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A rapidly rising star (1/31a)
Ek is “rethinking how we operate.” (1/31a)
The busiest time of year is here. (1/31a)
The heat is on. (1/30a)
The sweet smell of "Flowers" (1/30a)
The astonishing first half-century of a world-rocking genre.
in the catalog game is...
More independent music rises at the DSPs.
At last, America can focus 24/7 on Hunter Biden's laptop.
The #HenchHipster’s Guide to the Galaxy (or the Best New Albums of 2014)

It’s the end of the year and everyone’s getting quite nostalgic, teary-eyed, thankful, or whatnot. Every media outlet is putting out their Best Of, Top 50 or Top 10 Talking Points for Your Next Douchey Holiday Party. Since I’m a slave to the scene, I followed suit—but I did try my best to make my talking points a little more fun. I’ve also provided suggestions for the most compatible intoxicating substances to consume while listening to my choices, so you can really get the “vibe,” man. Let the games begin.

, Hozier (Paired with a shot of Jameson… make that a double)
Buzzers have been buzzing over Columbia’s Irish songwriter for a while, and some may argue that for something to be truly “hip,” it can’t be widely regarded, mainstream and generally beloved. If you’re one of those people, get your head out of your ass and appreciate this man’s true talent and remarkable Cinderella story. Without question, “Take Me to Church” is a total breakout smash. But even if you’ve become accustomed to the singles-driven marketplace and social media’s annihilation of our attention spans, I beg you to snap out of it and listen to this album all the way through. I’ll bet you a week’s salary that you’ll find it impeccable (you’re not winning much, so don’t lie).

“Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” is one of my favorite tunes of the year. Its jazzy guitar and foot-pounding percussion mixed with Hozier’s warm vocals and poignant lyrical content will leave you totally smitten. “To Be Alone” is a battle cry for introverts and romantics. It’s at once forceful and emotionally therapeutic. “Cherry Wine” provides a soothing bedtime story. His impeccable finger-picking and melodic sensitivity will you melt your heart. You can even hear birds chirping. Unf… I love you, Andrew Hozier-Byrne. Let’s cuddle.

Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour (Paired best with a glass of brandy and a dash of your tears)
I strive to be Sam Smith’s best friend. I want to tell him all my secrets and cry over our mutually smushed hearts together, and I’m completely unashamed.

If you know me at all, you’d know what I hate most in this world are pussy-footed bullshitters. Sam Smith is the farthest thing from that. Many artists have worn their hearts on their sleeves, but few have been fully successful—you can include Joni Mitchell and Elliott Smith on that short list. Smith’s truthfulness, soaring vocal range and modernized blue-eyed soul set him apart from the pack. He sings to you, not at you. It was enlightening, this year, to watch audience members of every race, gender, shape, size and age responding rapturously to Sam. Bearing witness to that magic is goosebump-inducing. Along with “Stay With Me,” I recommend “I’m Not the Only One” and the heart-wrenching, exquisite “Not in That Way” to drown your sorrows in on a cold, rainy night by the fire.

Side note: If you dig Sam, check out Republic’s John Newman. He falls into a similar category, but is generally more upbeat and hasn’t received the same recognition (yet). 2014’s Tribute is a breakout tour-de-force and would’ve received a separate entry on this list, if I didn’t have a weird affinity for the number eight. Just listen to “Love Me Again” and “Cheating” and try not to dance.

The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream (Paired best with a blunt and a bottle of Malbec)
This album’s title is apt; due to its dreamlike, euphoric qualities, it could only be paired with top-grade kush and a fine wine with just the right amount of legs. Its seamlessly woven songs will warm you from the inside out. The six-piece outfit bridges the gap between older and newer generations of rock fans, their mature sound formed around new wave, Americana and shoegaze. Dream is drizzled with moments reminiscent ofTom Petty and Bruce Springstreen, while standing on a more experimental, electronics-heavy platform.

With half the songs exceeding six minutes in length and the opener, “Under the Pressure,” nearing the nine-minute mark, the set’s meditative nature is choice for a variety of activities; these include reflecting on your life choices in a dark room, riding with arms outstretched in a 1968 Alfa Romero on a sun-drenched road trip, and baby-making. “Red Eyes” and “An Ocean Between the Waves” are both soothing and uplifting in equal measure. And like a lingering hug from an old friend you thought you’d never see again, songs like “Eyes to the Wind” put things into place, slowing your pulse and refining your perspective better than Dr. Phil or a heavy dosage of Xanax ever could. It’s probably the “prettiest,” most sunset-like selection on this list.

FKA Twigs, LP1 (Paired best with a muscle relaxer and absinthe poured over a sugar cube)
Brace yourself for the Salvador Dali of pop music. Tahliah Debrett Barnett, aka FKA Twigs, is the perfect embodiment of the current direction of the youthful musical landscape. With a sound embracing alternative R&B, trip-hop, pop and experimental EDM, she could be a little intimidating for the casual listener, but the silver-throated siren has found a way to hit the sweet spots of each genre, creating a sexy, sparkling amalgamation.

The 10-track set, released through Young Turks of Martin MillsBeggars Group, is an aphrodisiac of sorts, ready to caress you in the gentlest of ways, drifting away and leaving you bewitched and begging for more. She absolutely nails it on the harmonious, pulsating “Two Weeks,” which topped Spotify’s Viral 50 list this summer. Songs like “Hours” and “Pendulum” will take you down the rabbit hole with their delectable ambience. Barnett creates a new dimension, with songs so complex and intricately woven that they’re nearlyLynchian.

Together PANGEA, Badillac (Paired best with PBR… lots of PBR)
Badillac, released by Harvest Records, was made for the nocturnal, the drifters and tramps in search of the juiciest innards of Saturday night. It’s bloated with lo-fi punk songs you’d expect to hear at CBGB in the early 90s. You’re instantly kneed in the gut with opener “Alive”; its lyrical hook, “You’re livin’ to live, or you’re livin’ to die,” neatly sums up the album’s spit-in-your-face attitude. The refreshing thing about this group, though, is that they actually serve up some pretty radio-friendly punk.

Punk music used to be a movement; too often, nowadays, it’s a platform for untalented, unmotivated assholes to pick up instruments they know little to nothing about in hopes of themselves look cool—and it’s gotten stale.Badillac marks a revival of appealing, exciting, well-executed garage-punk sounds and uniquely welcomed angst. From the surfy earworm that is the title track, to the sickeningly good “Sick Shit,” the plaintive “Why” and the satisfying “Offer,” this collection renews my faith in a real rock resurgence. It also sparks an urge in me to try and shotgun a tallboy.

Side note: Their live cover of Nirvana’s “Breed” will get you so thrilled that you may pee a little, so bring a change of undies, dear.

Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso (Paired best with MDMA and a handle of orange juice)
Break out the face paint and glitter, take off your shoes and get ready to dance about in a warm rain with your inner child. This playful electro-folk-pop duo out of North Carolina, comprised of singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn, has found hippie heaven on their self-titled Partisan Records debut. “Coffee,” which was listed in Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Songs of 2014, “Hey Mami” and “Play it Right” have an effervescent sound, similar to snapping open a lightly shaken, ice-cold soda can on a mid-August day. Meath’s ethereal voice pops and fizzes in all the right places, while Sanborn provides a reverberating, energetic backdrop. The pair has brought a truly human, conversational quality to electronic music, and the album is like Sunday in a sleeve. If you’re desperately trying to erase the torpor of your fluorescent-lit work life from your memory—if only temporarily—look no further.

Glass Animals, Zaba (Paired best with peyote and a tall glass of ice water)
Another act that’s humanizing electro-pop, Harvest’s Glass Animals provide a more developed, mathematical sound than some of their genre-mates. Lead single “Gooey” has an undeniable groove that’ll have you wiggling and swaying instantly. I wouldn’t say “dancing,” exactly—more likely just melting with its “peanut butter vibes,” to quote the song’s whimsical chant. The complex layers within “Black Mambo,” “Pools” and “Hazey” are reminiscent of Radiohead, stirred into a sultry, exotic beachside vibe; “Toes” is a breathy ditty driven by funky bass.

There’s something pure and obscure about Glass Animals’ almost tribal feel. It’s hard to imagine what could possibly be next for the Oxford-bred quartet, after such a groundbreaking, spacious masterpiece. I can only hope they don’t get burned by their own brightness, but continue to illuminate unexplored terrain.

Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker (Paired best with Kentucky Dale Blended Whiskey and maybe a line or two, if that’s your kinda thing)
As most of y’all have probably never heard of Kentucky Dale, I’ve only found it on my travels around Louisiana (Booker’s birthplace), it’s about $9.99 for a liter and it has an aroma similar to that of gasoline. It’ll also knock you on your ass and cause you to roll around on a New Orleans sidewalk, screaming that you’re the 21st Century’s Bob Dylan before puking into the shrubbery as your ex-lover holds back your freshly neon-dyed hair. Uh, hypothetically speaking, of course.

Booker’s got that rough-and-tumble attitude, that knock-you-down, pick-you-back up-and-smack-you-back-down-to-the-sticky-bar-floor vibe. The turbulent troubadour was signed to ATO Records last year, and released his debut full-length in August. The album, produced by Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff), will send a surge of energy through your spinal cord. It’s a visceral listen, most comparable to chugging a few packets of Pop Rocks and holding your mouth shut while your eyes water and your oral cavity fizzes, burns and salivates in the sweetest, most satisfying way.

The lead single, “Violent Shiver,” is a blues-infused punk masterpiece. Booker’s quick fingers and infectious melody explode in an anthemic burst of confidence. And “Wicked Waters” is a generational love song for a generation of lost causes searching for meaning, a fucking motivational wake-up call. Let me translate: it’s like the poetic, rock n roll version of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” He just says “I am what I am” instead of “Haters gonna hate,” and sucks out the bubblegum and rainbows with a sharp syringe—but it’s got the same revolutionary core. Oh, and if the opening line, “I’d listen to the radio if I liked songs produced by 40-year-olds” makes you chuckle, give “Spoon Out My Eyeballs” a solid listen. Sorry, radio buddies. Anyhow, this kid’s the underdog you wanna root for. BB, if you read this (you won’t), find me in L.A. and we’ll party like it’s 2am atTipitina’s.

Samantha Hissong