10. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
“Every year there’s a dance album (or two) that breaks through and reaches a bigger audience than perhaps the artist intended. This year, that honor goes to Norwegian disco king Todd Terje. His debut full-length, the aptly titled It’s Album Time, is one of the most enjoyable listening experiences of 2014 — if not the past decade. He flirts with bossa nova, dips into lounge music, and makes one of the best Kraftwerk tracks you have ever heard. Hell, there’s even a tune, ‘Preben Goes To Acapulco,’ that would sound completely at home on a Ghostface Killah album. If you haven’t listened to It’s Album Time, your 2014 ain’t shit… yet.” –Andrew Martin
Buy It’s Album Time here.
9. Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait EP
“Of course, this is just an EP, so we still must hold off revering Staples as the arrival of a saviour or anything of the sort. But Hell Can Wait is the sound of a young rapper previously weighed down by his own relentlessly dead-eyed, unchanging demeanour finally figuring out what he wants to say, how he wants to say it, and executing all of the above. For insightful, youthful, artistic and serious looks in to street life in 2014, this is now the record to beat.” —Michael Russam
Buy Hell Can Wait on Amazon.
8. MadGibbs – Piñata
“What elevates Piñata to perhaps Gibbs’ best is how frequently he lets his conscience poke through. It doesn’t happen much, but such an absence just makes it all the more devastating when he does. When he describes his Grandma learning of his lifestyle and calmly states that ‘she knew I was lying before I even spoke,’ it is genuinely affecting; the same goes for ‘Deeper,’ a story of Gibbs’ losing out in love to a ‘square’ in which our protagonist slings criticisms upon himself as much as the woman who ‘cut him deep.’ … Gibbs serves as living proof that gangsta rap has yet to exhaust its lyrical material. That he conveys all this with wit, poignancy and incredible flow – all set atop one of the best Madlib-created beat-scapes in a minute – makes this record one of the albums to beat this year.” —Michael Russam
Buy Piñata on Amazon.
7. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
“Similarly, when it tightens up, the stripped down sound showcases St. Vincent’s formidable songwriting ability. ‘Huey Newton,’ the first sonically subdued song of the project, is the album at its best. As the momentum builds toward a bleating bass line, the vocals cry of being ‘entombed in a shrine of zeros and ones’ with increasing urgency and panic, before collapsing, out of breath. This track, along with standout ‘Bring Me Your Loves,’ sounds truly new, different from any of St. Vincent’s contemporaries…. St. Vincent, for better or worse, must continue to take risks with pop music – this is part of the job description of dancing on the genre’s risky edges. Her self-titled album shows off her ability to take ownership of the sounds she employs. Hopefully she continues to avoid the pitfalls of predictability.” –Daniel Kisslinger
Buy St. Vincent on Amazon.
6. The Stand4rd – The Stand4rd
“The Stand4rd’s self-titled debut exists in that sweet spot right between too-experimental-to-be-catchy and too-catchy-to-be-experimental. Members Allan Kingdom, Bobby Raps, Psymun and Spooky Black carve a novel space in the larger music landscape. ‘Simple Needs’ perfectly exemplifies this by choosing to lay icy, gorgeous, bittersweet synths alongside weird, stretched, squeaky samples of what might have once been human voices. The unusual companionship results in a soundscape that invites sadness and reflection without having to resort to easy tricks… The Stand4rd are poised to be the next big hit in a generation composed almost entirely of slightly-off-kilter big hits. A continued dedication to balancing the catchy and the creative could land them the kind of acclaim found by Chances and Kanyes of the past. But, just as with the artists before them, the key is to continue evolving.” —Daniel Baldus
5. Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy
“To date, Open Mike Eagle had done a lot of great things in his career, both on his own and as a member of different crews (Swim Team, Hellfyre Club, etc.). But in the past two years, the Chicago native has continued to one-up himself while establishing his place as one of hip-hop’s most necessary voices. His melodic approach to spitting is compelling enough, the sort of cadence that weasles its way into your brain without ever leaving. However, when you combine that with his ridiculously sharp, potent, and at-times flawless writing, you have a true talent. That much is true after listening to Dark Comedy.” –Andrew Martin
Buy and stream Dark Comedy here.
4. FKA twigs – LP1
“It’s tempting to go rogue here, as twigs might, and replace this praiseful blurb with ‘because.’ Thousands of words have attempted to describe FKA’s masterful debut LP; some are great, some we could have gone without. But no sentence, paragraph, or profile has captured Tahliah Barnett’s brilliance, and for good reason. She’s undescribable, certainly unquantifiable, and among the best artists we’ve seen the past five years and then some. That once unknown video girl stormed our hearts and minds faster than any pendulum swing. She created a 41-minute body of work that deserves endless hours of attentive listening. This is paranoia (‘Numbers’), twisted identity loss (‘Video Girl’), reflection and sexual embrace (‘Kicks’), all executed at a level of perfection seldom seen or heard of. This is not R&B, alternative or otherwise. It’s not electronic either. LP1 is art. Calling it anything else would be a disservice.” —Alex Siber
Buy LP1 on Amazon.
3. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
“When the final synth note sounds, and the spell is broken, listeners may find themselves looking around and wondering from where and when such an otherworldly experience could have come. Then, appreciation and curiosity in hand, those folks may embark on new journey through the rich musical roots from which Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! has grown. The man’s no beatsmith — he’s an architect, true to form, and his designs are breathtaking.” —Daniel Kisslinger
Buy You’re Dead here.
2. Taylor McFerrin – Early Riser
“One of the album’s greatest qualities is that it’s hard to say if it sounds more like a jazz singer-songwriter venturing in to the new L.A. underground or vice versa… Early Riser’s best asset on a base level is how simply exciting and surprising it is, despite never being anything other than warm, subdued and just pretty. It’s a jazz record, it’s a beat record, but most of all it’s 40 minutes of some of the most serene and unique music of the year.” —Michael Russam
Buy Early Riser here.
1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
“Run The Jewels came together as a sort of victory lap after the pair’s banner 2012. The duo formed a pseudo-superhero group of guardians, a devastating tag team combination that only seems to be gaining momentum. No disrespect to its members’ storied solo careers, but Run the Jewels is a supreme use of both of their respective talents, at moments forming something larger than the sum of their individual parts. Whether they knew it at the time, they have created something special in the lab, turning their own stars inward to create a sort of all-consuming black hole, capable of bending and re-shaping the world around them, even if that world happens to be going to hell. Enjoy it before it’s destroyed.” —Brian Hodge