Best Music of 2014

Top 50 Albums of 2014

on December 12, 2014, 12:00am
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Bowie The Next Day40. Cameron Esposito – Same Sex Symbol

In our comedy roundtable earlier this year, we spent a good amount of time arguing about, looking into, and insisting upon diversity in the voices given attention in the scene. With the sublime Same Sex Symbol, our Comedian of the YearCameron Esposito, makes all of that seem unnecessary, as her boundless joy and razor wit make any obstacles and boundaries seem trivial. Whether she’s comparing herself to a Thundercat, identifying her gender as “fighter pilot,” or geeking out about Christina Hendricks, Esposito‘s huge, genuine smile is felt on every single line. Same Sex Symbol opens the door to topics not covered by other comedians and doesn’t shut the door on anybody in the process. –Adam Kivel

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earl doris39. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All

Modern Baseball is a rocket back to my high school days of listening to The Get Up Kids and The Promise Ring. At the time, though, I didn’t want people to hear just how sad-sappy-sack the music and lyrics were. Modern Baseball’s You’re Gonna Miss It All is the kind of album I actually wanted at that time. The lyrics tell hilariously awkward tales of dealing with whatever the fuck life in your late teens and early twenties is, and the music takes on the catchiness from those early bands, but without every awkward blemish Photoshopped away. The Philadelphia rockers have the realism and wordplay I wanted, using the words I was too ashamed to write. It’s a damn near perfect combination. –Nick Freed

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daft punk random access memories38. SBTRKT – Wonder Where We Land

On his 2011 self-titled debut, Aaron Jerome worked hard to introduce the sound behind his notable, vowel-less nametag, SBTRKT. Three years later, he’s less focused on a mystical introduction and more zoned in on honing his capabilities. The guest vocals on Wonder Where We Land push Jerome to strengthen his low-key allure and mismatched hip-hop beats. Still, he knows when to let artists shine, with Caroline Polachek, Raury, and Sampha mouthing one-liners like they’re breaking all the rules. Jerome doesn’t let them steal the spotlight, though. This is the decisive move many were pining for, validating SBTRKT as a breakthrough artist who exceeds his initial timestamp. –Nina Corcoran

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James-Blake-Overgrown37. PUP – PUP

PUPs self-titled album is a roller coaster on rickety wood slats: turbulent, unpredictable, and always on the verge of flying off the tracks. Songs like “Mabu”, “Back Against the Wall”, and “Factories” sound like the sparks trailing a runaway railcar, with tandem axes trading razor-sharp riffs that oscillate between cacophonous and crisp. PUP describe their music as dirty, and though that is emphatically true, it still undercuts the heavenly catharsis of their four-part gang harmonies, which deftly bridge the gap between their punk leanings and pop sensibilities. Opener “Guilt Trip” is the perfect intro, its escalating, off-kilter riffs clawing through the placenta of some primordial ooze. It feels like a birth, and considering PUP came forth from the ashes of Topanga, the band members’ previous outfit, it sort of is one. Expect big things. –Randall Colburn

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Waxahatchee-Cerulean-Salt136. YG – My Krazy Life

This was the year for DJ Mustard. Even that one mega-popular Iggy Azalea song was a ripoff of his signature staccato synth riffs. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing his signature drop. His crown jewel also happened to be his grand reintroduction, the debut album of frequent collaborator YG, My Krazy Life, a cohesive, expertly sequenced journey through West Coast gang life. Few albums were a more seamless listen top-to-bottom. YG is a boisterous personality with a voice to match, and he fills the pockets in Mustard’s minimalist beats with detailed street tales that range from humorous to haunting. –Sheldon Pearce

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janelle monae electric lady35. Arca – Xen

Since finding his way aboard the legendary team behind Yeezus, the Venezuelan-born Alejandro Ghersi (currently working as Arca) has joined the upper echelon of club-turned-pop collaborators. However, while many of his young electronic contemporaries are busy assisting marketing campaigns for their next genre-du-jour single, Ghersi has remained truthful to his poetic, experimental beats. For the UK transplant, the 15-track Xen is more than a confident debut; it’s the public reveal of a gender-neutral personality named Xen that the openly gay beatsmith had previously reserved for his closest friends. Without uttering a single intelligible syllable, Ghersi guides this turbulent tale of acceptance. Xen‘s individual components are a challenge for anyone just entering the realm of noise, but Ghersi borrows motifs from the likes of Amon Tobin and Aphex Twin to establish a true sense of character for the project. When so many other young phenoms are reacting to the electronic climate around them, Ghersi is producing from the soul and redefining the boundaries between pop and noise. –Derek Staples

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the-men-new-moon-e135774233558734. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits

Post-hardcore Brooklynites The Men have followed a curious evolution in their prolific career. Once driven by caustic sludgefests that dripped with post-punk regression, the group changed paths and began tailoring their sound around the bombast of classic rock. This is where The Men greet us with Tomorrow’s Hits: a highly stylized, contemporary opus that pays homage to retro analogues. The campy flair infusing “Another Night” and the heartland blues riffs in “Pearly Gates” position The Men to bask in glam rock revivalism. “Different Days” harnesses the crux of this velocity, erupting in a frenzied buildup of gritty garage rock. As the title implies, Tomorrow’s Hits showcases a confluence of tightly produced rock reinventions that lend ample possibilities to The Men’s trajectory. –Christina Salgado

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OLE-1034-Majical-Cloudz-Impersonator-537x53733. MØ – No Mythologies to Follow

Danish star , aka Karen Marie Ørsted, has raked in an avalanche of awards and superlatives this year, including a CoSign back in February — and she’s earned every one. MØ is original and highly energetic, using her uncanny musical abilities to translate youthful doldrums and emotional dizziness into some of the danciest sounds of 2014. When No Mythologies to Follow first dropped, many reflexively compared the young singer-songwriter to electropop contemporaries like Grimes. But as the album blossomed, folks realized tracks like “Maiden”, “Don’t Wanna Dance”, and the Diplo-produced “XXX 88” melded a novel Scandinavian style with vocals that are just as comfortable hitting classical modes as they are deconstructing Spice Girls hits from yesteryear. No Mythologies runs the gamut from dreary to inspirational, and it’s guaranteed to keep your body and heart moving. –Dan Pfleegor

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Pissed Jeans32. Future Islands – Singles

Praising the future of Future Islands was probably the most effortless thing I did all year; not only did Singles showcase the synthpop band as a new, singular voice shading another side of indie rock, but contrary to what its title suggests, this fourth album feels as collectively soulful and deep as any indie record made this year. Future Islands plugged into the ley lines of pop, cramming synth sounds into a fleet of freewheeling anthems, driving beats, and heart-wrenching new wave. In other words, Singles sounds like the future: overzealous, immediate, and perhaps a little anxious. Here are three musicians with the goal of sounding like nothing else around by tapping into their emotional vulnerability, despair, and courage. In 2014, that’s relevant.

For 11 years, Future Islands were left to build their own musical universe unfettered, but this year was their lightning in a bottle. It never got more potent than the moment they performed “Seasons (Waiting on You)” on Letterman. Beaming in from a hyper-world a few thousand galaxies away, Future Islands scripted an unparalleled feel-good moment — the arrival-in-the-airport scene of their musical history. “We’ve always been more about moving people physically,” frontman Samuel T. Herring told me earlier this year, “but we realized we’re at our best when we move people emotionally too.” He’s a shock-reaction singer, to be sure, but he shocked in the service of a greater sense of feeling. Praising slow-and-steady bloomers like Future Islands is certainly one way to look forward to the future. –Lior Phillips

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Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol 331. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

Throughout his career, Flying Lotus (aka Steve Ellison) has consistently been on the cutting edge of electronic music production. His fifth album, You’re Dead!, is just another testament to his talent. Except instead of dropping another set of future beats, Ellison embraced his inner Miles Davis to give his own interpretation of a jazz album. He brings onboard an impressive roster as well: Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Thundercat, and numerous others. You’re Dead! shows that Ellison isn’t content staying within genre confines, but would rather break new ground. A concept album about death that at times feels joyous and inviting does just that. –Dusty Henry

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