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My 16 favorite albums of 2014

December 31, 2014

2014 was another stellar year for music. It started in January with a great album from Mogwai (Rave Tapes), and ended in December with the instant classic Black Messiah, from D’Angelo.

Here’s the rundown of my favorite records:

1. FLYING LOTUS, You’re Dead!

Death is a topic that can be untouchable – not many artists tackle the issue head on. And not many musicians have made death sound so beautiful and frightening as Flying Lotus. You’re Dead! is the perfect mix of jazz, electronic music and hip-hop. Somehow FlyLo managed to keep the album melodic, even though some of the music and songs are wrapped in chaos. Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Doog and FlyLo’s main man Thundercat helped to make this an easy pick for my favorite album of the year. Check out “Never Catch Me.”

2. D’ANGELO, Black Messiah

Well, well, well. When this album dropped out of nowhere, I was one of the many people freaking out. Expectations were sky high, and D’Angelo exceeded them. With ease. You can tell that he took 14 years to craft this funk & soul masterpiece. I’m a HUGE fan of this whole project, especially “Back to The Future” (both parts) and “Prayer” – the best Prince and The Revolution song not written by Prince and The Revolution. Check it:

3. ME’SHELL NDGEOCELLO, Comet, Come to Me

Speaking of funk/jazz/soul masterpieces, Me’Shell has been doing killer albums like Comet, Come to Me for years. She’s arguably the most consistent artist of our generation. But yet she flies under the radar. This album has instant classics – “Forget My Name,” “Folie a Deux,” “Good Day Bad” and the brilliant remake of the classic hip-hop song “Friends.” Here’s the title track:

4. ST. VINCENT, St. Vincent

In hindsight, Annie Clark’s stellar earlier albums were too similar to each other to stand out. St. Vincent, though, kicks everything up a few notches. It was a welcome change. Everything about this album – the artsy album cover, the weird videos, the in-your-face songs – was a big artistic statement. I’ve been listening to it since day one.

5. SOULS OF MISCHIEF & ADRIAN YOUNGE, There is Only Now

There is Only Now is a ridiculously tight album, and another standout project from the Hieroglyphics crew. It’s a concept record featuring Ali Shaheed Muhammed, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, live instruments and clever wordplay. In other words, classic hip-hop from start to finish.

6. TUNE YARDS, Nikki Nack

I honestly thought that Merrill Garbus couldn’t top herself after WhoKill. And, after I heard Nikki Nack for the first time, I was disappointed. But, like many great albums, Nikki Nack is a slow burn. There’s as much fire on this album as anything I heard this year. The songwriting is great, too. This album is crazy rhythms, crazy songs, crazy vocal acrobatics, crazy sh-t. “Water Fountain” is catchiest song of the year. You’ve been warned:

7. SHABAZZ PALACES, Lese Majesty

I am old enough to remember the musical landscape in 1994, and how radical Blowout Comb was. Digable Planets, led by Butterfly, was one of the most forward-thinking acts in music. Fast forward to 2014, and Lese Majesty is one of the most progressive albums I’ve ever heard. And Butterfly (now Palaceer Lazaro, or Ishmael Butler) has crafted an album for the ages.

8. APHEX TWIN, Syro

I thought the world would never see another Aphex Twin album. And honestly, Richard D. James didn’t need to prove anything – Aphex Twin’s career is already legendary. Syro added even more colors to the Aphex Twin palette. Parts of this album sound like Stevie Wonder, especially “09 ‘syro u473t8+e (piezoluminescence mix)’.” This album is oddly funky, perfectly weird and 100% Aphex Twin.

9. PRINCE, Art Official Age

Full disclosure: I am a Prince fanatic. You know this. Prince is a genius because he always looks forward, and can’t help pushing himself to new creative heights / experiments. Enter Art Official Age, a future-sounding pop album with enough deep cuts to sound like a greatest hits album. If a new artist came out with songs like the playful “What It Feels Like,” the funky “The Gold Standard,” or the emotional “Way Back Home,” then critics would be falling all over themselves. So many highlights. How does he sound this fresh after a 36 year career? Also check out PLECTRUMELECTRUM for the complete 2014 Prince experience.

10. LANA DEL REY, Ultraviolence

I didn’t know who Lana Del Rey was before my fiancé played “West Coast” for me earlier in the year. I instantly fell in love with that song, and took a chance on the record. Man, oh man. What a surprise. Ultraviolence is a dark album that never loses its focus. After exploring her back catalogue, it’s clear that Lana found her voice with this album. It’s hard to take a song off of it, because it is a complete work of art. Highlights include “Sad Girl,” “Ultraviolence,” “Old Money” and “Shades of Cool.”

11. HOMEBOY SANDMAN, Hallways

12. MOGWAI, Rave Tapes

13. CLOUD NOTHINGS, Here and Nowhere Else

14. ANI DIFRANCO, Allergic to Water

15. PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, 12 Step Program

16. KAREN O, Crush Songs