.

    For non-country albums this year, I have loved Bleacher’s Strange Desire and Walk the Moon’s Talking is Hard. Both albums are fun and clever, as are the music videos. “Shut Up and Dance” is irresistible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott December 21, 2014 / 1:11 pm

      I wouldn’t call it a “soundtrack for social unrest” either. I just find it to be very good music. I didn’t find it to be real preachy. I will agree with you about “Pitchfork reading hipsters.” I hate that site and it’s readers. They’re a very pretentious bunch and pretty much consider country music beneath them. It’s their loss, along with others that feel country music is “low” class. Rolling Stone annoys me with their reviews too. Anybody who thinks U2 put out the best album of 2014 is insane. But their interviews are good though.

      I never heard of those two groups. I’ll give them a listen if I get a chance.

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      • Kevin Davis December 21, 2014 / 2:14 pm

        Yes, I’ve noticed that too about RS — great interviews, bad reviews.

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  2. Cobra December 19, 2014 / 7:59 pm

    I will have to give some of these a listen, especially “Lost in the Dream.”

    In my Top 10 Albums post, I also listed some of my favorites from outside country music in 2014. If you haven’t heard it yet, I would suggest checking out Emerson Hart’s “Beauty in Disrepair” (my absolute favorite from outside country music in 2014). Counting Crows’ new album “Somewhere Under Wonderland” was also very good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott December 21, 2014 / 1:12 pm

      I’ll check those out if I get a chance.

      Like

  3. Acca Dacca December 21, 2014 / 4:32 am

    I myself have never really had much of a musical taste for anything outside of country and rock. When you’re brought up on country music, it really sets the stage for what you expect from music: good songwriting about the common man with stories that you can connect to. However unfair or inaccurate the assessment may be, I’ve never felt as though any form of pop music has fit this parameter. There’s always a certain amount of pretentiousness in popular music that irks me and makes me long for the down-to-earth aesthetic of a good country song. This deficiency also ventures into rock, so I myself don’t find too much enjoyment in progressive rock or anything from which I get the impression that the artist thinks their message is somehow transcendent (a lot of Led Zeppelin) or if they think they’re smarter than the listener (Rush, Nirvana, Pearl Jam).

    With that in mind, the only album that I really enjoyed outside of the country genre this year was AC/DC’s Rock or Bust. Yeah, yeah: a hard rock fan professing love for AC/DC, the perennial big dumb rock band, is almost a stereotype in and of itself. However, the key to my opinion of these boys lies in my preamble above: they aren’t pretentious. What endears them to so many people is that they’re remarkably low on the B.S. that a lot of other acts in their field perpetuate. As for any other albums, that’s hard to place since I tend to go backwards and listen to older music rather than newer music as neither modern country nor rock are really worth a damn.

    Unrelated as they may be, here are some albums that I DISCOVERED in 2014 and loved, even if they weren’t necessarily released this year:
    Dirt by Alice In Chains (1992)
    Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains (1994)
    Jesus Was a Capricorn by Kris Kristofferson (1972) (Also of note, this album was filed under “rock” at the store where I bought it).
    Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs by Marty Robbins (1959)
    Love And Honor by Ricky Van Shelton (1994)
    Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden (1991)
    Proof of Life by Scott Stapp (2013) (Mr. Stapp’s recent mental health issues have been well documented in the media and I hope he gets the help he needs).

    Wow. What a paltry list. And here I thought I’d been listening to more music than this. I never really cared for grunge before discovering Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. In my mind, grunge was always punk-influenced posturing like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, not the metallic leanings of the former two bands. Eh, apparently I need better taste in music.

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    • Josh Schott December 21, 2014 / 1:03 pm

      Pop music is really hit and miss for me. This year it was mostly a miss. I know Adele is one pop artist I can appreciate, but she hasn’t released new music recently. I’m not a big fan of “progressive” rock either and that’s why I like the War on Drugs and Rival Sons. Both have a classic rock feel. It’s funny those four bands you mention I don’t really care for either (Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam, Nirvana & Rush). I’ve always found them to be pretty overrated, especially Zeppelin. I just can’t get into any of their music.

      I love AC/DC, but really haven’t given their new album a good listen. I know I wasn’t impressed by the lead single, “Let’s Play Ball.” I’m almost afraid to listen because they’re one of my favorite rock bands and I don’t want to hear a diluted down form of their music. But yes you’re right that one of their most endearing traits is they aren’t pretentious with their music. Based on your music tastes, especially rock music, I think you would like Rival Sons. They really are a throwback to the classic rock sound. Give it a listen if you get a chance and let me know what you think.

      As for your list, I’m not really a grunge listener. I’ve tried to get into grunge and it just doesn’t suit me. Kristofferson under rock? That’s odd. No way he’s rock. It’s about like hipsters calling Johnny Cash rock. I tell you one genre that I don’t want country to turn into is rock. That genre is divided so much that they might as well be their own genres. That’s why I hope the split in country music is just into two separate areas and not 100 different areas like rock. It’s the reason rock is pretty much non-existent in mainstream, other than a select few groups (Foo Fighters, U2 and classic rock groups like AC/DC still making music).

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      • Acca Dacca December 21, 2014 / 10:40 pm

        I’m not big on Adele myself, but that’s more because her music doesn’t really speak to me in any way that’s different from the rest of her genre. I’m sure she hasn’t released any new material in the last few years because how how well 21 has been selling.

        I’m also a big AC/DC fan and it took me a few listens to really appreciate Rock or Bust. However, since it’s sunk in I’ve really come to appreciate it and even think it’s their best album since 1990’s The Razor’s Edge. I think it took a while to enjoy completely because it’s lacking in anthems like “Rock & Roll Train” from Black Ice. However, unlike that album, it runs at a brisk 35 minutes and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Personally, I don’t think producer Brendan O’Brian suits the band; his recording style is too clean and the acoustics are too spacious. For the most part on Black Ice, I really felt that a lot of the tracks lacked that signature AC/DC rawness and punch. However, even if I still wish that the band would reunite with Mutt Lange, I have to commend him on his work with their newest set. Much of that rawness and punch is back on Rock or Bust, even if it’s still not as much as I would prefer. I’m not one that buys into hype very easily, so when you read my commendations you can rest assured that it’s an honest opinion that isn’t likely to change. If you’re an AC/DC fan like you say, I’d wager that you won’t be disappointed. Just remember to give it a few listens before you decide your final verdict.

        As for grunge, I didn’t used to be a big listener, either. In all honesty, I prefer the music side of hair metal; sure, it was ridiculous most of the time and downright embarrassing at others, but at least most of those musicians could PLAY. I’m a big Creed fan, partly because of my distaste for “real” grunge; they borrowed elements of the template and injected some great hooks into the music. That worked for me. Most grungers just coasted by on attitude alone with simplistic arrangements. For the most part, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden aren’t a part of this camp. The latter can be very pretentious and is hit-or-miss a lot of the time due to their esoteric lyrics, but the former is absolutely fantastic. Really, unlike hair metal, the idea of “grunge” as a genre is really disingenuous to the bands that were a part of the scene. Despite the name, there’s a large disparity in style between a lot of the bands. Alice In Chains is very much hard rock, the lyrics are much clearer and even relatable at times and the riffs and arrangements are killer. I’ll check out rival sons if you check out their album Dirt from 1992 and the extended play Jar of Flies from 1994. Both excellent and even quite different.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Acca Dacca December 26, 2014 / 12:51 am

    Merry Christmas, Josh. I happened to find time to peruse some Rival Sons songs tonight, and you were right: they’re right up my alley. They aren’t quite as dark or edgy as I typically like my rock, but they are undeniably talented and I might even purchase their albums at some point. I was particularly impressed by the singer: he sounds like a mix of Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury. Very, very impressive all around. I listened to their debut album Before the Fire in its entirety on Spotify. Again, I’m not a big fan of streaming but I also don’t fancy buying albums by artists that I’ve never heard of; most of the time I buy music by artists that I’m somewhat familiar with, regardless of whether I think I’ll like it or not (should I feel the need to listen to the whole album).

    I meant to mention in a previous comment a theory I have about Led Zeppelin and grunge: I think it’s somewhat generational. Not that there aren’t plenty of second, third, fourth, etc. fans of this music and others, but I find that the reputation of much of this music is sealed by the first to embrace it. Regardless of the countless lawsuits they’ve lost for plagiarizing old blues and folk tunes, Led Zeppelin was fairly innovative and pushed the envelope when they came onto the scene. In addition, fair or not, one thing that’s important to note is that ANY artist will automatically engender a certain amount of mythic stature when they die, or have a member of the act die. With Zeppelin, it was drummer John Bonham. With grunge, it was Kurt Cobain and (to a much lesser extent of public consciousness) Layne Staley. When a musical scene is shifted suddenly and violently, people tend to forget that there was ever any criticism and only remember the good times. When younger fans happen upon that same material, the negative elements aren’t even a part of the experience since those that are aware of it choose to ignore or outright deny it ever existed. I’ve read some articles about Nirvana that indicated that the band’s critical repute wasn’t nearly as spotless or cohesive when the band was actually active. Same with Zeppelin. This death effect might vary depending on the act, but it holds true for the most part. Michael Jackson is a great example: before he died, everywhere you turned someone was talking about the child molestation cases he was involved in, and it was frequently the subject of parody. Notice how those cases NEVER come up anymore. It’s simply “we lost a great man too soon.” I rest my case.

    Let me know if/when you get around to checking out Rock or Bust, Dirt and Jar of Flies. I know that you have a lot of music to deal with for this site and it’s also a holiday, so it’s not like I’m expecting a response anytime soon. But don’t forget!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott December 26, 2014 / 12:03 pm

      Merry Christmas to you too Acca Dacca. Glad you enjoyed Rival Sons. I had a good feeling you would like them. Yes their single Jay Buchanan is pretty damn good. I plan on seeing them in person later this year.

      Fantastic point about early deaths affecting the legacy and criticisms of an artist. This is not only the case in music, but across all pop culture. Another example to add your great examples is Elvis Presley, which older people who were around during his heyday will point out he was just a cover artist. And this is true. Elvis didn’t do much original music. But you don’t hear that brought up too often. He still made a profound impact on the music industry of course and I’m not taking that away, but the covers point never gets brought up because he died so young and was a culture symbol.

      I’ll try my best not to forget about listening to those albums. I’ll write it down so I don’t forget. If I don’t get back with you about it don’t be afraid to bug me about it because sometimes I can forget. 🙂 I definitely want to give them a listen.

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      • Acca Dacca January 29, 2015 / 9:58 pm

        It’s been a month, Josh … ever get around to listening to those albums? 😛

        Like

        • Josh Schott January 29, 2015 / 10:50 pm

          Yes I did. Thank you for reminding me. I thought Dirt was a pretty good album. Alice in Chains is really not my style, but there were definitely a few songs I liked. The faster the songs were the more I liked them. The highlights to me were Dam That River, Rooster, God Smack (love the guitar play), Hate To Feel and Angry Chair. As for Jar of Flies, I liked it more than Dirt. One of the problems I had with Dirt was some of the songs dragged on too long, where as Jar of Flies each song was just right in length. I really enjoyed the whole EP, except for I Stay Away, which isn’t a bad song. I just didn’t connect with it. I thought the pure instrumental “Whale Wasp” was creative and provided a good transition into “Don’t Follow,” which was my favorite on the EP.

          I still don’t like grunge music, but I give props to Alice in Chains. If I had to pick a grunge band to listen to it would be Alice in Chains.

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