14. Jennifer Hudson – J-HUD
What I wrote: “Her third album hews to post-peak disco, heavy on the hi-hat and piano (think Change and Evelyn King with doses of Deniece Williams). A DOA Pharrell contribution and flailing Iggy Azalea appearance excepted, the ‘American Idol’ and Oscar winner has never worn finery this becoming. She doesn’t fill the room – she serves the arrangements. The first single ‘Dangerous’ is a gas: staccato strings, four on the floor, and ready to go, with Hudson issuing promises she knows she’ll keep in a voice borrowed from CeCe Peniston’s first record.”
13. Azealia Banks – Broke with Expensive Tastes
The tired line, which I once used, is, “Damn, who knew she could do this?” Of course she could: she recorded “212” once too. I know she wrote tweets as incoherent, belligerent, and stupid as this album is poised, surprising, and smart, but I don’t make a point of reading artists’ accounts anyway. The Ariel Pink collab belongs. So does the one called “JFK.” She herself might not belong in the conversation next month, so savor this.
12. Owen Pallet – In Conflict
Landmark queer rock, with arrangements that nod towards no easily identified tradition.
11. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Ferguson and Staten Island happened since its release, and this duo had already recorded “Reagan,” the most scabrous track off 2012’s R.A.P. Music, articulating the rage of millions of fellow citizens for whom the system is rigged. On their second collaboration as Run the Jewels, Mike and EL-P spit dizzying lines over throbbing tracks (the horn in “Jeopardy” is the best kind of irritant). Forgoing answers because the questions suck, RTJ 2 doesn’t “triumph” over despair: it’s steeped in it.