To be honest, 2014 has been a pretty weak year for music so far. Some of that's because the first half of the year is always pretty slow, a result of the music industry going quiet during January and February. Still, the album situation isn't looking great (songs is a different story).
Maybe we just got spoiled last year. In 2013, just about every major rap star released an album. By this time last year, Kanye West, J. Cole, and Mac Miller had all dropped albums (and all on the same day). Beyoncé albums were falling out of the sky last year! This year hasn’t been quite that interesting yet. (Sorry, Mariah.)
Of course, there has been some great music released this year. You just have to know where to look. A good starting place would be our list of the 40 Best Albums of 2014 (So Far).
38. Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse
Mariah Carey hasn't aged a day or innovated a lick since her glorious transformation on Butterfly, when Stevie J slid her the proverbial first tequila shot and told her to go wild. Mariah's hip-hop forays used to be risque; now they're her signature, which, thankfully, doesn't smudge. Me. I Am Mariah...The Elusive Chanteuse is Exhibit M in the case that even divas just wanna have fun. Half the songs about heartbreak ("It's a Wrap," "Faded") don't sound too broken at all; more like giddy and/or empowered commiseration among girlfriends.
There's nothing as simply appealing as her last hit, 2009's "Obsessed," though "You're Mine" tries and will likely suffice for Mariah fans, if not programming directors. "Camoflauge" seems out of place as the album's sole piano-gospel moment, made stranger by coming immediately after the disco fist-pump jam "Meteorite." "You Don't Know What to Do," a stand-out collaboration with Wale, is the most Bad Boy retro moment here. "Thirsty" is your irregularly scheduled reminder than Mariah Carey sings, sure, but she is undeniably hip-hop. Homegirl, when are we getting a mixtape? —Justin Charity
34. SZA, Z
Torchbearer of moody R&B for TDE, SZA recorded a debut album that reaches for all the right heights. Her often idiosyncratic lyrics ("Your skin tastes like Brussels sprouts, I swear") get at the specifics of this young woman's experience of the world in a way that recalls Frank Ocean's Channel Orange. (Her attempts at poetically wrestling with social issues, like on "Green Mile," don't work as well as Ocean's, though.) The album is downbeat and chill, production-wise, which makes poppier songs like the bright "Julia" and the Toro Y Moi-produced "HiiiJack" stand out. If the sound of the day is still dark and druggy, SZA should strike out in the opposite direction more often. It suits her. —Ross Scarano
12. Lykke Li, I Never Learn
After Lykke Li's 2008 debut album Youth Novels, it looked like the Swedish songwriter was on the path to becoming a pop star. What a shame that would have been. 2011's Wounded Rhymes was more mature and less sugary, and before her 2014 album came out, Lykke Li stated in several interviews that she wasn't interested in being a pop star.
She backed up that statement with I Never Learn, an album full of power ballads and severely depressing songs about love lost and heartbreak. But even when she's singing about never loving again, Lykke Li makes you want to sway and sing along. Her affinity for memorable melodies and dramatic choruses will make it hard for people to give up on her as a potential hitmaker, and that's part of the fun of watching her distance herself from pop stardom with each new album. —Jacob Moore
9. Little Dragon, Nabuma Rubberband
After the slight disappointment of Little Dragon's Ritual Union, it's exciting to find the Swedish group putting out their most accomplished work to date. On Nabuma Rubberband, they get a hand from Dave of De La Soul (formerly known as Trugoy), who nabs a couple of songwriting credits, and an assist behind the boards from Robin Hannibal. There's an kinetic energy to these songs, both in the songwriting and the production, that was missing the last time around. Just listen to lead singer Yukimi Nagano as she lets loose on on the single "Klapp Klapp": "Falling through the floor on my broken butterfly wing." Her voice somehow squeaks and soars all at once. —Insanul Ahmed
6. ScHoolboy Q, Oxymoron
Just as we all started wondering whether Kendrick's reputation would forever precede his teammates', ScHoolboy gave us a tape full of dope beats and aggressive rhymes. He's often growling, often haunting, like Freeway in his Roc-A-Fella prime. "Man of the Year" and "Break the Bank" are the obvious arena-pleasers, and they're obviously successful as such, but Oxymoron leads with Q's funkier foot. Featuring West Coast brethren Kurupt and Tyler the Creator, "The Purge" is, literally, a fire engine melody. Oxymoron is grim, and it's gangsta, without once forgetting to have fun. Ab-Soul's album is out next week. Q reset the bar. Oh, it's high all right. —Justin Charity
Lasagna Dell Computer Got #2 at the Source
Post your 2014 faves as well!