2014 has been a year of the tragic and the absurd, with the former just about edging it. Israel-Hamas, ISIS, the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Robin Williams, Ebola, Malaysia Airlines tragedies (twice!); the list of events that will characterize this year range from the God-awful to the apocalyptic. The most played song of the year, "Happy," seems particularly juxtaposed with all this.
With hard news dominating more so than any in recent memory, these best of end of year lists seem particularly trivial. However, through many of the albums listed here, there is an element of the somber, of quiet desperation. Perhaps it is coincidence. "Pop" music, on the other hand, seems more irrelevant than ever, propped up only by those that keep repeating that Taylor Swift writes her own songs and that One Direction really isn't that bad. It is, and it is not on this list.
Below is a list of ten albums worth checking out from the past 12 months. Sure it's subjective, and probably not as eclectic as others, and there's probably some great obscure record omitted by a Tibetan nose-flutist I'm not cool enough to have heard. Some that just missed the list include Todd Terje's It's Album Time (not played as often since the summer), Benji by Sun Kil Moon (great when a certain mood, that I'm glad I am not in that often) and Mogwai's Rave Tapes if I stared at this final list long enough.
With that said, here is the list of the top ten albums of 2014 to which you should be listening.
11. Temples - Sun Structures
In its late '60s heyday, psychedelic rock was thought to be forward looking, innovative, and unbound. Forty-five years later, it appears trapped in the era from which it was born, offering an accurate a depiction of what "the future" might look like, as say The Jetsons did. However, the likes of Aussie rockers Tame Impala have in recent years led a kind of psych-rock revival, proving there is plenty of life left in the genre.
Endowed with bubble perms, drainpipe trousers, and pouts that tread a fine line between uber cool and gormless, the U.K.'s Temples could be viewed as mere posing pothead pixies that own a couple of Traffic records -- certain to be also rans in this revival.
Its debut, Sun Structures, however, finds new energy in the haze of basement bong smoke, that while shamelessly flaunting its influences (5th Dimension era Byrds, 13th Floor Elevators, and Love certainly among them), contains a lush multi-layered sound scape, guitars that flit effortlessly between electro-glam acid-rock and acoustic camp fire dawdling. It's a sonic soup that is certainly derivative, put in the best possible way.
10. Kelis - Food
One of the most enjoyable albums of 2014 is also one of those that in future years might be labeled "lost classic". While Kelis, who is still remembered by the public at large for bombastic smash "Milkshake," has always been refreshingly idiosyncratic in her work, her new album takes this to new levels.
Food is a saucy smorgasboard of soul, electronic, Afro-Beat and funk. Tracks like "Biscuits n' Gravy," "Friday Fish Fry," and album opener "Jerk Ribs" show the songstress belting out a huskier, lived-in vocal, with a sassy brass backing and that smacks of vintage soul, but with new energy. Kelis continues to forge her own path, and it's fun to follow her.