Before we launch into the list, let's take a moment to examine the very concept of year end lists. I've seen a lot of chatter recently decrying the very concept of ranking artistic endeavors as a year winds down. The main ideas behind this stance seems to be twofold:
1. "Art isn't supposed to be a competition."
That's true, but one has to have a pretty warped and jaded to view to see lists like this as any sort of competition. A list is simply a way to say, "Look at all the awesome stuff that came out this year. Check out what you may have missed." I take ranking to be merely a way of saying, "If you have limited amount of time, I'd say check out #1 first, #2 second..." and so on. People usually spend more time complaining about what isn't on a list then thinking about what made any given countdown. Viewed them celebrations of things that provided some moments of joy rather than tools of derision.
2. "There's no objective way to rank what's the best."
Duh. All year end lists are based on personal (or group editorial) preferences and biases. The list below has a Pulitzer Prize-winning composition and by far the two most nationally acclaimed albums of 2014 in the 10–8 slots. Clearly, many influential people would have far different rankings (the Pulitzer committee probably wasn't gonna hand out awards to albums featuring a surf pop songs about menstruation anytime soon). That's totally fine. It's all objective. It's always objective.
10. John Luther Adams: Become Ocean - Seattle Symphony
"This (Pulitzer Prize-winning composition) was received as a triumph for the amazing talent of the Seattle Symphony and its music director Ludovic Morlot. Certainly John Luther Adams’s big orchestral piece is challenging music, requiring a major effort from the listener while at the same time profoundly engaging the emotions." May 2014
9. Lese Majesty - Shabazz Palaces
"The trippy lyrics help color Shabazz Palaces' journeys, but it's the intricate and complex musical soundscapes that set the group apart in its own universe. While beats ground the music, all the rest of the electronics and instrumentations attempt to disconnect the listener from a normative earthly consciousness... Lese Majesty isn't designed to be a soundtrack for summer block parties or daytime drives. Find a good pair of headphones. Head to a dark room. Lay down. Hit play. Then close your eyes and let Lese Majesty aurally whisk you away to an unknown dimension." August 2014
8. Too Bright - Perfume Genius
On stage, Mike Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius) might be the most gentile and shy singer around. But on Too Bright his hushed, fragile voice reached booming new heights. While he still has his tender side, unabashedly brash queer anthems like "Queen" burst with defiant confidence and a Bowie-like flair for the dramatic.
7. The Evil Eye - Benjamin Verdoes
While 2014 saw Benjamin Verdoes exit the Seattle music scene for New York City, he managed to release two terrific records before doing departing. Iska Dhaaf's Even the Sun Will Burn received more attention, but the contemplative indie craft found his solo record The Evil Eye lingers longer. There just aren't many songwriters that can pull off smoldering love songs with bouncy vibes like "Bill Iyo Zaynab" and a hauntingly lovely tune sung entirely in Somoli like "So Bari."
6. Lord - FF
"FF sounds like how the rest of the country has long assumed all of Seattle sounds… but in a good way. The trio’s debut LP Lord feels like a lost reference point of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s Washington punk scene that would eventually give rise to the grunge boom. It’s brash, youthful, loud, pissed off, and sneakily catchy. But FF isn't just trying to ape the past, there's enough creativity in the muss to make sure Lord stands on its own merits." October 2014
5. American Soft - Chris Staples
"(The title American Soft) fits perfectly as softness is the record's pervasive feeling. Staples's soft-spoken lyrics and repeated acoustic guitar grooves float weightlessly like fluffy cottonwood seeds in the stillness of late summer air." September 2014
4. Soft Opening - Posse
"Posse's throwback slacker indie-rock vibe calls to mind Yo La Tengo and Pavement, but it feels like the band's simply kicking dirt on the outskirts of those forefathers’ property rather than looking to move in. Soft Opening is music that’s artfully laissez-faire." July 2014
3. Cool Choices - S
"Cool Choices is a breakup record in the truest sense of the phrase. Over the course of twelve pop rock songs, Ghetto shares the sorrows of her wounded heart and details the raw, emotional carnage found in the aftermath of a relationship destroyed... Cool Choices is that comfort item for when you're too emotionally numb and broken to really feel anything. It's an old black hoodie zipped tight to keep you warm as you throw yourself into a bawling fetal heap on the empty bed; it holds you're bones together when everything seems shattered and softly cradles you need something, anything, wrapped around your skin. On the album's finale "Let the Light In," Ghetto sings: "This was how I thought I'd get over you / I'd write it all down like it makes this true / Let go of the things that you said to me / And now in the end we can feel so free." Catharsis has to begin somewhere." September 2014
2. Dehumanize - Dude York
"Dude York has brandished its bratty, batty blend of pop and punk around town for years, and Dehumanize serves as the strongest collection of its tunes to date... Dehumanize presents Dude York as the eternal malcontent younger sibling of the Seattle music scene, and sometimes it’s more fun to co-conspire in its destructive antics than to hang out at the grown ups’ party." February 2014
1. NVM - TacocaT
"Imagine your super cool babysitter. The one that always allowed you stay up past your bedtime to play video games a little longer. The one that smuggled in and shared candy despite your parents’ instructions not to let you have any sugar after dinner. The one that told you about awesome music that you’d never heard of before. Now imagine four of said babysitters got together and formed a band. That, in essence, is Tacocat: Playful, silly, sugar rush hyper, more mature than they let on, but less grown up than your parents thought. The band’s latest LP NVM combines a sunny pop sensibility with a punk heart, resulting in a gleeful rock riot worth blaring past your bedtime, no matter what your age." February 2014