Best Throwing Caution to the Wind of 2014

This is our most controversial pick, even among the seven critics who selected this list. This artist, after the fame of being Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” had a road into pop superstardom paved out for her. She had the look, voice, and…well, let’s not pretend anything else matters to pop charts. Instead, she released an album that deconstructed pop from the inside out. Thankfully, it bounced off mainstream critics and landed here. Instead of the safety album that was expected, we got:

The Golden Echo by Kimbra!

In our e-mail battle over this selection, our favorite note became that Pitchfork gave The Golden Echo a 4.3 out of 10. We got a real kick out of that. From their review, we really would’ve thought they’d give it a 4.458 or an f(x)=n^3-p, but there’s just no accounting for taste these days.

Look, Pitchfork got one thing right, and that’s comparing Kimbra’s approach to pop to Janelle Monae’s. This is not an album built for review. It’s an answer to the ones that are. It’s an album built for listening, for dancing, for realizing you feel like you’re trapped in the Matrix if you dare listen to ordinary pop afterward.

Most accurately, it’s an album built by Kimbra for Kimbra to celebrate the music Kimbra loves: 90s hip hop, disco, jazz, R&B. The result sounds like the collaboration Michael Jackson, Olivia Newton-John, David Byrne, and Sia never could have made, and that’s before you get to the Kate Bush section of the album. There is no concession here to what the audience might want or expect. It all sounds straight from the artist, unabridged.

Those of us who are fans (three of us put this in our top tens, three of us refused to even list it) have the sneaking suspicion that The Golden Echo will only climb in estimation over time, a breath of cult future pop well ahead of its time. If Kimbra continues on this path, The Golden Echo may one day be viewed as the moment an incredible career made a crucial change.

For now, some will remember The Golden Echo as a 4.3. And some will listen to it with the obsessiveness we only reserve for the artists who most provoke our imagination as to what music can become.

– Cleopatra Parnell, Amanda Smith, Olivia Smith & Gabriel Valdez

If you want to see what else we’re listing in our Top 35 albums of 2014, take a look.

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