In case you missed it, my BEST OF 2014 METAL list went up last week, but I often listen to music that isn’t metal. Between metal and non-metal I listened to around 300 albums this year. That’s just new releases. As much as I love metal, it can’t be metal all the time. I still love punk even though I don’t find much new there to be excited about. What does excite me is country, folk, americana and singer/songwriter stuff and without a doubt there was a slew of that this year. Music gets spread by talking about it and sharing it and there is so much great stuff coming out that it needs to be heard.

Here’s my list of the non-metal releases I enjoyed this year, in no particluar order. Click the title of each entry to hear them for yourselves.

1. Chuck Ragan – Till Midnight

Chuck Ragan, at this point, is synonymous with great music. While his punk outfit Hot Water Music is decent, I’m far more drawn to his solo work. It’s part hit me at the right time, part memories associated with his music and part just great songwriting. His new album is another intensely emotional and passionate entry in his catalog.

2. OFF! – Wasted Years 

I wish Keith Morris would lay off the the Flag tours and just focus on OFF!. Great 80’s era punk rock from one of the genre’s legends.

3. Russian Red – Agent Cooper 

I discovered Russian Red on her previous album I Love Your Glasses which was a weird, art house style of acoustic indie pop. Expecting more of that I jumped into Agent Cooper but found a more 80’s centric, synthesizer heavy pop album detailing the fictional adventures of one woman and all the different men she has encountered. While it’s a different approach from before, I found the infectiously catchy and electronic heavy Cooper instantly enjoyable. Her voice is still top notch as is the songwriting leading me to conclude that if more pop music sounded like this, I wouldn’t complain as much.

4. Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool

Only Devin Townsend can take blues, country, ambient and fuse them into one beautiful package. HevyDevy is on fire this year and there seems to be no end to this man’s creative output. While I would feel safe categorizing his work on Epicloud or the recent Sky Blue as metal, Casualties of Cool takes the ambient and ethereal approach of those albums and cuts out the heavy parts instead adding this weird, country, blues infusion along with the stunning voice of Che who takes the project to a jazzed up, sultry level.

5. Blood and Sun – White Storms Fall

This technically came out in 2013 but there wasn’t a way of purchasing it until this year so I’m adding it to the list. Blood and Sun play beautifully constructed and magically sweeping “neofolk.” It’s not anything like the folk music I’m sure your imagining, harkening back to a more classic folklorish take or maybe even European folk style. It’s been described as “heathen folk” which I think is a fairly apt description.

6. Various – One and All, Together, for Home 

This album is extremely metal in every way except one… the music. I mean sure, it’s metal in nature and intent but the music itself wouldn’t be classified as metal. The idea of this album was to have numerous black metal bands pay homage to their homelands with classic, native folk music. The band list performing said music is stellar and some of the finest black metal bands around. Drudkh, Primordial, Winterfylleth, Ava Inferi, Kampfar, Himinbjorg, Haive and Mondvolland. All of these bands already include influences from their regional folk music and mythology but to hear them actually play this music is a thing of beauty. An album like this proves without a doubt the skill level and mastery of metal musicians is second to none.

7. Ainulindalë – Nevrast 

The last trip to middle earth (cinematically) is just around the corner and I’m geeking up to see it. What better way to prepare than with some French, neofolk, classical acoustic all about Middle Earth? Blind Guardian you say? Well, of course, but other musicians have delved into Tolkien’s territory before and Ainulindalë are one of the latest. Ainulindalë is a side project of Engwar who is also in French Black Metal band Vehementer Nos (with Gwenwhyvard from Peste Noir) that sprung up after their previous Black Metal band Sombre Insight split. Ainulindalë is nowhere near black metal, focusing on classical acoustic guitar arrangements, some orchestration, and some beautiful back up vocals. It’s a but pretentious at times (French) but overall it’s a beautiful soundscape that works well with the Tolkien stories.

8. Noah Gundersen – Ledges 

Legdes seems like a deeply personal and emotional album, full of songs about heartbreak, romance, drugs, sex and the bitter, crushing defeat that is life. Imbued with a gospel sense of flair and typical americana singer/songwriter stylings, it’s a beautiful album at the same time it is mournful.

9. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

Metal isn’t the only home for despair and misery. Sun Kil Moon’s americana/folk is about as bitterly depressing as anything I’ve heard this year. Full of songs about dying family members, suicide, murder, school shooters, dead children, failed sexual encounters and all around heartbreak, this is a bleak, grim album but in that darkness there is a beauty and that’s where Sun Kil Moon shine.

10. Fucked Up – Glass Boys 

There’s something about Fucked Up that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s like they are missing on single element that would make them one of the best rock/punk bands around and every release, while good, is just almost there. Glass Boys is a fine example of that. It’s a great album, emotional, rocking, and interesting but I can’t help but get the feeling it could be even more.

11. White Lung – Deep Fantasy 

This was a recommendation from a friend. Reminds me of early 90’s punk with modern sensibility. Great guitar sound and angst in all the right ways punk should be.

12. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestite 

How did a black metal band end up on my non metal list? Well, they released a sprawling epic of vocal-less ambient music. If you’re familiar with Wolves imagine all the atmospheric parts that play so crucially in their music, sans guitar and you have Celestite. It’s said to be a “companion” album to their previous album Celestial Lineage and one can hear the themes at work here. While I long for a new black metal album from Wolves, I applaud their desire to try new things out and make something that I’m not usually interested in something I totally devoured.

13. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

I think this one was recommended to me because I’m a Neko Case fan and while both women have strikingly powerful voices, the similarities really end there. Sharon’s solemn yet poppy, indie folk hits all the right spots. It makes you sad, it makes you smile and it makes you thankful for such wonderful music.

14. Bastard Mountain – Farewell, Bastard Mountain 

Sad bastard, indie folk from Scotland. Despite the ever-present dreary nature of this album, it’s an incredible listen and worth treading through the darkness.

15. Silent Horror – Silent Horror 

I only really need one horror punk band to be content with the genre and after the Misfits lost Graves, it became Blitzkid. A couple years ago Blitzkid broke up and I thought that was it for the genre. It’s a pretty stale genre as is and the few other bands I liked either started to suck, moved away from the genre or faded into obscurity so when I found out that Blitzkid’s Argyle Goolsby was joining Silent Horror, I got my heart ready to love again. It’s hard to describe what makes a good horror punk album and what doesn’t but catchy, singalong, well written songs are a must and Silent Horror doubles down on that.

16. Ancient VVIsdom – Sacrificial  

This one actually might have needed to end up on my metal list as it’s more metallic then their previous two albums. Metallic may be a bit generous. It’s more rocking, shall we say. Anyway, Ancient VVisdom have a dirty, acoustic, (and now) rock sound that exists to sing the praises of Satan and all things dark. They relish in the satanic and all almost cheerleaders for the fallen star. It’s infectious in it’s sinister-ness, almost cheesy in it’s approach but all around good, solid music.

17. The Smith Street Band – Throw Me in the River

I was expecting The Gaslight Anthem to be the down to earth, well-written, punk anthem of the year. It didn’t even come close and The Smith Street Band picked up the slack with stunning results.

18. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager 

I stepped into a whole pile of Jenny Lewis history by checking this album out. This is what happens when you just visit the outer realm of pop music. I had no idea Jenny had multiple albums, was in a critical darling band previous to her solo career or was a child actress most famous for her role in that 80’s flick The Wizard with Fred Savage. Regardless, I enjoyed her jubilant, country tinged songs about her past. There’s suddle nods to 80’s pop evident in some of her Go-Go’s like vocal deliveries, a bit heavy on nostalgia but great songs all together.

19. Frank Turner – The Third Three Years

I make no bones about my fan-boyish love of Frank Turner so even though this is just a b-sides and rarities compilation it still plays like a new album thanks to the sheer amount of talent Frank puts into his songs. Frank crafts some of the most creative and eloquent lyrics, meaningful and passionate that sound like catching up with an old friend as opposed to some songwriter trying to be prolific or crafty cleaver lines to make you think they are poetic. I could go on an on about Frank so if you haven’t heard him, just give any of his songs a listen.

20. Lucero – Live From Atlanta 

I’m not sure if live albums count but this live album is incredible. I’m not a fan of live albums but Lucero are one of the few bands that I think are better live and I was blown away that this recording was able to capture the spirit of their live shows. Usually live albums seem like quick, cheap ways for a band to make some cash or stay relevant but with this one, Lucero have really captured what it’s like to see them live, which is always an incredible experience.

21. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold 

This Swedish indie/folk duo was a nice surprise this year. It seems they have been gaining in popularity but not paying attention to anything that champions them, I was unaware of their existence until recently. Beautiful voices made even more beautiful when paired together and with the country overtones, First Aid Kit charm my ears.

22. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Mended with Gold

Not typically my cup of tea but I found this indie rock/indie pop album appealing. Great songs, great songwriting and some beautiful arrangements.

So there you have it for the music. Next week I’ll post my favorite comics from the year and that will be the end of my annual lists… maybe.

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