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A Will Cleveland Pop-Ed: Here's to a Musically Thrilling 2014

The past year was a pretty stellar one in terms of music (loud), beer (yes, please), pizza (spicy cup pepperoni!), Twizzlers (classic strawberry), Diet Pepsi (the emergence of Diet Wild Cherry), literature (the re-emergence of Thomas Pynchon’s entropic worldview) and movies (Gravity!). There are always surprises. There is always something to be excited about. This year promises to be just as exciting.

With that in mind (and using Metacritic’s calendar as a guide) here are the music releases that I am eagerly anticipating …

1. Charli XCX — “SuperLove”
(TBD, due spring) 
The 21-year-old British singer is a practitioner of brooding, dark, gothic-influenced pop. Her 2013 album True Romance was solid, but also quite hit-or-miss. “You (Ha Ha Ha)” was the standout of the bunch, boasting a sample from Gold Panda. Lead single, also called “SuperLove,” is promising, leading me to believe this new set from Ms. XCX (aptly titled “Tumblr’s weird pop elite” in a Pitchfork review) will be most excellent. After years of ignoring and avoiding pop music, I find myself drawn to some of its weirdness and accessibility in artists such as Lorde, Robyn and Sky Ferreira.

2. Drive-By Truckers — “English Oceans” 
(Due March 4) 
Even without the talent of songwriter/badass Jason Isbell (whom I am stoked to see in concert next month), Drive-By Truckers have continued to release solid Southern-fried rock. But everything I had read and heard, including lead single “Pauline Hawkins,” points to stripped down, rawer sound. “Southern Rock Opera” remains an all-time favorite for me, so I am quite excited for this new collection.

3. Future — “Honest” 
Originally slated for release late last year, Future’s follow-up to his batshit weird (there’s that word again) 2012 album Pluto, Honest, promises to deliver more of the autotuned goodness we have come to expect from Future. (On a side note, this album was originally titled Future Hendrix. How fucking awesome would that have been? So boastful and weird.) After seeing Future open (while wearing a nearly floor-length leather coat) last month for Drake (!!!!) and Miguel, my man-crush has reached new levels. I am stoked to hear this one in its entirety.

4. Flying Lotus — title TBD 
Steven Ellison is a complete badass. I have been a huge fan ever since I heard his album Los Angeles a few years back. He has a unique voice within the hip hop world (and his Brainfeeder label features some of my favorite artists, including Jeremiah Jae, Samiyam and Thundercat). He rocked 2012 with the amazing Until the Quiet Comes, which he released as Flying Lotus, and then he capped the year with Duality under the guise of the trippy stoner Captain Murphy. He has boasted on Twitter lately that we should expect releases from both of his alter egos.

5. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib — Piñata 
(Due Feb. 4) 
Gary, Indiana’s finest Freddie “Gangster” Gibbs’ “National Anthem (Fuck the World)” is anthemic and straightforward. Since hearing some of his earlier mixtapes, I have been a huge fan of his laidback, cool approach. He’s got an undeniable flow. His releases from the past few years have been solid, but his collaboration with madman producer Madlib promises to be extra awesome. Just listen to first single “Deeper” and pretend you’re not impressed.

6. Katy B — Little Red 
(Due Feb. 10) 
Another young British pop singer, Katy B leans more to the dance end of the spectrum. Her debut release On A Mission was on my 2011 year-end best-of list. I highly recommend tracking down her free 2012 EP Danger. “Crying for No Reason” and “5 AM” are complete jams. On A Mission felt criminally overlooked, but I bet she becomes more of a household name in the states with this one.

7. Anything from the Black Hippy Crew 
2012 was a great year for the Los Angeles-based hip hop collective as we got fantastic albums from Ab-Soul (Control System), ScHoolboy Q (Habits and Contradictions) and Kendrick Lamar (Good Kid, M.A.A.D City). 2014 is poised to be even huger (bigger, grander, whatever adjective you desire here). Q’s Oxymoron drops on Feb. 25. Hopefully, we finally see an album from Jay Rock. We should also expect new music from Ab-Soul. And there are rumors swirling that we might hear something from Top Dawg golden child Kendrick Lamar. #stoked 

8. Liars — Mess 
(Due March 25) 
Los Angeles-based trio Liars have explored some pretty dark and differing territory. With 2012’s WIXIW, they discovered a darker electronic sound that was highlighted by the title track and “No. 1 Against the Rush.” First single “Mess on a Mission” seemingly signals a return to that electronic territory. But it would be dangerous and irresponsible to try to box those boys in. I am keen to hear what direction the new material heads in.

9. Frank Ocean — title TBD 
Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean has one of the purest, most beautiful voices I have ever heard. When I saw him live a few years back in Toronto, I was blown away by the purity and beauty of his voice. It sounded better live than it did on his debut album, 2012’s Channel Orange. Along with the Weeknd and Miguel, he helped usher in a slew of new voices in R&B. Ocean has been dropping hints that follow-up will include contributions from Pharrell, Danger Mouse and maybe even Tame Impala.

I know I am missing out on a lot of albums. I know there is more music that I am excited about, but I can’t wait to be surprised. Here’s hoping that 2014 is just as musically fulfilling as 2013.
A Will Cleveland Pop-Ed: Here's to a Musically Thrilling 2014 Reviewed by Will Cleveland on 1/23/2014 Rating: 5

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