And the end-of-year celebrations roll on. Having started the month off with our biggest annual celebration of local music, the Dallas Observer Music Awards, we've continued to shine a light on some of our favorite goings-on from the year past over the last couple weeks: The best concerts in Dallas (and some of the not-so-great ones), the best songs from local artists, and the best country and metal albums.
Now it's time to tick off one of the other biggest categories of the year: the best Dallas albums of 2014. There were a lot of great candidates to consider, but we narrowed the field down to the 12 long-players that really shaped the local landscape this year -- and the ones we just couldn't stop playing.
Blackstone Rangers Descendant
While the ghost of the Cocteau Twins and other 4AD-era bands may be haunting just beneath the surface of each individual track on Descendant, the Blackstone Rangers achieve otherworldly ethereal textures all their own. They sway their melodic momentum between electro-pop and moments of beautifully constructed noise. This was the album that 2014 needed to bridge the gaps between modern indie rock, nostalgic pop and experimentation and everything in between. The rarity of enjoying an album from beginning to end and then all over again is a wonderful thing to discover, and once the final minutes of "Endless Sky" are over, you'll find yourself yearning to hear the warm currents of clamor on the opening track, "Descendant Of," once more. Aaron Ortega
Bludded Head Reign in Bludd
Reign in Bludd, the third LP from North Texas earthshakers Bludded Head, does something many metal records fail to do: It utilizes warm, natural tones to draw in the listener. Between the deeply resonant, sonically devastating doom passages, the band dials down the gain and lays back on the punishment, giving these songs breadth and clarity. The dynamics make for an engaging listen and a memorable album. At its core, though, Reign in Bludd is heavy as fuck, both sonically and emotionally. This album takes its toll on the listener, but it's a record that's as rewarding as it is challenging. Andrew Hawkins
Blue, the Misfit Child in the Wild
Blue, the Misfit's resume is long. He produced for Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Mac Miller and Dorrough, was an integral part of the group Sore Losers and the collective Brain Gang. Yet up until this year, the only solo work he'd released was an EP called Numb from 2011. Child in the Wild expounds, expands and builds upon the thirst for hedonism and recklessness expressed in Numb. The beats are experimental, yet don't tread too deep into unfamiliar territory. The raps are casual and fun. Child in the Wild was a coming-out party for one of the most interesting artists in Dallas and beyond. Hopefully the party never ends. H. Drew Blackburn
Buffalo Black RedPiLLwondrland Part 1
With all of the attention Blue, the Misfit received this year for his stellar Child in the Wild, it was easy to overlook that another rapper had produced an equally impressive (though very different) record. In fact, while Blue picked up five Dallas Observer Music Awards nominations this year, the same was true of Buffalo Black. And it was thoroughly deserved. Buffalo Black's RedPiLLwondrland is as lyrically smart and incisive as any released in Dallas this year, delving deep into themes of self-discovery and the realities of being a young black male in America. And the production matched it: heavy, clattering beats that leave no room for air. Jeff Gage
Centro-matic Take Pride in Your Long Odds
Little did we know when Centro-matic released the stellar Take Pride in Your Long Odds, it would end up being the respected group's swan song. It's a good thing the Will Johnson-led outfit broke the somber news to us well after the album had been released. We had some time to listen to it for what it is: a phenomenal set of tunes that show the many ways Centro-matic have wowed us for almost two decades. The freaky, crunchy "Salty Disciple" and the rootsy, anthemic "Every Mission" are two numbers that represent the different realms in which Centro-matic can work so wonderfully within. So, yes, this is the Centro-matic's last record, but most importantly, it's yet another near-perfect one from the already-missed Dentonites. Kelly Dearmore
Final Club Final Club
This December from out of nowhere Final Club popped back up with their first new release since 2011. It was as if the ghost of Denton's past popped up to remind everyone that just three years ago someone else was in charge and getting all the hype. Final Club feels like a lot of work went into the recording of the album; it's meticulous in its production even though it's an album that has a rougher edge to it's soundscape than the band's previous work. You've got to wonder if this random release was a way to call an end to the group, or a flag raised to show that we should expect more. Whichever it is it's one of the best albums North Texas has seen in some time. Jaime-Paul Falcon
Mystery Skulls Forever
Mystery Skulls wants you to dance, if it's not obvious. And dammit, you're dancing now aren't you? It's hard not to dance when Luis Dubuc recruits certified musical legends like Chic's Nile Rodgers and contemporary artists like Brandy Norwood. They're putting out interesting electronic music in a world where EDM is on the decline, and doing so with a flair that's showing that they're going to be able to weather the storm of music change that's about to occur. Plus, "Magic" is a hell of a song to break out at parties; people can't help but dance. JPF
Oil Boom Red Metal
The Fort Worth rockers in Oil Boom broke out nationally this year with their damn-near-perfect trip into dancy garage rock album, Red Metal. From the New York Times to NPR and beyond, the group saw practically endless praise, and it's well deserved. It's a well-crafted album, one that shows a lot of promise from a group that seems to be growing with every new release. Red Metal's a fine album, but we'd be lying if we didn't say we're really looking forward to see what the guys in Oil Boom have in store for us next. JPF
Old 97's Most Messed Up
In this most magnificent year of looking back at the local rock greatness of the past 20 years, it was the Old 97's album of new material, Most Messed Up, which had us looking even more hopefully into the future rather than simply reminiscing. A pioneering act of the alt country sub-genre, the Old 97's have been steering a new ship that's powerfully sailing towards a future just as bright as the one they faced as major labels waged a bidding war for their talents in the late-nineties. On "Nashville," Rhett Miller asks the most important question the band has asked on-record in years: "Who do I gotta blow to get in this fuckin' show?" KD
Sarah Jaffe Don't Disconnect
The progression from singer-songwriter to a bolder, more experimental artist that Sarah Jaffe had started to make on 2012's The Body Wins came into full flower this year on Don't Disconnect. Dense and rhythmic, Jaffe's third full-length fully immersed itself in moody atmospherics that helped color songs like "Lover Girl" and "Defense" with slinky, sinuous grooves. It was just the thing to match perfectly with Jaffe's greatest instrument: her voice. On Don't Disconnect, she sounds confident and relaxed in exploring the full range of her singing -- an artist who's fully connected and at ease with herself. JG
Sealion Heavy Fizz
Sealion surfed into the heart of Dallas this year, racking up DOMA nominations and nailing performances in the wake of Heavy Fizz. This quintessential lo-fi punk album features the staples of the genre -- the surf drumbeats, the fuzzy guitar licks -- and add its own flare, alternating between cooing female vocals and raspy, aggressive male ones. The album is danceable, headbangable and an absolute blast to listen to on its own, and doubley so when performed live. Sealion might be almost four hours away from the nearest ocean, but Heavy Fizz is a beach trip in just 37 minutes. Matt Wood
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-topic Be Good & Do Well
When it comes to rappers in Dallas, -topic is our ol' reliable. His debut solo record, Finally Confident, was a welcome introduction to his insightful and conscious rhymes. He's released music with his crew, Team From Nowhere, and an EP, Time to Free the Birds: Stories of Dead Kings, since that debut. However, released on the very first day of the year, Be Good & Do Well is by far his best work. The follow-up finds -topic at top form with Hattori Hanzo-sharp rhymes that decry the poisonous allure of the dollar, praise the powers of green tea and wax poetic over youth's simplicity. HDB
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