July quickly comes to a close and thus the first half of 2014 becomes history. Interestingly music releases so far fail to stack up to the albums released up to this point in 2013. Last year by this time, we’d listened to new Daft Punk, Kanye West, Disclosure, Local Natives, Jay Z, and Justin Timberlake albums. Despite the light pickings, 2014 has offered some exceptional albums. Here's our picks for the best thus far:
-In the Lonely Hour by Sam Smith: This British crooner originally entered the pubic consciousness for his infectious singing on Disclosure's hit song "Latch." I wondered if he would match that song's success for his solo content; I think he may have surpassed it. Sam Smith's debut album follows in the footsteps of artists like Adele in bringing the ballad back in style. Filled with nuanced lyrics, pristine production, and spine-tingling singing, In the Lonely Hour reminds me that good 'ole fashioned ballads still have a place in music (perhaps desperately so). Best listened to when you're trying to seduce your lover or going through a break-up.
-Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs: A running theme for 2014's music appears to be updating past genres and artists for our new generation. The War on Drugs' second LP tactfully mixes many influences into a soothing melting pot. From lead singer Adam Granduciel's ghostly voice (which resembles the husky Bruce Springsteen) to the band's shoegazey guitar licks, Lost in the Dream lives up to its title by fogging its listener in lyrics evoking nostalgia, sadness, hope, and a love for nature. This just may be my favorite album of 2014 so far.
Best listened to when you're lying in an open field, staring at the stars.
-Awake by Tycho: Tycho's approach to electronic music welcomes their listener in a nice, warm embrace. Originally comprised of solo producer Scott Hansen, Tycho has evolved to include a guitarist, bassist, and drummer. This new repertoire's influence pervades Awake through every song; Hansen's bright, bubbly-textured synths now accompany progressive guitar chords and ambient drumming. It's as if some members of Explosions in the Sky dropped by and jammed along to Tycho's downtempo tunes, except the final product feels completely natural and cohesive. Best listened to when you're going for a night drive.
-Here and Nowhere Else by Cloud Nothings: Punk ain't dead yet, not as long as Cloud Nothings keep releasing such great music. This indie band doesn't want you to mosh, skate, or jump along to their raw tunes; they punch you in the face and leave you wanting more. Some songs take the melodic route while others devolve into extended screaming sessions courtesy of lead singer Dylan Baldi. It's unpredictable, a bit unsettling, but completely refreshing; Here and Nowhere Else may not possess the crisp production of other records but it'd lose its charm if it did. Best listened to when you need to let out some steam and kick things.
-Turn Blue by The Black Keys: This may be the most polarizing pick among this crop. Produced by Danger Mouse, Turn Blue abandons the bluesy instrumentals of past Black Key's albums and opts for production heard in disco and 70's songs. Lead singer Dan Auerbach still pines for lost love but now bangin' synths and cowbell (yes, cowbell) accompanies his iconic voice. Turn Blue is a huge departure for such a popular band and the risky move pissed many people off. For someone who's always enjoyed the Keys' work, I welcome the change. Some songs slog but almost every track on the album finds this blues band exploring exciting new territory. Best listened to when you're letting go on the dance floor.