The Best North Texas Albums of 2014, So Far
Rhett Miller and the Old 97's released a classic record this spring. Was it the best in North Texas?
Eric Ryan Anderson
We've spent the past week looking back at all our favorite parts of Dallas (and greater North Texas) music from the first half of 2014 -- our favorite concerts, videos, rap albums and country albums. Now, on the eve of America's birthday, we're capping it all off with what we'd like to think of as the crown jewel of these lists: the best local albums of the year to date.
There have been plenty of exciting records dropped already this year and they've been all across the map stylistically. Hip hop, folk, country, electronic and scuzzy garage rock all made their way into our hearts and onto this list. So without further ado, here are our picks.
See also: The Best North Texas Concerts of 2014, So Far The Best North Texas Rap Albums of 2014, So Far The Top Five North Texas Country Albums of 2014, So Far The Best North Texas Music Videos of 2014, So Far
15. Be Good & Do Well by -topic On arguably the album's best song, "*The Loud," -topic sums up his best record to date, Be Good & Do Well: "Feel like I'm living two lives," he laments. "Half of me is carefree, the other half is too wise." Over his self-produced and often adventurous beats, the young MC bounces back and forth between meaningful messages and clever wordplay - often in combination. Along the way, "God in the City" reflects on his difficult childhood, while "Rainy Day in Dallas" is an honest-to-goodness banger, complete with a guest spot from A.Dd+'s Paris Pershun. At only 25, Be Good suggests -topic is only poised to get better. --Mac McCann
14. Gavin Guthrie Aka TX Connect by Gavin Guthrie Under the alias TX Connect, Dallas-based DJ Gavin Guthrie has made a lot of waves in the international underground dance world in an amazingly short amount of time. His debut 12 inch single dropped on buzzworthy New York label Long Island Electrical System early in 2013 and just last month came his first long-player on the infamous Dutch label Creme Organization. Real TX Jaxx dives head first into a very classic 707 drum machine house sound with more than a little chicago inspired acid on the side. But more importantly it's an eclectic, stylized mix, especially when Guthrie explores a slow tempo grind that's more 70's German synth exploration than Chicago warehouse. --Wanz Dover
13. Onward and Upward by Madison King The title of Madison King's latest album, Onward and Upward, could only be more appropriate if it were named This is An Incredible Record. With a refined sound that doesn't betray her bad-ass writing, this record is personal to her but remains accessible and engages anyone who stays mad after a break-up and isn't in a hurry to make people think they're doing just fine after someone screwed them over. It's a rock album built on the open-hearted stories of the country tradition, and it's every bit as catchy as the best pop records can be. But Onward and Upward is at its best when King gets down and dirty. --Kelly Dearmore12. Ill'e Grande by Analog Rebellion
Analog Rebellion, the solo project of Aledo native Daniel Hunter, is at once indie and tastefully commercial. With the cool and dissonant sound of a Sophia Coppola film, the album evokes almost every mid-'90s band at once -- a fusion of post-punk, grunge and a darker shade of New Wave. Tracks like "Out of Your Mind" and "We're Not Talking to Any More Lawyers" are thickly glossed with power-chord progressions and pleasant synth distortions. Hunter's pop-siren voice takes flight, resisting the grounding force of testosterone-anchored riffs, and each song comes through with the heightened passion of a live performance. --Eva Raggio
11. Inner Room by Chambers The dog days of Texas summer are prime season to go in search of mellow, easily digestible balladry. However, Chamber's Inner Room tosses airy-summer themes aside for more emotionally rooted material, trading carefree vibes for substance. What stands out the most on this record are those carefully congruent harmonies serving as the backdrop against guitarist Judson Valdez's intricate guitar finger picking. Songs such as "Not the Same" and the title track emanate with somber themes. And although these tracks dwell a bit on the moody side, they each have a consistent escalation, an uplifting resolution hovering at each song's horizon. --Aaron Ortega
Matt Hillyer released his solo debut this spring
10. Bruised Fruit by Street Arabs The last decade has been rough on rock n roll. For better or worse a status quo of slickly produced and very safe music has dominated the indie music scene. In this environment the Street Arabs latest offering is a breath of fresh air. The follow-up to 2013's self-titled debut, Bruised Fruit is a fine dose of garage rock served up straight, no chaser. There are no ballads, no artistic twists and no reinventing the wheel. The songs are short and more often than not about a girl. Some overdriven guitar and beach party organ tied together by 3 chord-blue collar rock 'n' roll unifies this album in a way not often heard around this neck of the woods. --Wanz Dover
9. Out of the Start by Moonbathers This four-track debut EP from sunny, chillwave-teetering duo Moonbather is drenched in the carefree memories of being a teenager -- or at least tthe fun parts, anyway. Teeming with layers of fizzy guitar riffs anchored by automated poppy electronic rhythms, Out of the Start is tailored for the types of moments that beg for complacent relaxation. In other words, pretty much every day from June through August. There is a happy-go-lucky structure to guitarist Caleb Campbell's songwriting, and these songs delicately escape the simple confines of chillwave limitations. "Stars From Planes" would work as a four-piece instrumental just as well as it does bubbling with synthy tones. This EP bridges the gap between heartfelt indie-rock and dancey electro-pop without letting on that it even has to try. --Aaron Ortega
8. A High Price for the Low Life by Justin Pickard Beginning with "Tennessee Brown", an uptempo single which erupts into a harmonically layered Motown chorus, country-folk singer Justin Pickard's debut solo album is like the soundtrack to an impassioned road trip through the South. High Price wanders through the varied regions of Americana, rock, and freshly cut bluegrass, each one employed deftly to Pickard's advantage. Making use of vintage recording techniques, the album's unceasing twang oscillates between George Jones' beatific quality and Johnny Cash's gravitas. As Jack White once stated, the most romantic way of experiencing music is through vinyl. A High Price for the Low Life was released as a vinyl record and comes with an unromantic free CD. --Eva Raggio
7. Bludded Death by Bludded Head There's a moment on Bludded Death when Bludded Head's typically immense blare is reduced to a sole, crackling string line. In this vacuum, the production's nuances -- helmed by Daron Beck of Pinkish Black -- highlight what makes the group's latest offering so great. This is doom metal as microscopy, grainy studies in the fine details living deep within the spaces between the music's grand, violent bursts. It's in lieu of these textures that Bludded Head break from the monochrome patterns of their genre peers. Which is to say, on Bludded Death, available only through limited-edition cassette release and download, the difference (and the doom) is in the details. --Jonathan Patrick
6. If These Old Bones Could Talk by Matt Hillyer The leader of Dallas' best honky-tonk group, Matt Hillyer of Eleven Hundred Springs, didn't have anything to prove in terms of his ability to turn any room into a dancehall and any audio player into an old-school jukebox. That's what makes his solo debut If These Old Bones Could Talk so special. This is a project that was encouraged by his grandmother and features a song inspired by his mother; it's filled with lyrics so personal he only felt comfortable releasing them under his own name. To say that Hillyer owns this album is an understatement, both musically and emotionally. --Kelly Dearmore
Blue, the Misift, the wildest of children
Karlo X. Ramos
5. Descendant by Blackstone Rangers On Blackstone Rangers' sophomore effort they left the indie dance elements of their early releases for a decidedly more expansive shoegaze sound. Descendant is full of big, dreamy pop hooks that would have sounded right at home on Creation or 4AD records back in the '90s. Underneath their echoing, spaced-out guitars and symphonic drones they still have great pop songs that would even sound great on an acoustic guitar. Fortunately Blackstone Rangers excel at a more ambitious approach over the course of the six tracks on this album. --Wanz Dover
4. Youth is a Notion by Spooky Folk Ricocheting from tightly wound punk riffing to sentimental balladry, Spooky Folk's latest record is as gleefully adventurous as any that has been released in North Texas this year. And "ricochet" is indeed appropriate: Youth is a Notion's songs are a mess of wiry guitars wound so tightly that the whole thing seems ready to shatter at any moment. Instead, on mammoth tracks like "Disheveled," the Dentonites ride the wave of their nervous energy through twists and turns worthy of early Modest Mouse's fieriest visions -- and then bring it right back down to earth with a haunting song like "Broken." For Spooky Folk, the best balance comes in the most extreme places. --Jeff Gage
3. RedPiLLwondrland Part 1 by Buffalo Black Buffalo Black's well known for his descriptive lyricism and affinity for the unknown, so RedPiLL is neither surprising nor out-of-bounds for the rapper-producer. What is new, however, is found in RedPiLL's wondrous, ambient production, which fits in well with Black's themes of exploration and discovery. Black's self-sufficient approach to creation shines bright as he sings, produces, raps and arranges, but in no way is the album lacking in great guest work, thanks to appearances from local producers like Thinnen and Great Dane. Black has since confirmed a follow-up for the project that will likely appear sometime late this year. Michelle Ofiwe2. Most Messed Up by Old 97's
Now that the Old 97's latest record has been out for a couple of months and the band has been touring the country, it's more than locals digging what is simply their best album in over a decade. Forget about the fact that it debuted in the top 30 of Billboard's album chart upon its release, or the fact the band still sells out sizable theaters wherever they go. That's great and validating to a point, but the reckless swagger and accepting embrace of what they are as a band and what rock and roll is to them makes Most Messed Up anything but. --Kelly Dearmore
1. Child in the Wild by Blue the Misfit Blue the Misfit didn't even need Kendrick Lamar on his side to come up with North Texas' best record from the first half of 2014. The artist otherwise known as Brandon Blue had already made his intentions clear with his chopped and twisted K.Dot collab "Drugs on the Schoolyard" early in the spring, but his debut full-length, Child in the Wild, was all Blue. These 15 tracks are unflinchingly dense, the comedown from a late night that bled straight into the day after. But Blue is too sharp to revel in the excess: his fuck-the-world defiance gets swallowed up by the murky production -- that sinking realization that the party can't last "Forever." --Jeff Gage
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