Best Albums of 2014: 29 to 1
29. RX Bandits – Gemini Her Majesty
Some of the most memorable choruses of the year are on this album. Matt Embree is a master of melody. I also dug how this album was kind of space themed, from the cover art to some of the lyrics. – Quinten O’Neal
28. Saor – Aura
The soundtrack of the Scotland landscape can easily be summed up within this fine composition. This one man project has undoubtedly gained the attention of the metal realm with Aura, as well as the previous release, Roots. If you’ve missed a lot of the metal albums released this year, don’t let this be another that gets passed up. – Jeffrey Allee
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27. Alt-J – This Is All Yours
This is All Yours is not an album for those who consider themselves superior in musical taste and opinion to just about everyone else (strike a chord, Ian Cohen?). While certain critics rhapsodize eloquently about Lykke Li, however, the rest of us can brazenly enjoy Alt-J without shame. In spite of how musically sophisticated one considers him or herself, this album is at the very least entertaining for all with its loopy lyrics (and unexpected samples from types such as Miley Cyrus), imaginative percussion, and the blurring of multiple musical genres into single songs. Overall, This is All Yours is an artistic achievement and a mighty fine listen for a band and its fans who don’t take themselves too seriously. – Nate Jones
Check out Ben’s review of This Is All Yours here.
26. The Colourist – The Colourist
I’ve been a long-time fan of American indie band The Colourist and the handful of tracks I’d owned previous to this album’s release were listened to a hell of a lot. Thankfully, their self-titled debut was better than anything I could’ve ever expected. It was the main soundtrack of my summer. The male/female shared vocal chemistry is what carries this album along. I’ve listened to The Colourist to death since I bought it and I can see it continuing that way long into the future. – David Dring
25. Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons
Following up last year’s excellent 12 Reasons to Die, Ghostface treads on familiar thematic territory on 36 Seasons—but it’s Ghostface, so it doesn’t really matter. The production doesn’t quite match last year’s excellent Adrian Younge beats, but the album’s narrative flow makes up for it. Guest artists Kool G Rap and AZ appear on multiple tracks, helping flesh out the story of Tony Starks’ release from prison, pursuit of his lost love, and revenge on those who ruined his life. Again, Ghostface has been here before, but he’s been at the top of the game so long for a reason. – Ricky Vigil
Two years in a row Ghostface absolutely slays it. 36 Seasons is easily my favorite rap record of the year. I may have a little bit of an old school mentality when it comes to rap and hip-hop, but most new artists in the game nowadays could learn a thing or two from this album. Shout out to The Revelations for providing the energetic, live, funk-based beats throughout this record! – Isaac Atencio
Live beats, great album concept, amazing flow and swagger throughout. Ghostface Killa absolutely owns! Also, the Dr. X verse by Pharoahe Monch on “Emergency Procedure” is one of the coolest things I have heard all year. – Jon Robertson
24. Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
This album was in contention for my #1 album of the year. Up until Nabuma Rubberband I was just a part-time fan of Little Dragon, only listening to their singles. This album is flawless the whole way through, and singer Yukimi Nagano’s voice is so powerful and precise, it’s insane. Little Dragon was stunning live also, Nagano especially. Actual quote from me at Little Dragon concert: “She makes just want to be an adorable Japanese/Swede who can wail and dance like a boss!” I could listen to “Pretty Girls” pretty much forever. – Isaac Atencio
It is true I can confirm that Isaac said that at the Little Dragon show. “Cat Rider” from this album is so smoove! – Jon Robertson
23. Sleep Party People – Floating
Sleep Party People are an amazing shoegaze/experimental band from Denmark. Their music is riddled with layers and depth and every time I listen to this album, I can’t help but smile, I feel like there’s a secret they know that I don’t, but they’re working their damned hardest to let me in on it. For fans of Mew and all things electronic and spacy. – Todd Rackham
22. Broods – Evergreen
So the best album of 2014 as voted for by myself, comes from New Zealand duo Broods. I fell in love with them around the release of their self-titled E.P, yet Evergreen completely took me over. As far as I’m concerned it’s the perfect mix of trip hop, electronica, and synthpop released this year. Broods have yet to break in the UK despite already being hugely popular in NZ as well as taking the U.S. by storm, so I can only hope that changes in the near future. Evergreen is the perfect example of an album that doesn’t have to try too hard to be considered a masterpiece. – David Dring
The guy-girl pop duo done right, with strong percussive elements and great harmonies. “Mother & Father” is on repeat in my world. – Kelsey Simpkins
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21. Lowell – We Loved Her Dearly
I’ve written about her at length already (see here and here), so some loose thoughts on this album: I love the bridge in “LGBT,” the line “Let me throw you down while I look at her,” in “Cloud 69,” the way the drums kick in on “The Bells,” and the way she shouts the chorus in “I Love You Money.” – Mark Milner
M. Milner turned me onto the smart and unique pop of Lowell and I can’t thank him enough. All the songs he mentioned above are so addictingly good! – Jon Robertson
20. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
Doom metal bands who do more than rehash 45 year old Black Sabbath riffs are bewilderingly hard to come by, so to see Pallbearer thrust doom so assuredly into the future is incredibly reassuring. Slow and moody, Foundations of Burden is equally indebted to the delicacy and atmosphere of post-rock, as the band’s crushing riffs open wide to foster an ambiance rather than purely crush skulls. – Ricky Vigil
2014 was a benchmark year for doom, but no one did it better than Pallbearer. Where most acts prefer to wallow in the shadows, Pallbearer bravely embraces the light on Foundations of Burden, an album filled with as many gorgeous vocal melodies as pulverizing riffs. And those riffs. Dear God. Rarely do you hear an album where each riff manages to outdo the other in terms of sheer raditude, but Pallbearer make it sound easy. The band’s heightened, curious sense of songwriting combined with absolutely pristine production makes for one of, if not the best metal album of the year. Ready that air guitar. – Phil Maye
Check out Paul’s 5 star review of Foundations of Burden here.
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19. Real Estate – Atlas
Believe it or not, Real Estate is a jam band. Not in the way the kids down the block running scales over three-chord figures and playing way too loud are in a “jam band”, but instead in a way now confident enough to write mountain-climbing interludes into its songs and include that musicianship on its albums. Atlas is a thematically-coherent song cycle packed full of licks, melodies, and liquid-y hooks cruising out onto a smooth, transcendent plane and headed for parts both known and unknown, concrete and ephemeral, resulting in an odd sort of flabbergasted mellow joy in the listener. – JP Gorman
Check out Rollie’s review of Atlas here.
18. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
With this release and subsequent touring, BBC fully establishes themselves as a world force in indie rock. Complete with my top music video of the year – “Carry Me” – this globally-inspired album makes you feel every emotion in the book. Their genius and creativity is unparalleled. – Kelsey Simpkins
I was consistently surprised this year when I found myself Shazamming a song and it turned out to be Bombay Bicycle Club. Some really great stuff here. – Isaac Atencio
Read Jaci’s review of So Long, See You Tomorrow here.
17. Beck – Morning Phase
Exactly how talented is Beck as a songwriter, composer, and performer can’t really be overstated. This year gave everyone a nice refresher course on the truth of the situation. In addition to his notable production work and fan-friendly summer festival appearances, Morning Phase dropped beautiful, low-key songs like “Heart Is a Drum” and “Say Goodbye” that are simultaneously humble and 100% rock star. Recognize: Beck’s one of the very best at his rarified level of music superstardom. – JP Gorman
Maybe it’s because I’m not really a morning person, but this record makes me sleepy. – Mark Milner
Read Dan’s review of Morning Phase here.
16. FKA Twigs – LP1
When the first single from LP1, “Two Weeks,” was released back in June, it became quite clear quite early on what the album would be comprised of. Not necessarily the sound, though the sultry, drug-addled yet utterly beautiful aesthetic expressed was certainly evident, but more the sense of ambition and sublime execution which the track and its accompanying video reflected. From the off, LP1 is fervent in its desire to entice and intrigue, as the marriage of intergalactic instrumentation with Twigs’ oft-hushed vocals absorbs its listeners into a world of abstract seduction and experiences. A dream from start to finish, it is the most profound taste 2014 has offered of the future of R’n’B. – JP Gorman
Sensual, intriguing, unique. LP1 is perfect blend of R&B and dream pop from beginning to end. Whichever other female artist you thought dominated 2014, give me two weeks, you won’t recognize her. – Melissa Vega
All I have to say is wow. LP1 is so awesome and FKA Twigs is a force to be reckoned with. – Isaac Atencio
Check out Robert’s review of LP1 here.
15. Adult Jazz – Gist Is
As is the case with another intricate indie-pop band from Leeds, it is the nuances which layer the emotional rubric of Gist Is and make it an album worthy of repeated listens. However, these guys are no Alt-J copycats, the sound deriving from their self-produced and self-recorded debut distinct in its eccentricity and melodic prowess. This album didn’t ruffle quite as many feathers as I thought it would following my first listen several months ago, though it has stuck with me throughout the latter half of 2014, and delivered the sort of complex sonic mesh which I find so fulfilling. – JP Gorman
I feel like I need to spend more time with this album to truly appreciate it’s greatness. – Jon Robertson
You can read Melissa’s review of Gist Is here.
14. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
Stay Gold is absolute perfection. I’ve always loved this band, but the new album takes them out of the realm of being a band you listen to when it’s a rainy day. These girls know how to harmonize and Rock-out at the same time. The music on Stay Gold is powerful. I felt like this album was written just for me. If I had to write down the top songs I listened to this year, “Shattered” and “Hollow” would be on there – along with countless others from this album. I also had the opportunity to listen to this performed live this year when they headed to SLC for a sold-out show. I cried during a majority of the songs – it’s pretty powerful stuff. I think S tay Gold shows what it is like to grow up and be in your 20s… As they say, shit gets fucked up and people just disappear. – Danielle Lail
The third album from ‘Swedmerican’ duo First Aid Kit builds on the success, without any need to change anything. The new dynamics and shift towards a more orchestral sound is a bold one, but it results in Stay Gold becoming THE folk album of 2014. A lot of people who don’t like folk such as myself can easily find something to love about Stay Gold, whether it’s the warm, soaring vocals or the big, heart-on-sleeve choruses. It’s so easy to fall in love with First Aid Kit. – David Dring
13. Mariah Carey – Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse
What if a chart-topping diva with more than two decades in the business made an album, but nobody came? Mariah’s gross overexposure, her penchant for wearing next to nothing and her turbulent personal life may have overshadowed what was clearly her best album in at least a decade. She actually managed to sound like the Mariah of old (remember her?): vocal acrobatics featuring glass-piercing high notes that once rivaled Whitney Houston. Sadly, the album –a product of a cumbersome, clunky name — went over with her fanbase like a lead balloon. Nonetheless, it’s a fine album. – Javier David
Mimi, I love you! – Jon Robertson
12. Household – With or Without
Household With or Without has renewed my faith in Christian hardcore. It’s been about a decade since I have heard an album from a Christian hardcore band that has actually made me excited. Blood and Ink Records has put out several amazing bands over the years and this band is a great addition. Your faith, politics, egos, stereotypes, etc. aside, this is a great hardcore record. The songs are well written, energetic and catchy. Watch their video for the song, “Reservoir,” and I think that you would agree. – Chad Sengstock
11. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
Booker brings the unbridled energy and rawness that grabs you by the hair and says HEY! I realize life isn’t always a peach, but you’re ALIVE dadgumit so let’s party. I dare you to listen to the passion in Booker’s raspy voice, the smartly simple guitar licks and not think there is something special happening here. This album is more than a “retro-blues-Chuck-Berry-hootenanny” it’s a beginning. – Daniel Jackson
Read one of Daniel’s favorite moments of 2014 featuring Booker here.
10. The Men They Couldn’t Hang – The Defiant
The Men They Couldn’t Hang, one of the pioneers of Folk-Punk, released their thirtieth anniversary album this year to little fanfare on this side of the Atlantic, and that’s a shame. The Defiant is an album that will appeal to a wide range of musical tastes without sacrificing anything from either the folk ethos or the punk ethos. This is an album that is as much at home with those sitting spinning yarns around a sparking campfire as it is with those marching down the streets with the echoes from their steel toed boots striking the pavement mixing with their angry chants denouncing injustice. – John Ellis
9. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!
The subject matter Steven Ellison deals in on his 5th album under the Flying Lotus moniker is a dead giveaway. The parts that make the whole are a little trickier to pin down as the sound is somewhere between a celebration of life or the use of living sound to imagine the dimension crossed into by Frankie Knuckles, DJ Rashad, Joe Cocker and many other musical legends just this year. Musically, it’s an homage to black music past and present with the guests to boot. Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, Snoop Dogg, and Herbie Hancock play their position admirably. You can dance apocalyptic if you want to, but you’ll have to leave your friends behind. – Mickey White
Read Mickey’s full 5 star review of You’re Dead! here.
8. Solstafir – Otta
Brooding and tortured Icelandic metal that oozes with charisma and melodic depth. Do I understand anything they’re saying? Nope, not a damn word. Do I care? No… no I do not. Like with Sigur Rós it just becomes an instrument in the music, but at least here there is some kind of meaning. Everything from their use of a banjo to the melodic riffs that weave their way through this album from start to finish is brilliant and if you were wondering the answer is yes… yes they can pull off this brilliance live. – Josh Peters
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7. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Despite having a reputation which preceded her and being backed by a cast which includes both David Hartley and Adam Granduciel of The War On Drugs, Sharon Van Etten’s fourth record Are We There nonetheless exceeded expectations with its arresting notions of heartbreak and loss. Van Etten’s ability to articulate the fragility and hurt which can accompany love is a dream to behold, though she is not an artist without humour or wit, best expressed here on closer “When The Sun Goes Down.” Are We There is an albhum to cherish, and in return the rewards it reaps are as important and overwhelming as anything else released this past year. – Ben Lynch
I went on a bad date to her show and cried because the music was mind-blowingly good. Not to mention Bon Iver took the stage to sing “Our Love” with her as an encore. There was no next date, but I haven’t stopped listening to Van Etten since. – Kelsey Simpkins
6. Deleted Scenes – Lithium Burn
I lost my mind over this album on this very website so let me keep this brief – this album made me believe that guitar rock could be fascinating and new again. – Stephen Russ
Check out Stephen’s full review of Lithium Burn here.
5. Swans – To Be Kind
The sonic equivalent to running a marathon, stopping, and then realising you were only half way finished, To Be Kind has proven to be simultaneously gruelling, extensive, and intensely rewarding. Gira’s penchant for the repetitive and the uncomfortable has rarely been expressed in a manner as compelling and unforgiving, with little time for breath throughout the entirety of its two hour runtime. Gira however is no fool, and ensured the album is brimming with enough grooves to prevent To Be Kind from dissolving into a mesh of unorganised noise. Few times throughout 2014 has viscera been executed so efficiently. – JP Gorman
How does a band like Swans follow up The Seer, the 2 hour opus that crowns their 30+ year career? By writing a fucking new, arguably better one. At this point in their career, Swans albums are just attempts at capturing their utterly transcendent live shows in studio, and To Be Kind is about as close as it gets to the experience. When Swans announced their reunion a few years ago, it was pretty exciting stuff, but I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the powerful impact their new material would have. But 2012’s The Seer alluded to it and this year’s To Be Kind confirmed it: Swans are the best band on the planet right now, and we are all extremely lucky to be alive to witness the Reswanaissance. GO SEE THIS BAND. – Phil Maye
Read Phil’s full 5 star review of To Be Kind here.
4. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Honestly, I thought Anne Clark ruled this year. She started 2014 in full-on Digital Leader mode, proclaiming she wanted “all of your mind” while perched on a throne. Her album blew apart her back catalogue – no mean feat! – and her tour has seen her go from Indie Darling to full-fledged rock star. And it’s fucking time, too: she writes a great song, plays a mean lead guitar and puts on a hell of a performance. – Mark Milner
Probably the only time I’ve ever agreed with NME’s end of year best album list (AM was not the best album of 2013 guys, give it a rest) St. Vincent is a damn fine album. I’ve been a fan of Annie Clark’s work for a few years, including 2012’s project with seminal filmmaker David Byrne, but none of it has grabbed me as much as this album. Some albums manage to capture the sound of a musician at their absolute peak, none more so than this. – David Dring
Check out Mark’s review of St. Vincent here.
3. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
It’s easy to write off Mac DeMarco off as yet another psychedelic slacker in a dirty jean jacket, but his songs belie a maturity far beyond his years. That’s both compositionally and lyrically. Look no further than the opening, title track of Salad Days, for instance, to hear his take on extended adolescence: “Oh, dear/Act your age and try another year.” Eyes open, heads up: Mac DeMarco’s dropping truth bombs it would do a lot of folks some good to hear. – JP Gorman
For me, a bit of a grower. It took a while for me to admit, but it’s a strong batch of songs (although I still don’t like the instrumental, which lacks focus), played convincingly. And although I wish he’d pick up he tempo a bit, I’m not really complaining anymore, either. – Mark Milner
Salad Days was my soundtrack of the summer. I love DeMarco’s slacker jams. – Jon Robertson
Wise, reflective, measured; these are words which may seem somewhat out of place when spoken in association with the entertaining Canadian, though all are perfectly at home on Salad Days. Mac DeMarco’s second ralbum saw him maintain the sense of free-wheeling joy which everyone had come to know and love him for, but coupled it with a developing sense of maturity that made the album a total joy from start to finish. – Ben Lynch
Read Marc’s review of Salad Days here.\
2. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
Themed around lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Adam Granduciel’s bouts of loneliness and depression following the end of a tour, The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream proved to be one of 2014’s most evocative pieces of work. Replete with clear sentiments of both loss and hope amid the reverb and soaring solos, the album reflected the depth to Granduciel’s compositional talents and reiterated the fact that even without old time partner Kurt Vile he is capable of something magical. An example of beauty rarely achieved, it rightfully stands tall as one of the year’s finest moments. – Ben Lynch
Read John’s review of of Lost In The Dream here.
Forget best hip-hop album of the year, this is THE album of the year. Madlib’s production is off the charts and Freddie Gibbs has never sounded so confident in front of the microphone. It’s a stunning album! – Mark Milner
Yet another unlikely hip hop pairing, Piñata finds the insanely prolific Madlib creating some of his best hip hop beats in years and brings Freddie Gibbs into the spotlight as one of the hottest rising rappers in the game. With the easy flow of Tupac and a gift for storytelling, Gibbs’ delivery has the perfect mix of groove and snap. Even though he’s a dude from Gary, IN, Gibbs sounds like he was transported straight from the Death Row-dominated hip hop scene of mid-’90s California with his tales of thuggin’, heartbreak, and his straight-up swagger. Madlib’s stony production relies on his sampling of ’70s soul and short loops, perfectly adapting to Gibbs’ style and proving he is just as well suited to working with a street rapper as weirdos like MF Doom and intellectuals like Talib Kweli. Guest appearances by “all the mother fuckers in the rap game worth fucking with,” to quote the sticker on the album cover, further boost the album into the stratosphere and cement it as the best hip hop album of the year. – Ricky Vigil
We know what you’re thinking: How could a staff of bearded gentlemen (and women) elect a baby face killa to be the best album this year? That’s a valid question considering that a lot of rap’s highlights this year have been pushing boundaries and/or drawn from sources of inspiration likely to draw ire from hip-hop heads. But a victory for Freddie Gibbs isn’t a triumph for a specific type of fan as much as it is for himself. The story of Madlib’s blaxploitation backdrop, quality guests across the boards, and the verbal self-portrait Freddie Gibbs paints all goes to show that sometimes a quality rap album that’s the sum of excellent beats and dexterous rhymes. Since the album’s March release, Gibbs has become the people’s champ on his own terms, which goes to show that occasionally rappers who are ‘bout it, ‘bout it live to get paid in full. – Mickey White
2014 was a year of disappointment in hip hop, and subsequently, for music itself. Schoolboy Q’s (underrated) Oxymoron failed to be TDE’s proper follow up to good kid, mAAd city, and promised albums from heavy hitters Kanye, Kendrick and Lil Wayne never surfaced. If you had told me a year ago that Freddie Gibbs would release far and away the best hip hop record of 2014, I probably would’ve laughed in your face. But here we are, and dear god do I ever stand corrected. Piñata is a masterpiece, one of those rare long ass rap records that begs to be listened to the whole way through its 21 tracks. Despite being on the scene for years, Piñata is where Gibbs finally finds his voice as an artist, and he comes off as a surprisingly complex, sympathetic character, narrating tales of the streets with a rare degree of self-awareness. Madlib’s lush, sample-driven production is like a hip hop head’s wet dream, and the chemistry between Madlib and Gibbs rivals Madlib’s much coveted Madvillainy project with MF DOOM. Only time will tell whether or not Piñata’s success was a fluke. But in a year of disappointments, Piñata was one hell of a welcome surprise, and proof that you always gotta keep your eyes on the underdogs. – Phil Maye