Favorite Music of 2017

Favorite Songs Outside of My Top 10 Favorite Albums:

15. Father John Misty “Leaving LA” – best song that encapsulates my current feelings about my current state of residence

14. Sundara Karma “Flame” – best song that’s sure to be on some car commercial soon

13. Porn Bloopers “I Don’t Give a Fuck”  – best steak-and-potato punk

12. Dirty Projectors “Keep Your Name” – Best pitch-correction for sad people

11. Foo Fighters “The Sky is a Neighborhood” – Best rock anthem for 15 years ago

10. Big K.R.I.T. “Keep the Devil off” – best sample of a southern preacher

9. T-Pain with Mr. Talkbox “May I” – best keyboard solo

8. Small Leak Sinks Ships “Dancing Devil” – best song I found from someone else’s top 10 list

7. Weezer “Mexican Fender” – best new song heard live

6. Leikeli47 “Miss Me” – Best female rap song (sorry Cardi B, I guess)

5. The Mynabirds “Golden Age” – Best “nazi-punching” lyric for 2017’s political climate

4. Jesca Hoop “Memories are Now” – Best singer-songwriter tune

3. Kendrick Lamar “Humble” – best song played at the Prom I had to chaperone last May

2. SOPHIE “Ponyboy” – best song that makes me feel like I’ve been shot with a 12-gauge

1.Bleachers “Everybody Lost Somebody” – best use of Jack Antonoff this year, and saxophones

My Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year:

10. The National Sleep Well Beast

the national sleep well beast

The National’s formula of using simple, repetitive chord progressions worked for so  long for one obvious reason: Matt Berninger’s vocal performance. His baritone melodies combined with fictitious narratives of love and woe made 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me worth multiple listens. In 2017, the reason to turn back to The National is due to the four other band members who create songs with electronic drum machines and electric guitar solos: instrumentation that never before characterized the traditional National-esque sound. With the new band sound, and with the shoot-from-the-hip feel of the recording sessions, Sleep Well Beast is an exciting listen, especially to fans of the band.

Standout Tracks: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” “Turtleneck” “Nobody Else Will Be There

9. The Orwells Terrible Human Beings

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The torch of American Rock n Roll remains lit, and Illinois’ The Orwells hoist it high and proud. The psych-rock doesn’t get bogged down in effects, and punk rock doesn’t get overblown with shitty mixing, and rock doesn’t get boring. This is the new Cage the Elephant.

Standout Tracks: “They Put a Body in the Bayou” “Creatures” “Black Francis

8. Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed Andy Mineo & Wordsplayed Present Magic & Bird

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Far from the serious, murderous rap from mumble rappers and their more lyrical role models, Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed use the trendy trap sound to create a 1980s-themed mixtape that’s fresh and fun, chock-full of basketball puns to justify the loose Larry Bird and Magic Johnson concept. Shockingly, the skits are funny, and as expected the rapping is top-notch from the two heads of the Minor League musical collective.

Standout Tracks: “Dance (You See It)” “KIDZ” “Judo (feat. Tree Giants)

7. Grandaddy Last Place

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A sonic blend of all the emotions with which I am most familiar.

Standout Tracks: “That’s What You Get for Getting Outta Bed” “Way We Won’t” “Brush with the Wild

6. Kesha Rainbow

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I vehemently disliked Ke$ha at her 2010 debut; both her balls-to-the-wall lyrics and her brash, bratty vocal style rubbed me the wrong way. On top of my initial distaste, I worked at a college cafeteria that would only play the Top 40 playlist, so Ke$ha would often great, accompany, and dismiss me from my shifts. Rainbow is, however, a significant departure in both sonic tone and sentiment. The auto-tune is gone and the live horn section of The Dap-Kings are in. The self-indulgence is out and the self-affirmations are in. The trite party imagery is out and the more quaint and introspective Kesha (with no $) is in.

Standout Tracks: “Woman” “Godzilla” “Bastards

5. Deerhoof Mountain Moves

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There always seems to be room on my end-of-year lists for the art-rock/garage artists who catch my ears: Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Tune-yards, St. Vincent, and their ilk. 2017’s seat was filled by Deerhoof, a band with whom I was unfamiliar until I listened to The Wandering Wolf podcast episode featuring Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier. The album itself is bouncy and Matsuzaki’s vocals are intriguing as she uses different effects to create different vocal personas inside her songs. The fuzzy, DIY attitude makes this record from the veteran band seem like an underdog, but this group is finely tuned and as talented as their peers.

Standout Tracks: “I Will Spite Survive” “Your Dystopic Creation Doesn’t Fear You (ft. Awkwafina)

4. Run the Jewels RTJ3

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I played this album on the day of President Trump’s inauguration, and it seems now that much of the word feels the same way as El-P and Killer Mike 11 months ago: angry at the bald-faced lies and ineptitude that plagues this administration, and capitalistic values in general. While the 1% are only directly addressed in a few tracks tucked inside RTJ3, the bravado of the hustler plays as the righteous indignation of the oppressed in this new political context. The two vocal Bernie supporters have only venom for the nation’s 2016 Presidential winner, and the chaotic production that defines the work of El-P’s instrumentals works as its own protest, thumping hard and boiling over with thick keyboards, horns, and 808s.

Standout Tracks: “Legend Has It” “Hey Kids (feat. Danny Brown)” “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters

3. WHY? Moh Lean

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Yoni Wolf pens his best songs and crafts his best melodies since the band’s breakthrough masterpiece Alopecia. The acoustic piano helps keep the sound grounded and solemn, and the record’s high points of bliss are lightly gilded with Wolf’s melancholy: the sweet spot for WHY? the band.

Standout Tracks: “Proactive Evolution” “One Mississippi” “George Washington

2. Beck Colors

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Genre-hopping Beck lands on pop-electro-funk in 2017 with Colors. It’s primary objective: to make you dance and accept the more euphoric moments of life. It’s a carefree, but carefully constructed album, and Beck wears the genre well; it reminds me of my other favorite phase of Beck’s in the late 2000’s when he ended up on MTV and VH1 again with radio hits like “Girl.” Tucked in the middle of this album is the club hip-hop song “WOW” which is extra silly and has Beck back to his white guy rap mode.

Standout Tracks: “I’m So Free” “Colors” “Wow” “Up All Night

  1. Julia Michaels Nervous System EP

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Pop music, the kind that’s likely to show up on the radio, can become washed with the echo chamber of the Billboard 100 list. I have strayed from the radio dial, and their online streaming playlist cousins, and wait for audiophiles to recommend pop projects. Turns out, some of my favorite songs into the zeitgeist are from the pen of Julia Michaels, and Michaels now has her own hit with “Issues.” The EP from which it comes delivers six other solid pop tunes that bends the expectations without falling into the more experimental-leaning pop records. “Uh huh” may be my favorite song of 2017, Michaels sells the simple tune with subtly in the verses and full spunk in the chorus. The same can be said for the innuendo (or not) filled “Pink.” On the whole EP, the production is open enough to let the singer’s frail delivery float like pedals on water.

Standout Tracks: “Uh Huh” “Make It Up To You” “Just Do It

 

 

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Favorite New Music: January

1.Brian Eno Reflection

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There hasn’t been any inclination to seek out ambient music; it just seemed like homework to me, especially when there was some trendy rap mixtape I had still not listened to. But as I age, the calming (and single-track) new album from Brian Eno reminds me to slow down and breath. It’s not dull-minded like the soundtrack to one of my mom’s yoga tapes, but more thoughtful and complex in its arrangement and instrumentation.

Standout Track: “Reflection

2.Run The Jewels RTJ3

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Killer Mike and El-P released their 3rd album as Run The Jewels digitally in December, but was physically released in 2017 (complete with stickers!) and so ends up here on this list. The duo continues to produce bangers on the caliber of RTJ2, but adds a few songs that pull the veil back and reveal some more personal details, especially from El-P’s verses on “Thursday in the Danger Room” and “A Report to the Shareholders”. A high bar is set for Rap in 2017.

Standout Track: “A Report to the Shareholders: Kill Your Masters

3. P.O.S. Chill, dummy

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Two years ago, the Doomtree collective released All Hands which featured all of the gang in Doomtree including P.O.S who then had huge complications with his health. His previous record, We Don’t Even Live Here, was supposed to be his mainstream rap release, but lost the opportunity to tour due to his ailment. in 2017, Stefan is back and healthy and releasing his most melodic work to date. The finale, an 8-minute comeback track released last year, highlights these personal struggles and has Stefan surrounded by friends and colleagues, which makes the project hit on a deeper emotional level.

Standout Track: “Faded

4.Cherry Glazerr Apocalipstick

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A little psych rock, a little garage punk, and little of everything in between, Cherry Glazerr’s guitar heavy rock album has just enough DIY sentiment to be charming with the studio-quality mixing to keep the project easy on the ears. It’s fun, sarcastic, and poppy.

Standout Track: “Trash People

Other Solid Releases: Cloud Nothings Life Without Sound ; Japandroids Near to the Wild Heart of Life ; Train a girl a bottle a boat ; SACRED PAWS Strike A Match; The xx I See You ; SOHN Rennen ; Sundara Karma Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect

 

 

 

 

2016: Favorite Tracks and Albums

Favorite Tracks (Outside of my Favorite Albums)

15. Joyce Manor “Fake I.D.” – Most awkward exchange at a party.

14. Danny Brown “Really Doe” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Sou, Earl Sweatshirt – Danny Brown’s experimental album had this more traditional, bangin’ posse cut right in the middle.

13. Brvndon P “Coolin” ft. Beleaf – 2o16’s best pitch corrected hype man lines.

12. ANOHNI “4 Degrees” – Coolest vocal tones

11. Ariana Grande “Let Me Love You” ft. Lil Wayne – Sexiest song of the year

10. Mutual Benefit “Not For Nothing” – From the saddest album of the year.

9. Gallant “Bone + Tissue” – best use of falsetto.

8. Joey Purp “Girls @” ft. Chance the Rapper – best instrumental

7. Kanye West “Ultralight Beam” ft. Chance the Rapper – best Chance verse.

6. Run the Jewels “Legend Has It” – the most RTJiest song to date.

5. Baauer “Day Ones” ft. Novelist, Leikeli47 – best song to crank to 11.

4. Lizzo “Good As Hell” – best feel good song

3. Into It. Over It. “Adult Contempt” – best percussion part

2. Jack Garrett “Worry” – best PBR&B tune

  1. Dawes “When The Tequila Runs Out” – best lyricist of 2016.

Favorite Albums of 2016

10. Jeff Rosenstock WORRY.

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While this album is nowhere as nuanced as Rosenstock’s previous record We Coo?, WORRY. has all the trappings of a great pop punk record – 1/8 note bar chords blasted through tube amps, a substantial helping of crowd “woahs”, and the blistering shouts from the front man himself.

Standout Tracks: “Festival Song” “Wave Goodnight to Me” “Blast Damage Days”

9. Swet Shop Boys Cashmere

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Heems’ project always capture my attention; whether its the Das Racist mixtapes or his solo projects, his use of humor and ad-lib skills make for an enjoyable listen. Here, the content becomes more politically-themed as he tag teams with Riz Ahmed, a Londoner of middle eastern heritage. The instrumentals sample sounds and artists of southern Asia (similar to Heem’s debut album Eat Pray Thug) thanks to the brilliant work of Redhino. Unlike the mixtapes, this project has no slack or throwaway moments; it’s all solid and important rhetoric communicated through club rap tracks.

Standout Tracks: “T5” “Aaja” “Zayn Malik

8. Modern Baseball Holy Ghost

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The emo rock world has been catching a new wave of energy: 2016 saw great music from Into It. Over It., Joyce Manor, Useless ID, Real Friends, and TTNG. The project that floats to the top of that powerful list is Modern Baseball’s newest LP Holy Ghost. It’s simplicity works in its favor as the heart-on-sleeve lyrics take a front seat.

Standout Tracks: “Note to Self” “Wedding Singer” “What If..”

7. Regina Spektor Remember Us To Life

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Regina Specktor’s newest album is a very theatrical project: each song is an independent vignette telling specific stories, some with fleshed out characters. Many musical moments are musical theater tropes, or that of a film score, and inform the lyrics and mood much more than the poppier piano projects Specktor has released previously in her career.

Standout Tracks: “Grand Hotel“”Small Bill$” “The Light

6. Weezer Weezer [The White Album]

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It’s hard not to adapt the opinions of others in our formative years. I did not know, for example, that Weezer had bad albums. I bought what turned out to be, critically speaking, Weezer’s least popular records: The Red Album and Raditude. It wasn’t long after diving into diverse musical realms through college that these albums began to wain in quality, and some if it upon re-listening sounded horrendous.

2014’s comback-ish Trouble Will Find Us In The End turned out to be an album-long drum roll to the real surprise: 2016’s The White Album. The melodies are fun and within Weezer’s wheelhouse. The guitars rule, as they did in 2o14, and the subjects while not as eclectic are explored in odd ways…ways familiar to early Rivers Cuomo lyric sheets.

California Kids” “Jacked Up” “King of the World

5. Anderson.Paak Malibu

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Raspy-throated crooner Anderson.Paak went from behind-the-scenes producer for Dr. Dre’s Compton to front man extrordonare. Now grammy nominated, Paak unleased his varied talents as rapper, James Brown impersonator, band leader, drummer, and all around classy chap in this funky record. It’s meaty and yet airy, with thick product that somehow keeps the songs light. It’s a musical magic trick to behold.

Come Down” “The Dreamer” “Parking Lot

4. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive

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2013’s We Are Common also made it onto my AOTY list, and Thao has only upped her game since then. With production help from the brain behind tUnE-yArDs, this LP unleashes a torrent of quirky rock tunes circling the singer’s personal search of her birth father. It’s deep, thought-provoking, and catchy.

Standout Tracks: “Departure” “Astonished Man” “Nobody Dies

3. PUP The Dream is Over

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My favorite album of 2015 was FIDLAR’s Too, and this album takes the same musical influences and creates an equally raucous track list. The earnestness of the lyrics and the group shouts create an effective woe-is-me pathos, but the song structures are exceptional: multiple bridges, key changes, an incredible drummer, and time signature experimentation make this album an excellent record for all kinds of music lovers.

DVP” “Sleep in the Heat” “My Life Is Over And I Couldn’t Be Happier” “Familiar Patterns”

2.clipping –  Splendor & Misery / Wriggle

The experimental Rap trio released two excellent, yet very different, projects in 2016. The first was an EP called Wriggle that delivered more of what we knew made clipping great: creative instrumental beats (one made entirely of gun noises), motor-mouth bars from Daveed Diggs, and memorable guest verses. It’s catchy, raunchy, and a powerful punch for an EP.

Fast forward a few months, and the group releases Splendor & Misery. A 40-minute rap-opera of a runaway space slave trapped on a cargo ship. Yup. Diggs runs wild with the imagery and the narrative while the instrumental production serves more like the sound effects of a radio play than that of a rap album. Both projects are excellent, and both deserve to be recognized.

Standout Tracks: “Shooter” “All Black” “Air ‘Em Out“”Back Up

1.Car Seat Headrest –  Teens of Denial

car seat headrest

Will Toledo has a runaway hit of an album: a debut album in the sense that it is the first with a nation-wide market release, but is technically his 12th album, most of which were dropped on bandcamp. The garage rock band is pure pathos, with Toledo yelping his emotions, ripping them off his sleeve and throwing them directly into your face. The guitars are rough and agitated, but hold together for melodic hooks, building most of the wall of sound. i had the privilege of seeing them live, and you know a band resonates with a generation when the crowd, during “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” sung so loud that it through off the band, missing a cue to move into the final chorus. The record makes me equally jealous and understood; Toledo makes a fine mouthpiece for a lot of sullen youth.

Standout Tracks: “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” “1937 State Park” “Fill in the Blank” “Destroyed by Hippie Powers”

New Music: March

1. J. Monty – Level 54

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Christian Rapper J. Monty is one of Rapzilla’s Freshman Class of 2015 and has released the Level 54 mixtape as an introduction to a much larger audience. The focus here seems to be J. Monty’s lyrical skills as two of the tracks exist solely to give J. Monty space to spit one hundred bars. The personal indulgence is entertaining and doesn’t become dulling.

Standout Track: “100 Bars

2. Purity Ring – Another Eternity

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Purity Ring’s debut album got a lot of attention, and deservedly, but from an interesting individual: rapper Danny Brown. The trip-hop electronic group produce another beautiful album with a heavy dose of hip-hop beats covered by beautiful female vocals. In retrospect, Purity Ring might have been responsible for getting my hooked on the subdued electronic music with female vocalists (Ellie Goulding, Lorde, ODEZA, Banks, and everyone else).

Standout Track: “bodyache

3. Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

Action_Bronson_Mr._Wonderful

Sometimes a rapper’s staying power is determined by their personality. More charistmatic personalities that outshine their musical talents often come and go quickly. Action Bronson has a lot to prove in order to keep himself in the business: he’s a 31-year-old white chef (with the body type to match) from Queens complete with a big, red beard. He sounds strikingly similar to Ghostface Killah, but worse comparisons could be made. His mixtapes have delivered a lot of comedy and here he continues with his fun personality. The professional shine of a debut album is a little distracting, but when Bronson gets to rap, it’s hard not to listen again and again.

Standout Track: “Baby Blue featuring Chance the Rapper

4. Death Grips – Jenny Death

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Here’s a snippet of lyrics from Jenny Death: “Spit on you, spit on me/ All we know spit must be us/ Spit fits us, we spit and sniff/ We sniff and clutch each other’s fate/ I don’t care about real life, I don’t care about real life.” So, there ya go.

Standout Track: “On GP

Favorite Music Video of the Month:

The Best of 2014 Pt. 2

Favorite Albums of 2014

10. Barukh Surf

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Christian Rap meets Surf Rock? Yep. But, not, like, for the whole thing. In fact, the surf rock thing only lasts for a few tracks. The rest are just good bangers ’bout the Lord.

Standout Tracks: “Wipeout”, “Lifeguard”, “Forever” “Wrecked”

9. Foster the People Supermodel

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With their debut album, Torches, Foster the People loaded their song’s sound waves with heavy synth licks that ranged from catchy to completely bonkers, like a box of Acme Looney Tunes sound effects tossed down a flight of stairs. On their sophomore LP the trio has grown to nearly twice the size live and have created a mellower project that utilizes the electric guitar for its heavy instrumentation. The change yields songs that will have more shelf-life and capture a sound that The Killers were trying to re-ignite on their Battle Born album.

Standout Tracks: “Best Friends”, “Coming of Age” “Pseudologica Fantastica”

8. Nickel Creek A Dotted Line

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Okay, so when Chris Thile ever does anything I will probably like it. Or love it. Or, in this year’s case, beg for a longer project. Nickel Creek was my first, and really only, experience in contemporary blue grass music and Thile’s mandolin magic has captured my fascination. I almost bought one this year. Anyway, A Dotted Line serves as a community garden where each member gets to plant their own solo work and watch the seeds develop through each other’s high quality musicianship. There is no weak link in this trio in song writing, playing, or singing, and this LP is a great reminder that they’re all still out there making music and that we should all be playing much closer attention. And, holy crap, “Hayloft” is probably the best song I’ve heard this year. It’s a cover, so I’m not sure it is allowed to end up on my end-of-year-list (who makes those rules, by the way? I have questions).

Standout Tracks: “21st of May”, “Destination”, “Hayloft”

7.  Run the Jewels RTJ2

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Rappers El-P and Killer Mike can have so much fun while speaking to very heavy subject matters. The beats here are outlandish and chaotic and are met with equal force by the two men’s delivery. Killer Mike, especially, has the kind of voice that commands attention and will let you go when he’s good and ready to. Who knew last year’s first Run the Jewels project would lead to something like this? Don’t try to play this in a public area. You must blast it and then proceed to rage dance and/or flip over tables. You might be asked to leave. You’ve been warned.

Standout Tracks: “Blockbuster Night Part 1”, “Close Your Eyes (And Count to ****)”, “Crown”

6. Alvvays S/T

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Alvvays is an album clearly meant to be released in the mid 2000’s during the heyday of Peter, Bjorn and John and their ilk of indy pop bands who have been filling track lists of cute indie movies through present day. There’s a lot of dream pop tunes on here which pulls on the nostalgia heart strings even more. Fuzzy guitars and gooey pop song structures keep this album a popular contender for repeated listens.

Standout Tracks: “Archie, Marry Me” , “Adult Diversion”“Next of Kin”

5.  “Weird” Al Yankovic Mandatory Fun

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Rolling his way into its fourth decade, “Weird” Al’s career has shown little signs of slowing down. The parody king’s work continues to call the music industry’s bluffs and has inspired other comedy musicians to up their game. Mandatory Fun is Yankovic’s strongest album since Running with Scissors (my personal favorite). Although, in an interview ran a few years ago, Yankovic has discovered through an informal survey that people’s opinion of which album is best is completely based on which album was released closest to their twelfth birthday…which proves to be fairly close in my case. This album, then, is comedic gold to our current 5th and 6th graders out there.

Standout Tracks: “Jackson Park Express”, “Sports Song”, “Word Crimes”

4. Clipping CLPPNG

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Noise Rap got a huge boost of interest during and after Death Grips career. Exmilitary exploded onto the internet and then came the highly acclaimed The Money Store. After their abrupt breakup announcement, other Noise Rap groups have a shot at filling the void. Clipping has been more than ready to receive some notoriety. The “beat” production challenges the listener not to turn down the speakers, but rapper Daveed Diggs begs you not to with his quick and creative delivery.

Standout Tracks: “Intro”, “Work Work”, “Inside Out”

3. Sylvan Esso S/T

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Singer-Songwriter Amelia Meath and electronic producer Nick Sanborn (AKA Made of Oak) team up to create a unique project: folky electronica. Think Lorde-esque production with vocals akin to Ingrid Michaelson. And like Lorde, the power comes from the steep juxtaposition between ethereal, sweet vocals with dark and thumping beats. This project is beautiful, catchy, and of the current era.

Standout Tracks: “Coffee”, “Hey Mami” “Dreamy Bruises”

2. Andy Mineo Neverland

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After his solid debut LP release Heroes for Sale, Christian Rapper Andy Mineo released his Saturday Morning Car Tunes project and then this…ep? album? mixtape? Something. The production is not as erratic as the album, and the tracks flow much more naturally. Andy is gaining a larger audience and this project is a professional-level introduction to the man who may help bridge the religious and secular worlds of hip hop.

Standout Tracks: “Neverland”, “Paisano’s Wylin'”, “Paganini”

1. Sam Smith In the Lonely Hour

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I question whether I would even care to listen to In the Lonely Hour if Sam Smith was 40 years old. Or older. The soapy string instrumentation and consistent, borderline redundant theme of heartbreak are hard pills to swallow, and if an old, classic crooner like Manalow or Rod Stewart or whomever is a top seller at Target these days were behind the music I’d be hard-pressed to even give it a chance. Sam Smith, I think, is younger than I and has been stamped with that “old soul” descriptor given to, apparently, brit pop stars who sing sad songs (Winehouse and Adele). The album is held solely, but substantially, by Smith’s vocal performance. And every song is at least solid and at most transformative.

Standout Tracks: “Money on my Mind”, “Stay With Me”, “Like I Can”

So that’s it for 2014! Happy New Years everybody!