The Pinkprint (Deluxe) (2014)
This isn't 'rap' Nicki. It isn't 'pop' Nicki. It's Onika Taraj, unfiltered, unfettered. The Pinkrint is her most personal release yet, by a dramatic margin. It also stays true to its name and concept: this is exactly how an artist should create. No need to prove, no need for quotas. I wish she rapped more, but then it wouldn't be The Pinkprint.
Best song:Only (feat. Drake, Lil Wayne & Chris Brown)
2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)
J. Cole could be the most talented emcee to never recieve critical appreciation. Why? His records just lack something, an X-Factor maybe. The clearest indication is the inflammatory Fire Squad. He attacks Eminem, Iggy and Macklemore, but then says "I'm just playin". If he'd had some swagger, this record would be an instant classic.
Best song:Wet Dreamz
A Los Campesinos! Christmas EP (2014)
Christmas can be pretty damn lonely for some, and this melancholy bunch knows it. 'Merry Christmas, I wish you were here' is a painfully relatable punchline. That unmistakable Campesinos energy at least makes this a festive affair musically. Alternate this EP and Sufjan Stevens' Christmas compilations, and happy Holidays are almost guaranteed.
Best song:A Doe To A Deer
Grand Morbid Funeral (2014)
Bloodbath take their time with a record. There's no rush, and when you sink your teeth into Grand Morbid Funeral you can see the need for the delay. There are layers of power-chord mastery insterspersed with epic guitar solos and voice-obliterating crunch. What you come for is 11 songs of total slaughter, and Bloodbath delivers with aplomb.
Best song:Mental Abortion
A Better Tomorrow (2014)
20 Years after their classic debut, the Wu aren't the same. Their raps are still among the best, but they're ruined by sentimentality, sketchy production and a lack of unity. The most fun is to be had with the many references to the glory days. Still number 1? I don't think so, but the Wu-Tang are legends and no mediocre new release can ruin that.
Their Bodies In A Fog ()
There's promise that Arrange are going to spill over into all-out war on Their Bodies In A Fog. The climax of Home, the haunting beat on Stranger, and the glitch/drone of Heart//What If?. Instead, we get a slightly mismatched pairing of Lacey's Weeknd impressions and a background that never quite links up with him. Too soft.
TV On The Radio
Over the years, TVOTR have become a reliable force in indie rock. There are no surprises here, just honest songwriting backed by their trusty combination of live instruments and electronics. Sensitive ballads too neatly follow up the dance numbers, but it does feel sincere. This record is not exciting, but not everything can break your heart.
Hood Billionaire (2014)
Ross sinfully wastes some of this year's best production with his further descent into drug-dealing delusion. The atmosphere is pure 80s crack culture, cultivated wonderfully by a stellar cast, but Ross looms like a (diminishing) giant, clumsily spreading himself thicker than molasses. Come for the beats, stay for the beats.
Best song:Movin Bass
From every angle, Voodoo is perfect. D'Angelo ensured the project had a wealth of personality, and his timing and technique is that of a virtuoso. ?estlove applies his savant capacity for texture and theatre to fill every loose space with moments that inspire and delight. Nothing before or since has encapsulated the soul movement so impeccably.
Best song:Devil's Pie
First Demo (2014)
You'll probably never find a first demo tape that sounds this tight, save the opening track. Once you get past "Waiting Room," Fugazi's First Demo sounds like the D.C. post-hardcore immortals playing live in a studio and giving it all they got. It's charming to hear the little tiny bits in between and fully put the music into perspective.
Eric Clapton & Friends
The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale (2014)
It's possible that Clapton is too close to the legendary blues, country and jazz man. In his desire to honour someone who was instrumental in his career, he has stuck too closely to the original versions. John Mayer is the most revolutionary on the record (including Willie Nelson), and it sounds like a re-creation rather than a re-imagining.
Nothing Has Changed (2014)
50 years! The cultural chameleon known to Earth as David Bowie has released a retrospective collection of his greatest and sometimes his most odd tunes, something that's been done many times, but thankfully never better before now (3xCD version, specifically) - this is the definitive Bowie collection. "Put on your red shoes and dance the blues..."
Best song:Sound And Vision