by Nicholas Cicale (@)
Flying Lotus’ electronic-jazz-rap fusion album You’re Dead! is not your typical top album. It doesn’t have singles, catchy hooks, or even discernible lyrics. Instead, You’re Dead! creates an atmosphere. Most of the nineteen tracks are well under three minutes in length and run together, making the album more like one, long jazz odyssey instead of a bunch of different tunes. There are some trippy moments here and there, a lot of funky sound effects and flashes of absolute beauty, like the best track “Never Catch Me.” Flying Lotus’ production matches up with Kendrick Lamar’s style and lyrics flawlessly and Lamar’s smooth, yet decisive flow alone is as captivating as the intricate drumming behind him. You normally don’t get a build from start to finish that’s as dramatic and ever changing on a hip-hop record.
The second installment from the duo of Killer Mike and El-P was the best hip-hop album of 2014, and it really wasn’t even close. Both guys have great chemistry. Listening to them play off each-other rhymes is like watching a chess match between two good friend that know the other’s next move. The verses constantly get more creative, the references more obscure and the content more vulgar. Run The Jewels 2 is more brash and relentless than their first album, and although it does lack some diversity, it’s fun, concise and loud enough to keep your attention with ease.
When you think of blues music now days, you usually think of some variation of a Black Keys or a White Stripes track; they’re easy to duplicate but hard to add character to, even for the originals. Hozier brings a fresh sound to the indie-blues genre in his debut and self-titled album, replacing most of the garage-rock elements–fuzzy guitars, rough amps and mixers, sometimes shouty vocals–with a clear, smooth sound that’s more folk than rock and soulful voice that’s stripped of protection, displaying a full spectrum of emotions. The highlights are clearly the top two singles– the angsty piano ballad “Take Me To Church” and the playful and acoustic “From Eden”–along with “Jackie and Wilson,” a 90s soft-loud grudge structure with a gospel build.
Consistent, up beat, evenly paced and easy to digest, Sylvan Esso is the best indie-pop album of 2014. Using light synths, a drum machine, and interesting vocal inflections and articulations, the duo has created a pure sound that’s joyous from start to finish.
If you’re looking for a long, drawn out adventure through a vast and bleak soundscape, ”Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” is for you. While “Truth Ray” and “There Is No Ice” are a cold, winding road into bottomless chasms of complexity, “Pick Section” is the light at the end of the tunnel, and the fluttering “Mother Lode” is a refreshing swimming pool of warmth. The album’s is by no means flawless, and is closer to Atoms for Peace in style than Radiohead, but works admirably to hold us over until the band’s next album.
Beck has become a musical chameleon. He has the ability to make good music in almost any style he chooses, and “Morning Phase” epitomizes the idea. Every song on the album works well together, but each individual track seems to draw an influence from somewhere else. Sometime, Beck lays is out clearly. “County Down” is, well, a pretty typical country song, with a slide guitar and harmonica. Elements of Pink Floyd can be found in “Heart Is A Drum” and “Turn Away.” The 90s garage rock sounds of R.E.M. and Pearl Jam can be found scattered through the album, but more prominently “Black Bird Chain,” and “Don’t Let It Go.” “Blue Moon” even sounds like the Goo Goo Dolls at times.