The 20 Best Albums, EPs & Singles Of 2014 (So Far): January – June Releases
Let’s face it, pop fanatics — decent albums have been few and far between this year. And now that we’re halfway through 2014, we at Idolator found ourselves hard-pressed to scrounge up 10 LPs released between January and June, as we’ve done in years past, to shine the spotlight on.
So instead we decided to open the field up a bit and include singles and EP releases, as well as albums, and throw them all together in one ranked list of the best of the best in pop from this year, to-date — all compiled by Idolator’s editors and a couple of the site’s contributors.
It’s now a three-day holiday weekend, so head below and take some time to absorb and perhaps discover some of new music. And, who knows — you might even work out a decent playlist to whip together from our picks.
20. SINGLE: Raury, “God’s Whisper”
Raury, who turned 18 last month, has just three songs to his name. Just one of those, the booming folk-rock anthem “God’s Whisper,” earned him an opening slot at one of OutKast’s three homecoming shows in Atlanta. He wrote the song while pissed off, at both school (he hated it) and his mother (who found out he smoked pot and wasn’t pleased — ugh). Raury initially mutters here, as if trying to convince himself that, yes, he can stand his ground. But when he erupts, roaring “I am your savior!” to drown out the march behind him, “God’s Whisper” becomes a rallying cry for the future and demanding to be treated as such. — CHRISTINA LEE
19. SINGLE: Miguel, “Simplethings”
Ever since his extremely successful 2012 sophomore record Kaleidoscope Dream, R&B soulster Miguel has kept pretty quiet about releasing any new music. However, when Girls creator, writer and star Lena Dunham summons you to contribute to the acclaimed TV show’s soundtrack, it seems like an offer that even someone like Miguel cannot refuse. This fortunate sequence of events leads us to where we are today: listening to Miguel’s track “Simplethings” on repeat since it’s official release in February.
Featured on Girls Volume 2: All Adventurous Women Do…, “Simplethings“ creates a perfect balance of hazy guitar riffs and Miguel’s languid vocals. It’s melody is aptly minimalist, but that’s why it works. Wistful and ethereal, the song let’s Miguel’s glorious pipes shine through, which not only shows a possible change in a more rock-influenced direction for the singer, but also makes for one of the most poignant tracks of the year. — RACHEL SONIS
18. SINGLE: Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting On You)”
Sometimes all it takes is one exceptional performance to take your career to the next level. Future Islands made the leap from indie darlings to festival headliners after performing career-best single “Seasons (Waiting On You)” on David Letterman. Frontman Samuel T. Herring’s unique dance moves, emotion-filled delivery and unsettling death metal growls made an instant impression and exposed a whole new audience to the band’s brilliant brand of melancholy synth-pop. — MIKE WASS
17. EP: Austin Mahone, The Secret
There ain’t no shame in having fallen hard for 18-year-old Austin Mahone’s latest extended play. At eight tracks long, the short but sweet set plays like a collection of long ago shelved *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys cuts produced by Max Martin and the Cheiron crew…except that The Secret was released just this past April, and RedOne was at the helm. (Do not miss “Can’t Fight This Love,” in particular.) Damn, Lady Gaga — you should have recorded these trakcs, instead, for ARTPOP. — ROBBIE DAW
16. SINGLE: Tinashe, “2 On” (feat. Schoolboy Q)
The moment was nearly five years in the making — longer, even! — when Tinashe at long last dropped her major label debut single, “2 On” at the start of 2014. And indeed, all the waiting, anticipating and mixtape-making finally paid off: The moody DJ Mustard-crafted club thumper became a slow-burner hit, and the song has only continued to grow at radio and in clubs over the past several months. It only continued to blow up after she provided us with a super slick visual, complete with fierce fashion and unbelievably ferocious choreography that brought it back to the days of tightly crafted routines from Janet and Britney. The song still knocks to this day, AND we even have a new catch phrase to replace “turnt up” to use on the daily. Anticipation for her upcoming record, Aquarius, remains at an all-time high. — BRADLEY STERN
15. SINGLE: Future, “Move That Dope” (featuring Pusha T and Pharrell)
Coalkitchen’s 1977 song “Keep On Pushin’,” as heard in Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” has never sounded as demented as it does in Future’s dank posse cut “Move That Dope.” While jump-started by Pusha T’s gleeful cackling, Mike WiLL Made-It’s revved-up loop of singer Pauli Carman, sharply exhaling, is what propels the brilliantly crazed verses that follow. It adds urgency to Future’s daily routine, Pusha’s pun-tastic taunting and Pharrell’s frantic pointing to drones in the sky. And it’s why the fourth single from Future’s long-delayed sophomore LP, Honest, became hip hop’s most thrilling joyride of this year. Too many rappers talk big of moving dope, but that sample is what turns listeners into fiends. — CHRISTINA LEE
14. SINGLE: Andy Bull — “Talk Too Much”
After dropping two of the best singles of 2013 with “Keep On Running” and “Baby I Am Nobody Now,” Australian singer/songwriter Andy Bull returned with the third single from imminent sophomore set Sea Of Approval and raised the bar even higher for sophisticated synth pop. Real instruments vie for space among the rubbery synths of “Talk Too Much”, which gives the track a warm, retro vibe that compliments his wonderfully peculiar voice perfectly. Andy’s album can’t drop soon enough. — MIKE WASS
13. ALBUM: Lykke Li, I Never Learn
Lykke Li is in a very dark place — or, at least, she was when her latest studio album was being recorded. Every track on the new record is a break-up ballad, or some devastatingly emotional moment of anguish. And while it sounds like a complete and utter sob-fest while being described (it is!), the songs are truly spectacularly crafted, full of classic, soaring pop hooks, recalling Fleetwood Mac and Florence + The Machine. In a way, it’s like a sad, Swedish version of Adele’s 21, with enough grit and lo-fi textures to appeal to the indie crowd and enough melodies to keep the pop listener hooked. As far as break-up records go, it’ll be difficult to best Lykke’s triumph this year. (But someone please go take her out for ice cream or something, okay?) — BRADLEY STERN
12. EP: Betty Who, Slow Dancing
For those of you who don’t yet know Betty Who, we suggest you get acquainted fast. Grabbing everyone’s attention after the release of her playful pop tune “Somebody Loves You” and teaming up with producer Peter Thomas on track, “All of You,” Betty Who (real name Jess Newham) released major label EP, Slow Dancing, this year, which is guaranteed to fulfill everyone’s wildest dream-pop desires. From wistful numbers like “Lovin’ Start” and “Silas” to the anthemic “Heartbreak Dream,” Slow Dancing is full of free-spirited bops. So, watch out Demi and Miley, a new pop princess has arrived, and, by the looks of it, she’s here to stay. — RACHEL SONIS
11. ALBUM: Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse
Oh yes, it was messy as hell: From the is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-single songs that kept dropping weeks and months and years before, to the botched, sort-of-“surprise” release of the record, to the oh, so very Mariah Carey album title, Me. I Am Mariah should have, in theory, been awful. But it’s not at all — it’s actually one of the best albums of the year, by far. Perhaps because of her lack of #phucks to give about running a tight album campaign or a need to appeal to contemporary sounds, Mimi crafted a true timeless R&B record, complete with warm, feel-good throwbacks to the late ’80s and early ’90s, disco-lite anthems, power ballads and spiritual hymns. And yes, even a little bit of the Instagram-shading “Thirsty” for all the haters. It’s #Beautiful, no matter what they say. — BRADLEY STERN
10. ALBUM: Clean Bandit, New Eyes
When we posted our chat with UK dance act Clean Bandit recently, we noted that the quartet’s debut LP New Eyes is packed with enough dancefloor fodder and featured vocalists — many of them brand new talents — to give the group’s contemporaries like Rudimental and Disclosure some stiff competition. Those aren’t words we throw around lightly, and with the band giving dance music a classical-music twist — and racking up global hits like the smash hit “Rather Be” and its follow-up, “Extraordinary” — they’ve gone a long way toward making themselves stand out among the current crop of ’90s house revivalists. — ROBBIE DAW
9. SINGLE: Beyonce, “Partition”
Nobody expected Beyonce to drop possibly the most ratchet single of 2014, but “Partition” conquered urban radio and gay bars with its slinky beats and instantly quotable, jaw-dropping lyrics. Being bad never sounded so good. — MIKE WASS
8. SINGLE: Sky Ferreira, “I Blame Myself”
Once, when she was 10 years old, Sky Ferreira stopped talking. In conversation, she can recall this giddily, as if it was a conscious decision to disengage with our dumb world. In the Sixteen Candles-worthy “I Blame Myself,” though, that memory causes Ferreira to trail off, as if feeling defeated (“I feel like nothing’s really changed, now I’m just a little older”), only to lunge and raise her voice for that defensive yet defiant hook. Whether she’s conceding to detractors or scowling in their direction, blaming herself for her reputation or otherwise, Ferreira also ensures that she will never be silenced again. — CHRISTINA LEE
7. ALBUM: Ed Sheeran, x
After the release of his first single “Sing” from his highly-anticipated sophomore effort back in April, it was clear that Ed Sheeran was headed in a different direction from his usual acoustic, love-struck self. Funky, upbeat and slightly JT-esque, “Sing” showed that Ed was exploring new genres of music for his upcoming record. While a slightly risky move, it seems to have totally paid off.
Easily becoming one of the highest-selling albums of the year, x breaks new ground for Ed with soulful jams like “Runaway” and “Thinking Out Loud.” And looking back on his “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” days, it seems only natural that Ed channelled his inner rapper with tracks such as “Take It Back” and “The Man.” While “Photograph” and “Tenerife Sea” remind listeners of the Ed that once was, “Don’t” is the clear standout number. Produced by beat maker legends Rick Rubin and Benny Blanco, the track shows a more relentless, confident Ed, leaving us with yet another solid, refreshing new collection of tunes from everyone’s favorite UK ginger. — RACHEL SONIS
6. SINGLE: Route 94, “My Love” (featuring Jess Glynne)
Take Jess Glynne, who also featured on Clean Bandit’s UK dance-pop behemoth “Rather Be,” add a haunting and sexy house groove and mix it all with one of the most temperature-raising videos of the year, and you get this glorious single. America, it’s time for you to catch on to “My Love” and make it an anthem here, much like it’s already become overseas, already. — ROBBIE DAW
5. SINGLE, Kiesza, “Hideaway”
Canadian songbird Kiesza gave house music something it was sorely lacking this past winter: a face to put with the beats, and a charming DIY “dancin’ in the streets” video shot in Brooklyn (all in one take!) that begged replay after replay. When we had her in to the Idolator studio this past March, it was her first on-camera interview ever. A month later, Kiesza was on top of the charts in the UK and across Europe. Radio on these shores is getting serviced with “Hideaway” this month…so get ready to dance, Yanks. — ROBBIE DAW
4. SINGLE: Sia, “Chandelier”
She’s written literally every song on pop radio in the past four years or so, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a tune or two of her own lying around. When Sia’s “Chandelier” came barreling along back in April, the world was at last treated to a taste of the omnipresent singer-songwriter’s own bittersweet medicine. The cautionary tale smartly toes the line between accessible Top 40 pop hooks and a very deep, depressing tale of substance abuse — something only someone with her talent could do. And the video, a one-take of Dance Moms‘ own Maddie Ziegler’s brilliantly bizarre dance routine (just one of the several things Sia’s done since to hide her face with the ongoing non-fame campaign of 1000 Forms Of Fear), has become her most iconic video to date. — BRADLEY STERN
3. SINGLE: Royksopp and Robyn, “Do It Again”
“We should not be friends,” Robyn sings slowly in “Do It Again,” as if she’d rather not admit it. The title track of the Scandi-dance acts’ joint mini-album, it all feels like part of a cruel joke – the glaringly bright synths, the walloping bass, Robyn’s hunger when she sings of anticipation (“You know it’s like mMMm mmm mmm”). With that confession, she invites in the slight dread that comes with dancing a bit longer, downing one too many shots and texting our exes yet again before the night ends. By the time “Do It Again” fades out, though, Robyn and Royksopp make it clear that if they were to think logically, they would have to stop the music. And no one wants that. — CHRISTINA LEE
2. ALBUM: Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
The art of a making a cohesive and uniformly excellent long-player felt lost in 2014 until Lana Del Rey dropped Ultraviolence. Her gloomy sophomore set was surrounded by controversy — promoting your already polarizing work by announcing that you wish you were dead will do that — but there’s no denying that it’s a unique listening experience.
A collection of short stories about desperate women set to hazy, lo-fi music, Ultraviolence showcases Lana’s growth as both a songwriter and vocalist. From “Shades Of Cool” (the best James Bond theme song that never was) to “Old Money,” which finds an elderly woman looking back on her life, the perennially depressed diva delivers song after song of depth and quality. The album takes a couple of listens to seep under your skin, but once it does, there’s no going back. — MIKE WASS
1. SINGLE: MNEK, “Every Little Word”
His name is Uzoechi Osisioma Emenike, or MNEK for short. After releasing his monstrous hit “Ready For Your Love” with British electro outfit Gorgon City in January, this 19-year-old East-Londoner is now gearing up for his debut solo album. But before the LP hits, MNEK decided to give the world a little taste of what’s in store via his single “Every Little Word.”
Reminiscent of ‘80s R&B/Pop with a twinge of ’90s house flavor, “Every Little Word” is one of those unique tracks that doesn’t take too long to become infectious. With MNEK’s soulful vocals and the song’s thumping beat, how could it not? A total game-changer for the pop scene, “Every Little Word” literally demands the question: “Do you f*ck to this shit?” The answer: We certainly do. — RACHEL SONIS
Get an eyeful of even more pop music coverage, from artist interviews to exclusive performances, on Idolator’s YouTube channel.