Top 50 Albums of 2014

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Freddie Gibbs Madlib Pinata30. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Piñata (Madlib Invazion)

Hip-hop elitists can keep waiting for the proper sequel to Madvillainy all they want, but Piñata, a collaboration with Indiana emcee Freddie Gibbs, is some of Madlib’s finest work in years. The beats are free flowing and Freddie Gibbs is one of the few rappers tailored to work around them, a skill he admits bluntly. The claps and guitar loops of “Harold’s” showcase the extraordinary talent as does “Knicks” with a sweet soul sample. There are only a few rap albums in 2014 to heavily fuck with; Pinata is one of those records because Gibbs, Madlib and the guests featured on here go to work. Piñata is the gift that keeps on giving. – GM

Perfect Pussy Say yes to love29. Perfect Pussy
Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks)

Perfect Pussy doesn’t just want the listener to hear their music; they want the listener to feel something new. The bold statement being made on Say Yes to Love can be found within the lyrical references to feeling alive, and the choice to include live tracks adds an additional layer. From the anguish of “Driver” to the vulnerable honesty of “Dig,” Perfect Pussy is visceral and real. Falling in love with the wrong person can be an idiotic thing to do, and sometimes stage diving into a crowd at a concert is a terrible idea, but as James Joyce writes in Ulysses, “errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” – DP

top 50 albums of 2014 wye oak28. Wye Oak
Shriek (Merge)

Artists have been drawn and quartered for sound shifts less dramatic than Wye Oak’s as heard on Shriek – especially those who moved from jagged electric guitar to keyboard-driven pop. But Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack not only survived whatever blowback there might have been; they made as thoughtful and trancelike an album as any of the ‘80s acts Shriek communes with who ever brandished a Korg. Wasner might have been indulging her now-unconcealed affection for dance and synth styles, but her partnership with Stack turns out to be a creative union with unexpected versatility. “Before,” one of my favorite songs of the year, is flat-out Yaz splendor in a modest, deliberate pace, and “The Tower” and “Logic of Color” take their cues from their own unique moodiness. But even more aggressive, polyrhythmic courses like “Glory” and “Paradise” take the glib energy of lesser new wave acts trying to play fast, and weave it into something more fibrous and sustaining. With that, Wye Oak have opened up a great many new possibilities for themselves, and in the case of Shriek the haters wisely didn’t hate. – PP

Andy Stott Faith In Strangers27. Andy Stott
Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)

It seems like Andy Stott is purposely toying with his listeners. Does he get pleasure out of it? I, for one, really dig the suspense. It’s one thing to be ominous and menacing, but Stott does it with melody and warmth. The Manchester-based producer told us this year that his truly compelling vision came from digging deeper into what he said was the “dark, aggressive nature of tracks.” Indeed, Faith In Strangers is mysterious, hostile stuff that takes its time to build before completely fucking your ears. And I mean that as the sinister-love fucking that is almost too intense to bear, but too pleasurable to not want forever. It’s the musical equivalent of hour-long sex in multiple positions, and variable speeds. From the eerie quiver and industrial, crawling clank of “Violence” to the piercing synth spray and deep toms of “No Surrender,” and the PVC pipe frequency and yo-yo action bass of “How It Was” to the serrated factory machine beat and huge droning bass of “Damage,” Faith In Strangers is Stott’s most accomplished thrill ride. – JJM

Jessie Ware Tough Love26. Jessie Ware
Tough Love (PMR/Island)

In 2014, pop music felt like it was one government-funded bill away from finally being weaponized; nothing disrupts neural activity like the brickwall limiter mastering used on tracks by the likes of 5 Seconds of Summer or Katy Perry. And yet, the producer behind Perry’s brain-whomping “California Gurls,” Benny Blanco, made a much more surprising move by stepping behind the boards for Jessie Ware’s beautifully understated single, “Tough Love,” with the end result highlighting an intriguing path forward for pop and R&B going forward. Like Sam Smith or fka Twigs, who each released similarly spacious and soulful records this year, Ware’s music works best when given ample room to breathe. Tough Love is a late-night kind of pop record — the platter you drop on the turntable for the quiet and intimate moments with a lover, or wrapping oneself in a blanket of reminiscences and red-wine buzz. There’s something both seductive and comforting about a slick sophisti-pop jam like “Sweetest Song,” and a winning earnestness in the anthemic boom of “You & I (Forever)”. And while the latter suggests that Ware is perfectly capable of dropping a neon-lit stadium jam, it’s when she scales back and stretches out that she softly breaks your heart into a million different pieces. – JT

top 50 albums of 2014 EMA25. EMA
The Future’s Void (Matador)

During the bridge of “Satellite,” the opening track on EMA’s The Future’s Void, Erika M. Anderson reflects, “I remember when the world was divided by a wall of concrete and a curtain of iron.” And now, much of the other songs on the album imply, it’s computer screens that separate us. Anderson briefly visited this idea in passing on 2011’s Past Life Martyred Saints, but it consumes a greater portion of her follow-up, an industrial-pop dystopia built inside an opulent metropolis of distortion and electronic beats. But behind the maybe too-obvious lines about selfies and being faced with H.P. Lovecraft’s bestial creation, “Cthulu” (sic), there’s a much simpler message about how the very things that are supposed to make life easier don’t actually do that, whether they’re silicon and glass or simply coping mechanisms. It’s part sci-fi, part socio-political critique, wrapped in chaotic sounds and bigger hooks. It’s not always pretty, or orderly, but in a way, that Anderson is comfortable reveling in something so messy is what makes it all the more human. – JT

Dum Dum Girls - Too True24. Dum Dum Girls
Too True (Sub Pop)

The 2012 End Of Daze EP proved to be a big shift for Dum Dum Girls. With that release, the band managed to keep up their momentum while evolving into an even stronger group. Too True is the end result of Dee Dee Penny’s long-term makeover. Continuing her collaborations with producers Sune Rose Wagner (of The Raveonettes) and Richard Gottehrer, she’s moved on from fuzzy garage rock to a darker, more slinky post-punk style. Her personal losses have become part of her and she invests a great deal of emotion in each song, while maintaining an inimitable style. Too True is another stellar addition in the DDG catalog, and one that opens the band up to a newfound gothic dream-pop influence. – GM

Pallbearer Foundations of Burden23. Pallbearer
Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)

Pallbearer play metal — in the most traditional sense that word can apply — but bring something rather new to their doom: An almost angelic sense of beauty. Following up a debut as amazing as 2012’s Sorrow and Extinction was certainly difficult, and some critics weren’t quite as satisfied with Pallbearer’s sophomore attempt. But, in this writer’s opinion, the devil (or angel?) here is in the details. While Foundations of Burden doesn’t stray far from the fundamental aesthetic established the first time around, the band worked with producer Billy Anderson to bring out every nuance and crevice buried within their sound, creating a devastatingly gorgeous sound that is a definite pleasure to get lost within. By not fixing what wasn’t broken and stepping up the talent behind the boards, Pallbearer ascended their sound to an even higher (and, perhaps, more subtle) level of brilliance. – ATB

Jenny Lewis The Voyager22. Jenny Lewis
The Voyager (Warner Bros.)

I suppose there’s a possibility the California rock renaissance has gotten under way, if only through Bethany Cosentino’s civic pride, but Jenny Lewis’ second (or third) solo album cuts straight through the perceived iniquity of the Golden State’s golden age of the ‘70s with maybe the best-written pop album of the year. Her duality is spot-on: this might be the first known homage to Mirage-era Fleetwood Mac but Lewis’ observations are straight Warren Zevon. “She’s not me – she’s easy,” she sings, but she’s neither proud nor reluctant about being Jezebel. The triangle in “Late Bloomer” steeps in both sensuality and loneliness, yet Lewis paints every character with an edge of ridiculousness. The drama climaxes in a seedy, trick-turning motor inn in “Aloha and the Three Johns,” and Lewis closes out recognizing the whole pathos in “Love U Forever,” and cracks her way to the next part in the title track: “Nothin’ lasts forever when you travel time / I’ve been sippin’ that Kool-Aid at the cosmos.” At that point, anyone hearing The Voyager thinking that Lewis has settled for the glossy pop of your hip aunt isn’t listening to it right, has never been in love or in a hash-fueled three-way. There’s really not much you can do for them. – PP

Ought More Than Any Other Day21. Ought
More Than Any Other Day (Constellation)

Ought is from Montreal, but nobody in the band is Canadian. They’re a rancorous and intense band, though they’re not exactly punk. And there’s a heavy dose of activism and mobilization that led to the creation of More Than Any Other Day, but it’s not a political album. Contradictory as many of Ought’s qualities and those of their debut album may be, none of them truly cancel each other out. Like Constellation labelmates Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the group always feels as if they’re standing on the precipice of revolution, yet never explicitly guide the listener toward any particular cause. But unlike Godspeed, Ought funnel their mixture of chaos and serenity into taut, five-minute post-punk songs informed by the likes of Talking Heads and Fugazi. They’re  nervous and jittery and in search of something with real meaning, perhaps without knowing what that is, exactly. As frontman Tim Beeler sings on the gorgeous standout, “Habit,” “There is something, something you believe in/ but you can’t touch it/ but you can’t hold it.” On More Than Any Other Day, the journey is the destination, and the powerful collision of sounds in pursuit of it the ultimate reward. I don’t know about you, but I feel a habit forming. – JT

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