YOUTH Radio: Top 25 Albums of 2014

by Amy Karp

Hello and happy New Year, youthlings! As we enter the new year of 2015, let us take a moment to reflect on the greatest albums of 2014. What follows are my rankings of the top 25 albums of the past year. I would like to say outright that I have never heard a song by Charli XCX, do not know the name of Sam Smith’s album, or think that St. Vincent’s robotic demeanor is intriguing. This is a completely subjective but totally ballin’ list. Please enjoy(:

25. Weezer- Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Genre: power pop, alternative rock, punk/pop
You’ve heard “Island in the Sun,” now listen to “Back to the Shack”

Who doesn’t love a good comeback? Rivers Cuomo and the gang are back for their 10th studio album and it's their best work since The Green Album (2001).  It is more of the same, but that’s not a bad thing—Everything Will Be Alright in the End is what is essentially Weezer.

24. Lykke Li- I Never Learn

Genre: dream pop, indie pop, alternative rock
You’ve heard “I Follow Rivers,” now listen to “No Rest for the Wicked”

Lykke Li’s third album is simple, yet full of emotion and heartache. It does not compare to her incredible previous albums, Youth Novels and Wounded Rhymes, but is easy to fall for once you start listening.

23. Kid Cudi- Satellite Flight

Genre: rap, instrumental, alternative hip-hop
You’ve heard “Pursuit of Happiness,” now listen to “Balmain Jeans”

We’ve known for a while that Kid Cudi operates on a different wavelength than the rest of us. This surprise release is less of a full, complete album and more of a look into the complex puzzle that is his brain. While many fans used this album as an excuse to give up on Kid Cudi because “there are too many instrumentals” and “he’s not even rapping,” I chose to look on the bright side—this album captures one of the greatest minds of our generation.

22. YG- My Krazy Life
 Genre: gangster rap, west coast hip-hop  You’ve heard “Who Do You Love,” now listen to “Sorry Momma”      

YG, a rapper who represents the resurgence of religionism in rap music, a movement originating in LA (YG hails from Compton), has created, along with DJ Mustard, an album of incredible depth. My Krazy Life possesses party anthems, tales of the gangster lifestyle, love songs, and everything in between. P.S. The lame ‘K’ in crazy in the title  does not reflect the album's spirit; just try and move past it like I did. You won’t regret it. 

21. Shady Records- Shady XV

Genre: hip-hop, rap
 You’ve heard: “Lose Yourself,” now listen to: “Guts Over Fear”

Whether or you love Eminem or not, most people agree he is an incredible lyricist and one of the most talented rappers of all time. So, even though this record is no The Eminem Show, it's still impressive as hell and includes lots of songs that border on perfection (others don’t). Always repping Detroit and his label, Shady Records, Eminem shares this album with bad Meets Evil, the rest of D12, Obie Trice, 50 Cent, Slaughterhouse, and Yelawolf—a perfect accompaniment to disc 2 of the record, a greatest hits album.

20. FKA Twigs- LP1
Genre: indie R&B (the face of indie R&B!)
 You’ve heard: “Two Weeks,” now listen to: “Pendulum”

FKA Twigs is the pop princess you’ve been missing in your life and lucky for everyone she has finally wandered into the mainstream with LP1. The album has immediate likeability and a sense of delicacy and beauty that only FKA Twigs could accomplish. (&Hey, Robert Pattinson likes her too)

19. Skrillex- Recess

Genre: dubstep, electronic
You’ve heard: “Bangarang,” now listen to: “Fuck That”

I do not listen to dubstep as a general rule, but I listen to Skrillex, especially this album. He makes the genre approachable in a way that not many other DJs can achieve. The only downside is that after you give the album a listen you are going to be sad you’ve never been to a Skrillex concert.

18. Young the Giant- Mind Over Matter
Genre: alternative rock, indie rock
You’ve heard: “Cough Syrup,” now listen to: “Mind Over Matter”

I have always found Young the Giant to be outrageously pretentious, and this album is no exception. However, Mind Over Matter didn’t make the arrogant attitude as likeable as they did in their debut album. That doesn’t change the fact that the band consistently delivers incredible sound with Sameer’s soothing, velvety voice and incredible instrumentals.

17. Pharrell- G I R L

Genre: hip hop, funk, R&B
You’ve heard: “Happy” (a million times), now listen to: “Hunter”
This is a different Pharrell than the effortlessly cool one we knew back in his N.E.R.D days, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk, JoJo, Alicia Keys, and Justin Timberlake all contribute to making an album as happy as “Happy” without being as annoying. Nothing extraordinary, but definitely fun.

16. The War on Drugs- Lost in the Dream
Genre: pop/rock, alternative rock, indie rock
You’ve heard: “Red Eyes,” now listen to “Suffering”

This album is the classic alt album. It’s emotional, kind of depressing, and includes chill instruments behind Adam Granduciel’s smooth, raspy voice. The thing that makes it stand out is its message. It captures Granduciel figuring out the problems in his life, which makes for a very real story throughout the album. When you’re in a bad mood the lyrics are oh-so relatable and when you’re in a chill mood its mellow sound and vibes are also good. Just don’t try and listen to it when you are in a good mood. It will ruin your day.

15. Ab-Soul- These Days…

Genre- west coast hip-hop, rap
You’ve heard: “Illuminate,” now listen to: “Hunnid Stax”
Ab-Soul possesses the smoothest flow in all of hip-hop right now. His voice is a lullaby in itself. He has been popular underground for a while, always the underdog (especially in group TDE with Kendrick and ScHoolboy Q), and any day now will thrust into the mainstream. This album really reflects this turning point in his life. Every song is good, but the album is full of potential rather than really solid, interesting songs. Ab-Soul is going to be doing great things very soon. He has the talent to be more than just ScHoolboy and Kendrick’s sidekick.

14. Jack White- Lazaretto
Genre: alternative rock, garage rock, blues rock
You’ve heard: “Love Interruption”, now listen to: “Would You Fight For My Love?”

There are so many elements in Lazaretto, that come together in a great way—Jack’s voice, the instruments, particularly White’s guitar skills, the stories, the variation from song to song, and the emotion. The way White is so raw, witty, and moving has made for one of the greatest break-up albums of all time. Although at times as a 16 year old the album feels a little dated and irrelevant, I can appreciate that a ton of the songs are classics. Also, you can jam out to the more alt songs, Lazaretto and Would You Fight For My Love, at any age.

13. Flying Lotus- You’re Dead!
Genre: experimental electronic, hip hop
You’ve heard: “Never Catch Me ft. Kendrick Lamar”, now listen to: “Coronus, the Terminator” 

Experimental, electronic, futuristic jazz that sometimes features rappers is the only way to describe Flying Lotus’ truly one-of-a-kind sound. He uses the computer as much as the trumpet and the result is completely cohesive. But beware: if you don’t like Flying Lotus, you're REALLY not into him. There is no in-between—-you are either with it or you aren’t. If you dig it the music can transcend into a whole new dimension, a dream world, but if you don’t it's more like being in a nightmare. To me, though, that is part of the appeal; Flying Lotus is testing people’s limits and figuring out how far he can go to see if he can change the perception of good music. Definitely someone that we need to keep an eye out for in the New Year.

12.  Ariana Grande- My Everything

Genre: pop, R&B
You’ve heard: “The Way,” now listen to: “Break Your Heart Right Back”

     Very simply, Ariana Grande is the only good female pop star on the mainstream radar right now. The killer-voice-catchy-interesting-songs-cute-face combo is all I really ask for from female pop stars and Grande goes above and beyond these expectations in My Everything. Co-writing all of her songs, Grande proves she isn’t just another puppet of the music industry. Not to mention, her voice is strong even when it is unbelievably high (which is, like, half the time). Her range can be compared to Mariah Carey’s killer vocals and she is said to be a diva just the same. It is also completely genius of her to feature some of the most famous rappers in the game right now, her BF, Big Sean, Childish Gambino, A$AP Ferg, Iggy Azaela (I mean, ew, but still), and other huge stars, The Weeknd, Zedd, and Cashmere Cat. Bravo, Ariana. Keep doing what you’re doing. 

11. Logic- Under Pressure
Genre: hip-hop, pop-rap
You’ve heard: “Under Pressure,” now listen to “I’m Gone”

There is a very good chance that I am incredibly partial to Logic because we have held hands multiple times. He was the opening act at the Kid Cudi concert, and since I was fortunate enough to be in the dead center of the front row and the only one standing up (I felt bad about his lack of fans) he kept coming back to me. NBD. Aside from that though, I was as equally intrigued by his lyrics and style then as I am every time I listen to Under Pressure. Logic takes us on a journey through his life. Even though he hates to admit it Logic still has a lot to prove but manages to sell the cocky-confident mindset. He reminds me of a young Drake circa 2010 by the catchy hooks and choruses and simple beats that really compliment what he is trying to say. At this stage in his career, that the album encompasses, he is contemplating the benefits of being rich and famous, while still reflecting on his rough upbringings and worrying that he is losing sight of the person he used to be sure he was, hence he is feeling ‘under pressure’. Not an original topic, but the delivery is exceptional.

10.  ScHoolboy Q- Oxymoron
Genre: gangster rap, west coast hip hop
You’ve heard: “Collard Greens,” now listen to: “Los Awesome”

When listening to Oxymoron, you will be convinced that ScHoolboy Q is single-handedly reviving gangster rap in the best way and at the same time making a name in a big way for the west coast with fellow TDE members, Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul. He is consistent through the whole album and it never gets boring, regardless of the pace of the song, which varies a lot in the album. The previous oxy addict and pimp (yes, an actual pimp that, like, has prostitutes) raps about his life and being a gangster and for the most part it’s really exciting. “Man of the Year,” “Los Awesome,” and “Break the Bank” are just fun to listen to because of his smooth flow, exceptional lyrics, and the fast beats. There are also a lot of slower more thoughtful tracks (where the oxy addict part comes into play) that really bring on the feels. His daughter’s voice asking him what’s wrong when he is passed out on Prescription/Oxymoron breaks my heart, but at the same time it’s motivating and insightful because he got over the addiction. It’s the perfect balance between the party vibes and his harder persona, and overall a very special album.

9. Future Islands- Singles

Genre: synthpop, indie
You’ve heard: “Seasons,” now listen to: “Sun in the Morning”

Lead vocalist Samuel T. Herring’s voice has this gravelly tone that is so mesmerizing, beautiful, and painful at the same time that he could be singing anything and I’d be 100 percent on board. Accompanied by an incredible electronic indie rock beat, Future Islands has invented an entirely new, unique sound of melancholy lyrics over an upbeat, synth, and hopeful beat that gives the listener a sense of optimism regardless of the gloomy lyrics. The group is not just synthpop though. In “Spirit,” for example, there is a predominantly reggae sound. Listening to the whole album, you’ll understand that the album isn’t merely songs being played back to back but a full story. It tells the tale of a toxic relationship where the man (presumably Herring) and his partner have a relationship that can be defined by both the phrase “My sun, every morning/My star of the evening /My moon, always beaming” from “Sun in the Morning and” "Nothing hurts this much" from “Light House.” The man is constantly trying to leave the relationship (and so is his partner) but knows he can’t despite the rise in disappointment and anger he is feeling as the album progresses because of the tragic and painful way the pair loves each other. In “A Dream of You and Me,” the last song of the album, the listener gets a sense that maybe everything will be okay for the two after all, and they will be able to move on from one another. The perfect ending to a beautiful album.

8. Childish Gambino- Kauai

Genre: hip-hop, “black rock”, R&B
You’ve heard: “3005,” now listen to: “Retro [ROUGH]”

I guess its time for everyone to understand that Gambino is here to stay and that he only keeps getting better. Kauai, just a simple 7-song album, borders on perfection. Gambino uses an element of experimentation in each song that really pays off. Cameos from Christian Rich, Steven G Lover III, and Jaden Smith, Gambino’s beautiful singing voice, and really simple but noteworthy beats that complement the lyrics perfectly, make for a really groovy, low-key experience. The majority of what he seems to talk about in the album is simple love on the beach in Hawaii. We don’t need anything more than that. A lot of music isn’t simple and relaxing enough, because it seems like everyone has something to prove. He is over needing to prove himself as a rapper (finally) and sings as much as he raps. He has crossed genre lines and does what he once described as “black rock.” What he is doing in his music right now is so far off from every other rapper, that if he weren’t so smart and witty, no one would buy into it. It is even entirely different from what he was doing just last year on Because the Internet.  But he is smart, arguably one of the smartest MCs in rap right now, which allows him to so effortlessly change his style and be just as good. Each song stands alone as completely impressive but when they are put together in order, they become even more remarkable, just flowing into one another.

7. Hozier- Hozier

Genre: indie rock, soul, blues, R&B, Folk
 You’ve heard: “Take Me to Church,” now listen to: “Like Real People Do”

A debut album being this good all around is practically unheard of, especially from an artist who gained fame from YouTube. You may ask how can someone be both R&B and folk, but Hozier accomplishes the task flawlessly, as if it is completely natural for him and it is. The way the songs, though each so different from one another in style and vibe, flow together shows remarkable maturity for such a young, untested artist and also makes his music so, dare I say, timeless. He has a sound unlike any other well-known artist right now, and that is because through his authenticity and mesmerizing, sometimes haunting, voice (&beautiful face) he managed to make soul and blues relevant again. I swear, he is the reincarnation of folk music. Part of what makes him great is the inspiration he draws from his unique lifestyle growing up. Growing up in the Catholic Church in Ireland, Hozier has had quite the love-hate relationship with the church (He describes the way he feels about the church as “somewhere between love and abuse” in “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene”), which is a major influence on every song on the album. This intelligent, objective view on something so important to him makes itself evident in his music when he has the gospel choir playing in the background of “Work Song” while talking about alcoholism, death, and a broken relationship. Overall, Hozier is a truly notable talent and incredible human, and he does it all while rocking a man bun.

6. Bear Hands- Distraction

Genre: experimental rock, indie rock, post-punk
You’ve heard “Giants,” now listen to: “Sleeping on the Floor”

Okay, so I’ve seen Bear Hands in concert 3 times, and I was definitively the biggest fan in the crowd twice (or at least I fan-girled the hardest and sang and danced too much). My point being that Bear Hands is too good for you to not listen to them. They are slowly getting their songs “Giants” and “Agora” out on the radio, but the band has so much more to offer than those two songs, trust me. Dylan Rau, the lead singer, is just so good at sing-talking and in general all the time. His voice carries every song into excellence paired with the very 80s era-esqe synth, keyboard, and classic guitaring and drumming. Some of the songs like “Sleeping on the Floor” and “Party Hats” sound as if they could be straight out of that era. Their sound is one that isn’t common in today’s alternative music and they have nailed the whole post-punk thing. I can accept that punk is dead, but some bands can’t and it ends up paying off; Bear Hands is one of these bands. It is so awesome that a group of such dorky guys can make music with such an edge and confidence. That is the essence in which alternative music was made; it was made for the weirdos and the outcasts. That is Bear Hands. The subject of the songs is a very classic 20-something year old mind set, betrayal, drug use/addiction, not knowing what you are doing, and love. The band members are just really normal hipster guys who can put a really dope arrangement together, and that is the beauty of Bear Hands.

5. Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels 2

You’ve heard: “Run the Jewels,” now listen to “Lie, Cheat, Steal”
Genre: experimental hip-hop, rap
      Everything that was great in Run the Jewels (which is a lot) has been stepped up on Run The Jewels 2. RTJ2 is bigger, better, and hits harder than the first. The raw lyrics and sense of restlessness, urgency and a lot of the time straight up hostility in Killer Mike and El-P’s voices on top of the incredible beats that the pair lays on every track makes for a sound that is on a whole other level. The straight-forwardness in their lyrics is so intriguing. On “Jeopardy,” Killer Mike yells "So fuck you fuckboys forever, I hope I said it politely/ And that's about the psyche of Jaime and Mikey," which is just a good example of the way the whole album goes in that regard. Shit talking at it’s finest. Possibly the best part about Run the Jewels though, is that El-P and Mike have such natural chemistry. They’re both the bad guys but have different styles and different voices that compliment each other so well. There’s Killer Mike who is more grounded, aggressive, and blunt, and then there’s El-P who is aggressive and angry but is able to have a little more fun and is a little lighter. And the manner in which they talk about relevant social issues like Mike Brown and Donald Sterling is so refreshing. They’re just yelling their opinion in your face and its wonderful. On “Crown,” Mike talks about selling drugs to a pregnant woman, the police shoving a gun in his wife’s face, and El-P discusses his feelings about gun violence. This album is what rap and music in general has been missing.

4. Broken Bells- After the Disco

Genre: indie rock, space rock, pop/rock
You’ve heard: “Holding on For Life,” now listen to: “Lazy Wonderland”

James Mercer, the mastermind behind the Shins, and producer/artist, Danger Mouse, have teamed up to create something even greater than all of their previous ventures combined, and trust me, they’ve had really impressive careers. I imagine it would be hard for two geniuses and complete opposites (ya know, opposites attract) to create something bad, but the two go above and beyond any expectations I had. The always mesmerizing, light, and beautiful Broken Bells has created a masterpiece with After the Disco. The two work so effortlessly well together with Mercer producing lovely melodies while Danger Mouse layers them with strings, piano, and synth. The album is incredibly mellow but the songs still manage to be really insightful and even uplifting despite the desolate, sad nature to a lot of the song. Overall it has one vibe, but after listening to in on vinyl where you have to turn it over for the different halves of the album, I have gotten a really good sense of how different the two parts are. The first talks more about the empty broken part of life that creeps up on us when we least expect it and the latter is faster and more forceful; he has a point that he is trying his hardest to get across in each song. Mercer is constantly observing and concluding, such as “you think hurting give you license/ To do anything you want” from “Medicine” or “You're trying not to look so/Young and miserable/ You gotta get your kicks while you can” off “Holding on For Life”, which makes for a really interesting format for the album. From the first track, “Perfect World,” to the last, “The Remains of Rock and Roll” the album has you hooked.

3. Alt-J- This Is All Yours
Genre: indie rock, art rock, experimental rock
You’ve heard: “Breezeblocks,” now listen to: “Nara”

This Is All Yours is more or less a continuation of their debut album, An Awesome Wave, even using some of the same lyrics and making part 2 of the song, “Bloodflood.” They kept the great qualities that are essentially ‘Alt-J’ in this album—the multi-instrumentalist blends layered with Joe Newman’s unbelievable vocals—but took it a step further. It’s more introspective, deeper, and gives us a better look into the band members’ complicated perspectives. This is All Yours starts on the track “Intro” which makes the listener feel like they are being transported to ‘Nara,’ a city in Japan that has a lot of deer running freely around it. But the actual city isn’t important; the idea behind Nara is that it represents a place where people can feel free to be themselves is what is vital to the album. The concept of this Utopia makes sense with the rest of the album because of the themes of love and freedom and the predominately whimsical instrumentals. Songs like “Nara” and “Hunger of the Pine,” make the listener really feel like they are in that world, while “Pusher” and “Bloodflood pt. 2,” the two songs before they leave Nara explore the more negative side of things, which is likely the band realizing that thing is Nara aren’t as perfect as they once thought. If it were, why would they leave? But then there is the anomaly on the album, “Left Hand Free,” a song made for the radio and as kind of a joke for the band in 20 minutes. It shows that even though it is a great song, Alt-J is trying harder to appear to mass audiences rather than the people in their large cult following which would be sort of disappointing if the song wasn’t so great and catchy. And I know it frustrates a lot of people that you cannot always tell what Newman’s saying all the time, but that’s one of my favorite things about the band. The ambiguity really lets the instruments speak for themselves, and it makes the voice become more of an instrument. The album comes together beautifully with all the different vibes from song to song. Alt-J truly outdid themselves and they are only going to keep getting better.

2. Foster the People- Supermodel

Genre: indie pop, alternative rock, alternative dance, indietronica
You’ve heard: “Pumped Up Kicks,” now listen to: “Goats in Trees”

SUPERMODEL IS WITHOUT A DOUBT THE MOST UNDERRATED ALBUM OF THE YEAR. The fact that a lot of people and critics do not understand the brilliance behind Foster the People and Supermodel actually makes me angry. They are my favorite band of all time, which means that I know for a fact that they aren't bad at all. I will even promise that to you. They past the test of a great album, which is that every song can stand alone excellently, but they are even better together. Okay now that that’s out of my system, I can start my review. The thing about Mark Foster is that he will never make two songs the same way. It bores him, and, therefore, he would rather explore different types of styles. I have always seen this as a positive thing because honestly what is more boring than a band that has 12 songs on an album that are all so similar, you get them confused with each other? If you were hoping for a sequel to Torches, you, like the critics, will be disappointed. It isn’t a continuation but rather a different story altogether, a better story even. Supermodel is Mark Foster’s coming of age story; he is deciding what he does and does not believe in and struggling with that. He’s confronting his demons and trying, but for the most part not succeeding, to come out unscathed. Every song has a hard-hitting emotional aspect to it that Mark Foster does oh-so-well. Even “Best Friend” which is a total dance jam, has a sad message behind it—his friend’s drug addiction. The album takes you on a journey through his thought process. At first he is just wondering if his life is going on the right track. "Are You What You Want To Be" and "Ask Yourself" are the songs where he is just beginning to unravel but by "Goats in Trees" and "The Truth," the end of the album, everything he used to know has changed and he is trying to come to terms with it. The greatest lines are probably "I've been trying/ so hard not to be like them/ I have found they don't ever say what they mean" from "The Truth." The greatest aspect of the album is that while it's more dramatic than what people like me go through on a day to day basis, every song can be relatable on bad days and good days, and all the songs have a charm that only Foster the People could manage.  

1. Lana Del Rey- Ultraviolence

Genre: baroque pop, psychedelic rock, dream pop
You’ve heard: “Summertime Sadness,” now listen to “Sad Girl”

It’s not common that an album that is so good on the first listen becomes so much better every time you hear it again. Every additional time I hear a song, another piece of the story and brilliance is revealed to me. But before understanding anything else about the album, on the first listen, the dramatic melody immediately hits you, as does the infectious way Lana Del Rey’s voice flourishes and expands within the first 10 seconds on the first track “Cruel World,” and you are already hooked. But Ultraviolence has much more to offer than that. The lyrics that seem so simple in the way slowly delivers them are actually super complicated and part of the much larger story she’s telling. Every song hits hard and conveys a sense of sorrow and intensity. This album fits more than perfectly into the puzzle of the time period, the mid 20th century, that Lana is completely obsessed with and sings about through the whole album. Ultraviolence is thematic without becoming one long bore that just drones on and on. The little details in each song set them apart and keep them interesting.  She puts herself in the place of the women used and forgotten about by the greats of the time, The Beetles, Lou Reed, The Who, and Hemingway etc. It’s the perspective that nobody’s ever heard and she tells it so well. Ultraviolence is filled to the brim with melodrama, intensity, and dysfunction. Within those qualities, though, is where Del Rey excels and why the album always gets better. On the title track, “Ultraviolence,” she talks about being so in love with the man who abuses her—“He Hit Me And It Felt Like a Kiss”—and on “Sad Girl” it’s completely enthralling when she unhurriedly gets out “I'm a sad girl, I'm a bad girl, I'm a bad girl.” That’s the reason so many people are completely taken by her. She has an alluring way about her that is ever-present on every track on the album. So, whether or not you liked Born To Die or not has nothing to do with if you will enjoy Ultraviolence. Where Born To Die tried to sound current while being obsessed with the icons of the past, Ultraviolence is full of sprawling ballads reminiscent of the 60’s and focuses on the darker sides of those icons. Lana makes the artificial characters she sings about seem completely authentic, possibly the biggest feat of the album. These aforementioned qualities are why Ultraviolence is decidedly the best album of 2014. 

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