Most year-end “Best of” lists are about wrapping up the year in a tidy bow and moving on, this list celebrates amazing albums that deserve new fans, continued spins and deeper listening long into 2015 and beyond.
If this list missed your favorites, add them in the comments section below — and be sure to check out the faves of Rob Smith in the Vinyl Diaries and DW Dunphy’s Music Wrap. See also, our list of the year’s essential reissues.
Why separate rock and pop albums? Same reason the Golden Globes separates Drama and Comedy. Comedies rarely get Oscar nods and barely ever win. Rock is about thunder, fury, angst and catharsis. Pop is about joy, love, sex, slow dancing and booty shaking. So here we go…
Best ROCK Albums of 2014
#1: Against Me! • Transgender Dysphoria Blues
My personal Top 10 History: New Wave (#1 in 2007), White Crosses (#1 in 2010), Black Crosses (#6 in 2011)
From her emergence in a 2012 issue of Rolling Stone to her 2014 AOL series True Trans, a lot of hype has been focused on the gender journey of singer/songwriter/force of nature Laura Jane Grace. Not enough attention has been on the music. Granted, a concept album about a transgender prostitute had a huge propensity to suck — and an even bigger potential to become a Showtime series. Instead, Grace delivered the most melodic and ferocious album of her career. 10 ammo blasts in less than 28 minutes was all she needed to make a generation defining statement, give voice to a no-longer-silent population, piss off the ignorant and break up her band. Thankfully, the new line-up emerged stronger, fitter and happier; they delivered a legendary tour that still gains momentum heading into 2015. The album’s saving Grace is how Laura Jane makes the transgender experience feel universal for anyone longing to live their truth and being brave enough to actually do it. Buy it.
#2: Foo Fighters • Sonic Highways
Top 10 History: (Colour & The Shape, #1 in 1997)
What does Dave Grohl have in common with Laura Jane Grace? They both took a lot of shit for working with Butch Vig. I’ll admit, Wasting Light isn’t my favorite Foo platter, and Sound City worked much better as a documentary than an album. On the other band, Against Me’s two discs with Vig rank among the decade’s best rock albums. Third time is finally the charm for the dynamic Foo-oh. Sonic Highways joins 1995’s Foo Fighters and 1997’s Colour & The Shape as the band’s essential works. Arena sized in sound and ambition, Highways takes inspiration from eight cities but mainly relies on the world-class musicianship of the six core members and a few ringer guests. I just saw them deliver a 3 hour, 11 minute club show in Seattle to promote the HBO series and let me tell you, they can still destroy just about every band on the planet. Vig’s production style makes everything sound larger than life. Dave has finally written melodies and lyrics large enough to fit. Buy it.
#3: Delta Spirit • Into The Wide
History: (Delta Spirit, #1 in 2012)
The latest by Delta Spirit sounds just as big, ambitious and epic as Transgender and Highways, but it arrived with much less Billboard and critical fanfare (it debuted at a career-high #70 which is about what Taylor Swift sells in an hour). The lack of Swift-sized media coverage only sucks for anyone who hasn’t heard the album or seen their ferocious live show, Wide is a freakin’ doozy. Leadoff track, ‘Push It’, does exactly that, it takes the rootsy/Americana mix of the first two albums, and the songwriting and arrangement innovations on the third, and pushes their sound way up into the heavens. There isn’t a band like the Delta Sprit anywhere else on the planet — the sonics they pull from guitars and synths are jaw dropping. My only wish would be to hear crisper drums, Brandon Young’s explosive percussion, fills and fury often feel muffled (and I’ve listened to this on a wide rage of devices). Wide is the album The Killers always wanted to make; a glorious, sonically ambitious, melodically rich tour de force — built for the arenas even though the band is still playing much smaller venues (for now). Click here to listen to ‘From Now On‘ and then Buy it.
#4: Gedeon Luke & The People • Live Free & Love
In 2012, POPDOSE was the first music blog to truly sing the gospel of emerging soul legend Gedeon Luke. His Perfect Ain’t Perfect EP landed my year-end best list in the final minutes before I posted it. A brief tour and endless residencies in New York and New Jersey allowed the proud Memphis son to hone his stage show and flesh out the EP with producers Jack Daley and Marc Swersky. Together they created a bonafide modern old school classic with a lyrical message that has never been more urgent. While year-end ringer D’Angelo is pushing soul and R&B into experimental new directions, Luke carries on the torch for bonafide soul, gospel and R&B icons ranging from Sam Cooke to Lenny Kravitz. As the title declares, this album is about finding love, showing love, giving love and being love — to one and all. Gedeon Luke & the People recently played BBC Two’s Live With Jools Holland, the episode with Robert Plant, introducing the master and the world to Luke’s message of Love. Buy it.
#5: Wakey Wakey • Salvation
Christian album? Children’s album? At first listen, I thought both. But as joyous as the melodies often sound, the lyrics take you on a journey through the rich darkness and light of the human experience. Enter the amazing world of Wakey! Wakey! This is an arena-sized album of love songs and lullabies. Heartbreaking and uplifting turn to turn, there are sonic surprises around every corner. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the joy of ‘All It Takes Is A Little Love’. ‘Through the Night’, a very tender ballad, was my lifeline this year when I took in two high needs foster kids. Things were rough at first, but as singer Michael Grubbs assured me “everything little thing gonna be OK, everything gonna be just fine, we’re gonna make it through the night.” It’s a real shame the How I Met Your Mother producers hadn’t heard ‘Wake Up (Lily, I Love You)’, it would have made for one hell of a season finale montage to wrap up the Marshall & Lily storyline. Buy it.
#6: Angela Perley & The Howling Moons • Hey Kid
Perley brings some Karen O rock & roll swagger to the thriving Americana scene, and the Moons add some ferocious Nick Zinner worthy guitar prowess to the affair. This entire album is one big hell to the yeah yeah yeah. Hey Kid came out in January and steadily built 12 months of constant rotation in my playlist. Be careful when driving to this album, you’re bound to get a speeding ticket. Dreamy ‘Athens’ was the divine first single, but the ferocious ‘Hurricane’ sealed the deal to land this album squarely among the year’s best. Even on the quieter tracks, Perley & Co. are absolutely captivating. Buy it.
#7 U2 • Songs of Innocence
If were mad at U2 this year, you either have A.) limited space on your hard drive or B.) limited computer skills. Anyone who didn’t drag Songs of Innocence into their trash was treated to one of the best U2 albums in 20 years. I went one step further and shelled out $11.99 for the 2CD deluxe edition and was treated to said album and a few more treasures. Granted, putting all the acoustic versions on a single CD track was a perplexing dick move — akin to Prince’s single-track Lovesexy CD, but then again, the most inessential part of the experience is bypassable in a single click. The rest of the album combines the best of the band’s Auchtung, Rattle and Boy eras — these megalomanic multi-gazillionaires sound downright human and in touch with the human experience. Buy it.
#8: James • La Petite Mort
Speaking of comebacks, James has come back from the dead more often than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Tim Booth’s vocals are strong as ever, the melodies are gorgeous and production absolutely sparkles. Don’t let the dark title fool you, this is big, bright and beautiful Brit Pop at its best. A true measure of any band is to deliver at least three classic albums, and for me, La Petite Mort joins Laid and Millionaires among the defining works of a beloved and prolific band. Buy it.
#9: Interpol • El Pintor
History: Turn on the Bright Lights, #1 in 2002
Their debut was one of the best albums of the 2000’s, and from there, it was a downhill slide into a muddled yawn. When bassist
Crispin Glover Carlos Dengler left the band, it looked like that was it. While the others stood in the shadows, Dengler was out there smoking and sneering in the spotlight. Turns out, his exit was cathartic. Interpol today feels urgent, compelling and most importantly, hungry. El Pintor radiates energy, dark, romantic melodics and hooks that captivate in an instant. Buy it.
#10: Repeater • Repeater
POPDOSE recently premiered the lead single from this constantly morphing SoCal outfit’s latest platter. Repeater make no secret of their love for the Chameleons and New Order, though their sonic connection to Nada Surf (seriously, the vocals) might be more of a sore spot for their hipster fans. As underground as The Cure, The Smiths and OMD were back in the day, they were always writing pop songs and eventually found their way to the mainstream. Repeater will hopefully follow suit, these songs are just too good to not be adored by cool kids and new wave parents around the world. That said, search for “Repeater” on Amazon and you’re lucky to find anything but miles of electronic components. Hone your search to MP3s, you will be in melodic 80’s alt rock nirvana. Buy it.
VIDEO OF THE YEAR (Non Weird Al Category): Repeater’ spot on homage to New Order:
#11: Ransom and the Subset • No Time To Lose
If you love, and miss, 2000’s alt pop outfits like Fountains of Wayne, then this Ransom is worth paying attention to. The band is the brainchild of singer/songwriter RanDair Porter. Porter writes the songs and brings in some power pop ringers to help him bring the candy coated melodies to life. The core trio includes producer and multi-instrumentalist Brian E. King (Guitar/Bass/Keys) and Grammy-winning engineer Ducky Carlisle (Drums/Background Vocals).
For the power pop powerhouse, ‘Leaving With You’, Porter collaborated with Mike Musburger (formerly of the Posies) on drums, John Memolo of popular Seattle’s The Popoffs, and Mike Squires (formerly of Harvey Danger) on bass guitar. And just when you’re thinking this is the best power pop album since Fountains of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers, ‘Sticking Onto You’ enlists FOW’s Jody Porter on guitar. If sunny harmonies, hooky guitars and vocals worthy of taking your daughter to prom are what you’re into, you’ll love this album. Buy it.
#12: Smashing Pumpkins • Monuments of an Elegy
History: Gish (#1, 1992)
I was fully prepared to refer to Billy Corgan’s latest lineup as “Smashing Pumpkins”, Smashing Pumpkins? or The Billy & Tommy Show. Regardless if James Iha and D’arcy ever played a note on their records, their presence — along with Jimmy Chamberlin and Butch Vig — is still sorely missed as the Pumpkins zombie brand limps along hungry for songs with delicious hooks and brains. Corgan claimed to be alone with Cobain atop the hill of the decade’s best songwriters, and for all the shit he shovels, he’s right on that point. And since he stuck around longer, dare I say, he was top dog. But without anyone to reign him in, the way The Revolution and Sheila E. did with Prince, solo Billy has been for the most part all pomp and no circumstance. Until now…
Elegy delivers a surprisingly short but melodic punch, the set-up for whatever Corgan has planned to drop in 2015. It’s a keeper and the most logical follow-up to 1997’s Adore in the band’s subsequent catalog. Corgan’s as nasaly as ever, but the power of the band has always been the guitars and the drums. If Tommy Lee had only been allowed to cut loose (or replaced with Grohl and/or Chamberlin) this album could have been a new classic. As is, it’s a short, simple, melodic and welcome flashback to when Billy was my hero in the Zero t-shirt. Buy it.
#13: Joseph Lemay • Seventeen Acres
Rooted somewhere between Americana, Rock & Roll and real Country, Acres is the sound of a man with nothing and yet everything to lose. Penned from his single-wide trailer home, these songs ache of hurt, longing, sadness and hope. Beautiful, captivating and entrancing all at once, this is the sound of the burning human spirit. Lemay has one of those voices that always stops you dead in your tracks — he demands and rewards listening with your full heart. If you’re into Paul Simon, Coldplay, Neil Finn, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, this is an essential addition to your record wall. Buy it.
#14: Coldplay • Ghost Stories
Gwynneth might have left frontman Chris Martin, but the fanbase surely hasn’t. Ghost Stories is one of the year’s best selling records, and for good reason. Sad Chris = happy listening. The songs eschew the usual Coldplay bombast and simply marinate, creep and crawl into your subconscious. It’s a dark, elegant and beautiful listening experience. Seek out the Target special edition with bonus tracks. Buy it.
#15: Inspiral Carpets • Inspiral Carpets
These Madchester darlings have been kicking around off and on since 1983. With their first album of new material in 20 years, and first since 1989 with original singer Stephen Holt back in the fold, Inspiral Carpets sound well-rested, revitalized and ready to rock. The trademark, scuzzy, Doors’y, psychedelic organ synths are front and center, Holt sounds amazing and the guitars anchor a dozen meaty rock anthems. Poet John Cooper Clarke even shows up for the set’s encore, ‘Let You Down’ and gives all those hack guest rappers on the pop charts a run for their money. With this album, the Inspirals join POPDOSE’s long list of comebacks: bands that are bypassing the retro tour circuit in favor of making the best music of their careers. Buy it. (UK link)
#16: Rancid • Honor Is All We Know
History: And Out Came The Wolves, #1 in 1995 with heavy competition from Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins and Pulp
Rancid usually packs 21 or so tracks on a single disc, so this 13 song affair is a bit disorienting (I previewed the deluxe bonus tracks, but the sound bits didn’t grab me). The core album delivers everything a Rancid fan needs in a disc: honor, brotherhood, melodic hooks bootstrapped between ska and punk. As weird as it is to see Rancid as middle-aged dads like me, their sound is as pure and urgent as ever. See you in the pit — just take some Tylenol before you go. Buy it.
#17: Kaiser Chiefs • Education x 3 and War
Following Interpol’s lead, losing a primary songwriter is just what the Chiefs needed to buck a downward spiral of increasingly pedestrian albums. We’re back to biting and hook-heavy Employment and (pre-Chiefs) Parva territory here. Kickoff ‘The Factory Gates’ is on par with Dropkick Murphys’ best working class anthems. ‘Coming Home’ rides a Peter Hook’y bass line and is absolutely lovely. ‘Misery Company’ brings back the fury of the band’s high point, We Are The Angry Mob. Only #9, ‘Cannons’, tanks. It starts off awesome and then at the 2:25 mark veers into the ridiculous with a long, arduous, ‘we’re making a statement here’, fucking awful coda that wants to be Pink Floyd’s The Wall but turns out like a boring college lecture. It derails the momentum so badly that I rarely ever make it through to album closer ‘Roses’. Buy it.
#18: 3rdeyegirl: Plectrum Electrum
Prince also shows up on the pop charts (below) with his Art Official Age LP. With his all-chick side band, Prince churns out his hardest officially released material since The Undertaker and Chocolate Invasion albums. Considering how he is one of the best guitarists of modern times AND his song ‘Guitar’ featured relatively little of the stuff, it’s nice to hear he still knows how to swing the axe when the likes of Gary Clark Jr. come calling for the throne. Buy it.
#19 New Pornographers • Brill Bruisers
OK, six albums in, I promise to stop referring to New Pornographers as that side project from Neko Case and those guys who are in bands that I should know more about than I actually do. Bruisers delivers the band’s best and brightest work since their debut. Neko Case’s voice is such a gift, it is a shame to see it wasted or buried in the Porno’s traditionally busy mixes. Here, she shines on her customary 2 or so tracks and A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar & Co. more than keep the party hopping for the rest. Buy it.
#20: Pete Molinari • Theosophy
While most critics give obligatory nods to Jack White and the Black Keys, who both turned in very good albums in 2014, my pick for the year’s defining blues/rock triumph goes to a petite Englishman who is on primarily retro-focused Cherry Red Records. ‘Hang My Head In Shame’ is the best song Oasis never recorded. He’s been touring the US for the greater part of this year — catch him in the clubs while you can. Buy it. (UK Link)
#21 Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott • What Have We Become
With the Housemartins and Beautiful South, Heaton helmed some of the best albums of the 80’s and 90’s — sharp, biting, blissfully dark lyrics masquerading as shimmering pop songs. Then came some yawner solo albums culminating in The 8th, an intense concept album about the 7 Deadly Sins. Heaton heads home again with long-time TBS associate Abbott as his duet partner and muse. Together they turn in the best South By Beautiful Southwest record possible considering the absence of co-songwriter Dave Rotheray. Buy it.
#22 Black Swan Lane • A Moment of Happiness
Atlanta’s Black Swan Lane is such a convincing Chameleons-inspired band that lead Chameleon Mark Burgess was in the band for BSL’s first three albums, including a de-facto reunion disc with the members of Burgess’s other band, The Sun & The Moon. BSL has carried on for three albums post-Burgess, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Simmering guitars, deep baritone vocals, dark atmospherics — this is perfect listening for fans of the aforementioned bands plus Fields of the Nephilim and the Cure. Get the entire BSL discography for a low low price (with insanely fast shipping) by ordering direct from the band. Need immediate gratification? Buy it here.
#23 The Faint • Doom Abuse
Omaha’s the Faint once mined dark wave eighties angst to create edgy modern dance songs that were both horrifying and fun. At the height of the 2000’s, they led the retro forward club scene with !!! (chk chk chk). And then both lost sight of the fun with labored and challenging albums. Well, thankfully, the Faint are back in fine form. Doom Abuse is a bruiser, perhaps the most fun you’ll have at the death disco since early NIN and Ministry albums. Buy it.
#24 Beck • The Song Reader
2014 was a quiet year for Beck, in all the good ways. He delivered a gorgeous, haunting follow-up to his classic, Sea Change, in the form of Morning Phase. He also gathered a diverse group of friends, ranging from Jack White and Jack Black to Jarvis Cocker and David Johanson to record the songs of Song Reader, a collection of Beck originals previously only released as sheet music. The show is stolen by Norah Jones (an Opry-ready ‘Just Noise’), Sparks (a way over the top ‘Why Did You Make Me Care?’) and Bob Forrest (the epic album highlight ‘Saint Dude’). Oh yeah, Beck is here too; his Beatles and/or Jeff Lynne-esque ‘Heaven’s Ladder’ reminds us just about anything is possible from him in 2015 and beyond. Buy it.
#25: David Corley • Available Light
Like Joseph Lemay, Corley’s album is part artistic statement part lifeline. Light is the soundtrack of a dark, starry night in an empty smoke-filled bar. It’s a cocktail of 100 proof Americana, country, blues and folk; a stunning storytelling triumph along the lines of Tom Waits and Lou Reed’s ‘Dirty Boulevard’. Album kickoff ‘Available Light’ is delicate and tender; ‘The Joke’ adds some ramshackle boogie and swagger when you least expect it. The singer and the songs aren’t in a rush to go anywhere, but if you care to belly up to the bar and bend an ear, you’ll hear some stories and be a bit better for it. Buy it.
2015 Preview Bonus:
The Modern Electric • Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
While the Killers ended 2014 on a high note with their enchanting holiday single, ‘Joel the Lump of Coal’, frontman Brandon Flowers recently told NME that his band doesn’t have the drive to push itself any further. Well, he better watch his back, because here comes The Modern Electric. POPDOSE premiered their video for ‘David Bowie Save Us All (Redux)’. Their sophomore full-length, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack would have been a Top 5 disc this year — but it’s not officially released until 2015. OMPS takes cues from the Killers, Bowie, the Airborne Toxic Event and ELO and pushes elegant, cinematic modern pop into bold new directions. Speaking of new directions, the band plans on releasing the 12-song album one song and video per month, as a way to soundtrack the year ahead. A physical release will drop in the summer. Can’t wait? Grab their free mix tape.
The Year in POP
#1: Cheryl Cole: Only Human (Deluxe)
Arguably the planet’s most genetically flawless human being, Cheryl (the artist formerly known as Cheryl Cole and Cheryl Tweedy), was 1/5th responsible for five of the best pop records of the past 20 years in the form of UK chart toppers Girls Aloud. Her solo record has been a bit more spotty. Debut 3 Words (a will.i.am joint) was weird, dark and glorious. Messy Little Raindrops had a few passable singles and A Million Lights it the second worst album I have ever spent $50 on (for the super deluxe box set). Just when you think Cheryl can only release flawless pin-up calendars, she drops Only Human. We’re talking big, Big, BIG pop songs here — quite a few co-penned by Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts, aka: Ginge. Cheryl, who until now has never met a schmaltzy ballad she didn’t like, spends most of Only Human where she needs to be — on the dance floor. Euro disco, palatable EDM, Swedish pop, it’s all here and it’s spectacular. Buy it.
#2: Taylor Swift • 1989 (Deluxe)
SNL nailed it, 2014 is the year when everyone agreed that T-Swizzle is pretty, pretty cool. There’s nary a shade of country to be heard here, not that all of the songs couldn’t be reworked for jaded Country radio if need be (Shania Twain once released a single album with pop, country and Bollywood versions). Unlike the drenched synths and big, meaty beats of Only Human, 1989 is light as a feather — from the OMD-ish ‘Welcome to New York’ to the mega-smashes ‘Shake it Up’ and ‘Blank Space’. However, it’s the weight of deep album cuts like ‘Wonderland’ that place Swift on top of the pop culture world. Buy the Target special edition for three bonus bonus tracks that take you inside her creative process. Buy it.
#3: Nat Jay • All I Think When I Wake Up
Considering most of the acts on this list are backed by big time celebrity singers, major labels and over-priced producers, the pop revelation of the year comes in the form of a lovely indie singer/songwriter named Nat Jay. This bombshell Canadian won the “Best of British Columbia” award from Shore 104.3 FM and is just starting to make waves south of the border. All I Think… kicks off with a winning dance number, ‘Can’t Getcha Out’ (POPDOSE premiered it earlier this year), but really hits its groove with a string of breathtaking country flavored pop songs that recall peak-level Alanis Morissette and the Cranberries. This album hits the singer/songwriter trifecta: she’s got the look, she’s got the pipes and the songs are world-class, meaning most every track on the album would work well on a variety of radio formats in the US, UK and down under. Here’s hoping these songs find their way across the many ponds.
The album’s emotional peak, ‘Built a Wall’, will give you the chills. Buy it.
#4: Charli XCX: Sucker
I spent the greater part of 2014 waiting with baited breath for Sucker because Charli XCX’s major label debut, True Romance, remains one of the best pop albums I have ever heard. Romance is a lush, dark, romantic pop/goth masterpiece. The first draft of her second album was going to be all punk and stuff, but then a few awkward tracks leaked just as ‘Fancy’ and ‘Boom Clap’ simultaneously stormed the charts, proving that Charli-pennned ‘I Love It’ from Icona Pop wasn’t a fluke.
Sucker arrived last week to a disappointing #28 start on the Billboard 200. It should find its legs because it gets better and better with subsequent plays. Had I had more time with it, Sucker could have easily cemented a higher spot on this list. This time around Charli plays it safe, trading in Romance’s ambitious arrangements and goth and punk spices for 80’s poppier elements — bubblegum synths, hand claps and sunny vocals. The title track, along with the singles she’s been performing during her non-stop media blitz easily stand out. Buy it.
#5: Blake Lewis • Portrait of a Chameleon
Carrie and Kelly aside, Blake Lewis is the true recording artist to emerge from American Idol‘s 13 year run. Sure sure Adam Lambert was supposed to be the chosen one, until Trespassing missed the mark and forced him on the road to make millions fronting Queen’s nostalgia act instead. Lewis has quietly built a rabid following with three perfect pop albums, each one steadily upping his game as a singer, songwriter, beatboxer, DJ and producer. Chameleon incorporates dubstep and EDM elements into a winning mix of soulful pop songs. Buy it.
#6: The Pierces • Creation
History: You & I, #1 in 2011
Sister act The Pierces are one of the few acts in my collection who have delivered three five star albums in a row: And The Light of the Moon, 13 Tales of Love and Revenge and You & I. Relocation to London to record with Coldplay’s Guy Berryman (for You & I and Allison Pierce’s side project James Levy & the Blood Red Rose) proved fruitful — the Alabama-circa NYC girls are much more popular in the UK than they are at home. The trend continues with Creation, out on CD in England, just digital here. While not as lyrically clever as the past albums, there is still plenty to love — beautiful harmonies and tight pop songs that are simultaneously sunny and dark as the blackest night. Buy it.
#7: Prince • Art Official Age
History: Purple Rain (#1: 1994), Parade (#1: 1986), Sign O The Times (#1: 1987)
Prince is an undisputed musical genius, but let’s face it, his Genius Era (Dirty Mind thru Crystal Ball) and Awesome Era (Batman through The Gold Experience) are long behind him. More often we get dreck like One Nite Alone Live (the worst album I ever spent $50 on) and N/E/W/S than we get pleasant surprises like One Nite Alone (studio album) and Planet Earth (his short-lived reunion album with Wendy & Lisa). So it’s kind of pathetic that his albums these days are based on being purely enjoyable versus WTF is he talking about? Art Official Age (say it aloud to get the joke) has some winning tunes and returns some long lost friends to the fold (the operator from The Gold Experience, the helium Camille persona). The flavor holds up much longer than previous albums like the 3CD Target Experience.
#8: Erasure • The Violet Flame
Even through Erasure is one of those bands of the 80’s that has never gone away, the Violet Flame feels like a comeback triumph. After breathing life back into the tired holiday genre with last year’s winning Snow Globe, Vince Clarke and Andy Bell drop their most invigorating set in a decade. Bell’s voice is back in peak form (the 2011 live set included as a deluxe edition bonus shows some rust on Bell’s trademark pipes). Clarke and co-producer Richard X more than rise to Andy’s occasion with crisp beats and angelic melodies that more than hold their own against younger EDM contemporaries. ‘Dead of Night’, ‘Promises’ and ‘Sacred’ are all shoe-ins for the next edition of their Greatest Hits collection. Buy It.
#9: Yulianna • Soldier
I struggle to think of any words that can justly describe Yulianna. No stranger to POPDOSE, we featured her disco anthem ‘Don’t Take Your Love Away‘ in early 2013 and her subsequent album, Californ-i-a made my year-end best list. With her follow-up, Popra (Soldier), this Kazakhstan circa California flamethrower throws every kitchen sink in pop culture into her 19-song tour de force. English. Russian. Pop. Ska. Disco. Opera. Ballads. Bangers. Billowing ball gowns. Army fatigues. You name it, Popra has it. Some of it — OK, most of it — is way over the top, but that’s what makes it so exciting. The first suite leans heavily on bold re-imaginings of tracks from her last album. After that, all bets are off. This is what Lady Gaga set out to do with Artpop, but failed. Popra (soldier) isn’t as user-friendly as Californ-i-a, but it heralds the arrival of a gifted singer and fearless artist who is one radio hit away from becoming a global sensation. Buy it.
#10: Royksopp • The Inevitable End
In 2014, Royksopp finally became a Top 40 band in the states with their EP with Robyn. Why call it a day now? The break-up rumors might hold as much water as similar threats by Motley Crue, Cher and Guided by Voices, but if they were going to go out in style, this is their high note. I found the EP to be quite dull, but many of the tracks return here better than ever. When Royksopp works, they’re more of an atmosphere than a demanding listen. This album is less pop than Junior, but more upbeat than Senior. It also includes a hidden second CD that is a delightful coda to an impressive career. Buy it.
Brooke White & Friends: Never Grow Up
The ever so lovely Brooke White, who I’ve been a big fan of long before she did that certain TV show, went all Beyonce on us last week with the surprise release of a new album — Never Grow Up. It’s a benefit to raise money and awareness for Operation Underground Railroad and their fight to rescue children from slavery and sex trafficking. Nothing says holidays like human trafficking, but let me tell you, you’ll feel good knowing you funded a good operation while listening to these easy, breezy, beautiful lullabies and happy songs, duets with Deana Carter, David Archuleta, Carly Smithson, Jack Matranga (her Jack and White cohort) and more. A project like this had the HUGE potential of being sappy, but it is simply beautiful. Pledge here. Read her POPDOSE interview.
Kate Voegele • Wild Card EP
It comes and goes in a flash, but Voegele hits all the right notes on the EP’s five tracks. She is a beautiful and confident singer/songwriter with a feverish international fanbase. While her previous pop albums have rocked, her slow glide into country bodes very well for her future as a crossover star who could give Taylor a run for her money. Buy It.
Read Kate’s POPDOSE Interview.
Madonna • Rebel Heart EP
Don’t pity Queen Madge and the forced rush release of these tracks from the full-length due March 10 2015. The demand proves that she is still relevant as a pop icon when most of her competition are half her age (if not more). Plus she owes us the goods after the nearly career-killing MDNA, an album that was as bad as the subsequent tour was good. At this point, the official tracks are way less interesting than the 14 other demoes. Here’s hoping she stops looking over her shoulder at Ariana Grande and starts innovating again. Don’t Buy It — wait.
Tove Lo • Queen of the Clouds
I can’t remember her name to save my life — Love Toll? T-Lo? — this Swedish import caused a stir with her debut album, and again on the Lorde-curated Hunger Games soundtrack. Queen of the Clouds is divided into three 4-track suites, though I rarely get past the first one without hitting repeat, repeat. Buy It.
Caro Emerald • The Shocking Miss Emerald (2 CD Deluxe)
Let’s hope 2014 is the last year the States aren’t a year behind Europe when it comes to hearing Caro Emerald’s new music when it is still new. The bossanova, swing, and jazz of her debut came back with a sharper tongue and darker edge with her sophomore release — the subsequent deluxe edition adds some bonus tracks and a hit-packed live set. Buy It.
Here are some of the best songs from this year’s list: