Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata
Anyone familiar with Freddie Gibbs' previous work knew this was the album he has always had in him. Authentic, gritty and, at times, downright hilarious. While we may be holding our breath forever waiting on a second Madvillian album, producer extraordianaire Madlib never keeps us waiting on exciting, genre-bending production for long. One of the best hip-hop collaboration albums of this or any year.
The Juan MacLean - In a Dream
Every couple of years DFA's John MacLean brings something new and exciting to the dance floor. This year's In A Dream was no exception. From the Knight Rider-esque opener to ethereal heavy disco vocals from the always great Nancy Whang sprinkled throughout. In A Dream is a dance record for those who can't spend every night in the club but make the most of it when they do; and that's something special for the aging hipster in all of us.
Banks - Goddess
The thing that made Banks stand out from the rest of the (amazing) crowd of women in R&B this year was her willingness to leave the confines of "pop" in the smoldering dust behind her. Utilizing synth beats as woozy as her own voice, she manages to find a cadence all her own. Sexy, sparse and highly confessional, Goddess is the sound of an artist in control of not only her own feelings but those of her audience as well.
Les Sins - Michael
Chaz Bundick has been making dreamy bedroom pop for years as Toro y Moi, but his new project as Les Sins finds him moving from the relaxed grooves of the beach to the packed floors of the club. The tracks here are wound tighter than a Swiss watch before often dissapating into something lighter. Reaching into jungle beats and post-dubstep is a great look for Bundick, yet the whole project feels akin to many things he's done in the past with layered vocal samples throughout. A welcomed departure for an always entertaining artist.
Sylvan Esso - se
In a year of amazing debuts, Sylvan Esso's came on like a ton of feathers. The airy vocals and handclaps work in imperfect harmony with the productive drones. Every track from this stellar effort warrants multiple listenings. A line of bells here, a crashing cymbal there-- the more you open up these songs, the more comfortable they feel to crawl inside of.
Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty
To call Shabazz Palaces simply hip-hop feels irresponsible; to call them anything else feels inauthentic. Over the years most rap music has become a Michael Bay movie: brash, noisy and hell-bent on its own destruction. Lese Majesty feels something closer to a Robert Altman film: beautifully constrcuted vignettes from the hands of an artist that can see the bigger picture. The 18 tracks (broken into 4 "suites," if you will) each tell its own story while working in conjunction to fill in all the negative space. A masterful effort from a group that seems to be playing in their own league.
DJ Dodger Stadium - Friend Of Mine
The opening track of DJ Dodger Stadium's Friend Of Mine, "The Bottom Is As Low As You Can Go" is aptly titled. A slow burn of ambient noise that builds into a crescendo of noise, it feels like a release. The accompanying 10 tracks are what comes after that release-- unadulterated joy. These are tracks that make you dance like no one else is watching, but you hope someone is. The repeated vocal samples on many of these cuts start as words and end as mantras of good times. I don't think I had more fun with an album this year.
Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2
What more can be said about the tag team champions of the world? Killer Mike and El-P came, saw and conquered. The last men standing in their perspective corners of hip-hop formed a duo for the ages. The best live show I've seen in quite some time and they get more prolific by the year. These aren't songs; these are declarations of war against anyone not under the same banner as these titans. I have nothing to say-- if you're not listening to this album, then we have nothing to discuss.
TV On The Radio - Seeds
Their first record in three years proves that some good things are worth the wait. Seeds finds the group in their best space since 2008's Dear Science minus most of the weight that said record carried. Most of the tracks here are classic TVOTR at their bouncy best. David Sitek's production has never sounded better. This collection feels carefully chosen but not fretted over. A seemingly effortless classic.
Cold Beat - Over Me
Cold Beat is something like a lost Joy Division record fronted by a nameless female choir. The 38 minutes of music contained in this stellar debut toe the line between post-punk DIY and lo-fi shoegaze while always remaining entertaining as hell. With swift guitar play and vocals that sway all the way through, this is a feel-good record for the feel-bad crew. Best enjoyed through headphones in crowded spaces, a perfect subway record. (Also high in my rankings for cover art of the year.)
Caribou - Our Love
Dan Snaith can do no wrong. This might be the most well-constructed dance album of the year. Each track on this stunner has pockets of sound that reveal themselves with every revisit. Snaith's vocals slink in and out between shimmering bells and Indian flutes; while snares and claps just holla back. An absolute masterclass about the power of the thinking man and a drum machine. Caribou stands head and shoulders above the rest of the class when it comes to this dance music shit.
Young Fathers - Dead
The tribal bombast of opener "No Way" is just a precursor for what's to come on this Mercury Award-winning album. The music of Scottish trio Young Fathers is impposible to put inside a neat box. Somewhere between Afro-punk, hip-hop and modern R&B, Dead fulfills the promise of the group's previous mixtape efforts. A surprisingly concise debut for a young group seemingly poised to take over the world. In a perfect bizzaro world where I control all radio stations, "Get Up" was the biggest single of 2014.
FKA Twigs - LP1
London-based record label Young Turks continues to have a knack for finding the best unsigned artists in the UK and making them supernovas. The label that is also home to the xx and SBTRKT has hit another homerun with FKA Twigs. Arguably the biggest indie breakout star of the year, her debut LP is a soaring album that never gets out of bed. Minimalist production allows Twigs' seductive vocals to dance in the empty space until she chooses to unleash her full range. It's an amazing album full of songs that you want to play slow and low, preferably not alone.
Flying Lotus - You're Dead!
With each passing year, the legacy of Stephen Ellison aka Flying Lotus seems to grow. From curating music on Grand Theft Auto V to producing tracks for more mainstream artists like Kendrick Lamar and Tyler The Creator, it's clear the man doesn't do much vacationing. Yet with each album he releases on his own, he seems to move closer to the fringe of what "pop" music is and should be. FlyLo's music has always been influenced heavily by jazz fusion, but his latest effort seems to make the biggest jump, yet with unsuprisingly fantastic results. Bassist and frequent collaborator Thundercat is FlyLo's secret weapon and really steals the show on this stellar record.
Jim-E Stack - Tell Me I Belong
Another wonderful debut LP. Tell Me I Belong is perfectly named because it has something for everyone. Dance-floor bangers ("Out Of Mind"), blooming meditations ("Reassuring") and even classic bump n' grind fare ("Ease Up"). In a time when many artists can't do one thing with authenticity or feeling, Jim-E Stack has run a veritable gauntlet of genres and comes out unscathed. Pretty great to see new artists take such chances and exceed all expectations.
FOUR EPs MORE THAN WORTH YOUR TIME
Royksopp & Robyn - Do It Again
Vince Staples - Hell Can Wait
Shlohmo & Jeremih - No More
DJ Rashad - We On 1