2014 was a pretty terrible year for music. That’s not to say there weren’t great albums; but there were few blockbusters. This is probably the norm for music now, so let’s just embrace it. Of course, that means that under-the-radar gems shine a little less brightly, since what’s on the radar isn’t commanding much attention.
This year critics seemed to love albums by The War on Drugs, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Sharon Van Etten, and, for some strange reason, Beck. Lana Del Rey even received some love. But the following artists have remained forgotten here at the end of the year. I couldn’t find a single top ten list that included any of these. You may be able to, but for the sake of this post’s title, pretend you can’t.
March on Washington, Diamond District: Mainstream rap laid an egg in 2014, both in terms of album sales and social consciousness. All the shit going down around the country surrounding protests against injustice and literally no one spoke out. It was up to former underground titans like Killer Mike and El-P and to current underground up-and-comers Diamond District to carry the torch. The power to catch your attention was in their lyrics to conjure images of corrupt politicians and angry 99-percenters. But the power to keep you hooked rested firmly in their grimy, old-school beats which conjure images of rap’s heyday as the vanguard of social unrest.
English Oceans, Drive-By Truckers: DBT are perennial underdogs, even though they’ve had a long career as a beloved southern rock band. They just can’t seem to break on through to the other side past their loyal fans to the critical mass. Critics are forever underrating their albums, and while DBT hadn’t made a great album for about five years, English Oceans fit right in next to their best. It’s criminal that people didn’t notice. Sometimes longevity is your worst enemy, because people get so used to you that they forget you haven’t had your moment yet.
Electric Ursa, Joan Shelley: The singer-songwriter album of the year belongs to Sharon Van Etten, but Electric Ursa is a close second. On Are We There, Van Etten reached new emotional depths with an expanded palette of production. On Electric Ursa, Shelley kept things simple, not by keeping things acoustic or foregoing distinctive production, but by focusing on spare storytelling. Details were scarce in her hypnotic voice, but what she did reveal was captivating.
Fantasize, Kye Kye: My feelings on mainstream Christian music are well-documented (in short: don’t like it). So when I find a band that’s even mildly interesting, I tend to overreact and hail it as the next great Christian band. Kye Kye wasn’t like that; Fantasize was a legitimately engrossing experience. Swathed in synths and drowning in longing, this album by Kye Kye’s Estonian siblings had a knack for getting under your skin and forcing you to consider the ramifications of your own unfulfilled desires.
Wild Onion, Twin Peaks: In a year that saw ostensible indie band The War on Drugs releasing the album of the year and artists like Spoon and Ryan Adams solidifying their place among rock’s older generation, it’s hard to parse through all the bands and determine what qualifies as “indie rock” or not. I think Twin Peaks qualified. They’re on an independent label, but that hardly matters anymore; it’s more important that no one was talking about Wild Onion. How an album of indie rock that drew on everything that used to define that phrase went unnoticed is beyond me.
Three Underrated Songs
“She Looks So Perfect”, 5 Seconds of Summer: I know “Fancy” and “Problem” were the official songs of the summer, but why did we have to forget about this one? I’m still obsessed with this 5SOS song. The main thing that lifts it above either of those other summer anthems? The lack of any terrible featured rap verses.
“NRG”, Duck Sauce: If you didn’t hear this song in 2014, do yourself a favor: Move your furniture. Carve about three hours out of your day. Play this on a loop. Forget about everything else.
“Hold On”, Lakes: Lakes’ Fire Ahead could have easily been in the above list of underrated albums. But “Hold On” was its best song as well as a song that deserved a wider audience. It’s an old-fashioned story about a self-destructive chorus reminiscent of a Steve Miller Band, complete with the unforgettable chorus.