Here we are again, completely circling around the sun, the same as it ever was like a man named Byrne once said. And perhaps you may tell yourself, these are not your beautiful lyric choices. These are not your beautiful album choices. Or maybe you aren’t telling yourself anything. In any case, so goes the same as it was in 2013, team SL opting for an alphabetical chronology of our favorite beautifuls, feeding you some of the words and sounds we just couldn’t get enough, from D’angelo‘s photo Q4 funk-sex resurrection finish to Sun Kil Moon‘s genius short story collection disguised as a record called Benji, we thank the class of 2014 below for forever questioning the ‘same’.

D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah

D'angelo - Black MessiahD’Angelo is as enigmatic as they come, a recluse who at the height of his career walked away from it all – his image fading in and out of obscurity like a ghost. He’d reemerge, crack the universe in half only to disappear again into some far off galaxy, apparently busy concocting a Bitches Brew that would make Miles Davis blush. It took fourteen years to release a follow up to Voodoo, and it was like he had never left – like Jordan coming out of retirement. It was a late drop, but it’s just like him to do something like that – to throw a fireball at you when you least expect it. And let’s be honest, at this juncture, R&B needs a Black Messiah: [LISTEN] – Jeff Min

"Back to the Future (Part 1)"

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata

freddie gibbs - pinataFreddie Gibbs is as hard as a railroad nail. Go ahead and try to bend or break him and you’ll soon find yourself with a mouthful of broken teeth. Rap saw many fickle youngsters stake their claim as the next in line and as annoying as it was there was thankfully a guy like Gibbs who grounded them, throwing down narratives at a semi automatic clip. Sure it was aggressive and violent but it was tasteful and artistic, done in a way that had many heralding him as the next Tupac, which isn’t too far off. Piñata is easily the best rap album of the year and Madlib’s contributions only adds to the lore. It’s deep and every chapter is worth pouring over multiple times: [LISTEN] – J.M.


Mac Demarco – Salad Days

Mac Demarco - Salad DaysThere is an undefinable greatness to Mac Demarco. He doesn’t look like your typical rock star, he isn’t the greatest technical musician and his lyrics are simple. So what is it? What makes him so goddamn infectious? The answer can be found within Salad Days, and it’s a relatively simple recipe. The guy feels, for better or worse, with his entire heart, and as a result you’ll either have euphoria or complete anarchy. He approaches it all with a sensibility that is honest and enlightening. He’s detached from the hullabaloo of trends and in that sense is a trailblazer. Salad Days is another step towards his salvation or destruction and it projects magically in every off kilter melody and beer-stained lyric: [LISTEN] – J.M.

"Chamber of Reflection"

Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Perfume Genius - 'Too Bright' album artSeattle’s own Mike Hadreas caught our collective attention with lead single “Queen,” a lurching, slightly bluesy thumper about out-and-proudly egging on bigots, but there was plenty more to this album than just that. A piano balladeer first and foremost, Too Bright goes through plenty of his specialty, some dark experimental stuff, and some driving synth material (but without the 80’s shtick crutch). Perhaps more importantly, Hadreas tackles issues with his body, jealousy, and more in uncomfortable detail (“I wear my body/Like a rotted peach/You can have it if/You can handle the stink”).“ As the first track reminds, though, he doesn’t have to put up with it – whether ‘it’ is his own hang-ups, a judging-yet-helping hand from religious types, or anything else in his way: [LISTEN] – Karl Ernest

"I Decline"

Royale – Abbey’s Art

royaleFairly new to the music scene, Royale has been rocking Detroit and the Metro area for the past year or so. Named in memoriam of a victim to suicide, this album is heartfelt and sincere. Each song has a different sound, but they flow together with ease. Track after track, they deliver all the grit of rock and roll, whilst tackling some heavy sentiments. But it’s cathartic, soul-searching swan song “Let Me Be,” with its folk jangle beginnings, exploding into a midwestern prairie shredder, that has us seeing glimmers of Cursive-like paths for these dudes in 2015: [LISTEN] – Yoshimi Brayne"Let Me Be"

Shovels & RopeSwimmin’ Time

Red-on-White-on-Black-WoodThis husband and wife duo continues to disprove any music-matrimony curse out there, while reminding us that artistic evolution is sojourned not by a fancy production studio, but through plain old heart, soul, and rockin’. They stick true to their fundamentals of minimal equipment, just a drum kit and a guitar, most of the time even sharing the same mic. Traditional yet thematic storytelling is something we haven’t seen a lot since the free-fall of folk and roots, but Trent and Hearst lead us back here, veined in the simplicities of Americana, cut with a more technical precision and a louder hail to the underbelly of the human condition, as heard on the title track: [LISTEN] – Betony Wenzel"Swimmin' Time"

St. Vincent – St. Vincent

St. Vincent - 'St. Vicent'album artDavid Byrne’s weirdness (and hair choices) must have rubbed off on songwriter Annie Clark during their collabs prior to this album. Her sound has changed with each new record, with various levels of Baroque influence and experimentalism, and each record came with some hits. However, her self-titled, which turns her shredding guitar into a buzzsaw synth more often than not, is the most consistent – every song hits you with hooks, grooves, and intricate sounds. The newly liberated funky heaviness certainly helps, too. She may lose some of the indie faithful that want songs for introspective wine, but it’s worth it for gems like these, which pop up everywhere: [LISTEN] – K.E.


Sun Kil Moon – Benji

homepage_large.8512d235Before Marc Kozelek confused everyone and revealed a maniacal asshole side, with that whole War on Drugs sound bleed debacle, he cut a mosaic of some of his finest narratives to date. From 10-minute opuses about watching Led Zeppelin‘s The Song Remains the Same, to his cousin getting burned alive from an aerosol can fire (“Carissa“), High Fidelity tirades about his entire sexual history (“Dogs“), threading the mundanity of eating blue crab cakes at a sports bar and going to Panera Bread between it all, there was no talk-sing poet that accomplished more than him this year, the way of beautifying some of the simplest absurdities of the emotional spectrum into something much larger. Benji‘s not a record, so much as a river-finger soundtracked collection of short stories: [LISTEN] – Gavin Paul


The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

War on DrugsThe saddest part of Kozelek’s bullying was that the WoD’s frontman, Adam Granduciel, didn’t provoke a damn thing – was even a fan of Kozelek’s – all of which said above debacle muddled the beauty of both these artist’s landmark albums this year. We shouldn’t even be allowing Kozelek’s statements to exist outside of the vacuum from which this childish comment exists, but it’s relevant to what Lost in the Dream is so absolutely not: “Beer commercial lead-guitar shit.” It is the boiling down of the zen of Bosswave these dudes have been slowly building toward in three albums, chronicling Granduciel’s spiral out of depression, the audio equivalent of kicking the shift into fifth gear and watching a horizon recede back in the past where it belongs, engine humming at 80 and loving it, Granduciel howling simple free association meditationals at the wind: [LISTEN] – G.P.

"Red Eyes"

Tobacco – Ultima II Massage

Tobacco - 'Ultima II Massage' album artThe review elites gave this a lukewarm reception but, lo and behold, HuffPost actually nailed it. BMSR’s frontman Thomas Fec’s solo project – his “id” to BMSR’s ego or, “this is the heavy shit” – has always taken the Vocoder-ed quirkiness into dark, distorted hip hop instrumental territory, compared in the past to “stoner rock with synths.” On Ultima…, his sound is more thoroughly honed than ever. Fec’s crackling synths don’t just smack you upside the head with commands to either “run” or “ride, motherfucker” (“Streaker”), they also bring a Boards of Canada-esque dose of dawn enlightenment (“Spitlord”) and everything between (“Video Warning Attempts,” “Face Breakout,” really just the whole album). Album closer “The Touch From Within” does it with the best resigned tartness, though: [LISTEN] – K.E.

"The Touch from Within"