2014’s been a strong year musically, we’ve seen early blockbuster releases from the likes of Pharrell, impressive debuts from Tinashe, Temples and Foxes, as well as near-perfect LPs from The Black Keys and Flying Lotus. Although I feel rap’s got a little tedious as of late, I feel pop music is well and truly on the up- Sam Smith, Charli XCX, George Ezra and Jessie Ware have come firing out of the blocks with impressive LPs that have also faired incredibly well commercially. Taking a look back through the entire year, here are the best 20 albums of 2014. You can click on the name of each album to go to the full in-depth review.
20. Pharrell – G I R L
Back in January, Skateboard P released his much-anticipated sophomore album G I R L. While I’m not entirely convinced with Pharrell’s innate vocal ability, that certainly can’t be said about his jazzy soul-infused production, and his latest release is filled with it. From the brass-brimmed duet with Justin Timberlake, to the chilled song-song-esque Lost Queen, Pharrell seemed a lot more at home with his sophomore than he did with his debut.
19. Tinashe – Aquarius
I think Aquarius is a seriously underrated album, I feel her vocal talent has at the least been slept on, and the composition and overall structure of the LP really is strong. A$AP Rocky and Schoolboy Q make strong guest appearances, while Mike Will Made It and Boi-1da lend the productional talents to a symphonic example of minimalist R&B that remains injected with pop star charm.
18. Foxes – Glorious
Foxes is a really underrated artist, and her debut album was a nice surprise- it wasn’t the structured pop release I expected it to be. While upbeat and cheery at a variety of times such as with Let It Go For Tonight, the often-dark themes such as with Glorious or White Coats showed what a versatile artist Foxes was.
17. Twin Atlantic – Great Divide
Twin Atlantic are a four-piece rock pop band from Scotland, and following up their first two releases, they got a foothold on 2014 with their third studio album Great Divide. The LP featured more fiery music than other pop rock groups such as The 1975, and it featured a plethora of bangers including the one of many highlights- I Am An Animal.
16. Jamie T – Carry On The Grudge
Jamie T arrived back on the scene with his first album in 5-6 years- Carry On The Grudge. Besides the anthem of a lead single Zombie, Carry On The Grudge encapsulated a lot of what makes the British music industry so revered- punky themes, intelligent vocals, all veiled with a poppy feel. The 6 year wait was worth it.
15. Hozier – Hozier
The elusive Hozier burst onto 2014 with the blockbuster chart hit Take Me To Church, and the rest of Hozier’s debut project followed in suite with the quality of the lead single. Nodding at other pop stars like George Ezra and Imagine Dragons with his low-yet-chirpy vocals, while injecting his LP with various fusions of soul, garage rock and indie stylings, it was an inventive release to say the least.
14. J.Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive
2014 Forest Hills Drive was my first taster of J.Cole believe it or not, and the album impressed me. While the production didn’t exactly blow me away, and the same structure on every song grew a tad tiresome, J.Cole laid down some insane raps including a Control-type verse on Fire Squad. It’s clear to see why J.Cole is such a raved about artist.
13. Jungle – Jungle
The neo soul/modern soul/revolutionary soul collective Jungle released their debut self-titled project back in July. A huge hit in the form of Busy Earnin’, various big-position performances at a plethora of festivals, and a Mercury prize nomination later, Jungle were in pole position to cement their meteoric rise to the top, and that they surely did with the inventive self-titled debut.
12. George Ezra – Wanted On Voyage
Local (to me) boy George Ezra had a slow rise to the number one position with his debut album Wanted On Voyage. Despite being released back in July, come October time his LP was sitting at number one in the UK charts. However, it wasn’t just a commercial success- Ezra’s vocals are massively individual and the project was home to some great songs that broadens the horizons of pop music.
11. FKA Twigs – LP1
FKA Twigs’ mysterious debut album LP1 seemingly sprung out of nowhere, to universal wide-spread critical acclaim the album was praised for its sensual themes, minimalist production, powerful yet subtle vocals from Twigs herself, it was assured release that I feel’s started a whole new thing in the form of this subtle, downplayed version of R&B.
10. Charli XCX – Sucker
Pop is slowly but surely being revitalised, and Charli XCX’s Sucker slots into this idea to a tee. It’s punky, rebellious, catchy, and all the while retains its [and her] popstar charm- the girl possesses such a likability to her, and Sucker’s no different. Sucker is the final kick up the ass pop music needs.
9. Royal Blood – Royal Blood
Royal Blood’s debut LP was a much needed all-out rock album in a frankly bleak genre. The albums nods at the likes of Radiohead with You Can Be So Cruel, while you can hear influences of Metallica with the riffs on Loose Change. The idea of heavy metal is often flirted with, such as with the epic finale Better Stangers– one of the many highlights to the debut.
8. Nu:Tone – Future History
With so many releases, often in the form of countless EPs, drum and bass albums often get lost in translation. But Nu:Tones’ Future History is an outstanding D&B LP that somehow encapsulates the revered history of British drum and bass. The album is awash with nostalgia, fuses every genre from jungle to break-beat, and with such an intuitive theme and feel to an D&B album, you really have to admire Nu:Tone’s creativity. A rare guest spot from Kool Keith is merely the icing on the cake.
7. Temples – Sun Structures
The psychedelic-rock stylings of Temples I directly compared with the legendary Stone Roses, and the hippie hazy vibe draped across Sun Structures makes for one of the most impressive LPs, let alone debuts from 2014. The vintage guitar combined with the near-bemoaning vocals courtesy of frontman James Bagshaw scream nostalgia and point to acts that simply aren’t around anymore. Temples have resurrected a trademark British sound and with Sun Structures, they’ve hit the nail on the head.
6. Octave Minds – Octave Minds
Octave Minds is the debut collaborative LP from Chilly Gonzales and Boys Noize. The album has no lyrics, bar the exceptional collaboration with Chance The Rapper, yet it’s incredible to see an album so musically intelligent, without the obvious vocal accompaniment. Anthem somehow is an absolute anthem in itself, Projectionist is a cold chord-connected chill-ride, while Done Deal somehow sits with effortless synchronisation with its fiery EDM charged themes.
5. Sam Smith – In The Lonely Hour
Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour obviously sky-rocketed to the top of the charts in damn-near every country across the globe- most importantly here in the UK, and across the pond in the US. But unlike a lot of pop releases, In The Lonely Hour fully deserved its commercial success. It really is a classic love record- I mean classic in the way it covers everything that goes with love, the highs, the lows, the loneliness, the despair, the heartbreak. While the album is solid across the entirety, there’s also some genuine gems such as Leave Your Lover or Make It To Me, and it’s also noting, this is also only Sam Smith’s debut.
4. Domo Genesis – Under The Influence 2
Domo Genesis has never really fulfilled his ability in my opinion, Sam Is Dead, Supermarket, and blips from New Idols showed that the guy can really rap, but it seemed he was set on conforming more to the jokey side of Odd Future, as apposed to slotting into the credible rapper category Earl Sweatshirt’s recently waltzed into. But Under The Influence 2 finally illustrated the genuinely talented rapper he’s always been. 24 Hour Spitness and Follow Me are particular gems within one of Odd Future’s most solid releases.
3. PRhyme – PRhyme
PRhyme is the full-on all-out ‘rap’ gem I’ve been waiting for since god knows when. It features the simplified combination of- gritty beats with big claps + a fire MC who lays down some undeniably outstanding bars. Add some diamond guest appearances, a minimalist marketing campaign with little all-out promotion of the LP, and you really do have a credible project from the legendary DJ Premier, and in my opinion one of the most underrated MCs in the game- Royce Da 5’9″.
2. The Black Keys – Turn Blue
While the majority of the industry didn’t exactly ‘rave’ about Turn Blue, they still gave it a thumbs-up and it also still managed to notch 72 on Metacritic. But Turn Blue is actually an incredible album, Gotta Get Away, In Our Prime and Weight of Love are among The Black Keys’ strongest material to date, and the entirety of the album still retains the garage-rock sound that made them the act they are today. However, the album is also stripped back, almost melancholic, yet also hard-hitting- it possesses everything that made Purple Rain a classic.
1. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead
Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead is a perplexing journey of confusion and derangement. Warped synths, violent crashing cymbals, all sewn together with twisted guitar riffs. The album flirts with jazz, hip-hop, R&B, trip-hop, rock, it’s impossible to see why such a mystifying project is also as hypnotic and entrancing as You’re Dead. It’s not often an album this inventive comes along, and also as contrapuntal to the rest of the industry, you probably won’t hear an album like this any time soon.