It’s that time of year again. Following March’s Quarterly Report and June’s Mid–Year Recap, today I bring you a list of my 50 favorite tracks, as well as my 10 favorite albums, from this past quarter. July through September, artists ranging from Flying Lotus to Jessie Ware, Ariel Pink to Sophie, have been worthy recipients of our attention. Check out the full list below. And next time we count down, we’ll be taking a look back at 2014 as a whole.
If you had never heard a Kendrick Lamar song until “i”, it would be pretty easy to guess how Lamar is feeling these days. Hell, he explicitly says as much on the song’s hook, as he exclaims, “I love myself!” Self-love may be one of the most frowned upon concepts in modern hip-hop (i.e., Kanye West), so Lamar makes a pretty big leap here admitting that he’s happy with himself. Lamar is essentially letting his freak flag fly here, with the song’s eclectic production a far cry from the grittier good kid, m.A.A.d. city. So while “i” sounds like a complete 180 from the masterful good kid, it still retains the hip-hop superstar’s amazing flow, character, and substance of basically everything he’s done previously. “They want to say there’s a war outside / and a bomb on the street / and a gun in the hood / and a mob of police,” begins his memorable third verse, which turns out to be an appetizer for Lamar’s breathtaking fourth verse. “I went to war last night,” it begins, before Lamar scorches the earth before him. A little over a year ago, Lamar famously called out many of hip-hop’s current hit makers. This time around, he doesn’t need to name names. He’s too busy dancing by himself.
Rahki produced, with mixing done by Ali. The song samples the Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady?”.
Peaking Lights are back with a new album, Cosmic Love, on 7 October through Weird World, and they’ve just unleashed a second prerelease single, this one titled “Everyone and Us”. Behind an island groove, the duo appears to be gaining more confidence, with the recording possessing a relaxed quality that allows the listener to fully sink herself into the song’s sonics. With summer officially over, Peaking Lights are successfully holding on to the last few rays of light before the fall.
Jessie Ware has been knocking it out of the park with every single released thus far from her follow-up to her sublime 2012 introduction Devotion. Tough Love has already brought us the breathtaking title track and “Say You Love Me”, as well as the Dev Hynes-assisted “Want Your Feeling”. But it’s her collaboration with Miguel on “Kind of… Sometimes… Maybe” that perhaps leaves the most immediate, and lasting, impact. Despite her indecisiveness, the chorus is perhaps her hardest hitting to date, speaking for Ware when words fail her.
Make sure to check out what’s turning out to be one of the year’s best albums, Tough Love, when it’s released on 13 October in the U.S. through Island.
Zola Jesus was already making some of the best music of the decade, with her 2011 album Conatus standing as one of that year’s best records. Behind the abstract productions stood Nika Roza Danilova’s stunning vocals, which signaled an artist capable of even better things. Those better things are set to arrive on her forthcoming LP Taiga, out 7 October through Mute. Following “Dangerous Days”, “Go (Blank Sea)” is another anthemic, powerful composition that exudes confidence, as Zola Jesus embraces her more pop leanings and discovers the thrill of anonymity in a sea of pop purveyors. “And I go / Downtown / Where they / Don’t know / My name,” she sings on the chorus, making damn sure they’ll know who she is.
In the midst of the mountainous “Fancy” and “Rude”, Tinashe’s “2 On” was a small indie-hit by comparison. Don’t mind Tinashe has received a strong label backing, working with such prominent names such as ScHoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky, DJ Mustard, and Stargate for her debut LP Aquarius. But every time “2 On” came on the radio, it was a breath of fresh air, a welcome respite from the brashness of the season’s biggest hits. Her latest pre-release single from her debut, following “2 On” and the Rocky-assisted “Pretend”, will undoubtedly force its way onto radio programmers’ playlists, as “Feels Like Vegas” is her lightest, most Top 40-ready track yet. Sonically, I’m reminded of Tinashe’s stellar 2013 track with Ryan Hemsworth, “1 For Me”, as both productions, this one from Stargate, allow the rising singer ample space to find her voice. “Feels like Vegas, don’t it” she sings on the hook. By the sound of it, she doesn’t even have to ask.
Arca first gained widespread notoriety when his name appeared in the credits of Kanye West’s aural masterpiece Yeezus, with the Venezuelan-born, Brooklyn-based producer assisting on “Hold My Liquor”, “I’m In It”, “Blood on the Leaves” and “Send It Up”. He then worked on FKA twigs’ EP2, landing him two impressive references out of the gate. His collaborators also help contextualize “Thievery”, as the song’s darker, rave-like qualities harken back to the more unsettling moments on Yeezus and EP2. Like its title implies, “Thievery” sounds strikingly familiar while unquestionably being a singular, unique work.