Here it is: the collaboration piece to end all collaboration pieces. Would we really be legitimate music writers if we didn’t join the myriads of other publications offering their two cents on the best albums of 2014? These albums run the gamut from powerful stadium rock to brooding hip-hop, so don’t be afraid to give each one a spin when the right mood strikes. Hopefully you’ll share in our delight.
María: “GIRL” by Pharrell Williams
It took 8 years for Pharell to finally release a second solo album, but man, was it worth the wait. “GIRL” is full of beats you can’t help but dance to, the classic Pharrell quirk and the perfect amount of female praise and celebration. Pharrell brought groove back in 2014, both to the media and into people’s homes. Make fun of his hat all you want, but the man is undeniably a musical genius, and this album proves it.
Favorite songs: “It Girl,” “Come Get It Bae,” “Marilyn Monroe”
Foxy Shazam’s fifth album is a bit of a misnomer. After nearly a decade of theatrical, showstopping releases, the Cincinnati rockers ditched all the bells and whistles to deliver their rawest, most introspective album to date. Lead singer Eric Nally examines his relationship with his family and how it’s affected him on pulsing tracks like “Tragic Thrill” (“Tragic thrill, I’m finding out who I was, who I really am”). The band also comes to grips with getting older and how it affects their identity on the album’s closer, “Story Told” (“You better ask yourself who you are!”). It’s a powerful question, especially in hindsight: Foxy announced their indefinite hiatus in October, making “Gonzo” quite possibly their last goodbye. Although it sucks to see them go, at least they went out with a bang, giving listeners food for thought and making the boldest album of the year.
Britny: “1989” by Taylor Swift
As an adamant supporter of both T-Swift and 1980s pop music, I knew I was going to fall head over heels for “1989” the minute it was announced. From the opening clappy beat and plinking keyboard of “Welcome to New York,” to the suitably dramatic lyrics (hello, it’s Taylor Swift) of “Clean”– and even the catchy, sassy lines in “New Romantics,” if you have the deluxe version –the entire album is shiny, dancey, retro fun. Taylor chopped off her hair, found a bunch of girlfriends, moved cities and made the best pop album of the year – and it’s a series of transformations I totally support.
Stand out tracks: “Blank Space,” “Shake It Off,” “New Romantics.”
Jenna: “Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness” by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Andrew McMahon is a music veteran, having toured the world with Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin and released multiple albums under both monikers. But this is McMahon’s first time releasing music under his own name. It’s the beginning of a new era for him, trying his hand at something poppy after years of punk and alt-rock under his belt. McMahon experiments with synthesizers and uppity percussion, but some things haven’t changed. His raw lyrics capture the essence of life experiences, piano melodies exhibit years of mastery and his voice emanates honesty. This album is a new chapter in McMahon’s career, but still holds true to his style.
Tess: “They Want My Soul” by Spoon
After eight albums, Austin-based rockers Spoon have proven that, just like a fine wine, they get better with age. Every song on “They Want My Soul” is equally catchy and dynamic. It’s the kind of album that only improves with each listen, rightfully earning the title of “modern classic.” There’s seriously not much you can hate about this album (unless you hate perfection).
Lauren: “Crush Songs” by Karen O
Threadbare and lo-fi, all of the songs on Karen O’s first solo album were recorded privately, with most featuring just an acoustic guitar and hushed vocals. The short tracks on “Crush Songs” sound like the ideas or memories of songs and match the fleeting, intense burst of emotion that comes with having a crush that will probably never turn into a real relationship. The rawness, simplicity and private nature of “Crush Songs” is like looking into a diary I never kept of the many, many crushes I’ve had — a feeling that normal love songs just can’t quite relate to.
Quinton: “Otherness” by Kindness
This year was lackluster for major hip-hop releases. Growing up on jazz, R&B and a little disco (courtesy of mom), it was only natural that I rediscovered my affinity for these sounds during rap’s sleepy 2014. Kindness’s “Otherness” is the the one record I can unashamedly say moved me. Scaling from downbeat step revivals to nu-disco splendor, Adam Bainbridge’s solo project is a calculated blend of live instrumentation and electronic drums mixed to perfection, thanks to Blue May and Jimmy Douglass. “This Is Not About Us” is “Otherness” at its best, as Bainbridge’s sleepy mumbles cruise over a sea of metallic drums, fluttering horns and a tight bassline. The electronica genre is often overcrowded, but Kindness’s cohesive project smartly incorporates dance influences and hosts an strong array of collaborators like Kelela, Devonte Hynes and Robyn that help it stand out amidst the scene. The songs often focus on downfall and heartbreak, and if “Otherness” is what those emotions sounds like, count me in.
Adam: “Cool Tape Vol. 2” by Jaden Smith
Last year, Kanye West told us he was a god. I believed him, until the true rap deity showed his face to the world. Who would have thought Jaden Smith’s hip-hop gospel was going to be responsible for changing the face of the music industry? Smith’s incomparable flow compliments the soothing production, as his poetic lyrics unveil the truth behind youth, love, honesty and how apparently “most trees are blue.” Is he confusing? Absolutely. Is this because his mind is too advanced for the average human being? Without a doubt. If there is one thing this history-making album tells us about Jaden Smith, it’s that he is ahead of our time — even though he and his sister Willow claim time doesn’t actually exist.
Favorite song: “Keep Ya Love”
Sam: “Atlas” by Real Estate
If art is a reaction to the world around us, it should come as no surprise that 2014 was an incredibly eventful year in the world of music. The wistful, jangly melodies of Real Estate’s “Atlas” somehow manage to simultaneously capture the niceties of summer and the introspection of winter, with the lyrics telling a relatable tale of utter confusion at the complexity of life. These elements all come together to create an album that can assist listeners in navigating the ups and downs of their lives, as well as the changing of the seasons. “Atlas” is a tour de force in the realm of self-doubting, coming-of-age indie rock, and it was the absolute perfect album for 2014, both sonically and lyrically. Damn it, I love this album.
Devon: “Morning Phase” by Beck
This album’s warm, folksy sounds find Beck picking up where he left off with 2002’s “Sea Change.” He seems to be drawing inspiration from finding acceptance in a broken world, and his melancholy acoustic guitar and emotive strings take listeners on his journey of pain and recovery (including his recent, nearly-crippling back injury). Somehow his characteristic L.A. rock vibes are not lost, despite a nod to the likes of Simon & Garfunkel and Neil Young. This newfound sensitivity gives the album a fresh, summery feel, although it has its moments of darkness, alluding to the cold of the world as well. In the end, “Morning Phase” is just as reflective as it is hopeful.