These top selections from 2014 are built to last

By: Ben Louviere

Pop/R&B

FKA Twigs – LP1  

One of 2014’s most unexpectedly prominent albums, LP1 offers a plethora of ethereal, textured R&B sounds with the lofty yet strong female vocals of Tahliah Barnett accompanying the surreal synths and lush sounds. It is a haunting mixture of pop and strangeness that makes for a must-listen for any fan of relevant music.

Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

Certainly one of the easiest and most enjoyable listens of 2014, the electro folk-pop collaboration of singer/songwriter Amelia Meath and electronic producer Nick Sanborn make for some charming tunes on this loveably quirky album. If you don’t take my word for it, give the track “Coffee” a listen for yourself and thank me later as the infectiously comforting hook plays in your head for days.

D’Angelo and The Vanguard – 

Black Messiah

With 14 years since his last album, R&B artist D’Angelo appears out of nowhere with no advance promotion and only several hours’ warning before releasing Black Messiah on Dec. 15. In the short time since then, it has quickly become one of the top-rated and most highly praised records of 2014. Loose and soulful grooves fill the classic-sounding tracks that comprise this eloquent R&B magnum opus.

Rock/Indie Rock

St. Vincent – St. Vincent

This ambitious masterpiece from St. Vincent became an artistic essential of 2014 in which guitar solos meet pop sounds and groovy electro melodies with the utmost style. This album maintains accessibility while being challenging and unconventional. The enthusiastic strangeness presented by St. Vincent makes for an album that certainly provides an interesting listen.

The War On Drugs – 

Lost in the Dream 

As the title of the album suggests, listeners may find themselves lost in the meandering, classic-rock influenced aimlessness of this record with its number of lengthy tracks filled with floating sounds and daydreamy rhythms. I’ve found myself unable to refrain from continuously coming back to this album. When unsure of what I’m in the mood to listen to, turning on The War On Drugs always seems to feel just right.

Mac DeMarco – Salad Days 

A comfortingly classic-sounding set of indie folk rock jams, this second full-length studio album from the music industry’s beloved Mac DeMarco maintains the slacker aesthetic he is known for while asserting a newfound maturity in his sound and lyrics. DeMarco’s freewheeling, often gentle tunes make for an atmospherically exploratory listen accompanied by a feeling of lonely eloquence.

Cloud Nothings – 

Here and Nowhere Else   

The urgent lyrical delivery and invigorating instrumental performance by American indie-rock band Cloud Nothings on this driving post-hardcore rock/punk album is nothing but exciting. Turn up the speakers and let the neighbors join in on the exhilaration offered by “Here and Nowhere Else.”

Spoon – They Want My Soul

Meticulously crafted yet happily spontaneous, indie-rock band Spoon shows us their soul on this record — which they won’t (and certainly shouldn’t) give away to whoever wishes to take it. “They Want My Soul” strides with focus from one enjoyable track to the next as Spoon takes their eighth full-length studio release in an impressive and stimulating direction.

Alt-J – This is All Yours  

In the wake of their captivating debut album “An Awesome Wave” from 2012, this highly anticipated English indie-rock album resonates more strongly when listened to as an entire project rather than bringing the single-track-power that they delivered in 2012, aside from the catchy single “Left Hand Free.” This is certainly a beautiful addition to the band’s discography, and it will be exciting to see the directions that Alt-J takes with their infectious style in the future.

Singer/Songwriter

Sun Kil Moon – Benji     

Singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek delivers the most touching and sobering album of the year. His gentle acoustic ballads recount his own personal stories of loss and tragedy with intimately specific detail, evoking much broader ideas about life and mortality. If anything, this mournful album illuminates the true value of life and how special it is.

Jamie T – Carry On the Grudge 

The third album from this London artist, “Carry On the Grudge” is all-around terrific project. It is easy to listen to and filled with great lyrics and vocals with which Jamie T bares his soul. Voicing some relatable internal monologues over a collection of exceptional songs, this album would fit the taste of just about anyone. And who doesn’t love a British accent?

Angel Olsen – 

Burn Your Fire for No Witness

A spacious and beautiful album, Olsen releases her second LP — the first she has recorded with a full band. The songs swell with visceral and romantic sounds that synchronize perfectly with Olsen’s subdued and lo-fi vocals to form a harmonious balance of expressiveness, gloom and beauty.

Rap/Hip-Hop

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata     

This collaboration between lyricist Freddie Gibbs and infamous producer Madlib was easily one of the most prominent rap albums of 2014, offering an insightful look on a true thug-gangster lifestyle, expressing its conditions and dynamics in a humane and strikingly self-aware way. The prolific Madlib delivers top-notch beats and production with Gibbs delivering some purely strong rapping and lyricism, accompanied by a plentitude of features including Danny Brown, Raekwon, Ab-Soul, Casey Veggies, Mac Miller, and Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis.

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2    

The second album from the hip-hop duo consisting of emcee/producer El-P and rapper Killer Mike, this sequel to their debut “Run the Jewels” solidifies the duo’s credibility in the industry with a resounding punch. With urgency and confrontational aggressiveness, RTJ2 delivers 11 hard-hitting tracks with versatility, including banging beats and lyrics featuring themes which include the prevalent 2014 issue of racial injustice. The project is nothing but uppercut jabs from the opening “Jeopardy” track onwards.

clipping – CLPPNG 

Bringing some tremendously unorthodox yet proficient production and beats to the table, this experimental hip-hop group offers broad and interesting lyrical-content with an ever-strong delivery that makes for a tenacious total project.

Mick Jenkins – The Water[s]

One of the most thematic and cohesive projects of the year, Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins offers a strong lyrical delivery over thick beats centering around the theme of — you guessed it — water. The confidence Jenkins conveys in his style proves that he is to be taken seriously and that he is here to stay.

Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy

Busdriver – Perfect Hair

Milo – A Toothpaste Suburb

These artists of the Los Angeles rap collective Hellfyre Club dropped several solid albums throughout 2014, establishing prominence in hipster-rap with off-kilter beats and varied styles which include interesting stories and social commentary. These albums are definitely worth a listen — along with personally one of my all-time favorite projects, the 2013 double-EP from philosophical rapper, Milo, titled “Things That Happen at Day/Things That Happen at Night.”

Asher Roth – Retro Hash

Those who haven’t heard Roth since his 2009 mainstream hit “I Love College” may be pleasantly surprised at the stylistic transformation undergone by this long-haired, pale-skinned rapper. The mellow beats accompanied by laid-back raps make for a groovy summertime record.

J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive 

J. Cole resurfaced in a major way with this instantly popular album that quickly garnered somewhat of a Frank Ocean “Channel Orange” status of celebrity, seemingly most notably popular among teen listeners. Cole recounts his experiences as a rapper on the road to fame, offering personal stories such as his first time with a girl on the track “Wet Dreamz.” Cole also includes a fair amount of self-reflection in his lyrics throughout the solid tracklist.

Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo 

Rashad struggled to establish an initial direction with the album, which resulted in an eclectic combination of styles that naturally flow together in this laid-back hip-hop project. “Cilvia Demo” is one cool track after the next, concluding with my favorite track, “Shot You Down,” with verses from Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q.

Electronic

Caribou – Our Love  

The sixth studio album from Canadian electronica artist Caribou, “Our Love” sonically conveys the complex emotions of love in all their glory with rich, glassy digital sounds. Delving deep with auditory emotion in the context of electronic music, this album glistens with confidently delivered content.

Aphex Twin – Syro  

This highly anticipated electro album incorporates the subgenres of techno, glitch, jungle and ambient. After 13 years since the release of his last studio album, Aphex Twin releases a project that is described by the Internet publication Pitchfork.com as, “highly melodic, superbly arranged, precisely mixed, texturally varied electronic music that sounds like it could have come from no other artist.” With that said, Syro may not be a project for new listeners to take on blindly. However, after getting a feel for the infamous Aphex Twin, it is undeniable that this album is an impeccable addition to the artist’s discography.

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

Experimental electronic music producer Flying Lotus originally began his fifth studio album as a jazz album, but the result was much different. The project morphed into a dreamlike carnival of eclectic styles centered around the theme of mortality. Prior listeners of Flying Lotus will have their expectations shattered as the artist deters in an evocative direction. Guest features on the album include Kendrick Lamar, Captain Murphy, Snoop Dogg and Angel Deradoorian of Dirty Projectors.

Giraffage – No Reason   

Chrome Sparks – Goddess

These chilled-out electro EPs make for a quick and easy listen, offering some varied sounds which are great for those interested in experiencing some of what the genre has to offer. These EPs deliver some cool grooves with the smooth mixing of vocal samplings and ambient noises that can make for a nice accompaniment to any number of activities such as homework, aimless drives or late-night listens.

Glass Animals – ZABA   

ZABA is a captivating psychedelic-indie-electro-pop record filled with lusciously exotic sounds of tropical-percussion and jungle vibes. This project maintains a high degree of interesting style and makes for an intriguing listen several times through.

Experimental  Post-Punk / Rock

Swans – To Be Kind 

Widely praised by critics across the board, the exquisitely crafted “To Be Kind” easily became one of the most revered musical projects of 2014. Clocking in at just over two hours long, this sonic masterpiece is arranged with hypnotic, tense, dark, majestic and exciting sounds of the finest creation. Engrossingly unsettling and crafted with intricate detail, Swans deliver a challenging work of art that is interesting to no end.

Doom Metal

Pallbearer – 

Foundations of Burden

Turning pain into beauty on this collection of lengthy and heavy tracks, doom metal outfit Pallbearer has received copious praise for this second addition to their discography. These dolorous and plodding sounds are nothing but righteous, and those with little experience in heavier genres of music certainly may enjoy broadening their horizons with this record. Enveloping the listener with layers of sludgy guitars and walls of thick bleakness, Pallbearer hits the mark with a heavy pound.

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