14 for '14: Favorite Music of the Year

My favorite music from the past year. Looking forward to 2015.


Long form:

1) Little Dragon -- Nabuma Rubberband
I first heard this Swedish quartet via "Twice," the downtempo opener of 2007's self-titled release. "Mirror," the first track on their 2014 album, does a similar thing, subversively impressing before exploding into the rest of the record. Their live show cements the quartet as one of the best bands in existence, where a classic rock group/frontperson dynamic doesn't hurt -- Yukimi Nagano is positively Bon Scottish, but it's the band's ability to incarnate electronic instrumentation that is truly refreshing. Synths play like guitars; drum pads feel necessary. "Cat Rider" all day, all year.

2) Snarky Puppy -- We Like It Here
Late to the Pups' game, this record was a gateway into a world that started in Denton, Texas and has since become an international phenomenon. As bassist/mastermind Michael League's liner notes describe, Snarky Puppy's conglomerate attitude extends to its fans in a truly globalized notion of music making, learning and exposition. From the combustion of the first two tracks to Cory Henry's transcendent solo on "Lingus," I like them here, too.

3) D'Angelo -- Black Messiah
A needed surprise, a distinctly American record that embodies not just rhythm and blues, but also rock and soul. While not as seminal as his previous release, I welcome Mr. Archer back into the conversation. Here's more.

4) Mark Guiliana -- Beat Music: the Los Angeles Improvisations
Mr. Guiliana put out three albums this year, and while My Life Starts Now lacks the fervor found here, February's Mehliana: Taming the Dragon duet with Brad Mehldau is a masterpiece. As a composer/leader, this record sees the Beat Music moniker reach new heights on the west coast, with 30 tracks ranging from Live-Evil jazz to Explosions in the Sky soundscapes. The east coast version didn't disappoint recently at Rockwood Music Hall, either, with Chris Morrissey's bass and Guiliana's kit downright clairvoyant.

5) Adult Jazz -- Gist Is
The best part of the end of the year is scrambling to listen to everything you've missed in the preceding 355-odd days. And eating cookies at every meal. To take valuable time to digest all the music in a given year, especially with all those new Instagram filters, is impossible. But the deliberateness of this debut is magnetic. Gist Is dominated train travel when there was no more Serial, catapulting me into an eerie, fluid and malleable scenery full of UK soot and off kilter '90s Karate-style rock.

6) Spoon -- They Want My Soul
I've always liked Spoon. They're not as weird as Modest Mouse or as tailgate-yellable as the Black Keys or as Zach Braffy as the Shins. They're not blogosphere brown-nosers; they seem to forgo the pretense so common among Bands. Britt Daniel writes damn good songs, and Dave Fridmann knocked it out of the park on the production. I've never felt so moved by panning, and the record's starkness trades rock's usual manic claustrophobia for an arresting vista -- this is more functional modern architecture than bustling urban diatribe.

7) Shabazz Palaces -- Lese Majesty
I don't quite understand Lese Majesty. It's like eating at a place where you think the menu is pretty understandable, but every dish hits you with some crazy ingredient that actually turns out to be a relative of arugula or a specific varietal of bourbon infusion. While 2011's Black Up seemed like a semi-logical extension of the Digable Planets personality, this record is hip-hop for the Interstellar crew, a valuable and somewhat messy envelope push into the 22nd century and beyond.

8) St. Vincent -- St. Vincent
I love Annie Clark. I don't know where Karen O went these past few years, but Mme. Vincent has ridden in with a vengeance, a new guitar and a new hair stylist to kick rock in the balls. She's moved beyond 2012's Byrne benediction into territory previously reserved for dudes with even more hair product and noodling six string histrionics. Not content to shred, she's appeared with Nirvana's surviving members as an illustration of her ability to grapple with consummate rock songwriting.

9) Taylor McFerrin -- Early Riser
The quintessential Brainfeeder release, genre-smearing sonics for the new millenium. Obviously the product of a musical lineage, Mr. McFerrin relies on his own sonic texturing here, enlisting help from Robert Glasper and Thundercat on the jazz-manhandling "Already There," yet nodding to label head Flying Lotus elsewhere. A beautiful collage.

10) Meshell Ndegeocello -- Comet, Come To Me
Had it not been for Kneebody bassist Kaveh Rastegar's cowrite on "Conviction," I might have missed this album altogether. Glad I didn't, as Meshell continues to create the music she wants and remain an uncompromising spirited voice.

11) Run the Jewels -- Run the Jewels 2
While it's taken these two awhile to get their proper due, I'm glad it's happening. Jaime and Mike have been making great music for years, but the sum of the parts is truly polarizing, provocative and eardrum smashing. I'll take RTJ over CNN any day, especially if weatherman Zack de la Rocha continues to be on the news team.

12) Mastodon -- Once More 'Round the Sun
While maybe not Mastodon's most exciting release, 2014 proved the band can distill its epic nature into a more accessible formula (and give twerking its best score yet). "High Road" easily ranks among their best songs/videos.

13) FKA Twigs -- LP1
Vulnerability on record. Although Sade did it with a bit more allure in the '80s, Twigs drips onto wax from a place you're a little afraid to tread. It doesn't seem to translate live yet, but in headphones she'll make you feel funny down there.

14) The Roots -- ...and then you shoot your cousin
The legendary keep challenging themselves and their audience, and for that I am grateful. To land their most consistent/cushiest job and put out their most grating and dark music is a testament to their nature as true innovators and artists.

Short form:

1) Hiatus Kaiyote -- By Fire
While last year's Tawk Tomahawk flashed listeners their Kiwi color palette, this 3-song EP really paints. Nai Palm sounds more confident in a band setting, and the band sounds even more aptly incendiary than before.

2) The Stepkids -- Wanderers
The closest we have to Steely Dan, and that's all I have to say about that.

3) Kendrick Lamar -- i
This performance and this untitled debut were two of the best musical moments of the year.

4) Mini Mansions -- Death is a Girl
Two tracks of post-Beatles goodness with some requisite Queens of the Stone Age badassery from Michael Shuman.