WHILE EX HEX released their debut album in 2014, the members of the group are no strangers to the music scene. While Mary Timony and co. are all better known for works with other groups, their debut LP Rips wastes none of the listener’s time. Each track packs an enormous punch, with knee-buckling riffs and affirmative choruses. Ex Hex’s members have put in enough time previous to Rips to fool around with song structures and melodies, yet they cut straight to the chase with their vital debut.
AFTER TWO aurally arresting 2013 EPs, Tahliah Barnett’s star shined brighter this year, beginning with the phenomenal “Two Weeks” and its accompanying video, and playing out through the entirety of LP1. By the time she made her U.S. television debut on The Tonight Show, Barnett had already laid out for us a carefully manicured sound and image, one that is just as potent now as it was coming out of our speakers the first time. Debuts shouldn’t look this easy.
YOU’VE GOT TO give it up to Atlanta’s hip-hop scene. Largely overlooked after OutKast’s extended hiatus, the city finally started getting the respect it deserved from a national audience in 2014. Young Thug, Migos, and Future left their mark on 2014 in specific, tangible ways, as did Makonnen Sheran, the LA-born Atlanta transplant. Recording as iLoveMakonnen, Sheran fits right at home in the distinct musical stylings of Atlanta’s hip-hop community, with his unconventional cadence and rhythm serving as wonderful ingredients for intriguing art. It’s almost poetic how he broke through with the Drake-assisted remix of “Tuesday”, a song about making the most of what you have, celebrating in untraditional ways. Sheran’s success was about as overnight as success could come, an unexpected joy to break-up the mundanity of the week.
Sweden is home to an alarming number of our best pop songwriters, from Robyn to Max Martin, Tove Lo to Lykke Li. So it’s about time their Danish neighbors showed us their chops as well. Enter Karen Marie Ørsted, better known under her stage name MØ. She first popped up in 2012 with the kinetic “Pilgrim,” with other singles as well as an EP released last year. But 2014 saw the release of her official debut LP, No Mythologies to Follow, a bubbly, assertive debut that is also the home of some of the year’s catchiest music.
PERFECT PUSSY’S full-fledged debut in 2014 was also one of the loudest. To the band’s credit, it’s not loud for loud’s sake, but to prove a point. Vocalist Meredith Graves, guitarist Ray McAndrew, drummer Garret Koloski, bass guitarist Greg Ambler, and keyboardist Shaun Sutkus perform with a remarkable amount of intensity, with each part coming together to create a musical wrecking ball. Graves’ vocals, while rarely audible, are not hiding their intentions. With the bullshit women must put up with on a constant basis, Perfect Pussy’s sound might be the most honest thing we heard all year.
WOMEN IN R&B have never really received a fair shake in the pop culture sphere, with only a few able to truly transcend the genre, and even then, rarely at the same time. It’s not for a lack of effort or talent, either, as artists from Jhene Aiko to Janelle Monae have been rewarded with critical praise even though their music is largely neglected by Top 40 radio programmers. Tinashe looks to be one of the genre’s best bets in gaining national acceptance, as her summer hit “2 On” continues to make waves a half year after being released. What makes her debut album Aquarius resonate so much is its ability to largely stick to R&B, making few concessions to pop music. She sounds right at home on her debut, making a compelling case for Top 40 radio to extend its reach into R&B instead of the other way around.
Tobias Jesso Jr.
LIFE HARDLY EVER goes to plan. After pursuing a musical career in Los Angeles, Tobias Jesso Jr. retreated back to his Canadian home when the city of angels didn’t answer his prayer. Ex-Girls member JR White came across a couple of Jesso Jr.’s demos, and the rest is history. “Just a Dream” and “True Love” became two of the year’s most earnest, poignant compositions, while the more recently released “Hollywood” finds the artist coming to terms with his crushing LA stay, with the hindsight of knowing this story ends with a happy ending.
TOVE LO, like many pop singers before her, has been writing pop radio hits for years. A product of Sweden’s pop music scene, Lo knows her way around a hook. Queen of the Clouds is a rare pop album that attempts to contextualize its contents, with the songs grouped in a way that mirrors the arc of a romantic relationship.
EARL SWEATSHIRT’S Doris was one of the most anticipated hip-hop albums of 2013. After the fantastic “Chum”, all anyone wanted was to hear more verses from the Odd Future member. So when he released “Hive” prior to the album’s release date, it caught many off guard that the little-known (at the time) rapper Vince Staples stole the spotlight from the main attraction. 2014 saw Staples take his star-making turn on “Hive” and extrapolate it to an EP’s worth of some of the year’s best hip-hop.
YG’s BRILLIANT 2014 began with the urban juggernaut “My Nigga”, a song that helped set the tone for the minimalist productions that would come to define the year. Pairing with DJ Mustard, My Krazy Life is a breath of fresh air during a year in which the hip-hop album “unofficially died.” Future, ScHoolboy Q, and Run The Jewels all released impressive albums this year, but it’s arguably the old-school/new-school dichotomy of YG’s 2014 release that stands as the genre’s most impressive feat.