There was no shortage of new and exciting music in 2014. From an avant-garde saxophone quartet to soul-inflected pop from the UK, this crop of artists gave us a lot of great music this year.
Clipping and more...
Clipping. isn't as new as us; most listeners didn’t hear about it until CLPPNG, its first big-house record, hit the shelves this summer. Yet the rap group is still in its formative stages, and 2014 was a new beginning for it. The year introduced a new and innovative angle to their formerly abrasive take on hip-hop. To clipping., accessibility is as volatile a tool as any other, because it means more will get in line to hear the protests. Songs like “Summertime” are immediately appreciable, but offer sizable depth as well. Clipping. is just now getting noticed because it's just now started to approach its music from the listener’s perspective. If music is a form of communication, a message sent from one party to another to be deciphered by the listener, then clipping. is a purveyor of an exceedingly exact memo: not all is how it appears. There are innumerable paradoxes in the world, and we’ll need to keep our eyes peeled in order to catch onto them. Clipping. knows this because it's been on the other end of the line this whole time, heeding the narratives of their choice hip-hop artists in order to arm its own armada. Jacob Royal
Doug Seegers doesn’t just sing about the hobo life, he has lived it for four decades, squatting in abandoned buildings in Manhattan, sleeping under bridges in Austin and Nashville, hopping trains to another town where the promise of pocket change dropped into his guitar case seemed better. Seegers harkens back to the classic country of old while establishing his own unique voice and vision. When Seegers howls, mimicking a train whistle in “Gotta Catch that Train”, he evokes the blue yodels of Jimmie Rodgers. One can hear echoes of Porter Wagoner in “Pour Me", where the singer sits forlornly at the bar while his ex sways across the dance floor with her new beau, “Lucky him, lovely her, pour me.” A less nuanced songwriter would probably reach for the “lucky-lovely-lonely” progression (those Nashville Music Machine songwriters are suckers for alliteration), but Seegers’ choice of the simple, brilliant pun amplifies both his narrator’s state of mind and his means of coping. That’s smart songwriting, and, start to finish, this is one of the best country releases you will hear this year. Ed Whitelock
When it comes to originality, creativity, ambition, and maturity, no artist who released a debut album in 2014 even comes close to what 26 year-old Tahliah Barnett has pulled off this year. Having facetiously given herself the “formerly known as” acronym after another artist named Twigs threatened litigation, FKA Twigs follows the young auteur example of Grimes, but in a far less flighty way. Instead, she opts for something darker and a lot more mature, meshing sultry, dusky pop hooks with intensely erotic lyrics. Best of all, she uses arrangements that strip the music away of all flash and flesh, leaving a bare-bones accompaniment of electronic beats and throbs that pulsate with the emotional power of the words and music. It’s a situation where as soon as the album ends, you can’t wait to hear what she does next. Adrien Begrand
Hypnotic, ethereal, detached, expressive: these are just a few descriptors that apply to Hundred Waters' sophomore LP, The Moon Rang Like a Bell. Try nailing down Nicole Miglis' eerie soprano and you'll find that it slips untrustingly from your grasp, evading your ears, and slinking back into the darkness where it came from. The album is gripped by a unseen fear and a full-moon mysticism, and its not out of the question to suggest that much of Moon dances around the concept of feminine mystique and its impact on a male-dominated indie crowd. The first words you'll hear on album opener "Show Me Love" are, "don't let me show cruelty, though I may make mistakes / don't let me show ugliness, though I know I can hate." An lone vocal track that acts as a prelude to the odd and eerie electronic staccato of "Cavity" and "XTalk". Is there a hint of new age mysticism and Eastern chord progressions dropped loosely into syncopated rhythms? Yes, that and the simplest of notions: "take my hand when I'm walking".
Moon doesn't attach itself instantly. Instead, Hundred Waters have created a delicate grower of an album, one that peels back layers and cadences until you're not certain if the music is still being made by humans or ghosts. It would be more plausible if it were made by spirits, given its spirituality and subdued sexuality. All of that is to say, Hundred Waters keep you wondering where their inspiration comes from and where they'll take you next. An astral plane? Your parent's bedroom? Basement parties? Wherever they go, be sure to follow. Scott Elingburg
There was no consensus “Song of the Summer” this year. (Yes, Iggy Azalea was everywhere, but so were allergens.) Nothing captured the popular imagination like “Get Lucky” did in 2013, reminding us that songs don’t do that kind of thing as much as they used to. The upside was that we could choose our own summer jams without having to feel like we were missing out on something. And for me, that choice tended to be Jungle’s debut album. Leading up to its release, the British duo got the hype machine going in pitch-perfect fashion, keeping the member's identities secret and releasing several feel-good clickbait videos featuring all sorts of killer dance moves. These moves set us all up to be surprised by the actual tone of Jungle, which is soft and languorous, a bedroom R&B production full of floating synths and falsettos. It sounds like something a day-drunk Philip Michael Thomas would’ve put on his Hi-Fi in 1986. It makes me want to put on sunglasses even though I know I look stupid in sunglasses. It makes me feel like it’s not actually going to snow tonight. Joe Sweeney