Although last year I was correct in naming ten albums that did in fact drop in 2013, compiling this list still feels like a bit of a fool’s errand. We had fairly random surprise album announcements from My Bloody Valentine, Boards of Canada, Kanye, Jay-Z and (very recently) Beyoncé that make my list last year look ‒ while accurate ‒ ignorant to many of the year’s biggest releases. I’m going to remain fairly conservative in compiling this list. Sure, maybe The Avalanches will finally release a follow-up to 2000’s Since I Left You (as reported pretty convincingly in June ‒ but we’ve been burned before). No, I wouldn’t be shocked if Radiohead sprung an album on us out of nowhere as they did in 2011 (or, more likely, solo work from Yorke). It’s impossible to predict all releases with any certainty. That said, there are a handful of near-definite 2014 releases that look to make it a quality year for music. 2013 was an incredible year for pop music, something that might have been hard to divine at the outset of the year. 2014 is still pretty hard to pin down ‒ but I guess that’s the exciting part, right?
Honorable Mentions: new albums from Broken Bells, Beck, Schoolboy-Q, CHVRCHES, Robyn, Adele, The New Pornographers, EMA
Caribou’s last record, Swim, was one of my favorites from 2010. While Dan Snaith’s ho-hum 2012 release, Jiaolong, had only a few standout tracks, I remain excited by just about anything he releases. Snaith’s typical process in creating an album is to work with various raw pieces ‒ rhythmic elements, bits of songs, etc. ‒ and then put them together into something more whole. Caribou’s three albums (I’m arbitrarily not counting his releases under the band name Manitoba, though many consider 2003’s Up In Flames to be a Caribou record) have all varied record to record and the hope is that he can craft something in the sweet middle ground between dancey and compositionally lush.
9. James Blake & Chance the Rapper
James Blake and 2013 hip-hop golden boy Chance the Rapper are in the midst of an adorable bromance. They’ve moved into an LA apartment together with a studio nearby and have teased a collaboration with the release of “Life Round Here,” a Blake track featuring Chance. While I wasn’t over the moon about Acid Rap, I was a big fan of Blake’s Overgrown, especially his collaboration with a much more experienced rap icon: RZA. With RZA’s verse, “Take a Fall for Me” from Overgrown proved that Blake is extremely skillful in working with rappers. A collaboration between these two has the chance (no pun intended, I swear) to be some of the year’s best.
8. St. Vincent
St. Vincent, the critically-adored project of professional badass Annie Clark, gave us one of the best albums of 2011: Strange Mercy. Since then, she’s collaborated with David Byrne (another badass) on a record, been a hilarious guest on the podcast Comedy Bang Bang, and released the first single from her new album, which will drop in February. Although “Birth in Reverse,” the first single, didn’t blow me away, I remain fascinated by the direction Clark seeks to move in with this record (she dubs its a “party album you could play at a funeral”). It could be a glorious triumph or a fascinating mess.
Pharrell was at the center of most of the songs you loved in 2013, so 2014 is just about the perfect time for the star producer to release a solo record (his first since 2006). Although little is known about the album’s sound besides its first single, “Happy,” you can imagine it’s going to be a, well, happy album. Even if “Blurred Lines” was creepy, most of what Pharrell produced this year was enjoyable, forget-your-worries dance music so his album will likely follow suit.
6. Modest Mouse
Kind of crazy to think that Modest Mouse hasn’t released a new full-length album since 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. That album’s modest quality and their subsequent inactivity (aside from a 2009 EP) might explain my initial lack of interest at the thought of a new Modest Mouse album. But it looks like they might be putting quite a bit into this one. Back in 2011, Big Boi tweeted that he and Modest Mouse were collaborating (though it’s unknown whether or not any of the fruits of their “brainstormin’” session made the album). Earlier this year it was announced that Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic would play on the new album. So there are quite a few moving parts at work with this album, hopefully making for something intriguing.
Merrill Garbus is fun to have on the music scene, even if her quotes can feel a bit self-consciously “out there.” Her 2011 debut whokill garnered deserved critical acclaim, showing undeniable flashes of brilliance amid interesting misfires. Her upcoming album, named Sink-O, was influenced by her recent trip to Haiti (wait, is she in Arcade Fire?) and is teased as being “chaotic” (really, is she in Arcade Fire?). Garbus is one of a few artists this year who could make a leap critically and commercially with their sophomore albums.
4. Fleet Foxes
This may be the biggest gamble on the list. Fleet Foxes, with the departure of Josh Tillman and the apparent evaporation of frontman Robin Pecknold’s public persona, have undergone quite a bit of tumult since 2011’s satisfying Helplessness Blues. There were even internet grumblings that the band was just about done. But a couple cryptic Facebook posts and the band’s trend of releases every three years make it seem fairly likely we’ll see a new album in 2014. It also seems likely that we’ll see a new band, possibly deviating from their trademark indie folk and moving in a more electronic direction. Deviation or no, a quality album from Fleet Foxes is something I could use in the new year.
3. TV on the Radio
TV on the Radio has not only never made a bad album, but they’ve also made two legitimately great rock albums. So any release from these guys deserves attention no matter what. Furthermore, this is the band’s first album since the untimely passing of band member Gerard Smith in April of 2011 and since leaving Interscope Records. They also released the electrifying single “Mercy,” a song that was one of the stars of my running playlist this summer.
Grimes, the 25-year-old electronic wunderkind, topped many critics’ lists in 2012, but it appears she wants to move up a level musically with her next release. As producer she hopes to make something “of professional quality.” So it’s safe to predict that this album will sound gorgeous production-wise. Visions put forth a very distinctive sound for Boucher, so it will be worth monitoring whether or not she can build off of the style she’s already nearly perfected.
1. Kanye West
Although I wasn’t as evangelical about Yeezus as others and may not be in love with the direction Kanye seems to be heading in, it was still a fascinating, triumphant year for Mr. West. Kanye says this album will be even more sparse than Yeezus, containing only eight songs. Part of me longs for his more densely packed albums from the mid-to-late 2000s, yet his willingness to experiment and reinvent himself over and over is what makes him one of the most magnetic artists of his generation and an easy choice for the top of this list.