25. PRhyme (Royce Da 5’9” & DJ Premier) – PRhyme
As far as dream rapper and producer combinations, a Royce Da 5’9” and DJ Premier full collaboration had always been a the top of my wish list. Past tracks like “Hip-Hop” and “Boom” set a loft precedent, but Royce’s bravado-filled similes and metaphors matched every soul-infused Premier scratch on PRhyme.
Top Songs: “Dat Sound Good”, “Courtesy”, “Wishin’”
24. The Belle Brigade – Just Because
Just Because, the title of the sophomore album from LA brother/sister duo The Belle Brigade downplayed the encompassing nature of one of the brighter albums in 2014. Charging lead single “Ashes” reminded me of old favorite An Horse, but The Belle Brigade’s sound on Just Because is much more well-rounded. “Not The One” diversified Just Because even further with a see-saw harmonica opening and hand clap-ready hook. The catchiest track on the album toed the line between indie pop and alt country with the familiar theme of heartbreak. The song was so catchy that if a mainstream country act like Lady Antebellum were to cover it, it would probably have been the number one song in America.
Top Songs: “Ashes”, “Likely To Use Something”, “Not The One”
23. BANKS – Goddess
Ever since The Weeknd appeared on the scene with sexually charged, dark R&B, the genre has witnessed a shift that actually seems better suited to the emotions of the narrators. Though the Weeknd fueled the recent trend, ladies like BANKS have pushed it further and Goddess is a shining example of how much better (imo) it sounds from a lady’s perspective. Four of the strongest tracks originally appeared on her 2013 London EP, but ideas are even more evolved on pulsing, stifling efforts like “Brain” and “Drowning”. Even when BANKS isn’t in sultry songstress mode, she excels on tracks like “Change” and “Under The Table” with string and piano production serving as a complement to enchanting vocals.
Top Songs: “Brain”, “Beggin For A Thread”, “This Is What It Feels Like”
22. RAC – Strangers
Andre Anjos may have made a name for himself producing top flight remixes for the likes of The Shins, Tegan & Sara, Bloc Party and others. However, he certainly saved a lot of quality indie pop production and appearances by Tokyo Police Club, Alex Ebert, Tegan & Sara and others for his debut album, Strangers. I like to think of the album as the indie pop version of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, as it also featured perfect collaborators (“Let It Go”, “Tear You Down”), catchy songwriting (“Hollywood”, “Cheap Sunglasses”) and memorable production (“Ready For It”, “Seventeen”) that should sustain past 2014.
Top Songs: “Cheap Sunglasses”, “Seventeen”, “Ready For It”
21. Chromeo – White Women
Chromeo’s fourth studio album, White Women, was the Montreal duo’s most complete to date with endless danceable pairings of funk and soul. “Jealous (I Ain’t Wit It)” had the most pop potential, but smoother cuts like “Over Your Shoulder” and the Hall and Oates-esque “Hard To Say No” were nostalgic, repeat-ready delights also. Collaborations with Toro Y Moi (“Come Alive”), Solange (“Lost On The Way Home”) and Ezra Koenig (“Ezra’s Interlude”) were worthy as well. My only complaint: where’s the love for PThugg and the talkbox? Need.more.talk.box.
Top Songs: “Jealous (I Ain’t Wit It)”, “Over Your Shoulder”, “Lost On The Way Home”
20. The Black Keys – Turn Blue
The Black Keys didn’t seem to get the accolades for Turn Blue that they did for previous albums, but I think their eighth album might have more longevity than some others. Many of the songs didn’t have that instantly catchy hook (aside from “Fever”) like tracks from El Camino and Brothers did. However, longer track times and slower builds allowed Dan and Pat, along with producer Danger Mouse to stretch ideas in ways they hadn’t expressed on previous records. Opening track “The Weight Of Love” set the tone with blistering guitar solos, amid a dusky landscape and Auerbach’s tumultuous narratives. From there, the album touches on blues and psych rock sounds with songs that seep into listeners subconscious for weeks.
Top Songs: “10 Lovers”, “Weight Of Love”, “Turn Blue”
19. Chet Faker – Built On Glass
Perhaps the “glass” Faker is referring to the window of tradition he smashed this year. Chet Faker could easily make a traditional album filled with gushing soulful vocals, but the Aussie import is more apt to challenge himself and the listener. Built On Glass hovers just below the surface of singers like Sam Smith in veering from traditional songwriting and production structure. Tracks like “Blush” and “1998“ intersperse Faker’s pipes with vocal distortion, synth, echo and instrumental interludes that feel appropriate. His emotive vocals fill desperate narratives like “To Me” and “Cigarettes & Loneliness” and manage to chill and inspire at the same time.
Top Songs: “1998”, “Blush”, “Cigarettes & Loneliness”
18. Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits
Spotify claimed Lake Street Dive’s third album as my most listened to album on the online service in 2014 and that is probably accurate (*note I still listen to downloads mostly). The Brooklyn by way of Boston band made an instant impression on me with a well-produced nostalgic sound and Rachael Price’s amazing voice. The title track initially wooed me, but call and response fun of “Seventeen” and dance-floor starters “Bobby Tanqueray”, “Use Me Up” and “You Go Down Smooth” kept the album on repeat.
Top Songs: “Bobby Tanqueray”, “Bad Self Portraits”, “What About Me”
17. Sam Smith – In The Lonely Hour
You already know the story of Sam Smith. His instantly recognizable voice seemed to be everywhere in 2014, for good reason. In the Lonely Hour validated the lofty expectations of “Stay With Me” with even more gut-wrenching narratives (“I’m Not The Only One”, “Good Thing“) and jaw-dropping vocals (“I’ve Told You Now”, “Like I Can”).
Top Songs: “Money On My Mind”, “I’m Not The Only One”, “Like I Can”
16. Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas – Secret Evil
Detroit’s Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas debut album Secret Evil felt like a raw, honest collection of fiery indie rock. After one listen, I could certainly believe Hernandez when she snags an acquaintance’s fellow on “Sorry I Stole Your Man”. Tracks like “Caught Up” and “No Place Left To Hide” were pure anthemic rock fun with bristling guitar, thumping percussion and sing-along potential. Also, “Dead Brains” might be the most catchy song referencing brains.
Top Songs: “No Place Left To Hide”, “Dead Brains”, “Caught Up”