Kishi Bashi - "Lighght"
Kishi Bashi cut his teeth on psych pop with Of Montreal and his synthpop band Jupiter One, but he’s hit new highs with “Lighght.” The album is maximalist pop, layering in violin, synth and plinking strings, but always to a purpose. Lead single “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” is bubbly, triumphant fun, and “Carry on Phenomenon” is a pop song that somehow feels like an epic journey. However, what’s truly striking about “Lighght” is its depth of tone. The album as a whole is bittersweet, spiritual storytelling, and it’s amazing that it manages to stay as fun as it does throughout.
Mac Demarco - "Salad Days"
It may have been released on April Fool’s Day, but Mac Demarco’s “Salad Days” is no joke. The new album brought our favorite gap-toothed Canadian the attention he’s deserved all along. His gentle voice and synthy love ballads make a confusing match for his nicotine-fueled aesthetic, reminiscent of a stray dog and his on stage shenanigans, but there’s no denying that Demarco’s music is catchy. Compared to his past releases, “Salad Days” solidified Demarco’s niche in lo-fi jangle pop. The dreamlike, psych feel of this release is probably what made it one of my most played albums on Spotify this year. From start to finish, not a single track falls through the cracks, with the album favorites being "Jonny's Odyssey" and "Passing Out Pieces." Mac Demarco is notoriously a wild man in the limelight, but behind the mic he’s charming enough to introduce to your parents.
Sturgill Simpson - "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music"
Yes, a country music album selected as the best album of the year. By a newspaper writer. At a college. But what makes Sturgill Simpson’s 2014 album accessible to Luke Bryan haters is its new spin on a classic sound. Taking the vintage tunes of outlaw music and mixing in some psychedelic rock elements, these country songs search for peace of mind amongst demons, drugs and heartache. Simpson’s lyrics are about the lost man yearning on the open road rather than “chilling on a dirt road.” He seems to be a once-religious, simple country boy who’s letting out all his unease with the world around him, thanking God for “this here life of sin.”
Coldplay - "Ghost Stories"
Things have changed for Coldplay since the band's first album, “Parachutes,” was released in 2000. Lead singer Chris Martin’s recognizable voice has been on the radio for a decade and a half, and this album — like most of the others — has several hits. “Always in My Head,” starts the album slowly, with a dark longing melody, eventually moving to quicker tempos and catchier tunes, like “Oceans” and “A Sky Full of Stars,” the album’s best known hit. Overall, the album is easy listening, and each track flows effortlessly into the next. Many early Coldplay fans will criticize the more popular songs because of their simple beats, used to appeal to the general public, but the lyrics and music of the album are still easy on the ears.
Ed Sheeran - "X"
Ed Sheeran came back with another ode to love, lust, heartbreak and alcohol with his debut album “X.” The British guitarist’s appeal stems from his genuine charm, not his looks. The coffeehouse inspired artist seamlessly intertwines acoustic guitar with folk, rap, R&B and pop influences. His songs have never been mainstream, cookie-cutter pop and continue to defy standards of current radio hits with intricate ballads and rap paired with soulful choruses. His heart-wrenching melodies and lyrics make you want to find someone to love. The tracks are dynamic and each brings something fresh. “Don’t” outs his cheating fling with an upbeat tempo and gritty raps while “Afire Love” is a heart-breaking track dedicated to his grandfather who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. No song is the same and each is saturated with relatable, raw emotion. Whether it’s Sheeran’s chilling voice paired with piano or a full orchestra with manipulated beats, every tune is killer.
Run the Jewels - "Run the Jewels 2"
Run the Jewels, a pleasantly unusual hip-hip duo, consists of southern rapper Killer Mike and New York based El-P. Both halves spit fire individually and together make a lyrical bonfire. “Run the Jewels 2” is also coupled with incredible production. Notable tracks include “Close Your Eyes (and Count to F*ck)” and “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.” The beats are raw, alternative and unique. “Run the Jewels 2” also has some notable feature artists like Zack De La Rocha from Rage Against the Machine. Both really play off of each other’s verses, which indubitably is cool. In addition to hot rhymes, Run the Jewels have come out with some wicked music videos. It’s definitely an underrated hip-hop album of 2014.
St. Vincent - "St. Vincent"
The indie music sphere welcomed another captivating album from St.Vincent in February 2014. The self-titled album is Annie Clark’s (stage name St.Vincent) fourth solo album and unleashes her innovative musical talent with expertly composed pieces, topping the charts once again. The pieces represent the complex instrumental and lyrical choices that St. Vincent makes in her work. She's able to play the guitar, bass and keys herself and often incorporates string and brass instruments to give her music a fuller sound. Critics call her style a baroque pop, indie-synth meld. Songs like “Rattlesnake” and “Prince Johnny” portray the melding of genres St. Vincent regularly embraces. Clark’s slight, political lyrics reflect her reserved and self-confident personality. And though her lyrics may seem indirect, they create a powerful image when accompanied by the instrumentals. With her musical talent and stunning creative performances, we can only expect more astounding work from St. Vincent in 2015.
Taylor Swift – “1989”
The American Sweetheart has done it again — this year, Taylor Swift enthralled young women across the globe with her new album “1989.” She ditched her acoustic sound in the majority of this album to join the pop music movement, obviously inspired by an 80’s-esque sound (hence the album name). Swift joined the “booty” craze with her hit “Shake It Off” and engages her boy-crazy public image with “Blank Space. Swift maintains her fame by being herself – openly weird, comfortably awkward and by being girlishly emotional and enthusiastic. Even though Swift never does anything extremely outside of the box and her music seems mildly mediocre, she continues to produce top hits across the country every year since her big debut in 2006. If you don’t like her, the charts recommend you get used to her — this is definitely not the end of her career.