There were so many interesting album releases in 2014 I felt I could barely keep up. In fact, I was still adding titles to my Best of 2014 contenders list late into December. Here are some of my favorites, in alphabetical order:
The Bug — Angels & Devils
Kevin Martin returns to his The Bug alias for a full length LP and several EPs worth of mutant bass music in 2014. More than any other electronic music producer, Kevin understands the equal importance of mass/weight and texture. Both aspects are deployed extremely effectively whether the track is an atmospheric snarling dub-wise bass mantra or a neck-snapping mutant-dancehall-cum-grime firestarter.
D’Angelo — Black Messiah
Black Messiah arrived late in December, rushed to market partly in response to protests in Ferguson, MO and New York City. “Rushed” may seem an incongruous label for an album that took 14 years to deliver but that is the narrative that is being sold. This album delivers an unmistakably D’Angelo perspective while showing development and advancement since the release of Voodoo in 2000. For me, this music delivers in a way that the new Prince record never quite does. By turns funky or slippery or both.
Jonwayne — Rap Album One
Best white rapper album cover? Jonwayne is equally at home on the buttons or on the mic. The beats are rooted in boom bap traditional drum patterns but throws enough curves to make them identifiable as part of the Los Angeles abstract beat “scene.” Meanwhile, the rhymes and delivery are self-confident and clever. The puns and almost-non-sequitors combined with deadpan vocal quality put Jonwayne in line to be heir to MF Doom’s abstract mumble-rap crown.
Les Sins — Michael
Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick is a hell of a dance music producer. This album swings to its own pendulum. Rhythmically complex without losing the plot or losing its danceability. Unconventionally funky.
Little Dragon — Nabuma Rubberband
Top quality intelligent pop music. Sexy and slick but never overproduced.
LV & Joshua Idehen — Islands
Album number two from “one MC and two white men” sees LV continue to refine their loose-limbed hard-driving complex beats. Their productions always have a live feel to me, no matter how precisely they may be aimed at the dance floor.
Millie and Andrea — Drop the Vowels
After releasing a series of twelve-inch singles in 2008/2009 that occupied the margins of dubstep and grime, Miles Whittaker and Andy Stott team up again for a full length LP. This time they borrow more heavily from the sound world and production techniques of drum & bass/jungle music. But as in Miles’ drum & bass experiments with Demdike Stare’s Test Pressing series, the familiar tropes are upended and reconfigured.
Run the Jewels — Run the Jewels 2
El‑P and Killer Mike are a dream team of ornery, difficult, cynical, middle-aged asshole rappers. El‑P keeps expanding his beat styles into new sonic areas while managing to hit harder than ever. Keep it up, guys.
Andy Stott — Faith in Strangers
Overdriven to blurry oblivion, Andy Stott’s sounds still somehow maintain punch and immediacy. Rooted sonically in techno but much more varied rhythmically, this album balances dance music sensibilities with post-punk atmosphere.
Christina Vantzou — No.2
Vantzou’s music is as patient and lovely as her slow motion videos. It is at times cinematic and at other times intimate, using small ensembles of orchestral instruments. (You can watch all the videos here).
Wen — Signals
Often associated with the nu-Grime movement of UK producers, Wen demonstrates his mastery of that icy sound world but separates himself by virtue of being able to write songs rather than just beats or tracks. The music remains stark and economical in means but the structure of Wen’s tracks carry a listener forward and inward.