Each year, a few music albums stand out above the rest. Similar to the landscape of television or movies, there normally exists quite a few good albums, but a select number of great ones. Last year, on May 17th, Daft Punk released Random Access Memories, dropping the mic for the year in music. The previous year, Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar accomplished the same task. So where is 2014’s masterpiece?
Genres go high, genres go low. While Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire released critically acclaimed albums, it was pop that dominated the music landscape last year. Even albums from Kanye West and Drake were more pop than rap, treading on a more hybrid classification. When Daft Punk released their best album since Discovery, it was very commercial. Until you got to “Touch.” Then you heard “Motherboard.” Finally, “Fragments of Time” cemented an astounding collection of songs, all placed in a perfect order. The album worked to differentiate many who write about music, as some individuals didn’t realize they were writing about the album of the year. But for those who did, they understood the collection of music they were working with was very, very special.
Prior to that, Kendrick Lamar graced us all with the best rap album in years. Not since My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy had we gotten something so well put together. However, Lamar put the best concept album together since MF Doom’s Madvillainy, with both wise words and positivity illuminating Kendrick’s dark tales. While the album contained a few songs that made it to radio, it was mostly a diamond in the rough that is the hip-hop landscape. For anyone that has never sat down and listened to the album from the first song to the very end of the final song, the album stands as a very unique and powerful journey.
Frank Ocean was another man who rode high in 2012. With the release of Channel Orange, we got an R&B album that…well, filled new life into a waning genre. Many insinuated that he had revived R&B. Hyperbolic statements aside, it was the best R&B album since In My Own Words, Ne-Yo’s debut album. People will make the argument for Chris Brown or John Legend, but it was Frank Ocean that set the bar. He wasn’t just singing about sex and love; the man had a massive array of topics. “Super Rich Kids,” “Sweet Life,” and “Pink Matter” all stood out as very original songs within the genre. Plus, beginning the album with the Sony PlayStation startup sound is just awesome.
For the past few years, people have been rewarded for being multi-genre listeners. Just a fan of rock? Well, groups like The Strokes and The Killers gave you the album of the year often in the early 2000’s. Just a fan of hip-hop? Kendrick Lamar only releases an album every 2-3 years. With broad horizons come great rewards. Give Frank Ocean or Daft Punk a listen. Fuck it, even give Kendrick Lamar a listen. You may be surprised at what you find.
So here we are: 2014. Album of the year, where are you? Well, as we await albums from Weezer, Pink Floyd, Lil’ Wayne, and Kendrick Lamar, the next gem may be on the horizon. With the advent of iTunes and the boom of the digital singles, many don’t find the album quite as important. With the revenue brought in through song sales, ringtones, and concerts, it’s not surprising that albums aren’t built with as much care as in the past. Beyonce approached an album with a completely unique, and quite frankly talented approach, and found great success. While the album wasn’t her best, it sure did create headlines. For avid music enthusiasts, the idea of the album is still powerful. The idea of crafting the order of each song, trying to anticipate the emotion and attention of each listener, is truly a work of art. We hope that a classic album will reach us before the year’s end, otherwise the Grammy voters will have to settle for a mediocre AOTY. With the release of Kendrick’s first single, the anticipation for hip-hop’s biggest talent is unbelievable. Lucky for us, Kendrick Lamar never disappoints.