Musicians and labels continued to struggle to find new sources of revenue in 2014, though all of your non-record-nerd friends listen to albums via Spotify. Taylor Swift, president of America's youth, made '80s pop instead of modern countrypolitan pop. Robin Thicke outed himself as a douchebag, Ex Hex helped the rest of the world discover Mary Timony's genius, and Justin Bieber dyed his hair blonde because he didn't already look enough like the woman who portrays him on Saturday Night Live.
The year also ushered in a seemingly new era for Detroit hip-hop. And it was so surreal when Trick Trick's beef with Rick Ross blew up on TMZ (don't forget the only interview he granted was to Metro Times).
You won't see Beck, St. Vincent, Run the Jewels, or the War on Drugs on our list — but that's cool, as they're on everyone else's. You'll also note we broke out a separate top 10 for Detroit music this year. As these are albums and not songs, there are notable exceptions — we wish up-and-comers such as Nique Love Rhodes or Mountains and Rainbows had released a full length, for instance. And while it may have been Danny Brown's year, Old was released in Oct. 2013.
The following records are all great and will still sound great in one thousand years — we guarantee it.
DETROIT TOP 10
1. Rebel Kind, Today (Urinal Cake)
In two years, this Ann Arbor act quietly went from a one-person project to a deadly sophisticated garage-pop trio. Their physical full-length debut is life affirming, inventive, and unpretentious, each song a delightfully non-flashy genre exercise.
2. Dej Loaf, Sell Sole (self-released)
Ms. Deja Trimble, aka DeJ Loaf, used to work in the Chrysler plant at 14 and Van Dyke. She was inspired to write her first breakout hit "Try Me" while working at Fairlane Mall. The rest of the story is all history, which you can hear on her first mixtape.
3. Theo Parrish, American Intelligence (Sound Signature)
Detroit's techno/house/groove pioneer finally blessed us with his first full length in seven years, dropping it in a deluxe, limited-edition triple LP format right at the end of the year. Plain and simple, you need this record in your weekends.
4. His Name Is Alive, Tecuciztecatl (London London)
Always serene and unique, these Livonia natives' 14th(!) album offers rich tracks with enriching instrumentation: Tecuciztecatl is, in fact, a rock opera with boogie-prog overtones and psychedelic everything.
5. Protomartyr, Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)
Thankfully, a more polished sound has done nothing to make this band any less brutal. Fans of the raw power of the Stooges will find much to appreciate here. Just don't compare these guys to Interpol, for goodness sake.
6. Outrageous Cherry, The Digital Age (Burger Records)
The first release recorded with the band's latest lineup fits in nicely with Matthew Smith's oeuvre of sparse yet out-there pop. Equally indebted to Nino Tempo and Neubauten — dare we say they sound louder than ever.
7. Bonnie Doon, Fred's House Demo (Salinas)
Bonnie Doon's debut (available online now and soon to be physically released) offers slick, jangly guitar work, memorable melodies, and songs fit for a long drive. These tracks stand up to the best offerings from the poetic wranglings of Pavement offshoot the Silver Jews.
8. Various, Shady XV (Shady)
This two-album set features 15 years of Shady artists, highlighting the best of each era, along with all-new work by label artists, among them Trick Trick, DeJ Loaf, Danny Brown, Royce da 5'9", and Mr. Porter.
9. Blaire Alise & the Bombshells, For My Darlin' (self-released)
A lot of confidence can go a long way, and here, the Bombshells have it in spades — offering their studious and timeless take on bubblegum. We can't wait to hear what's next.
10. Timmy Vulgar, Genetic Armageddon (American Tapes)
This might actually be the best record of the year, period. But it's also a bizarre, sloppily assembled, one-sided release of aggressively psychedelic sci-fi bedroom synthesizer punk, issued in an edition of 300 copies.
THE BEYOND-DETROIT TOP 10
1. FKA Twigs, LP1 (Young Turks)
The artist formerly known as Twigs blew us away with her strange and sexy deconstructed pop. Fans of nocturnal, futuristic R&B like late-career Aaliyah, the Weeknd, or the XX will find lots to love on this innovative record.
2. Grouper, Ruins (Kranky)
If you do that beautiful/sad combination, then you need to hear Liz Harris aka Grouper's first real foray from behind her walls of delay and distortion effects, and out into the shadows — the depressingly lovely shadows.
3. Delay, Circle Changes (Salinas)
This Columbus, Ohio, trio has a knack for hooks, and they're arguably pop punk's best-kept secret. Here, unlike previous albums, they slow things down a bit, but keep the melodies flowing with infectious james like "Haze," "Endless," and "Been Good."
4. Aphex Twin, Syro (Warp)
Richard James' first album in 13 years is a bit a departure — not in how weird it is, but actually how tame it is for the artist's standards. That said, Syro doesn't disappoint, mixing a number of electronic styles into a dense record with tons of replay value.
5. Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else (Bloodshot)
On the one hand, Lydia's got a huge sound that, in a just world, would make her the queen of country. On the other hand, there are enough references to doing blow, gay 19th century poets, and punk rock to keep that from ever happening.
6. Ty Segall, Manipulator (Drag City)
Here, the garage pop wunderkind goes directly for that huge, warm, high-energy analog sound of '70s Bowie, Slade and T. Rex records, making the sound bow down to his own inventive and sly style. It rules, and you should also buy one for your dad.
7. Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear (Monkey Puzzle)
Empowering, haunting, emotionally gut-wrenching — this is the woman who is behind so much good music it's unreal. She's written songs for Eminem, Madonna, Celine Dion, and Beyoncé, but 1000 Forms is all hers, and it's all beautiful.
8. Various, The Soul of Designer Records (Big Ugly Mess)
Designer was a small label in Memphis, Tenn., that released a lot of small gospel acts in the 1970s, mostly as 45s. This set, which packs CDs into an LP-style sleeve, is raw, funky, and revelatory. A handful of tracks by Detroit artists appear, plus the liners were written by Kresge fellow Mike Hurtt.
9. Iceage, Plowing Into the Field of Love (Matador)
It's hard to believe this foursome began cranking out songs that resonated worldwide while they were still in high school. A far cry from their noisy 2011 debut, the Denmark-based band bridges out into new territory here, with weirder arrangements and even better songcraft.
10. Tweens, Tweens (Frenchkiss)
Tweens' self-titled effort features more than enough lines that will lodge themselves in your ear for days. The album is a real boost, like a hot cup of coffee in the morning.