6 Albums That Got Us Through The Polar Vortex In 2014, From Beyonce To Katy B To Kylie Minogue
We have literally lived through one of the most epically sucktastic winters in recorded history, between the heavy snowfall, rivers of slush, piles of ice and, um, rain (boo hoo, Los Angeles). Over the past three freezing months, America turned to several things for salvation to escape the chill: The convenience of ordering takeout food; the aptly-titled, Oscar-winning animated feature Frozen; True Detective; and, of course, music.
Unfortunately, 2014 has offered pretty slim pickings as far as big releases. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t new music to be had. In fact, six albums in particular jumped out as early-in-the-year favorites, all of them released between the months of December and March. Below, sift through the six LPs we’ve been using like a heating blanket to warm our super-frosty souls.
Beyonce, Beyonce (released December 13)
If you haven’t bought, heard or seen Beyonce’s all-conquering visual album by now, chances are you just woke up from a coma. Since dropping in the middle of the night this past December, Queen Bey’s fifth LP has broken all kinds of sales records and won rave reviews across the board. At this point, a couple of months down the road, the question arises as to whether the frenzied response was due to ingenious marketing (dropping your much-anticipated/delayed opus in the middle of the night qualifies) or sheer quality. One listen to the sleek and sexy “Partition” or sparse and emotional “Heaven” confirms that it is, indeed, the latter.
The genius of ‘Beyonce’ lies in the detail. The little hooks that worm their way under your skin, the lyrics that reveal hidden depth with multiple listens and subtle bleeps and beeps that come to life over time. You start to realize the enormity of the project and just how intimate it is. Bey’s visual album is a multi-media scrapbook of her life over the past two years. She deals with marriage, motherhood and death in her lyrics and invites her dancers, friends and family to appear in the glorious videos. I suspect this LP will be on high rotation for months to come. — MIKE WASS
Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Wanderlust (released January 20)
Sophie’s previous two albums, 2007’s Trip The Light Fantastic and 2011’s Make A Scene, were full of decent dance-pop moments (the Richard X-produced “Starlight” off the latter was a glittering highlight), but, alas, the public in her home country of England never really latched on to either. And so the singer did what anyone in her situation would do for a bit of a career boost: Strictly Come Dancing. Laugh all you want, but EB’s stint on the reality dance series paid off.
Wanderlust, Sophie’s fifth album, was co-written and produced entirely by fellow singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt. It’s an altogether stripped down, at times orchestral and somewhat retro affair, dwelling more in Adele-cum-swinging-London territory than Kylie-at-the disco — and it strangely works. The LP debuted in the UK Top 10 and stayed there for several weeks, and suddenly we had the mellow mood music we didn’t realize we’d need for all those days and nights spent shut in from the cold. — ROBBIE DAW
Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce (released February 4)
The polar vortex might have kept us all locked indoors for weeks (if not months) at a time, but at least Babyface and Toni Braxton’s sensual Valentine’s Day release Love, Marriage & Divorce, kept us…um, busy. The gorgeous collection of love songs, heart-wrenching break-up anthems and feeling-some-type-of-way tracks provided just the right touch of slinky, classic R&B to supply some spice to an otherwise frigid season. Uptempo jams like “Sweat” and “Heart Attack” kept the fire blazing in the bedroom, while smoothly crooned songs like “Hurt You” and “Roller Coaster” supplied a Sade-like warmth for cuddling up next to the fireplace (or the stove top). And even when the talented crooners brought on the heartbreak, the chemistry between the two continued to provide the (much needed) heat. — BRADLEY STERN
Katy B, Little Red (released February 10)
Promising, flame-haired Brit Katy B didn’t so much reinvent her sound with Little Red as she did perfect it. Oh, sure, there were flashes of what was to come on the 24-year-old’s 2011 debut LP On A Mission — cuts like “Broken Record” and “Lights On” hinted at the singer’s flirtation with ’90s house music. But as each Little Red single arrived over the past year, it became clear that Katy’s sophomore effort would be Big with a capital “B”.
Quite frankly, it was too cold these past three months to go out and party like it was 1992, and so Little Red filled that void in a way no dancefloor could. Kicking off with “Next Thing,” the album marauds through 17 tracks (deluxe edition, of course) of throwback beats like a club kid determined to rave all the way till dawn. Even the electro ballad “Crying For No Reason” eventually whips itself into a mournful laser-strafed frenzy by song’s end. That we had to listen to it in the confines of our own homes meant that Little Red became more of an intimate, repeat-play experience. — ROBBIE DAW
Pharrell Williams, G I R L (released March 3)
G I R L sounds exactly how you’d expect a solo Pharrell album in 2014 to sound, which also happens to be exactly how you’d want a solo Pharrell album in 2014 to sound. It’s The 20/20 Experience but more awkward, Random Access Memories with more soul.
It’s not entirely clear how Pharrell made the switch from squeaking out hooks on early aughts hits to legitimately crooning (toe-to-toe with Justin Timberlake, no less!) now. But it feels like this iteration of Pharrell has always been here, and the same goes for the simple hooks and rubber band disco grooves on the LP, from “Brand New” to “Hunter” to “Gust Of Wind.” He’s not breaking new ground anymore, because he’s too busy building castles in his own corner of the sandbox. — CARL WILLIOTT
Kylie Minogue, Kiss Me Once (released March 18)
Yes, technically, Kylie’s 12th album has yet to be released. But it’s out next week, and is currently streaming here and filling our heart and soul with major doses of pop warmth. Kylie told us last month that Kiss Me Once, which both she and Sia executive produced, took the singer down a year-long path as far as getting the record made: “It’s a strange little process…or big process. But right up until the wire we were making last minute decisions. We probably had eight tracks that everyone was absolutely certain about, and the others it was just, what would work best for the album?”
The labor of love paid off. Kiss Me Once isn’t an overly ambitious record like, say, 2010’s cohesive dancefloor manifesto Aphrodite, which producer Stuart Price was at the helm of. Instead, the emphasis here is on lyrics brimming with positivity (see lead single “Into The Blue,” the Pharrell-produced “I Was Gonna Cancel” and the LP’s gorgeous title track) and tracks crafted by collaborators like Ariel Rechtshaid, MNEK and Metro that lock together to form one of the year’s first great pop albums. That’s not an easy feat to pull off, but yet again, Kylie has delivered — ROBBIE DAW
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