Believe it not, we’re at the halfway point of 2014, which means it’s time a have a look back before we go forward. This year has been a sporadic one when it comes to albums; no release demands the spotlight. At the same time, this allows for albums that might have gone overlooked in past years to grow. While 2014 may not be the monumental year in music that 2013 was (yet), these albums serve as a pleasant reminder of the past six months, and a soundtrack for the next. Enjoy.
At the Halfway Point: 2014’s Best Albums
It’s probably too early to scrutinize over specifics, so the following is in no particular order. Don’t worry about the load time of a never-ending list, our picks are both gluten and click bait free!
Nicolas White: From the giddy singalong of “Salad Days” to the tripped-out pitch bending of “Johnny’s Odyssey,” this record is a journey worth repeating over and over. DeMarco’s Salad Days slowly crept into my subconscious, to the point where I instantly hear these far-out tunes on summer days, without even pressing play.
Jason Schellhardt.: This may be the most culturally relevant release of 2014, thus far. With lines like “What’s the point of even sleeping?/If I can’t show, if you can’t see me?” Annie Clark shines a bright spotlight on the absurdity of the Instagram generation. Musically, Clark has created a unique, futuristic landscape that makes St. Vincent a strong early candidate for Album Of the Year.
N.W.: There was a two week span this year where Singles was all I listened to. The latest album from Future Islands caught everyone by surprise, as it melded all the elements of their previous releases into a tight, re-listenable ball. The result: the breakout record for a band that took 11 years to conjure it.
J.S.: On his second solo album, Jack White returns to the riff-driven romps of the White Stripes era, but with more intricate arrangements. The instrumental “High Ball Stepper” and the album’s title track feature two of the best riffs White’s written since “Icky Thump.”
My Krazy Life
J.S.: In the internet age, some songs transcend music and become something much larger. Exhibit A: Y.G.’s smash hit, “My Nigga.” Unlike most internet sensations, Y.G. followed up that success with one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. With the zeitgeisty production from DJ Mustard and a few well-played guest spots, this album perfectly captures the landscape of hip-hop in 2014.
Burn Your Fire For No Witness
J.S.: This album marks the second release from the always enchanting Angel Olsen. The album’s single, “Hi-Five,” sets the tone for the album with a twangy, electric-folk romp about being lonely. The rest of the album is full of these whimsical, lonely-dreamer scenarios told through a masterfully cultivated vintage aesthetic.
War On Drugs
Lost In the Dream
Craig Kleila: Lost In the Dream combines Springsteen-esque melodies with 21st century indie rock. Adam Granduciel and crew’s poetic musings are backed by layers of spacey, mathematical instrumentation that’s borderline obsessive.
J.S.: With such a diverse range of personalities in the T.D.E. clique, Schoolboy Q stands out as the dope-slinging, pill-popping party boy. Oxymoron is the perfect reflection of that persona. Tracks like “The Purge” and “Hoover Street” highlight Q’s penchant for street life, while “Man Of the Year” and “Collard Greens” are straight turn-up anthems.
J.S.: These Brooklyn garage rockers seem to get better with every release. On its second full-length album, Parquet Courts have simply refined the formula that has worked for them thus far. The songs are brief and scrappy and recall an era when bands like Television and Velvet Underground ruled New York.
J.S.: You already know how David Letterman feels about this band, but these barely-twenty-somethings have managed to capture all the angst and hormones of your undergrad years and put it on a record. Disgraceland is a solid collection of straightforward garage-punk with impressive virility.
J.S.: Future’s ability to transform from gritty street rapper to futuristic robot crooner is the most interesting aspect of this album. A close second would be the star-studded guest appearances. Kanye West, Drake, Andre 3000, Pharrell Williams, Pusha T, Wiz Khalifa and Lil’ Wayne all lend a hand on Honest.
More Than Any Other Day
C.K.:One of the breakout records of the year “More Than Any Other Day” sounds like if David Byrne grew up listening to 90s post-punk. See these dudes live.
J.S.: The more somber tones on this album are quite a departure from Real Estate’s previous work. The band’s first two albums were more of an escape from the kind of existential dilemmas dealt with on Atlas. The band’s sound has not changed, but the songwriting has certainly matured.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
J.S.: Madlib is no stranger to critically-acclaimed collaborations (Madvillian), and this album ranks alongside his best work. Madlib’s typically bright production is an interesting palette for Freddie Gibbs’ gritty storytelling. Old heads who long for the days of “real hip-hop” should check this album out immediately.
Upside Down Mountain
C.K.: Conor Oberst is back. The Bright Eyes singer/songwriter ditches the apathetic croon and takes on a more mature sound, all while maintaining the vivid, heart-hammering lyricism that made him so lovable in the first place.
I Never Learn
J.S.: After a brief flirtation with pop-stardom on 2008’s Youth Novels, Lykke Li has made it clear that she plans to take a different path. On I Never Learn, Li strikes a balance between her undeniable pop sensibilities and penchant for power ballads with an album full of beautifully written, yet crushing tales of love and heartbreak.
How To Dress Well
“What Is This Heart?”
J.S.: On his third studio album, Tom Krell–a.k.a. How To Dress Well–has managed to expand his hyper-minimalist sound without losing the elements that make his early work so compelling. With fuller, more accessible production, Krell’s vulnerable falsetto comes to the forefront instead of hiding behind layers of production.
Dum Dum Girls
J.S.: Dee Dee Penny has an uncanny knack for crafting infectious indie-pop tracks and mid-tempo ballads. On Too True, Penny’s talents are on full display. The album feels like the product of edgier, less-ambitious HAIM sisters. I mean that in a good way.
So It Goes
J.S.: Every hip-hop fan has an opinion on the state of New York hip-hop. RATKING may not be the savior most hip-hop fans desire, but the intensely raw amalgamation of hip-hop, EDM and punk-rock ethos on So It Goes is about as New York as it gets.
J.S.: This album is the audible version of taking a Xanax. Everything moves so slowly and seems so beautiful. A lot of bands that try for an ambient vibe overdo it with production and synths, but Pure X’s traditional four-piece arrangement proves that less is often more.
Article by Nicolas White, Jason Schellhardt and Craig Kleila