2014 is nearly over, and the music world has all but come to a close until January, unless we get another surprise Beyonce or (fingers crossed!) Kendrick Lamar album for Christmas. Rather than rank albums in a giant head-to-head end-of-the-year list, I decided to give various eclectic awards to a select group of albums that represents music from a variety of genres.

Best Debut Album: 

Ought, More Than Any Other Day

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Ought, a quartet hailing from Montreal’s McGill University but consisting entirely of Americans, turned heads with their debut album last spring. More Than Any Other Day proved to be a progressive, Talking Heads-influenced take on punk. Frontman Tim Beeler’s aggressive and humorous talk-singing, passionate yelps and sarcastic throwaway thoughts contribute to song of the year contender and university protest tune “The Weather Song” —“Doesn’t even matter if we won’t say it anymore, we won’t take it anymore yeah I just wanna revel in your lies!”

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Photo: Courtesy Wigewam Records Andrew Bird's Things are Really Great Here, Sort Of
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Photo: Courtesy Young Turks FKA Twigs' LP1
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Photo: Courtesy Mass Appeal Run the Jewels' Run the Jewels 2
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Photo: Courtesy Warp Aphex Twin's Syro
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Photo: Courtesy Nonesuch Black Keys' Turn Blue
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Photo: Courtesy Captured Tracks Mac Demarco's Salad Days

Best Cover Album:

Andrew Bird, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of

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Classically-trained violinist, singer, songwriter and professional whistler Andrew Bird’s latest addition to an already impressive discography is a record of all cover songs by his friends and fellow folk musicians, The Handsome Family. The duo has spent over fifteen years making dark, haunting folk music, but Bird turns these tracks on their heads by raising the lyrics to lilting, fantastic places accompanied by glockenspiel, piano, banjo and, of course, his ever-present violin. The resulting interpretations are lighter but more fully-formed than the Handsome Family’s originals. 

Best/Weirdest Sex Album:

FKA Twigs, LP1

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 No one will claim that FKA Twigs, aka Talia Barnett, isn’t making R&B music. It’s just the most bizarre, most alien-sounding album about sex to come out in years. Barnett’s minimalist arrangements, occasionally coming to a head in a rush of synths, combined with her high-pitched vocals, give the impression that she may be singing about creatures of another species. But, still, the album is a fascinating and sensual listen, with tracks such as “Two Weeks” climaxing with incredible half-passionate half-biology-field-report croons — “Higher than a streamer thinking of new ways to do each other / pull out the incisor give me two weeks you won’t recognize her!”

Best Rap Album:

Run The Jewels, Run The Jewels 2

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Perhaps the best rap duo since Outkast, Atlanta’s Killer Mike and New York’s El-P were two aging industry veterans until El-P produced Mike’s album R.A.P. Music in 2012. Collaborating for the third time on RTJ2, the two 39-year-olds have delivered the most devastating, aggressive, cynical, sneering rap album of the year and in recent memory. The pair focuses their attention on society’s shortcomings and manifest them in what they refer to as ‘fuckboys.’ Every RTJ2 track sounds like a personal attack from two guys who have seen the music industry go awry. The couplets are often so clever they require additional thought to understand how you’ve just been served — “You want a whore in a white dress, I want a wife in a thong.”

Most Hipster Album:

Aphex Twin, Syro

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 This year saw the release of new music under Cornwall’s Richard D. James’s Aphex Twin moniker for the first time in over a decade, and with it comes the newly-invented genre-attachment ‘IDM’ — Intelligent Dance Music. That is to say, if music is too fun and catchy, somehow it can’t be intelligent, and if music is weird enough that it’s not fun to dance to, it can be appreciated by only the magna cum laude of society. This isn’t to hate on Aphex Twin; by all accounts he’s a hardworking musician. But to call this anything other than what it is — experimental electronic that will pleasure some and turn others off — would be a disservice. But I guess if you want to make friends at Black Hole Coffee, name-dropping a track like “XMAS_EVET10 (Thanaton3 Mix),” is a good start.

Most Disappointing Album:

The Black Keys, Turn Blue

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 For a band that took eight long years to make it to the big time, The Black Keys sure like to run their mouths. Starting wars of words with everyone from Jack White to Miley Cyrus to Justin Bieber, the Keys made themselves known as two of the top jerks in music in 2014 (Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek wins for literally writing a song instructing another artist to ‘suck his cock’). The best way to denounce their haters would have been to deliver a dynamite follow-up to 2011’s hit-studded El Camino. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they churned out the over-drenched and impersonal Turn Blue, an album so filled with Black Keys’ cliches and devoid of actual hits that it comes across as more of a Black Keys parody album. Something something karma... 

Album Of The Year:

Mac Demarco, Salad Days

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 “As I’m getting older, chip up on my shoulder, rolling through life to roll over and die” starts Mac on the opening title track of Salad Days. The industry’s most beloved troll took a turn for the serious on his third LP, writing songs not just about smoking cigarettes and what his mom’s cooking for dinner, but also tackling the personal problems he hides so well in public. Three songs on the record deal with his longtime girlfriend, a fellow Canadian immigrant facing possible deportation. “Salad Days” and “Goodbye Weekend” demonstrate Mac’s understanding of his need to mature despite his desire to continue living a boyish, charmed life. And through it all, we never lose the distinctive, detuned guitarwork and dirty basslines, all so relaxed and groovy that the deeper messages in these songs can easily be missed in favor of relishing the sublime musicianship. Salad Days is both a chill jam of a listen and an album about growing up — the perfect combination for your average Thresher reader  or anyone needing 36 minutes of both reflection and utter bliss.