In 2014 it seemed like the delivery of music was a bigger story than the actual music. Whether it was Taylor Swift leaving Spotify, U2 providing a free album through iTunes that nobody wanted, or Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” music video the actual songs and albums were almost overshadowed.
Luckily, the year was packed with so much great music, it was impossible to ignore. Personally, I don’t remember a year where so many of the albums I was looking forward to actually met or exceeded my expectations.
Out of 2014’s great year in music here are the elite:
Architecture in Helsinki – Now+ 4eva
When this band debuted a decade ago, they made very good dour emo indie rock. But they’ve steadily become poppier and more influenced by music from the 80s. On this album they’ve moved on from the New Wave homage of their last record to 80s dance music. Nearly every song on this record sounds like it would fit in on a early Madonna record. The rhymes are easy but the melodies are insanely hummable. No other band sounds like they’re having as much fun.
Lykke Li – I Never Learn
Lykke Li has pared down both her sound and her words for this record. She is still making softer indie rock\electronica with a bigger emphasis on percussion than most. But she’s slowed down her tempo and the electronica flourishes have been diminished. When she sings “Love me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” over an acoustic guitar and minimal backing instrumentalism there’s beauty in it’s simplicity.
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
The first Run the Jewels album was a great rap record. El-P’s aggressive and overpowering production matched the intensity of Killer Mike’s raps. The intensity continues on this release. Like their first album, it’s also one of those incredibly rare rap albums with no filler. What separates this album from its predecessor is there are a few songs that could be considered singles. Run the Jewels’ music still feels like an assault, but now it’s a little more accessible.
St. Vincent – St. Vincent
St. Vincent has really expanded her sound. She went from an indie rock songwriter to making experimental art-rock. But she finds the right balance of pushing the boundaries and keeping the songs melodic. No song even reaches five minutes. She’s also exploring new territory in her lyrics – dealing with our increasingly digital world is a main theme. In most other artists’ hands that would be terrible, but she makes it relatable.
Taylor Swift – 1989
On this album Taylor Swift finally ignored her haters (mostly). She can write a mean pop hook and can create relationship stories that everyone can relate to. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, no matter how much critics tear her down for being inauthentic. She created a “pure pop” album and it’s her best record ever. If she never records another song it’s because every one on this album is a potential number one single.
Your Old Droog – Your Old Droog LP
Droog’s debut is the most impressive rap debut since Kanye’s and the most consistent since 50 Cent’s. What he does lyrically is light years ahead of other MCs. Other rappers are fine with having clever rhymes, but on this set of songs almost every couplet is tied together thematically or is a play on words. Droog packs his songs with so many cultural references that it seems impossible to get each one.
None of that would mean anything if the music wasn’t good. But just like his lyrics the sound is impeccable. He spits in an easy flow, that belies how complex his words are. The production is spare with a bobbing rhythm and a few select flourishes. He really does sound like early Nas, and that is one of the biggest compliments I can give.
Childish Gambino – Kauai
Cold Specks – Neuroplasticity
Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy
Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons
Lecrae – Anomaly
Logic – Under Pressure
The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
The Rentals – Lost in Alphaville
She & Him – Classics
Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End
Wu-Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow
Article first published as Mark Kalriess’ Best Music of 2014 (Featuring Run the Jewels, Taylor Swift, Lykke Li, and More) on Blogcritics