The Best Albums of 2014
2014 was a strange year to be alive, and the diverse spread of sonically rich albums that arrived this year seemed to drive this point home. Be it through futurist R&B, neo-glam rock, acid-tongued rap or cold electronica, the year in music was one that took us to some wholly unique places. After much re-listening and calibrating according to our completely subjective scale, we’ve come up with the Best Albums of the Year, a list of the records that thoroughly rocked our 2014 and most likely the years to come.
10. La Roux—Trouble in Paradise
In what is easily the most criminally underrated album of the year, La Roux managed to make the most polished, complete synth pop album since the hey dey of Depeche Mode two decades ago. Immensely expanding upon the sound they initiated with their first album, a modest record that produced the mega-hits ‘Bulletproof’ and ‘In For the Kill,’ they returned after a long break in the studio with a touch of new wave magic that is both of the past and of the moment. ‘Let Me Down Gently’ has the best drop of the year hands down, and ‘Silent Partner’ is a seven minute dance-a-thon in your earbuds. Listen with friends and beverages for the complete experience.
9. tUnE-yArDs—Nikki Nack
Simultaneously evoking your preschool arts and crafts class, folk tales, critiques of contemporary society, and indigenous tribal ceremonies, Merrill Garbus forged her third record as tUnE-yArDs into something unlike anything we’ve ever heard before. Getting even more wild and more colorful than in her last album, the masterful W H O K I L L, she made a record that was a surface level circus of sonic textures and noises while lyrically addressing some pretty weighty concepts. Lead single ‘Water Fountain’ for example, is about buying cherry pies with blood-soaked money as much as it’s about the strife of third world living conditions. Yet despite it’s complexity, it’s the most downright fun record to come out all year.
8. iLoveMakonnen—iLoveMakonnen EP
Though only six songs long, this EP contained one of the most wittily unique musical gems of the year. A former hairdresser from Atalanta, Makonnen ascended into the stratosphere this year after his transcendent club banger ‘Tuesday’ got the attention of a little someone named Drake. Makonnen even stopped by our recent Made Music Showcase, on a Tuesday ironically enough, to show just how charismatic his persona may be, even if his songs are silly enough to be about wrist motions or not selling Molly anymore. His sound is among the most refreshing to debut this year, and we could not be more excited to see where he’ll go next.
7. Mac DeMarco—Salad Days
Sure he still looks like someone you went to high school with who will stake makes poop jokes, but Salad Days is the record where Mac DeMarco became a little less doofus prankster and a little more introspective philosopher. Tracks like ‘Passing Out Pieces’ are still in line with some of DeMarco’s previously goofy ballads, but in this album we see him grow into more mature territory, both sonically and lyrically. ‘Brother’ is one of the most sweetly simplistic songs ever written about taking it easy, and the standout song ‘Chamber of Reflection’ addresses the perils of isolation within a Gorillaz-esque electronic production. If any album this year wildly exceeded our expectations, it was this one.
6. Caribou—Our Love
Caribou’s last album, 2010’s Swim, was an exercise in the masterful execution of dance music. But where that record was marked by its carefully calculated party rhythms, Our Love marks a drastic artistic shift. This album has heart; an eerily moving set of songs that do indeed utilize the same crisp beat production and trippy synthesizers as his previous efforts, but this time they are all filled with a deep kind of empathy. We may not know what exactly inspired this change, but songs like ‘Silver’ and lead single ‘Can’t Do Without You’ are both dancefloor bangers as well as heart achingly gorgeous soundscapes, making for a rich listening experience.
5. Azealia Banks—Broke With Expensive Taste
Part of what made the first time listening to this album so enjoyable was the sheer surprise that it existed in the first place. After an incredulous amount of time spent haggling with record labels and forging a bad reputation on Twitter, it seemed Azealia Banks would never actually get around to releasing her debut album. But lo and behold, girl pulled a Beyonce and dropped it overnight. And oh was it worth it; Banks created a carousel of different genres, displaying smooth jazz in ‘Idle Delilah,’ badass bitch sovereignty in ‘Heavy Metal and Reflective,’ and even a Beach Boys sendup with ‘Nude Beach-a-Go-Go.’ We’re just glad to be along for the ride.
4. Perfume Genius—Too Bright
Mike Hadreas, alias Perfume Genius, blossomed into his full potential, unleashing one of the most intriguing and pertinent records we heard all year. As much of a revisionist glam rock album as it is a synth-pop odyssey, Hadreas crafted a sound that is inherently built around his queer identity, using many of the tropes and stereotypes of the queer community as weapons of his fierceness. Was there a better song lyric this year than “no family is safe when I sashay?” Though at times it may seem a cabaret version of Blade Runner, Too Bright is an album that has a lot to say about the current state of gender identity and queer pride, and it was delivered in a time where its’ message packed the most punch possible.
3. Run the Jewels—Run the Jewels 2
In a slow year for hip-hop, Run the Jewels arrived in the nick of time. The dynamic duo of Killer Mike and El-P descended from above to remind us that not everyone is complacent with the current state of our world, and in fact they’re mad as hell. As the sequel to their much lauded collaborative debut, Run the Jewels brought serious bite into the rap scene, encouraging young and old to get outside and raise hell, an easier task with the scorched earth soundtrack they provided in 11 potent songs. From prison riots to Miles Davis jokes to the joys of consensual oral sex, no piece of culture is sacred for these two, and if ya’ll disagree then get the hell out of their way.
2. St. Vincent—St. Vincent
Self-titling an album is a behavior frequented by first time bands arriving on the scene, so what does it mean when an artist packages a remarkable fourth album as an eponymous statement? A clean slate? A succinct collection of an artist’s sound? A musical reinvention? In this case, St. Vincent is all of the above. Appropriating the ideals of new wave and glam rock and synthesizing them into her wildly original art-rock guitar skills, Annie Clark has repurposed her own St. Vincent brand, turning indie darling into full fledged rock goddess—one who can sing about masturbating and cyber terror in the same breath as loving Jesus and rattlesnakes. More please.
1. FKA twigs—LP1
Though we had some brief teasers of the artist known as FKA twigs, this was the year in which she fully and truly arrived. Her aesthetic presence, a stark beauty with dance moves intimidatingly fierce, is monumental enough to carry an average album into the annals of recorded history. Yet Twigs brings the same artistry to the music itself, resulting in an album that is lusciously erotic, eerily detached, and colossal in ambition. LP1 is the album of the year not just for the stellar song craft of tracks like the sweeping ‘Two Weeks’ or the spooky yet danceable ‘Video Girl,’ but far more importantly, it heralded the arrival of a new artist queen, one who is on track to be one of the most captivating artists of the new millennium.