The Year in Music 2014: Detroit’s 10 Best Albums

The Year in Music 2014: Detroit’s 10 Best Albums



The album has been declared dead nearly as many times as the Motor City has, but if you needed any proof that such bold pronouncements need to be taken with a grain of salt, look no further than the list below. Detroit acts released a veritable treasure trove of great full-lengths in 2014, using the expanded scope of the LP format to explore themes as diverse as life on the streets, the mess of a break-up, and the possibility of redemption.

That broad range of subject matter extends into these artists’ sonic palettes, which run the gamut from backpack rap and basement punk to mutant funk and museum-ready electronica. As we close the book (or the browser tab) on 2014, these ten albums are worthy additions both to Detroit’s rich musical legacy and your own musical library. —Khalid






Detroit rapper ZelooperZ’s HELP mixtape was a true testament to alternative hip-hop in 2014. The ghastly vocal stylings of the young Bruiser Brigade member are realized immediately during the collection’s first two tracks: “Heir to the Throne” and “El Chupacabruh,” during which ZelooperZ introduces listeners to his lyrical contrast between gritted teeth and relaxed speech. The mixtape’s production, which was heavily supplied by Matrax, reflects ZelooperZ’s new-age fusion of rap, electronic, and abstract percussion elements. It also flaunts electric hometown features from fellow Bruiser members Dopehead and Danny Brown. Though he is relatively new to the spotlight, ZelooperZ is comfortable with his platform, and proves his versatility in an ever-changing hip-hop era with this eye-opening release. —P.Y







Richie Hawtin’s first new release as Plastikman in over a decade may not have been the straight-ahead dancefloor record some of his fans were hoping for. What they got instead was something truly special (even more so when purchasing the album’s limited edition bundle). EX, which was recorded live in 2013 at New York’s Guggenheim Museum’s annual fundraiser, reflects the setting it was commissioned for and scans more like a sonic sculpture than a musical composition. The difference is as subtle as some of the variations on motifs heard throughout the LP. Hawtin incorporates traditional acid house with minimal techno and cinematic sweep with meticulous attention to detail to form an object that’s as much about moving your mind as it is moving your feet. —Khalid




Seraphine Collective

BFF FEST Mixtape #1


Probably the biggest surprise of the year was the totally unexpected (and beyond rad) mixtape compiled by the Seraphine Collective. They hosted their first annual BFF Fest in July, and this tape showcases that lineup. From popular local acts to relative unknowns, Seraphine somehow coaxed these artists to pour all of their soul into one song each for the compilation. The result is the most eclectic example of current DIY musicians in and around Detroit. These artists live at house shows and in the basements of bars. Seraphine has aspirations to renovate a vacant building somewhere in Southwest Detroit to serve as an active and supportive space for female musicians. The Collective hopes to “include a performance venue, recording studio, record label, rehearsal studios, lessons, classes, and a resource library of publications, records, instruments and equipment.” —Joe







Passalacqua easily had the most talked-about album of 2014 with CHURCH. The highly publicized release was supplemented by a packed listening session hosted by The Right Brothers and Assemble, followed by a massive live event appropriately titled REVIVAL, which featured performances by Passalacqua, Tunde Olaniran, and production duo SYBLYNG (Jax and Seth Anderson). In fact, the only aspect of CHURCH that overshadowed the album’s pre-release pagentry was the music itself. Each track is layered with masterful touches from SYBLYNG’s songwriting and production expertise, while the lyrical acrobatics from Blaksmith and Mister translate as smart, conscious, and precise. This album not only lived up to the hype, but it will undoubtedly stand the test of time with Detroit hip-hop fans. CHURCH was less about making music and more about well-intentioned (and very talented) people coming together to create something remarkable. This album is a must-have. —P.Y




Rebel Kind



Bad Indians were already yesterday’s news in Autumn Wetli’s mind when she decided to strike out on her own with her side project, Rebel Kind. The then-solo endeavor has grown to include the talents of bassist Shelley Salant and drummer Amber Fellows, and the trio is responsible for some of the smartest, sweetest, yet scuzziest psych-pop and folk-rock being made today. In fact, Today is the name of the band’s sophomore full-length, which saw release on Urinal Cake Records this fall. Catchy melodies and ebullient beats share space with blown-out distortion and lo-fi effects, like some lost cassette from a ’60s garage act washed up on the shore of a beach. In a year when women dominated punk — Perfect Pussy, White Lung, Sleater-Kinney’s return — Rebel Kind’s girl group-biting sound showed that mixing sugar with spice makes everything nice. Just don’t be shocked if Today knocks you on your ass. —Khalid




DeJ Loaf

Sell Sole


This year in hip-hop, more voice was given to weirdo newcomers and Drake co-signs than industry powerhouses. I Love Makkonen, Young Thug, Bobby Shmurda, and Rae Sremmurd all ascended from the distorted Southern rap underworld and dominated clubs around the country. DeJ Loaf also made a place for herself at the table, with the astronomic rise of “Try Me” making her an overnight success and snagging her a Columbia record deal. Suddenly there was an immense amount of scrutiny concerning her upcoming mixtape. But DeJ stayed true to her own style, collaborating for most of the tape with fellow producer DDS from the IBGM crew. Their partnership serves up the tape’s best cuts, with DDS’s shimmering production providing the perfect backdrop for DeJ’s smoothly delivered verses. There’s definitely a reason Eminem selected her to provide the hook for his colossal “Detroit Vs. Everybody” anthem, and you can find many on Sell Sole. —Joe







Kenny Dixon Jr. — aka Moodymann — continues to pioneer Detroit techno with his self-titled release. What distinguishes Moodymann from his contemporaries is how easily he blends elements of funk, jazz, R&B, and soul with techno. This album touches on so many different musical roots, it seems almost out of place in the club; rather, it feels better suited for a live venue with a full band. Moodymann is a testament to Detroit’s rich musical history, so sit back and listen as KDJ takes you on a tour of our city’s sonic roots. —Inchaus




Black Milk

If There’s a Hell Below


Producer/MC Black Milk returned in 2014 with a gloomy new installment to his impressive catalog in the release of If There’s a Hell Below. In contrast to Milk’s traditional trend of switching styles completely, this 12-track drama digs deeper down the hole which began with the 2013 release No Poison No Paradise. Black Milk’s comfort with allowing others to play a role in the album’s production work offers a new chance for his lyrical abilities to shine. If There’s a Hell Below invites contributions from Mel, legendary producer Pete Rock, Bun B., and Random Axe members Guilty Simpson and Sean Price for a blend of diverse personalities and styles. The album is truly unique within Black Milk’s portfolio, but it remains a high-caliber project by one of the industry’s best-in-show. —Billy Shears




Jack White



Jack White’s second solo album set many records this year, including becoming the number-one best-selling vinyl release of 2014. At the same time, Lazaretto takes its name from a word meaning a hospice for lepers or plague victims. In a year when the fear of Ebola ran rampant, the album’s themes of quarantine and looming death felt right for the zeitgeist. Sonically, however, the newly divorced White reached back further than he ever has to make a killer break-up album, incorporating bloozy rock, old-timey fiddle, barroom stomp, ragtime piano, gypsy jazz, funk guitar, and a healthy dose of confessional songwriting into the melange that is Lazaretto. It’s a potent combination, but it’s not a bitter pill to swallow. —Khalid


Lazaretto by Jack White on Grooveshark




Under Color of Official Right


Protomartyr is Detroit’s new rock champion and their release Under Color of Official Right is a refreshing contribution to the city’s musical history. Unlike on the foursome’s previous album, here Protomartyr provide a bleak and stormy narrative using literary allusions and local landmarks as inspiration, while offering ambient space with more sonically technical elements. Frontman Joe Casey leads the way with melodies and growls, while guitarist Greg Ahee, bassist Scott Davidson, and drummer Alex Leonard provide the much-needed backbone for the album’s 14 thoughtful and remarkable arrangements. The group’s broad thematic focus, contrasting sounds, and driving execution makes this release a necessary listen. Protomartyr’s Under Color of Official Right demands full attention from start to finish, but luckily, it’s a gloomy journey well worth taking. —P.Y