BY BENJAMIN ROWE
2014 was a rolling dumpster fire of a year for music. Pop music saw some of it’s most bland and uninspired releases to date, and hip-hop saw some of it’s most laughable new stars in years. Take a look at Pharrell Williams, who delves into both genres. Pharrell is struggling to remain modern and relevant on G I R L, his new album that is filled with unneeded features and boasts an apparently feminist concept. How is “Just because it’s the middle of the night/That don’t mean I won’t hunt you down” supporting feminism? On the other end of the pop spectrum, we have Beck’s new album. Over a 15+ year career, Beck has shown his prowess with psychedelia, hip-hop, and anti-folk. Why does he tone it down so much on Morning Phase? Beck reverts back to his style from his 2002 album Sea Change, which ranges from time-wasting acoustic folk to bombastic string arrangements.
The really big problem with all the pop releases this year is that they were so boring. Even incredibly talented new vocalists like Sam Smith have put out albums filled with such schlock that an impressive vocal range can not save their albums from going straight to repeat at the dentist’s office.
Hip-hop also suffered. The new wave of popular rap is shameful. Hip-hop in the public eye has become a means of comedy instead of a way to express social issues like racism or poverty. With two of the most popular rap songs this year being “Lifestyle” by Rich Gang and “Tuesday” by ILoveMakonnen, it’s clear that stupidity is still being promoted. These songs were hits, but I don’t see why for any reason other than their unintentional comedic value. Even established hip-hop artists couldn’t save this year. Childish Gambino’s two new mixtapes both missed the mark. STN MTN, filled with unimaginative club bangerswas slightly better than Kauai, which went for an R&B approach and just came off as pretentious and dull. Kid Cudi also had a new album out this year, but it quickly faded into obscurity due to a release very early into the year and, like virtually every other release this year, a lack of new ideas.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE pop music – my favorite single of the year was easily Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”. The song was an internet sensation because of it’s retro vibes and body positive lyrics, not to mention some impressive choreography. Meghan Trainor hit her mark, but she seems like she’s the only star who did. Pop music as a whole was a disappointment this year, which indicates it’s time to turn more toward the underground.
One genre dominated 2014: emo. Often looked at once and labeled as “sad” or “depressing,” emo music is often not given a second thought. To call emo sad would be pretty on the mark, but what sells the music for me is the actual layers of that emotion and variety from band to band. This can be seen if you look at a few of the several great releases this year. In 2011, a band called The Hotel Year debuted with an album full of silly, jammy pop punk tunes. You would never have expected them to put out an album that completely tears the house down emotionally. That is exactly what they did when they changed their name to The Hotelier and revamped their sound on Home, Like Noplace is There. Christian Holden belts out in pain over the death of a friend. This is an extremely emotionally heavy album, but there are albums in the genre that are lighthearted and playful, but just as good. Nashville band Free Throw put out their debut, Those Days Are Gone, and socially anxious twenty-somethings standing in the corner at the house parties everywhere screamed with delight. This album is for everyone that has ever been dumped. The dual vocalists are this band’s strongest asset, one singer clean and another very gruff. The juxtaposition helps express every emotion you could feel after being left, from anger to apathy to melancholy.
Quite possibly my favorite release of the year is still., from newcomers to the scene, the band Nouns. Nouns are a noise and pop influenced emo band, whose second album is their first masterpiece. “I Still Want to Make You Proud.” is probably the best track pick to represent the album. A monumental 9 minute story-song, inspired by some pretty dark but in a way inspiring subject matter. The noisy, lo-fi recording style won’t be for everyone, but if you can move past that, there is a lot of raw emotion on this track to take in. In fact, every song on this album clearly held a lot of personal meaning to the writers.
2014 was a let-down for the general public; that’s why I think it’s good to be musically explorational. Not all of the best music lies in the pop realm, and this year really shows that.